Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category


Why does some music sound so relaxed? It’s real simple — the musicians are playing behind the beat (almost invariably in swung time).

That means that they’re playing a few thousandths of a second after the beat falls. That’s common in blues, jazz, soul, and (less so as the decades go on) funk. Not at all in country, hard rock, metal or punk.

In those styles, everything is pretty much right on the beat — exact to the thousandth of a second. Some metal moves beyond that to being ahead of the beat.

Here’s how to think of all this: 1) Ahead of the beat: Nazis jacked up on meth and running meth labs in Kingman or Fresno, or half-a-block down from yours truly in years past (about 15 years ago, I came home one afternoon to find DEA agents in flak jackets and bearing automatic weapons busting a lab in the apartments across the street) — ahead of the beat is simply frenetic; 2) On the beat: common rock or 4/4 country — excited, but nothing to get excited about here folks, nothing to see, move along (please!); 3)  Anything behind the beat: Ah yes! Relax, groove into it. Enjoy it!

The best example of behind-the-beat playing I can think of is James Brown’s 16-minute masterpiece, “Papa don’t take no mess,” off of his otherwise awful “Hell” CD. Everyone playing on that tune is way behind the beat.

The best example of yours truly playing behind the beat is on the first Pinche Blues Band EP, with the cut Postal; I’m way behind the beat (on guitar), as is everybody else.

And do it yourself. It ain’t all that hard. Just find a tune where the musicians are playing behind the beat, and imitate it.

Seriously, it really isn’t all that hard: All you need to do is to play at the last moment you can stand it, just before it’d be wrong.

Enjoy! Make it funky, y’all. Or as Jones would say, “Whoa!” (If you’ve never read A Confederacy of Dunces, you’re in for a treat.)


It’s been a while since we put up an installment in our ongoing “interesting an marginally useful internet crap” series. Well, wait no more. Hold onto your hats and enjoy. We’ll start with the mind-bogglingly sick:

  • Let’s says you’re a religious organization with a history and ongoing problem of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. How do you deal with it? Well, the first step is easy: you continue to present yourself as a paragon of virtue, the ultimate moral authority. But beyond that? If you’re the Catholic Church, you transfer the problem to another parish. If you’re evangelical, you forgive the transgressor and welcome him back (and keep sending him “prayer offerings” or voting for him) as long as he says he repents — never mind his actually doing anything about his transgressions. (Among innumerable examples, see former U.S. Senator David “Diaper Man” Vitter and Jim “Weasel Jesus” Bakker.)
  • But what do you do about abuse if you’re the squeaky clean Mormon Church? Let’s say your clergy (in most cases bishops) get requests from wives for counseling about violent physical abuse from their husbands? What to do? If you’re a Mormon bishop, the answer is obvious: tell the women that the abuse is their fault, that they should stay in the abusive relationship, and that if they leave they’re risking their eternal salvation.
  • Speaking of creepy things Mormon, it’s a normal practice in that church for grown men, Mormon bishops, in one-on-one “worthiness” interviews, to grill and shame prepubescent and pubescent boys and girls about their sexual fantasies and masturbation. Lately, victims of this abuse have recorded some of these disgusting sessions and have then taken the recordings to a Mormon whistleblower site, Protect LDS Children, where they’ve been posted online. The Mormon hierarchy’s response? Are they ending this horrible, abusive practice? Nope, far from it: they tried to get the Utah legislature to change the state’s wiretapping law so as to prohibit the recording of the invasive interviews.
  • And while we’re on the topic of disgusting things . . . Donald Trump. (Apologies to Steven Colbert for stealing that joke.) Trump famously bragged that he could kill someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it. We’d go further: Donald Trump could strangle a dog and then sodomize its corpse on national TV, and his followers would praise him for it, speaking admiringly of how “out of the box” and what a “different kind of president” he is. So, even though Trump’s minions seem immune to reason and allergic to objective reality — in fact, they seem proud of being willfully ignorant — if you have friends or relatives who are Trump supporters but don’t yet have that glassy-eyed, thousand-yard stare, you might point them in the direction of “101 Ways Donald Trump has Betrayed his Populist Agenda.”
  • As well, James Risen, the former New York Times journalist Obama’s “justice” department came close to jailing in Obama’s anti-whistleblower jihad, has a lengthy, highly detailed and well worth reading series on The Intercept titled, “Is Donald Trump a Traitor?
  • While we’re on the topic of assholes, Deadspin recently put out its annual post compiled from emergency room reports, “What Did We Get Stuck In Our Rectums Last Year?
  • In the “please, please, tell me this isn’t true” category, a right-wing Swiss politician, Daniel Regli, has blamed gay suicides on “incontinence due to weakened anal muscles” rather than on homophobia, discrimination, and gay bashings.
  • We can’t think of a good transition to this one, so we’ll just say that for once an Onion piece is not only amusing but has useful and timely information: how to delete your Facebook account.
  • If you’d like some good news (yes, there actually is some), TechXplore has a short article explaining energy-source economics, “Fossil fuels blown away by wind in cost terms“; the piece also covers photovoltaics in addition to wind.
  • Finally, every now and then a news item just makes you want to smile. The BBC recently published such an item: “South African lions eat ‘poacher’, leaving only his head.” The BBC quotes Limpopo police spokesman Moatshe Ngoepe as saying of the victim, whose head was found next to a loaded hunting rifle, “They ate his body, almost all of it, leaving only his head and some remains.”

And, other than saying Bon appetit! . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . That’s all folks!

Porky Pig


How Democracies Die front cover(How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt: Crown, 2018, 312 pp., $26.00)

 

It’s often worthwhile to point out the obvious, as Levitsky and Ziblatt have done here: the U.S. is undergoing a stress test of its democratic institutions, the increasingly authoritarian Republican Party is primarily responsible for the stress, and the means used by authoritarian parties to destroy democracy tend to be quite similar across the world.

The authors do a good job of outlining the commonalities of would-be dictators:

  1. Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game;
  2. Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents;
  3. Toleration or encouragement of violence;
  4. Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media.

The authors cite several examples to illustrate these points, including the Erdogan regime in Turkey, the Chávez regime in Venezuela, and the Trump regime (more politely, the Trump Administration) in the U.S.

They also cite three common tactics employed by authoritarians undermining democracy:

  1. Capturing the “referees” (especially the courts);
  2. Sidelining opponents (e.g., via slanderous charges and trumped-up criminal charges);
  3. Changing the rules (e.g., restricting the right to vote).

Again, they provide numerous examples, and again Trump and his Republican enablers are prominent among them.

These examples, these case studies of the attitudes and tactics of authoritarians, are the most valuable part of the book.

As for the analysis of why things have gotten so bad in the U.S., not so much. The authors are conventional liberals who see nothing fundamentally flawed in what, from its start, has always been a weak democracy with, almost from the start, a two-party duopoly under the control of the rich. (The authors don’t mention it, but George Washington, for all his virtues, was the richest man in the 13 colonies.)

While they’re not entirely uncritical of America’s past — for example, they include a good but quite brief history of the political aspects of Jim Crow in the wake of Reconstruction — they paint a remarkably rosy picture of America’s “democratic” past, with “backroom candidate selection . . . keeping demonstrably unfit figures off the ballot and out of office.” And this in reference to Warren G. Harding(!), arguably the most corrupt and incompetent U.S. president until Trump.

The authors are also rather obtuse regarding the underlying economic reasons for the current crisis in what passes for American democracy. They blame post-1975 “economic growth slowing” plus increased ethnic diversity as being the reasons for the current breakdown of political norms.

This is simply wrong. Since real wages peaked in 1972-1973, productivity growth has averaged roughly 1.75% per year, while wages have grown not at all. This means that the amount of goods and services produced per hour worked have approximately doubled over the last 45 years, with almost all of the gains going not to those who do the work, but to those who own the corporations. As well, there has been a distinct redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top over the same period, with the top 1% now owning nearly 50% of the nation’s wealth — a trend which Obama didn’t even try to address, and which is worsening under Trump.

Is it any wonder that people are fed up? That so many voters are so fed up with their stressful economic state and the corporate-controlled two-party duopoly — essentially a choice between evil and greater evil — that 41% of those eligible to vote in the last election didn’t even show up at the polls? Is it any wonder that so many feel so much economic pain that they’ll listen to demagogues who scapegoat minorities?

The authors’ prescription to put U.S. democracy back on the rails? To oversimplify, a return to civility between Democrats and Republicans. That might involve (they say this is a remote possibility) a reformed Republican party casting out the white nationalists and other authoritarians (good luck on that), plus the Democrats fighting Trump et al. in court and on the ballot, and the Democrats advocating a few minimalist common-sense reformist measures, such as universal healthcare coverage and a significantly higher minimum wage.

In the end, the authors see nothing fundamentally flawed in the present system. If you’re looking for bold strategies to address the fundamental inequities, injustices, and outright horrors in present-day America, you won’t find it in How Democracies Die.

The book’s value, though, lies in its clear presentation of the attitudes and tactics of dictators and would-be dictators, and its many case studies of authoritarian figures and regimes.

Recommended.


Donald Trump claims that “We love the Dreamers” (using, of course, the royal “we”).

In days gone by, the prescription was, “If you love someone, set them free.”

Times have changed. Trump hasn’t said so in so many words, but his new prescription is blindingly obvious: “If you love someone, hold them hostage.”

 


(Improved billboard courtesy of the Billboard Liberation Front)


To mark his first year in office, this week we’re reposting last year’s best posts on Donald Trump. Here’s our very slightly updated post from May 20, 2017:


It’s official. Donald Trump is now, undeniably, in bed with radical Islamists: the Saudi government. That government is essentially ISIS with oil. (Not incidentally, rich Saudis, including members of the Saudi royal family, provided essential funding to ISIS during its initial years.)

Following his love fest with Turkish president and Islamo-fascist thug Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Donald Trump just approved one of the biggest arms deals in history with the Saudi Islamo-fascists. He just approved a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudi regime.

So, what will the arms be used for, what purposes? Exactly what kind of policies does our “ally”pursue?

Under Saudi Sharia law, Human Rights Watch reports that “adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian—usually a husband, father, brother, or son—to travel, marry, or exit prison.” Under the Saudi regime, women couldn’t even drive until very recently.

Of course, given the regime’s radical Islamist (Wahhabi) orientation, there is no freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia; mere criticism of the theo-fascist regime can, and does, land people in prison for more than a decade.

Nor is there freedom of conscience in Saudi Arabia. Merely being an atheist is grounds for execution, though the more usual punishments are imprisonment and/or torture (flogging) that can result in permanent physical damage.

And, yes, Saudi Arabia judicially murders a large number of people; it has one of the highest execution rates in the world.

Saudi crimes extend beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders. In addition to helping to finance ISIS and providing 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, the Saudis currently commit war crimes in Yemen, including bombing funerals, hospitals, and other civilian targets, and “double tap” bombing, in which the Saudis bomb the same target shortly after first hitting it, in order to kill and maim rescue workers.

These are the Islamist monsters Trump just armed to the teeth.

Actions speak louder than words, and despite Trump’s anti-Islamist rhetoric, his actions betray him. He’ll stir up hatred against powerless refugees, but he kisses the cheeks (both upper and lower) of oil-rich Islamists.

If you oppose radical Islam, you oppose it. And you support those who Islamists oppress. You don’t sell $110 billion in arms to one of the worst Islamist human rights violators on earth.

Donald Trump is an utter hypocrite.

(Of course, all recent U.S. presidents and their administrations have been equally hypocritical. Here’s a rogues gallery of some of the guilty.)

Barack Obama, who sold the Saudis $60 billion worth of arms.

 George W. Bush, who allowed approximately 50 members of the Bin Laden family to leave the U.S. immediately after 9/11, without allowing the FBI to question them.

Bill Clinton, whose foundation received more than $10 million of Saudi money.


To mark his first year in office without causing a nuclear war, this week we’re reposting last year’s best posts on Donald Trump. Here’s the one from August 4, 2017:


 

“I usually stay away from politics on here for obvious reasons. They’re too divisive, and this is supposed to be a place about sports [San Francisco Giants], a safe haven. But I think the one thing we can all agree on is that Donald Trump is a dangerously ignorant man-child, the wriggling embodiment of the seven deadly sins, each of them competing against the other for supremacy at all times.”

— Grant Brisbee, “Donald Trump wanted to buy the San Francisco Giants” (on our favorite baseball blog, McCovey Chronicles). We’d highly advise reading the entire piece, as it’s outright hilarious.