ArtSunday: LIterature

I read books because I need to know … so much more than I do now

As I age, what I read and why has changed markedly over time

ArtSunday: LIteratureIf you’re a reader, you probably have a list of “fave” books. Or of books you found “influential.” Or of books you liked because each told “a good story.” Or maybe because the books were filled with vampires and such.

I’m surrounded by book listers. I lurk on a listserv of really bright people, and one of the topics du jour is “what’s your book list.” (Thanks to them, I’ve picked up several to add to my own list.)

Jim Booth, one of my fellow co-founders of Scholars & Rogues, compiles a list of books each year and reviews them here. (He’s done more than 50 reviews this year alone.) A faculty colleague has from time to time posted outside his office a list of “books I spent time with this summer.”

I never thought much about book lists.

Then the Time of My Great Disenchantment with Mega-Corporate-Run Journalism began to descend on me about seven years ago. I realized that the grist of daily journalism no longer dealt at length or in depth with the gnawing questions I need answered:

How does the world work? Why does it work that way? What are the consequences of the answers to the first two questions?

So why isn’t mainstream journalism as practiced these days telling me what I need to know? After all, journalism has been billed as “the first rough draft of history.” Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

Conservatives uncover Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy®: yawn

A prominent political “news” site has gotten its hands on a year’s worth of archives of a “top secret” Google Group of liberal activists called the Gamechanger Salon.*

According to the emails, the group reportedly includes prominent members of the Occupy movement, “Democrats, Sierra Club officials, journalists who work for The Huffington Post and The Nation magazine, senior union representatives, leaders at the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the president of NARAL.”

Wait, back up. You mean these people actually know each other? And they talk? Is that even legal?

The revelations are positively staggering. Apparently many Democratic movers and shakers – you might want to sit down here – don’t like Hillary Clinton. Wow. Didn’t see that coming, did you?

The emails, from “June 2013 through July of this year,” portray Clinton as someone who is “too much of a hawk, too cozy with Wall Street,” and “hasn’t spoken out enough on climate change, and will be subject to personal questions and criticisms.”

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CATEGORY: WordsDay

Book Review: Mercedes Wore Black, by Andrea Brunais

Mercedes Wore Black is either a romantic political thriller or a political thriller romance – that’s for the reader to decide…

Mercedes Wore Black by Andrea Brunais (image courtesy Goodreads)

Andrea Brunais is a highly decorated former investigative reporter in Florida. Her new novel, Mercedes Wore Black, reflects her knowledge of Florida politics,investigative journalism, and the changing media climate for reporters who want to write – and writers who want to report.  It’s an interesting book, always lively, at times funny, at times deeply troubling, at times a little frustrating.

Like the Florida politics it depicts with pointed insight, it’s kind of a hot mess.

The novel concerns an investigative journalist, Janis Hawk, who is fired by her newspaper – seemingly as part of the wholesale downsizing of newspapers that goes on apace – but Hawk’s firing has, as one would guess from the introduction, political motives. She’s been stepping on the toes of the rich and powerful: developers who want to ruin delicate sea grass beds to gouge out a deep water docking area at a port only a few miles from plenty of deep water anchorage; an unscrupulous gaming management company trying to take over the Florida lottery business; and, of course, politicians whose greed, lust, and general smarminess they would prefer not to have discussed in public.
Luckily – for both Hawk and the plot – Janis has a wealthy and powerful 2nd wave feminist mentor and friend who puts her into business as a journalist blogger which allows Hawk to continue her investigative reporting. This brings her into contact with both friends (the Mercedes of the title, for example, is an old college friend working for the gubernatorial campaign of a maverick politician with high ideals) and enemies (see above).  From those connections, as the old saw goes, things get interesting.

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Obama-Nope

GOP misses its golden moment: why impeach when they can censure?

Whose side are these guys on, anyway?

Who’s the jackass now?

Warning, with no apologies: f-bombs. More than a couple. Because they’re honest.

Calls for and thinly veiled threats of Obama’s impeachment are surely old hat by now. You’ve got a cast of All Stars, led by Darrel Issa since 2010, with such helpful boosters as Michael Burgess, Jon Kyl, James Ihofe, Jason Chaffetz, Tom Coburn, Blake Farenthold, and Kerry Bentivolio since then. What a sorry sack of clownshit. You’d think with their exhorbitant salaries, the 7-digit millions of dollars between them from campaign contributions, and a couple of law degrees in the mix, maybe at least one of them might have found both a) Google, and b) a set of yarbles. If talk is cheap, these guys are having a fucking rummage sale.

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CATEGORY: BusinessFinance2

What do Nestle and Zyklon B have in common?

Nestle sells you chocolate farmed by child slaves and is okay with that, because profit

As San Francisco Chronicle reports: U.S. court rules OK to sue chocolate firms over child slave labor

The companies, which also included Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, were well aware – from their own frequent visits and independent studies – that they were selling the products of child slavery, but insisted on “finding the cheapest sources of cocoa,” said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

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Conspiracy

Conspiracies against progress: why the rise of the modern conspiracy theory should concern us all

by David Lambert

Contrails are the wispy white clouds of frozen water vapor that streak across the sky in the wake of jet engines. But according to 17 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds—my generation—contrails are actually “chemtrails,” poisonous chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons. As the world becomes an increasingly scary and complex place with no simple answers, the temptation to create narratives explaining all of its evil will grow. And here lies the heart of the modern conspiracy theory. Yet when fantasy overtakes reality, progress suffers.

Whenever anything bad happens in the world today, from September 11th to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, there is a growing gaggle quick to cry, “wake up sheeple!” Continue reading

Journalism

Washington Post ed board to stop using racist NFL team nickname. FINALLY. But what about the sports dept?

Two decades ago the WaPo condemned the use of “Redskins.” A generation later, by god they’re doing something about it. Sorta.

Way back in 1992 the Washington Post concluded that “the time-hallowed name bestowed upon the local National Football League champions — the Redskins — is really pretty offensive.” (Emphasis mine.)

A rough estimate based on occurrences of “redskin” in a WaPo site search going back to 2005 suggests that they have since deployed the offensive term ~83,000 times.

Today they announced they will no longer use the term. By “they,” I mean the editorial board. The news and sports divisions will carry on being pretty offensive.

Small victories are better than none at all, huh?

On the one hand, it’s nice to see someone as influential as the Post ed board doing the right thing. On the other hand, well, how many of you take 22 years – more than a goddamned generation – to stop doing something once you conclude that it’s wrong? They wrote that piece when George Bush – the Elder – was still president. Continue reading

Headline news nearly everywhere: Bergdahl transfer broke law – except at The Wire

Why the softball headline?

As I understand it, the purpose of a headline is to quickly and briefly call attention to a story. One of the biggest stories today ran the gamut left, right, and center could almost as well have been written with the words “GAO Bergdahl swap broke law” in no particular order:

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CATEGORY: BusinessFinance2

How do you know the collector you’re paying really owns your debt?

You don’t.

Just in case you don’t have enough to worry about already, here’s just one more thing: debt collectors and the twisted games they play. Trust me, you’ll want to invest the few minutes it takes to read this article from The New York Times Magazine. Odds are good the plot twist will surprise you, maybe even leave you a bit more sleepless than you already are. And for good reason.

Sure, those of us who have mastered the art of living within our means *ahemcoughsplutter* will never know the joys of being contacted by debt collectors. More power to you. May you never have an unplanned misfortune that changes that state of affairs. For the rest of us, debt collectors are a reality. An ugly one.

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Music and Popular Culture

Popular Music Scholarship IV: Pop Stars and Politics

Q: Should pop stars express their political opinions and take political action? A: Only if they’re informed, concerned citizens…

 

Bono of U2, pop star and political activist (image courtesy Wikimedia)

(For previous essays in this series, look here, herehere, and here.)

For the period covered by the book of essays I’ve been discussing over the last few weeks, The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Protest, the “post-Classic Rock Era” we might call it, the political/protest activities of pop stars have not had the same resonance or gravitas as they did during that era of protests against segregation, the Vietnam War, and environmental pollution/destruction (the role of classic rock era stars in the women’s movement is, at best, questionable – unless those stars were women, of course).

This week, in the next to last essay in this series, we look at four essays, all in one way or another related to the idea that, to contradict one of the major singers of that classic rock era, sometimes it’s about  the singer, the song – and something else entirely .

The essay titles themselves reveal much about what their authors think of the last 35 years or so. Deena Weinstein’s “Rock protest songs: so many and so few”; Jerry Rodnitsky’s “The decline and rebirth of folk protest music”; Mark Willhardt’s “Available rebels and folk authenticities: Michelle Shocked and Billy Bragg”; and, finally, John Street’s “The pop star as politician: from Belafonte to Bono, from creativity to conscience” offer us a range of explanations for why pop or rock or folk singers have/have not gotten involved in protests against social or political injustice. Some, like Weinstein, take the long view, others, like Willhardt, look closely at a couple of artists. In all of these essays, however, much the same conclusions are reached: in one way or another protest has, too often, been subsumed or marginalized by the co-option of the protester – especially if that protester is a musical celebrity. Continue reading

CATEGORY: BusinessFinance

Zuckerberg donates $10K to anti-gay politician: time for a billionaire lesson

Somebody needs to teach Facebook’s CEO how to wield wealth and influence.

This started out as a brief comment on Frank’s post about leaving Facebook. If you haven’t read it yet, go do so now. It’s an important piece of writing and gods would America be better off if we all followed his lead. Ello, you can’t arrive soon enough (and you better not suck when you do get here).

My first thought on the Zuckerberg/Reyes donation controversy was that it reminded me of the Target/Minnesota Forward debacle back in 2011, which I wrote about in some detail at the time. In both cases, you have biz folks ponying up to support “pro-business” candidates who also happen to not believe in things like basic social justice, fairness, equality, etc. Continue reading

Facebook - Unshare

Goodbye, Facebook. Supporting anti-gay marriage, anti-human rights candidate was finally too much.

After all Facebook has done, there’s only so much a person can take.

And kittehs. Can’t forget about the kittehs.

By now, anyone who has been paying attention is well aware of Facebook’s general user-unfriendly shenanigans, with the possible exception of Facebook’s support for net neutrality, to say nothing of all the minor aggravations users put up with on a daily basis…continually refreshing advertisements, live video popping up in the news feed, a news feed that doesn’t show you everything you mean to see, a newsfeed that occasionally reverts to Top Stories in spite of your every wish and command. Oh, but hey, there’s kittehs!

What kind of user-unfriendly shenanigans, one might wonder?

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Where is Governor Nixon in the Ferguson nightmare?

When government won’t govern, the people need to lead

Step up or step out, Governor (so-called).

Business Insider reported on Wednesday:

While Ferguson Situation Goes Out Of Control, Missouri Governor Tweets About School Board Meeting

Oh, but aside from tweeting about 4H and the school board, Governor #WhereisJayNixon did make time Tuesday night, with prepared comments, to address a community meeting (see link in the above referenced article. How very gubernatorial of him. Okay, so he requested a DOJ investigation. That’s barely doing the job. Where is the leadership? Unless by leadership we’re to understand his hands-off approach to the St. Louis County PD as tacit approval, that is.

Here’s what I want to know. Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Nonfiction: The Price of Ignorance by Fred Skolnik

Americans do not know very much about the world. Historically this is partly a result of distance and isolation and partly a result of arrogance. The arrogance comes into play when Americans consider the importance or relevance of what other people are doing, since it goes without saying that Americans do everything better than everyone else. Why individual Americans find it necessary to identify with the idea of America’s greatness may be sought in their need to bolster their self-esteem in the absence of personal distinction and in their feelings of insignificance in the shadow of the American Dream. The consequence of this arrogance and the ignorance it engenders may be found in the results of America’s involvement in armed conflicts around the world. Continue reading

Open letter to the United States Department of State

Post-Citizens United, if money is speech, then where does the Hedges v Obama case lead?

And by device, I mean government.

Sent via web form this date, August 12, 2014 (san links)

Dear Sir or Madam,

As concerned citizens are prone to do, we discuss matters of world import. Occasionally we come up with ideas, sometimes even good ones. To the extent that a proposal has arisen from one of those conversations, I would like to offer it for your consideration. Pending your response, I’ll postpone contact with the office of the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, pertaining to the same proposal.

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Music and Popular Culture

Popular Music Scholarship III: Music as a Function of Place

Music serves as a comment on culture – and, interestingly, that commentary can be both culture specific and universal at once…

Bob Marley in concert, 1980 (image courtesy Wikimedia)

(For previous essays in this series, look here, here, and here.)

This week’s look at the excellent scholarly discussion of popular music and protest, The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest, addresses the importance of place in the emergence of specific types of music. This section of the editor Ian Peddie’s book consists of three essays on places and music as diverse as one could ever want them to be: Jamaica and reggae, the Australian Outback and aboriginal rock, and England’s “Black Country” (the heavy industry and mining country) and the emergence of “escapist” music represented by artists as diverse (at first glance) as Led Zeppelin and drum and bass pioneer Goldie.

In some ways the most interesting, if most esoteric of these essays is “‘We have survived': popular music as a representation of Australian Aboriginal cultural loss and reclamation.” This essay explores the emergence of Aboriginal rock bands, in particular the work of a group called the Wirrinyga Band. The essayist, Peter Dunbar-Hall, notes two important things about the Aboriginals bands in Australia: first, the bands serve an important cultural function in keeping alive aboriginal languages – in fact, music from Wirrinyga Band and other Aboriginal groups is used in schools to help Aboriginal students learn their native languages and cultural history; second, the Australian government actively supports its artists and offers grants and other financial supports to artists such as the Wirrinyga Band so that they can develop, and more importantly, record their work to make both the subject matter of their songs (they sing of traditional Aboriginal subjects such as spiritual and philosophical beliefs – the “Dreamtime” (a central concept in Aboriginal Animism) and the relationship of Aboriginal groups (the Wirrinyga Band are members of the Yolngu) to mainstream Australian culture.  Continue reading

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

For your consideration: Jimmy Carter on ending the war in Gaza

An article from Foreign Policy

Ending this war in Gaza begins with recognizing Hamas as a legitimate political actor

I know. Right off the bat, even the idea of recognizing Hamas rankles. Here’s the thing, though. In 2006, as a result of a thoroughly monitored election, the people put Hamas in power. That is the definition of self determination. That is the definition of legitimate political actor. The hazard of democracy, especially when it works, is that we won’t like who the people put in charge. If we can’t live with those outcomes, then we just need to accept that we really don’t care for democracy at all. Further, that what we do believe in is hegemony of one people, one culture, over others. Naturally, that would mean ours and not theirs. This, in spite of the fact that anyone would be hard pressed to seriously and legitimately make the case that we are one people, one culture, and that our chosen version of that should be the one that calls the shots.

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Politics

The Obama administration’s latest dose of political irony

Campaigned on transparency, had a Bush administration assist, and still drops ball

In 2006, Congress passed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. President Bush signed it into law. From the USASpending.gov website, the law:

requires that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) establish a single searchable website, accessible to the public at no cost, which includes for each Federal award:

  1. the name of the entity receiving the award;
  2. the amount of the award;
  3. information on the award including transaction type, funding agency, etc;
  4. the location of the entity receiving the award; and
  5. a unique identifier of the entity receiving the award.

USAspending.gov was first launched in December 2007 to fulfill these requirements.

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