Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Indian Death Metal

Akshay Ahuja wrote recently in Guernica on death metal in India as an example the influx of Western culture there, for better or for worse. He begins:

"It was near midnight on the eve of India’s independence, and I was at a concert called Freedom Jam, held at a club on the outskirts of Bangalore called only The Club. Watching the band perform from beside the stage, I noticed a girl with a nose ring. My grandmother’s nose was pierced when she married at thirteen; her nose ring was a sign that she adhered to a certain traditional image of Indian womanhood. For this girl, however, the ring indicated that she was not just westernized (such girls simply chose not to get their noses pierced) but a member of an alternative community that existed outside the mainstream of westernized Indian youth."

The writer goes to see his friend, the lead singer for Cremated Souls, and they head to practice and head to a show. It's simple story, but an interesting read.

Happy Birthday Willie!

Today, Willie Nelson turns 75.

He has an odd reputation at this point in his career. He is famous, but more for his marijuana advocacy than his music. He's obviously one of the great country singers and songwriters (and in the history of country music these are often very different things) of all time. But from what I can tell, young people don't listen to his music in the same way that they do for Cash. They both have that hip outlaw image. Maybe it's because Willie's music doesn't have the same sense of rebellion and anger as Cash. There's no "Folsom Prison Blues" in Willie's catalog, that's for sure.

It's too bad because Willie has put out some fantastic music. Now, not very much of it has been recently. His album of Cindy Walker songs (one of the great country songwriters) was really good. But before that, we are looking at Teatro, which came out in 1998. But periods of horrible music never stopped people from loving Cash (the entire 1970s and 1980s).

There are a series of must-own Willie albums. Many people I respect consider Red Headed Stranger to be the best album ever. I can't go quite that far, but it's close. Teatro is truly fantastic. Me and Paul is deeply underrated. Across the Borderline and Spirit are solid albums from the 1990s. Many stand by his covers collection Stardust or his early outlaw album Shotgun Willie, though neither are real favorites of mine. A collection of his early tunes that became hits for others is important to have. "Night Life" became a huge hit for Ray Price, not to mention "Crazy" for Patsy Cline and "Hello Walls" for Faron Young, among others.

I'd like to discuss a very underrated album, Phases and Stages. Released in 1974, at the beginning of the outlaw period, it never became iconic like Red Headed Stranger, but I think it is the more successful album. It may not be better than Red Headed Stranger but it works better. They were both concept albums. But in Red Headed Stranger, the concept seems lost about halfway through. The songs are fantastic, the sparse arrangements are haunting, and Willie sounds fantastic, even if he did expunge my favorite verse from "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain."

In some ways I like Phases and Stages better because it has a more personal feel. Unlike in Red Headed Stranger, Willie wrote all the songs for Phases and Stages. Building on his recent divorce, he composed a song cycle that is split into two halves. The first half is from the woman's point of view, the second from the man's. A woman leaves a man because he has cheated on her. Perhaps because of Willie's history, we are made to feel sympathetic with both sides. This is somewhat uncomfortable, I mean, the bastard did cheat on her, even if "It's not supposed to be that way/Don't you know that I love you." Who cares if you love me, right?

Like in Red Headed Stranger, you don't get a full story. Rather, it's just snippets. The woman leaves, she tells her husband to "Pretend I Never Happened." Then, the woman's little sister is excited because "Sister's Coming Home." She quickly recovers during "Down at the Corner Beer Joint." Her half of the cycle ends with "(How Will I Know) I'm Falling In Love Again." She will be fine and hopefully with a better man. The man's part begins with "Bloody Mary Morning," the album's hit single. An up tempo number, we get a pretty good idea that all those hangovers led to some unfortuante behavior. He also recovers of course and moves on, though I don't necessarily get the sense that he has learned a whole lot from his divorce. And neither did Willie it seems, as he is on marriage #4.

The other great thing about Willie is his musical experimentation. I read a story on him once about a concert in New York. He brought up this high school piano teacher and had her play a bunch of songs. Not his songs. Just classical piano music. The audience was impatient to say the least. But you can't boo Willie! He was into her for some reason. He figured it was his damn show and he was going to do what he wanted. His reggae album of a few years was god awful bad, but at least I had to respect the fact that he was trying new things at his age. On the other hand, he single-handedly transformed country music in the 1970s, especially with Red Headed Stranger. He went against his studio, who freaked out about releasing an album that consisted almost entirely of acoustic guitar and piano. The genre was never the same.

Anyway, Happy Birthday Willie. May you live, be healthy, and produce interesting music for another 75 years!

Historical Image of the Day

Page from General Motors Cadillac catalog, 1969. I really have no idea what the image is above the Cadillac.

I got this picture off of this interesting website. Evidently, a model of this car played a key role in the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969. It's a touch unclear to me from the site, but there are a lot of interesting pictures.

By the Numbers: McCain on Health Care

John McCain, in what one Cainanite called “a major policy speech”, unveiled his health care proposal yesterday. His plan entails giving tax credits to families that purchase their own health insurance, which, by his logic, would allow those that have employer provided insurance to keep their coverage and the rest of us to benefit from the glorious, invisible hand of the market to keep our health insurance costs down. For those with no income tax liability, the credit would come as a rebate.

This post isn’t to make an argument for why this is bad—I don’t want to insult the intelligence of the Alterdestiny readership—but rather to show just how bad an idea this is.

First off, as the Clinton campaign pointed out, this plan would all but eliminate employer provided health insurance. What incentive would an employer have to offer insurance if employees could get a tax credit or rebate to purchase their own? It would seem easy (if unconscionable) for a business to axe health care costs from the bottom line citing the tax credit as a viable option for employees.

The numbers tell the real truth—the amount of the tax credit/rebate is $2,500 per individual and up to $5,000 for families. I received some quotes from various on-line health insurance providers, and the results are telling. I only selected plans that had deductibles less than $2,500, copays less than $50, and coinsurance (the percentage of total medical costs the policy holder is responsible for after the deductible is paid) of less than 15%. This nominal coverage costs around $434 per month ($5,208 per year). The tax credit covers the premium only; remember that every office visit will cost you $35-$45, the insurer won’t cover a dime until you spend the deductible amount, and you will be paying 10 – 15% of total expenses after you shell out $2,500 for the deductible.

But this isn’t even the worst part, really. In order to get the tax rebate, you have to purchase a plan—for low and middle income people, just having that extra $434 per month is insurmountable. Take a family of four making $30,000; after state and federal income tax withholding, the net pay per month is $2,062. The $434 per month to even buy into the tax credit system is 21% of monthly take home pay. How many low and middle income people can afford to spend the 21% to buy in to the system?

If we do the math for a single parent making $7.50 an hour, the problems with McCain’s plan become even more clear. There are nearly no options for a single parent with one child to get less than 20% coinsurance (I’m not sure why this is…), so I selected for plans at 20% coinsurance, less than $50 office visits, and $2,500 deductibles. These plans average (generously) around $225 per month. Take home pay for the parent would be $988, making the $225 a month 23% of net monthly income.

How many single parents do you know that can wait a full year to get their $5,000 rebate? How many middle class families can afford to put away $434 a month to pay for health insurance until that rebate check arrives? My guess is those premiums would sit on credit cards all year until the rebate arrived, amounting in $592 of finance charges (assuming a 21% APR credit card).

Certainly, in most states, the child in the single parent situation would be covered by Medicaid's CHIP program. But how long until the tax rebate becomes an argument for dismantling the program? We've already seen the hard line the Bush Administration has taken with respect to CHIP; much like employer provided insurance, this tax rebate plan would likely usher in major cutbacks in state and federal health care spending.

At the risk of repeating myself, the amounts shown above are for basic coverage only-- the insured party in these scenarios will have huge amounts of medical expenses. If the family has a toddler with a high fever in the middle of the night and has to take her to the emergency room, the insurance doesn't even kick in until they rack up $2,500 in charges. After that, the family will still be paying 15% of the accrued costs. My guess is that most families and individuals will elect to not pay for coverage, gambling that their out of pocket medical expenses will be less than $2,708 per year (annual premium plus deductible. minus the tax credit), or realizing up front that no matter the forseen cost of healthcare, the 20+% of their income required to buy insurance is untenable. Which, of course, leaves us in the same position we are now, and possibly worse.

We can quibble about mandates and numerical games in the Clinton and Obama plans while still pining for a single-payer system, but either plan is a significant improvement over the current system or McCain’s laissez-faire fantasy.

RIP: Charles Tilly

Charles Tilly, one of the leading scholars on the nature of the nation-state, has died of lymphoma at 79. I'd never met Tilly - I was really hoping to actually have a chance to at least see him at Columbia come the fall, even if it was a brief meeting. Unlike Rob, by the time I got around to reading Tilly, I had already really had my general notion on the roles and functions of states challenged, and had come to some pretty thorough beliefs on the role of the state in society myself. That said, his work was still really impressive, and has indirectly influenced my own thinking on the state in my dissertation. From those who knew him, it seems he couldn't have been a nicer guy, and a down-to-earth academic who didn't let the petty politics of academia affect him (Crooked Timber has a post up including one of his own self-descriptions: "Among Tilly’s negative distinctions he prizes 1) never having held office in a professional association, 2) never having chaired a university department or served as a dean, 3) never having been an associate professor, 4) rejection every single time he has been screened as a prospective juror. He had also hoped never to publish a book with a subtitle, but subtitles somehow slipped into two of his co-authored books.") He will certainly be missed by those who never knew him but who loved his work, and moreso by those who counted him among their family and friends.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Forgotten American Bastard Blogging: Elihu Root

Elihu Root was Secretary of State under William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. He was a leading architect of American imperialism. He may not quite be on the bastard level of, say, Philander Knox, but in my view, he was a pretty bad guy. If you think American imperialism was great, maybe you'll feel differently.

Elihu Root was born a member of the New York elite in 1845. The men of this elite class from New York would come to dominate American foreign policy (and much of American domestic policy) during the McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft administrations. Among them was Theodore Roosevelt, born in 1858. Root became one of America's leading corporate lawyers during the Gilded Age, representing such fine Americans as Boss Tweed and Jay Gould among others.

In 1899, Root was named Secretary of War by the new president, William McKinley. In this role, he did do a good thing. He dedicated himself to professionalizing the U.S. military. While I'm certainly no fan of the military today, the amateur nature of the institution in the 19th century was pretty unacceptable, including the reliance on the militia, i.e., the National Guard, for major conflicts. Root expanded West Point, established the U.S. Army War College, as well as the General Staff.

Root was an ardent imperialist. He was the primary author of the Platt Amendment. Imperialists were upset over the Teller Amendment of 1898, which forbade the United States from taking Cuba as a colony. So Root and others did all they could to make Cuba a quasi-colony after the Spanish-American War. The Platt Amendment forced Cuba to allow the United States to station troops in Cuba, limited Cuba in the conduct of its foreign relations, and allowed the U.S. to establish a permanent naval base on the island at Guantanamo Bay. And nothing bad ever happened there again. The U.S. army ended its official occupation of Cuba in 1902 but the survival of Cuban governments depended almost entirely on U.S. approval until the Cuban Revolution succeeded in 1959.

In 1905, Root became Secretary of State for Theodore Roosevelt's second term. Root was primarily responsible for the Open Door policy. I like calling the philosophy of the Open Door "Equal Imperialism for All." By 1900, Chinese ports had been divided up among the European powers, as well as Japan. The U.S. wanted access to Chinese markets. European powers were less interested in providing that access. Feeling left out of the general looting of China, Root and U.S. policy makers pleaded with Europe to accept the Open Door policy, which would allow everyone to trade everywhere in China. To say the least, this was ignored by Europe. John Hay, McKinley's Secretary of State, first promulgated this policy in 1900 and Root pushed it during the latter half of that decade.

Root also pressed for increased intervention with Latin America, hoping to turn the area into a corporate colony for U.S. interests. In 1906, he returned to the U.S. after a trip to the region. He told a convention of businessmen that the time had come for the U.S. to dominate Latin America. He discussed the differences between the two regions: "Where we accumulate, they spend. While we have less of the cheerful philosophy" which finds "happiness in the existing conditions of life," they have less of the inventive faculty which strives continually to increase the productive power of men." Very nice.

Root also helped press for the Gentleman's Agreement between the United States and Japan in 1907. Japanese immigrants came to the U.S. in large numbers during the late 19th century. White Californians, who saw their state as a place for whites only, were furious, especially once the Japanese began having economic success in farming. At the same time, the Japanese government was growing and becoming more powerful. They were less interested in having their citizens leave since their work at home could lead to a more powerful Japan. So Root and Roosevelt agreed with the Japanese to stop most permanent immigration from Japan. The Japanese government and racist Californians were happy. As for the Japanese people, no one asked them.

In 1909, Root became a senator from New York, where he continued his influential role in American foreign policy. He only served one term, leaving office in 1915. He spent the rest of his life working for influential agencies and corporations that dealt with international issues. In particular, he the president of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace from 1910 until 1925. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912 for his work. That said, it's not as if the Nobel Peace Prize always goes to people who really believe in peace. After all, Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Kissinger are also past winners. Root belongs closer to this group than to real peace advocates.

Root opposed Woodrow Wilson during his first term. Part of this is that he wanted the Republican nomination for president in 1916, which went to Charles Evans Hughes instead. But Root also wanted the U.S. to join World War I. Root was part of a generation of men who believed that war defined masculinity. Like Roosevelt, Madison Grant, and other New York elites, Root hoped that war would regenerate the United States, allowing for a glorious Anglo-Saxon race that would properly rule the world. The carnage of World War I pretty much killed this extreme romanticization of war, though the connections between masculinity and war remain strong in American culture to this day.

Once the U.S. joined World War I in 1917, Root supported Wilson more or less. He began advising the president. After the overthrow of the Russian Czar in 1917, Wilson sent Root to Russia to help shore up the new government, an abject failure given the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

Root's final accomplishment was growing really old. For awhile he was the nation's oldest living senator. He finally died in 1937 at the age of 91.

Does Elihu Root qualify for Bastard Blogging? For the Platt Amendment alone I have to say yes. On the other hand, his professionalization of the military actually was a good thing. But not good enough to make up for his excitement over fighting World War I, his role in the Open Door, and the Gentleman's Agreement, as well as the Platt Amendment.

Much of this information comes from Michael H. Hunt's The American Ascendancy: How the United States Gained & Wielded Global Dominance, a newish book I hope to write a full review on by the end of the week, and Walter LaFeber's classic work, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America.

Pandering over the Gas Tax

Just before I asked her to join Alterdestiny, Sarah wrote a fantastic post about this ridiculous proposal to suspend the gas tax. She wrote:

Suspending the gas tax, sure, will make gas a few cents cheaper a gallon for the rest of the summer. And hell, I could use that few cents a gallon–it’ll add up.

But it will do NOTHING to alleviate the real problem, which is our dependence on a finite oil supply that largely comes from the Middle East, and it’ll also do nothing to stop the record profits of the oil companies. It’ll just take more money out of the government’s hands to do things that we desperately need it to do.

I could not agree more. This is pandering to the worst degree. Not only is it pointless and will make almost no difference to Americans' pocketbooks, but it is absurdly bad policy. I'm really disappointed in Clinton for supporting the idea. I expect bad ideas from McCain, but it is unacceptable for leading Democrats to support them.

First, how I can trust a candidate to deal with climate change who wants to give people incentives to drive more? I basically can't. On a similar issue, if we are at the point of suspending the gas tax, when we will decide to drill in ANWR, despite the fact that production there is years away and it only has a very small amount of oil? It can't be far off.

Second, as Sarah points out, our nation's infrastructure is falling apart. If anything, we need a higher gas tax to deal with this! Or do we want more bridge collapses like in Minneapolis? While it may seem that our tax money just disappears (and certainly this administration has come with many new and inventive ways to flush our money down the toilet), these taxes are necessary for making sure that our roads and bridges are safe when we drive. Eliminating the gas tax begs the question, where is the money for infrastructure going to come from?

Third, I want to fight for a society that stops talking about "tax burdens" and starts talking about all the good things taxes do for you. Like paying for your children's education, providing you with sewage lines, and making sure your bridges don't collapse when you are driving on them! This kind of rhetoric that Clinton is buying into does not help our nation in the least. It just reinforces the idea that taxes are a burden on Americans.

Besides, if you really want gas prices to go down, strengthen the dollar. But no one is talking about that. Why? Because it makes rich industrialists richer and props up the stock market at the cost of hurting poor Americans through higher gas prices.

Fourth, if this gas tax is suspended, will it ever come back? The answer is probably no. And again, where does the replacement revenue come from? Voters might be marginally happy that their gas goes down by 20 cents. But if the dollar remains weak and gas prices continue to rise, that will be erased quickly. Then, in a few months, the gas tax comes back? And we see a 20 cent jump in a day. You think any politicians are going to allow that to happen? No way.

Finally, this is just pandering. It's McCain and Clinton appealing to the most short-sighted desires of the American people. We don't need pandering, we need leadership. Obama's refusal to support the suspension of the gas tax is a good thing in my book, helping to make me believe that he is the best choice to lead the nation.

Historical Image of the Day

Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse (1754-1846). Waterhouse played a key role in bringing the smallpox vaccination to the United States. He was also a doctor, naturalist, and writer in that Enlightenment way that is really difficult today.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A (Slightly) Tongue-in-Cheek Inaugural Post

It is a real honor to be asked to contribute to Alterdestiny-- thanks to Erik and company for inviting me aboard. I hope I can add some interesting things to this fantastic blog. In his invitation e-mail, Erik offered that I could post about music, politics, etc., and joked that I could even include some folksy, Prairie Home Companion-style stories about my native rural Indiana.

Even though he was joking, I think I will start with such a post, and combine it with another subject I am very passionate about: food. I hope to write about food every now and again, ranging from important issues in agriculture and food production (issues of great importance both in my native state and my future home in California) to more mundane things like weird recipes from our own kitchen.

I would like to share a strange family staple with you all-- the Tomato Sandwich. This doesn't even qualify as a regional food, as I'm unaware of other Indiana folks eating this particular incarnation of a bastardized BLT. First, the recipe:

The Tomato Sandwich

2 slices of homemade country style white or wheat bread, toasted
1 small sliced tomato, preferably homegrown
2 TB of peanut butter
Pepper to taste

Slather the peanut butter on the toast, add tomato slices and pepper to taste

I'm completely in the dark about how this sandwich came into being, but my family lives on them in the summer, once the tomatoes get really good. I still eat these everyday for lunch when I have good tomatoes, and even sometimes in the winter when the tomatoes are waxy, watery, hydroponic crapballs. My grandmother ate them as a child, but her mother came to the U.S. when she was a teenager (from France) and her father from Southern Germany. It seems unlikely that either of them would have had peanut butter as children, so I can't fathom that it would be a hold over from either of my great-grandparents' childhoods. My best guess is that this sandwich was a cheap lunch to feed a family of 15 on a busy farm-- the bread was always baked at home (25 loaves a week [!]), and the tomatoes would have come from the substantial garden on the farmstead. Peanut butter was likely a cheap alternative to meat, and probably the best explanation for the sandwich's genesis.

Now, I know this sounds outrageously disgusting, but try it sometime (with good country-style bread and real tomatoes). It really is fantastic; though I understand I have a strong family connection to the sandwich, and that may be what it takes to love this food like I do.

NB: It is also amazing with bacon and lettuce, in the style of a BLT.

Welcome Our New Writers!

Alterdestiny has decided to expand.

We are adding two awesome authors.

Sarah Jaffe, who has been commenting here as Sarah J, will be joining us from Oh You Pretty Things. She'll be writing a lot on gender, race, journalism, political activism, and other awesome topics of her choosing. She'll still be writing at Pretty Things as well, so be sure to check it out.

This reminds me that I need to update the blog roll, something that I have not done in months, to add all the awesome new blogs that people should read. I'll try to do that this week.

Anthony Suter, who comments as AnthonyS, will also be coming on board. He has his own site here. A composer starting his academic career in the fall at the University of the Redlands in California, Tony will be writing about music, politics, and whatever else crosses his fertile mind. Plus how can we have a legitimate blog without someone talking about California, clearly America's most important state...

Seriously, we are so big state now. Lyrad and I in Texas, Trend in New York, Tony in California, Sarah in Pennsylvania. If you don't have at least 15 electoral votes, we really don't care about you.

Anyhow, please welcome our awesome new writers!!!! I'm sure they'll introduce themselves to you in the next day or two.


I don't really think that John Edwards should have to endorse Clinton or Obama before the North Carolina primary, but I'm a little disturbed that he is likely not endorsing because he is holding out for a spot in the administration.

That's a typical political move, I understand. But at some point, you have to lay your cards on the table. Bill Richardson held out for a long time but then he did what he thought was right. Whether that was right for the country or right for him may be up for debate, but he took a stand and stuck with it in the face of withering criticism from Skeletor, ur, James Carville, and other Clinton partisans.

Certainly Edwards must feel one of the candidates is better than the other. The other option here is for him to openly endorse no one and tell the people of North Carolina that they are both fine candidates.

I was an Edwards supporter. But I was always a bit perplexed as to why he was so unpopular in North Carolina was he was a senator. Was it because he was a liberal from a southern state or was there something more profound there? This kind of fence sitting for personal purposes makes me wonder.

Historical Image of the Day

Maria Garcia, Mexican-American folksinger from California, 1939

Rio Police Still Killing Innocents in Their So-Called War on "Traficantes"

This weekend, police in Rio once again went into a favela (City of God, this time) to root out druglords, killing 11 "traficantes." And once again, their claims are highly suspicious:

Police combed the alleyways of a Rio de Janeiro slum on Saturday in search of an
alleged gang leader who escaped a raid that killed 11 people, including a
70-year-old woman.[...] Police said 10 of those killed on Friday were alleged drug gang members. Seventy-year-old bystander Jocelia Afonso was killed by a stray bullet, and two other elderly residents were wounded in the crossfire, Freitas said.
While they claim 10 traficantes and an elderly woman, I just find it hard to believe that, in all the shooting, only one of the 11 was involved in the drug-trade, especially given 2 other wounded. I've commented on this more times than I can remember, but until society and the media start legitimately asking hard questions of those killed, viewing the police less as heroes, and ditching their stupid class-based and racial prejudices some, there will unfortunately continue to be innocent civilians, from children to the elderly, killed in Rio's favelas, and urban human rights violations in Brazil will continue unabated.

...[Update] And Randy's right - it isn't just Rio that has this problem - it hits Sao Paulo, Bahia, and other major cities, like Recife:
This seaside city, a favourite of European tourists, gets much more attention
for the shark attacks that have killed 18 people since 1992 than for its human
killings - at least 2,617 in the metropolitan area last year. While tourists are
warned not to take valuables to the beaches, as in most Brazilian cities, little
is said about the murder rate mostly because the violence largely stays in the
poor areas.
While Rio de Janeiro's bloody drug war makes international
headlines, this balmy city of 1.5 million has a homicide rate of 90.9 per
100,000 - more than twice as deadly as Rio, according to the Latin American
Technological Network's Map of Violence.
I agree with Randy's assessment, too. This is a nationwide problem, and until governors and presidents (past, present, and future) start taking aggressive, active measures to punish police who indiscriminately kill the poor in the name of the "war on drugs," things won't get any better. And unfortunately, I just don't see that happening anytime in the next several years.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Concert Review: Peter Brotzmann and Han Bennink, Victory Grill, Austin, TX

Last night, I saw two legends of free jazz, saxophonist Peter Brotzman and drummer Han Bennink. To say these two geezers put on a great show would be something on an understatement, in fact in some ways it is almost beside the point. I've been a big fan of free jazz for a very long time now and having the chance to see Brotzmann was pretty cool. I first heard Brotzmann on Last Exit albums about 15 years ago and was totally blown away.

I am generally a non-spiritual person. But I've always thought there was something incredibly and indescribably spiritual about free jazz. But I've had some hesitation over jazz's European practitioners, whether free jazz or more traditional musicians. Something always seemed to be missing. The playing is often cold and technical and seems heavily influenced by the classical tradition, something that didn't cross over well.

I'm not saying that I feel totally different now but there is at least a little evidence in the other camp. Brotzmann and Bennink played the hell out of their instruments. Brotzmann can blow like almost no other saxophonist I've seen. The energy and passion he brings to the music is pretty mind-blowing. Bennink kind of stole the show for me though. He is an amazing drummer. I am pretty unfamiliar with his work except for a pretty cool album he did with Eugene Chadbourne several years ago. Bennink is great at beating out a good rhythm and doing crazy stuff at the same time. He also likes to put a foot on the drums while he plays. I'm not sure what this is supposed to do. It looks cool. He acted kind of goofy up there too, a nice touch to the often over-serious, too-cool jazz musician personality, which Brotzmann clearly subscribes to.

What I found really interesting was the audience. First of all, it was packed. This is fantastic. It is so hard for experimental musicians to make a living. So few people come out to these shows. Even fewer buy albums. The place probably held 150 people or so and I know that there were at least a couple of dozen people turned away. Pretty shocking. The audience was also a true uber-hipster crowd. I guess only the coolest of the cool know about Peter Brotzmann and other old jazz musicians who influenced Sonic Youth and other ultimate indie bands. The fashions were classic Austin hipster. Think regular decent town hipsters, but then they have to compete with each other to see who is even more hip. So lots of waxed handlebar moustaches, asymmetrical hair, enormous glasses, and very expensive shoes. Also, really annoying conversations. These people behind me in line before the show were going on about some terrible sounding Robert Mitchum and Karen Black movie from the 70s. They were speaking properly loud about it of course so that everyone could be sure to know that they were in the presence of true urban trendsetters. It was like a mating call.

In any case, the audience was fantastic. Everyone was into the music, the energy was palpable, and each number received pretty wild applause. I love Austin's music scene but it is a horrible jazz town. Hopefully, shows like this get people to realize that an audience is here and ready for awesome creative music.

Appalachian Racism and Obama

DHinMI at Kos has a nice post today about Appalachian racism and Obama. He's right--there is a huge contingent of old white people from Appalachia who are simply not going to vote for a black man under any circumstances. This is a serious issue for the 2008 election that deserves more attention.

I used to spend a lot of time in Tennessee, West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky. I knew some fantastic people who were really progressive on a lot of issues, especially when it came to economics and social programs. But they were racist. That was always a tough contradiction to deal with. Great on some issues and potentially loyal Democrats. Except for their commitment to white supremacy. These are the people Obama can't win over. Sadly, and this does not reflect badly on her, this is also a core segment of Hillary voters. There's not much she can do about it and maybe it's not her place to do so, but she is being pushed toward the nomination by a lot of racists. Not exclusively so of course. But that's a big chunk of her base.

This issue has come up when discussing Appalachia because it is there that Hillary has won by such large majorities. But it's that way in much of the rest of the country as well. The difference is that Appalachia is very white and very old. Pennsylvania and West Virginia are two of the three states in the country with the oldest populations (Florida is not surprisingly #1). This is also an unusually white part of America.

People often forget about racism in Appalachia for a couple of reasons. First, they mostly don't think of Appalachia at all. Ignorance about the region allows for mountaintop removal operations to take place with almost no opposition from the environmental community at all. Second, when they think of racism, they think of the Deep South. Because Appalachia resisted the Confederacy, many smart people don't see the area as having the historical racism of Mississippi and South Carolina. But that's just not true. The prototypical historical figure of Appalachia, and the one that can best help us understand the region today, is Andrew Johnson. Johnson opposed the Confederacy not because he thought racism was bad. He opposed it because like many Appalachian residents, he resented the dominance big planters had over small white farmers. Thus, when Johnson sought to kill Reconstruction as President, he did so in part because with the big planters destroyed, he could make common cause with them to oppose black rights. Appalachian residents have largely seen their region as a white man's area and always wanted to keep it that way.

The racism that older Appalachian whites feel is reflected across the nation in the hearts and minds of old white people. This is repulsive to many people. It has the very negative consequence of potentially costing Obama the 2008 election. First, he is getting beat down by the never ending primary cycle. It so happens that many of these states are late in the cycle and are helping to keep Clinton alive. West Virginia is going to go huge for Clinton. Kentucky may do so as well, but Louisville could allow Obama to pull it out. Democrats in western North Carolina are really bad on race too, but they will be outnumbered by the African-American populations in the eastern part of the state and in the cities. Moreover, it could throw the election to McCain. Despite what many Democratic writers are saying, many of these voters are not going to vote for Obama if he wins the nomination. They will vote for McCain.

On the other hand, this is also the chance for a national conversation on race that we continue to try and avoid. Obama can't bring the subject up at all without everyone being reminded of his pastor (the horror!). Yet, an Obama nomination is going to force the issue. We already see the forces of racism rising each day. But young people are largely sickened by this. This conversation will have a strong generational aspect to it as well. Thirty years of Black History Month and the Cult of King has made a real difference in fighting racism. Although it is not hard to find racist young white people, it becomes less acceptable each day. (Homophobia is undergoing a similar transformation but it remains a good 15-20 years behind the fight against racism. Sexism on the other hand seems as strong as ever).

The next six months then are likely to include a whole lot of talk on race. Older whites don't like this because they are going to look very bad. They are also going to vote for John McCain. How will this play on in the election? It's hard to say. But I do feel that this election could be a sort of last gasp of white supremacy in this nation. Perhaps it will even win. But a last gasp I think it will be and by 2012 or 2016, an African-American candidate will face a lot less of the overt racism Obama faces.

Historical Image of the Day

White slavery image from Gilded Age.

Freaking Out

It's Sunday. A few minutes before noon. I feel like I should be doing work. But for the first time in months I don't have any work that has to be done right now.

This is kind of freaking me out. What do people do on Sundays if they don't have a massive amount of work staring them in the face? I have heard rumors of this concept called the weekend Does anyone have any information on this? Is it true? And if so, what the heck do you do?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mr. Trend's Random 10

Everybody talks about Beck's Sea Change as his "breakup album" (David Fricke even called it "Beck's Blood on the Tracks"). That's fine and all - it is an album written about breakups, in the wake of Beck's splitting from his then-fiancee. But all the typecasting what kind of album ignores what a great album it is. The emotion behind the songs is so simple yet heartfelt, be it the resigned suffering on "Guess I'm Doing Fine," or the statement on "Lost Cause" that he's "Tired of fighting, fighting for a lost cause," and just about every other song on Sea Change. Beck often gets more credit for his sound and mixing of elements than his lyrical skills, and sometimes that's fair (explaining what "Got a devil's haircut in my mind" isn't nearly as stupid as, say, an "intelligent" look at the Insane Clown Posse, but it's not exactly lyrical genius, either). But more often than not, his lyrics are saying more than he gets credit for, and Sea Change is definitely an excellent example of that (as well as arguably his best album).

1. Siegfried - Act II: Willkommen, Sigfried! - Richard Wagner
2. Symphony No. 2 (The Peak of the Sacred) - Fourth Movement (Sacred Field) Glenn Branca
3. "Untitled" - Panda Bear
4. "Horses In My Dreams" - PJ Harvey
5. "Making the Nature Scene" - Sonic Youth
6. "Im Gluck" - Neu!
7. "Guess I'm Doing Fine" - Beck
8. Octandre - Ili Grave - Anime et Jubilatoire - Edgard Varese
9. "Why Did You Give Me Your Love?" - Jimmie Rodgers
10. "Falling Rain" - Big Bill Broonzy

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lyrad's Random 10

Ali Farka Toure is one of of the great guitar players of all time. His combination of blues guitar with traditional Malian form is amazingly trance inducing. I don't have a lot to say about him that hasn't been said about his skills or influence, but I have always loved how beautifully the mayor of Niafunke's voice worked with the guitar. It was a shame to lose him in 2006. Here is a clip of his son, Vieux Farka Toure, from M. Duss' original post on Alterdestiny.

1. Ali Farka Toure--Jangali Famata
2. Howard McGee--Up in Dodo's Room
3. The Louvin Brothers--You're Learning
4. Blind Boy Fuller--Lost Lover Blues
5. Ray Colcord--Along Came a Spider (from the soundtrack to The Amnityville Dollhouse)
6. John Coltrane--Body and Soul
7. Old 97s--Oppenheimer
8. The Bomboras--Keep in Touch
9. The Pretenders--Middle of the Road
10. Roberto Nicolosi--Vampiro! (from the soundtrack to Black Sabbath)

Follow-Up: the Argentina Adoption Case

In February, an Argentine couple and a military officer were being tried in court for falsifying papers and adopting the baby of a couple who were disappeared (see here). The case was unique in a number of ways, including the fact that the adopted child had taken the parents to court, and that it was the first time that a case involving illegal adoption of the babies of the "disappeared" in Argentina had arrived to the courts.

Well, verdicts came down yesterday. Osvaldo Rivas and Maria Cristina Gomez, the parents, were found guilty and sentenced to 8 and 7 years prison, respectively, while the military officer who arranged the adoption, Capt. Enrique Berthier, received a 10-year sentence. As I commented in February, this case was and is unprecedented, and has set a new legal precedent for the adopted children of the disappeared (estimated to be 400 or so, with 90 having already discovered who their birth-parents were). I doubt every one of those 400 (and maybe none) will take their parents to court (as the article points out, civil cases can lead to criminal charges in Argentina). As for this particular case, I'm glad the army captain was sentenced for what he did, and if Sampallo wanted her adopted parents in court for their deeds, that's her prerogative. I don't know what the parents' intentions were when they adopted, but this is definitely a complicated scenario, and I wonder if it will really repeat itself that much more in Argentina.

Human Rights in Suriname

I'm going to be forward - like nearly every other Latin Americanist, I know virtually nothing about Guyana, French Guyana, or Suriname. Despite being part of the continent, we simply don't include them as part of "Latin America" for whatever reasons (gaining independence relatively late; having colonial reigns that resembled European colonization in Africa more than Latin America, for speaking English and Dutch; etc.). I always wished this weren't true, but I wasn't going to waste my career becoming the first "Surinamist" and then trying to get a job (and learning Dutch on top of Spanish and Portuguese just doesn't seem that thrilling to me).

That said, I was rather surprised to learn that Suriname had a military coup in the 1980s, followed by repression, culminating in the state's murder of 15 opposition members in 1982. My surprise is matched only by my satisfaction of seeing that D├ęsi Bouterse, the former de facto president during the dictatorship, is facing trial in military court for these murders (along with 22 co-defendants). Due to my forestated ignorance on all matters Surinamian (Surinamese?), I couldn't begin to predict how this will turn out. The fact that Bouterse is currently in Parliament makes me inclined to think he may not be punished severely, but that's 100% guessing with no evidence to support that conclusion whatsoever. I don't even know if Bouterse's claim that he was not involved with any step of the killings is false (though given that everybody, from Pinochet to Idi Amin to Saddam Hussein have said the same thing when they knew and often ordered this style of killings makes me think Bouterse is guilty too). But the fact that there is a trial at all definitely seems to be good news for Suriname. It will definitely be worth trying to find out more about it.

Erik's Random 10

I am going to break the rules this week. Rather than talk about song 1, I am selecting song 8. Why? Because the great Peter Brotzmann, saxophonist in the free jazz quartet Last Exit, as well as innumerable other projects is playing this week in Austin and I am freaking pumped. Anyone in Austin needs to see this. You won't see anything else like it in your life.

Last Exit was a particularly interesting free jazz band. Featuring Brotzmann on sax, Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Bill Laswell on bass, and Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums, this supergroup (if such music can really be called a supergroup) combined the noise of free jazz with an amazing blues rhythm. Jackson is the one who really held that band together. He could put down some nasty beats behind all the craziness going on. Sharrock was a jawdropping guitarist who died far too young in the early 90s. Check out his amazing album Ask the Ages. Laswell has become known as a producer and has drifted into some new agey crap but has done some pretty fantastic work in his time. What a band!

1. Vince Bell, The Fair
2. Christy McWilson, Serpentine River
3. Vampire Weekend, Bryn
4. Mande Music, Bala
5. Count Basie Orchestra, Doggin' Around
6. Jimmy Martin, Widow Maker
7. Marvin Gaye, Come Get to This
8. Last Exit, Pig Cheese
9. Tom Waits, Black Wings
10. Sufjan Stevens, The Dress Looks Nice On You

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Teaching Labor History to the Wealthy

The last several weeks have been extremely trying in my labor history class. When it was just a history class, it was OK. Not a great class, but a functional one. I have about 30% of the class which is really engaged in the material, some more who are so-so, and some who are brain dead. Maybe not too bad for a public school, but maybe a bit below average for where I teach. Anyway, not a big deal. Then, two weeks ago, nobody read the book so I kicked them all out of class. I wish that was the end of my problems.

But no, it gets much weirder. The last two weeks we talked about deindustrialization and then work in the present day. We read Ben Hamper's Rivethead and then Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. I then discovered how little wealthy Texas kids don't understand class in America. Last week, I kind of went off on a kid for saying that the poor should take care of themselves and that companies and the nation had no responsibility for what happened to them when factories move. Of course, the kid is the son of a CFO at some big Texas company.

Then yesterday, we are talking about the part in Nickel and Dimed when Ehrenreich is working for the housekeeping service. One student, a nice kid too, raises his hand and says this makes no sense to him because his family always had a housekeeper and she lived with them and they treated her great.

How the hell do you respond to that? If others had shot him down that would be one thing, and some people did respond mildly. But others clearly agreed. They had housekeepers or hired housekeepers and they would never treat people like that!

Yeah, sure. Let's ask the housekeepers.

I haven't responded well to all of this. Again, I went off on the kid last week and told him that he didn't know what the hell he was talking about given his background. In those words in fact. That was not my finest moment as a teacher. Yesterday, I just kept the class running but I was so dismayed that I was counting down the minutes until it was over.

The larger question here is how to teach labor history to students who have no conception of class issues. I tried to bring this up throughout the semester and put the history in a modern context, but clearly I failed because once we got to the present, the shit hit the fan. These students got real uncomfortable when it seemed that someone might be attacking their class privilege, accusing the books (and presumably me in the course evals that we did yesterday) of bias. Well, duh. Why the hell do you sign up for a class like this if aren't favorable to thinking about working-class people and their historical and present struggles with some empathy?

Part of the problem is that I take this stuff really personally. I feel passionately about environmental issues. I love teaching it and I think it is the most important area for people to get active on. But the class issues I take personally. I do carry a pretty big class chip on my shoulder and those who don't care about poor people make me angrier than the most virulent hater of the environment possibly could. So when I hear these kinds of attitudes from students that I have been working with all semester, I feel that I have failed as a teacher and that the next generation of business leaders are going to be the same callous heartless bastards as this generation.

Mostly, I feel that this is the strangest course I've ever taught and that I need to do some serious soul-searching before offering the class again, at least at an institution dominated by wealthy students. I should say that there are some fantastic working-class students who do get it and I really respect them. But their frustration was as great as mine with how the class turned out. I feel that I should offer the class again because the issue is so important but I need to plan my strategy out much more carefully than this semester, really figuring out how to a) weed those students out right away who are going to cause problems and b) make stronger connections between the past and present so that students see the connections between the historical struggles they might be interested in and the present struggles which they feel don't concern them.

I'm Bored

I haven't blogged much in the past few days, not because I haven't wanted to, but with the job interview and the end of the semester, I just haven't had time. I do plan on getting a bunch of stuff out soon though.

But it doesn't help that I am so sick and tired of the obsessive coverage of the Democratic primary. I think this serves to show that I am not really a political junkie. I am into politics, but I am long past feeling that bloggers' constant discussion of the issue has become tiresome. On my RSS feed, for a long time I was reading 80-90% of the posts, even if I was just skimming most at best. Now it is down to about 40% and has been for a few weeks. It's because I have almost stopped reading most liberal political blogs. True junkies are like addicts and it is unhealthy.

There are so many important issues going on in the world--Iraq, climate change, poverty, fuel prices, housing, etc., etc. But 3/4 of the posts on these blogs are dissecting the differences between Obama and Clinton and boosting the candidacy of their favorite.

Many of the same blogs reporting obsessively on the race are complaining about the lack of media coverage in Iraq. Well, you know, couldn't we be focusing on this? Didn't a significant amount of reporting about the war and all the terrible things the Bush administration has done come from the blogs. We are ignoring Iraq too now so we can parse the phrases of people who have slept 5 hours in the last month, figuring out what we can use against them.

Am I the only one who is bored out of my mind at this point? Not that I even wish the race was over necessarily. Hillary certainly has every right to stick it out, even if she really can't win. If Obama was losing, most of his supporters would be hoping he would stay in, much as Clinton's supporters are now. But I am just bored senseless.

The race is important. But not nearly as important as the general election. People should be writing about the primary of course. But they are numbing my brain at this point. It's just not interesting to write 40,000 posts about the subject at the expense of every other issue on the planet.

People can blog about whatever the heck they want to and it's not my place to tell them to stop it. But can we at least keep this race in perspective? These are two candidates who stand for almost the exact same things. 90% of their platform is the same. It's about personality, race, gender, age, etc.

I guess the questions I have to these bloggers writing obsessively about this stuff is this: Do you really think that the primary is that much more important than all the other issues going on in the world? To what extent should people be discussing this primary in such detail while ignoring the rest of the world?

I don't know, maybe I'm just bitchy. This post sucks because I don't feel that I'm articulating my thoughts well. But I'm just really frustrated and I feel that my spirit is being sucked away every time I read another post on how horrible Hillary is or how this or that state didn't matter.

Greatest. Sports Promotion. Ever.

As great as the independent baseball leagues are is, this may be the greatest promo for game attendance ever. The Amoeiro Clube de Futbol [Soccer] in Spain has divided its field into 6000 parcels available for sale at 10 Euros per parcel. Amoeiro then releases Rubia, the cow (vaca) onto the field. Whichever parcel she ends up defecating on, the owner wins a prize, ranging from cars to travel packages to motorcycles to a 32-inch TV. So if the cow craps on your square, you win! Even better, the contest is poetically called "Caca de la Vaca" (Crap of the Cow), and the webpage even has an animated, mooing cow that craps, revealing what the prizes are. Awesome.

(Via Randy).

Historical Image of the Day

Margaret Fuller, transcendentalist, women's rights activist, author of Women in the Nineteenth Century (1845), editor of the transcendentalist journal The Dial from 1840 to 1842, first female foreign correspondent for the New York Tribune. She may have been the first female correspondent for any American newspaper, but I'm not sure about this. She died in 1850 at the age of 40 when she was returning to the US with her Italian revolutionary husband and their young child when their ship slammed into a sandbar near Fire Island, New York. Many have also said that she was the likely model for Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

Why I Hate Copacabana, No. 67

While I love Rio, I absolutely hated going to Copacabana (a region of Rio, not a club), or even passing through it. Among my complaints, it was overcrowded (allegedly 25,000 people per square kilometer), traffic was perpetually stopped, and it was full of racist, selfish, old middle-class people who put on the airs of being far wealthier and "elite" than they actually were. (If they were nearly as "elite" as they think they are, they'd live in Ipanema or Sao Conrado or Barra da Tijuca, and NOT Copacabana). It is just a bastion of decaying bourgeois idiocy and racism (and not always subtle - one Copacabana resident I knew once openly complained that black people were allowed at the shopping malls now when she went to a mall a few years ago). Parts of Copacabana were no less pretty than other parts of Rio, but its residents and poorly-planned structure were just too much for me, literally offering dozens of reasons I really didn't like it. (And to get a better sense of the idiocy of the Brazilian middle-class, Venha Futuro has some great observations. The only thing I'd add is, in my personal and fully-subjective experience, Copacabana is Brazilian middle class "values" on steroids).

Well, add one more reason. Apparently, somebody has gone through and poisoned a bunch of the trees along one block on the beachfront (the article is in Portuguese, but the picture is easily understood). Police are trying to figure out who did it, and why. Residents are saying that it was probably some beachfront resident who didn't want the trees blocking his/her view of the ocean. And as horrible and vague ("somebody"), I'm inclined to agree. That kind of attitude is exactly the kind of self-centered, pretentious, putting-on-class-airs crap that you find from too many residents in Copacabana. Certainly, not all are like that, and the article mentions how many residents of this particular block are appalled (one 61-year-old woman worried that the elderly that go to the beach will "fry without the shade," though I'm not quite sure how, given that the beach itself has no trees on it, and you can rent umbrellas). But the fact that you have somebody doing this, killing what were beautiful trees, is bad enough; the fact that it might be for a better view of the beach is just appalling, and all too believable. Stupid Copacabana...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Film Review--Daisy Kenyon (1947)

Over the years, I’ve become a bigger and bigger fan of Henry Fonda and Joan Crawford. When I first started watching a lot of older films, I avoided those with bigger stars of the day because, without having any experience with them of my own, I was easily taken in by the established personas and believed them entirely. I was a big fan of Humphrey Bogart, despite obvious acting flaws, but wouldn’t watch something with Jimmy Stewart. It all came down to my acceptance of their particular personas.

In the case of Fonda, my eyes were opened by Once upon a Time in the West, where his Frank throws the good guy image I had out the window. At the time, I understood that this role was the first villain he had played. On a scale of purely evil characters, this may be true but, the more films with him that I watch, the more I see conflict, both light and dark, in the characters he plays. Sure, there are still a lot of Tin Stars out there, but the range of characters was far more varied than I’d ever given him credit for.

Crawford’s case is different, but more important. I avoided her films because she has been presented my whole life, since the publication of Mommy Dearest, as a real life monster that should be avoided at all cost. Because of how she has been accused of treating her children, and it is deplorable, this now comes first with her actual onscreen work virtually forgotten. I know few people my age who are fans of her work, but nearly everyone knows her cruel persona. I can’t help but look at her myself through this filter, but the more I see of her work, starting in Tod Browning’s 1929 lurid classic The Unknown, the more her strength and talent overshadows whatever she may have done in her life. This comes most clear to me watching her 1947 vehicle, directed by Otto Preminger and adapted from a novel by Elizabeth Janeway, Daisy Kenyon.

Although the DVD is under the banner of “Fox Film Noir,” it’s not a genre film in any way. The only reason to call it so is its high contrast black and white photography, but that’s not a very good reason. Regardless, it is a pretty simple romantic triangle story about a commercial artist (Crawford) involved with a married lawyer (Dana Andrews) at the same time as an ex-soldier (Fonda) in the years just after WWII. She is strong, successful, and the center of the picture, with the handsome leading men competing for her affections. The world that revolves around her is definitely not a Noir world.

Joan Crawford can certainly drive a picture, and she does some great work here. She was in her forties at this point and the part was written for someone fifteen years younger (a rarity then and now). This gets hidden in superficial ways: the aforementioned darkly lit photography and the wardrobe department made heavy use of their lacey collar drawer, but it’s the strength of her performance that really makes her age irrelevant. Both leading men are conflicted and Preminger does really well keeping their motives secret until the end. Andrews, self-aggrandizing and actively aggressive, plays against Fonda and his passive-aggressive strategies very well. They are equals working against each other, while becoming friends, toward the same goal.

But it’s the details in the characters and the issues that Preminger dealt with that make the film work so well. Fonda clearly has PTSD, half a century before it was so-called. Haunted by dreams of the war and scarred in his every day life, Fonda seems as downright crazy as I’ve ever seen him. Andrews’ character has a big case defending a Japanese-American whose land had been stolen while he was interned in the camps. The still hot anti-Asian sentiment at the time of the film is directly dealt with, and is a surprising touch that does not come from the original text (in the novel, apparently, he is working on some big military spending project). There is a distinct homoerotic subtext and, with undercurrents of child abuse and divorce, Daisy Kenyon hits on a lot of taboos for 1947 and is considerably more progressive than I would have expected.

By all reports, everyone involved in the production were lukewarm to negative about the finished product. The film was afterward forgotten, and this is its first ever home release. I may disagree with the film’s misclassification, but at least its available.

Observations on Fernando Lugo's Election in Paraguay

On Sunday, Fernando Lugo, a former bishop, won the presidency in Paraguay. While some newspapers and news sources are portraying Lugo's win as just another leftist coming into office in South America, the New York Times really gets it right. Yes, Lugo's win is technically a case of a "leftist" in American parlance (which often means "center-left" in Latin America - the political skewing is our problem, not theirs), but it's a major and extremely important victory, for it finally ends the 61-year rule of the Colorado party, which had been the party of Alfredo Stroessner, Paraguay's brutal dictator for 35 years. The promise for change within Lugo's election is certainly huge, but it's still tenuous.

In this regard, I fully agree with the caution of the NYT and the Times Online. Lugo's victory, while important, was also by plurality, and he doesn't exactly have some "mandate" (except in George Bush parlance, where 51% is a "mandate"). I think the Times Online's comparison to Lula is relevant, too. Like Lula, Lugo is going to have to overcome some pretty stiff opposition, particularly given how dominant the Colorado party is within the basic state apparatus. While it may be bad for Brazil, renegotiating the Itaipu dam for Paraguay could help broaden Lugo's support along nationalist lines (though Lula has already said he won't review the treaty; that doesn't mean he won't ever, but it's definitely not going to happen easily). Lugo will definitely have to tread lightly at first, but I think there's a lot of promise here. Hopefully, he will take Lula's approach of open dialog with anybody and everybody. Paraguay probably can't benefit economically to the level that Brazil has under Lula; Paraguay simply doesn't have the presence in the global economy that Brazil already had (based on size alone) when Lula entered. Still, there is a strong chance for Lugo to turn things around, provided he works diplomatically and the opposition doesn't intentionally block any programs that could help revitalize Paraguay's economy and society.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Current temperature in Calgary: 14
Wind Chill: -2

Date: April 19.


A Little Bit of Opera on Saturday Afternoon

For those who are interested, I can't recommend strongly enough the radio program "Metropolitan Opera with Margaret Juntwat." I'm sure there are multiple stations where you can hear it (I'm currently enjoying it via WCLV's live feed on the internet). I never knew of this program; I stumbled upon it when I learned that I am able to hear Philip Glass's (out-of-print) opera Satyagraha in its entirety for the first time. (The opera is about Ghandi - the first act just ended, and it's amazing). What really makes Juntwat's program great, though, is what happens prior to the show and during the intermissions. I've never had any opera contextualized so strongly, and during the intermissions, they have included items like an interview with Glass upon the production of Satyagraha at the Met this month, an essay on Tolstoy's influence on Ghandi, and others.

And even if you don't like Glass (or even opera) that much, you still get to listen to a live opera at the met on a Saturday afternoon for free, instead of paying a minimum of 85$. And how cool is that?

Friday, April 18, 2008

My Upcoming Anti-US Rant

As some readers know, I have a job interview next week at a Canadian school. One of the things I have to do is come up with a 15 minute talk about why to learn about U.S. history. It's not a hard thing to put together, but it's weird. I've never had to explain this question before. For Americans, I can just say that you should learn about your damn country. But for Canadian students, it's an interesting challenge.

I didn't really plan it this way, but the whole talk, and in fact just about everything I am putting together for this interview, is basically an anti-American rant. I don't want it to be necessarily, but if they want to know my feelings about these issues, well, I guess they are going to get them. My classes are notoriously depressing anyway. So I guess they will know what they are going to get. Still, I could see my images of lynchings, Wounded Knee, anti-Chinese riots, and massacres of Filipinos not going over well, particularly since there are exactly 0 images that view the US in a positive way.

On the other hand, maybe they'll think I'm trying to get out of the country! Which isn't really true, but whatever.

This is my first on-campus interview and I have this feeling of impending disaster. Who knows though. I am pretty underprepared. After a very hard year and a week after defending my dissertation, my energy to prepare three different talks is really not there.

In other news, the high in said Canadian city is supposed to be about 20 and snow. So that ought to be interesting at least.

And if anyone can suggest any good Canadian jokes to tell, let me know.

Chris Gaffney, RIP

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the brilliant country/soul singer-songwriter-accordionist Chris Gaffney had severe liver cancer. It sounded bad and indeed it was.

Gaffney died last night at the age of 57.

A real tragedy.

Erik's Random 10

An interesting 10 this week. Any of these songs I would be happy to write something about.

Orgone is a leading band in the neo-funk/soul scene. At their best, I think they are very very good. In particular, the tracks with Fanny Franklin singing, such as "I Get Lifted" are really first rate. Bands like Orgone are breathing new life into a great musical tradition that had faded in recent decades.

I will say though that I place the songs with Franklin singing and the songs without vocals into 2 separate categories. When she sings, I am totally into it. On the many instrumental tracks, my attention wanders. A lot of bands that reach back into the glories of 60s and 70s danceable music are prone to a lot of instrumental numbers. I blame the hippies. Everyone is looking for some kind of jam-esque music I guess. Orgone seems to be no exception. But I find the vocals to be absolutely vital to this kind of music, especially when you have a real talent behind the mic. The occasional instrumental track is fine to set off the vocal numbers, but 1/2 instrumental? Not so interesting unless there is something really interesting happening, such as in creative jazz. Orgone always puts down a good groove, but groove alone is not always that riveting to me.

Either way, I do recommend their album The Killion Floor.

1. Orgone, I Get Lifted
2. Walk Don't Run, El Garage de Gina Monster
3. Pink Floyd, Echoes
4. Michael Shreve, Tell Me Everything
5. Wayne Hancock, Miller, Jack, and Mad Dog
6. Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, East St. Louis Toodle-Oo
7. The Freight Hoppers, Nobody's Business
8. Son House, Son's Blues
9. Tom Waits, Rains On Me
10. Merle Haggard, I'll Be A Hero (When I Strike)

Mister Trend's Random 10

Roland Kirk is another one of those amazing jazz musicians who seems all but forgotten today. Kirk, blind from a very young age, was technically remarkable, creating his own horns and often able to play more than one horn at the same time. It wasn't some gimmick, though, like Kenny G holding one note for forever - Kirk could flat out play. He moves from swing to dixie to bop to free jazz effortlessly from album to album, and even from song to song. Now Please Don't You Cry, Beautiful Edith, the album "Stompin' Grounds" comes from, is a minor masterpiece, with Kirk exploring nearly all styles of jazz. This isn't some hokey, tribute-type album - the music is genuinely great, and Kirk is natural in all settings. It's not my favorite of his, but it's close. His death at 41 in 1977 is as big a shame, if not a bigger loss, than Coltrane's early death, and even after his stroke in 1976, he showed no sign of creative loss. Kirk is definitely one of the 20th century's greatest jazz artists, and deserves much more credit than he gets.

1. "Pastorinhas" - Noel Rosa (with Silvio Caldas)
2. "Address" - Rashied Ali
3. "Lies" - The Black Keys
4. "Hear My Train A Comin' [Electric]" - Jimi Hendrix
5. "Despedida do Amor" - Musica Folclorica do Norte e Nordeste do Brasil
6. "Desculpe, Babe" - Os Mutantes
7. "Stompin' Grounds" - Rahsaan Roland Kirk
8. "There's No Fucking Rules, Dude" - !!!
9. "Ventolin (Video Version)" - Aphex Twin
10. "Shining Light" - Neil Young

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My Near-Death Experience

I had always wondered what would happen if a plane hit a flock of birds. You'd think it would happen more often.

Unfortunately, I actually found out what happens when my plane hit a flock of geese at 15,000 feet when flying back from Albuquerque after my dissertation defense.

Let me tell you that the one sound you don't want to hear when flying is a loud THUMP. That can't be good. One wing had a whole in it. The other was severely dented. They got in the engines too. One engine had to be shut off.

We returned to Albuquerque. On the way, we were prepared for an emergency landing. The flight attendant told us how to operate the emergency doors. We were told that if/when the captain yelled "EVACUATE" that we were supposed to wrap our arms around our head and put it in our lap. Fire trucks and ambulances were everywhere when we landed.

Luckily, it was actually a very smooth landing. But let me tell you, those last few minutes before the plane landed were the strangest of my life. For the first time, I really thought that there was a chance I could die. It was an actual possibility. I wasn't really terrified, particularly because the plane actually sounded fine the whole time. Maybe I figured it was OK. But it was a very reflective time. I sort of decided that for 34 years, I had done pretty good. I had traveled to something like 11 countries and 40 states. I had mostly been nice to people I think. I don't know that I would have left the world better than I found it, but I tried. And I had finished my dissertation. In fact, I could read the newspaper headline, "Professor Dies in Plane Crash Days After Flying to Defend Dissertation." Gary Busey could play me in the movie.

I'll tell you one thing--it felt pretty goddamn good to put my feet on the ground that night.

As for my curiosity about the world, allow me to send a message to the powers that be--please don't satisfy my curiosity ever again. I really don't want to know the answers to these questions.

Globalization Readings

In the fall, I am teaching a history of globalization. I'm just wondering if anyone out there has some useful suggestions for readings. I am focusing on environmental change, labor issues, gender, religion, and maybe popular culture. But I am open to anything interesting.

I think I am assigning the following:

Jefferson Cowie, Capital Moves (about RCA's constant search for cheap labor
Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest (about globalization and the world food supply)
Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialisms (about environmental change and colonization)

I am probably going to assign something on the Zapatistas. I'm thinking of Ara Wilson's The Intimate Economies of Bangkok for a good book on gender. Maybe another book as well. My school assigns a lot of work so I will also be having the students read some book chapters too, where I will pick up more gender and religion issues. I am curious about the edited collection entitled Globalization, Gender, and Religion: The Politics of Women's Rights in Catholic and Muslim Contexts. Could be good for a chapter or two.

Anyhow, thoughts?

Monday, April 14, 2008

The World of Independent Baseball

King Kaufman, Salon's mild, innocuous sportswriter, today published a fairly interesting piece on independent league baseball. There was a rookie-A team (as opposed to a rookie A-Team) in Eugene growing up where I remember seeing Tom Gordon coming into the league, but nothing like this. I've never experienced this level of baseball, except for Jose Canseco and Ricky Henderson jokes, but would really like to see it for myself. Wacky promotions, direct fan involvement, and trading a player for a pallet of that's old school.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lyrad's Occasional Image

Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg on the set of Sabotage, June 1968.

Lyrad's Random 10

Off the top of my head, Susie Ibarra is the only Asian-American female jazz drummer I can think of. I'm sure there are more, but I've never heard of them. She's an amazing drummer who has worked with pretty much everyone in the NY jazz scene over the years and has emerged in her own right as a very good improvisational band leader. "Ancients" comes from her Flower after Flower album on Tzadik. Here, she plays drums, kulintang (Filipino gamelin) and various percussion with violin, two clarinets, flute, trumpet, bass, accordion, and piano. Depending on the track, the improvisations are either quite beautiful or quite difficult, but it's an intriguing album that deserves multiple listens. Of note here is Pauline Oliveros on the accordion. She has developed a "deep listening" style of playing the instrument that uses the reverberations of the recording space (she once recorded in a two million gallon underground cistern that has a 45 second reverberation time) to influence and change her sound, often resulting in walls of noise. When this is added into this mix of master instrumentalists, it's something to behold.

1. Susie Ibarra--Ancients
2. Fred Frith, Mark Dresser & Ikue Mori--Hello, I Must Be Going
3. Ivie Anderson--Twice Too Many
4. Nico Fidenco--Make Love on the Wing (from the soundtrack to Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals)
5. Benny Goodman--Tiger Rag
6. Seks Bomba--The Cat [for Marvin]
7. Guy Klucevsek--Viavy Rose Variations
8. Antonin Dvorak--Domov muj [My Home] (Overture) for Orchestra, Op.62a (Czech PO; Libor Pesek, cond)
9. Trusty--Goodbye Dr. Fate
10. Roy Budd--Fields of Green and Skies of Blue (from the soundtrack to Soldier Blue)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cosmopolitan America

About a week ago, Rob had an interesting post about cosmopolitan cities in America. Comparing San Francisco to Cincinnati, he wrote

For O'Reilly, San Francisco represents a rejection of America, which is to say a rejection of the set of imaginary traditions that social conservatives hold dear. The hopeful thing, I think, is that fewer people share O'Reilly's vision than he believes; these charts seem to indicate that Americans, on the whole, are pretty tolerant of the cosmopolitan idea. I think that the failure of anti-immigration politics (in spite of the handwringing of folks like Mickey Kaus) to really gain much traction in the last couple of election cycles indicates that more people think about San Francisco in the way I do than the way that O'Reilly does. It makes me optimistic that there's space for a genuinely (almost uniquely) American civic nationalism, even if that nationalism is at deep odds with those who most enthusiastically wrap themselves in the American flag. I'm also hopeful that, in twenty years, Cincinnati will become more like San Francisco than the reverse, and that we'll all be the better for it.

Right, but it's even bigger than that. For the pleasure of people who like Afghani food and hearing different languages on the street, more cosmopolitan cities are great, but the real fear for O'Reilly and ilk is Americans beginning to understand foreign cultures, regardless of where they live.

This brings me to a conversation I had with my Mom the other day. First, a note on her. "Cosmopolitan" is not a word you would use to describe my mother. She had never been outside the country until 2 years ago. She has no interest in travel. She has always found certain Latino men sexy, particularly Julio Iglesias and Rafael Palmeiro. I tried not to explore this fascination too deeply.

Anyway, when Lyrad and I left home, she lost her identity as a mother. She never worked outside the home, mostly for health reasons and also because of our Dad's old-fashioned gender hangups. But she did start getting involved with foreign exchange students. It was perfect; hosting them allowed her to be a Mom, plus she could work on placing these students by turning Lyrad's now unused bedroom into an office.

When I was growing up she was a Democrat but then switched to the Republicans to express her opposition to the gay rights movement in the early 90s. Whether she still feels this way is another thing I don't want to explore. But through being exposed to all these foreign cultures, both her and my Dad, who is a pretty conservative guy, have had their eyes opened pretty wide.

She called me the other day asking what halal was. This is because her program is trying to place Muslim students in rural Oregon. The idea of my Mom needing to understand Islamic dietary laws was mindblowing to me and is a conservative's nightmare. Both her and my Dad are big time Obama supporters and will even vote for Hillary if she is the nominee, although neither can stand her. But they have talked to all these people about how the European socialized health care and have become converts.

But of course most conservative whites have not had their world broadened in this way. Republicans can only hope this continues. Michael Sokolove's story on politics in his home town of Levittown, Pennsylvania illustrates this point well. There are many traditional white working-class Democrats in Levittown who want Hillary to win the presidency but will vote for McCain over Obama, because they just flat out aren't voting for a black man. This is still an isolated white place with old-style working-class concerns. Certainly the Democratic Party needs to work for these voters, but these are also classic Reagan Democrats for whom race matters a lot. They don't want a cosmopolitan America. It threatens their identity as white Americans and what they believe that stands for--hearing English, eating traditional European-based foods, living and working around other whites, and making enough money to buy a new car every couple of years. Sokolove relates this incident:

Steve Woods sat drinking a Coors Light and talking with his buddies. A Philadelphia Phillies spring-training game was on TV, and he glanced up at it every time the audio picked up the crack of the bat. I asked him if the presidential campaign interested him. “Absolutely,” he said. Rapid fire, he told me the issues he cared about: “No. 1, gas prices. It’s killing everybody. No. 2, immigrants. They should go back to Mexico. Three, guns. Everybody should have the right to bear arms. In fact, everyone should have a gun in this day and age.”

I wondered if he was a Republican. “Are you kidding?” he said. “I’m a Democrat all the way. I hate Republicans.”

If McCain can tap these votes, he might have a chance to pull this election out.

But in the long run, what Rob and I hope for becomes closer to reality and what O'Reilly and the remnants of the white working class like Steve Woods hold dear is disappearing. For all that people slam on Cincinnati, I have little doubt that it is far more cosmopolitan than it was 20 years ago. The gap between Cincy and San Francisco is narrowing every day. Every time a new Spanish radio station starts broadcasting in Iowa, every time a Vietnamese restaurant opens in Utah, every time the child of South Carolina conservatives makes friends with a Guatemalan or Salvadoran-American at school, the conservatives lose. They know this and it scares the hell out of them.

Cosmopolitanism may be the hope of American society and I am confident that the nation will only get more urbane with each passing year.

Historical Image of the Day

Henry Adams, 1875. Grandson of John Quincy Adams, great grandson of John Adams. Leading Victorian intellectual. Author of The Education of Henry Adams. Perhaps America's greatest stick in the mud.

Erik's Random 10

Calm seems to be a pretty good Japanese band that mixes traditional Japanese sounds with modern dance music. Truth be told, I've only listened to it once or twice. I just got it from a collection entitled "The Very Best of the Far East." This and other similar collections are really fantastic sets, providing you with 2 or 3 CDs worth of interesting music from an area for about $5. You can get them on Amazon and I'd recommend them as an intro to both traditional and modern sounds of the world.

1. Calm, Long Way Long Time
2. The Meat Purveyors, Car Crash
3. Eyvind Kang, The Eternity
4. Drive-By Truckers, Birmingham
5. Norman Blake, The Rights of Man Hornpipe
6. Frank Jenkins, Home Sweet Home
7. Flute Solo off the album "Folk Music of Ethiopia
8. Richard Thompson, Should I Betray?
9. R.B. Morris, The Ballad of Thunder Road
10. Elvis Costello, Crawling to the USA

Mister Trend's Random 10

For all the love Lou Reed (generally deservedly) gets for his lyrics, I feel that, at his best moments, John Cale at worst matches and often is a better wordsmith than Reed. "Guts," off Cale's 1975 album Slow Dazzle, is a great example of this. It probably has my favorite opening lines of any song ever: "The bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife. Did it quick, then split." The song's title comes from the fact that somebody (presumably the narrator) killed the guy, leaving him and his guts "all over the living room floor Like parrot shit, parrot spit, parrot shit was shot." Cale remains as cool as a cucumber throughout the cinematic portrayal of the events (the shotgun "operatic in its self disgust), until the end, when he realizes what's happened, becoming more frantic with the realizations that "the waster and the wasted get to look the same in the end." To match it all, his backing band is as rocking and dark as the lyrical content. It's just a great, great song on a great album.

1. "Shimenawa" - Bjork
2. "In a Silent Way (rehearsal)" - Miles Davis
3. "Defeito 3: Politicar" - Tom Ze
4. "Alone for a Long Time" - Charles Caldwell
5. "Stay Sweet" - Young People
6. "Untitled" - Panda Bear
7. "Guts" - John Cale
8. "Untitled 2" - Sigur Ros
9. "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" - Bob Dylan
10. "I Cover the Waterfront" - Billie Holiday

Bad News for Alberto Fujimori?

This is very good news:

A Peruvian court on Tuesday convicted a former general and three members of a military death squad of kidnapping and murder in a ruling that prosecutors say could set a precedent in the trial of former President Alberto Fujimori. The four were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 35 years in connection
with a 1992 massacre [...]
In a separate courtroom, Fujimori is being tried for allegedly authorizing the death squad to fight the guerrillas.
Jose Pelaez, the prosecutor in Fujimori's trial, said guilty verdicts in Tuesday's ruling would "establish a precedent" in the former president's case. "If the men who carried out the acts are found guilty, undoubtedly, the man at the top of the command chain, the man behind it all, Fujimori, also will be condemned for the same acts," he said before the verdict was issued.

Things are definitely starting to look grim for Fujimori. He's already guaranteed to have to serve jail time after his conviction on lesser charges. I'm not quite as confident as Pelaez that the conviction of the soldiers and the general guarantees that Fujimori will be found guilty, but the case certainly sets a precedent that doesn't bode well for the former president. Certainly, it's excellent news that the soldiers and military leaders who committed and authorized attacks on civilians are being punished with jail time; that in and of itself is a major step towards rectifying past human rights abuses in Peru. And with the precedent set, Fujimori, who as president commanded and oversaw all military (and paramilitary) activities in Peru in the 1990s is on even thinner ice. He may still be found not guilty, but the conviction of the military men was definitely a step in the right direction, and a sign of hope that other leaders involved in human rights abuses in Peru in the 90s will not get off lightly.

The 22nd Bond Movie - Now Offending Bolivians and Chileans

I'm fairly knowledgable in my James Bond movies (I've seen every movie, from the excellent Casino Royale to the painfully bad View to a Kill and the absurd Die Another Day, and all others). Given how well-done Casino Royale was, I'm pretty eager to see the 22nd movie, Quantum of Solace. However, perhaps I should have been brought on as a consultant to the film, because I'm aware of the legacy of the War of the Pacific, and I could have told the producers that using Chile to portray Bolivia would be a bad idea:

Chile-as-Bolivia has not been a popular choice, either: Hurt feelings remain between the South American neighbors over an 1879-84 war in which Chile took Bolivia's Pacific coastline. The two have not had diplomatic relations since 1978.
"We knew there was a war 100 years ago, but we didn't know it was
still an issue," [producer Michael G.] Wilson said.

Apparently, both Chileans and Bolivians are offended - Chile at being used as a surrogate for Bolivia, and Bolivia at not being used as "Bolivia." There's no real harm here, and it is a mildly amusing story. Maybe next time, the producers will do a little research on shooting locations first.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Um, That's Dr. Loomis To You

As of 4:30 pm mountain daylight time yesterday, I have a Ph.D. It's amazing enough that an accredited institution of higher learning decided to grant me such a degree. What's even more remarkable is that I earned it with distinction, which I think is essentially meaningless but is an honor that my chair has only seen once before since her arrival here in the early 90s.

So there you go. It only took 8 years.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Going through Old Baseball Cards

In addition to my impending move to New York, my parents are also leaving the house they've lived in for 14 years, so I am forced to sort out the few valuable things I might have and throw out the rest of the majority, which can politely be called "junk." As part of this process, I've been forced to go through all the baseball cards I bought between 1987 and 1991-ish. During the time it has taken to do this, I've had plenty of time to reflect on several facts.

-As a kid, I heard the horror stories of people who lost really really valuable baseball cards, and as a 7-year old, in all of my infinite wisdom, I swore I'd never ever ever throw my cards out, because they could be worth something. But now that I'm facing a major move and being forced to toss some stuff out, I realize that throwing out baseball cards is something of a necessity. And while I am trying to keep whichever cards might have value (I'll be holding on to my 1989 Upper Deck Inaugural year Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie card, thank you very much), in every handful I toss out, I wonder if I'm throwing away a card like Billy Ripken's, or some other major error.

-Looking at the cards from the 80s, one thing has become patently clear: the porn-stache was a fixture to all baseball players, regardless of nation, creed, or race, in the 1980s.

-Seattle's uniforms were pretty bad in the 80s.

-I remember a lot of my childhood heroes from the Cleveland Indians, but I've had a bunch of "who?" moments when I see the cards, including Jon Perlman, Frank Wells, Tom Waddell, Ken Schrom, and Junior Noboa.

-There are great "irony" moments when you look back at baseball cards that are 20 years old, including seeing things like "Joey" (AKA "Albert") Belle, or a card celebrating Mark McGwire setting a record for rookie home-runs.

-Among my few football cards, I found a John Elway from about 1988. I'm debating whether or not to chew it up and crap it out, use it as toilet paper, piss on it, or sell it to Lyrad. It's a tough choice...