Saturday, April 30, 2011

Better Late Than Never

Oops, I was so busy laughing my ass off at a Patton Oswalt show last night that I forgot to post a Friday night video. So in honor of the royal couple, the obvious choice:

The Handoff

I know I haven't coughed up a Libya hairball in a while, but I've been busy, man. So the best I can do is to hand you off over to Jon Walker's excellent summation of the current stalemate, over at the old Hamsher place. Walker spells out your best-case and worst-case scenarios in a way that will bring back that familiar gloomy feeling if you haven't thought about Libya for a while. I don't really have any value to add right now, so I'll offer up a proposed new Internet acronym: JGRTWT.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Let Polly Shake

Cross-posted at

Polly Jean Harvey has always been noted for her chameleonic nature. She’s said it herself: “when I'm working on a new record, the most important thing is to not repeat myself ... that's always my aim: to try and cover new ground and really to challenge myself. Because I'm in this for learning.” Rising from this spirit of exploration, her albums have ranged from gritty blues (To Bring You My Love) to haunted folk (White Chalk) to raw punk (Rid of Me). But the sound is always a function of each disc’s thematically distinct context, not simply chosen from a style buffet.

Her new collection, Let England Shake, shows an amalgam of these styles in what’s been offhandedly referred to as an “anti-war” album. Leery as always of labels, Harvey has called the work “apolitical.” That it is, in the sense that the twelve songs focus on the personal toll of nationalism, imperialism, warfare and the mass delusions of crowds. She avoids easy answers, but death stalks the listener at every turn. “I have seen and done things I want to forget,” says one narrator, “Soldiers fall like lumps of meat.” In another she tells of the “glorious fruit of our land:” its children, orphaned and deformed.

Harvey approaches the different characters in the songs with a variety of vocal styles, from an ironic, girlish sing-song to a forlorn wail. The instrumentation likewise serves the mood of the material, the opening track seemingly starting mid-song with a spooky xylophone line. Harvey plays guitar and autoharp throughout, but also adds sax, violin and zither to various tracks. Longtime collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey (no relation) add percussion, horns, keys, guitars and vocals. With production work from Flood, the songs were recorded in a 19th Century church overlooking the seaside cliffs of Dorset.

Let England Shake takes us to dark and tormented places with a sense of wonder and compassion. The results of this career highlight were on display at San Francisco’s Warfield Theater on April 14 – one of four stops on her US tour supporting the album. The show has been streamed on NPR, and an edited version is available for podcast.

Happy Save the Frogs Day

Scientific studies prove that frogs are one of the five coolest animals (along with vultures, rhinos, sloths and penguins). Unfortunately, scientific studies also show that amphibians in general - and frogs in particular - are the most endangered animals on the planet. Nearly a third of all amphibian species are on the verge of extinction, leading to the unfathomable possibility that your children or grandchildren might live in a world where frogs are only a memory.

In response, scientists have created Save the Frogs Day, and today, April 29, 2011,  is the third annual worldwide event in support of the little guys. There are 118 events in 20 countries across the globe, scheduled anywhere from March to June. You can find out more at Frog Day central.

Frogs are at risk from a variety of factors: "habitat destruction, infectious diseases, pollution and pesticides, climate change, invasive species, and over-harvesting for the pet and food trades." If you want to know what to do to help, you could start by distributing this fact sheet (PDF) - even if you're reading this sometime other than Frog Day.

The main site goes into more detail about conservation strategies, and in particular about the need to control invasive species and pesticides. The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity has a handy form letter regarding one particular brand of pesticide that is devastating frog populations.

I don't want to live in a world without frogs. So please... don't let them croak.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Take a Moment to Help Save a Life

I have no control over the ads that show up on this site; often they have little or nothing to do with what I write about. How many posts have I done on bird cages, after all?

But when I re-posted my old rant about the death penalty earlier this month, the advertising bots decided to post Amnesty's ads on the case of Troy Davis. Since then, there has been a steady stream of messages across the Net about this impending miscarriage of justice in the state of Georgia: potentially, yet another execution of an innocent man.

The state has no murder weapon; indeed no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime. Seven witnesses have recanted their testimony against him, and new witnesses have identified another suspect. He needs a new trial, but was denied justice one month ago by the US Supreme Court. Now, time is running out for Troy Davis.

Now, if you oppose capital punishment, you oppose it for the guilty as well as the innocent. Once we establish that the government can take the life of its citizens for "heinous" crimes, we give police and prosecutors incentive to frame and railroad people in order to find someone to blame. And as we have seen, police and prosecutors are loath to admit they've made mistakes - which has, too often, led to the execution of the innocent.

But quite frankly, even if you support the death penalty, you should sit up and take notice when a case like this one pops up. Your belief in the appropriateness of such penalties doesn't include support for its application to the wrongly convicted. You, too, should fight to stop such executions, lest support should crumble for what you consider a legitimate measure.

So everyone who reads this should take a moment to try to save a life. There is far too much reasonable doubt about the culpability of Mr. Davis. And once his life has been ended, there is no way to set it right again. Moreover, letting Georgia make this mistake not only compounds the initial crime, but lets the real culprit off the hook forever.

Here's an appeal from a friend of Troy Davis, explaining various steps you can take to speak out. If you are lawyer or a member of the clergy, there are separate petitions you can sign on to. For the rest of us, that Amnesty link above will help you take action, as will this campaign from Color of Change.

It costs you nothing to take this step. It costs him everything if we don't.

Just Folks

If you're within the sound of my zipcode, I'll be emcee for a few hours of the 26th annual Tucson Folk Festival this weekend. Join me at the Old Town Artisans stage from noon to 2 on Saturday. The shady courtyard there is a wonderful place to settle back and see some music, and best of all, the price is right: free.

I'll be introducing four of the more than 100 local, regional and national acts featured over the two days of the Festival. There's a self-described "weirdo," a young singer/songwriter with an old soul, an Irish dance band, and a collaboration between two longtime Tucson songwriters.

If you're not in the Tucson area, much of the Festival will be broadcast (and streamed) on public station KXCI.

I'm totally looking forward to this, and afterward... I'll be looking back on it. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Military Says We're Overmilitarized

If that's not a "Man Bites Dog" headline, I don't know what is.

This concerns a study, of potentially huge significance (PDF), authored by senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff office. They write pseudonymously – though not anonymously – as "Mr. Y," very consciously invoking the gravitas of George Kennan's pen name "X" for his Cold War manifesto of 1946. The obligatory disclaimer states that the views of Mr. Y "do not reflect... official policy," but if these views weren't being batted around at the highest levels of the military, it's doubtful Captain Porter and Colonel Myckleby would have appended their real names.

One writer synopsised Mr. Y's conclusions thusly: "The report says Americans are overreacting to Islamic extremism, underinvesting in their youth, and failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made America a world power." It does say that, and much more besides. They find threats to our security in Third World poverty and illiteracy, arguing "We cannot isolate our own prosperity and security from the global system." Well, that's true, but we sure have been giving it the old college try, haven't we?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

2002: Enron Body Count

I suppose you'd have to add the conveniently timed death of Kenneth Lay to the mysteries surrounding the Enron case. I'm just wondering - do people investigating Obama's birth certificate keep dropping off like this?

As amusing as it is to watch the Usurper from Texas squirm and lie as Buick-sized chunks from the Enron eruption hurtle towards the White House, we must not lose sight of the fact that many of the company's employees and investors have been financially devastated. Plus, at least one of them is quite dead.

RIP Phoebe Snow

RIP Poly Styrene

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Random Ten #6

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/Song/Album:

1.   Gene Autry/Back in the Saddle Again/The Essential Gene Autry
2.   David Byrne/Big Blue Plymouth (Eyes Wide Open)/The Catherine Wheel
3.   Eels/Fresh Feeling/Meet the Eels: Essential Eels 1996-2006
4.   Funkadelic/Red Hot Mama/Standing on the Verge of Getting It On
5.   Spoon/The Ghost of You Lingers/Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
6.   George Jones/A Girl I Used To Know/The Best of George Jones
7.   The Grass Roots/Lovin' Things/Their 16 Greatest Hits
8.   Aaron English/Thin Ice/The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon
9.   Ry Cooder/3 Cool Cats/Chavez Ravine
10. Creation Rockers/Four Horsemen/Shatter the Hotel: A Dub Inspired Tribute to Joe Strummer

Sunday, April 24, 2011

1999: The Impeachment of Bill Clinton

As this issue goes to press, the Senate seems to have come to the conclusion that it's time to come to a conclusion. With the lopsided vote against calling live witnesses, the stage is now set for the President's impeachment trial to come to an end on Friday, February 12, as scheduled. Of course, this slow-motion train wreck has reversed itself so many times that it's not really safe to make any predictions until all the Congresscritters have voted and left for their vacations. But, God willing, it'll all be over soon.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

2006: The Impeachment of George Bush

The titular "impeachment," of course, was declared "off the table" by incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and off the table it stayed, though progressives (myself obviously included) enjoyed fulminating about it for the next couple years. Less known, perhaps, is that Democrats similarly decided the impeachment of Ronald Reagan was off the table. Bill Clinton likewise declined to prosecute the crimes of the first Bush Administration. And President Obama has famously declared that he prefers looking forward, not backward, even as the rest of the world demands accountability for the Lesser Bush Administration's crimes against humanity. What have the Democrats ever gained from keeping such matters off our national table? Perhaps more to the point, what is it they prefer to keep on it?

In 1961, following the Bay of Pigs disaster, President Kennedy told CIA Director Allen Dulles, “In a parliamentary government, I'd have to resign. But in this government I can't, so you have to go.” Of course, just a few years later, JFK had to go, and Dulles was back in government service as a member of the Warren Commission, helping to cover up his ex-boss’s murder.

Friday, April 22, 2011

WIth Robert Quine on Lead

Matthew Sweet, "Girlfriend," 1991:

Ladies and Gentlemen

Lately I've rekindled my friendship for the Stones. It started with last year's Exile on Main Street reissue, and picked up steam with the Keef memoir. Now I've got a copy of Ladies and Gentlemen the Rolling Stones, and as the saying goes, it rewards repeated listenings. Quite simply, this is the Stones at the peak of their powers.

That's not to say that it was all downhill from here (the '72 tour promoting Exile); there were plenty of peaks and valleys to come. But none of those peaks ever quite reached this altitude again.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

2004: We Already Told You

Sadder but wiser?

2004: Kerry for President
I tend to use my vote strategically. I voted for third party candidates in 1976, 1980, 1996 and 2000 to send a message to the Democrats that I couldn't stomach their policies (and because Peter Camejo, Barry Commoner and Ralph Nader offered genuine leadership).

When I canvassed for Barry Commoner and the Citizen's Party in 1980, my friend and I were sent to the poorest precincts of East Palo Alto. The African-Americans there would have none of it. They told us that we would just help get Ronald Reagan elected, and then things would be even worse. And even though Jimmy Carter was mostly offering Reagan Lite, I came to see that those voters were right. Things did get much, much worse because of Reagan, and we're still suffering from the effects.

2000: Nader for President

I know there are plenty of people who still blame Nader for the outcome of the '00 election, and will never forgive him (though Al Gore is not among them). As I predicted at the time, George W. Bush did lose that election, both nationwide and in Florida. That it was close enough to steal resulted from the ineptness of the Gore/Lieberman campaign, and blame for the outcome rests primarily on the shoulders of O'Connor, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy and Rehnquist. 

As a result of that outcome, though, there is a broader consensus among progressives that third-party politics are not a viable option under the current rules. I continue to believe those rules should be changed to allow greater democratic participation, but I'm not optimistic. 

Nader continues to write and speak out for systemic change in his books and at his website. His critique of the Democratic Party has lost none of its salience. The truism continues to be true, that Republicans fear their base and Democrats hate theirs. Arguably, the '00 debacle led to a more progressive platform in '04 and '08, but keeping both the base and the donors happy continues to be a conundrum for the DNC. As for Democrats developing a spine, well, the results are mixed at best.

1912: Debs for President
Last week I had the honor of meeting briefly with Ralph Nader before his speech here in Tucson. It isn't every day you get to meet a future postage stamp, and Nader is one of the great political heroes of this century (it still being the 20th century, you will recall), along with folks like Eugene V. Debs, Robert LaFollette and Martin Luther King, Jr. Which reminds me: has Debs been on a stamp, and if not, why the hell not?

A Succinct Appraisal of Our Current Sociopolitical Situation

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Now There's a Modest Proposal

I tend to believe that 90% of all the world's problems come from bad parenting.  Bernie Madoff, Roy Cohn, Snooki, you name it. Who raised these people?

Now, in the nature/nurture debate, I keep a foot in both camps. I think that bad parenting can trump good genes, and sometimes vice versa.

In the classroom, you confront the results of other folks' parenting decisions every day, for better or worse. Author/activist David Macaray describes it thusly:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Behind the 8-Ball?

This piece by foreign policy eminence grise Leslie Gelb, entitled "How Libya Saps America's Strength," is good enough on its own merits. But I mention it here especially because Gelb coined the term "Q-Ball" to refer to Qadaffy. Wish I'd thought of that!

Civility Update

Not an incitement to violence.
Erick Erickson of RedState helpfully passes this along:
...back in January, Paul Krugman was one of many drooling idiot leftists devoid of any moral compass who tried to pin the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords on a lack of Republican civility. Even though, by the time Krugman’s column ran, it was clear that Giffords’ shooter was a mentally disturbed individual whose assassination plot was not motivated by coherent political theory of any stripe, Krugman was not about to let facts get in the way of a good partisan narrative.
And so, following this logic, since Krugman wrote a column about the Ryan budget plan entitled "Let's Not Be Civil," then, ipso facto, Krugman is calling for "the assassination of Paul Ryan." Nice.

Monday, April 18, 2011

You Go, Guy!

Major congratulations to my brother, who finished in the Boston Marathon today! He was slowed by an ankle injury, but persevered all the way nevertheless. Tony, you are the man.

Whatever This Moment Is

NPR Music is, increasingly, one of the best music sites around. Not only are they helping to bring lesser-known artists to the attention of their large (and growing) audience, but they are more and more a home for smart music commentary.

Today Ann Powers dropped an essay suffused with optimism about the future of music, referencing the success of Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, Adele and other indie acts:

Call what's coming the summer of audacious and purposeful selling out. Its major players are artists who project ferocious self-determination – the aura of independence – while hungrily laying claim to the status quo.... 
 Whether they're progressive, apolitical or genuinely freaky isn't the point – no matter how much success they gain, these artists continually cultivate the spirit of party crashing, which lends energy to their music and defines their unyielding commitment to outrageousness. 

2001: Safety First!

Written one week after 9/11:

It took nearly a week for the leader of the free world to speak out against vigilante reprisals for the 9/11 attacks - a week in which there were over 200 hate crimes against Arab and Muslim Americans, as well as lots of people who happened to look the part.

 It would have been helpful to have heard this sort of thing the night of the first address from the Oval Office; I was hoping against hope for it. Analogies to Pearl Harbor had abounded all day long; it could have been made clear from the start that we would not repeat the shameful episode in which Americans of Japanese descent were herded into internment camps. Many of these recent hate crimes could have been prevented had someone in the executive branch shown a little leadership. Exactly the same thing happened during the Gulf War, so it's not as if this ugliness was unexpected.

Monday Random Ten #5

1.   Mulatu Astatke & the Heliocentrics/Chik Chikka/Inspiration Information
2.   Wilco/What Light/Sky Blue Sky
3.   The High Llamas/Tilting Windmills/Cold and Bouncy
4.   Ludwig van Beethoven/Sonata No. 5 for Cello & Piano, III. Allegro Fugato/Sonatas for Cello & Piano
5.   The Wombats/Kill the Director/The Wombats Proudly Present a Guide to Love Lost
6.   Public Image Ltd./Death Disco/Death Disco 12" single
7.   David Bowie/Let's Dance/Best of Bowie
8.   Matthew Sweet/Where You Get Love/Blue Sky on Mars
9.   Van She/(Don't Fear) The Reaper/BAT022
10. Brenda Lee/Emotions/20th Century Masters: Brenda Lee

Sunday, April 17, 2011

1995: Trial of the Century

It may not have been the trial of the century, but it certainly was the media frenzy of the century, and a kind of a sneak preview of the 24/7 shark hunt for new frenzies that our cable networks have become. 

So, O.J. Simpson. I've made a conscious decision over the last year and a half not to run very many OJ cartoons, in large part because I felt it was one of the most overreported stories of the decade, and we all had more important things to talk about, like the GOP onslaught. The OJ case, I felt, didn't really tell us that much about ourselves.

Okay, so I was wrong.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Libya: A Just War or Just a War?

Our story so far:

The Libya Chapter
The Libya Ambivalence
Toward a Shallower Ambivalence
Libya: He's a Rebel
Libya: Qadaffy's Defenders
Libya: Place Your Bets
Libya: Friends Like These
Libya: Opportunity Costs
Libya: Damage, Collateral and Otherwise

In thinking about whether the kinetic action in Libya is justified, it helps to consider the long tradition of Just War Doctrine. As I recall, supporters of the Iraq War tried to claim, ludicrously, that the conditions enumerated therein were met. As a refresher, those conditions are:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success; 
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power as well as the precision of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

1998: Clinton vs. Nixon

Oh man, I just found the hook for posting this re-run comparing the transgressions of Clinton with those of Nixon (and while surfing for a photo to accompany the post, I found this page arguing that Nixon's domestic policies were more liberal than Clinton's). Over at, John Feffer compares Nixon to Obama. His argument is that Nixon was simultaneously a great peacemaker and a cruel warmonger. In "Emulating Nixon," he discusses Obama's record of arms control successes and contrasts that with his resort to arms in the Af-Pak conflict – and this was written in 2009, well before the resort to arms in North Africa. Does this particular shoe fit? Since my record of prognostication is spotty at best (see below) let's just say, as the saying goes, chronology will elaborate.

We seem to be the victims of an ancient Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. Longtime readers will recall that after President Clinton's re-election in 1996, I lay out even odds that he would not finish out his second term. It looks like those odds are now, at the very least, 60-40 against.

As this issue goes to press, Independent Inquisitor Kenneth Starr has just delivered his report to Congress, all 36 cartons of it. By the time you read this, the contents will be leaking all over Washington. And members of his own party are distancing themselves from the President, just as the Republicans did when the stench of Nixon's crimes grew too strong to ignore.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sister Rosetta

I was going to go with Sister Rosetta Tharpe's sublime Down By the Riverside video, with its kickass guitar solo, but for some reason YouTube won't let me embed that one - though I can still link to it.

When you come back (you will come back, won't you?), enjoy this song Sam Phillips wrote about the late great Ms. Tharpe. I love this tune:

I Think We Should See Other People

Over at NPR Music, Daoud Tyler-Ameen, fed up with Death Cab and Weezer, asks the question "When did you break up with your favorite band? It seems to me that this is the wrong question.

Your favorite band isn't like your spouse or your lover, whom you court ardently, then break up with if irreconcilable differences appear. For me, my favorite bands are like my pals who I enjoy spending time with. And over the years, while I may spend more time with one or more of them, I drift away from others. But I never really "break up" with my buds. I still like 'em just fine, and I wouldn't mind hanging out now and then. It's just, you know, I'm kinda busy, man.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

2000: The Noose and the Juice

Here in 2011, old Clarence Thomas has authored "one of the meanest Supreme Court decisions ever," telling a former death row inmate in Louisiana that, even if he was wrongfully convicted, he has no right to collect damages because the prosecution didn't engage in a "pattern of misconduct." And that's life in this here modern America.

Like I said, if you oppose the death penalty, you don't have a candidate in the presidential sweepstakes, at least not the kind the corporate media call “viable.” Capital punishment is still pretty popular in these here United States, though perhaps not as vastly popular as a few years ago. Many ardent legal snuff fans are beginning to have their doubts.

Thirty five or so years ago, the vast majority of Americans opposed the death penalty, and it was being phased out in civilized countries across the globe. In the 70s, the Supreme Court, not yet fully mediocritized by GOP appointees, found capital punishment as practiced then to be unconstitutional. But they left the door open for a return to the juice and the noose if the states wrote some new laws. As crime statistics rose along with a demographic increase in the number of young males, politicians demagogued the issue for all it was worth, and the death penalty became popular again.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2005: The Abramoff Scandal

It took a long time, but Tom DeLay, once one of the most powerful men in Washington, is now doing time for his role in this scandal - which, like the Plame scandal is now a major motion picture. Here's how it looked at the time:

Few Americans have ever heard of Jack Abramoff. But then, most Americans can’t tell you who their local Congressmuppet is, either. And most Americans had never heard of Tom DeLay until the day he was indicted.

And it’s not just “average” Americans, either, whoever they are. I have a friend who ran for Congress in 2002. He tried to explain to the editorial board at one of the district’s main newspapers why the incumbent should be denied re-election. His opponent, he said, was a major ally of Tom DeLay. Who, asked these professional journalists, is Tom DeLay?


You know who doesn't get enough respect? Erykah Badu. She's amazing.

I top-tenned her 2008 album New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), but regrettably not the 2010 sequel New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), though it was equally great. I wonder if she'd have got more mileage out releasing them as a double? Sometimes people go, hm, a double album, must be something to it....

Anyway, Pitchfork is reporting that laptop wizard Flying Lotus, who co-directed the video below, is collaborating with Badu on new material. Yum!

Assuming You Don't Waste Enough Time on the Internet

Go over here. De nada.

1998: Pol Pot and Suharto

This Rant concerns genocide; it's occasioned by the recent departures of two of the all-time champs in that particular contact sport: Pol Pot and Suharto.

I couldn't help but notice the interesting double standard in the way our corporate media handled these guys' retirements (Mr. Pot's being the more permanent variety). Both of these erstwhile statesmen have the blood of at least one million corpses on their hands. Pol Pot was (correctly) denounced as a monster and as the mastermind behind some of the most brutal killings since Hitler.

Of course, what the news muppets left out was the before-and-after context: Just before Pol Pot came to power, our own statesmen bombed the stuffing out of the Cambodian countryside, thus swelling the ranks of the Khmer Rouge army with thousands of enraged but previously apolitical peasants. Had this not happened, it's doubtful Pol Pot's ragtag forces could ever have overthrown the Cambodian government.

Of course, this particular government wasn't all that beloved to begin with, since it had been installed by the US when the previous regime (which was beloved by Cambodians) proved to be too uncooperative to suit our President Nixon. Our puppet regime, run by the palindromic Lon Nol, was happy to look the other way while US planes carpet-bombed Cambodian peasantry.

More EduRanting

I suppose it's a quant notion these days, but some of us educators don't actually think the purpose of schools is to provide a compliant and competent labor pool for the service industries of tomorrow. Instead, the idea is more or less that the job of the schools is to produce good citizens - well-informed, critical-thinking, enterprising young people who are equipped for success as adults.

Our national conversation about education has devolved to the point where it's all about test scores and the teachers who produce them, and not so much about why our kids need to know the things we test them on. And since the schools I taught in were stressed out trying to meet the Xeno's Paradox of scoring goals that rose every year, they largely focussed on math and reading and not much else. Since there was no social studies curriculum, I had to create my own, and try to squeeze it in for 5 minutes a day, and not without some pushback for even that much.

Some people have a different vision for our schools. I ran across a spirited rant from educator/activist Matt Meyer. And when I run across such things, it's my job to locate the money quote in order to get you to click over and, as the saying goes, read the whole thing:
After little more than 150 years of federally-mandated and coordinated schooling-for-all, the US commitment to publicly supported teachers and students is quickly coming to an abrupt end. The global corporate penchant for the privatization, commoditization, and enclosure of practically everything is having particularly chilling effects in policies that Henry Giroux suggests "seek nothing less than the total destruction of the democratic potential of American education."
Happy to help.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

2006: Hate Sketch

Five years later, and I don't think I've seen another political cartoon that pissed me off as much as this congratulations, McKee!

After 17 years in the political cartoon business, I thought I’d seen it all. But I can’t remember seeing as disgraceful a cartoon in an American newspaper as Rick McKee’s depiction of “The Left” choosing to pretend there is no terrorist threat (see above). Okay, I can think of some that were equally disgraceful, but none that were more so.

Look, I understand how political cartoons work. They’re supposed to provoke, anger, exaggerate. Many times I’ve found myself ticked off when some cartoonist deftly skewers my point of view–and then I have to catch myself and smile. But this is different, and I think I can explain why I think McKee’s cartoon crosses the line.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ritter and Rouse

I speak to you tonight of two men named Josh. They have much in common besides the initial letter of their surnames. Both of them are accomplished singer-songwriters. Both are storytellers, their songs filled with wayward lovers and other well-drawn characters. Both work in more or less the same idiom: mostly acoustic, folk-tinged Americana, with occasional pop flourishes. Both are midwesterners, born in Idaho and Nebraska, respectively. Both were born in the early- to mid-70s, four years apart, and both began recording in the late 90s. Both started out with spare, impressive debut albums and have matured musically like bottles of old wine.

So how the hell are you supposed to tell them apart?

Well, Ritter is fitter, he's the heavy hitter, and more liter...ary. That is, he's probably the better-known Josh R, so his bankbook may be fitter. His lyrics are a bit denser, more mercurial, inventive, indelible, so he's the  heavy hitter of the two - with all due respect (which is considerable). And he's written a book, so it's not just his songwriting that's more literary.

Meanwhile Rouse has helpfully named one of his recent albums Country Mouse City House. So your mnemonic device for these guys is definitely the rhyming strategy.

Of the two, Rouse is the more prolific – though just as terrific – with nearly twice as many albums in the same decade-plus-change the two of them have been at it. He likes to release a steady stream of EPs, rarities and downloads to keep his fanbase happy. Rouse also sings just as sweetly in Spanish as he does in English, and his lilting voice is reminiscent of Paul Simon's.

Both of them are well worth checking out, if your taste runs to say, Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown, the Jayhawks, the Pernice Brothers, Ron Sexsmith or Todd Snider. For you older folks, think maybe Jackson Browne. Or Greg Brown.

So here is Josh's website, while Josh's website is over here

And here are some slick videos from each of them, both of which start with somebody walking on a beach. This is getting spooky, guys:

Josh Ritter/Change of Time
Josh Rouse/Quiet Town

Stress Factories

My daughter is starting her week of high-stakes testing, which is designed to punish and/or reward schools based on their scores on this single battery of standardized tests. And I just ran across a great piece by Chris Hedges called "Why the United States is Destroying Its Education System." You want to read the whole thing, but here's a quote from a disgruntled educator that rings true for me:
“If the Bloomberg administration can be said to have succeeded in anything,” he said, “they have succeeded in turning schools into stress factories where teachers are running around wondering if it’s possible to please their principals and if their school will be open a year from now, if their union will still be there to offer some kind of protection, if they will still have jobs next year. This is not how you run a school system. It’s how you destroy one. The reformers and their friends in the media have created a Manichean world of bad teachers and effective teachers. In this alternative universe there are no other factors. Or, all other factors—poverty, depraved parents, mental illness and malnutrition—are all excuses of the Bad Teacher that can be overcome by hard work and the Effective Teacher.”
The stress is baked into the system at all levels. It's passed down from the federal level, to the states, to the school districts, to the principals, to the teachers, to the kids.

It was inherent in the NCLB paradigm that there would be sticks but no carrots, and the whole thing was underfunded from the beginning in a bait-and-switch maneuver that the Bush White House used to get Ted Kennedy on board. And untangling this mess will require more commitment than the Obama White House has shown to date.

If you work in a school, have kids in the school system, or depend on those kids to grow up and run this country when you retire, this should concern you. It's parked right here.

Monday Random Ten #4

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/Song/Album:

1.   Girl Talk/This is the Remix/All Day
2.   Elvis Presley/Blue Hawaii/Blue Hawaii Soundtrack
3.   Bob Dylan and Joan Osborne/Chimes of Freedom/The 60s Soundtrack
4.   Elvis Costello/Ship of Fools/Deadicated
5.   Galactic/Heart of Steel/Ya-ka-may
6.   This Mortal Coil/Holocaust/It'll End in Tears
7.   James McMurtry/Dry River/Saint Mary of the Woods
8.   Twin Shadow/I Can't Wait/Gordon Voidwell Remixes
9.   Galaxie 500/Blue Thunder/On Fire
10. The Staples Singers/If You're Ready/Be What You Are

Sunday, April 10, 2011

1997: The Great Budget Deal

Yes, a deal has been reached, but nothing is ever final in Washington, DC. And as Mark Twain may or may not have said, history may not repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes:

So there do seem to be some signs of a healthier economy, and not just in Tucson. The stock market is humming along, and we have the lowest inflation and unemployment numbers in decades. Of course, those unemployment numbers can be a bit deceiving. The official Commerce Department rate doesn't calculate the number of discouraged workers and involuntary part-timers in its monthly data on who's out of work. If they did, our unemployment rate would be roughly double what's reported, a number pretty much in line with those of the European Community.

Still, things could be a lot worse... and for plenty of folks, they are.

Libya: Damage, Collateral and Otherwise

Our story so far:

The Libya Chapter
The Libya Ambivalence
Toward a Shallower Ambivalence
Libya: He's a Rebel
Libya: Qadaffy's Defenders
Libya: Place Your Bets
Libya: Friends Like These
Libya: Opportunity Costs

Wars are obviously a lot easier to get into than out of. That alone should be grounds for avoiding them whenever possible. Beyond that, of course, is the Shit Happens Doctrine. War supporters invoke it regularly whenever complaints of atrocities arise: "Hey, this is war; get over it."

Which is exactly the reason why extreme caution needs to be employed before ever going down that road. Atrocities are inevitable, no matter how righteous the cause – indeed, those most certain of the righteousness of their cause are prone to committing (and excusing) atrocities. And the other side's atrocities – real, exaggerated, or fabricated – are then the impetus for ever more stringent efforts to defeat them.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

2005: The Plame Scandal

Just a little reminder about the kinds of folks we're dealing with here...

A criminal conspiracy at the heart of the White House: just like Watergate, that’s what the Traitorgate scandal is all about. At this writing, “Scooter” Libby, Chief of Staff to the Vice-President and a senior assistant to the President, has become the first sitting White House official to be indicted in over 130 years.

The 5-count indictment charges that Libby did “conspire” to obstruct the investigation into the disclosure of a covert agent. Conspiring is not something you can do alone, and Karl Rove (presumably identified as “Official A” in the indictment) is still under investigation. Rove is the most malevolent thug to serve in the executive branch since J. Edgar Hoover. He may or may not end up doing time over his role in this case, but based on what is already known, he has brought everlasting disgrace to this administration.

But that shame goes beyond this shameless White House. It flows–like a spilled wine glass to the carpet–into the roles of both the media and the electorate in enabling these criminals.

Friday, April 8, 2011

1999: The No Conspiracy Blues

This is the third in a series of three annual April columns about the MLK assassination that ran in the Tucson Comic News in 1997, 1998, and 1999:

To virtually nobody's surprise, the US Department of Justice announced last week that there was no conspiracy in the death of the late Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior, who is honored with a national holiday, even here in Arizona. At least, that was the gist of the story as reported by those news outlets that bothered to cover it at all. A Justice Department spokesman hastened to point out that they didn't find that there was absolutely no conspiracy at all. It’s just that they weren't able to find one after investigating for the last eighteen months.

It turns out that Janet Reno had asked her investigators to look into only two allegations. One, whether a Memphis barman named Lloyd Jowers had been telling the truth when he confessed to being a part of a conspiracy to assassinate King, which included members of tile Mafia and the federal government And two, whether a former FBI man named Donald Wilson had been telling the truth when he claimed to have recovered documents from the car of accused lone nut assassin James Earl Ray, which tended to corroborate Ray’s version of the events.

Drunken Angel

Your Friday night video is Lucinda Williams with "Drunken Angel," from the Car Wheels on a Gravel Road album. TGIF!

1995: Democrats for Dornan

Hey, I don't know if you remember "B-1 Bob" Dornan, but he was like a sneak preview of the brand of crazy that is now the Official Personality Disorder of the Republican Party. In fact, I'm kind of surprsied he's not on the comeback trail....

You can't please everyone. Not too long ago, a reader took me to task for lampooning the Republicans exclusively, since (he felt) the Democrats were more to blame for the current mess. The other day, another reader berated me for lampooning Clinton, since (he felt) the Republicans never attack their own.

Well, I must be doing something right if I have both the weasels and the lizards pissed off at me. There are a couple of possible reactions here. The first is to note that the Democratic Party ain't what it used to be, if in fact it ever was. The last generation or so has seen such an exorbitant hike in the cost of political campaigns that there has been a corresponding rise in political prostitution amongst the party of the people.

Buy a Poet a Beer

Hey, it's National Poetry Month. And I happen to know a pretty good one (poet, not month). My friend Ruthie Singer takes evocative photos of the mundane, then writes sublime little haikus to go along with them. Simple but elegant. You can find them on her Facebook page, Seventeen. If you're on FB, and you like her poems, then "like" them officially. This will help Ruthie find a publisher to turn those pixels into atoms. Which is even better than buying her a beer.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Best Batch Yet

The National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress just announced another 25 recordings that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States." This year's list includes Lydia Mendoza, the Boswell Sisters, John Fahey, De La Soul, Tammy Wynette, Steely Dan – and an actual surviving recording from 1853.

Tucked in along with these other worthies is the late Don Van Vliet, AKA Captain Beefheart, honored for his 1969 recording Trout Mask Replica. As the board put it:

This unclassifiable melding of country, blues, folk and free jazz filtered through Captain Beefheart’s feverishly inventive imagination remains without precedent in its striking sonic and lyrical originality.

Are you listening, R&R HoF?

Congratulations to Mr. Van Vliet's surviving family; truly he belongs to the ages. Too bad he had to share this honor the same year as Newt Gingrich. Well, ain't that America?

Oh, and one other notable recording was the one to which the Dude abided in his bathtub. You know the one I mean..

1999: The Great Birkby

My hate mail was never of quite the caliber that Markos Moulitsas Zuniga receives, as we do operate on different planes. But the Birkby letters were some of my all-time favorites. For quite some time after this exchange, printed in issue #69 of the Tucson Comic News, my friends and I would use the world "birkby" as a synonym for clueless. So Mr. Birkby, if you're still out there, you've achieved semi-immortality.

Dear Mr. Zep: I know from my own political research that most of the organizations in the "peace" calendar are pro-Communist (or are front groups). What is peaceful about Communism? More people have been killed under Communism than any other form of government in history. (Yes, this includes Hitler). Some of us know the truth, sir. Whether you realize it or not, you have blood on your hands by giving those groups publicity. And I'm guessing that when you finally realize it, you won't care. J.M. Birkby

Dear Mr. Birk:

Let me get this straight. Because I publish meeting times for groups like Tucson Organic Gardeners, the local food co-op and the Cosmic Peace Healing Circle, I'm responsible the the deaths of millions under Stalin?

Your letter reminded me of an old Russian joke: Under capitalism, man exploits man. But under communism, it's just the opposite.

Marching Orders

Blogmaster Matt has been on a tear against Paul Ryan's ridiculous budget blueprint – as well he should be. The plan is a farce. It calls for higher taxes on the middle class, even lower taxes on the rich than under the Bush years, eliminating Medicare and replacing it with an underfunded voucher program, and changing Medicaid into a block grant to the states – who would then be unable to increase funding during economic downturns, when it's needed the most.

It does all this without making a serious dent in the long term budget deficit, and without taking a serious effort to address defense spending. And it also claims that it can reduce unemployment to 4% by 2015 and 2.8% by 2021. It makes these laughable claims by ignoring CBO numbers and projecting instead based on magic pony numbers from the Heritage Foundation. Yglesias started his pummeling on Tuesday morning by reproducing the Heritage chart above, which made similarly wild claims about the paradise that would ensue if Bush the Lessor's tax giveaway scheme were enacted back in Ought One. This embarrassed the think tank enough that they scrubbed their website and offered slightly less optimistic numbers for the Ryan plan.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

1998: James Earl Ray, Again

Dr. King's son Dexter shaking hands with James Earl Ray
This month [April 1998] marks the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, a topic which this column has addressed before. The latest news on this case involves a retired FBI agent, one Donald Wilson, who says he has evidence, collected 30 years ago, which supports James Earl Ray's claim of innocence in the murder. The FBI, predictably, has called Mr. Wilson's evidence "a complete fabrication." But just ask yourself who has more motivation to lie about this: Wilson or the FBI?

This anniversary is being marked by the same sort of nonsense in the media that we see with the JFK case every five years. Both ABC and CBS presented specials on the King case last month, each following a familiar structure. Maybe you can produce your own bold expose if you follow this formula: First, tell the audience what "some conspiracy theorists" believe. Leave out all of their most convincing evidence; mention only the most incredible claims. Then, take a skeptical look at the Official Story, poking holes in a few weak spots. Finally, break out the big guns and shoot those wacko conspiracy buffs out of the water. Convincingly refute a minor claim or two in their theories. Conclude by speculating darkly that "we may never know the truth."

ABC, for instance, completely forgot to mention that several others have admitted to involvement in the crime, including one Lloyd Jowers, who, like Ray, is nearing the end of his life. He'd be happy to tell what he knows if the case is reopened, but this is something the Memphis DA is loath to do. Using somewhat circular reasoning, he refuses to grant Mr. Ray a trial on the grounds that the case has already been "litigated to death." Oh, really?

Thank a Teacher

One of the things I discovered when I first began teaching was how much I enjoyed hanging out with teachers. They are, by definition, smart people with big hearts. Right now I'm really enjoying being a substitute, teaching everything from kindergartners to high school seniors. It's quite the smorgasbord. And everywhere I go, I find smart, big-hearted teachers. Who are, of course, sucking our country dry with their bloated salaries.

Lately, I just finished reading two very different books about teaching. The first, by Robert Wilder, is called Tales from the Teachers' Lounge: An Irreverent View of What It Really Means To Be a Teacher Today. Wilder has a breezy comedic style, reminiscent of Dave Barry ( my favorite simile: "nodding off like Courtney Love in a custody hearing"). He lovingly runs down the various foibles of the folks who take on the work of teaching "other people's kids," along with the various challenges one encounters along the way: those other people, the wide range of human behaviors exhibited by their kids, and the well-meaning teachers who have followed the Peter Principle up into the administration of our schools. It's a million laughs, and you don't need to be a teacher to appreciate it - it's enough to have been taught by one.

The other book is a nonfiction graphic novel - ah, hell, a comic book - called To Teach: The Journey, in Comics. It's a collaboration between award winning cartoonist Ryan Alexander-Tanner and longtime educator William Ayers*. And it's a genuine collaboration, in that Alexander-Tanner wrote some of the text and Ayers consulted on the illustrations. It's an adaptation of Ayers's earlier work To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher, which they quickly discovered was too heavy on theory to convert easily into a narrative format. So they told the story of Ayers' early years as a kindergarten teacher (and let me tell you, those people do not get paid nearly enough!). It's augmented throughout by interviews with other veteran teachers, all of whom help to sketch out Ayers' humanist approach to education. Well worth reading, whether you're a teacher, or have children who are taught by them.

*William Ayers is, in fact, the same William Ayers who very nearly succeeded in conspiring with Barack Obama to foment a marxist takeover of our economy, before he was exposed by Sean Hannity's fearless crusade for the truth. However, that has as little to do with the value of the ideas in this book as it did with who was qualified to be elected president in 2008.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

2001: Record Industry Weasels

You can’t have records without a record company - or at least that’s the way it used to be. Now that both artists and consumers have other options, you’d think the industry weasels would go out of their way to avoid pissing us off any further. But of course, exactly the opposite is the case. Intent on trying to replicate the CD revolution, when millions of us paid twice as much for music we already owned, the Big Five record companies are desperately trying to smash Napster and anything else that threatens their stranglehold on distribution.

They’ll fail, of course - but not without doing a lot of damage in the process. There will never be a foolproof copy-protected form of digital music. That doesn’t mean that people will stop paying for music. If the universal jukebox of recorded music is made available at a reasonable price, people will pay to access it, rather than spend time searching and downloading. File trading should be an asset to that process, helping to break artists the industry is too clueless to promote. But remember that the record companies originally sued to prevent records from being played on the radio.

Monday, April 4, 2011

1997: James Earl Ray

This is the month our government honors the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. Unfortunately, it's a hollow honor, since the government has imprisoned an innocent man for Dr. King's murder, while covering up for the guilty parties involved.

Now, it's true that Ray pleaded guilty to the crime in 1969. It's also true that he was kept in a brightly lit cell 24 hours a day, with two armed guards and television cameras watching him until he did so. It's also true that he did so only after his mob-connected attorney told him that he would get the death penalty unless he pleaded guilty, that his father and brother would be jailed unless he pleaded guilty, and most importantly (and falsely), that he could not change his attorney until after he had pleaded guilty.

Ever since that day, James Earl Ray has maintained his innocence, and has worked in vain to be granted a trial. The US government, at least, has not given him one - yet. But in 1993, the cable network HBO did. Ray was given a mock trial with a retired judge, a jury of his peers from Memphis, Tennessee, actual Memphis prosecutors, and his own legal defense team. After hearing from all relevant witnesses, both dead (on tape) and alive, the jury found Ray not guilty of assassinating Dr. King.

Monday Random Ten #3

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/Song/Album:

1. The Hold Steady/Positive Jam/Almost Killed Me
2. Brownie Ford/Streets of Laredo/Roots Music: An American Journey
3. Mark Snow/X-Files Theme/Songs in the Key of X
4. Sonny Rollins/Tune Up/Newk's Time
5. Ronnie Hawkins/Mary Lou/The Best of Ronnie Hawkins
6. The Fiery Furnaces/Tropical Iceland/EP
7. Tinarawen/Imidiwan Afrik Tendam/Imidiwan
8. The Statler Brothers/Flowers on the Wall/Pulp Fiction Soundtrack
9. Paul Nabor/Naguya Nei/Paranda
10. Nirvana/Aneurysm/Incesticide

That gives us a couple of world music giants; a couple of great 21st century indie bands; a couple of touchstones of '90s culture; some vintage country, rockabilly, and jazz; and an old cowboy singer. So let's see....