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Category: General

Cocaine Blues

[ 94 ] May 23, 2013 |

Roy Hogsed’s 1948 version of “Cocaine Blues”

Country Music History 101 teaches everyone that Johnny Cash did not write that song, though he did a good version of it. I will save most of my Johnny Cash rant for now, which in brief is that Cash was awesome in the 50s, declined rapidly after about 1963, was a washed-up has been putting out bad album after bad album (see Christgau’s review of 1978’s Greatest Hits Volume 3–“who today would think of ranking him with George Jones, Willie Nelson, or Merle Haggard?”) until Rick Rubin brought him back with 1 great album, 1 fine album, and a few meh albums with a good song or two on them, and that many of the people who think he is the ultimate in country music are in part falling for a marketing campaign.

Which isn’t to say that Cash wasn’t one of the finest artists in the history of country music or that his version of “Cocaine Blues” isn’t one of the very best. But given the centrality of the song to his popular image, it’s worth noting that not only is it not a Cash song, but that he built upon dozens and dozens of earlier versions of this popular song in its various and sundry iterations. The Hogsed version is much closer to how Cash played it than many others.


Some day this war’s going to end

[ 67 ] May 23, 2013 |

Mr. Obama rejected the notion of an expansive war on terrorism and instead articulated a narrower understanding of the mission for the United States. “Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America,” he said.

The president’s moves stirred immediate skepticism among Republicans, who have long questioned whether he was playing down the continuing threat of terrorism for political reasons, as in the case of the attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, last year.

Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, issued 10 questions to the president in reaction to previews of his speech. “Is it still your administration’s goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda?” he asked. “If you are scaling back the use of unmanned drones, which actions will you be taking as a substitute to ensure Al Qaeda’s defeat? Is it your view that if the U.S. is less aggressive in eliminating terrorists abroad, the threat of terrorist attacks will diminish on its own?”

Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, was sharper in reaction. “The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” he said. “Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit.”

Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist.

“Second Sons”: an LG&M podcast on Game of Thrones with Steven Attewell and SEK

[ 42 ] May 23, 2013 |

We apologize for missing last week’s episode, but Google Plus had updated its “Hangouts” feature and we couldn’t find the new button. But it’s been found! Also, in this podcast we have a first: I’ve finally figured out how to incorporate images without making the resulting file too large for Youtube. So now if you’re watching the podcast, you’ll see the visuals we’re describing while we’re describing them. (At least mostly. I’m still experimenting with keeping the size down and the audio quality high. This is tougher than it looks.) In this episode we discuss making my students weep uncontrollably; the dynamics of the relationship between Tyrion and Sansa; the similarities between Dany and Walter White; the politics of Stannis Baratheon; and many other things beside. Enjoy!

Enjoy this fine podcast without the images I painstakingly inserted into it just for you.

Our very civilized discussion of the premiere (S03E01).

Fancy-talking about “Dark Wings, Dark Words” (S03E02).

Here we are blathering on about “Walk of Punishment” (S03E03).

Don’t watch — because you can’t — us discuss “And Now His Watch Has Ended” (S03E04).

The rudely interrupted first half of our discussion of “Kissed by Fire” (S03E05).

The second half of our discussion of religion in “Kissed by Fire” (S03E05).

In which we discuss “The Climb” sans spoilers (S03E06).

“The Climb” with spoilers (S03E06).

UPDATE: In case anyone’s curious as to the spontaneous fits of intemperate profanity.

The Low Wages of Federal Contract Workers

[ 119 ] May 23, 2013 |

Mike Elk has a really great piece on the 1-day federal contract workers strike. It’s simple. First, our government should not be allowed to contract with employers who have a history of labor law violations. Second, all workers toiling for the federal government, whether directly or through subcontracts, should make a living wage. An excerpt:

“I work at Quick Pita in the food court of the Ronald Reagan Building. I work nearly 12 hours every day serving lunch to the thousands of people who work in the building. But I am not here to tell you how hard I work. I am here to tell you that my employer does not follow the law,” testified Antonio Vanegas before a hearing of the Congressional Progressive Caucus yesterday.

Vanegas is one of 100,000 low-wage workers in the Washington, DC area, according to Good Jobs Nation, many of whom are employed by federal contractors or in federally owned buildings like Union Station, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and the Ronald Reagan Building. He and about 100 of his colleagues went on a one-day strike yesterday in order to draw attention to their low pay. Despite provisions in the federal Service Contract Act stating that federal contract workers like Antonio Vanegas should make at least the local prevailing wage, up until a few weeks ago Vanegas was making $6.50 an hour–less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and well below the D.C. minimum wage of $8.25. Additionally, Vanegas works 60 hours a week, but claims he receives no overtime pay for hours he works past 40, in violation of the Federal Labor Standards Act.

“There are many workers in the food court who are like me, who don’t make enough to pay the rent, put food on our tables and take care of our families,” said Vanegas in his testimony. “That’s why I’m here and why so many workers like me are on strike today. We want the federal government to be a good landlord and rent prime retail space to employers who follow the law. We want the government to lead by example and guarantee that all workers who do work on behalf of the federal government earn a legal and living wage.”

This strike has made an impact within the Democratic caucus. Whether Nancy Pelosi’s vow to bring it to Obama leads to the president actually doing something about it, I don’t know. But he needs to. Again, raising the working standards of federal workers is something he can do without congressional approval, so there are zero good reasons why he should not act.

Allow me to also note how subcontracting is a malignant plague upon the working conditions of all people. Whether it is the Gap subcontracting in Bangladesh to avoid any responsibility to the workers making its products or the federal government looking to cut costs by outsourcing labor, subcontracting hurts working-class people. There is no good reason why it should exist. Corporations and governments can employ people directly.

Bad Luck With That

[ 132 ] May 23, 2013 |

Shorter Maggie Gallagher: I wish there was some way that we could say that gays and lesbians are immoral should-be second class-citizens without being homophobic. I mean, Robert Stacy McCain says that you can say that interracial marriage is wrong without being racist, so there’s precedent, right?

Rahm’s Priorities

[ 46 ] May 23, 2013 |

Rahm Emmaunel, having failed in his all-too-valiant effort to kill health care reform, has been even worse as mayor of Chicago than I would have thought, which is really saying something. This is particularly special:

It all starts with the person who seems committed to win the current spirited competition as the most loathsome person in American political life: Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The same Mayor overseeing the closing of fifty-four schools and six community mental health clinics under the justification of a “budgetary crisis” has announced that the city will be handing over more than $100 million to DePaul University for a new basketball arena. This is part of a mammoth redevelopment project on South Lakeshore Drive consisting of a convention center anchored by an arena for a non-descript basketball team that has gone 47-111 over the last five years. It’s also miles away from DePaul’s campus. These aren’t the actions of a mayor. They’re the actions of a mad king.

If you want to understand why Mayor Rahm has approval ratings to rival Rush Limbaugh in Harlem, you can point to priorities like these. The school closures are taking place entirely in communities of color while the city’s elite feed with crazed abandon at an increasingly sapped trough. As Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union chief who led a victorious strike last September fueled by rage at Mayor Rahm, said, “When the mayor claims he is facing unprecedented budget problems, he has a choice to make. He is choosing between putting our communities first or continuing the practice of handing out millions of public dollars to private operators, even in the toughest of times.”

Education reform seemingly premised on the idea that Michelle Rhee is great except that she cares too much about poor people and is a little too honest and ridiculous stadium boondoggles — two awful tastes that, it must be admitted, fit perfectly together. It’s also probably worth noting here that the average attendance at DePaul hoops games is a little over 8,000.

Ogallala Aquifer

[ 52 ] May 23, 2013 |

I share the general opinion of many that our industrial food system is in crisis. But I generally disagree as to the real problems. Dislike of something like GMOs (or fluoride in the water for christ’s sake) are rooted in the empowerment of the individual body and the personal as political life we lead–a phenomenon that has had tremendous benefits on our society, but that also redefines much of our lives as a series of consumer choices that I think often obscures both class solidarity and larger structural problems that are not easily solved by personal choice. In the case of food, the waste of basic food-producing resources is I believe is the biggest problem. Take for example soil erosion, as our national bounty flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Or Americans’ increased need to import phosphorous from an unstable African territory quasi-controlled by Morocco. Or the draining of the Ogallala Aquifer. The decline of the Aquifer is a huge threat to our food production on the western Great Plains. With climate change and extreme drought, the long-term sustainability of our water resources for food are questionable at best.

Most of these problems actually do have solutions–we could subsidize land conservation instead of corn production, press for farmers to adapt drip irrigation, create manure recycling programs to reclaim phosphorous. But none of this will happen because of the control gigantic agribusiness corporations like Monsanto have over the majority of senators.

Legally Binding Safety Regulations

[ 8 ] May 23, 2013 |

Stephen Greenhouse on how American retailers like Wal-Mart and Gap are opposing proposed regulatory plans for factory conditions that produce clothing precisely because they might be legally binding and thus mean something. Now they probably aren’t actually legally binding, thanks to our lovely Supreme Court, which in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum decided that the Alien Tort Statute does not apply outside the United States (I wonder how reasonable conservative Sam Alito voted on that!).

John C. Coffee Jr., a professor of corporate law at Columbia University, said American companies generally faced a higher risk of litigation than overseas competitors, largely because the court systems differ significantly. Unlike the system in the United States, courts in Europe generally prohibit class-action lawsuits, do not allow contingency fees for lawyers who win cases and require losing parties to pay legal fees for both sides. Those policies often discourage lawyers and plaintiffs from filing lawsuits.

But Professor Coffee also cited a Supreme Court decision last month that could greatly reduce the ability of overseas factory workers and their families to file lawsuits in United States courts.

“It may be that those retailers who worry about legal liability are pointing to an outdated sense of what liability is for actions taken abroad,” Professor Coffee said. He added that if an accident occurred abroad — for instance, at a factory in Bangladesh — “there is an increasing doubt that the American retailer could be sued in the United States,” because the Supreme Court ruling, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, went far to curb such lawsuits under the Alien Tort Claims Act.

So a Court attempting to recreate the Gilded Age is a huge problem for those who want to create regulations that would transcend national boundaries. Yet for the apparel companies this isn’t good enough. Given that they profit off a system of maximum exploitation, they want nothing more than to say they care without actually caring one iota. That’s why without meaningful penalties for violations, any agreement is worthless. There is of course another alternative–corporations could sacrifice a tiny bit of profit so that 12 year old girls can go to school and workers toil in factories that don’t collapse on top of them. But what kind of a fantasy world am I living in to even dream of such a future!

“This whole fear of lawsuits is a straw man,” said Philip J. Jennings, general secretary of Uni Global Union, a worldwide federation of 20 million retail and service workers, who has negotiated with various retailers to develop the plan and persuaded them to join it. “If these American retailers get 20 lawyers in a room, they start hyperventilating about lawsuits and they’ll have a communal anxiety attack.”

Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation, gave another reason for opposing the Bangladesh plan, saying it “seeks to advance a narrow agenda driven by special interests,” a reference to the labor unions that helped shape the plan and then pressed retailers to sign on.

This as opposed to the narrow agenda driven by another group of special interests to keep Bangladeshi workers dying on the job.

Still, at least we are talking about this now and exposing the barriers to humane treatment of Asian workers by American corporations.

What Obama Needs To Address in His Counterterrorism Talk

[ 2 ] May 23, 2013 |

I have some thoughts.

The Kind of Atheist Spokesperson We Need

[ 326 ] May 23, 2013 |

Atheists need more Oklahoma tornado survivor Rebecca Vitsmun, less sexist jerks like Richard Dawkins.

Name That Troofer!

[ 30 ] May 23, 2013 |

Match the conspiracy theory with the conspiracy theorist!

1. The government “can create and steer groups of tornadoes.”

2. “I suppose it’s too paranoid 2 think sudden spate of military sex scandals a way 2 crowd out WH scandals AND [pet obsession that would give away answer omitted].”

A. Mickey Kaus B. Alex Jones

Dude for Thought

[ 162 ] May 22, 2013 |

A little addendum to my  earlier post…

First off, just wanted to thank everyone for their comments. Even the ones that made me want to have crazy, uninhibited screwdriver-eyesocket sex were instructive, so…thanks. Secondly, I noticed a lot of people expressing concern for those were “there first.”

Some food for thought: Everyone is new at something. Everyone–at some point–has to dip her toe into the geek waters. Everyone–at some point–has to be the newbie. Everyone–at some point–is going to be less of a geek than someone who’s been geeking out longer. But when you gate-keep in a douchey way, that doesn’t really give people who are giving geekiness a try much of a shot.

How is this not supremely assholish, and, ultimately, self-defeating behavior?

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