Friday, February 27, 2009

The CRW's Other Complaining Letter

As long as we're at it, here's the first letter the Citizens for a Responsible ... Curriculum ... sent the school district:
Dear Dr. Weast,

This letter concerns a video, “The Choices We Make”, which was just approved by the Citizens Advisory Committee for Health Education.
There are a number of serious issues raised by this video.

Among these are:
1. The video portrays sex between two teenagers and could be characterized as soft porn.
2. The video portrays “abortion” as just another form of birth control.
3. The video portrays “abortion” as essentially a trivial procedure requiring virtually no pre-abortion counseling.
4. All the black students in the video are portrayed as ignorant, ill informed, and ill educated. Black students are depicted using incorrect grammar and spelling. This is pure racial stereotyping.
5. Furthermore, this video appears to violate MCPS‘s Curriculum Outline for Health Education in which there is no provision for “abortion” to be discussed.

We trust you and your staff will want to review this video very carefully and very critically before any Montgomery County Students are exposed to it. The Montgomery County School System has already been subjected to a very large amount of criticism and ridicule over its previous choices of videos.

Thank you for your attention.
Michelle Turner
Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum

They put abortion in quotes the way some of the Family Blah Blah sites like to put gay in quotes, as if it wasn't a real word. Like, maybe this group considers the word "abortion" to be a liberal euphemism for "baby-killing."

The CRW wants to criticize this video as racist, and they are really not the people to pull that off. Here you see what I mean. The main characters in the video are black. They are sensitive, intelligent young people, struggling with difficult situations, I think they are very credible characters. There is some slang, like the boy says "Word," which as an old white person I personally would never say. But look at how the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum see these very normal black teenagers:
All the black students in the video are portrayed as ignorant, ill informed, and ill educated.

To the CRC, ordinary black people are "ignorant, ill informed, and ill educated." I understand they like to criticize the schools, they oppose sex-ed -- I completely understand that they object to any discussion of abortion in the public schools. But they are really not the people to be calling someone else racists.

Oh hey, the popcorn's done, pull up a chair, let's see how this goes.

CRW Complains About Video

The Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development advises the Montgomery County School District on health curriculum materials. I am on the committee, we review materials and vote on whether the schools should use them. We approve the vast majority of things that are shown to us. My own position is that there may be something I don't especially like, but if there is not incorrect or patently offensive information in it I will trust that the health teachers will use the resource wisely. These are things to use in the classroom, posters, videos, books, things like that.

Earlier this month the committee met and looked at some slides and a sixteen minute video. The video was quite interesting. It was a vignette about a young couple. The girl's mother was working a double shift so her boyfriend came over and they ended up having sex on the couch. The dialogue is very realistic, the characters are believable. Predictably, the girl gets pregnant. There is some very good discussion between the couple, between them and their mothers, with their friends. In the end, the girl goes to an abortion clinic but you never know if she terminates the pregnancy or not. This is not an instructional video, it never gives you vocabulary terms or tells you what you should do in this or that case or how anything works. You simply follow this couple as they make some choices and then follow through with the consequences.

The couple and their mothers are black. They are very believable characters, not stereotypical but they don't pretend to be white. The acting is great, in fact the entire production is very well done. You will see that the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever will want to say that it is racist to have black people in a video who talk like black people. I am eager to see how they back that up.

At the end of the video the committee sat silent for a minute and then a very good discussion followed. Committee members' opinions were all over the board. I was somewhat concerned about the racial aspect, others were concerned that the steamy opening scene might be too much, but all in all the committee members felt that the video would really stimulate good discussion. We nodded in agreement with one member's statement that this was the one really good video we have seen, in several years of reviewing materials.

The committee's vote was close, I don't remember the exact vote but the video was accepted for use in the tenth grade.

Now the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever (Ruth Jacobs is the president of one or the other of their groups) wants to whine raise a stink over this one. The CRW of course opposes abortion, but they are also going to try to look like they oppose this video because it is racist.

Michelle Turner of the CR ... C sent a letter to the school superintendent last week, which I decided not to post because it looked like the whole controversy might just dry up and blow away. But now Ruth Jacobs, who is a committee member, has sent a second letter, so I think it's time to air this.

You can see the video they're talking about HERE. You'll see, it's not like the movies you saw in school, you might be shocked at first but give it a chance.
Board Certified Internal Medicine
Board Certified Allergy and Immunology
Board Certified Infectious Disease
15001 Shady Grove Road, Ste. 110
Rockville, MD 20850
(301) 315-9515
February 26, 2009

Dr. Jerry D. Weast,
Superintendent of Schools
850 Hungerford Drive
Room 122
Rockville 20850

Dear Dr. Weast and Board of Education,

This letter concerns a video, “The Choices We Make”, which was just approved by the Citizens Advisory Committee for Health Education (CAC).

I am writing to add my comments to those raised by Citizens for Responsible Curriculum. Montgomery County Public Schools should show that they protect more than one minority group. Unfortunately, CAC, by their vote affirming the film, gave exactly the opposite message.

The film was filled with racial stereotypes. While the CAC has strongly opposed homosexual labeling, it did not show the same protection for African Americans or sexually conservative students and their parents.

Our only African American student member reported that she was afraid her white Damascus schoolmates would judge all African Americans based on what was in the film. When the committee did not accept her concerns that the student pursued them no further.

Parents can choose what movies their children see. They can't choose whether or not to send their kids to school. In the past few years, MCPS restricted the movies that MCPS teachers could show the students. They did this to protect student’s rights to not be uncomfortable or embarrassed.

The video has a steamy soft porn introduction which sexually conservative parents would not allow their children to watch, if they were warned, for this very reason. Even members of the committee who didn’t vote against the film reported being made to feel uncomfortable by the video.

Regrettably, the certain committee members shrugged off any concerns with comments suggesting “students could leave the class or close their eyes.” Students cannot leave High School classrooms in the middle of an explicit video without invoking shame, ridicule, and comments by teachers and fellow students.

The MCPS health class framework does not provide for a discussion about abortion. Making a proviso for discussing abortion was specifically discussed and turned down by the CAC when it helped formulate the framework. When does life begin? What is the effect of an abortion on mental health?

Does MCPS want to enter on a full-blown discussion of this? Does MCPS want to be viewed as promoting taking away life? Adoption was not presented in the video as a realistic option.

If abortion is discussed contrary to the framework, the risks of abortion should also be shown.

The video gave no presentation of the pregnant teen having professional and informed counseling about the risks of abortion. This is possibly typical of America where one woman has said “I received better informed consent counseling when my dog had surgery compared to what I received before my abortion,” however MCPS should not have this perspective.

In 2002, the deaths of nine women were reported as a result of legally induced abortions in the United States. One article suggests immediate minor complication rates (infection, laceration, incomplete abortion) of 1 to 5 percent, and major complications rates of 0.1 to 2 percent. Women who have abortions are more likely to have premature infants. Abortions can result in an incompetent cervix and difficulties with future pregnancies.

In summary, this video shows a disrespect for African Americans who are stereotyped by the film; disrespect for parents and students who have no desire to be assaulted by explicit sexual video images and disrespect for the health of the mother and life of the unborn by portraying abortion as a trivial procedure, just another form of birth control, without even giving the option of adoption.

We believe that your review of this video will show that “The Choices We Make” is not a good choice for Montgomery County public schools.

Ruth M. Jacobs, M.D.

If you follow the link above you will see that the opening sex scene is a little intense. The boy has his shirt off for some of it, and there is some heavy breathing and, as I recall, a few oh-babies in there. Porn? Maybe Ruth Jacobs has never seen any porn. This could easily be shown on network television. I was surprised when I first saw it and had to think about it because it is so different from what we saw when we were in school, it is different from other school materials. But the fact is, if you're talking about sex in sex-ed class, this is what it's going to look like. Sex doesn't actually look like a sperm cell passing through the vas deferens to the ... Fallopian tubes ... whatever. This video is about choices you have to make, and the production is something that will engage students in a personal way. Students will understand exactly what is going on here and they will relate to it.

In fact, it is noteworthy that these teenagers are not drunk when they have sex, there is no social pressure, the boy does not force the girl into it or trick her, as in most of the videos we have seen. These are two kids who do seem to care about one another -- this is a very realistic portrayal of a situation that many teens might find themselves in.

Did you know students have a right not to be uncomfortable or embarrassed? Man, I wish they'd had that when I was in high school! I was either uncomfortable or embarrassed all the time. Sometimes both.

The CRW is going to back themselves into a corner if they try to present themselves as champions of racial equality. The characters in this video are black but there is no stereotyping, they simply act like people. Black people. Neither of the main characters seems to have a father. The girl's mother is working double shifts. There are no pillars around the front door, no circular staircase leading up to sprawling suites of upstairs bedrooms with a butler waiting to take your hat -- the boy watches sports on TV for a while, then the girl comes in and does a little dance for him, and it goes from there, very realistic. I can't speak for black people, but I think they would appreciate that these characters are not compromised, they talk the way they talk, the music is the music these actual characters would listen to, the things that happen are things that would happen to real people who look like this. By the way, the script was written by a teenager.

There is some question about how this video would be understood in a school, like Damascus, that has very few black students, and my feeling is that maybe health teachers there will choose to show something else. At Einstein everybody will relate to these two kids, they're just like kids that are in your classes. Maybe students at Damascus will miss the point, they might think this is a video about black people, since they see so few of them. This is where I trust health teachers to select materials that are appropriate for the topic and for the audience. Not all classes can handle this, but it is not a mandatory video, it is just something that will be made available. I respect the health teachers enough to trust them to decide whether this is right for their class.

She says the committee has "strongly opposed homosexual labeling." This is nonsense, the committee has taken no position on "homosexual labeling" -- whatever that is! In her mind, because the characters are black and do not talk like her, this must be some terrible form of racist stereotyping. No, sorry, these are some regular black kids, they talk like this. Really. Not every single one, of course, that's silly, this is not a stereotype or a caricature, it's what you would call a group norm. These are normal kids who are black.

Abortion. Of course the CRW is against abortion. That's fine, I don't agree with them but they have an opinion and I have no problem with that, but they don't have much of a point here. This video does not teach about abortion or recommend abortion. A central question for sex education of an adolescent audience has to be this: what do you do when you find you are pregnant? A single teen living with her mom, going to school, has to make a choice. Not everybody will make Bristol Palin's choice, but even Bristol Palin appreciates that she has a choice. In the end of this video you don't know if the pregnancy was terminated or not, the couple share a big emotional hug but you don't know which way it came out.

Oh, and she says nine women died from legal abortions in 2002. According to the National Right to Life web site, there were 1,269,000 abortions performed in 2002. At that rate, I'm guessing abortion is safer than stopping a nosebleed with Kleenex, safer than eating with a sharp fork, safer than walking under a tree in a rainstorm (I'd better stop, this is getting fun). I'm not an expert, but 9/1,269,000 sounds like a small fraction to me.

Can you imagine teaching sex-ed to teenagers and not talking about what to do if you get pregnant? The CRW thinks that question is out of line.

The citizens advisory committee approved this video with a special recommendation that the teacher needs to allow sufficient time for a good discussion. You wouldn't just show this and send kids out into the hall, you want to talk about it. Students will have different views about the things that go on in the script. It is an excellent resource -- it's all about making good choices. The school district needs to stand behind this one and not let the threat of lawsuits bully them into making bad choices. The committee reviewed this, voted, the process was followed, let's move on.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

NAACP Challenges Proposition 8

In the last election, several states passed anti-gay referendums, and as you recall there was a lot of concern about the role of black voters in that movement. Polls showed that a relatively high percentage of black voters were willing to vote against gay rights. Proposition 8 in California, in particular, got a lot of ink and a lot of money focused on it, and in the end gay marriages were stopped in that state.

This week Pam's House Blend has a notable press release from the National Association of Colored People (NAACP). She doesn't have a link to the source, so I'll copy from her site (bolding is hers):
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People today announced support of measures before the California legislature challenging Proposition 8, which altered the California Constitution to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry and equal protection under the law.

In a letter to legislative leaders, NAACP national board chair Julian Bond and President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous urged passage of House Resolution 5 and Senate Resolution 7 to put the legislature on record calling for invalidation of Prop. 8 as an improper and dangerous alteration of the California Constitution.

"The NAACP's mission is to help create a society where all Americans have equal protection and opportunity under the law," said President Jealous. "Our Mission Statement calls for the 'equality of rights of all persons.' Prop. 8 strips same-sex couples of a fundamental freedom, as defined by the California State Supreme Court. In so doing, it poses a serious threat to all Americans. Prop. 8 is a discriminatory, unprecedented change to the California Constitution that, if allowed to stand, would undermine the very purpose of a constitution and courts - assuring equal protection and opportunity for all and safeguarding minorities from the tyranny of the majority."

SR 7, sponsored by Equality California (EQCA), will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 24th and will proceed to the full Senate for a vote shortly thereafter. Its companion bill, HR 5, also sponsored by EQCA, passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Feb. 17th and is eligible for a vote before the full Assembly as early as today.

The California State Conference of the NAACP filed briefs with the California Supreme Court in the legal challenge against Prop. 8, arguing that the measure drastically alters the equal protection guarantee in California's Constitution and that the rights of a minority cannot be eliminated by a simple majority vote. Several other civil rights organizations, faith leaders, unions and leading corporations also filed briefs urging the invalidation of Prop. 8.

"The NAACP has long opposed any proposal that would alter the federal or state constitutions for the purpose of excluding any groups or individuals from guarantees of equal protection," said Chairman Bond. "We urge the legislature to declare that Proposition 8 did not follow the proper protective process and should be overturned as an invalid alteration that vitiated crucial constitutional safeguards and fundamental American values, threatening civil rights and all vulnerable minorities." NAACP national calls for Prop 8 to be overturned

There is a certain kind of illogic in the idea that one group of people who have fought for their rights should necessarily support another group trying to do the same thing. Just because people want freedom and equal rights doesn't mean they have anything in common. On the other hand, it is very encouraging that this big organization is going to be proactive in reaching out to its community, asking black Americans to consider the oppression of gay citizens as comparable to the oppression they themselves have historically faced.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Anti-Gay Loudmouth Shuts Down Utah Senate

We talked the other day about this Buttars guy, what a piece of work. Out there in Utah his Republican colleagues don't really disagree with him, they just feel a little funny about a guy saying the things he says so, you know, openly. They shut down the state Senate so they could go away and talk about it. This is the strangest thing.
SALT LAKE CITY - The Utah Senate stopped working for about two hours Monday as Republicans privately met to discuss a lawmaker's recent comments that gay people don't have morals and that gay activists are among America's greatest threats.

Not a single bill was debated on the Senate floor Monday morning, increasing the backlog of bills that may never become law simply because lawmakers will run out of time to approve them before the 45-day session ends.

Republican Sen. Chris Buttars of West Jordan told a documentary filmmaker that gay people don't have any morals and he compared gay activists to radical Muslims, saying they're one of America's greatest threats. Anti-gay remarks raise ruckus in Utah Senate

Thinking about it, I can't see any similarities at all between gay people and radical Muslims. It seems to me that radical Muslims cut gay people's heads off, don't they? Radical Muslims crash airplanes into tall buildings, I can't even remember a gay person crashing a party. Okay, I'm being silly, but really ... this guy sounds like he should be in a mental hospital, not a state Capitol building.

Do you ever have that feeling like you might have just fallen here from a distant planet, and the aliens native inhabitants have strange and bizarre ways that you just can't quite get a grip on? Okay, well maybe that's just me, sorry. How about the other way around? -- Do you ever feel like some kind of weird aliens have landed on earth and live among us, with strange and bizarre ways that you just can't quite get a grip on? Let me put it this way: can you imagine being one of these Utah Republicans? Me neither.
Last week, Senate President Michael Waddoups removed Buttars from a judiciary committee he chaired. Buttars frequently took pride in using the chairmanship to kill gay rights legislation.

Waddoups said he wanted to remove a distraction and wasn't trying to punish Buttars for the comments. Waddoups also said that his colleagues agree with many of Buttars' statements, but has refused to say which statements.

That is beautiful, isn't it? They will go on record as saying they don't agree with some of his statements, but won't say which ones. Like, privately they will admit that when Buttars said it was a beautiful day they thought it was too cloudy -- that's what they meant. That stuff about gay people, what'd be wrong with that?
Sen. Greg Bell said Monday he disagrees with at least one of Buttars' comments.

"I think I could say that, to a person, everyone in our caucus supports traditional marriage. Many of us, however, feel that the tenor, the examples, some of the phrasing that Sen. Buttars used in his controversial comments, were intolerant and immoderate," Bell said. "I don't believe that all gays have no morals whatsoever."

Buttars' comments and his removal from the judiciary committee have created a rift in the Senate Republican caucus, prompting the private meeting. Senate leaders said Buttars wouldn't face any more sanctions and that no position was taken on the issue during their meeting.

"It was a venting process, in my judgment, and that's why it took the time that it took," said Sen. Pete Knudson. "I think that's a healthy part of this whole situation, is that no one is being told what to think, no one is being told how to think, but they had their opportunity to express and I think that was very, very good for our caucus."

Buttars' comments first aired last week on the Salt Lake City ABC affiliate KTVX and a copyrighted audio clip is posted on its Web site. The documentary filmmaker he spoke to, Reed Cowan, formerly worked at KTVX and is now a reporter at WSVN in Miami.

Last night I watched the President's speech, and now I can't help seeing these Republicans in relation to that. The biggest criticism of the President last night was that he was "too ambitious." He sees some problems that he thinks we need to do something to solve. The economy, education, health care, wars, torture ... there are real problems in the world, and they require clear thinking and hard work.

In comparison, listen to this: "I don't believe that all gays have no morals whatsoever." Man, these Utah Republicans are going out on a limb!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


One of my kids found this on 4chan -- it was too good not to use.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Relative Preferences

Mattew Yglesias has an interesting post looking at popular support for various people and topics. He points out that support for marijuana legalization is considered a "fringe" view in national politics. But compared to what?

A lot more people support legalization of marijuana than support George W. Bush or Republican congressmen -- never mind Rush Limbaugh.

If you reframed this in terms of "regulation" of marijuana or something that doesn't imply completely uncontrolled distribution, I think you'd find majority support for it.

Last night right before I fell asleep I watched a TV news show showing a stream of red-faced white guys in suits expressing outrage over the number of people who use marijuana or make money in the pot industry. ""It's illegal!" they said, but they never gave any explanation for what is wrong with it. Are they really that worked up because it's illegal? What do they do when they see somebody jaywalking, I wonder? The main problem with marijuana is that it's against the law. It's illegal because it's illegal, there's nothing more to it.

As far as these conservative loudmouths, the fact is that American people don't like them. It's fine for people to believe that their "way of life" is better than other people's, but other people aren't likely to agree with them.

The comments at Yglesias' blog are interesting. Like, somebody notes that modern conservatism is fringe politics with no medicinal benefits -- pretty good!

Friday, February 20, 2009

US Reverses Position on LGBT Issues

From the UN Dispatch:
In late December the United Nations General Assembly held a symbolic vote on a statement calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. France spearheaded the resolution, which was a 13 point declaration "to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention." The statement received 60 votes in support, mostly from Europe and South America. Opposing the resolution, were the United States, the Holy See, and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. At the time, the Bush administration couched its objection to the measure in legal technicalities.

Well, that was then. This is now: At the so-called "Durban Review Conference" on racism and xenophonia underway in Geneva, Europe again put forward language condemning “all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation.” According to UN Watch, "The Czech Republic on behalf of the E.U., with the support of New Zealand, the United States, Colombia, Chili on behalf of the South American states, the Netherlands, Argentina and a few others, took the floor in support."

The efforts to include language on discrimination based on sexual orientation ended up failing for lack of support from non-western countries. Still, it's relieving to see that the United States is now back on the side of the enlightened on this issue of basic human rights. Obama Reverses U.S. Position on LGBT Issues at the UN

See how easy that is?

Next thing you know, this crazy country of ours is going to go on record saying that people should have food.

Buttars Opens Mouth, Ugliness Spews

We've talked about this character before, HERE and HERE. He tried to stop Utah schools teaching about evolution, and he tried to outlaw Gay Straight Alliances in schools there. Great guy.

Here he is in the Salt Lake Tribune this week:
He called the gay-rights movement "probably the greatest threat to America," likened gay activists to Muslim radicals and dubbed same-sex relationships "abominations."

Now Sen. Chris Buttars finds himself in a familiar place: under fire amid demands he step down.

Last year, the NAACP called for Buttars to resign after comments he made on the Senate floor about a complex school-funding bill, saying, "This baby is black . . . It's a dark, ugly thing."

But Buttars kept his seat and won re-election in November.

"It is obvious that he believes he can say and do anything that he wishes without any consequences," said Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP's Salt Lake branch. "His words -- as before -- are despicable."

Buttars' latest remarks come from an interview with documentary filmmaker Reed Cowan that aired on ABC 4 this week. Buttars told Cowan the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community doesn't want "equality, they want superiority."

"It's the beginning of the end," the West Jordan Republican said. "Oh, it's worse than that. Sure. Sodom and Gomorrah was localized. This is worldwide." Buttars: Gays 'greatest threat to America'

Well, whatever, I just wanted to remind you that this kind of attitude is still out there.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Civil Unions for Straight Couples

A long time ago on this blog I wondered out loud why the government is involved at all in marriage. My thought was that marriage is a religious institution and it could just be handled by religious authorities. So if a certain church or synagogue, say, approves of marriage between same-sex couples, they go ahead and marry them. If another church doesn't believe in it, they just won't do it. The atheists could call themselves a religion for this purpose and marry people who don't belong to some other faith. The Rastafarians, Pastafarians, whatever, the Discordians, let them bind people together according to the beliefs of their religion and the government can recognize that.

But lately I've been seeing it the other way -- well, actually there's no contradiction, it's the same thing from the other point of view. I don't know if you watched that Suze Orman video I posted the other day, but a big part of marriage, really, is the financial benefits. So maybe what you really need is a governmental institution that considers couples as a unit regardless of their sex; they apply, pay a fee, maybe notarize some stuff, and they can file their taxes jointly, buy a house together, visit each other in the hospital, all the "official" things that married people do. Then, if you wanted to get married-married, you could still go to a rabbi or a preacher or whatever your religion has and go through whatever ceremony you guys use. If you didn't want to do that, you wouldn't have to.

Gay people want to marry. Well, you fall in love, you want to start a household together and spend the rest of your lives together, there is some kind of sense to it, isn't there! The rest of us do it, and it seems like a pretty good system, I can see why they'd want to be part of it. Over in France they passed a law saying that people can form a civil union, different from marriage mainly in that it is not assigned under a religious mantle. Check out this UPI story about what happened:
PARIS, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Authorities in France say a civil union designed a decade ago for gay couples has become increasingly popular with heterosexual couples.

Heterosexual men and women see the Civil Solidarity Pact as halfway between living together and marriage, The Washington Post (NYSE:WPO) reported Saturday.

The pact originally was understood as a way for homosexual couples to legalize their unions under French law, which prohibits them from marrying.

For every two marriages held now in France, one heterosexual couple chooses the solidarity pact, the Post reported, noting 92 percent of the 140,000 couples choosing to be united by the pact in 2008 were heterosexual.

The pact allows couples to file joint income tax returns, which can lower their annual tax bill significantly, and the unions can be dissolved without costly divorce procedures, said Irene Thery, a professor at France's Higher Institute of Social Sciences. More French couples choosing civil unions

(The original Post story is HERE -- I'm using this one because it's shorter and more to the point.)

One third of ... uh ... marriage-like commitments ... in France are civil unions. The law was designed to help out gay and lesbian couples but a lot of straight people thought it looked pretty good.

I don't know, I just thought it was interesting how this is turning out.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bristol Palin: Being a Mom Is Not, Like, Glamorous

It was a real epiphany for me during the Presidential campaign, when we found out Sarah Palin's seventeen-year-old daughter Bristol was pregnant and the whole Religious Right was happy as could be about it. They loved her for getting pregnant, and they loved her mother for being the mother of an unwed pregnant teenager.

It was the best political gimmick ever, there was absolutely nothing the Democrats could say about it without looking ... intelligent. Well, rude, I guess, or snobbish, it is impossible to explain why they couldn't just say "unmarried teenage girls should not have babies" but they couldn't.

Bristol Palin was interviewed this week on TV. Here's CNN telling about it.
(CNN) -- In her first interview since giving birth, the teenage daughter of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said having a child is not "glamorous," and that telling young people to be abstinent is "not realistic at all."

"It's just, like, I'm not living for myself anymore. It's, like, for another person, so it's different," Bristol Palin told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren. "And just you're up all night. And it's not glamorous at all," she said. "Like, your whole priorities change after having a baby."

The 18-year-old, who gave birth in late December, said she is being helped tremendously by her mother, grandmother, cousins and other family members. She is engaged to teen father Levi Johnston, who is now working for his father and trying to complete school, but said she wishes that she waited another 10 years to have a baby. Bristol Palin: Abstinence for all teens 'not realistic'

Really! So changing diapers and getting up in the middle of the night with a crying kid is not so glamorous, huh? Projectile vomiting, not cute? Who would have known? --Somebody who took comprehensive sex-ed, that's who.

Teens need to be taught about the facts of life, including condoms, birth control, choice. Young women, especially, need to know how to take control of their bodies and their lives, they need to know what their options are.

Skipping down...
Van Susteren was delicate with the teenager but pointedly asked if "contraception is an issue here."

"Is that something that you were just lazy about or not interested, or do you have philosophical or religious opposition to it," Van Susteren asked.

Bristol quickly answered that she didn't want to get into specifics. The best option is abstinence, the teen said, but added that she didn't think that was "realistic."

It's a swing and a miss. It would have really been helpful if she'd said more. Why in the world was this seventeen-year-old having sex with her boyfriend without contraception?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidents Day - Let's Watch Some Videos

I haven't been very good about updating the blog recently. We're sort of between controversies in the community, the Culture War battles have mostly been won by the good guys in Montgomery County and the United States as a whole seems to be in good hands, on the right track, recovering from the insanity we suffered for the past eight years.

Plus, I've been busy rehearsing with a new band, The Colliders. We're a three-piece band made up of guys from our Rockville neighborhood, Twinbrook Forest. We started out intending to play "rockabilly" but in fact our repertoire includes country and blues material as well, and we rock a little harder than most of the rockabilly bands. My description is that we play "rockabilly and everything else." Anyway, we've got a gig this weekend, and since we do mostly three-minute songs it takes a lot of them to fill up four hours. So we've been busy.

Over the past couple of days there have been several videos online that you might want to see. I don't usually post videos, partly because for a lot of us, especially government employees, they are blocked at work. But the government folks have today off, so here are a few good ones that you can see on your home computer. I am copying and pasting code from various web sites, and I hope these work. Fill up your cup and click on these links.

First, the American Psychological Association has a great video up about homosexuality. It's a cartoon that answers a lot of questions in a nice, bold way. You can read the text of it HERE.

From the historical perspective, in the past couple of weeks we have seen the new guy and his team, with the support of the people, setting about the business of running the government. The Republicans attempted to undermine the economic stimulus, and they failed. Saturday Night Live captured the image that America is seeing -- check out this skit, it's perfect, and not too far off the mark:

Suze Orman gives financial advice and also happens to be a lesbian. Her Valetine's Day message is forceful and to the point -- as usual, she focuses on the financial aspects of a situation, in this case marriage -- watch this:

Tell me -- who doesn't have a crush on Rachel Maddow? She is a breath of fresh air and a joy to watch. For President's Day, her discussion of President Obama's Lincoln Legacy Project is exactly on-target. This will give you a clearer view of Obama's goals -- she makes the good point that it was much harder to repair the divisions in our country after the Civil War than it will be now.

Finally, this video is just interesting. A lady shows you "Condition 1" weather in Antarctica. That is where the wind is blowing at more than 65 miles per hour, visibility is less than a hundred feet, and the wind chill is less than minus one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. She walks through her dorm and opens the door, and it is like the Door to Hell. You have to see this. Oh, and have the sound up when she opens that door, that's half of it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

People Want Bush Crimes Investigated

It is nice to see the country waking up again, after sleeping through an eight-year nightmare.
WASHINGTON — Even as Americans struggle with two wars and an economy in tatters, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds majorities in favor of investigating some of the thorniest unfinished business from the Bush administration: Whether its tactics in the "war on terror" broke the law.

Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done. Poll: Most want inquiry into anti-terror tactics

Here's my question -- what did it take? Why weren't people crying out in 2001 and 2002, when the Bush regime was fabricating propaganda left and right, lying and obviously violating not only the law but common sense and the most elementary voice of conscience? We let them get away with murder for all those years without a squeak, and now ...

I can't say I'm all that happy with my fellow Americans for voting the criminals back into office in 2004.

I'm disappointed that the media populace did nothing when Bush and Cheney were running the country into a ditch but I'm glad to see public opinion shifting. Forty percent want the administration to be charged with crimes if it is found they broke the law, and of course they did. Another quarter just want to have an investigation without charging them, I guess just so we know what happened. And then there is that one-third of people who don't care.
Even more people want action on alleged attempts by the Bush team to use the Justice Department for political purposes. Four in 10 favored a criminal probe, three in 10 an independent panel, and 25% neither.

It gets political at this point, the new administration has to do business with allies of the Bush White House, in Congress and other places. Still, if Obama is going to follow through on his straight talking, he should be able to investigate and prosecute criminals without ruining his relationships with their friends. The surviving Republicans have to know that lawbreaking, even by the rich and powerful, will be punished.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Bush Recession

Here's a graph from the Speaker of the House web site, gives you a little idea what it is we are going into.

Torture and Cover-Up Reported in the British Press

This story is breaking in England, not much in the American press about it yet. From The Daily Mail:
A British 'resident' held at Guantanamo Bay was identified as a terrorist after confessing he had visited a 'joke' website on how to build a nuclear weapon, it was revealed last night.

Binyam Mohamed, a former UK asylum seeker, admitted to having read the 'instructions' after allegedly being beaten, hung up by his wrists for a week and having a gun held to his head in a Pakistani jail.

It was this confession that apparently convinced the CIA that they were holding a top Al Qaeda terrorist.

But The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the offending article – called How To Build An H-Bomb – was first published in a US satirical magazine and later placed on a series of websites.

Written by Barbara Ehrenreich, the publication's food editor, Rolling Stone journalist Peter Biskind and scientist Michio Kaku, it claims that a nuclear weapon can be made 'using a bicycle pump' and with liquid uranium 'poured into a bucket and swung round'.

Despite its clear satirical bent, the story led the CIA to accuse 30-year-old Mohamed, a caretaker, of plotting a dirty bomb attack, before subjecting him to its 'extraordinary rendition programme'.

During his eight-year imprisonment, Mohamed has allegedly been flown to secret torture centres in Pakistan, Morocco, an American-run jail known as the Dark Prison near Kabul in Afghanistan and, finally, to Guantanamo Bay. Food writer's online guide to building an H-bomb...the 'evidence' that put this man in Guantanamo

You can find this article anywhere on the Internet. It says things like this:
Many families are attracted to the H-bomb simply as a "deterrent." A discrete sticker on the door or on the living room window saying "This Home Protected by H-bomb" will discourage IRS investigators, census takers, and Jehovah's Witnesses.

There's actually a lot more to this story. The British government has suppressed information about the case, and the Daily Telegraph found out why:
The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed's genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, "is very far down the list of things they did," the official said. UK government suppressed evidence on Binyam Mohamed torture because MI6 helped his interrogators

Let's run through that again. His genitals were sliced with a scalpel?

The American people will not want to hear these stories, but we need to be aware if only to avoid repeating these mistakes. Our nation behaved atrociously and it is now time to account for it.

Oh, and don't think this is something the Brits are doing, the CIA is doing all they can to cover it up. The Kansas City Star:
Facing a furor in Parliament, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband all but confirmed on Thursday that the U.S. had threatened to break off intelligence sharing if details were revealed about the alleged torture of a British resident held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison. U.S. withholds Guantanamo documents, angering British

It will be necessary for the new leadership to repair and not try to justify the horrible misdeeds of the preceding administration. The new guy has only been in office a couple of weeks, I'm sure the status quo is still running things in the bureaucracies -- he needs to step in and get responsible people in place to repair the kind of damage this sort of reprehensible barbarity causes. Apologies might be appropriate.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Public Opinion

So far it looks like the new guy is doing pretty good on the economy.

From Gallup Poll:

Album of the Year: Plant and Krauss

I didn't actually watch the Grammy Awards last night, more like listened from the next room. Now and then somebody I'd want to see would be on, and I'd get up and go in and watch them. I especially wanted to see Robert Plant and Allison Krauss, though to tell you the truth I thought the staging of their set at that glitzy venue was distracting and probably not anything like seeing them live. At the end of the night they received the big award for Album of the Year, and I have to say yay! For me, "Raising Sand" was the album of the year. They also won Record of the Year, Pop Collaboration with Vocals, Country Collaboration with Vocals, and Contemporary Folk/Americana Album.

There are two songs on this CD from an old 1969 album by a band you probably don't remember, Dillard and Clark. Dillard and Clark was made up of Doug Dillard of the Dillards, who were a top bluegrass group of the day, and Gene Clark, tambourine player and harmony singer for the Byrds in the "Tambourine Man" and "Turn Turn Turn" days, plus a bunch of guys, some of whom had been in the Byrds and some who would be in the Eagles. I didn't know much about this band, even though I grew up in the Southwest and heard plenty of the LA country-rock bands of the day.

I went to Barnes and Noble to see if I could find the "Through the Morning, Through the Night" album that these two songs came off of. They play CDs in the music section of the store, and set the cases out so people can see what they're listening to. Good idea, maybe they'll buy it. I was standing at the counter waiting to ask if they could order this old country-rock album (it's not on the shelves anywhere), and they were playing "Your Long Journey" from the Plant and Krauss CD. A guy came over to the counter and picked up the case and started talking to me, like he'd known me forever. He said, "I saw Doc Watson and his daughter do this song twelve years ago at the first Folk Life festival. I memorized every word of it, hearing it one time, and still remember it." And he set the CD cover down and wandered off.

There is something strange and wonderful going on here.

First of all -- I mean, come on, Robert Plant, from Led Zeppelin? And Allison Krauss, the angelic bluegrass fiddler? What in the world sense does that make?

I had to buy the CD just to see what they were going to do, and suddenly I was sucked into the vortex. I spent many days finding the original versions of these songs, listening to different arrangements, studying the guitar parts, the harmonies, looking into the producer's own recordings. I walked around singing these songs to myself, thinking about the lyrics, wondering what's behind it all. It is just a different album, a full-body listening experience, it works on so many levels, each level reflecting back onto the others.

There are a couple of poppish hit-like tunes on here, three sort-of rockers of the old-school variety. But in tone the album is extremely introverted, not dark but dimly illuminated, as the artists walk to the edge of their personal jungle and peer into the waving black shadows of underbrush, listening to the growls and the rustling of hidden wild things. There are tempos here so slow, lugubrious, ponderous, that it seems the musicians stop between notes and start again, having had one of those dreams that cover the story of a lifetime but only take an instant to dream, like Louis Ferdinand Alfred Maury's dream of the guillotine, and then they reluctantly return to the tune, refreshed and reminded of the contact between temporal life and eternity.

Which brings us to the real centerpiece here, which is the album's producer, T-Bone Burnett. Burnett is a born-again Christian. I read an interview where he said he wants to always remember that each moment touches eternity, and I think he somehow brought that insight to this crazy album, in a concrete way. He brought together a pair of opposites, baptized them in a repertoire that would challenge any artist, and pulled them out of the water to testify in the recording studio. As far as I'm concerned, this is his album, his voice speaking.

I'll start with the song that first and more definitely captured my interest: "Killing the Blues." This song was written by Rowland Salley, who has been Chris Isaaks' bass player for eighteen years or so. Salley's version of it can be heard, at least part of it, on his web site: I was not impressed by the performance. John Prine has done this song, in his inimitable Midwestern, introspective style, and Sean Keane made it an Irish song. Shawn Colvin's live recording of "Killing the Blues" is beautiful, too; the success of these diverse treatments offers proof that this really is an excellent song, not just a clever recording.

The Plant and Krauss recording starts with a tremolo electric guitar, which is one of the first effects ever used on an electric guitar and is a kind of trademark of this album. For two open chords you think Burnett (who plays guitar on the album besides producing it) is going to play "Rumble," by Link Wray, but then he stays on the same chord; this would be quite a light treatment of "Rumble," now that I think about it, maybe more like "Slap Fight," or "Raised Eyebrow" than anything evocative of an old-fashioned playground rumble. On the third chord, here come the drums, played with brushes, and, of all things, a ringing pedal steel guitar. The steel part is a very simple descending line, staying close to the chord tones, twice, a traditional intro. I know T-Bone Burnett is capable of making a statement through the arrangement, and here the statement is: take this as it is. You are about to hear an unadorned, un-gimmicked, non-fake delivery of a great song, performed by two voices that are perfectly suited for one another.

And then they sing. It's a low register for both singers, and the listener is drawn in to the scene of an autumn day, a sentimental scene with embers and moonbeams and leaves of red and gold. There is a word where the vocalists diverge, it's an imperfection, they phrase the word "on" in "they set us on fire" a little differently. Again, this is a statement: the producer could easily have covered this up, he could've fixed it in the mix. But no, these are two real people singing together, sometimes these things happen. The steel is swelling underneath the vocal, making you wonder if this is supposed to be a country song, but you know it's not -- Robert Plant can't sing a country song, can he? No, it's not a genre, it's a sound, the pedal steel really is the instrument you wanted there just because of the tone, the smooth movement from voicing to voicing, and you are forced to break your stereotype of the instrument and listen to the sound of the music and not its category.

The greatest thing about this song, the reason John Prine and everybody else did it, is the line that I wish I'd written. I am furious that this bass player wrote the line and I didn't:
Somebody said they saw me
Swinging the world by the tail

I just love that image. Partly because it's so purely, blatantly incoherent. Q: What is one thing you swing by the tail? A: Absolutely nothing. Never mind the world. But the image is perfectly evocative, you can almost feel yourself swinging the world by the tail, it's better than "Sittin' on top of the World," whether you're the Mississippi Sheiks or Bob Wills.

The vocals here are a bare duet. You can hear him, can hear her, each one distinct, you can hear them working together. The story is that the producer had each of them learn their parts as if they were singing solo, each one sings like he or she has the melody part. The drums swishing along, that steel filling in with chiming harmonics and portamentos. Okay, that was over the top, steel players don't play portamentos, they slide the bar.

The guitar solo, again, unadorned, that tremolo guitar on the lower strings, just playing the melody. The steel joins him on the second line. There is nothing to prove here, all the time in the world, they are simply killing the blues, sticking to the melody, dwelling on the melancholy of swinging the world by the tail and the brutal sadness of unrequited love. The guitarist is using the volume knob a little to exaggerate the tremolo, and the steel player does evoke a Nashville studio.

And then they come to the sad verse, and you are shocked and confused. It was bad enough to lose yourself in love, but why does your lover want you to leave? The sadness is overwhelming, but at the same time, like The Dude, the world-tail-swinger endures.

I know my family got sick of hearing me walk around singing this song, but it is too good. It falls right into the place you're looking for, devoid of sensationalism and sentimentality, heartfelt and understated. Maybe I can't explain it.

There are two songs on this CD from the "Through the Morning Through the Night," by Dillard and Clark, recorded in 1969. Why? Nobody remembers that album. It fell through a crack in history between the Byrds and the Eagles. "Polly" is as s-l-o-w as a song can be. It falls asleep between measures. I don't imagine the musicians had an easy time recording this, there is an eternity between beats. And that's certainly part of the message, the eternity that touches every moment.

The singer's bird has flown. Her name, of course, is Polly. The original starts with a standard LA-country-rock acoustic guitar intro; it's not as drearily slow as this version. The singer -- I assume this is Gene Clark -- comes in with a plaintive high-lonesome complaint:
If the wild bird could speak He'd tell the places you have been
He's been in my dreams and he knows all the ways of the wind
Polly come home again
Spread your wings to the wind
I felt much of the pain
As it begins

These are about five-part stacked harmonies, more LA than Kentucky. The Dillard and Clark version is accessible, a solo voice close to the microphone. Plant and Krauss, though, draw away. There's that tremolo guitar again, now the steel is mixed way in the back, mindful of Duane Allman's slide on "Layla," soaring behind the focal events. Robert Plant sings the verse. You hear a little Led Zep in there, but he's abandoned the flash, the thunder, he sings softly, as if he were alone in the studio -- we know he can pound you up against the far wall with his vocal power, now he's whispering, making you come close to hear. And when Allison Krauss joins him for the chorus, I can't tell if there is an echo or if they double her voice, or what is filling in, but the sound floats weightlessly, like a bird who knows all the ways of the wind.

It takes a lot of nerve to make a record like this. There is no "give the audience what they want." Nobody ever asked for an album featuring these two stars together, an album so dim, so distant, so demanding. Nobody wants to wait this long for the next note. A friend listening to this said, "They're playing with your head." Yes, they are. They're making you wait, they're making you come to them. This tremolo guitar solo will not knock you out, it's just a sound, a perfect, brooding sound.

At the end, "Polly" just seems to peter out, and I mean that in a good way. It drags and hangs, like a man contemplating suicide, afraid of the loud report of the exploding gunpowder, sorry for what his loved ones will go through, not knowing for that long moment whether he can go through with it. Maybe he lowers the gun and never mentions the thought to anyone.

The other Dillard and Clark song is the title song of their album, "Though the Morning, Through the Night." This is a country waltz about a kind man's jealousy, a good man haunted by his memories and the treachery of lost love. He knows his wife has a lover and it is driving him insane, he might kill the other man, and the thought pierces him.

Oddly, it's not Plant, but Krauss, who sings this one. I think the producer is setting a stage for the listener, he is reminding us in a jolting way that these are only songs, they are only stories, and these singers are only actors playing the parts. Can a woman imagine the anguish of a man who knows the woman he loves is seeing another? Can she know the impulse to commit violence like a man knows it? Well, Allison Krauss makes it clear she can understand the pain, and the gentleness that is her hallmark tells the listener that she will not, in fact, kill anyone, she, or rather he, will only suffer endlessly, as cuckolded lovers have always suffered.

This song gets the same tremolo and steel treatment as "Polly." It is not so morbidly slow, the emphasis is more on the lyrics and the sweet pained voice singing them, but that carefully chosen combination of electric guitar through sounds like an old Fender tremolo amp, with a clear Nashville pedal steel is unique, evocative, full.

The Dillard and Clark version, on the other hand, is more waltz-like, with piano and steel in the Nashville tradition, with the high LA harmonies. The drummer is going boom-chick-chick, it's less careful, with more of a barroom feel, you are tempted to say it's just another country song about a broken heart and burning memories.

I won't say "Through the Morning" is the best song on the Plant and Krauss album, but it is filler that keeps the mood going, a dark mood.

There are also two Everly Brothers songs on the album. Weird ones, ones I never heard before. The first one, "Gone Gone Gone," might be perceived as an attempt to get a hit on the radio. It's peppy, it's pop, you can dance to it. The two vocalists are sharp, vibrant, the song is a good one -- I don't know why this wasn't a hit for the Everly Brothers.

And the arrangement. Again, this producer, of course he wants to sell some product, he wants a hit, but it is fascinating to see how he goes about it. The song starts with a ringy-snare drum beat out of the Surfaris, I can just picture that champagne Ludwig set, ringing on the side toms, a little kind of twist beat, and then the guitar comes in, ching ching-a-ching-a-ching-a, still in Surfari-land but with a touch of tube-overdrive distortion. It's nothing, just a chord, now major, now with the seventh, just a surf riff like any kid could play. And here come the vocals! Ah, yes, he sang for Led Zeppelin, didn't he. And what? She does bluegrass -- you're kidding me. The vocals soar, they sing unison for a few words then split into beautifully blended parts. And yikes -- a little Led Zep busts out here, hot liquid emotion seeps out around the lyrics. That guitar is chugging along, those Surfari drums, the arrangement is as minimal as it can possibly be. It's all the singers and the song, and you see that this unlikely combination was just made to be. There's a vocal well-well-well near the end that you can't tell, which one of them is that? It's fun to think it's her singing this wild full-throated sound, but I think it's him -- it could be Krauss imitating him. And then that tremolo guitar, which for some strange reason is the hallmark of this album, playing a little "Gloria" or "Run For Your Life," reminiscent of the guitar on "Hanky Panky," round and round.

The other Everly Brothers song is "Stick With Me Baby," written, oddly enough, by Mel Tillis. It's a lovely mid-tempo love song about an unlikely couple who are going to make it, despite what anybody says. There's that tremolo guitar, bathed in echo this time, and minimalist drum part, nearly-whispered vocals that make you listen to the lyrics. It seems this song is about them, two singers from different universes -- who in their right mind would think that Robert Plant and Allison Krauss could ever work together? The fact is, these Everly Brothers songs really show off the profound compatibility of the two voices, the sound of the song validates its message.

One stand-out here is the nearly-klezmerish minor-to-major-and-back-again piece of weirdness called "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us," Sister Rosetta being an old-time black gospel singer who really has little to do with this song. There's a mandolin, a banjo, temple blocks, Krauss's dreamlike vocal and her violin mixed behind the accompaniment; this is a gypsy-like piece, pure mood. In fact, that is one thing that draws me to this album. I am going through the songs, and there's a lot to say about them, but what you really have here is a mood, an atmosphere, that runs throughout the CD. That's what you love about the album; the songs are too long, there are too many of them, they are obscure, hard to understand, the instrumentation is sparse and spacey, yet in the end something has been done successfully, you have been touched.

"Rosetta" was written by T-Bone Burnett's ex-wife, who happens to be named Sam Phillips. I don't think her version of the song has been released yet, but you can hear it on her web site if you use the Flash player in the lower righthand corner. It is interesting to hear how Burnett brought out its inherent beauty in this version with Allison Krauss singing it. It is the kind of melody we call "haunting," and the arrangement is brave, defiantly introverted and evocative. I would like to know how they came to this sound, it does not seem to me that it just happened, somebody knew what they wanted and made this happen. My guess is that T-Bone Burnett is the one who called our attention to the intersection of this song with eternity.

The first song on album is typically the one the record company expects to be a hit. This goes back to when they'd pitch an artist to program directors at radio stations; they'd put the needle on the first track, and that's all you could really count on them listening to. "Rich Woman" fits the ticket here -- they did this one and "Gone Gone Gone" on the Grammies last night. This song was a hit for Li'l Millet and His Creoles back in 1955; other bands have done it, including the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Canned Heat. It's your basic three chords with a thumping groove. This version features that tremolo guitar, with the tremolo even exaggerated in the solos by what sounds like the musician working the volume knob -- it might be a pedal or even something done on the mix. Whatever, this thing rolls along, bluesy and slinky, with the two of them singing, slurring their words, this is sexy and streetwise and outside any genre associated with either vocalist. Just a cool, friendly studio sound, some musicians having fun. Oh yeah: "She's got the money and I've got the honey."

"Please Read the Letter" is puzzling at first. It starts with a kind of acoustic-guitar riff, reserved brushed drums, Plant's nearly-whispered, throaty vocals. It's just a couple of chords, no big melody, something off an old album he did with Jimmy Page years ago. It's interesting to go back to that. The original version is quite a bit faster, loud electric guitars, doubled-up vocals. This half-Led-Zep version feels kind of frantic. It's just a guy who writes a letter to his girl, they have to break up, "we needed so much more."

I think this song is here because of this part:
You'd better check between the lines
Please read the letter, I wrote it in my sleep
With help and consultation from
The angels of the deep

The letter is more than a letter, this is like Yates' A Vision, automatic writing dictated by a divine voice. And these songs are more than songs, they are visions of eternity, consulted by angels. Again, this song maintains the introspective, brooding ambiance that characterizes this album, but I wouldn't call this a great song. Plant and Krauss sound good together, and toward the end there is an interesting near-rave-up with some classic vocalizing from him and a droning, moody fiddle part from her, over a two-chord groove. The sense of urgency almost outdoes the song, it makes you wonder, what is the big message in the letter he wants you to read? This theme goes back, I think, to Buddy Holly's great enigmatic "Listen to Me." It doesn't say what the letter is about, really, it only pleads, please read it.

There are four songs left, all dark in their way. "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson" is one of those paradoxical pieces like Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me," where the tempo, melody, arrangement say happy, and the lyrics say depression, misery, loss. (Well I remember Steve Allen making fun of "Oh Lonesome Me," reading those self-pitying lyrics in his cheerfulest voice.) This Little Milton classic starts with the dorkiest guitar intro, a folky riff that is repeated after every verse and at the end, and which propels the song nowhere -- which is perfect. Because this song has its non sequiturs, you might say that's what it's about, inconsistency and pointlessness. Let your loss be your lesson, it's a lesson in itself.

I would kill to hear Little Milton's version of this song. I have his Greatest Hits CD, but neither that nor the p2p search applications turn up this obscure thing. This Plant and Krauss version is like a country-bop shuffle, cheerfully popping along over a lyric about the singer treating his woman bad, she threatens to leave, she leaves, and now he's kicking himself.
Now she's gone
I realize I lost the best thing there is
And my pride keeps tellin' me
Let your loss be your lesson

Reminds me of John Lee Hooker's "Serve You Right to Suffer," if the singer was talking to himself.

And of course, again there is this interesting twist -- not an accident -- Allison Krauss, the daintiest, most feminine little thing in the world, singing the man's part. Hard to imagine her out partying and drinking and cheating, but there she goes. Something bizarre has motivated the album's producer to push this CD right over the edge -- nobody in their right mind would have sweet, angelic, Allison Krauss rocking out on this self-loathing Little Milton song, and that might just be why they're doing it. It's one of those things, so crazy it just might work. Well, yes, it does, it really does.

The melody and lyric of this song, plus that intro, work together in the kludgiest way imaginable. It's a rocking three-chord ditty, going along in the predicable direction, and then it's like the verse runs out of lines, runs out of rhymes and she sings, "Let your loss be your lesson." And then there's that stupid intro line again, and then another verse. Nobody would write a song like this, would they? Yes, they would.

It's like looking at a Marc Chagall painting. Did you ever wonder why there are goats flying around in it, and everything's blue? No, you don't wonder those things, you accept them, and enjoy the flying-blue-goatness of it.

Two of the darkest songs in the set are Tom Waits' "Trampled Rose" and Townes van Zandt's "Nothin'."

"Trampled Rose" starts with a banjo, and a ghost of a vocal (Allison Krauss) rising up out of it. The melody wanders eerily over the plunk of the banjo, strings play low in the background, there is some strange percussion stuff. Remember the gypsy caravan where the wolf-man -- I mean the real wolf-man, Lon Chaney, Jr. -- gets his palm read, in the fog, and the gypsy woman sees something frightening? That's where this song comes from. She looks into his face and refuses to tell him that she has seen the mark on his palm.

This album is about the sound, the ambiance. Songs don't necessarily go anywhere, or come from anywhere, harmonic tides shift without resolving, centering now here and now there, now certain and now ambiguous, these songs force you to be in the moment, to feel the feeling. "Trampled Rose" is nothing but a feeling.
Long way going to
Get my medicine
Sky's the autumn grey of a lonely wren

Piano from a window played
Gone tomorrow, gone yesterday

I found it in the street
At first I did not see
Lying at my feet
A trampled rose

This is Allsion Krauss pushed beyond genre, beyond predictability, it is pure sound. The urgency of the final banjo, forcefully plucked against the battering of a percussion instrument that sounds like a box -- it might be a cajon -- all of it pulls together to produce a poignant sense of an emergency that you can't do anything about.

Waits' own version, interestingly, has all the elements, the percussion, the plunkiness, the ghostly voice rising above the lyric, but I'm afraid he has been outdone. T-Bone Burnett's production, the sound that is at once sparse and full, simply sounds better than Waits' murky and amateurish version, which might be a demo in comparison.

Then there is the nadir (or zenith) of the album: Townes van Zandt's "Nothin'." Van Zandt was a self-destructive singer-songwriter, dead now, who left behind a string of songs too good to be hits. He was the ultimate example of living the life, the artist's artist. And this song, "Nothin'," is, without being self-consciously existentialist, as nihilistic and negative as anyone can be. After you sink into this song, you feel like you need to go out and talk to somebody. You will want to turn the lights on, even in the daytime.

It starts with the most jarring electric guitar. Every time I hear it, the word that comes to mind is inappropriate. This is a ballad here, fer cryin' out loud, why's this guy sound like Hendrix doing the Star Spangled Banner? It's wrong, like a mosquito sucking blood on a part of your body that you can't reach, and you can see it, but you can't shake it off you. Then Robert Plant's clear, unforgiving, unfrightened voice sails in, almost sweet in its tone.

No one wants to hear this. It's frightening, jarring. What this sumbitch has done is go and make friends with the goddamn Mystery Tramp and bring him home to sit on the couch and watch football with him, drunk and stinking and leering at his daughters and his wife. You don't want that.

The verses are accompanied by a little bit of electric guitar, banjo, a tambourine, and between verses all hell breaks loose. That electric guitar is out of control, it's distorted, with big full tube-melting chords, all Townshend wind-ups and broken picks, and guess what -- that "all hell" that breaks loose is Allison Krauss's fiddle. You didn't realize that when Johnny outplayed the devil it wasn't by playing faster, it was by playing deeper. And you didn't realize that Johnny was a cute, innocent young lady named Allison.

The Doc Watson song "Your Long Journey" that closes the album is just a pure bluegrass song of the God-loving, heartfelt type. It opens with a stringed instrument, a dulcimer I think. Someone is lamenting the passing of the one they love. There's no more to say than that. The two vocalists blend beautifully in this deep heartbreaker. All traditional acoustic instruments, a little banjo, a traditional theme, trust in God and the sorrow of losing a loved one. As the album comes to a close, you have to feel that they have taken you on a ride back to where the bluebird was all along.

I should comment on the visual appearance of Plant and Krauss standing side by side. He's ... well, he's older than me, let's say, he's weathered a few storms, I do believe Led Zeppelin partied harder than the average citizen for quite a few years. Looking at him standing beside her in her youthful beauty, I'm sorry but the word that comes to mind is "lecherous." He reminds me a satyr out of some Picasso drawing, one of those erotic prints he created one after the other. Allison Krauss, on the other hand, is young, pure, a Google search for "Allison Krauss" and "angelic" turns up thirty-seven thousand hits. Her youth and sweetness contrast with Plant's lecherousness, but at the same time his presence adds depth to her, you can't imagine that a girl that sweet could handle him in the recording studio, but obviously she did. He has given interviews where he thanked her for teaching him how to sing, imagine that! Somehow the virgin tamed the satyr, not the other way around.

I never expect the Grammies to go to the right people. There were a bunch of rappers and commercial boy-groups nominated, you just know the Jonah Brothers are going to win all the awards. So I was really pleased to see that an album of real substance won over the voting.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Institutionalized Backwardness

This will be one of those posts where I start by reminding you that this is my opinion only and not any official position of It's just something that gets under my skin sometimes.

There is a situation in the news that just doesn't make sense to me. You've been seeing this story, and probably didn't give it a thought.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Record-setting Olympic champion Michael Phelps has been banned for three months by USA Swimming amid controversy over a photograph published in a British newspaper purportedly showing him smoking marijuana.

Phelps's financial support has also been cut off for the same three-month period, the sport's national governing body said in a statement on its website ( on Thursday.

"This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero," the federation added.

"Michael has voluntarily accepted this reprimand and has committed to earn back our trust," the statement said. Phelps handed three-month ban by USA Swimming

A British newspaper published a picture of Michael Phelps taking a hit off a bong at a party at a university. The kid's twenty three years old. He won fourteen gold medals in the Olympics, more than anybody, ever. He holds seven world records. He won the World Swimmer of the Year Award in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008 and American Swimmer of the Year Award in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008. And, we find out, he smokes marijuana.

Let me make a simple point. If marijuana was bad for you, would someone who uses the stuff be the one of the best-performing human beings in the history of the human race?

What if they had published a picture of Phelps drinking beer at a college party? Maybe it would've made the news, I guess, Twenty Three Year Old Drinks Beer, I don't know, it's not much of a headline. So why is Twenty Three Year Old Takes Hit Off Bong news?

This marijuana thing has gone too far. You cannot give one reason why the stuff should be illegal, yet our prisons are full of marijuana users. Our tax dollars are squandered by the gazillions on catching marijuana users and dealers. We do it because we do it, nobody has any good explanation for why marijuana users should be criminals. It's not addictive, it doesn't make you commit crimes, it doesn't make you crave hard drugs, it's not especially bad for your health, it may not be the greatest thing in the world but there is no reason to put somebody in prison for using it, or humiliate someone as they are trying to do in this case.

In case you're wondering, I have no personal interest in this topic, I lost my interest in the stuff in the sixties, I found I did not enjoy having a fuzzy brain. It's not for me, but I don't know why it's my business if somebody else likes it.

Look what the media are doing, and these stupid organizations. They have taken a man who is better than the rest of us, an excellent individual, he does things other people can't do, and they are trying to bring him down. Look at this story. "The federation" says that Michael is "committed to earn back our trust." Are you kidding me? How about they earn his trust! He's the hero, he's the champion, they're a bunch of wimps in suits, they'll never be what he is. So why is he supposed to apologize to them? This is just backwards.

Michael Phelps disappointed people, it says here, and again, I just don't get that. He won more gold medals than anybody in the freakin' world, and people are disappointed in him?!?!

The only reason you aren't supposed to smoke marijuana is that ... you aren't supposed to. There is no demonstrated health risk, physical or mental. It does not result in violent or risky or even incoherent behavior, like alcohol does, and alcohol is perfectly legal. Back in the day, I always thought the phrase "pot party" was an oxymoron -- a bunch of people sitting around staring into space, listening to music, hardly qualifies as a party. The stuff affects your consciousness, it's not an unpleasant feeling and a lot of people enjoy it -- I can't see why that justifies making it illegal.

It is entirely circular -- you can't smoke pot because you can't smoke pot. It goes back to the rivalry between the hemp industry and the cotton industry, and cotton won. Hemp is one of the most useful fibers on the planet but you can't grow it legally in this country (though we import more than any other country). It's not illegal because the plant can make you high -- there are lots of legal plants that are psychedelic and psychoactive in various ways. There's stuff growing in your yard that can make you high -- morning glories, for instance, might grow on your garden fence, jimson weed grows along the road, we have psylocibe and amanita mushrooms that pop up after a rain, you can buy hallucinogenic cacti at any nursery, and nobody cares. Marijuana is against the law, and some people try to justify that by making up stories about how dangerous it is, but it's not.

This is a pure Emperor's New Clothes situation. Michael Phelps didn't do anything wrong, he got high at a party, so what? Little people want to tear him down for it, people that will never accomplish anything in their lives like what he has done. Don't let yourself think this is acceptable, okay?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Republicans Considering Taliban-Type Insurgency

Tell me what you make of this:
Frustrated by a lack of bipartisan outreach from House Democratic leaders, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said House Republicans -- who voted unanimously last week against the economic plan pushed by President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- will pitch a "positive, loyal opposition" to the proposal. The group, he added, should also "understand insurgency" in implementing efforts to offer alternatives.

"Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban," Sessions said during a meeting yesterday with Hotline editors. "And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person's entire processes. And these Taliban -- I'm not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban. No, that's not what we're saying. I'm saying an example of how you go about [sic] is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with." Sessions: GOP Insurgency "May Be Required"

It did not seem that the results of last November's elections were especially unclear. America is a mess. The American people voted out the ones who got us into the mess and voted in a whole new case of characters to get us out of it. We chose new leadership.

Will Americans stand for insurrection by the losers? I don't listen to talk radio, but from conversations with a couple of people who do I surmise that the noise machine has not quieted down, that the dittoheads are generating and believing one conspiracy theory after another, and maybe the Rpublicans will be able to ride on the back of that. I really don't know, in my old age I have learned to sometimes accept cynicism as realism.

From the same story.
"If they do not give us those options or opportunities then we will then become insurgency of a nature to where we do those things that are necessary to making sure the American public knows what we think the correct answer is," Sessions said during the 60-minute interview. "So we either work together, or we're going to find a way to get our message out."

When pressed to clarify, Sessions said he was not comparing the House Republican caucus to the Taliban, the Muslim fundamentalist group.

"I simply said one can see that there's a model out there for insurgency," Sessions said before being interrupted by an aide. The staffer said Sessions was trying to convey that the Republicans need to start thinking about how to act strategically from their perch in the minority.

I might not be the only one who finds it amazing that the leader of the National Republican Congressional Committee sees Afghanistan's Taliban as the model for the GOP to follow. In Afghanistan a fundamentalist minority seized power and went about stripping citizens of their rights, forcing individuals to conform to strict religious dogma and rules, they were going through crowds with whips beating those who violated religious law -- women whose faces showed, for instance.

I have been led to understand that members of Congress take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and here is a GOP leader proposing an insurgency. I hope the Justice Department is following this.

Sessions wasn't finished...
"I think insurgency is a mindset and an attitude that we're going to have to search for and find ways to get our message out and to be prepared to see things for what they are, rather than trying to do something about them," Sessions said. "I think what's happened is that the line was drawn in the sand" by Pelosi.

Sessions said the GOP's 178 members stand by their votes against the bill.

"I don't think any one of our members today feels like they would take back that vote," he said. "... There's no remorse."

Let's not forget that the reason we are at war in Afghanistan is because of the Taliban's support for and enabling of al Qaeda's attack on our country. A psychologist may be able to explain why a victim identifies with the attacker, but I do not see anything admirable about the Taliban.

You might say this is one guy shooting his mouth off, but this is the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee meeting with editorial staff from the National Journal. On the other hand, I can't see where any of the major corporate news media have picked this story up.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

BTB On Sexualizing Gay People

Box Turtle Bulletin is a blog that is mostly about ex-gay issues specifically, and generally about the politics of sexual orientation in our society. There are a couple of writers there and they are incisive and articulate, it is one of the blogs I check every day. Yesterday's post was, I thought, unusually good, it discussed a very general topic that is at the heart of a lot of the badmouth over sexual orientation. That is, people who oppose gays would like you to think that gay people do nothing but have sex all the time. Especially weird, gross, scary kinds of sex. The point, of course, is to marginalize, not to inform.

I'm going to let Jim Burroway make the point.
Via Andrew Sulluvan, we read this outburst from Peter Hitchens
If I never again had to read or write a word about homosexuals, I would be very happy. I really don’t want to know what other people do in their bedrooms. But these days they really, really want us all to know. And, more important, they insist that we approve. No longer are we allowed to keep our thoughts to ourselves, while being polite and kind.

Hitchens is wrong. We really, really don’t want them to know what goes on. Or, perhaps more accurately, the vast majority of us would prefer that they simply butt out of things that are none of their business. Which is why we don’t talk about what goes on in our bedrooms. In all of the political campaigns surrounding marriage, adoption rights, employment discrimination, hate crimes, safe schools, “what other people do in their bedrooms” has never been part of the discussion — unless LGBT opponents bring it up.

The fact is, we can see straight couples, married and unmarried, having dinner in restaurants, going to the movies, pushing baby strollers, showing up for work, going out for drinks afterwords, volunteering at school and in the community — and nobody thinks about what they’re doing in their bedrooms.

But people who regard public acceptance of LGBT people as evidence of a cultural pathology carry a huge burden. When they are fighting against marriage or partnership rights, adoption rights, or even against the simply dignity of hospital visitation rights, all they can think about is what they imagine we’re doing in our bedrooms. And whenever they meet with us face to face, their own personal imaginary porno flicks prevent them from seeing the real people standing before them.

If there is a pathology, that’s it. People suffering from schizophrenia sometimes see and hear things that aren’t there. Apparently, so do many who oppose LGBT equality.

In our battles over sex ed in Montgomery County, there has been nothing weirder than the way the Citizens for Responsible Whatever gravitated to the concept of anal sex. They loved to talk about this, even though it is mostly practiced by straight people. We heard their spokesperson telling the county school board how gay people eat feces, we had detailed discussions of the diseases you can catch through anal sex. ... it was bizarre.

You notice how Hitchens refers to gay people as "homosexuals." The technique there is simple, it's the same thing, try to make sure that the first thing straight people think of is gay people having sex. Use the word with "sex" right in the middle of it.

And this is a beautiful concept: No longer are we allowed to keep our thoughts to ourselves, while being polite and kind. I mean, man, that's bad when evil forces are causing polite and kind people's thoughts to be broadcast to the CIA and even to the press and all the people around them! Did somebody publish this piece? Yes, I followed the link, the Daily Mail really did run this online. Somebody who complains that we are not allowed to keep our thoughts to ourselves is somebody who needs to be reminded to take his meds in the morning.

Burroway is subtler than me, but he's right to bring up the topic of schizophrenia. The gay rights movement is not about mind control, it is not a way for bizarre aliens to seize control of your thoughts and regulate them for their evil purpose, the movement is about ... gay rights. Turns out gay people are just people who are, for whatever reason, attracted romantically, sexually, and emotionally to people of their own sex. Turns out there's nothing more to it than that. Turns out they feel like ordinary people and want to be treated like ordinary people. Turns out some of the them are pretty smart and know how to organize, know how to raise some money, know how to fight the power, and they have made amazing progress over a few short decades toward being treated like human beings.

What Did Daschle Do?

It is fascinating to watch the blowback from the election. Where the American people voted for hope and change, the opposition wants to paint the new leadership as tawdry and corrupt. Some statements in our comments section summarizing Tom Daschle's career as that of a "tax cheat" made me wonder exactly what it was that Daschle did.

Interestingly, you will find literally thousands of news articles mentioning that Daschle did not pay his taxes and the effect on Obama's presidency, but it is nearly impossible to find a description of what Daschle actually did wrong.

I found one source that says a little, ABC News:
After being defeated in his 2004 re-election campaign to the Senate, Daschle in 2005 became a consultant and chairman of the executive advisory board at InterMedia Advisors.

Based in New York City, InterMedia Advisors is a private equity firm founded in part by longtime Daschle friend and Democratic fundraiser Leo Hindery, the former president of the YES network (the New York Yankees' and New Jersey Devils' cable television channel).

That same year he began his professional relationship with InterMedia, Daschle began using the services of Hindery's car and driver.

The Cadillac and driver were never part of Daschle's official compensation package at InterMedia, but Mr. Daschle -- who as Senate majority leader enjoyed the use of a car and driver at taxpayer expense -- didn't declare their services on his income taxes, as tax laws require.

During the vetting process to become HHS secretary, Daschle corrected the tax violation, voluntarily paying $101,943 in back taxes plus interest, working with his accountant to amend his tax returns for 2005 through 2007.

(Daschle reimbursed the IRS $31,462 in taxes and interest for tax year 2005; $35,546 for 2006; and $34,935 for 2007, a Daschle spokesperson said, adding that Daschle had asked his accountant to look into the tax implications of the car and driver five months before Obama won the presidency.) Bumps in the Road: Obama's HHS Secretary Nominee Faces Tax Questions Over Car and Driver

His friend gave him a job and had his limo take him around. Daschle should have added the value of the car and driver to his income and didn't. In his time in the Senate he got a car and drvier without charge, it sounds like he did not know he was supposed to include it on his IRS forms. Would you have thought of it, including the value of a car and driver when you reported your income?

Note that last parenthetical comment. Daschle had realized that he might need to report this back in ... November minus five equals July ... and asked his accountant to take care of it.

The IRS rules are complicated, and more complicated for people with investments here and there and multiple jobs, especially consulting jobs, than most of us have to deal with. Did Daschle hide this nonmonetary compensation intentionally to save thirty thousand something a year? Maybe he did, I can't say, and you can't either, but if he did then you wonder why he asked his accountant to look into it. Those who are up for high-level appointments have to meet a higher standard than you or me, and he didn't meet it. You want to make him out to be a criminal? Better look out, your agenda's showing. It would be good if the President could appoint the best people for these positions, but obviously he's got a lot to learn about the pettiness of Washington.

At least President Obama's done the first thing right, which is to admit it when he has made a mistake. Bush wouldn't admit he failed in Iraq, he wouldn't even admit making mistakes in Katrina, he blamed the economy on Clinton, I'm sorry Obama's guys are getting torn apart by the Republican attack machine and hope he learns to beat them at their own game, but in the meantime what we need is for him to try to get the best people into these important positions.

And it is a breath of fresh air to hear the President admit a mistake.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

President Admits He Screwed Up

Obama: 'I screwed up' in Daschle withdrawal.


When was the last time you saw that?

I love the way things are going.

Big Changes, Little Changes

Hard to imagine how it got like this, but I'm glad to see these policies being challenged and erased. From the NYT:
WASHINGTON — Even though federal health officials have begun a criminal investigation into whether the Peanut Corporation of America deliberately sold contaminated products, the government still needed the company’s permission last week before announcing a huge recall of its products.

The wording of the recall statement had to be approved by the company before the Food and Drug Administration could publish it under current rules. The agency relies on cooperation from food makers to ensure the safety of the food supply even when those makers are suspected of crimes. Peanut Product Recall Took Company Approval

I don't like government intrusion in my private life, but I don't mind government governing. Now we learn that the government has to ask a criminal company's permission to recall its products.
On Monday, President Obama promised a “complete review of F.D.A. operations.”

“I think that the F.D.A. has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch,” Mr. Obama said in an interview on the “Today” show.

The president said Americans should be able to count on the government to keep children, including his daughter, Sasha, 7, safe when they eat peanut butter.

“That’s what Sasha eats for lunch probably three times a week,” Mr. Obama said. “And, you know, I don’t want to have to worry about whether she’s going to get sick as a consequence to having her lunch.”

We don't eat peanut butter three times a week at our house, the kids have moved on the Hot Pockets, but of course this isn't about peanut butter. Remember last year, the Bush administration's FDA actually prohibited a meat packer from testing for mad cow disease. For the past eight years the government has turned on its citizens, requiring them to tolerate whatever was convenient for big business. How about the FDA's ruling on melanine in baby formula? C'mon, we could go on all day, showing where the FDA has protected business while risking the health of American citizens.

It's time for it to stop.