Friday, August 31, 2007

Carbon Credits

I strongly recommend Alan Atkisson's piece on carbon credits. Atkisson explores the difficulties of the carbon credit issue, from the inability of a worker for a NGO to not use massive amounts of carbon flying to conferences to the many flaws of carbon neutralization plans.

I'm particularly interested in his exploration of the ethical dilemmas of the modern environmental movement:

"...if you "pay" an African village not to use fossil fuel, and then put the benefits of that transaction into your own "carbon account," isn't that a new form of colonialism? Haven't you purchased one of that village's most valuable assets -- their rights to a fair share of global carbon emissions -- at an inappropriately low price, and removed it from their use forever? How is that different, ethically speaking, from buying historical artifacts that belong in a local museum?"

That's a great question. I think answer is yes. So long as westerners claim the right to use resources (or buy and sell an abstracted form as is the case here) without giving the developing world the right to do so as well, it is a form of neo-colonialism.

Of course this doesn't mean that we need to give up on trying to bring the world's peoples into a global system of environmental protection and fuel rationing. But it does mean that we should be very careful about what those interactions mean and be aware of the consequences of our actions as individuals on the developing world.

Erik's Random 10

Most old-time music is barely remembered today. One of the totally forgotten bits is the deep influence jazz had on Appalachia. Billy Murray "Baby Rose" could almost be sung in a New York cabaret circa 1930. There's still a strong Appalachian aspect to this music without question. But in the attempt to paint Appalachian music as a pure "folk music," many music writers have taken agency away from these interwar musicians to create their own unique music out of many different styles of music suddenly available to the public at that time. The far more famous Bill Monroe was deeply affected by jazz, old-time music, blues, and other forms of music. A friend of mine even argues that the bass lines in bluegrass show a strong Mexican influence, and cites Monroe's years working in Texas as evidence for this possibility. Yet we often see bluegrass as this unadulterated music coming out of the mountains. That this is not true is even clear in the pre-Monroe artists such as Billy Murray.

1. Billy Murray, Baby Rose
2. Richard Thompson, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning
3. W.A. Mozart, Ein Stuck Fer Eine Orgel in Eine Uhr (Fantasy in F Minor) K.V. 594, Adagio. Hans Fagius, organ
4. Rilo Kiley--Accidntel Deth
5. King Crimson--Book of Saturday
6. Machito & His Afro-Cubans, Sopa de Pichon
7. Cream, Sitting on Top of the World
8. Frank Zappa, Return of the Son of Monster Magnet
9. Nenes, Umkaji
10. Alex J. Chávez, El Asturiano

Historical Image of the Day

Dolley Madison

Mister Trend's Random 10

The combination of DJ Spooky’s turntablism and penchant for mixing DJ-ing with other music forms with three modern jazz leaders (Matthew Shipp, Joe McPhee, and William Parker) resulted in one of the greatest jazz albums of the last 10 years. “Ibid, Desmarches, Ibid,” is immediate proof of this. Parker’s bass jumps all over the place in ways few bassists ever achieve; Shipp’s piano, together with Spooky’s work, alternates between driving the song and pushing its boundaries; and McPhee’s sax adds the perfect touch, jumping in and out, giving a free-jazz flare without getting as radical as McPhee can. The four feed off of each other perfectly, with nobody dominating and all driving the piece. The album itself is like this throughout its 75 minutes. It shows how much turntablism and jazz are linked, and it is, as I said, simply one of the best jazz albums in recent memory. Anybody who likes jazz or turntablism absolutely has to check it out.

1. “Jumpers” – Sleater-Kinney
2. “Wrapped up in Books” – Belle & Sebastian
3. “Hooker with a Penis” – Tool
4. “Paraphernalia” – Miles Davis
5. “House of Jealous Lovers” – The Rapture
6. “As These Things Happen” – Klang
7. “Ibid, Desmarches, Ibid” – DJ Spooky with Matthew Shipp, Joe McPhee, and William Parker
8. “The Rain, the Park, & Other Things” – Rogério Duprat
9. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” – U2
10. “Hairspray Queen” – Nirvana

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I Can't Take It Anymore

I understand the conventional wisdom about not switching closers when you're in the midst of a pennant race. I understand that many teams would kill to have a pitcher who has 39 saves. And I understand that, at the beginning of the season, had you told me that the Tribe would have one pitcher with 39 saves at the end of August, compared to the 23 total saves they had last year, I'd be thrilled.

However, Joe Borowski has got to go.

Having just watched him blow his 4th save in 11 tries this month (as we head to the bottom of the 9th in the M's-Tribe game), I can't take it anymore. No team in a pennant race can afford to have a closer who (at this very moment) has an ERA of 5.53. His ERA in the month of August is 6.92. 6.92!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! His WHIP is 1.48!!!!!! Being in Brazil, I only get to see the chart on ESPN's gamecast, but it's clear he can barely find the strike zone, and when he does, he either gets strikes only by virtue of fouls, or he gives up hits (barring the strikeout of Vidro just now, in which Vidro fouled off the first 2 before watching the third go by). The only thing Borowski excels at is intentional walks, given his ratio of balls (11 in the first 15 pitches in the top of the 9th - that's NOT a good start). I don't know if he just doesn't have the velocity, or the movement, or what, but this cannot stand in a playoff race. The man can't be trusted with anything less than a 3-run lead (see the 6-5 victory of the Twins on Tuesday night, when he entered a 6-3 game). Yes, the bats could give him a little insurance (particularly when Peralta flew out in the 8th), but you can't win anything with a closer who can't be counted on to save a 1-run or 2-run game. And again - 6.92 in August, with a 1.48 WHIP.

I understand that this would be a drastic move, and could not work - Betancourt (the most logical replacement) may not have the mental toughness to fill the role (I'm not terribly worried about the psychological effect on Borowski - he can't get much worse now anyways). But something has to be done. I've never been so eager for the September call-ups in my life.

If the Indians do not make the playoffs, it won't be because of bad hitting, or bad situational hitting (from which they are only emerging). It will be because, coming down the stretch, Joe Borowski cannot do his job.

......thank goodness Rick White thanks for that pickup, Bavasi!) matched Borowski in the "I can't find the strike zone" category (and has a 1.78 WHIP and 7.49 ERA, though at least he isn't Seattle's closer, for crying out loud), and thank goodness the Tribe was batting in the bottom of the 9th instead of the top. And I still stand by everything above - this won't do if Cleveland makes it to October.

The Brazilian Government's appraisal of torture

22 years after Brazil's military dictatorship ended, the government has finally issued a report that acknowledges and chronicles the practices of rape, torture, murder, and disappearing that the police apparati of the military government used during its 21-year rule. While it is great to see the government in Brazil finally acknowledging it, it is just a small step. Certainly, the chronicling of torture during the dictatorship in Brazil isn't new - the Nunca Mais project launched by Catholic and Protestant church leaders used the police records to clearly document these practices, first in 6 extremely detailed volumes and then in a condensed, 300-page book available to the public (still in print in Brazil, and available in many university libraries in the US). (For more on how exactly these groups were able to get a hold of police documents, check out the first half of Lawrence Weschler's A Miracle, A Universe). Thus, the government report doesn't do much new, except offer an official government acknowledgment of these atrocious deeds. In and of itself, this is a small step, but it marks yet once more Brazil's complete failure to meaningfully punish any torturers or their superiors in comparison to Argentina and Chile .

While I agree with Randy that the failure to address torturers in this time period is a travesty, I can't quite fully agree that this in and of itself will make it more likely that there is another dictatorship in the future. Torture of prisoners, particularly of the poor, dates back over 100 years. The dictatorship was not doing anything new or introducing torture (though it most certainly streamlined it and made it more brutal). Still, the fact that, barring some medical disbarrment for complicit doctors, nobody has been brought to justice, goes beyond injustice. Nonetheless, the fact that the government has finally issued a report confirming (and, at least to my knowledge, offering even more details, particularly on the question of decapitation) the horrible practices of the military government is a step in the right direction, albeit a small step 22 years after the military dictatorship ended. It's just a shame that it took 22 years for this report to arrive, and that none besides some doctors will probably ever be punished.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

There Goes "CBGB's - Vegas"

Hilly Kristal dead at 75. He probably gets a little more credit than he deserves for punk rock, but CBGB's was still pretty important, and he should be remembered for providing Television, the Ramones, and others with a "home" in the 1970s, rather than the years of drawn-out battles to keep CBGB's alive after it had ceased to be relevant (or even good, from what I've heard from some folks).

Political Violence in Guatemala

Despite the Guatemalan civil war (which resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead indigenous peoples in a state-led campaign of genocide, among other things) having ended more than 10 years ago, there are signs that things may actually be getting worse in many ways. While the murder campaigns against indigenous peoples have subsided (though the poverty and racism has not), political violence is at an all-time high since 1996. Clara Luz López, a candidate for city council in Casillas, was shot and killed on her way home, bringing the total of political deaths to 40 up to now, with another 11 days before the election (September 9). Things are so bad that Álvaro Colom, one of the top presidential candidates, has a doctor who specializes in bullet wounds with him at all times, and travels only by helicopter.

Much of the violence comes from the rising involvement of drug lords in politics. Eager to see their influence spread to the political realm, many involved in the higher levels of the drug trade have resorted to violence to intimidate or remove opposition. The fact that the drug lords have managed to gain so much power in the post-civil war period is just one more way in which the U.S. drug policies have failed. Drug producers and transporters have continued to remain steps ahead of the law, and combatting the production instead of the consumption has neither slowed down consumption nor production, instead creating even greater violence in Latin America and elsewhere, including Afghanistan, where heroin production is growing astronomically again. Yet we continue to ignore the problem, while Guatemala once again is descending into a climate of terror and fear. There's no telling how the election will go, or if this violence will abate, but things are definitely bad in Guatemala, and there's no proof they are going to get better anytime soon.

Racism Today and Yesterday

Dave Noon posts these two brillant quotes on modern and old-timey racism.

If you read one post today, make sure this is it.

Historical Image of the Day

Amish guy on weird looking bicycle-thingy, 2000s

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You've Got to Love Arkansas

Apparently, the Arkansas state legislature could use a professional editor (and, maybe, a new governer). A new law took effect on July 31 that, in it's intent, was to allow people of any age who had gotten pregnant to get married with parental consent, forgoing the statutory laws of 16 years old for women and 17 for men. Unfortunately, an unseen typo made the law read thusly:

"In order for a person who is younger than eighteen (18) years of age and who is not pregnant to obtain a marriage license, the person must provide the county clerk with evidence of parental consent to the marriage."

That "not pregnant" bit changes things a lot and, while the intent of the law is clearly not to allow 10 year olds to get married, a panel tried to correct the mistake, but were thwarted by the lawmakers. Moreover, Gov. Mike Beebe came out yesterday to say there was no "imminent crisis" and that he does "not plan to immediately call a special session" to fix the issues.

I guess what this means is for all of those out there who think child brides are a good idea, Arkansas is the place for you.

Historical Image of the Day

Cover of Harper's, August 13, 1859, portraying 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, Utah.

Asia on the Moon

Why in the world is there a sudden space race in Asia? China and Japan have been talking about putting men on the moon. Now India is getting involved.


What utter pointlessness. I'm completely opposed to the US placing a base on the moon. Is space travel really a good use of resources? Or does it just feed the egos of a nation's planners and politicians? Even if there were valuable resources on the moon, the cost of getting them back to Earth would be astronomical. Is this just a new and very weird form of national expansion? Really, what we are looking at here are nations that are unwilling to admit that we need to shepherd the resources we have on this planet.

Most of all, shouldn't China and India especially be using those billions of dollars to lift their people out of poverty?

Album Review: Liars, "Liars"

The Liars’ previous three albums managed the impossible feat of sounding nothing like each other, yet totally like Liars albums. From the rebellious, energetic, manifesto-like They Threw Us All In a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, to They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, the creepy, dissonant concept album about witches in Germany in the 16th century, to last year’s moody, atmospheric, frightening album on creative production and writer’s block, Drum’s Not Dead, they have had a vision unlike anybody else out there in the music world. Given the variation from album to album, with each becoming seemingly more abstract and exploratory (the best way to describe Drum’s Not Dead’s sound is terrifying, ambient guitars, driven by tribal-like drumming), fourth album would lead.

Turns out, it led into one of their most straightforward and melodic albums, and not just from the one-word eponymous title (a vast change from the 13-word debut). Right away, as “Plaster Casts of Everything” comes blaring in, it is immediately clear that this is going to be some of the most straightforward rock Liars have produced thus far. The guitars are at their least-distorted (yet still distorted, sometimes reminiscent of mid-80s Sonic Youth but still sounding totally like the Liars’s own sound, and not a ripoff of somebody else’s sound), and the songs are more compact and drive harder than anything since They Threw Us All in a Trench…. “Cycle Time” offers a first, as the song has a soaring three-chord pulse driving it throughout, providing the most traditionally loud and rocking thing Liars have ever produced. “Freak Out” is as short as most of the songs on They Threw Us All in a Trench and shorter than anything on They Were Wrong… or Drum’s Not Dead, but instead of going through three different tempos and pieces of song in its two and a half minutes, it stays with the same melody and verse-chorus structure throughout.

However, this shouldn’t be understood as Liars doing their best impression of somebody else. The guitars are still distorted, creepy, at times nighmarish. Andrew Angus’s voice still jumps from a quiet whisper to an angry tenor to a high, mournful falsetto from song to song (and sometimes within the same song), and they are still playing with styles ranging from funk to progressive to punk (also sometimes within the same song), all the while making the sound all their own. Additionally, the clanging, dissonant guitars, muffled beats, and strange atmospherics have not disappeared from this album. “Leather Prowler,” still has the tribal drumming and ambient guitar sound, yet it’s more rocking than anything on Drum’s Not Dead. “The Dumb in the Rain” has its drums buried so deeply that what you really hear driving the song is one of the guitars repeatedly hitting the same, chiming, clanging chord, and the closer, “Protection,” uses keyboards to drive it and set up the song’s atmospherics. But the use of items like typewriters to form the basis of the music is gone – this is guitars and drums, and occasional keyboards.

And it’s simply great. Every one of their albums is excellent, but this may be their best work yet. Anyone who has continued to ignore them would be smart to start checking them out, because Liars may be one of the most daring, most interesting, and best bands out there now.

6/6 square glasses

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Competitor

There is a new competitor for Mr. Trend's best sports name ever:

Cut by the New York Jets today, one Juan Wong.

A Green Burning Man?

The Burning Man Festival in Nevada has decided to go green. My response--who cares?

"Much of the funded art deals with green themes, and at least one (the Mechabolic) is also a research project in alternative fuels. Much of the power for the city services will be provided by solar panels this year, and the rest will come from biodiesel-powered generators; participants are encouraged to switch their camps to solar, wind or bio-fuels as well. Most significantly, the entire nearby town of Gerlach will be taken off the grid to run on solar power--permanently, all year round."

Plus they claim they are buying carbon offsets, etc. Jeremy Faludi's article reads like a defensive defense of Burning Man.

Really though, all of this is all too emblematic of many Americans simply not wanting to make the real changes that will help solve environmental problems. I don't care if you're buying carbon credits, using solar power, and whatever. If you take 35,000 people out of the cities and have to get them to a remote spot in northwestern Nevada, you are doing some pretty significant environmental damage. The sheer amount of fossil fuels it takes to move all those people out there, particularly when many are no doubt driving less than fuel efficient vehicles, is fairly staggering. They can buy all the carbon credits they want, but I don't think it makes a whit of difference. In fact, I'm far from sold on the idea of carbon credits.

The real way to make a difference here is not go to this remote location. Having smaller festivals in an urban setting would make much more environmental sense, though of course there would be a lot of other obstacles to deal with. But that would never happen. Why? People simply don't want to make the slightest sacrifice to deal with climate change. They are happy placing a tiny town in the middle of nowhere on solar energy (especially if they don't think about the chemicals it takes to create solar panels) but really, they aren't going to inconvenience themselves in the least.

And they are certainly not going to cancel the festival to protect the environment. God forbid.

Historical Image of the Day

Detroit police officers, 1965

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Last Person For Which I Would Erect A Statue

San Diego has erected a statue of Pete Wilson.

Pete Wilson? Why? No doubt it's from wealthy white San Diego residents who really liked knowing that Wilson supported their tax dollars not going to migrant workers without the government really getting in the way of their being able to hire Mexicans to do their work.

Wilson responded to the many protestors by making a true Freudian comment: “Isn't this a great country that anyone can make a perfect horse's ass of himself at any time?” Well Pete, you sure as hell would know.



If you haven't read this long story on José Saramago, aka, the greatest living writer, check it out.

If you haven't read his books, please treat your brain right and do so.

My one criticism of the piece is the slap at Saramago's politics. You know, I really don't care if he is Stalinist. It just doesn't matter. If you don't want to listen to him compare the Palestinian refugee camps to Nazi concentration camps, then just read his books and don't read his political speeches. I'm not sure why we should look to authors as political leaders anyway.

Lyrad's Random 10

While Mighty Destroyer might have been a very good name for an '80s metal band, it is actually a short lived Calypso artist from the early '40s. The extent of calypso knowledge here begins and ends with Harry Belafonte, which is a shame because it is a great style that is fun, accessible and makes for great dance music. Not a lot is know about Mighty Destroyer himself except that his first recoding was "Mother's Love" in 1941 and he died in 1943. Nearly every calypso artist takes a nickname which they record and the names were funny and sometimes very strange (for example, The Growler, Atilla the Hun, and Mighty Sparrow) and I would guess that they were, at least in part, used for anonymity. Since 1939, the Calypso Monarch Competition has taken place during Carnival in Trinidad. The first winner was Growling Tiger with "The Labour Situation in Trinidad and Tobago" and Mighty Destroyer won in 1941 with a song called "Adolph Hitler." Especially early on, the songs were heavily focused on political and social issues, which is pretty unusual and makes for a pretty unique listening experience. The two Calypso albums I have are themed. The first focuses on the power of women in society and the second is on the modern dangers of Shango and Voodoo religions.

1. Mighty Destroyer--Mother's Love
2. Public Enemy--Countdown to Armageddon
3. Grupo Coral de Caldelas--Coro des Macadeires
4. Jimmy Reed--I Got to Keep Rolling
5. Bela Bartok--Concerto No.3 for Piano & Orchestra, Sz.119; 3.Allegro vivace (Dinu Lipatti, Pn; SW German RSO, Paul Sacher, cond)
6. Carla Kihlstedt--History
7. Buckethead--Clones
8. Bob Ostertag--Middle Stone
9. Leaether Strip--Serenade for the Dead
10. Tommy Dorsey--Sailing at Midnight

Identity Politics and the Academy

While identity politics have done a lot of good in American life, at their worst, they are a very destructive force. Identity politics have always had their strongest base in the academy. This has led to the founding of African-American Studies, Chicano Studies, Women's Studies, and other vital programs that serve both their demographic and university communities well But at times the knee-jerk side of identity politics reach a level of absurdity.

Take for instance the infamous SOLAS listerv run by the Latin American Studies student organization at the University of New Mexico. Anyone with sense stays as far away from this list as possible. The messages are deeply politicized beyond belief, the arguments both pointless and mean, and the volume of e-mail sent is out of control. Ever since I arrived at UNM in 2000, this has been a problem. While I am not a Latin Americanist, I have a strong interest in the region and would have liked to subscribe to the listserv for all the interesting events. But it's not worth it.

Let me give you an example. This week, a discussion came up about the hiring practices of UNM.

Participant A provided the numbers: "According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics are the largest ethnic group in New Mexico at 43.4%. However, less than 11% of UNM's professors are Hispanic. African Americans make up 2.4% of New Mexico's population, but only 1% of UNM faculty. At 43.1%, Whites are almost as prevalent in NM as Hispanics. Yet nearly 78% of UNM professors are white."

There is a sensible reason for this, as pointed out by Participant B: "The issue presented here is quite intriguing. However, we should probably consider the fact that professors at UNM come from a national pool of applicants, and while NM certainly does have a large Hispanic population, on the whole the US Hispanic population is much smaller. Not surprisingly, it is actually around 12%, close to the percentage of Hispanic employees at UNM. Food for thought."

Precisely. Plus, quite honestly, if you are a Hispanic, African-American, or Native American academic, the demand for you is incredibly high because every school wants to diversify its faculty as much as possible. UNM is a good school, but there are better and these faculty are right to take the opportunity to work at a better institution.

But on this listserv, this kind of realistic analysis has no place.

Participant C responded: "Are you trying to justify the racism that exists within the state of New Mexico?"

Now you might ask, what in the hell does this have to do with how faculty get hired? And of course the answer is virtually nothing.

Participant D builds on this by proclaiming, "The issue" has been and remains to be white supremacy. That doesn't change when you leave New Mexico, either. [Participant C's] arguement falls apart when you look at the percentage of African American Faculty at UNM. African American's make up about 12.3percent of the population of the US and 1% of the faculty. How this can be justified, i don't know, but I am sure that UNM has people on call to justify this. Weather or not we are compareing the census data (which is skewed in it's own ways) to the percentage of faculty at UNM or just listening to the personal experinces of people who have been excluded or fucked over by UNM, UNM and CNM practice white supremacist employment practices."

This is just not true, but hey, why think about facts when they don't fit with your knee-jerk reactions!!! One might say that African-Americans don't work at UNM in large numbers because there are hardly any African-Americans in New Mexico. Given that many black people would like to live around other black people and that African-Americans are in such demand in the academy, there is a realistic explanation for the lack of African-Americans on the UNM faculty.

Mercifully, Participant E more or less ended this absurd conversation (or at least I stopped paying attention at this point) by simply stating the numbers.

"NATIONAL DATA: DOCTORAL RECIPIENT BY ETHNICITY & GENDER 2002 Ethnicity Degrees % UNM% Black 1644 = 6.5% 1% White 20720 = 82.5% 78% Asian 1364 = 5.4% Hispanic 1233 = 4.9% 11% Amerind 146 = 0.6% TOTAL 25107 [the table covers 1992-2002; €™m just showing the 2002 data. I also calculated the percentages those numbers represent & added the UNM percentages from the original post]

So, based on the available doctoral degrees, by ethnicity, UNM "overhires" Hispanics by more than 2x their representation in the doctoral pool, slightly "underhires" Whites, and grossly "underhires" Blacks. Since those three categories leave 10% of UNM positions behind, and the US doctoral pool only contains another 6%, you can conclude that UNM somewhat "overhires" Asians and/or Amerinds as well.

What can you "conclude"? One conclusion might be that given the available doctoral pool, UNM is not practicing "white supremacist hiring". What is the larger question? ... Why do so few people of color get doctoral degrees? (and of those, go on to teach) And then, related to that, how does UNM stack up in granting doctoral degrees relative to the rest of the country? That is, is UNM serving its community?"

I think the answer is that UNM is doing as good a job as they can in serving New Mexico's community. Are we going to compete with Harvard and Princeton for the Cornel West's of the world? No. But we can offer a very appealing package for Latino and Native American scholars, and we do. The fact that UNM's Latino faculty equal the population as a whole is quite amazing, given the paucity of Latinos with PhDs compared to their percentage as a whole.

Moreover, it would be really bloody nice if people actually thought before they spoke sometimes.

An Open Letter to Ang Lee

Dear Mr. Lee,

I see that your new film, "Lust, Caution" has received an NC-17 ruling from the MPAA. Evidently it has too many "pelvic thrusts" for the board, among other things.

By now you should know how the MPAA and the United States works. The fact that the female characters might enjoy sex or, God forbid!, have an orgasm, is deeply offensive to this nation. More offensive is the idea that a man would perform oral sex on a woman. That clearly violates the nation's values.

What you need to learn is what Americans find acceptable. Sawing a woman in two for instance. Totally acceptable. Other things you might do is torture a woman to death, have a woman thrown to her death from a tall building, or otherwise see women humiliated. That is OK.

If you follow my advice, you will at least get an R rating. If you can get a BIG STAR in your film, you'll even get a PG-13.

Historical Image of the Day

Annie Lee Moss, 1954

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

1930 advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes.

"It's toasted"

Mister Trend's Random 10

Thanks to a full day of seeing Jesus, going to the beach, and going to a samba club, my random 10 is a day late.

The Sufjan Stevens track is from the least-Sufjan Stevens album, "Enjoy Your Rabbit". It's a 70-minute album of techno compositions, sans words, with each track named after a animal/year in the Chinese calendar. The compositions range from ambient to loud and dissonant. It's really good, and may be the kind of thing that critics of Stevens's indie "cuteness" might actually enjoy. Say what you will about him, his prodigious production isn't limited to one style, and it's great to see him having no fear of doing whatever he feels like (even if it sometimes leads to overly-long albums).

1. "Último Desejo" - Maria Bethânia
2. "Canção do Sal" - Milton Nascimento
3. "You Still Believe in Me" - Beach Boys
4. "A Time to Be So Small" - Interpol
5. "Andvari" - Sigur Rós
6. "Lábios de Cetim" - GlauciaNaccer
7. "Enjoy Your Rabbit" - Sufjan Stevens
8. "Not For You" - Pearl Jam
9. "Arrabal Amargo" - Carlos Gardél
10. "Big Time Sensuality" - Bjork

Friday, August 24, 2007

Erik's Random 10

Dale Watson's "I See Your Face in Every Face I See" comes off his album, Every Song I Write Is For You. He wrote this album after his partner and mother of his children died in a car accident several years ago. He claims in the liner notes that her death led to the greatest songs he ever wrote. That's not really true, as the album feels rather weak and overly sentimental to me. Of course, he was recovering from a terrible thing and that's not a knock.

More positively, Dale Watson is the face of country music in Austin. For years, he's been holding up the pillar of honky-tonk country in the United States. That's sad, but true. Many of the alt-country bands are great, but they also see themselves as moving beyond traditional country. That's fine and all, but there is still a ton say using honky-tonk styles. Watson is the epitomy of the working musician. He plays 3-4 times a week in Austin. I just saw him on Tuesday at a bar where he had a sort of country swing band, including a 3 piece horn section. They had just started playing together and I don't know if I would recommend that particular format, or space, as the best way to first experience Watson, but it was certainly a good time. Even in Austin though, there is a limited demand for honky-tonk music. It's dying, despite all Dale Watson's efforts. Thank God he's still around keeping it alive, covering country musicians from the past and writing his own fine songs as well.

1. Dale Watson, I See Your Face in Every Face I See
2. Kasey Chambers, A Little Bit Lonesome
3. Old 97s, If My Heart Was a Car
4. Alejandro Escovedo, Slip
5. Lu Edmonds/John Rice/The Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Gulag Blues
6. J.S. Bach, Adagio, Sonata in C Minor, BMV 1017, Andrew Manze, violin
7. Merle Haggard, Grandma Harp
8. Guy Klucevsek, Slow Dancing in Yugoslavia
9. Bill Frisell, Twenty Years
10. Modest Mouse, Bankrupt on Selling

Bob Kerrey

Kos is wrong on the question of whether to support Bob Kerrey.

Kerrey is likely to run for the Nebraska Senate seat if Chuck Hagel retires, as is increasingly likely. Kos provides a useful summary of Kerrey's strengths and weaknesses. He is really bad on the war and social security. He is much better on gay rights and abortion rights. He's a mixed bag, no question. He's better than the other, nominally Democratic, senator from Nebraska, Ben Nelson.

But Hagel has been a leading Republican critic of the war. That makes Kos wonder whether progressives should support Kerrey.

He's not sure they should and I don't know why. It's Nebraska people. Bob Kerrey would almost certainly win. Do we really think we are going to get a better Democratic candidate in Nebraska? Sure, he sucks in a lot of ways. But he's going to vote with the Democrats most of the time. That most of the time is a hell of a lot more than any wingnut Republican who is likely to win the Republican nomination.

Kos concludes:

The alternative would be a Republican whose support we'd have on absolutely nothing, but who wouldn't make a habit of undermining our party from within.
Quite the dilemma.

Um, no it's not. The key is to get enough of a majority that Kerrey's pro-war votes don't count. Maybe he will come out publicly for the war, but I can live with that. I would rather have him voting for the war than a Republican doing the same and also voting against every other thing I believe in.

The larger lesson here is that we have to keep the war in perspective. Should it be the biggest issue Democrats campaign on? Yes. But it's not the only issue. Kerrey is good enough on enough other issues that he does deserve at least a level of neutrality among Democratic activists.

Historical Image of the Day

Robert Marshall Root painting of Lincoln-Douglas debates, 1858

Friday Guitar Blogging

John Lee Hooker.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Film Review--Black Snake Moan (2007)

They just don’t make exploitation films like they used to. Some may claim that is good, but not me. Sometime during the early ‘90s, when the video market became a virtual guarantee of profit for an independent studio, distributors began releasing their seedy underbelly directly to video and removed the pictures entirely from the theater circuit. Now, I’m not one to bemoan the loss of the past, but this change let to significant differences in the ways that films were made and the ways that viewers watch, at least in the realm of the exploitation cheapie. “B” productions of today are much lazier than they used to be, and strictly go for the lowest common denominator, rather than using a lurid storyline to show young stars in an arena with an artistic flair. If a movie of this nature is even to be released in the theaters at all, it must have big stars and even then, low budget as it may be, is labeled a risk that is doomed to a short stay in circulation. This is Black Snake Moan, a big new entry of modern exploitation: hot blues and hot sex in rural Tennessee. Does it give a favorable impression of the South? No. Is it politically correct in any way? God, no. Is it unabashedly entertaining? Hell yes, it is.

Christina Ricci plays trashy nympho Rae who, as a result of her history of abuse, is reduced to writhing orgasmic fits if she can’t get that one thing she needs. After her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) volunteers for war, Rae runs wild, satisfying her addiction with whatever she can find, including Ronnie’s best friend, but this is her big mistake. Turns out that he’s a real peach, as he beats her senseless after having his way with her drugged addled body before leaving her in the road to die. The next morning, Laz (Samuel Jackson), a bluesman and farmer, spots the barely alive Rae in the dirt. While he doesn’t know her, he only has one choice: to take her to his house and nurse her back to health. There is no way that he could call the sheriff to say “I just found her.” This just won’t cut it. He tries his best to make her well, but her sleepwalking and fever dreams make it difficult for Laz to keep tabs on her. He can’t have her running into the woods so, when reason has no effect, Laz only sees one solution.

That Samuel Jackson chains Christina Ricci to the radiator should come as a surprise to nobody but when Rae, finally lucid, stands to find herself bound, it is a surprisingly funny image. It is a slap in the face to viewers that this movie isn’t nice, and it’s isn’t going to start playing nice any time soon. Rae, understandably, freaks out, milking the melodrama for all that it’s worth, but eventually accepts her cage (at this point, I was wondering what Boxing Helena would have been like had it starred Sydney Poitier), and now all the Southern Gothic histrionics can begin. Rae tries to seduce her way to freedom over and over again but Laz, a stronger man than I, has agreed to “suffer her” and changes his mission from fixing her body to fixing her soul. Rae, of course, has expressed no interest in being fixed, but that is of no consequence to Laz, who has his own axe to grind. See, his wife just left him for his brother and, in combination with Rae’s history of incest, they’re a pretty picture of exploitation cinema. Laz’s true hope is that, in fixing Rae’s soul, he’ll fix his own. Any kind of perverted sense of generosity is stripped away and we’re left with a selfish act; Rae as his object of desire, even if that desire is ostensibly non-sexual. Plus, his choice of method may say quite a bit about why his wife might have left him, so he might have wanted to think a little on that along the way. Now, it’s a race for redemption. Laz isn’t coming to church and the preacher’s stopping by to find out why. Plus, Ronnie’s back in town, and I don’t think this small town, military trained white boy will take kindly to his girlfriend in her panties chained to a radiator in a black man’s house.

What could have simply been an amusingly lurid but forgettable plotline becomes something more in the expert hands of those involved. Rae could have been the shallow and vapid “hooker with a heart of gold” but, at every moment, Christina Ricci plays the part with conviction and, as the film goes on, adds subtlety. At the climax of her story, there is actual emotional impact (a true rarity, especially in this kind of film). Less subtle, though equally enjoyable, is Samuel Jackson’s Laz. He channels the spirit from his Pulp Fiction days and, even if derivative, it’s the best thing he’s done in years. The transitions well, and he does a great job portraying the angry, mixed up soul of the bluesman. On top of it all, surprised as I am to write this, Justin Timberlake does a really good job as Ronnie. While his screen time is limited, his character is integral to the story and he actually pulls it off. Ronnie is the one person in Rae’s life who actually cares; she feels this and, at least toward him, reacts positively. He is a catalyst for her deep humanity, and she demonstrates this as the only person capable or willing to help Ronnie through his own crippling problems. Ronnie needs Rae as much as Rae needs Ronnie, and he loves her deeply for offering this to him. This point, however, much like Laz’s issues with his wife, comes back to the problem of loving Rae selfishly. Had Rae simply scoffed at Ronnie’s illness, as everyone else has, would he look at her as anything but a piece of meat like everyone else does? If Laz didn’t feel like Rae was his ticket to redemption, would he have dropped her off at the hospital rather than take her in to “fix” her? The characters and their motivations are much more complicated than they first appear, and we wind up with a finely acted study of extremely twisted love that, sad as it may be, is also quite realistic in its tone and resolution.

That this kind of subtlety of character rests so naturally alongside such tawdry material is a testament to the skill of the filmmakers. Sex and violence is fun and all (they’re cornerstones of my film upbringing) but if the viewer doesn’t care about the characters, it doesn’t matter what the plot or content of a movie is, the filmmakers have nothing. This is one reason why Black Snake Moan and Rosemary’s Baby work when films by Catherine Breillat and those like Saw do not. Director Craig Brewer understands character, and aesthetics on top of it, which are both important factors in successful exploitation cinema that are often forgotten. These are the things, though, that allow viewers bridge huge gaps in plot and low production values (where would John Waters be without his trashy sense of style?). Where Black Snake Moan gets the characters right, it has style in spades. In every way, it’s as much a showcase for cinematographer Amy Vincent and composer Scott Bomar as it is for the actors. The shots of rural Tennessee are rendered slowly and deliberately, giving us time to drink in the beauty of the countryside. Characters and situations are given different levels of focus and flashbacks are shot in varying degrees of warmth and coolness, allowing us insight into situations that are not expressly told. Truly, though, the star of this picture is the sound design. From the thundering storms to the gritty songs, they deliver an aural onslaught that brings the viewer directly into the scene. Blues music, and all its fury, is the cornerstone of the film, much more than the sex. The title of the film is a song by Blind Lemon Jefferson, and it’s bookended by footage of Son House on stage describing the blues. A scene in which Laz sings the titular song to Rae as she sits, supplicated, at his feet best describes how this is done. As he growls out the lyrics, a storm brews outside. The crashes of thunder accent his song perfectly to bleed every bit of emotion possible from it. It’s a beautifully arresting scene and one that culminates all that’s good about this film.

The funny thing about that scene though, is that one of my only problems with the movie first shows its face here. The producers made a big deal out of the fact that Samuel Jackson played his own songs for the film. While I have no good way to verify whether or not this is true, I’m suspicious. They never show a detail shot of Jackson playing the guitar where it’s clear it’s actually him, just hands and faces. Why wouldn’t they want to make this fact clear to people? This is the major difference between the greatness of The Hustler and the sorry state of The Color of Money. As much as they pretend that Tom Cruise is making those ridiculous shots, every time they cut away to the end of the cue hitting the ball, I know better. You never saw a Fred & Ginger movie that didn’t have at least one full body shot of both performers dancing together. Authenticity equals immersion in many cases, and Brewer misses the mark here. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but it has stayed on my mind.

The most detrimental problem with the film, though, is one that has been the subject of much complaint. The film is politically extremely difficult. The scenario built and the subject matter used begs viewers to interpret the film in a modern political sense, there is no way around this. Brewer juxtaposes the gender, class, and racial differences in the characters and in the town, but adds no comment and it is next to impossible to not have an opinion on the issues presented. It’s left open to interpretation so, for many, the film will come off as racist and misogynistic. The accusations are hard to argue with, though I don’t think the filmmakers care. Does Brewer condone the attitudes presented here? I doubt it, but without a counter to the attitudes, these readings are inevitable and, especially for modern audiences, necessary to the film’s acceptance.

Because of this, Black Snake Moan ultimately becomes less satisfying than it could have been. It’s very pretty, the characters are well drawn and the music is excellent, but viewers will be forced to supplant their political inclinations for a hundred minutes to fully enjoy what the movie has to offer, which has always been a hallmark of the exploitation genre. I have had to do this plenty of times over the years (especially with the inherent racism foreign-born horror and, especially, the zombie sub-genre…this is for another time), but not all viewers are willing to do this and will leave the picture angry. Still, for some nice looking, but still trashy fun, I recommend it highly. Personally, I laughed like crazy and enjoyed the hell out of it.

Cultivating His Only Constituency

Following on last Saturday's "Put me in, Coach!" op-ed from Ayad Allawi, Iraq Slogger reports today that Allawi has retained Haley Barbour's lobbying firm in his bid to be installed as the Iraqi Pinochet. (As if Maliki hadn't gotten the message yet, yesterday Bush called him a "good man," putting Maliki in the august company of such political success stories as Bernie Kerik and Michael Brown.)

Juan Cole relays rumours of a coming coup, and a two-year security plan involving the installation of a "military commission," presumably to keep the lid on Iraq while Bush sallies forth into Iran, and even greater disaster.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

Lynchings. Tulsa Race Riot, 1921.

Rick Perry is a Bloody Moron

I'm really happy to be living in Texas now but I am not happy by having the execrable Rick Perry as my governor. The European Union asked Texas to consider a moratorium on the death penalty. Perry's response:

“230 years ago, our forefathers fought a war to throw off the yoke of a European monarch and gain the freedom of self-determination. Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens. While we respect our friends in Europe, welcome their investment in our state and appreciate their interest in our laws, Texans are doing just fine governing Texas.”

Of course, Perry fails to leave out how his Texas forefathers fought a war against Mexico 161 years ago to protect their slaves and another war against those American forefathers he claims to respect so much 146 years ago to do the same thing.

But hey, Perry's argument is so stupid just on the face of it to not even be worth mentioning. In fact, I dearly wish I had never seen it.

That's a Long Game

Holy cow!! The Texas Rangers have beaten the Baltimore Orioles 30-3 to break the record for most runs ever in the Major Leagues. The last time a team broke thirty, it was 1897. Go Rangers. This is the start of the benefit for finally trading Mark Teixeira. You can't trust a player with two "ei"s in his name.

Fetishizing the Hops

Eric Asimov is right when he opines,

"India pale ale is a case in point. Not content with a sturdy ale awash in refreshing bitterness, many brewers are making their I.P.A.’s stronger and stronger, with a hop bitterness so aggressive it will knock anybody out of her hammock. These beers can be fascinating in the proper context, but it’s August, man! Cool me off, but don’t bowl me over."

Indeed. I don't understand the idea behind making IPAs so strong they are essentially undrinkable. I feel like it's some sort of weird masculinity contest, where only the toughest can actually drink some of this stuff. A good IPA is a nice thing. Frankly, IPAs generally aren't my favorite beers, but I do enjoy one of good quality on occasion. But hoppiness for the sake of it is just silly.


Mark Sanger makes an excellent argument for allowing the Roger B. Taney statue in Baltimore to remain standing. For those of you who don't remember, Taney was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during the 1850s and was wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott case.

Sanger writes:

"Tearing down all monuments to Roger Taney encourages the historically false belief that slavery existed in the United States largely because Taney and a few other leaders made evil decisions. The monuments to Taney and other champions of slavery that exist in Frederick, in Maryland, and throughout the United States better serve as important reminders that human bondage existed in this state and country because Americans in the early 19th century believed in memorializing those political leaders who preferred slavery to liberty."

Absolutely right. It is vitally important for the people of this country to understand how central slavery was to pre-Civil War America. Roger Taney, John C. Calhoun, and Robert Rhett did not by themselves create and maintain slavery. It was southern planters, northern merchants, ship owners, the US government, and virtually every other major institution in the antebellum United States.

Tearing down statues of Taney and Calhoun undermines the responsibility average Americans had for the slave system. Moreover, it also downplays the role of race in American society today. Americans after the Civil War, both northerners and southerners, consciously lionized men like Taney while placing African-Americans into second-class citizenship. Whites still benefit from this today.

Rather than tear down the Taney statue, let's understand why it is there in the first place.

The Faithful

Last night's CNN documentary on Israeli religious extremists, and their Jewish and Christian supporters in the U.S., was something we don't often get in U.S. media: An honest look at institutionalized and systemic Israeli violence against Palestinians, and the way that violence is directly supported by American money, rhetoric, and policy. There's simply no credible argument for classifying Hamas as a terrorist organization, but not Gush Emunim.

The section on NY Assemblyman Dov Hikind surprised even me. Here's a man, a legislator, who openly and proudly raises money to expand and construct new illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in clear, blatant violation of U.S. law. If he were raising money for Palestinian kindergartens, you can bet the FBI would be all over him. But thanks to the double-standard which exists in regard to Israeli violence against Palestinians, as well as general American ignorance of the nature of the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, Hikind has no reason to fear any repercussions from going on national television and essentially declaring his support for ethnic cleansing.

NFL 2007 Preview: NFC West

Now, through all my laziness and my procrastinating, here is the final division of the 2007 NFL Preview…the vaunted NFC West. Two of the best up-and-coming teams are here, and one team, much to my chagrin, has had a stranglehold on the division for five years now. It’s a tough group of teams this season. Will somebody finally unseat them?


OFFENSE: For the second year in a row, the Cardinals offense looks so good on paper, but will not fare so well in reality. They have one of the best receiver corps in the game, a potential hall of famer in the backfield and a quarterback coming into his own. Trouble is, they still don’t have a line to make all that happen. They can score points, but Leinart’s going to be under constant pressure so there’ll be a lot of interceptions, too.

DEFENSE: They’re young, and have the potential to be a real force in the NFL, but they’re too inexperienced to have much of an impact right now. The squad ranked 30th in total defense last year and that isn’t likely to change much. While their offense might be able to score points, these guys are going to really give some up.

Another new coach, another new system, another losing year. Sure, there’s pedigree all over the place, but they’re just ahead of the Lions for worst franchise in the league. All the talent that they have on the field and all the talent they have in the coaching staff won’t amount to a hill of beans and, despite their cool stadium, they will bottom out the division again. I hope that, one day, a Cowboys game in Arizona won’t be a home game for Dallas. That will be a good day, but it won’t be anytime soon.


OFFENSE: They might not quite be the greatest show on turf anymore, but the Rams’ offense is pretty good. Stephen Jackson is one of the top five backs in the game, is the heart of the offense and is only getting better, Bruce and Holt are still an effective duo, Marc Bulger still surprises me that he’s actually successful, and the offensive line is as solid as it ever is. They will be a scoring machine all season long.

DEFENSE: The Rams are talented on defense but, like the Cardinals’ group, are young and won’t be as effective this year as in the future. For now, they will be better than the Arizona, but not by a lot. They have the advantage of a proven offense to allow them some breathing room. Also, I haven’t mentioned special teams much, but the Rams have Dante Hall returning kicks and, if he isn’t as dynamic to watch as Devon Hester, he is an extremely dangerous player.

My predictions for the Rams and the Cardinals are virtually the same, but the difference is in the fact that St. Louis has stuck with their players and coaches and have built a program that has been good for years and will continue to succeed. Arizona, on the other hand, have proven that they hate winning and hate their fans.


OFFENSE: Unlike the previous two teams and the Niners of old, this team is built for and revolves around Frank Gore. His rise to prominence has surprised me, and I don’t think he’ll be as successful as others predict, but they’re banking on him, so he’d better step up. They’re built a lot like Kansas City, with lackluster receivers and an unproven quarterback. Gore is not LJ, and he’s not even the second best runner in his division, but he’s good and will be successful.

DEFENSE: Like the rest of this division thus far, the defensive struggles of the 49ers will keep them from being ultimately successful. The difference here is age. A lot of these guys are old, and there isn’t a lot in the wings for when people like Bryant Young finally retire. Those they do have are pretty sad.

Without the explosive offensive potential of the previous teams, the Niner defense will cause the team as a whole to underachieve. I can’t say I’m sad to see it happen, as I’m always happy to see them fail, but there’s not really a lot of competition for the Seahawks this year, and it would have been nice to see a change in at least one of these teams.


OFFENSE: The Seahawks first team is one of the strongest in the league and, accepting another year of age, they are pretty much the same squad as they’ve been. A quality line opens the door for Shaun Alexander and they’re hoping for Deion Branch to really perform for Matt Hasselbeck so, assuming that happens, they should be the same powerful team of two years ago.

DEFENSE: Without a lot of big stars, the Seahawks’ defense is a strong, skilled and deep group. Led by Lofa Tatupu, they hit hard and they move fast. They are the only group in the West with the potential to stop anybody. This is why they are, once again, the clear winners of this division.

If, like last year, they lose their two stars, I wouldn’t expect them to win the division again. They just don’t have the depth and there are two teams drooling over the thought of an anemic Seahawks offense; their defenses need all the help they can get. I’m glad that they are gone from the AFC West because I really want to root for them in the eternal struggle against San Francisco. This year should satisfy that grudge.

So, that’s the regular season. It should be a good time, and the Broncos should be great. In the end, I didn’t pick a lot of surprises, but it doesn’t seem like the spectrum changed a lot since last year. Nevertheless, I can guarantee one thing: the Bears will not be in the championship picture this time. Luck only goes so far in today’s NFL. Next, I’ll look at my tea leaves and predict the playoffs.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Terror and Repression in the Favelas

This week, O Globo, the newspaper of the largest media conglomerate in Brazil, started running a series on favelas. Globo is one of the leading figures in categorically treating favelados as "traficantes," regardless of whether they are actually involved in the drug trade or not.

However, it seems they are perhaps actually starting to look into the issue of violence, the police, traficantes, drugs, corruption, and paramilitary violence a little more critically at last, for the series is focusing on the 1.5 million favelados in Rio themselves (the link is just a report Globo released online of the report it is offering - in true Globo fashion, you have to buy the newspaper to read their story).

Instead of ignoring any non-traficante favelado, as it traditionally does, Globo instead investigates how the violence impacts the daily lives of those who live in the favelas and are just trying to get by. What is more, it is one of the most even-handed stories Globo has ever provided (though that is a skewed measurement), reporting on the lives of those who lost loved ones not just to drug lords, but also to police who frequently invade favelas and rather indiscriminately shoot. Globo even reports on how the actions of "bandidos" ("renegade" police that function almost as paramilitaries and that the media uniformly treats as a few bad elements, rather than a chronic problem with the military police) have resulted in deaths and increased violence in the favelas in some cases.

Globo really doesn't hold back the punches, either. In one of the most damning statements, the journal points out that the number of favelados "desaparecidos" between 1993 and June of this year is 10,464. 10,464 dead in 14 years. That's roughly 9,700 more than were killed during the 21 year Brazilian dictatorship. That's 7,000 more than died in Chile under Pinochet. Brazilians generally don't even bat an eye when a favelado's death is reported (if it's reported), but when seen in the large number, it can't help but startle anybody, given the sheer number. Globo has no problem categorically saying this is worse than the dictatorship (and, strictly in terms of deaths, the numbers make it hard to argue otherwise, especially since these are the deaths under a liberal-democratic federation, and not a military government). Indeed, the series title itself is "The Brazilians that still live under the dictatorship" ("Os brasileiros que ainda vivem na ditadura").

Certainly, there are problems still within the reporting. While the police (including rogue cops who go into the favelas and kill for what basically amounts to sport) are present, Globo can't stay away from the subtle but important twist of always mentioning the traficantes first, in turn treating the issue as a cause-effect relationship ("if there were no traficantes, there would be no bandidos"). This approach refuses to put on a level playing ground the violence the police carry out and the violenc acts the traficantes commit. What is more, while this series will doubtlessly reach millions of people, the likelihood of this series marking a watershed in how Globo reports the violence and life in the favelas is minimal. After this series, the "journalism" in Globo, as in every other major media source, will go back to completely ignoring the favelados save for the traficantes, real or reported. I could be wrong, but I doubt I am, and if Globo does prove me wrong, that's fine with me. Still, this has the potential to be an important step in slowly shifting how the media, and in turn society, view the favelas as nothing more than dens of criminals and lazy (black) people who do nothing for society (save for, of course, cleaning the houses of the middlle class and elites for generally unliveable wages). For once (and who knows when I'll have the chance to say this again, if ever), O Globo deserves applause for taking this action and reporting this story, warts and all.

Only Jews Can Suffer Genocide

In a related story to Israel deporting refugees from Darfur, the Anti Defamation League fired its New England regional director. Why? He insisted that the ADL recognize that Turkey committed genocide against the Armenians in 1915. This is an obvious fact, yet the ADL does not want to admit it because it could hurt Israeli-Turkish relations.

This is sad on so many levels. It's insane that a Jewish human rights organization in the United States would take stands based upon what they perceive to be Israel's policy interests. It's depressing that so many wonderful Jewish people, both in Israel and the US, have their voices suppressed when they publicize the obvious connections between the Jewish experience and that of other oppressed minorities. And it's unconscionable that the ADL would deny that Turkey committed genocide. It's really hard to respect the ADL at this point.

Really terrible stuff. But not surprising in the least.

Via Rob

Even More Fun With Climate Change!

In today's happy happy joy joy news, animals in Utah's Antelope Island State Park are largely not reproducing this summer because the weather is too hot and dry. This suggests that many species will suffer severe population declines over the next decades as the climate heats up, droughts become longer, and weather becomes overall more unpredictable and extreme.

Now I think I will get in my car and drive the 3/4 of a mile to campus. I don't have to, but I want to support the American Way of Life.

Historical Image of the Day

Lizzie Hill, ex-slave interviewed by the WPA, 1930s

Monday, August 20, 2007

Nazi Board Games

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Nazi board games exist. I guess I had never thought of it before. I particularly like this one:

In the game, players use a crude spring to launch wooden pieces onto a board
with four sections with different point values. The two outer rings included the
names of German cities. The third ring had cartoon images of top Nazi officials
such as propaganda minister Joseph Goebbel. The inner ring -- with the highest score of 100 points -- showed Adolf Hitler.
The box for the game, called the V-Game, showed a picture of
Hitler riding atop a German V-1 rocket and wearing a British royal crown.

I want to imagine what games children in other totalitarian regimes played. Did Cambodian kids during the Khmer Rouge play games where you practiced shooting your friend with glasses? Did the Stasi promote games to trick your parents into saying something anti-government so their kids could inform on them? Did Franco's Spain have games where you saw how far you could launch a figure based on a gay male stereotype out of a cannon?

Good times.

Special Scrutiny

Via Richard Silverstein, a play by play of the attack on Debbie Almontaser and the Khalil Gibran International Academy. Anyone familiar with the NY Post will be unsurprised to learn that the paper completely misrepresented the sequence of questions and answers given by Almontaser about the Arabic word "intifada" in the article which eventually led to her resignation. Anyone familiar with Daniel Pipes will be unsurprised to learn that the man is a shameless bigot:

The Arab-American community right now — and any Arabic language and culture school — should be subject to “special scrutiny,” [Pipes] said.

“I believe such a school requires scrutiny beyond that of any other group’s school, he said. “It fits into a larger pattern in which Muslim officials require greater scrutiny, whether they be chaplains [or] law enforcement officers. There is a tendency to sympathize with Islamism that we ignore at our peril. ... When law enforcement is looking for a rapist, it looks at men, not men and women. If you’re looking for terrorism you must give special scrutiny to this community.”


“What I am arguing for — special scrutiny — is often done,” he said. “But it’s done in an unofficial, underhanded way. It’s lying basically. It’s a disservice to Muslims who don’t believe law enforcement when they say you’re not being singled out.

“Let’s make it overt. Let’s say there is a difference. It would be healthy to have a debate about it.”

Asked if he would have favored “special scrutiny” of the immigrant Jewish community teeming with socialists, communists and anarchists on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century to deal with terrorist bombings by some anarchists during that period, Pipes replied, “I’m happy to apply this wherever it’s useful.”

Wow. You almost have to be impressed at the stones on someone who tries to present overt anti-Muslim prejudice as a service to Muslims.

People, It's Bad

Shorter cross-section of national security experts (as well as Daniel Pipes, who was disappointed that the poll contained no question like: How seditious are American Muslims? A) Very seditious; B) Extremely seditious indeed; C) Michelle Malkin is a half-stepper) polled for the Center for American Progress's latest Terrorism Index:

"Sh*t's all f'ed up!"

More later.

Could Al Haig Be Next?

I don't know what to do. All of my favorite icons from the 80s are dying. Not long ago, we lost Tammy Faye. Then, Michael Deaver passes away. No one did more to shape the Reagan image, not that ol' Ron probably remembered who the man was by 1985. Then today I hear about the passage of Leona Helmsley. The grand dame of evil was one of the true legends of the worst decade in the history of humanity. I'm sure there are some celebratory parties going on right now hosted by the many people who worked for her.

It's a good thing we have such an evil administration right now. If a Democrat was in the White House, we would be entering a dangerous and perhaps unprecedented period of unevilness. What would we do?

Also, the answer to the question in the post title is that I hope so.

I Can Finally Sleep Soundly

I sure feel safer today. That's because illegal immigrant Elvira Arellano was arrested today after spending a year in a church to avoid the police. Her crime? To be an undocumented laborer and working with a false social security number! Now, we can all sleep better knowing that this hard-working woman will be sent back to Mexico while her young, American-born son stays here.

Now, all of us real Americans can be freed from all the terrible things Arellano did, like clean our airports. If only we could depart all illegals. Then we wouldn't have to suffer every day with all those fresh fruits and vegetables in our stores those people pick, without our trash cans being dumped every night, and without our homes being built.

God bless America.


God bless the White Stripes. First, Jack White produces that wonderful Loretta Lynn album. Now, they invite Porter Wagoner to Madison Square Garden to open for them. How awesome is that.

I've never been the biggest Porter fan per se, but it's nice to see him get some hip cred in his late career. His biggest contribution was probably discovering Dolly Parton, but he has some good songs of his own. And of course, he's been host of the Opry for about 300 years.

I have to wonder what the young hipster White Stripes fans thought of this old country singer, complete with Nudie suit and with his name on his guitar neck, playing for them. Or what Porter thought.

Historical Image of the Day

Pecos National Historic Park

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Those Compassionate Israelis

Israel has again shown that it doesn't give one whit for social justice if Jews aren't the oppressed party.

Last night, Israel sent a group of migrants back to Egypt. Included were about 50 refugees from Darfur.

You would think that Israel would be particularly sensitive to human rights given the experience of Jews in World War II. This of course has not been the case. Not only does Israel oppress the Palestinians with glee, but they show no interest in hosting refugees from other conflicts.

While there are lots of wonderful Israelis who do make the connections between their own past and human rights today, as a whole I don't think there is a democratic country with such consistently disgusting policies. Even our own.

Climate Change and the Poor

Who will suffer the most from climate change? The poor, rather obviously.

Kenya Environmental and Politics News Weblog reports on the rising incidence of malaria in Nairobi. Kenya's capital is at about 1700 meters, above the normal danger zone for malaria. But this is changing. Warming temperatures are creating better habitat at higher elevations for mosquitoes. Kenyans are poor. Many live in slums and are more likely to pick up diseases. Several decades ago, malaria was eradicated from Nairobi thanks to the draining of swamps and other health measures. Now it is back and affecting growing numbers of people.

The larger issue here is that impoverished people are more likely to succumb to diseases resulting from climate change. In fact, climate change will radically change the lives of some of the world's poorest people, whether residents of Bangladesh, who will be increasingly susceptible to monsoon flooding, the people of the Pacific Islands who are seeing the oceans take back their lands, or the indigenous people of the Arctic whose livelihood is literally melting away.

I believe that perhaps the most important issue within the social justice movement this century will be dealing with climate change. Are we prepared to handle the massive problems it will cause people? Absolutely not.

Via Global Voices Online


After living a peripatetic existence for the last three months, I am finally settled in Georgetown, Texas to start my new job as visiting assistant professor in the history department at Southwestern University. A few notes:

1. I am looking forward to taking my tour of weird Texas. Of course, there is a lot of weird places here. The Confederate Reunion Grounds State Historic Park is clearly a place to go. I'm not too far from Crawford so obviously I'm checking that out. I'm about an hour south of Waco. I'm hoping for a bronze statue of David Koresh. Even if they haven't done that, Waco does have the Texas Rangers Museum, the Dr. Pepper Museum, and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. All should be weird. Near Brownsville, there is a fairly recent National Park site commemorating some battle in the Mexican War. On the anniversary, they do reenactments. It's far but probably worth it for a laugh. There is Huntsville, aka, Executionville. Jasper, home of the lynching several years ago when they dragged that guy behind a truck is not too far. Neither is White Settlement, outside of Fort Worth. They voted on whether to change the name a few years ago since it is so obviously racist. That only failed by a 92 percent to 8 margin. The George H.W. Bush museum in College Station should be fascinating as well. Equally strange would be attending a Texas A&M football game. This public institution is basically a military school. Good times. They stopped doing the big fire before games after those kids died a few years ago. High school football is also on my agenda.

And then there's West Texas.

2. My first visit though will be to the LBJ Ranch. LBJ is the best politician ever to come out of Texas and I can't wait to see the ranch. I visited the LBJ Library at the University of Texas a few years ago. I definitely recommend it.

3. Even though this is just a visiting position, I have to say that it feels really good not being treated as a graduate student. I know that faculty life is not always a life of joy, but for now, I like it an awful lot.

4. It's kind of hot here.

Historical Image of the Day

Dresden, Germany. February 1945

Friday, August 17, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

Images from Panic of 1837

Peretz Just Can't Resist

Marty Peretz, no doubt vacationing in Paris on the dime of his heiress wife, just can't resist a jab at Muslims:

"To be sure, I did not go the banlieues where the vast numbers of Muslims, mostly North African Arabs, have concentrated. Paris center is a segregated city. You have to go far beyond the boulevards of Baron Haussmann even to notice the people who have transformed French society for the worse and stimulated its politics to the good."

It gets even better. When fantasizing about Muslim women, he notes:

"They wore make-up including lip liner and provocative lines around their eyes; their hair had been to a hairdresser at least as expensive as John Edwards."

Zing!!! A gratuitous shot at John Edwards too!

How in the world did this guy get to run (into the ground) a major magazine?

Erik's Random 10

Industry is one of Richard Thompson's most interesting and unusual projects. Composed with his longtime collaborator, bassist Danny Thompson, this 1997 album is a quick look at industrialization and deindustrialization in Britain. About 1/2 of the tracks are vocal and the other 1/2 are instrumental pieces. "Sweetheart on the Barricade" is one of the 2 really great vocal songs on the album (along with "Lotteryland," possibly the best song about deindustrialization I've ever heard, along with Si Kahn's "Aragon Mill").

I have a total soft spot for nostalgic and romantic looks back at union struggles. Who knows why. "Sweetheart on the Barricade" fulfills that longing nicely. It's a love story taking place on the front lines of a picket. The character loves in his girlfriend because he loves her and also because of her bravery. Great stuff.

1. Richard Thompson and Danny Thompson, Sweetheart on the Barricade
2. Del McCoury Band, Man Can't Live on Bread Alone
3. Grateful Dead, Not Fade Away
4. Lucinda Williams, Can't Help It
5. The Lilly Brothers, I'll Live On
6. Bobby Previte, One Bowl
7. Dave Alvin, Highway 99
8. Hank Williams, Your Cheatin' Heart
9. Bob Wills, No Matter How She Does It
10. Frenchy, Bumblebee

Tempus Fugit

Robert DeNiro is 64 today. It's kind of hard to believe he's only 64 - it seems he's been around for forever already, and his recent string of movie roles in the last few years (Godsend or The Score, anybody?) make it seem even longer. I don't understand these recent roles - I don't know if they're just bad choices, or if he is mailing it in (which seems somewhat unlikely), or if the parts aren't just coming in anymore (which seems even more unlikely), but it's a shame. His performances not just in Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Godfather II, and Goodfellas, but movies like Mean Streets, Heat, The King of Comedy, The Mission, The Deer Hunter, and the criminally underrated Ronin (along with several others not mentioned here) are all reminders of how much we can't take DeNiro for granted, even if his recent films have been hit-or-miss.

Mister Trend's Random 10

Son House is far and away my favorite blues musician. Nobody had a voice like his - that gravelly, pleading, hardened tenor voice. And nobody played quite like him, either. Learning from Charley Patton, and a contemporary of Robert Johnson (Johnson reportedly learned a fair bit from Son House), he's usually overlooked among the historians of music, as Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters get more credit for rock in the general narrative, and more credit goes to Patton and Blind Willie McTell among the scholars. Son House may not have been the best in terms of technique, or the best singer, or the most revolutionary, but to me, he's absolutely my favorite, the best there was, in the old, delta blues. Every CD collection should have Son House in it. Period.

1. “Texto Toalha da Saudade/Imitação/Hora da Razão” – Maria Bethânia
2. “The Free Design” - Stereolab
3. Symphony No. 10 – First Movement (“The Final Problem” – Glenn Branca
4. “You Need Love” – Muddy Waters
5. “Fuckoff Is Not the Only Thing You Have to Show” – Cansei de Ser Sexy
6. “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day” – Robert Johnson
7. “Pony Blues” – Son House
8. “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III” – Godspeed, You Black Emperor!
9. “Come On and Ride With Me” – Cedell Davis
10. “Metal Machine Music, Part II” – Lou Reed

The Giants Depart

Max Roach 1924-2007.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

NFL 2007 Preview: NFC South

While it didn’t happen “tomorrow” as I’d hoped, here is the penultimate divisional preview for the 2007 season. The major stories in the NFL over the past two years have come out of the NFC North, though it’s too bad the current one is an off-the-field issue. This division is full of potentially good teams, but they’re all just shaky enough to make the group exciting.


OFFENSE: With Michael Vick off the depth charts, it’s amazing to see just how poor the Falcons look. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Joey Harrington, a laughing stock once again, could really use a receiver like Ashley Lelie on the squad. It’s not like he isn’t a total failure, but as Joe Horn is now the only receiver worth mentioning, it doesn’t seem like there’ll be a lot of targets for the former Duck. There are still Crumpler and Dunn, I guess, but they’re both aged and overrated. This may be the last chance for Harrington; I wish I could say he’d take advantage of it.

DEFENSE: Given the level of their offense, the Falcons should be happy that their defense is less tattered. In fact, despite some age and depth problems, they have one of the better defenses right now in the NFC. The inclusion of Lawyer Milloy will always help and DeAngelo Hall makes an intimidating secondary. Veteran linebacker Keith Brooking and up-and-coming defensive tackle Jonathon Babineaux make a tough front seven.

The only reason this joke of an offense will eke six wins out is because of their defense, but they aren’t good enough or deep enough to carry Harrington into anywhere near a winning season. Look for wholesale changes to the organization after this miserable year.


OFFENSE: There’s no denying that a team with the likes of Steve Smith is a constant scoring threat. Jake Delhomme has been a consistently underrated quarterback since coming into this starting position, but always seems to manage a successful team. DeShaun Foster should continue to do well in the backfield and, with Smith taking most of the good coverage, Keary Colbert should have the opportunity to contribute a lot of yards.

DEFENSE: One of this defense’s best attributes is their lack of notoriety. Julius Peppers is a star, and an excellent lineman, but that’s about it. They work as a team and, while they aren’t the premier defense in the league, they can make the stops when it counts and, like years passed, they will do enough to give the offense time to work.

Overall, I’d say the Panthers are the most underrated team of the last decade. Consistently shunned at the beginning of each season, the surprise that they do well by the end is getting a little old. I don’t think they’ll be barnburners this year, but Delhomme is going to lead them, once again, into a wildcard slot.


OFFENSE: Drew Brees did more last year than anyone thought he had a right to, but he’s a lot better than anyone gave him credit for. Reggie Bush is a decent receiving back thus far, but has proved to be of little value from the backfield. It’s a good thing Deuce is still around. Between McAllister, Brees, and one of the best O-Lines in the game, they keep the team afloat. They need work at receiver for continued success, but they should build on what they started last year.

DEFENSE: The Saints defense appeared to overachieve last year, but I think they’ll build off their success as well. Sean Payton has proven himself to be a good defensive coach, and good young players like Scott Fujita will help this team recapture their NFC South title.

Though nobody cares about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina anymore, and the Saints can’t ride the wave of public support to the NFC championship game, they will still be able to do well with the tools they have. They are well coached and well led at quarterback, even though they also have one of the most overrated players in the game today.


OFFENSE: So, we’re back at the top of the Jeff Garcia sine wave. The guy gets set up as a backup in a good program and, somehow, gets to play. He does very well and his team, realizing his age and relatively low superstar ability, trades him to a bad team who needs a QB. He starts, fails and everyone decries him as terrible. Then, he loses his job, is picked up on a good team, and the cycle continues anew. It’s like the seasons and this will be the winter of Garcia’s career. You can’t play on a team that has held Joey Galloway as the number one guy for multiple years and expect that they know what they’re doing.

DEFENSE: The once great Tampa 2 defense is now a far cry from where it was a few years ago. The only player left from the good ol’ days is Ronde Barber, who is getting up in years and down in skills. They were able to pick Cato June up from the Colts, but this won’t go all that far toward fixing the problems that have been festering since Gruden came along.

Indeed, I think they will be worse than the Falcons, and I think this will be Gruden’s last year. I never think it’s good to celebrate somebody losing his or her job but, in this case, it’s fantastic. I’ve never forgiven that organization for what they did with Tony Dungy to bring stupid John Gruden in. Good riddance.

Last, and possibly least, we have the NFC West. Will the Cardinals’ organization give Ken Whisenhunt, the 34th coach of this team, enough losses to get a program together, or will there be another Dennis Green-type debacle? Will the ‘Niners rise above the station the fates have given them to win more than eight games? Here’s to hoping not….