Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sex in Azerbaijan

Sadly I don't have any personal experience with the topic, but this post on the perils of buying condoms in Baku is pretty entertaining.

Is This Actually Based On Evidence?

According to this story on recent struggles at Wal-Mart, "The average Wal-Mart shopper lives in the suburbs, is roughly 5-foot-2 and wears a size 14 — making them poor candidates for the skinny jeans that were a popular, tight-fitting fashion in urban markets." Is there any actual evidence to support this claim or is this the writers just throwing some shit on the page? Even if we're talking about women here, I don't think the average Wal-Mart shopper is 5'2. Or maybe Wal-Mart caters to short people. Considering that in New Mexico, 5'2 is significantly above average for a woman, maybe there's something to it. A size 14? Maybe but I don't know. And I don't think the writers do either.

Stuff like this isn't really that huge of a deal in the big scheme of things. But it shouldn't be in any story published in a major newspaper either.

Making Education Technology Affordable to the Third World

There is an important article in the New York Times about the creation of $150-dollar-laptops that are being produced for learning in places like Africa, South America (including Brazil), and parts of Asia. One of the key questions this project raises is, will computers themselves help children learn, or is it a sneeze in a hurricane if the education system is unequal? There is no clear answer to this. Not surprisingly, the major companies (Intel and Microsoft) are fiercely against this program, insisting that, in effect, laptops may be "inappropriate" for education in cultures in underdeveloped countries, an argument that implies racism and cultural superiority (our way is too good for their backward conditions). It should come as no surprise, though, that companies that overcharge the few elites in countries such as Brazil for their products are opposed to a less expensive model that can be marketed to far more people.

However, some of the criticisms and concerns some of the "experts" offer are valuable. For example, in the case of Brazil, I'm curious to see exactly who gets these computers in this program. Will it be the rural poor, or the children of rural elites? Will it go to the favelas and urban centers of poverty, or will it be distributed to middle- and upper-class private secondary schools? Will the computers be subject to theft and the creation of a black market that ultimately still does not help the children the computers are intended for? Will computers help children learn in education systems that are oftentimes understaffed and inexperienced, with texts and pedagogical methods that are sub-par?

These are real concerns that need to be faced. However, this doesn't mean the program should be given up before it even begins. Let's let Negroponte (not John) begin his program of distributing these computers, and see if the program does offer the benefits Negroponte expects. Brazil, in particular, desparately needs to see the leveling not just of the educational field (where only 38% of people finish high school, where in order to get into college you must go to an expensive private high school that more than half of the country can't afford, and where race and subtle economic-racial segregation still lead to gaps betwen whites and blacks, as well as rich and poor), but in the technological field, where computers, palm pilots, and software are prohibitively expensive (I myself paid 150 dollars here for an A/C adaptor that would have cost 30 dollars in the U.S.). Indeed, even software sometimes is so expensive that middle-class sectors buy pirated copies on the streets, available in broad daylight (a habit which Bill Gates demanded Brazil address a few years back, to which President Luis Inácio "Lula" da Silva responded, "Make the software affordable for third world citizens, and THEN we'll crack down on pirated material.")

So bravo, Negroponte, Ms. Jensen (the technician), and Project One Laptop Per Child. You face some real obstacles, but if you achieve half of what you hope to, you will have truly done something to help make education in the Third World more egalitarian and democratic.

Paying for State-Sponsored Crime in Mexico

While it will probably never come to fruition in trials, it's nice to see Vicente Fox finally making good on his promise to try to prosecute Luís Echeverria for his oversight in the massacre of over 700 students in the (appropriately-named) Massacre at Tlatelolco in 1968. For those who don't know, students in Mexico had been demanding democracy under the "one-party dictatorship" of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) from late-July 1968, and the protests were growing (including over half a million people in Mexico City's Zócalo plaza). On October 2, with the Olympics fast approaching in Mexico City, the PRI decided it couldn't afford the "embarassment" of protests against its authority in the presence of the world. The government's solution, with Echeverria as head of what is basically the department of Defense, was to "attend" a peaceful student rally at the Plaza of Three Cultures in Tlatelolco, Mexico City. Shortly after six, military men and police officers surrounded the plaza and opened fire, aided by helicopters hovering above that had men also shooting into the crowd in what amounted to a fish-in-the-barrel scenario. Students panicked and tried to flee, but all legitimate estimations reveal that the military, under President Gustavo Ordaz Diaz and [then-]minister Echeverria (who became president from 1970-76), killed over 700 students in one night.

For years, Echeverria and others have eluded prosecution, but it seems like, at last, they may have to face up to their acts. Is it really genocide? Maybe, maybe not, but such a semantic debate glosses over and ignores the fact that the government killed over 700 of its own citizens in one night. I'm no big fan of Fox, and the fact that he made this promise 6 years ago, and yet didn't really push for it until the last couple of years (the news arrives one day before he leaves office) is troubling, but still, when history judges his administration, hopefully it will bear this feat in mind.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Unsung Giants of Modern Music (IV): T. Rex

I may never understand the differences in pop music taste with American and British audiences, but it sure showed itself in the case of T. Rex who, from 1970-74, recorded three top five albums (two at #1) and six top five singles (three at #1) on the British side, but had only one single, Get It On (incidentally, with the name changed to Bang a Gong [Get It On]), reach the top ten in America. Now, even their stake in the Classic Rock is that one measly single (sometimes even going as far as playing the Power Station version instead. Thanks, Robert Palmer, for remaking the song and thanks, Albuquerque’s own Arrow, for playing it), compared to Journey’s fifteen (it seems, at least). They had plenty of other good singles, and it’s not like those playlists couldn’t use some freshening up. Like the Velvet Underground and other high quality, if less successful, rock acts of the early-‘70s, those who heard T. Rex were more heavily influenced than could ever have been intended.

T. Rex’s origins as a folk band are pretty amusing. Marc Bolan started Tyrannosaurus Rex (only briefly under it’s full name) with percussionist Steve Peregrine Took (aka Steve Turner, who was asked to change his name to reflect Bolan’s strange beliefs in Tolkein’s Middle Earth) as a hippy-folk act. What is on 1968’s “My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair…But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars on Their Brow” is a far cry from 1973’s “Tanx,” and not just in title length. They weren’t a half bad as a dippy folk act, if you like that kind of thing, but there was a lot more going on for Bolan than singing about hobbits. After three albums, Took apparently washed out on acid, eloped, and left the band. In a clear monetary decision, with new drummer Mickey Finn, Bolan plugged in and, on 1970’s “A Beard of Stars,” though still a two-man act, they started sounding like a real rock band. It took a cool-down on the Tolkein, electrification and, finally, shortening the name to something speakable before so-called T. Rextacy kicked into full force and, over the next three years with the releases of “Electric Warrior” that featured “Get It On,” “The Slider” (my personal favorite), and “Tanx,” all of which reached the top five, they were on top of the British music scene. Then, all of a sudden, they slid as fast as they could. In the fickle pop music industry, despite any previous success, Bolan struggled to write anything successful from that point on. By the end of his life, his career was on the upturn with a well-received new album, “Dandy in the Underworld,” and a television variety show that had him introducing acts like The Damned, Billy Idol and Generation X in the emerging punk scene.

Marc Bolan, in many ways, stands as a bridge in the rock gap between the ‘50s and the ‘70s beyond. His lyrical subject matter aside, Bolan’s music, much like the innumerable punk acts he would influence, was inherently stuck in a simple three-chord progression. This isn’t a bad thing. Bolan once said in an interview “There are certain chords—you play a C major chord and I hear 25 melodies and symphonies—I’ve just got to pull one out. It’s all there….” He was genius at making masterful melodies out of very small foundations, without making anything too complicated (it was still pop) and simultaneously kept one foot in the past and one in the future. He kept with the simple progressions because that is the style he grew up with—the Eddie Cochrans, the Chuck Berrys, the Little Richards of the world were where he got his influence, both in the musical style and the stage presence. Bolan looked at these performers as role models, like so many who later looked at him; his one goal was to be a rock god like his heroes. He crafted himself in whatever way would most get him farthest. This gave him a basis for success, but it was his vision that made him. Grounding himself in the past gave him a launching pad to move, slowly but surely, down the road from the hippy-folk teen idol to the metal and punk godfather he became by the end. His music was, essentially, fuzzed-out ‘50s R&B, which in turn became the template for any number of punk acts, all the way up to our current obsession with “punks” like Green Day, as well as softer rock bands like REM. Bolan’s signature look, which helped greatly in his popularity—corkscrew curls, top hat, feather boa, and platform shoes—became the cliché that acts like Enuff z’ Nuff, Britny Fox, et al took for granted, a look that wouldn’t be accepted for a number of years, really until KISS came down the pike. This may be one of the most dubious of legacies, paving the way for ‘80s hair metal. Even if the results of Bolan’s groundwork aren’t the most artistically sound, or even listenable, he was one of the founders of both rock theatrics and was possibly the one artist who most facilitated the increasing heaviness of rock and roll. At times, he looked at his music as throwaway but, given what has come since, it is a true shame that his beauty has, indeed, been thrown away. It’s not like I lament the lack of good classic rock stations out there, but let’s get some “Jeepster,” “Children of the Revolution,” and “Metal Guru” on the airwaves.

Drinking and the Rights of Pregnant Women

I really enjoyed Julia Moskin's piece in today's Times about having a glass of wine while pregnant. Moskin rightfully points out that people feel free to make judgements about the behavior of pregnant women that they never would with other people. And many of these judgements concern her smoking or drinking. Of course, smoking is bad for anyone at anytime. But is drinking? Obviously, no one wants pregnant women drinking a six-pack every night. But a glass of wine or a single beer? What difference does it make? Moskin reports that there is no research suggesting it makes any difference at all.

I have a few thoughts on this matter. Though I first have to ask for reader indulgence since as a man I am writing about something that I never have to deal with and therefore perhaps don't have a right to speak about. But as an official loudmouth, I will anyway.

Moskin writes about how part of this issue comes from the fact that Americans view alcohol as a drug rather than a natural part of life. In France, everyone drinks wine. In the US, drinking still has a bit of the naughty about it. Even a glass of wine at dinner both puts out slightly out of normative American behavior and sets you off from American class standards. Beer has a different aura in this country, but beer drinkers still suffer from the puritanical norms of American culture. After all, isn't it far worse to see a pregnant woman eating terrible food than drinking a glass of wine? Look at the health of American children? I'm hardly a paragon of health, but the amount of overweight children far exceeds 20 years ago when I was in elementary school. Shouldn't that be far more offensive to us than a beer?

But this also goes back to the fact Americans have a weird hangup over babies and very small children. Maybe it's worldwide and not just American. But we go completely nuts over the rights of babies and then once they're born, we stop caring. There is a close relationship between hectoring pregnant mothers and the anti-abortion movement. Americans are crazed with protecting the rights of the unborn. But what happens after their born? We don't care that their parents feed them processed food. We don't care that babies from mothers who could have had an abortion are living in poverty. We don't care when those babies become teenagers and get involved with crime. We take those fetuses we once defended and throw their asses in prison for 3 years on drug possession. We don't properly fund Head Start or WIC. Why don't we care as much for actual children as we do for potential ones?

Finally, what rights do pregnant women have? Shouldn't they be afforded the basic courtesies that we give to any other citizen? Should people in bars be harassing bartenders for serving a pregnant woman a glass of wine? Should the courts get involved at the first sign of a problem? Obviously, these are difficult questions. Expectant mothers should take care of their fetus, though for that matter, so should expectant fathers. But at the very least, pregnant women deserve the same rights that you and I have.

Link of the Day: Mancini-Kim Fight

Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling has written an excellent post on the tragic 1982 Boom Boom Mancini vs. Kim Deuk-Gu fight. Kim died after being knocked out in the 14th round. Mancini couldn't deal with fighting much after that and his career died soon after. Referee Richard Greene committed suicide 4 months later, as did Kim's mother. The tragedy led to new rules in boxing, including shortening fights from 15 to 12 rounds. Matt then muses on nationalism and sports. It's really just an excellent post at a highly underrated blog. Check it out.

Sexual Exploitation and the Chinese Film Industry

Check out this fascinating interview with Chinese actress Zhang Yu about how she has had to exchange sex for roles throughout her career. She started videotaping these interactions and has posted them online. She's damned unapologetic for it too and good for her. But of course, she doesn't like things being that way, even though she claims every Chinese actress goes through the same thing. As she puts it,

I wonder how common this is in the US film industry? More common than we want to admit no doubt. And I wonder how many women in China have to sell their bodies in all professions? It's pretty disturbing stuff.


So today, I witness a live video of Rush (under the theory that you should know a little about what you truly can't stand) live in Toronto. The stage was unadorned save for....

...three functioning dryers, drying clothes.

What the hell? Is there ANY explanation for this?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging: Zachary Taylor

Forgotten American Blogging subjects usually fall into two categories--people who I think are admirable or real villains. But sometimes I am just interested in someone who I know little about. In doing research to teach my History of New Mexico course this semester, I found out that Zachary Taylor, despite being a plantation owner and slaveholder from Louisiana, bucked his region to oppose the extension of slavery in New Mexico. In fact, before his death in 1850, he pushed for a bill that would give New Mexico statehood without slavery. After his death, the Compromise of 1850 managed to kill this and allow New Mexico a form of popular sovereignty whenever the nation decided to admit the state (which wouldn't happen until 1912). So what gives?

Taylor was born into the Virginia aristocracy. A distant cousin of James Madison, he used his advantages to move into the US military where he remained until after the Mexican War. He fought in many of the nation's more notorious Indian wars of the early 19th century, including the Black Hawk War and the Second Seminole War, as well as the War of 1812. His time on the frontier made him suspicious of expanionist frontier politicians, something that would play a big part in his presidency. He thought they were happy to undercut the nation to promote their own interests. These ideas weren't so uncommon in the frontier Army. In modern histories, the US military gets portrayed as the enemy to Indians, but the reality was much more complex. The real villians were frontier settlers. It was almost always these "pioneers" who started problems with native peoples. The military generally just wanted to keep Indians and whites apart. When that inevitably failed because whites started killing Indians or entering their lands to mine or whatever, then the military came in to move Indians along, so it's not as if they come out looking golden here.

Taylor served with reasonable distinction, rising to become one of the military's top officers in the Mexican War and leading the Army south to the Rio Grande. This led Mexico to declare war on the US as Taylor's troops had clearly moved onto Mexican soil, whatever the Texans claimed. Taylor continued to serve in important battles throughout the war, though the Polk administration came to distrust him for his Whig leanings. Luckily for his posterity, he did not lead the army on their terrible march to Mexico City to crush Mexican resistance, a march known for the rape, murder, and pillage of US troops on the Mexican population.

Taylor won the Whig nomination for President in 1848. The Whigs always had problems running good candidates. They were a disjointed party who generally agreed that government should assist what then passed for big business, as well as supporting internal improvements. Other than that, the glue holding them together was a hatred of Andrew Jackson. Jackson had died in 1845, but their disdain for the Democrats remained strong. But the Whigs kept running Henry Clay for president and he kept losing. It would be like the Democrats today running John Kerry in three losing elections. Completely dispiriting. Their only victory came in 1840 when they ran General William Henry Harrison, but he died 30 days after he took office and his VP, John Tyler, was more of a disaffected Democrat than a real Whig. Taylor had a few things going for him. First, he was not Henry Clay. Second, he was a war hero who was not connected to the Polk administration. Third, no one knew what he stood for. This latter phenomenon more or less continued through the election and Taylor defeated a fairly weak Democratic candidate, Lewis Cass.

What Taylor didn't realize was how badly the nation was struggling with the slavery question and how much the war he starred in exacerbated these tensions. In fact, Taylor may not have known much about a whole lot of things. He was undoubtedly the least prepared man to be the president up to that time. He had served in no elected office and did not have the mind of Harrison, the other true military man who had held the office. He was pretty naive about the whole process and was completely unwilling to deal with the patronage process, a key part of every mid-19th century presidency.

Ultimately, what makes Taylor interesting is the way he found the slave power threatening. Taylor himself was a key part of that slave power. He was a large Louisiana landowner with hundreds of slaves. He had no interest in ending slavery. But his years on the frontier came back to him and he was quite skeptical of the quest of Southern politicians to expand slavery across the nation. He saw what a threat this was to the nation and moved against them. The specific issue he had to deal with was what to do with New Mexico and California. The South wanted those new territories to become slave states, despite the fact that the arid climate and predilections of the population made slavery preposterous there.

Taylor began to ally himself with northern Whigs like William Seward, later a key Republican and member of Lincoln's cabinet. He moved against slaveowners trying to invade Cuba in 1849. Most importantly, he wanted both California and New Mexico to be immediately granted statehood as free states. New Mexico even drafted a constitution. But he severely underestimated the extent that these new territories threatened the nation. Taylor's unwillingness to embrace the slave expansionist cause helped start the decline of the southern Whig party. Taylor was appaled at the talk of secession if the South did not get what it wanted and all of this moved him closer to Seward and other antislavery northern Whigs. Ultimately, Henry Clay began crafting the Compromise of 1850 to solve this impending crisis; among the key provisions was denying New Mexico statehood for the time being, although California was allowed to enter the nation as a free state, giving free states the majority in the Senate for the first time.

We can't know if Taylor would have signed what became the Compromise of 1850. Ultimately, Clay's power in Congress was much greater than Taylor could ever wield and given the danger the nation faced from southern fireeaters, I have trouble seeing him not sign the various bills that forestalled civil war for 11 years. Taylor is most famous for his death--he died in July 1850, supposedly from eating too many cherries with chilled milk. While this may have been a cause, more likely is that his food had been tainted by the cholera that had devastated parts of the nation in 1849 and remained a major killer in 1850.

Taylor was just a rich military guy who managed to become president. He wasn't particularly bright, nor a particularly good politician or effective president. But he put the interests of his nation over that of his section and his own economic interests and for that alone, he's worth remembering.

The literature on Taylor is quite small. The best book I know of, and where much of this information comes from, is K. Jack Bauer's 1985 book, Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest. There may be newer works but I don't of them. I doubt it anyway--what kind of future does a young historian who writes a biography of Zachary Taylor expect to have?

China-Japan History

Jian Junbo's thought-provoking essay on history and Japan-China relations ends with the intriguing idea of the two nations "writing" a mutually acceptable history of their relations in order that they can build a mutually beneficial relationship.

The problem here, as Jian points out, is that Koizumi decided to break with post-war Japanese narratives of the war with China to pander to right-wing nationalists for political reasons. Like Bush's similar pandering to the right wing in the United States, Koizumi's rhetoric has only undermined his nation's world standing in the long run. China is a rising power may soon surpass Japan as the region's most important nation. Japan is having trouble dealing with this. Approving textbooks that whitewash Japan's horrible treatment of China between 1931 and 1945 is no way to fix the problem. Does Japan really want to create an enemy with China? That would be suicidal.

Jian is right that sitting down and coming up with a mutually acceptable narrative is a good way for both nations to move on. But how does this happen so long as Japan moves in an increasingly nationalistic direction? The first months of Shinzo Abe's administration will say a lot about how relations will turn between the nations for the rest of the decade.

A Message to Joe Biden--Please Stop Talking!

Shorter Biden, "I don't know anything about Mexico, therefore I can use it as a convenient scapegoat to blame all of America's problems upon!"

So this is the kind of leadership we can expect from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Great.

Biden says that Mexico is "corrupt" and an "erstwhile democracy." I'm sitting here trying to figure out what Biden wants out of Mexico. If he wants to end corruption, wouldn't he support Lopez Obrador? But I don't think he wants a leftist in there. Given his own policies, I'll be he's happy as a clam with Felipe Calderon. So what's with the talk about corruption then? But what's really going on is that Joe Biden doesn't know anything about Mexico. And what he does know, he's probably learned from movies.

Plus, the idea that Mexico is to blame for US drug problems is laughable at best and irresponsible at worst. Yeah, a lot of drugs come up from Mexico. Why? Because Americans want to take them! This ain't the Opium Wars here Joe. We're not China and Mexico isn't Britain. We want drugs. We'll pay big money for drugs. We'd like to get them here in the US but I guess sometimes it's easier and cheaper to get them from Mexico. The demand is there Joe. And if you think that closing off the Mexican border with a big ol' fence is going to end drug problems in the US, you are completely insane.

Please, if you're going to be the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and if you are going to talk about foreign countries, could you please inform yourself just a little bit on the nations in question first? Is that too much to ask?

Bush on Iraq

George W. Bush says some stuff about Iraq. As always these days, no one cares.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The NFL Down the Stretch

Now that we're looking towards the playoffs, here's another look at what's going on in the NFL. No more undefeated teams, but not a whole lot of big surprises to end the season.

AFC West: Well, I got what I wished for: Jake Plummer has been benched. I really didn’t want to see it this season, but it’s time to see if Jay Cutler can cut the mustard. After the losses to KC & SD, it’s not like it could get a lot worse right now, but I’m just scared we’ll look like the Raiders. Speaking of the Chargers, LT looks to shatter the touchdown record. A lot of people will say that Peyton Manning is the best player in football, but Tomlinson gives him a run for his money.

AFC South: I’m so glad the Colts lost. Could it have been by a worse team? Maybe not, but I was a Cowboys fan for a night. Even though all three other teams in the division are looking better than at the start of the season, I don’t think any of them will be in the playoffs. Look for the Titans and the Jaguars for next year. Barring injury, Vince Young with some experience is a scary thought.

AFC East: I’m not sure what to thing about the AFC East. There’s clear talent in the Patriots and both Miami and Buffalo have been better lately. But, barring the Patriots, who have been steady, they all look absolutely awful at times. Look for none of these teams to do much at this point until next April for the draft.

AFC North: I certainly didn’t expect to see the North at the bottom of the AFC. The Steelers have been simply terrible and, even at 9-2, Baltimore is most certainly beatable. The Bengals have found ways to lose in spite of their talent and performances, so who knows about them. As predicted in the beginning, the Browns are the worst team in football today. Yes, even worse than the Raiders.

NFC West: At this point, the West is the cellar of the NFC and maybe the whole league. Seattle will be playing Denver for their season (and maybe vice-versa), but the rest of the conference is pretty bad, despite some talent shown from all teams. I really thought the Cardinals were going to be good, but it looks like there’s something in the water in Phoenix. Lately, the Niners have looked like a decent team, but it’s just too bad the season’s almost over. Too bad, indeed.

NFC South: Since Reggie Bush’s “greatness” looks to already be fading away, I can finally appreciate some players I like, such as Drew Brees and Joe Horn, who have been putting up ridiculous numbers and are a lot of fun to watch. Also a lot of fun to watch: John Gruden doing badly. After the Tony Dungee debacle, I’m always fond of seeing the traitorous Buccaneers (could you expect more from them?) do poorly. I’m wondering if Vick’s going to be on the market after this season, given his recent loss in popularity. He’ll be very successful given the right team of players, but it’s starting to look like he’ll have streaks like this forever.

NFC East: Why couldn’t the Cowboys only win been against the Colts? Why couldn’t Tony Romo have been a washout? Is it true that God is a fan of the Cowboys? Please let me be wrong. I hate living in Texas during football season. They are so obnoxious when they’re doing well. The Giants have stunk up the joint, but I’m predicting them deep in the playoffs, even still. The NFC is soft, soft, soft and they can turn it on a dime. Plus, as long as Washington is doing poorly, I’m happy. Bring those draft picks home to Denver.

NFC North: Now that the Bears barely look better than a bunch of chumps, the world is back at rest. They’re going to win their division, but they are an easily beatable team at this point. Minnesota still has potential to surprise and it looks like Favre still has a few tricks up his old, tattered sleeve. The Lions are as worthless as ever and they’re there for everyone to whip on. Poor guys, although it was funny to watch Joey Harrington get a little revenge on Detroit’s crappy fans.

So, based on record, it’s like a Colts/Bears Super Bowl, which would not be a lot of fun to watch. I haven’t given up hope for the Broncos yet, and I really haven’t given up hope that the Cowboys will collapse, but I think the most likely scenario will be the Ravens vs. the Bears, and the Bears will lose, and lose bad.

Music Review: Joanna Newsom, "Ys"

Let me begin by saying that if a voice with charmingly child-like sounds whose lengthy songs include references to spelunking, Sissyphus, and unicorns, (as well as more traditional items such as love and death) all placed over a harp with the occasional violins and cellos is not your idea of good or interesting music, stop reading now.

Intrigued? Then Joanna Newsom's sophomore effort, "Ys," is right up your alley. Newsom's album is simultaneously one of the simplest and most complex albums in recent years. Instrumentally, it revolves around Newsom's voice and her harp-playing, with the harp often providing the only music to her story-like, lengthy songs. Thus, harp and voice are relatively simple in terms of setup, but as anybody who has heard someone (of any skill) play the harp, it's a complex instrument, always improvising and shifting time-signatures, melodies and harmonies, etc. Additionally, on some tracks, particularly the outstanding "Only Skin," violins, cellos, and violas enter, providing powerful counter-harmonies and counter-melodies to Newsom's harp. Again, while that sounds simple, given the complex and winding nature that harp music can (and, in this case, does) assume, none of the five songs is repetitive, either of itself or of the other songs.

As to the lyrics, they don't always make sense, having a bit of folk-by-way-of-European-folktale sense to them. If you're looking for a deeper meaning to life or political criticisms here, you won't find them. However, given the lyrics's winding nature (similar to the harp), they are irresistible to follow and hard to ignore. This is augmented by Newsom's voice, which can't be fairly described - it is something one must hear.

The album only has five tracks, and while they themselves are long (ranging from 7 to 16 minutes) the album's 49 minutes go by quickly. It isn't one of those albums that will necessarily make sense right away (my personal impression after the first lesson was an intrigued-but-uncertain, "huh...."), but if you are interested in seeing some true alternatives in the music world, and (as mentioned above) are not intimidated by harps and an otherworldly voice, then check out "Ys," and you'll find that Newsom has produced one of the most innovative and intriguing albums of the year.

5.5 (out of 6) square glasses

Sunday, November 26, 2006

NCAA Top 25, Week 14

1. Ohio St.

2. Florida--I'm not sure I see the justification for why USC is so far above Florida.

3. USC

4. Michigan

5. LSU

6. Louisville

7. Wisconsin

8. Auburn

9. Rutgers

10. Boise St.

11. Arkansas

12. West Virginia

13. Notre Dame

14. Oklahoma

15. California

16. Virginia Tech

17. Wake Forest

18. Texas

19. BYU

20. Nebraska

21. Hawaii

22. Tennessee

23. Georgia Tech

24. Texas A&M

25. TCU

Close--Penn St., Oregon St., Boston College, Georgia, Houston

Some Perspective on Life and Politics...

For a little perspective on America's role in the world (and how and why we are less than altruistic, and perceived as such, in our policies), as well as for an understanding of what daily fear can truly encompass, please see this.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Phone Interview

I have a phone interview for a real live job this week. I guess I could dress nice to be professional. But there is something tempting about doing the interview naked.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Lyrad's Random 10

A good, quiet selection this week. I'm off to get rich (and drunk) now...bye....

1. Memphis Slim--Darling, I Miss You So
2. John Zorn--Religioso
3. Woody Guthrie--Talking Fishing Blues
4. Los Lobos--Arizona Skies
5. Ennio Morricone--Waiting at the Border (from The Untouchables sountrack)
6. Oscar Benito--Alma Llanera (traditional Peruvian)
7. Skip James--Devil Got My Woman
8. Great Unraveling--Possessed
9. Tom Waits--Just Another Sucker on the Vine
10. Glenn Ohrlin--The High-Tone Dance

More Holiday Woes

Is there a bigger beating than having to work the day after Thanksgiving? In a call center where everybody in North America thinks you're closed, the answer is an absolute no. Rarely has there been a more wasted day in my working life. No matter, it's over and I can now celebrate the way Thanksgiving is supposed to be celebrated: getting drunk in Dallas and trying to take your friends' money in a card game. Yay for me!

Erik's Random 10

Not one but two Malaysian pop songs on this edition. Why would I have so many Malaysian songs on the most American of holiday weekends? The answer is clear--I hate freedom!

1. Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time, Stray Cat
2. The Louvin Brothers, My Baby's Gone
3. The Flatlanders, Long Time Gone
4. Ornette Coleman, Abstraction
5. Zaleha Hamid & M. Sharif, Setia Menuggu
6. The Osborne Brothers, Love Hurts
7. Fleetwood Mac, The Chain
8. Warren Zevon, Lawyers, Guns, and Money
9. Siti Nurhaliza, Cindau
10. Don Rigsby, The Midnight Call

Mister Trend's Random 10

Just another Friday here in Brazil (for reasons which I hope I don't have to explain)...very good selection of songs this week.

1. "Primitive (The Way I Treat You)" - Ambulance Ltd.
2. "Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong" - Radiohead
3. "The Smallest Weird Number" - Boards of Canada
4. "New York Was Great" - The Raveonettes
5. "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais" - The Clash
6. "Kyberneticka Babicka Pt. 1" - Stereolab
7. "Pranto de Poeta" - Cartola
8. "Whatever Happened to My Rock'n'Roll" - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
9. "Becuz" - Sonic Youth
10. "Add It Up" - Violent Femmes

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving! A new tradition has begun in Lyrad's holiday life; no more turkey.

I hate it. I've always hated it. It's dry and terrible. I love the idea of the family feast, it seems great, but the choice of entree lacks severely. I always dread the meal. This year, however, I was invited to a buffet at a nice little French restaraunt (is that un-American?) in Ft. Worth where they treated us to mimosas, a selection of world cheeses, fish, seafood, duck, prime rib, and turkey if you so desire. Me, I desired no such thing. Duck, shrimp, cheese, and booze was about as nice a Thanksgiving feast as I could imagine. So, for everyone who likes the holiday but hates the meal: fuck you turkey!

Men: The Real Victims of Domestic Violence? Sure, Why Not

My new favorite site, Men's Activism, comes up with this doosy, claiming that most of the deaths from domestic violence in Utah are men. Do people actually believe this? I'm not saying that men are not victims of domestic violence. Of course that is not true. But to actually claim that men are greater victims of domestic violence than women is patently absurd. I'm going to try some other feats of logic equaling this.

1. Lions are the true victims of wildebeest on the African savannas. It's true--wildebeests kill 5 times more lions than lions kill wildebeests. How do I know this? Because I am a lion and therefore it must be true!

2. Jews broke 50 times as many German windows during Kristallnacht than German broke Jewish windows. How do I know this? Because I am a German and I know how those wily Jews are!

I could do this all day! It's amazing how you can change history when you decide that you are a victim even though you are a member of the most dominant sector of society!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I'm Speechless

It's one thing for a man to not support feminism. It's another to be an active anti-feminist. Check out Henry Makow. On one of his site, Ether Zone, he writes a post entitled "Feminism Can Be Cured If Diagnosed Early." His other site is entitled Save the Males, where he once said that Betty Friedan was a communist propagandist. Classy.

Responding to a woman (if this is in fact a real letter) who is just fed up with thinking she should be equal, Markow gives pearls of advice like:

4. Stop being "smarter, better, faster" than the men you meet. To some extent, a woman self effaces and lives through her husband and children. Find a man you naturally look up to, respect and trust. Don't waste time with boys. Men want power; women want love. Heterosexual union involves the exchange of the two: female power (in the worldly sense) for male love (his power expressed as love.)


6. Not all women need to marry and have children but the vast majority do. We are a pair -bonding species. Children represent our organic growth. As recently as fifty years ago, the role of wife and mother was honored. After 1960 society was subjected to an unprecedented campaign of social engineering designed to disparage these roles and make women find fulfillment in career instead. Led by the Rockefeller Foundation, this media campaign was made to look spontaneous and "modern." In fact, the goal was to decrease the birth rate and destabilize society by pitting men against women. Divide and conquer.

Damn commies, those Rockefellers.

Via Feministing

The Ukrainian Genocide

Cyber Cossack reminds us of one of the worst and most forgotten tragedies of the twentieth century--when Stalin starved out the Ukrainian people in 1932 and 1933.

Basically, Stalin didn't like the Ukrainians and especially didn't like their resistance to collectivization. So he decided to take all their food and send it to Moscow and to feed the industrial workers who were building a new Soviet Union. At least a million and a half Ukrainians died during those terrible years, though some estimates place it as high as 7 million.

Quite rightfully, there is much outrage over the unacknowleged Turkish genocide against the Armenians. But although it was a long time ago and under a different government and really even a different nation, the Russian people need to give the Ukraine an official apology for this horrible action. After all, it's not like Putin exactly avoided the Communist Party that perpetrated these events.

In A World Where Idiocy Prevails, Confederate Yankee Would Make Perfect Sense!

In another sendup of logic, Confederate Yankee suggests that the six Muslims kicked off a US Air flight to Phoenix must have been up to something. Why? Because a week ago, a Muslim was arrested getting ready to board a flight to Phoenix.

Infallible logic.

For a writing about the case that actually makes sense, see Matt.

This is just depressing...

In a blog post over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, darrelplant makes the following observation in the comments:

"Thursday's the day (Thanksgiving!) that the amount of time has elapsed since the the invasion of Iraq and equals the period between Pearl Harbor and V-J Day."

Happy Thanksgiving indeed.....

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging--Reies López Tijerina

One of the lesser known stories in American history is how the U.S. government, and post-war Republican flunkeys working in New Mexico in particular, robbed the local Hispano population of millions of acres of land. The Santa Fe Ring, a corrupt Republican political machine decided to rob Hispano New Mexicans of their land grants. These grants, given in common to the local population by the Spanish and then Mexican governments were supposed to be protected in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican War, but in reality the courts refused. Ripping them off, the Santa Fe Ring ended up alienating millions of acres from Hispanos. Some of this ended up in private hands (in fact one of Ted Turner's ranches is part of the old Maxwell Land Grant), and much ended up becoming commonly held government land. To say the least, local Nuevo Mexicanos were unhappy. They didn't even really understand what was happening. Most didn't speak English or even read in Spanish. All they knew is that what was once their commonly held land was now controlled by Anglos.

Much of this land ended up in the National Forests. 22% of the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests consist of land grants that the US government recognizes as such while a large additional percentage consist of land grants never officially recognizes as such by the government, but which were granted by the Spanish and Mexican governments nevertheless. This caused intense long-term resentment among local residents, as you might imagine. This was particularly true by the early 1960s. The Hispano stockmen had denuded the forest land pretty badly and the Forest Service stepped in to reduce grazing allotments. This angered New Mexican Hispanos even more as they felt the US government was interferring not only with land that they didn't rightfully own, but with local traditions going back hundreds of years. It is important to note, however, that the Forest Service was right--the cattle and sheep herds were really tearing up the land.

Into this situation stepped Reies López Tijerina. Born in Texas in 1923, he spent much of his early adult life as an evangelist. He started a religious colony in Arizona called Valley of Peace where he ran into trouble with unsympathetic Arizona officials who didn't like a Hispanic religious colony in their midst. They went after Tijerina for not sending children to public schools and homeschooling them instead. He was later accused of being the getaway driver in an escape attempt to free his brother from a Pinal County jail. He left during the hearing and became a fugitive. For years, he remained on the run, traveling through Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. He didn't get involved in Hispanic politics until the 1950s but when he did, he did a big way, turning that religious energy toward nationalist politics. In 1956 and 1957, he went to Mexico to research the land grant issue so he could understand what it was all about. What he found outraged him. In 1959, he and his allies sent a letter to President Eisenhower asking the government to investigate this fraud. 2 months later, they received an unfriendly letter in return that said the government would do nothing.

Tijerina continued organizing the Nuevo Mexicano population and in 1963 founded the Alianza Federal de Mercedes in Albuquerque in 1963 to reclaim land fraudulently appropriated by white settlers and the Santa Fe Ring. He began publishing a newspaper showing how whites had exploited Mexican-Americans. By 1964, the Alianza had 6000 members. That grew to 14,000 in 1965 and 20,000 by 1966. The Alianza became a major threat to New Mexico's Hispano politicians. US Senator Joseph Montoya spoke out against Tijerina, claiming, "the last thing the Spanish-speaking people need is agitation, rabble-rousing, or creation of false hopes." Throughout 1966 and 1967, the Alianza staged demonstrations in Albuquerque and Santa Fe protesting how land grants were stolen from Hispanos.

They ultimately focused on the San Joachín del Rio de Chama land grant, norht of the village of Coyote in Rio Arriba County. They set up "camp-ins" on the disputed land in 1965 and 1966. On the second occasion, the Forests Service attempted to collect camping fees from them. This led to Tijerina and the Alianza placing them under "arrest" for trespassing. The state police then arrested Tijerina and others on charges of assault and battery and expropriation of government property.

From this point forward, the Alianza turned violent. Throughout 1966 and early 1967, Anglo ranchers found their homes and barns set ablaze by Hispano activists. On June 3, 1967, the Alianza scheduled a mass meeting in Coyote. County District Attorney Alfonso Sánchez feared an insurrection, and in fact said that the Alianza was a communist organization, and forbade the assuembly. He ordered the arrest of Alianza leaders, and over a dozen members were arrested, but not Tijerina.

On June 7, Tijerina led a band of 20 armed men into the Rio Arriba county seat of Tierra Amarilla where they stormed the courthouse to free their prisoners and make a citizen's arrest on Sánchez. He was not there but the Alianza shot two men and two tohers were beaten. The shootout between the Alianza and local police continued all day. Tijerina eventually escaped to Albuquerque where he was arrested 2 weeks later. He was booked on two counts of assault to commit murder, two counts of kidnapping, one count of destruction of state property, and one count of possession with a deadly weapon. The 19 others with him at the raid were also arrested on similar charges.

At a preliminary hearing for Tijerina, jailer Eulogio Salazar, shot in the face during the raid, identified Tijerina as the leader. Soon after, Salazar was beaten to death and found in his bloodstained car. His murder was never solved. Although Tijerina was tried for the raid on Tierra Amarilla, he was found not guilty by a sympathetic Albuquerque jury and freed. He continued working on the land grant issue but also was arrested and imprisoned on a different charge. After his release in the early 1970s, he began spending more time in Mexico and lives in Ciudad Juarez today. The Alianza lived on for awhile (and may still exist in a limited form today but I am not sure of this) but the land grant faded from view.

Despite Tijerina's violence, he served as a major inspirational figure for the Chicano movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. He also represents the frustrations of a whole lot of very poor people in New Mexico, dispossessed of their land and basically forgotten about by the American public and American history. Violence could erupt again--tensions between the local population and the Forest Service remain high. I don't know how to solve the land grant issue and I'm glad I don't have to. But until there is some kind of resolution, that potential for violence which sparked in 1967 will continue.


The death of Robert Altman made me think a lot. I confess he was never a favorite of mine. He's done films I liked a lot (The Long Goodbye, MASH, Gosford Park). He's done a lot of films I had no interest in almost inherently (The Company, Pret-a-Porter, Popeye). I may be the only person in the world to loathe McCabe and Mrs. Miller, though I guess I should watch it again sinceI last saw it about eight years ago.

What particularly interests me about Altman is that he survived. His movies--good, bad, or indifferent--were always part of him. He never sold out to the highest bidder. He never worked on the same topic over and over again. Mostly, he's remarkable because he still mattered. Of all the amazing American directors to come to prominence in the years after 1967, only Altman and Scorsese remained interesting throughout their careers. You could include Woody Allen but he is sui generis and should be considered in his own category.

Look at what happened to Altman's contemporaries. When was the last time you cared about something Coppola did? Michael Cimino--hell of a career there. Peter Bogdanovich? Hal Ashby? Ultimately you have to consider them failures. Bob Rafelson? Well, he managed to follow up Five Easy Pieces with directing the video for Lionel Richie's "All Night Long." Flameouts, nearly each and every one.

Altman never did this. Maybe he avoided the drugs that did in so many of his contemporaries. Maybe his inherent assholism was part of an inner drive to tell certain stories no matter what anyone thought. Maybe he lacked the superego of, say, Coppola. But in any case, regardless of whether you like the films of Robert Altman, you have to respect him and how he stayed true to his vision for a very long time.

Viva Nuevo Mexico (X)

Only in New Mexico, the state most associated with atomic America, would a box full of radioactive materials end up at a flea market. There's nothing like a little cesium with your used dishes and baseball cards.

Commemorating Race in Brazil's Past, Ignoring it in the Present

Yesterday (Nov. 20) was the National Black-Awareness day in Brazil, better known as Zumbi Day, a day which, as d over at Axis of Evel Knievel does an excellent job narrating, witnessed the Portuguese's murder of Zumbi, the leader of Brazil's largest escaped-slave (as well as Indians and free blacks) community in 1695.

Unfortunately, much like Martin Luther King Jr. day in the U.S., here in Rio there was not much to commemorate the importance of Zumbi and Afro-descendants in Brazil. Rather, and again much like MLK Jr. day, to most (and particularly to the white and brown communities), it was a day off, a chance to spend at the beach (which, I admit, I also did for the morning), and not a day to spend thinking about race/racism and nation, past and present. While public ceremonies/events to mark the importance of Zumbi and of Afro-descendants to Brazil here in Rio were few, other areas such as Bahia, Pernambuco, and other centers of slavery in the colonial period may have been more honorary and larger in scale.

However, yesterday also offered important perspective on race in Brazil today. While traveling through the southern zone, I had the chance to go by Rocinha, the largest favela in Latin America (while the far-from-infallible Wikipedia puts the numbers at 60,000 inhabitants to 150,000, it's really probably 300,000 now. To get a better sense of the sheer physical magnitude, check out images such as this, this, and this). As in much of Rio, Rocinha is nestled against some of the richest barrios in Rio (in this case, São Conrado and Gávea, though again, this happens throughout the city).

As should come to no surprise, while (obviously) all of the residents of Rocinha and other favelas are poor, a very large majority are black. This provides a rather interesting paradox for the white and brown (a category often determined as much by income as by skin color). On the one hand, residents in places like Gávea and Ipanema (also rich and white, but fringed by favelas) would like nothing more than to basically see the favelas bombed into the proverbial stone age. At the same time, were the favela residents to actually remove themselves from existence (or be removed), the wealthy white people of Rio would suddenly find themselves without the cheap domestic labor which they demand on the basis of class. Thus, for many residents of Rio, the favelas become painfully necessary evils (not to mention, in a disgusting display of imperialism, tourist attractions for foreigners, particularly Europeans).

While no nation-state is without racism, Zumbi day provides another invaluable insight into the ways Brazil can build a tradition around race while totally ignoring the conjunctions of race and class and the very-real presence of racism (often coded in terms such as "culture," "refinement," "decency," and "class") today, and the parallels between it and Martin Luther King, Jr. day in the U.S. offer a necessary reminder of how far both countries have to go in not only commemorating important figures of the past and dealing with race in the present.

Taxes and Narcissism

As the rest of America seems to forget the effects of increased military spending and tax cuts in the Reagan years, Robert over at Lawyers, Guns, & Money hits it directly on the head in terms of taxes. I find nothing as stupid as voting for a candidate on whether he/she is going to reduce taxes or not. The idiocy to me is sheer - do you still have to pay taxes, even with the tax cut? Are taxes ever going away? And, as I've said before, taxes aren't the source of pure evil in this world. And I, like J, can't believe that people are so stupid as to think a "tax cut" now while spending increases will never catch up with any American, ever, as so many of the Republican politicians and their base seem to believe.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Q: How Stupid Are The Chicago Cubs?

A: Very stupid

It does seem fitting that a team as consistenly foolish as the Cubs would sign Alfonso Soriano to an 8 year deal. Who wants to think about Soriano in 8 years? Will he be able to move? Will his fielding percentage be above 50%? Will he be able to hit anything but a fastball down the center of the plate? Will he ever lead his team to a winning record?

I know that baseball is awash in cash. Some teams seem to be forgetting the lessons learned in the more fiscally sane years of 2002-04. You can win without spending gobs of cash. You don't need to sign players to ridiculously long deals. Ideas of "power" and "wins" are overrated. But no, the Cubs seem to think it is 2000 again. Hey, I hear Chan Ho Park is available. I'm sure he'd be up for another 5 year, 55 million dollar contract!

Seriously, with the money in baseball these days, it makes sense to sign someone like Soriano to a $15 mil per deal. But not for 8 years! Maybe for 3 or 4. Even 5 given the poor free agent market, though I wouldn't be glad if my team did. This contract just screams ALBATROSS!

Re-test drivers...please!

In the wake of today's decision in California concerning George Russell Weller (probation and fines, which is probably the best of a terrible situation - it's hard to send 90-year-old-men-with-failing-health to jail for 18 years, though a little jail time would have been appropriate), can states please begin re-testing people to renew their drivers's licenses? While we may never know if Weller was mentally unable or just an idiot, the fact is that thousands and probably millions of elderly folks whose minds, through no fault of their own, are still driving when they probably should not be. It is up to individual states to determine laws (re-test everybody every 5-10 years, re-test everybody over 65 or 75 or whatever every X years, etc) to legislate and execute laws, but given how thousands of families, including those of the 10 victims and 70 injured in California in 2003, suffer every year when people no longer able to drive continue to do so, demands we address this situation.

Cookbooks and Communism

I'm reading Jessamyn Neuhaus' entertaining history of gender and cookbooks, Manly Meals and Mom's Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America. Included was a long quote from Mary Borden's 1933 book, The Technique of Marriage. After reading this quote, I am definitely going to try find a copy of Borden's book. Here's the quote:

“The modern woman must choose (she seems to have chosen already), but let her choose with her eyes open. Quick-lunch counters, cafeterias, and drug stores are multiplying like weeds, and they are phases of the new communal American state. If the women of America accept them and abandon their kitchens in favor of them, the rest will follow, and with it, eventually, the whole of our individualistic system. Is there an oven in any house in any state of the forty-nine [sic] that bakes bread for a family? Is there a wife or mother of Anglo-Saxon stock anywhere between the Pacific and Atlantic seaboard who knows how to knead the dough and takes time to make the bread? If there is, the young women of New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, and San Francisco don’t know of her existence.

No one will have kitchens, all the cooking will be done in communal kitchens, and all the communal food you eat will be eaten very much as now in communal dining rooms. You will never have to order a meal or wonder what on earth to have for dinner by way of a change. You won't even have to pay for it. You and your husband will sally out three times a day with food tickets and sit in the communal dining hall of your district and be fed. I say you and your husband, but I should correct that and say, you and your comrade of the moment; for you will not be married in any sense worth considering; since the family as a social unit will be long since abandoned."

I love how women are solely responsible for keeping Americans free. If women just cook at home, the family is saved. Without home cooking, we will all go like robots to the community kitchens and engage in free love or something. This "analysis" ignores that all these establishments people are buying food at are part of capitalist America. But hey, when you're throwing communism around, sensible use of evidence flies out the window!

Actually, this doesn't seem all that bad. I don't have to pay for food. Other people cook for me. I get to eat around lots of other people. Is beer included?

Hetch Hetchy

Helmut writes of the attempt to restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park by tearing down its controversial dam.

Hetch Hetchy, located deep within Yosemite National Park, brought the conservationist vs. preservationist ideas of American environmentalism to light for the first time. The growing city of San Francisco needed more water supplies and looked to the pure waters of Hetch Hetchy for relief. Today, there is no way such a proposal would pass. But at the time, Gifford Pinchot, Theodore Roosevelt, and other leading conservationists believed that the environment needed to serve humanity. They all supported damming this valley. John Muir and his new Sierra Club spurred the opposition, though without success. Hetch Hetchy was completed in 1923. Over time, the Hetch Hetchy experience helped define the limits of what environmentalists could accept and became a key touchstone for the movement that halted the building of a dam in Dinosaur National Monument's Echo Park in the 1950s.

For a long time, environmentalists have wanted to tear down the dam and restore the valley to its pristine nature. San Francisco has other water sources these days so it is a reasonable possibility.

But I'm not sure how much I support tearing the dam down. First, it will take hundreds of years for the valley to recover to anything like it once was. Of course, this may not matter to many environmentalists and that's fine. But the idea that people will want to flock to the damless Hetch Hetchy Valley seems unlikely, at least once word gets out about what this tremendously damaged landscape looks like. Another concern is the cost. I'd rather have this money spent on more important environmental issues than tearing down one dam. I'd rather see the Snake River dams tore down to restore salmon runs for instance. And certainly the money would be better spent fighting climate change.

I think what concerns me more is that this effort reinforces the idea that national parks should be places without human history. I wish the dam had never been built. But it was and it should play a central role in the story of Yosemite, how early 20th century Americans viewed the environment, and the folly of trying to control and shape the landscape. Throughout the history of American national parks, narrative myths have developed of these places having no human history. Rather, they are seen as pristine pieces of nature unchanged by humans. This is almost always completely untrue. These myths began in the early 20th century when the Native Americans who routinely used Yellowstone and other national parks as hunting grounds were forced out by the Park Service, the US Army, and conservationists. Tourists did not want to see these places as having human uses, exception for their own aesthetic consumption. As these people (almost entirely upper-class whites) complained, the government stepped in and got rid of the Indians.

National parks have human histories. These are important histories to tell. The story of Hetch Hetchy can tell us more than most stories about historical interactions between humans and the environment. Regardless of what route the government chooses here, I hope this story continues to play a central part of Yosemite's oral and written history.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Poor Oppressed Male

One of the weirdest stories of recent days is the tale of the New York bodybuilder kicked out of the gym for grunting as he lifted weights. Far more interesting though is the response of men on the internet to this story. First, thanks to my friend Katie for researching this stuff. I never would have found it on my own. And boy would I have missed out.

From the hilariously named website, Men's, comes these comments, among others:


"There should put a "no fairies" sign in the gym, to keep out people who are easily intimidated

"Men need to sue the gym for discrimination, not boycott."

"Must be run by lesbians! What's next? I know, men grunting while making love will be considered abusive!"

And from this YouTube comment thread where you can watch a local news story about the matter comes comments like this:

"LMAO!!! Fuck that gym. That ladies a fat bitch. Makes me want to get a day pass there, and yell, and throw weights around, just to make them mad."

"there is only one locker room at Planet Fitness: "Whinyass Bitches"

Now I don't particularly care about the merits of the story. I've always thought bodybuilders were weird, but it does seem like an odd rule for a gym to have. What's remarkable is how defensive these men are about this issue. Do men really believe they are under attack from women (rhetorical question--the obvious answer is yes despite the overwhelming preponderance of evidence against them)? Because the female manager enforced this rule, she must a lesbian, a bitch, and anti-male. A lot of men feel their masculinity threatened for reasons that befuddle this writer.

Men just can't do anything anymore! First, rape became a crime! Then, it became illegal to sexual harass women at work! What's next, enforced castration! It's like a freaking Borat scene.

You know, there are other gyms where you can lift. If you really want to look like a muscle-bound freak, the world hardly opposes you.

The Yellow River

China had the opportunity to avoid the mistakes the US, Britain, and the Soviet Union made in industrializing, namely not destroying the environment for short-term economic gain. But the all-out modernization rush has completely decimated China's environment. The same thing is happening in India. Jim Yardley's Times article on the Yellow River covers these issues quite well. Between climate change, farming, and especially industrial overuse, the Yellow River is in danger of death. China continues in its high-modernist schemes of building larger and larger dams and engineering the environment to serve its purposes. But the speed at which these efforts fail is only surpassed by the speed in which the government invents ever more intensive environmental controls. A quite popular idea in China these days would build canals from southern China to the North to provide the necessary water for population growth and industrial expansion. The environmental catastrophe this would cause in southern China can only be estimated, but it would certainly do little to provide long-term solutions to northern China's water problems.

Link of the Day: Matt Takes Peretz Behind the Woodshed

Matt appropriately savages The New Republic editor Martin Peretz for yet another racist editorial about the Palestinians. Among the best lines, "They are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all. It is routine in their cultures. That comparison shouldn't comfort us as Americans. We have higher standards of civilization than they do."

Best line in Matt's response, "It's bad enough that you're either too stupid or just don't care to recognize the classic tropes of anti-Semitism that constantly appear in your own hate-filled leavings."

Read the whole thing. Marty Peretz is one of America's most virulent racists and the fact that he does so at the helm of a formerly liberal magazine makes it all the more appaling.

NCAA Top 25, Week 13

The superlatives surrounding the Ohio St.-Michigan game were out of control. Beano Cook called it the greatest game in the history of the rivalry for instance. It was a good game. But the outcome was never really in doubt. Ohio St. was clearly the better of the two teams. They let Michigan back in the game. If they don't fumble the ball twice, it's a fairly easy victory. So let's keep things in perspective a bit.

1. Ohio St.

2. Florida

3. USC

4. Michigan

5. Arkansas

6. West Virginia

7. Notre Dame

8. LSU

9. Louisville

10. Wisconsin--I guess since they are 11-1, I have to rank them higher than I have.

11. Texas

12. Auburn

13. Rutgers

14. Boise St.

15. Oklahoma

16. Georgia Tech

17. California

18. Virginia Tech

19. Wake Forest

20. BYU

21. Boston College

22. Nebraska

23. Hawaii

24. Tennessee

25. Clemson

Close--Texas A&M, TCU, Arizona, Maryland, Georgia

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Nothing as Sweet as an Ohio State Victory over Michigan

After being certain OSU would break my heart this year....Ohio State: 42. Michigan: 39. (Clearly, all those years of John Cooper have poisoned me).

Ohio State goes to a National Championship game. 4 times in 5 years in Arizona.

Jim Tressel is 5-1 against Michigan.

There is a joy little like this (and yes, I'm insane). O...H...I...O!!!!

Another Chapter in the Insanity that is the War on the Constitution

In another of what must be thousands of similar stories that have flown under the radar, nobody seems upset about Alberto Gonzales's contention that critics of illegal spying on the part of the Executive Branch are threatening national security. Apparently, trying to see to it that the integrity of the Constitution and the separation of powers is upheld despite the Bush administration's best efforts is now a "threat" to national security.

Hey, Alberto? You want to work on National Security? How about going after bin Laden, instead of having wasted three+ (and counting) years on Iraq?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Another good step towards justice in Latin America...

I've written before about justice systems in Brazil specifically, and in Latin America more generally, catching up to the wrongdoings of figures of authority in the past (Pinochet in Chile is the most notable case, but the arrests, trials, and imprisonments of high-ranking police officers and military officials who oversaw torture, murder, and "disappearances" in Argentina and modern-day police officers in Brazil offer other examples).

Another step was taken in the right direction today, as former rightist Uruguayan dictator Juan Maria Bordaberry was arrested for the kidnapping and murder of political opponents and other "subversives" in the 1970s. While it's a very real possibility that Bordaberry never sees trial, it's another right step in showing to a continent plagued by dictatorships that remained immune from punishment for years that, no matter who you are, you will have to face up eventually to the crimes you committed, directly and indirectly. While some may never go punished (such as in the case of Brazil, where all five presidents of the dictatorship of 1964-1985 are dead, and most of the torturers are also either dead or remain immune from charges), the arrest of Bordaberry and Juan Blanco marks another step in the right direction. May the Americas continue to pursue justice of criminals such as these throughout both continents.

A Pretty Dubious Step...

...but a step nonetheless, I suppose. Recently, the Pentagon has removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses and placed it on a much more subjective list of behaviors that still warrant military discharge. Now, given that the mental health field has disregarded homosexuality as a disease for 30+ years, this seems like a step in the right direction. However, the list also includes such behavior as stuttering, sleepwalking and, you guessed it, motion sickness. Officially, it's not "wrong" to be gay then, but it's still a dischargable issue either because all the "gayness" is so distracting, or the tents have become too fabulous for the stodgy old seargents. Does altering this list change anything, or is it just pandering and double-speak to keep discrimination alive.

Y'know, according to the article, 726 members of the military were discharged for being openly gay in this last fiscal year. For all the warmongers out there, your military is depleted right? You could have 726 more warm bodies willing to die for your war if only the thought of fighting alongside a gay man wasn't so icky to you.

Lyrad's Random 10

1. Johann Sebastian Bach--St. Matthew's Passion (Choral Cantata); 10.Buss' und Reu
2. Into the Abyss--Malvasia
3. Win Henderickx--Raga II for Orchestra; Part 2
4. Seigel-Schwall Band--Louise, Louise Blues
5. The Skillet Lickers--Don't You Cry My Honey
6. Carla Kihlstedt--No One Nicer
7. Dainava--Pempel, Pempel (Lithuanian Traditional)
8. Willie Nelson--I Guess I've Come to Live Here in Your Eyes
9. Mercury Rev--The Funny Bird
10. Black Crowes--Remedy (Live)

I Really Hate How the Media Covers Liberals

CNN verbatim headline, "Liberals' wish list include abortion, gay rights."

Precisely. Every liberal wants, in fact demands, that all women be forced to have abortions. Until that point, we won't stop our fight!

Come on. Is this kind of headline malicious or just incompetent? Either way, it promotes the idea that liberals really love abortion and want women to have more of them, an obviously absurd allegation.

Even better is the conservative response to gay rights at the end of the article. The Rev. Louis Sheldon says: "All Americans must be prepared to endure serious threats to their freedom of speech, their right to make employment decisions as business owners and their religious freedom in the business world." Their right to make employment decisions, eh? Hell, let's just go back to the day when employers didn't have to hire black people because they didn't want to work with them. Those were the days!

That this comment doesn't make the headlines makes CNN's actual headline all the more offensive.

"Calling Margaret Sanger. Could Margaret Sanger Please Come to the Front of the Store"

Another impressive Bush appointment today--Eric Keroack to head Office of Population Affairs. What makes Keroack appealing to the Bushites? Not only does he oppose abortion, he also opposes contraception!

Keroack's current organization, A Woman's Concern, fights to "help women escape the temptation and violence of abortion." Makes sense to me. I know all the women I know who have had abortions had them because the process is just so goddamned tempting. It's almost as fun as Vegas! Some even got pregnant just so they could have an abortion, it's that fun! In fact, I think it sucks being a man since I will never know the joy of having an abortion!

A Woman's Concern also claims "that the crass commercialization and distribution of birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness." Yep, no question there. The birth control pill has done far more to demean women than, say, the fraternity system. Date rape just isn't the same without the possibility of getting the slut pregnant.

You know where this country went wrong? When women got the opportunity to control their own bodies. Thank God that George W. Bush is fighting against such sinful policies.

But hey, at least we know Bush doesn't support race suicide.

Mister Trend's Random 10

1. "Over You (live)" - Velvet Underground
2. "Amor de Loca Juventud" - Buena Vista Social Club
3. "Arc" - Pearl Jam
4. "One of These Days" - Neil Young
5. "Faster" - Manic Street Preachers
6. "Buzzard Song" - Miles Davis
7. "Been a Long Time" - T-Model Ford
8. "Roll Over Beethoven" - Chuck Berry
9. "The Spiderbite Song" - Flaming Lips
10. "Boo-Wah" - The Bad Plus

George W. Bush's Understanding of the Vietnam War Is Remarkably Bad

The lesson George W. Bush draws from the Vietnam War for Iraq: “we’ll succeed unless we quit.”

Yes, because clearly if we had only stayed in Vietnam another 10 years, we would have crushed the damn commies! Does he really believe this? Can he? Clearly, it was just a lack of will!

Meanwhile, Stephen Hadley resurrects the Domino Theory to justify the Iraq war.

Erik's Random 10

1. The Osborne Brothers, Georgia Piney Woods
2. Bjork, Triumph of a Heart
3. Pink Floyd, Hey You
4. Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men, Everything's Going To Be Alright
5. Modest Mouse, Interstate 8
6. Radiohead, Dollars and Cents
7. Modern Lovers, Roadrunner
8. Autolux, Capital Kind of Strain
9. Fats Waller, Spring Cleaning (Getting Ready for Love)
10. Patsy Cline, Crazy

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Uncle Miltie died today. Why am I not sad? Oh yeah, because he is the most damaging economist of the 20th century, advocating ridiculous ideas like the flat tax and school vouchers that do nothing but promote the rich at the expense of the poor. I'm also not sad because the his ideas, in the only time that governments truly embraced them, caused the destruction of many South American economies in the 1970s and early 80s, most notably that of Pinochet's Chile. I'm not sad because he and his followers in the Chicago School were more than happy to work with neofascists like Pinochet. Mostly though, I'm not sad because Friedman's death gives me 3 down on my 2006 Death List.

Milton Friedman Dead

Milton Friedman died today, apparently from heart failure (insert joke here about him having a heart). Friedman is most known as being the architect behind the neoliberal shift in economic policies in the last 30 years of the twentieth century, advocating extreme government deregulation and laissez-faire economic policies that allow businesses (and, in reality, especially multinationals) to operate with virtually no governmental oversight. Friedman's theories were applied directly by Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s, and still serve as a major source for the free-trade agreemnts that exist throughout the world today.

While Friedman will doubtlessly be remembered as an economic "revolutionary," basically creating the system that came to replace Keynesian economic theory, historical legacy has a far different record. While the effects of neoliberalism in the U.S. and England (often the most cited examples) are often lauded, their history elsewhere is far murkier. Some point to the "success" of Chile in the mid-1970s as proof of Friedman's theory. Chile under dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) directly employed students of Friedman to combat high inflation that existed when the coup happened on September 11, 1973 (the inflation was spurred on by many factors, including elites' withholding of goods and spurring on a black market economy). However, while Chile did recover in the 1973-1976 period economically (while also killing nearly 3,000 of its own citizens and torturing thousands more, which doubtlessly those victims viewed as an unfair tradeoff), by the end of the 1970s, the economy was again going down the toilet as the world oil recession set in, and many of the policies Friedman suggested were clearly not only helping, they were actually hurting Chile. Friedman always insisted Chile didn't do things "correctly," yet says this in the face of overwhelming evidence that shows they basically followed the Friedman school to the T. Eventually, Chile had to radically overhaul its economy through the 1980s and 1990s and even today.

Argentina's dictatorship (which killed as many as 30,000 of its own civilians between 1976 and 1983) also employed Friedman's economic theories, and while it, too, witnessed short term gains, the long-term damage of the theories became most evident in 2000-2001, as Argentina's economy completely collapsed under the burden of neoliberalism.

Finally, many will remmber Friedman as a "revolutionary" (as in, changing the landscape in an extreme fashion). Yet we must never forget his association with dictatorships in Argentina and Chile. It wasn't a simple matter of their adopting his policies - Friedman openly applauded both governments and visited them, demonstrating a not-surprising economic tendency to view life only in terms of financial models, and not in terms of humanity, of states torturing and killing their own citizens by the thousands.

So as the world remembers the work of Milton Friedman today, let us also remember his tendency to support dictatorships unquestioningly, as well as recalling not only the thousands of people killed and tortured under governments who were openly hand-in-hand with Friedman, but the millions more whose lives were affected negatively through his economic policies, both in Latin American and worldwide.

More Carville Foolishness

James "Skeleton-face" Carville still continues to bash Howard Dean, despite the fact that the Democrats won and despite the fact that Dean has done more than any Democrat in memory to build the party back into a national force. The Times is reporting that the Democrats are infighting. But outside the whip race in the House, this is all coming from one place--James Carville. Why do we even listen to this guy anymore? What has he done since 1992? He is just awful and needs to go away.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Departed--A Different Viewpoint

Rather than respond to Mr. Trend's review of the The Departed in comments, I thought it would be easier to just write a quick post. Unlike virtually everyone, I have major problems with this movie. Now first, I should say that it is a solid film. While I don't think it is significantly better than Scorsese's other recent work, it was certainly worth seeing. Most of the acting was quite solid (especially Vera Farmiga and Mark Wahlberg). The story, while flawed, did keep the interest. But I think people are overlooking quite a few problems.

1. Nicholson was not good. Did Nicholson even consider taking this role seriously? How over the top could he be? It was Jack acting like Jack, not Jack acting like a mob boss. The Nicholson of Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail, or The Passenger could have done this. This is Nicholson as caricature. The scene where he is throwing cocaine around like flour was particularly bad.

2. The movie falls apart after Nicholson dies. I thought it was a very good (though not great) film until this point. The aftermath of Jack's death is over the top and makes little sense. The violence is shocking I suppose and I don't have any particular problem with that. I don't mind all the major characters dying. But where was Mark Wahlberg's character through all this? He just appears again at the end. I don't buy it. He's all over that from the moment Sheen is killed. While massive death is A way to end a film, it's certainly not the ONLY way to end a film, nor it is necessarily the best.

3. Speaking of Sheen--so when this major high-ranking police figure is thrown off a building, nothing comes of it? The media is not all over it? The police aren't coming down on Nicholson immediately on whatever they can charge him with, a la Capone. Don't buy it.

4. What the fuck happened to the microprocessors? The whole reason they are going after Jack is to find the microprocessors. Once he sells the phony processors to the Chinese, they are just dropped from the story? What was that, a red herring? Really, that's just unacceptable to me in a Scorsese film.

5. The imagery at the end is terrible. Oh, how ironic--Matt Damon is killed carrying a bagful of groceries containing the same items that were in the bag when Nicholson began mentoring him. And to actually have a rat run across the bannister--don't they teach you in your first film class not to be so obvious with your metaphors? That was just ridiculuous.

Finally, and this isn't a criticism per se, I don't buy the line of argument that I've heard from a lot of people that it's good to see Scorsese doing crime films again. Why? Why should he restrain himself to those stories? He tells them well, yes. I certainly hope he does more. But in itself, it's meaningless. Look at The Age of Innocence or The Last Temptation of Christ. These are interesting, well-done films that have nothing to do with urban gang warfare. To me, the last bad movie he did was the last time he went into the modern city--Bringing Out the Dead. I don't see what difference it makes at all.

Quick Movie Review: "The Prestige"

Yes, three reviews in a row...this is the benefit of living within two minutes walking distance of a theater and paying two dollars on a student discount to see the movies. So here's my look at Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige."

1. Nolan isn't for everybody, and many find his work to be sheer "gimmick." I am not one of those people (still loving "Memento"), and this is another great work with twists, turns. Is it Shakespeare? No. Is it a great story that keeps its momentum and keeps you interested and guessing until the end? Absolutely, and I love that kind of diversion.

2. I was very pleasantly surprised by how well this movie turned out. Here in Brazil (and I suspect in the U.S.), the previews made it look like some magician story, which it partly is, but really, at its core, it's a movie about obsession, and Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale play competing sides of obsession to the hilt.

3. While the three main characters (Jackman, Bale, and Michael Caine) all do an outstanding job, David Bowie's (yes, David Bowie's) portrayal of Nikolas Tesla is absolutely enchanting and scene-stealing. People automatically think "The Labyrinth" when they think of Bowie acting, but please - he can act, in this film and in others (see also the criminally underrated 1970s realistic-sci-fi film, "The Man Who Fell to Earth," based on the outstanding novel by Walter Tevis).

Quick Movie Reviews: "Volver"

I need to preface this review by saying that, in experiencing Pedro Almodovar's "Volver," I saw a Spanish (Castillian)-language movie with Portuguese subtitles while thinking in English. That said, I picked up just about every last piece of the movie (save for a few jokes - humor is always the hardest thing to translate). That out of the way....

1. Does any man on the face of this planet understand women better than Almodovar? I believe the firm answer is, "absolutely not."

2. A beautiful film, Almodovar gets the most out of his actresses, and I'm particularly pleased to see Penelope Cruz turn in such a strong performance. I always had high hopes for her, but the American backlash in the wake of "Vanilla Sky" (it wasn't her fault it was a stupidly done remake and we were saturated with Tom Cruise) sort of killed her states-side career. Hopefully this will revive it.

3. This is a minor shift from Almodovar's previous work, for he's abandoned some of the interest in visual innovation, and instead simply lets his actresses act and the story tell itself, and he does not fail in this endeavor. We can all relate so easily to the characters and their plights and feelings, even when the story seems a bit odd, and for that alone, this is one of the finest films about humans and people that I've seen in a long time. If it comes to your town/city, it's an absolute must see.

4. Can we stop with this pussy-footing about foreign films in awards ceremonies, and let foreign films contend for "best movie of the year" please? It's so jingoistic and imperialist to presume that any foreign film is second fiddle to any dreck produced in the states. Hopefully, this film will break through that stupid barrier.

Quick Movie Reviews: The Departed

Reviving the "Quick Movie Reviews" format on this blog again, here are a few thoughts about Scorcese's "The Departed."

1. It's outstanding to see Scorcese doing another gang-land movie. At this point, he can do whatever he wants, and while movies like "Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator" were fine, I'll always have a soft spot for his treatment of gang movies, be it small scale ("Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver,") or massive ("Goodfellas"). There isn't a single compelling reason why anybody should miss this movie.

2. Much has been and will be made of the performances by DiCaprio, Damon, and (especially, and rightfully so) Nicholson. Yet to me, the scenes with Mark Wahlberg (yes, Mark Wahlberg) were some of the best and most electric. Of all the fine performances in the movie, his will be overlooked, but shouldn't be.

3. Overall, one of the best ensemble casts out there in a long time. Scorcese has been moving toward this for awhile, but he has ssemingly everybody in this film (in addition to the aforementioned actors, we also get Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Anthony Anderson, and Ray Winstone in major roles), and he gets the most out of everybody. This in no way feels like a superstar-cast-that-can't-work-together, but rather as a tight, perfect film where everybody sees the common vision.

4. I can't explain why (well, maybe I can, but this is a short movie review, and I don't have the room), but I always walk out of Scorcese's movies feeling pretty uncomfortable with his treatment of women and minorities, and hopefully I'm not the only one. Still, what a great director...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Album Review--Battle of Mice "Day of Nights"

I first got a taste of Battle of Mice on the split EP Triad, released on Neurot Recordings in June and, while the two songs included were a good appetizer, I’ve waited patiently for the main course. I’m happy to say that it more than lives up to my expectations.

Battle of Mice is made up of Julie Christmas (Made Out of Babies), Josh Graham (Red Sparowes), Tony Maimone (Book of Knots, Pere Ubu), and Joel Hamilton (Book of Knots, Players Club); a supergroup, of sorts and, with their respective talents, have made one of the most oppressive and scariest albums I’ve heard in a long time. The majority of the creative edge comes from vocalist Christmas and guitarist Graham who, incidentally, had become involved prior to the band’s inception and had a very bad breakup during the album’s recording. I read an amusing line, in fact, describing Day of Nights as metal’s answer to Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot out the Lights which may be an exaggeration, but who knows. In any case, Graham is the music aspect, Christmas is the vocal and, whatever the outcome of their personal lives, they make beautiful music together.

Graham’s guitar performance and production style, like Red Sparowes, sounds pretty much like Neurosis. The complex, atmospheric and, sometimes, painfully slow brand of metal appeals to me more than any other. Neurosis is the king of it, and one of my all time favorite bands, so there is a lot to like in the music, though it doesn’t really break any new ground. What really sets Battle of Mice apart from other acts in the subgenre is Julie Christmas, whose screeches have been impressive in Made out of Babies, who is able to better show off her vocal agility in a more sonically diverse environment than Made out of Babies can afford her. From lilting, theatrical spoken passages to hellspawn, lung-blaring screams to a strangely convincing 911 call, her abilities are profound and, thus far Day of Nights is their her showcase to date. Her wailing, free-associative lyrical style works very well in front of band’s walls of sound and the finished product carries a frightening emotional honesty.

I’d like to think that Battle of Mice will release more than this but, given the relationship issue, I highly doubt it. Though that’s a shame, this is a fantastic debut from a band with the potential to go very far if they could continue to work together.

Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging: James Weldon Johnson

Perhaps humans naturally simplify the past in order to make sense of it. Too many people, too many places, too many dates—it confuses people. So people make things nice and easy. They remember 2 or 3 people who played key roles in a given movement. Tales get woven around these people and everyone kind fades into a background role, regardless of the actual reality of the past. Certainly, the civil rights movement of the early 20th century has fallen into this trap. That history gets played as a simple battle between Booker T. Washington’s assimilationist policies and W.E.B. DuBois’ more radical proclamations. Of course, in reality, things were far more complicated.

One of the major leaders almost totally forgotten today by society as a whole is James Weldon Johnson. Johnson was born on June 17, 1871 near Jacksonville, Florida, though interestingly not of ex-slave parents. His father, was a freeborn Virginian and served as a headwaiter in an exclusive Jacksonville hotel while his mother was the daughter of a Bahamian politician who was the first black woman hired by a Florida public school. He attended Atlanta University beginning in 1887 and left the campus in 1894. Johnson became the principal of a black school in Jacksonville. Wanting to do more to fight against the rising tide of American racism, Johnson and his friends began a daily paper entitled Daily American in May 1895, reporting not only news relevant to Jacksonville’s black community, but news around the world. Johnson urged his readers to work together for racial progress while attacking the racism so common in late-19th century America. However, the paper died by early 1896. Johnson continued to write during the following years however, and his work helped found the African-American literary tradition in the United States that would come to amazing fruition in the decades after 1920.

Soon after 1900, Johnson moved to New York and became a leader in the national fight against racism and injustice, though his early years there were dominated by his attempt to make a name for himself in music. Allying himself with Booker T. Washington, he managed to secure a position working for the State Department in Venezuela, although this ended his more lucrative performance career. While living there, he felt mixed—he was happy that the nation lacked obvious racism but was sad that the excellent actions of a black person meant nothing as a racial accomplishment. In 1909, he managed a promotion and moved to Nicaragua, in a Pacific port town only a few hundred miles from the under-construction Panama Canal. He managed to get a promotion in early 1913 to the Azores. However, a new administration was about to take over, that of the racist Woodrow Wilson. Wilson and his Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, had little interest in promoting the careers of African-Americans in the government. Rather than see his promotion delayed or rejected, Johnson resigned from the State Department later that year.

Leaving government service was a good move for Johnson. In 1911, he had published his autobiographical novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, detailing his thoughts on race in America. Although the book did not result in immediate success, it found a readership not too long after when the Century, a leading literary magazine of the Progressive Era, published Johnson’s poem, “Fifty Years,” celebrating fifty years since Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation. The poem received widespread praise and vaulted Johnson into a place of importance in the national African-American community.

In mid-October 1914, Johnson took over the editorial page of the pro-Washington African-American newspaper, The Age. With a much larger audience than he had in Jacksonville, Johnson gained great popularity among black intellectuals in New York. He steered clear of the DuBois-Washington debate and his avoidance of partisanship earned him the respect of many. He also went out on a limb, comparing the condition of African-Americans to the Jews; this at a time when black antipathy toward Jews had already appeared due to Jewish ownership of many black-occupied tenements.

The death of Booker T. Washington in 1915 was an important moment in African-American history. The sage of Tuskegee had both powerful friends and enemies and he dominated African-American life during the late 19th and early 20th century. His death coincided with the NAACP looking for a new director. The NAACP had been founded in 1910 by a bi-racial group that included DuBois and Oswald Garrison Villard, grandson of William Lloyd Garrison. However, the bi-racialness of the group didn’t extend very far past DuBois when it came to leadership positions as whites dominated the organization. In 1916, the organization still struggled to create a strong organization, although they managed to organize widespread protests over Birth of a Nation and successfully argued before the Supreme Court that Oklahoma’s grandfather clause was unconstitutional. James Weldon Johnson’s general popularity among both sides of the DuBois-Washington debate made him an attractive candidate to work for the organization organizing new branches. He accepted the position and started work in December 1916. His first move was to take the organization south—he toured Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, recruiting 639 members in 13 new branches. African-Americans found World War I and the immediate years after embittering because of the virulent racism within the army and the violent attacks against black communities in 1919. Johnson shared this bitterness but supported the ways that Chicago and Washington blacks fought back, holding off the white mobs. More importantly, he organized the 1917 Silent Parade in Harlem against anti-black mobs causing havoc throughout the nation that year. Johnson organized 10,000 African-Americans to march down Fifth Avenue in silence. His energy and recruiting expanded the NAACP greatly. By the mid-1920s, the association had branches in over 300 cities, many of them in the South. He brought Walter White onto the staff, who later continued Johnson’s leadership.

DuBois had long complained about the white leadership of the NAACP, but the well-meaning but paternalistic white leaders did not want a black leader. Johnson marshaled his forces, making alliances with black organizations around the nation and building a strong base within the black community. Although white leadership resisted strenuously, the black constituency became increasingly impatient with white leadership and in the fall of 1920 they gave him and named Johnson executive secretary of the organization. From that point forward, Johnson steered the NAACP toward many wide-reaching goals, but the most important was anti-lynching legislation. Despite some northern white support for such a law, powerful southern politicians refused to allow legislation to come to a vote. However, Johnson focused so much northern attention on lynching that pressure came upon the South against the practice. While one can question the causation, I have no doubt that Johnson’s campaign went a long way to the decline in lynching by the time he resigned from the NAACP leadership in 1930.

Despite his work for the NAACP and on behalf of African-Americans everywhere, Johnson never gave up his literary life. In fact, he saw civil rights and the arts as connected. He edited the first black anthology of poetry, The Book of American Negro Poetry in 1922. He wrote the preface to The Books of American Negro Spirituals which came out in 1925 and 1926. Many have claimed that Johnson made the Harlem Renaissance possible. This is perhaps an overstatement but he certainly fostered many young artists and promoted African-American literature like no one had before him. He wrote not only for black publications but in many white newspapers and magazines as well, including The Nation, Harper’s, and The New York Times. His ability to talk to both white and black audiences made his leadership invaluable. Finally, in 1933 he wrote his autobiography, Along This Way. Sadly, Johnson’s leadership did not long survive the publication of his autobiography. Throughout much of the 1930s, he remained an elder statesman of the civil rights movement and continued working with DuBois and other members of the NAACP for black equality. However, in June 1938, the car he was rode in was hit by a train crossing unguarded tracks in a blinding snowstorm and Johnson died soon after.

<>Much of this information comes from the following sources:
Eugene Levy, James Weldon Johnson: Black Leader Black Voice
Sondra Kathryn Wilson's new introduction to Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson
Kevin Boyle, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age.