Saturday, March 10, 2012

rubaiyat redux

Back in 2008 I wrote this ( about a folky club I used to go to with friends in Dallas way WAY back in my college days. Since then it has been fun to see who stops by and reads. I've had several folks share some memories with me. Not too long ago a Paul Kelso contacted me and we exchanged an email or two and he wrote the following reminiscence which I post with his permission. It's my hope that others may notice a tag or two and respond to add their own memories.

 "It was a sunny day in 1959 when I walked into the tiny store building that was to become the original Rubaiyat and the first folk music/coffee house in Dallas. I think it was in spring, because I was involved in opening the second, the Poet Restaurant, with actor Norman Smith, later that summer, also on McKinney Ave a few blocks toward downtown. The Poet was located in the front of the building housing the 90th Floor jazz room where Dick and Kiz Harp held forth for perhaps
a decade.

Ron Shipman rented the former neighborhood grocery and conceived of
the little music room based on west coast rooms. Ron was busy painting the walls
black and screwing together antique sewing machine tables to be placed in front
of the narrow benches along the walls. (Dallas artist Tom Motley would create
some intriguing wall art and other mood setters. He later taught at Richland).

I’m not sure of the dimensions of the room, maybe twelve wide and
forty deep. As you faced the back, you saw a tiny restroom in left rear corner,
small kitchen center and right rear, with a window looking out into the room.
In the window squatted a magnificent, belching, smoking Espresso machine.
The place did not have booze originally, that came later, if at all. There were
pastries and maybe little sandwiches later on.

The stage was just in front of the kitchen area, right center to right
wall. Ceiling spot. (Note: not sure what Mr. Kelso means here.)

I learned of Shipman and his project most likely through Lu Mitchell
and Hermes Nye of the Dallas Folklore Society. (I was raised out by SMU but
was a NTSU student then). Shipman was of course the house primary, full time
singer, but ran an open mic stage most of the time with many unpaid regulars
(including me) as well as the occasional pro from out of town.

One story is that Ramblin’ Jack Elliot was booked one weekend but
didn’t show till Saturday as a horse threw him a few days previous. He drove in
from New Mexico with a leg in a cast! I recall an excellent young Latino guy
whose name I cannot remember, who not only gave us the beautiful Mexican
traditional pieces but also belted out Leadbelly! I’m searching for his name.

Interesting sidebar is that of Herta Marshall, a pert little red head sponsored in town by Nye. (1960?). She appeared at the Rubaiyat several weekends. Previously married to Will Geer, who played Grandpa of The Waltons TV fame, she sang and acted for decades and appeared as one of the elderly wives in the Cocoon movies. Last I spoke to her—in the ‘80s—she ran a Shakespeare rep company in the northern hills of Los Angeles at Topanga. Her Folkways album as Herta Marshall: To You With Love: American Folk Songs For Women (1957), is still available.

People should remember that the “Beat” era was still strong in 1959.
Coffee house culture and protocol demanded silence while singers performed or
poets read, real art hung on the walls, and we all dreamed of doing a Jack
Kerouac and splitting for Algiers. That era should not be confused with the later
anti-Nam and flower child years.

A dozen coffee houses and folk or jazz joints quickly opened up and down McKinney after Ronnie. The legendary 90th Floor jazz room, (I think older than the Rubaiyat), and The Poet. The 8th Day, with floor to ceiling art carved into the walls and run by bros. Steve and Stan Crooks, which later was sold and became strictly gay, The Interlude, owned by Hank Arnold, where great jazz flute man Jimmy Clay played and Sherry Riley read jazz poetry on Sunday afternoons. The street became a “strip” with funky clothes shops, art galleries and studios and a Beat bookstore. Shipman could be said to have kicked off the Dallas “movement,” which was short lived as the Viet Nam years changed the atmosphere.

Local police did try to infiltrate the “scene,” but were easily spotted, as they couldn’t speak the ever-changing lingo. Of course they looked for drugs but to my knowledge availability or use on the street was slight.

The Dallas Morning News railed against us but used our fads and language in their ads to sell ‘with it’ products. The DMN also had apoplexy when Pete Seeger appeared in concert at the old Knox street theatre and, despite its efforts and that of the Birchers, couldn’t get him canceled.

I left for grad school at Iowa U in the fall of 1961. The Poet closed as Smith pursued acting. When I returned to Dallas for visits in the ‘70s or early ‘80s, I played one gig at the new Rubaiyat and visited several times to catch Frummox and others. The newer group of singers seemed to regard me as a relic from the past. I suppose that was true.

To get to a close, a little praise for Ron Shipman (he and Lu Mitchell still appear at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre sometimes), now living in Allen, Texas. He was and is a fine singer, more eclectic than straight folk, accomplished at calypso, and a good songwriter. Theodore Bickel bought and recorded one about eternity. Ron ground no political axe and, in truth, never was a “Beat”. He was just serenely determined to proceed despite many telling him his little venue on McKinney would surely fail, or that our kind of music would never succeed in Texas"

Paul Kelso

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Whatever happened to OPEC?

I will quickly show I know just enough (and maybe not even that much!) to be dangerously stupid but what are blogs for?

I was having lunch with a couple of friends and of course briefly we bemoaned the rising prices of gas.

My pet peeve has been what I call “self-fulfilling prophecy”; i.e. some speculator somewhere thinks gas might be higher in a few months or hears that a middle eastern dictator has a cold, then buys some sort of commodity derivative or something at a certain price and off we go. The media reports prices are going up and sure enough, drive by your friendly local station and the guy will be out there with a ladder, suction cups and numbers in hand, changing the price.

Made me wish for OPEC. I remember something about the days when OPEC were the bad guys, a group of Arab Sheiks who met in Switzerland or some such ritzy place to determine who was going to produce how much and for what price. Then I figured – surely they couldn’t have been setting prices for the world market but then …

“One of the most common misconceptions about OPEC is that the Organization is responsible for setting crude oil prices. Although OPEC did in fact set crude oil prices from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s, this is no longer the case. OPEC's Member Countries do voluntary restrain their crude oil production in order to stabilize the oil market and avoid harmful and unnecessary price fluctuations, but this is not the same thing as setting prices.” source OPEC

So who exactly DOES set the prices for Oil and indirectly gas?

Then I read this: “In today's complex global markets, the price of crude oil is set by movements on the three major international petroleum exchanges. They are the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX,, the International Petroleum Exchange in London (IPE, and the Singapore International Monetary Exchange (SIMEX, source OPEC

Please refer back to my earlier statement about a speculator. Wonder where those people go to work everyday?

Again my faulty memory of the bad OPEC days is that the Sheiks would meet, and because at the time the Saudis were the biggest and baddest OPEC dudes, they could call the shots, raise or lower their own production so the smaller guys wouldn’t get hurt too much and in general keep the flow of crude somewhat stable (because it benefited their own economies and countries) which had the effect of keeping gas prices somewhat stable.

Note I didn’t say low but think back to those earlier days when we started feeling the pinch. I do remember when gas went over a $1 a gallon. I remember when it broke $1.50. What I don’t remember are times when it was up a dime today, down a penny or two tomorrow and then back up a nickel again the next day. It seemed like there were longer periods of the same price and not the day-to-day volatility in the market. Buying gas now is like watching an auction on eBay!

Wonder who the OPEC members are? Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia (2nd largest known reserves of OPEC countries) United Arab Emirates, Venezuela (largest known reserves of any current OPEC country)

We used to complain that higher gas prices were just making a bunch of spoiled Saudi Princes richer and richer. That may still be true but who is really profiting by the rising prices? I found these folks on a list of the 20 most profitable U.S. companies:

#1 Exxon ($30.5 bil.), #3 Chevron #3 ($19 bil.), #16 Conoco/Phillips ($11.4 bil.) Two int’l cos. are Shell ($28.6 bil.) and BP (a measly $5.3 bil. in the year after the big spill)

Can you see where this is going?

The next little bit of research is to see who of these folks are paying taxes. I found an article where Exxon was whining to CNN about how they paid out more in taxes than they took in, in profit. But it turns out they were counting sales taxes collected at the pump as taxes they paid! So the 25-50 cents per gallon tax that you and I pay at the pump, Exxon was telling reporters THEY paid those taxes. All their stations did was collect them and pass them on. Those taxes were OUR nickels and dimes and DOLLARS, not Exxon’s. But in fairness I did find that Exxon paid about 29% of those profits as actual corporate income taxes – still below the 35% that our tax code requires (can you spell tax subsidy?)

All I set out to do here was find the bogeyman for the daily price rises at the gas pump. We can hate the Arabs all we want (and Chavez too) but it seems there are plenty of our own villains to go ‘round!

I don’t really understand the futures market. I sort of get that if I want to buy a share of Apple stock, I’d pay $532 today (give or take). What I don’t understand is that as a speculator I can presume Apple’s stock price might be $750 (they wish!) and then buy up options or futures based on that assumption. What I further don’t get is how this option purchase today can affect the stock price tomorrow or next month? Shouldn’t that be based more on performance, the long-term market for the products etc.?

Bottom line, low or high, gas is always going to be profitable. Oil companies weren’t going broke when I paid less than 30 cents a gallon back in college. In fact for many, those days were the hay-days of big oil in Texas.

Finally just read this: Obama is considering revoking some tax subsidies for oil companies because of the high prices at the pump. I’m no economist and I really don’t think any of them need subsidies but … taking them away will mean their operating costs go up – right? And if their costs go up, what will happen to the price of gas?

What goes around, comes around I guess.