Comic Radicals on the Left

I give the right a lot of shit on this blog.  I don’t feel guilty about it as the new right is batshit crazy.  However, there are those on the left that are figures of fun as well.  Even those that I agree with politically can often feel like another species when confronted with face to face.

One time when I was looking for a part time job to supplement my music career, I applied at Green Peace. (I want to say that I have no problem with Green Peace.  This story focuses on one particular office, although that office was typical of some other left wing organizations I have been to.)  First of all I wore a suit and tie to the interview, because it was an INTERVIEW.  I am someone that only wears ties to interviews, weddings, and funerals.  Most of the people looked at me like I was in the FBI when I walked through the door.  I instantly felt like I was in the Man in the presence of a bunch of radicals, even though my politics are in many ways as far left as Green Peace.  But these were very comical radicals as they all looked like they were trying to outdo each other in the how poorly they were dressed category.  I’m a jeans and t-shirt guy 99% of the time.  But they looked like they were having a contest to show how much they did not live by societies standards.  I’m talking sweaters with holes in them and jeans that were more ill-fitting than the jeans I have seen on homeless people.

The boss was the same, and yet somehow different.  He looked like a coffee house communist intellectual.  High and tight haircut, ratty sweater, thick 1950’s looking glasses, and an overly serious expression on his face.  In fact I don’t remember him smiling the whole time.  And this was a group interview, so even if he didn’t like my shit, he should have liked someone!

We were interviewed in a circle.  Questions that I had mentally prepared for, like why I would be good at this job, were never asked.  (If I had been asked I could have told them that I grew up with an environmentalist Dad talking over those issues nightly, I believed in Green Peace’s policies, and I had experience raising money, which is what the job was for.)  But we were asked who our political heroes were.  Not expecting that question I said Robert Kennedy off the top of my head, as most of my political heroes are people that are writers or artists.  I said this not because I am not aware of some of the earlier ill informed policies that Kennedy had supported, but because he was someone that was smart enough to evolve and change and become more progressive as he grew older.  Wrong answer!  I should have said Gandhi like the office boss.  Is there any more easy typical self-righteous answer that you could give than Gandhi?  Plus, Gandhi, for however great he was on so many things, had some pretty backwards ideas about women.  So clearly this intellectual wasn’t as smart as he thought.  His answer was no less complicated than mine, he just didn’t know it.

Anyway, I didn’t get the job as I clearly didn’t pass the holier-than-thou interrogation.  The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.  It was like a contest between people to show how righteous they were.  Even worse than this righteousness was a complete lack of any humor.  If you are going to take a hard look at the injustice of the world you need a sense of humor.  Not only because you need it as a shield against the insanity that is out there, not only because it will endear you to people that otherwise might turn away from your beliefs, but because there is so much absurdity out there, that the horrible is often outright funny.  These people, clearly without knowing it, were the exact kind of people that give the left a bad name.  Someone like that office boss was going to turn as many people off to his cause as he was going to turn on, if he ever interacted with the public at large.

George Orwell, who believed in socialism, spent a great deal of his time criticizing the left, exactly because of people like this person.  Orwell believed in the ideas of the left, but he was highly critical of how people went about trying to implement them.

That day was dispiriting.  We both wanted to “save the planet”, but if we succeeded, I was glad it was big enough that I would never have to see that fool again.


The Dance of Dumbness Goes On…


The above article is about how new incoming House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) is claiming impeachment won’t be taken off of the table if Obama signs an executive order limiting deportations.  Fucking hell!  I feel like swearing and playing a kazoo at the same time.  I feel like running through the streets naked with only a gorilla mask on.  There is no sense to anything.  As Leonard Cohen sang, “Things are gonna slide in all directions.”  

One cretin replaces another.  The dance of dumbness goes on.  Impeachment, for possibly showing empathy towards the less fortunate?  Read Matt Taibbi’s The Great Divide and learn what immigrants really go through in this country.  The Klansmen that were my target in my previous post, while being hateful figures of comic absurdity, are at least honest about the way they feel.  This manicured douchebag hides behind patriotism and a fancy suit.  What was that about patriotism being the last refuge of the scoundrel….


Israel is Not My Birthright

Israel is not my birthright via @Salon

A great article by a Jewish writer on the Israel/Palestine situation.  When you criticize Israel you are not being anti-semitic; You are criticizing a foreign country and their political position.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently. 

The Immorality of Our Israeli Position


The above article is about the suffering going on in Gaza, about Israel’s morally bankrupt policy there, and about how AiPAC has used its influence in America to paralyze us and prevent us from doing anything.  We give Israel $3 Billion dollars in direct foreign aid every year and another $12-17 billion in indirect aid.  If you remember I also posted a link to a blog sometime back, from Andrew Sullivan, which talked about how 23 Palestinians die for every one Israeli.  There is outrageous injustice going on in that part of the world and we are helping to fund it.

Why I Like Canvassing and Hate Busy Work

Lately I’ve been canvassing for a political group.  As part of my agreement with the group I can’t really divulge certain about them.  I don’t remember what is valid and what isn’t to discuss, so I’m just playing it safe.  This isn’t because I’m doing anything particularly secretive or important, it is just that we handle voter information.  It is a progressive group that works on political issues from campaigns to things that are more along the lines of informing the public of what is going on in the community.

One thing I have found myself loving, to my complete surprise, is canvassing.  I definitely have strong introvert tendencies in my personality.  This does not mean that I am shy, or that I don’t like to be around people.  It is simply that being around people for an extended period of time requires work.  Whereas an extrovert gains energy from being in the mix with a group of people, I find myself wearing out after a couple hours.  I need a certain amount of reflective downtime each day to remain at the top of my game.

So a job where you are going house to house, talking to strangers for several hours, would not seem a natural fit for me.  But I have found that I enjoy it.  I usually only do it for about four hours at a time.  In the Texas summer heat, this is plenty, trust me.

First of all I’m not selling anything or raising money.  I’m simply talking to people about issues.  This is a key factor to not feeling like a piece of shite when you bother someone at their home.  I’ve been out on door to door sales and I lasted half a day.  (Before I basically told my boss that he was a chimp and that I would walk home, not realizing when I first moved to Austin how long a walk from Elgin was going to take.) I have gone out canvassing for money before and I lasted maybe two days.  That work is important and honorable in any political organization, as it is what keeps that organization rolling, but I didn’t like it.  I don’t like to bother people.  However, what I’m doing now is more like keeping people informed.  They can turn me away at the door, but it there loss, as I am providing what is more akin to a public service.  The last campaign I worked on didn’t even require me to take a side on the issue, just to inform people of what is going on.  We also only reach out to people that are at least leaning in our favor.

Anyway, I have always been interested in politics, not that I would ever run for office.  There are plenty of pictures that would have me immediately disqualified.  I also couldn’t lie about so many things that politicians have to, to become palatable to a large amount of people.  I mean more that I have interests that I would like to see this country become a more progressive place and I am interested in what it takes to make it so.

So I enjoy playing a small role in possibly helping to make my community a more progressive one.  I find that despite being an introvert, I don’t really mind talking to strangers face to face and every so often you are surprised when you come across someone that is highly informed and likable.  I have found that most people, especially middle class and lower class people, are almost to a person at least courteous and polite if not outwardly friendly.  In the richer neighborhoods one tends to meet more people that simply slam the door in your face.  Again, I’m not really pushing anything on people, only informing them, so when they slam a door in my face they are really just taking themselves out of the political conversation.

But I also just like the honest work of it.  I like just being outside, walking several miles in the sun.  You have a certain number of houses to hit each day, and how hard your work depends on how quickly you get done.  I like jobs like that, that have a beginning and an end.  You have an electronic map and you can see the results of your work by the end of the day.  I used to mow fields on a tractor and whatever you think of a job like that, when you got done, things looked better than they did when you started.  This is opposed to so many other mundane jobs where the work never ends.  Nothing in this world, except death, sickness, and torture, might be worse than busy work.

We have almost all had bosses that want you to keep busy when there is nothing that really needs to be done.  I believe this comes out of their fear of losing control, that kind of micromanagement.  Or it could be they are just dickheads.  All busy work teaches one to do is to lean on a broom until the boss tuns the corner, stare intently at a computer and type something once in awhile until a boss can see your screen, and look for hiding places like the storage closet.  In fact busy work makes you become less productive, because you find yourself spending a large amount of time and energy learning how to fool your boss.  I don’t believe most people mind working hard if there is some sense to it.  If you are a boss and you remove purpose from the work people are doing, most workers will probably metaphorically shank you in the back.  I don’t mind working hard, I just want to know that there is some reason behind it other than looking busy.  There is no point working to keep up appearances.

Anyway, I have found canvassing, at least the kind I am doing, to be a good job.  It doesn’t pay a lot.  But if you want to do something positive for your community, get some exercise, and make a little money on the side, there are far worse ways to go.

How Complex Should Your Argument Be?

I have written songs, blog posts, and a chapter in a book.  Many political issues are complex shades of gray,  although many want to reduce them to black and white.  In order to sway people to your favor should your writing be closer to a well formed argument that takes in different ideas and acknowledges that complexity, or should aim for propaganda that elicits attention to your cause?  Of course some of that depends on your aims, but I also think the form matters. 

If you are writing a book or a long form magazine article, you have the space to measure and weigh all the nuances of an issue.  While proving your point you can take the time to acknowledge the complexity of the situation you are dealing with. 

In a blog, which you want people to be able to read at any point in their busy day to day lives, I used to read blogs between calls at work, I feel that you have less space.  I feel as though you may want to acknowledge the complexity of a certain issue, it is better to provoke people to become interested in a topic, and then get them to think and follow up on their own.

In a pop song, which is usually no more than a few minutes, with some of those precious minutes giving time for the music itself, you should write as close to propaganda as possible.  Say something bold and immediate that cannot be overlooked.  You want something that jumps out of the speakers and grabs people by the throat.  Music is meant to be emotional and you should aim to create strong emotions whatever they may be.  Although clearly modern radio would disagree, I still believe it is important to ask of an artist the question, “What do you have to say?”  If someone is interested enough in an artist’s possibly nuanced position, they can spend the time to find out.  In music I love those artists that piss lightning and crap thunder.  Did I just quote Mick from Rocky? 

People Change

I am headed to Canada on tour to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival with Shinyribs.  I am most excited about the possible prospect of seeing fellow performer Buffy Sainte-Marie,  who is one of my heroes for her music and her political stances.  She was absolutely fearless, despite being a woman and a Native American at a time when it wasn’t easy to be either.  She walked it and talked it all while making completely unique albums.  There aren’t many people that can say they were black balled by President Johnson and appeared on Sesame Street.  

I haven’t been to Canada since my senior class trip almost 17 years ago.  At the time I was mostly concerned with getting drunk where the drinking age was only 18 and possibly landing a girl.  The drinking happened, but the girl didnt.  Now my priority is seeing someone that speaks truth to power while remaining sober enough to take in every moment, if I can get in.  No matter how well we think we know ourselves we can’t even predict ourselves can we?  As Nick Lowe sings:

People change
That’s the long and short of it
Prepare for it or get bit
People change

Brendan Behan on Religion

This passage was written by Irish writer Brendan Behan and it is from the book Borstal Boy.   A borstal is a reform school for underage prisoners as an alternative to prison.  Walton is a jail in Liverpool that Behan was in before being moved to his reform school.  He was imprisoned for being caught in Liverpool with bombs as an I.R.A. member.  Because he would not renounce the I.R.A. he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.  However, while at reform school he was allowed to serve Mass because he could read Latin, despite not being able to receive the Sacraments.   This passage is his reflection on religion right before he is about to serve Mass:

But I wasn’t bitter.  When I am in good humor, I could not be bitter about anything.  It was different in Liverpool, where the priest was an active enemy.  Here the priest had nothing to do with me, and I nearly lost interest in Sacraments,  and whether I was deprived of them or not.  Walton scalded my heart with regard to my religion, but it also lightened it.  My sins had fallen from me, because I had almost forgotten that there were such things and, when I got over it, my expulsion from religion, it was like being pushed outside a prison and told not to come back.  If I was willing to serve Mass, it was in memory of my ancestors standing around a rock, in a lonely glen, for fear of the landlords and their yeomen, or sneaking through a back – lane in Dublin, and giving the password,  to hear Mass in a slum public house, when a priest’s head was worth five pounds and an Irish Catholic had no existence in law. 

There were few Catholics in this part of the world and the priest had a forlorn sort of a job but Walton had cured me of any idea that religion of any description had anything to do with mercy or pity or love. 

English Catholics had no time for the Irish, except when they were begging from them.  They had no use for Paddy the navvy and Biddy the scivvy,  beyond taking their money when a new church was being built.  The aristocratic old English Catholics had some kind of double dealt immunity from the penal laws, and the conversions only started when the Irish got the Emancipation and it became legal and safe to be a Catholic,  and a lot of English shopkeepers’ sons gave up Methodist and became Catholics because the more romantic minded of them thought it brought them into contact with the great world of Italy and France, which was atheist or Catholic, but always lively. 

One of the fascinating things about Behan, from reading this book, is how open minded he is.  Even at a young age he is able to see the difference between the British Empire as a system and the English people, as many of his friends in prison and reform school are English.  He was able to have a disdain for religion but feel for a priest with a forlorn job.  He could be against a system, but treat people within that system as individuals.  He had a great mind.  I now understand why so many writers and songwriters remember him fondly. 

The Danger of Too Much TV

I just read a quote the other day, and I believe it to be by Werner Herzog, that “Those that read gain the world, and those that watch TV lose it.”  (I am currently in a van with limited Internet service so I have no way to check the source.)  Today while in the hotel breakfast room the local news was on.  I overheard the local yokel anchors, or cue card reading Ken and Barbie dolls as I like to call them, reported that Mitt Romney might run for president again, they were building a waterslide in the area.  After that the Ken and Barbie dolls feigned mock surprise at legalized weed in Washington State.  “Jesus Christ,” I thought, “this shit is fucking depressing.” 

Last night on I took a beautiful brilliant ferry ride across Lake Michigan.  After awhile it got to cold and windy on the upper deck.  Downstairs, before I was able to escape into my headphones, I heard a clip from Fox News where Bill O’Reilly and some other faceless stooge talked about how President Obama might be the worst American President ever.  Really?  Worse than Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush?  Even if you don’t like Obama certainly you can comb the annals of American History and find several presidents whose use or misuse of power make Obama look like an ancient sage. 

You often hear that this is the golden age of television.  In terms of the long form drama this is definitely a time where there are many worthy and intelligent shows.  Comedy is also not restricted by so many puritanical rules, and therefore there are several really great programs in this form as well. 

However, overall TV remains a place of soul stealing degradation.   It so often plays to the lowest common denominator,  champions meaningless consumerism, and beats the drums for mindless patriotism and barbaric foreign policy.  When it is not doing any of that it takes full use of the culture wars and keeps us divided and ignorant.  The jury is still out, as far as I am concerned, as to whether this is just the inevitable result of the free market or purposeful manipulation by the powers that be.   Someone like Rupert Murdock is actually doing both.  He is fulfilling a demand of the market and furthering his political and economic interests at the same time. 

I can’t help but feel that if more people read and less people watched TV, that we would be a more enlightened and intelligent nation.  Maybe this is just wishful thinking. 

I am currently reading Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy.  It is his account of his time spent in jail and reform school as a young prisoner.  Behan was a vociferous reader.  What strikes me is his empathy for others and his tolerance for those different than himself.  He is serving time because he was caught with I.R.A. bombs in England.  However even at a young age he sees complexity rather than simplicity.  He comments that it is the system of the British Empire that he is against.  He befriends many English prisoners and realizes that some of the Irish that are part of the British Empire and British legal system are some of the worst of the lot.  He judges people as individuals and not based on predetermined catagories.  He even defends Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality to other prisoners, Wilde was a favorite writer of his, at a time when such behavior made one an outcast. 

There seems to be a strong political debate going on about guns in our country right now.  Maybe we need a strong debate about the role of TV in our society, which may be far more dangerous to us as a nation in the long run.