October 31, 2009
By: Bernard Chazelle
"Layla" features rock's most famous guitar riff (missing here) as well as its greatest modulation.
Enough has been written about this song, always polling as one of rock's top anthems, I'll deal only with the technical part, which is itself somewhat interesting.
The intro and chorus follow the progression of "All Along the Watchtower" (i-VII-VI-VII-i, ie here, Dm-C-Bb-C-Dm): one of the most common chord sequences in rock (0:27-1:10). The song is in Dm, but the verse begins on a C#m (1:10) ie, its antipode on the cycle of fifths. By rock standards that's as wild as it gets. In country music, you'll often hear a singer move up or down by a half-step for no particular reason, as though a boring tune becomes interesting just by virtue of raising its key. But Clapton knows what he's doing. When he leaves the comfort of Dm for C#m he actually modulates to its relative major E. Just wait: you'll see there's method to the madness. Now when he hits the root E (1:17), you should soon be hearing a nice interrogative D (the Mixolydian quest for a change): you need it as a leading tone for the coming F#m (1:18). But Knopfler seems asleep and drops the ball, so the transition is not as compelling as it should be.
The idea then is to go through a perfect cadence twice (ii-V-I-IV, ie, F#m-B-E-A) -- the kind of downwind sailing I was talking about earlier. The final A is then used as the dominant of the original key of Dm. It's all tonally "correct." If you've ever heard of the harmonic minor scale but always wondered what it was about: this is your perfect illustration. In theory, from A the reentry should be to D major, not minor. Of course, home is Dm so Clapton has no choice. The problem is that A has a C#, which is not in the scale of F (the notes of the keys of Dm are given by the scale of F), so hundreds of years ago people invented a new scale called Harmonic (common in Middle-Eastern music), which gives us a leading tone to the tonic, ie, C# -> D. Voila!
Mark Knopfler's solo is tasteful. You can say it's just noodling over the Dm pentatonic with passing notes from the Aeolian mode, but there's a melodic quality to it that a quintessential bluesman like Clapton does not like to bring to his playing. The tone he gets with his fingerpicking is gorgeous. Some of his swelling bends have a wind instrument quality.
There are tons of cool Knopflerisms in the obbligatos: I love the G#-A-G#-F#-Eb-E-C# lick over the G#7 at (1:12-1:14). It's very quick so you have to pay close attention. I forget which one but this is straight from one of Beethoven's piano sonatas.
PS: Why I care about such analyses: because it's a myth to think those guys woke up one day, grabbed a guitar, and composed these tunes. They have in them, as we all do, hundreds of years of cumulative musical sensitivity that was "invented" (not discovered) by people who worked out the theory. That's what makes western music different from all others. Since the 9th century, it's been built as a written theoretical construction. The interplay between theory and practice is tighter than in any other art form. So to think of theory as what scholars did after the fact to understand music is naive. In the West, the theory always came first. Don't forget that.
— Bernard Chazelle
George H.W. Bush: GOP Base Are Morons
This is a funny section from a new interview with Mikhail Gorbachev:
...in 1987, after my first visit to the United States, Vice President Bush accompanied me to the airport, and told me: "Reagan is a conservative. An extreme conservative. All the blockheads and dummies are for him, and when he says that something is necessary, they trust him. But if some Democrat had proposed what Reagan did, with you, they might not have trusted him."
Pretty much what you'd expect from the Wall Street wing of the Republicans. I'm sure they've said many worse things we don't know about—especially now as their power wanes and the blockheads and dummies get closer and closer to control.
PREVIOUSLY: Welcome to the Terrordome:
The ascendancy of Reagan, who was just slightly less insane than Goldwater, indicated the system was under stress. Still, he was surrounded by people like George H.W. Bush and James Baker, who kept him from going off the deep end.
But that was then.
October 30, 2009
By: Bernard Chazelle
They're no songcrafting geniuses, their melodies are often banal, their harmonies simplistic, their lyrics silly or offensive, and they're passable instrumentalists. Naturally, the Stones are the greatest rock band ever.
What gives? The thing is, in rock 'n' roll none of these things matter all that much. No rock tunesmith holds a candle to Gershwin or Cole Porter, anyway. Craftsmanship is not the point.
What's the point then? To convert high energy into art. Rock is about emotion, not style; feeling, not beauty; desire, not sensuousness. Rock is not about courtship, it's about sex.
That no other sub-genre of western music shares rock's "kinetic primality" (I just made up the phrase, no doubt the high point of this post) has a two-word explanation: the blues. Yes, you can always rely on white rock musicians to misappropriate the blues as a vehicle for affected maturity, self-importance, and pretentiousness -- Muddy Waters Meets Nietzsche kind of thing. But the Stones, bless their souls, have always remained loyal to the spirit of the idiom, which is to channel misery into joy, not to channel misery into more misery. If rock is a rhythm, a riff, and an attitude, then no one beats the Rolling Stones.
I am sticking to a narrow definition of rock 'n' roll, I realize. Dylan is a blues guy all right but not exactly the high-energy conversion type. By my standards, in fact, the Beatles would barely qualify as a rock act. While Keith Richards is, functionally, an American artist (as is Eric Clapton), Lennon and McCartney are Euro to the bone. The outer shell of the Beatles' music might be American (Elvis, Everly Brothers, Little Richard, and the standard rock stage furniture) but the inner core is British. What they sing is syncopated Anglican hymnody plugged into the rich tradition of Anglo-Celtic balladry. Hey Jude, Ticket to Ride, I'll Be Back, Eleanor Rigby, and millions of other Beatles songs are essentially church hymns. Strangely, their most famous songs, far from being their best, are not even rock tunes: they're sappy ballads.
Contrary to received opinion, the influence of the blues on the Beatles is negligible. Their harmonies are classical (pre-19th century) with a modal twist. Their approach to the cycle of fifths will appear idiosyncratic to a trained musician but not to someone who learned harmony by trial-and-error on the guitar. Think of classical tonal music as sailing on a windy day. You want to come home downwind (in the so-called subdominant direction), so typically you feel free to go pretty far into the wind, knowing that when you turn around you'll have your back to the wind. The Beatles will often do the opposite: they'll sail off downwind (say, toward that bIII chord they love so much) and then turn back only to realize they can't come home. Panic attack. So they'll go modal, ie, pretend there is no wind. This is common practice in Anglo-Celtic folk music. In the case of the Beatles, it seems obvious to me this is a feature of learning harmony on the guitar (which, unlike the piano, is at heart a modal instrument). Their favorite vocalization device, open fourths (unlike the more common thirds and sixths), seems also derived from the guitar (which is tuned in fourths). It's a safe bet that, had the Beatles been formally schooled musically, their tunes would have sounded much more "tonal" and hence more conventional.
The Stones may not have been as innovative and ambitious as the Beatles, but they tapped into a different, more vibrant tradition (one, you guessed it, very near to my heart): the music of black America. The jazz critic Nat Hentoff scolded Americans for loving in the Beatles a filtered-down version of what they had at home in black music. Such a fit of nationalistic angst was both silly and wrong. If the Beatles stole from America, it's mostly from white musicians. Past their formative years (which were Beatles-like), the Stones borrowed exclusively from the African-American musical tradition (starting with their name). To their credit, they never pretended otherwise.
"Sweet Virginia" is a 16-bar country blues. (An anti-drug song, I guess?) Like Dylan's "Idiot Wind," it begins on the subdominant of the key (a classical device going back to the fugal tradition of Baroque music) and on to the cadence II-I. This should not be analyzed classically, however, but within the logic of a blues scale (ie, as providing a microtonal progression to the dominant via the "blue" flatted fifth - here Eb). They also make a subdominant entry on Rocks Off, I believe, one of their all-time great rockers.
— Bernard Chazelle
Nell has an update of the situation in Honduras at A Lovely Promise.
October 29, 2009
The Just and the Good
By: Bernard Chazelle
When I think of leftwing tropes that I wish would die, the common good and "We're all in it together" leap to mind.
Life doesn't do "In it together" very much, I'm afraid. (Are the moms taking their kids trick-or-treating this weekend and those sleeping by their children's bedside in the pediatric cancer ward "in it together"?) If you want to say "We're all equal," then say so. If you want to say "We're our brothers' keepers," then say so. But if you want to say "Our fates are intertwined," then don't, because they are not. The misfortune of Iraqis getting their limbs blown off is of no practical consequence to me, and that's precisely why it matters so much. The premise of social justice is not that I might get screwed. It is that some are lucky while others are not.
Now, if every American had to empty a hospital bedpan for every Iraqi killed, the war would have stopped a long time ago. But this proposition is both true and unsettling. It suggests that blowing off the limbs of an Iraqi kid is bad only insofar as it makes your personal life miserable. How sick is that? Our individualistic culture will always find excuses to justify that kind of egoistic talk: "Well, it'll stop the war. Isn't that good enough?" My answer? Yes it will stop the war, but that won't ever happen. And it won't happen precisely because people think like that. Social justice is only meaningful to the extent that its miscarriage is of no practical consequence to its non-victims. Otherwise, it's not justice: it's self-interest. It is the evil genius of the American left to have dressed up self-interest as altruism. Everywhere else in the world, they'd call it hypocrisy. Here we call it liberalism. It's the great convenient conceit of British moral philosophy that somehow justice and utilitarianism can be aligned -- if only you squint hard enough.
Nothing illustrates this conflict better than talk about the "common good." We have astronomical property taxes here in Princeton. We love it that way. You'll find many flower beds lining our streets. We once had a special tax to pay for an Olympic-size swimming pool for our middle school -- a pool no other schools are allowed to use, despite the frequent stories of poor Trenton kids drowning because they can't swim. Now the big project is to move the hospital across Rte 1, right outside Princeton, so that poor Hispanics won't have to come all the way to Princeton to be treated (ain't the solicitude heartbreaking or what). It's a liberal pro-Obama town that tries "in its own way" to help the disadvantaged. At least that's one way to look at it.
There's another way. Residents love their high taxes. Why? Besides well-paid cops and teachers -- and the flower beds -- we get potholes, and not much else. Why the love for high taxation then? Isn't it a bit suspicious? Here's the answer. There are two ways to build a gated community: you can build a big gate; or you can raise taxes to the stratosphere. The latter is smarter because it raises average wealth by keeping the lower middle class out and home prices up. This in turn drives up tax revenues and allows Princeton to hire the best teachers, which enhances the common good of public schooling. That common good is legally public but functionally private. Without putting too fine a point on it, it's really a giant country club with a membership fee kept artificially high to serve its intended selective purpose. If all our tax money were poured down the sink, Princeton residents would still want their taxes sky-high. That's because the main purpose of taxation, gatekeeping, would still be served. But technically, yes, it's all for the common good.
So what is the common good? When you flush the toilet anywhere in South Jersey, it ends up in Camden, the poorest city in the US (and the stinkiest). Having no tax base to speak of, Camden was in debt. So it struck a deal with the rest of New Jersey. Take our crap and we'll forgive your debt. Think about it: the transaction was both rational and for the common good. Almost all of South Jersey benefited from being spared the noxious fumes of sewage treatment plants, and Camden got a budget break. What's wrong with that?
What's wrong is that social justice doesn't work like that. I can smell our lovely flower beds in Princeton while the children of Camden's crack addicts, before it's time for them to join their older brothers in prison, get to breathe Princeton's crap all day and die about 20 years sooner than we do. That state of affairs brought to them, naturally, courtesy of the common good. By law, in fact, property taxes are required to serve the public good, where "public" is defined as "within Princeton city limits." But I am sure your local private golf club has by-laws stipulating that membership dues be used only to serve the interests of the club. A distinction without a difference.
Public and private are ideological words that are part of American mythology and bear little relation to common sense. For example, we transferred trillions of taxpayer dollars to 3 or 4 private banks for the "public good of the US economy." Princeton is the quintessential private university: never mind that a bigger fraction of its operating budget comes from the taxpayer than is the case at public state colleges in New Jersey.
You'll say I am being needlessly contrarian. The common good means public parks, public libraries, public schools, and that's a good thing, no matter what I say. Yes it's wonderful if you can gain access to it. But the common good has been hijacked as a vehicle for assigning public resources to private functions. Our wonderful Princeton public library is, for all practical purposes, a private institution (with a legal loophole that allows it to call itself public).
But my point goes beyond that. It is that the common good is too chameleon-like to frame a leftwing agenda around it. More to the point, it is only a regulative notion, like zoning. Social justice is prescriptive. It starts with the observation that some are less equal than others and that the needs of society must be attended to preferentially, ie, that the disadvantaged deserve more attention than the rich: not out charity but out of justice. In an affluent society, the just must trump the good (let alone the vile). But the idea is DOA for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that American society is itself a myth. A topic for another day.
— Bernard Chazelle
October 28, 2009
Right on Time
I'd been wondering when we'd learn the CIA is deeply enmeshed with the drug trade in Afghanistan.
I just watched the intriguing 2007 documentary The Unforeseen, directed by Laura Dunn. It's about how a gigantic suburban housing development has degraded the water quality of Austin's famous Barton Springs.
I knew something about the story already because my mother partly grew up in Austin and a branch of my family lives there now. My grandfather used to swim all the time at Barton Springs, as did my mother and her friends.
And learning about how Barton Springs is being ruined was an important element in my education about the world. The housing development is owned by the giant evil mining corporation Freeport McMoran. And what's happened to Barton Springs taught me two things: (1) giant evil corporations will directly affect even upper middle class white people who think they're immune, and (2) the effects are far less damaging than what the giant evil corporations do to people with less power. Both these things were, for me, truly unforeseen.
In any case, he's a snippet from the movie's commentary track, in which Laura Dunn describes William Greider (who appears several times):
And here's the trailer:
P.S. Laura Dunn also made the great short documentary Subtext of a Stutts Education.
Cashing in the War Dividend
The Joys of Perpetual War
By Jo Comerford
So you thought the Pentagon was already big enough? Well, what do you know, especially with the price of the American military slated to grow by at least 25% over the next decade?
Forget about the butter. It's bad for you anyway. And sheer military power, as well as the money behind it, assures the country of a thick waistline without the cholesterol. So, let's sing the praises of perpetual war. We better, since right now every forecast in sight tells us that it's our future.
The tired peace dividend tug boat left the harbor two decades ago, dragging with it laughable hopes for universal health care and decent public education. Now, the mighty USS War Dividend is preparing to set sail. The economic weather reports may be lousy and the seas choppy, but one thing is guaranteed: that won't stop it.
October 25, 2009
How I Hate Politics
1. I've created a twitter account.
3. I'm sure Jake Tapper and Jay Newton-Small have many fine qualities. The problem isn't that they're especially bad human beings. The problem is economic structures that require them to suppress their positive qualities and accentuate their negative qualities. And they don't just work in an awful industry, they work in an awful industry that's collapsing around them. I'm sure I'd act exactly like them if I worked where they do and wanted to keep my job.
4. Making fun of them doesn't make the world better. Even if against all odds you could embarrass them into behaving more appropriately, they'd just be fired and replaced by someone else grown in the Corporate News Vats. Moreover, making fun of them takes up time that could be used designing and creating better economic structures.
5. Making fun of them doesn't make me better. It requires me to give into the petty side of my personality that—given a choice between punishing people I perceive to be "bad" without making the world better, and making the world better without punishing people—would choose the former.
6. I don't think I can stop.
UPDATE: abb1 comments: "You really believe you're so powerful that you can create better economic structures and make the world discernibly better? Someone should make fun of you."
I honestly do believe the intertubes mock-o-sphere could make some progress pushing ideas like this. Or at the very least it could get organized and raise some real money for Marcy Wheeler or Consortium News or the Real News. Instead, we just ridicule individual corporate journalists.
I'm not disputing that they deserve it. And I wouldn't even mind if the proportions were 50% making fun of idiots and 50% talking about creating something better. Instead it's 99.9% making fun of idiots, with no explanation of the fact that the problem isn't the individual idiots but their bosses and the structure they inhabit.
Beyond that, I dislike the aspect of politics that leads me to refer to these people as "idiots." While in a narrow sense it's accurate, in a broader sense it's not accurate, unless all people (including me) are idiots. Plus I like to accentuate the positive in humanity. For instance: Saddam Hussein was very kind to his seven pet iguanas.
For myself, at least, I may need to create some kind of swear jar where I donate money to better media for every blurm post decrying current corporate media figures.
Comments turned off due to spam infestation
October 24, 2009
350.org has done fantastic work today. Check them out.
If human beings have a future—not just regarding global warming, but everything—it looks something like this. Except probably with less of a white person-aesthetic.
I hope we can get our act together. There are lots of great things about people, despite our tendency to be cruel self-absorbed greedheads.
October 22, 2009
By: John Caruso
The flash programmers at Greenpeace have outdone themselves with a web site where you can create a little cardboard dude with your own image and a nifty slogan, to be delivered by Greenpeace to the Copenhagen climate summit. I recommend "U R A JACKASS", but hey, go wild.
And don't forget that this Saturday (October 24th) is the international day of climate action; you can find an action in your area at 350.org's actions page. Invite all your friends and make it a day of disaster-mitigating merriment!
October 21, 2009
Bach's Mass in Bm ("Agnus Dei")
By: Bernard Chazelle
Cruel of me, I know, to leave you Bach-less for so long, but the agony is over. This is the "Agnus Dei" from the Mass in Bm (itself in Gm). The Mass was never performed in full during Bach's lifetime. (Why Bach would compose a Catholic mass is a long story having to do with job advancement.) Just a voice on top of a spare continuo and violin obbligato: in other words, the music lives or dies on the quality of its melody. But this is no "Ode to Joy," with Beethoven drowning out a banal ditty in awkward arrangements. Bach's melodic gifts are here in full display.
We might be living through a unique moment in history: no truly great composer anywhere but great music and a plethora of great musicians. The conductor, Philippe Herreweghe, and the singer, Andreas Scholl, are two of them. Scholl's ueber-subtle, sustained-only vibrato is a model of control and taste. As to Herreweghe, I am no HIP snob, but the Belgian psychiatrist has made the trend as compelling as anyone could. To clarify, I love the sound of authentic performance, especially of that caliber, but I am dubious about the philosophy behind it. No one has a clue what Bach sounded like (no evidence he used countertenors), and Joshua Rifkin, who would know more about this than anyone, has argued that HIP performances are almost certainly historically wrong. No doubt Bach sounds best in a church but the greatness of the music is that you don' t have to be in a church to grasp it. An iPod is just fine. Musicians should be encouraged to fool around with the classics with their own modern sensitivities and outgrow this bizarre cult-like worship of "great art" as holy relics. (No doubt my gentle jab at Beethoven above will elicit screams of horror.) Today's musicians don't even improvise their own cadenzas, and Bach would have laughed at their poor improvising skills.
I also dislike the concert hall. The concert hall is a secular church. No one is allowed to express any emotion whatsoever unless prompted. And if you're such a peasant you applaud at the wrong time, the audience lets you know of your social status. But when Mozart conducted his symphonies, the audience would applaud and holler spontaneously whenever they pleased, just the way we would do at a rock concert or a jazz club. This sacralization of music (a byproduct of the Romantic era) is one of the major reasons classical music has died as an art form (say compared with hip hop and jazz, which is where the best and most vibrant western music is to be found today).
The Agnus Dei is a parody of the aria of Cantata BWV 11 that Bach wrote 10 years earlier: same music, different words. (And that aria, too, was cribbed from his wedding cantata.) Shocked by such shameless self-plagiarism? Well, remember that Bach's work was typically meant to be performed only once and then tossed, so why wouldn't he reuse his musical ideas? Imagine Charlie Parker performing Ko-Ko just once and throwing it away forever.
The Cantata 11 was written in 1735 for the feast of the Ascension. The preceding months had not be kind to Bach. He and his wife, Anna Magdalena, lost 2 daughters aged 3 and 4, one son aged 3, and one daughter only 3 days old. Bach adored children. Except for the St Matthew Passion, the only music he composed for posterity can be found in the instruction books he wrote to teach his children (eg, the well-tempered clavier). Like the Vietnamese and the Palestinians, of course, a devout 18c Lutheran musician wouldn't feel the pain of losing his children as we would. (I know this because I read the New York Times.) Yet I've been told by some of the world's greatest medievalists that Charlemagne grieved over the loss of his little daughter his entire life. Never could let go of it. So maybe what I read in The Times is crap, and perhaps Bach had departures other than Jesus' on his mind when he put his music to these words:
Thy departure and early separation
causes me exceeding great pain.
Ah, stay yet a while
or I shall be engulfed by sorrow.
— Bernard Chazelle
October 20, 2009
"Honduras: Too Late to Pretend There's Democracy"
Nell at A Lovely Promise:
Since posting 'Honduras: high price of the struggle' five days ago, I've had to add two more names to the list of those killed by the coup regime since Zelaya's return. I will continue to put any additional names there, so that the post can serve as a reference; pray that there will be no need.
As the Obama-Clinton State Department worms its way toward recognizing elections held under conditions of dictatorship, remember these men and women. As firms like Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates take in hundreds of thousands of dollars for being willing to put a smooth facade of lies on a brutal regime, remember their blood. Remember the courage and commitment for which they were targeted. Look into the eyes of Jairo Sanchez, whose funeral was yesterday; then make our government do the same.
What would be fun now is to listen to some guy describe previous U.S. government actions in other places—say, Indonesia. His voice sounds familiar, but I can't put my finger on who he is.
She found herself a job right away teaching English to Indonesian businessmen at the American embassy...
The Americans were mostly older men, careerists in the State Department, the occasional economist or journalist who would mysteriously disappear for months at a time, their affiliation or function in the embassy never quite clear...
These men knew the country, though, or parts of it anyway, the closets where the skeletons were buried. Over lunch or casual conversation they would share with her things she couldn’t learn in the published news reports. They explained how Sukarno had frayed badly on the nerves of a U.S. government already obsessed with the march of communism through Indochina, what with his nationalist rhetoric and his politics of nonalignment—he was as bad as Lumumba or Nasser, only worse, given Indonesia’s strategic importance. Word was that the CIA had played a part in the coup, although nobody knew for sure. More certain was the fact that after the coup the military had swept the countryside for supposed Communist sympathizers. The death toll was anybody’s guess: a few hundred thousand, maybe; half a million. Even the smart guys at the Agency had lost count.
Innuendo, half-whispered asides; that’s how she found out that we had arrived in Djakarta less than a year after one of the more brutal and swift campaigns of suppression in modern times. The idea frightened her, the notion that history could be swallowed up so completely, the same way the rich and loamy earth could soak up the rivers of blood that had once coursed through the streets; the way people could continue about their business beneath giant posters of the new president as if nothing had happened...
Power. The word fixed in my mother’s mind like a curse.
October 19, 2009
Lessons from the Long War and a Blowback World
By Tom Engelhardt
Is it too early -- or already too late -- to begin drawing lessons from "the Long War"? That phrase, coined in 2002 and, by 2005, being championed by Centcom Commander General John Abizaid, was meant to be a catchier name for George W. Bush's "Global War on Terror." That was back in the days when inside-the-Beltway types were still dreaming about a global Pax Americana and its domestic partner, a Pax Republicana, and imagining that both, once firmly established, might last forever.
"The Long War" merely exchanged the shock-'n'-awe geographical breadth of the President Bush's chosen moniker ("global") for a shock-'n'-awe time span. Our all-out, no-holds-barred struggle against evil-doers would be nothing short of generational as well as planetary. From Abizaid's point of view, perhaps a little in-office surgical operation on the nomenclature of Bush's war was, in any case, in order at a time when the Iraq War was going disastrously badly and the Afghan one was starting to look more than a little peaked as well. It was like saying: Forget that "mission accomplished" sprint to victory in 2003 and keep your eyes on the prize. We're in it for the long slog.
When Bush officials and Pentagon brass used "the long war" -- a phrase that never gained much traction outside administration circles and admiring think tanks -- they were (being Americans) predicting the future, not commenting on the past. In their view, the fight against the Islamist terrorists and assorted bad guys who wanted to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction and truly bloody the American nose would be decades long.
October 18, 2009
Saddam & Laura & Propaganda
This is from the FBI's summary of its interview with Saddam Hussein on March 23, 2004. During the interview they made him watch a 1993 documentary called "Saddam Hussein's Latest War" about his crushing of the Shiite rebellion after the 1991 Gulf War:
Hussein stated, "I do not have a comment." He added that it was "beneath him" to comment about this documentary. Hussein characterized the film as not being objective...
Hussein questioned the appropriateness of interviewing the President of Iraq about such a "propaganda film." He added, "We should stop this program"...He affirmed that he would not comment on such propaganda films.
Here's Laura Bush at a press conference just three and a half months later on July 7, 2004:
Q Mrs. Bush, have you seen the movie Fahrenheit 9/11?
MRS. BUSH: No, of course I haven't seen it.
Q Do you have any thoughts about how it's portraying your husband?
MRS. BUSH: Well, that it's propaganda.
Saddam's Insight into Human Nature
Whoever it was deserves credit, because it's a really useful resource—the pdfs declassified by the government are just images and not searchable. Here's one of my favorite parts:
Around this time , Hussein seriously considered leaving the government but remaining in the Party...Hussein did not like the "power" and his position in the government. When he joined the revolution of 1968, his intention was not to stay in government. Hussein had planned to stay involved only within the cells of the Party at the lower levels. At that time, he believed it would be a "shame" to serve in the government. Until this day, Hussein still does not like government. He likes the people and the Party, but believes it is difficult for the government to judge fairly. Hussein observed individuals described as "kind and gentle" before serving in the government who subsequently became the opposite after their appointments to government positions.
My goodness, Saddam, you really understand people. (PLEASE DON'T KILL ME.)
Presidential Power Grows
Will You Love Every Future President?
By David Swanson
Presidential power has been on a pathway of expansion beyond what the Constitution outlined, and what a government of, by, and for the people requires, since George Washington was president. That expansion, which hit the highway after World War II, got a turbo boost during the co-presidency of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Some of the new powers that those two stole from Congress, the courts, the states, and us the people are being abused less severely in this new age of Obama; others, more so; but far more crucially, in a pattern followed by recent presidencies, all are being maintained, if not expanded, and thus more firmly cemented into place for future presidents to use. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, you are likely to strongly oppose some major decisions of some future presidents. So it shouldn't be hard to envision some pretty undesirable consequences that might flow from presidential power that increasingly approaches the absolute.
Our television news and newspapers don't seem terribly interested in this story, despite scraping its surface with reports on the many "czars" Obama has appointed or lectures on the importance of renewing, or only marginally amending, the PATRIOT Act. And Congress seems, if possible, even less interested. That's not so surprising, given that we've replaced the three branches of government with the two parties, so that at any given time roughly half the members of Congress take as their leader a president who is theoretically supposed to execute the will of Congress. And the other half usually obey their party's "leaders" in Congress, whose primary interest is in electing one of their own as the next president. Both parties continue to value presidential power itself either for its uses in the present, or for when their candidate is elected. Everyone wants to inherit the imperial presidency, not constrain it.
October 17, 2009
On another subject, sort of, I think one reason liberal blurggers loved writing constantly about the aftermath of the Iranian election is that it allowed them to demonstrate to themselves that they are Highly Principled People who would Fearlessly Attack Evildoers even when this put them on the same side as America's crazy right wing. By contrast, relentlessly focusing attention on a situation where they personally bear real responsibility and pressure on the U.S. government could have a significant effect isn't psychologically gratifying in this way, which is one reason they avoid it.
Are Women Getting Sadder?
Or Are We All Just Getting a Lot More Gullible?
By Barbara Ehrenreich
Feminism made women miserable. This, anyway, seems to be the most popular takeaway from "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," a recent study by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers which purports to show that women have become steadily unhappier since 1972. Maureen Dowd and Arianna Huffington greeted the news with somber perplexity, but the more common response has been a triumphant: I told you so.
On Slate's DoubleX website, a columnist concluded from the study that "the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s gave us a steady stream of women's complaints disguised as manifestos… and a brand of female sexual power so promiscuous that it celebrates everything from prostitution to nipple piercing as a feminist act -- in other words, whine, womyn, and thongs." Or as Phyllis Schlafly put it, more soberly: "[T]he feminist movement taught women to see themselves as victims of an oppressive patriarchy in which their true worth will never be recognized and any success is beyond their reach... [S]elf-imposed victimhood is not a recipe for happiness."
But it's a little too soon to blame Gloria Steinem for our dependence on SSRIs. For all the high-level head-scratching induced by the Stevenson and Wolfers study, hardly anyone has pointed out (1) that there are some issues with happiness studies in general, (2) that there are some reasons to doubt this study in particular, or (3) that, even if you take this study at face value, it has nothing at all to say about the impact of feminism on anyone's mood.
October 14, 2009
Crazy Dave Gaubatz Still Crazy
Important news from The Hill:
Republican members of the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus said the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have tried to plant “spies” within key national-security committees in order to shape legislative policy.
Reps. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.) and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), citing the book Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld that's Conspiring to Islamize America, called for the House sergeant at arms to investigate whether CAIR had been successful in placing interns on key panels.
One of the authors of Muslim Mafia is Dave Gaubatz. Gaubatz was last seen explaining how he'd discovered "biological and chemical weapons, material for a nuclear programme and UN-proscribed missiles" in gigantic underground bunkers in Iraq. The only reason you don't know about this is because the Bush administration covered it up (quite possibly due to their infiltration by Muslim interns).
Gaubatz is also the "Director of Intelligence and Counter-terrorism Studies" for the Society of Americans for National Existence, or SANE. While it's no longer publicly available, SANE's manifesto used to read:
National Existence is political order experienced by men of the nation as a Rise to Being. Its opposite is a replacement of political order experienced by men, women, children and slaves as a Fall from Being. This Redirection in the experience of the Terms of Being (Self, Society, G-d and World) results in the collapse of Self into Society and all into World. The goal, wittingly or otherwise: a World State.
SANE opposes this Redirection and its manifestations: chants of Racism, Democracy, Equal Rights, Human Rights, Women's Rights, Animal Rights, and the always growing list of what is the Single Concept: Certainty/Uncertainty = Science/Open Society = World. To understand this reciprocal and how it affects a convergence of factors bent on the destruction of National Existence is to be SANE.
SANE is the first step back into the Present. And it is this step "back" to National Existence that will secure the present and protect the future.
So you can see why these Republican politicians wanted to associate themselves with Gaubatz. Like us all, they are attempting to understand this reciprocal.
October 13, 2009
Obama at the Precipice
Tough Guys Don't Need to Dance in Afghanistan
By William J. Astore
It's early in 1965, and President Lyndon B. Johnson faces a critical decision. Should he escalate in Vietnam? Should he say "yes" to the request from U.S. commanders for more troops? Or should he change strategy, downsize the American commitment, even withdraw completely, a decision that would help him focus on his top domestic priority, "The Great Society" he hopes to build?
We all know what happened. LBJ listened to the generals and foreign policy experts and escalated, with tragic consequences for the United States and calamitous results for the Vietnamese people on the receiving end of American firepower. Drawn deeper and deeper into Vietnam, LBJ would soon lose his way and eventually his will, refusing to run for reelection in 1968.
President Obama now stands at the edge of a similar precipice. Should he acquiesce to General Stanley A. McChrystal's call for 40,000 to 60,000 or more U.S. troops for Afghanistan? Or should he pursue a new strategy, downsizing our commitment, even withdrawing completely, a decision that would help him focus on national health care, among his other top domestic priorities?
October 12, 2009
Entertainment/Mass Murder Nexus Still Going Strong
By: John Caruso
As I sat here listening to the Blue Angels putting on their annual Bay Area advertisement for airborne destruction this weekend, I couldn't help but recall a recent episode of Mythbusters investigating whether or not a sonic boom can break glass. A question I'm sure we've all asked ourselves. And where did they get this idea?
"I came up with the idea of getting 'Mythbusters' to test the theory about a year ago," said Capt. Tyson Dunkelberger, Blue Angels’ public affairs officer. "They were busy filming at the time, but we tried again six months ago and now we’re finally here working with them." To test the myth, the crew built a small shed with a window, parked a car nearby with the windows rolled up and set up glassware on a table. Two Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornets then zipped over the test area, directing the sonic boom toward the ground as they passed. [...]
Events like this are part of the Blue Angels public relations mission. "Our role is to represent and promote the Navy and Marine Corps in the best possible way," said Dunkelberger. "An event like this is a great public relations opportunity. If we can inspire someone watching the show to think about joining the military, then the Blue Angels have done their job."
Hey, it sure was helpful of the Mythbusters to produce a prime-time recruiting video for the Pentagon. And it's also fortunate that these F-18s weren't too busy blowing up mosques in Fallujah to do the show with them.
While I can appreciate their dedication to the scientific method, though, the Mythbusters could have saved a lot of time by going to the Gaza Strip and asking anyone on the street about this "myth", since the Israelis have made a regular practice of terrorizing the entire population there with sonic booms:
Israel is deploying a terrifying new tactic against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip by letting loose deafening "sound bombs" that cause widespread fear, induce miscarriages and traumatise children.
The removal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip opened the way for the military to use air force jets to create dozens of sonic booms by breaking the sound barrier at low altitude, sending shockwaves across the territory, often at night. Palestinians liken the sound to an earthquake or huge bomb. They describe the effect as being hit by a wall of air that is painful on the ears, sometimes causing nosebleeds and "leaving you shaking inside".
The Palestinian health ministry says the sonic booms have led to miscarriages and heart problems. The United Nations has demanded an end to the tactic, saying it causes panic attacks in children. The shockwaves have also damaged buildings by cracking walls and smashing thousands of windows.
Tonight on Israeli Mythbusters: we know sonic booms can break glass, but can they also shatter the human psyche? Stay tuned!
As much as I wish it would happen, though, I don't think we're going to see a Gaza followup episode. There's just not nearly as much entertainment (or recruitment) value in Palestinian children wetting their beds and having night terrors as there is in showing brightly-painted F/A-18 Hornets screaming through the sky against a bad heavy metal soundtrack.
[ Previous Fleet Week-related thoughts here. ]
— John Caruso
October 10, 2009
Berlusconi the Persecuted
By: Bernard Chazelle
Berlusconi is the best Italian Prime Minister ever.
"I believe there is no one in history to whom I should feel inferior. Quite the opposite."
A man who speaks the truth:
"In absolute terms, I am the most legally persecuted man of all times, in the whole history of mankind, worldwide, because I have been subjected to more than 2,500 court hearings and I have the good luck – having worked well in the past and having accumulated an important wealth – to have been able to spend more than €200m in consultants and judges ... I mean in consultants and lawyers."
— Bernard Chazelle
October 09, 2009
Bach's Cantata BWV 13 (Bass Aria)
By: Bernard Chazelle
To celebrate Obama's Nobel, a cheerful Bach cantata, "Ächzen und erbärmlich Weinen, Hilft der Sorgen Krankheit nicht," ie, "Groaning and pitiful weeping cannot ease sorrow's sickness."
YouTube is amazing. No one listens to BWV 13. Unless you live in a large city, you can only buy it online. There is a reason for it. The music belies the stereotype of Bach as the German genius obsessed with "rules." The writing of this piece is, in the words of the world's greatest living music historian, "diseased." It breaks all the rules of harmony. For example, in 0:15-0:18, the melody is harmonized with parallel minor 7ths, a huge no-no in classical music. You'll have to wait until the second half of the 19th century to hear this kind of outrageous dissonance (which, of course, you'll never hear in classic rock).
It's hard for us, in the 21st century, with so much of our art being normatively transgressive (something many might consider a reasonable definition of the death of art), to imagine how bold and gutsy this Bach fellow must have been to write such music. Handel and Vivaldi would have never dared. Handel was the rock superstar of his day and his aim was to please and impress. (His harmonies were simple and perfect, and helped in no small measure by his shameless plagiarism.) Bach's aim was to celebrate the word of God. Sounds all so corny now, but whether we like it or not we must wrestle with the following question: How could a musician in a 3rd rate musical center (Leipzig), surrounded by strict Lutheran fundamentalists (including himself) who basically didn't care for music, supported by a cast of musicians of stupendous mediocrity (his own words: "Half of my musicians are mediocre and the other half are useless"), living his entire life within an area smaller than New Jersey, how can such a person create the greatest art ever seen/heard in the Western world?
I don't have an answer but I find the question a source of endless fascination. Like Mozart and Beethoven, Bach was a supreme instrumentalist, who could play anything better than anyone. But he surpassed both of them in his mental ability with harmony. He was the Ramanujan of music. For years he composed one cantata a week, writing monday through thursday, rehearsing friday and playing sunday. Sounds like the workload of a NYT columnist, until you realize that a single cantata contains more harmonic figures, ie, more complexity than all of the Beatles's output combined. To write contrapuntal harmony is very difficult. Bach was probably the only human on earth who could improvise a brand-new full-fledged 3-voice fugue on the spot. His compositions show his complete disregard for human limitations: I know first-hand how incredibly difficult his guitar-transcribed work is; ask any singer and they'll tell you how Bach routinely forgot that humans need to breathe once in a while.
So the guy had the chops. His timing was also perfect. To see why, a few words of context. In the late 17c, Western music was French and Italian (fiercely rival), with a pinch of Dutch. "Italy"'s greatest contribution was tonality. This whole thing about the cycle of 5ths was an Italian invention. Italian music was for entertainment, giving rise to opera houses, while French music was for court dances and rituals. Bach was a sponge. He completely assimilated both strands and transcended them. In the process he invented German music, which would become dominant for the next two centuries.
That's the context. But that doesn't answer the question. How could a provincial music clerk in a backwater corner of Saxony produce such works of genius?
Part of the answer, I believe, is the intentionality Bach attached to his craft. Handel was a child of the Enlightenment. Bach was not (though born in the same year virtually next door). Handel was cosmopolitan. Bach was provincial. All of his greatest compositions are religious vocal works. Texts mattered greatly to him. If it said "Groaning and pitiful weeping cannot relieve the sorrow of sickness," Handel would try to make up for it by providing soothing, pretty music. Not Bach. If the words are about despair, so will the music be. All these minor 7th dissonances are meant to make the listener uncomfortable. Bach's music is immensably pleasurable, but pleasure was never the intention (except perhaps when teaching children about music as a way of getting their attention).
In some sense Handel won and Bach lost. Art moved on to make pleasure one of its main goals. Mozart would write operas (Bach never did. He despised the opera -- even though he attended it suspiciously often...) Bach despised most musicians because of their desire to please. Music is about greatness and God and beauty. That was his view. He complained about warm springs, because too few people died and he was given too few funerals to compose for...
— Bernard Chazelle
Performance by Harnoncourt/Leonhardt/Egmond
And the Nobel War Prize Goes to...
By: Bernard Chazelle
Years ago, a rug cleaner in LA got an early-morning phone call from Stockholm to inform him that he'd won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Oops, wrong number. The lucky man ended up on the Tonight Show: "I was surprised. I mean, I know I do a darn good job cleaning carpets. I can tell you which chemicals work best for ketchup stains, red wine spills, etc. But the Nobel Prize? I thought, maybe that's a bit excessive." There was an honest man.
Obama called himself "humbled." The correct word would be "humiliated." The only thing worse than being passed over for a prize is to get it and see your friends chuckle. After giving the prize to Kissinger, the committee lost the power to further humiliate itself but not the power to humiliate others. Poor Obama. Can't wait for our newest Peace Prize winner to announce the dispatch of 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Think of the headlines: "Nobel Laureate Threatens Annihilation of Iran." "Peace Prize Winner Says Guantanamo is Here to Stay." "Nobel Peace Winner Expands Rendition Program." The possibilities are endless.
The Nobel folks are deluding themselves if they think their prize will change Obama's policies. Oh yes, if only Alexander the Great had gotten the Peace Prize he would have stayed in Macedonia studying metaphysics with Aristotle instead of conquering Persia.
The committee's achievement will be to help turn Obama into an object of ridicule. I suspect his first reaction was: "WTF were these morons thinking?!"
— Bernard Chazelle
PS: A bit of sour grapes perhaps? You bet. With all that blogging and my pledge not to invade Tajikistan, I thought that prize was mine!
October 08, 2009
The Very Silly Humans
Everyone here probably already knows about Tom Tomorrow's new children's book The Very Silly Mayor. I loved it, and urge you get several copies for the little people in your life. And as you wait for them to arrive, check out this recent Washington Post interview with Mr. Tomorrow.
War of the Worlds
London, 1898; Kabul, 2009
By Tom Engelhardt
An unremarkable paragraph in a piece in my hometown paper recently caught my eye. It was headlined "White House Believes Karzai Will Be Re-elected," but in mid-report Helene Cooper and Mark Landler of the New York Times turned to Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal's "redeployment option." Here's the humdrum paragraph in question: "The redeployment option calls for moving troops from sparsely populated and lawless areas of the countryside to urban areas, including Kandahar and Kabul. Many rural areas 'would be better left to Predators,' said an administration official, referring to drone aircraft."
In other words, the United States may now be represented in the Afghan countryside, as it already is in the tribal areas on the Pakistani side of the border, mainly by Predators and their even more powerful cousins, Reapers, unmanned aerial vehicles with names straight out of a sci-fi film about implacable aliens. If you happen to be an Afghan villager in some underpopulated part of that country where the U.S. has set up small bases -- two of which were almost overrun recently -- they will be gone and "America" will instead be soaring overhead. We're talking about planes without human beings in them tirelessly scanning the ground with their cameras for up to 22 hours at a stretch. Launched from Afghanistan but flown by pilots thousands of miles away in the American West, they are armed with two to four Hellfire missiles or the equivalent in 500-pound bombs.
To see Earth from the heavens, that's the classic viewpoint of the superior being or god with the ultimate power of life and death. Zeus, that Greek god of gods, used lightning bolts to strike down humans who offended him. We use missiles and bombs. Zeus had the knowledge of a god. We have "intelligence," often fallible (or score-settling). His weapon of choice destroyed one individual. Ours take out anyone in the vicinity.
October 07, 2009
Nell is keeping track of the best information about the fight to reverse the Honduran coup at A Lovely Promise.
What happens there is extremely important. If Honduras's vicious right-wing oligarchy succeeds, the vicious right-wing oligarchies in the rest of Latin America will almost certainly be inspired to similar actions in their countries.
And here's an interesting fact: bubbling beneath the surface of the tea party demonstrations in the U.S. was the hope that what happened in Honduras would happen here.
P.S. I haven't had time to check, but I'm 100% sure all the liberal U.S. blogs that were posting non-stop about Iran are doing the same about Honduras. That's because their Iran posts had nothing to do with Iran being an Official Enemy, and everything to do with concern for electoral integrity everywhere.
Every Ideology Is Right
I've come to believe that every ideology is right. Liberalism is right, conservatism is right, radicalism is right, fascism is right, communism is right, Catholicism is right, Rastafarianism is right, Pastafarianism is right. Any ideology that survives more than ten minutes in the ferocious Planet Earth laboratory is right.
What I mean by "right" is that is each one is responding to a genuine problem within human existence. And their prescriptions for how to deal with that problem "work," at least in the short term in limited circumstances.
Obviously, there are unforeseen consequences because each ideology looks at a limited aspect of reality, and then tries to apply its solution for that part of reality to ALL of reality. The important thing is to try to have your ideology "look" at as much of reality as possible.
When you're dealing with people with other ideologies than your own, it's difficult not to try to persuade them they're wrong. But you can't, because their ideology does correspond to some of their direct, lived reality. They're not just imagining it. And they'll fight hard against any attempt to tell them they haven't experienced what they've experienced. So instead of telling them they're wrong, you have to demonstrate that they're only seeing part of the picture.
That's the theory, anyway. It seems to work as much as 2% of the time.
October 03, 2009
Here it finally is: Capitalism: A Love Story. I've been playing a (tiny) role in making this for the past year. And it's kept me especially busy recently. It's now in theaters nationwide, and I really hope you can see it. I'd love to hear what you think.
October 01, 2009
Dear Mother Nature, What’s Two Feet Between Friends?!
By: Aaron Datesman
This not-alarming piece of news flashed across my screen last month:
Sea levels rose as much as 2 feet (60 centimeters) higher than predicted this summer along the U.S. East Coast, surprising scientists who forecast such periodic fluctuations.
The immediate cause of the unexpected rise has now been solved, U.S. officials say in a new report (hint: it wasn't global warming). But the underlying reason remains a mystery.
Fortunately, dedicated science journalists are on the job to reassure us that, while the “underlying reason” which explains this rather startling observation is not known, global warming isn’t responsible. Isn’t that fantastic science journalism? (And, no, there’s no link to the report.)
The article continues:
Now a new report has identified the two major factors behind the high sea levels—a weakened Gulf Stream and steady winds from the northeastern Atlantic.
The Gulf Stream is a northward-flowing superhighway of ocean water off the U.S. East Coast. Running at full steam, the powerful current pulls water into its "orbit" and away from the East Coast.
But this summer, for reasons unknown, "the Gulf Stream slowed down," Edwing said, sending water toward the coasts—and sea levels shooting upward.
Well, OK, I agree that sounds benign. On the other hand, this is from the abstract of an article published in the scientific journal Climatic Change in 2007:
We present results from detailed interviews with 12 leading climate scientists about the possible effects of global climate change on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). . . . Assuming a global mean temperature increase in the year 2100 of 4 K, eight experts assess the probability of triggering an AMOC collapse as significantly different from zero, three of them as larger than 40%. Elicited consequences of AMOC reduction include strong changes in temperature, precipitation distribution and sea level in the North Atlantic area. [underlining mine]
Correlation is not causation, but this article is nevertheless incredibly hacktastic. Since the author could have used his platform to convey a very valuable and important message, this failure is really A GOD-DAMN SHAME. If it’s too much to ask that National Geographic News hire a science reporter who knows how to use Google and read English, then at least they could hire reporters who don’t insert snide and idiotic “hints” revealing their terrifying lack of scientific thoughtfulness.
By the way, this is what I take away from the abstract excerpt: if climate change causes the mean temperature to rise by 7F (within IPCC projections), many leading climate scientists believe that the Gulf Stream current which today prevents all of Europe from being as cold as Siberia could very well collapse. Oh.
A Minor Correction
By: John Caruso
Alan Grayson's heart is in the right place, but he got this wrong:
"If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: die quickly," [Grayson] said. "That's right. The Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick."
No, the Republicans don't want you to die quickly, they want you to die profitably. And as long as you're doing that they're happier if you stay alive longer, because after you shuffle off this mortal coil you stop being a human ATM for their various constituencies, like health care-denial corporations, pharmacidical firms, and residential fleecing facilities for the elderly.
And of course it's not just Republicans.
Other than than, totally agreed.
— John Caruso