The Drum Major Instinct
Posted on September 15th, 2011 at 9:55 pm by Steve

God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. (Preach it, preach it) God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in _________________. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.

— The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

February 4, 1968

Libya Fun Fact!
Posted on April 12th, 2011 at 1:43 pm by Steve

Here’s a fun fact about Libya: every one of the more than 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched at Libya was embossed with the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Barack Obama! As John Pilger says, he’s America’s “First Black President to invade Africa.”

Stay tuned for more fun facts!

Compared To What?
Posted on October 23rd, 2010 at 1:30 pm by Steve

John Legend and The Roots have a new album out, and one of my favorite songs is “Compared To What.” I played it for some musician friends of mine, and one of them said, “Wow, this is a lot slower than the original!”

There ensued some discussion of “the original.” One person said Common (the hip hop artist); someone else said, “I thought it was from The Seventies.” After a visit to The Google, I found a wealth of information about this interesting, important song of protest, and its circuitous pop history.

Mark Anthony Neal, a music writer and professor at Duke University, gives the best breakdown of the song’s history in a March, 2003 article for Pop Matters. He notes that, indeed, Common did record a version of “Compared to What,” with the singer Mya. But the only lyrics from the original song that remain are, “Tryin’ to make it real, compared to what?” Everything else is a rap by Common that includes lines like “the real can’t be bought or sold.”

The irony (which you knew was coming)? The rapper was remaking Eugene McDaniels’s 1960’s-era anti-war song as part of a Coca-Cola marketing campaign called “Coca-Cola…Real:”

The original version of the song is a powerful example of black pop that wasn’t afraid, echoing Audre Lorde, to speak truth to power, an element sorely missing in contemporary black pop music.

Many of the so-called hip-hop generation’s artists have been remarkably silent, while Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Powell march lockstep to war with Iraq. Thus it is terribly ironic that in the midst of major antiwar protests around the world, one of the most “conscious” of hip-hop artists [Common] referenced one of the great protest recordings in the pantheon of soul music to sell brown caffeinated fizz.

[flvplayer 400 320]

That remake of the song is particularly distasteful when you compare it to the most famous of the 60’s-era versions. You Tube user Dr. Greez had uploaded the classic recording of pianist Les McCann and saxophonist Eddie Harris doing “Compared to What” live at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival:

That version really cooks.

It’s interesting to hear John Legend and The Roots, who share enough of an affinity with Common that he appears elsewhere on the same album (Wake Up!), offer their take on this anti-war song. Unlike Common in the Coca-Cola ads, John Legend sings the original lyrics more or less as written. The Roots provides a much more stripped-down, slower base for the song. Overall, it’s a stirring version.

As we’re in the midst of two “overseas contingency operations” that continue to kill and maim on a daily basis, the potent protest lyrics of “Compared To What?” remain sadly relevant. John Legend, ?uestlove, and the Roots have taken a small step toward restoring the honor, and the power, of Eugene McDaniels’s original.

Have a listen below.

[audio:|titles=Compared to What|artists=John Legend and The Roots]
Visualizing Empire
Posted on October 1st, 2010 at 2:22 am by dr.hoo

Pedro M Cruz’s visual history of European empires of the 19th and 20th centuries:

Built in Processing. More on the project HERE.

Back When Nelson Mandela Was a Terrorist…
Posted on May 26th, 2010 at 4:38 pm by Steve

The government of Israel agreed to sell nuclear-armed Jericho missiles to the apartheid South African government in 1974.

London’s Guardian revealed on Sunday evidence that Shimon Peres signed a top-secret agreement with P. W. Botha to sell to South Africa the long-range Jericho nuclear missiles and warheads. Both men were the Defense Ministers of their respective nations, and each would later become head of state. Peres and the Israeli government deny that such an agreement ever existed. Ultimately, South Africa chose not to purchase the missiles from Israel, and later developed its own nuclear weapons. (The musical satirist Tom Lehrer joked in 1967 of their nuclear ambitions, “South Africa wants two – that’s right! – one for the black and one for the white!”)

Adding yet another layer of painful irony, in a letter to South Africa’s Secretary for Information in 1974, Shimon Peres wrote,

“This cooperation is based not only on common interests and on the determination to resist equally our enemies, but also on the unshakeable foundations of our common hatred of injustice and our refusal to submit to it.

Indeed, one can only imagine “the unshakeable foundations of common hatred (…)” that Israel and apartheid South Africa shared.

And so it goes.

In My Country, We Call It “Murder”
Posted on April 13th, 2010 at 4:59 pm by Steve

“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.”

That’s from General Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, quoted in the New York Times. He’s referring specifically to soldiers at military checkpoints who engage in “escalation of force” against people, usually in vehicles, who behave in ways the soldiers perceive to be threatening.

The whole situation is extremely complicated, but it bears repeating: Afghanistan never attacked the United States. The people of Afghanistan never posed a threat to the United States. The alleged perpetrators of the attacks of September 11, 2001 were from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon (all nominal “allies” of the United States). The United States had no basis under international law for its invasion and occupation of Afghanistan: such behavior constitutes a war of aggression.

Sixty years ago, the United States government helped to articulate the gravity of a war of aggression: it is “not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Nine years into this unprovoked war, the US general in charge admits “we have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.” Though he was talking about checkpoints, his comments could easily apply to the enterprise as a whole.

What will be our reward here in the United States for such international cruelty?

“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just” (Thomas Jefferson, 1783).

Who Needs Courts When You’ve Got “History’s Judgment”?
Posted on February 15th, 2010 at 7:16 pm by Steve

Andrew Sullivan calls out Dick Cheney’s admission this weekend, “I was a big supporter of waterboarding,” and correctly notes that the former Vice President has thereby admitted to being guilty of a war crime. War Crimes must be investigated and prosecuted under U. S. law and international treaty, and the principle of Universal Jurisdiction applies (meaning, Cheney could be indicted and arrested by agents of a foreign government and held to account).

Of course, the Attorney General of the United States doesn’t seem to understand his solemn obligation:

[Attorney General Eric Holder] added that he had seen documents making clear that Cheney’s office was the driving force behind the Bush Administration’s most controversial counterterrorism policies, especially those sanctioning brutal interrogations. He said of Cheney, “I think he’s worried about what history’s judgment will be of the role that he played in making decisions about everything from black sites to enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Thanks, Eric Holder. Let’s all just sit on our hands and wait for history to render a judgment. It’s not like it’s your JOB to go around enforcing the laws of the United States!

(The Holder quote comes from this excellent article by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker, which I also referenced in a prior post.)

Some People Believe Scott Brown Is A Fucking Moron
Posted on February 13th, 2010 at 2:24 pm by Steve

People are screaming about Defending America From Terrorists. Their method? Abandon bedrock American values. Of course!

“Some people believe our Constitution exists to grant rights to terrorists who want to harm us. I disagree.”

Jane Mayer called out that gem from a Senator (!) Scott Brown political ad that ran last month. Her profile of this “movement” is in the current New Yorker.

And, just for the record, Senator Brown: our Constitution actually does stipulate that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury… nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

I believe the English language included the word “citizen” back in 1789, so I’m pretty fucking sure that when the framers wrote “No person,” that’s exactly what they meant.

In fact, I’m pretty fucking sure that the whole point of guaranteeing the rights of the accused is so that “terrorists who want to harm us” are afforded due process of law. I mean, the law is good enough for serial killers, rapists, arsonists, and mass-murderers, but it crumbles before a kid with explosive underoos?

Anti-US Propaganda from Dear Leader
Posted on February 5th, 2010 at 5:20 pm by Steve

Creepy but pretty interesting, too. Via the ISO50 blog.

Brutal British Colonial History in “The Yemen”
Posted on January 12th, 2010 at 5:45 pm by Steve

Since everyone in the media is all agog over the latest existential threat to our very way of life (i.e., Yemen), I thought I’d look around a little and see what I could find. Via a link Jonathan Schwarz’s A Tiny Revolution, I came across this excellent blog post by Adam Curtis, a documentary filmmaker who produced, among other gems, The Power of Nightmares (2004) and The Mayfair Set (1999).

It’s really worth reading the whole post, but one key takeaway is that

only forty years ago the British government fought a vicious secret war in the Yemen against republican revolutionaries who used terror, including bombing airliners… [T]he chaos that has engulfed the Yemen today and is breeding new terrorist threats against the west is a direct result of that conflict of forty years ago.

His blog post contains some excellent archival video from the BBC documenting British adventures there in the 1960’s. It’s worth every minute of your time.

The other key takeaway is that, apparently, British people call it “the Yemen.”

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