Monday, October 31, 2005

Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson's new album, Front Parlour Ballads, is not a real favorite of mine. It has some very good songs and some surprisingly clunky ones. But my God that man is an amazing guitar player. If you want to listen to what someone can do with an acoustic guitar, check out "A Solitary Life." My mind is blown.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

An Intelligent Debate on the Radio? It Must Be the BBC

I heard the most fascinating debate on the BBC station on my Sirius radio this morning. The BBC brought on air two an elderly English couple who frankly said that if there wasn't enough flu virus to go around, and particularly in the case of a bird flu epidemic, that the old, like themselves, should be last on the priority list. Debating them was a guy who was an advocate for the elderly working for some organization or another. His response was to say that these decisions should not be made by age but rather by need.

There was so much that was interesting in this. You have the debate itself, between two old people saying that the young had a greater right to resources than they did against a young person saying that the old did have the same rights. I had to feel here that the older couple won the debate for two reasons. First, they had the moral upper hand because of the sacrifice they were willing to make. But more importantly, it exposed the problem with single-issue interest groups and their advocates. Rather than think about this intelligently, the advocate had to fall back on a stock position that maybe made no real sense. How often does this happen? Do we lose the forest for the trees (and other cliches) because of the work we do?

Now, I don't know whether I agree with the elderly couple or not. I am inclined to think that I do so now but I'm not sure I will in another 40 years. I sure respect them though. How should we decide who lives and who dies? What a terrificly difficult question. I have no answers. I do know though that is a debate worth having.

And I also know that such a conversation could only happen on the BBC. Even NPR or PBS wouldn't take that one. And certainly not FOX or any of the other "news" networks.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Congratulations to the Chicago White Sox. Joe Buck Can Fuck Himself

Well, congrats to the White Sox. Quality team. Great to see teams that have gone forever without winning win one. Great to see the team the Bushes were rooting for lose. Glad to see Frank Thomas get a ring as well as former Mariner Freddy Garcia.

Now for Joe Buck. Did anyone else catch the way he equated baseball with whiteness in the 9th inning? He was describing the South Side and what this win would mean for the residents. He described the neighborhoods as Irish, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian. All true. But aren't there some black people who live on the South Side? I'm no expert on Chicago. But my understanding is that there are more than a few black people down there. In an era where baseball and whiteness are tied closely together in the minds of black people and we see a precipitous decline in the number of American born African-Americans in the game, we have a fuckwad like Joe Buck making it worse.

God I hate Buck and McCarver. Congrats again to the White Sox. Too bad they had to have such idiots announcing their games.

"They're Overtaking Our City"

This quote is from an NPR story about Mexicans working in New Orleans. The quote is by a contractor who uses union labor.

There's a lot to unpack here. First, there's nothing like some old-fashioned racism. We want our city rebuilt, so long as it's by white people, Americans, or however we want to define ourselves as normative and others as alien.

Second, the contractor has one good point and that's the decline of union labor. Of course, there are larger issues involved here. If construction unions would get off their asses and organize some of these cities, make sure that companies would pay if they used non-union labor, and most importantly, consider migrant and illegal workers worth unionizing, they would have a lot stronger point to make. Because from talking to the immigrant workers, it sounds like some unionization could go a long way there. While they are making more money than they would ever make in Mexico or Honduras, they are subject to being cheated by their employers and to diseases from working and sleeping in the rot of New Orleans.

Third, the Latino workers pretty much said that they don't feel sorry for the union guys because they know the Americans won't work as hard as they will. I don't know what to say to that. They were talking about how some American workers were refusing to work unless provided with proper housing. The Latinos were saying that's no excuse not to work. And yeah, I guess that's true. If you want to feed your family more than the next person you will do so.

Of course what we need here is unionization of all American workers. Despite the Change to Win Coalition, unions are so far behind in organizing these types of workers. This could be a golden opportunity, but I don't see it happening. A spokesperson for the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance made the point that the enemy is not the foreign workers. The enemy is those who take advantage of those workers to mistreat all workers and drive wages down.

Concert Reviews--G Love and Special Sauce, Albuquerque, NM, October 21, 2005 and Tom Russell, El Paso, Texas, October 23, 2005

A tale of two shows here friends.

My review of the G Love show could be this short--Never spend more than $10 on a show on the recommendations of friends.

However, I might as well talk a little about the shittiness of this show. Now I'm no expert on this guy's music. Obviously, I've heard of him and I've known people who liked him in the past. I was hoping he would be a poor man's Beck. I was not so lucky. This white boy funk-rap thing has pretty limited appeal to me anyway. This is mostly because it is often so poorly executed, as was the case Friday night. It's just not that funky. If I want some damn funky music, I'm going to the George Clinton or Buddy Miles or Sly Stone. Beck works for me because he mixes up his songs well, he's a pretty good songwriter, and he has a flexible and good voice. G Love isn't as good in any of these things.

The songs themselves were atrocious. He had one song with the chorus, "Who's got the weed?" Now let's just say I was in a frame of mind to be interested in such things. But my thought on hearing this was, "Who gives a shit?" Then there was the song with the Yeats-like lyric, "You don't need pussy to have fun, but it sure helps." Now I guess I can't disagree with this statement. But I sure as hell don't need to hear some "song" about it.

Luckily I was not alone in my misery. I had two other friends who had also gone on the recommendation of our other friends and they were equally as annoyed as myself. Even my friends who liked him said it was a bad show. So perhaps on other night, it would suck less. However, as long as he is singing sounds about genitalia, I find it hard to believe it would be likeable.

Thank God for my music equilibrium I went to El Paso to see Tom Russell play Sunday night. Why did I drive 5 hours to El Paso to see a show. Well, if you had heard Tom Russell's music, you would understand. What an amazing songwriter. What a great singer. He is just a wonderful story teller. Songs like "Gallo del Cielo" about a guy who fights this rooster in order to win money so he can buy the land back that Villa stole or "Grapevine", about a guy remembering growing up in Bakersfield (it's sort of about Buck Owens), are just great songs. He does some covers too and I usually don't care for the covers. I figured out why. There are few songs that he can cover that are better than his own songs. Though in the defense of his covers, in "Hailey's Comet", which is about the last days of Bill Hailey, when he was drinking himself to death in Harlingen, Texas, there's a line about Bo Diddley, whereupon Tom Russell and his guitar player Andrew Hardin went straight into "Who Do You Love" and then back into the main song without missing a beat. Very nice. It was also the kind of concert where the artist was playing a bunch of new songs to be released. He did 5 new songs and 4 of them were great. His new album Love and Fear is coming out on Valentine's Day, 2006. You should buy it.

I've previously posted about Tom Russell, wondering if The Man from God Knows Where is the greatest album ever. Seeing him live only reinforces my thoughts about how great he is.

And now my musical equilibrium is restored.

I'm Just So Goddamn Proud

Why you ask? Because the University of Tennessee, where I received my master's degree, has been ranked as the 6th least gay friendly school in the country by The Princeton Review. That's ahead of Texas A&M, BYU, and any number of Catholic schools not named Notre Dame that you can think of. You have to work very hard at bigotry to beat out A&M and BYU. That's why I'm so goddamn proud.

Friday, October 21, 2005

What's The Matter With Kansas, Answer #5892

I always thought Thomas Frank's now famous question was a little screwy. The answer is clearly a lot. We are never going to win Kansas so who cares?

However, every now and then Kansas comes up with something new. Today, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Kansas' law punishing underage sex more severely if it was homosexual was unconstitutional.

What kills me about this is conservatives complaining that this decision intruded on the Legislature's authority to make laws. Not only do these conservatives not understand that this is how the courts were originally designed (I believe it is called Checks and Balances--perhaps you've heard of it) but of course they are hypocrites. Had the Kansas Supreme Court struck down a law saying that homosexual sex shouldn't be punished more severely than heterosexual sex, they would be rejoicing.

The case in question was one where an 18 year gave oral sex to a 14 year old boy. He was sentenced to 17 years. Had it been a 14 year old girl, the maximum sentence would have been 15 months!!! He had served 5 years in prison before today's ruling.

And The Award Goes To...

I'll bet none of you knew that I was responsible for naming the winner of one of baseball's most prestigious awards. But in fact, I get the job of naming the winner of the Cangelosi Award, given to baseball's worst player. It is named after the legendary John Cangelosi, the 80s and 90s journeyman outfielder who had possibly the worst defensive instincts in the history of baseball and had only speed going for him. He was the first player who I remember thinking, "Wow, this guy actually has some talent, but he is a horrible baseball player." So in 2003, I began naming Cangelosi Award winners. The criteria is to be a Cangelosi-type player. You need to have some talent but blow it by being stupid, a thug, having terrible instincts, etc. So as much as I would like to name Willie Bloomquist as the worst player in baseball, it's not his fault that he is on a major league roster. He does what he can with his poor skills.

The previous winners:
2003, Alex Sanchez, OF, Milwaukee/Detroit. Here is a man with excellent hitting skills. He hit .287 with 25 SBs in 2003 and has continued with similar numbers since. However, he can't stick even with bad teams like Milwaukee, Detroit, and in 2005, Tampa Bay. His indifference to playing defense is somewhat legendary and his excellent speed can't make up for that. In 2003, he won particular favor for being suspended while with the Brewers, along with Izzy Alcantara, for laughing after they had collectively screwed up a play in the outfield that cost their team a couple of runs.

2004, Ben Davis, C, Seattle/Chicago White Sox. Ben Davis might be the stupidest player to ever play the game. And in baseball, that's really saying something. The mental lapses he made a catcher were somewhat awe-inspiring. He had immense talent. But both San Diego and Seattle, a team not known for its quality catchers, gave up on him. In 2004, he hit a brilliant .207 in 193 ABs. He did not even play for the White Sox this year and I am not sure he is even in professional baseball anymore. A terrific waste of talent.

And the 2005 award winner is....

Sidney Ponson, P, Baltimore. I have long thought Sir Sidney Ponson, the first knighted player to win the Cangelosi, was a horrible pitcher, mostly because of some bad fantasy league experiences with the guy. He was always disappointing with the Orioles. He then had one good 1/2 season in 2003, and the Orioles dumped him on the Giants for prospects. It seemed like they made a smart move as he reverted to his usual sucking in San Francisco. However, the Orioles hadn't had enough Ponson and they resigned him to an ungodly large contract after 2003. He has of course been horrible since then, going 11-15 with a 5.30 ERA last year and 7-11 with a 6.21 ERA this year. To make things better, his personal life blew up in his face this year. He was arrested in his home nation of Aruba last winter for getting into a fight on the beach. This year, not only was he terrible but he was arrested for drunk driving twice and managed to get released by the Orioles for violating the terms of his contract. Had he only sucked, he would at least got paid millions of dollars. But his behavior was so stupid that not only was he the worst player in major league baseball this year, but he also cost himself millions of unearned dollars. He clearly has some talent as he showed in 2003. But that didn't keeping him from winning the third annual Cangelosi Award.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mature Music for Mature People

Robbie Fulks, in the liner notes to his superb new album, Georgia Hard, writes "The middle-aged and -class perspective that dominated the country songwriting of the day [the 1970s] was an aberration; outside Broadway, it flourished in no other era or style over a solid century of American lyrical music. It's Nashville origins are in the early Sixties, when Hank Williams' posthumous grip was relaxing. Writers like Bill Anderson and Roger Miller were then gentrifying country, expanding its reach and mainstreaming its moral tone, softening Baptist fervor into urbane mood-indigo, replacing hell-raising and hayriding with marriages and mortgages. Country-for-grownups was no less an art (and no less "country") than the older version, its account of human experience being just as honest, eye-opening, sensitively crafted, and unmistakably lived-in."

Fulks' new album was written with these kind of songs in mind. First of all, it's a great album, which I'll get to more in a minute. But more interestingly, is the point of the album. Maybe it's just the point I've reached in my life, but I've really started appreciating songs that speak to the kind of experiences that people over the age of 25 have: not only falling in love, but losing that love, fighting to keep that love going, divorce, childraising, struggling to make it, losing loved ones to death, trying to fight off death ourselves, working in crappy jobs, alcoholism--in other words, the kind of experiences you and I have had. Who has not had at least some of these experiences? These are the experiences of life. Now I wouldn't necessarily want to listen to this kind of music all the time--the subject matter is a little on the depressing side I suppose. Though in fact, many of these songs can be downright hilarious and on Fulks' album many are. But I appreciate songwriting that speaks to my post-age 25 life.

Georgia Hard may be the best album of Fulks' career. He's probably best known for his anti-Nashville anthem "Fuck This Town", but in fact he's got a sensibility far more interesting than just writing Hank III style songs about the suckiness of Nashville. His album 13 Country Classics was an album of forgotten country songs that played perfectly into his mix of traditional country, odd humor, and dismissive attitude of pretension. These traits are in full force on Georgia Hard. He rips apart pretensious roots music purists in "Countrier Than Thou". Given that I loathe purism in music I have a particular affinity for this song. He has a classic stupid-funny country song about a man getting really drunk and hitting on a woman. Thing is that he is so drunk that he doesn't really that the woman he's hitting on is already his wife ("I'm Gonna Take You Home (And Make You Like Me)). But most of the album is in the style of 70s country. Hell, even the album cover is reminiscent of a classic 70s country album. These are songs written for people who have lived. "Coldwater, Tennessee" is a great song about growing up poor in a southern town who makes it big in Nashville, but only briefly. "I Never Did Like Planes" is a great break-up song. "Georgia Hard" is about a man who followed his woman from the South to Chicago but the woman left him and now he's stuck in a shitty apartment and a pointless job and he's real depressed. "All You Can Cheat" is another good cheatin' song about a man who may be doing it in a cheap hotel but at least it's all you can cheat all night long. "Doin' Right (For All The Wrong Reasons) is a song about a man who is in a bad marriage and desperately wants to cheat but he can't because he is the vice-president of his father-in-law's company who is retiring soon. Who wouldn't like a song like that? I know I do. Now of course I can't relate directly to this experience, not only for the obvious reasons but because who the hell would ever hire me to be the vice-president of a company?

If you're thinking that I have a thing for cheating songs, you're totally right. What a great subject for songs.

Not only are these subjects classic country themes, but they are themes that epitomize what is great about country music--the experiences of everyday people going through everyday problems. We forget about this core quality of country music, not only in the Nashville shit coming out but in the neo-Outlaw stuff that people who have really good taste in music listen to. The first time I listened to Georgia Hard I became visibly excited as I heard the kind of songs I had not been exposed to in a very long time.

I started thinking about other albums that catered to the everyday experiences of regular people. Don Rigsby's The Midnight Call was the first album I thought of. I believe I may have extolled the virtues of this album before on the blog but I am going to again. Not only is The Midnight Call have some of the strangest songs I've ever heard but it is also geared for the kind of life experience that I love. Take "Should Have Carved Our Names In Stone."

"I was 10 and she was 9
When we walked down by the creek
I carved our names and promises on an old beech tree
We ran and played for hours around an old corn field
Now looking back none of that seems real

She's 29, I'm 30
As we walked in the courtroom
They're dividing everything between the bride and groom
Sitting there, my mind slipped back to the day down by the creek
Where I carved the names and promises on an old beech tree

I didn't know that wind and rain could make a promise fade
I didn't realize that life would change from that day
If I had only known what I know now,
Would have changed our fate someway somehow
But I was just boy, how could I have known?

I should have carved our names in stone"

Jesus Christ. Who cannot relate to that song on some level? There are millions of songs about breakups, but how many get to the heart of the matter in this way? How many are this eloquent? Frankly, how many punch you in the gut like this?

Then there's othergreat songs like "Dyin' To Hold Her Again", about a man whose wife has died and he is drinking himself to death because he can't live without her. A truly wonderful song. Sadder than hell but so true to life. "Little White Cross Out On Highway 13" is sung from a father's perspective whose daughter was killed in car accident the night before high school graduation. "Muddy Water" is a good song about the West Virginia floods of 2001, which I got married in but that's a story for a different time. "Come In Out of the Rain", another great piece, is about a man who can't get over a breakup but knows he won't be getting back together with his woman. Finally, "I've Already Turned That Page," is a great way to end an album that is pretty maudlin. This song is just about moving on. There's nothing you can do to change the past, so what choice do you have? Can anyone claim this is not true? This is a bluegrass album, but really it transcends any category. Not only does it not really sound like a Bill Monroe album, the lyrics are so powerful that they transcend the music. Just an unbelievably wonderful album.

A bit of an aside, but Rigsby isn't a songwriter. All the songs were written by other people. But I believe that most of the songs were written for him. Does that change the quality of the album? No. Some people have quite the songwriting fetish. Writing songs is great but just because you aren't good at it doesn't mean that you can't be an amazingly powerful musician.

I was thinking of a rock album that was really written for mature people. Obviously, rock and roll is not exactly designed for this kind of thing. But Peter Gabriel's Us really stands out here, especially the first three songs, "Come Talk to Me," "Love to Be Loved" and "Blood of Eden." Gabriel's anguished, and by 1992 slightly aged, voice really delivers a powerful punch. I wish I could think of more rock records that really fit into the mold of Us but I guess I can't.

In any case, all three of these albums really present songs that are geared toward the kind of powerful life experiences that we all share. Of course there's nothing wrong with a little escapism in music too but I can't cherish an escapist album in the same way that I do these three. They touch me in very deep ways.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Another Day, Another Republican Historical Myth To Debunk

Lance Mannion points out this annoying Republican historical myth:

That the New Deal was a pointless exercise that did nothing to end the Great Depression and in fact lengthened it.

In one sense, this is not entirely incorrect. The New Deal did not in fact end the Great Depression. But that's as far as truth goes here.

What really happened is this: FDR took office in 1933. He was really a pretty conservative guy. He was very uncomfortable with causing a higher deficit through social programs. But he knew what was necessary to keep the United States a functioning country. The winter of 1933 was the very depths of the Depression. The nation had lost trust in not only the Hoover presidency but in fact the ideas of the Republican Party. Unemployment was at its height. People were traveling around the country unable to find work. Radicalism, of both left and right varieties, was beginning to rise among the millions of discontented. FDR knew that he needed to do whatever was necessary to restore the faith of the nation in American democracy. So he established programs like the CCC to get young men to work (and if you want to stop revolutionary activity, the best way to do it is to get young men off the streets and working), the WPA to build public works projects that showed what government could to help provide infrastructure to people while also employing lots of them, and TVA to bring the poorest part of the nation out of poverty. FDR managed to accomplish all of these goals. Despite right-wing demagogues like Father Coughlin he managed to hold off radicalism at a time when Europe could not. He stabilized unemployment which slowly improved. The faith of Americans in their government was restored.

Here's the thing: the New Deal did not end the Great Depression because it was a bunch of useless government programs as right-wingers like to claim. It did not end the Great Depression because it was far too small to do so. As I mentioned earlier, FDR was uncomfortable with massive government expenditures. In 1937, he thought the economy was on enough of the right track to cut back government spending. Upon doing so, the nation instantly plunged back toward the depths of the winter of 33 until FDR got the money flowing again. This should be the ultimate rebuttal to any Republican claims that the New Deal did not help ease the Depression--once the government money stopped, the economy collapsed!

Conservatives also like to say that World War II is what actually ended the Depression. And they are correct about this. But they don't make the obvious connections as to why. WWII ended the Depression because the government spent the kind of money necessary to put all of America back to work. As Lance points out, this if anything proves that the conservative analysis of the New Deal is entirely wrongheaded. If the New Deal failed it was because it had limited aims rather than because it expanded the govenrment. Is this definitive proof that government spending will always help the economy expand? Well, no but it does prove that it does do so at least sometimes. And that's a whole lot more evidence than conservatives have about their economic programs working.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

No-Bid Contracts

Democracy Arsenal has put together a foreign policy agenda for a draft progressive Contract with America. I agree with most of their points. It should be necessary to declare war on a nation before actually going to war with them. We should outlaw torture and punish those in the military who have approved these actions. We should set conditions for our stay in Iraq and try to start setting timetables for troop reductions and eventually withdrawal.

But while I do agree that we need to have accountability on no-bid contracts, I'm not sure that I can go as far as to say that all contracts for security related matters be open bid. The reason is that is it just unrealistic. Progressives have raged against no-bid contracts because of the cronyism of the Bush administration. And we should. But the problem is more I think about the cronyism than the no-bid contracts. For instance, if we need to hire private companies to help in the rebuilding of Iraq (or New Orleans or Los Angeles the next time there is a magnitude 8 earthquake there) we need to make those decisions immediately. Are people supposed to sit and wait while an open bidding process takes place that has to work through government bureaucracy? I think we need to sit and really consider just what the necessities of government are before we simply outlaw no-bid contracts entirely.

That said, we certainly need a greater empahsis on accountability with the money from no-bid contracts, we need punishments for those who don't use the money properly, and we need to do the best we can to avoid cronyism in the awarding of these contracts. Yes, no-bid contracts and cronyism were almost born to go together. But I think this is one of those necessary evils that comes with government.

Bars and TV

I recently became embroiled in a discusion about the role of TVs in bars with some friends. Personally, I think TVs are nothing more than a distraction, except in sports bars where that is the point of going there. TV has such an intensive power over our lives and in few places does it come through more strongly than in the bar. When there is a TV around, I almost cannot look away. Even if I am having a conversation with someone else I am constantly looking at the damn TV. It doesn't help that it is usually sports that is on so that's why I am watching. When I am by myself, I easily control my TV watching. In fact, I don't even watch very much TV at all. Once baseball is over, I will watch even less. But if it is on, it's like having a big bowl of ice cream in front of me. I don't really want it but I can't help myself.

Note here--if you are thinking that this is just some problem I have, you're probably right, but what kind of blogger would I be if I didn't universalize from my own experiences?

One friend pointed out that a) there were TVs all over this bar and people were talking about all sorts of things that had nothing to do with the sports on them and that b) TV gave people a conversation starter when they were at a bar by themselves. The first was definitely true but also shows the irrelevancy of the TVs. Imagine how good the conversation could have been if it wasn't for the television. The second may be true, but is just a prop--people would be talking anyway. After all, are we so addicted to television that we can't make conversation without it? What did people in the pre-TV era talk about?

I guess the question is one of benefits--does the television provide more than it detracts from people's use of bars as a social space. To me the answer is unequivocally yes. It is true that going to a sports bar to watch games that you can't get at home or to watch games with fans of your team is a nice thing. But if you are not going to the bar to watch TV, it is purely detractive. When I go to a bar, I want to a) drink and b) socialize. TV doesn't hinder drinking but it does hinder socializing. Maybe we (I) cling to TV at bars as a social crutch to get over whatever problems we have talking to each other. But it's a crutch that we shouldn't have (I wish wasn't there).

Perhaps some of this is generational, perhaps it is related to the kind of people who I spend time around. For most of the people I know don't even have cable and they don't miss it. For my parents and family on the other hand, TV is central to their lives. When my parents wake up in the morning they turn on the TV. It remains on until they go to bed. They watch things they know are shit but they watch them religiously (Nancy Grace in the case of my parents, something that I cannot fathom). I imagine this is something that is probably more about the kind of people I associate with since I don't read a lot about people watching less television than they used to.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Underrated Music of the 1970s

The 1970s are an interesting decade musically. Obviously, rock and roll is at its height in the 70s. Like any decade, the sheer amount of bad music is stunning, but the amount of good music is quite good as well. It wasn't such a great decade for jazz or country though. Jazz was struggling to find its voice after the death of Coltrane and the flame-out of fusion and the first wave of free jazz. To some extent it never again found its voice as a genre, having been taken over by the likes of Wynton Marsalis and others who have ultimately added nothing to jazz except to ossify it. Country was in a weird space. There was a lot of high-quality stuff coming out, such as Conway Twitty (more on him later) but there sheer amount of shit is unbelievable. This was the decade of Anne Murray, Barbara Mandrell, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Kenny Rogers. I once heard Steve Earle talk about coming to Nashville in the late 70s and how hard it was because he wasn't going to be writing songs for Barbara Mandrell. Nonetheless, even in jazz and country there is a lot of good stuff that came out of the 70s that doesn't always get listened to these days.

What I find fascinating is the sheer amount of underrated music from the decade. How do I define underrated? I think is has to be underrated by people who love music but have missed these albums. I can't call an album that hasn't sold a million copies underrated per se. It is true that many more people should listen to Richard and Linda Thompson's I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. But many audiophiles do listen to this. What albums do these people with really great taste in music not know so well? Here's a short list.

1. Loudon Wainwright III, Unrequited
This is one of the greatest breakup albums of all time. It's not as good of an album as Blood on the Tracks but it also has the advantage of having a great sense of humor, not only about the breakup but about other topics as well. It kind of starts a little slow with a song that Columbia tried to make a hit single, but by the 3rd song, you are into the meat of the album. Songs like "Kick in the Head," "Whatever Happened to Us," and "Mr. Guilty" give you a sense of how he feels. But at the same time, his bitterness led to my favorite song lyric of all time. In "Whatever Happened to Us" he sings, "You said I came too early, but it was you who came too late." I howled the first time I heard that. The album is made even better by his mixing in other funny songs with the breakup songs. In "Untitled" he sings in a over the top stupid English accent about men having sex after working out. It was originally titled "The Hardy Boys at the Y" but the people who own the Hardy Boys' rights threatened to sue. And yes, it was before the Village People as well. The albums ends with an amusing song that has taken on whole new meanings in later years. This is "Rufus is a Tit Man" about his baby Rufus breastfeeding on Mom and how jealous he is. Of course, what's amusing is that Rufus is many things, but a tit man is not one of those. Very much not.

2. Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Dancer with Bruised Knees
Who was Loudon writing about in Unrequited? None other than Rufus' mom, Kate McGarrigle. Which leads us to this album by the McGarrigle sisters. This is a really great singer-songwriter album. "Southern Boys" works very well even if it is loaded with southern stereotypes like eating squirrels. The real reason this is on here though is for "Walking Song," which to me is one of the greatest songs ever written for people over the age of 25. It's basically a song about a couple of old friends getting together after not seeing each other for awhile and catching up. It's just Kate singing with a piano. I'm not describing this well at all but it's just a wonderful song. Without the song, the album is still above average. The songs in French I can take or leave but it's solid 70s folk-rock stuff. With "Walking Song" it's probably their best album.

3. Wayne Shorter, Supernova
Technically this was recorded at the very end of 1969 but I believe it was released in 1970. Anyway, this is the forgotten album of the fusion movement. Of course, most fusion was crap. But Miles Davis' 70s stuff is great, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters album is rightfully lauded, and at least Mahavishnu Orchestra avoided most of the cheesiness that infected bands like Weather Report and musicians like Stanley Clarke. For some reason, people never talk about Supernova. To be honest I was skeptical until I actually heard it. I figured it would be as irrelevant as most of Wayne Shorter's work after he left Miles' band. But my brother insisted that I listen to this and I was instantly hooked. Great grooves, interesting Jobim cover, overall underrated album.

4. Conway Twitty
No one talks about Conway anymore. Perhaps this is because he died young. Perhaps it is a consequence of his early career as an Elvis knockoff. But in the 1970s, Conway Twitty put out some great songs. For some of the work, you have to have a tolerance for 70s country, which I like mostly but is not for everyone. But even if you don't care for 70s country in general, the duets with Loretta Lynn probably marked the high point for both of them and are just great. "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" is one of the all-time great country songs. "As Soon As I Hang Up The Phone" is a hilarious piece where Conway calls Loretta to break up and Loretta keeps interrupting him to sing about it. "You've Never Been This Far Before" is probably one of the creepiest songs ever, especially when sung by Conway in his 40s. "Linda On My Mind" is a top notch cheatin' song and of course you can't go wrong with "Tight Fittin' Jeans."

5. Bruce Cockburn, High Winds White Sky
A lot of people listen to Bruce Cockburn but I rarely ever hear anyone talk about this album. Usually, people get into his later, more political stuff. At this early date (1972 I think) he is a pretty straight-ahead folkie, but with those great songwriting skills. Songs like "Let Us Go Laughing", "Golden Serpent Blues", and "Shining Mountain" certainly compare more than favorably to his later work.

6. New York Dolls--They're pretty new to me actually. My friend Scott describes them as a mix of The Rolling Stones and The Clash. Good rocking stuff. It is perhaps possible that they are not really underrated but I think they are because my knowledge of rock is not as good as it should be. But when I mentioned to Scott that I was thinking of doing this post, they were the first band he mentioned.

I'm really interested to hear what underrated 70s albums readers would like to bring up.

UPDATE (10/18/05)--Billy reminds me of one album that I forgot to mention, Guy Clark, The South Coast of Texas. This is an excellent album by one of the most underrated songwriters in America. It wasn't an album that gets talked about a lot, even by Guy Clark fans. But I think it's great. It's pretty much all about Texas, from fishing ("South Coast of Texas") to falling in love with a local waitress as a kid in west Texas ("Lone Star Motel") to immigrating to Texas ("New Cut Road). Songs like "Crystelle", "Rita Ballou", and "She's Crazy For Leavin'" are just good quality country songs. Billy makes the argument that his first album Old No. 1 should be on here and that's a legitimate argument for the songs on that album are truly great. But this is the classic underrated album, so much so that it is out of print except on a 2 disc set of 3 of Clark's 70s albums that splits South Coast of Texas between the two discs. Top notch stuff.

Harding County Notes

With the wife gone, I decided to do something that I had been wanting to do for awhile and that I knew she would have absolutely no interest in doing. That was visiting the one county in New Mexico I had never been to, Harding County. Where is Harding County? It is in northeastern New Mexico and is oddly shaped so that not only do no interstates travel through it, but no US highways either. In fact there is very little there. Harding County, which for those of you who have some knowledge of New Mexico is about an hour or so east of Wagon Mound and maybe a little more than that from the Texas border, is perhaps best known, such that it is known at all, for being part of the Dust Bowl. People talk about the Dust Bowl all the time, but I'm not sure that most people have a real good idea of just what exactly happened. In brief, around 1900, farmers began farming across the Great Plains, including in the western Plains, which was a really bad idea. It so happened that the late 19th and early 20th centuries were particularly wet throughout the West. So farmers thought that this rain would continue forever, badly underestimating the impact of drought on that landscape (much the same thing happened with the interstate water compacts that were signed around this time, causing problems that we are only starting to figure out here in the Southwest). The farmers plowed up the sod that kept all the dirt down. Now it's fairly windy in this part of the world, especially in the western Plains as winds whip off the Rockies. When drought came in the early 1930s, the sod was gone and there was nothing holding that land down. Thus the winds kicked up and blew all the soil away. The federal government had a pretty good response to this--they bought the worst of the lands and created the National Grassland system, some of which is in Harding County. The National Grasslands don't look any different than the rest of the land today--all of it has been pretty infected by cattle grazing and non-native species, but there is some effort to get the shortgrass prairie to rejuvenate itself. In fact, there is an excellent National Grasslands visitor center in Wall, South Dakota. If you're ever out there, stop by. It's much more interesting than Wall Drug.

Anyway, I digress. In any case, people realized pretty quick that you can't farm wheat or much of anything else in this part of the country without some serious irrigation. So most of eastern New Mexico is not farmed today, something that you notice when you cross into heavily irrigated west Texas. It's mostly cattle country today and that's about it. One very interesting thing about a place like Harding County is its existence as a borderland between the Rockies and the Great Plains. Some parts of it are flat as a pancake and could easily be western Kansas. Other parts get quite hilly all of a sudden with landmarks that are more like western New Mexico. I also happened to be lucky to see some good wildlife out there. I saw a hawk picking up a snake, which I had seen before but is always cool, as well as a tarantula crossing the road. I knew that there were tarantulas across New Mexico and that they are out and moving in the fall but I had never seen one before now. And when you see one, you know it. They are freaking huge.

Harding County is one of those counties on the western Plains that you are not sure why it exists anymore. There are 2 towns of some size there, Roy and Mosquero. You can drive through both of these towns in about a minute. Both of these towns have no doubt lost a great percentage of their population over the past 70 years or so, as can be seen by the number of boarded up buildings. More distressing to me yesterday was that I believe there is not a gas station in the entire county. I should have filled up in Wagon Mound but I didn't, figuring that surely there would be something along the way. I was woefully wrong. When I realized this, I had 2 choices. Go about 70 miles out of my way to Tucumcari where I knew there would be gas or go about 90 miles west to Las Vegas which was on the way home. I stupidly chose the latter. I, in fact, did not run out of gas, but if I had got stuck out there, you could have found vultures picking over my bones by about Wednesday. On the way back to Las Vegas, I drove past an old-timey closed gas station in the middle of nowhere. It even had one of those Texaco signs that probably dates to the 60s. It made me wonder, where do rural people buy gas these days. If there is no gas in all of Harding County, and everyone drives big farm trucks, do they drive all the way to Tucumcari or Wagon Mound to fill up? Do they have some kind of supplies out there that the traveler doesn't know about? It also brought to mind just how focused we are on the freeway system in the United States. If you get off that system, especially in the West, you had better be damn sure that you have enough gas to get to the next town of size, sometimes over 100 miles away. Because there are just no facilities to take care of you anymore. In the East, this is not such a problem because there are lots of little towns and you are rarely more than 25 miles from some kind of town. But not in the West. I knew this, chose to ignore it, and almost paid the price.

The Glories of October

Is there a better month than October? The weather is great, the sports world is at its height, the trees are beautiful, classes are session, the world is right. Just walking outside brings a fresh feeling to my lungs and my body. A lot of people would say that they feel this way in the spring. And I do to, to an extent. But spring reminds me that the heat of summer is coming and I'm not a real heat guy. I do like cold though and October brings the end of heat and the beginning of cozy season.

Here in New Mexico we get a double shot of fall. This is especially true in Santa Fe. The worst weather in New Mexico is from the end of May to the middle of July. Once it starts raining our weather turns much better than most of America. So it's not like the height of summer is all that bad, even if late spring sucks big time. By the middle of September you start seeing the aspens turn on the mountains. About 100 years ago, on the west face of the Sangre de Cristos just outside of Santa Fe was a major forest fire. Aspens are the first tree to come back after a fire in the Rockies. About 100 years later, the firs and other coniferous species eventually push out the aspens, a process that is just beginning now. Anyway, looking up from Santa Fe to the mountain you get a first shot of fall as half the mountains are brilliant gold. Amazingly lovely. Then, about now the cottonwoods start turning. In New Mexico, we don't have a lot of deciduous trees. The aspens in the mountains and the cottonwoods on the waterways are about it. Right now, the cottonwoods are turning their own delicious shade of yellow. For me, I get even a little extra fall than the average person because I go to Albuquerque twice a week which is 2000 feet lower than Santa Fe. So while the cottonwoods are in full force in Santa Fe, they are just starting to change along the middle Rio Grande. So I'll get color all the way until early November, a very happy thing.

The changing of the trees holds a magical power over me and many others. I don't think I can say why. Maybe it has something to do with the sudden color shifts or maybe it is the differences in colors between and even within trees. My all time favorite color changing moment came on a trip to Cumberland Gap, where Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all meet. This was the year before I moved to New Mexico and I knew that it might be awhile before I had the chance to see something like this again, which has in fact been true. I drove up a road at Cumberland Gap to a trail that looked out upon the surrounding countryside. On the trail, it was past peak. The ground was covered in leaves of all possible shades. I didn't walk very far--I often don't see the point of long hikes--and I soon just sat down and relaxed. I observed the insects and plants around me and just thought about who knows what. After awhile I got up and walked a little farther until I came to a overlook. Looking down you could see the trees in the valleys below at their peak change. What was interesting about this was not only that there was such a difference in 1000 feet or so but also that you could look down on trees from on high and see the changes within the trees themselves. The tops of some of the trees were just beginning to change and had become a kind of weird light green that I don't think I had ever noticed before. On other trees you could see how the leaves fell off the top first and were hanging on to the sides for just a little longer before all came off. It was a truly marvelous experience and one that I will never forget. It was all the more marvelous after growing up in Oregon which really doesn't change that much between summer and winter since most of the trees are Douglas fir.

UPDATE--Maggie points out in comments one key component of fall in New Mexico--the smell of roasting chiles. I can't describe this in words. I will say that once you smell, it you will never forget it and it will always remind you of fall. It might be the best smell in the world.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Republican Version of History--If It's Republican, It's Good. If You Oppose Anything Ever Done By Republicans, You Are Bad

Several recent posts about Republicans and history have inspire me to write about something I've seen coming for some time now. Republican historical revisionism has come to the front and center of Republican ideology. The most common move I've seen is to reclaim the Gilded Age as the most glorious period of American history, at least since the Civil War. I first became aware of this a couple of years ago in a New Yorker feature on Karl Rove where he said that he looked at the Progressives as elitists on the lines of the Democrats today and wanted to turn back Progressive era policies to restore America to its full laissez-faire greatness. Whether this idea started with Rove or not, it has since become more and more prominent. Matt Yglesias recently became aware of it. He picked up this "brillant" and not at all self-serving discussion of the Gilded Age from Edward Renehan at Tech Central Station. Renehan cites his own biography of Jay Gould as one of the only fair studies of the Gilded Age industrialists who fleeced Americans out of untold sums of money. Well, that last part was my words. In any case, people like Renehan are trying to rehabiliate this period as the model for modern-day America to follow. Jonah Goldberg seems to be writing another stupid book as well that will continue this pattern. In any case, he's put out a call for people who are experts on Herbert Spencer, the ideologue of social Darwinism, which was one of the key modes of thought behind the Robber Barons.

We can only accept the idea of the Gilded Age as a great period in American history if we completely overlook what was happening to people outside of the industrialists themselves. For it was a horrid time in American history. Now it is true that this was the period when America began its big drive to become the world's greatest industrial power. But the costs of that industrialization were tremendous. For the Gilded Age, the period of the greatest Republican dominance in American history, was when segregation became entrenched in America. The Republican Party consciously made the decision to abandon freed slaves in favor of their true ideology, making lots of money and designing government to facilitate that goal. They ignored the conditions that industrial workers, both immigrants and native-born Americans suffered under. These workers lived in the effulent from the plants they worked in, they lived in overcrowded urban tenements without proper ventilation, light, or sanitation. They made an extremely small amount of money, often not even enough to ensure proper nutrition. The Gilded Age saw the beginnings of American imperialism and the racist ideologies, such as Jonah Goldberg's beloved Herbert Spencer's Social Darwinism as well as eugenics, that made the imperialist project possible. It was Republican sugar and pineapple magnates who overthrew the royalty of Hawaii when they protested about American domination of the islands and it was Republican politicans who pushed for the Spanish-American War and the brutal war in the Philippines that followed. The Gilded Age was the period where people talked about a laissez-faire government, but where in reality the federal government intervened to end labor strikes, often in a violent way. And the Gilded Age was the most corrupt period of American history, where among many other scandals, Vice-President Schuyler Colfax (under Ulysses S. Grant) was indicted for corruption due to his involvement in the Crédit Mobilier scandal where Union Pacific Railroad officials made up a company, the Crédit Mobilier of America, gave it contracts to build railroads that were of course being built by Union Pacific and then gave the stock to influential Republican politicans.

The thing about all of this is that the Republicans today who are glorifying the Gilded Age know all of this and they don't care. They may not talk about government corruption when they talk about the Gilded Age, but they have no problem with government officials working so closely with business that they become rich off it. They may not talk about people living in terrible conditions but they quite clearly don't care if people do live in those conditions; like in the Gilded Age they will simply blame people for their own poverty. Ultimately, the ideology of the Republican Party has changed very little since 1880. The primacy of business over government and the lack of social responsibility in the Republican Party has remained amazingly consistent for 125 years or more.

When we hear Republicans talk about the Republican glory days of the 1880s and 1890s, we need to engage in a full frontal assault upon them. For they are very vulnerable. We can ask them some very specific questions to put them on the spot. For instance, if Republicans are the true party of civil rights because of Abraham Lincoln (another favorite argument) then why did the Republican Party allow southern whites to subjugate the ex-slaves, even when Reconstruction was nominally continuing in the early and mid 1870s? Or we can ask if the US has the right to invade other countries simply to take control of its economy, i.e. Hawaii in 1893. Or we can ask if the federal government has any responsibility at all for people's living and working conditions and then follow that up by nailing them on specific examples of previous disasters such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 where dozens of women died because all the fire exits were locked because the owners didn't want the women workers taking breaks. Nail them over and over on this stuff. Expose that soft white underbelly and then stab it, killing their stupid and blinded historical revisionism.

Of course, for Republicans the real base of their historical view is this: If the Republicans did it, then it was good. Whoever opposes Republican aims at any time is wrong and evil. This brings me to this recent post from Axis of Evel Knievel who links to a Weekly Standard article by Michael Brandon McClellan who claims this:

Prior to the American Civil War, John Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln articulated two very different ideas of equality. Each idea was powerful, and if followed, would lead to radically different outcomes. Calhoun's organizing principle can be boiled down to two words: state sovereignty. He believed in the equality of sovereign political states. In contrast, Lincoln's organizing principle of equality was the idea of individual natural rights. While Lincoln's idea of individual rights triumphed in the United States with the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Constitutional Amendments and the success of the civil rights movement a century later, the Calhoun / Lincoln debate is, in a sense, still blazing in the arena of international law and in the dilemma of the United Nations.

From a perspective of organizing political principles, it is fair to say that above all else, John Calhoun stood for the idea of "entity equality." [snip] For Calhoun, this idea of state equality was the only rational basis of organizing a free society in a stable federal system. No state could infringe upon the rights of another state. For, if state equality was not held sacrosanct and inviolable, then the people of a state could tyrannically infringe upon the rights of the people of another state. There would be no legal principle to stop, for example, the people of Massachusetts from imposing their will upon the people of South Carolina. All that would remain to prevent such imposition would be political and martial power.

First of all, this is the stupidest historical analogy I have ever heard. I have never had a student say anything this out of left field. To compare John C. Calhoun and the United Nations is just inherently stupid. There is no comparison to be made here. But the real comparison is not between Calhoun and the UN, it's the unsaid comparison between Abraham Lincoln and the policies of George W. Bush. Ignoring the fact that Calhoun was dead before Lincoln arrived on the national scene, McClellan implies that the values of the Republican Party under Lincoln and Bush are the same and that the American people has always shared these values. Calhoun was a pro-slavery advocate and the UN wants to put the American people in a condition of slavery by placing their God-Republican government under some sort of international law. Supposedly, like Americans (or at least some) rejected Calhoun's slave state, so will Americans today reject any idea of multilateralism.

Read your history my friends. These are dangerous arguments that we need to fight vigorously and constantly.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Good Summary of the Yankees

From The Daily Blatt comes this perfect summary of everything that is wrong with the New York Yankees:

The NeoCon Revolution in pinstipes and cleated shoes.
Bloated. Lazy. Greedy. Arrogant.
Profoundly unaware of the damage they do.
They epitomize everything that is wrong with America.
A clear refutation of the old adage that you can never look too good or have too much money.

I couldn't put it any better.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

IPods, CDs, and the Future of Music

I think the music corporations' fight against copying music is stupid and ultimately will be fruitless. People are going to continue getting around whatever barriers the corporations put up and download songs to their iPods. What's more interesting to me is what the downloading of songs, as opposed to albums, means for the future of music. There are many songs that stand alone in their own right. You can't tell me that "Idiot Wind", "Silver Wings", or "Me and Bobby McGee" don't stand up under any circumstances. But there is something to the album as a concept that is lost with the downloading of individual songs. Take an album like Ry Cooder's Chavez Ravine. Without the liner notes and listening to the album as a discreet thing, it is impossible to understand what is going on. Will it be possible for artists of the future to tell complex, multi-song stories through their music? Could Drive-By Truckers tell a story of the South as complete as Southern Rock Opera? I worry about the effect of this upon music. No doubt music will survive and great new music will be made. That will always happen so long as humans are living on this planet. But am I alone in thinking that the complete abandonment of the album format leaves us just a little musically poorer?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Could we please get some version of instant replay in baseball? Is there anything worse than seeing a bad call decide a playoff game? Absolutely inexcusable. If the Angels lose this series 4-3, they should sue Major League Baseball.

WTF Of The Day

This story about a mother in Arkansas who just had her 16th child! Naturally the father is an Arkansas politician. This is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Even better is that the Discovery Health Channel filmed the story and will be showing it in the spring. You would think that supposedly being a health channel, the message would be this:

People of America, tonight we will present you something that is the opposite of health. It's the grotesque story of woman who had 16 children and still wants more!

Somehow, I don't think that's going to be their angle.

The Romance of Radium: A Post on Short Films

God, I love old short films. To me, the short films of the 1930s through the 1960s serve much the same function as the silents did and the talkies did before the Hays Code. They give an insight onto the values of the time in a very visceral way. They push certain kind of moral values in a tendentious way that was usually avoided within the real films that followed since those actually had to entertain. It is easy to see why Mystery Science Theater made fun of so many of these shorts--they are hilarious nuggets of absurd gold. I had TIVOed some shorts off of TCM that I watched back to back the other night.

The first set were these 1940s nostalgia trips. Great stuff. The first was an early look at car nostalgia. The narrator was just a baby when his parents bought their first car, which was some kind of 1905 thing. It went through time showing how cars framed our lives and changed the city streets. It was fascinating to see how early car nostalgia reached Americans. Seeing this short was the equivalent of going to the modern-day car show with your grandfather and listening to him spiel about what all of these cars meant to him.

The second short in this set was a piece on a family's Swedish maid off all the damn things in the world. It was the same guy narrating as the first one. It was about his family growing up in the city and hiring a Swedish maid just over from the old country. One thing was particularly striking about this: the story starts off with the woman getting hired as a trial and the father coming home the first night to witness her spraying the boys with a hose as they had been messing with her. She is going to be fired the next day but she cooks her best Swedish food that night and wows the father and they keep her on. Now my question is this: how bad must American food have been in 1900 or whenever this supposedly took place to be completely overwhelmed by Swedish food? Wow. That is totally beyond my comprehension. White American food by all accounts was almost totally inedible to the modern palate even in the early 20th century. Now I have greater insight into this.

The second set revolved around science. The first of these shorts, "The Romance of Radium," which is a great title if I've ever seen one was about the discovery of radium and the early experiments that took place with it. It wasn't all that exciting, despite the title, though there was a good bit on some African kid getting healed by his local tribe through being placed in radium-laced dirt, something that gave the creators of the short a good excuse to film their version of African customs. The second short in that was about Alfred Nobel and was pretty uninteresting I suppose.

The last set came from the late 1960s. The first was one of the creepiest things I'd ever seen for many reasons. It was entitled "All Eyes on Sharon Tate" and was basically a publicity short for Tate after she shot her first movie. So obviously there was a certain element of unintended creepiness built into this. But to make it more creepy, her first film, which I can't remember the title of now, starred David Niven, a creepy guy if there ever was one. To make it worse, when Niven is interviewed about Tate, the first thing he says is, "Well, first of all she's a marvelous looking bird." Which is a great 60s phrase from a really creepy guy. The next best part of this short was Sharon Tate saying she would never want to do something like Shakespeare but she would like to do some light comedy.

The final short was the only one too boring to get through. It was about the 1969 John Frankenheimer film The Gypsy Moths that had a lot of skydiving in it. The short was about the skydiving stunts. To some, no doubt it would have been really interesting. To me, well I just don't care about stuff like that. Plus by that time I had had a few and wasn't really up for paying attention to something that didn't grab me.

None of these matched my favorite short of all time which was about Stephen Foster and was an excuse for blackface and racial stereotypes, but nonetheless these did give a nice overview of bad filmmaking, self-serving moral tales, and Hollywood self-promotion. And what makes better watching than that?

A Belated Post on No Direction Home

I just never got around to writing up what I was planning on Scorsese's No Direction Home, about Bob Dylan, that played on PBS 2 weeks ago. In the blogosphere, 2 weeks is an eternity. For a historian, it's like the second before last.

Overall, I thought this was a solid documentary. However, the less you knew about Dylan before the documentary, the better it probably was for you. Scorsese and the other filmmakers really skated around the bad parts of Dylan. They didn't talk to Ramblin' Jack Elliott and that's a problem because Dylan fucked Jack over like no one's business. Throughout his whole time in New York, Dylan used people up and spit them out when he was done with them. Jack was Dylan's connection to Woody Guthrie. Jack was the first big Woody fan who went on the road playing those songs after Woody stopped. Jack taught Dylan a tremendous amount about music and the history behind that music. Once Dylan had learned those tunes and got to meet Dylan for himself, he left Jack in his dust. Of course, Dylan is a far greater artist that Jack Elliott. Elliott has written about 5 songs in his life. But when Woody Guthrie died in 1967, Dylan organized a tribute show. He left Jack off the program. Jack was able to get his way on through other means but that was just a slap in the face to his old mentor and friend.

The most you got about Dylan being an asshole was from Joan Baez who talked about Dylan leaving her backstage in Europe instead of inviting her to play with him and from Dave Van Ronk who told the story of Dylan stealing his version of "House of the Rising Sun" for an early recording. Dylan did this kind of thing all the time and the hero worship that came through in the documentary did little to give a complete picture of the man's dark side.

Some mention of Dylan's speed use during the entire time of the documentary could have provided a more complete picture as well. I'm not sure that it was absolutely necessary to discuss this, but again, it would have provided a more complete picture of the man.

What was really interesting about the documentary to me was how ultimately unsatisfying 3 1/2 hours were. For as much of an asshole as Bob Dylan can be, most of that 3 1/2 hours was riveting and it left me wanting more. Some discussion of the 70s and 80s might have been most enlightening, particularly his weird move to Christianity in the late 70s, the making of his greatest album, Blood on the Tracks, and the absolute shit that he put out in the 1980s.

Bob Dylan is no doubt one of the greatest musical artists of the 20th century. I think No Direction Home is far from the final word on Dylan. But even with its flaws, it still provided a fascinating look on a great musician and quite disturbing individual. I only wish it would have focused a little more on the second part of that.

Lenin and Historical Memory

This is a bit of an older article now, so perhaps you've seen it, but I found this New York Times article on the debate within Russia over what to do with Lenin's body quite fascinating. I come down quite strongly on the side of leaving the body where it is. This is not because I love Lenin. Nor is it because I want to see him as a nostalgic reminder of a now dead economic and social system. Rather, I think it is necessary to keep that body where it is because it is important to remember Lenin for what he was. Too often, when a new order comes to a society, there is an almost complete erasure of the past. Erasing the past serves a new regime well. By eliminating reminders of the past, it helps lessen the nostalgic pull that symbols have on people and thus helps dampen foment against the new regime. I was just reading a book review of a new work on Catholicism in pre-Henry VIII England that argued this very thing. Henry and then Elizabeth did all they could to destroy all vestiges of Catholic England and replace it with a religion subservient to the state. Today, we know very little about English Catholicism and this is a shame.

I am happy that Russia so far as not gone down this path. It is important to remember the Soviet past for so many reasons. It's important to remember the cult of personality that dominated the Soviet Union. It's important to remember the bad things that Lenin caused. It's important to remember the person who spurred Soviet industrialization. It's important to remember the Brezhnev years and why people eventually rejected Soviet-style communism. Getting rid of his body may satisfy a gut urge in many to have their way with the body of a horrid tyrant but other than this primal action, what would it accomplish? Russia needs constant reminders of its history and Lenin, if he does nothing else at this point, provides that.

Matt, for good reason, presumably disagrees with this perspective.

Nathan Newman Preaches The Word on Harriet Miers

In the best reason I have seen so far for Democrats to fight against the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, Nathan Newman argues that her pro-corporation tendencies far outweigh the possible centrism on some social issues.

I'm still not sure at all that Democrats should oppose Miers at this point for the sole reason that it's better to let Republicans fight amongst themselves. And I still don't think that any nominee is going to be better than Miers, either on corporate issues or social issues. But Newman does highlight perhaps the greatest weakness of the Democratic Party today, which is ignoring economic issues. Sure Democrats talk about economics during election time and sure they opposed Bush's social security plan. But what is the Democratic program on economic issues? Where do they really differ with Republicans on the role of corporations in American society? On outsourcing? There is no question that there are serious differences between Democrats and Harriet Miers on economic issues. It is conceivable certainly that a Roberts court that includes Miers could witness a rollback in minimum wage legislation and of the few remaining effective pro-labor laws in this country. And that is a good reason to oppose to her.

I guess my greater concern past the Miers nomination is what the Democratic position is on economic issues. What's the message to give to working-class voters? Hell, the party rarely even talks about the working-class anymore. How often did you hear the words "middle-class" come from the Kerry campaign? How often did they discuss the "working-class?" The difference was significant. So what has replaced economic issues at the core of the Democratic Party? Social libertarianism and opposing the use of the US military under almost any circumstances. While the need to preserve the remnants of Roe v. Wade, to fight for equality for gays, and to fight against the war in Iraq are paramount, I have to believe that it is necessary to wrap all of this up in an economic framework in order to rebuild a winning political coalition. Newman rightfully is angry that Democrats are giving Miers a free pass without even examining her positions on business and labor. I, and presumably Newman as well, see this as emblematic of the problems within the Democratic Party today.

Monday, October 10, 2005

A Stunning Reversal?

From this New York Times story about the dashing of liberal hopes that Hurricane Katrina would lead to a serious discussion of poverty and renewed commitment to social programs.

"We've had a stunning reversal in just a few weeks," said Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal advocacy group in Washington. "We've gone from a situation in which we might have a long-overdue debate on deep poverty to the possibility, perhaps even the likelihood, that low-income people will be asked to bear the costs. I would find it unimaginable if it wasn't actually happening."

Wow. Are progressives still, after these last nearly 5 years, so naive as to believe that the Republicans will not press their agenda at every opportunity? Are we still not prepared to counter this? None of this should have come as a surprise. Not the suspension of affirmative action requirements for contractors. Not the push by Congress for spending cuts in social programs to offset the cost of the relief effort. This shock is just so frustrating.

On the other hand, it is not as the conservatives come off well here either. See this closing paragraph from the article:

"What we've done for the poor hasn't worked," said Robert L. Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, a conservative policy group. "People are going to say, 'How did these people get into this circumstance in the first place?' It gives us an opportunity to really turn over a new leaf."

How did the poor get there in the first place? Well, considering that many of them are black, I would say that 250 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow, followed by the Republicans' Southern Strategy that looked to marginalize the poor and people of color from an entire party would have something to do with it. Does Woodson really believe that the Great Society made people poor? Or does he think that if he and other conservatives say this shit enough, people will believe it.

So on one side you have people whose hearts are in the right place but still maintain a naive view of the evils of the Republican Party and the current political outlook in America. And on the other side you have a bunch of lying bastards looking to screw over the poor at every turn. Lovely.

Evil Vanquished

Fuck the Yankees!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Seriously, it is so great to see those bastards lose for the 5th straight year. K-Rod getting Fuck-Rod to hit into a double play in the 9th was particularly sweet.

Notice that the Yankees haven't won the World Series since Bush took office. I have to believe there is a reason for this. It would simply mean there was too much evil in the world. God has to maintain some kind of control over Satan. When Bush won, it just couldn't happen that the Yankees could win too. Humanity still has hope.

Haloscan Problems

Over the past few weeks I am not able to look at more and more comments on blogs that use Haloscan. I can still look at my own and some others, but more and more I cannot. I don't have this trouble at my work computer or my office computer in Albuquerque. Does anyone have any idea why this is happening?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Harriet Miers

As I mentioned when Roberts was nominated, I am not the person to read for insightful legal analysis. However, after reading a lot of perspectives on the blogosphere (even conservatives!), I have a couple of comments.

1. We can't expect a good nominee from this president. Given that, we have to have realistic expectations of what we can expect. Miers no doubt is bad, but I ask this question. Would you rather have a weak conservative justice or a strong conservative justice? I would much rather have Harriet Miers than Priscilla Owen, Michael Luttig, or another conservative intellectual that will not only ally themselves with Thomas and Scalia on votes, but also as active and effective philosophers of right-wing judicial activism. I don't think Miers has the ability to do this. From this president, I'll accept that.

2. Anything that is causing this much consternation among the Republican base must be good. We won't know for awhile just how conservative Miers is. What we can hope for in the meantime is some increased hostility toward Bush from his base. That would be lovely. I don't expect it. I expect that the power brokers will rally around Miers and sell her to the loony right. But I can hope, can't I?

3. If Democrats ally themselves with the Sam Brownbacks and Tom Coburns of the Senate to reject Miers, what would happen? Would we get a better nominee? Or would the answer be Alberto Gonzales or Owen? I would be very angry if they got on the court. Sometimes incompetence is the best you can ask for. And my friends, Harriet Miers is likely to be exhibit A of incompetence coming from the Bush administration.

4. Some progressives are saying that we should filibuster Miers if we can, just to do it. I really have trouble seeing what that accomplishes unless we can find information showing that she is even more awful than the average Bush nominee. Because if she is rejected, there is no question that the next nominee gets through with all the conservatives on board.

5. Other progressives are saying that they would rather see a principled conservative like Scalia rather than an incompetent one like Miers. I simply cannot understand this. Is it because active progressives think a great deal of principles in general and therefore have a certain amount of respect mixed with hatred for Scalia? For me, I would like to have a principled liberal more than anything. Then I'd rather have an incompetent liberal. But if I have to choose between an incompetent conservative and Scalia, I'm taking the incompetence. Miers' potential to do damage is far less than Scalia.

See Scott for more perceptive analysis of this issue that I can give.

Nick and Jessica Are Over! What Am I To Do?

With the tragic news that Nick and Jessica may be breaking up, I'm very confused. Without them, what other celebrity couple will I not give a shit about? Tom and Katie? Britney and that dude? Ben and Jennifer? My God, I need that important celebrity couple to not give a shit about or I will lose my sense of self.

Any suggestions on which of these celebrity couples should take over that role of me not giving a shit about? Should I give less of a shit about one of these over the others? I really need your help.

Bush's Second Term--A Scorecard

Let's see. What has gone right for Bush since he won in November and what has gone wrong for him?

John Roberts

Social Security privatization (don't hear too much about that one these days. Wonder why?)
Katrina Response and Michael Brown
Oil Prices
Conservatives angry over nomination of Harriet Miers
Indictment of Tom DeLay
Valerie Plame case
Declining approval ratings
Bill Frist stock improprieties

What I am forgetting here? Regardless of whether I have forgotten anything major, it is clear that the second term has been little short of a disaster for W. The sad part? I still think that despite all of these clear indications that Bush is a terrible president and a horrible leader, he would win reelection over most any major Democratic candidate. I'm not sure if this says more about the zombie-like loyalty of the Republican base or the lackluster nature of Democratic candidates. Anyway, let's keep hoping for more negatives. Because this just keeps getting richer and richer.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Alexander Hamilton on Miers-esque Nominees

Via TPM Cafe.

"[The President] would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure."

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 76

There is nothing more to be said.

Maybe I Just Don't Trust Science Like I Should, But This Is A Bit Disconcerting

Read these short and not-so-short pieces about scientists reconstructing the deadly 1918 influenza virus. This particularly was far from reassuring:

REST ASSURED: The public health risk of resurrecting the virus is minimal because people developed immunity to the deadly 1918 virus after the pandemic, and a certain degree of immunity is believed to persist today.

Oh well--"a certain degree of immunity." So what is that degree? 100%? 2%? Somehow I'd like to know that if we are going to reconstruct one of the most deadly viruses in human history that we had some clue about just how much immunity we had to this thing.

Also, see Lawyers, Guns, and Money for a discussion of Bush's proposal to allow the military to enforce quarantines. This sounds like about the worst idea I could possibly imagine. Because nervous uneducated kids who are scared of getting a disease they don't understand and have guns in their hands make me feel real scared.

Paul Pena, RIP

Most people only know Paul Pena from his appearance in Genghis Blues, the excellent documentary about Pena's travels to Tuva in order to sing with the Tuvan throat singers. And that's fine since that's where I know him from. He also wrote "Jet Airliner" which Steve Miller made a hit of. Despite the fact that Steve Miller was involved, it's really not that bad of a song. What I am interested in on Pena's death was not his own music, which was a kind of laid-back West Coast hippie version of the blues, nor even the Tuvan singers which were interested. I'm not even really going to talk about the complex issue of Pena going over there and winning the big Tuvan throat-singer competition, which I'm sure he won because the audience was amazed he was over there rather than him being significantly better than the other singers.

What I am interested in is the Paul Pena in the film. Never before have I seen such powerful evidence on what blindness does to your emotions and your psyche. Pena lived on his own thanks to his royalties from "Jet Airliner" but his movement was highly restricted as you can imagine. But his blindness, in addition to other illnesses that eventually killed him, sent him spiraling into deep depression that was sad to watch on the film. So may Paul Pena rest in more peace that he did in life.

Here's To Good Friends

One of the hardest part about my wife being in Houston is that I have trouble dealing with being alone for very long. In an ideal world, I would be with other people and having conservations with those people the whole day, except for maybe the early morning when a little alone time to wake up is nice. I don't know why this is. I think that loving conversation is part of it. But I get lonely pretty quick without being around people. Who knows why.

Anyway, I consider myself extremely lucky that I have such great friends. It is they who are keeping me sane during this period. I owe a particular thanks to my friends in Albuquerque who have allowed me to crash at their places after nights of fun and who have listened to me talk about all sorts of things that are probably boring to them.

I generally have found the most wonderful friends in my life. To me friends are far more important than family (wife excluded) because I choose my friends whereas families seem like a joke from God who just throws random people together to see what happens. Perhaps this is a reflection upon my own family more than others, who knows, but it's how I feel about it.

So raise a glass to your friends and tell them how you really feel about them. I'm at work so I'm raising my nalgene bottle to them. Later, I'll buy them all drinks.

Fuck Martin Chavez

The well-thought out, reasoned, and respectable title of this post comes from my reaction to local Albuquerque elections yesterday. Martin Chavez, a Democrat of Lieberman-esque stripes, won re-election yesterday with widespread Republican support. The real Democrats came out for city councilman Eric Griego but it wasn't enough to stop Chavez from getting the 40% he needed to gain reelection without a run-off. Chavez is the worst kind of politician. He has a layer of sleaze on him that is so thick you would need an ice pick to chisel it off. He is vindictive and nasty. He has made it a personal cause of his to end all-age shows in downtown Albuquerque, even though that is the only interesting thing to do downtown at night if you don't like bars that are basically corporate chain-bars and serve as meat markets. Albuquerque should be basing its downtown redevelopment on Austin. Instead, Chavez seems to like the San Diego model better, where we attract yuppies who spend a lot of money but who don't actually contribute to making the place interesting.

Furthermore, Chavez did not support the living wage ordinance, which also went down to defeat yesterday. Quite a Democrat here, a man who does not support raising the minimum wage to a whole $7.50 and $4.50 for tipped employees. No doubt that kind of wage rates would put thousands of small business owners out of business. If that is true, may my hand fall off now. Hmmm, it still seems to be attached to my arm.

What is frustrating about living wage ordinances can be summed up from this comment on the issue from m-pyre.

How is raising min wage going to solve the poverty problem:All it's going to do is make me pay more for stuff. As usual, the middle class get screwed. I went to college and care about my future and career, too bad many others don't. And shame on you for condoning this.

How do you fight against this kind of attitude? People have bought whole hog into the idea that government interference in the economy destroys the middle-class and causes inflation and other economic problems. What is so frustrating is that so much historical evidence points to the exact opposite result of government intrusion into the economy. Not only does this guy place the blame on the poor for their own poverty and assume that if you don't go to college that you don't care about your future, but he laughably assumes that a wage of $7.50 an hour will lead to inflation and screw him over. I say it is laughable, but really it's not--it's sad, frustrating, and exasperating.

As are Albuquerque politics.

Black Indians

A student of mine loaned me her issue of Wired magazine, which I had never read before, because it had a story about black Indians, something that I guess I had made a reference to in a lecture. Here's the link to Brandon Koerner's article.

Black Indians present an extremely complex issue in America's crazy race relations. Here's some of the facts and my opinions.

1. The "Five Civilized Tribes" were happy to pick up the practice of African slavery to work their cotton fields. In fact, many fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy.

2. The Seminole nation is heavily black because many slaves from southern Georgia and northern Florida used the Florida swamps as a place to escape too, where they were taken in by the local Indians. This was especially possible when Florida was still owned by Spain.

3. Intermarriage has always taken place between Indians and peoples of other races. There are pure-blood Indians, but really not all that many.

4. The United States government has played a big role in creating this insanity because from the Dawes Act of 1887 came the idea of "blood quantum." Blood quantum was how the government determined who was "Indian" and who was not. It depended upon how much Indian blood that one had. If you are 1/8 Indian, you are no longer Indian. Related to this is that a person can only register as being a member of one tribe with the tribal governments and thus the federal government. Money from the federal government often depends upon the number of people in a tribe. Thus there is great pressure on mixed-Indian Indians to register with one tribe or another, even though in their hearts they embrace both traditions. Here's some interesting commentary on blood quantum issues. Here's a petition to get the BIA to reverse this policy.

5. Making this even more complicated is the relations between Indian nations and the federal government. Obviously, for most of American history the federal government has looked to exploit Indian peoples at every turn. But over recent years, the feds have seen the light of day and have increasingly allowed Indians to govern themselves with minimal federal interference. This has only grown since the passage of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which led to the rise of Indian casinos and serious economic power for many peoples. Now the government has to reckon with Indian economic power if they want to take them on. And as we all know, money matters more than anything. What does this mean? That is it going to be very hard for the federal government to enforce their idea of blood quantum on Native Americans. First, do they care enough to? Second, do they want to spend the resources to do so?

6. In any case, is it the role of the federal government to determine who is Indian and who is not? Wouldn't doing so just reinforce the exploitation of Indian peoples by the federal government and undermine the autonomy that many of us find great value in? I don't see how the government enforces this without it being easily interpreted as another example of colonialism. This is true regardless of what is actually fair and right in this case.

7. As to what is fair and right--clearly the black Indians are completely in the right. By any reasonable standard, many of these people should be considered Indians with full rights. Why aren't they. Several reasons. Greed is huge. With increased economic power has come great greed among the leaders of some tribes. Making membership inclusive of all those who are actually Indians would mean sharing the wealth. Can't have that. Also, we should not underestimate the snakepit that is tribal politics. It makes the machinations of Washington look down right tame. The level of corruption and nepotism in Indian politics is unbelievable. It may well be that many of the people of these various tribes would be happy to include their darker-skinned relatives in the tribe. But that will never pass the tribal leadership. Theoretically tribal governments are usually elected. But cheating, intimidation, and bribery are very common. So on most reservations there is a pretty big disconnect between leaders and people and a great deal of disillusionment and fatalism among the average tribal member.

8. Finally, we should discuss the relationships between Native Americans and history a bit. As we know, history can be a powerful political tool. This is particularly true in the modern age when increased respect for Native Americans and other minority groups has made America listen to their stories. The only problem is that there is great hesitation to challenge these stories when they are false or misleading. It doesn't serve the interest of the Oklahoma tribes to talk about their slave-owning past. So they don't. Admitting these black Indians to the tribe would make the slave past central to their history. They know that's not the image they want to portray.

If we take all of these causes and factors together, I think we should realize a couple of things. First, that racial problems in this country are far from black and white, literally and figuratively. They are tremendously complex in ways that most of us don't even think about. Second, there are no easy answers here. History, politics, and money all get in the way of fairness. Third, God bless anyone who wades into this quagmire to try and solve these problems.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


In this story about how people are dealing with gas prices, we have this quote:

"We have stopped spending on things that aren't necessities, and we've been forced to halve our grocery bill. The kids no longer get fresh fruit or vegetables and no longer get turkey sandwiches. Now we buy only canned goods and the cheapest lunch meat possible. With the price of gas up, everything else is up... except for our wages."
-- Christine

Now I understand that a lot of people are poor and that any rise in prices makes it tougher for a family to survive. But I have to confess that this sounds to me like America at its worst. Here we seem to have Christine making a concious decision to place driving over buying decent food for her family. No doubt Christine is not a wealthy woman. But are Americans so adverse to carpooling that they are willing to sacrifice nutrition for driving? Or do we just not even know what carpooling is?

The Decline and Fall of Herbie Hancock

I was in Starbucks the other day. I don't go in there real often, but when I do I always look and see what kind of music they are offering for sale. I find this interesting because they are essentially offering a soundtrack to the lives of yuppies who see music as wallpaper.

Today, I was saddened but not shocked to see a CD of Herbie Hancock playing with special guests. Now it's been at least 20 years since Hancock has done any music that can be considered vital. Most of it is fairly dispensable though not really bad. In any case, its mostly less urgent and interesting versions of the same kind of music that he was making as far back as the mid 1960s. This doesn't bother me so much because it is really hard for artists to keep up the intensity and creativity in their music for a lifetime. The duet CDs are a really bad sign for these artists. This is when you know that it is really over and there vitality is never coming back. And this CD had many of the kind of usual suspects that you would expect on such a CD. You know, Hancock playing with Sting, Paul Simon, etc.

What really got me about this CD was a duet with Herbie Hancock and Christiana Aguilera. Are there any circumstances where I would want to listen to a duet between these two? The answer is no. I shudder at the thought of this. And I wonder what the Herbie Hancock of 1970 would think of this. Somehow I think he'd be as disappointed as I am.

Alice Munro

After Philip Roth finally wins the Nobel for literature (hopefully this week!), I am going to be pulling for the Canadian writer Alice Munro. Take this exchange from her story "Apples and Oranges" out of her collection Friend of My Youth.

Murray fell in love with her then, if he was not in love already. Here is a noble girl, he thought. A bold black-and-white lily out of the Swamp Irish--Lorna Doone with a rougher tongue and a stronger spine. Mother won't like her, he thought. (About that he was entirely right.) He was happier than he'd been at any time since he lost his faith. (That was an unsatisfactory way of putting it. It was more as if he'd come into a closed-off room or opened a drawer and found that his faith had dried up, turned to a mound of dust in the corner.)

He always said that he made up his mind at once to get Barbara, but he used no tactics beyond an open display of worship. A capacity for worship had been noticeable in him all through his school days, along with his good nature and a tendency to befriend underdogs. But he was sturdy enough--he had enough advantages of his own--that it hadn't got him any serious squelching. Minor squelches he was able to sustain.

Barbara refused to ride on a float as the Downtown Merchants' contestant for the Queen of the Dominion Day Parade.

"I absolutely agree with you," said Murray. "Beauty contests are degrading."

"It's the paper flowers," said Barbara. "They make me sneeze."

That's just some great writing. Munro is so good at exploring the kind of delusions that we live under and the ways we try too hard at the things we do. She also, and I can't really describe this well, has a way of putting a little twist at the end of stories, a fact or seemingly slight plot development, that completely changes the way you think about the story and the characters. I understand that Munro is read a lot in Canada, but not much in the US. Hopefully that changes soon.