Monday, December 31, 2012

That Was the Year That Was

It's time now for a year-end list enumerating my favorite music from the past 52 weeks. Every December I send in my votes to the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll (the results of which are due in a few weeks). To arrive at my Top Ten list, I run through my iTunes folder for the year (about 800 songs), forming about a dozen different playlists of 18-22 tracks each. These I burn onto CDs and hand out as holiday gifts to friends, family and colleagues. In this way I serve a a bridge between those who know a lot more about music than I do, and those who lack the time or passion to track down as much new music as me. In the process of selecting and refining tracks for these lists, I winnow down my favorites to the ones that have the most emotional resonance for me.

This year the Dirty Projectors (pictured above) ended up on the top of the heap with their masterful 7th album, Swing Lo Magellan. More on them below; the various sub-lists leading up to the master list went as follows:

Avant: These bands are all, if not cutting edge in the way the term avant-garde implies, possessed of a shared aesthetic involving quirky and angular rhythms, melodies and harmonics. The Projectors have always been my favorite in this genre, but this year featured a bumper crop of releases from bands such as Tame Impala, Micachu and the Shapes, Deerhoof, Yeasayer and previous Pazz&Jop champs Animal Collective. My tied #1 faves from last year, Tune-Yards and St. Vincent, fit comfortably into this category (the latter showed up on this year's playlist with a collaborative effort with David Byrne, while the former contributed a track to the Red Hot + Riot 2 compilation). This year I was lucky enough to see both Garbus and Clark when their brief tour rolled through Tucson, and caught another great quirk-rock double bill, Of Montreal and Deerhoof, at the same venue. I once made a mixtape called "Kid B," celebrating the collective lineage of these bands from the world's strangest #1 album. But another antecedent, Public Image, Ltd., showed up with a welcome comeback entry this year as well.
Dirty Projectors: Gun Has No Trigger

Americana: This list spans the turf covered by trad country and folk at one end, alt-country and country rock at the other, and everything in between. The massive success of Mumford & Sons proved once again that you don't have to be American to do Americana, but it helps. I'm not immune to their charms but this year I was bowled over, like many others, by the timeless tones of Alabama Shakes - folks apparently born 40 years too late, but fitting in fine nevertheless. It was great to hear from oldtimers like Nanci Griffith, Dwight Yoakam and especially Iris DeMent (pictured). I remember playing their stuff when I worked for the world's greatest Americana radio station, KPIG, in Freedom, CA. Younger folks like Ned Sublette and Kellie Pickler came on strong. Kelly Hogan made one of the year's best albums, but for me the single of the year was Willie Nelson's remake of Pearl Jam's "Just Breathe."
Willie & Lukas Nelson: Just Breathe

Catchy: Thanks to my kids I listened to a lot of Top 40 radio this year, and there was an awful lot of ear candy. This had to be one of the best years for catchy tunes since the early 90s, if not 1984. I certainly   couldn't resist the relentless ubiquity of "Call Me Maybe" and "Gangnam Style," or their myriad parody videos. My boy loved Neon Trees and Maroon 5 and my girl was fond of Ellie Goulding's "Lights." Of course there was plenty of crappy stuff on the radio, too (I'm lookin' at you, Flo Rida) and a lot of great tunes that never got within a mile of a radio playlist. Kishi Bashi wowed me when he opened for Of Montreal last fall, and his "Bright Whites" has a certain indelibility to it that deserves wider exposure. Even better is the awesome single "We OK" from the Very Best. Radio formats opened up a bit wider than in recent memory, with room for a little country twang and indie crunch amid the divas and thugs. But it's still a long way from the freedom that DJs used to have. More's the pity.
The Baseballs: Call Me Maybe

Elders: 2012 was a great year for the eligible-for-senior-discounts crowd, with none stronger than my man Zimmy. Dylan's Tempest was another winner in an unbroken series of late-career albums stretching back to 1997, this one making the transition from cynical and cranky to downright ornery. But others in his cohort, including Brian Wilson, Leonard Cohen, Dr. John and Bonnie Raitt also showed up with documented proof of the value of wisdom and experience. McCartney showed his versatility by starting the year showing off his crooning powers via a set of pre-rock standards, and finished by taking the Kurt Cobain chair in a Nirvana reunion. Fine entries also from Patti Smith, Jimmy Cliff, Santana, and the comeback of the year came from Bobby Womack (pictured). There were also splendid posthumous releases from George Harrison, Joey Ramone, and the Rolling Stones. Oh wait...
The Rolling Stones: Doom and Gloom 

Electronica: This is the real cutting edge, where the music of the future is being assembled, though I guarantee it sounds better through club speakers than on that laptop in front of you. Even Rolling Stone readers know who Deadmau5 and Skrillex are, but for my money the choicest beats of the year came from Flying Lotus, Dan Deacon and Andy Stott. I got a kick out of Scissor Sisters' "Let's Have A Kiki," and efforts from Matt Zundel, Crystal Castles and Todd Terje, how you say, "reward repeated listenings." My daughter really liked Swedish House Mafia's "Don't You Worry Child." Too bad they broke up.
Flying Lotus: Until the Quiet Comes

Not So Fast: This is the mix I always give my mom, filled with the year's less-frenetic music. There is some lovely work on Calexico's latest, as well as from next year's star/this year's critic's pet Jessie Ware. Usually louder bands like White Denim and the Dum Dum Girls contributed some hushed ballads, ("Lord Knows," and "Get Back to Love," respectively) and Canadian Invasion stalwarts Metric gave us the haunting "Speed the Collapse." If you like this sort of thing, you should know about Patrick Watson, Ariel Pink and TV Girl, and either way, you want to check out "Adorn," by Miguel, (channeling Marvin).
Miguel: Adorn

Obits: This is the only playlist I put together that is not full of music from 2012, and as such it's no help at all in compiling my ballot. On the other hand, it's usually one of the coolest mixes of the year, comprised as it is of all the finest musicians who passed away during the year in question. This year we lost some awesome nonagenarians, from Ravi Shankar and Earl Scruggs to Kitty Wells and Doc Watson (Not to mention centenarian Elliot Carter). Also, unfortunately, quatragenarian Adam Yauch (pictured). My mom waved goodbye to Andy Williams, and my wife to Robin Gibb, as I did to Davy Jones. Etta James and her mentor Johnny Otis passed the same year, as did disparate guitar virtuosi Terry Callier and Mickey Baker. Certainly the world will never see another like Levon Helm, who, like Etta, I had the good fortune to see onstage. A tip of the hat also to Fontella Bass and Mike Auldridge, who died too late in the year to get onto the tribute CD.
Levon Helm: Ophelia

Rock On: For those who find "less frenetic" to be synonymous with "soporific," this playlist celebrates the louder sounds of the year, not least of which is Joan Osborne's thunderous take on Slim Harpo's "Shake Your Hips." The aforementioned Rolling Stones stand up just fine next to rockers half their age, including comeback efforts from Soundgarden and Bad Brains. Japandroids and Ty Segal made some of the year's best albums, and newcomers The Men and Gary Clark Jr. came on strong. I would be remiss if I did not mention The Hives, a breath of fresh air to anyone who needs their ass rocked. Props also to the amazing Sleigh Bells, and, as always, to Mr. Jack White.

Urban: This is the playlist for your NSFW rap and hip-hop tunes. I'm partial to The Coup and Killer Mike, but also bow to the inevitability of Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean. Last year's contenders Shabazz Palaces contributed a cool single, "Bop Hard." I also really like the Knux, and totally got off on "Wut," a tune by Le1f (not sure how to pronounce your name, dude). Still don't know if Die Antwoord (pictured) is a Spinal Tap-style parody or not, and enjoy it either way. Danny Brown is one of my favorite new rappers, and gotta give props to Nas, now and forever. Look also to Macklemore's "Same Love" and Saigon's "Rap vs. Real."
Le1f: Wut

Women: Always offer this playlist to offset any testosterone imbalances, though the Avant, Catchy and Americana lists are generally full of strong female voices. Strongest of the year, though, is Fiona Apple, whose The Idler Wheel... is not easily pigeonholed into any recognizable genre. Love her or hate her, Lana Del Rey's "Born to Die" is a killer single in any year. On this list we also find the comeback effort from Garbage, the impossible catchy single from Norah Jones, and the underground sensations THEESatisfaction. Cat Power and Bat for Lashes are here, and Kelly Hogan, Iris DeMent and Bonnie Raitt visit from other playlists. I will always love Regina Spektor, likewise Santigold. And how could you not include Alicia Keys teaming up with Nicki Minaj?
Fiona Apple: Every Single Night

World: My world music playlists are usually strong on music from Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, even though it's a bigger world than that out there (still searching for that Antarctic folk sound). Nevertheless, entries from Greece and Indonesia fit in just fine amidst fine efforts from superstars like Cafe Tacvba and Amadou & Mariam. Amazing debut effort from Fatoumata Diawara, great sophomore work from Bomba Estereo, and awesome compilation Ondatropica. Like many others, I was bowled over by the Debo Band and the Egyptian Project. But my favorite world album of the year was En Yay Sah by Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang. More of that, please!
Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang: Eh Mane Ah

So after all that winnowing and gleaning from such a wealth of musical riches, what did I end up voting for? Stay tuned...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thanks, Republicans!

I want to take a moment to thank the Republican party for working so hard to make themselves unelectable.

It helped that the last GOP president crashed the world economy and trashed our foreign policy, but they didn’t stop there. They managed to alienate key demographics: Latinos, by blocking immigration reform; young people, by promoting retrograde social policies; women, by blurting outrageous comments on rape and contraception; and seniors, by plotting to voucherize Medicare.

Their media pundits, with their relentless focus on Rev. Wright, birth certificates and Benghazi, made it clear to undecided voters that Republicans had no meaningful solutions to discuss.

And even though the Supreme Court allowed a torrent of corporate cash to sweep the 2010 midterms and gerrymander the House, Republicans trashed their own brand by blocking jobs bills, focusing instead on banning abortion and repealing new heath care benefits for millions of Americans.

And don't even get me started on the presidential candidate; he was the gift that kept on giving - not that they had anyone better to choose from.

Thanks, Republicans, for helping to re-elect Obama, institutionalize Obamacare, and lock down the Senate! We couldn’t have done it without you!

And PS: Even though you may have nailed down the Speaker's gavel for a while, I think we can count on you to overplay your hand again. Hey, don't ever change!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

We Shall See

Here are my predictions; with them and five bucks, you can obtain a caffeinated beverage.

I keep wavering between 303 and 332 electoral votes for Obama. As an optimist, I'll take the latter, which means he takes Florida. 

The Blue team will pick up a seat or two in the Senate, which is a huge thumb in the eye to the GOP. And the Blues gain from 18-22 seats in the House, just tantalizingly short of making John Boehner cry. 

Arizona will be closer than you think, but I still don't know if Carmona defeats Flake. Torrent of money says no, but torrent of Latino votes means yes. Tucson reps Grijalva and Barber both win handily, but I'm watching Ann Kirkpatrick's comeback bid in AZ-01. Beep! She just sent out another email as I type. 

I predict the Republicans will claim the Dems cheated, and too many will take them seriously. And I predict I will have a festive potluck party tonight to determine which of the above words I will eat.

How are things in your state?

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Next World and Welcome to It

This may mean nothing except to those of a certain age, but William Windom has passed. He was the star of one of my favorite 60s sitcoms, My World and Welcome To It. A rare slice of erudition among a torrent of sitcom silliness, it lasted two seasons, won two Emmies (one of them for Windom's acting), and was summarily cancelled. The show was based on the stories and cartoons of the great James Thurber, and featured animated segments mixed with the live action.

60s sitcoms were famously pitched to appeal to the 12-year-old mind, but I turned 12 in 1969, the year MW&WTI debuted, and I loved it more than any other  –with the possible exception of The Addams Family (1964-66) also based on the work of a New Yorker cartoonist. Windom's show led me to Thurber's writings, which I gobbled up forthwith, along with those of our other great American humorists, Twain and Vonnegut.

Mr. Windom had a successful career, with many other TV roles (including Commodore Decker on Star Trek), and a one-man stage show based on Thurber's work. Condolences to friends and family.

Condolences likewise go out today for director Tony Scott, who helmed True Romance, one of my all-time favorite movies.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Happy Ringoversary!

As reported here, among other places, today marks the 50th anniversary of Richard Starkey's first gig with the Beatles. A lot of attention was paid to the Stones recently having hit the half-century mark, and due commemoration was paid to that band's first-ever gig. But according to Keith Richards, that date does't really count; the Stones weren't really the Stones for him until Charlie Watts became their drummer (on an unknown date in January of 1963).

Likewise, while history was made the day John met Paul, the Beatles weren't really the Beatles as we know them until Ringo sat behind them at the drum kit that 18th of August in 1962. Ringo's personality, his affable singing voice, and his studied avoidance of instrumental ostentation helped cement the Beatles sound and laid the foundations for their success.

According to Mark Lewisohn's definitive Complete Beatles Chronicle, the gig began shortly after 10pm, (afetr a two-hour rehearsal) at Hulme Hall in Birkenhead, in celebration of the local Horticultural Society's 17th anniversary. And according to John Lennon, while the Beatles might have made it without Ringo, it's also probable that Ringo would have made it without the Baetles (though maybe not quite so far):
Ringo was a star in his own right in Liverpool before we even met. He was a professional drummer who sang and performed and had Ringo Starr-time and he was in one of the top groups in Britain but especially in Liverpool before we even had a drummer. So Ringo's talent would have come out one way or the other as something or other. I don't know what he would have ended up as, but whatever that spark is in Ringo that we all know but can't put our finger on — whether it is acting, drumming or singing I don't know — there is something in him that is projectable and he would have surfaced with or without the Beatles. Ringo is a damn good drummer.
Ringo's drumming is often underrated and occasionally denigrated, but listen to his work on "Rain" and "Tomorrow Never Knows," to cite a couple out of many outstanding examples. Moreover, most Beatles songs didn't call for the kind of drumming that Watts or Keith Moon excelled at. It's true that Ringo's solo career served up a number of cringe-worthy moments (as did his colleagues', in smaller ratios), along with some nice pop ear candy. But since sobering up, Ringo has taken his songwriting and recording work more seriously, and has delivered credible efforts in the latter years. So, for instance, give a try to this collaboration with Eric Clapton, a tribute to their mutual pal George. And a happy Ringoversary to you!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Tour Update

My booksigning appearance at Kepler's on July 18 has been relocated. The bookstore is doing some remodeling this month, so the event will take place just down the road apiece at the Redwood City Public Library. So meet me in the Fireplace Room at 7pm. Here's the revamped poster for the event:

But that's not all. Kepler's also offered to host a second event at their sister store in San Francisco, Booksmith. That will take place on Monday, July 23 at 7:30 pm. The store is at 1644 Haight Street, and the downloadable poster is below. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Join me at Kepler's, July 18

I will be at Kepler's Books & Magazines in Menlo Park CA, on Wednesday, July 18, discussing and signing copies of "The Fully Revised and Updated Second Edition" of The CIA's Greatest Hits. Hope you can join me there, and if not, pass this message on to somebody who can. Here's a poster for the event (if you click to enlarge or download the file, it should print out in fine detail):

Monday, May 28, 2012

Monday Random Ten #37

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

1. The Casuals/ Toy/ Toy - single

2. Lyle Lovett & his Large Band/ Up in Indiana/ It's Not Big It's Large

3. Dum Dum Girls/ Bedroom Eyes/ Only in Dreams

4. Ruth Brown/ It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)/ Miss Rhythm

5. The Rolling Stones/ Pain in My Heart/ The Rolling Stones, Now!

6. Ashton Shepard/ Look It Up/ Where Country Grows

7. Steve Goodman/ A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request/ Affordable Art

8. Bob Dylan & the Band/ All Along the Watchtower/ Before the Flood

9. Echo & the Bunnymen/ Bring on the Dancing Horses/ Songs to Learn and Sing

10. Jenny Lewis/ Acid Tongue/ Acid Tongue

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Come What May

Happy May Day, workers of the world! Here's a bit of agit-prop to add to the mix: a poster for my upcoming appearance at Revolutionary Grounds. If you click on or download the image, it should show up large enough to reproduce on an 8.5 x 11 sheet.

I have been gradually updating the "Sources" page for The CIA's Greatest Hits, adding a few more links every day or so. The most recent updates are on the Congo, Jonestown, and the Plame Affair. Today a story on CNN caught my eye, regarding a witness to the RFK assassination. She insists she heard a second gunman, and that the LAPD had suppressed her testimony. I will continue to add links on this and other chapters in the days ahead.

Let me know if there's bookstore or radio station near you that would like to host an event spotlighting the dark underbelly of our country's history. And keep on fighting the good fight.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Date Night

Garbus, garbled
As you'll recall, my Pazz 'n' Jop poll vote this year was a tie between Tune-Yards, (who won first place) and St. Vincent (who finished in the money). Then I found out they were touring together. As it turns out, the tour consisted of only four dates, one of which was here in Tucson last Tuesday night, and the last of which is next Tuesday in Oakland. 

The wife and I had a fine meal al fresco at the Hotel Congress patio just before the show; the quinoa veggie burgers, dubbed "Queer Steer," were sublime, as were the Sapphire martinis.  Enjoying the warm evening, we marveled at how much less crappy downtown Tucson has become in the 15 years since we spent our honeymoon night at that same hotel. The gradual gentrification and revitalization has brought some life into the decayed urban core, and we were glad to be a part of it. 

We were even happier to be a part of the crowd witnessing these two amazingly talented women sharing the same stage (though they did not play together). They attracted a nice mix of old and young, gay and straight, and er, white and white. And contrary to their critic's pet scores, Annie Clark of St. Vincent was the headliner, while Merrill Garbus and her band were the support act. I had the pleasure of chatting with Garbus after the show, and let her know that I was honored to have had the privilege of voting for her in the poll. Her response: "Thank you so much for that! Winning that thing totally made my year!"

The Tune-Yards set, at ten songs, was shorter than I would have preferred, but she hit the highlights from her award-winning album with the help of a fine back-up band, consisting of two saxes and a bass player. Merrill herself drew on her background as a solo performer by adding loops and effects to her voice, drums, keyboard and electric ukelele. She opened with an utterly unique scat vocal, mixing in her own backup harmonies in realtime. Then the full band kicked into "Es-So" and then "Gangsta," with the alto and tenor saxmen blending in New York skronk with Kinshasa Afropop. 

We were sorry that our kids, who are big fans, were unable to be there with us. But along with getting her autograph for them on the tour poster, we were able to use the miracle of smartphone technology to make a video of their favorite song, "Bizness," and send it directly to their babysitter. Take that, Twentieth Century!

Our headliner showed an affecting mix of vulnerability and rockstar confidence, a reflection of the ambiguities in her music. What was unambiguously amazing was her supple fretboard work, frequently augmented by a guitar synthesizer. Her background band was also a threesome; in this case a drummer and two keyboard players, one of whom handled the bass tones. 

Clark's playing, singing and songwriting chops reaffirmed the basis for my tie vote. Seeing either one of these women would have been a concert highlight of any year. Together, they made perfect sense, both of them grappling with themes including power imbalances and the allure of violence on both a personal and societal level. Intelligent musicianship of this caliber deserves much wider recognition, and if either band books a stage near you, make sure you get there - and send me a clip.

PS: Smartphone technology not being as smart as one might hope, the photo above of me with Merrill Garbus, which looked fine on the phone, refuses to upload properly. But I included it anyway, since it's a better representation of her fragmented sound than a clean photo would be.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spy on This

Copies of the "Fully Revised and Updated Second Edition" of The CIA's Greatest Hits should be coming to a bookstore near you this week. If they aren't, ask them why not.

I'll be doing a west coast tour to promote the book this summer, and let me know if there's a bookstore or radio station near you that would like to host me. Here in Tucson I'll be doing a book signing on my birthday, May 25, at Revolutionary Grounds Coffeehouse on 4th Avenue. Stay tuned for future details.

Unlike the 1994 edition, this one is also available as an ebook if you prefer - though I haven't checked it out to see how the illustrations display. The newer cartoons tend to be much more detailed than the older ones, so I'm guessing a tablet or e-reader will work better than your phone if you want the full effect.

This time there will also be an online bibliography, with links to sources where available online. This will be an ongoing project, updated as warranted, but is still a work in progress as of this writing (April seems to have snuck up on me). So stay tuned for more linky goodness to come

This morning I stopped by the customer comment section at Amazon and found all sorts of people saying nice things about me, as well as a few angry critics. One in particular – just coincidentally from Langley, VA – grumbled "I'm sick of you bastards disrespecting the Agency. Come on, you don't know everything they do so just leave them be." Moved by his concern, I added the following comment:

Zepezauer here. I want to thank all the commenters, including my critics. In the introduction to the new edition, I note that my late father-in-law was a career CIA officer. I have nothing but respect for the men and women who risk their lives serving our country. My critique is about the policymakers who believe they can use the agency to "knock off little brown people on the cheap." as one of them put it (in chapter 4). And in the first edition, I also note that all nations need strong intelligence services. This is not book about what the CIA gets right. But as taxpayers and citizens, we have to be alert to fiascos, miscalculations and massacres done in our name, and try to learn from our mistakes. True patriotism requires no less.
Many thanks in advance to all who support this project.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

So Long, Davy Jones

There's a column in the Tucson Weekly where they ask various people a series of questions about their musical tastes, including "What was the first album you ever bought?" and "What are your guilty pleasures?"

Well, I have no guilty pleasures, but the former question is easy. I saved up my allowance for weeks to buy the solo album from Davy Jones of the Monkees. In 1966, I was a huge Monkees fan, and I'd already gotten ahold of their existing albums for birthday, Xmas presents, etc. But down at the local Rexall drug store, for probably a buck ninety nine, was the coveted fetish object. Once I had the funds secured, I rode my bike to the strip mall and secured the first of an endless stream of of OCD hunter-gatherer artifacts.

The album was nothing immortal, but my love for the Monkees led me down many a path I still walk today. I had my first radio in my bedroom about that time, and lay awake nights listening to KLIV and KFRC, hoping to catch a Monkees song, and instead awakening to the expanding Big Bang of popular music.

I've no guilt for still loving the Monkees; as Peter Tork says, their song catalogue stacks up quite nicely next to most of their contemporaries, whether they wrote them or not. In any case, they were delivered with verve and charisma, and sound fresh to this day. Many thanks to Mr. Jones, gone too soon, and his mates.

The same column regularly asks, "What was the first concert you ever attended?" And that one is one that got away. My mom got us tickets to see the Monkees, with a warmup act named Jimi Hendrix, but that leg of the tour was canceled for one reason or another. So instead, the first concert I saw was the Dead and Big Brother at the Human Be-In at El Camino Park in 1967. But that's another story completely.

UPDATE: Marc Hirsh makes the case for respecting the Monkees enough to put them in the Hall of Fame:
The simple fact is that if the Hall can (deservedly) induct acts along the lines of the Ronettes, the Temptations and Sam & Dave – none of whom wrote their own music, played their own instruments or were the masters of their own fates – then there's no good reason not to have the Monkees alongside them.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Random Ten # 36

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

1. Soul Coughing/ Super Bon Bon/ Irresistible Bliss

2. Radiohead/ Fake Plastic Trees/ The Bends

3. Lightnin' Hopkins/ Another Fool in Town/ Jake Head Boogie

4. Peter Gabriel/ Don't Give Up/ Shaking The Tree: 16 Golden Greats

5. John Phillips/ Yesterday I Left the Earth/ Andy Warhol Presents “Man On The Moon”

6. Charlie Adams/ T. T. Boogie/ Roots of Rock 'n' Roll, Vol. 8: 1952

7. Patty Griffin/ One Bog Love/ Flaming Red

8. Van Dyke Parks/ Riverboat/ Discover America

9. PJ Harvey/ Lying in the Sun/ The B Sides

10. Kapital/ Souljazz Orchestra/ Manifesto

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pipe Dreams

My beloved right-wing correspondent was kind enough to pass along an NRO article from Victor Davis Hanson, who is always good for a few laughs. In this case he leads off a lengthy kvetch about the Keystone XL pipeline decision by saying "it is hard to remember a presidential decision that had as many negatives as this one."

I guess it's "hard to remember" the downside to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, particularly if, like Mr. Hanson, you were an enthusiastic cheerleader for that particular decision. But GOP support for this dubious Canadian pipeline boondoggle is of a piece with using our troops to install a client regime in an even more lucrative oil patch. In both cases frugality with our tax dollars takes a back seat to subsidizing the fossil fuel barons.

The Republican party (along with its attendant think tanks and journals) is so in thrall to the pipeline of dollars from this 19th century technology that they have led a successful 30-year effort to prevent us from transitioning to 21st century clean energy.

If, instead of removing solar panels from the White House in the Reagan Era, we had started buying them for every government building in America, photovoltaics would by now be cheaper than coal. That prospect, long delayed, is now not too far off, thanks in part to the efforts of our global competitors in Asia and Europe.

Republicans are not content with blocking the removal of corporate welfare for the oil industry (about a half trillion over the past century, and half a trillion a year now, on a global basis). On top of all this they keep whining about the inefficiencies and costs of renewable energy (about $6 billion in subsidies over the last 15 years). Their hypocritical efforts at scandal-mongering over Solyndra serve the same agenda of delaying the inevitable as long as possible – not unlike the white South Africans of the Reagan Era.

Of course, the staggering price for all this foot-dragging will be paid by our children and grandchildren in the form of irreversible climate change, and the attendant war, pestilence and famine. Meanwhile Hanson just can't think of any decisions with more negatives than denying a taxpayer-funded straw into another pool of oil.

To make so ludicrous a claim, the author must assume his readers have forgotten that the GOP deliberately forced the rejection of the Trans-Canada deal because, as one congressional aide candidly stated, “It’s a question of whether we’d rather have the pipeline or the issue.” Well, now they have their issue, but as Hanson's article demonstrates, it's pretty thin gruel.

He bullet-points five separate complaints: One is the snarky invocation of the president's desire for large-scale infrastructure projects. There are innumerable such plans the GOP has blocked or dismissed, not least of which would be the transit systems needed to break our petroleum addiction. Most predictable is the concern-trolling over our vast debt, a legacy of our previous GOP presidents (see also the links in my fifth paragraph).

Hanson waves off environmental concerns, and also strains for a national-security dimension, laughably invoking the Iranian bogeyman. This would hold more water if he hadn't advocated the forcible removal of their chief regional rival, to be replaced by a Shiite-majority regime warmer to the mullahs than any other neighbor.

But of course the whole reason the GOP preferred the pipeline as an issue to the pipeline as a reality is so that they could complain about "job destruction." The subsidizee inflates their claim to 20,000 jobs, and while all construction jobs are temporary, any job in this economy is certainly welcome, especially in that distressed sector. Yet the exaggerated claims have already sparked calls for an SEC investigation, as the numbers given to US authorities are 67 times the job creation claims cited in Canada. Moreover, according to XL's own documents, the number of permanent US jobs arising from a completed pipeline would amount to as little as twenty.

Hanson's concern over job creation would have more credibility if the last Republican administration hadn't presided over an economic collapse that shed nearly nine million jobs before it bottomed out early in Obama's term. Since the recession's trough, the economy has added 2.6 million private-secor jobs. The overall employment number would be even higher if it weren't for GOP obstructionism, leveraging and blackmailing forced-austerity policies that have caused continued public-sector contraction.

After all, suppose that we grant the dubious claim that a subsidized pipeline allowing Canadians to export to world markets through the Gulf of Mexico would create 20,000 jobs. Just last month, the US economy added ten times that many. So good luck making an issue out of this. The only way that will work is if one assumes that a pool of credulous low-information voters is an inexhaustible resource. Oh, wait.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Mother Writes to Ask

"Objective journalism is one of the main reasons why American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long." -Hunter S. Thompson 
 Mark, what does this mean? please translate for me. thanks.

Hunter Thompson, of course, was anything but objective, not only memorably saturating his stories with his own turbocharged opinions, but, frequently, injecting himself into the events of the story. But he was also part of a larger movement among journalists who acknowledged that the writer inevitably colors the story with his or her own views, and so strove to be upfront about their stances, while still attempting to be as accurate as possible. This is more akin to the European style of journalism. 

If you consider the great journalists in history, you don't see too many objective journalists on that list. H. L. Mencken was not objective. Mike Royko, who just died. I. F. Stone was not objective. Mark Twain was not objective. I don't quite understand this worship of objectivity in journalism. Now, just flat-out lying is different from being subjective.

The quote refers to Richard Nixon - the next line was "You can't be objective about Nixon." Elsewhere Thompson states that what he wrote about Nixon - specifically, that Nixon was a monster and a crook - was the truth. And that was his truth, as he saw it, which was obvious from everything he wrote about Nixon. But if another journalist's truth was that Nixon was a noble statesman, or that he was just another American politician and should be regarded as such, those truths, too, would be obvious from their writing, whether they tried to conceal it or not.

What Thompson is referring to is the longstanding trope in American journalism whereby the journalist strives to keep his or her own views from being perceived. Instead they speak to influential people from both parties and report what they say, giving each side equal weight.

This allows powerful people to spew pernicious nonsense if they so choose - and choose they do. By dutifully reporting their spin, ostensibly objective journalists become, as media critic David Barsamian put it, "stenographers to power."

The ultimate corruption arising from this format is the treatment of the global warming issue. Knowing that whatever they say would be treated as "one side" of an issue, the fossil fuel barons hired PR firms to churn out propaganda asserting that the planet was not warming, or that if it were, that humanity's industrial processes had nothing to do with it. 

Because powerful people had a vested interest in preventing regulation of their pollution, they "threw sand in the umpire's eyes." This is akin to what the cigarette companies did for so many years before the Surgeon General's report of 1964, or how chemical firms managed to delay the removal of lead from our environment for more than thirty years after European governments had responded to this known neurotoxin.

This corruption allows a handful of people to become fabulously wealthy while dispersing the costs onto the public at large. In this case the costs are dispersed onto the global population, and onto my children's generation. And while these costs are literally incalculable, the scale of this crime makes the tobacco barons look like convenience store burglars. 

As we watch our global climate wrenched into dysfunction, "famine and pestilence" only begins to describe the consequences. Given two decades of studied inaction on the issue, this century will now witness deaths and refugee flows in the hundreds of millions as entire agricultural systems collapse and tropical diseases spread into new populations. Wars over dwindling resources are inevitable, particularly over potable drinking water, as watersheds decline with the snowpack that feeds them. 

Our political paralysis on this issue was bought and paid for - and paid for so well that both conservative voters and the politicians they elect have fallen into step with the industry line. Where just a few years ago, polls showed that voters understood the nature of the problem and wished for it to be dealt with, we now have large numbers of Republican voters denying the truth. Where just a few years ago Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney agreed that climate change was real and should be addressed, now they sow doubt along with their donor base and decry any attempts to regulate carbon as a threat to free enterprise. 

All this was made possible by objective journalists, who knew damn well that a handful of studies subsidized by the vested interests were contradicted by an overwhelming scientific consensus, but who nonetheless dutifully reported "both sides" of the issue. To do otherwise would not be objective, and moreover, would upset major advertisers. 

Thompson was being explicit about the link between this style of corporate journalism and the corruption of our politics, and both trends have only accelerated in recent years. Journalistic enterprises have been more and more dominated by Wall Street interests dictating the bottom line, and politics, particularly since the Citizens United decision, have become more dependent on monied interests than ever. If he hadn't seen it all coming, Hunter Thompson would be flailing and thrashing in his uneasy grave. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Monday Random Ten #35

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

1. Jane Siberry/ Everything Reminds Me of My Dog/ Bound by the Beauty

2. Clor/ Making You All Mine/ Clor

3. Robyn/ Electric/ My Truth

4. Neu!/ Negativaland/ Neu!

5. BeauSoleil/ Chez Seychelles/ Roots Music: An American Journey

6. Kronos Quartet/ Flugufrelsarinn/ Kronos Plays Sigur Ros

7. Medasyn/ The Battle/ The Battle

8. Jerry Lee Lewis/ Hillbilly Music/ The Sun Years

9. Billie Holiday/ Just One of Those Things/ Songs for Distingué Lovers

10. Huggy Bear/ Her Jazz/ Taking the Rough with the Smooch

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Santorum Surges From Behind

Whatever the final tally in last night's Iowa caucuses, that's the obvious headline, given what we know about Santorum. But while humor is an effective political weapon, we have to be careful what we wish for. I can still remember activists hoping for Reagan to get the nomination in 1980, or George H.W. Bush to get the nod in '88, on the grounds that they'd be the easiest to beat.

And as ludicrous as "President Santorum" sounds today, if the economy goes south again, then whoever ends up with the Republican nomination can beat Obama. Under those circumstances, we have to hope that the least crazy among them is the eventual nominee - that is, the least crazy after Jon Huntsman drops out, anyway.

And while, arguably, we might get better results out of President Romney with a Democratic-controlled Congress than from President Obama with a Republican-controlled Congress, the reality is that if the economy deteriorates enough for Obama to be beaten, the GOP will be in control of all three branches, and it won't much matter how sane the president is.

But on the other hand, the best chance at any decent legislation over the coming years is for Obama to win re-election in a landslide, with coattails long enough to hold the Senate (a dicey proposition even in a best-case scenario), and to sweep Pelosi back into the Speaker's chair. So the thing to hope for, first of all, is that the US economy continues to improve and that fiscal conservatives in Europe don 't drag down the global economy with their folly.

And second of all, we have to hope that whoever wins the GOP nomination is as crazy as possible. Since Herman Cain is gone, and given the deep (and justifiable) loathing for Gingrich within the party elites, that makes Senator Man-On-Dog the most plausible candidate for craziest potential nominee and landslide victim.

Of course, back in reality, Citizens United means that GOP party elites are going to nominate who they damn well please and make any chance of a decent Congress a hard-fought battle under any circumstances. So we might as well enjoy the comedy while we can.