Friday, December 31, 2010

Tonight's Music Selection: "Night8" By NightCat

night8 by NightCat

Tonight's music selection is a track called "Night8" by, uh, me. A word of caution: it's not easy listening. In fact, if you've never heard music in the experimental "electronica" genre, you might well hate it and not regard it as "music" at all. (I'd suspect that most Baby Boomers will fall into this category).

I myself have yet to decide if this track is rubbish or if it is something worthwhile. I do know that over 1,000 people, from Europe to Japan, have listened to this track since I uploaded it to SoundCloud, the popular German music distribution site. If you've listened, I thank you for your time.

I've long been a fan of "electronica" music, ever since I heard a various artists album called Modulation & Transformation, Vol. 4, released in 1999 by the German label, Mille Plateaux, which specializes in this sort of music.

I have to admit, when I first heard this sort of music, I wondered if (A) it really was "music" at all and (B) if it wasn't just a bunch of random, aimless noise. It then occurred to me that I'd felt the same way when I first heard Free Jazz.

It also occurred to me that each new generation of music listeners can always be depended upon to condemn the next generation of music as "rubbish" (and even question whether it is "music" at all).

Recall how in the 1950s, traditional music lovers criticized rock'n'roll and called it rubbish. (What's amazing is that the music they were condemning at the time---from the likes of prime Elvis, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly---is now recognized as some of the greatest rock'n'roll ever recorded). And before that era, jazz lovers often had their music ridiculed by classical music lovers, who maintained that jazz wasn't really "music" at all.

Anyway, back to the Electronica genre. I have found that, the more I listened to this new music, the more I enjoyed it. I began to seek out and listen to the leading artists in the genre, ranging from Pan Sonic of Finland to Germany's Ekkehard Ehlers. Don't be surprised if you've never heard these artists: this genre's popularity is mostly in Europe (and, to a lesser extent, in East Asia, particularly Japan).

If you're tired of the current Top 40 chart pap and you'd like to hear something risk-taking and adventurous for a change, I urge you to give the Electronica genre a chance. It's not easy-listening, but I find that the best in this genre does reward patient listening. In that sense, it's a bit like jazz: it does not come to you, you must go to it.

(Indeed, when I first heard Electronica, it occurred to me that this music did indeed seem to share a few things with Free Jazz. I didn't know if that idea was heresy, or simply lunacy. But since then, I've noticed that there have been a number of highly successful collaborations between Electronica musicians and jazz musicians. One example of this was the acclaimed Masses album in 2001, which was a collaboration between British Electronica artist Spring Heel Jack and avant-garde jazz players from the Thirsty Ear record label.

If you'd like to explore this music further, here are a few of the best Electronica recordings I've come across recently:

1. Clicks & Cuts Various Artists, volumes 1 through 5, German label Mille Plateaux's showcasing of the best Electronica/IDM artists from Europe, North America and Japan.

2. Kesto by Pan Sonic. A massive 4-CD set from 2004 from Finland's prolific and relentlessly experimental Pan Sonic. Sadly, this record appears to already be out of print and copies fetch steep prices on eBay.

3. Confield by Autechre. One of my favorite Electronica artists, Autechre hails from Britain. I've enjoyed pretty much everything they're recorded since 1993, but the adventurous Confield is a notable highlight.

4. Ohm: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music: 1948-1980 Various Artists. Electronic music, of course, is nothing new. Here's a well-done roundup of the leading artists that inspired today's generation of Electronica artists. For my money, this is some of the best music of the 20th century.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Refresher Course on Racism's Horrors for Haley Barbour

Warning: this article contains descriptions of extremely graphic violence.


Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour recently created a stir with his comments about the Civil Rights era. "I just don't remember it as being that bad," the Republican said.

Well, if you were a white, middle-class male living in the Deep South in the 1960s, it probably wasn't all that bad.

Barbour, you're entitled to your opinion. However, the millions of African-Americans who lived in the Deep South in that era might wish to disagree with you. But then, the gulf that separated their daily lives from your own pampered, sheltered life was trillions of light years.

It probably was pretty nice, living as a white middle-class male in Mississippi in the 1960s. You had the right to vote, for example. You were free to do whatever you wanted, and to go wherever you wanted. You could live your own life, without fear of being killed by terrorist groups like the KKK.

But someone needs to tell Barbour that life was hell on earth for a lot of people in the Deep South for many decades, simply for no other reason than they were born with the wrong skin color.

We all know about slavery. Well, actually, we don't: white America has never really come to grips with what was one of the great crimes of human history. Since slavery was abolished, White America for the most part hasn't lost a second's worth of sleep over the whole matter. The victims of this horror never received a penny in reparations.

In fact, most of White America remains pretty much ignorant of what went on during slavery. We watch bizarre spectacles like the Hollywood film, Gone With the Wind and we think that's what slavery was like. Black people singing songs in the cotton fields, living a colorful agrarian life. Gee, it doesn't sound so bad, after all!

I never cease to be amazed, though, at all the white people I talk to who say things like, "Slavery happened a long time ago. Black people should get over it and move on with their lives." It's easy, of course, for them to say that.

But here's a truth that I rarely hear mentioned anywhere. You could take a surgeon's scalpel to the history of the United States and cut out the entire sordid tale of slavery and you would STILL have a horrific tale of violence and oppression against black people that could rank with the great crimes of world history.

A lot of white Americans (particularly Republicans like Barbour) seem to think that no mistreatment of any black person ever occurred after 1865. They completely downplay or ignore the horrors visited upon African-Americans for an entire century after the Civil War: the Jim Crow laws, KKK terrorism, the exploitative sharecropper system, the lynching era, etc. etc.

And Ground Zero for a lot of this horror was right in Barbour's own state of Mississippi, whether he realizes it or not.

After all, in the same era that Barbour doesn't recall being "that bad," three civil rights workers were brutally lynched in cold blood in 1964, in Mississippi.

In fact, thousands of black people were lynched in the Deep South in the century following the Civil War. And in the period from 1882 to 1968, Mississippi led the nation with at least 581 lynchings.

Not only did Mississippi lead the nation in lynchings of black people, but the lynchings there were among the most vicious and gruesome.

Take, for example, the lynching of Luther Holbert and his wife.

In 1904, Holbert, an African-American sharecropper, and his wife were lynched in Doddsville, Mississippi. The couple were tied to trees and tortured for hours by a bloodthirsty mob.

As the Vicksburg Evening Post reported, the couple were forced to hold out their hands, while their fingers and ears were chopped off, one by one and then distributed to the crowd as souvenirs. Holbert was beaten badly, and one of his eyeballs was knocked out.

The newspaper article continues: "Some of the mob used a large corkscrew to bore into the flesh of the man and woman. It was applied to their arms, legs, and body, then pulled out, the spirals tearing out big pieces of raw, quivering flesh every time it was withdrawn."

Then, Holbert and his wife were soaked with oil and burned alive.

Such was life in the brutal Jim Crow era of Mississippi, which continued a century after the Civil War, until the 1964 Civil Rights Act sought to bring it to an end.

But as far as Barbour is concerned, things just weren't "that bad" in that turbulent era.

Of course, the sad thing is that, with his idiotic comments, Barbour likely hasn't damaged his reputation at all---at least among his fellow Republicans.

Recall how during the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush made it a point to stop by Bob Jones University, where he praised the officials at that school (which incredibly still had a ban on interracial dating). This, no doubt, played real well to the "I don't want my white daughter dating a Negro" racist crowd---the same people who are defending Barbour's comments today.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sarah Palin Flunks Once Again In Her Advice on Dealing with BP Disaster


Recall back in May when the BP oil disaster was raging? On May 31, Sarah Palin drew chuckles when she tweeted advice to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal about how to avoid having a "ravished coast."

Palin's moronic tweet read thusly:

"Gov.Jindal:to avoid ravished coast, build the berms.Ask forgiveness later;Feds are slow to act,local leadership&action can do more for coast"

Palin's use of the word "ravished" drew howls of laughter at the time. Indeed, it was so embarrassing that Palin later deleted the tweet from her timeline.

But now, it turns out that her advice (to "build the berms") was wrong as well.

On Thursday, an independent, non-partisan commission appointed by President Obama to investigate the oil spill concluded that "the berm project was a total bust that succeeded in capturing virtually no oil."

Predictably, Jindal blasted the report as "partisan" (which it wasn't). In any case, as a target of Jindal's wrath, the commission is in good company. Note that when the scientific community earlier pointed out "the inefficiency of the berms as a means of containing damage from the enormous spill," Jindal attacked the scientists, as well.

But then, the wingnuts have long had disputes with science on everything from climate change to evolution.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Day the American Left Died

"This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper."

---The Hollow Men, T. S. Eliot


Many progressives are outraged over President Obama's caving on tax cuts for the rich. But I think this latest episode could signal something far more significant and disturbing in our society: no less than the death of the American Left.

Over the decades, the U.S. Left has suffered many thrashings, from the government's repression of the Wobblies nearly a century ago to Ronald Reagan's firing of 11,000 air traffic controllers in the 1981 PATCO strike.

But in the past, after each bruising setback, the Left always managed to pick itself up, dust itself off, and rally to fight another day.

Frankly, that's no longer the case in 2010. And Obama's habitual tendency to always yield to GOP demands shows that there really is no Left in America any more. Yes, there are individual progressives out there. But there is no real "Left" in the form of a significant national force that can counter the rabid Right.

Obama has stumbled on virtually all the important progressive issues during his presidency, from climate change, to the Employee Free Choice Act, to closing Gitmo, to ending George W. Bush's disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, he has even escalated the Afghanistan disaster.

Indeed, the only "progressive" victory Obama has to show for his time in office is his ridiculously wimpy health care bill---a convoluted mess that is so watered down, compromised and corporate-friendly that it's exactly the sort of thing that a Republican politician might have passed. (In fact, one did---and it's important to note that Obamacare is actually to the right of Mitt Romney's plan in Massachusetts).

Obama has had many chances to reverse the outrages of the Bush years---and time after time, he has failed, as he continues to cave in to GOP demands.

Reversing Bush's reckless and fiscally insane tax cuts for the rich was a golden opportunity for Obama to finally draw a line in the sand and stand up for what his supporters wanted him to do when they voted him into office.

The fact that Obama caved without even putting up a fight shows that there is no real Left in America any more. Even the corporate-friendly moderate Bill Clinton put up a fight to push through his modest tax hikes in 1993. And Clinton was no Liberal.

The worst part about all of this is that Obama's constant concessions to the GOP will, in the end, wind up pleasing no one. It certainly won't win him any allies in the upcoming new Congress, which is about to be stocked with a new crop of rabid, right-wing Tea Bagger fanatics who'll do everything in their power to undercut Obama.

And Obama's constant appeasement will only serve to further disillusion his shrinking base who invested such high hopes in him only two short years ago. Exactly, who does Obama think is going to be inspired to vote for him in 2012? Who among the progressives really wants another four years of his wishy-washy, bland, constant appeasement of the hard-care Right?

Yes, there are still fragments of a "Left" in America. There are a relatively small number of idealistic progressive politicians, like Bernie Sanders. But none of them has any real chance of ever wielding any significant levers of power in American society.

Make no mistake: the American Left is, for all practical purposes, dead. It has taken many beatings and brutal setbacks over the decades: from the slayings of JFK, MLK and RFK in the 1960s to the crushing of the unions in the 1980s to Reagan's ending of the Fairness Doctrine, to the Supreme Court's Democracy-demolishing "Citizens United" travesty.

It should be clear to everyone now that the Left is dead. After eight horrific years of Bush, the Democrats were handed the reigns of power with a simple mandate: to end the GOP's ongoing rape and pillaging of U.S. society.

Instead of responding, the Dems and Obama proceeded to give the GOP virtually everything it wanted on a silver platter. And instead of taking a principled stand on Bush's tax cuts for the rich, Obama merely caved yet again with a whimper---and showed just how impotent and irrelevant the Democrats are in 21st century U.S. politics.

One final note: to those who think I'm being too alarmist or pessimistic, I'd like to say that no one on earth will be happier than me if I'm proved to be wrong. In fact, I'll be happy to eat a very large serving of crow (literally)---and I'll Webcam it and put it on YouTube for all to see.

But frankly, I'm hardly alone in my pessimism for American society. In April, 2010, Noam Chomsky compared today's U.S. to Weimar Germany. He said that the "mood of the country is frightening" and that he'd "never seen anything like this" in his lifetime.

As Chomsky noted, in Nazi Germany: " was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don't think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election."

Chomsky was right about the "crazed Republicans" sweeping the next election. Time will tell if the rest of his gloomy prognosis turns out to be true.

In the meantime, it's clear that the Left is dead in America. Granted, we never really had much of a "Left" in this country anyway, compared to the likes of Europe. But what we did have is pretty much dead now. And Obama's impotence demonstrates the Left's extinction as a force in American society.