Saturday, May 31, 2008

What the Hell Happened to Balloons and Hot Dogs?

This is weird. A car dealership in my soon-to-be home of Redlands, California is hosting a Child Safety Event. No Smokey the Bear, no McGruff the Crime Watch Dog, not even Bob the Crosswalk Safety Goat. What do they have instead? FBI-sponsored biometric fingerprinting for kids-- test drive a Nissan and get your offspring an “FBI certified 10 digit fingerprint profile”! But wait, wait, there’s more—you also get a home DNA identification kit!

Does this strike anyone else as a little creepy? Or maybe I just don’t get it because I’ve yet to procreate. In any event, man, the times have changed.

Historical Image of the Day

John Ledyard, early American traveler. First white American to set foot on the west coast of the continent. He attempted to walk around the world, but Catherine of Russia had him arrested and deported. Got venereal disease in Tonga. Died in Cairo of dysentery in Cairo in 1789.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Greatest Security Inspection Ever

I'm just reprinting the whole story.

As a test of airport security, a customs officer planted marijuana in the side pocket of a random suitcase at Narita International Airport in Tokyo, the BBC reports (

The test failed when the sniffer dogs were unable to detect the pot. But the officer could not remember which bag he had used.

Using an actual passenger’s suitcase is against regulations, and the airport’s customs service has apologized.

Meanwhile, the marijuana is still out there. “Anyone finding the package has been asked to contact customs officials,” according to the BBC. So far, nobody has spoken up.

I clearly should be traveling to Japan more often.

McCain by the Numbers: Imaginary Tax Rates

McCain’s campaign website has a lot to offer—a veritable treasure trove of bad ideas, overly determined-looking photos, and a creepy link to his MySpace page (under ‘Body Type’, it says 0’0”—I’m not kidding!). Now we can add sly misinformation to the list.

Mr. McCain has his knickers in a loop about corporate taxes.

John McCain Will Reduce The Federal Corporate Tax Rate To 25 Percent From 35 Percent. John McCain believes the taxes we impose on American companies should be no higher than the average rate our major trading partners impose on theirs. We currently have the second-highest combined corporate-tax rate in the industrialized world, and it is driving many businesses and the jobs they create overseas.

(Did I mention his website has a little of the Bob Dole Bob Dole thing going on?)

So we have he second highest corporate tax rate (outfoxed by only Japan on this one!). The operative word here is rate. The rate may be high, but actual revenue collected is an entirely different matter.

First of all, our complex tax code enables corporations to use a variety of tools to reduce their tax liability. Accelerated depreciation, exorbitant executive pay (which is deductible), off-shore sheltering (which the GAO estimates accounts for about $85 billion in uncollected tax revenue), stock options (deductions taken from the price difference in exercised stock options given to employees as part of compensation), leasebacks, transfer pricing, etc., all reduce the effective tax rate much lower than the statutory rate. In the first years of the Bush tax cuts, the effective corporate tax rate sank to an average of around 23%, with many corporations (some that reported pretax profits to their shareholders) having negative effective tax rates.

According to a new Congressional Research Service report, since 1993 (when the top statutory rate was set at 35 percent), the effective corporate tax rate — that is, the share of total corporate profits that is paid to the federal government in corporate income taxes — has averaged 26.3 percent for non-financial corporations, or about one-quarter lower than the 35 percent statutory rate (Congressional Research Service, 2003, as quoted by the Center on Budget and Policy)

Another way of looking at it is taxes as a part of GDP. The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), which is a research organization funded by the governments of major developed nations (i.e., not a fringe lefty think tank), released a report about real taxes in various nations. Their methodology looks at corporate taxes as a percentage of GDP. Corporate taxes in 2004 (after the Bush tax cuts), dipped to 2.4% of GDP (28th lowest out of 30 countries), versus a 4.0% average for other OECD member nations. The U.S., circa 1965, had a percentage closer to 4.0%. When you include all taxes paid, the U.S. remains one of the least taxed nations as a percentage of GDP. The idea that we’re taxing business off of U.S. soil is just ridiculous.

For yet another view, we can look at corporate taxes as a percentage of all federal tax revenues; the Bush tax cuts ushered in a new low in this figure. In the 1950’s, corporate taxes comprised 28% of federal tax revenue; in the 1960’s, 21%, and now less than 10%.

With all the damage the Bush tax cuts have done with respect to corporate taxes, it seems fairly irresponsible to slash them lower. Much of the criticism about McCain deals with how close he is to Bush on most issues. On this one, he’s even more radical than Bush, and that’s just plain scary.

Maggot Brain (It's Worth Repeating)

By my estimations, Rolling Stone jumped the shark roughly 37 years ago, so this is no surprise, and I'll give them credit for at least not putting "Freebird" or "Stairway to Heaven" as #1. That said (and I've said this in no uncertain terms before), there is no way in the world that Maggot Brain is #60, and the notion that it's not as good as nearly 30 minutes of the Grateful Dead noodling, is just risible. I should be glad that at least there isn't a Doors song ahead of Maggot Brain, and that at least RS had the decency to put Chuck Berry at #1 over Zeppelin, but one more time, for all the kids out there....

...Maggot Brain is the greatest guitar song ever. Period.

Historical Image of the Day

Sugar refinery. Utah-Idaho Sugar Company. Garland, Utah, 1960

Harvey Korman, RIP

I was sad to read about the death of Harvey Korman. While I was pretty young when Korman was active, the first comedy show I really remember watching was the Carol Burnett Show. That show contained some fantastic comedians--Korman, Burnett, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence. I think it was the first time I realized what comedy was. I have always remembered the show fondly. Of all these people, Conway is really the only way even remotely active these days, but they are all pretty old. I hadn't heard anything about Korman for a long time so I wasn't that surprised. Still, it's sad.

Also, his role in Blazing Saddles was awesome.

Meet Your Entertainment for the 2008 Republican National Convention

An ongoing joke is the "entertainment" that Republicans attract for their conventions. Given that virtually every artist is a lefty, Republicans are forced to rely on the likes of Ted Nugent, The Gaither Family, and Rich Little.

Well, maybe we can add Kiss to this year's spectacle. I really want to see McCain and Gene Simmons together.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Moved In (for the Most Part)

After a week, I am in New York safely, and finally connected to the Internets. Still trying to get some stuff together though - I hope to be back in full form by the end of next week.

And it is definitely worth more time than I have, but I would just like to mention that, while eating breakfast this morning, I saw that my new governor (and most favorite governor I've ever had already, just for the obstacles he has overcome), Paterson, announced that New York will recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries. While that's not the same as making civil unions for same-sex marriages legal in New York, the fact that he's willing to give same-sex couples the same privileges and recognition as opposite-sex couples is really, really good news.

In Defense of the Religious (and regarding tolerance)

Man, there was a lot of hate thrown around on that post and comment thread below about Obama's faith.

Including comparisons to Iran, Saudi Arabia, et al.

Let's make one thing really clear before I even start here. Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the world's repressive theocratic regimes are not bad because their leaders believe in God.

They are bad because their leaders believe they have the right to force everyone to live and die by their specific interpretation of their religious texts.

We discussed tolerance a little bit, which dissolved mostly into joking about how none of us tolerate martinis made with vodka. I wrote some notes back then about the word "tolerance" and how I don't really like it and I prefer "acceptance." Because that's what I want--I don't want you people to tolerate me because I'm a tattooed freaky ex-goth Jewish feminist, I want you to accept that my life and my positions are valid, that I'm a human being just like you.

I find it funny that pretty much everyone was very accepting when I wrote about the transgender kids, and when it comes to religion, we're all angry that a candidate is religious.

Obama appears to be the only one of the three candidates who attends services regularly. If you read his first book, he candidly discusses his lack of belief early on, and his conversion. He appears to be sincere about his religion--and I would argue that his unwillingness at first to sever ties with Rev. Wright speaks to that.

Hillary Clinton is also religious, in a rather more creepy way, because her religion is actually tied to the Christian Right that DOES freak most of us out.

My sister goes to church every week and goes to Bible study on Tuesday nights, and she's as committed (though less mouthy) a progressive as I am. Her church accepts gay and lesbian members, discusses sex openly, and donates money to the community and abroad. Her Christian beliefs were found in high school, but they drive her to use her extra cash to make microloans to women in developing countries, to support marriage equality, and to vote Democrat.

I do not go to temple. I consider myself Jewish only in a roundabout way. I almost married a Muslim convert, but his religious beliefs and my lack thereof proved not to be compatible, so I understand the feeling that someone's religion and your lack of it may not mesh--and in your personal life, you have every right to feel that way. I certainly did.

But when my father was in the hospital this summer and I had to pull myself together and run the family business basically on my own, you're damn right I prayed. And I don't give a crap if you think I'm crazy for believing in "invisible sky fairies."

Lawyers, Guns and Money did some excellent writing on religion, intolerant atheism, and plurality here, here, and here. (In chronological order.) I highly recommend them.

The real question should be: does Barack Obama's religion lead him to make the right choices or the wrong choices? If thinking about and yes, praying about the decision to speak out against the Iraq war led him to make that choice, then good for him. His religion has also led him to find common ground with even wingnuts like Sam Brownback on issues like AIDS that we all should care about.

Religion has always been something that's fascinated me in part because I was the child of a mixed-faith marriage, and because I could never really put my finger on where I belonged or what I believed. As I mentioned, I confused my acceptance of others' beliefs for my ability to live under those rules, and I absolutely understand why no one else wants religious rules enacted on them.

And if you actually care to learn more about Obama's particular brand of Christianity, NPR did some excellent programs in the wake of the Wright controversies. It's more than just "invisible sky fairies."

We expect heterosexual religious people in middle America to be tolerant of gay marriage, but don't offer them the same? I think we need to move beyond 'tolerance' and work on acceptance. If someone believes in Jesus Christ and that makes them a better person, good on them. And if that someone can actually get Middle America to vote for a black, pro-choice, anti-war progressive, who talks about negotiations with Iran, named Barack Hussein Obama, by reminding them that he too believes in the same God as they do, GOOD.

Higher Education In Texas

Nothing like dealing with higher education in Texas to warm the heart. Luckily, I am not working in the public institutions. But down here, it doesn't matter that much.

First, we have SMU continuing to whore themselves out to the Bush Foundation. Not only will the Bush Library be located at SMU, but there will be a special institute totally unregulated by the university dedicated to pushing the Bush "vision." Thus, for the next several decades, SMU will be known as a school whose most public mission is pursuing the vision of the worst president in over a century, embarrassing itself as a outlet for right-wing propaganda rather than as an institution of higher learning.

Meanwhile, Texas Governor Rick Perry continues his attack on tenure because everyone knows we college professors think that our primary mission to turn our students into homosexual communists.

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry exhorted state university and college leaders Wednesday to fundamentally alter higher education by shifting how public money is spent, how professors are rewarded and how success is graded.

Mr. Perry spoke to about 60 regents, all of whom he appointed, and touted an accountability system that would basically shift power from tenured faculties and university institutions and put more emphasis on performance, such as demonstrated teaching skills, how much research money is brought in and how many students are taught and graduated.

[ . . . ]

The summit of regents and chancellors was hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think-tank, which invited other speakers and handed out reading materials that suggested great American universities have been blunted by intellectuals and left-leaning doctrine.

Barba de Chiva admits that this is all true, writing:

That's right. In my spare time, I create my own set of leftist reading materials. You wouldn't believe the damage I can do in a single summer session of English 4309, Advanced Grammar. My lefty colleagues and I have a good laugh at our secret name for the class, Advanced Gramsci! Ha ha! Suckers! They think they're learning about the non-finite verb phrases functioning nominally, but they're actually being indoctrinated!
This reminds me of my own attempts to indoctrinate my students. It's time for Classic Alterdestiny! This post from February 1, 2005 demonstrates how my U.S. history survey class is actually a plot to get students reading theory that will make them left-wing America-hating monsters. 3 years down the road, I should update this. Not to mention sharpen the descriptions. But I'm not going to edit that now, so here it is:

In this course we will learn how to hate America, your parents, apple pie, the flag, the modern world, and God. The goal of this course is to turn you all from God-loving Americans into drug-taking, homosexual atheists. Any dissent in this course will automatically ensure you of an F in the course. We will learn how to hate America by reading other God-hating commies.

Week 1. Readings--Thomas Paine, Common Sense
The goal of this week is to prepare you for bloody revolution
Your assignment is to write an essay discussing your plans to prepare for the revolution against America.

Week 2. Readings--Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
The goal of this week is to teach you to reject God.
Your assignment is to desecrate a local church. Urinate in the holy water, have sex on the altar, use a statue of the Virgin Mary to pleasure yourself. Inventiveness is highly encouraged.

Week 3. Readings--Karl Marx, Kapital
The goal of this week is to teach you to understand the heart of the capitalist beast and to show why capitalism is doomed.
Your assignment is to write a 200 word essay summarizing the key argument of the book.

Week 4. Readings--Prince Kropotkin, His Thoughts and Works
The goal of this week is to show why all government is evil and should be destroyed.
Your assignment is to blow up a symbol of capitalism. Or just blow up whatever you can find.

Week 5. Readings--V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?
The goal of this week is to teach you how to instigate a revolution
Your assignment is to preach the oncoming revolution on the streets, to your parents, or in your church.

Week 6. Readings, Immanuel Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis, An Introduction
The goal of this week is to show how the US controls the world and oppresses all people of color.
Your assignment is to pick one country and show how a revolution will end American dominance over it.

Week 7. Readings, Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
The goal of this week is to show why white people hate everyone in the Third World.
Your assignment is to write a paper on why America should celebrate the birthdays of leaders like Patrice Lumumba, Robert Mugabe, and Julius Nyrere instead of racists George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Week 8. Readings, Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X
The goal of this week is to discuss why the "Man", meaning all of us whiteys, continue to screw the black population of the world.
Your assignment is to kill a white person. If it's yourself, you will get a posthumous "A" for the course since I won't have to grade any more of your work.

Week 9. Readings, Mao Tse-Tung, The Little Red Book
The goal of this week is to find out how to create a radical revolutionary culture.
Your assignments are to form small groups and self-criticize as well as to denounce elders in public. If you can force your parents, teacher, or a minister to their knees and to cry, you get extra credit. But no extra credit for only one. They must be on their knees and crying. If you denounce me, you get double the extra credit.

Week 10. Readings--Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism
The goal of this week is to teach you that Israel is the antichrist and should be destroyed with as much violence as possible.
Your assignment is to pick a group of people and find out how the Jews have screwed them over. It's very important that you don't engage in any anti-Semitic violence this week. If you've learned anything so far, it's that you must work within the movement and that individual action will result in the fall of the revolutionary movement. Not to mention that it will lead to a 1/3 grade deduction at the end of the semester. If you need a reinforcement of this, watch I Am Cuba

Week 11. Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
The goal of this week is to show you how white capitalist culture has destroyed the environment.
Your assignment is to chop down a billboard.

Week 12. Readings--James Scott, Seeing Like A State
The goal of this week is to show how capitalism has screwed up the world and how Scott is a counter-revolutionary rightist for claiming that communist nations caused the same problems to people and the environment as capitalist movements. See, critical reading is encouraged in college.
Your assignment is to find the plans for a high-modernist structure, preferably a dam. We will discuss how to destroy it in class.

Week 13. Readings--Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference
The goal for this week is for you to be able to tell your parents and other authority how stupid they are because they don't understand deconstructionism.
Your assignment is to deconstruct your relationship with your parents.

Week 14. Joan Scott, Gender and the Politics of History
The goal for this week is for you to understand why women are better than men.
Your assignment depends on your gender. If you are female, you must dominate and humiliate a male. If you are a male you must be dominated or humiliated by a female.

Week 15. Readings--Judith Halberstam, Female Masculinities
The goal of this week is show that acting within established gender norms is evil and oppresses the world.
Your assignment is to cross-dress for a week. Experimental sex is encouraged.

Week 16. Readings--Judith Butler, The Judith Butler Reader
The goal of this week is to learn a language that people in red states can't understand as well as to reinforce your new status as homosexuals.
Your assignment is to film yourself having sex with at least one other person of your gender. More than 1 is encouraged. If you're particularly shy, a goat will suffice.

Final Project
The final will be to start a violent, yet racially, gender, and sexually tolerant revolution. We will begin the revolution at the designated time for your final exam as listed in the schedule of classes. Blue books are not required for this final.


While not as appealing to me as large apartment complexes, I love the idea of microhomes that Julia Steinberger writes about.

A huge problem with fighting environmental problems is our reliance on home building for economic growth. That home building is simply not environmentally sustainable. Moreover, Americans' consumer demands have led to these gigantic starter castles popping up all over the landscape. Even trailer homes now can clock in at over 2000 square feet. This is simply unacceptable. It leads to the overuse of resources, the spatial dispersion of homes, and massive uses of energy.

One good first step would be change how we calculate property taxes. Instead of being taxed solely by the value of your own, basing a significant amount of the tax on your square footage would be a great idea. Your house should be as nice as you can make it, but if you are living in an 800 square foot space, you should pay less than someone with 2000 square feet.

Plus microhouses can have a wonderful charm that starter castles or even the average home built in this decade almost never have. The picture above from Reno is quite lovely. I would certainly live in such a place if I could.

Utah Phillips, RIP

Utah Phillips has died.

I have trouble knowing what to say about Phillips. He represented both musical and labor traditions that I am ambivalent about. He had a rich baritone and a real love of the music. He kept a lot of old I.W.W. songs alive that otherwise might have died. He wasn't a prolific songwriter but he wrote some really great songs ("Rock Salt and Nails" for instance). But his style of folk singing, particularly the participatory nature of it, is not something I've ever been super comfortable with. This is my own shyness I guess but I like some distance between the artist and myself. Pete Seeger is much the same way.

In the late 1990s, Phillips became more popular than ever before because of the two Ani DiFranco albums that included his work. She set his work to a more hip beat and style, using modern technology to make the work relevant. In principle I like the idea, but this was at the time where everybody on the left was listening to DiFranco like she was the Second Coming and it drove me up the wall. Her music is solid enough I suppose, as were the Phillips albums, but not good enough to make up for the annoying fans.

Phillips' reputation was that of the old-time train hopper and I.W.W. member. He certainly represented that well, but I'm not sure that's a good thing. He was romanticizing a very bad lifestyle through his own actions. He may have known that. I'm not sure. But people who actually had to ride freights to survive lived horrendous lives that should be wept over, not replicated unless absolutely necessary. The cold, heat, train cops, rape, murder, robbery, and danger of getting run over sucked for virtually everyone involved.

From a historical point, identifying with the I.W.W. is interesting to me. Keeping that tradition alive has value. But they have been irrelevant for 80 years and I'm not sure why they shouldn't remain that way. They are still stuck in 1912 and in many ways so was Phillips. They represent an non-bureaucratic, hyper masculinized, individualized form of labor that has been lost through the AFL-CIO. On the other hand, those latter unions actually accomplished things. The I.W.W. accomplished very little. They won a couple of strikes but there way of running things made it almost impossible to build a long-lasting union. Romanticizing these people is OK because it's basically harmless, but it also made Phillips more politically irrelevant than he could have been.

Anyway, I saw Phillips about 3 years ago. His heart was bad but did a really nice show and I'm glad I saw him.

Historical Image of the Day

Zora Neale Hurston

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Chinese and Greenhouse Gases

This post at Global Labor Strategies is a nice summary of the Chinese problem with greenhouse gases.

A few notes:

1. I have wondered in the past whether China would be able to continue developing as a world power because of the massive environmental damage they are sustaining. I still feel this way. We are starting to see the beginnings of these problems as rising fuel prices are leading to food shortages among the world's poor. China is of course burning incredible amounts of coal to fuel their expansion. While they have lots of coal, it is not really sustainable as a long-term solution because of the incredible air pollution and because of world opinion.

But one way China may be able to contain these environmental costs and continue their development is becoming the world's leader in renewable energy. Certainly they have the centralized government structure to make this happen if it truly becomes a national priority. Turning a significant amount of resources to wind and solar energy makes a tremendous amount of sense for the Chinese and I expect they will embrace and improve upon these technologies as their way of maintaining their growth.

2. The author makes a very important point about western hypocrisy toward China. The United States and Europe continually chastise China for their greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, not only does the United States pump more greenhouse gases into the environment, but a huge percentage of those Chinese emissions result from them producing products for the developed world!

I have long been critical of people who talk about a "post-industrial society." This makes no sense at all. The United States, Europe, and Japan are just as reliant upon the Industrial Revolution as they ever have been. But they have exported the costs of the Industrial Revolution to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. So China, Mexico, and Indonesia have to deal with industrial pollution, deforestation, and greenhouse gas emissions. But so long as the developing world is demanding the products the Industrial Revolution provides for the cheap prices only available in the Global South, we are just as responsible for those emissions as the nation of production.

In addition, rising fuel prices are convincing some western nations to renege on environmental agreements. For instance, according to the GLS article, Italy's major electric producer is switching their largest plant from oil to coal and expects to increase their reliance on coal to 33% of its energy needs from the current 14% by 2013. The hypocrisy just got ranker. I have little doubt that Americans will engage in similar actions as our gas prices rise.

Pot, meet kettle.

This isn't to say that the West needs to agree with developing world leaders who use the history of western despoiling of the environment as an excuse for their own. Just yesterday, I chastised Brazil's Lula for saying these things. But at the same time, we can't just ignore our own consumption and criticize the producers.

3. The author closes with a very brief discussion of how climate change is a working-class problem. But it feels tacked on. Labor strategists have not done a good job of showing why environmentalism is a working-class problem. Working-class people have tended to be more resistant to environmentalism for several reasons, including the potential of losing their jobs, as well as cultural differences that have long alienated working-class people. Part of the problem is that these environmental problems seem so huge and unmanageable that it is hard to figure out what anyone is supposed to do, not to mention workers who have relatively little power in American society, who are trying to feed their families, and maybe watch a little TV in the evening.

I don't necessarily have any answers here either. But it is worth saying that environmental problems will affect working-class people faster and with greater effect. We are already seeing this with the global working-class, as poor people are facing higher food prices that they flat out cannot afford. Hunger is becoming a major world issue again because of fuel prices. It seems to me that labor needs leaders who make environmental issues central to their agendas. Organizing for inexpensive mass transit seems like a very intelligent idea for instance because it would provide their constituents cheap transportation so they wouldn't have to drive. Pressing for new technologies in electric vehicles seems like another possible place where labor could make a difference. It's going to take real leadership though because these solutions are several years down the road at the earliest.

The Anti-Anti-Christ

I find this a tad distasteful. It is a flyer that the Obama campaign sent out in Kentucky to court Christian voters. Notice the big fatty Golden Cross next to Obama's head. Or the slogan change-- now it reads "FAITH. HOPE. CHANGE." I'd bet we didn't see that one in Oregon, nor the giant "Committed Christian" heading with his coming to Jesus story below.

I do not find this offensive, just merely annoying. I get it—the fabricated e-mails about Obama partying down with The Prophet are out there. This might be an effective countermeasure, but something about it makes me uneasy. That it comes from the guy I’m supposed to be excited about voting for really depresses me.

“..that day, Obama felt a beckoning of the spirit and accepted Jesus Christ into his life.”

Felt a what? Granted I don’t get the whole “born again” thing, but this is just nuts. It’s also not unlike the George Bush conversion narrative, which also annoys me. I am wary of people who think themselves touched by mystical powers.

”…but I won’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I go out and do the Lord’s work”

I’d rather my president focus on the work of the people, thank you very much. I don’t have a clear idea of what God’s will is, though I’m guessing there is quite a bit about which I am not thrilled. If Obama thinks he does in fact know God’s will, I find that a bit scary, in a Pat Robertson kind of way. Maybe this is just lip service. If so, I don’t like it, but I’ll shut up and comply. I do realize that a McCain presidency would be a disaster, and if this is what it takes for Obama to get over the top, I’ll go along.

I suppose, more than anything, this brings me back to reality. With all of the energy and excitement about Obama and Clinton and the impending exit of President Incompetent, I guess I had forgotten how much these mainstream candidates actually suck. He’ll get my vote, of course; right now, I’m just a little disappointed.

First Concert Ever

Jessica asks what was the first concert you ever went to.

While my parents took me as a child to some particularly bad country shows (Glen Campbell I remember and I think Mac Davis too but I'm not sure about that), the first concert I ever went to on my own was Sir Mix-a-Lot.

Before "Baby Got Back."

Yes, this was when "Posse on Broadway" and "Beepers" were kind of big songs. Oh it was hot. I must have been about 14, which would make this about 1988.

You might say I should be ashamed. But I'm not. You know you loved the hot bad ass Seattle rap scene. You know you are jealous of me. It's OK. I would be jealous of me too if I were you.

Historical Image of the Day

First graduating class of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute, 1886. This school became Virginia State University, a traditionally black college.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More on Lula and the Amazon

Randy has another good post up on how terrible Lula is on environmental issues. He is going to a standby of the irresponsible--scoffing at first world nations for telling him what to do.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva hit out at foreign critics of his stewardship of the environment on Monday, saying the world needed to understand that the Amazon belonged to Brazilians.

He told a forum in Rio de Janeiro it was "amusing" that countries who were among the world's worst polluters wanted to talk about preserving the rain forest.

"The world needs to understand that the Amazon has an owner, and that is the Brazilian people," Lula said.

"They are rubber tappers, fishermen and us who are Brazilian."

It's not that Lula doesn't have a point here in the sense that we have screwed the world up. But that doesn't mean the rest of the world now has free right to screw it up more. Plus as Randy says:

Do I need to remind him that the martyred Chico Mendes and the former Environment Minister he just pushed out, Marina Silva were rubber tappers?
Indeed. For those out there not familiar with Brazilian or environmental history, Chico Mendes was a labor and environmental activist in the Amazon killed by a large landowner in 1988. People have fought over Mendes' legacy ever since, with environmentalists claiming he was primarily an environmental activist and the left saying he died for labor rights. The answer of course is that he was both. Mendes pushed a working-class environmentalism that neither traditional labor or environmental organizations are comfortable with or even fully understand. But Lula is co-opting Mendes' legacy to push his particular brand of government.

I think the biggest problem with Lula is that he is an old-style activist of the developing world who believes that high modernist and developmentalist ideas are the way to make his country a power. He reminds me of Castro in this way, though to Castro's credit at least he has restored a lot of forest. While I think Lula is good in many respects, his environmental policies have a dinosaur aspect to him. That's sad. Moreover, it is dangerous to the Earth's future.

Joseph Palmer: Beard Martyr

Our friend Murderface sent me this link about Joseph Palmer, the transcendentalist and antebellum reformer who in 1830 went to prison to defend his right to have a beard.

I was unfamiliar with Palmer before this, but I find it interesting that in 1830, Americans were so opposed to beards that they would attack people for them. Yet by 1860, Abraham Lincoln is wearing a full beard and any reader of this blog has seen multiple examples of Gilded Age beards. I always assumed it was just a change in fashion. What I have not figured out yet is why antebellum Americans had this peculiar hostility. I suppose this has to do with some of the weird health and cleanliness movements of the time, but then beards became fashionable as these movements were still active.

Decline of the FARC?

It seems that the Colombian revolutionary group, the FARC, is in serious decline. They've had a rough year to say the least. They are facing severe military attacks from the Colombian government and supported by the US. One of their top military commanders was killed. And now their founder, Pedro Antonio Marin, has died at age 77.

While I think the Colombian government is loathsome, I have to think this is a good thing. The FARC is a horrible organization. I can't see how Colombia begins to get better with the FARC still around. Ideally, they would take a left-leaning reform path like Brazil or even Bolivia. But the FARC is revolutionary in name only. In practice, they are as reactionary as the government, using revolutionary rhetoric to justify kidnappings and cocaine dealing. If the FARC went away for the most part, the paramilitary groups would have to be dealt with severely, and then maybe some kind of peace and reform could come over the country. But none of this can happen with the FARC still strong. Their rapid decline would be the best thing for Colombia and all of South America. I fear that Hugo Chavez will somehow intervene on their behalf, but I hope that doesn't happen.

Historical Image of the Day

US invasion of Iraq.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The 45,376,235,237th Time Someone Called Someone Else the Antichrist

Last night I received an e-mail forward. I often get them, especially ones that are keen on Jesus or begging me to not purchase gasoline on a specific date. The one I received last night was really astounding— I had no idea that Barack Obama was the Antichrist.

According to The Book of Revelations:The Anti-Christ will be a man, in his 40s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal....the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, he will destroy everything.And Now: For the award winning Act of Stupidity Of all times the People of America want to elect, to the most Powerful position on the face of the Planet -- The Presidency of the United states of America A Muslim Male Extremist Between the ages of 17 and 40.


Aside from the absurdity of the Obama/Muslim thing (and the sub-Junior High writing and syntax—what’s with the weird capitalization? Was this badly translated from German or what?), I was astounded by the complete lack of regard for the actual biblical text. First of all, it is the Book of Revelation, not “Revelations”. Minor, sure, but if you really think it to be the word of God, you ought to proofread. More importantly, the term Antichrist is not even in the Book of Revelation. It appears only in John I and John II and is used to describe any person who denies that Jesus is the son of God. So by my count, there are a few billion Antichrists—and even so, Obama isn’t one of them.

Of course, the police APB bit about being a Muslim man in his 40’s doesn’t appear anywhere (even allowing generously for allegory). This is just racist tripe that the author typed (presumably with his or her knuckles). Hell, Jessie Helms thinks the Antichrist will be Jewish. Something tells me his buddy John Hagee would agree.

If I had a book that I thought was the word of a magical, all-powerful and all-knowing super-being, I think I’d read it. A lot. Or at least actually leaf through it before I quoted it.

My head hurts. But for fun, you can play the Antichrist Quiz Game on the PBS website.

Hillary for VP?

As others have pointed out, the VP job should have been Hillary's if she wanted it. I have heard that Bill was pushing big time for it. But her recent remarks on RFK's assassination in June 1968 should disqualify her. I don't think she was insinuating that someone should go assassinate Obama. It was a honest mistake I think. But it is one more nail in the coffin of a candidate who has relied on racist markers throughout a campaign. She is trying to forget the fact that she has relied on racists to make it this far. Moreover, it was such a stupid gaffe and there have been so many stupid gaffes. For such a qualified and experienced politician, this really isn't acceptable, especially since virtually every single one of those gaffes can be spun as appealing to the racism of whites. The exception I guess was the gas tax thing, but that was so stupid as to destroy much of her credibility as a leader.

I feel bad for Hillary in a lot of ways. I think she's right about the unreported sexism she's faced, especially in January and February when no one was talking about these things. I think she'd make a fine president, although more willing to adopt Republican talking points than I would like. But in the nation's more progressive party, consistently making racial mistakes and appealing to the worst of American whites is not acceptable. Obama should turn somewhere else for his VP.

Historical Image of the Day

Hutchinson Family Singers, 1845. This was a family group that sang protest songs against slavery and for temperance and women's rights. They survived in one form or another for 50 years.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

McCain's Three Choices

So it seems that McCain's VP choices have come down to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Mitt Romney.

If he's smart, he'll go with Crist, which will almost certainly assure him of Florida. Crist is a joke waiting to happen, with all the rumors about his sexual orientation, his absurd tan, etc.

But I really hope McCain goes with Jindal or Romney. Mittens is a ridiculous choice in itself. I can't help but thinking of the McCain campaign as Dole '96 redux. And Mittens would be a perfect Jack Kemp. Totally worthless uninspiring candidate who will bring no one to the ticket but will satisfy the loco wing of the party.

Jindal is even better. They want Jindal because he's not white. And he's really their only choice who is not white. On the other hand, he's totally insane. I really want a VP candidate who runs on creationism, anti-abortion extremism, and other loco positions. A message to the Republicans: just because a candidate is appealing to Louisiana Republicans does not mean he is appealing to the rest of the nation.

But then I hope McCain doesn't listen to me at all. McCain-Jindal '08!

Historical Image of the Day

Claiborne Fox Jackson, governor of Missouri. A secessionist, Jackson tried to pull Missouri out of the union. He refused to support the war effort when Lincoln tried to call up troops and asked for arms from the Confederate government. He was kicked out of office in July 1861.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Historical Image of the Day

Interior of Robert G. Campbell House, built 1851. St. Louis.

I love the subtlety of 19th century interior decoration. Not over the top in the least.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lyrad's Occasional Image

In anticipation of our first vacation as a family in many years...if only we could be so white.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I linked here the other day, and today in my email I had a link from Media Matters to read their report on the portrayal of immigrants in the media. So check it out.

Most (white) Americans need a reminder that we're all immigrants. I saw a fabulous bumper sticker a couple of weeks ago that said "Welcome to America, now speak Cherokee." How many people see that and don't even get the joke?

I know plenty of “illegal” immigrants. I know college students who’ve overstayed their visas. I know people who’ve snuck across the border in the middle of the night. I know people who work whatever job they can get, and I know people who are the highest paid employees at their workplace.

They are not all or even most of them from Mexico. They are from Argentina, Lithuania, Germany, Venezuela, Peru. They speak English.

(And how, anyway has "Mexican" somehow become the dominant picture of "illegal" immigration and a dirty word instead of a neighboring country and a beautiful culture? How many people at the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum also ate cheesesteaks at Geno's under the "Speak English" sign?)

I know schoolteachers busing tables in restaurants because it pays them better than teaching did back at home—but I know American schoolteachers who wait tables to make ends meet.

Immigrants didn’t come here to do the jobs “no Americans wanted.” They don’t deserve to be treated as though they’re some untouchable caste here for the work no one wants, cleaning toilets and looking after children and cooking fast food.

And they certainly don’t deserve what happens so often, that they get screwed out of money they have worked for because they have no recourse, no one to go to to ensure they are fairly treated.

My family is French by way of Canada and Jewish by way of Russia and Poland. We certainly aren't native. My French Canadian family grew up bilingual in their community in New Hampshire. My Jewish family had their own community in Boston where they spent time mostly with other Jewish families. Did their lack of "assimilation" hurt America? Did any of the waves of immigration destroy "American" culture--whatever the hell that is, anyway?

No human being is illegal. And no one deserves being dehumanized the way they are night after night on the network news, let alone in their homes, at their jobs, on the streets.

"By revealing that difference is arbitrary and potentially free-floating, mutable rather than essential, the monster threatens to destroy not just individual members of society, but the very cultural apparatus through which individuality is constituted and allowed." -Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "Monster Theory"

After all, when we create monsters out of immigrants, we may have to face the fact that they show us how arbitrary our borders really are, how not-different we are from them, after all.



In case anybody was wondering, I'm moving to NYC tomorrow. Blogging from me will be very light for the next week or so while I get settled in and get basic utilities up and running.

Historical Image of the Day

Nicholas Ludwig von Zizendorf. Arranged for settlement of Moravians in North Carolina, 18th century

Losing My Edge

My impending move to New York has put me in a surprising dilemma. I'm admittedly a music snob, and have always enjoyed going out and buying new albums, be it getting something I've heard so much about from a long time ago but never got, buying something by a new band (while not quite on the hipster-level of "nobody's ever heard of these guys," it's not far off, either), or getting interested in a genre I previously had very little of. This was one of the benefits of being a single grad student in New Mexico. While the pay was far from great (had I just worked 10 more hours a week, I would have been eligible for food stamps; I simply didn't because I didn't have an extra 10 hours a week for a second job), the cost of living in New Mexico was so low, I could easily fix my music addiction. Even in Rio, I generally tried to gobble up as much Brazilian music that interested me as I could, and the exchange rate helped me in this endeavor.

However, New York city is neither Rio nor Albuquerque, and in the comparative sense, I'll be making so little that I really won't be able to just go out and blow a couple hundred dollars a month on music.

I'm actually having a really hard time with this. I realize I can still download music, oftentimes for cheaper than buying a CD, but I always took a particular joy in buying CDs, having something concrete in my hand, seeing the artwork, etc. I'm also somewhat of a luddite and a bit cantankerous when it comes to technology, and I just don't care for what MP3s are doing to music in terms of things like sound quality and the concept of an "album." Plus, digging around a record store and finding some hidden gem, some old used album, or some band that looks really cool but that you know nothing about is far more enjoyable than just futzing around on the internet, playing with MySpace or Allmusic or whatever. Additionally, the fact that I won't be able to buy CDs very often in a city that must have dozens of absolutely awesome record stores is enough to put me into a straightjacket.

And part of the equation is simple pride and fear. While I'm a far cry from a hipster (and in my preemptive defense, besides lacking the square glasses and assymetrical hair, I don't generally flaunt bands and Robert Mitchum/Karen Black movies like hipsters apparently do in their mating calls), there is a particular satisfaction in finding out about a band before other people you know have heard them. Plus, by being unable to stay on top of stuff quite as easily, there's the fear that the music might pass me by, that I might miss out on some great movement or just not understand some great music that I feel like I would like it, but I just don't get it in the end (kind of like Erik about Animal Collective, though I absolutely adore them). And any coolness I might have ever had (which would be very little, if I ever had any coolness at all) was probably in my musical knowledge and up-to-date-ness, so I'm bemusedly dismayed by the fact I may have to now embrace completely full-on dorkiness. But that won't be any different than middle or high school (only without the horrible, mean, cliques of middle and high school), so I can cope with that easily enough.

In some ways, I suspect this will also be good for me. It's actually going to force me to be more discerning in what I pick up, which means I'm more likely to get records that I will listen to for years to come, and not just some album that seems really great at that moment but is increasingly uninteresting and forgotten as years pass (and my collection does have plenty of those in it already; just last night, I was listening at a music store to some samples of stuff that seemed like it would have totally interested me 5 years ago, but now is just boring and unoriginal to me). Still, not buying nearly as much music, and especially not being able to buy as much music in the musical mecca that is NYC, is going to prove to be a tough pill to swallow.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

That's the funniest version of "Straight Talk" I've ever heard of...

In the offhand chance anybody needs more evidence that Straight-talkin' McMaverick isn't exactly, um....conssitent in his stances and policies, I give you the following (hat-tip to Randy).

Killing "Subversives" in South Korea in the 1950s

Yesterday, while reading the Akron Beacon-Journal (dead-trees edition), I came across a remarkable and horrible story of state-sponsored mass murder in South Korea in 1950, as North Korea was invading the South. In short, while fleeing the invasion, South Korea's army and police emptied prisons as they fled south and executed upwards of 100,000 prisoners, dumping them in mass graves. Allegedly, they did so to prevent "subversives" and "leftists" from joining the invading North and forming a fifth column. Of course, these "subversives" and "leftists" apparently included women, children, and poor peasants who were simply serving time for petty crimes.

The role of U.S. presence at these executions, and failure to denounce the South Korean military's deeds at the time (and beyond), should of course come as no surprise. After all, throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the U.S. would also support brutal regimes that replaced democratically elected leaders who looked too "communist" (and that's just in Latin America). Still, the fact that "overall commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur viewed the executions as a Korean 'internal matter,' even though he controlled South Korea's military" just adds another appalling event to MacArthur's life.

Quite honestly, I'm rather surprised that this isn't getting more attention globally and in the press (a Google news search for "South Korea Mass Graves" only brings up 3 articles). I suppose it's good overall that South Korea is finally confronting this matter with a truth commission, though there's a lot that could be improved upon (including offering the chance for testimonies and prosecutions). It also perhaps would have been better had the government begun studying and chronicling these mass murders a little sooner (the fact that a typhoon unmasked a mass grave may have strengthened the need for the commission isn't exactly a mark of rapid, self-motivated investigations). Still, the fact that South Korea is addressing these murders at all is at least mildly encouraging, and hopefully the atrocities will not be excluded from their national narrative.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Why "experience" was the wrong meme.

Ugh, I just used the word "meme."

Anyway, aside from the conventional wisdom that this is a "change" election and that's why Hillary Clinton didn't do better, there's another reason that I find the "experience" claim problematic--and it's got nothing to do with questioning the actual level of experience.

As Latoya at Racialicious noted, many of us younger people have been told we can't do something because we're too young. I'm 28 and look younger than I am, and when I was the manager of a large retail/rental bike shop, I constantly had to deal with people walking past me to look for "the person in charge." When I had employees that were older than I was, I watched older customers consistently address them rather than me.

This gets worse, of course, when you're a woman, and/or a person of color. Often you'll be the first to do something, and you won't have had the opportunities for "experience" that white men have.

Making the argument for Hillary Clinton one based on "experience," as Gloria Steinem did, makes the argument not one that opens doors for all woman candidates, but opens doors for Hillary Clinton, because she can claim a very specific type of experience that only a few other women have--being married to the President.

Because Hillary Clinton's "experience" that makes her "ready on day one" was not predicated upon her work as a lawyer or even really on her work in the Senate, but on her time as first lady doing diplomatic missions and the like, this doesn't help the argument for any others who may come behind her.

We don't want to argue that only women who have watched their husbands do something first are qualified. We don't want to argue that women can only be president when they're more "experienced" than the other candidates.

We want to argue that women can be president because they're smart, have good policy ideas, and good judgment, not because they've served more time. Because most women in politics have served less time than the men. Most people of color have less time in politics than most white people. There are men in the Senate who were there when the Civil Rights movement happened, who were there when the "second wave" (see this link for some real dirt on the real "waves") of the women's movement happened and when women and people of color first started to get into positions of political power.

We haven't had the opportunity to have as much experience. We have to fight to change that. Which means not more people with "experience," because that claim is always going to favor the Ted Kennedys and Strom Thurmonds of this world. It means more new voices, more voices that have been historically excluded, more voices that do not have experience but have something more valid to consider: a different perspective.

Hillary Clinton could have chosen this path to the white house, and who knows? It may have gone better for her. Clearly, the swift falls of Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and my favorite, Bill Richardson showed that Democrats weren't looking for experience. Yet the argument that I met on the campaign trail when people were voting for Clinton was constantly "She's more experienced." When you scratched it, though, they couldn't tell you what experience specifically mattered to them, and it became clear that a lot of the time, "experience" meant name recognition, not any specific things that she'd done that made her more qualified.

And we certainly don't want to go there, do we? Name recognition is still going to be harder for female politicians and politicians of color. Quick, name five Senators. Aside from Senator Clinton, how many people would name women? Who has higher name recognition, Teddy Kennedy or Barbara Mikulski? Joe Lieberman or Patty Murray? Harry Reid or Olympia Snowe?

Hopefully, it won't always be that way. But for now, experience favors those who have been in power the longest. It is not the path to more women CEOs, more women Senators, more women governors. There is no other woman besides Hillary Clinton who can claim that she has the "experience" to be ready to be president "on day one."

But there are a lot of women and people of color who have the smarts, the ideas, and the judgment to do so, and that's what we should be basing our arguments on.

(cross-posted, as usual.)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

An eerie start

I am in Norfolk, Virginia this month for rehearsals and a performance of part of my new opera at the Virginia Arts Festival. The work, Heroes, Monsters, Humans, deals with the Iraq War from the perspectives of, by turns, a young Iraqi girl, an American soldier, and his wife back home in the States. The work is, as my stage works tend to be lately, political in nature (last year, the Arts Festival performed scenes from my comic opera, The Most Fortunate Son, which is a satirical critique of class privilege in America, as told through the ascendancy of George W. Bush).

In any event, this trip has been framed by two very different and very poignant experiences. While flying from Atlanta to Norfolk (which is a large Navy town), I sat by a 22 year old returning from Iraq for fifteen days of leave. We talked for the whole hour of the trip; he had been flown from Iraq to Germany to Ireland to Atlanta to Norfolk, a trip that had taken him almost three days. He is stationed in Southern Iraq, where things are calmer. His perspective was interesting; he had volunteered for duty in Iraq because of the money (he is paid more over there for hazard pay), and made a point to say that he wasn’t “tied up” in all of the “other stuff”—meaning the politics. I imagine it would be a great benefit for one to have that kind of disengagement, which he extended to the dangers of his work there as well. He told me that driving around those roads, he just thinks of them like normal highways, not letting his mind think about the risks.

As we got off the plane, I asked him what he was planning on doing on leave. He said he was going to drink beer and go camping. Camping would be the last damn thing I’d want to do after living in tent in Iraq for the last seven months, and I think he picked up on my amazement. He said, “I want to be near some trees”.

Talk about taking things in my life for granted.

Three fun things I learned from him:

(1) There is no alcohol in Iraq

(2) Everything there smells like shit and diesel

(3) It takes the Navy over three days to get you from Iraq to the States; it takes them 18 hours to get you from the States to Iraq

After arriving and checking into the hotel here, I stepped outside to try to find a place to eat lunch. As I was looking around, a young man standing outside the hotel looked at me and just started talking. The first thing he said was “What the fuck are you looking at?”, which left me rather stunned. As we began to talk, his hostility left as quickly as it had come.

His name was Kevin, 23 years old, also in the Navy. There was something haltingly wrong with him—drugs, alcohol, PTSD, I have no idea—but something was very wrong. He would begin to talk about his inability to say things, vague language about hiding things, and various other secretive and veritably strange phrases. He started crying at one point, and then immediately smiled and told me the bag I was carrying made me look like a “fag”. It was the strangest conversation I have ever had in my entire life. It was like an emotional rampage—up, down, angry, sad, defeated, aggressive—all in the span of about half an hour. Even stranger was that his language was so vague. He said very little that was not abstracted, and several times offered me cryptic advice about secrecy (?!) I cannot capture the nature of this conversation very well, but suffice is to say it was very odd, frightening, and in a way, moving.

These experiences would have been very poignant in their own right, but having them as the first experiences of this trip, which is centered on my Iraq War opera, is a very strange feeling. It somehow seems fitting.

More thoughts on Clinton and feminism.

Of course, I won't have completely unpacked my feelings toward Hillary Clinton's candidacy until years after this whole mess is over.

So I just keep blogging things as they occur to me, and hope they illuminate to you and to me why I feel the way I do at any given time.

In making herself masculine, in using words like "obliterate" and "destroy," in vowing revenge and declaring herself ready for that 3:00 AM phone call, in talking about her time shooting things with her father, Hillary Clinton has not only reclaimed the phallus and painted her (male) opponent as more feminine and thus less qualified (except when she wants to claim she's more qualified because she's a woman).

She has proved herself willing to kill.

Because the unnamed part of political power in America is that you have to be willing to kill.

Bill Clinton proved it in Arkansas when he executed a brain-damaged man while pursuing the presidency. John Kerry tried to prove it by continually invoking his military service and going hunting. Michael Dukakis looked like an idiot when he tried to prove it by riding around on a tank. And Dubya, of course, executed his own mentally retarded convict.

And every feminist who recognizes the masculine/feminine, destroy/create binary, the difference between power-to and power-over, and thinks even in passing about state violence, should be disappointed and disgusted with this. Because as many people have said, the point of feminism should not be simply to put women in those positions where men have always been. It should be a starting point for a radical critique of power structures in general. At least, that's my feminism.

(Cross-posted to Season of the Bitch)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Historical Image of the Day

Bernard Romans engraving of the Battle of Charlestown, MA, June 17, 1775.

Ollie North

Instead of a random 10 this week, I offer everybody this nugget of a song, with educational purposes added! (Hat-tip to

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Consumption and Environmental Destruction

From the always interesting environmental site Worldchanging, allow me to reprint the caption from this photograph.

Congo, Conkouati National Park, 2007
In the Cotovindou logging concession a Congolese worker for the Chinese timber company Sicofor saws down a 22-meter moabi tree that will be loaded the same day on a truck bound for Pointe Noire. From there it will be embarked for China. It will probably end up as luxury furniture in Europe or the States. Moabi (baillonella toxisperma) takes about hundred years to reach maturity. Its fruits are edible, its bark has medical applications and the oil its seeds produce is very sought after on the African markets. The droppings of elephants, that love the Moabi fruits, are the main mechanisms for spreading the seeds and therefore of its reproduction. Due to poaching, elephants are getting rare, due to logging Moabi is getting rare. In the Congo forest elephants and Moabi could disappear at the same time. Moabi has been included in the red list of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) in 2004.

The most important point made here is not the decline of elephants or even the tree species. It's the fact that this tree is almost certainly going to make luxury furniture for the United States or Europe. For all the complaining the first world does about environmental destruction in the developing world, a large percentage of that is done for our consumption. I can't tell you how many environmentalists I've known who seem to miss this connection. They talk about how much they love the environment and how much they hate its destruction. Then they buy homes on the edge of the wilderness that they commute to. And they purchase expensive wood furniture from exotic trees. Sure it looks good. Adds a lot to the atmosphere of the house. It also destroys national parks, forces wildlife into extinction, threatens indigenous cultures and native knowledge, and contributes to climate change.

Purchasing products made from rainforest wood is simply unacceptable and must be stopped. The model is CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. CITES has gone a long way to stop the smuggling of sea turtles, rare birds, elephant ivory, and other endangered species. But it does nothing to protect their habitats. We need a new convention to protect those habitats and make it illegal to purchase products made from goods that destroy habitats. We also need to attack those who are hypocritical in their purchases of these products, making it socially unacceptable to buy them, much as we have done with exotic animals.


I've never claimed to be tolerant. In fact, I'd say that I am rather intolerant. Is this a bad thing? I'm not sure. We talk about intolerance as a bad thing and in the context this is usually discussed, it certainly is. Racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. is something that it's impossible to accept.

But there's a lot of gray area here. For instance, this couple who is having their 18th child. They are part of some sort of freakish evangelical movement that urges their members to have as many children as possible. In a world of scarcity, I just can't accept this. 18 kids? Really? On one level, I feel bad for the woman. But she seems happy enough I guess. As a society, should this kind of thing be acceptable? I don't actually expect us to ever intervene in these situations, but it's really awful in so many ways.

On a broader level, discussions of tolerance have always bothered me. I think that liberals have given political ground by accepting broad-based notions of tolerance when the other side have dismissed the whole idea. We want to hear both sides of an argument, blah blah blah. You know what: Fuck that. Some things are simply unacceptable and they should be fought vigorously. For me, having 18 children is one of those things. Driving Hummers is another. Making fun of Appalachia. Conducting class warfare from the top down. Not to mention racism, sexism, and homophobia. It should be intolerable to support policies that leave people without health insurance.

It should also be intolerable to drink frozen margaritas, but I guess that's on a different level. But still, people, you are screwing yourself by paying for ice. I could go on forever on things that I find intolerable and worth fighting, but I guess I've said my point.

Historical Image of the Day

Senators Bill Bradley and Al D'Amato, as well as Jackie Mason, marching at the Salute to Israel Parade, New York City. My sense is that this is the mid 1980s, but I am not sure.

Another Potential and Frustrating Step Backwards in Protecting the Amazon

Marina Silva has stepped down. Silva (not related to Lula) had some great ideas on how to integrate environmentalism into the national policy without sacrificing development needs, but according to this article, resigned in part because "She tried to work with other agencies for an integrated approach to protecting the environment — but lost almost every time she was opposed by another department" (such as Lula's reduction of IBAMA, the governmental environmental organization, last year).

Make no mistake - this is really a huge step backwards, and I'm really disappointed (though I'm not quite as angry with Lula as Randy is.) To be sure, Lula's plans for hydroelectric power (and failure to even consider wind power) is frustrating (to put it mildly), and his efforts to undo the institutions (like IBAMA) that resist hydroelectric power and work to save the environment is infuriating. But I also don't think you can totally ignore some of the small, but important, changes Lula has made. While the recent decision in the Dorothy Stang case is also frustrating, there have been small but significant steps taken against those who commit murder against environmentalists. Likewise, Lula's efforts to have the government patrol the Amazonian basin with military troops in an effort to reduce deforestation (particularly ranchers' deforestation) is another important step, albeit one that is far from failsafe and perfect; still, this is a bigger step in actively trying to reduce deforestation than his predecessors ever took.

Still, I really only differ with Randy in degree of disappointment. I know nothing about Carlos Minc, the replacement for Silva. Still, it's just really really disappointing. Marina Silva definitely could have been a major force for change and environmental protection in Brazil; that she was stymied in pretty much every effort she made is really almost too much. It's too soon to tell, but I have little doubt that, years from now, when scholars look back and evaluate Lula's eight years of administration, his environmental policies will be one of the low-points.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Album of the Week: Elysian Fields' Dreams that Breathe Your Name

The husband and wife duo of Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles created Elysian Fields (not the Greek black-metal band) in 1995 with the release of a self-titled EP on Radioactive/Universal. Along with Bleed Your Cedar, they and their backing band featuring the likes of Ed Pastorini, Marc Ribot, and John Lurie, they put together some fantastic Chanteuse-inspired rock. Because the general media consensus regarding female rock singers is that they must be utterly unique or they are called utterly derivative, Charles’ smoky contralto got dismissive comparisons to the more successful Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star (instead of deriding David Coverdale for looking and sounding exactly like Robert Plant, we turned the horror of Whitesnake into multi-platinum superstars). As shallow as the comparison between the two women is, it continues thirteen years later, but this isn’t really the point. While their debut LP wasn’t a huge success, they were contracted by Universal for a second, to be produced by Steve Albini. The album was completed but, when the label decided that they needed more traditional, marketable songs and the band wouldn’t comply, they shelved it, where it collects dust to this day. Since then, Elysian Fields has been in label hell, to the extent that their latest album, Bum Raps and Love Taps was never released in the US (it was, briefly, available on Itunes, but no longer, unfortunately. It’s damn good, but it’s now only available at Their trouble with releases is a huge shame but, because John Zorn picked them up to perform tracks for his Great Jewish Music compilations for Serge Gainsbourg (Les Amours Perdues), Marc Bolan (Life’s a Gas), and Sasha Argov (Ksheor Dolek) plus an excellent album of Sephardic music called La Mar Enfortuna (there is a second album of it out now, too, though I haven’t heard it), they were able to be heard at least by his audience.

My favorite of their albums is 2004’s Dreams That Breathe Your Name, which features many of the same band members from previous albums, but also adds the great percussionist Cyro Baptista into the mix. Over time, Elysian Fields has moved away from rock somewhat, focusing less on saleable records and more on the Bloedow’s dense compositions and Charles’ intelligent, sexually-driven lyrics and torch song delivery to great effect and Dreams captures this as well as any of their albums. With few exceptions, their songs are about love, sex, and the pursuit of both. As the title suggests, the songs often sound like they’re sung from bed. Whether whispered lullabies or impassioned demands, the songs directed at someone particularly instead of blindly into the ether. Bloedow’s arrangements are thick, sometimes simple and gorgeous, sometimes dissonant as hell, but a sweetness underlies their moody sound to give a warm feeling of completeness that brings out the elusive romantic inside me. At turns, the music fills me with joy and makes my heart hurt, often at the same time. These are the lyrics to Passing on the Stairs, in which Bloedow and Charles sing to each other. This song has become one of my favorite songs over the past couple of years:

(Bloedow)In the hall lights flicker hum
With her buckles still undone
She hides beneath blue trench coat
Gaze so soft yet so remote
In that dusty uniform
The outline of her lovely form
And more than once I’ve pressed her hand
Passing on the stairs

(Charles)In the hall lights flicker hum
His dark lashes always hung
With a look so weary and so wise
When he passes he gently sighs
In his work-worn boots he leans
And I wonder what it means
Passing on the stairs

(Chorus)Up the stairs every night
Up the stairs seven flights
And down she goes into the night
Down my stairs and out of sight

(Bloedow)Who is she with that misty look
Every night a different book
With the scent of violets in her hair
Who’s this angel on my stairs

(Charles)A distant time comes back to me
The wild reeds, the salty sea
My father calling ‘don’t go far’
I gathered sea glass in a jar
And built a castle with a moat
As the wind blew sand into my hair
In the rustling of your overcoat
Passing on the stairs


(Bloedow)And I wonder if she thinks of me
Is it just a boyish fantasy
Speak dear lady won’t you speak
Can’t you tell you make me meek
So in silence once more we pass
Another night I walk on glass
And I dream that she thinks of me
Passing on the stairs

(Charles)And I wonder if he thinks of me
If this could be our destiny
Oh haven’t you a word for me
If only you’d misplace your key
So in silence once more we pass
Another night I walk on glass
And how I dream he thinks of me
And our passing on the stairs

(Repeat chorus)

I really do love that song. They are one of the most underrated bands I know but, regardless of the attention they receive, they create some of the most emotive, sensual pop music available today. Above is a performance of Lions in the Storm, the opening track from Bum Raps and Love Taps and exemplary of their sound.

Graduation v. Roky Erickson

On Saturday, I am going through the graduation ceremony at the University of New Mexico. That's fine and all and I'm glad to see my friends.

But I'm not sure it's worth missing the legendary Roky Erickson in Austin on Friday. Why oh why did he have to play this weekend? Argh.

For those of you who don't know Erickson, he was the singer of the legendary Austin psychedelic band Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Like Syd Barrett though, Roky liked experimenting with the acid a touch too much. He has spent much of the last 35 years in mental institutions. In 1981, he released the amazing and totally bizarre album The Evil One, which shows the mind of a brilliant musician and clearly disturbed individual. With such songs as "Creature with the Atom Brain," "Don't Shake Me Lucifer" "Click Your Fingers Applauding the Play" and "I Walked with a Zombie," Erickson produced a weird, trippy, rockin', sci-fi album. I have never heard anything like it.

I understand that he is now living on his own and doing pretty well. On very rare occasions, he plays a show. One of those shows will take place on Friday in Austin. It's really not worth graduating if I have to miss this. What can be done though?

Historical Image of the Day

"Abandoned House, Haskell County, Kansas"

Photo by Irving Rusinow, 1941

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Keep Your Tim Hortons away from Our Dunkin'

Sometimes, I really appreciate people like Tom Tancredo. Apparently, fencing off Mexico and destroying both relations and the environment isn't enough. Now, it's time to get one on the Northern side, too. It makes me happy when wingnuts undermine their own points, points that have support amidst his crazy brethren, by going overboard in manic paranoia. It's pretty clear that all the people refused refugee status and sent away from Canada have come here to blow us up and steal our jobs, not to mention those crazy Manitobans coming down and making our North-Central states more Lutheran than they already are. Tim Hortons is an institution bound to infiltrate and destroy our Winchell's and Dunkin' Donut franchises and Canadian Club is clearly on the cusp of buying out Jim Beam and Jack Daniels' distilleries simultaneously. I, for one, welcome our new Canadian kings. If only we'd listened to Tancredo, maybe we wouldn't be in this mess.

For what it's worth, this is Tancredo's press release from his jackass website.

On Monsters

Once upon a time--well, back in 2002--I took a course on Literary Monsters.

We read lots of lovely stuff that I don't have lying around to reference right now (but if you want a deeper post on the subject, you can buy me this book, thanks). But the main gist of our study of texts like Beowulf, Interview With the Vampire, and Shakespeare's The Tempest was seven monster theses that my professor outlined for us at the beginning of class.

I've watched this primary campaign go from a spirited competition into a mess where each candidate's supporters firmly believe the other candidate is a monster. We've looked at the actual reasons for that, and I believe that especially with Hillary Clinton, but with Obama as well, the press portrayal of the candidates can be looked at through these theses. And yes, there's probably a much longer paper in this, but what the hell.

1. The monstrous body is a cultural body.

Both candidates reflect our culture. The older woman, past being seen as sexual...the old queen and the wicked witch, simultaneously, as I said in an earlier post. And the outsider, the younger black man. Both of them arise from categories we know well, but are breaking those rules just by running.

2. The monster always escapes.

Over and over again we've thought this horrendous campaign was over, only for one candidate to stage a comeback. We've thought Clinton was done after Iowa, then Obama after New Hampshire and Nevada, then Clinton again after Obama's post-Super Tuesday wins, then Obama again after Clinton won Ohio and the Texas primary and then Pennsylvania, and now...

3. The monster is the harbinger of category crisis.

Of course, they're bringing on category crisis just by being a white woman and a black man running for President, and certainly by having defeated more typical white male candidates. Hillary Clinton has always been disconcerting--at first she was too masculine a woman, then she was too feminine, standing by her man. Now she's both uber-masculine--"obliterate," "if she gave Obama one of her balls..."--and feminine, when her angry supporters accuse Obama and his camp of sexism.

Obama, of course, is both American and not-American, black and white, masculine and feminine (at least according to Carville), rich and poor, elitist and community activist, and if you'd believe the crazies, Christian and Muslim.

4. The monster dwells at the gates of difference.

You see the fear of difference much more with Obama, especially with the reports of overt racism and the repeated cries that he's Muslim despite Rev. Wright's best attempts to remain part of the media cycle. Hillary Clinton's problem is more that she is not different enough. Obama supporters hate her as part of the culture that they despise and reject--not alien, but all too familiar. But Hillary Clinton is still a woman, and still different.

5. The monster polices the borders of the possible.

Is it really possible for America to elect a (white) woman? A black man? And does some of the intense anger at the other side stem from the fact that it feels like not just a rejection of Hillary Clinton or of Barack Obama, but of all (older) women or all black Americans? How much change can America handle? And what ugly truths about ourselves do we have to confront in the process?

6. Fear of the monster is really a kind of desire.

Obama is too well-spoken, too charismatic, too seductive. We can't have that. It must be bad because we can't quite quantify it. And Clinton is too determined, she wants it too badly, how dare she?! But secretly, the need to over and over again reiterate what's wrong with the Other candidate (yes, I capitalized that for a reason) is to remind ourselves that we don't want it, we don't want it, we don't want it...

7. The monster stands at the threshold of becoming...


Joking aside, one of the first ways that people learn to commit atrocities is by Othering the opponent, making them not just the enemy but something monstrous and not-human. Soldiers in Abu Ghraib, or in Nazi concentration camps, rapists, police who shoot an unarmed man or drag people from their cars and beat them, the people who killed Matthew Shepard or Brandon Teena or Sanesha Stewart. It always seems easier to do that when the hated person is already different in some visible way--female, black, Arab, gay, transgender.

So we have a presidential primary campaign, supposedly in the party of tolerance, the party that supports people who are women, black, Arab, gay, transgender, Latino, Jewish--at least more than that other party does. And we get this polarized mess, and I can't help but wonder if this would be quite so angry if it were between, say, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards (it would be for me, because I'd be in the position of trying to care which one of them won when they both rub me the wrong way), or even Barack Obama and John Edwards, to say nothing of Joe Biden and Chris Dodd or some other grey-haired white men. To what degree does all that category crisis, those border issues, that Difference affect our view of the candidate we don't support?

(Cross-posted to Season of the Bitch)