Misunderstanding Songs, Dakota Access Pipeline, Uranium War

Hey, Baby I just got back from town
Where the bribes are paid
Honey, they turned my offer down
They say the deal’s already made
So now I gotta stand and watch
While it all comes down
And the buzzards and the hawks
And the judges and the mob
Circle round

Now if I were the queen of all the world
I would go in chains just to see you free
Of the ropes that bind you
And the role you play
And the pride that hooks you
While the big ones get away

Love junkies wanna change the world:
It quickly stays the same
Money junkies hire all the smart ones
Power junkies run the game

One step at a time
Polarity Hill
If the bad guys don’t get you, baby
Then the good guys will
With angels on the take
And the gangsters in the yard
Hey don’t the wars come easy
Hey don’t the peace come hard

Now if I had a way to reach the sky
I’d grab that crescent moon
Weild it like a knife
Save you from the lies
From the ropes that bind you
And the role you play
And the game that hooks you
While the big ones get away

People often mistake volume and sound for danger.  And it is true, sound does have the ability to change the mood in a room.  One could play the orchestral piece Sensemaya, without knowing anything about it, and feel increasing tension as the piece progresses.  (It’s one of my favorite pieces of orchestral music.)  However, one could croon softly and with the right ideas be more subversive than a million rock or country assholes playing rebel.  Often, when we’re teenagers, although many people never get beyond this stage, we will only listen to something that sounds like it has an edge, even if it’s just a smokescreen for the same tired cliches.

The song above, The Big Ones Get Away, has dated synths and other sounds in the production.  I definitely know people that would not be able to get beyond that.  But every time it comes on my headphones it feels real.  Buffy Sainte-Marie’s is singing about big things.  She’s not trying to hide from ugly realities she is facing.  There is sadness and defeat in this song, but there is also truth telling.  It knocks me out every time I hear it.  No matter what is going on around it, someone’s singing voice almost never lies.

With the Sioux fighting the Dakota Access pipeline, this song is timely as well.  This isn’t the first time, by a long shot, that Native Americans have had companies tread on their sacred land for energy.  This song reflects the defeat Sainte-Marie felt from older battles to protect Indian land from corporations.

On her newest album, Power in the Blood, she more explicitly tells one of her stories in the song The Uranium War:

Ay ha ay ha yo Ho

There was a Cree and a Sioux and a Navajo an Arapaho and a Hopi hiyo
We were stranded, snowbound, eh–ho I don’t know
Sleeping on the floor like the best of friends
Living on tea and odds and ends ah
Were we lucky? Well it all depends

There was Cordell and me and Norman Brown sittin around away from town
And me I’m listening — Hey hey Big Mountain guys
Watch the sunrise in your eyes; taking care of the Elders’ pride
Hey hey Mother Earth; Hey hey Father Sky

And me I watched it grow: corporate greed and a lust for gold and
coal and oil and hey now uranium
Keep the Indians under your thumb; pray like hell when your bad times come
Hey rip em up Strip em up Get em with a gun

She was a friend of mine Annie Mae in the snows of the wintertime
We were running cross the fields of Indian land
Ducking bullets from the guns of the pale men Ay hey ay hey ahh

Patriot Woman, hunted in the land
What did you say about uranium?

She come to see me one day I was living in a little place in L.A.
She was running from the feel of the jailor’s touch
Singing Heyo ha ya I think I know too much about uranium

Ay ha ay ha yo

And me I watched it grow: corporate greed and a lust for gold
and coal and oil and hey now uranium
Keep the Indians under your thumb; pray like hell when your bad times come
Hey rip em up Strip em up Get em with a gun

Her friend and fellow activist Anna Mae Aquash was killed in 1975 during the “uranium war”.

These songs are as emotionally hard as anything out there.  In music, like politics, one often needs to look beyond the surface of things.

The Clown that Destroyed Creation

I’ve walked catacombs in Austria and seen rooms full of nothing but human bones from the black plague.   I’ve seen ruins in Italy where Saints were martyred.  It doesn’t take a brilliant leap of the imagination, on a rainy day especially, to imagine what ruins we’ll leave behind.  There will certainly be a lot of plastic nonsense.  Certainly a lot of the plastic I have used will long outlast me.  Alas, I took a wrong turn on the road to perfection.  As a society, is this the kind of thing we wish to be remembered for?

Suppose at the bottom of a plastic trash mountain future inhabitants of earth find a Donald Trump poster.  I saw a particularly garish, clownish one recently.  Will these future citizens of the planet see it as just one more memento of a careless and indulgent culture, or will it represent something darker?  Or will they see it as the moment when the most powerful country of our time, the Roman Empire of the now, decided to completely stop giving a shit about not only its own future, but mother nature in general?

There will some of you that will find all this absurd.  The truth is, I hope those of you that feel this way are right.  But Trump, having just released his energy policy, isn’t thinking about life on earth more than a couple years out.  Trump  more fossil fuels, less renewable energy, wants to build a new pipeline, and wants to cancel the Paris climate agreement.  (The climate agreement, as good as it was, actually should have gone further.  We’ll take what we can get.)

Now truth be told, Trump changes his opinions about as often as the weather changes in Texas.  (When I first moved here people often said, “If you don’t like the weather, wait awhile, it will change.)  Trump is an entertainer more than a politician, willing to say or do anything in the moment for the applause of the crowd.  He knows his audience and he knows what schtick they like.  But do we really want an ethical and moral black hole in the Oval Office, a man that will simply do whatever will get him the most power?

Kurt Vonnegut, in his novel Mother Night, once said that, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”  If Trump is empowering racists and climate deniers, is he not of them, no matter what he might think privately in his own bedroom every night?

Trump is appealing to the very worst in our culture, and therefore is amongst the very worst of our culture.  (I’ve learned recently to never utter the phrase, “Things can’t possibly get any worse.”)  How we meet the challenge of this election will depend upon how we are remembered by future generations.  Do we really want to be remembered as the people who elected the clown that destroyed creation?



How Game of Thrones is About Climate Change

How Game of Thrones is About Climate Change

Game of Thrones is a piece of fiction and therefore interpretive.  I have been thinking about how the story could be used to discuss the challenge of facing climate change for awhile.  However, Vox got there first, which is probably just as well, because they did a better job than I could have done.  There is even a video for those of you not familiar with the show.  Click on the link above to see how “Winter is Coming” could just as easily be “Summer is Coming”.

The show is one of those shows that just seems to get better and better every season.  It is one of those rare shows that allows you to escape while watching it, while at the same time giving you plenty to chew on after.

A Disagreement with Ta-Nehisi Coates

I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the best and brightest writers of his generation, but lately I have had a problem with his approach to politics, especially his criticisms of Bernie Sanders.  I think it was Chuck D that said that when white people face a recession, black people face a depression.  (Paraphrased)  I totally think that is the truth.  There is no doubt that black people face inequality, not only in income, but across the board when it comes to rule of law.  One can simply look at the violence directed towards black people by the police in comparison to white people.  And these things are only touching the surface.  However, I can’t help but feel that Coates addresses everything through a one issue lens, while also misunderstanding the realities of presidential politics.  I want the same end goals as Coates does, but I feel that his approach is misguided.

America made progress on a whole host of issues from Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, through the Civil Rights and other movements of the 60’s,  until the rise of Ronald Reagan.  Since Reagan the working and middle class of this country have have seen tremendous setbacks.  There is no doubt that these setbacks have affected blacks and other minorities worse than whites.  One of the truths of American power, since the Civil War, that has been more or less effective at different time periods, has been to divide and conquer.  Lower class whites and blacks, which in reality have much in common, have been pitted against each other.  (Often all too easily I’m afraid.)

Aside from rare achievements like Obamacare, which many of us on the left think didn’t go far enough, true progressive goals have been sidelined.  This is due to the Republicans ability to siphon off white working class voters.  But this is also due to the fragmented nature of the left, where each group has their pet issue, instead of uniting for the greater common good.  In a capitalist society, money is power.  Unions have been destroyed.  Healthcare still doesn’t reach enough people.  Education has been robbed of the kind of value that allows people to think critically, not only making people less intelligent politically, but preventing the kind of fluid intelligence that allows people to change jobs with changing times.  The right and left argue over culture matters.  The left is guilty of this for sure.  Instead of addressing issues that will lead to a fairer system, inequality is attacked in a series of patchwork attempts, always leaving some other hole for problems to arise.

Politics is also largely a realm of the realistic.  One can only harness energy and attention for so long.  How do you do the most good with limited energy?  What topics does one tackle first?  A president must not only try to balance the wishes of many groups simultaneously, but is also constricted through very real laws that balance the power of government between different branches.  That is how the presidency has been since the founding of our country.  The founding fathers did not create a dictatorship.

It is true that there is a need for certain kinds of extremists and dreamers in the political realm.  You need people that push the envelope, that hold those in power accountable.  I am by no means saying that these people don’t have their place.  But when this becomes the norm, I think you will see that a political party stands a very slim chance of getting anything done that will last.  There have to be those that understand the reality of law, how to get laws actually passed, etc.  As a musician, I am a dreamer.  But as a History and eventually an American Studies Major, I also know that there needs to be those in power than understand the mechanisms of government.

One of my favorite writers is George Orwell.  Orwell was a democratic socialist that was also highly critical of the utopian left.  He understood that if you wanted to raise the living of the working class, you had to get them on your side.  Orwell understood the plight of miners in Northern England, even if intellectually and culturally he was quite different.  He understood why these people had certain religious and cultural beliefs.  A certain kind of culture and education influences the way one thinks.  Attacking something someone holds dear, if it is not related to the matter at hand, especially if in all other ways they would be open to an important political goal, is foolish.  In politics, you have to be willing to meet people where they are at.

I believe that overall Sanders and Coates want the same end goal.  They both want to live in a fairer country where there is more opportunity for all people, where everyone is treated equally under the rule of law.  But Coates as been critical of Sanders for not taking up one of his explicit political causes.  If he was attacking a sitting political power I would deem what he is doing as noble and necessary to the political process.

However, in an election cycle, especially when the opposing choices are so horrendous, I can’t help but think of what he is doing is foolish.  Sanders largely shares the same goals, even if he views getting there differently.  Why, when critiquing someone, would you pick Sanders?  Coates explains this, but I just can’t agree with him.  (And anyone that thinks all politicians are the same needs to merely think how recent historical events would have played out if Gore would have won instead of Bush.  At least Bill Maher is honest enough to admit he should have not voted for Nader.  And if you don’t believe voting matters, that politicians are the same, there are probably thousands of dead Iraqis that would say differently, if only they could.)

In a perfect world there would possibly be a greater variety among the candidates.  But politics is again partially dealing with the realities of a situation.  These are the candidates that we have.  Sanders might not be checking off every box for Coates, but doesn’t he run the risk of helping to elect someone that is either completely part of the status quo, with Hillary, or someone that is actually opposed to Coates brand of politics?  This is an election cycle where certain candidates are outright demonizing minorities.  Well this might be election year B.S, I can’t help but feel that there is a dark undercurrent in the right that will actually see the light if one of the Republicans is elected.

I view income inequality and climate change as the two biggest issues of our day.  With climate change, if that isn’t addressed, all other issues may be worthless, as we might all end up sharing a world that isn’t worth living in.  There is also a clock on that issue.  We only have so long to get it right.  The Democrats are much better on that issue than the Republicans.  It is also worth saying that the poorest people in the world will be affected the most by climate change, many of them minorities.

Income inequality affects people from all races, even if it is disproportionately affecting minorities.  How long can we live in a world where 65 people hold more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion, before there is a revolution that doesn’t not happen through the comparatively peaceful channels of politics?  Sanders is the best candidate on this issue.  Again, I’m not saying his platform would go far enough in addressing all wrongs, but I think it is the platform that would do the most good for the most people.

These is not saying that there are not other issues that this country needs to address by any means.  But a candidate that can make a difference on these issues can do good for a great amount of people, including minorities.  In a year when so many things are on the line, should not those of us that share common goals, do our best to put away our differences for the time being?  I have my own personal checkbox of things I would like to see changed, but I know what is first and foremost of importance.  I’m not even arguing that Coates should not be adding to the dialog, saying certain proposals don’t go far enough.  But I find his particular criticism of the candidate closest to him to be troubling.  I just can’t help but feel Coates is doing some harm right now, along with some good, when it comes to the political future of this country.



Americans Largely Unconcerned About Climate Change

Americans Largely Unconcerned About Climate Change

The headline story over at Huffpo today was about how Americans don’t seem to be overtly concerned about climate change.  This is exactly why the problem of climate change worries me more than any problem.  It’s the kind of problem that is going to be too late to do anything about once it affects people in a way that they can’t ignore it.  At the same time, unlike a lot of other problems, there is a definitive timeline in getting it right.  Not only has the right wing created a long running disinformation campaign to discredit climate scientists, but the problem itself is not the kind of problem that human beings seem genetically dispositioned to to deal with.  We are much better at dealing with problems that are immediate.  Especially in our culture, where short attention spans seem to be the norm, we seem to lack the ability to make changes based on our long term future.

Imagine if we could have destroyed the Nazi regime before they led millions to the gas chamber.  Would that be a worthy goal?  Millions of people are going to suffer from climate change, including our descendants.  The poorest and most vulnerable people of the world are going to suffer the worst and the suffer sooner.  Their suffering is going to increase due to our indifference on this issue.  Not only will weather become more destructive, but experts are predicting more famine and war due to climate change.

Fighting and winning World War II put the U.S. in the position of being a super power.  Wouldn’t it feel good to wave the flag again knowing that we did something that made the world better for a long time to come?  Or are we content to be thrown on the heap of history’s chumps?


Climate Change Nightmare

Climate Change Nightmare

This article over at Salon is worth reading.  It not only holds the Republicans accountable for their denial of science,  but points out the Democrats timidity in dealing with the issue.  It gives a brief and vivid overview of the problems we are already facing and are likely to face if we do nothing.

Amazing Humpback Whale Footage

The footage above is incredible, as a humpback whale breaches at the Bay of Fundy.  It was shot last Friday.  I’ve long been fascinated by whales, but reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea has only increased this interest.  I usually only post things I feel I can add some original insight into, but I think this footage speaks for itself.  An article over at Huffington Post has slightly more detail about this amazing footage.

Even as science unlocks more and more of nature’s mysteries, I am still left awestruck by the natural world.  I have been hiking several times in the last month and each time I find myself reflecting on what a strange dreamscape of a world we inhabit.

Is Our Environmental Past Prophecy of a Dark Future?

In reading about whaling in the book In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick, a great example is made of what happens when human beings destroy nature for economic pursuit.  I’m not talking about the whaleship Essex being sunk by a sperm whale, which is what the book is largely about, the true story that Moby Dick was based on.  I’m talking about how Nantucketers, in their ever increasing greed for more whale oil and their stubbornness in following tradition, built an entire economy that was doomed to eventually collapse.  The real story, which if you are interested in you should read the book, is more complex, but basically Nantucketers over-hunted whales and had to keep going further and further to find them.  Also, because they had such a closed off culture, when it did become apparent to others to seek even new hunting grounds, the Nantucketers could not adapt fast enough.

This is a story that has been seen again and again.  The fur-trade wore itself out from overhunting of beavers.  Almost any American school child knows about how the Buffalo almost became extinct from overhunting.  On a different note, with something like mountaintop removal in places like West Virginia one can see how whole economies rise and fall around something environmentally destructive, leaving a populace with nothing left to show for something other than a small few making a lasting fortune.

I don’t see how one can look at something like the oil industry and climate change and not expect the same to happen on a much larger scale.  This time it will be more than a single species almost driven to extinction, a single region driven through a boom and bust cycle.  While it is true that those species mentioned did manage to rebound somewhat, the ways of life they were based on never did.

As the old quote goes, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”  Humans, now more technologically advanced than ever, also have greater destructive powers than ever before.  The game we are playing is much bigger now, but the story is old.  Are we, as a species, truly capable of learning from our past?  Or is the past merely a series of small prophecies of what is to come of our future?

More Posts On the Environment Include: Entertainment Shows Growing Environmental Concerns

This is What You Want, This is What You Get

While watching DVD’s of the show Deadwood, and the special commentary featuring creator David Milch, a show that takes place in an illegal mining town, I came to understand how humans use certain kinds of language to psychologically justify certain orders of business which result in the destruction of nature. This can be found either through the use of vulgarity, to get themselves psyched up to do something which is not natural, or through euphemisms that hide the nature of what they are going to do.  Often you will see a combination of this.

Over the last two days, on tour, I have been reading the brilliant Nathaniel Philbrick book In the Heart of the Sea.  This book is a historical account that tells the story of the waleship Essex, which is the ship that inspired Moby Dick, due to the fact that it was sunk by a sperm whale in the Pacific Ocean.  At the time, the sinking of the ship was said to be as widely known as the sinking of the Titanic.  Melville, who had once been on a whaling vessel himself, used the story of the Essex as the basis for his book.

Most people now, even those that are tried and true hunters, view the killing of whales as nothing other than outright savagery, due to what we now know about whales.  However, even during the time of the Essex, the early 1800’s, those that witnessed the killing of a whale for the first time were often troubled by it.

In order to get the men ready to kill whales the captains and first mates of the ship would use a language, while rowing towards the whales, “that evoked the savagery, excitement, and the almost erotic bloodlust associated with pursuing one of the largest mammals on the planet.”  Here is the passage that the book uses that was spoken by a Nantucket mate (All the more interesting because those from Nantucket were Quakers, who are known in regular life for their pacifism.  A pacifism that would disappear when whales were their quarry.):

Do for heaven’s sake spring.  The boat don’t move.  You’re all asleep; see, see!  There she lies; skote, skote!  I love you, my dear fellows, yes, yes, I do;  I’ll do anything for you, I’ll give you my heart’s blood to drink; only take me up to this whale only this time, for this once, pull.  Oh, St. Peter, St. Jerome, St. Stephen, St. James, St. John, the devil on two sticks; carry me up; O, let me tickle him, let me feel of his ribs.  There, there, go on; O, O, O, most on, most on.  Stand up, Starbuck [harpooner].  Don’t hold your iron that way; put one hand over the end of the pole.  Now, now, look out.  Dart, dart.

When the book talks about the killing of the whale, it is truly horrific.  I am not one that is squeamish about violence, especially violence, no matter how real at the time of the event, that is taking place only in my imagination.  But I found the following passage, especially if you are to read the full account in the book, very troubling:

When the final lance found its mark its mark, the whale would begin to choke on its own blood, its spout transformed into a fifteen-to twenty-foot geyser of gore that prompted the mate to shout, “Chimney’s afire!”  As the blood rained down on them, the men took up the oars and backed furiously away, then paused to watch as the whale went into what was known as its flurry.  Beating the water with its tail, snapping at the air with its jaws – even as it regurgitated large chunks of fish and squid – the creature began to swim in an ever tightening circle.  Then, just as abruptly as the attack had begun with the first thrust of the harpoon, it ended.  The whale fell motionless and silent, a giant black corpse floating fin-up in a slick of its own blood and vomit.  

I highlighted “Chimney’s afire” because it is another use of language to make peace with a horrible act.  This time, unlike the first passage that was especially vulgar for its time, it is a euphemism.  Is the use of “Chimney’s afire” not a ridiculous euphemism for the act at hand?

When we perform mountaintop removal, when we steer the world towards destruction while ignoring climate change, when we kill off endangered species, what are the euphemisms that we use?  How do we justify these acts to ourself so that we can carry them out?

I also just finished the book The Consolations of Philosophy, which examines that in order to be happy, to not be crushed by life’s disappointments, we must have a  realistic view of the world.  In the book, the author is referring on how your outlook leads to how you respond to tragedy and setbacks.  If you have a rosy view of what is going on, you might not be able to handle a setback or tragedy, because you have an unrealistic viewpoint of what the world is like.  Something shocking is even more shocking if you never thought of it in the first place.  If you understand the harsh realities of life, you will still suffer and be sad at these times, but you will at least have the consolation of understanding that you are not suffering alone.  (This is an extreme simplification of what the book says, but bear with me while I make a point.)  I think also, that while one can certainly be active and fight 0r speak outagainst injustice in the world, it is extremely helpful to know exactly what is going on out there.  To solve a problem, I think it helps to know the full ramifications of what one is up against.  It might not always be necessary, but more times than not, especially in the political realm, a sharp view of reality will only aid one in their fight against injustice.

The reason I chose the Public Image Ltd. song above is that it constantly repeats the phrase, “This is What You Want, This is What You Get.”  This is what you wish the world was like, but this is how it really is.

I think this glimpse into whaling and the language used around it can help one identify the modern equivalence of it.  Again, what language are those that destroy the environment using?  What horrible acts are they concealing behind the facade of language?

Posts for Public Image Ltd. Check OutCareering

Posts for Deadwood: Deadwood and United Fruit

Posts for The Consolations of Philosophy: Socrates, Philosophy, and Why What is Popular is Not Always Right



Bernie Sanders Calls Out Jim Inhofe

Bernie Sanders Calls Out Jim Inhofe

I think the above video is worth watching.  Bernie Sanders does a really great job at simply stating the facts about climate change.  What takes this video to a special place is the fact that Sanders acknowledges that Jim Inhofe is a complete shill for the energy companies.  Inhofe is not a serious person.  He isn’t interested in a serious debate.  He is simply trying to muddy the waters, spread misinformation, and do anything possible to confuse people over the facts of climate change. He has actually quoted the Bible in disputing climate science.  Look at where his donations come from to get an idea of why he takes positions that are in no way backed up by science.