Monday, March 31, 2008


From the latest issue of Mother Jones magazine:

When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales held a press conference in the summer of 2006 announcing the arrests of seven young men for plotting to bomb Chicago's Sears Tower, he sounded defensive, his voice lingering a beat on each thing the men allegedly did. "Individuals here in America made plans to hurt Americans," he claimed. "They did request materials; they did request equipment; they did request funding." Gonzales admitted that the American and Haitian-born men posed "no immediate threat." But, he warned, "homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like Al Qaeda. Our philosophy here is that we try to identify plots in the earliest stages possible, because we don't know what we don't know about a terrorism plot."

... juror Delorise Thompkins told the Miami Herald. "You're going to find someone always afraid of terrorist groups, but then when you see the evidence, there's not a lot there—no plans, no papers, no pictures, no nothing connecting them to Osama bin Laden." The jury's ambivalence is understandable. The plots were little more than talk encouraged by informants; the central evidence in the case—the taped oath—was a staged fbi production. But then, whether the men were a threat or the plot real doesn't matter when it comes to the charge of material support.

... There's a reason material support has become such a popular charge, a reason it's central to many of the government's most questionable cases: The laws are a prosecutor's dream. They don't require evidence of a plot or even of a desire to help terrorists. They give the government a shot at convictions traditional criminal laws could never provide. "The administration adopted the preventive paradigm, i.e. 'We've got to stop people before they've done something wrong,'" says David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who's the author of several books about the effect of anti-terror laws on the justice system. "There's tremendous pressure to expand grounds of criminal activity, to prosecute people who might represent a threat. The material-support provisions have been the principal vehicle for pushing that envelope."

The question is whether that approach has made us any safer. "The government does not understand how terrorist groups operate," says Michael German, a former counterterrorism agent at the fbi and now counsel for the aclu. "When I was undercover, there were plenty of people who may have been sympathetic to a group but were very clear they didn't want to break the law or get involved in violence. And we didn't go after them." Blurring that distinction by opening the door for prosecutions of people who do little more than express sympathies for a group, argues German, "that's where the material-support provisions go off the rails. The terrorist's goal is to convince everybody he identifies as his community that they are being oppressed. And when the government's response tends to create injustice, the government's fulfilling that prophecy."

... Think of the laws as "aiding and abetting"—only on steroids. It has always been illegal to support criminal activity. If a man drives a getaway car for bank robbers, then he can be charged for the robbery, too. Prosecutors have simply had to show that there was an intent to further the crime and some meaningful connection between the help and the crime itself.

What the material-support laws did was roll back those requirements. A taxi driver hired for a short drive by a Hezbollah politician—a driver who had no intention of engaging in terrorist activity—would, so long as he knew the politician was with Hezbollah, be guilty of providing material support. That's because the laws that define "material support" contain a long list of often nebulous activities, such as providing "property, tangible or intangible" or "service," and are applied whether or not those activities truly helped advance the cause of a terrorist group, and regardless of the suspect's intentions. The laws make little distinction between the taxi driver and, say, an arms merchant who sells detonators to Hezbollah. The Patriot Act extended the concept further, making it illegal to attempt or conspire to provide material support. Before, prosecutors had to prove you gave support. Now they just have to show you wanted to ...

"The Constitution is, among other things, a counterterrorism strategy," says Michael German, the former fbi agent. "What the framers recognized is that you don't create the perception of repression if you allow people legitimate means for fostering change. The material-support laws criminalize conduct that in and of itself isn't typically criminal, isn't illegal." When you have cases based on such sweeping laws, argues German, "you're ostensibly hurting terrorist organizations, when in fact you're helping them. You're giving people more of a reason to become militant."

Fittingly, but coincidentally, I had re-watched Minority Report this week, a movie that takes the concept of predicting and preventing crime to another level. The whole concept of punishing people for what they think is just a bit too 1984ish, with the government in the role of the Thought Police.

Where is the line drawn? It's not difficult to see this being taken to a level where any seditious thoughts are punishable. And what is sedition? The founding fathers of our country were certainly seditious. As the above article states, "What the framers recognized is that you don't create the perception of repression if you allow people legitimate means for fostering change." These loosely drawn laws and the way we enforce them are criminalizing thoughts and gutting our own Constitution.

The system of government that used to be a beacon for the rest of the world is now using the tools of totalitarian regimes. It's not hard to see why we are not respected any more. It's hard to respect a country that tortures, that spies on its own people, and ignores it's own laws.

"We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instance of death we cannot permit any deviation . . . we make the brain perfect before we blow it out." -- 1984 by George Orwell

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The God That Failed

Mother: We didn't know sick daughter was terminally ill

Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers
and The Associated Press

WESTON -- The mother of an 11-year-old girl who died of untreated diabetes said Wednesday that she did not know her daughter was terminally ill as she prayed for her to get better.

The parents of Madeline Kara Neumann called 911 three minutes after police and EMS crews already had been sent to their home by the girl's aunt, who lives in California.

Neumann died Sunday from an undiagnosed form of diabetes. The family told police they chose to pray for her to get better, rather than seek medical assistance.

Neumann's mother, Leilani Neumann, told The Associated Press Wednesday she never expected her daughter, whom she called Kara, to die. The family believes in the Bible, which says healing comes from God, but they are not crazy, religious people and have nothing against doctors, she said.

The aunt from California told a Marathon County sheriff's dispatcher Sunday afternoon that the girl was thought to be at home in a coma. She advised the dispatcher in a recorded phone call that the family was religious and refused to take the girl to the hospital, despite the aunt's urging them to do so for at least three days.

When the dispatcher asked if an ambulance should be sent to the Neumanns' town of Weston home, the aunt replied, "Yes. She's refusing. She's going to fight it," in reference to the girl's mother.

A few minutes later, at 2:38 p.m., a male caller from the home told a sheriff's dispatcher that a child there was not breathing, according to the 911 call, a copy of which was obtained by a Gannett Wisconsin newspaper. The dispatcher informed the caller that an ambulance already was on its way.

He then attempted to instruct the family how to perform CPR. Family members sounded panicky, and cries and screaming could be heard in the background.

Officers met with the Neumann family Wednesday, and Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said he hopes to complete the investigation late this week or early next week.

Child protective services interviewed Kara Neumann's three older siblings Wednesday night to determine whether it was safe to return them to the home, Vergin told CNN's Nancy Grace.

The Marathon County district attorney's office is working with police to determine whether criminal charges should be filed. Vergin said officers still are trying to determine a timeline of Neumann's decline during her final days.

Marathon County Medical Examiner John Larson said Kara Neumann was quite ill Friday and Saturday and became gravely ill Sunday, the day she died.

"I think this young girl was sick for some time; she just progressed into a situation where she needed medical attention and did not get it," Larson said. "At some point, they should have recognized she was very, seriously ill."

The family does not belong to an organized religion or faith, Leilani Neumann said.

She said the family is not worried about the police investigation into her daughter's death because "our lives are in God's hands. We know we did not do anything criminal. We know we did the best for our daughter we knew how to do."

For a little more on the case, see this video. I'm reluctant to reference this video because it's from Nancy Grace's show. I hate Nancy because her trumped-up indignation has less to do with actual compassion for the victim and more to do with her ego and her sense of theatrics. I think she might be the only person that might cause me to feel sorry for a serial killer.

When does "freedom of religion" go too far? I believe when it endangers someone else's life or health. Obviously, Christianity is not the only religion whose tenets infringe upon innocents, but it's the pertinent one here. So, just because I'm not listing all the others doesn't mean I don't hold them just as accountable. One could argue that indoctrinating your children to creationist beliefs is cruel and unusual punishment, but we'll leave that subject for another day. I grant that it's probably correct to allow parents to use their best judgement when educating their kids. After all, recovering from an inferior education is a lot easier than recovering from an unnecessary death.

Though the family in question do not say they adhere to a specific religion, their beliefs are certainly similar to those of Christian Science. After reading some of the rights afforded people merely in the name of religion, I get the distinct impression that we are just a country of backwoods country bumfucks. Case in point - from Wikipedia:

Christian Scientists have been controversial for their failure to provide conventional health care for children (Asser and Swan, 1998). In the United States, the constitutional guarantee of protection of religious practice from intrusion by government has been used by Christian Scientists and other religious groups to seek exemption from legislative or regulatory requirements regarding child abuse and neglect, including medical neglect in more than three quarters of the states. There are now statutes in 44 states which contain a provision stating that a child is not to be deemed abused or neglected merely because he or she is receiving treatment by spiritual means, through prayer according to the tenets of a recognized religion. Although these exemptions take different forms and interpretations in different state jurisdictions, the overall effect has been to limit the ability of the state to prosecute parents for suspected or alleged abuse or medical neglect of children when such occurrences may be the result of religious practice. Severe (even fatal) physical discipline, failure to seek medical care, or refusal of a proven efficacious treatment of a critically ill child may be protected from prosecution because of the religious exemption clauses now found in a majority of state codes. (However, most of these cases do not involve Christian Scientists.)

The band Metallica, whose lead singer James Hetfield was raised as a Christian Scientist, wrote this song after Hefields's mother died of cancer because of not seeking treatment:

The God that Failed by Metallica

Pride you took
Pride you feel
Pride that you felt when you'd kneel
Not the word
Not the love
Not what you thought from above

It feeds (it feeds)
It grows (it grows)
It clouds all that you will know
Decide just what you believe

I see faith in your eyes
Never you hear the discouraging lies
I hear faith in your cries
Broken is the promise, betrayal
The healing hand held back by the deepened nail
Follow the god that failed

Find your peace
Find your say
Find the smooth road on your way
Trust you gave
A child to save
Left you cold and him in grave ...

In our laws, we are actually protecting people who neglect their children because of their religious beliefs. Do you think that people who claimed that aliens told them not to seek treatment for their sick children would get the same protections? Of course not. A system of laws that should be based on reason is being influenced by superstition. And yet we are viewed as a model democracy. Perhaps it's not a God that failed but rather a government based on superstition that failed.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Sci-Fi ... Bad Sci-Fi

I've always said that the beauty of sci-fi movies is that even the bad ones are interesting to watch. That's because even the bad ones are trying to say something. The new incarnation of Battlestar Galactica has obvious parallels to our current world politics. Star Wars explores the common mythology of religions. 2001: A Space Odyssey explores evolution and technology. And so on.

But forget what I said. There ARE bad sc-fi movies that are just bad and don't try to say anything. I just saw one yesterday - Jumper. I was optimistic that I would like it despite the scathing reviews I'd heard. After all, Doug Liman was directing. He had directed a couple of really good movies - The Bourne Identity and Swingers. Samual Jackson and Diane Lane, Oscar nominated actors, are in it. It seemed to look mildly cool in the previews.

From IMDb:
"A genetic anomaly allows a young man to teleport himself anywhere. He discovers this gift has existed for centuries and finds himself in a war that has been raging for thousands of years between "Jumpers" and those who have sworn to kill them."

Between the previews and that blurb, you have the entire movie. Jumper gets no deeper than that. The movie doesn't really delve into why they can "jump" or why others are trying to kill them. It's like a Highlander rip-off. There is nothing likable or redeeming about the protagonist David Rice, played lamely by Hadyn Christensen. I keep hearing that Hadyn is really a good actor despite the contrary evidence of his movies (Star Wars). If he doesn't start proving it soon, no one's going to be around to care.

The characteristic that I had spoke of relating to bad sci-fi movies that made them palatable was some kind of message. Jumper is not a metaphor for anything. There is no morality play. There is no hidden meaning. It's just fluff with pretty young people in it. Grade: D


I've talked about bad sci-fi, let's talk about good. One of the most important science fiction authors or our time and one of the four most important sci-fi authors of my youth, Arthur C. Clarke, passed away this week (Frank Herbert, Robert A. Heinlein and Larry Niven being the other three). He wrote the previously mentioned 2001: A Space Odyssey, numerous other books, and was a highly respected scientist and futurist whose writings are often cited as influencing the development of the modern communications satellite. Farewell, Arthur.


Also of note, and not unfamiliar in sci-fi circles (Fifth Element, Harry Potter, Batman Begins), today is my favorite actor's 50th birthday. Happy Birthday Gary Oldman. Check out my blog entry of a few years ago for recommended films by him: dbackdad's favorite actors: part one -- gary oldman

Monday, March 17, 2008

We Can't Even Shop Right

The Fall of the American Consumer
by Barbara Ehrenreich

How much lower can consumer spending go? The malls are like mausoleums, retail clerks are getting laid off and AOL recently featured on its welcome page the story of a man so cheap that he recycles his dental floss–hanging it from a nail in his garage until it dries out.

It could go a lot lower of course. This guy could start saving the little morsels he flosses out and boil them up to augment the children’s breakfast gruel. Already, as the recession or whatever it is closes in, people have stopped buying homes and cars and cut way back on restaurant meals. They don’t have the money; they don’t have the credit; and increasingly they’re finding that no one wants their money anyway. NPR reported on February 28 that more and more Manhattan stores are accepting Euros and at least one has gone Euros-only.

The Sharper Image has declared bankruptcy and is closing ninety-six US stores. (To think I missed my chance to buy those headphones that treat you to forest sounds while massaging your temples!) Victoria’s Secret is so desperate that it’s adding fabric to its undergarments. Starbucks had no sooner taken time off to teach its baristas how to make coffee than it started laying them off.

While Americans search for interview outfits in consignment stores and switch from Whole Foods to Wal-Mart for sustenance, the world watches tremulously. The Australian Courier-Mail, for example, warns of an economic “pandemic” if Americans cut back any further, since we are responsible for $9 trillion a year in spending, compared to a puny $1 trillion for the one billion-strong Chinese. Yes, we have been the world’s designated shoppers, and, if we fall down on the job, we take the global economy with us.

“Shop till you drop,” was our motto, by which we didn’t mean to say we were more compassion-worthy than a woman fainting at her work station in some Honduran sweatshop. It was just our proper role in the scheme of things. Some people make stuff; other people have to buy it. And when we gave up making stuff, starting in the 1980s, we were left with the unique role of buying. Remember Bush telling us, shortly after 9/11, to get out there and shop? It may have seemed ludicrous at the time, but what he meant was get back to work.

We took pride in our role in the global economy. No doubt it takes some skill to make things, but what about all the craft that goes into buying them–finding a convenient parking space at the mall, navigating our way through department stores laid out for maximum consumer confusion, determining which of our credit cards still has a smidgeon of credit in it? Not everyone could do this, especially not people whose only experience was stitching, assembling, wiring and packaging the stuff that we bought.

But if we thought we were special, they thought we were marks. They could make anything, and we would dutifully buy it. I once found, in a party store, a baseball cap with a plastic turd affixed to its top and the words “shit head” on the visor. The label said “made in the Philippines” and the makers must have been convulsed as they made it. If those dumb Yanks will buy this…

There’s talk already of emergency measures, like making Christmas a weekly holiday, although this would require a level of deforestation that could leave Cheney with no quail to hunt.

More likely, there’ll be a move to outsource shopping, just as we’ve already outsourced manufacturing, customer service, X-ray reading and R&D. But to whom? The Indians are clever enough, but right now they only account for $600 million in consumer spending a year. And could they really be trusted to put a flat screen TV in every child’s room, distinguish Guess jeans from a knock-off and replace their kitchen counters on an annual basis?

And what happens to us, the world’s erstwhile shoppers? The President recently observed, in one of his more sentient moments, that unemployment is “painful.” But if a pink slip hurts, what about a letter from Citicard announcing that you’ve been laid off as a shopper? Will we fill our vacant hours twisting recycled dental floss onto spools or will we decide that, if we can’t shop, we’re going to have to shoplift?

Because we’ve shopped till we dropped alright, face down on the floor.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. We don't make the best cars. All our favorite actors are foreign. And now ... we can't even shop right! lol.

Well, this a mantle that I'd be proud of us losing. It might actually indicate that we are finally figuring out that an economy is not ran on encouraging people to buy stuff they don't need. The businesses that will survive are the ones that make things well, make them affordable and that make things that people need regardless of the economy. It's all about sustainability. Just because you can fool some poor sap into buying that 70 inch plasma TV that he doesn't need and can't afford, doesn't mean that you should. You'll say that the market will sort it out. A perfect market may. But not one inhabited with a bunch of morons like ours. Our market has producers whose only criteria is how much they can make and consumers whose only criteria is how much debt they can get into to keep up with the Jones's. There has to be a concept of common good. But, WAIT!, you will say. You might even quote Ayn Rand to me:

"America's abundance was not created by public sacrifices to "the common good", but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes." -- Ayn Rand

I'd probably agree with the free market types who say you can't legislate "common good". But at the same time, you can't have a government who actively encourages the exact opposite of common good. That's not a free market either. We're not living in some Ayn Rand fantasy world. How exactly is the market "correcting" anything when CEO's of companies that hemorrhage money are given $20 million golden parachutes? "Productive genius of free men", my ass.

"Win or lose, we go shopping after the election." -- Imelda Marcos

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Friday afternoon, when I should be working, I'm at a spring training ball game with the kid. Weather's gorgeous, if just a bit breezy. Portobello mushroom sandwich and a beer to top it off.

Today, Sunday, when I should be relaxing, I'm at a recently relocated client in Prescott (100 miles from home), but who paid me for the travel time and everything. Weather is freaky. It snowed a good deal of the way there, the entire time we were in Prescott, and half the way home. The last 15 miles going into Prescott, I'm following a snow truck putting sand on the road and we're crawling along at 20 mph. It's not slick, mind you - it's not really cold enough for that. But Arizona people are unaccustomed to inclement weather and go a little overboard with precautions.

As bad as it was there, Flagstaff (just another hour away) got hit even harder and had whiteout conditions and tragically bad results. And to think, my biggest decision this morning was whether I was going to wear shorts or jeans (jeans thankfully won out). Looks like my time might have been better spent actually turning on the Weather Channel.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Christians Heart Payday Lenders by Stephanie Mencimer

The Christian Right has used the Bible to bolster many a political issue, from abortion to stem cell research. Strangely enough, however, they seem to have missed one of the biggies: the Bible's many injunctions against usury, or predatory lending to poor people. The Bible is far more explicit in its disapproval of usury than, say, gay marriage. (The book of Ezekiel compares usurious lending to extortion and murder for hire, in fact, and threatens major hellfire for those who practice it.) Yet in parts of the country where the Christian Right wields the most political power, usurious payday lending has flourished more than anywhere else in the U.S., according to a new study by Christopher Peterson and Steven Graves.

Today's payday lenders charge around 450 percent interest on short-term loans, rates ten times higher than the federal definition of criminal loan sharking and nearly double what the Mob charged in its heyday. Peterson's home state of heavily Mormon Utah ranked high on the list of havens for payday lenders. The state claims more payday lending outlets than McDonalds, Burger Kings, Subway sandwich chains, and 7-11s combined, and has failed to pass even modest restrictions on allowable interest rates that exceed 500 percent a year, among the highest in the nation. (One reason may be that the chairman of the Salt Lake City Republican Party, former State Senator James Evans, himself owns several payday-lending outfits.)

Peterson and Graves decline to speculate as to why devout Christians and Mormons who wield considerable political clout continue to tolerate practices that are so clearly at odds with Biblical teachings. They simply attempted to point out the correlation, writing that sadly, "Those states that have most ardently held to their pious Christian traditions have tended to become more infested with the progeny of money changers once expelled by Christ from the Hebrew temple."

Funny how we use the bible to justify our prejudices (gays) or end times foreign policy but conveniently forget the part about usury. Religious people (including our President) have used religious imagery (Crusade) and have advanced a war that by it's very existence is violating at least four of the Ten Commandments (coveting anything of your neighbors'[oil], killing, stealing, working on the Sabbath). Makes one question whether a lot of people's piety is really about God.

"If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury." -- the Bible

Political Song of the Day

My Political Song of the Day is usually anti-war, environmental or otherwise left-leaning. But I was flipping channels in the car the other day and came upon a country station and heard a song so innane, so misinformed and so perfectly representative of the attitude of a large percentage of Americans that I had to share it with you:

Have You Forgotten? by Darryl Worley

I hear people saying we don't need this war
But, I say there's some things worth fighting for
What about our freedom and this piece of ground
We didn't get to keep 'em by backing down
They say we don't realize the mess we're getting in
Before you start your preaching let me ask you this my friend

Have you forgotten how it felt that day?
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away
Have you forgotten when those towers fell?
We had neighbors still inside going thru a living hell
And you say we shouldn't worry 'bout bin Laden
Have you forgotten?

They took all the footage off my T.V.
Said it's too disturbing for you and me
It'll just breed anger that's what the experts say
If it was up to me I'd show it everyday
Some say this country's just out looking for a fight
Well, after 9/11 man I'd have to say that's right

Have you forgotten how it felt that day?
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away
Have you forgotten when those towers fell?
We had neighbors still inside going thru a living hell
And we vowed to get the one’s behind bin Laden
Have you forgotten?

I've been there with the soldiers
Who've gone away to war
And you can bet that they remember
Just what they're fighting for

Have you forgotten all the people killed?
Yeah, some went down like heroes in that Pennsylvania field
Have you forgotten about our Pentagon?
All the loved ones that we lost and those left to carry on
Don't you tell me not to worry about bin Laden
Have you forgotten?

Have you forgotten?
Have you forgotten?

Have you forgotten ... indeed. Darryl Worley, have your forgotten that 9/11 has nothing to do with Iraq? Have you forgotten that it was George W that forgot about Bin Laden and started a new war, not us? Have you forgotten that meat-headed bravado like your stupid song is why most of the world hates us?

The fact that someone wrote a song like this isn't that big a deal. It's that a vast majority of the NASCAR, bible-belt, pick-up truck, NRA set eats this stuff up as truth that bothers me.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


As I was picking weeds in the front yard the other day, a couple of nattily dressed people approached me and asked if I'd like to attend a meeting to talk about Jesus. I politely declined, not wanting to offend or to start a huge religious discussion. But the man wouldn't leave it at that and felt compelled to say, "So, you're not a Christian?" in a condescending tone. At that point, the gloves were off, and I lit into him a little bit, saying that my beliefs should not be of his concern. Seeing my consternation, he backed off and apologized for implying anything. It was obvious he wasn't going to get anywhere with me and he bid me good day. Perhaps, I overreacted. But I think not. Should each of us feel compelled to force our beliefs on others or compel others to do the same? Is talking about Jesus or testifying without being asked to do so considering forcing?

That got me thinking of the religious concept of "testifying"? To me, it seems eerily similar to one of the 12 steps (which in and of itself is already religious-based). The one about apologizing to those we have hurt. Could religion just be some 2,000 year old perversion of pop psychology? By going around and "spreading the word", are people hoping to heal themselves and others like you would in AA? I posed the same question to my wife ... a Christian, mind you. She's heard my rants before and wasn't offended. She countered that testifying is more about just letting people know that Jesus is there for them if they need him. So I said, "So, it's like advertising." -- "Act now and as an added bonus you will get this lovely afterlife!". Testifying is just Dr. Phil mixed with ginsu knifes. I think she failed to see the humor. Oh well.

In religion, testimony generally involves an inward belief or outward profession of faith or of personal religious experience.

Christians in general use the term "testify" or "to give your testimony" to mean "the story of how you became a Christian" (or less commonly it may refer to a specific event in a Christian's life in which God has done something deemed particularly worth sharing). Christians often give their testimony at their own baptism or at evangelistic events, where non-Christians are able to hear what God has done in their lives ... (from Wikipedia)

I'm not trying to be profane or step on anyone's toes. I respect people to have what religious beliefs they choose. But that's part of my point in saying something - It's OK to have your own views, but your compulsion to share them is infringing on other people's views. One could argue that by discussing my religious views on a blog, I'm doing the same. But people come to my blog by choice. I wasn't making a choice to be preached to by merely being in my own front yard.

You may say that testifying is a tenet of your religion and you have to do it. That's not my problem. Any religion that considers it a requirement to spread itself out by proselytizing is not a religion ... it's a virus. A great idea should be self-evident. People aren't just waiting around for someone to come and "save" them.

And you stare at me
In your jesus christ pose
Arms held out
Like you've been carrying a load
And you swear to me
You don't want to be my slave
But you're staring at me
Like I need to be saved ...

Jesus Christ Pose by Soundgarden

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Pete Seeger

If you get the chance, check out a great show on PBS, American Masters Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. It was a well put-together program following his whole life and career with many appearances by artists influenced by him including: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, the Byrds, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, etc. Seeger is, perhaps, our country's most important folk music artist and he truly is the father of the modern politicaly active musician. There is a very obvious progression from the likes of Seeger and Woody Guthrie to Dylan and Baez to Springsteen to Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam.

Springsteen honored the influence Seeger had on him in an album and tour.

Read some excerpted lyrics from a couple of songs by Seeger about the Vietnam war and tell me they don't have relevance today:

Waist Deep In The Big Muddy
by Pete Seeger 1963, planned for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967 but CBS objected to the blacklisted Seeger making obvious references to the "big fool" in the White House, finally sung by Seeger on the Comedy Hour in 1968 as the finale in a medley of anti-war songs

It was back in nineteen forty-two,
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That's how it all begun.
We were -- knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?"
"Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
'Bout a mile above this place.
It'll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We'll soon be on dry ground."
We were -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim."
"Sergeant, don't be a Nervous Nellie,"
The Captain said to him.
"All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I'll lead on."
We were -- neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain's helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, "Turn around men!
I'm in charge from now on."
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.

We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn't know that the water was deeper
Than the place he'd once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
'Bout a half mile from where we'd gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.

Well, I'm not going to point any moral;
I'll leave that for yourself
Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking
You'd like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We're -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on ...

"We were -- neck deep in the Big Muddy ... And the big fool said to push on." -- We certainly are neck deep in Iraq. The "big fool" then was LBJ. Take your pick today. Certainly Bush and McCain fit the role.

Bring 'Em Home

If you love your Uncle Sam,
Support our boys in Vietnam ...
Bring them home, bring them home.

It'll make our generals sad, I know ...
They want to tangle with the foe ...
They want to test their weaponry ...
But here is their big fallacy ...

I may be right, I may be wrong ...
But I got a right to sing this song ...

There's one thing I must confess ...
I'm not really a pacifist ...
If an army invaded this land of mine ...
You'd find me out on the firing line ...

Show those generals their fallacy ...
They don't have the right weaponry ...
For defense you need common sense ...
They don't have the right armaments ...
The world needs teachers, books and schools ...
And learning a few universal rules ...

So if you love your Uncle Sam,
Bring them home, bring them home.
Support our boys in Vietnam,
Bring them home, bring them home.

This song is an answer to those who try to frame patriotism as being blind jingoistic support of an unjustified war.

from Wikipedia: On August 18, 1955, Seeger was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he refused to name personal and political associations stating it would violate his First Amendment rights... "I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this."

It's obvious that the government censors us, but we seem to do a pretty good job of censoring ourselves. Seeger was blacklisted for two decades for refusing to kiss the ass of McCarthyites. He cited the First Amendment, the freedom of association, instead of hiding behind the Fifth Amendment like a lot of others did.

As dangerous as the world we live in is, it seems that the things that people and governments are most afraid of are words and ideas. Pete Seeger showed that songs can be a lot more powerful than guns.

You may think we've came a long way since the day of the blacklists, but modern artists like Springsteen, the Dixie Chicks, Rage Against the Machine, etc. still catch heat for their political views. TV networks, radio stations, newspapers feel more obligation to their corporate bosses and Washington connections than they do to the truth.

It's refreshing when you find artists who truly don't sell-out. Seeger never did. He could have made it easier on himself. He could have went commercial and made a lot of money. You don't find many artists ... or people for that matter ... now days that don't compromise their ideals for that house in the 'burbs, that new car, that vacation home. Our souls shouldn't be for sale.

"Songs won’t save the planet, but neither will books or speeches. Songs are sneaky things; they can slip across borders." -- Pete Seeger