Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Days of Casual Racism

One of the benefits of being a historian is discovering little gems like this that so boldly remind us that not so long ago, casual racism was, well, casual. From a 1919 lumber company union magazine about a game of baseball between white and Japanese mill workers:

“A triple play in the first stanza, at a juncture when the Japs had filled the bags with none down, featured that inning and left the little brown men helplessly dazed."

Israeli Settlers Just Don't Get It, Do They?

I was listening a Morning Edition story this morning on the withdrawal of settlers from the Gaza Strip. They talked to this woman who was a settler and she just talked about how the government was forcing 1700 families from their homes, 5000 children from their homes, etc. She just couldn't believe that her government would do that and not care.

And I thought, um, you know there is a precedent for this. I mean it didn't sound like she even began to make the connection between her situation and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians moved into refugee camps in 1947. And I wondered, do many Israelis, and especially the settlers, even consider the Palestinians people?

But hey, if this settler was right about the government pushing thousands of people from their homes without concern, at least the Israeli government has kept up a consistent policy for nearly 60 years.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Anthony Lane on Star Wars

Anthony Lane's review of the new Star Wars movie in The New Yorker is one of the funniest reviews I've read in quite a long while. Clearly sick of the entire franchise, he's trained his considerable wit on it. I should say that I am not a particular fan of the whole thing and haven't bothered to see any of the 3 movies though perhaps at some point I will just to have that cultural literacy.

Anyway, Lane spends a lot of time discussing George Lucas' puritanism which is interesting, but the jokes are the best part. Here's a few:

"Sith. What kind of a word is that? Sith. It sounds to me like the noise that emerges when you block one nostril and blow through the other, but to George Lucas it is a name that trumpets evil."

"The general opinion of "Revenge of the Sith" seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes...True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion."

Discussing R2-D2 and C-3PO, "I still fail to understand why I should have been expected to waste twenty-five years of my life following the progress of a beeping trash can and a gay, gold-plated Jeeves."

Lane particularly loathes Yoda.

"May I take the opportunity to enter a brief plea in favor of his extermination? Any educated moviegoer would know what to do, having watched that helpful sequence in "Gremlins" when a small, sage-colored beastie is fed into an electric blender."

After speculating on Yoda's lack of a sex life, he continues:

"Also, what we're here, what's with the screwy syntax? Deepest mind in the galaxy, apparently, and you still express yourself like a day-tripper with a dog-eared phrase book. "I hope right you are." Break me a fucking give."

I suppose if I cared about these movies, this might piss me off. But considering that I don't, this is the funniest movie review that I can remember ever reading. There are few film reviewers today as valuable and consistently worthwhile to read as Anthony Lane.

Sunday, May 29, 2005


Scott at Lawyers Guns and Money threw off a phrase that got me to thinking.

"You may have the impression that I'm some kind of snooty pseudo-intellectual, and your impression is certainly correct."

This made me wonder why Americans are so uncomfortable calling themselves intellectuals. Who in America would make this claim of themselves? But I'm sure Scott is an intellectual in the same way that many progressive-academic bloggers are. People use pseudo-intellectual as an insult and we call ourselves that rather than just say that we are the intellectuals that we are? This reminds of the long history of anti-intellectualism in American life chronicled so long ago now by Richard Hofstadter.

I feel that I am an intellectual. I spend a great deal of my life in ideas of a certain sort. I may enjoy less head in the clouds pastimes such as baseball but even when I watch a movie, I'm thinking about it as a lot more than escape. I don't say that being an intellectual has a value per se, and I'm certainly not saying that being an intellectual makes me better than a mechanic or garbage man. But it does make me different and I'm proud to be different. I'm very satisfied with my lifestyle and I have no problem both saying that I am an intellectual and to say that those who have a problem with it can fuck themselves.

Progressive History Book of the Month

Speaking of responsible consumption, I thought that for this month, I would recommend Lizabeth Cohen's A Consumer's Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America. Cohen's book is one of the best books written on the history of consumption and she does a particularly excellent job showing how central consumer politics were in so many aspects of postwar America, from suburbanization to the civil rights movement. I have personally always felt ambivalent toward consumer politics. I respect Ralph Nader for his early work attacking GM and other businesses who put out products with little concern for the health and safety of their users. But on the other hand, when consumer politics play such a central role, even consumer advocates essentially accept the proliferation of often meaningless products as a good thing that every American should have a right to. I have a hard time accepting that we have a right to buy pop-tart holders that look like pop-tarts, and frankly I don't care if such a product is safe or not.

In any case, Cohen's book is an excellent discussion of how the centrality of consumerism in postwar America represented both the best and the worst about the country, how it reflects class, race, and gender, and how it has influenced today's America in a multitude of ways. Consumerism is a key aspect of American society that every progressive American needs to think hard about and reading Cohen, especially in tandem with other books about the rise of consumption in America such as Leach's Land of Desire and Marchand's Advertising the American Dream, is a good way to get your head around this important aspect of our history.

Organic Farmers and the Farmworkers' Union

I was catching up on my High Country News this weekend, which is an excellent newspaper on environmental issues in the West, and ran across a very interesting article on how the major organic farmers are strongly opposed to the United Farm Workers and how they are, in fact, reimposing some of the horrible conditions that the UFW organized against 30 years ago. While organic farmers obviously don't use the kind of poisons that farmworkers rallied around, they do demand backbreaking labor, particularly hand-weeding in order to protect the crops. Specialty crops, particularly those related to the organic salad craze, such as baby lettuces, are very tender and cannot take weeding with a hoe. This problem is getting worse as organic farming becomes big business and thus is increasingly susceptible to industrial methods and with an eye on profit.

I think there are a couple of lessons here. The first is that organic farming isn't just a bunch of people getting together and farming during the day and then smoking a bowl and drinking wine at night. It can be, and is becoming, as ruthless as any capitalist business operation. Second is that just because we buy organic doesn't necessarily mean that we are consuming responsibly. We are treating our bodies better but of course a selfish, even if highly justified concern, for our own well-being is not the basis for a fair and just society. We should pay attention to the kind of labor practices organic farmers are using and consume accordingly.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Random Posting

I have nothing really to blog about and I haven't in several days. So I decided to channel Larry King and pointlessly list a bunch of random stuff I have on my mind.

1. The Blogging Blues--Does anyone out there have any advice about how to get out of a blogging rut? I want to post something most everyday but it seems like about 1 week a month I am dry.

2. Had the new Ben & Jerry's Dave Matthews Band ice cream. Pretty bland but generally inoffensive...

3. I found out today that Paul Anka is putting out an album of rock covers, including "Jump" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit." It's as bad as you can imagine. Interesting side note on Paul Anka. When Steve Goodman took Kris Kristofferson to see John Prine play in a bar in Chicago in 1970, a moment that started Prine's career, for some reason Anka was tagging along. He loved John Prine as much as Goodman and Kristofferson and tried to get Prine to hire him as his manager. What that would have been like, we can only guess since John Prine politely refused.

4. Speaking of music, if you like really good country music, check out Chris Gaffney. Gaffney is best known as Dave Alvin's sideman, which is another way of saying that he is not known at all. But he should be. He's really superb. He has a great Haggard-style voice and plays that kind of music too. A good songwriter and also plays the accordion. I highly recommend his 1995 album, Loser's Paradise but I also recommend the new album he has out as a member of The Hacienda Brothers, with Dave Gonzalez of The Paladins, a band I know nothing about.

5. God, the Seattle Mariners suck. I don't know if they'll win many more than their pathetic total of last year--63. That starting pitching is just brutal, they have a total of 3 HRs from their entire outfield, and they have black holes at shortstop and catcher. Lost to the mighty Devil Rays today which future definitely not Hall of Famer Mark Hendrickson pitching against them. Sigh.

6. Scott at Lawyers Guns Money has an interesting post about why Hillary could win in 2008 and how maybe she wouldn't be a bad candidate. I don't know if I agree with this, but if it were Hillary or John Kerry, I'd probably have to support Hillary just because she's a better politcian. But it's real hard to think that the Democrats couldn't do better.

7. I am supposed to be working on my dissertation. But I keep starting these side projects and working on them with more gusto than the dissertation. What does that say? Is it because I am just a guy with a lot of interests who gets bored quickly? Or is it because I find my dissertation terrifying and impossible to complete? Hmmm....

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Filibuster Compromise

I suppose I should say something about the compromise on filibusters. I don't have a lot that's very original to say about it. There is good commentary on it on a number of left-liberal blogs, read them for original thoughts.

The one thing I want to say is that I'm glad some kind of compromise was reached for a couple of reasons. One thing this administration has taught me is fear of extremism. Were a left-leaning president being filibustered I might feel differently. And if this were 1964 and a bunch of racists were filibustering civil rights legislation I almost certainly would feel differently. But the lunatics in this administration make me feel more comfortably with the potential need for a super-majority in the Senate. It keeps out some forms of extremism. That's not to say that I think Democrats will actually be able to filibuster any nominees anytime soon. But it keeps all the cards on the table for a future filibuster and that is probably a good thing.

The other reason that I like having some kind of compromise is that it buys us some time. We don't know for sure if Rehnquist will retire this year or not. I've heard rumors of his retirement for at least 10 years now. And he hangs on, just like the rest of the justices, several of whom are certainly of a retiring age. But even if he does retire and Bush nominates a right-wing judge, well, that's probably not going to change the makeup of the court very much. Where it really matters is when Stevens or O'Connor or another of the more moderate judges retire. Hopefully that will be after the 2006 elections and hopefully we will make up ground in those elections and make resisting a lunatic nominee and the rest of the Bush program easier. It keeps the filibuster on the table as a legitimate option for doing that. Hopefully we will regain a majority in the Senate (unlikely) or at least pick up 2-3 seats and make resisting Bush all the easier.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Putting Military Recruitment Into Perspective

In the June issue of Harper's Lewis Lapham puts the military's recent recruiting shortfall into some much-needed perspective. The reason that we consider recruiting numbers a problem is more long-term cultural fallout from World War II, the only war in the history of the United States (except for maybe Korea) that did not face significant opposition and therefore problems keeping troops in the army. The American Revolution was rife with defections, the War of 1812 saw New England nearly secede, the Mexican War was severely opposed by Whigs (and spawned Thoreau's famous essay on civil disobedience), in both the North and the South during the Civil War, large sections of the population opposed their governments and did whatever they could to get out.

In post-Civil War America you saw significant opposition to America's colonial grab during the Spanish-American War and the follow-up war against the Filipino people. World War I also witnessed large opposition, particularly among those of Irish and German descent, America's relatively large radical communities, many religious groups, and large sections of the Progressive movement. We don't need to go into opposition to Vietnam.

Only in World War II did American react as a united whole to a military action and that is only because we were directly attacked by one power and because the nature of the other major Axis power was so diabolical. But the children of the World War II generation were so in awe of their parents that they have based much of our ways of looking at the world on that generation. This is another example of this phenomenon. Ignoring the fact that almost every way in American history has generated large-scale opposition, many people today cannot understand why the present war hasn't inspired WWII-style patriotism and WWII-style military recruitment. Rather, they should be asking why WWII did inspire those things and make their plans according to the norm in American history rather than the anomaly.

Rather unfortunately, Lapham closes his argument with a titanicly bad idea--to allow corporations in Iraq to have their own private armies as opposed to having the US military protecting their interests. The situation now is far from ideal but I can't think of a worse idea than private armies.

Music Meme

Scott at Lawyers Guns Money sent me this music meme. It's shorter than some music ones I've seen which is nice. But actually it doesn't really matter very much to me because I like talking about music endlessly.

Anyway, here we go:

1. What is the total volume of musical files on your computer?

Zip. Not a real technology kind of guy. Managing the template on this blog has taxed my abilities significantly. Also I like to listen to albums over songs. There's something about listening to a really good album that makes it worth more than the sum of its songs.

2. What song are you listening to right now?
Bob Dylan, "If You See Her Say Hello". Blood On The Tracks is a great album. It's probably in my top 5 or certainly my top 10. Which is interesting because no other Dylan album is even close. Maybe Bringing It All Back Home would make my top 100 but probably not. What a great album Blood On The Tracks is.

3. Last CD I bought?
I just ordered the new Richard Thompson live album from his Austin City Limits performance. I got it from Amazon and I haven't actually received it yet. The last album that I went to the store and bought was William Parker, Joe Morris, and Hamid Drake, Eloping With The Sun. Other recent purchases include Wayne Hancock, Swing Time, The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti doing Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, a collection of Conway Twitty's #1 hits, and The Hacienda Brothers' self-titled album.

4. Five songs you listen to a lot and which mean something to you:

This is a tough one because again it's albums that I value over particular songs. Here's a few good ones though.

1. Buddy Tabor, "Raven with a Broken Wing" . Album--"Earth and the Sky"--No one knows who Buddy Tabor is. He's paints houses in Juneau, Alaska and writes the most intense and dark lyrics this side of Townes Van Zandt but also with a sense of the greatness of life within them. Also writes some great political songs including a really funny one making fun of Rush Limbaugh's drug habit. But anyway, "Raven with a Broken Wing" is about a friend of Buddy's who got in a car wreck. I think it was a drunk driving thing. He thanks the doctor who saved his life and "you hugged him with the one arm you had left." When I heard that line, it was just a holy shit moment. I mean, how do you write a line like that? Just amazing. If you're interested in hearing one of his albums, just e-mail me. You can't buy them anywhere, including any online sites that I know of.

2. Townes Van Zandt, "Waiting Around To Die" --- Album, "Townes Van Zandt"---"Now I'm out of prison and I've got me a friend at last. He don't drink or steal or lie. His name's Codeine, he's the nicest friend I've seen. Together we're going to wait around and die." I remember the exact place I was the first time I heard that line.

3. Loudon Wainwright III, "Whatever Happened to Us" ---Album, "Unrequited" A great breakup song from maybe the greatest breakup album ever. Has one of the greatest lines ever, "You said I came too early but it was you who came too late." That kills me every time I listen to it.

4. Tom Russell, "Blue Wing"---Album, Poor Man's Dream--The story of an Indian in prison and his subsequent time after he's released. Dave Alvin claims that he was about to leave the music business and then he heard "Blue Wing" and was inspired to gut it out so he could try to write songs like that. If it simply served to keep Dave Alvin making music, it would be a great song. But of course it's wonderful on its own terms. The song also talks about Blue Wing ending up "on the south side of Seattle where the days grow gray and dark." My own experiences on the south side of Seattle suggests that the days are always grey and dark there, even if it's a sunny August day.

5. William Parker, "Posium Pendasem, No. 3"--Album, "The Peach Orchard". This is on this list for several reason. For one it is the only live performance that I've seen that has ended up on an album. This is cool, but it's not in itself a reason for this to make the list. After all, if a song from the time I saw Kelly Hogan drink a shot for every song she sang and bitch about the sound before walking off almost in tears after 5 songs made an album of hers, I don't think I'd buy it. But it was an amazing live experience and it translates well to album. The passion in this song is unbelievable. From the atonal piano entry by Cooper-Moore to the shocking percussion of Susie Ibarra the energy is almost indescribale. When I saw this show it was almost like a religious experience. The waves of music just came rushing over me. In front of me was an artist who was painting what seemed like a very abstract work in rhythm to the music but which eventually turned into some recognizable representation of the music. His work sometimes ends up as album covers, or at least it's on this Charles Gayle album I have.

Since Scott added a couple more, I'll cheat and do that too, saying that I also treasure Dick Justice, "Cocaine" (also a great song for teaching about drug use before WWII, has the classic line "I'm simply wild about my good cocaine"), Bob Wills' "Across the Alley from the Alamo", Alejandro Escovedo, "Castanets" (about a beautiful woman that he absolutely loathed. I once heard this described as the best Rolling Stones song they never wrote which is about right), Curtis Mayfield, "Pusherman", Stevie Wonder, "Ordinary Pain," John Zorn's cover of Ennio Morricone's "The Big Gundown," Bob Dylan, "Idiot Wind," Marty Robbins, "El Paso", Loretta Lynn and Jack White, "Portland, Oregon", Don Rigsby, "Should Have Carved Our Name In Stone," Billy Bang, "Yo! Ho Chi Minh Is In The House", Terry Allen, "Blue Asian Reds", Butch Hancock, "You've Never Seen Me Cry", The Louvin Brothers, "Broadminded," and about 5000 other songs.

Anyway, I'm not going to send this to anyone in particular. Which is another way of saying that I'd like to see everyone who reads this blog give their list, whether in the comments to this post or on your own blog if you have one.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Ban Coral Harvesting Entirely

Another NY Times science article talks about a group advising a 5 year ban on harvesting black coral from Hawaii.

A good idea, but here's a better one. Why don't we ban the harvesting of coral entirely? What possible good does coral do us? Pretty stuff in our fish tanks. This is like harvesting elephants for ivory. It's just a luxury good and one that any of us could live without. The world's coral reefs are under attack anyway for multiple reasons. If we eliminated every problem but that group of scuba divers who are irresponsible, we would still be denigrating this ecosystem. The last thing we need is to be harvesting the stuff for no reason that really serves humanity.

Another Reason to Rethink Deer Hunting

Earlier in this blog's existence, I made the argument that we needed to get over identifing deer with Bambi and manage the population more intensively through increased hunting. This despite the fact that I loathe the NRA and that most gun nuts are intolerable. Here's another reason to support increased deer hunting. From this NY Times article on the decline of wildflowers in our nation's forests:

"In places that have had very limited or no deer hunting, native plant losses are four times greater than those open to deer hunting," Dr. Rooney said. "The deer population has been growing steadily since the 1960's. They are having a profound effect on the spring ephemerals and other wildflowers."

Since we eliminated wolves from most of America's forests, deer populations have skyrocketed to the point that they are pests in many ways. Unless we plan to reintroduce wolves in large numbers, something I am glad to support but which is politically impossible, we have to take the role of lead predator in order to manage our forest ecosystems in a more responsible way.

American Science Vs. American Stupidity

I wonder which of the combatants listed in this post's title will win. The recent Korean success is cloning stem cells makes me wonder if the Right's assault on science in America will make Americans less healthy and living shorter lives than in other nations where science is more respected and scientific advances to promote human life are well-funded and their finding implemented. I would like to think that the United States could stay ahead of South Korea when it comes to science and health, but at this point I don't think we will. Researchers already predict that our life spans will decline because of obesity. Will they also decline because we don't care about prolonging someone's life unless they can serve as a stand-in for a fetus, i.e. Terry Schiavo? I have to think this is possible.

The Right talks about a culture of life, but really I think they believe in a culture of death with their focus on military service and half-thought out actions in the Middle East, their obsession with the Apocalypse and the smiting of all not like themselves, their lack of concern over social programs that help make life worth living for millions in America and billions around the world, and their anti-science stance.

They believe in a culture of death. We believe in a culture of life. We should not doubt this for a second.

Karzai and Opium

I was thinking about this report saying that the US government considers Hamid Karzai a major reason that opium eradication has not gone forth as planned by the US. Why do I think this is? Well, could it be that Karzai has bigger things to worry about than whether junkies on the streets of Portland can get their fix? Maybe it's because he knows that opium is the one way that a large number of Afghanis can actually make a living and doesn't want to take that away from them? Or could it be that he knows that his power is so tenuous that he can't afford to anger the warlords and drug runners who would be much more powerful than he is without the backing of the United States? I mean, really, did the US government really think that Karzai would be some kind of anti-drug crusader for the United States? What exactly is in it for him anyone.

If the US really wants to get rid of Afghan opium production, why not go for the one thing that has proven effective so far--the Taliban.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Santa Fe Plaza

One of most positive things about New Mexico cities is the central plaza, a place that has traditionally served as the center of town life. Of course over the last 100 years or so, these plazas have been significantly transformed. In few New Mexico cities are they in fact still public spaces that serve as town centers. They are often either just another form of commercial space, sometimes to the point of having been paved over, or they serve as town tourist centers, such as in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. That said, the Santa Fe plaza still manages to have a function as public space that people use in multiple ways. It's the place where punks hang out. There's a tamale vendor in one corner. Under the Palace of the Governors on the north side of the plaza is where Indians come to sell their wares to the tourists. Bill Clinton was in Santa Fe during the election season and spoke on the plaza, so it still has some political function as well.

But increasingly, and even in the time I've been here it seems, the city government is trying to place increased control on the use of the plaza, thus undermining its already diminished role as public space. For one, I see less and less punks and alternative kids using the plaza. Now that could be positive I suppose if they are harassing people, but I've never seen that happen. In any case, getting rid of that group works to sanitize that space even more than the tourist economy already does. At least the punks give a sense of reality to the plaza, that not everything is controlled and for sale.

Plus, the city has started planting grass in different areas of the plaza and roping those areas off so that people cannot use them. This again undermines the area use as public space since a portion of it (maybe 1/4 of the space) cannot be used. What the grass adds, I have no idea. They even use sprinklers to water the grass, something you rarely see anywhere in Santa Fe and something that really undermines the city government calling for water restrictions. The grass is not particularly aesthetically pleasing because not only can you not use it, but it's in very small patches. The whole point of grass seems to me to be somewhere cool and refreshing to sit on in the summer but not in Santa Fe.

I suppose it just bothers me that there are so few public spaces today that have not been privatized (i.e. shopping malls or the sidewalks of Las Vegas for example) that increased limitations on public space in a place that has served in that function for several hundred years now is greatly disturbing.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Congress and Steroids

I know that Congress has a tenuous relationship with evidence. Especially this Congress. But in calling the NBA steroid policy "pathetic," have they ever considered that steroids have to my knowledge never been a problem in basketball. Perhaps the reason that they don't have a well-developed steroids policy is that there is no good reason to. What an idea. What's really pathetic is that Congress is wasting so much time on this completely meaningless issue.

The Language of Imperialism

In a seemingly innocuous story about the identification of a new monkey species in Tanzania, my wife noticed imperialist language popping up. From the CNN story:

Two separate teams of researchers working hundreds of miles apart have discovered a new species of monkey in Tanzania

There's that word--"discovered." Another example of white people discovering something in darkest Africa. This despite the fact that the monkey was well-known among local people and it was only that white people had not found the monkey that it remained undiscovered.

Why does it matter that a little word like "discovered" was in this story? Certainly CNN does not mean to denigrate Africans in this story. But I think that it is important because this subtle language of exploration and discovery is still a major linguistic theme in America today and that language has consequences across the globe.

For one, the language of discovery says that there is something out there for us to go and find. And what an undiscovered world means is that we must go and discover it. When this exploration takes place, we are going into another culture and changing it, subtlely perhaps, but real nonetheless. Of course cultures change all the time but this is a particular kind of change where a very empowered groups (Westerners) go in and place values on a particular thing (monkeys today, land 125 years ago) that local people perhaps do not place a high value on. The interest of the West makes those things commodities of sorts out of these things. And the commodification, whether for sale, for conquest, or for tourism changes cultures in profound ways.

Moreover, I think that the myth of exploration within America has affected the course of the American environmental movement, particularly its emphasis on wilderness that I have spoke of with trepidation on this blog in the past. I have heard the argument made that one of the most important reasons to preserve wilderness is because people have the right to explore. I am not saying that this is a majority view within environmentalism, only that I have heard it expressed. I'm really uncomfortable with a "right to explore" because again it implies that we need to continue pushing the bounds of what white people have seen and where they have gone. I have read writings from nature adventure magazines with people who are obsessed with going somewhere no one has ever stepped foot before. It can be a pretty easy leap from exploring areas where no one has explored before and finding species no one has found before to placing ownership claims upon the land--Columbus' "discovery" of America, the exploration of the American West, and the race to colonize Africa all being prime examples. Of course there were people there but not people assigned equal values to the conqueror.

Again, I am not saying that CNN is intentionally pushing the exploration myth or the language of imperialism, but the use of this language, however unintentional, gives one more push to these unfortunate ideas.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Lyrics to 16 Tons

For those who don't know 16 Tons, he's the lyrics to the song that GE is descrating in their commercial. Via Arvin Hill

I was born one mornin' when the sun didn't shine
Picked up a shovel and I walked to the mine
I hauled Sixteen Tons of number 9 coal
And the straw-boss said, "Well, bless my soul"
You load Sixteen Tons, whadaya get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

So what's next for GE? Perhaps using "Black Lung Blues"? Maybe Hazel Dickens' classic "Coal Tattoo"? "Dream of the Miner's Child"?

When Was The Last Time You Heard This Said?

I was listening to the BBC this morning. Story came on that started, "Good news out of Africa." My wife and I just kind of look at each other and she says something like I don't know if I've ever heard that said before. And I don't know if I have either. Kind of sad. But hey, it doesn't sound like anything abjectly bad happened there last week.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

People Like Tierney Really Make It Hard

People like John Tierney really make it hard to start supporting the possibility of nuclear energy again because of their smugness. Now that it's on the table again, Tierney takes the chance to make fun of environmentalists and all of their kooky ideas. A couple of specifics:

1. Makes fun of an anti-nuclear protest from the 1970s. "More than 65,000 protesters marched on the Capitol to hear energy experts like Jackson Browne and Benjamin Spock - and, of course, Jane Fonda, an authority because of her role in the "The China Syndrome."

What a hypocrite. Oh I'm sure Tierney would say the same thing about an anti-immigration protest with Governor Arnie, an authority because of his role in "The Terminator." What a stupid asshole of an argument.

2. "Protesters dressed as mushrooms chanted, "Two, four, six, eight, we don't want to radiate." I went to the rally sympathetic to the movement but left unsure of which was scarier, nuclear power or its enemies."

Yes, there's a good comparison. Hippies dressed as mushrooms are definitely as scary as Chernobyl. I know the Russians think so.

3. If Washington hadn't acted, nuclear power plants wouldn't have been built so fast, maybe not at all. But if the industry had been forced to deal with the costs and the risks on its own, it might have developed cheaper, simpler, more reliable plants.

Instead, it built unwieldy plants that were prone to problems, making them costly to operate and also inciting public fears. Even though the fears about the American industry were overblown, they led to tighter regulations and more expense.

Starting with nuclear power, they've backed one loser after another for the past half-century. They promised that their subsidies would move us beyond fossil fuels and produce electricity from vast solar arrays, solar towers, geothermal heat, ocean waves, sugar beets, corn, manure and something called biogas (you don't want to know). But when the subsidies ran out, the electricity stopped.

So for Tierney, the answer is "Hey, just let the market take care of it." Which anyone who didn't look at the market as a fundamentalist religion might say that the dominance of the free market over American life is the problem here. The weakness of governmental efforts to promote alternative energy and to make it cheaper than fossil fuels is precisely the reason that we are still in a fossil fuel economy. If the government plays an active role to regulate the market and really promote alternative fuels, whether nuclear, wind, solar, or whatever, these other fuels will have a chance. But until we stop worshipping the god of the unregulated free market while in fact living in a world where we regulate the market to actually promote a fossil fuel economy, other forms of energy have little chance of success.

Now That's Old

Stanley Kauffmann, the brillant and ageless film reviewer for The New Republic on occasion reminds us of just how old he is. From his review of the Enron documentary:

"My earliest newspaper reading included accounts of the Teapot Dome scandal in 1923"

Now that my friends, is what you call old.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Another Reason to Hate Energy Companies

I just saw about the worst commercial I've ever seen. It was from GE promoting "clean coal." The idea of clean coal technology is a joke anyway. While it may cut down on the black smoke pouring out of smokestacks, coal is still a terrible idea for anyone who cares about climate change. Not to mention the horrifying effects of mountain top removal that I've talked about at length before.

But GE had the audacity to play "16 Tons" over the images of hot men and women in skimpy clothes mining coal while posing all sexy for the camera and the voice talking about clean coal. Yes, 16 Tons, as in "I sold my soul to the company store." This is not played in a coal commercial. Simply infuriating.

Jimmy Martin, RIP

Jimmy Martin, "The King of Bluegrass" died this weekend. He was one of the last remaining early bluegrass players. I guess his departure pretty much leaves Ralph Stanley and Earl Scruggs left. A great singer, musician, and songwriter. He played on such classics as "Grand Ole Opry Song" and "Sunny Side of the Mountain." But I mostly like him for being one of the few bluegrass musicians to not portray an image of an upright Christian gentlemen. Rather, he was a pretty mean bastard. Take this classic exchange from backstage of the Grand Ole Opry where he calls out that slick poser Ricky Skaggs.

Jimmy Martin to Unknown Musician: "You're going to play on the Grand Ole Opry"
UM: Yes, sir.
JM: What are you going to sign on it?
UM: I'm playing with Ricky Skaggs.
JM: Yeah?
UM: Yeah. Gonna play a little bluegrass tonight.
JM: A little bluegrass.
UM: Yeah.
JM: Well, he's about the sorriest fuckin' bluegrass you could ever hope to be on with, I'll tell you.


JM: Well, I'm just telling you, he's about the sorriest bluegrass, and tell him I said it.
UM: I'll do it--walks away

Later Skaggs comes around

JM hollering: Is that the biggest asshole in Nashville?
Ricky Skaggs comes over: Hey Jimmy. How you doin'?
JM: Okay. How you doin'?
RS: Okay
JM: Still think you can still sing tenor to me?
RS: I don't know. If you don't get it too high for me.
JM: Ricky, it's left up to you. It's not left up to me. If you want to make an ass out of yourself and don't want to sign tenor with me, don't do it....He lost his balls, huh? He lost his balls; he can't sign tenor with Jimmy no more.

OK, so Jimmy Martin was a jerk. You know what, Ricky Skaggs is an ass and I'm glad he was called on it. He does play about the sorriest fuckin' bluegrass you've ever heard. He's the Wynton Marsalis of bluegrass. He is an amazing mandolin player but does he really love the music? Does he really put his soul into it or is just doing it to make a buck since his country career crashed in the early 90s? He puts out albums that are technically proficient but so slicked up and produced that they lack any soul and I don't like listening to them.

So that's what I'll always remember Jimmy Martin for.

Source for conversation, Neil Strauss, "Fiddling and Picking His Way to Perfection," in Thomas Goldsmith, ed. The Bluegrass Reader. University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Rebirth of Nuclear Power

Somewhat reluctantly, I have to agree with several environmental leaders that we need to consider seriously using nuclear power as an antidote to climate change. Not surprisingly this has caused much consternation in among environmental activists who have fought against the use of nuclear power for 30 years now. I'm not a big fan of nuclear power for reasons that ought to be obvious, there's no really safe way to store the stuff and the potential for a disastrous and deadly radiation release is always there. Another oft-used criticism, that we shouldn't use nuclear power in a society where we are trying to stop nuclear proliferation, doesn't hold a lot of water for me because a)we're not really stopping nuclear proliferation and b) it's not like we're exporting our nuclear rods anyway.

These are legitimate criticisms. The problem is that the use of carbon-based fuels is far more dangerous for the survival of humanity than nuclear energy. This is a lesser of two evils kind of situation. And widespread use of nuclear power would cause less problems, both in the short and long term than the widespread use of coal, natural gas, and oil. There could be the occasional localized disaster that would be horrible. But ultimately I think that is less damaging to the world than the kind of long-term disasters that we are setting ourselves up for through global warming/climate change.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


"Last week the Pew Research Center came out with a study of the American electorate that crystallized something I've been sensing for a long time: rich people are boring, but poor people are interesting."

I wonder if David Brooks realized how much self-description was in this line?

Useless Consumer Product

I know that everytime we go to the store, we see a new product that is laughably ridiculous. There are so many of these products that they become rather blase. However, last night I saw one that for some reason really blew my mind. It was a pop-tart holder made by Pop-Tarts in the shape of a pop-tart with a simulated frosting on it and of course it said Pop-Tart on it. And I couldn't help but wonder, is there any real use for such a thing. I mean it's not that such a product serves some kind of inner need for consumption, does it? I guess I could see where certain products might do that for certain people but not a pop-tart holder.

I mean, if you're going to eat something like that and you need to put it in something, don't you have something laying around the house that can do?

Maybe I just don't get consumption.

Friday, May 13, 2005

New Bluegrass

I have long felt that bluegrass music has long suffered from an identity crisis. So many artists have tried to make the music "relevant" in some kind of way. Let me go into this by giving my brief history of bluegrass:

Bill Monroe created bluegrass in the early 1940s out of a combination of several musical elements--country, mountain music, jazz, swing. One friend of mine even maintains that border music influenced Monroe, making the case that he was influenced by Mexican rhythms listening to border stations while working in the Midwest as a young man. Bluegrass was never a traditional music and has been and should be always open to change. Monroe soon made it to the Grand Ole Opry where he had significant success but was always seen as a novelty act. His popularity was soon surpassed by his former sidemen Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs who made bluegrass nationally known by writing the Beverly Hillbillies theme but by doing so also played a role in making bluegrass music seen as backward mountain music that had little place in postwar American society. Some bluegrass musicians embraced the mountain side of bluegrass, most notably the Stanley Brothers. But it was difficult to make money playing bluegrass because it was seen as a regional, niche music and although popular in Appalachia and among folkies by the early 1960s, you weren't going to make a lot of money playing high schools in Kentucky and West Virginia while hoping that you would get invited to the Newport Folk Festival. Although the music continued to attract young players from the Appalachian states, many of these musicians found the traditionalism in the music, something perpetuated by Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt particularly, stifling and also wanted to make some money playing. This was the late 1960s and early 1970s and these younger musicians were also listening to the Grateful Dead and other more popular bands of the period. So they decided to branch out and produce rock-bluegrass fusion music that strayed farther and farther away from its traditions. Musicians such as David Grisman and Sam Bush found they could actually make money doing this. Other, more southern-oriented musicians such as Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley turned away from bluegrass entirely and became very popular country musicians.

While I love musical experimentation, there was one problem. Most of this music wasn't really very good. While much of the experimental music is still popular, I have a real hard time getting into a 25 minute Grisman/Tony Rice instrumental. What's the point of this exactly? How is this not basically musical masturbation? The country stuff of Skaggs and Whitley isn't terrible but it's not very memorable either at this point and eventually their avenue was cut off by the rise of the dogshit country of the 1990s.

I think what a lot of these musicians forgot was that the real greatness of bluegrass music came from the lyrics of the songs. The music is wonderful too but I find the really long solos limiting. It got to the point that by the late 1970s, it was big news for a band to actually play bluegrass rooted in traditional instrumentation and without trying to be something else. The Bluegrass Album Band took everyone by surprise in the late 70s by doing this very thing.

Over the last 10 years, bluegrass music has had a significant comeback, largely because of the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack. I feel a bit torn about this. Part of it is great. It's now possible for musicians to make a living playing bluegrass. Bands can more realistically do national tours. It's being playing by musicians from across the nation. And much of the music is quite good, which I'll get to in a minute. From Del McCoury who remains relevant by playing in a traditional style while mixing in contemporary songs, including a large number of Richard Thompson covers to Dolly Parton who as always knows how to make money and thus has produced 3 fine bluegrass albums since the late 1990s, we now have a large amount of quality bluegrass music being made these days.

On the other hand, I find a lot of the casual fans who maybe bought the O Brother soundtrack very condescending toward the music and the people who play it. These are people who stupidly whoop and holler at shows. I think part of its renaissance, and I think this is true for the rise in Irish music and other forms of world music as well, it's people's desire to grab a piece of authenticity. They perhaps feel alienated from traditional ways of living and think that owning a piece of music that supposedly represents a more traditional way of life brings them a little bit closer to something they think modern society has lost. Other examples of this are the rise of New Age spirituality and sometimes the owning of second homes outside of the city. I'm hardly the first person to write about the connections between authenticity and consumption, but nonetheless it's an important point to make about the kinds of music that have gained a new audience recently. I mean, how many people who saw O Brother and bought the soundtrack think that the movie is a realistic portrayal of southern life? More than one, I can assure you.

That being said, the positives outweigh the negatives in the recent popularity of bluegrass music. I want to highlight some of the fine bands that have produced superb albums in the last 10 years, in part because the market is there for more bands to put out more albums.

1. The Gibson Brothers. I really love the Gibson Brothers album Bona Fide. Wonderful songs about both the past and the present, a great gospel number to close the album, and a song about deforestation. Most importantly they have great brotherly harmonies. Brother groups were very common in the early years of bluegrass but before the Gibsons, I don't know when the last time I heard one was. Like many of the excellent newer groups, they are not from South; in this case, from upstate New York near the Canadian border. What's particularly interesting about their case is that they really want to be a country band but right now the market is not there for a lot of people wanting to play traditional country music. They had an easier time marketing a bluegrass record. In any case, buy Bona Fide and then buy the other albums.

2. The Freighthoppers. This group actually broke up about 5 years ago because their amazing fiddle player needed a heart transplant and from what I understand the other founder of the group is a real asshole and so people kept leaving the group. Nevermind that they're no longer together. The fiddle player, David Bass, made it through the transplant and I understand is putting together a new album, the female singer, Cary Fridley, has at least one album out of her own, and the male singer whose name I can't remember now also has new music out. What's amazing about this group is that they took a rock and roll mentality to old-time music. It's played in the traditional way but with amazing heart and musicianship and speed and attitude. Check out their album Waiting on the Gravy Train for some of the finest old-time music you'll ever hear. They also do a great job of singing the insane old-time songs from the 20s and 30s. You think singing about drugs and violence are a new thing? No, no. Lunatics like Dick ("I'm simply wild about my good cocaine") were doing this 75 years ago. The Freighthoppers also put on one of the best shows I've ever seen. That fiddle player would play at 100 miles an hour and do a sort of mountain tapdance at the same time. One of the damndest things I've ever seen.

3. The Steep Canyon Rangers. Another new band, made up of people in their 20s and 30s, looks like a bunch of hippie kids. But they play some mean bluegrass with a lot of soul and a lot of fun. Excellent lyrics, excellent playing. Good song about Dale Earnhardt too. Highly recommended music.

4. Don Rigsby. Rigsby is a little older than these other bands. But he sings some of the creepiest and saddest songs you'll ever hear. Rigsby is a good example of how you can be a great bluegrass singer without having the classic high lonesome voice. With excellent music and choosing the right songs (Rigsby doesn't write a lot of his own stuff) he has become one of our finest bluegrass musicians. All need to especially check out The Midnight Call, which has songs about things like a man's mother telling him in a dream that she is dying and then he gets a call saying that's what's happened, a song about the 2001 West Virginia floods, which I happened to get married in, a classic about a daughter getting killed by a drunk driver right before her high school graduation, and other fun ones. It sounds dire, but it's freaking amazing.

5. Karl Shiflett and Big Country Show. Shiflett's been around a long time too and has been able to take advantage of the music's resurgence to make some albums. Shiflett's recent adventures say a lot about bluegrass fans. He had the audacity to put a snare drum on his last album. This literally almost caused a revolt among his fans and he had to get rid of the guy very quickly. The fans said that it wasn't "traditional" and "the way things are done." Well, first of all a snare drum was popular in early 50s bluegrass. And second, if it works, who cares? The album is good. So what's the problem? This gets back to what I was saying earlier about the search for authenticity by music fans. With a snare drum, all of a sudden Shiflett wasn't authentic anymore. Ridiculous. In any case, he puts out good albums and also put on a hell of a good show when I saw in 2000 in Knoxville, TN. I wish he'd make it out this way.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

What's The Deal With Lincoln Chaffee?

I just don't get Lincoln Chaffee. He's announced that he is going to vote for John Bolton. Why? Does he hold some kind of bizarre faith in the Republican Party that if he just plays along, they will become more moderate? If so, he's sadly mistaken. Does Dick Cheney have pictures of him with a young Filipino boy? Because I can't think of another reason that Chaffee votes for Bolton. He doesn't agree with Bolton on much of anything. Bush and Bolton are tremendously unpopular in his home state of Rhode Island. He's up for reelection next year and early polls show him getting his ass kicked by Patrick Kennedy. Standing up to the radical Right and voting against Bolton gives him a chance to not only do some good in the world but to show the people of Rhode Island that he agrees with them and not the president. Instead, he helps dig his own political grave by voting for a man he doesn't want to vote for. I just don't understand.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

How Sad

I'm really weeping over the investigation into whether Spokane mayor Jim West used his office computer to chat on online gay sites.

Via Americablog

Spokane Mayor Jim West's votes on gay-rights and human-rights issues:

On Christmas Eve 1985, Gov. Booth Gardner signed an executive order banning discrimination in state hiring based on sexual orientation. West and 14 other Republicans responded by introducing a bill in January 1986 that would have barred gay men and lesbians from working in schools, day-care centers and some state agencies. The bill called for screening prospective employees for sexual orientation and firing state workers whose sexual identities became known. The bill failed.

Also in 1986, West voted to bar the state from distributing pamphlets telling people how to protect themselves from AIDS during sex.

West opposed gay rights bills introduced in 1985 and 1987.In 1989, West opposed a proposal to expand a needle exchange program to protect people from AIDS from Pierce County to the entire state.

In 1990, as part of a bill on AIDS education, West proposed that teen sex be criminalized. The bill, written by the abstinence group Teen Aid, would have made sexual contact a misdemeanor for unmarried teenagers under 18. Sexual contact was defined as "any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person" for sexual gratification.

West voted in 1998 for the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Gov. Gary Locke vetoed the bill, but the Legislature overrode his veto.

As Senate majority leader, West and other Republicans in 2003 bottled up the gay-rights bill in committee and it died.

As Spokane's incoming mayor in November 2003, West said he's opposed to extending City Hall benefits to domestic partners, citing the cost. In April 2005, the City Council approved domestic partner benefits in a 5-2 vote, enough to withstand a mayoral veto.


You know, maybe I should feel sorry for someone who's been so deep in the closet that he's destroyed his own people. But I don't. People like West have done a lot of damage and they deserve whatever they have coming to them.


This story on a Christian rock concert in Morocco absolutely kills me for a lot of reasons. First of all, is there any way that Christians could offend conservative Muslims more than combining prosletyzing with rock music? I'm not really sure that they could unless they were to burn a copy of the Koran or something.

Then there's the idea that singing really crappy music in a language that the people don't understand is going to convert the heathens. Very good method.

But what really makes me laugh is how gullible Christians can be. To give the Christian movement some credit, they've played a role in promoting human rights in Africa. They've been far more effective there than say, the Bush administration. They really put the pressure on Bush to force the Sudanese government to stop killing the people in the southern part of their country. And they've also pushed for Morocco to stop occupying Western Sahara and leave the people there in peace. So Morocco invites evangelical bands and their pastors over to their nation and proceed to take advantage of their stupidity. See below:

"In fact, one of the evangelical leaders who was behind the Christian rock festival, the Rev. Rob Schenck, who leads the conservative Christian lobbying group Faith and Action in Washington, said that after what he had seen in his meetings with Moroccan officials he would now seek to get evangelicals to reassess their position on Western Sahara and the Sahwaris' political leadership, the Polisario Front. "Evangelical Christians have to be extremely cautious about supporting any group that would sympathize with a socialist or Communist philosophy or world view, which is completely in conflict with an evangelical or Christian worldview," Mr. Schenck said in an interview. He said Moroccan officials had told the evangelical leaders that the Polisario had received Cuban training and aid."

Well then, they told us that the Western Saharan leadership has relations with Cuba and are communists. They must be telling us the truth. After all, why would they fudge on this? They certainly have no self-interest here.

I mean, come on! Are Christian leaders that incredibly gullible that they'll just believe anyone is a communist if someone else just tells them that they are. You would think that most of them would be smarter than that. But you'd be wrong.


On Sunday I watched part of CMT's top 40 women in the history of country music. Given that it's CMT, there are a lot of grotesque selections, namely Shania Fucking Twain at #6. Well anyway, #2 is Tammy Wynette. I was truly amazed that when they told her story, they said "Her life reads like a fairy tale." My wife and I just looked at each other in amazement. All I could think was, how many marriages did she have? How many trips to rehab? How did she die again?

Is there any real reason to gloss over the life of Tammy Wynette? Does anyone have a stake in creating a myth about her that erases her actual life? George Jones maybe, but everyone already knows their history. Really really bizarre.

Michael Restovich

Is it just me, or does the Mariners making a trade for Michael Restovich, who Colorado just designated for assignment, make perfect sense. He would be a corner outfielder with power they could use off the bench. Right now, let's see, they don't have a decent reserve OF on the bench nor do they have anyone with HR power. I don't think he can really play CF but hey, we'll still have Willie Bloomquist to do that! Seriously, why would they not give Colorado a pittance for Restovich and then get rid of Greg Dobbs?

Monday, May 09, 2005

One Reason I Hate The Yankees

I think part of why I hate the Yankees so much is that everytime I watch a Yankees game the announcers proceed to suck off every single Yankee no matter how meaningless the game and no matter how bad the team is. I just watched the Yankees beat the Mariners and I was just sickened at how often Dave O'Brien and Rick Sutcliffe talked about how great the Yankees are, how many hall of famers they have, how they are going to come back and be in the playoffs, etc. This despite the fact that the Yankees are an average team and getting older by the day. The bottom of the 9th was the worst when they basically said that the Mariners had no chance against Mariano Rivera. Now they didn't have much of a chance, but the announcers saying that had little to do with the Mariner batters Raul Ibanez, Wiki Gonzalez, and Greg Dobbs (Dobbs?!#&*). They would have said that against any batters he faced on any team, despite the fact that the guy is 35 or so, walks more batters than he ever has and just isn't as good as he used to be. The Yankees have a mediocre rotation that is one Randy Johnson muscle pull from being a bad one, a poor bullpen, and horrific defense.

Of course the announcers clearly believed that the Yankees 3 game winning streak was a sign that they are on the way back to contending in the AL East. This despite the fact that these 3 wins are against 2 of the worst offfensive teams in baseball. I just loathe how everything the Yankees do is golden and if any other team does them, it's not even worth mentioning. A 3 game winning streak against Oakland and Seattle. BFD. And fuck the Yankees.

Cuban Terrorist

So according to the New York Times, the arrival in the US of anti-Castro terrorist Luis Posada gives the Bush administration 3 options.

1. Grant him asylum and look like the hypocrites on terrorism that they are. Posada after all only blew up a Cuban airliner klling 73 people. The Bush administration would look like hypocrites to the world and would of course be pandering to the Miami Cubans. This is especially hard in a post-9/11 world.

2. They could deny Posada his asylum request and jail him here, thereby giving Fidel Castro an enormous victory. This would piss off the Gusanos and could cost the Republicans dearly in 2008.

3. They could send Posada to Venezuela where Hugo Chavez wants to try him for the bombing. Same result as #2.

So looks like ol' W is between a rock and a hard place on this one. I imagine they'll go for the first option since they don't really care what the rest of the world thinks anyway. But it's going to be awfully fun to watch the Republicans squirm here.

Modernist Versus Alternative Medicine

I've been thinking a lot lately about the debate between modern and so-called "traditional" or homeopathic medicine. I guess I'm not sure why this is but I have long found it an interesting issue. I think the roots of my interest came when my bullshit indicator first went off over what I considered the romanticization of homeopathic medicines by so many of the health-conscious and progressive people I have known. By romanticization, I mean a couple of things. First the embrace of these medicines without any real knowledge about what they do for you. I mean, how do people know that this extract from a tree is supposed to cure X? They read it somewhere of course, but usually this reading can be traced to very intelligent marketers advertising to a specific demographic. Second, people get a certain anti-modernist appeal from the idea that some indigenous group has used this plant for millennia to cure X and so we can too and by doing so we can get more in touch with a primitive nature, even if it's through buying it at Whole Foods.

Of course there is great value in indigenous medicine. Modern medicine is always a work in progress and there is much to be learned about healing from traditional uses of plants. The medical industry (obviously a huge problem in itself but not one that I'm going to explore here) is exploring these uses. And if you say that they are doing so to make money you are of course correct, but by placing their abstract in a liquid and selling it at the Whole Foods, the same process takes place.

What I want to do now is to make a strong case for western-style modernist medicine as the primary way that people can remain healthy. I want to first do this by debunking the idea of medicine as consumption. Because ultimately that is what people who either reject modernist medicine entirely or those many more who supplement modernist medicine with traditional medicine are doing. They think that they have the right to make choices surrounding the care of their body. And I don't believe that someone can negate those rights. However, why would you think that you have the knowledge and the ability to diagnose yourself? What is the knowledge basis to think that taking some plant extract is going to cure your X better than a trip to the old-fashioned doctor?

This idea of medicine as a consumable product has several problems and I am going to discuss two. First is of course the idea that everything in modern American life is something that we consume. And corporations and marketing experts have promoted this because they make a lot of money off of it. They have proven particularly effective by people who normally debunk the ideas of a consumer culture and conspicuous consumption, i.e. progressives. But of course buying organic, which is something that I support though more because why would you eat tasteless conventional broccoli or tomatoes instead of organic rather than for principled reasons, is participating a capitalist consumer culture just as much as buying your seeds from Monsanto. When we buy our alternative medicines, we are also supporting a particular brand of global capitalism.

Let's take a product that I know because it's around my house: tea tree oil. OK, we buy this for various reasons. I think it's good for burns or something like that as well as probably other things. Where do tea trees come from? Who traditionally uses these trees? What happens when an American market arises for tea tree oil? If this, like so many homeopathic medicines, comes from a tropical plant, how does the rapid rise in its harvesting and consumption affect native relationships to it? Can they still access it? Does the rise of a marketable product in their midst change their entire society?

The point of that series of questions is to point out the disconnect that we have, even those who are the most progressive and aware of the world around us, between the consumption of a product and its production. We rarely if ever think about production. And their are some ironic twists to this among many who value non-modernist forms of medicine. We (rightly) attack the hideous industrial process of turning cows into beef. We understand that the production of beef is revolting and we make our choices on whether or not to eat beef based on that knowledge. But we often take the next step and apply those relationships to other, non-animal products. I have read, though it was at least a couple of years ago and I don't remember the specific details, that the rise of homeopathic medicine had in fact cut off native peoples from their plants as government sponsored corporations go in and monopolize the species for the western market. I find this quite disturbing. Just as I don't want to eat beef that both degrades the environment and tortures the animal, I don't want to use a medicinal product that places the species at peril while undermining traditional cultures. Too often my friends, our consumption of medicine derived from the plants of the developing world is another form of imperialism. And I just don't think that very many people understand this.

I also want to discuss the suspicion of modern medicine in terms of the more general suspicion of expertise in modern America. In almost all sectors of American life, experts are under attack. The religious right attacks scientists who argue for evolution or global warming. Neoconservatives attack traditional foreign policy experts who disagree with their ideology. Right-wing students attack professors for not adhering to a conservative agenda. And progressives attack all kinds of traditional figures of power for a variety of reasons, from industrial figures who have polluted the environment to governments unresponsive to the needs of its minority citizens. At least in this latter case, I support the questioning of expertise. Much of this stems from the general rebellion of the 1960s and the attack on experts, particularly relating to people like Robert McNamara and the Vietnam War.

But while I am comfortable with questioning authority figures, I am very uncomfortable with the idea that I can do it better. Because I can't. In the case of medicine, I have no medical knowledge. I respect the value of education and I believe that someone with multiple years of education in medicine knows a hell of a lot more about my body than I do. When my stomach hurts for several days, I don't want to figure out what's wrong with myself. I don't want to place my life in my own hands. Why should I? Do I have the knowledge to properly diagnose myself? Not all licensed physicians may have proper knowledge either, but they have much more than I do and if my life is at stake, I want professional help, built upon decades if not centuries of experimentation, ethical standards, and professionalism.

Maybe I feel this way because I am both unhealthily aware and utterly terrified of my own mortality and also because I when I look at my immediate family, at least 3 out of the 4 of us would be dead if not for modern medicine. I would have died of appendicitis when I was 15. My brother would likely have died from severe asthma when he was about 6. And it wouldn't have mattered anyway because my Mom would have died as an infant in a fall which even with the best techniques of late 1940s medicine she barely survived. Now I know that few people, other than certain religious groups, really completely reject modernist medicine. But many millions more have their suspicions of it and would rather treat themselves through alternative forms of medicine. And while that's generally OK, we should at least think about what the consequences of the consumption of alternative medicine are for the world. We should also think about how many people we know who are still alive today only because of modernist medicine and we should thank our lucky stars that we have access to it. I know that I do.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Now Why Would We Have A Cold War With China Again?

Robert Kaplan's long piece in the June issue of the Atlantic about fighting a Cold War with China left me rather perplexed. Because, you know, why would that happen again? Kaplan argues that such a situation is almost an inevitability without ever really giving a good reason why. He talks about China wanting to extend its hegemony across Asia and the US resisting that. And of course he talks about Taiwan. But the first situation is not only somewhat questionable and very long-term, but is also not necessarily directly oppositional to US interests as I see them.

Really I don't see any good reason for China to become our enemy unless they invade Taiwan. And if that happens, it's probably because the Taiwanese decided to declare their independence from the mainland. But why would that happen? Would the US really be stupid enough to let that happen? God, I would hope not.

But let's look at all the factors that Kaplan leaves out that make a China-US Cold War unlikely. First, the Chinese economy. The Chinese economy is growing like crazy, it's true. But how long can that economic growth hold out? They need that sustained economic growth to continue their investments in the military that is allowing that military to become a world power. Moreover, the need that growth to continue for a long time because their military is very far away from being even a distant competitor to that of the US. Right now all they have is their population, something that is aging with the child limitations and in another 20 years when China is maybe ready to compete with the US, is in fact very old and men of military age will be much more limited than we would think today.

Second, China holds a lot of US dollars. That is a double-edged sword. We may not want the Chinese to have such an important bargaining chip on us. But on the other hand, why would the Chinese want to use such a bargaining chip? Why would they risk those investments, not to mention a very important trading partner, to start some sort of scenario that could lead to a cold or even a hot war? This just doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Third, we have limited oil supplies. The growth of the Chinese economy is predicated on continuing oil supplies. Chinese demand adding to American demand is what has caused the price of oil to go up so fast. Let's say this keeps happening. Whose economy falters first? Clearly, it would be the Chinese. If that happens, they don't keep growing their military at the same rate.

Fourth, Kaplan argues that both China and the US will be wanting to extend control over the islands of the Pacific. Unfortunately for both those islands and for Kaplan's arguments, global warming will erase many of these, perhaps within 50 years.

Finally, and in something of an aside from his main arguments, Kaplan talks rather revoltingly about how we won't be able to rely on Europe in our fight with China over vague issues because the EU will make Europe less democratic and less interested in helping us out. He talks about how EU functionaries will move Europe closer to China on issues such as human rights over the next few decades. Ah, nothing like some Europe-bashing to make your arguments.

Now I'm no China expert. But this argument seems unlikely and almost nonsensical to me. I know nothing about Kaplan. But I am wondering if he is not experiencing Cold War nostalgia. I wonder if he, as is the case with others, spent his early career in a Cold War world, and then when it ended didn't know how else to look at things. Let's face it, American foreign policy since 1991 has not been kind to cold warriors. The free trade foreign policy of the Clinton administration certainly didn't work. Of course after September 11, the Bush administration tried to make terrorism related to specific states to fit their ideas, but that obviously didn't work well since Iraq didn't have relations with Al Qaeda and because many of our allies did. So maybe a Cold War with China makes certain foreign policy analysts feel comfortable.

Bobo and Lincoln

I wonder if David Brooks understands the fundamental flaw in his editorial today saying that since Lincoln evoked God that spirituality has a place in American politics. He may have a reasonable argument that there is room for spirituality in the state--I would disagree with that, but I can understand it. But Brooks' problem is that few people in American politics today think or act like Lincoln did concerning spiritual matters in the 1860s. Who is Brooks talking about that would play the role of a religious skeptic who believes in God on some level and will talk about that God in a vague way during times of crisis? No one. There may be politicians who believe this way today but none will talk of it. Instead, they become like John Kerry who clearly doesn't want to talk about religion but nonetheless does so in order to pander to our religion obsessed culture. The problem with the lack of spirituality in American politics is not the ACLU, as Brooks suggests. Rather it's with the lunatics who want to reject science, modernism, and women's rights. If that's what religion in American politics is going to look like, the ACLU looks pretty damn right on.

So what spiritual figures does Brooks want accepted in today's politics? James Dobson? Does he want prayer in schools? Does he want creationism taught? He avoids all of these questions, probably because he is smart enough to know that he has no answers except to cave to the religious right.

Runaway Bride

God knows that I don't care at all about that damned runaway bride story. But I swear it seemed predestined that New Mexico would somehow play a role in a story like that. It's almost like people doing weird things are drawn here. It must be the aliens who landed at Roswell.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Blogger Spellcheck

Let me express how amusing I find it that the dictionary on the blogger spellcheck does not have the word blog in it.

Leftist Radio And The Need To Have Your Opinions Confirmed

Over the past several months, I've listened to Air America and the Sirius left talk radio station quite a bit. And I have to say that I haven't been particularly impressed. Al Franken is usually a pretty funny guy, but I have rarely laughed at his show, thinking the skits forced and just unfunny. Generally the political commentary is knee-jerk and underinformed. I suppose that isn't any different from right-wing talk radio.

I was listening to the Sirius station a few days ago and heard a pretty stupid rant about how the US was researching some nuclear program and how stupid that was because we already had enough nuclear weapons. Of course this was in an almost shouting voice. And I thought a couple of things at once. First I thought that while we do have enough nuclear weapons to do all the damage we ever could want to, it's more complicated than that. There are reasons that new nuclear systems are researched and developed. They may not be good reasons, but at least we should try to understand them instead of going on a knee-jerk rant. Then I thought, "why the hell am I listening to this." Finally I began to wonder why anyone listens to this kind of radio.

Why do we need our views repeated to us? What is it about this kind of radio, both on the right and on the left, that people find appealing? Is it a sense of security? Do people feel better knowing that not only do other people share their beliefs, but they share them on radio? Do these kind of programs provide a sense of community to their listeners? I suppose that the blogosphere gives me a (limited since this is a pretty under the radar blog) sense of community. But at least it's a community of thinkers that, while they generally agree with each other on most views, are also not afraid to challenge other bloggers and to try and expand the horizon of thoughts and theories on politics and other matters. Talk radio just seems to me a droning repeat of liberal or conservative mantras. I suppose it's good that Air America is on in order to maybe snag some young people or others without fully formed views, but for me, it's a waste of my time to listen to.

The Colbert Report

I wonder what effect Stephen Colbert leaving The Daily Show for his own show will have on the former. It does make me nervous that The Daily Show will suffer without him and that Colbert's show will have some trouble getting its legs. After all, Colbert's fake gravitas is a major part of the show. But at the same time, I feel optimistic for a couple of reasons. First, Colbert is a really funny guy and I imagine he can make a show pretty strong all on his own. Second, if The Daily Show is to remain as funny and fresh as it is today for the next several years, change is going to be necessary. Maybe bringing in some new correspondants will help in the long term. There are a lot of funny people out there and certainly there is more than one that can fill Colbert's slot.


Boy do I feel bad for the Yankees. It's really tearing me up watching them suck.

If you had told me that Seattle would have a better record than the Yankees, I would have said, "Wow, the Mariners really turned it around." Oh well.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Vegetarians often have a hierarchy of meat if they have to eat it. Usually fish and seafood is the first choice, then chicken or some other kind of poultry, and then beef or pork only if absolutely necessary for some reason. I have generally followed these guidelines, but lately I've been seriously rethinking them. In part, I've been rethinking this because they don't actually make any intrinsic sense to me and thus I can't think of any actual good reason to continue this. But also I am deeply bothered by the consumption of fish. Much more so than cows or pigs. I think part of the reason that vegetarians or near-vegetarians will eat fish is because they are not generally raised in a farm setting. Or at least you can get wild fish.

But is this a good reason? Increasingly, I am thinking that in fact it is a very bad reason. Fish stocks across the world are plummeting. Cows and pigs may be raised in terrible conditions and that's a bad thing. But at least they aren't going extinct. World fish consumption continues to rise, in no small part because of what Americans eat. This New York Times article from yesterday on increasing consumption and declining populations of bluefin tuna made me think even more about this.

The idea that catching and eating fish is more humane that factory farming beef is probably true. This shouldn't take away from the pretty damn brutal way that fish are killed, a process usually far worse than hunting assuming the shooter gets a clean shot and knows what they're doing. But nonetheless, how can we use this as justification for eating fish? I think this gets back to our veneration of a wild nature over human-controlled landscapes. The fact is that every landscape is deeply human controlled at this point in history. As wild as a place seems, it's always changing due to humans. Eating wild caught fish does not bring us closer to come kind of nature. For one thing, it's highly unusual for us to actually catch these fish. Second, when fish like the bluefin or sea bass are caught at a rate that leads to depletion, aren't we in fact hurting the world far more than we are if we eat factory-farm produced cows? That is not to say that factory farming isn't bad; in fact it is very bad. But to send an animal, and particularly one that lives in a extraordinarily complex and poorly understood ecosystem like the ocean, toward extinction seems to me to both be stupid for humans, because it eliminates a future food source, and yet another human-caused depletion of the earth's diversity.

So as for me, though I'd generally prefer to eat no meat, I think it's more responsible to eat either farm-raised fish or even farm-raised beef than a tasty piece of bluefin sushi. It's contrary to a lot of vegetarian and environmental norms, but I think it just makes sense.

Russian Beer

For the first time in my life, I had a Russian beer last night. There was a deal on it at the store I was shopping at and I figured, what the hell. It was surprisingly decent, especially for a lager. It was called Baltika. It had a pretty full flavor for a lager, certainly much better than your standard crappy American lager. Russia's not exactly known for its beer so I was leery. But I was quite surprised. Has anyone else had experiences with Russian beers? Are they sometime I've been missing?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Country Porn

Yes, I heard one of David Allen Coe's classic country porn songs today. Never had before. Can't say I want to again. Heard it on Mojo Nixon's show on Sirius' Outlaw Country station. A great show and a great station. Never would have heard it otherwise. However...

Here's some of the classic (and classy) lyrics from this song. I don't have the title because I was driving down a mountain at 50mph which doesn't lend itself to looking at the radio screen that gives you all the titles.

"You have to prick it, lick it, stick it between her thighs"

Followed by:

"You have to suck it, fuck it..."


This is a classic example of thinking you are breaking new ground by talking/writing/singing about sex freely when in fact you are just producing shit. I mean imagine yourself writing a song. You're thinking, I need something to rhyme with suck. Hmmm... What could work? I know. Fuck!! Brillant.

I know that David Allen Coe doesn't give a damn what I or anyone think. But that doesn't preclude me from saying that this stuff is just garbage.

Redeveloping Thailand

In one of Mike Davis' books, I think City of Quartz but possibly Ecology of Fear (and I'm not going to do the research to find out which one) he says that each time places like Malibu burn, it's a boon to real estate developers. More land is redeveloped for extremely upscale housing and the city becomes even more stratified.

The same thing seems to be happening in Thailand. Check out this story from CNN about how Thais who live on beaches are being forced out by developers wanting to not only rebuild the Thai tourist structure but in fact expand it greatly.

Let's face it, natural disasters are great times if you're a capitalist. Throughout American history at least, the impact of natural disasters have been placed on the backs of the poor while the rich make mucho dinero off of it. This may sound like an simplistic Marxist interpretation of natural disasters but the evidence really backs this up. Not only does Davis provide a convincing argument but Ted Steinberg's Acts of God is devoted entirely to this phenomenon.

Although Thailand doesn't have the long term history of capitalism that the United States does, now that tourist capitalism has arrived, it has done so in force. The impact of this, both positive and negative, had already greatly changed Thai society. Now one of the most negative aspects of tourism is coming down like a hammer. Investors, both Thai and foreign, are taking full advantage of the tsunami to build more tourist infrastructure and more high scale resorts. They are using the disaster to consolidate their control over the coastline, driving out traditional fishing families and other coastal dwellers.

Sunday, May 01, 2005


Was anyone else disgusted by Bud Selig's pandering new plan yesterday on steroids? Responding to the nice reception Paul Tagliabue got in Congress, Selig decided to toughen up baseball's steroid plan with a 50 game suspension for a 1st offense, 100 games for a 2nd, and a lifetime ban for a 3rd.

Not only is this plan absurdly harsh but of course it doesn't actually deal with drugs in baseball, saying nothing about the use of speed by players, nor of other drugs that could also make a difference in player performance.

Even worse is that Selig is so obviously pandering to Congress and the public. He clearly never cared about steroids in baseball until it became a public issue, nor does he really care about the game itself. When was the last time there was a more wretched commissioner of a major league sport. Well, maybe we should exclude hockey so that we don't have to discuss Gary Bettmann. But regardless, Selig is just disgusting.

Is Censorship Worth Worrying About?

Reading Frank Rich's column in the Times today made me thing whether censorship is something that we need to be overly worried about? On some level of course we should always be vigilant against censorship. But how likely is it that legislators like Bill First, Ted Stevens, and James Sensenbrenner will be able to legislate censorship. Rich seems to believe it's unlikely as discusses how the Right is overplaying its hand. I have to believe that this is true. After all, Republicans like their trashy, sexually oriented TV as much as Democrats do and while they may loathe the Daily Show, if there were a right-leaning Jon Stewart they would embrace him as they might a long-lost son. That will never happen because conservatives are almost never funny, but that's another issue.

I am slightly concerned though that this push for censorship will have more effects that it deserves. Part of this has to do with legislative redistricting. The Republicans in the House don't have to have a majority of the nation's support to get legislation passed. They simply have to have the majority of legislative districts. They could, and increasingly are, using technology to determine where to draw lines for them to win consistent victories. With enough 53-47 victories, a lot of people well to the right of the American public at large can gain power, as we see today. Also of concern is self-censorship as television executives, college administrators, and publishers could, and are, trying not to draw attention to themselves. Thus the Right wins through bullying. Finally, there are millions of Americans who actively do want censorship and they vote. That kind of movement can make a real difference in American life, something we are already seeing.

Ultimately though, even if the Republicans were to pass some kind of censorship bill, it would take one highly publicized trial to blow it all up. Jon Stewart getting prosecuted for obscenity would be a classic moment in American history. But even before this would happen, if Desperate Housewives were cancelled and Americans found out that the Republicans were directly responsible, what would the backlash be? I have to think it would be significant and immediate.