Thursday, September 30, 2004

Debate Impressions

For the most part I thought Kerry completely dominated Bush tonight. He made a convincing case as to why Bush's policy toward both Afghainstan and Iraq was a disaster. He gave good solid policy answers while Bush could only say that he would keep his word and be certain. I thought there were several issues where Kerry could have attacked Bush more strongly and more directly. I was also glad that the networks (or at least CBS) ignored the rule about not showing the other candidate.

My big concern is that like the 1st Gore-Bush debate where conventional wisdom said afterwards that Gore won, only to have Republican pundits change this a few days later, will happen again. Who knows how the right will spin this.

One small piece of good news--CBS polls showed that Kerry did much better among undecided voters than Bush. Hopefully that will continue next week. One question--why is the next debate on a Friday night?

More tomorrow after I read the pundits.

What We're Up Against

Friends, this is what we're up against. I got this from Orcinus who found it on a right-wing blog site. I should start reading these but I try to limit my vomiting. This is from a sociology professor at UNC-Wilmington who I suppose puts the feelings of too damn many people into words. God help us. Also, sorry this quote looks so bad--I'm still having trouble with the technology of how to do this.

"I've worked hard all my adult life to provide for my family, to be useful,
and not go out of my way to injure anyone. Like most Americans, I knew little
about arab-muslim culture and believed that the developed nations were partly
responsible for the poverty and authoritarian regimes that infest the middle
east.Things changed on 9/11/01 when you ruined the lives of at least 10,000
Americans.These people instantly became my countrymen and you became my mortal
enemy.Ordinary Americans are arming themselves for war with you. I and many of
my friends have closets full of handguns, rifles, shotguns and thousands of
cartridges.If we had enough ammunition and time, we would kill every last one of
you.We completely support our President and our armed forces. We only wish they
would destroy you faster, but we are certain that they will. We no longer listen
to the insane words of Kerry, Harkin, Kennedy, Clark, and others whom we now see
as ideologues who would sacrifice our country and our lives on the alter of
their vanity and desire for power.We no longer listen to our secular mullahs,
our media fools, preaching hatred of America and sapping our will with their
lies and deceptions.We watch your cowardly methods of killing by beheading. We
are disgusted. But we are not afraid. You turn your women and children into
walking bombs. We are disgusted. But we are not afraid.You shoot and rape
children. You kill their mothers before their eyes. You burn, hang, and tear
apart the bodies of your victims, and then play with body parts. We are
disgusted. But we are not afraid.Why should we fear you? What ARE you to be
feared? You are cowards. Your bravado is a clown mask that hides the soul of a
ghoul. You are not able even to manufacture the knives you use to butcher your
bound victims. One day soon, our planes and missiles will begin turning your
mosques, your madrasses, your hotels, your government offices, your hideouts,
and your neighborhoods into rubble.And then our soldiers will enter your cities
and begin the work of killing you, roaches, as you crawl from the debris.As
cowards, you will have your hands in the air and you will get on your knees
begging for mercy. And we will instead give you justice. Your actions and
your words long ago placed you far from any considerations of mercy. You are not
men.And if you come to this country and harm a child, shoot a mother, hijack a
bus, or bomb a mall, we will do what we did in 1775. Millions of us will form
militias. We will burn your mosques.We will invade the offices of
pro-arab-muslim organizations, destroy them, and drag their officers outside.We
will tell the chancellors of universities either to muzzle or remove anti
American professors, whose hatred for their own country we have tolerated
only because we place a higher value on freedom of speech. But we will no longer
tolerate treason. We will muzzle and remove them.We will transport arab-muslims
to our deserts, where they can pray to scorpions under the blazing sun."

How do we respond to this? How do we fight this? These kinds of attitudes will lead to the rise of a fascist America. It should be said as well that the blog this was posted to approved of this? I'm too horrified to come up with any real solutions right now.

P.S.--This professor now claims it was all an experiment, but that is irrelevant. He is probably lying but even if he isn't, the fact that a Republican site would publish this says enough.

Only In Japan (I)

Another running column here will be something called Only In Japan, chronicling social trends in that most bizarre of countries. Here's a first example that, while weird for most countries, is not so weird for Japan.

In case anyone questions this assumption about the Japanese, remember this is the country with a popular restaurant based upon a Nazi concentration camp theme.

American Whiskey Trail

Now this is the history. See this CNN article on the new American Whiskey Trail. This is long overdue because one the most unknown parts of our history is the unbelievably immense amount of alcohol that Americans drank before the Civil War and the role that whiskey played in colonial and early American politics. It's history that's both fun and important.

Slowly we seem to be recognizing the more complex or odd bits of our past as interesting and important. No longer does the National Park Service just focus on battles and presidents, rather we have an emerging historic site on the steel industry for instance. The Whiskey Trail, while not a Park Service site, is a good sign of this.

As for me, I'm holding out for the Bob Wills National Historic Site in Turkey, Texas.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Local Fox News stations

See this article from The Nation about how a local Fox affiliate in Tucson confronted students registering voters at the University of Arizona. This news crew claimed that it was illegal to register out-of-state students in Arizona, which is of course not true.

This brings up 2 interesting points.

1. The depths Republicans will go to to stop people from voting is amazing.

2. We always focus on the evil of the big Fox News channel. But we should also look at the effect that local Fox stations are having. First, because they are on at a reasonable time for people who have to work in the morning, they are reaching a lot of people that the other stations are not. Second, it is an hour long and therefore seems (at least in New Mexico) to have more stories taken from the big Fox News network. These stories are invariably conservative. While I haven't heard of a local station taking such a confrontational approach in their conservative activism before this, it doesn't surprise me. A larger effect is likely the slow infusion of conservative thoughts into people's minds through the more subtle reporting people get each day from watching their local news from Fox.


I recently became acquainted with a very interesting community in Colombia named Gaviotas. Gaviotas is an experimental community on the llanos of eastern Colombia, which is a huge prairie region that few Colombians have ever seen. In the 70s, a bunch of engineers, scientists, and social visionaries went out there to begin a community that would serve as a model to the rest of the world. They focused primarily on environmental sustainability, working to be independent of outside supplies, and especially energy sources. They came up with technologies in solar energy, groundwater pumping, and other innovations to not only make themselves sustainable but also to provide technology for the poor around the world.

This is a very interesting community that has done some wonderful things in the last 30 years. I encourage you to read the book about them by Alan Weisman as well as to look at the website for the Friends of Gaviotas. However, I bring them up not to simply praise them but because they also bring up an interesting philosophical environmental question. They have eventually become economically self-sufficient because they have planted millions (or at least hundreds of thousands) of pine trees which produce a high quality resin that they can sell to industry. The question, what effect do these trees have on the llanos ecosystem and what is a native species.

The llanos were once part of the rain forest, but some thousands of years ago the winds changed and dried the area out some which caused fires. Though it still rains there a great deal, few trees can survive the extended periods of drought so grass became the dominant plant there. So are the pines native? They may have been at one time but certainly not now. But it gets more interesting because the pines do not reproduce there. But underneath the pines the rain forest has begun reestablishing itself. Plants not seen there for thousands of years have reemerged, as well as animals such as anteaters. Are these native species? They were not introduced exactly, but they haven't lived there in thousands of years.

What are people's responsibilities when it comes to native species? Should a static view of what a native species is be a paramount concern? Though I tend to sympathize with the efforts to eliminate invasive species and reestablish native species, in this case it seems fine that the rain forest is reestablishing itself. Given the tremendous damage that humans have done to the rainforest and the entire world for that matter over the 2 centuries, to reestablish the rain forest in an area where it previously did not exist does not seem to be a bad thing. Let's face it, we all transform the world we live in. We could not live in it if we did not. Should we try to affect the land as little as possible? Yes. But at the same time, if begin to use the land and the unintended consequences are actually positive instead of the usual negative, should we encourage those efforts? Given the desperate need of the world for more rain forest with global climate change, I would argue that yes we should. Of course, the llanos have great ecological value as well but so long as large swathes of this area are not turned into an artificial forest, I think this is a good thing.

In any case, read the book and check out the website. There are many interesting issues that a discussion of Gaviotas will bring up.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Plot Against America

Speaking of Pseudo-Fascism, check out Frank Rich's discussion of why Philip Roth's new novel The Plot Against America has shot up the best seller charts even though it doesn't even come out until next week. A very interesting discussion. I don't usually think of Roth as a political novelist, unless you define political as providing a manual on how to get your students in bed, but I guess in these times it doesn't take much to make a political statement.


Please please please read this extremely disturbing article by David Neiwert in his blog, Orcinus, on the rise of pseudo-fascism in America. It shakes me to my soul when I think of what is happening in this nation. It is the first 2 parts of a 6 part series.

See also Lawyers Guns Money for further commentary.

One of the real failings of the Left over the last 40 years or so is to call their enemies fascists without any real understanding of what the word means. Thus a racist is a fascist, someone in power who doesn't listen to your opinions is a fascist, even someone who disagrees with you in a meeting is called a fascist (I've witnessed this one myself). No, these people are not fascists. Now that we are really dealing with the potential rise of fascism in America, the word has lost much of its meaning. That is sad. I urge anyone reading this not to use that word without understanding exactly what it means.

I still have confidence that Americans will not follow the fascist path. Overall America is a stable country, which Germany and Italy in the 20s and early 30s were not, and thus extreme political ideologies seem unlikely to really take hold. In addition, America has a much stronger democratic tradition than either of those nations did at that time. And if Bush wins in 2004 I really believe that the Democrats will win in a landslide in 2008 for the following reasons--1) outsourcing of middle-class jobs is going to become a huge issue in the next 4 years. 2) We'll still be mired in Iraq with Christ knows how many dead Americans. 3) The likelihood of a major terrorist attack within the nation and/or another stupid invasion of another country is fairly high. Only if the Republicans truly start stealing elections in a way more blatant than they did in 2000 will we really have to worry seriously about America really embracing fascism.

That said, that doesn't mean that entire power structure built around pseudo-fascist values is not horrifying and very worrying.

El Salvador and Iraq

Another idiotic editorial today in the NYTimes by David Brooks. Brooks' model for the new Iraq--El Salvador in the 1980s. Brooks argues that despite the leftist revolutionaries (terrorists of course) best attempts, Salvadorans came out in droves for the 1984 election that elected Jose Napoleon Duarte, clearly a fine example for the kind of leader we can only hope for in Iraq. Brooks exhorts us that since El Salvador is such a success story (after all they are home to many maquiladoras today) we should continue our support for democracy in Iraq.

Mind you that Duarte was an ineffective leader unable or unwilling to do anything to help the common people in his country. He did continue the long tradition of El Salvador as a US client state that was more than happy to be used as part of the US war against the Sandinistas. He also failed to rein in the country's right-wing death squads, who among many thousands of other offenses, raped and killed several US nuns.

See the fiction of Manlio Argueta, particularly One Day Of Life, for a little more on the kind of government Brooks seems to want in Iraq.

It's nice to see that the New York Times employs such intelligent commentators to enlighten us. Because all Iraq needs is voting and everything will start getting better. Especially if that vote is rigged for pro-US candidates and elects a US supporter that will turn Iraq into a client state with American access to oil.

Album Review--Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster

All too often, tribute albums fall flat with phoned-in performances. So I'm usually hesitant to buy tribute albums. However, I am glad I acquired, thanks to my wife, Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster. This is one of the finer tribute albums I've heard in a long time. Perhaps it's better than most because Stephen Foster's been dead for 141 years. Perhaps it's because so many of his songs are part of American culture--Oh Susanna, My Old Kentucky Home, Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair, Hard Times, etc.

First a bit on Stephen Foster. Foster was arguably the first great American songwriter. He was born in July 4, 1826 in Pennsylvania, the same day Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died. He lived and worked in Pennsylvania until 1860 when he moved to New York and proceeded to drink himself to death in 1864. He can be hard to deal with today because a lot of his songs were in the minstrel blackface tradition. But nonetheless his best songs are some of the most important art America has produced.

The album itself has mostly strong performances. The single most powerful is the first song, when Raul Malo sings Beautiful Dreamer. Malo can flat out sing in a way that very few can. It's almost like having Sinatra sing a Stephen Foster song. All too often those with wonderful singing talent can't actually sing--they sing a technically great song but there's very little emotion in the song. On the other song, think of the people who really don't have good voices but are great singers--Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, etc. But Malo can do both. It's a wonderful song and worth having the album just to hear this.

Equally as good is Mavis Staples rendition of Hard Times. Hard Times is probably Foster's most covered song by modern musicians, see Emmylou Harris' version on her Live at the Ryman for a quite good version. But it's a treat to hear Staples, part of the famous gospel singing Staples Family, come back and rip this out. She too has a wonderful voice and it's great to hear her again. John Prine's version of My Old Kentucky Home (less racist than some versions) is also good. Prine's from Kentucky and he sings as if this song really means a lot to him. Other excellent cuts are Alvin Youngblood Hart's version of Nelly Was A Lady, David Ball's Old Folks At Home, and Grey DeLisle's Willie We Have Missed You. A particularly interesting inclusion was Autumn Waltz, by the avant-garde guitarist Henry Kaiser (descendant of the industrialist Henry Kaiser). It's not as crazy as some of his work but it is certainly different than the other interpretations of Foster's songs. The only choice I wasn't sure about was BR5-49's Don't Bet Money on the Shanghai, which I think really didn't fit the rest of the album, though both the band and the song are fine.

Overall, this album is better than the last impression of Stephen Foster I had. This summer I was watching Turner Classic Movies and they played a short about Stephen Foster. (Sidenote--how great it is that TCM shows shorts. Who else shows these?) Anyway, it was probably filmed in the late 30s and showed Foster coming into this music shop in New York where he hoped to sell his song My Old Kentucky Home. He is played as a noble character and not the staggering drunk he was by the early 1860s. So he plays the song which includes a line about "all the darkeys being gay," and the woman in the record shop begins to imagine what the song evokes. Which of course is a plantation scene where all the whites come to watch the slaves sing and dance and eat watermelon. Even more bizarre was that there was a quartet of black singers, except that it was 3 blacks and one white in blackface. Which made absolutely no damn sense. Could they not find another black person in this nation? Overall, it was completely ridiculous. But it was a nice window onto the casual racism both in Hollywood and the US as a whole before World War II.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Thanks W

I'd just like to congratulate our fine leader on now murdering 1052 Americans in Iraq.

Security Moms

One of the most annoying events of this election cycle has been the rise of the "Security Moms." This creature is supposedly a woman who has abandoned the Democrats because of concerns about terrorism, especially after the Chechen attack on the Russian school. These women are supposed to be liberal on social issues but believe that Bush can protect their children. Here's a great article by Noam Scheiber arguing that there is no evidence for this. Of course, the Democrats are buying into the idea and desperately coming up with a strategy to counter it.

My take on this is that its yet another way for the media to attack Kerry for not being Bush. By creating an issue that argues that Kerry is losing women it may develop into a reality where he does lose women, particularly if the Democrats focus on it. Why do we not hear anything about constituencies Bush is losing, real or imagined? Could this be yet another masterful play by Bush's postmodern reelection team? If something's not true, let's say it is true and then it will become true!!

Bush and Sudan

There are multiple failures of the Bush administration that has placed America and the world in a much worse place than they were in 2000. Potentially one of the greatest is that because of Rummy, W, and the boys crazy plan to invade Iraq, the US military is extremely overstretched. This has many consequences, some of which I will take up in later posts. But I want to discuss briefly how our Iraq policy has helped lead to inaction in Sudan. We are currently fighting a war on 1 1/2 fronts (it's hard to say we're really fighting a full war in Afghanistan, even if we should be). The Iraq war itself has stretched our military as far as it can go. But think if we hadn't gone to war with Iraq. We would likely still be fighting in Afghanistan though hopefully we would have been defeating Al Qaeda there. But even if we were just fighting a war on one front, we would still have the resources to step in and take control of the Sudan situation.

There are many on the Left who are uncomfortable with the use of military force in any circumstance and while I can understand that, I do not agree with it. Militaries do have value and the Left needs to have a legitimate policy for using them. Stopping genocide seems like a pretty damn good reason to me. But Bush has refused thus far to go into Sudan. Of course, perhaps the UN should but let's face it, the UN wasn't built for situations like this that require snap judgments on whether to intervene in a place that all of a sudden is committing crimes against its own people. So while they should, it's hard to expect them to. This is a situation that may in fact require unilateral action. But we are so overstretched that where would the troops come from? Already, the military is actively recruiting in 3rd world nations for troops. I know I'm not signing up anytime soon.

It's an oversimplification to say that an overextended military is the reason we aren't involved in the Sudan. Bush's lack of policy in Africa is a major reason. Remember that in the 2000 and early 2001 when Bush was setting out his foreign policy he used as an excuse for his lack of any policy with Africa that we couldn't pay close attention to the entire world. Of course, Africa was the only area ignored by the Bushies. Well except for Antarctica, though it's possible that the administration has a more well-thought out policy to deal with penguins than it does for Africa. Another reason for the inaction is the fear that action would kill the slowly evolving peace between the Sudanese government and its Christian minority in the South that was brokered by the US. But even if these reasons didn't exist for US inaction in Sudan, we would still be hampered by our stupid invasion of Iraq and the subsequent overextension of the military.

This Week in Literature

In an unusually wonderful week for new publications, 2 of our greatest living novelists published new works. Jose Saramago, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for literature, published his new work, The Double. In addition, my favorite American writer, Philip Roth, published his fascinating new book entitled The Plot Against America, which is a fictional account of what might have happened had Charles Lindbergh became president in 1940 and America becomes an ally of the Nazis.

Read these new books by some of the world's greatest treasures. I have spent many great hours with the thoughts of these 2 men and I hope the rest of the world does too.

Reclaiming Marshland

Check out this NY Times article on reclaiming marshland along with Mississippi River. Given the enormous decline in America's wetlands over the last 200 years, and especially over the last 50 years, any kind of project like this can only be seen as a positive. What the nation and the world really needs is a more rational use of land resources. The Midwest produces such an enormous amount of corn that they have had to come up with new and non-traditional ways to use the product since World War II. The most widespread of these byproducts, high fructose corn syrup, has helped make Americans some of the most overweight people in the world thanks to that product's ubiquity in American food.

So in addition to the obvious environmental good that reclaiming river bottom farms in the Midwest such as providing wildlife habitat and reducing pollution into the rivers, reducing the insane amount of corn produced in this nation should be lauded.

Viva Nuevo Mexico (II)

Immigrants are everywhere in this country and this is a wonderful thing. I will be pro-immigrant until the day I die. And the fact that they may be undocumented is irrelevant. I'd happily trade Mexico 5000 immigrants for Bill O'Reilly. Like many cities there is a certain area when undocumented workers go to hang out and hope people come along with day labor jobs. And this is fine. But only in New Mexico would this place be directly in front of the state Department of Labor building.

Third Lieutenant From The Left

In Anthony Lane's recent review of Wicker Park in The New Yorker, he places an actor in his place in a way I haven't heard in a long while, writing of Josh Hartnett,

"In the days when Hollywood was Hollywood, when directors wore suits and eye patches and bellowed their instructions through a bullhorn, somebody of Mr. Hartnett's stature would have chiseled out a perfectly respectable career as the third lieutenant from the left in Civil War dramas."

I only know of 2 other occasions in the last 10 years when an actor has been so suitably put in their place. In a magazine that I can't remember Matt Damon was described as not worthy to serve as a coatcheck boy for Cary Grant. And the great film reviewer Stanley Kauffmann, in The New Republic, once described Gwyenth Paltrow, circa 1997, as a reputation without a basis.

But more interesting is the decline of the leading man in Hollywood films. Who today has the gravitas or charisma of the great Hollywood actors of the 30s through the 60s? George Clooney certainly. Possibly Brad Pitt on a really good day. Who else? No one I can think of. There is no one who can match Cary Grant, Bogart, Fonda, Stewart, etc. Perhaps this came through most clearly in the ill advised remake of Sabrina that came out several years ago. Playing Humphrey Bogart's character was Harrison Ford, who is nothing if not a B-grade Bogart. Playing Audrey Hepburn's role was Julia Ormond of which little of importance can be said. And replacing William Holden, one of the most underrated actors of his generation, was Greg Kinnear.

But is the decline of big name stars, and especially male stars, a bad thing for movies? I rather think not. While there was something fun and concrete about the giant stars, the level of crap put out by the studios in 1935 or 1955 is equal if not greater than today. The rise of the independent movie has led to the emergence of some really wonderful actors, even if the ratio of good independent movies to bad ones is even lower than Hollywood at its worst. Unquestionably this is the era of the great loser in American films. How would Philip Seymour Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, or William H. Macy have made a career in the movies in 1940? Those kind of roles just didn't exist. Overall, I'd argue that American film today is richer for the amazing array of character actors than it was 50 years ago when screen giants dominated the industry.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Racism in Maryland

In case anyone ever makes the claim to you that we are no longer a racist country, check out this article. This country is far from being willing to deal with its ingrained racism and I don't know what it will take for a full reckoning. In any case, this situation in Maryland is a perfect example of how whites still make subtlely racist actions now that overtly racist actions are no longer acceptable.


Since everyone else is weighing in on the Dan Rather document fiasco, I guess I will too.

Why are we focusing on this? This has been perfect for the Bush campaign. This entire campaign they have been able to avoid discussing actual issues. First there was the Swift Boat deal. Now this. Ultimately, who cares what a person was doing 35 years ago? Shouldn't the focus on this campaign be on the present rather than Vietnam? This just gives everyone another excuse to continue discussing the merits or lackthereof of Bush and Kerry's service during the Vietnam era. As if this really matters for today. At least the debates are coming and we can only hope that Kerry will actually force Bush into discussing issues and his job performance as President. This whole thing is completely and utterly irrelevant to the real issues facing Americans today.

Second, is CBS entirely incompetent? Who wouldn't check their sources? I guess this demonstrates the increasingly irrelevance of the 3 major networks news shows. Who really cares what Rather, Jennings, or Brokaw has to say these days? Who under the age of 50 actually watches the nightly news to get their news? This only makes them seem more irrelevant. Now not only are they pointless, they're also incompetent. Worse, this just gives ammo to the right for them to talk about liberal bias in the media. Absoultely foolish.

The point of the 3 major news anchors:
Rather--weird Texas sayings during election coverage
Brokaw--to see if he can accomplish his goal to fellate every living WWII veteran
Jennings--I have no idea what the point of Peter Jennings is.

Screw the cities

Check out this New York Times article on the Bush plan to cut back federal housing subsidies for poor inner-city neighborhoods. I see this as part of a calculated plan by the Republicans to punish states and groups that are not Republican. Not surprisingly, under the new proposal, inner-city residents, i.e. black and Latino Democrats, lose money while rural residents of places like Kentucky and Georgia, i.e white Republicans, gain money.


I would just like to thank the Department of Homeland Security and the entire federal government for preventing the terrorist Cat Stevens from entering the country. I am sure that his brand of 60s folk music would have stopped the war machine entirely and allowed the terrorists to win. I feel so much safer now.

A vote for Kerry is a vote for Cat Stevens.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Story of the Eye

Well probably the one book in the history of western literature least likely to be turned into a movie has been. See this review of The Story of the Eye, based on the book by Georges Bataille. If you haven't read this book, and few have, it's both disturbing and great at the same time. Bataille was a big influence on Foucault so you know he's not exactly normal. One warning, this book, and apparently this movie, is not for the squeamish or easily offended. Now I'm waiting for the movie version of Blue of Noon.


Hey--is ESPN showing some kind of movie about Pete Rose or something? I can't tell even though I've seen about 5000 commercials for it and some kind of mention of it at least every 20 minutes that I've watched the network over the last 3 weeks.

A possibly interesting question is who's a bigger asshole, Pete Rose or Tom Sizemore? Have to think about that for awhile.

There's A Lot Of Room In This Mall

Check out this website to see what has become of the mall in The Blues Brothers. The abandonment of urban spaces, particularly in the rust belt is extremely interesting and sad. What happens to these spaces in places of urban redevelopment is equally interesting. A couple of examples:

The site of the Homestead steel plant in Pittsburgh is now a mall. How they cleaned it up and were able to redevelop is probably really interesting in itself. But in a great post-modern landscape moment, the parking lot of the mall has a bunch of smokestacks stuck in the pavement to remind consumers of what used to happen there. So before you go to The Gap, you can ponder on the rise of industrial America.

Haymarket Square in Chicago, home of the Haymarket Riot of May 1, 1886 (the origin of May Day as a workers' holiday) was long forgotten about by the Chicago establishment. Or perhaps overlooked is a better word. But lately this traditionally working class neighborhood has been gentrified and local residents have been pushing for a memorial to the incident in order to improve their property values. No need to comment on the irony of this.

Is this 2004 or 1896?

As a historian, I am loathe to make historical parallels between eras without some pretty good evidence. But I think that there are a few striking comparisons between today and the 1890s. Here are 3.

1. Today, like the 1890s, we are a nation that does not know war. What do you mean I can hear you asking? We are at war. Yes, that's true. But how many of us know what war is like? Certainly, many of our young men and women are learning, and the families of the 1037 Americans killed in Iraq since the beginning of the war know war real well. But the average pro-war American does not know war. For the last 30 years, we have only seen war through the artificial visual mediums of television and movies. These of course have presented a skewed version of war. How many times have I heard someone wounded in Iraq or the relatives of someone killed over there talk about how they didn't understand what war was like? Several. Few of us have known someone killed or wounded in war. Few of us know what it's like to be personally attacked at home and before 9/11 virtually none of us did. This has led to a belief that going to war is not a WWI type struggle where you will probably die. Instead it's about kicking some ass. We go to war and kick ass--that's what America does.

Very similar beliefs circulated through the 1890s. By 1898, when we declared war on Spain, it had been 33 years since America had been in a major conflict. And despite the horrors of that conflict, Americans had forgotten what war was like. With the reconciliation between North and South after Reconstruction, even the old issues had been largely put aside. The horrors of war had disappeared from the public mind and instead we had a population ready to kick some ass. This was seen in the rise of yellow journalism and personified by Theodore Roosevelt and his talk about American imperialism. The Spanish-American War did not produce enough casualties to end the romanticism of war in this nation and neither did the Philippine-American War that followed. Unfortunately it took the true horrors of WWI to end this. Have Iraq ended Americans romanticization of war? I think not and I will hate to see the conflict that does.

Another interesting comparison is how in both the 2000s and 1890s, Americans held the war experiences of a previous generation at a heroic height. In the 1890s, the experiences of Civil War veterans were romanticized, monuments placed on Civil War battlefields for both sides and even reunions between the combatants during the anniversaries of major battles. Today we have the Greatest Generation bullshit. Rather than examine the complex causes behind both wars and the actions of their participants, we have chosen to look at them as heroic struggles that we are not worthy to emulate, but we will try our best.

2. The rise of masculine discourse. I don't want to push this one too far but it the high level of masculine speech coming out of the Republican convention was very interesting. The 1890s witnessed an incredible rise in Americans wrapping up their actions in worries about the masculinity of the nation and its future. See Gail Bederman's Manliness and Civilization, Elliott Gorn's The Manly Art, or Kristin Hoganson's Fighting for American Manhood, among others, for in depth discussions of this. But in general, many Americans were deeply concerned that America was becoming a feminine nation that needed a good war to instill masculine characteristics in it and lead it to its destiny as a great power. Now I don't know that we really feel that today, but going back to the Clinton administration and really before with the whole Alan Alda sensitive man thing, a lot of white males have complained about the nation becoming more feminized and that things just aren't like they used to be. Many of these same men are resentful of affirmative action and provide the core audience to talk radio and FOXNews. Watching and reading about the Republican convention, we witnessed a surprising amount of this kind of rhetoric. See this Slate article for more. Governor Arnie really epitomizes this.

3. Karl Rove admitted in a New Yorker article from about a year ago that he wanted to take America back to the Gilded Age. He admired the atmosphere of unfettered competition and social Darwinism (greatly paraphrasing here). And of course the policies of the administration have looked to not only overturn the accomplishments of the Great Society and New Deal, but also the Progressives. That Rove and other Republicans actually look at the Gilded Age as an ideal is frightening. Mind you, this was the time before the FDA, before even the most basic environmental protections, before the FDIC, before the Federal Reserve, before minimum wage laws, before the Wagner Act, not to mention a time of massive lynchings of blacks in the South and anti-Asian riots in the West. This is what Karl Rove wants us to turn back. I'd say that's reasons number 1 through 1 million not to vote to reelect this administration.

There may be other parallels as well but I think these three are particularly salient and disturbing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Going to Texas

I am leaving for Austin tomorrow to attend the Austin City Limits Music Festival. So I won't be posting until probably Tuesday or maybe Monday night. When I can post again, I'll give some reviews of the music, Austin, and maybe some travel writing since we're driving across Texas.

An American Tradition

So the husband of the woman who had her nose broken at the A's by a chair thrown by Rangers pitcher Frank Francisco said that heckling players was "an American tradition." OK. Well I guess his saying God knows what to people just because they are your "enemy" in an American tradition in some way. In fact, it in my head it is not too far off to connect insulting an opposing team to the point that they throw chairs at you and, say, Abu Ghraib. We do seem to like demonizing and dehumanizing our enemies. Anything is OK in time of war, whether it's invading countries where brown people live or attending a game in a pennant race.

Bang Bang

Well it's good that the Bush administration decided not to push to renew the assault weapons ban. They're celebrating in Sandpoint, Idaho.

I generally think gun control is a losing issue for the Democrats. The gains they made even before 1994 were minimal and came at a great political cost. If people want to shoot things, I guess you can't stop them. So I've always been shy about pushing for greater gun control. But is there any good reason to make AK-47s and Uzis legal again. I think not. Well, unless you think that killing more people more rapidly is a good thing.

Who I really feel sorry for are the raccoons and gophers who come near someone's house in Wyoming. Ever since the Brady Bill was passed these animals simply invaded our homes and we just don't feel safe. Will somebody please think about the children!! Our child is going to step in a hole and break his leg. We just can't kill them fast enough with poison, baseball bats, pistols, and rifles. No, we need fully automatic weapons to take care of these furry terrorists.

Im Kwon-Taek

I recently watched the 2nd of the 2 Im Kwon-Taek films available in America, Chi-Wha-Seon (Pained Fire) about the Korean artist Ohwon. Why are more of his movies not available in America. Both Chi-Wha-Seon and Chunhyang are top notch films that I would highly recommend. Chi-Wha-Seon is not only a revealing movie about late nineteenth century Korean history, which I doubt many know anything about at all, including myself, but also an excellent movie about an artist. It is interesting to compare to movies about artists in America and Europe such as Pollack, Orpheus, or Andrei Rublev. Check it out. I've heard that Im is a quite proficient director and has been making films for some decades so hopefully some of this older work will become available in America soon.

9/11 yummyness

Kudos to the Daily Show's Lewis Black for his rant against the consumerism now springing up around September 11. "Chocolate so tasty you'll wish every day was September 11." So horrifying it was impossible to laugh at. Nothing is sacred in the world of capitalism. Not that 9/11 should be sacred exactly. But I'm not real comfortable buying 9/11 products.

Album Review--Alejandro Escovedo, A Man Under the Influence

As part of this blog I will review one album a week. It may or may not be a new album. My belief is that reviews do not need to be only of the newest movies, books, albums, etc. Rather (especially with music and books) people may not know of older works and that they are useful to bring to light. And with movies, even if its Star Wars, I find it useful to revisit talking about them from time to time.

So today I'd like to review Alejandro Escovedo's Man Under the Influence. Released by Bloodshot in 2001, it is Escovedo's finest work. His combination of rock, country, and punk makes for some of the best music released by anyone in the last 10 years. But to describe as punkabilily or something like that would be wrong. Rather, Escovedo's work consists of rockers with some wonderful slower songs mixed in, including the sublime Rosalie, one of the best songs about the difficulties of being an immigrant that I've ever heard. Castanets, a song about a woman Alejandro hated is a great anthem, with the line "I like her better when she walks away" staying in your head for days. Wave and About This Love are also first class songs and Follow You Down is a wonderful tribute to the sublime singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt. The music is great as well, especially Brian Standefer on the cello, a really underused instrument that more rock bands should consider utilizing. It really fills out the sound, especially on the slower sound, and provides an alternative to the ever trite guitar/bass/drums trio. I guess it's not cool to sit in a chair during a rock show playing an instrument with a bow. But if you're up for bands that care more about good music than acting cool, this is for you.

What makes this better than other Escovedo albums? I would argue that it is producer Chris Stamey. Escovedo has had other fine albums as well, particularly With These Hands, but the production on this album makes a big difference. Stamey brings in the cello and the pedal steel at the right time, uses special guests on the album to actually help the album (as opposed say, to album with guest vocals by Keith Richards), including Caitlin Cary on violin, and mixes the album wonderfully, highlighting both the music and Escovedo's strong vocals.

Unfortunately, Alejandro Escovedo is very sick with Hepatitis C. Like most musicians he doesn't have any health insurance (thanks Republicans) so he is now broke as well. Thus I also recommend the Escovedo tribute album, Por Vida. A portion of the money goes to paying his bills.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Seeing Like A State

I recently finished reading cover to cover one of the most excellent books written in the last 25 years, James Scott's Seeing Like A State. The basic point of this book is to discuss how what Scott calls "High Modernism" has failed the people it was meant to help. Using such widespread examples as scientific forestry in Germany, the architecture of Le Corbusier, and Soviet collectivation, Scott argues that high modernism has failed because it attempts to simplify society in order that it can be controlled by a top-down bureaucracy.

I don't necessarily agree with everything in this book but I think it is extremely important for everyone concerned with social change to read. For it has great meaning for us who are interested in this. How are we to change the world if not from the top. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, we have lost the oppositional model to capitalism. Of course in a lot of ways it's good that the Soviets fell--it's not like that was any kind of ideal state. But at least they supported people like Castro and the Sandinistas in their efforts for social change. Since 1991, we have been searching for some kind of model to fight with against unbridled capitalism. And while we've been doing this, the right has been pushing supply-side economics around the world and beating our asses all across the world. Many social activists have moved from the big to the small over the last decade, that is from promoting widespread social change around the world, perhaps through state socialism or communism to focusing on changing individual communities through small projects. Organic farming and community organizing are important, don't get me wrong. But they ain't going to stop W and the Boys from turning the world into a giant supply-side quagmire.

If we're not going to organize on a grand scale and press for changes on the level of the nation, will anything ever get done?

As for the book itself, it's really difficult to argue with Scott. I mean it's pretty clear that collectivation was bad and that part of the purpose of it was for Stalin to control the peasants. And its clear to many of us today that monoculture agriculture is a complete disaster, though that doesn't stop agribusiness from pushing it. But on the other hand, by not embracing the positives of modernism, Scott doesn't really leave us with a lot to work with I think. Now Scott does mention several times how modernist projects have helped society, etc. etc. But he never goes into what the alternatives are to high modernism. How is a state really supposed to organize agricultural production to feed its cities? How are we to produce the wood we need to wipe our asses with? How are we to organize cities where we can concentrate people in a functioning urban area without incredible sprawl? These issues are really important. Are governments really able to leave food production up to traditional local practices without any direction from the top? That seems as great of a recipe for starvation as forcing people off their land and making them farm monocrop new land.

Basically, this is a brillant and wonderful book but it comes up short in proposing what we use to build an alternative to either top-down high modernism or unregulated capitalism. Saying that we should take local knowledge into account is fine and good but how exactly are we do that? I don't know and I don't really think Scott does either.

One other point--this book is actually pretty dangerous because it could give the right ammo in their fight to destroy every shread of human decency in this world because they could use this book to say that schemes to help people inevitably fail and therefore we shouldn't do anything and let the market take care of anything. Of course this is unlikely because Republicans usually aren't smart enough to read and understand a book such as this. Also, one could point out that Iraq is nothing but not an exercise in high modernism, with the United States going in and imposing a type of government and economic system on the Iraqis without any concern for local practices or customs. And not surprisingly, like other high modernist projects Scott discusses, it's a complete failure.

In any case, I can't recommend this book enough because while it has some shortcomings, it at least gets us started thinking about real alternatives for fighting against the right.

Blog Name

So my good friends at the most excellent blog Lawyers Guns Money are wondering what's with the name Alterdestiny. It doesn't have any real profound meaning. It's my favorite quotation from the sublime Sun Ra who once made a movie where he battled with a pimp for the soul of the black race and also once said in another movie while sitting in front of the White House, "How can there be a White House if there's not a Black House?" I believe the Alterdestiny quote comes from his Space is the Place album.

But rather than the New Age connotations it perhaps suggests, and which I shudder at, it also can mean the potential for an alternative to the horrific destiny this country and this world seems to be on. Working together the forces of good can create an alternative to the forces of evil that are currently running this country. I don't mean this specifically in a Democrat-Republican way, but most of the evil ones in this country are Republicans.It may not be as direct a title as What Is To Be Done? but it still can have real meaning.

Silver City

The other night I was fortunate enough to attend a preview screening of the new John Sayles movie, Silver City, in Santa Fe. Overall, I felt that the film was strong. It is probably not up to the greatest of Sayles movies, Lone Star and Matewan, but nonetheless I believe it is his best work since Men With Guns. I don't want to give away too much about the movie but the main plot is that a W-like character named Dickie Pillager is running for governor of Colorado (Chris Cooper) while filming a campaign commercial where he is fishing and he catches a dead body. His Karl Rove-like campaign manager (Richard Dreyfuss) hires a private investigator to see if anyone planted the body to embarrass Dickie. Thus in classic Sayles fashion you have a political drama and a mystery as the private investigator played by Danny Huston investigates how the body ended up in the lake.

In some ways Dickie Pillager is the weaker part of the movie. While the comparisons to Bush are amusing they don't really add all that much to the mystery side of the picture which is far stronger. However, it is nice to see an anti-Bush movie (for ultimately that's what much of this is) acutally be a good movie. Which leads me to another point. Why the rush for people on the left to see Farenheit-911. You mean Bush is an idiot? I had no idea. Who knew? While the right is certainly as guilty of this as the left, it is difficult for me to understand what must be a human desire to have their beliefs affirmed. I mean I would far rather have my beliefs affirmed by Michael Moore than Bill O'Reilly but it still seems unnecessary. Is Farenheit-911 a great movie for undecided or Republican voters? Absoultely. If it changes 1 vote it was worth making. And perhaps that's why Moore made the movie. But I would far rather see something that instead of just affirming what I already believe actually presents material from a new standpoint, such as The Corporation, than just a rehashing of things I already know, i.e. Outfoxed (What!! Fox "News" supports the Republican Party!! Amazing. Why had I never heard this news before. It seems so fair and balanced to me.) In this case, while the depiction of the Bush-like character may not be relevatory, at least its encased in some good art.

As usual, Sayles gets a lot from his actors. I particularly liked Maria Bello's character and Chris Cooper did a great job sounding stupid without resorting to a southern or Texas accent. Dreyfuss was fine as Karl Rove. Incidentally, Dreyfuss has made something of a career in playing mildly fictional portrayls of Republicans--see his Bob Dole in The American President and I believe he also played Al Haig in the TV movie on Reagan's shooting.

One of the nice things about this movie was that Sayles avoided the rut that he had been after Lone Star where he would present sociological issues in the same way as he did in Lone Star, but not as well. Limbo was Lone Star Frigid while Sunshine State was too often Lone Star Humid. Here he gets into some very important issues without having a character whose job it is to present these issues to the viewers.

As interesting as the movie itself was the event. Santa Fe is such an attraction for New Yorkers and Californians that it can have events like this. Tom Tomorrow presented a slideshow of some of his comics before the movie (if you ever wondered what he looks like, he's tall and awkward which maybe is why I like him). Then Steve Earle and Kris Kristofferson played some songs. Seeing Steve Earle was great. Now that he's lost weight he doesn't look like a leftist Chris Farley. But seeing Kris was a real treat. He rarely plays anymore and he's getting older and I never thought I'd get to see him. I was especially happy because he played my favorite song of his, Shipwrecked in the Eighties, about Vietnam vets. I don't know if that's his best song--it's not easy to say that something is a better song than Help Me Make It Through The Night or Me And Bobby McGee--but it's my favorite.

Plus many of the celebrity Santa Fe residents came out for the event, including Ali McGraw and the legendary American actor Judge Reinhold, though unfortunately I didn't actually see him. Also the superb Terry Allen was there--I'm sure few of you reading this have heard of him but I give my highest recommendation to his cosmically odd but wonderful country albums Juarez and Lubbock (On Everything). Buy these albums!! But what was really weird was seeing David Byrne come over into our aisle. It was kind of surreal. I've heard he is singing arias these days in his concerts. I don't know what David Byrne singing an aria would sound like exactly, but I know it wouldn't be boring.


Viva Nuevo Mexico (I)

This is the first post in a running column on the bizzare happenings of New Mexico. So here's one.

In Albuquerque about 2 weeks ago a man was seen walking into a park with a dog and nothing on but a pair of underwear. Soon he was seen running out of the park with no dog, no underwear, and no testacles. Evidentally this individual was hoping for a little fellatio from his canine friend. However, the dog seems to have found the man's offerings a bit more appealing than the he had hoped. Interestingly the man didn't go to the hospital and instead went to his mother's house. Against his pleading, his Mom called the hospital as the man was bleeding to death.

Viva Nuevo Mexico.

Point Of This

Why am I doing this?
I don't know. but given that so many people with nothing interesting to say, i.e. Republicans, get so much air time saying things that are stupid, lies, or just senseless, I figure anything I have to say will at least not lower the national discourse.

I'll comment on many different things here, including politics, movies, music, social theory, history, sports, environmental issues, travel, and whatever else takes my fancy (or pisses me off).

Please make comments and enjoy!!!

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