Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Absurd Texts of American History (V, d): Paul Harvey

This ends our investigations into the absurdity of Paul Harvey's book, You Said It, Paul Harvey, complied by Mrs. Harvey.

Part I.
Part II.
Part III.

Today, I present his masterpiece, "The Cannibal Society"

The Cannibal Society

"America has become a cannibal society, devouring its best.

The competents, numerically outnumbered by the incompetents, are being corralled, restrained, confined and milked like barnyard cattle.

The giants who created our skyscraper civilizations are now ordered to obey Lilliputian bureaucrats.

Common men--who owe their jobs to uncommon men who create jobs--gang together to shackle their providers.

Americans are becoming congenital dependents. Even as loafing relatives extort a livelihood by claiming they have a "right" to your money--so today eight million homegrown moochers, insist that you are responsible for their welfare!

Thus we subsidize promiscuous mothers and their illegitimate babies and lazy featherbedders and goldbricking government payrollers...while we penalize the strong, the purposeful, the productive with disproportionate burdens of taxes, pressures, red tape.

We praise ventures which are "non-profit" and grant them tax advantages and social acceptance, yet we damn the men who make the profits and make the "non-profit" ventures possible.

Americans want to keep the electric lights and destroy the generators.

What if the men of brains and initiative and industry should go on strike? It happened once. The Dark Ages were a period of stagnation when men of exceptional ability gave up, figured "what's the use," even went underground--for a thousand years.

Ayn Rand, author of "Atlas Shrugged," thinks it may have to happen that way again.

Dr. Charles Mayo says, "I know of no individual, no nation, that ever did anything worthwhile on a five-day week."

Already many American industrialists are turning the keys on their corporations and going to Florida--either part-time or full-time--to become nonproductive beachcombers.

Curiously, Russia is beginning to reward the uncommon men. Soviet scholar, Vadim A. Trapeznikov--not without Kremlin sanction--is now referring to the Soviet system as "obsolete." He says Russia's economy must now rely on the "more productive profit motive."

We, on the other hand, continue to play the democratic con game which pretends that all men are equal and that anybody who demonstrates any inequality should be punished for it.

Any insolent beggar can wave his sores in your face and plead for help in the tone of a threat. You are expected to feel "guilty" for having more than he.

Any barefoot bum from the pestholes of Asia or Africa cries out, "How dare you be rich!" and we beg him to be patient and we promise to give it all away as fast as possible.

The economic creed of "enlightened selfishness" which made our nation the powerhouse of this planet has been so maligned that it now sounds like heresy when I say:

Any man who claims you own him a living is a cannibal. Whether foreign or domestic, he is a cannibal.

If you choose to help him, that is one thing.

If he demands your "help" as his "right," he is a leech, a sycophant, a parasite. He is a cannibal seeking to survive by consuming you."

Good Day!

Historical Image of the Day

Illustration from ex-Louisiana slave Henry Bibb's Narrative of the Life of Henry Bibb, an American Slave, Written by Himself. 1849.

Taken Care OF???!!!!!!

Having been away from the Internets for 5 days, I missed this the first time around, but hopefully it will make its way around the country and create some outrage (and thanks to d for this).

Things that Crack Me Up in Brazil (I): Automatic Transmissions

This is the first in a series of erratic posts on daily things I absolutely get a kick out of in Brazil, and I couldn't start with a better entry.

Like most of the rest of the world, automatic transmission cars are incredibly hard to come by. Standard is so common that almost nobody knows anything about automatic (take, for example, a car commercial advertising one of the first major automatic-transmission cars here, which plays on the joke about people learning stick by showing drivers in said car lurching as if it wer stick, and uncertain how to put it in reverse or get it out of park).

This unfamiliarity with automatics can lead to hilarious daily conversations, like the one I heard two weeks ago. A few men were sitting around, discussing these new cars in Brazil, and talking about what they had heard about automatics. One solemnly declared that one of his friends who would "know about such things" had said that you had to accelerate with your right foot and brake with your left. He and his friends were puzzling over how you were supposed to drive while using the left foot to brake.

I just couldn't let this mystery remain a secret, so I politely informed them that I've driven automatic my whole life, and that's the beauty of the car - you don't use your left foot at all, and especially not for braking. I told them that some standard-transmission owners occasionally try to hit the clutch-that-isn't-there in an automatic with their left foot, but that in no means do you brake with said foot. This seemed to put their minds at ease, but left me wondering what other myths of automatics might be making their way around here...


Sadly, even though Marty Peretz has sold his remaining share of The New Republic, he will not be retiring to go and volunteer with traumatized children in Gaza. As part of the deal, Peretz will retain the title of editor in chief (and, of course, retain the shiny satin bowling jacket which identifies him as such) and continue to contribute to the magazine in the print edition and, Michael Calderone writes, in "his pugnacious blog, The Spine." Pugnacious, right. In the same way that Ann Coulter is "flamboyant" or Professor Griff was "outspoken."

I guess I understand Marty's requirements here. There's no way he would be able to wait for his semi-annual Wall Street Journal op-ed (for which he's usually brought in to bash some Democrat or Democratic initiative) for the opportunity to reiterate, once again, his view that Arabs are subhuman, their culture stinks, and Palestinian identity is just another word for Jew hatred. Peretz's kind of obsessive bigotry requires a regular forum to be properly and satisfyingly indulged, which, come to think of it, is probably what led him to buy TNR in the first place. Boy, times have sure changed since then (fade in harmonica, creaking of rocking chair.) Back in the 70's, in order to get published in a prominent political magazine you had to work hard, write well, and have something interesting to say. That, or marry someone with enough money to buy you your own prominent political magazine. Here in the future, we possess all kinds of new and wonderful tools which enable us to participate in political conversation in ways that our forebears couldn't have imagined. Broadcasting one's obsessions and advertising one's prejudices is now no longer the sole purview of trained journalists and wealthy cranks.

Andrew Sullivan marks the end of an era with a single tear rolling down his cheek. I can understand that Sullivan has warm feelings for Peretz because Sullivan began his career at TNR, but I wonder whether he would have written such praise for Peretz if, for the past several decades, Peretz's bile and loathing had been directed at homosexuals and gay culture, rather than Arabs and Arab culture?

Eric Alterman has more.

Wednesday Kung Fu Blogging

Iron Monkey. The Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung is portrayed as a child, travelling with his father Wong Kei-ying, played by the excellent Donnie Yen, directed and choreographed by Yuen Wo-ping.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging: Jeannette Rankin

Not entirely forgotten, Jeannette Rankin deserves more attention than she gets. A fascinating woman, mostly known for her vote against the United States entering World War II, she also led fights against other wars, was an important suffragist in the Pacific Northwest, and kept the left wing of progressive ideology alive well into the 1970s.

Born in Montana in 1880, Rankin attended the University of Washington where she became interested in social work, like many young women of her day. She moved to New York and did some work in that field, but moved back to Washington and by 1910 was fighting for the successful vote for suffrage in that state. She did the same in her home state of Montana in 1914. She parleyed her regional fame into a seat in the House of Representatives from Montana in 1916. She was the first woman to be elected to that body, four years before women could vote across the nation. She soon lost that seat however, because she voted against American entry into World War I. This was unpopular, but ultimately many people opposed American involvement. They were swept away in the hysteria following our entry, but in the long run, their views were respected by many Americans. Like many a politician, Rankin's views turned as she was savagely attacked in the media and by many of her fellow suffragists. Thereafter, she supported the draft and Liberty Bonds. She lost in the Republican primary in 1918 for the US Senate.

Again, like many a politician, after she left electoral office, she stayed in Washington, D.C., working as a lobbyist. Working largely for women's issues, she urged the passage of Sheppard-Towner Act, which provided federal money for the welfare of women and children. The bill passed in 1921, though it faced constant criticism from conservatives and was repealed in 1929. She also played a key early role with the American Civil Liberties Union, serving as its first Vice-President. She worked with the National Consumers' League, which used consumer pressure to improve the conditions of workers. She was a leading member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. And she allied herself closely with the settlement house movement still going strong in the interwar years. She also began spending much of her time on a farm in rural Georgia and worked against all odds for progressive causes there.

Rankin still had the itch for electoral office and in 1940 was again elected to the House from Montana. However, like her first term, her tenure was dominated by her pacifism. Again, the United States entered a foreign war. But unlike World War I, virtually no one opposed World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But Rankin voted with her conscience and against US entry, the only member of Congress to do so. Not surprisingly, this killed her political career and she didn't even bother to run for reelection in 1942, knowing that she had no chance of winning.

After the war, Rankin remained active in political life. She supported the non-violent doctrines of Martin Luther King. Well into her 80s, she was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam. In 1968, she led a march of 5000 women, the Jeanette Rankin Brigade, to the steps of Congress to protest the war. She died in 1973 and left her estate to fund poor women, which it continues to do today.

A remarkable woman, Rankin is probably the most admirable figure to come out of Montana (though Gary Cooper is close of course). I often object to the Progressives on multiple levels, but it is hard to attack Rankin. Was her vote on World War II right? No. Perhaps if she had to cast the deciding vote, she would have come down differently, though I doubt it. But she stood by her pacifist principles, and they are good principles, if perhaps utopian. Throughout her long career, she also worked to further the rights of women, something almost totally forgotten about her today. Rankin deserves further study. Moreover, she has much to teach modern liberals. We can learn from her, and we should.

Perhaps the best book on Rankin is Norma Smith, Jeannette Rankin, America's Conscience, published by the Montana Historical Society in 2002. An interesting take on the subject is a book about her brother Wellington Rankin, Wellington Rankin: His Family, Life, and Times. It's a small book published by a local press but nonetheless provides a useful perspective on Jeannette and her family.

Historical Image of the Day

Louisiana slaveholder, Mexican War general, and 12th president of the United States--Zachary Taylor

The Arab Blogosphere

Bitterlemons has a very interesting series of essays on blogging in the Arab world.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Absurd Texts in American History (V, c): Paul Harvey

Time for another selection from Paul Harvey's classic text, You Said It, Paul Harvey. Complied by Mrs. Paul Harvey.

Liberals Trying to "Capture" Nixon

"When Conservatives lose an election they rush to congratulate the victor, retreat to lick their wounds, and wait until next time.

When Liberals lose an election, they "offer every assistance" and try to stake out for themselves at least one corner of the White House desk from where they exert continuing influence on the incumbent.

As they moved in on Eisenhower, they are now seeking to "assist" President Nixon in his appointments and decisions.

Traveling, it is difficult for me to pass a news stand without perusing the editorial pages to see what issues are of most local concern.

Inevitably I peek at my own column to see my name in print. Recently, characteristically, these columns have subscribed to the President's suggestion that we "pull our country together."

But elsewhere on the editorial pages and in prominent national periodicals I read so many liberal pundits who are already hard at work trying to pull Mr. Nixon over into their corner.

This is not intended as criticism of colleagues; I am criticizing me. So starting now I'm going to be a little less pull-together and a little more pull-away from those sore losers.

Mr. Nixon owes the Rockefeller-eastern-liberal-establishment nothing! They fought him at the Convention and they helped him not at all during the election. Nixon lost New York, and New England this election by a greater margin than when he lost it to John Kennedy.

On the other hand, those Conservatives who did deliver Ohio and Illinois and all those southern border states to Mr. Nixon--those to whom he truly owes his selection--deserve much consideration.

Recent days I hear and read so many seeking to convince the new President that he "has a mandate to adopt many Humphrey programs"--and perhaps appoint Humphrey to his official family--"because the election was so close." Rubbish. Kennedy "squeeked" in and nobody questioned his "mandate."

"Nixon must shift to the left," another insists.

Significantly, many demand that Nixon turn his back on the Deep South which voted against him but none I have read says he should reject the Manhattan Islanders who rejected him.

The post-convention Nixon-Rockefeller shotgun wedding was an understandable political expedient.

Indeed, I am sure Mr. Nixon is genuinely determined to try to keep his party together and pull our country together.

This will necessarily require some accomodation. [sic]

My fear now is that he will listen to the concerted voice of his enemies to the subsequent neglect of his friends.

It is because Mr. Nixon's historic image is "conservative" that the liberals are now making such a concerted effort to influence him thataway.

It will be easiest for him to yield rather than suffer the criticism which the eastern liberals are able to mobilize against any who dare to oppose them.

Mr. Nixon, therefore, is going to need all the encouragement he can get to stand by what most voters considered to be his own personal principles.

Whatever other interpretation anybody tries to put on the returns from the recent election, this fact is incontrovertible: The liberal ism was rejected. In fact, by the combined Nixon-Wallace turnout, it was overwhelmed."

Good Day!

A New Look

Thanks to Matt, this blog no longer looks like shit.

We are also back on Haloscan comments as well. Matt rocks.

Historical Image of the Day

From Wednesday to Saturday, I will be in Louisiana for a conference. So this week, the images will all be Louisiana based.
Huey Long

Does Quoting Israeli Human Rights Organizations Constitute "Legitimate" Criticism?

Earlier this month James Kirchick challenged the idea that Israel supporters stifle debate about the Israel-Palestine issue in the U.S. by charging Israel's critics with anti-Semitism. Kirchick wrote:

When prodded to identify an instance in which legitimate criticism of Israel has been labeled “anti-Semitic,” the promoters of this meme come up with nothing.

I'm curious to find out who, exactly, Kirchick "prodded," as his claim disintegrates on contact with Google. Then again, I have to wonder what criticism of Israel might be considered "legitimate" by a protege of Marty "Jimmy Carter is a Jew-hater" Peretz? Kirchick may want to check out Anne Bayefsky's condemnation of the UN Human Rights Council's report on Israeli human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which is a classic of the genre.

As with much of what emanates from the Israelphile right on this issue, the piece is characterized by the author's complete inability to grasp the idea that the Israeli occupation, and the humiliation, harassment, and violence which it visits daily upon its Palestinian subjects, fuels hatred of Israel, and of Jews, and that that hatred, in turn, fuels violence and terrorism. The UN's anti-Semitism is simply taken for granted by Bayefsky, and thus statements about the brutality and the racist nature of the occupation, which are a common feature of the debate within Israel, magically become "anti-Semitic" when published in a UN document. (Nearly all of the violations listed in the report have already been copiously documented by Israeli human rights organizations.)

Bayefsky's screed is a veritable gift basket of logical fallacies, the kind that William F. Buckley was fond of calling down, but which are now simply tools of the trade for the gang at National Review. I had to re-read this bit a few times:
The ultimate carrying-card of U.N.-driven anti-Semitism is to blame the Jewish state for the world’s ills. Dugard exemplifies this most dangerous of canards. He reports:

For years the occupation of Palestine and apartheid in South Africa vied for attention from the international community. In 1994, apartheid came to an end…the OPT has become a test for the West, a test by which its commitment to human rights is to be judged. If the West fails this test, it can hardly expect the developing world to address human rights violations seriously in its own countries...

Thus the U.N. inverts right and wrong. Why should Sudan stop genocide? It’s waiting for the Jews to repent or the Jewishness of Israel to be terminated. Why should Zimbabwe stop murdering and starving its own people, white and black? Why should China grant anybody freedom of speech? Why should Saudi Arabia let women out of the house alone or into any driver’s seat? Why should Egypt stop the mutilation of the genitals of the majority of its married female population? They’re all waiting for a solution to the Jewish state problem.

Frankly, it's difficult to grapple with argumentation this sloppy and dishonest. Bayefsky's claim that the report "blames the Jewish state for the world’s ills" is unsupported by even the most ungenerous reading. Dugard's report is premised on the notion that Israel should be held to international human rights conventions which Israerl has signed and claims to uphold, and that the failure of Western democracies to end Israeli oppression of the Palestinians has had a negative effect on our ability to promote human rights elsewhere. Fairly simple stuff, really. Rather than face, or even bother to dispute, the report's exhaustively documented conclusion that Israel consistently and miserably fails to meet human rights standards in its treatment of the Palestinians, Bayefsky libels Dugard as an anti-Semite, and then points to authoritarian abuses in countries with authoritarian governments, as if they somehow excused or mitigated the Israeli government's own abuses.

We have the requisite outrage over the use of the term "apartheid." I've written before that I think Jimmy Carter's use of the term in his book's title was probably a bad idea, given the distraction that it has predictably become from the book's important and substantive points about Palestinian life under Israeli military rule. That isn't to say that the term in not appropriate. Whatever justifications Israel may have for continuing the occupation, there's little doubt that the experience of Palestinians under that occupation has been very much like South African apartheid. If Israeli policy toward its Palestinian subjects is less explicitly racist in theory than the white South African government's toward black South Africans, which I think is disputable, it has been no less so in application.

Bayefsky saves her real indignation, though, for the report's statements on the ongoing "Judaization" of Palestinian areas:
What Dugard fears most is not hate and the terrorism it fuels, but “Judaization” — the idea of a Jew living in claimed Arab land. Deliberately mirroring Nazi imagery, his report refers to Israel’s security fence this way: “The Wall being built in East Jerusalem is an instrument of social engineering designed to achieve the Judaization of Jerusalem…”

Once again, Bayefsky condemns as "anti-Semitic" conclusions which are not in dispute by serious observers. It's important to understand what we're talking about here: "Judaization" is not, as Bayefsky disingenuously claims, simply "the idea of a Jew living in claimed Arab land." Judaization involves the changing of the demographic and cultural character of Israeli-controlled Palestinian territory through the expropriation of Arab land, the transfer of ownership into Jewish hands, and the transfer of Jewish colonists into that land. This is done through a variety of administrative and military procedures, but let's be clear about this: The Judaization of Palestinian East Jerusalem and key sections of the West Bank is the goal of Israeli policy. If that sounds ugly, it's because it is ugly, for none more than the Palestinian Arabs who have to face it every day, and whose lives and society have been subjugated and brutalized by it for the last forty years.

I encourage you to read and decide for yourself whether the report "epitomizes the foul anti-Semitism which has overtaken the U.N. human-rights machinery," as Bayefsky claims. I suggest that Bayefsky's response epitomizes the tendency of some hard line Israel-supporters to react with vicious invective when confronted with facts that contradict their view of Israel as "righteous victim," and data which explode the myth that it is Israel who is under siege. These people are quick to attack anyone who dares bring up the Nazis in the course of criticizing Israel, but sling the charge themselves with disturbing carelessness and cynicism. The difference here, as is generally true of how the American left and right deal with their extremists, is that people who equate Israel with the Nazis are marginal on the left. Those who compare Israel's critics to Nazis are published in National Review.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Unsung Giants of Modern Music (V): Ennio Morricone

In light of his Lifetime Achievement award this Sunday at the Oscars, I felt it a fine opportunity to finally discuss Ennio Morricone here. I have spoken of him briefly but, as one of the most important, not to mention prolific, composers of the 20th Century, one can never say too much. Given, however, that he is being given this award, can he actually be called an unsung hero? This award is recompense from the academy for being forgotten about over forty years and, while everybody is familiar with his Western scores, there are other themes in his body of work that are often used, that everyone knows, that remain uncredited to the person who created them. That, and the fact that he's my favorite 20th century composer, means that he's in.

Born in Rome in 1928, Morricone entered conservatory at ten to study trumpet and composition. While his ambitions had always been in classical music, he was given the opportunity to write arrangements for popular songs and, after some moderate success, he never really looked back. He has continued writing more traditional classical music over the years, but never that seriously. His knowledge of classical forms and popular styles made him a natural and, after popular success in pop arrangement and critical acclaim writing theater music, was hired in 1961 to score his first film, Il Federale, directed by Luciano Salce, a comedy about a Fascist sent to capture an anti-Mussolini professor (sounds fun). He continued to work with Salce for the next three years, scoring films of suspect quality, until Sergio Leone heard Morricone’s arrangement of an American folk song and asked him to score his Western trilogy, starting in 1964 with A Fistful of Dollars and continuing with For a Few Dollars More in 1965 and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in 1966. It was at this early stage in his career that he made his biggest impact. Domestically and abroad, critics and audiences saw Morricone’s score as another character in the film, something that had seldom occurred before, but has become Morricone’s hallmark. As a result of budgetary limitations, there was no access to a full orchestra, which may have been preferred at the time, but forced Morricone to work with odd instruments, singers, and sound effects. What he created changed the face of the Western, if not the entirety of the film music world.

The success of the films and the scores themselves (thank, in no small part, to Hugo Montenegro’s cheesy rendition of the theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) gave Morricone more work than he could handle. He was hired to do other Westerns in those first few years, solidifying a sound that would be mimicked for years and years, but also got a lot of work in other genres, mostly horror and comedy, both of which benefit from smaller, subtle scoring. The largest success of his early career outside Westerns came in 1966 as well, when he wrote his brilliant score for Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers. Wildly different in tone and style from anything he’d produced to this point, this score showed a rare versatility, something that would serve him where other composers fail. As the success came, so did more work, which he apparently took all of. At this point, Morricone was still attempting, albeit unsuccessfully, to get into the Classical world but, by 1968, a year in which he scored twenty films, the thought of any other work became laughable. The next few years he was a scoring machine, working for every major director in Italy, most notably Pier Paolo Pasolini, who he collaborated with on numerous occasions until Pasolini’s murder in 1975. Hollywood didn’t catch on to him for a long time (they never really did); he wasn’t hired for an American production until 1970 in which he scored Two Mules for Sister Sara (a film which I cannot endorse), most obviously because of Clint Eastwood in the starring role. He has never worked for any length of time for Hollywood, with only exception being his scores for Brian DePalma, who he has worked with three times. The scores he writes for American films are highly lauded, especially in the case of The Mission, which is one of the single most solid film scores ever written, but has never maintained a working relationship with studios in this country. Still, over the years, he has written so many amazing scores in so many varied genres that he has become the most artistically influential composer in the history of film.

Where so many of his contemporaries score a film so that the music reflects the action directly, Morricone writes in a way that often comments on the action--a happy scene may likely have minor chord undertones that can reveal an amount of sadness or irony on the happiness, the theme song for the killer in a horror film is a lullaby—this kind of subtlety does not occur with his contemporaries. Because of the variation of styles and knowledge of instruments that he has, a wealth of depth is opened to him that others can’t compete with. To combine folk music with free jazz and music concrete for a beautiful overture to an international spy thriller is an extraordinary thing.

On top of his prowess as a technical composer, Morricone’s music is decidedly romantic; he uses broad strokes to elicit particular emotions in a rare way that does not feel like manipulation, that feels organic, such that the emotional power of the music stands separate from the film it belongs with. The first time I heard the soundtrack to Dario Argento’s The Stendahl Syndrome was months before I saw the film. I was entering it into the now-defunct Schwann Opus Classical Music Guide as part of my mission was to include all the film scores I could get my hands on, a class of music that had been forgotten about for much of the history of that book. I started listening to the album to hear what I was entering. A squealing violin, a minimal harpsichord, and a soprano singing nonsense greeted my ears. The tension built quickly, and by the end of the seven minute theme, when all of a sudden a group of trumpets blare out like a herd of dying elephants and whispering voices have an incoherent conversation, I had to turn the album off and get up to walk around. There is an economy to this score, as well as many others, which use a minimalist approach to gain the maximum emotional effect; an effect that is much more difficult to achieve with a full orchestra anymore.

Now, at 79 years old, Morricone has not slowed down his output very much. He has scored around twenty five films in the last ten years which, while not the kind of output that he had in the ‘70s, is still significant, and he remains far more prolific than his much younger contemporaries. And still, to this day, he does not get bogged down in one style or another. If anything, his palette has only gotten broader over the years. Yet, for all the variation in his music over the years, there is a style that is distinctly Morricone that stretches through hundreds of scores and every genre under the sun. The world of film owes him a great debt, and there is nobody currently working who is prepared to take the reigns when The Maestro inevitably passes on. He is as deserving of this award as anyone has ever been. As I said before, after 500+ scores over half a century, some of which have changed the face of film music and have been massively influential on popular music, his five nominations and zero wins at the Oscars is ridiculous, especially while others are nominated for nearly every score they write, no matter how redundant the material has become. The Academy has this award around to right perceived wrongs, and I think it’s fantastic that they want to acknowledge him in this way. If nothing else, Morricone will get paid a lot of money to score some massive budget piece of trash that will give him a lot more exposure than he’s had in years.

Hipness and Music

The other day, I picked up the latest Yeah Yeah Yeahs album, released early in 2006. I was playing in my office and my office mate laughed and said that my pop music was always a year behind. He said something like, "My brother made me this album last year and I listened to it a lot for awhile and then forgot about it until now."

I thought this was interesting. I guess I am about a year behind the times or so. But the idea that music is for a particular time, while an overwhelmingly common notion, is odd to me. I'm behind the times because I buy in a lot of different genres. (A side note--I still buy CDs because I believe in supporting the artists and because I believe in the album format.) Along with this album I also bought a 2 CD set of George Jones and Sun Ra's Space is the Place. So I fall behind in with new releases in all sorts of new music because I am trying to cover my bases and buy a little of everything. Plus, I make no pretensions to actually being hip, in my musical purchases or otherwise.

But why would someone buy music that they didn't think was good enough to listen to for a long time? Does good music date itself? Is an album from 2006 not cool anymore in 2007? Or for that matter, does music from the 1940s still resonate today? I answer yes to that latter question, but the vast majority of people I know dismiss this out of hand.

I guess I don't have much of interest to say on this matter except that I flat out don't understand how you can like an album for a month and then forget about it. Sure, your tastes can change but that's not what happens to most people. Do people buy music to be hip or because they actually like it?

American Racism of the Day

Bill Ketron, a Tennessee state legislator from Murfreesboro, has sponsored a bill in the Tennessee legislature that would only allow driver license tests to be given in English. His reason: it's "the first step in protecting the sovereignty of our country."

Yep, nothing threatens our nation like Mexicans driving to work!

Via R. Neal

Historical Image of the Day

Joseph Jenkins Roberts, First President of Liberia, 1850s Daguerreotype

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lyrad's Random 10

1. Ennio Morricone--Tema Dei Ricordi (from the soundtrack to Il prefetto di ferro)
2. God--Bloodstream (Evening Redness in the West Remix]
3. Kid Ory--Way Down Yonder in New Orleans
4. Stevie Wonder--Easy Goin' Evening
5. Irving Fields & Roberto Rodriguez--A Turkish Chasseneh
6. Jesper Thilo--Topsy
7. Brownie Ford--Black Jack David
8. Old 97s--Por Favor
9. Tito Puente--New Cha-Cha
10. Nashville Pussy--She's Got the Drugs

Erik's Random 10

Matt is providing real music blogging this Friday, but I'll go ahead with my lame random 10 anyway.

1. The Gourds, Bean Bowl
2. Grateful Dead, Beat It On Down The Line
3. 764-Hero, The Way A Leash Feels
4. Liza Hanim, Rindu Ha Tihu Tidah Terkira
5. Tortoise/Bonnie Prince Billy, Cravo E Canela
6. Bob Dylan, Seven Days
7. Tom Russell, Rider On An Orphan Train
8. Koto Music of Japan, Midare
9. Two High String Band, The Old Place
10. Tom Zé, A Volta Do Trem Das Onze (8.5 Milhoes De Km2)

Historical Image of the Day

Dick Cavett, Kermit, the Country Trio

Friday Guitar Blogging

With a nod to Rob's very touching, and metal-savvy, acknowledgement, here's a Friday Guitar Blogging Twofer: A young Steve Vai, before he went all poodle-for-pay on us, and some dude named Frank, who is also a pretty competent guitarist...

In other guitar blogging news, a few months ago Mr. Trend had an interesting post in which he took issue with this list of "Greatest Guitar Solos." I'd started working on a response but never finished, as I am such an extraordinary procrastinor that I procrastinate about things which I was using to procrastinate about other things. Occasionally, I make my way back around to the first thing I was procrastinating about, and use it to procrastinate about something else, thus creating a Perfect Circle of Procrastination.

Anyway, quoth the Trend:

It's time to put all this bullshit to rest, once and for all.

The greatest guitar solo of all time is Eddie Hazel on Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain." Period. End of story.

And for all you future publications and people interested in lists, the presumption that great guitar solos can only be from white-man-rock both refuses the great guitar tradition present in the blues (don't go giving me this "Stevie Ray Vaughan was a great blues guitarist!!!" bullshit; and if you bring up Clapton, I'll rip your throat out), funk, jazz, and in countries that are neither the U.S. or England. It reflects both your ignorance to explore music beyond famous white guys, as well as demonstrating your complete unfamiliarity with anything outside of the traditional "rock canon" (which is probably racist and definitely archaic).

And make damn sure Eddie Hazel is number one. It's the Truth.

Trend is right, the Planet Rock list is crap, and his point about the preponderance of white acts on the list, and the exclusion of non-white acts from the rock canon in general, is an important one. That said, as a self-appointed custodian of the pantheon, I feel I have to defend Clapton and Vaughan. At the risk of having my throat ripped out, I offer that Clapton's playing from the Yardbirds on through Derek and the Dominoes is very solid. His performance on Steppin' Out from Live Cream Volume II is as powerful a statement of musical identity as anything in the rock guitar canon. That Clapton has devolved into just another aging Sixties pop star doing a Rock Skool version of himself onstage shouldn't take away from his truly excellent work, or from the huge role he played in popularizing the blues and helping to get work for a lot of the blues legends who he now unjustly overshadows in the minds of most rock fans. As for Stevie Ray, I have yet to meet a guitarist, of any race, who doesn't recognize that the man was an astonishingly skilled player, and a virtual encyclopedia of blues styles. I don't think he and Clapton should be blamed just because frat boys dig them, or because classic rock radio listeners don't care enough to look up the guitarists who influenced them.

Moving on, Trend's nomination of Maggot Brain as the greatest guitar solo ever is a good one, a very defensible choice. I've loved the tune ever since I first bugged out to it in the crappy little college apartment my buddy and I shared. (As it happens, I've been listening to that record a lot lately. I can still smell the bong water, dirty laundry and cheap vino...) For me, however, there is one clear winner in this category, the touchstone of all electric guitar: Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), the last tune on Electric Ladyland. I just cannot get over this track. I love its simplicity, I love its brevity, I love that it fades out just as Jimi's really starting to play. I love that Jimi's playing the amp as much as he's playing the guitar. I love that it contains within it almost the entire scope of rock guitar vocabulary, from straight blues to whammy bar tricks to the modal playing that makes me weep for the record Jimi never cut with Miles Davis. As far as I'm concerned, this tune is the reason electricity was invented.

Your nominations are, of course, welcome.

Mr. Trend's Random 10

I'm off to São Paulo for 5 days, but before I head out, here's my relatively rock-free Random 10.

1. “Just Try” – The Dandy Warhols
2. “I Chose to Sing the Blues” – Ray Charles
3. “American Motor over Smoldered Field” – The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band (with Choir)
4. “You and Whose Army?” – Radiohead
5. “I Live the Life I Love” – Buddy Guy
6. “Nega Maluca/Billie Jean/Eleanor Rigby” – Caetano Veloso
7. “PWSteal.Ldpinch.D” – Aphex Twin
8. “Nós Dois” – Cartola
9. “Genius” – Kings of Leon
10. “Ejszaka – Night” – Györgi Ligeti

Notes on Carnaval (II): Carnaval outside of Rio

As I mentioned, I did what any logical person does when Brazil’s biggest holiday struck this past week: I left Rio (the combo of hot weather, lots of crowds, music played very loudly outside my apartment, and litter everywhere, all while everything except the bars shut down, struck me as a little less than appealing). Instead, I went to Carandaí, in Minas Gerais (situated next to Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais is one of the biggest agricultural producers of Brazil, specializing in cheese and dairy products and horticulture, among other things). We stayed at a ranch house just outside of Carandaí, a city of about 22,000, about an hour and a half away from Belo Horizonte (the largest city in Minas Gerais, about 2,300,000). This trip was supposed to provide an opportunity to get out of Rio for a few days and enjoy things like stars, birds singing, and no car horns honking. However, it turned into far more I could imagine on Sunday night, when we went to the “city” to see the Carnaval festivities there.

It turns out, Carnaval isn’t just a big parade in Bahia (in the Northeast), Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. Even the smallest places celebrate it with huge festivals that shut the streets down and result in giant street parties. However, getting outside of Rio and seeing Carnaval elsewhere is one of the best things you can do during Carnaval weekend. Sure, you can stay in the city and see the samba schools parade through the sambódromo, but this is remarkably expensive (sometimes upwards of 200 dollars), and as amazing as Carnaval is in Rio, it has become amazingly commercialized since the 1960s, attracting tourists and celebrities in ungodly numbers. Carnaval is still an amazing cultural experience in Rio, but more than one person has lamented its “bastardization” and distancing from the original popular cultural expressions of the favelas that served as the origin of Carnaval in the early 1900s.

When you get outside of Rio, that commercialization isn’t present. Instead, as we learned in Carandaí, the parade, with all of the different costumes, the music, the floats, is a labor of love, done by people who want to celebrate the holiday and the unique cultural expressions it offers while not being concerned in winning prizes, getting more money, etc. The basic theme was the same – the celebration of the various cultural influences in Brazil (particularly African and indigenous), all wrapped up in a Catholic ceremony. Thus, there were floats with smiling African statues, zebras, tropical fruits, etc. There also were the stereotypical (but true) scantily clad women (and men dressed as women) dancing on the floats, and the “alas” (sections) dressed differently (including the Bahainas, older women dressed in traditional clothes from Bahia). The floats and costumes were not as grand as they are in Rio, but they were still amazingly ornate, intricate, and obviously created with a lot of love (and patience). It never stopped being amazing to me, seeing all this up close and in person (something that you can never do in Rio – even if you’re in person, you aren’t up close), and what is more, everybody in the parade was having fun. Like I said, it was truly a labor of love, a celebration of culture in which everybody had a good time, with none of the commercial overtones present elsewhere.

In an interesting aside, there was significant participation of two groups often excluded or segrated from public ceremonies and celebrations: Afro-descendents, and homosexuals. While his argument is far more nuanced than I can do justice here, it struck me that James Green’s suggestion that Carnaval provides a rare chance for homosexuals in Brazil to occupy public spaces as a group (even if their power is tenuous) seemed to apply not just to Rio, but to Carandaí, as well. Yes, many of the gay community were dressed in exaggerated clothing and/or makeup and masks that sometimes “hid” their true identity (i.e., “João Batista da Silva, the guy at the clothing store”). Nonetheless, they were present in an obvious way that it seems only comes around twice a year in Brazil: Carnaval, and the Gay Pride parade at the end of June (the gay pride parade in Rio in 2005 attracted over 1 million people). Likewise, Afro-descendants were at the center of the celebration as well, both in terms of participation and in terms of the themes of the parade. Sure, many white and “brown” people were in the parade as well, but it was one of the few places where you saw whites, “browns,” and blacks all together on equal levels. It hit upon the perfect irony of Carnaval, for there was the open presence of Afro-descendants and homosexuals in Minas, which, as my girlfriend pointed out, is the most Catholic, homophobic, and racist state, yet has the highest populations of homosexuals and Afro-descendants in Brazil.

At any rate, if you are ever in Brazil during Carnaval, there are plenty of options, but given the events of this past weekend, I highly recommend you leave Rio (after all – you can see the Carnaval there on TV), and get to a more out-of-the-way place to see popular culture as it operates at the grassroots levels still.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

White History Month?

While I don't really agree with Gary Younge's argument for a White History Month in The Nation, he makes some great points. Younge argues that we need a White History Month because so much white history, particularly our history against minorities, is forgotten about. This is absolutely correct. But the problem is not a need for a month dedicated to what whites have done. Much greater is the celebratory nature of American history.

Americans only want to focus on the positives of our history. We want to celebrate all the great things we've done. When progressive values starting catching up to Americans, we added a Black History Month and Women's History Month in order to spend special time focusing on the accomplishments of African-Americans and women. And that's fine. But we need to do more to understand our history. Even Black History Month gets caught up in mythologizing in damaging ways. For instance, as Younge points out, "As one means to redress an entrenched imbalance, it gives us the chance to hear narratives that have been forgotten, hidden, distorted or mislaid. Like that of Claudette Colvin, the black Montgomery teenage activist who also refused to give up her seat, nine months before Rosa Parks, but was abandoned by the local civil rights establishment because she became pregnant and came from the wrong side of town." Younge seems to argue that stories like Colvin's get discussed during Black History Month, but I see no such evidence. Rather, Black History Month focuses a lot on a few seminal figures in African-American history--King, Malcolm X, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Rosa Parks, and perhaps a few others.

More importantly, Younge discusses what it means to be an American. He writes: When it comes to excelling at military conflict, everyone lays claim to their national identity; people will say, "We won World War II." By contrast, those who say "we" raped black slaves, massacred Indians or excluded Jews from higher education are hard to come by. You cannot, it appears, hold anyone responsible for what their ancestors did that was bad or the privileges they enjoy as a result. Whoever it was, it definitely wasn't "us." This is one more version of white flight--a dash from the inconveniences bequeathed by inequality." Completely true. Americans, but whites especially, carefully pick and choose what actions define us as Americans. Does slavery? No, we say, especially if we are from the North or West. But slavery has defined this nation from its very founding and continues to do so today. What about the treatment of Indians? What about the abandonment of cities after World War II and the ghettoization of blacks? We could go on and on. These things are equally as important to American identity as flying the flag on Iwo Jima or Washington crossing the Delaware River. We all, regardless of race or gender, need to view American history in more complex manners in order to come to terms with our past and perhaps more importantly, our present.

Ultimately Younge's point is this: "So we do not need more white history, we need it better told." Absolutely! I want to end this essay by offering a concrete idea for making this happen. I believe we need to reform the historical mission of the National Park Service to focus on more complex histories. First, let me say that I am not slamming on the Park Service, especially the average employees. Rather, it is leadership at the top and more specifically Congress that decides what stories get told and more importantly, where they are told. That's where change needs to happen. Park Service sites are basically nationally approved places of importance in our history and therefore is the natural place where reforms to government-sanctioned interpretations of the past need to happen.

The Park Service has many missions and doesn't get the funding to accomplish all them adequately. One of them is interpreting the American past for visitors to the hundreds of historical sites around the nation. For the most part, those sites focus on the celebratory side of American history: president's homes, battlefields, Martin Luther King's birth home, the Seneca Falls Convention. These things are all very important and deserve protection and interpretation. But Congress has been hesitant to push for the discussion of the deep and overwhelming dark side of American history. This is especially true when it comes to class conflict and African-Americans.

In 2 areas, Congress and the Park Service has been willing to discuss less celebratory matters. The first concerns Native Americans. Lots of Native American battle sites are preserved today. But these were preserved for a long time and were originally interpreted in a very pro-white way. When progressive forces demanded that both sides of these stories get told, the institutional structure for new forms of interpretation was already there. It was relatively easy to get the Custer Battlefield renamed to Little Bighorn. Plus, Americans have long romanticized Indians, even as they were destroying their homes and cultures. By 1900, with Indians finally subject to American power, we already looked to them as our spiritual ancestors, even as we provided them with rotten meat and expected them to disappear from the world in a couple of generations. What's significant though is not that the Park Service, and therefore the nation, never mentions Indians after their conquest. Most museums in the United States treat Indians as if they were dead cultures with no history after 1880. Why is there no discussion of conditions on Indian Reservations? Where is the Ira Hayes National Historic Site in Arizona, which would be a perfect place to discuss both the contributions Native Americans have made to the nation and the conditions that they lived under that led to Hayes' all too early death? Sites like this should be a top priority in this country.

The second place where the government has been willing to discuss our negative past is Japanese Interment. This is a completely good thing. Manzanar has been run by the Park Service for a good bit of time now and Minidoka was added by Clinton. Recent bills have passed Congress protecting all the major concentration camp sites, although the money isn't really there for them to be properly interpreted, which is typical. I think this is happening in part because Asians are today a non-threatening minority to white domination of the nation. Animosity toward Asians is at an all-time low and they are seen as the "good" minority group. So it's OK. However, Asians were traditionally treated awful in this country. Where is the Chinese Exclusion National Historic Site, perhaps at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay? That is a story that desperately needs to be told, yet is not. Many Americans remain completely unaware that the Chinese were not allowed into this country between 1882 and 1943. Racism and immigration restrictions are key to our national history yet don't have much of a place in our national narrative.

Finally, there is the history of African-Americans. There have been a number of African-American park sites opened in recent decades. This is great. The Martin Luther King site in Atlanta is a good one. More recently, Central High School in Little Rock was acquired and is now open for interpretations on school desegregation. There is a Booker T. Washington site, one for African American history in Boston, and one for Brown v. Board of Education. I'm glad they are here. Not surprisingly, most of these sites celebrate black pride and the ability of African-Americans to overcome racism. Awesome. But more is needed here as well. We need sites specifically designed to discuss the terrible things whites have done to blacks. To start with, we need a National Slavery Museum. It's a joke that Washington, D.C. has a Holocaust Museum about a tragedy that happened on the other side of the world and nothing on the greatest injustice ever done in the United States. There are clear reasons why this has happened, particularly the funding sources for a Holocaust Museum that don't exist for a slavery museum and the ease of telling a story that we don't hold direct responsibility for. But it is absurd, wrong, and tragic. It is just this kind of story that Americans need to be told every day.

While I support a pretty big expansion of the Park Service to interpret these new kinds of sites, allow me to suggest 10 new sites to start with that would go a long way to show that the American people is willing to come to terms with its past.

First, the three I've already mentioned:
1. Ira Hayes site, Arizona
2. Chinese Exclusion, California
3. National Slavery Museum, DC

Now 7 more:
4. Parchman Farm, Mississippi. Mississippi has plenty of sites discussing Civil War glories but nothing on either its slave past nor its position as the worst state for blacks in the 20th century. Parchman was the horrid prison where black prisoners went and often didn't come out of. This would force Mississippi to deal with its particular past and would help Americans understand the true awfulness of segregation and racism.

5. Ludlow Massacre, Colorado. You could substitute any number of sites for Ludlow. The point is that we need sites about class struggle in this country and the massacres of workers fighting for basic human rights. Americans hate discussing class issues. But they are real and they used to mean war.

6. Braceros, California. You could combine this with a Cesar Chavez site and discuss the terrible ways Mexicans were, and still are, treated in the United States.

7. Mexican War, Texas. Put a site in south Texas discussing the ways the United States overran half of Mexico in the 1840s. I believe that there is not a single National Park Site on the Mexican War, despite the fact that much of it was fought on what is today American soil. The reason--that war tells stories about Americans we do not want to hear. That needs to change.

8. Cuyahoga River, Ohio. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland, Ohio. Americans hate to admit how much our industrialization damaged the environment. Deniers of global warming show this is still a problem today. Such a site would put America's environmental past into perspective. Also, it could be combined with the Cuyahoga site already is existence that is some kind of nature park. It would be nice combination.

9. Stonewall, New York. Although Americans would go ballistic if a site about homosexuality came about, the Stonewall Rebellion was a vital point in American history. There are so many amazing stories to be told about the history of homosexuality in the United States. Stonewall would be a great start.

10. Betty Friedan. I'm not really sure where Friedan is from. New York I think, but whatever. Point being that some historical interpretation of women's history that is not about suffrage is long overdue. Though Friedan had her detractors, especially among more radical feminists of the 1960s and 70s, The Feminine Mystique is one of the most important books of American history. A site for her would really about the situation middle class women faced after World War II and how they started to get out of it. This could be a wonderful site.

Truthfully, there are many more great potential Park Service sites as well. But these ten would begin bringing about the more complex and nuanced understanding of American history that Gary Younge advocates.

Benefits of Living In the U.S. - Accessibility

This actually has nothing to do with most of our lives, but it matters.

This weekend, while staying at a ranch house in Minas Gerais, I had the chance to talk extensively with one of the other guests, Adalberto. Adalberto is completely blind, having glaucoma so badly in one eye that there is no color at all in his eye. His other eye was rendered useless in a freak accident involving a jump rope when he was 10, leaving him with no vision of any type.

Adalberto is remarkably independent. He works on cases for the prosecutor’s office in Belo Horizonte (the capital of Minas Gerais), going through the reports in Braille. He knows enough English to get by. His house is not adapted to his special needs, and his wife and son help him when he needs it. Generally speaking, he is happy with his life, and has done an outstanding job for himself. However, despite all that he has accomplished here, he really respected the United States for the advances they have made in addressing people with special needs, be they physically or mentally, in ways that Brazil (and many other countries have not).

I could not agree with him strongly enough here. Compared to other countries, the United States has done an outstanding job in creating opportunities for people with special physical and mental needs. Our laws mandate that all buildings be accessible to people in wheelchairs or people who have difficulty walking. Braille marks our elevators, our office numbers, our restrooms, and even our menus in many places in the States. We offer services to the hearing impaired both through technology and translators. Nor does it stop at physical needs. We provide special schooling and work opportunities for those with Down’s syndrome, learning disabilities, and other special needs.

This is not always the case in other countries. For example, Adalberto relies on publications in Braille that come from Cincinnati and New York; there simply aren’t that many publications (or companies publishing matrial) in Braille here in Brazil. And only last year did Brazil finally make it legally mandatory that every public place allow guide-dogs into their establishments, with no exceptions. Indeed, you see no guide dogs here in Rio, because only in the last year or so has it become practical to have one, and the use of guide dogs isn’t going to and hasn’t popped up overnight.

To take another example, while walking to the Subway a few weeks ago, there was a guy in a wheelchair being filmed. The issue? In order to ride the Metro, he would have to go UP two steps, and then go DOWN two flights of steps. There was no elevator there, and while some stations have elevators here in Rio, often they only have elevators at one, very out-of-the-way place, forcing people in wheelchairs to have to go out of their way to ride the Metro. Certainly, there are opportunities – one of my girlfriend’s cousins has been completely deaf since birth, and thus, as a person with special needs, she gets free rides on the Metro, as do the many blind people who get off the subway near my apartment in order to go to the school for the blind. However, Brazil has a very long way to go in treating people with special needs equally and providing them equal opportunities and access in daily life.

Nor is Brazil the only guilty country. A few weeks ago, a program on television ran a story about the mentally disabled in the Middle East. The program made a strong effort at not villifying the Middle East in the current geo-political context (in this case, it was using Lebanon as its example), and showed the ways in which educational opportunities for those with special mental needs are slowly opening up. However, it was clear that those with special mental abilities in Lebanon specifically, and oftentimes in the Muslim culture more generally, are not always treated as citizens. The program offered staggering data relating to the number of people with Down's syndrome or other needs and their treatment, highlighting the number of such people who are barred indoors all day, with no activity or contact with the outside world. One woman cited how relieved she was to know that Down’s syndrome, with which her son was diagnosed, was a common disability, and that he could be educated; she mentioned how her husband and others had culturally used their religion to blame her and to mistreat him. It was clear that ignorance was the master here, and that the opportunities for people with special mental needs were on the one hand fortunately underway, yet on the other hand only (and tragically) in their most incipient phases.

Certainly, things aren’t perfect in the States. We could go much further, for example, in trying even harder to offer less menial jobs to people with special needs, or greater services in broader areas for the visually and hearing-impaired. Likewise, things are not totally abysmal in Brazil or other parts of the world, as many of these citizens are gaining space and access in society at large. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that, in legislating for people with special needs and assuring that these people are regular citizens, the United States provides far more opportunities than many other countries.

Historical Image of the Day

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 1901

Free Kareem

Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Soliman, who blogs under the name Kareem Amer, has been sentenced to four years in prison.

Abdel Kareem Soliman's trial was the first time that a blogger had been prosecuted in Egypt.

He had used his web log to criticise the country's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar university and President Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a dictator.

A human rights group called the verdict "very tough" and a "strong message" to Egypt's thousands of bloggers.

Soliman, 22, was tried in his native city of Alexandria. He blogs under the name Kareem Amer.

A former student at al-Azhar, he called the institution "the university of terrorism" and accused it of suppressing free thought.

The university expelled him in 2006 and pressed prosecutors to put him on trial.


During the five-minute court session the judge said Soliman was guilty and would serve three years for insulting Islam and inciting sedition, and one year for insulting Mr Mubarak.

This op-ed appeared in yesterday's Washington Post. As Kamal and Palmer note, one of the more tragic aspects of the story is the role that authorities at Al Azhar University played in Kareem's arrest and prosecution. Al Azhar is the most prominent institution of Islamic learning in the world, and is the world's second-oldest continuously operating university.

Esraa al-Shafei, who maintains the Free Kareem website, writes in today's Daily Star on the blogging phenomenon in the Arab world, and the promise and the threat it represents. It saddens and angers me to think where we might be today if President Bush had decided after 9/11 to cultivate genuine political reform in the Arab world, to respectfully but firmly encourage the opening of political space, rather than try to transform Arab societies at the point of a gun. It will be years until we even begin to grasp the extent of the damage this man has done to America's reputation in the world, but we can look at some of the early returns.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Carnaval 2007 (I): Rio de Janeiro

My recent absence from Alterdestiny can be solely blamed on one event: Carnaval (I assure you, Matt, I haven’t resigned in protest – welcome aboard). Since last Friday afternoon, everything has been shut down over this event (which is more unreal than I ever imagined). In response to one of the biggest (if not the biggest) holidays in Brazil, I did what any non-native does: I left Rio (more on that in a later post). However, you can’t escape the happenings in Rio during Carnaval, even if you leave the city.

For those unfamiliar, Carnival here in Rio usually lasts two nights (Sunday and Monday). From about 9 PM until about 7 AM the following day, numerous samba schools parade through the Sambódromo (the lenghthy parade-ground for Carnaval). These schools have a major theme (for example, the Madureira’s floats and presentation revolved around the Portuguese language), several floats (5-10), dozens of alas (there is no English equivalent – it’s basically differently-themed and –dressed groups from the same samba school), and a song written for their school that they sing. Each school gets 90 minutes to parade, and is judged on items such as entrance, costumes, floats, harmony (in the theme and in the parade), and timing (going over 90 minutes leads to loss of points). Additionally, like futebol here, there are three “categories,” and the two best from Categories II and III move up to I and II, respectively, while the lowest two from Categories I and II fall to II and III, respectively.

This year, Beija-Flor (a samba school from Nilópolis, a city just outside of Rio de Janeiro proper) won. What I saw of their parade on TV (the event is nationally broadcast) was something else. However, in an interesting side-note Beija-Flor is particularly fascinating in that it never was a major contender in Category I until the mid-1970s, right in the heart of the most repressive phase of Brazil’s dictatorship. In this time, while many of the oldest samba schools (such as Portela, Mangueira, and Vila Isabel) were writing song that subtly criticized the dictatorship, Beija-Flor was gaining fame (and victories) with songs that celebrated the dictatorship with lines such as “Commerce and industry/strengthen our capital/which in the economic sector/has projected itself into the global economy” and “O Mobral [the housing organization in Brazil], its role/for so many Brazilians/it opened doors to attaining an education” (it’s far more poetic in Portuguese, I assure you). While such pro-dictatorship rhetoric has disappeared, it is interesting to note the songs upon which some of Beija-Flor’s previous victories have been based (though it must be stressed that the song iis most definitely but a small part of the total presentation at Carnaval).

For the next few months, the samba schools will lay low, trying to decide themes, floats, special guests (both actors/actresses and singers) who they will want to participate in their school, songs, etc. One can safely say, though, that other schools are already hoping to displace Beija-Flor next year.

(The material on Beija-Flor’s lyrics during the dictatorship come from Luiz Edmundo Tgavares and Adriano de Freixo’s article “O Samba em tempos de ditadura: as transformações no universo das grandes escolas do Rio de Janeiro nas décadas de 1960 e 1970” [“Samba in times of Dictatorship: Transformations in the Univers of the Great Schools of Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s and 1970s”], in A Ditadura em Debate: Estado e Sociedade nos anos do autoritarismo [The Dictatorship in Debate: State and Society during the years of authoritarianism], edited by Adriano de Freixo and Oswald Munteal Filho.)

Legal Changes in Brazil

Two weeks ago, I commented on the difficulties facing Brazilian jurists who might seek to change the penal code in the wake of the violent dragging death of a 6-year-old boy. However, events late last week have revealed a strong desire for some modifications on the part of Brazilian jurists.

As I pointed out before, one of the challenges in the legal code was the hard-and-fast rule of 18 as the dividing line between being tried as an adult and as a child. However, two separate (but nearly identical) bills made their way through the Senate and the House of Deputies last week. Both of these bills seek to amend the penal code to address instances of crime in which an adult (18+) participates in criminal activity with a minor (under-18). The bills propose an additional 15-year sentence for what is effectively the “corruption of a minor” in criminal activity. Such a change would not directly affect the sentencing of the minor. However, the thought is that such a law may decrease the amount of adult-minor crimes, for it punishes the adult heavily, while still leaving room for rehabilitation for the minor. Additionally, while it is not as crystal-clear yet, there is also discussion of perhaps increasing the delinquent sentencing to five years

The future of theses bills is uncertain. Logic seems to indicate they will be put into effect, but politics isn’t always the realm of logic. Additionally, they are far from perfect. The idea of increasing a minor’s sentence to five years will do nothing to address the fact that many of these minors enter into broader criminal networks while they are in juvenile prisons (and there is still the issue of whether they can even live through their sentencing, given how violent and uncontrolled some of these centers are). Nonetheless, these efforts are still encouraging and constructive, for they are well thought out, and still leave room for rehabilitation of those under 18 while discouraging those over 18 to participate in criminal activity with a minor in order to blame the minor for the more violent acts (and thus try to receive a lesser sentence).

There are also two interesting political sidenotes to these recent developments. First, one of the two bills has been in circulation since 2002, when a representative from President Lula’s PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores) suggested such a change. The other bill is actually authored by a member of the PFL (Partido do Frente Liberal), the most right-wing of the major parties in Brazil. What’s somewhat telling here is that the idea of penal modifications has been present for quite awhile, yet only with the recent outrage from all of Brazilian society has the bill for penal modifications gained support from right-wing and centrist sectors of the Congress.

Secondly, while legal change is encouraging, it is worth pointing out how true Lula’s comments were last week. The problem isn’t the two young men who committed the dragging-death crime; the problem is the vast inequalities in Brazilian society that lead to such criminal activity in the hopes of getting a better material life. Until the inequalities are addressed, the problem will remain the proverbial 800-lb. gorilla.

Film Review: The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924)

“The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks” is, well, extraordinary. In some ways, this film is like an early Soviet Red Dawn. It’s not nearly as negative or scary as Red Dawn. But both movies reveal the total lack of knowledge about the other nation. This 1924 film by Lev Kuleshov is a key work of Soviet silent cinema and beautiful piece of comedic propaganda.

Severe spoilers ahead. If you can’t stand knowing what happens next, you shouldn’t read my film reviews. This reminds me of Lyrad’s story about a woman getting mad at him when he told her that Titanic ended with the boat sinking. He’ll have to confirm that though.

Mr. West works for the YMCA in the United States. He seems to be a sort of upper class dandy reformer, but it’s not totally clear from the movie because the Soviets don’t have a very good idea about what the YMCA did, or for that matter the United States in general. He also has some of the largest glasses I have ever seen. Anyway, Mr. West wants to go check out this new Soviet Union, which he knows nothing about. His friends worry about him and some send him a book with pictures of Bolshevik monsters. They are men with large mustaches and funny things on their face. The movie shows Mr. West imagining the savage commies roasting a live woman over a fire and preparing to eat her. He goes anyway, but takes his servant. According to this Soviet film, every rich American has a servant. And those servants: all cowboys! Mr. West takes his cowboy, replete with six-gun and full gear, to Moscow with him. Some luggage gets lost and then the cowboy, Jed, can’t find his way back. Mr. West worries. His handbag is stolen by some punk who works for a count/counterrevolutionary rightist who has lost his property and is now a common crook. When the count gets the bag, he decides to rip West off.

The count goes to Mr. West and says that he is being followed by crazy Bolsheviks. West stupidly follows him. The count gives him a “tour” of Moscow, by which he takes him to a crappy part of town where he lives, shows him some ruins and says these are the Bolshoi Theatre and other landmarks. West and his conspirators then try to rip off West in various ways, which I won’t go into in any detail.

Meanwhile Cowboy Jed is going crazy trying to find his master. He is escaping the cops and swings on a rope through a library where he runs across Ellie, who he knows from home. Supposedly he saved Ellie from a violent act once in the United States. In a flashback, Ellie is about to be raped by two guys under a ladder that Jed is working on. After being too oblivious to see this for about 20 seconds he jumps down and kicks the hell out of criminals. Why is Ellie in the USSR? No idea. Totally unexplained. You’d think a propaganda film would play her up as being a communist learning about world revolution to take back to the US or something. But no.

Jed and Ellie go to the police. Those Soviet police sure are nice! Just like in real life!!! They search for Mr. West and rescue him just as the Count is ready to finish stealing his money. While I won’t go into all the details, the Count sets up a “Bolshevik” attack where a bunch of scary looking guys are supposedly going to kill West. How are they scary? Not only do they have big mustaches and wear crazy savage clothes, but they also make funny faces. You can do this yourself. Stand in front of a mirror. Contort your face in weird ways, like you would to a 5 year old that you want to make laugh. That is the attack. Intense.

Mr. West is rescued and then shown the real Moscow, including the real Bolshoi Theatre. He is shown parades and other fine aspects of Soviet life. The movie ends with him sending a letter home to his wife saying in a paraphrase, “Burn the New York magazines. Put up a picture of Lenin. Long live the Bolsheviks!”

It’s pretty damn funny. Seeing what the Soviets thought American life was like was great, as what they thought happened when Americans came to their country. It’s hardly the Cold War yet, but severe tensions already existed between the United States and Soviet Union, in no small part because of U.S. involvement in the Russian Civil War. In a lot of ways, it is like a humorous, 1920s version of Red Dawn. It’s much more benign than that piece of US Cold War propaganda, but cultural misunderstandings abound in both films. Unlike Red Dawn however, Mr. West is actually a good movie. The cinematography is cool and there are some great acrobatic fight scenes. There’s even a good chase scene. Check it out if you get a chance, although I don’t think it’s available on DVD. You’ll be fully entertained while also immersing yourself in a great primary source of US-USSR relations.

Historical Image of the Day

Jackson Pollack

Wednesday Kung Fu Blogging

Since this is my first kung fu blogging here at Alterdestiny, I decided to post the best fight in what is widely considered one of the greatest kung fu movies of all time: Drunken Master 2 (aka Legend of the Drunken Master).

This film marked Jackie Chan's celebrated return to the historical epic genre, after a decade of modern cop-action movies. Chan reprised his breakthrough role as Wong Fei Hung, the Chinese folk hero who I've heard described as "a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Robin Hood." Fei Hung has probably been portrayed in films more times than any other character in the world.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Asia for Asians!

Marwaan Macan-Markar has a good article at Asia Times about the backlash in Thailand to the new Thailand-Japan free trade agreement. Why? Because it would allow Japan to dump an unlimited amount of toxic waste in Thailand. Thai environmental groups are up in arms and it is embarrassing the already embattled Thai military government.

But hey, Japan is getting smart and learning from the United States--why physically conquer the nations in your sphere of influence when you can just use them for natural resources, export your economic problems upon them, and dump all your toxic waste in their soil? It's like physical imperialism with all of the benefits and none of the downside. Well, unless you're Thai that is. But who cares about them? They should be sacrificing for the benefit of the great Asian power anyway.
Asia for Asians!

A Loophole You Could Fly an El Al 747 Through

Buried in this story about last month's Senate ethics reform package was this paragrpah about a rather large loophole that seemed tailor-made for a particular constituency:

Lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, also talked to lawmakers about excluding from the measure's travel ban trips to Israel sponsored by the group's nonprofit foundation affiliate. The legislation, as written, would allow those trips to continue.

The non-profit affiliate in this case is the American Israel Education Foundation, which functions effectively as the travel arm of AIPAC, and is the third largest private sponsor of congressional travel. Among the spendiest, AIEF is the only organization which is specifically foreign policy-focused.

The alarms that sound among pro-Israel groups whenever this sort of legislation is considered reveals their belief these trips are highly effective in instilling and strengthening pro-Israel views in legislators and staffers, many of whom know little about Middle East issues before taking the sponsored visits. Matthew Berger in the Jewish News Weekly:
Jewish groups have used trips to Israel as a key tool to help lawmakers understand the significance of the Jewish state and its need for political support. Such trips have helped sensitize lawmakers to Israeli concerns.

For example, President Bush was said to have been deeply moved during a 1998 trip to Israel as governor of Texas. He formed strong ties with future Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the visit, paid for by the Republican Jewish Coalition.

AIPAC has sent numerous lawmakers to Israel over the years through the American Israel Education Foundation. These trips often include extensive travel in Israel and meetings with key political leaders. The trips have been credited with helping lawmakers see controversial topics such as the West Bank security barrier and the Gaza Strip withdrawal in a light favorable to Israel.

In response to the loophole, former South Dakota Senator Jim Aboureszk wrote in the Christian Science Monitor:
Pro-Israel groups worked vigorously to ensure that the new reforms would allow them to keep hosting members of Congress on trips to Israel. According to the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper, congressional filings show Israel as the top foreign destination for privately sponsored trips. Nearly 10 percent of overseas congressional trips taken between 2000 and 2005 were to Israel. Most are paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, a sister organization of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the major pro-Israel lobby group.

New rules require all trips to be pre-approved by the House Ethics Committee, but Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts says this setup will guarantee that tours of Israel continue. Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported consensus among Jewish groups that "the new legislation would be an inconvenience, but wouldn't seriously hamper the trips to Israel that are considered a critical component of congressional support for Israel."

These trips are defended as "educational." In reality, as I know from my many colleagues in the House and Senate who participated in them, they offer Israeli propagandists an opportunity to expose members of Congress to only their side of the story. The Israeli narrative of how the nation was created, and Israeli justifications for its brutal policies omit important truths about the Israeli takeover and occupation of the Palestinian territories.

That last bit is important. People on these trips aren’t given anything close to a “balanced view,” in fact they’re exposed to the worst sort of revisionist nonsense. (“There’s no such thing as a Palestinian. And anyway, they don’t eat pizza like you and me. Would you like to visit a Sbarro?”) They certainly aren’t shown the Palestinian refugee camps. They're kept safely away from the military checkpoints where teenage Israeli troops keep Palestinians waiting in lines for hours because they think it’s funny. They don't see Jewish settler children, under the protection of Israeli troops, chanting racist slogans and throwing stones at Palestinian women and children on their way to school. And they sure as hell never see the Palestinian homes, schools, gardens, olive groves, and playgrounds which have been razed to make room for new, illegal settlements on expropriated Palestinian land.

These trips aren’t just for the members of Congress, of course. Last summer, National Review's Rich Lowry and Slate's Jacob Weisberg both took AIEF-sponsored trips to Israel, returning as little more than stenographers, dutifully typing out Israeli talking points.

It’s possible that the kind of people who are taken in by the constant Israeli propaganda featured on these trips were inclined in that direction to begin with (Though, of course, one of AIPAC’s goals is to ensure that those are the only kind of people in Congress.) Given AIPAC’s strenuous efforts in support of the non-profit sponsored travel loophole, it’s obvious that AIPAC considers these trips effective tools for achieving their policy goals. That they were able to carve out such an exemption speaks for itself.

Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging: Dennis Chavez

A surprising lack of attention has been paid to the first national Latino politicians. Why this is, I don’t know. One of the most prominent was New Mexico Senator Dennis Chavez. The first Hispanic senator in American history, Chavez was an important New Dealer, played a key role in US-Latin American relations during World War II and the early Cold War period, and brought much needed federal dollars to this poor state.

Dennis Chavez was born Dionisio Chavez on April 8, 1888 in Valencia County, New Mexico. His parents were local farmers who soon gave it up to move to the burgeoning railroad city of Albuquerque in search for employment. Like migrating farm families throughout the history of industrialization, the Chavez clan remained poor and Dionisio dropped out of school after the 8th grade. However, despite their poverty, Chavez’s father was active in local Hispano Republican politics and Chavez became interested in political life himself, though he soon rejected his father’s party and joined with the Democrats. Chavez was also determined to escape poverty and he taught himself and attended night school after his hard days of work. By 1905, he found work in the Albuquerque Engineering Department but he certainly did not see that as the limit of his ambitions. In 1916, Chavez ran for county clerk but lost. But his bilingual skills and ability to negotiate both Anglo and Hispano culture bought his ticket to success. In that same election year, Chavez was the Spanish interpreter for Andreius A. Jones, the successful Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. Jones brought Chavez with him to Washington, hiring him as a clerk.

Soon after arriving in Washington, Chavez was soon accepted to Georgetown Law School. He did not have a high school diploma. In 1920, at the age of 32, Chavez earned his LL.B. degree.

After completing his degree, Chavez moved back to Albuquerque where he started a law practice and again became immersed in local politics. He won a seat in the state House of Representatives and in 1930 went to Washington in the House as part of the anti-Hoover Democratic sweep of that year. Upon the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Chavez became known as a New Deal stalwart and was closely tied to Roosevelt and the New Deal for the rest of his career.

In 1934, Chavez decided to take on the Republican Senator Bronson Cutting for U.S. Senate. Cutting was quite popular but the Democratic Party was in the ascendancy. This very tight race ended up tilting slightly toward the incumbent. Chavez questioned the election results, claiming election fraud. Cutting flew back to New Mexico to defend himself. However, his plane crashed and Cutting died. The Democratic governor, Clyde Tingley, named Chavez in his place. On May 20, 1935, Chavez entered the U.S. Senate chamber to take his oath of office. When Vice President John Nance Garner began administering Chavez his oath of office, Oregon Republican Charles McNary suggested the absence of a quorum. At that moment, six senators walked out to protest Chavez, in part because they believed he had caused Cutting’s death and in part because of his race.

Chavez overcame this inauspicious beginning and quickly became a nationally prominent leader who could bring the money home to New Mexico. Chavez made sure that a lot of Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Public Works Administration (PWA) money came home to his state. Many New Mexican public buildings were erected during this era thanks to Chavez. He worked to promote New Mexican artists, particularly Hispanic and Indian artists and got a good bit of the money for artists sent to these traditionally ignored groups. Chavez was also a huge supporter of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and National Youth Administration (NYA) and helped ensure the employment of thousands of young people, both in New Mexico and around the nation, during the darkest years of the Depression.

Chavez’s work started the dominant feature of New Mexican life today—the role of the federal government in keeping the state economy afloat. This traditionally poor state was almost totally ignored federally before Chavez. He started sending the money home, something that grew substantially during World War II with the Manhattan Project and continued after the war with military bases and defense projects around the state. One might say that I am describing a classic pork-based politician. Maybe I am. But the government does have a duty to give equal opportunities to people around the nation and ensuring that this dirt-poor state gets its equal share of the money is partially what leadership is about. This New Deal, and later Defense Department, money was going to be spent someone. Why not where it can really make an economic difference? New Mexico is still poor. But the poverty it would face without federal jobs is almost unimaginable.

During World War II, Chavez played a major role in Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy. Chavez was very hesitant about entering the war, and counseled FDR to remain neutral. He even voted against the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941. As the year went on though, he began to turn to supporting Roosevelt’s war preparations. He worked to ensure good US-Mexico relations during the war, as Roosevelt hoped to avoid a Zimmerman Telegram-esque incident with our southern neighbor at this critical time. He also pushed for the creation of the Pan-American Highway, linking the Americas through a modern highway system. Having been on parts of that highway, I can say that I’m mighty glad it’s there, though, in Costa Rica at least, I wouldn’t exactly compare it to a major American interstate. Chavez also paid much attention to the plight of Mexican-Americans in the United States. After the establishment of the President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practices (FEPC) in June 1941, the Mexican government worked to obtain federal action on exclusion of Mexican-Americans in war industries. Chavez was an important spokesman in this debate. He held Senate hearings on the Fair Employee Practices Act, which focused on discrimination in employment around the nation. The FEPC was never very effective, as FDR cared little for civil rights and the agency was significantly underfunded. By 1944, southern senators attacked the agency with great vigor, but Chavez defended it to the end.

After the war, Chavez wielded immense power in the Senate because of his state’s importance to the military. He brought many federal facilities to New Mexico, including White Sands Missile Range, Sandia National Laboratories, and Kirtland Air Force Base. He was the chair of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee. When Eisenhower sent his military budget to the Senate in 1960, Chavez recommended an additional $1 billion more, money he fully intended to funnel to New Mexico.

Dennis Chavez died in 1962 after a fight against cancer. He was the 4th highest ranking senator in the Senate at that time. Chavez made New Mexico matter to the federal government. Before he entered the body, New Mexico senators had been weak party functionaries and few federal dollars came down here. Chavez changed all that and paved the way for the powerful New Mexico senators today, Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, both of whom know how to keep their state afloat through federal defense dollars. You can criticize this, perhaps rightfully. But Chavez, Domenici, and Bingman all know the importance of federal dollars for their state and of their state with its huge empty spaces for the U.S. defense industry. It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship.

There has been very little written on Chavez. A friend of mine recently completed his master’s thesis on Chavez and water policy, an issue of utmost important in New Mexico. There is a recent dissertation from Arizona St., I believe, that is a full biography on Chavez. Who knows if it will ever become a book. The sources for this essay are María E. Montoya, “Dennis Chavez and the Making of Modern New Mexico” in Richard W. Etulain’s edited volume, New Mexican Lives: Profiles and Historical Society, and Juan Gómez-Quiñones’ Chicano Politics: Reality and Promise, 1940-1990. Clearly there is more work to be done on Chavez. His papers, at the University of New Mexico, are rather voluminous. If anyone has a student interested in issues of New Deal politics or Latino history, they could do far worse than work on Chavez.