Al Baez, you had diamonds on the soles of your shoes…

Albert Baez

What kind of guy produces two daughters that changed the world like Joanie and Mimi Baez did? Daughter number three, Pauline, managed to stay out of the spotlight but she’s got to be a world-changer too.

Albert Baez made his own impact on the world, although perhaps in a more soft-spoken way. There was something thankfully off-kilter about him. First, in spite of his bow tie and Ivy League looks, he was Mexican. At least his parents were – they moved from Puebla to Brooklyn when he was a kid and Albert grew up there. His own Dad had left the Catholic church to become a Methodist minister. When did you last meet a Mexican Methodist minister?

The whole family spent their lives exploding stereotypes. Al went to Stanford, got his Ph.D there and by 1948 had co-invented a microscope that used X-rays to study living cells. In the early fifties, when his pals were going to work for the nuclear weapons establishment, he took his family to Baghdad to build a physics laboratory at the university there. Then he went to work for UNESCO, teaching science all over the world.

By the time they dropped back down on the Peninsula, where Professor Al took a position at Stanford, Joanie was nearly twelve.

I don’t know if it’s that much fun living in a stereotype exploding family when you are twelve. Here’s a description of 12 year old Joan from the obit in the San Francisco Chronicle:

James Cavener, a onetime student and longtime friend, said
Mr. Baez may have inspired Joan Baez’s musical career with
the purchase of a ukulele.

“I remember when Joanie was about 12 and was a very unhappy
girl,” Cavener said. “She was half Mexican and that was a
stigma and she didn’t feel attractive. In her solitude, in
her reclusiveness, she played the ukulele.”

I’m just about Joan’s age and I went to high school on the Peninsula same as she did, and I can confirm it was no place to be a dark skinned beauty from a high caste family. It’s not that prejudice was rampant. Our 1958 student body president was a black guy named Bill Pettis and we were was damned proud of him – or maybe proud of how liberal we were. But he was another anomaly – like Joan. I don’t remember Bill hanging out at any of the rich kids’ parties, although maybe he did.

In 1958, Professor Al took a job at MIT and hauled the family to Boston. He was a music lover, and one night he took his 17 year old daughter down to a Cambridge coffee house called Club 47 to see the new fad – young college folksingers tellin’ about Woody Guthrie, tellin’ about the Carter Family, singing about those young maidens who got murdered by their lovers (who were always named Willie) and only the pretty birdies were left to mourn.

Joan baez club 47Within a year, Joanie was up there too.

As longtime readers of this blog know, I care a lot about Joanie Baez, and I want to know more about the family that produced her. It’s not just her music, her glorious voice which lifted me from the dark sorrow of my youth over and over and over. Not just her spirit, but her courage. She stood on the lines and got busted just like the other demonstrators. More than once I saw Joan appear out of the night with her acoustic guitar and sing to encourage protesters on the line like me. She wasn’t just an entertainer, know what I mean? She stood for something.

I want to stand for something too.

Maybe she’s a skunk in person, how should I know? But I will give her honor as long as I write this blog. My Saint Joan. No irony intended.

I think Professor Al taught his children well. To quote from his LA Times obit:

Joan Baez admired her father — a Quaker and pacifist — for valuing teaching and turning away from potentially lucrative defense work.”We would never have all the fine and useless things little girls want …. Instead we would have a father with a clear conscience,” she recalled in her memoir. “Decency would be his legacy to us.”

What a great family. What a great Dad. May God bless you, Dr. Baez, and welcome you into his Kingdom with rejoicing.

For more about the Baez Family:
R.I.P. Albert, a personal reminiscence from a science blogger who spent time with him in the nineties.
Noted scientist was father of Joan Baez and Mimi Farina. Obit from Dr. Baez’s hometown paper, the Marin Independent Journal.
And, of course, Joanie’s own website.
Not to mention the Pondering Pig’s various little essays on the dear girl. Available by clicking the appropriate tags.


Pig’s All For Defense, But…

Look, I’m just a talking pig and I don’t always understand humans.  They puzzle me. For instance, yesterday I began to wonder why we Americans are willing to go so massively into dept so we can support our gigantic army. 

chinese army paradeThe government likes to call it “The Department of Defense” so I asked myself, who do they exactly defend us from?  Is it the gigantic Chinese army across the Pacific just itching to invade Hawaii?   Unlikely, I thought. We’re China’s best customers.  They already own a gazillion dollars worth of US bonds, why would they want wreck their cash cow? 

I thought back to when I was a little pig and people were always scanning the skies for Soviet bombers bearing H-bombs to drop on my poor fearful head.  Could the million-strong Russian Army be waiting its chance to send out the bombers again, or roll their tanks across Europe?  Well, maybe.  I agree you got to keep an eye on those guys, but you don’t hear too much about that particular fear at the moment. 

We certainly don’t need an big army to protect us from terrorists.  The whole idea behind terrorism is to terrorize people, not attack gigantic armies.  Terrorism is about having one of their guys scare the bejeezus out of us with a bomb or a machine gun or poison.   Stopping the Al Qaeda and its friends is a big issue, but I don’t see how driving the debt deeper by maintaining a gigantic army is going to do one little thing to stop them. I can’t see how burning and tearing Afghanistan is going to do anything except create more terrorists.  Terrorists sneak around, that’s what they do.  If you bomb them out of AfghanaPak they’ll scurry off to Yemen.  When you bomb them out of Yemen, they’ll  sneak off to Brixton.  It’s what terrorists do.  Brixton’s in South London, by the way.  The Clash used to sing about it in relevant songs like Guns On The Roof and Safe European Home.

This list on Wikipedia shows five armies in the world with over a million soldiers: the US, China, Russia, North Korea, and India. None of these other countries, unpleasant as they may be,  have military bases strung all around the world.  Or, to my knowledge, strung anywhere except within their own countries.  If we’re drowning in debt, why do we need them if they don’t? 

I’m not talking about NATO bases.  Those are a joint arrangement.  If all the other countries are paying their fair share and we still worry about those Russkies jumping into Europe whenever they feel like it, then fine.  Same with Japan.  If they are begging for us to protect them from the Chinese and North Koreans, and they are paying the freight, then fine.  But what about all these other bases, for instance: List of United States Army installations in Germany.  What’s the point?

Well, one thought occurred to me.  Maybe Americans are cursed with some kind of misguided patriotism that wants America to be the number one country so bad we are willing to do anything, go to any level of debt, to pretend it’s still true and it’s going to be true forever. 

The only thing we don’t want to do is pay for it.  Do Americans pay by sweating to make sure all our kids get the best education in the world, bar none?  A next generation ready to take on any challenge the future throws at us?  Do we honor entrepreneurs who come up with products and businesses that will lead America through the next century?   Would any any politician dream of saying, “We have the biggest, best military in the world and from here on we will pay for it without going into debt.  Whatever it costs, we’ll pay as we go even though it means big big tax increases.”

Crazy, isn’t it?  Have a glance at this Feb 1 story from Slate:

President Obama has proposed the largest defense budget since World War II.

Then check out this neat chart from the NY Times:

Obama’s 2011 Budget Proposal: How It’s Spent

And, finally, check out this guy…

It seems like liberals, conservatives, Democrats and Republicans should be able to get together on this. It seems so obvious to this pig unless, 1) our leaders have already been compromised or 2) we are all so hopelessly filled with dreams and demagoguery that we can’t see the facts when they stare us in the face.

But hey, I’m just a pig.  Maybe I’m missing something. 

For The Vets

I honor my father’s generation, the guys who dragged the Nazis, the Fascists, and the Imperial Japanese Empire down to destruction,

and I bear no ill will towards the guys of the current generation who are fighting for something – who knows what – in Afghanistan (someone knows!).

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But on this Veterans’ Day, I particularly want to remember the brave G.I.’s of my own generation, the guys who refused to kill women and children in Viet Nam and went to prison for their belief in what was right.  They refused to pull the trigger on babies and old ladies to up the week’s body count, they saw for themselves how wrong the war in Viet Nam was, and they fought to tell America what we should have known all along.  Today I want to honor those brave G.I.s.


I can’t think of a better way to honor veterans today than to sit home and watch the 2006 documentary ‘Sir!  No Sir!’ If you’re in my generation, you’ll remember what really went down before terminal amnesia sets in.  If you’re younger, you can be inspired to mobilize against the power even if you feel powerless.  If you’ve been brought up to believe America is always right, always brave, always the good guys – like I was raised – you can honor the vets by growing up.

Should Christians Take Jesus Seriously?

I’ve been pondering about why I still despise Republicans when Jesus said we should love our enemies.  (Oops, just lost half my readers).

It’s typical of me and a lot of the Christians I know.  We’re  hard to understand.  For instance, I knew a Christian once who would tell me how much she just looovved Jesus, she wanted to climb up in his lap right now and bask in His Daddy love all day.  The only thing she didn’t want to do was to follow any of His advice.

She was okay with “love your neighbor” but, like the Pondering Pig, not so good with “and while you’re at it, love your enemy, too.”  Hah?

When I was a little pig, I thought my Daddy was the cat’s meow.   I wanted to be exactly like him when I grew up so I was interested in anything he was interested in, wanted to put same goop in my hair that he did, and whatever he told me about how to live, I figured he knew what he was talking about, and I wanted to do that.   And he wasn’t even close to God…believe me.

We Christians though, we believe Jesus is not only the son of God, he IS God.  Jeez, you would think we would have a listen.   What were you saying again, JC?  I want to know because you give really good advice, since you’re God.

But around here, it’s more like “We love you SOOO much Jesus, we will follow you anywhere.  Except when you start on that Sermon on the Mount stuff.  There, I think you’re wrong.  It’s too far out.  Sounds radical.   There, I’m sticking with Moses. ”

Or we don’t even mention our opinion.  We just ignore everything he said and go right along our Christian way, getting ready for the chicken dinner.

Take this  “love your enemies” stuff.  Can you imagine what it would be like if Christians started trying it?  The pro-lifers would be inviting their pro-choice friends over for dinner (because if you really love your enemies they’re not going to stay enemies for long) and after the chicken and dumplings, we would all be sitting out on the veranda sipping our sugary ice tea and laughing about how we can’t agree with each other, and giving those pro-choicers a big hug when they go home because we love them.

Or pick your favorite enemy.  For me it’s my conservative Republican congresswoman.  She’s a convenient focus for all the things I dislike about reactionary, conservative, big corporate, lying, smearing, Bush-loving, pro-war, anti-environment  politicians.   Oh dear, what did I just say?   See?  I’m a typical Christan, just on the progressive side.

If I took Jesus seriously, I’d be inviting Congresswoman Cathy out for a picnic in the park, and inviting all my friends to meet her.  Why not?  What harm would it do?  Maybe I’d eventually learn to appreciate her, even as I disagreed with her.  Anything’s possible.

And loving your enemies is an easy one.  Wait till you hear what Jesus says to do with your money!


Pig’s Going On Sabbatical

I was checking over the terms of my contract last night and I noticed that, after writing the blog for three years, I am now eligible for an all-expense paid trip to Kerguelen Island.  I think we’ll go.  Of course it does get a little cold down there but – hey – it gets a little cold up here.

Besides, Patrushka wants to go somewhere where she can wear her furs.  Don’t worry, they’re all heritage furs.  The original ermines were accidentally shot by Prince Kropotkin one morning in 1911 while he was out as usual  trying to trying to assassinate the Czar.  The Czar, riding by in his sleigh,  noticed the little guys lying in the snow and brought them home for his little daughter to play with.  My Princess Patrushka inherited them along with all the other truck – the Faberge eggs and stuff she leaves lying around the house right where I’ll stumble over them when I go out for a glass of chocolate milk.

So, where was I?  Oh yes, my sabbatical.  I want to focus more on my novel-in-progress, The Syndicate of Eternal Friendship, which had been proceeding at a snail’s pace lately.  Plus I want to organize my autobiographical pieces on the blog and see if they might hold together as a book.

So we’re heading for dear old Kerguelen.  The French Navy says they’ll have a launch waiting for us on Reunion Island, so we just have to figure out how to get there.  It’s going to be great.  No more distractions.  Just Kerguelen cabbages as far as the eye can see.  And the rabbits of course.  And the scientists dropping by every five minutes for coffee with the Princess.

Oh well, you just can’t find perfect solitude any more.  When it gets too noisy in our Quonset hut I’ll just go  for a walk and watch the albatrosses carousing up in the grey sky.


Pig Froths At Mouth Over Obama’s Cabinet, Asks “Did I Get Fooled Again?”

Look, I try to stay away from politics, government, the financial bailout or lack thereof, the various wars and Kill For Peace.  I figure the net is awash with unsought opinion on these matters and I’ll do more good by spreading a bit of the old existential gloom.  With a few laughs along the way, of course.

Howsomever, I just have to rant for one minute.  I am so disappointed with Obama’s choices so far for his cabinet.  Is this what he means by change?  To bring in or leave in place all the same hacks that got us into trouble in the first place?  In the entire land of America, in the all the universities and junior colleges and plumbing firms, is there just one small club of rich people who could possibly advise Obama on how to run America?  Is this what he considers change?


Let’s see.  Robert Gates, our new Secretary of Defense.  Well, gosh, look what I just noticed.  He already IS Secretary of Defense!  How likely is this guy to suggest we stop the war and bring home the troops and the ten billion dollars a month that we’re spending to keep them pacifying the wedding parties of Afghaistan? And, this ten billion dollars a month is coming from the canny Chinese and Japanese who keep buying our bonds.  Because even if the interest rate is getting down to zero per cent – at least they’re still safer than their own bonds.  Too bad all the poor retired suckers depending on the income from their 401k’s stocks didn’t notice in time.


How about Tim Gaither, Obama’s choice for Secretary of Treasury?  In an amazing shuffle of the cards, Tim will be shuffled over from his job as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where he had lunch and went to the cigar bars with all the Wall Street fat cats.  I’ll bet you much these guys like him fine.  But I don’t like them because they are out to get me and you.  And they’ll do it too.

Let’s see – US Treasury Bond rate: 0%.  Citibank Visa Card Rate: 28.9%.  Do we see a pattern here?

How many phone calls from guys with diamond-studded private jets did Obama field before he shuffled Tim?


Obama’s choice for top White House Economic Adviser?  It’s the Secret Agent of change, man of the people Larry Summers.  Hey, Larry Summers?  Isn’t he disco queen Donna Summers older brother?  No, but he’d probably have some fresh ideas.  No, this Larry Summers was Secretary of the Treasury for Bill Clinton.

What is this?  Some kind of expletive little fraternity and Barack passed the initiation rites?

Do I need to go on? What happened to Obama, the guy I voted for?   Did I get fooled again?

My capability for hopelessness, cynicism and despair is well practiced.  I grew up in this country.  I have watched every president from Harry Truman on vote for more greed, more power, more empire.

In these appointments, and I have only mentioned three – do you see one slight hint of meaningful change in this country?  Because I don’t.

This has been the shortest honeymoon in history.

Now back to our regular programming.