Monday, April 30, 2007

Never Believe Anything, Ever

I can't help but feel a little disappointed that this story isn't true.

They Distort, You Swallow it Whole

Susan Estrich, the Rangel-voiced member of Fox News' cast of Democrats you love to hate, comes right out and says what people with more grace have only been strongly hinting at: Barack Obama could be in trouble because of his failure to appropriately genuflect to Israel as one of the U.S.'s BFF's in last week's Democratic primary debate.

Asked about America's best friends in the world, Obama waxed on about NATO and our European allies before looking east to Japan. I'm not a foreign policy expert, but I've been around debates for decades and it was clear that Obama didn't get that this was the Israel question.

He didn't get that people like me, voters and donors, were waiting to hear the word "Israel" in a way that Japanese Americans were not. Japan doesn't live under constant threats; Israel does. Japanese Americans don't worry about Japan's survival in the way Jewish Americans worry about Israel. Obama's answer, in my book, was the biggest mistake of the debate.

Even when prompted by Brian Williams, who followed up by pointing out that Obama had neglected to mention Israel, and reminded him of his comment that "no one had suffered more than the Palestinian people," Obama still didn't get it right.

Sure, he said that Israel is an important ally, but his clarification of his "poor Palestinians" comment only left him further in the hole. His point, he emphasized, was that no one had suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failures in Palestinian leadership.

That’s not exactly how I see it, or how many Jewish Americans see it. I don’t think suffering is a contest in which special recognition goes to those who have paid the highest price. The right answer is that there has been plenty of suffering on both sides.

The Palestinians may be suffering more in the sense that their standard of living is lower, but whose fault is that? Talk to any Israeli family who has lost a friend or family member to Palestinian terror –- and that means any family in Israel –- and, believe me, they won't cede the prize for the most suffering to the Palestinians.

And they will point out, rightly, I think, that it is the Palestinians and not the Jews who have chosen these terrible leaders and remained loyal to them. Doesn't that count for something?

Understand that Esrtich simply takes Israel's value as an ally as a given, unaware, and probably unconcerned, that the next person to actually demonstrate Israel's strategic value to the United States will be the first. Her comment about a "suffering contest" is darkly humorous, as it's rare to encounter a debate with a hardline pro-Israel type in which the Holocaust is not, at some point, deployed as a justification for the disposession and immiseration of the Palestinians by the Israelis. In simple point of fact, suffering in the Israel-Palestine conflict has not been spread around equally. Such a claim is, at best, a cheap and offensive liberal dodge. The moral blindess and historical ignorance shown by Estrich here is sadly typical, but no less disturbing for it.

As to Estrich's last question regarding whose fault it is that Palestinians have often supported terrible leaders, the Palestinians have been living under a brutal and illegal military occupation for forty years, one which is specifically designed by Israel to humiliate and demoralize its subjects, to frustrate the development of viable Palestinian political institution, and to facilitate the takeover of Palestinian land by Jewish Israelis, including the ongoing de-Arabization of East Jerusalem, which has been for centuries the center of Palestinian cultural and economic life. The harassment, imprisonment, and assassination of moderate Palestinian leaders has been an integral part of this program. Doesn't that count for something? Is there a single regular commentator on any of the news channels who would ever think to ask?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Historical Image of the Day


Carriage House, Vandalia, Michigan. Stop on the Underground Railroad

The Bellowing, Bigoted Plank in the GOP's Eye

I'd just like to add my voice to Digby's and Scott's, and point out that the Republican embrace of Rush Limbaugh, the prominent place which he continues to occupy in conservative discourse, and American politics, despite years of daily spewing the foulest racism, bigotry, and misogyny, conclusively discredits any and all appeals by Republicans to any sort of standard of civility. That this sick clown is constantly defended and patronized by the most prominent conservatives is, frankly, scandalous. This should be pointed out at every possible opportunity.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Lyrad's Random 10

Erik's "opening song discussion" seems like a pretty fair idea, so I'm going to steal it....

Cow Cow Davenport was one of the innovators of the boogie-woogie and barrelhouse styles of blues, starting in the mid '20s until his death in 1955. His "Cow Cow Boogie" was recorded in 1942 by Freddie Slack's Orchestra and ushered in the boogie-woogie craze of the 40s (though it was originally recorded with high energy in 1925). "Goin' Home Blues" is a good example of his piano led blues. While he had a below average voice, both in expression and in clarity, without much of a distinctive style of his own, his rhythm on the keys was fantastic. Here, in this Paramount recording from January of 1927, his voice does get a boost from the call-and-response with B.T. Wingfield on the cornet, which makes for an interesting dynamic, and carries a heavier jazz feel than many of his other recordings. Unfortunately, like so many other blues recordings from the time, the preservation was suspect and is, at times, unintelligible as a result.

1. Charles "Cow Cow" Davenport--Goin' Home Blues
2. Cat Power--He Turns Down
3. Tom Waits--The One that Got Away
4. Townes Van Zandt--Standin'
5. Jesus Lizard--Soft Damage
6. Hartmut Geerken, John Tchicai & Famoudou Don Moye--Mothers
7. Blind Boy Fuller--New Louise Louise Blues
8. Kaada--No Man's Land
9. Ella Fitzgerald--The Dipsy Doodle
10. At the Drive In--Hourglass

Erik's Random 10

The first song on today's list is Sufjan Stevens' "Abraham" from his Christian album Seven Swans. Usually I can't stand Christian music. But Stevens is different because he is an artist first and a Christian second. His spirituality comes through in his art. Virtually any message is cool in music if it is good music. Stevens is an interesting young artist. Most Christian bands suck. This is much more true in white music. The gospel tradition is amazing and that is great music. The Appalachian white gospel thing is great too, even though I know I would disagree with those singers on virtually everything if I met them. But the music is just so good that I don't care. So here's a message to Christian rock bands. Quit singing about how much you love Jesus, blah, blah, blah and listen to some good music. Seven Swans would be a good place to start. Then, put the music first and let the lyrics come from that. But most of all, please quit putting out terrible music for home-schooled white kids in the suburbs.

1. Sufjan Stevens, Abraham
2. W.A. Mozart, Concerto for Horn & Orchestra NO. 4, Rondo. Allegro Vivace. Marie-Luise Neunecker, horn
3. The Killers, Smile Like You Mean It
4. Frank Zappa, Harry, You're A Beast
5. Fruit Jar Guzzlers, Steel Drivin' Man
6. Bob Wills, Texas Playboy Theme (Opening)
7. John Cage, Sonata XI
8. Marvin Gaye, Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
9. Brownie Ford, Burn the Honky Tonk Down
10. John Rimmer, An Inner Voice

Mister Trend's Random 10

I'm off to Argentina for my honeymoon tomorrow, so blogging will be light from me. Stay tuned for Argentina blogging when I get back. And here's the random 10.

1. "Podres Poderes" - Caetano Veloso
2. "This Old House" - Loretta Lynn
3. "Dig Your Grave" - Modest Mouse
4. "The Poisoned Well" - Quasi
5. "É Difícil Viver Assim" - Paulinho da Viola
6. "We're Coming Out" - The Replacements
7. "Mulher Sem Alma" - Rómulo Fróes
8. "Racing in the Street [live]" - Bruce Springsteen
9. "Words and Guitar" - Sleater-Kinney
10. "Celebration Guns" - Stars

Friday Guitar Blogging



Marc Ribot.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Plan Colombia: Another Example of Failed U.S. Foreign Policy

Jens Erik Gould thoroughly eviscerates the U.S. anti-cocaine campaign in Colombia in the new edition of The American Prospect. What a disaster. Has the U.S. done anything right in the War on Drugs? It has helped perpetuate the civil war in Colombia? It has militarized the Andes. It has completely failed to stop supplies from entering the country or depressing consumption. It has helped create massive corruption and violence in the nations where the cocaine is smuggled through to the U.S. Wow--this is almost as successful as the war in Iraq!!!

How successful is Plan Colombia, intended to dampen production by destroying coca from the air? Well, according to Gould, cocaine prices fell from $200 to $140 a gram between 2003 and 2006 while purity rose from about 60 to 70%. Hmmm...not so good. The real people Plan Colombia affects are poor coca farmers. They find their fields destroyed and their ability to survive compromised. Gould points out that Plan Colombia has actually increased farmers' dependence on coca because the herbicide used kills food crops as well.

For those of you who protest that the U.S. needs to destroy drug supplies before the reach our borders, let me ask a couple of questions. First, what in the world are these farmers supposed to do? Do you have any good ideas? If the U.S. government wants to subsidize their products to the prices they would get for the coca, great. I would support that. But it is impossible to combine the War on Drugs and neoliberalism and expect any other outcome than this. Sure, maybe these farmers can grow cassava. Think they can make as much on that as coca? Didn't think so. Second, the U.S. hasn't even begun to develop real programs to dampen consumption of these products. I don't even think they should considering it is a giant waste of money. You can convince some people to not use drugs but you can't convince all people. Look at cigarettes. Smoking rates declined a good bit thanks to all the anti-smoking ads. But they haven't declined lately, especially among young people. There's no reason to think that anti-drug ads for any other drugs will do any better.

And hey--at least all this money will keep Colombia solid as the last remaining U.S. ally in South America!

Romney

This is a bit old now, but I love this Boston Globe bit a friend sent to me about Romney and his hunting prowess. (Note: it's below the Obama/Edwards story)

"I want you to know that those small animals can be ferocious," he said. Then Romney pulled out his "trophy" kill: a toy squirrel mounted on a piece of wood. (The squirrel even squeaked, which Romney said was "the sound I heard just before I let it have it.")
On a roll now, Romney continued the joke by saying how disappointed his grandchildren were this year when the Easter Bunny skipped the Romney household.
"He heard I was packin' heat," Romney said, and the room erupted in hearty laughter"


This guy is a serious candidate for President?

Historical Image of the Day


William Lloyd Garrison

"Is this heaven?"

I usually stay away from Mariners blogging - that's Erik's specialty - but I will intrude here this once. Last year, in one of their "heartwarming power of sports" stories, Sportscenter ran a bit on Katie Morris, a 12-year-old M's fan from Powell Butte, Oregon, who managed to get to go to Safeco Field with all of her little league teammates and meet the M's, thanks to the Make-A-Wish foundation. While ESPN often runs these stories, this one was particularly touching, given Katie's strength and determination. I'm not sure I could be as courageous with cancer at 60 as she was at 12, and it was really a great story.

Apparently, Katie lost her struggle with cancer last week. Keep rooting for the M's wherever you are, Katie.

Reducing Brazil's Environmental Agency

While Lula's social record has been outstanding, his environmental legacy is increasingly in doubt. First, there was his new Amazon policy (which, while I was at first intrigued and thought it may work, I've since begun to think and become convinced it is more dangerous than useful). Now, there is the breaking up of IBAMA, Brazil's environmental organization. Lula is taking away from it its conservation efforts and turning it into a mainly-administrative arm of the government, which is a shame, given how successful and efficient IBAMA has been up to this point.

Randy has a lot more good insight, and is really worth checking out, but I'd just like to add a few comments. It's rather unfortunate to me that it seems in some ways Lula is falling into the "Order and Progress" trap here. Certainly, Brazil's energy needs are growing far more rapidly than its production. However, the Brazilian state has continuously tried to address this need with policies that put at danger the most fragile parts of the country, in this case, dams and pipelines. As Randy said, wind power is a totally viable option here (much like the U.S., yet strangely, both countries generally fail to use wind, though the U.S. does have more than one windmill). This effort to "modernize" by increasing state presence and technological capability on the fragile areas of Brazil most certainly is not a recent development. In the 1960s, building the Trans-Amazonian highway was one of Gen. Emílio Garrastazu Médici's pet projects to show Brazil was "developed". (Médici was the most repressive of the Brazilian general-presidents during the 21-year dictatorship). In the 1970s, Gen. Ernesto Geisel pushed for nuclear development, placing the testing areas in the Northeast near the Amazon basin, where they remained until the corrupt Collor administration (1990-92). Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the efforts to minimalize or prevent illegal deforestation were minimal, reaching perhaps their darkest period during the privatization-rush of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994-2002). And now there's the reduction of IBAMA.

This isn't to say that Brazil is screwed, nor that there are people here who are still successfully fighting for conservation. As the article points out, the reduction of IBAMA still leaves several other points where governmental and environmental groups, ethnic indigenous groups, and NGOs can try to stop development projects that are of great harm to the forest. These groups are also rather efficient, and experienced at what they do. It is simply unfortunate to me that the office of the President of Brazil throughout the years has not tried to find more environmentally sound ways to carry out their development projects over the last 40+ years. Maybe Lula's decisions will not be as damaging as they seem to have the potential to be right now, but there's that ever present fear that we're not doing enough.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

When Workers Get Desperate

I was saddened to be forwarded this post on Oregon fishermen shooting sea lions because they view them as salmon killers. Of course, sea lions naturally kill salmon. They survive on salmon, among other things.

Thanks to the massive reengineering of the Columbia River basin however, salmon populations are in collapse. Despite (and in large part because of) all the attempts to construct fish hatcheries, fish ladders, and other technological solutions, the wild salmon population is near extinction in much of the Pacific Northwest. The fishing industry therefore has collapsed as well. The Northwest has a precedent for this kind of thing. When the spotted owl controversy was in full force, loggers were shooting owls (and only sometimes did they actually shoot a spotted owl) and posting them on fences and such to show that people came before animals.

In both of these cases, working class people who live off the land have targeted their anger at animal species who did not deserve it. Rather, both the massive cutting of old-growth timber and the decline in salmon populations have happened directly because of human activities, including (but by no means exclusively) workers changing the environment each and every day.

The salmon industry is dead. Shooting sea lions isn't going to make it come back. If we're lucky, and I don't think we will be, wild salmon will not actually become extinct in the majority of the Northwest. But again, the chances of that happening seem to me almost nil.

Of course, idiot Washington Republican congressman Doc Hastings wants to change the law to make killing sea lions legal again.

I highly suggest reading more on this topic, particularly Joseph Taylor's Making Salmon: An Environmental History of the Northwest Fisheries Crisis. Taylor documents how people created a river system where wild salmon can no longer survive.

Historical Image of the Day


Engraving of Battle of Vicksburg, 1863

Return of the Son of Stabbed in the Back

We knew it was coming. From today's Wall Street Journal editorial:

Gen. David Petraeus is in Washington this week, where on Monday he briefed President Bush on the progress of the new military strategy in Iraq. Today he will give similar briefings on Capitol Hill, but maybe he should save his breath. As fellow four-star Harry Reid recently informed America, the war Gen. Petraeus is fighting and trying to win is already "lost."

Mr. Reid has since tried to "clarify" that remark, and in a speech Monday he laid out his own strategy for Iraq. But perhaps we ought to be grateful for his earlier candor in laying out the strategic judgment--and nakedly political rationale--that underlies the latest Congressional bid to force a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq starting this fall. By doing so, he and the Democrats are taking ownership of whatever ugly outcome follows a U.S. defeat in Iraq.

We can now expect variations on this to be repeated ad nauseum on cable news, with the O'ReillyBeckHannityKristols insisting that those traitorous Democrats "never gave the surge a chance," and, decades from now, AEI and Heritage fellows churning out pseudo-histories of the Iraq war in which victory was within our grasp up until the moment the spineless Democrats retook Congress.

To state the obvious, the idea that the the failure of George W. Bush's Iraq policy can be laid at the feet of the Democratic Party would have to be substantially more plausible to even be considered preposterous. Many liberals and Democrats do share in the blame for getting us into this war, but for four years it was waged, and countless irreparable blunders made, with the acquiescence of a rubber-stamp Republican Congress. Non-conservatives with expertise in the region were studiously ignored by the administration. Trying to blame the Democrats for the suck we're in now is more than just wrong, more than just mendacious, it's genuinely insane.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How Can We Be Taken Seriously On Terrorism?

The recent release of Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles from a U.S. jail makes me wonder if the Bush Administration even takes themselves seriously anymore on the issue of terrorism.

Posada is a full-blown terrorist. I have a friend who has personally seen declassified CIA documents where operatives say he is crazy and highly recommend cutting all ties with him. He was bragging about blowing up the plane in 1976 that killed 73 people and Havana hotels in the 1990s before he did it. Yet the U.S. (or perhaps I should say the Republican Party) continues to support him both because they want the votes of the Miami Cubans and because they don't actually believe their own anti-terrorism rhetoric. Sure, they support crushing terrorists, but only if those terrorists don't work for U.S. interests. If they do, great!!!

Just Wondering posts an article by journalist Robert Parry explaining Posada's history. Check it out.

During the Cold War, U.S. governments paid very close attention to how the nation was seen by people around the world. We were fighting the Cold War and therefore needed to win over the new nations of the developing world. The Soviet Union was taking advantage of America's racism to influence these nations against us. Therefore, the Kennedy and Johnson administration starting supporting the civil rights movement in no small part for Cold War reasons. The Bush administration has learned nothing from this. They don't care at all what the rest of the world thinks. They only care about the next election cycle.

Most of the world doesn't take us seriously on terrorism anyway. That we allow a terrorist to roam virtually free within our own borders because he targets his hatred against Cuba just ensures that it will take a long time for the world to look to the U.S. for leadership again.

Update on Creative Music Crisis in New York

My friend Todd Nicholson who forwarded me the information concerning the crisis of creative music in New York also notes that there is a website on the matter now:

www.takeittothebridge.com

At the site there is also a petition there asking for support on the matter.

Historical Image of the Day


Romanticized portrayal of the last meeting of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. I couldn't find the date

Turning the Corner. Again.

I guess it's Fred Kagan's bad luck to have his optimistic "The surge looks like it could be working if you spin around several times, do twenty push-ups, then squint real hard, tilt your head just right, and peek through your fingers!" op-ed published the day after one of the most violent since the start of the Iraq war. But, then, I guess it's all of our bad luck that the President chose to listen to one of the small handfull of scholars in this country who still think that the President's original aims for the war are remotely achievable, rather than the overwhelming majority of Americans who think that it's long past time for a drastic change in policy. A couple comments.

This burgeoning sense of Iraqness can be seen beyond central government. Pictures of the recent Sadrist demonstration in Najaf showed many people carrying Iraqi flags and few carrying pictures of Sadr. The movement's strategists clearly felt a need to show they are Iraqis rather than followers of a particular leader.

The Sadr movement has always been the most stridently nationalistic of Shi'i tendencies in Iraq, and the presence of Iraqi flags at their demonstrations is nothing new. It would be reasonable to expect one of the primary architects of the Surge Strategy to know this.
Americans have been subjected to too much hyperbole about this war from the outset. Excessively rosy scenarios have destroyed the credibility of the administration. The exaggerated certainty of leading war opponents that the conflict is already lost is every bit as misplaced. Too much optimism and pessimism has prevented Americans from accurately evaluating a complex, fluid situation.

Sorry, there is simply no equivalence to be had between the war's advocates and its critics here. At every step, Bush and his water carriers have chosen to believe the rosiest scenarios, and constantly denigrated their fellow Americans who pointed out that those scenarios were completely at odds with observable reality.

Leaving aside that having Kagan review the success of a plan devised by himself, and upon which his credibility rests, (not that he'll lose a dollar of income if it continues to nosedive) is a bit like having Kenny G take to the pages of Downbeat to tout the improvisational fireworks contained within his new album of Hootie and the Blowfish covers, this corner that Kagan claims we may be turning would be about the fiftieth or so corner we've turned, and that's twelve laps, and I'm very tired.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Film Review--The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

If there is a marker for what makes a great filmmaker, it is the ability to surprise their audiences. I love David Lynch, but I never thought he had a film like The Straight Story in him; likewise with David Cronenburg’s M. Butterfly and Alfred Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith. On the other side, as much as I may like Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks hasn’t told a new joke in 25 years, and you couldn’t pay me to watch Dracula: Dead and Loving It (well, you could pay me to watch, but that’s another story). I haven’t been exposed to the films of Takashi Miike for very long but through his films I have seen, I have come to expect certain elements of psychological horror and brutal violence. But, more than this, I enjoy his slow moving, but somehow highly kinetic, storytelling style. While the stories aren’t always completely linear, there is always a reason for the characters to exist and they move forward to a purpose. I couldn’t have been more surprised, then, by the end of The Happiness of the Katakuris, when it was clear that I’d just finished watching something closer to The Sound of Music than Ichi the Killer.

From the perspective of the young granddaughter, the film tells the story of the Katakuri family who, as a result of varying setbacks in their individual lives, start up a remote bed and breakfast to bring the family together and make a living together. While their intentions are good and the accommodations are outstanding, their guests, few as they may be, all wind up dead by sunrise. While the family does not kill them, they are terrified of driving away future business with the knowledge of the deaths, and take to burying the bodies in the marsh. All the while, the narrator’s mother, a single parent looking for love, falls for “Richard,” some guy with a uniform and a clearly fake name who she sees randomly at a restaurant (played by Kiyoshiro Imawano, apparently a big rock star in Japan). He feeds her the most comical line of bullshit I’ve heard in some time, she buys it and can think of nothing but him, even through the burial of the bodies. All of a sudden, the county announces that they’ll build a major highway directly alongside the inn. What a break, until the bitter irony hits that they will be building directly over where the bodies are buried. All of this madness is intercut with musical numbers in the style of Rodgers and Hart with a surreal quality of choreography that would please Busby Berkeley. All of the blood and horror is played for comedy, much like Cannibal! The Musical, which is fine and good until…snap!...the film takes an utterly effective emotional, dramatic turn and, just as the viewer begins to empathize with the situation…snap!...the film takes the most madly abstract road possible to finish the film off. Mix into all of this is the occasional claymation sequence and you’ve got one of the strangest musicals I have ever seen. This is the only Japanese musical I’ve ever seen, but I have a hard time believing that many others are like this. At first, I found myself mystified at what I was witnessing but, by the end, was laughing at nearly everything Miike threw at me. While the characters are Japanese, racially and in spirit, the songs are decidedly western and the juxtaposition adds a lot of substance to the production.

Happiness of the Katakuris comes in the middle of the most prolific portion of Takashi Miike’s career thus far; between 2000 and 2002, he completed twenty projects in film, television, and video. A lot of work, to be sure, but Miike is, at only 46 years old, already one of the most prolific directors of this or any generation, with more than sixty films under his belt. There’s a famous photo of an aged Hitchcock standing next to the screenplays from his fifty-odd productions, which are much taller than he is and leaning to collapse over him. Hitchcock may not have been a tall man, but that’s a lot of paper. Miike, over the course of his career, may not produce at the same quality of Hitchcock, but Miike’s productivity is hugely impressive and, let’s be honest, nobody makes all great films; The Birds and Torn Curtain are some pretty shabby productions themselves. It isn’t the quality of every production that Miike puts out as much as the consistency of vision that runs through his films, even if it is a musical. As the American DVD release says, “The hills are alive with the sound of screaming.” I couldn’t say it any better myself.

Link of the Day

Old Hickory's Weblog writes of a real Forgotten American, Adelbert Ames, who worked to protect the rights of African-Americans in late Reconstruction Mississippi. The villain: the odious L.Q.C. Lamar.

First rate post. Check it out.

Communes

I have written before on my deeply mixed feelings about communes. Jim Windolf's new Vanity Fair article on The Farm, a commune in the woods of Tennessee, gives me another chance to discuss this issue.

The Farm is a bit legendary among Tennessee progressives, although for reasons I never could quite understand. To be fair, any commune that's been around 35 years has beaten the odds. Windolf gives a pretty fair view of what is happening there. Although I have some respect for the sentiment going into such activities, I can't help but thinking that what they are doing is ultimately pointless. I simply believe that when people withdraw from society, they become worthless to society. They may be trying to live their own City Upon a Hill or they may just want to get away from everything, but unless they actively make connections between their own activities and the world at large, they are doing nothing of value. Windolf talks about some of the environmental technologies Farm members are working on, but it's hard to care. I mean it's interesting and all to grow bamboo in part from people urinating on it (which bamboo likes) but I'm not sure how this is applicable to much of anything.

On a more personal note, I used to know someone who grew up on The Farm. My interactions with her made me laugh at the mention of the school out there. This was one of the most dogmatic and uneducated people I have ever met. She knew the U.S. government was doing bad things and she could speak passionately about it in a shrill sort of way. But she couldn't spell even the most basic words, she knew no details about much of anything, and God forbid you try to engage her in a real conversation. I personally remember with not too much fondness discussing the whole Native American/Indian naming thing with her. She insisted it must always be Native American. I mentioned that I knew lots of Indians who preferred that title to the more recent one. It became stunningly clear that she didn't actually know any Native Americans, yet she insisted on her point of view. Not surprisingly, she was also a Maoist.

Does Maureen Dowd Ever Have Anything Good To Offer?

I believe the answer is no.

Her latest hot air concerns the John Edwards $400 hair cut. Dowd, that siren of substance, of course makes a big deal out of it. In one of her seemingly ad nauseum columns on this matter, she writes, "Following his star turn primping his hair for two minutes on a YouTube video to the tune of "I Feel Pretty," Mr. Edwards this week had to pay back the $800 charged to his campaign for two shearings at Torrenueva Hair Designs in Beverly Hills. He seems intent of proving that he is a Breck Girl -- and a Material Boy."

I could not give a flying fuck about how much John Edwards pays for his haircut. Neither should you. It's his money and I don't care how he spends it. What I care about is what he thinks about health care, the war, the environment, abortion, gay rights, fighting poverty, and other issues. We should care, virtually to the exclusion of all other matters, about what candidates say about issues. If we care primarily about the image of our candidates, the Republicans are one step ahead.

I say this because I know through friends that at the very least the Obama campaign is using the haircut to attack Edwards within Democratic circles. That's just not really acceptable to me. I don't think it makes me think too much less about Obama; hell, Edwards would probably do the same thing. But it says a lot about problems within the American political system.

I've said this before and no doubt I will say it again--but how do columnists at the Times get their jobs? I, or you, could do at least as good. Probably far better. This is what passes for writing at editorial page of the nation's most prestigious paper???

See also Paul Waldman and Matt Yglesias, among many others.

Historical Image of the Day


Anti Fugitive Slave Act picture, early 1850s

France

While the media is already covering the second round of French elections, let us not overlook the fact that Jean-Marie Le Pen received 10% of the 45 million votes registered, which means that 4.5 million French voters were willing to openly say, "I am a xenophobe and a racist, and proud of it!!!!"

Global Warming: Example #2849

Generally, many parts of Brazil, especially in the rural tropical areas, face the chance of a dengue fever outbreak in their area, and such epidemics generally make the news. However, a recent epidemic is making particular news here in Brazil, not just in the media and the medical community, but among the environmentalists and climatologists here. There has been an outbreak of dengue in Rio Grande do Sul, which is Brazil's southern-most state, located on the border with Argentina and Urugay, well below the Tropic of Capricorn and one of the few areas in Brazil that is subject to cool autumns and colder winters (no snow, but periodically in the 30s Fahrenheit).

What does an epidemic in Brazil's southern-most state have to do with global warming? Well, it's simple - for the first time in recorded history, it is warm enough in Rio Grande do Sul that the mosquito that carries dengue has not yet died. In the past, the South was already getting into the 50s and 40s (Fahrenheit) by this time, but the temperature have gradually increased over the last 15 years, so that now, the temperatures have been in mid-80s well beyond when they should have, and reflect the broad warming patterns in Brazil's southern-most region (and throughout the country more broadly).Combine things like this with other recent disasters, including the increasing temperatures and the first hurricane to ever form in the Southern Atlantic in 2004, it offers reminders of how much trouble we are in.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Elmyr de Hory: Bane of the Expert

Whenever one of us walks into an art museum, no matter the level of knowledge of the works or their creators, we enter a contract with our esthetic that what we are looking at is legitimate. The question of authenticity does not cross out minds. We assume this is true; otherwise, the entire experience has no point. It is the art buyer, assumed to be an expert, who determines authenticity, and we place our trust fully in their judgements. What happens, then, when these experts are subverted? When a master forger sells pieces by respected artists, and the pieces are deemed authentic and hang on the wall, we never know the difference. Elmyr de Hory did just this for 25 years, making his living selling forgeries, many of which still may not be identified as such.

Born in Hungary in 1906, supposedly to noble parents, Elmyr de Hory (not his real name, but this fact has been completely obscured, he went by some fifty different names throughout his life, but this was his preferred alias at the end of his life) attended art school and fell in love with painting and the history of art. During his time in school, he also developed a love for both fine living and young men. It was the latter obsession that led to his first prison sentence in a Transylvanian institution for "political dissidents." He didn't stay long and, after release was almost immediately sent to a concentration camp for the dual crime of Judaism and homosexuality. After a severe beating, Elmyr was sent to a hospital outside of the camp, from which he escaped, and fled to France where, now free, tried to make his living as a painter. While he was unsuccessful at selling his own pieces, he did discover that he had an uncanny ability to mimic the work of great artists, particularly Modigliani and Picasso and, after selling one of his drawings to a friend who took it as the real deal, Elmyr realized that if he couldn't sell an Elmyr, he certainly could sell a Picasso he just "found."

Thus begins the career of the greatest art forger of the 20th Century. From this single sale, an unknown number of great works entered the marketplace, all from his "family estate." Most were fooled, some were not. Those who knew the pieces were forgeries would call the authorities to charge him with fraud, but Elmyr was good at staying a step ahead of the law. He travelled all over the US and South America, fooling experts everywhere, paid handsomely for his work. But, by the mid 1950s, it seemed that the jig was up. When the police got too close, he fled to Mexico City, where he was promptly jailed under suspicion of murder. The police extorted money from him, then his lawyer did the same. Elmyr was able to pay him off with a forgery, and returned to the US. Things got much tougher for him at this point. Because of the quantities of fakes he was able to sell, his method of forgery became identifiable, and sales dwindled. He began selling faked lithographs door-to-door, earning just enough to make ends meet, but was spiralling into a deep depression. He tried killing himself but, failing this, moved to Miami, where he met Fernand Legros, an art dealer who knew Elmyr's game and agreed to deal his work for a 40% cut. Elmyr was always happy to have others market the paintings; as time passed, and he became known, he got more and more skittish about approaching dealers himself. Unfortunately, another of Elmyr's traits was that he was a total sap, falling for any lies anybody would tell him. Legros took a much larger cut of the profits, which were grand, and gave Elmyr enough money to live, but not so much that he wasn't hungry.

Eventually, the years of running made his work suffer and he tired of the game. The authorities finally caught up with Elmyr while in Ibiza and, while they never charged him with forgery (nobody could ever prove that he actually signed any of the paintings he made), in Spain he was jailed once again in 1968 for homosexuality. He spent only two months in prison, but was exiled from Spanish soil. A year later, he did return to Ibiza, where he met aspiring writer and future faker Clifford Irving. Elmyr told his story to Irving, who wrote the account in his book Fake! Most of what we know of Elmyr comes from this book, which is of dubious authenticity in its own right. What it did do, however, is raise Elmyr to celebrity status and allow him the opportunity to expound on his disdain for experts, who he'd fooled for most of his life. By now, Elmyr tried his hand, once again, at selling his own original work but it, as it always had, sold enemically and, moreover, he was not out of the woods with the authorities. While the French government was trying to extradite him on fraud charges, Elmyr finally succeeded at what he failed at so many years ago. On December 11, 1976, Elmyr's bodyguard (he had many delusions of people trying to murder him) announced that Elmyr had overdosed on sleeping pills and was dead, never to stand trial for the countless forgeries he had committed, many of which hang in museums today, undetected.

Elmyr states in F for Fake, Orson Welles' film on fakery, that "if it hangs in the museum long enough, does it not become art?" If even experts are fools, then nobody knows anything and our faith in the hundreds of years of art that we love and canonize are no longer legitimate. Which of my favorite paintings are forgeries? Much of what Elmyr said was designed to help justify what he was doing for himself, but these statements give add just enough doubt to make me think twice about genius. Looking at a Picasso, a Matisse, a Modigliani, a Renoir, is this work actually by these artists? Are they Elmyr's, or some other forger yet unidentified? The greater question becomes whether or not this matters to our cultural enrichment through art, and I remain torn.

A few examples of famous Elmyr forgeries

Historical Image of the Day


American Colonization Society pamphlet, 1848

When in doubt, blame the faculty

In a world where professors at universities are increasingly the object of wingnut paranoia, a "third front" in America, this effort to try to pin the VT shootings on the VT English Department is particularly repugnant, even by the low standards of the David Horowitz group. Of all the factors - gun control, mental instability, the disjuncture between state and federal laws on who can get a gun - the faculty, here or anywhere, has as little to do with these shootings as lyme disease does. As Hilzoy says, the faculty members are not only particularly leftist by any standards, they tried to get Cho to get help. Of all the useless, ineffective, and baseless smear jobs on academia, this is perhaps the lowest of the low.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Bummer

For all you Drive-By Truckers fans out there, you will be saddened to know that Jason Isbell has left the band. You'll have to scroll down the link page a bit to get to it.

On a more plus side, he has a solo album coming out this summer that I'm sure will be great.

Still, the Isbell years are likely to go down as the greatest ever for the Truckers. His songs, particularly on Decoration Day and The Dirty South, were really great. Now I thought his work on A Blessing and A Curse was kind of weak, so I'm wondering if he wasn't already thinking about leaving.

This really sucks.

The State of Creative Music in New York

I recently received the e-mail copied below about the increasingly desperate state of creative music in New York City. Essentially, real estate prices have become so high that clubs cannot stay open anymore. In particular, this is addressing the closing of Tonic, the Lower East Side club that had promoted experimental and creative music for the last decade or so. Here's the e-mail. The action referenced in the e-mail took place a week ago, but the message is still valuable and needs to be spread.

We Must Demand:
An adequate, affordable space, centrally located in the LES!
Tonic is being handed over to the realtors.
We are making an appeal to the City, to either give us this space or one comparable in size for the use of avantjazz/new music/indie community.
We can not lose such an Important Home!
YOUR PRESENCE - YOUR MUSIC- YOUR VOICE – YOUR ART - IS ESSENTIAL.

SHOW THE CITY YOU CARE ABOUT WHAT IS HAPPENING.

DON’T LET REALTORS DECIDE NEW YORK CITY’S CULTURAL FATE!

STOP the loss of important venues, one by one forced to close by rent increases at an alarming rate.
STOP the destruction of the LES as a center of diverse & varied & unique culture.
Tonic is scheduled to close on Friday, April 13th, 2007.

The following day, we will gather to fight the eviction of this crucial venue, the diminishment of our livelihoods, and the destruction of our culture by peacefully resisting. Please join us.

For the last nine years Tonic has been at the center of NYC experimental music. When the tsunami of rent increases and mal-development engulfing the LES forces its closure, NYC will have lost the last avant-jazz/indie/new music club in Manhattan with a capacity over 90. A vibrant community of musicians and fans worked for years to maintain Tonic -- raising over 100,000 dollars through benefit concerts and donations to pay off debt, fund repairs, buy a sound system, and keep the club open in devastating times such as following 9/11/01.

We’re taking action now to dramatize the market failure of which Tonic’s closing is a symptom, and to ask that the city save this home for us or provide a minimum 200 capacity, centrally located venue for experimental jazz, indie, and new music.

We want for ourselves and the communities around us the right to stay around long enough to enjoy the culture we’ve created, not harassment and a bum’s rush into eviction the minute real estate decides we’ve made the neighborhood ‘safe’ and ‘cultured’ enough for them to cash in.

This is where we tell the landlords, developers, and the city: Enough. Genucht. Basta ya!

Coming on the heels of the closing of CBGB's, Sin-e, Fez, The Continental, and numerous other varied downtown venues, the closing of Tonic represents the shutting down of NYC's most important live music experimental jazz, indie, and new music scene.

This wave of live music space closings constitutes a market failure. The downsized or geographically marginal venues arising in the wake of the established club closings are not generating enough to maintain the economic viability of this scene. If there is not immediate and sufficient PUBLIC INTERVENTION, either in the form of limiting rents, or supplying alternate space and funding - or both - New York City will lose an essential part of its heritage, culture, and economy.

“My band plays some of the biggest festivals in Europe...Meanwhile there’s only one club I can play in New York and it’s about to close.”
Steven Bernstein, Trumpet player and leader of Sex Mob and the Millennial Territory Orchestra
(NY Times)

According to Patricia Nicholson Parker, organizer of the Vision Festival:
“We have come together to say we deserve a space and in essence, we have already paid for our space. Musicians contribute to the economy of this city every day with world class performances. In the case of Tonic, many musicians came together and invested in the space. Through benefits and organizing they raised significant sums of money (100+ grand) for the venue, Tonic. The city needs to acknowledge this. It is good for the city and good for the artists and their audiences that the city make available a musician-friendly community club/space which holds up to 200 audience members. It is important that it not be in the outer boroughs but be centrally located in the LES where this serious alternative music has been birthed and where it can be easily accessed by audiences.”

This issue revolves around one basic question: Does a city, and in particular New York, have an interest in their city remaining the center of American culture and art, or does nothing matter except for real estate prices?

For at least a century, and probably going as far back as the arrival of Stephen Foster in 1860, New York has served as the center of American music. Does it anymore? Does it care enough to support, even through such basic actions such as rent control or subsidizing art spaces, music? Under the Guiliani and Bloomberg administrations, the answer is clearly no. This music can move to Brooklyn or Queens I suppose, but what is to keep it affordable there in another 10 years? The future of creative music in New York will say a lot about the future vitality of the city as an artistic center, as well as the state of music in the United States.

Historical Image of the Day


The first African-American representatives to Congress

Lawrence Welk Quote of the Day

Summing up the Indians' awufl 9th-inning collapse on Thursday (making them 3-16 in Yankee stadium since 2003), Sheldon Ocker from the Akron Beacon-Journal writes: "After closer Joe Borowski blew a four-run lead one out short of finishing the game, anyone remotely connected with the Tribe had to be wondering whether the Wahoos have any better chance of winning at the House that Ruth Built than Lawrence Welk has of being elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."

Indeed.

Coded Racism, Violence, and the Brazilian Media

On Tuesday, Cariocas (Rio de Janeiro residents) woke up and saw newspapers proclaiming the death of 20 "drug traffickers" ("traficantes") in the favelas while the Cariocas slept. However, seemingly innocuous headlines of the death of drug-dealers actually carries sinister meaning in Brazil.

Everytime the police kill somebody in the favelas, the media proclaims the death of "traficantes". It doesn't matter if a 10-year old boy is killed, or a 60 year old woman (and there have been incidents in the past where the police went into favelas and indiscriminitately killed the poor, including the elderly, women, and children, all on the basis of their "drug ties", which the dead of course could not refute ). And by and large, nobody asks any questions.

All of this reveals two aspects of the issues of race in Brazil. Firstly, there's the media's almost universal tendency to describe any person killed in the favelas (almost universally black/brown) as a "traficante" when they die. This simple categorization not only refuses teh individuals humanity (it was just another "traficante", a useless thug-criminal with nothing worth noting other than his or her criminality). It also creates a blanket stereotype of favelados (those who live in the favelas) as all being criminals. Their failure to appear in the media in any other story not related to "X traficantes dead in X favela" offers a gross simplification of the difficulties and societal problem that face favelados and that favelados in turn reveal about inequalities in Brazilian society.

The second issue at play here is broader than the media's characterization of the favelados. Hearing the latest story (they are almost weekly, sometimes daily) about the police in a "shootout" with the favelados, many people say the favelados had it coming, because they refuse to get real jobs and just live like leeches off the Brazilian society. This approach puts the poverty strictly on the shoulders of the favelados, as if they're lack of motivation, laziness, and/or criminality were the explanation for their plight, logically leading to the attitude of "if they really wanted to get out, they'd do better/work harder, so it's their own fault". Of course, this makes it easier for society to ignore the difficulties the poor and mostly dark-brown-to-black favelados face getting well-paying jobs, including the underpaid domestic work so many of Rio's elites hire them for. It also makes it easier to again dehumanize the favelados and justify the random murder of them. One officer is quoted as describing the 20 dead favelados as a "happy action" because "we [the police] managed to avoid something more serious." I suspect many of the favelados found the shootout plenty serious.

These attitudes, and particularly the media's constant use of the term "traficante", has a curious affect on American media. Such blanket, coded words for racist/classist attitudes leads to difficulties in reporting the story in the American media (if and when it ever gets reported - only CNN even ran the story from this week's massacre). Simply picking up a story of 20 dead traffickers from the Brazilian media can lead to the same reporting in the U.S. without any cultural criticism or parsing of what the Brazilian media means when it says "traficante." Certainly there are ways around this - CNN repeatedly uses the phrase "alleged gang members", which, for its "alleged", is already more cautious than the Brazilian media. Still, difficulties in translation of journalism remain, and can and do help internationalize the notion that favelados are little mroe than people living in abject poverty who are forced to traffick and join gangs, without asking any of the deeper social and critical questions of Brazilian society's contradictions.

Certainly, the police in Rio do kill traficantes, sometimes in drawn-out gunfights. However, without a doubt many innocent bystanders are often also victims, and the media's and society's failure to address that possibility or explain the broader issue of why the favelas even exist speaks volumes about Brazil's tendency to turn the other eye on inequality here, relying on classic racism and classism.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Lyrad's Random 10

1. Brown Whornet--Symbols for the Hearing Impaired
2. Dmitri Shostakovich--Quartet No.2 for Strings; 3.Valse (Borodin String Quartet)
3. Ennio Morricone--The Sword (from The Mission Soundtrack)
4. Sonic Youth w/Mogwai--Tremens
5. Naked City--You Will Be Shot
6. The Louvin Brothers--You're Learning
7. Otis Smokey Smother--I've Been Drinking Muddy Water
8. The Skillet Lickers--New Arkansas Traveller
9. The Gibson Brothers--Beautiful Brown Eyes
10. Ivie Anderson--Me and You

Etiquette at Concerts

I went and saw Neko Case on Sunday here in Albuquerque. It was a pretty solid show. Actually, it was somewhat better than the other times I've seen her. But then again, I've always thought she was somewhat overrated. Or to be more specific, I wanted her to use her amazing voice in more diverse ways than she does on her solo albums. Anyway, being Albuquerque and Neko being trendy, I feared that a lot of people would go not because they cared about the music, but to be seen. Let's face it, there's not that much to do in this city so these things happen.

Indeed, what I feared came to pass. Eventually, I moved because the people next to me were having a very loud conversation that not only had nothing to do with the music but it fact overwhelmed the music. I moved to an upstairs section that was very hot but at least you could hear. I was a bit peeved at this. I mentioned it today to some friends. They laughed because one of their friends had been at the same show and was shushed by some people for doing the same thing that I got irritated at. Moreover, my friends said that I was wrong and that if people paid for a show, they could do what they want.

I think this is outright wrong. To some extent, the ability to talk during a concert depends on the show. At a loud rock show, when you have to yell in your neighbor's ear to be heard, it's fine because no one can hear you anyway. And let me make it clear--I'm not calling for silence. Whoop and holler at the songs all you want. Be an enthusiastic crowd. That's great. But at a Neko Case show, when the music is not that loud and is very dependent on the vocals, loud conversations are completely unacceptable. Do people not care about the rights of others? Yes, you paid your money, but so did everyone else. Does that not matter?

To me, this means much more than a concert. It's about community. Do we care so little about other people that we will completely ride roughshod over their evening in order that we can do what we want? Is there anyplace in today's society for taking others into consideration? Should we pay any attention to how our actions affect other people, or is this a world dedicated simply to our own personal pleasure and fuck everyone else?

I don't see how we build a better society and world with selfish values like these in place.

Historical Image of the Day


Confederate reenactors

Erik's Random 10

As a way to have some kind of a point to these random 10 posts, I thought I'd start saying a brief word about the first song to come up each week.

The Flatlanders, made up of Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, put out one of the greatest albums in the history of country music back in 1972. They were all just kids out of Lubbock, but the love for the music was amazing. Oddly, the album was pretty incomplete. They got completely screwed by the company and only Gilmore would sign his name to the contract, thus none of Ely or Hancock's songs made it on the album. Even with these problems, the album is brilliant, including one of the weirdest songs ever written, "Bhagavan Decreed," with the classic beginning, "Brains cannot defeat me when I'm stoned, little darlin."

The band was never really a band though and the three singers went their separate ways. Ely hit it big first, in the late 70s, when he and the Clash famously opened for each, Ely opening in England, the Clash in Texas. Gilmore and Hancock became much better known in the 1980s and early 1990s. Toward the end of the 90s, they got back together for 2 albums. The song listed below, "Wheels of Fortune," came off the second album by the same name, released in 2004. The love for the music is still there, but something is missing from these two recent Flatlanders albums. The songs are mostly pretty good, but I think these three musicians are now very different and there really isn't any feeling of these guys as a band. "Wheels of Fortune" features the amazing voice of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and is actually an older song which was recorded on the Gilmore/Hancock tour of Australia album from the early 90s. It's a very solid song and one of the best tracks on Wheels of Fortune.

1. The Flatlanders, Wheels of Fortune
2. Buddy Tabor, My Bruised World
3. Pink Floyd, In The Flesh
4. Bongwater, Mr. and Mrs. Hell
5. Richard Thompson, Beat the Retreat
6. Angelo Badalamenti, Laura Palmer's Theme
7. Death Cab for Cutie, Lightness
8. Dizzy Gillespie, Minor Walk
9. Rikki, Ikunnya Kana-Yoisura
10. Lou Reed, Metal Machine Music, Part 2

Mister Trend's Random 10

1. "Cripple and the Starfish" - Antony & the Johnsons
2. "I Think I'm a Mother" - PJ Harvey
3. "Take Me Back Again" - Jimmie Rodgers
4. "Crest" - Stereolab
5. "What Do I Get?" - The Buzzcocks
6. "Interstate 8" - Modest Mouse
7. "Dying Crapshooter's Blues" - Blind Willie McTell
8. "Levitate Me" - Pixies
9. "Secret Girls" - Sonic Youth
10. "Két kánon (Two Canons) - Peletykázó asszonyok" - Gyorgi Ligeti

Thursday, April 19, 2007

More on Building and Climate Change

A while back I talked about the connections between buildings and climate change, but here's a link from an expert. Ed Mazria, a prominent green architect, writes in part:

"Today, in the US and globally, buildings and developments are responsible for almost half of all the GHG emissions fueling global warming. Tomorrow’s buildings and developments must be the solution to the problem. To begin to realize this, we must think about how buildings might operate if there were no fossil fuels available, what they might look like, what they could provide - the possibilities are endless when we are resourceful, innovative and diligent. There are no cookie-cutter solutions; the slate is clean and the best techniques and design strategies will quickly materialize. Carbon-neutral is where we are headed, and included in the benefits are a worldwide economic boom, positive health implications and an incredible potential for increased productivity."

This is true. We can make a real difference through architecture and urban planning, but it's going to take a lot of education to make people want to live in a more Earth-friendly way as well.

Historical Image of the Day


"A Veteran On Furlough," Harper's, 1864

A Few Things

As I've been in the midst of a move from Seattle to Virginia, I haven't been able to write much about the events of the past couple weeks. I'm hoping to return within a few days, but until then, a few thoughts.

Kurt Vonnegut. My friend Dave G. gave me a copy of 'Welcome to the Monkey House' when we were in 11th grade, I remember the physical sensation I had reading him for the first time, having been totally unaware that that sort of writing, and the expression of those kinds of ideas, was out there, was even possible. In 1993 I saw Vonnegut speak at UMass-Amherst, he walked out in a brown suit and shiny white patent leather shoes, no notes, and held forth for about an hour, ending with "Okay, that's my speech." Then he took four questions and left. 'Mother Night' was the book I gave to my future wife in the first days of our courtship. (She gave me Roahld Dahl's 'My Uncle Oswald.') I got choked up listening to Vonnegut's obituary on NPR as my brother and I sped through Kansas. There are better novelists, but none who did as much to point me toward the kind of person that I want to be. Thank you, Mr. Vonnegut.

Sadr and Sistani. Dilip Hiro writes that they've formed an effective alliance. While his would represent a significant reversal for Sadr, as he has made his own Arab ethnicity, and, by implication, Sistani's Persian background, a big part of his nationalist program, it makes sense for him, now that he's a much more established figure in Iraqi politics, to come to an accomodation with the much more senior cleric. I'll have to keep watching this development, but at the very least, a Sadr-Sistani rapprochement indicates that we could see a wthdrawal of U.S. troops much sooner than later, as both leaders have been very critical from the start of U.S. troops' presence in Iraq. Also interesting will be to see how Sadr positions himself in relation to Sistani's acceptance of popular sovereignty for Iraq, which is one of the more significant recent developments in Shi'i jurisprudence, unfortunately lost beneath the waves of continuing violence.

Finally, I'd just like to say that Kansas cops are exceedingly polite, even when they're making you wait around for a canine unit to come and sniff your car.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

When 34 > 170

I am in no way trying to diminish the horrible sadness and shock of the Virginia Tech shootings. However, it speaks volumes of our media and society when, at the moment of my writing this, the VT shootings are still breaking news and have 8 separate linked stories below the main story at the top of the page at cnn.com, while there is exactly one story on the fact that "At least 170 killed in Baghdad bombings". Maybe this country would be a little better off if we could value life and mourn the mass loss of life everywhere in the world, and not just within our borders.

The Supreme Court Turns

I don't have anything to add to the Supreme Court upholding the partial birth abortion ban. There are tons of great legal commentators out there who you can read. I will only say that the effects of the Bush administration will be felt around the nation for a long, long time.

I do however want to steal this list from Marty Lederman at Balkinization of cases that Sandra Day O'Connor was the swing vote on. With her gone, this is the type of laws due to be overturned by the Court:

McCreary County v. ACLU (2005) -- Ten Commandments displays

Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Educ. (2005) -- Title IX Liability for Retaliation

Rompilla v. Beard (2005) -- standard of reasonable competence that Sixth Amendment requires on the part of defense counsel

Johanns v. Livestock Marketing (2005) -- assessments for government speech

Smith v. Massachusetts (2005) -- double jeopardy

Small v. United States (2005) - felon firearm possession ban doesn't cover foreign convictions

Tennessee v. Lane (2004) -- Congress's Section 5 power

Hibbs v. Winn (2004) -- Tax Injunction Act

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation v. EPA (2004) -- EPA authority under Clean Air Act to issue orders when a state conservation agency fails to act

McConnell v. FEC (2004) -- campaign finance

Groh v. Ramirez (2004) -- sufficiency of non-particularized search warrant

Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) -- affirmative action

Brown v. Legal Foundation of Washington (2003) -- no takings violation in IOLTA funding scheme

American Insurance Ass'n v. Garamendi (2003) -- presidential foreign-affairs "pre-emption" of state law

Stogner v. California (2003) -- ex post facto clause as applied to changes in statutes of limitations

Alabama v. Shelton (2002) -- right to counsel

Rush Prudential HMO v. Moran (2002) -- upholding state laws giving patients the right to second doctor's opinion over HMOs' objections

Kelly v. South Carolina (2002) -- capital defendant's due process right to inform jury of his parole ineligibility

FEC v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee (2001) -- upholding limits on "coordinated" political party expenditures

Zadvydas v. Davis (2001) -- prohibiting indefinite detention of immigrants under final orders of removal where no other country will accept them

Easley v. Cromartie (2001) -- race-based redistricting

Rogers v. Tennessee (2001) -- "judicial" ex post facto

Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (2001) -- state action

Stenberg v. Carhart (2000) -- "partial-birth abortion" ban

Mitchell v. Helms (1999) -- direct aid to religious schools

Davis v. Monroe County Board of Educ. (1999) -- recognizing school district liability under Title IX for student-on-student sexual harrassment

Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network (1997) -- injunctions against abortion-clinic protestors

Richardson v. McKnight (1997) -- private prison guards not entitled to qualified immunity in section 1983 suits

Camps Newfound/Owatonna v. Town of Harrison (1997) (dormant Commerce Clause)

Morse v. Republican Party of Virginia (1996) -- provisions of the Voting Rights Act are constitutional as applied to choice of candidates at party political conventions

Schlup v. Delo (1995) (habeas, actual innocence)

A False View of Portland

I've argued this point in the past, but a severely misleading New York Times article on Portland is making me bring it up again.

David Laskin says:

"But below the fleece-clad and Teva-wearing exterior lurks a cool and refreshingly unneurotic city that marches to its own cosmopolitan beat. Truth is, Portland doesn't want to be Seattle, its highly caffeinated neighbor to the north. With less traffic, better public transportation and Mount Hood in its backyard, this self-styled City of Roses doesn't stand in anybody's shadow."

Uh, no. It seems that Laskin is in fact showing that Portland is in the shadow of Seattle. Why? Because Laskin acts like a Portlander, who are ALWAYS talking about how much better their city is than Seattle. Oh, we have less traffic. Oh, we have more to do. Oh, our city is more beautiful.

That all could be true. But you know, Portland residents sure are more annoying than Seattleites.

Again, if your city is really better than Seattle, you wouldn't talk about it so damn much.

Historical Image of the Day


Drawing depicting first Battle of Manassas, 1861

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Film Review--The Hoax

Without rehashing the crazy plot of The Hoax, the new film from Lasse Hallstrom, I will simply say that the story of Clifford Irving’s elaborate hoax on the publishing world could not be more entertainingly told. Is it accurate to the actual events? Who knows. Because the screenplay by William Wheeler is based directly (with cinematic liberty) off of Irving’s own account of the situation, the facts are untrustworthy. If I didn’t already know the story as fact, there is no way I’d believe it as fiction. Without doubt, I would mock the many plot twists that have no basis in any reality I’ve experienced. The audacity and lack of conscience that Irving shows to make all this happen is staggering. Anybody giving any credence to the “factual” story here is crazy. The only people who could possibly lend insight died long ago. All except Irving, who’s clearly pretty good at sticking to the yarns he spins. I often feel that the “based on true events” information at the beginnings of “historical” films add undue expectations and detract from a movie’s primary objective: to entertain. The Hoax’s claims to facts are so spurious that the title card saying it seems like a joke. But it’s just this melding of fact and fiction that gives the movie its charm. Some of the creative license gives the movie a Hollywood feel, but to good results. At all points, it’s still a comic thriller about a book, so the extravagances can only take it so far.

What does take The Hoax to another level, however, is the performances. I will admit that this is the first time I’ve ever gone out to see a movie starring Richard Gere, not caring much for his leading man type, but his performance here is extraordinary. With a perm, a fake nose, and a damn good Howard Hughes impersonation, Gere is as believable as anyone could be as Irving. Playing a man half his age, he gives a sense of humanity to a character, otherwise, entirely reprehensible. He cheats on his wife and lies to his best friend with the same ruthless believability that he brings to his agent and to the head of McGraw-Hill to whom he sells the hoax. Yet those closest to him, those who have seen the origins of his lies, agree to believe what he says to them. For some reason, everybody has faith in the man, no matter how slimy he seems. Even the audience wants to believe in Gere’s Irving, no matter what we see. He brings humor and strength of humanity to Irving; it is a surprising portrayal.

It’s certainly not a one-man show, however. Alfred Molina is as good as I’ve ever seen him as Richard Suskin, Irving’s friend and coconspirator, who provides much of the comic relief and serves as the moral compass of the film. [On a side note, Clifford Irving’s main complaint about the script of this film was how they handled Suskin, who he feels was turned into a blithering idiot instead of the literary mind that he really was. Indeed, Suskin was complicit in the act, and I have a hard time believing that he was much of a moral compass in Irving’s life.] While Gere and Molina work very well together both as a comic and dramatic duo, I do wish that they’d spent more time with some of the side characters which often are the real life of the film. I especially wish they’d spent more time with Marcia Gay Harden as Irving’s wife Edith but unfortunately, much like Pollack, in which she plays the same essential character, is more the foil for the hero’s actions than a character unto herself. She’s a very good actress and does the most with the material given, but the motivations for why she commits the crimes for this man are entirely unclear and the story suffers for it. Additionally, look for Eli Wallach as Noah Dietrich, Hughes’ former associate. He is hilarious, as funny as I’ve ever seen him in a scene that plays like it might come out of a Coen Brothers’ film.

Overall, The Hoax is an excellent production, and the best thing Hallstrom has directed since What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Veteran period film cinematographer Oliver Stapleton’s photography and Carter Burwell’s excellent score add an overarching sense of paranoia to an already tense situation and helps to establish an urgency of political intrigue. On every level, it is an enjoyable and entertaining film, one that does not take itself too seriously while, at the same time, offers both fantastic performances and a substantial story. That is a tough line to tow, but The Hoax pulls it off.

Right-Wing Bloggers on Virginia Tech

It's certainly depressing to see the right-wingers immediately revert to racism to discuss the Virginia Tech murders.

Prometheus 6 points us to Debbie Schussel proclaiming that upon hearing the killer was Asian that a "Paki" was responsible. When her idiocy was pointed out to her, she replied, "Even if it does not turn out that the shooter is Muslim, this is a demonstration to Muslim jihadists all over that it is extremely easy to shoot and kill multiple American college students." Nice. Prometheus also links to this post claiming that the shooting, "immediately suggested someone with a level of military training that only South Korean males can generally be expected to have." What????

Meanwhile, Treason in Defense of Slavery Yankee, among others, has a series of posts saying that the way to get around instances like this is to have no gun control at all and allow everyone to carry concealed weapons. He actually claims that when he was in graduate school at East Carolina, he knew many people who walked around armed and that this made him feel safer.

Now, TIDOS Yankee has said a lot of stupid things, but as a college teacher who has had more than one confrontation with students in his short time, the idea of facing a crazy student with a gun is frightening. I'm sure TIDOS and his friends would simply argue that it was my fault if I too did not carry around a handgun and used it on my student when threatened.

God save America from these people.

Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging: Louis Hughes

In 1865, Louis Hughes was a 32 year old slave. Like many slaves, his father was white and his mother was black. He was born near Charlottesville, Virginia in 1832. When he was 11, his master separated him from his mother. He never saw his mother again after 1844. He was sold to a man in Richmond who later sold him to another slaveholder in Mississippi. While there, he was abused by the master's wife. However, in 1850, he was sent north to a new estate near Memphis that his owner had recently purchased. He was living here when the Civil War began in 1861. He was married to a woman named Matilda, also owned by the same master. Like many slaveholders, Hughes' master sent him back downriver when the Union armies came.

Despite what neo-Confederates would have you believe, nearly all slaves yearned to escape. Louis Hughes was among them. Louis repeatedly took off during the war, but had bad luck, running into Confederate troops in one case. In 1864, in part to keep him from escaping, Hughes' owner sent him to work in the Confederate salt works in Alabama. At the beginning of 1865, this is where both Louis and Matilda lived and worked.

Louis was an excellent businessman and made a nice living for himself selling things to other slaves. Whites realized this at the salt works and made deals with him that helped everyone out, particularly as goods became scarce once the South was clearly losing the war. But like everyone else, he wanted out as soon as possible. In March 1865, Union forces moved to attack Mobile and all the slaves at the salt works were to be sent back to their owners. He worked in the fields for awhile back on his owner's plantation in Mississippi. But the Union armies never really came to Panola County, Mississippi. Much of the Confederate's plantation homeland never faced the realities of the war, at least until Sherman's march through Georgia and South Carolina. When the war ended, in April 1865, Hughes' owner ordered that no blacks could leave the plantation and they were to continue work as if nothing happened. By June, his master ordered that no blacks from outside the plantation could come onto his land without permission and it was clear that he was trying to close off his blacks to the outside world in order to continue appropriating their labor. At this point, Louis and another slave made their move, escaping the plantation at night and fleeing northward to Memphis. There they organized a rescue mission for the other slaves. They notified Captain Thomas A. Walker of the situation at the plantation. He could do nothing for them as he was overwhelmed with similar stories of recalcitrant planters refusing to free their slaves. On the way back though they ran into a couple of Union soldiers who were sympathetic to their plight. For the cost of two bottles of whiskey, the soldiers set them up with some soldiers who would help Louis and his friend out. Although the soldiers only numbered 2, they managed to bluff their way through the situation and fifteen slaves immediately left the plantation.

While Louis and Matilda at first were going to settle in Memphis, they soon chose to move north, and headed to Cincinnati later that summer. They continued north from there. Hughes arrived in Windsor, Ontario in December 1865, finding work as a hotel porter. He was disappointed that Canada did not provide him the opportunities he had hoped for. He spent the next few years working at jobs in northern cities, settling in Milwaukee in 1867. Louis and Matilda started a successful laundry business there. Louis became a founding member of St. Mark's African Methodist Episcopal Church in Milwaukee.

Louis also managed to find his long lost brother. With families split up all the time and spread across the South, most people never found their kin after emancipation. When they did, it was because of luck. One day, while working in Milwaukee, someone came up to Hughes and asked him if he had a brother because there was someone who looked just like him in Cleveland. Louis had accidentally chopped off one of his brother's fingers while playing as children and with this certain identifier, it was soon established that Billy was Louis' brother and they were reunited. Remarkable.

In the 1870s, Louis found himself in the nursing profession, which he proved quite skilled at. He travelled with patients as far away as Florida and California and became a member of the small, but growing, black middle class. In 1897, Louis Hughes published a memoir about his life as a slave, likely with help from one of his well-educated patients.

Louis remained bitter about slavery his entire life. In the memoir, Thirty Years a Slave: From Bondage to Freedom, he wrote about "the scars which I still bear upon my person, and...the wounds of spirit which will never wholly heal." He also attacked the Lost Cause myth, just becoming mainstream at that time, reminding his readers that if the Confederacy had won, he would still be a slave.

Matilda Hughes died in 1907. Louis lived until 1913, when he died in Milwaukee at the age of 80.

All of this information is taken from Stephen V. Ash's excellent, A Year in the South: Four Lives in 1865, which I highly recommend for anyone teaching the first half of the U.S. survey. Ash takes us on a journey through the eyes of 4 Southerners as they try to make it through the difficult year of 1865. Really first rate stuff.

Albuquerque, 2 AM

Downtown Albuquerque at 2 AM is a scary place. I was out last Saturday night. We were at the bar until closing. We got there about 11:30 or so. At that time, downtown is popping. Sure, there was the guy who was basically passed out at the entrance to a par. And the police presence was a bit much. But it's cool enough. We go to the bar and have a good time. When we leave at 2, we hit the street and I instantly feel like we are in a war zone. The atmosphere is just scary. There are tons of drunk young people milling around. The cops are on horses. People are just looking for a fight. I say to my friends, let's get the hell out of here. We turn a corner and basically run into a race-based fight. This Latino guy is baiting these three black guys who come out of their car and start beating the hell out of the guy. He retreats back onto Central. We are turning the corner and run straight into them. Literally, I had to shove the guy off me. Luckily, we got out without getting hurt.

How does downtown Albuquerque overcome this scene? I have, quite literally, seen blood flow in the streets of downtown in the wee hours. You have several problems here. First, people come looking to fight. Second, the overbearing police presence only ramps up the tension. Third, with really only two exceptions, the bars downtown cater to very young people. Fourth, there isn't enough of a residential presence downtown to really deter these kinds of incidents. Finally, too many other businesses prefer to open in the suburbs or in wealthy neighborhoods than downtown, leaving a vacuum that meat-market bars fill.

I have been really impressed over the past few years over how far downtown Albuquerque has come. In 2000, when I moved here, you literally never went downtown at night unless there was a show at one of the few music clubs down there. Today, there is something going on every night, even if it is still a work in progress. But still, that atmosphere has got to change. Even when I was 21 I wouldn't have wanted to deal with that to end my night. At 33, I certainly don't want to. That atmosphere helps drive people away from downtown, only exacerbating the problem.

Historical Image of the Day


Confederate memorial. Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1936

Monday, April 16, 2007

This is appalling

Anywhere from 21 to 29 or 31 dead already. Our thoughts with those killed and wounded, their families, and all in Blacksburg.

...and the right-wing idiocy of "the only solution to killers with guns is more guns", in all of its blind stupidity, has already begun. Meanwhile, in trying to stomach CNN for five minutes (and failing), the media is already going after both the VT police chief and the president, as if their failure to accurately predict all this makes them the real perpetrators. No word yet if the American media is going to be blaming Marilyn Manson anytime soon.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Spurrier

An unexpected participant in Treason in Defense of Slavery Month has popped up--South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier. Spurrier came out in favor of South Carolina getting rid of the Confederate flag. Spurrier was upset that when ESPN Gameday was at South Carolina last year, "some clown was waving that dang, damn Confederate flag behind the TV set. And it was embarrassing to me and I know embarrassing to our state." He went on to say, "I realize I'm not supposed to get in the political arena as a football coach, but if anybody were ever to ask me about that damn Confederate flag, I would say we need to get rid of it.

As you can imagine, those who are proud that the South committed treason to defend slavery are outraged. At some blog called, "Rebellion," the writer claims, "That’s the whole point of waging war against the South’s traditional symbols—make people ashamed of who they are, and they’re more easily manipulated by the social reengineers. Which is why we must defend our cultural symbols as passionately as our globalist enemies attack them. Their ultimate target is not our flag, but us."

Yes, that's right. Steve Spurrier is allied with Osama Bin Laden. Of course, this blog also just cried about North Carolina has apologized for slavery, saying "It’s official—our history is something we should be ashamed of." Well, in fact, yes.

Some other moron named Brent writes, "Steve Spurrier - you are a jackass. First of all you look like a girl tennis player with those stupid visors. Wear a normal hat like the rest of the world. Second - get off your politically correct high horse. Evidentaly Steve doesn't like the Confederate Flag. I am a Northerner through and through, but if the people of South Carolina like the flag up there, so be it. I’m fully convinced that you are not offended by it - you are just trying to be politically correct and say what you think people want to hear. Get some balls. Your players must think you are a pussy."

Brent is clearly an example of the idiot racist pro-Confederate northerner polluting American life today. Love seeing those Confederate flags in Ohio or Pennsylvania or where ever he is from.

There are more pro-Confederate commentators on the matter, but they are actually less readable than Brent so I am going to stop here.

I should also note that Spurrier is from the South himself, though it was one of the strongest anti-Confederate areas of the region, upper east Tennessee.

Thanks, Jake

It's a few days old, but I can't stress how important and even exciting it is that Jake Westbrook has signed a 3-year, $33 million contract extension with the Tribe. This is just a great deal for the Tribe all around. It's also a refreshing renewal in our faith that not all sports figures are driven by the greed of more money. While non-Tribe fans may say, "big deal - he got 33 million? He's not a number one". That's true - he's not. But in a market where Barry Zito, who has 41 wins in the last three years, gets a $126 million dollar deal, and Gil Meche can sign a 5-year, 55 million dollar deal with the Royals, the signing of Westbrook for 33 million, with his 44 wins the last 3 seasons (3 more than the sainted Zito) and who, with Cliff Lee, Johann Santana, and Kenny Rogers is one of only 4 pitchers with 14+ wins each of the last 3 seasons in the AL, is absolutely huge, and will be extremely important as the Tribe tries to lock up its other players (Hafner, Sabathia) and bring up young arms. This signing is just wonderful, start to finish.