If Country Joe McDonald reprises his Feel Like I'm a Fixin to Die rag for a new imperial adventure, looks like he'll need to War Au-Go-Go verse for a bear market war. (thanks to Cursor)
Phil [4:27 PM]
Yes, it's got its detractors, but I'm glad to see Counterpunch back after server problems. On the scene reportage from the London anti-war march Saturday by Tariq Ali, the man who, by the way, inspired John Lennon's song Power to the People.
Phil [4:00 PM]
Thanks to MaxSpeak ( which has been red hot lately with a rapid fire of long substantive posts that would/should put most "pro" pundits to shame) for pointing out this article on the strong-arm tactics being trained on public demonstrations. Actually "para-military" police tactics of psychological intimidation via random arrests and other techniques designed to effectively nullify the right of peaceful assembly are becoming quite a science, as this article by Jesse Walker explains quite well.
An important investigative essay on the theory, strategy and tactics of the current push for "militarization" of domestic "crowd control" remains to be written. I wonder who would publish it though.
Phil [4:53 PM]
Tom Paine.com,which had been a usefully informative, but kinda low-key site, has really come alive lately, taking on an impressively and agressively activist role in getting alternative views on Iraq out to wider publics, via provocatively witty op-ads in the NY Times, and a steady stream of great articles like this. Living up to the spirit of its namesake.
Phil [4:23 PM]
Thirty-six years after he threw his final pitch, his mystique is powerful enough to effect the likes of Neal Pollack. What's more in era of celebrity saturation, embarrassing, pathetic or tragic super-stars and downright media whores, he's lived in an absolutely Zen-detachment from the publicity fame cycle without even seeming to try. Plus, not least, if you grew up loving baseball in the 1960s he's permanently part of your best memories and dreams. David Gates reviews the first Sandy Koufax bio.
Phil [3:28 PM]
I'd forgotten Oscar Brand, the venerable folkie scholar, was still around and on the radio. This Saturday , novelist Flo Wetzel reminds me, Brand's show will feature the work of 1930s/40s American balladeer Earl Robinson, and his son Perry Robinson, for the past four decades a major avant-jazz clarinetist for a million out bands worth knowing about.
Just wanted to let everyone know that on Saturday, September 28 from 10 to 11 pm (EST) Perry and I will appear on Oscar Brand's Folksong Festival, WNYC-AM 820 (or on the web at www.wnyc.org). Oscar Brand's show has been on the air for over 50 years, plus he was a good friend of Earl Robinson and worked with him many times.
The first half of the show consists of Oscar speaking to Perry, plus me reading a bit from The Traveler, but the highlight is the second half, which is a rare broadcast of Earl Robinson's classic work "The Lonesome Train." The piece is a requiem for Abraham Lincoln, and is about the train that took Lincoln back to Illinois after the assasination. Earl wrote this in 1942; it was immediately understood as an important part of American music and history, and in the days after JFK's assasination the piece was played on radio and TV every day.
Pass this along to any Earl Robinson fans you know!
Phil [4:08 PM]
"Rock poetry" has pretty much always been a misnomer, referring to song lyrics influenced/inspired by poets, but generally out of place when transported to a page. In a nice, passionate review John Rocco identifies something we've seen less of, a literary poet who really rocks on the page.
Phil [3:57 PM]
One of the things I like best about the web (especially with an archive as extensive as The Atlantic's) is how print pieces from various time periods can so easily inter-mingle as if in (McLuhan got this one right) an acoustic space, like listening to music on radio. so here's an oldie.
Phil [3:02 PM]
With all the adrenaline of war furor this Jack Beatty piece in The Atlantic's been overlooked. It's about the underlying economic policy malaise (does that word ring a bell) which may be the enduring legacy of the Bush administration.
Phil [2:41 PM]
Notwithstanding the too often evident greed, vulgarity and just plain lapses in good sense and taste, nothwithstanding John Strausburgh's excoriations of rock after youth, aging classic rockers, Brian Doherty says, can, like old blues artists, teach us how to keep working, long after Dionysian inspiration succumbs to mostly perspiration.
Phil [2:15 PM]
One often lauded (or derided) function of Blogs is to be an alternative DIY op-ed forum, a street-smart venue for garage punditry. Another I think less acknowledged function of this mode is to make possible a sort of collective electronic print DJ-ing, disseminating mixes of material. My own hunch, for whatever that's worth, is that whether or not the blog is or ever becomes a "new journalism", it's definitely charged the traditional bibliographical essay (often the best part of printed tomes, where authors reveal much more of what they really know than in the main text) with new possibilities. But that's theoretical fodder for another time, maybe.
In the meantime, in the interest of dissemination and in finding intellectual-philosophical critiques of the new official worldview of radical unilateral preemption, this article(mostly ignored to my limited knowledge) from the World Policy Journal's spring 02 issue is well worth kicking around the web. It's a very centrist piece (in the "realist" Morgenthau tradition of foreign policy thinking rather than pacifist or moralist-absolutist, hardly very radical in other words). Yet it's a strong historically minded attempt to put the neo-con's new doctrine (couched though it is with an odd amalgam of the post-modern, with its allusions to distributed networks, the uncertainty pricnciple and chaos theory, and the ancient, as in Roman Empire circa 200AD) in in the context of U.S. foreign policy history.
Phil [4:13 PM]
I generally find Maureen Dowd's columns over-rated. Like many another skilled social mannerist writer (Tom Wolfe comes to mind), her easy grasp of nuances of status and style too often masks ultimately superficial analysis of issues. But on those occasions when social-psychological subtext is the essence of the matter, she's stupendous. As here, where she sees the unspoken agenda behind the (much anticipated) conquest of Iraq as neither oil nor geo-politics, but as the culture war at home conducted by other means.
Phil [11:43 AM]
I've been alternately annoyed by and impressed with Josh Marshall's Hamlet-like blog-liloquys on Iraq over the past few months. Impressed as always with the formidible analytic skill and intellectual honesty which are his trademarks. Annoyed by his lack of clarity about why exactly the neo-con's arguments about the imminent danger of not destroying Sadaam now were so strong, despite his dislike of them (the neo-cons). But today's post on how the Orwell acolytes of the right are abusing their saint, as well as the English language with the rhetoric of "regime-change" is a blog masterpiece, worthy itself of the old master.
Phil [11:52 AM]
For the past year there's been an ongoing rift within what's called the left, such as hasn't been seen in many decades. The antagonists have been the "far" left, reflexively anti-American, reductionist in its one-dimensional attribution of all the world's geo-political problems to U.S. imperialism, uncritically given to conspiracy theories, and the pragmatic, realist, liberal-progressive left,very critical of U.S. militarism and abuse of power, yet skeptical about the simplistic rhetoric of too much of the peacenik crowd . The "debate" is over due and hopefully will be an intellectually and politically healthy one.
As Max Sawicky trenchantly points out, however, the "responsible" left's strategic perspective has been based on a premise that "the political process is susceptible to critical nuances and has the capacity to improve policy -- to make interventions more effective, or less harmful, or to shut them down altogether." By any realistic standard that premise is well on the way to unravelling with the declaration (with almost zero opposition in Congress so far) of the most radically extremist (registration required)foreign policy doctrine in U.S. history and what's looking to be the collapse of congressional resistance to an imperial presidency in foreign policy. In this context, Sawicky makes a very good case that spending most of one's limited energies pointing out the flaws of the miniscule legions of the fringeoid left who think 9-11 was a U.S. plot, rather than on dissent against the recklessness of the Bush adminstration, is a major mistake.
Phil [4:08 PM]
At PopMatters, quite likely the most literate online culture review, Marshall Bowden previews a mammoth 20 CD box set covering Miles Davis' mostly ignored work of the "late" period of 1973-91, primarily including work from the 1980s. Though critical consensus has had it that the 80s marked a mere footnote to his celebrated earlier jazz quintet work, Bowden persuasively argues the set shows Miles' successful incorporation of electric piano, synthesizers, and funk yielded as yet unrecognized treasures.
Phil [1:56 PM]
Nick Penniman provides a disturbing portrait of how the post-Enron opportunity for progressive populist economic reform is being blown big-time. His analysis suggests this failure in the making has as much to do with lack of political will, bravery and focus as the Iraqi war build-up.
MaxSpeak's exquisite dissection of Tom Daschle's dithering double-speak on the economy offers good evidence of at least part of the problem.
Phil [3:57 PM]
Wonderful reporting by Edna Gundersen in USA Today on the burgeoning Recording Artist Coalition's struggle against the big record studios. Lots of highlights, including Keith Richards signing on to the new revolution against accountants dominating music. Even more amazingly, USA Today quotes Steve Albini and Wayne Kramer.
Phil [1:27 PM]
John Judis makes a pretty convincing case that despite the intensive propaganda efforts of the Bush and neo-con foreign policy cadres, support for invasion of Iraq is weak and weakening further among several key segments of the U.S. electorate.
Phil [4:47 PM]
Speaking of fear, fearlessness etc. Hunter S. Thompson (The Keith Richards of American Journalism), still not burnt-out at 63, interviewed last Friday on the pusillanimity of the mainstream news media and his forthcoming book The Kingdom of Fear
Phil [2:57 PM]
For a little touch of perverse nostalgia try Dave Randall's account of J.Edgar Hoover's two decade long obsession with the seditiousness of Mad Magazine. A bittersweet read, it demonstrates the impact fearless and funny satire had in a more "innocent" time of Cold War paranoia and conformity. I find it very hard to say whether things have moved forward, backward or sideways.
Phil [2:26 PM]
At this point I'd happily settle for just plain old humanism, but philosopher James Hughes sees a radically new intellectual and historical worldview emerging, which he terms Transhumanism, galvanized by the social implications of bio-technology, genetic design engineering, articifical intelligence and nano-technology. Heretofore known mostly through the speculations of free-market libertarians and/or Sci-Fi freaks and geeks, the notion, Hughes claims, is spawning a wide range of ideological variants, way beyond the Beltway of contemporary political discourse. In a long, intriguing essay Hughes sketches out the now embryonic political topology of the 2020s. These range from the free-market extropians (perhaps the best known of contemporary futurists) to liberals of the recently formed World Transhumanist Association to Fascist/neo-neo Nazis (seeking to forge a new post-Aryan super-race), radical democratic Transhumanists, cyborgian feminists, post-green Viridians ,afro-futurists, and open-source or nano- socialists. Sounds more than a little like the world of Bruce Sterlings Islands in the Net. But then again that's good tonic for the imagination at a moment when realpolitik pretty much consists of a choice between medieval theocracy and oligarchy.
Phil [11:39 AM]
Blowback picks an eerily accurate (and all too germane) poem by E.E. Cummings on politician doublespeak. No link up yet for it, so here it is.
"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"
by the way, if you thought of cummings as just an eccentric writer of romantic lyrics with goofy typography, there's a good book on Cummings most radical (aesthetically and politically so) work.
Phil [12:04 PM]
I'd been convinced that academic PoMo cultural theory was naught but convoluted bullshit, (I still think most of it is) but, thanks to Wood s lot, I now know there's at least one journal out there that's well worth a read. M/C wonderfully, and plausibly (with good writing no less) connects hip-hop, software design, electronic music, "street speech", cognitive science, childhood development and much else in a special issue on "Loops".
Phil [11:49 AM]
Lewis Lapham bemoans the paucity of "eloquence", and vulgar media spectacle of official Sept.11th ceremonies. As usual he's a perceptive social critic, despite the unflatteringly haughty tone he all too characteristically adopts when chiding middlebrow mainstream America.. Progressive stuffed-shirts are the most annoying kind.
With a little more demotic passion, more precision and alot less pretension, Justin Raimondo goes deeper into the cognitive dissonance underlying the first anniversary of 9-11.
Phil [11:34 AM]
As the "War against Terrorism" insinuates itself as an inescapable feature of daily consciousness, the Cold War of our time, it's useful to remember that jazz, beat poetry, rock n roll and "liberatory" technologies (transistor radio,bootlegged recordings, paperbacks and, much later, the Internet) had as much as do with ending that nightmare, as Kennanesque containment, Reaganesque "roll-back", arms spending and proxy wars. Cultural change, in other words, trumping backward ideologies, "ours" and "theirs".
In that sense this article, this report on Iran's current disaffected "lost generation" of secular,educated "lumpen-intelligentsia", may prove more relevant in the long-term than most current geo-political analyses. Another on the same topic from Tim Judah (requires free registration to access).
Phil [2:47 PM]
EDGE is back after a summer semi-hiatus, with a long, free-ranging interview with evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker.
Pinker's new book The Blank Slate dissects the science-phobia he thinks infects, for very different reasons, both left-"progressive" and conservative political intellectuals. Both, he believes, reflexively distrust the focus on "human nature" as it's emerging in genetics, cognitive science, and evolutionary psychology.
Unlike thinkers of the American Revolution who saw the study of human nature as a wellspring of both liberty and progress, current social pundits fear these new genetics-centric sciences as justifying determinist, nihilist, elitist political implications.
Pinker ably rebuts those notions as simplistic.
"Human nature doesn't rule out social progress because many features of human nature have free parameters. This has long been recognized in the case of language, where some languages use the mirror-image of the phrase order patterns found in English but otherwise work by the same logic. Our moral sense may also have a free parameter as well. People in all cultures have an ability to respect and sympathize with other people. The question is, with which other people? The default setting of our moral sense may be to sympathize only with members of our clan or village. Over the course of history, a knob or a slider has been adjusted so that a larger and larger portion of humanity is admitted into the circle of people whose interests we consider as comparable to our own. From the village or clan the moral circle has been expanded to the tribe, the nation, and most recently to all of humanity, as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It's an idea that came from the philosopher Peter Singer in his book The Expanding Circle. It's an example of how we can enjoy social improvement and moral progress even if we are fitted with certain faculties, as long as those faculties can respond to inputs. In the case of the moral sense the relevant inputs may be a cosmopolitan awareness of history and the narratives of other peoples, which allow us to project ourselves into the experiences of people who might otherwise be treated as obstacles or enemies."
Pinker and his brand of evolutionary psychological theory, of course, is not without its challengers, even among evolutionary biologists.
Phil [4:02 PM]
Richie Unterberger, who wrote Unknown Legends of Rock N Roll, the best history of 60s garage bands,and important but mostly forgotten cult bands(including the best account of the Plastic People of the Universe, the Czech dissident rock band, perhaps, as inspirers of anti-Soviet dissidence, the most politically influential pop band of all time) has a new book out, Turn,Turn, Turn, on Folk-Rock, 1964-66. Ever wonder what happened to Barry (Eve of Destruction) McGuire? If so, here's a transcript of an interview Richie did for the book.
Phil [2:57 PM]
Neat article, to a scientific layman anyway,in the American Prospect. Harvey Blume (borrowing from Isaiah Berlin) explores an important philosophical, and, he argues, cultural rift within contemporary neo-Darwinism. It's between the hedgehogs, (one's tempted from his account to call them genetic Platonists or Monists), like Daniel Dennett, E.O. Wilson, Stephen Pinker, and Robert Wright, who see nature as an expression to one great idea (genetic code as great computer, intellectually elegant and, if finally deciphered, perfect), and the foxes (Aristotelian, nominalist, e.g. the late Stephen Jay Gould), who view natural order as a chancy, sketchy, partial, glitch-filled work in progress. With the death of Gould he believes the culture of evolutionary has skewed lopsidedly in the direction of "Digital Darwinism".
As he puts it:
Gould characterized such sensibilities as hyperselectionist, by which he meant that, for some Darwinians, it wasn't enough that natural selection be acknowledged as the sole architect of adaptive change. Its logic also had to marginalize chance and unpredictability to the point where evolution would seem as smooth, as masterfully scripted (and, for Wright, as transcendently purposeful) as computer code.
Phil [4:13 PM]
Thanks to Matt Drudge (of all people) Norman Mailer's "8,000 word polemic" interview on "American Vanity", coming in a in the London Sunday Times, has gotten the old man probably his biggest controversial literary build-up for a piece in decades. It's all over right wing talk radio. Mailer the treasonous. Glad to see at almost 80 there's still so much feistiness left in Mailer, and, his rival contemporary Vidal. Fashionable as it is to dismiss them, they've aged well, far better than the Hemingway-Faulkner generation. Hope those of us in our 30s and 40s do a fraction as well.
Phil [5:03 PM]
Here (thanks to Alternet) is an excerpt from the book, an account of the meeting of Bob Dylan and The Beatles in August 1964, and the pivotal role pot played in bonding folk and rock. Brommel puts the date as August 30, ' 64, and seems to know (as an academic historian) what he's talking about. The passage in fact quite nicely evokes the zeitgeist of America three weeks after the Gulf of Tonkin, in the midst of the "Go-Go Years" at the very height of the post-war boom, and (though few knew ) at the very threshold of the Vietnam War era. But there's another account, by journalist Al Aronowicz, who, as pop beat reporter for the then very hip liberal tabloid New York Post, actually (if he's to be believed) set up the "summit meeting that started the 60s". He puts the date as August 28, '64. Such, I guess, are the things that make history endlessly absorbing for pop culture obsessives.
Phil [3:59 PM]
The Nation may indeed, as John Powers complained recently in the LA Weekly, be a little staid at times. But, say what you might, I'd be hard pressed to find a better, more probing meditation on (and serious dissection of) the political and social meaning of the culture war and drug war than Jon Wiener's review there this week of Nick Brummel's Tommorrow Never Knows, Rock and Psychedelics in the 1960s.
Phil [3:29 PM]
The often funny, sometimes urbane pseud-aristocrat reactionary monarchist Taki literarily foams at the mouth against excessive tolerance and concern for the rights of Arabs, immigrants, Jane Fonda, intellectuals and other traitors. While his soon to be publishing partner Pat Buchanan continues his streak of eminently sensible takes on foreign policy, if not much else. It's gonna be a trip seeing those two together at the almost ready to launch mag The American Conservative. I actually look forward to it.
Phil [2:01 PM]
If it's true that The Velvet Underground were the fathers of underground rock, LaMonte Young, not a rocker at all, but a demandingly avant-garde composer (and the main influence John Cale brought to the Velvets), is arguably its grandfather. Kyle Gann reviews a mammoth 6hr. 25 min. long DVD release of Young's Well-Tuned Piano.
Phil [4:04 PM]
What an iconoclast. Twenty years late, John Powers in the LA Weekly, ventures the really audacious, critically ballsy claim that the left, epitomized by The Nation, is dull, boring, and predictable, while the Weekly Standard and by extension the right , free of scolding, politically correct puritanism, is filled with intellectual edge, stylistic dynamism and (thanks to PJ O'Rourke) Reptile Republican party animal spirits.
Granted that he's more right than not about The Nation. What's pathetic about the piece, though, is his journalistically lazy premise that the parameters of U.S. political culture are really meaningfully described using these two publications as ideological bookends representing America's true left and right discursive boundaries. He's got to try reading more, and perhaps see the spectrum of American political thinking as broader than that of a CNN Cross-Fire segment.
He may be right, as he insists, that the reactionary mode is good for satirists but P.J. O'Rourke's still no Lenny Bruce, or Lord Buckley, or, for that matter George Carlin (who'd be published by neither The Nation nor The Weekly Standard). And O'Rourke himself hasn't really written anything very funny since about the time George W. stopped drinking and snorting coke.
And, though he doesn't know it, there are some leftists who talk to people with guns (or even own them), drink Rolling Rocks rather than herbal tea, and have never eaten granola or worn Birkenstocks.
Phil [3:10 PM]