Monday, July 28, 2008

Good Gravy, Geeshie Wiley

I guess it credits an artist when you only record half a dozen songs in your life and seventy years later you're still gaining new fans.
-- Danny McCoy, Ari Eisinger’s Acoustic Blues Message Board, on Geeshie Wiley

I hate to post so soon after my last post (what's it been, two hours or so?) but I absolutely must. I move to the background to no one, absolutely no one, in my admiration for the legendary lost early-1930s acoustic-blues cypher Geeshie Wiley, and I just discovered that now, four of her songs are available on YouTube. That's an astonishing 2/3 of her entire recorded catalogue.

She has a reputation for having been a superb guitarist, but jesus could she sing. Check it out.

Skinny Legs Blues
Last Kind Words
Pick Poor Robin Clean
Eagles on a Half

I still have not heard "Motherless Child Blues" or "Over To My House," which makes me sad. (If I have a feminist musical icon, it's Geeshie Wiley, who beat Robert Johnson at his own game, and did it in six sides.)

You can download the first three tracks off the pages linked here, which I would strongly NO KIDDING GO DO IT NOW encourage you to do.

The Fathers of Atoms

In his essay Starship Stormtroopers (available here), Michael Moorcock deftly points out the essential tension between mythic-narrative depictions of the American mental landscape: "To be a rugged individualist a la Heinlein and others is to be forever a child who must obey, charm and cajole to be tolerated by some benign, omniscient father: Rooster Coburn shuffling his feet in front of a judge he respects for his office (but not necessarily himself) in True Grit." The counterpoint to that, of course, is that the true rugged individualist, as depicted in forms ranging from the media action-hero (Jack Bauer, say), or in extreme form, as one of Ayn Rand's cardboard protagonist, is that the rugged individualist must always be prepared to act, to enforce compliance with Truth, Justice, the American Way, and whichever kind, paternal authority is the exemplar this time.

Against this mythic-narrative backdrop a century and more old, the American political landscape has seen the rise and domination (for the last 30 years or so) of political actors (some of them really are actors) who not only believe the myth, but have taken it upon themselves to enact it in whichever ways they can. The political landscape also contains a cadre of distant authorities, urging these John-Wayne-in-their-own-minds to do something:
"We're going to keep building the party until we're hunting Democrats with dogs." (Phil Gramm)

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." (Ann Coulter)

Wouldn't it be great if anybody who speaks out against this country, to kick them out of the country? Anybody that threatens this country, kick 'em out. We'd get rid of Michael Moore, we'd get rid of half the Democratic Party if we would just import that law. That would be fabulous. (Rush Limbaugh)

We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee. (Ann Coulter)

A great deal of good could be done by arresting Bill Keller having him lined up against the wall and shot. (Melanie Morgan)

My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building. (Ann Coulter)

Sometimes, people who have been listening too hard to people attempting to push the bounds of acceptable discourse to include violence and death threats do in fact act on it. Apparently, in the story of Jim David Adkisson, we're seeing it again. Adkisson had written a four-page "manifesto" detailing how much he hated liberals (among others), was an avowed neo-Confederate, and an all-round charming example of humanity bigot.

I can't help but think these things are of a piece, that the mythic reality written about and enacted so dramatically by another right-wing icon, John Birch, informs these people's unconscious idea that they are the instrumentality of the paternal authority, the hero out to save the day by enforcing the correct social order as they perceive it, the Rugged Individualist writ real.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Frank Fencepost Meets the Hell's Angels

Some of you may know of W.P. Kinsella's Fencepost Chronicles, a series of charming, comedic stories that take place on the Indian reserve in Hobbema, Alberta.

Meet the real Hobbema:
Police first noted the Hobbema gang problem in 2001. Today, 13 street gangs, including Indian Posse, Redd Alert and Alberta Warriors, deal drugs and wage turf wars. Most observers, including Hobbema's RCMP officers, largely blame the prison system for seeding the reserve's gang troubles. ... Drive by shootings quickly became a nightly threat to Hobbema's 12,000 residents. In 2001, RCMP officers arrested 3,500 people, a thousand more than last year. Hobbema has Canada's highest ratio of gang members per 1,000 residents: 18.75 compared to Toronto's 1.15, says Toronto-based gang expert, Michael Chettleburgh.

If Kinsella were writing these stories now (as far as I know, he no longer writes, having sustained cognitive damage from a car accident in 1997), they'd no doubt look much different.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Reuters Lies About Biofuels This Time

...with help from World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who contradicts himself quite neatly in his own quoted statement here.

According to Zoellick, corn-based ethanol (not "biofuels") is a significant contributor to rising world food prices.

Reuters makes a particularly egregious mistake here in the seventh paragraph of their story
Recently, [Zoellick] wrote in the Financial Times that the use of corn for ethanol by the United States had consumed more than 75 percent of global corn production over the past three years, and called on the United States and Europe to ease subsidies and tariffs on biofuels derived from corn and oilseeds.

"The use of corn for ethanol has consumed more than 75 percent of the increase in global corn production over the past three years," he wrote.

Let's break that down a little, shall we? On the one hand, we have Reuters saying that corn ethanol is using up seventy-five percent of the total world corn crop, which is garbage by any estimation, and then Zoellick himself saying that corn production has increased some unspecified (in the Reuters article) amount in the last three years, of which increase, 75% has been diverted to corn ethanol. That means real corn production is still up 25% in three years even discounting corn production for corn ethanol.

Here's Zoellick's contradiction: I am frankly not seeing how you get from "real worldwide corn production is up by one quarter" to "corn ethanol is a significant contributor to the world food shortage." Particularly when you consider all the other factors I've mentioned before.

Update: Commenter Ficus corrects my math, in that real corn production is not up by one quarter; one quarter of the total increase is going to food and other non-ethanol uses. We do not, as far as I know, have any statistics in the recent Reuters article to quantify the amount of the increase. I thought something looked hinky there, but due to my dyscalculia, there are some days when I can practically crunch standard deviations in my head, and some days when I can't count to five using my fingers. Guess which happened to me the day I wrote this post? Nevertheless, I still think the point stands: I don't see how you get from "real corn production is up a significant amount" to "corn ethanol is a significant contributor to the world food shortage," especially given the other factors in play. My calculation error also doesn't invalidate the rank dishonesty I've exposed here, as I think ought to go without saying...

It's also extremely mendacious to refer to "biofuels" when you mean "corn ethanol." I'm getting tired of pointing this out, but apparently I need to keep doing it, since otherwise the propaganda machine gets to make its barbaric yawp unopposed (even by lowly umpteenth-tier bloggers like Your Humble Narrator).

Corn ethanol is not equal to "biofuels." Corn ethanol represents one type of biofuel, and only one type. Please stop referring to corn ethanol as "biofuels" as though the terms are synonymous. They are not. Doing so is unethical, flat-out dishonest, and bad journalism to boot.

It's all about the framing, folks. Pay attention, and don't believe the hype.

Postscript: My better half, the brilliant Tomble of Neologue, also points out the red herring in the first paragraph, in his typically pungent British way: "Corn has fuck-all to do with oilseed fuels as far as I can see, apart from the fact they're both used in some biofuels."


Author's Note: I had some things to say about Henry Morgenthaler's being awarded the Order of Canada, but I'm kind of all out for now. I swear, this blog won't be all biofuels all the time in the future, though...

Thursday, July 03, 2008


While I don't absolutely agree with everything Rustin says here, the take-home message is worth listening to: There is no energy shortage, dammit! and Don't believe the hype.