the mindless rat-maze of the american two-party system

English: Number of self-identified Democrats v...

English: Number of self-identified Democrats vs. self-identified Republicans, per state, according to Gallup, January-June 2010

Someone else besides me has noticed the “unusual” alliances between libertarian Republicans and progressive Democrats, and has documented a dizzying amount evidence to show that such lineups aren’t, in fact unusual.  I highly recommend this article. 

I cannot help but feel that the powers that be smile every time pundits push this game of “Let’s you and him fight.”  I believe that the purpose of this extreme partisanship is to distract Americans from the serious issues of the day. Yes, libertarians and liberals have different agendas and disagree on many key issues, but I am convinced that if people can see past differences to find opportunities for collaboration on common and important goals, a civil discourse just might take over Washington.

I sense that last week’s vote on NSA mass surveillance had the leadership of both the Democratic and Republican Parties crapping bricks in their pants.  As a result, I’d watch for the pundits to invent new ways to divide people in the coming weeks.  I’d urge my readers to critically dissect what they are saying, examine the hot buttons they’re pushing, and look at what they aren’t saying when, through innuendo, they say, “The other side is evil, hooray for our side.”

the good humor man–he sees everything like this

My style differs from many other DJs because I like contrast.  Beat matching, that is, the act of blending beats so that one song blends seamlessly into another, thereby keeping people on the dance floor, is a technique I use only sparingly.  The crowds that I DJ for happen to like a lot of variety and so I’m not afraid of communicating “And now, for something completely different” in my music.  So I want to reflect that in my blog.  So I’ll start with a re-post from another blog I’ve written.

Love, Da Capo-era. Left to right: Alban Pfiste...

Love,
Da Capo-era. Left to right: Alban Pfisterer, Arthur Lee, Ken Forssi,
Bryan Maclean and John Echols. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Love was one of the greatest bands that most people never heard of. Like their East Coast counterparts The Velvet Underground, they were considered influential to many musicians in subsequent decades. Love was also one of the first American pop bands to have an interracial line-up, and was part of the same music scene that produced The Byrds and The Doors.

Love first started playing in L.A. clubs in 1965, and released their debut album, Love in 1966.  This opening track was a high-energy, punk-like version of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song “My Little Red Book,” as seen in the video below.  (Bacharach reportedly gave Love’s version of the song a thumbs-down.) In January 1967, they released their second album, Da Capo.

The title of this blog entry is from one the song titles from their third album Forever Changes. It was released in November 1967 and regarded by many as one of the greatest albums of the 60’s, but at the time was the least commercially successful of the three albums.  The album received good reviews, but perhaps it was overshadowed by other famous release from 1967, including the Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper” album, the Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow,” and debut releases by The Doors (who reportedly opened for Love at least once on L.A.’s Sunset Strip), the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix.

The original lineup of Love broke up shortly after Forever Changes. Lee put together another band, and in subsequent years, a number of incarnations of Love, as well as some solo efforts by Lee continued sporadically into the 1990’s, but not with the acclaim that the band had achieved earlier.

I was lucky enough to see an incarnation of what was billed “Arthur Lee and Love” in December 1989. At the time, I was living in Los Angeles and a housemate of mine kept on trying to get me interested in Love’s music. I was initially lukewarm about the band, but I let my housemate persuade me to go with him to see the band at a club in Malibu. We almost didn’t make it to the club in time—we didn’t know L.A. very well and thought we could take this little winding road from the Ventura Freeway down to Malibu—not realizing that we were crossing the Santa Monica Mountains. After 45 minutes of driving through hairpin turns, we made it to the club.

I don’t remember the name of the club. It was quite a small club. (A tribute website says that they played at the Trancas Club in Malibu on December 30, 1989–however I was in Chicago for the holidays then.  It could be that they had the date off by a week or two.) Arthur was there with a completely different backup band than the one that had made the more well known albums from the late 60’s. It was rumored that a couple former members of the 70’s pop-punk band The Knack were in the band backing him. The opening band for Love did a tribute with a cover of Love’s frenetic version of Burt Bacharach’s “My Little Red Book.”

When I saw Arthur Lee for the first and only time, he looked like a cross between a blues musician and a wizened professor. He was in his forties and his face had its share of lines. He poured all his heart into his songs. At one point some young long-haired guys broke into a fight on the floor in front of the stage while Arthur sang “Signed D.C.,” and the fight seemed to really upset him. At the end of the performance he exhorted the audience to turn to Jesus.

Lee had his share of hard knocks as well. In the mid-90’s he was convicted of threatening a neighbor with a firearm. Reportedly no one was injured and no property was damaged, but due to previous convictions, he was sentenced to twelve years in prison under California’s “three strikes” rule. However, he was released in December 2001 and an appeals court reversed the conviction due to the prosecutor at Lee’s trial being found guilty of misconduct.

Upon his release, Lee put together a new version of “Arthur Lee and Love” and played “Forever Changes” in its entirety before enthusiastic audiences in Europe and North America—often accompanied by a full string and horn section.  It could be said that these tours revealed the depth of the public acclaim he had achieved by this time–recognition that had been largely denied him in previous decades. The video below demonstrates the triumphant nature of his tour–the audience in the video was dozens of times larger than in the little club where I saw him.

Unfortunately, it was revealed in 2006 that he was battling leukemia.  A number of benefit concerts were set up to help pay his medical bills.  The most notable benefit concert  featured original Love guitarist Johnny Echols who had also toured with the last incarnation of Love, as well as Robert Plant, Ryan AdamsYo La Tengo, and Garland Jeffreys.  Despite aggressive treatment, Lee died in August of that year.

I chose the title for this blog entry because Arthur Lee had a rather unique way of looking at things. Like The Velvet Underground and The Doors, Love tended to write about darker subjects than what was common among the flower power folks, but their lyrics were also more poignant, personal, often funny, and hopeful. Lee’s lyrics had a strong sense of wit and irony, but it was never the detached, “whatever, never mind” irony of the 90’s angry flannel set. The music was an interesting and tuneful blend of 60’s pop, folk, R & B, rock, and the rapid chord changes in some of the early songs have caused many to describe them as a 60’s punk or “proto-punk” band.

When I think about my own musical tastes and influences, Love’s music involves many of those influences.  Folk, psychedelic, punk, blues, the interracial influence, and a willingness to occasionally visit darker places and examine them but without falling into despair.

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the four major political parties of the united states

English: Breakdown of the , as of February 201...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives held a rather extraordinary vote that says a lot more about the reality of American politics than most media pundits would have you believe, and provides Exhibit A as to why not to take either MSNBC or Fox News very seriously.

The vote was known as the Amash/Conyers Amendment–introduced by two House members from Michigan–Justin Amash, a Tea Party Republican elected in 2010, and John Conyers, a 24-term liberal Democrat.  The amendment would have de-funded the part of the National Security Agency that has been engaging in mass surveillance of Americans and require that any FISA court order pertaining to the surveillance of any Americans must pertain to individuals under investigation, as opposed to the mass collection of electronic communications going through AT&T or Verizon.

The amendment lost, but the vote was uncharacteristically close for any recent U.S. House vote.  The amendment lost by twelve votes, 205-217, with twelve member not voting.  (I wonder if those twelve non-voters will get an earful from their constituents.)  There are 234 Republicans and 200 Democrats in the House, but the votes of both were very split–94 Republicans were for it and 134 against it, while 111 Democrats were for it and 83 against it.  The breakdown of the votes are here.  The debate over the vote produced seemingly rather odd bedfellows, including Michele Bachmann and President Obama.   Congressman James Sensenbrenner–a Republican just one or two Congressional districts away from mine who was instrumental in drafting the 2001 Patriot Act and has been a longtime advocate of the “War On Terrorism”–testified that he had not intended the Act to engage in such mass surveillance. Many other House Republicans stood up and read the text of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Another noteworthy testimonial came from Iraq War veteran freshman congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who said after the vote that she could not in good conscience support a program that violated the very Constitution for which she and other troops felt they were risking their lives.

My point in reporting this is that American politics are not as simplistic as one might think.  As far back as the Clinton Administration, I saw the possibility for coalitions between certain liberals and conservatives that might not be immediately obvious.  During this Obama Presidency, similar unique alignments are becoming more and more common, and the Edward Snowden affair has probably made these unusual coalitions more and more visible.

English: A map illustrating the Nine Nations o...

English: A map illustrating the Nine Nations of North America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just as The Nine Nations of North America claimed that there are actually nine nations of significant size in this continent, rather than three large ones and a collection of tiny ones, I believe that the U.S. political system has roughly four political parties.  If I were to name them, I would refer to them as the “Democratic,” “Republican,” “Libertarian” and “Progressive” parties.  I am referring to these parties I describe in quotation marks, and the word “party” in lowercase form, so as to distinguish them from the political parties of the same name that have existed throughout U.S. political history.

The newly constituted “Democratic” and “Republican” parties would generally conform closely to the current positions and roles of the respective parties’ leadership. As such, the “Democratic” party would be much more economically conservative and less dedicated to civil liberties than most of the real-life Democratic Party’s voting base is.  Both parties would continue to be strong advocates for foreign intervention. The “Republican” party would not be a fan of civil liberties and  would continue to increasingly favor big business over the public in almost all conflicts between the two–this would include Wall Street, The “Democratic” party would continue moving in that direction as well, just a few steps behind the “Republicans.”  Evidence of this continued rightward tilt, which began around 1980, is the fact that the economic policies of President Clinton were much more conservative than that of President Nixon.

The “Progressive” party is more in alignment with the liberal Democrats of the 1960s and 70s.  This party is most ideologically in line with the ideals behind President Roosevelt’s New Deal and President Johnson’s War on Poverty initiatives. The “Progressive” party would be much less likely to favor business interests over the public interest, and would likely be opposed to most of the foreign conflicts in which the U.S. has entangled itself over the last 25 years.  There would also be a much stronger emphasis on civil liberties than present with the current Democratic Party leadership.  The “Progressive party” voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) pushed by President Clinton and the Republican leadership in 1993, and has been increasingly critical of President Obama on the environment, civil liberties, and foreign policy.

The “Libertarian Party” would include the current smaller real-life Libertarian Party, the Republicans who supported Ron Paul’s Presidential candidacy in 2008 and 2012, and a number of other Republicans who are strongly in favor of limiting government regulation on businesses and individuals in general. They are also strong civil libertarians and often (but not always) are much more opposed to foreign intervention than either Republicans or Democrats. A tiny minority of these “Libertarians” (think Ross Perot, for example) even opposed NAFTA as it did not fit their ideal of what a “free market” looks like.

The current majority of the membership of the U.S. Congress belong to either the “Democratic” or “Republican” parties.  The “Democratic” and “Republican” parties consist of 80-90% of the U.S. Senate, and consist of a majority in the House of Representatives–but a much smaller one than the Senate.

The majority of the votes in both houses of Congress usually consist of the following coalitions:

  1. a non-controversial measure supported by all four parties in Congress
  2. coalitions of “Democrats” and “Republicans” voting together on the measure (meaning the leadership of both parties support the measure even if the measure might be controversial–I think of a famous quote from the late, great comedian George Carlin that said, “The word bipartisan means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out”),
  3. a coalition of “Democratic” and “Progressive” representatives on one side of a measure, and “Republicans” and “Libertarians” on the other side.  These votes are the ones most often reported by the mainstream U.S. media.

But the vote yesterday represented a coalition that is becoming increasingly common:

4.  A coalition of “Progressives” and “Libertarians” on one side, and “Republicans” and “Democrats” on the other side.

This coalition also surfaced in the vote on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  Looking at the votes, one can see that “Libertarians” and “Progressives” are less present in the Senate than in the House.  This is not surprising, as being elected to the Senate or any higher office requires pleasing a larger array of constituents in order to get their votes and campaign donations.  The higher the office one seeks, the more votes and campaign donations one must solicit in order to win the elections.

This is not to say that all of the House members who voted for the Amash-Conyers amendment were “Libertarians” and “Progressives”–I know, for example, that Rep. Sensenbrenner would not fall into either category.

The U.S. political system is even more complicated than that. For example, the Green Party shares the Libertarian distrust of big government, but not regulation.  The real-life Green Party tends to favor decentralized and more locally accountable government, but are more in favor of government regulations as long as they occur at the local level.

There is also what I would classify as a “Christian evangelical” group consisting of a majority of “Republicans,” perhaps half of the “Libertarians” and a decent-sized number of “Democrats,” who want, to varying degrees, to make Christianity the official religion of the United States and tend to be intolerant of non-Christians.

My observation is that the Tea Party as we know it today is not really a unified or cohesive movement, despite what the mass media might say.  The Tea Party consists of a grouping of extreme “Republicans” and extreme “Libertarians,” who don’t always agree with each other.  For example, Reps. Amash (R-MI) and Bachmann (R-MN) both have widespread Tea Party support but were very much on opposite sides during yesterday’s vote in the House.

My point in making this post is that the current partisan attacks and maneuverings in U.S. politics do not constitute a full picture of the complexity of U.S. politics.  I don’t want to throw myself into the mud with the other partisans well-versed in Fox News and MSNBC talking points (and I wouldn’t even put Fox News and MSNBC at opposite ends of the political spectrum), but it is still very necessary to be an astute observer of politics.  Being able do so means:

  1. an increased ability to find common ground with people one might not normally associate with,
  2. that being in favor of more radical change might not necessarily make you a political outlier,
  3. being able to work with people different than you will mostly likely produce the best solutions to the problems that plague our world today.

One humorous epilogue–on the same day that the House voted down the Amash-Conyers amendment, I received a fundraising email from Michelle Obama saying, the first line of which read:  “There’s a lot of noise and talk and back-and-forth going on in Washington, but hardly any of it seems to be about the struggles that middle-class families face.”  The irony of the timing of these two events is not lost on me, even if it’s lost on the Democratic Party.

dance as you folk

English: Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C...

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. closeup view of vocalists Joan Baez and Bob Dylan., 08/28/1963 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my top-to-bottom review of my music collection to determine suitability for my DJ sets, I’ve now gotten to the music I’ve categorized as “folk.” This broad category hasn’t been anywhere near as present in my sets as I would have liked. That has been a serious omission up until now, since folk has always been a major influence in my music selections.

I know that there is plenty of folk music that is danceable (duh!), but until I really started to listen to my collection, I had this inescapable image in my head of people on the dance floor swinging their hips awkwardly to Bob Dylan’s nasal drone circa 1963.

Reviewing my music, however has brought up a number of gems, and the below are examples of things you might hear in future sets, once I get the Dance As You Are event going again. Whether it’s old-timey, acoustic punk, Texas swing,  or what I jokingly call “country music for liberals,” the below examples should help broaden the variety that I consider to be a staple and inherent core value of my sets. Enjoy!

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digesting the entire kitchen sink of the baha’i faith

Baha'i Temple

Baha’i Temple (Photo credit: Teemu008)

It would be folly for me to say that I totally understand or get the Bahá’í Faith after five and a half years of being a Bahá’í, much less twenty-four years after being introduced to the Faith.

It does seem to me, though, that the Bahá’í Faith is particularly difficult to learn about.  Baha’u’llah wrote over a hundred books, with only a small number that have been translated to English.

The first book on the Bahá’í Faith that was given to me was not written by Baha’u’llah, but by John Esslemont.  It gave a pretty good overview of the Bahá’í Faith and its origins in the mid-19th century.  When I moved to Los Angeles immediately after completing my Bachelor’s Degree in 1989, I went to the beautiful Bahá’í Center in L.A. on a semi-regular basis.  Despite my serious interest in the Faith at that time (I even talked about the idea of declaring as a Bahá’í on January 1, 1990), there was no real program at the Bahá’í Center that would give me a run-down on the Bahá’í Faith and help me decide about making such a move.

Somebody told me to buy the Kitab-i-‘qan, a book Baha’u’llah wrote that laid out the basics of the Bahá’í notion of progressive revelation–the belief that God has guided humankind throughout history, and that the founders of the world religions most people are familiar with today–Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.–were themselves sent by God to guide humankind.  But even for an educated 22 year-old like me at the time, the Kitab-i-Iqan was a difficult book to read. Given that the Baha’i Faith arose out of a Muslim society in an arguably similar way to how Christianity arose out of a Jewish society, the book made references to Islāmic writings and symbolism that I didn’t understand at all.  Furthermore, the standard English translation uses the same 17th century English used in most English translations of the Bible.  Sure I can understand it, but not as well as the English spoken today, and combined with the references I didn’t understand, both of these issues made it hard for me to make heads or tails of the Kitab-i-Iqan.

During that time in L.A., I also went to a few Bahá’í dinners, including one at the home of Marcia Day, the former manager of the 70’s folk-rock band Seals and Crofts. Marcia and the other guests at that dinner were extremely kind and patient with my FBI-like interrogation of them about the Faith. Ultimately, I opted not to declare as a Bahá’í at that time.  I’m not sure if any kind of education program would have gotten me to declare–my beliefs were more pagan at the time.  Nevertheless, that experience helps me understand one of the major reasons why the Universal House of Justice began to push the Ruhi curriculum about a decade later.

When I rediscovered the Faith nineteen years after my initial discovery , I plotted out my own path to help myself decide whether the Faith was right for me.  It started with the Esslemont book again and the Kitab-i-Iqan, but other books by Baha’u’llah including the Kitab-i-Aqdas (which wasn’t published in English until 1992, three years after I stopped pursuing the Faith), Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, and a scholarly and refreshingly objective book by William Hatcher and Douglas Martin entitled The Bahá’í Faith–The Emerging Global Religion.  The membership of the Bahá’í community in Madison also told me that I should take the class for Ruhi Book One.  Ultimately, I found Hatcher’s book the most helpful, followed by the Kitab-i-Aqdas (which has to be read within the context of the notes accompanying the text, otherwise it’s a very confusing and misleading read).

A few months later, I joined a class for Ruhi Book Two.  I did so because I though that this was the best way for me to learn more about the Faith and deepen myself.  However, I came to realize that while it taught me a little bit more about the Faith, its real purpose was to get me to become more active in teaching the Faith.  The logical problem in my head, however, was this–how could I commit to teach the Faith if I still felt like I had more to learn?  Yes, I’d declared as a Bahá’í but this did not mean that I was committed to teaching the Faith.

I was struggling with the Faith somewhat at the time, so I decided to take a different approach.  Rather than follow through on Ruhi, I decided to sit down with the Kitab-i-Iqan and a notebook and start reading the text much more seriously than before, making note of writings that resonated with me and writings that I questioned.  This was remarkably effective–it felt like the words of the Kitab-i-Iqan began to leap at me off the page for the first time.  I began to see the book for the powerful revolutionary religious statement it truly is, and my faith deepened.

After that experience, I decided that the best way to learn the Faith was to read the Writings directly, instead of relying on an intermediary like Ruhi or other books written by a third party.  I now own a thick 1,200 page book with all of Baha’u’llah’s writings that have been translated to English, and an equally sized book of all of Abdu’l-Baha’s translated writings.

Nevertheless, it’s not hard to see how much of a struggle it is to wrap one’s head around the Faith.  There have been many attempts to help people do so–Ruhi, the other above-mentioned books, and something called “Anna’s Presentation.”  For a little while I tried to help build the Bahá’í Faith in my local community by holding at my house Baha’i devotions–short prayer services with readings from the Bahá’í Faith and often other religions. One of the attendees at my house devotions was fluent in English, but English wasn’t his first language, and he had a very difficult time understanding the 17th century English in the Writings.

The Bahá’í Faith is by no means unique in the challenge of explaining itself to others.  The Bible–either in its King James or Revised Standard Version is far from being an easy read. There is so much context in the original writings of any religion that often get lost through the centuries or misunderstood.

Nor do I think there is a single or simple way out of this dilemma.  Humankind is one, but we all have different life experiences–some of them very different from each other. Even if the entire world spoke only one language, there would be differences in experience.  I don’t think the Bahá’í Faith or any religion can survive as a monoculture.

Ruhi is one approach but it should not be the only approach.  Just as a wise farmer plants a variety of crops and rotates them, so should the Bahá’í Faith.

thievery corporation: a world-wide whirlwind of influences

This blog will feature reviews of a wide variety of musical styles and bands that have been inspiring and influential to me over the years–music that you will also likely find on the dance floor of any Dance As You Are event.  I have also written in other blogs about some of my musical influences and these will also be re-blogged here from time to time.

Thievery Corporation

No review of my musical influences is complete without a review of Thievery Corporation, arguably my favorite all-time band for when I’m behind the DJ boards. They have been influential taste-makers for over a decade and a half, serving up a delightful blend of dub, jazz, lounge, Latin and other musical influences from around the world.

Eric Hilton, half of the duo making up Thievery Corporation, was, like me, born in 1967.  That year witnessed the release of many groundbreaking record albums, such as the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, and debut albums by The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Velvet Underground, and Love. Musicians born that year include Kurt Cobain, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson of Lush, and LTJ Bukem.

The story began in Washington D.C. in 1991 with a warehouse club night called Exodus, started by Hilton and Fari Ali.  This acid jazz event featured Hilton and Ali’s personal influences, which included jazz, ska, 70’s funk, mod, bossa nova, salsa, Latin jazz, reggae, and hip-hop. This party moved from warehouses to the Eighteenth Street Lounge, a club in the Dupont Circle neighborhood which Hilton and Ali started in 1995.  The event’s music styles were captured on Exodus Quartet’s one and only album Way Out There in 1996.

I was somewhat familiar with Exodus Quartet’s work due to my interest in acid jazz but had not known about the connection between Exodus Quartet and Thievery Corporation until, oddly enough, my mother’s passing in  2007.  I found a copy of Way Out There when I was going through her music collection, While browsing through the liner notes, I was surprised to find Eric Hilton’s name in it, since up until then, I was only aware of Hilton through Thievery Corporation.  The liner notes also talked about Hilton’s love for Gucci loafers, Lambretta or Vespa motorscooters, and included a thank you to a guy by the name of Rob Garza, who in the liner notes was nicknamed “The Freshmaker.”

I had difficulty finding bio information on Garza prior to Thievery Corporation. Per the bio on Thievery Corporation’s website, Garza had been doing some production work in one of Hilton’s studios, but had never met Hilton personally until introduced by a mutual friend at Eighteenth Street Lounge. Garza was impressed by the atmosphere at the club, and the two musicians also realized they had a mutual fondness for The Clash, local punk label Dischord, bossa nova, and topics that, per Hilton, “other people aren’t interested in talking about.”

Hilton and Garza decided to collaborate and record together, and under the name “Thievery Corporation” released Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi in 1997.  The video below for the song “2001: A Spliff Odyssey” reveals the mixture of dub, world music and lounge that would be part of their signature sound for years to come.

Rather than sign on to a record label, Garza and Hilton decided to start an independent recording label called ESL Music (ESL standing for Eighteenth Street Lounge). Artists on the currently label include Afrolicious, Ancient Astronauts, Nickodemus, Thunderball, and Ursula 1000.

In 2000, they released The Mirror Conspiracy, which has a very understated lounge music feel through it.  The video below, “Shadows of Ourselves,” features Iranian-born Lou Lou Ghelichkhani, one of the regular vocalists featured on Thievery Corporation’s records.  In the screencap for this video, you can also see Hilton playing the role of a creepy stranger staring at Lou Lou.

Thievery Corporation’s 2002 release The Richest Man In Babylon went in a more overtly political direction as indicated by the title track below featuring Jamaican toasters Notch and Sleepy Wonder, both of whom, like Lou Lou, have been regulars with Thievery Corporation throughout multiple albums.  Concerns about social justice would continue to be a theme through their subsequent albums.

In 2005, Thievery Corporation release The Cosmic Game with an even larger Rolodex of guest artists, including Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, Perry Farrell, and David Byrne. The album continued to feature Thievery Corporation regulars such as Sleepy Wonder and Gunjan in the below video.

The album Radio Retaliation, released in 2008 featured a digital image of Subcomandate Marcos, the enigmatic ski-masked spokesperson of the Zapatista movement in southern Mexico–an indigenous revolutionary movement whose uprising began on the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement first went into effect in 1994.  Garza wrote in a press release, “Radio Retaliation is definitely a more overt political statement […] There’s no excuse for not speaking out at this point, with the suspension of habeas corpus, outsourced torture, illegal wars of aggression, fuel, food, and economic crises. It’s hard to close your eyes and sleep while the world is burning around you. If you are an artist, this is the most essential time to speak up.”

Despite being highly political in its content, the below videos from the first and last tracks of the album highlight both the “in-your-face” and tender aspects of their music. “Sound The Alarm” features Garza and Hilton in a live performance that shows a stunning example of how modern DJs mix modern DJing technology and performance. “Sweet Tides” once again features Lou Lou in one of Thievery Corporation’s most beautiful and sublime pieces.

Culture of Fear, released in 2011, did not let up on the political commentary. The album features a picture of modern-day security camera in a design that almost seems to anticipate the recent discovery of the U.S. government’s mass surveillance system revealed less than a month ago. The video features Mr. Lif, a Boston-based hip-hop artist.

Thievery Corporation has also put out a number of compilation albums and remixes featuring music that has influenced them or remixes they have been involved in producing.

Eric Hilton also produced an independent film in 2010 entilted Babylon Central, which weaved together Hilton’s love for Washington DC’s street life and potpourri of cultural influences with political concerns.  The accompanying soundtrack featured not only a couple of tracks from Thievery Corporation, but contributions from Bad Brains, Butch Cassidy Sound System, Western Roots, and an interesting mix of other dub and lounge bands. The trailer is below.

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everything you know about politics is wrong (the view of the fistfight from 30,000 feet up version)

FireworksIn my last three posts I talked about the revelation of the existence of the mass surveillance program in which your emails, internet searches, and mobile phone data are collected, stored and subject to review by the U.S. government at any time.

One of these posts talked about potential links between this PRISM program and President Eisenhower’s warning 52 years ago about the threat that the military-industrial complex could have on rational foreign policy discourse.  Viewing that speech in its entirety served as a useful snapshot of the beginning of the 1960s and how the U.S. saw itself then as compared to now.

But I think it would be oversimplistic to blame the military-industrial complex in the U.S. Yes, I believe they have an undue influence in U.S. foreign policy. Yes, access to untold billions of private conversations has to be tempting for any entity to want to exploit. Nevertheless, I think greed and hunger for power are only part of the equation.

It could be that mass surveillance and infinite detention are part of a conspiracy to remove the foundation of democracy, of the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Sixth Amendment and other rights that we’ve taken for granted.   But it could also be the desperate thrashing about of a government realizing that it is actually quite powerless in the face of some cold hard realities racing towards all of us.  Realities that, frankly, very few Americans want to accept and face.

One of my favorite “tell-it-like-it-is blogs,” The Automatic Earth, has what I believe to be the best assessment of the quantity, trajectory, velocity and texture of various large pieces of excrement headed towards the giant ceiling fan in whose breeze the world in general and Americans in particular have been basking in for two-thirds of a century.

The blog’s author, Nicole Foss, sees the first challenge being with financial meltdown that started in 2007, but whose full effects have yet to be felt. We aren’t in the panicked months of 2008 when the word “bailout” first entered the nation’s everyday vernacular, but signs of it can be seen in the financial crises in Europe, the slow economic recovery in places like the United States and Japan, and rapid rise and quick fall of artificial bubbles such as China’s construction boom.  What Foss sees is a crash that would make 2008’s crash seem like a tiny firecracker, followed by a futile “Great Collateral Grab” which will only show the degree to which assets are already over-leveraged.

English: Ratio of Energy Returned on Energy In...

English: Ratio of Energy Returned on Energy Invested – USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Foss projects the second wave troubles coming from tightening energy supplies.  Even if the world is able to successfully press the “reset” button on the economy and head towards a recovery, this recovery will run headlong into the reality that a 150-year old energy party that the industrial world has enjoyed is about to have the plug pulled on it. This “energy party”–that is the comfort and affluence we have enjoyed over the decades–is about to end with the end of easily accessible oil.  The crisis we are facing can be best summed up in five letters:  EROEI, or for short, “Energy Returned On Energy Invested.”  The EROEI for crude oil has been, until recently, very high but is beginning to decline rapidly.  The above graph shows the comparative EROEI for various efforts at extracting energy in the past and present.  You can see how newly developed oil has a much lower EROEI than oil twenty years ago.  Despite all the hype about “green energy,” we are not going to come anywhere close to the EROEI levels in the past, and given that the world, and Western society in particular has been dependent on such high EROEI levels, we are faced with a second crisis that we must face and then overcome. The fact that the there is a mad dash towards Canadian tar sands despite the huge expense of extracting the oil from the sand, fracking instead of the natural gas development we’ve seen until recently, and efforts by coal companies to blow up entire mountaintops shows that times are indeed getting tight.

At the same time, we must overcome a third hurdle which is the environmental fallout from this long “party.” Climate change is one big part of this but there are other factors, including depletion of valuable resources, rapid use and destruction of topsoil due to of unsustainable farming practices, the depletion and/or poisoning of precious freshwater sources, and the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs from the over-use of antibiotics in our medical and agricultural systems.

So, in that light, should we be surprised if our governments are beginning to behave in a more paranoid and irrational manner?  This is, of course, not to excuse their behavior. Nevertheless, in order to address actions by our government that would have seem bizarre a few generations ago, we have to understand the climate in which they are operating.  These are extreme days, on many different levels.

My point of this blog post is not to be doom and gloom. My point is that we as a human race have chosen to  learn our lessons the hard way.  I am optimistic about the long-term survival of the human race, but we’ve got some difficult times and adjustments to overcome.

The answer doesn’t start with our federal government, much less the state.  Our political system is incapable of producing knights in shining armor, which is why I never, ever have worked for a political campaign and never will.  Change has to come from deeper within–within ourselves, between ourselves and God, or however you might want to visualize it.

This doesn’t mean that we abdicate the inclusion of our voice on the important questions of the day.  Certainly, our First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments are worth fighting for.  Our environment is worth fighting for.  What it means is that we need to always be aware of the big picture and let that larger view choose for us where it’s the most important place to get involved.

the new york times unwittingly tells the truth about american journalism

You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words?  Well, I just caught the New York Times saying much more about journalism than I ever thought it would say.

“Journalism, Even When It’s Tilted,” was written by journalist David Carr. The article was about Glenn Greenwald, the journalist for The Guardian who broke the story about the NSA’s mass surveillance program, and about what Carr refers to as the dichotomy between journalist and activist.

Carr acknowledged that with newsroom staff cutbacks causing the disappearance of reporter beats at places like state legislatures, advocacy journalism fills a void.  Carr also gave Greenwald plenty of “gray space” (“journalist jargon” for space taken up by print) when he dutifully quoted Greenwald below.

“It is not a matter of being an activist or a journalist…It is a matter of being honest or dishonest. All activists are not journalists, but all real journalists are activists. Journalism has a value, a purpose — to serve as a check on power…I have seen all sorts of so-called objective journalists who have all kinds of assumptions in every sentence they write…Rather than serve as an adversary of government, they want to bolster the credibility of those in power. That is a classic case of a certain kind of activism.”

Despite the quote, the article also features a picture of Greenwald with the following caption below:  “Glenn Greenwald, whose work for The Guardian has raised the question of who is a journalist.”  And Carr concludes with the following quote of his own:

“But I do think that activism — which is admittedly accompanied by the kind of determination that can prompt discovery — can also impair vision. If an agenda is in play and momentum is at work, cracks may go unexplored.  That is not to say that Mr. Greenwald’s work is suspect, only that the tendentiousness of ideology creates its own narrative. He has been everywhere on television taking on his critics, which seems more like a campaign than a discussion of the story he covered.  Activists can and often do reveal the truth, but the primary objective remains winning the argument. That includes the argument about whether a reporter has to be politically and ideologically neutral to practice journalism.”

I believe that Mr. Carr is very sincere in his viewpoint.  Furthermore, he may or may not have had input into the caption below the picture of Mr. Greenwald.  However, look at my screen capture of Mr. Carr’s New York Times article and you just might see more truth revealed than Mr. Carr, the caption writer, or even the newspaper itself intended.

F-35 ad next to a NYT article about "journalistic objectivity"

Has the New York Times committed what might be called a “F-35 Fighter Freudian Slip?”

I should note that Bloomberg News–just a 14 minute trip via foot and the R subway from the Times–has a less than positive view of the F-35 in its article “Flawed F-35 Fighter Too Big to Kill as Lockheed Hooks 45 States.”

Let’s go back to that image of President Eisenhower seeing an ad like Lockheed Martin’s in the newspaper and throwing the publication into the fireplace out of frustration, as reported by historians in a link from my last post.

What do the F-35 fighter and the NSA have in common?  Lockheed Martin, of course.  Lockheed will be the first to boast about it in this press release on its website from April 2013.  Crocodyl.org’s research goes even deeper.  Lockheed Martin had an NSA surveillance scandal of its own when Margaret Newsham, an engineer working for Lockheed in the UK, blew the whistle on the company in 1997 by revealing to Congress the existence of the Echelon System, a surveillance system that a 1998 European Parliament report concluded gave the U.S. the capability to intercept any call or encrypted communication within Europe.  Per Crocodyl, Lockheed’s relationship with the NSA goes all the way back to, well, the time of President Eisenhower’s administration when the company developed the U-2 spy plane.

Okay, but does this really mean that the New York Times is in cahoots with Lockheed Martin?  Well, taking David Carr’s quote and substituting a couple of key words (which I’ve italicized), I’d say this:

If an agenda is in play and momentum is at work, cracks may go unexplored.  That is not to say that Mr. Carr’s journalism is suspect, only that the tendentiousness of money creates its own narrative. News outlets can and often do reveal the truth, but the primary objective remains making money.

Writer Robert Jensen from The Rag Blog chronicled a rather revealing exchange he had with a newspaper editor about objective journalism.

“After listening to my summary of this critique of the U.S. commercial news media system, this editor (let’s call him Joe) told me proudly: ‘No one from corporate headquarters has ever called me to tell me what to run in my paper.’

“I asked Joe if it were possible that he simply had internalized the value system of the folks who run the corporation…and therefore they never needed to give him direct instructions.  He rejected that, reasserting his independence from any force outside his newsroom.

“I countered: ‘Let’s say, for the purposes of discussion, that you and I were equally capable journalists in terms of professional skills, that we were both reasonable candidates for the job of editor-in-chief that you hold. If we had both applied for the job, do you think your corporate bosses would have ever considered me for the position, given my politics? Would I, for even a second, have been seen by them to be a viable candidate for the job?’…Joe pondered my question and conceded that I was right, that his bosses would never hire someone with my politics, no matter how qualified, to run one of their newspapers. The conversation trailed off, and we parted without resolving our differences.”

Leave it to another New Yorker–namely The New Yorker (whose Times Square address would put it about halfway between Bloomberg and the New York Times), to describe this censorship process in greater detail.  Jane Mayer’s article, “A Word From Our Sponsor: Public television’s attempt to placate David Koch” goes into great detail about WNET’s efforts at self-censorship in its anticipation of objection from a board member and major donor.

I’ve hired people before and therefore know a lot about what goes through the mind of an employer.  We employers look for a good fit for the organization. We want somebody who is going to do a good job with minimal interference from us.  We don’t want to hire somebody who is going to give us headaches.

So is the New York Times knowingly or unknowingly using Carr’s article to placate an advertiser like Lockheed Martin?  I don’t know, but that is a mighty big ad…