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Bill Nye the Science Guy v. Ted Cruz the Human Ooze

[ 65 ] April 17, 2016 |

A gaggle of oil industry lackeys calling themselves the Competitive Enterprise Institute in May 2006 produced ads that ended with the line “We’d encourage our own parents to eat uranium if the uranium industry tossed a few moolahs our way CO2: they call it pollution, we call it Life!” (And yes the CEI did have ties to the tobacco industry at the time, why do you ask?)

At any rate, if you enjoyed laughing at those commercials, you will be delighted to know that Ted “Soup Dragon” Cruz has issued a 10th anniversary remix.

My initial reaction was similar to Hilzoy’s, but as it ran along scatological lines I’ll spare everyone.

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Mother Superior Jump the Gun

[ 60 ] April 16, 2016 |

Signing the Church Protection Act is Gov. Phil Bryant’s latest attempt to do something about the average life expectancy in Mississippi.

The act allows some church members to undergo firearms training so they can provide armed security for their congregations and gives legal protections to those designated to carry guns into church buildings.

A dream come true for those authoritarian nimrods who don’t have what it takes to become police officers.

And because it will cost money to train and license these pew patrols, taking up the offering should become very interesting, especially after the armed guards are in place.

“Brethren and Baby Ovenrens, it’s $40 for each renewal, plus the fingerprinting fee. Now I know times are tough, but we just want to … protect you.”

But that’s not the only way the law used the mass murder at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as an excuse to push the NRA’s agenda.

… a provision of the act that will allow people to carry holstered guns without a permit, expanding legislation passed in 2015 that had “authorized Mississippians who are eligible to possess a firearm under state and federal law to carry a pistol or revolver without a license in purses, handbags, satchels, other similar bags or briefcases or fully enclosed cases.”

Why stop there? The state of virtue and arms could make it legal walk around holding a gun, finger on the trigger, because you never know when the imaginary bad guys will strike!!

I guess gun sales in Mississippi are still good enough that the NRA doesn’t think that’s necessary. Yet.

Music Notes

[ 92 ] April 16, 2016 |

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Here’s an excerpt from a new book on the history of the banjo:

West African kings understood that music is power. They made sure their official audiences were accompanied by song. They traveled with music, too: when the king of Mali returned from a journey, wrote the fourteenth-century scholar Al-’Umari, “a parasol and a standard are held over his head as he rides,” while ahead of him came musicians playing “drums, guitars, and trumpets, which are made out of the horns of the country with a consummate art.” The legendary chronicler Ibn Battuta described similarly how when the king of Mali arrived for an audience, “the singers come out in front of him with gold and silver stringed instruments in their hands and behind them about 300 armed slaves.” A 1655 account of the court of Askia Mohammed-Gâo, the seat of the Songhay empire, described him surrounded by “instrumentalists who played the guitar” along with other instruments, sitting “under the pasha’s tent, behind the dais.”

These writers used various Arabic terms to describe the instruments: Al-Umari used tanbūr or tunbūr, a Persian term for a long-necked instrument, while Ibn Battuta used a term rendered as kanābir in the 1922 French edition, quinburī in the more recent English one. And the “Kano Chronicle,” first published in 1804 on the basis of earlier materials, mentions a stringed instrument called the “Algaita” that was requested by a Kano ruler for his court in 1703. But these writers were using the terms for their own familiar stringed instruments, so we can’t assume that this was the name used by the musicians themselves or draw conclusions about the construction of the instruments beyond a general analogy.

There is a fascinating glimpse in a series of metal plaques from the thirteenth-century Kingdom of Benin. These renderings, the earliest visual depictions of West African instruments, include only one figure holding a stringed instrument: a small harp. A gold sculpture from the Akan people of Ghana, however—dated sometime between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries—shows a musician playing a stringed instrument with a curved neck and a rounded resonator that looks as if made from a calabash.

Miles Davis, beyond Kind of Blue. Is it OK for me to say that I don’t even really love Kind of Blue all that much? I mean, I recognize its greatness, but I don’t actually like listening to it more than once or twice a year. I’d say it’s maybe my 7th or 8th favorite Miles album. Basically, I need more than an album of ballads. This is also why I don’t much listen to Bill Evans or Dave Brubeck in any regular rotation. Call me a Neanderthal, it’s OK.

I was lucky enough to see Wussy play in Boston a few weeks ago. It was typically outstanding. That band also excels at superior between song banter. A portion of the band was on KEXP last month. Check it out.

Some album reviews:

Cracker, Berkeley to Bakersfield
I’ve always mostly enjoyed Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker albums because I do like David Lowery. Of course, one of his strengths has also always been one of his weaknesses, which is that his songs are so ironic and cynical. So you listened to the albums, even if there were too many instrumental numbers, and you enjoyed them, but you could never take the songs all the seriously. But Berkeley to Bakersfield is a pretty-much irony free set of songs that make up what really are two entirely distinct albums. The first is a bunch of leftist political songs that revolve around Berkeley with a rock sound. The second is Lowrey’s ode to the Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens and Wynn Stewart. So it’s a hard country album with the lovelorn and nostalgic lyrics typical of country albums, this time with a particular focus on working-class California. And both work really well. I thoroughly enjoyed both discs. This is a sure buy.

A-

Sam Cooke, Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963
Somehow I had never heard this before. And while it might be kind of pointless to review classic albums, why not. It’s fascinating that RCA kept his under wraps for 20 years because it was too raw. It is a little raw and that’s a good thing for me. Sometimes I have found Cooke too smooth and I don’t listen to him a whole lot, but this was a real revelation to me. In the realm of live recordings by R&B artists of the period, I wouldn’t say this is as good as James Brown’s Live at the Apollo or Ray Charles at Newport. But those are true all-time greats. On the other hand, I like it better than Otis Redding’s Live in Europe, which I think really suffers from too much crowd noise. There’s plenty of crowd noise here too, maybe a little more than I like.

A-

Tallest Man on Earth, Dark Bird is Home
Another lovely collection of songs for Kristian Matsson, the Swedish singer who performs as The Tallest Man on Earth. And while with his voice he sometimes gets called another Dylan imitator, I find it highly expressive. It’s really a very powerful voice, one of the most expressive in recent times. The lyrics are best not followed too closely; these aren’t story songs. There is also a bit more going on here musically than normal, with most of the instruments played by Matsson and he does well enough with them. I don’t know that I like this as much as I loved the brilliant The Wild Hunt, but this is a very solid collection of songs.

B+

Los Hijos de la Montaña, Los Hijos de la Montaña

This is a pretty interesting collaboration between the unrelated Luz Elena Mendoza and Sergio Mendoza. The former is a singer in the Northwest, the latter in a band that is inspired by the mambo music of Mexico in the 50s and 60s. Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin got them together to combine her rich voice with his big sound. It mostly works as an interesting experiment in modern Mexican-American music. I think I would like his band better. The voice is big and rich and loaded but is a bit pastoral and folkie for me. The music is good but sounds like it’s straining to be louder than it is allowed to be in this setting. Certainly a worthy project, maybe not my very favorite thing. At the very least though, I think it is well worth a listen.

B

Finally, I was recently tagged in one of those Facebook memes that was “12 albums that stuck with you.” I assumed the definition of that was at least 5 years old. I chose the following:

1) Drive-By Truckers, Decoration Day
2) Willie Nelson, Phases and Stages
3) Waylon Jennings, Dreamin’ My Dreams
4) Wussy, Strawberry
5) Palace, Viva Last Blues
6) Old 97s, Fight Songs
7) Sonny Sharrock, Ask the Ages
8) Miles Davis, In a Silent Way
9) Bob Wills, Tiffany Transcriptions, Volume 4
9) Neil Young, Tonight’s The Night
10) Millie Jackson, Caught Up
11) Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On
12) Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out

If I went to 24, I guess it might look something like this:

13) Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
14) The Band, The Band
15) John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
16) Gram Parsons, Return of the Grievous Angel
17) Bill Frisell, This Land
18) Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the Flatlanders, More a Legend Than a Band
19) Ray Charles, At Newport
20) Terry Allen, Lubbock (On Everything)
21) The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers
22) The Who, Who’s Next
23) Richard and Linda Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights
24) Velvet Underground, White Light, White Heat

Open thread for all musical thoughts and notes.

“Austerity and sustainability are antithetical concepts”

[ 12 ] April 16, 2016 |

BlueGreen-(3)

Trish Kahle has a really great essay in Dissent on how the roots of our unwillingness to do anything meaningful to fight climate change are also the roots of our current income inequality–corporate dominance over both the environment and workers. Moreover, the austerity program undermines workers’ economic stability at the same time that we need to fight against climate change, convincing unions to support anti-environmental positions, even though it will do nothing for them in the end as mining and auto companies will cut their jobs anyway. That said, there is still hope that labor and environmentalists will work together to create a path forward for ecologically responsible jobs that don’t poison people and actually put people to work to allow them a middle-class life.

Clinging to the fossil fuel industry can only lead to a dead end for workers. It is time for a different approach. Already in recent years, several unions have hinted at such a method, echoing the all too short-lived efforts of Miners for Democracy. In February 2015 more than 6,500 oil workers joined in a strike at fourteen refineries and a chemical plant spanning from Ohio to California. The strike, led by the United Steelworkers, was primarily a conflict over workplace safety: USW Vice President Gary Beevers pointed out that workers were being put at risk by “onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrence of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions.” But it went far beyond that, with the workers positioning themselves as the first line of defense against spills and pollution in surrounding communities. Steve Garey, president of a USW local in Washington, explained that by outsourcing maintenance work to less experienced, non-union contractors who lacked the training and work protections provided by the USW, the industry was also putting communities and the environment at risk.

The workers who took part in the strike would know. Some of them had witnessed a 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery, which killed fifteen workers and injured 180 others after management bypassed safety procedures during hasty repairs. Others had witnessed the 2014 oil spill at BP’s Whiting refinery, which dumped as much as 1,600 gallons of oil into Lake Michigan, Chicago residents’ source of drinking water.

In a critical step forward for U.S. environmentalism, several key green groups expressed support for the strike, including the Sierra Club, 350.org, and Oil Change International, as well as smaller grassroots organizations like Rising Tide. In Martinez, California, members of Communities for a Better Environment as well as of the local nurses’ union joined refinery workers on the picket line. At the end of the six-week strike, the USW claimed victory, citing “vast improvements in safety and staffing.” There were signs that the strike could also lead to a more enduring militancy within the union. The USW’s threat of a nationwide strike, if unrealized, was itself notable at a time when this tactic has all but disappeared from unions’ arsenal. During the strike, Beevers said, “Our members are speaking loud and clear . . . If it takes a global fight to win safe workplaces, so be it.”

In the wake of the strike’s success, an article posted on the USW website called for unions to help steer the economy away from profits and toward a system “based not on selfishness, greed, and contempt, but on ethics, on giving people the justice they deserve.” This, at its core, is what a just transition is all about: reframing the economy entirely, placing workers at the center instead of profits. “The successful strike by the oil refinery workers,” the article continued, “is on behalf of that justice and shows that unions still have power.”

Indeed, behind workers’ apparent vulnerability lurks enormous potential. As they extract fossil fuels, load them onto railway cars and into tankers, transport them thousands of miles, refine and process them, package and sell them, workers have a unique ability to bring the industry to a halt. And, thanks to the deep integration of fossil fuel products into the modern economy, if the fossil fuels stop moving, so does the rest of the world.

From teachers to nurses to rig operators, the array of workers confronting the nexus of social and ecological destruction is rapidly growing. But much remains to be done. Environmental politics must become generalized in the labor movement, and vice versa. The language of climate justice has already begun to infuse a sense of class politics into environmentalism, and green groups’ support for recent labor struggles is a promising step forward. Initiatives like the Labor Network for Sustainability, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and the BlueGreen Alliance are helping to connect the dots. But environmentalists must go further, acknowledging that there can be no real solution to the energy crisis without the input and leadership of the people who already do the work. Understanding the climate crisis as part of neoliberalism’s larger attack on public welfare and democracy (with the impacts, like all social failings in the United States, experienced more acutely by people of color and particularly by African Americans) can help expand the terrain on which both unions and climate activists struggle.

No one is ever going to claim that meaningful alliances between organized labor and greens are going to be easy. But they share a common enemy: predatory capitalism. Recognizing that is an enemy, which both sides often struggle with, is the first step to coming together for a sustainable and dignified future.

Pressure the Big Companies on Conditions in Their Supply Chains

[ 5 ] April 16, 2016 |

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I like this strategy from the Teamsters, handing out flyers outside of Chipotle because one of their big tomato contractors refuses to recognize IBT organization of their processing plant. Particularly when dealing with the out of the way parts of the supply chain where there’s no good public way to raise awareness, such as get journalists to pay attention and write a story like this, targeting the big buyers makes a ton of sense. Moreover, if Chipotle claims to be socially responsible, prove it. So often in the corporate world “social responsibility” means “making consumers feel good about their issue of the day,” thus GMO based activism. But actual social responsibility means treating workers with dignity throughout the supply chain. Chipotle needs to step to the plate here and pressure the contractor to recognize the Teamsters.

Pipelines and Reservations

[ 11 ] April 15, 2016 |

A useful story on how energy companies place pipelines as close to Native American reservation land as possible without any input (or very little anyway) from Native Americans themselves. This story is from North Dakota, but could be any number of states on the Plains and in the West where racism against Native Americans runs amok, without the same sort of attention paid to other iterations of racism in the United States.

Dozens of tribal members from several Native American nations took to horseback on Friday to protest the proposed construction of an oil pipeline which would cross the Missouri river just yards from tribal lands in North Dakota.

The group of tribal members, which numbered around 200, according to a tribal spokesman, said they were worried that the Dakota Access Pipeline, proposed by a subsidiary of the Dallas, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, would lead to contamination of the river. The proposed route also passes through lands of historical significance to the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux Nation, including burial grounds.

“They’re going under the river 500 yards from my son’s grave, my father’s grave, my aunt who I buried last week,” said Ladonna Allard, a member of the Standing Rock nation and the closest landowner to the proposed pipeline. “I really love my land, and if that pipeline breaks everything is gone.”

“We must fight every inch of our lives to protect the water,” Allard said.

The End of Journalism as a Middle Class Job

[ 64 ] April 15, 2016 |

This month’s Sidney winner is on the downsizing of journalists and how what was once a middle-class job is now an itinerant job that is emblematic of the New Gilded Age economy.

From 2007-2015 the number of U.S. journalists at daily papers dropped from 55,000 to 32,900, not counting the buyouts and layoffs last fall. Older journalists were particularly hard-hit, and older women were among the hardest-hit of all.

Maharidge spent six months interviewing these downsized journalists. His subjects shared their anger, their confusion, and their frustration at an industry that cast them aside at the peak of their skills. Age discrimination bars many established journalists from bouncing back after a job loss: a former war correspondent drives for Uber, a career photojournalist caters pizza parties, and a reporter in her seventies struggles to navigate the freelance market.

And Maharidge found up-and-coming journalists craving veteran advice: “A young newspaper journalist in the intermountain West said, “I’m 24, and I feel like I’m already one of the better journalists in the state. I absolutely should not feel that way, but it’s because the good older ones are dropping off. What I want more than anything is to be surrounded by people who could take my work and hack it up, show me all the ways it could be better.”

“If You Put Me Around the Women, I Will Have No Choice But to Rape Them”

[ 124 ] April 15, 2016 |

Well, I guess that’s a sort of argument:

One of Harvard University’s “final clubs”—an undergraduate secret society—has broken a 225-year public silence to argue that admitting female members would likely increase sexual assaults. “To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time an officer of the [Porcellian Club] has granted an on-the-record statement to a newspaper since our founding in 1791,” Charles M. Storey, Class of 1982, told The Harvard Crimson. “Given our policies, we are mystified as to why the current administration feels that forcing our club to accept female members would reduce the incidence of sexual assault on campus,” Storey said. Final clubs are set to meet with Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, who told the newspaper that “single-gender social organizations at Harvard College remain at odds with the aspirations of the 21st-century society to which the college hopes and expects our students will contribute.” But Storey countered that “forcing single-gender organizations to accept members of the opposite sex could potentially increase, not decrease the potential for sexual misconduct.” Another (unnamed) member told the Crimson: “We elect about a dozen sophomores each year and invite them to have dinners with alumni of the club who have stayed involved and cherish this cross-generational community of Harvard students. We don’t host parties. We don’t allow guests on the premises of our club. How we could possibly be connected to the problem of sexual assault on campus?”

John Kasich, SUPERGENIUS Explains It All To You

[ 176 ] April 15, 2016 |
Republican U.S. presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich arrives on stage to formally announce his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during a kickoff rally in Columbus, Ohio July 21, 2015.   REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein (TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Republican U.S. presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich arrives on stage to formally announce his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during a kickoff rally in Columbus, Ohio July 21, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein (TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

After some mansplaining to yeshiva students, John Kasich returns to his even more natural role of mansplaining to women:

“I have two 16-year-old daughters, and I don’t even like to think about it,” Kasich said. Incidentally, neither do women. “It’s sad, but it’s something that I have to worry about,” the student responded.

“I’d also give you one bit of advice,” Kasich went on. “Don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol.” The crowd applauded him.

Kasich’s viewpoint is a cynical, victim-blaming, finger-wagging perspective. Former Dear Prudence columnist Emily Yoffe once made a similar argument to Kasich’s in the pages of Slate, when she wrote that “the rise of female binge drinking has made campuses a prey-rich environment.” If women didn’t get drunk, the thinking goes, they would be able to resist the advances of men waiting in dark corners, ready to prey on easy, intoxicated targets. And if they just stayed away from men who can’t control their alcohol-amplified sexual impulses, they wouldn’t become the victim of such heinous crimes.

I was going to say that he should think more about his 16-year-old daughters when he thinks about his heinous reproductive policies, only the problem is that it’s not his daughters who won’t be able to obtain a safe abortion.

The Real Motivation of the Pain Caucus

[ 187 ] April 15, 2016 |

time_magazine_cover.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeAbove: Publication Appearing in 3 Weeks At Your Dentist’s Office Insults Your Intelligence

Time Magazine made the smart decision to put its dumb cover story about the national debt behind a paywall. The premise — the national debt is like household debt and should be considered as if it’s apportioned equally to every U.S. resident — is stupid on its face. But Matt O’Brien has read the thing because nobody else will, and it’s even worse than its premise:

The government can borrow for 10 years at 1.77 percent, for 20 years at 2.16 percent, and for 30 years at 2.58 percent. It’d be hard for those to get any lower. And that’s what makes Grant’s debt doom-mongering not just wrong, but world-historically so. Think about it like this. The reason we care about the debt is that lenders might. In other words, if the debt got to be too big a share of the economy, then investors might demand tougher terms to make up for the fact that we looked a little riskier. Reducing the debt, then, is about reducing interest rates. Indeed, that was the rationale behind Bill Clinton’s big deficit-reduction package in 1993. But that’s impossible when interest rates are already as low as they can go, like they are now. So what would be the point of cutting the debt?

Easy: cutting the government. That, more than the debt, is what Grant really cares about. You can tell by the fact that his solution to what he thinks is too much red ink is … a big, fat tax cut? Actually, yes. “Are we quite sure,” he asks, that “we want no part of the flat-tax idea?” What he doesn’t say, though, is that if you’re going to cut taxes by, say, $8 trillion over 10 years—that’s how much Ted Cruz’s flat tax would cost—then you’re going to have to get rid of a lot of the government to bring the debt down. So goodbye Social Security, goodbye Medicare, goodbye Medicaid, goodbye Obamacare, and probably goodbye food stamps and unemployment insurance, too. (The actual debt is $19 trillion, but that includes obligations we owe ourselves, like Social Security.)

When you’re considering a flat tax, it’s not because you care about the national debt, it’s because you think wealth needs to be massively redistributed upwards, with the debt as the tissue-thin pretext.

…as Warren Terra notes, the Sultan of Shrill has more, and it’s outstanding.

Both the Director *and* the Writer of BvS Don’t Understand Superheroes

[ 227 ] April 15, 2016 |

This is a bit of a correction to my earlier piece about Zack Snyder. Not that I think I was inaccurate in anything I said there, but I do think it was a bit unfair of me to put all the problems with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (pronounced buvvis-doge, I think?) on the shoulders of the director. The auteur theory of film criticism is a deeply flawed one, after all. And in addition to having a director who really doesn’t seem to understand the comic books he professes to love, the film also has David Goyer as its screenwriter.

And David Goyer doesn’t understand superheroes. Which I understand is kind of a bold statement, given that David Goyer is responsible for making the modern era of superhero movies possible.

But bear with me.

Read more…

How can we miss you if you won’t go away?

[ 209 ] April 15, 2016 |


Have you ever heard or read something and dismissed it out of hand but at the same time you have a niggling suspicion your dismissal is based on nothing more than distaste or disgust, and later you discover whatever you dismissed is true and you think Wow, this denial stuff is sneak-ee?

A week or so ago I saw a Tweet that stated Andrew Sullivan was going to start clogging the atmosphere with his ruminations again. And I thought Phhbbft. Citizens of the Twitters can be sooo gullible. And why is anyone making jokes about Andrew Sullivan, anyway?

But then, a few days ago I go to Alicublog and

NEW VILLAGE VOICE COLUMN UP… about the return of Andrew Sullivan to our telescreens.

[Wilhelm]

Great. Obama’s leaving office, there’s another 3,025,809 days left until the end of this wheel of pain known as the 2016 presidential election cycle (or 3,025,815 days until the start of 2020) and now this.

And This probably won’t be restricted to prolonged hand-wringing over how uncivil the GOP has become since he went off to meditate at the Margaret Thatcher Memorial Monastery for Tumid Tories.

By following the links – which I will one day learn not to do – This will likely include Mr. Bell Curve Isreal’s thoughts on race. Because if Mr. Sullivan were capable of figuring out that there are some topics about which he should never share his thoughts, because they are wrong and offensive, he would have quit back in the early days of Bush II, Scene I.

Here’s a snip from his recent appearance on Chris Matthews.

Sullivan: No I didn’t. I said. You mentioned Black Lives Matter. I mean the race. The Left on the race question is now neo-Marxist in a way it hasn’t been at all in the past.

Matthews: Neo-Marxist?

Sullivan: Yes! It believes that race is a structurally, economically and socially imponderable and completely unmovable force. I mean, I’ve read Ta-Nehisi Coates. That’s what it is! It’s Marxism without the happy ending!

God help us all, writes Driftglass, who – here’s the silver lining – is reviving Stupid Shit Andrew Sullivan Says. Agreed. And if God won’t help out, I’m willing to give Dagon a ring to ask if he can lend a fin.

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