Friday, July 27, 2007

Hoping for the Fall of the Torture Czar

It was with glee that I sat in the Kings County court's jurors' lounge and saw that justice was again creeping slowly after the Bush administration, its nose filled with the essence of Brimstone seeping from under the collar of Atty General Alberto Gonzales. My jaw may have even dropped when I read that it might finally catch up with that wicked toad, Karl Rove.
Patrick Leahy has used strong language, comparing the attorneys scandal to the dark days of Nixon, and this is reason for hope. Still, I can't help but wish that these men had lied about sex, which most Americans seem to care about (we can relate to it, you see), instead of spying on us, because then something might come of it. What if, instead of just approving illegal torture and flouting the Geneva Convention in direct public statements that Gonzales had misbehavedin his bedroom?
I wish that Rove, instead of orchestrating the stealing of three presidential elections, had gotten caught out in the wrong bed.

* * *
After the much anticipated "Fitzmas" following the investigation of the Plame leak, I am only reluctantly optimistic about the notion that justice will ever catch up to these Bushies. It seems likely that despite the 2006 elections we will just continue to read with sick fascination the compilation of crimes at sites such as TPM'smuckraker, along with the detailed accounts of iniquity by such excellent reporters such as Robert Parry, who has a new book out, and Murray Waas, but that nothing will actually result from this knowledge. At least we will know in painful detail about the ongoing, and yet unpunished crimes of an unrepentant political elite. Someone I met on jury-duty told me about the new Comedy Central show L'il Bush and I thought it sounded like the kind of theater that was popular on the streets of France before the revolution: the comedy that you reach for when the people who govern you are completely unaccountable. Although they were royals claiming divine right, and we have "elected" representatives, in what real democracy would a policy developed by a president with a 30% approval rating still manage to surive ?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pitchfork Festival Round Up, Better Late than Never

Or...sometimes music is more fun in the hot sun.

My big vacation event of the summer was going to the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago on Bastille Day weekend with my friend from that excellent blog, The Pagan Science Monitor.
For those who don't know, Pitchfork is an internet music guide that notoriously sets the snark n' snob standards for hipsters everywhere, and yet remains an invaluable resource for the rest of us. In addition to all that, they now produce a remarkably un-snarky and incredibly cheap annual music festival. I have put my own concert-going cellphone videos on youtube so that everyone can experience just what it's like to be five feet tall at an outdoor rock show on flat ground. The sound is pretty good on these, so enjoy. And all you tall people, perhaps you'll gain a new perspective on the world.
And now...for the run down (including links to videos from people who could actually see the bands).


On the first day, the fest featured three full album performances sponsored by the concert series All Tomorrow's Parties/ Don't Look Back: Slint performing "Spiderland", GZA performing "Liquid Swords" and Sonic Youth doing their full double-album "Daydream Nation."
Needless to say, it was a fantastic first night of music.
GZA: Although the pitchfork vids on youtube show The 4th Chamber the peak of the GZA show, for me anyway, was their rendition of ODB's "I Like it Raw," a weird epitaph if there ever was one.
Sonic Youth: As you can tell from these assorted videos, Sonic Youth's energy was even more massive than usual.


The second day my friend and I started off well with locals, Califone,and we seemed to be standing near the band's family members. You can also see a video of theirs here.
After a too-short, but nonetheless blissful 45 minutes of Califone we were a bit indecisive about which bands we wanted to see. We heard the beginning of, but were not that enthused about Battles so we headed over to see Fujiya and Miyagi, where the sound mix was so terrible that we gave up. Instead, we collected our favorite overheard absurdities (coming soon on TPSM?), looked at the fashions on parade, ate some vegan food, drank some beer, all the while listening to an unintentional live mash-up that we dubbed "Fujiya Battles Miyagi" - it surpassed both bands on their own.
On our way to the next stage, I liked what I heard of Professor Murder, but thought I'd see them so easily in NY that I'd rather hear someone else. I wasn't sorry to miss the tedious Iron and Wine. (Jeezus, I ask you, what has happened to the indie scene?) I sort of liked Mastodon, but my friend judged them not authentic metal and I found Clipse unbelievably bad.
However, those mixed experiences were more than made up for by Cat Power's completely gaff-free performance and Yoko Ono's chthonic set with Thurston Moore. For a brief thrill, check this link for someone's clips from both shows. The Cat Power video clip linked above has better sound than most of what I found on Youtube. She did a great performance of Satisfaction but no one on youtube seems to have captured a good video of it with good sound. Here's one with a nice picture and muted sound but you can get the idea of what the song sounded like.
Yoko Ono's show was profound, the beautiful surprise of the day. My friend says that he was not expecting that much of her, but was so affected by the show that he couldn't talk about it without tearing up for two days. I'd seen her live before - in Central Park w/John Zorn and her son, Sean, about twelve years ago when her album Rising came out, so, I thought she would be good, but this show was considerably better than that one. Thurston Moore came out as her special guest for the show-stopping "Mulberry".
Hers was both emotionally rich and far and away the most politically conscious performance of the festival. Given all the negativity directed toward her even from audience members, I thought it was sadly significant that she was the only person at Pitchfork who I heard mention the war. She also is so clearly a feminist performer, and I noticed that the young men in the audience were the ones who did the most mocking. Clearly, they were uncomfortable with the way she rolled out with all that simultaneous power and vulnerability. The young women seemed to being paying more attention. As well they should; she has that witchy energy that I associate with seventies-era feminism and the earnest, bright-eyed experimentalism that seems to have left the avant-garde since the commercialized art scene of the eighties. I felt nostalgic and came home to listen to "Double Fantasy" on vinyl when I got back to NY.


The third day, we started with another Chicago band, The Ponys, who rocked up a sweat, then went over to check out Menomena, whose new record I love, but in the live, outdoor setting, they weren't equal to the sweet layered melodies of their studio recordings. Yeah, if you liked that, here's another one.
We spent the rest of the day hanging out near the shady stage. First, we had to visit the Readymade Magazine stand, where people were making their own t-shirts, We then spent the rest of the day at the "Balance stage" listening to three totally enjoyable sets: The very jazzy kids from Ann Arbor,Nomo, the very hilarious Cool Kids from Chicago who referred to themselves as "the Black version of the Beastie Boys" and Canadian rapper extroardinaire: Cadence Weapon, who just wowed us. He was lyrically inventive, his delivery was right on, he hopped up and down and crowd surfed, and to top it off, his crafty DJ, Weez-L turned out to be a young, skinny bearded white kid who liked like he was dressed up as ZZ top for Halloween.

We skipped both hipster favorites Of Montreal & Sea and Cake (who I think I enjoyed listening to while I was waiting in line for the bathroom), to check out the record and poster fairs.
Sadly, in order to see the big hip-hop acts, we missed both Stephen Malkmus, whose set was supposed to be great, and the late-starting Klaxons, who are playing Madison Square Garden w/Bjork the next time they come to this 'burg.
It was worth it, however, as we ended our Pitchfork experience with the ever-righteous De La Soul who cracked many jokes, got the party going, and brought out Prince Paul as a "substitute DJ" on the pretense that Pacemaster Mase had to go to the bathroom.

Three days of hip-hop, rock and even a wild feminist peace-happening later, I headed back to NY where the summer concert season continues...If I can get it together to write about them, I'll tell all y'all about Mavis Staples, The Noisettes, MIA, Eric Bachman, Neko Case and the ever-ready, Hold Steady.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

This Just in: "Toxic Sludge is STILL Good for You" - NOT!

Back in 1995, John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton of "PR Watch" wrote the book Toxic Sludge is Good For You, exposing the PR industry. Since then, flaks for big corporations are still at it, most recently to NY Times' readers' disgust, in the form of the Hoover Institute's Dr. Henry I. Miller, who was also at the FDA during the first Bush administration, and is considered by PR watch to be one of the "usual suspects" or "junkyard dogs" of science, because of his shilling for industry and promoting right-wing views of scientific research. According to them, Miller,
regularly grinds an ax against what he considers the FDA's "extraordinarily burdensome regulations" regarding genetically engineered foods and new drugs. In 1996, Miller also editorialized against the FDA's proposal to regulate tobacco. "The FDA's anti-tobacco initiative . . . has not been without its own costs to American consumers and taxpayers," he stated, describing FDA commissioner David Kessler as "personally consumed by this single issue."

True to form, his Op-ed piece in last week Times' pooh-poohs the claims of activists who oppose the use of bovine growth hormone, and inspired seven people to write letters to the Times. One of those people was my stepfather, who wrote:

To the Editor:

Henry I. Miller argues that we should “embrace” the use of bovine growth hormone (rBST) in order to feed people more cheaply, save the environment and so on. He characterizes opponents of rBST as “cynical,” but I read Dr. Miller’s arguments as cynical.

I have no idea if rBST is safe. But I do know that the dairy industry and its lobbyists do not want to require labeling milk produced with rBST. In fact, they are so intent on reducing information available to consumers that they are lobbying to prevent dairies from labeling their milk as “rBST-free”!

There’s good reason for cynicism. George Entenman

Chapel Hill, N.C., June 29, 2007

You can find all the letters at here.

Of the letters in the paper responding to that particular Op-Ed piece, only two supported it, and interestingly, the Times identified the authors as 1)vice-president of a biotechnology company and 2)a person who has previously collaborated with Miller on published articles.

Immediately, I wondered if my favorite media watchdogs were on the trail as well. The first thing that came up when I googled Miller's name along with "FAIR" was a Media Matters article about how this same doctor had "diagnosed" Al Gore with "narcissistic personality disorder" in 2004 in the National Review Online. There's another article about Miller and his Op-Ed piece at the website eating liberally.
My step-dad is right - and literally, "on the money." Miller is cynical indeed.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Social Forum Part Three

Saturday was the last day of workshops at the Social Forum, and I only went to two of them. My major goal by then was to attend things that I hadn't gotten a chance to do during the rest of the day. One was to go to a hip-hop session; there were several at the conference, but the one I had tried to attend on Friday was restricted to people of color only. The one I chose was called "COINTELPRO to Rapintelpro." While the name suggested government surveillance, the panel's most interesting feature was the inside discussion of "urban radio" marketing that we got from Davey D, an Oakland activist who once worked at AOL/Time Warner and Clear Channel.
The government element in the presentation was the recent NYCLU subpoena of NYPD documentsrelated to the 2004 RNC convention, which revealed that the police had been spying on people as "radical" and "way out" as Alicia Keys and Jay Z, but that was not such new news.
The corporate aspect of the censorship was also chilling. Davey D. talked about the way commercial radio has tried to get audiences to focus on brands (Yo MTV raps; Summerjams, etc) instead of artists, and described what programming directors would say when refusing to play artists such as Talib Kweli on urban radio ("our audience is not intelligent enough for that.") while record companies chose to market him and other political or "conscious" rappers through surfing and skateboarding magazines. The audience for this event was diverse and the conversation, while limited because the people in the front had so much to say, interesting.

** *
I had workshop fatigue and skipped the middle of the day to go to the "solidarity tents" and buy a t-shirt.
Then I headed for a 3:30 workshop by the group that had the buzz of the forum: Right to the City, a national alliance of urban community organizations working against gentrification. The workshop I went to was not the most popular one they did, and started off a little slowly, but became interesting later on. (My friend Alex said that he'd encountered this at another workshop, and thought that the audience of the social forum was such that workshop organizers would have to pitch their discussions past the introductory level in order to maintain interest.) So, for example, when people at this workshop were just talking about the basics of what they did in their groups, and answering questions with rather obvious platitudes, people were leaving. When people started to get into the nitty gritty of leadership development, and then - finally - the relationship of paid staff to membership organizations, it got much more interesting. That last issue in particular led to a dialogue between workshop presenters and audience members, who included people such as members of New York's Picture the Homeless and the fabulous FIERCE.

and that's all for now.

Project South's Popular Education Project in Action

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Envisioning a New Society

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Social Forum Part Two

I've finally caught up on my sleep after four days of workshops in Atlanta, and have more to say about everything. As I said, I'll pick up first with the Friday evening workshop run by Project South (they also have a myspacepage). Project South is an organization that works on "popular education" and their workshop was designed to have us try out their training tools and see if we could take them back to our own organizations. One thing I liked at the outset was that they clearly stated a set of guidelines: the respect for time-limits, a way for people to interrupt by saying "whoa!" when they hear something they are bothered by, and the "step up/step back" rule was explicit (we'll call less on people who talk a lot/more on people who talk less).
The workshop starts with what they call an "Aha" moment. The exercise is to have people talk in small groups about the moment when they first felt themselves to be activists and to then identify the year. Everyone in the room also has a copy of a time-line including events in the history of global capitalism and social movements in the US. Given a smaller group and more time, there would then be a large group discussion about people's aha moments, placing them on the big timeline so that people could see clusters (say around the beginning of the current war, or around the 1960s). In addition to being an interesting demonstration of people's situation in a broader history, it also allows the group leaders to know the experience level of the people in the room.
The rest of the workshop that I attended had to do with how people compare their own vision of what they want the society to look like with what they think the society actually looks like. The group leaders distributed poster boards, tape, markers and little cards with words on them like "money (capital)"; "health care" and "environment," that each group was to put on the board in the order that the society wanted them in. The process of putting the cards on the board was very interesting in my group, which made up primarily of college student activists who had become active around the war in Iraq. Our biggest question was what "the society" meant - the people in power? or the people in general? (the people in power was the answer we got from Project South) When the groups came back to the large group, there was a lot of agreement about how what the values of the powerful were. Then we went to step two - designing the world/US *we* wanted, there was also a lot of agreement - and a lot of interesting creativity. Almost everyone made a circle instead of a line and put "people" in the middle. One group took the word Money (capital), shredded it, and taped the pieces all around the board to show redistribution. I can imagine a version of this workshop might work well in my union. When it shows broad agreement, it helps shoot past petty conflicts, and it also can illuminate reasons for conflicts by highlighting disagreements in a way that doesn't immediately lead to a big argument.
The pictures above are the beginning of the first step: showing society's priorities. The second one shows the end of part two, when small groups shared their vision of a new society with the large group.