Matt Taibbi On Judith Miller

Matt Taibbi On Judith Miller

The above link is a Rolling Stone article about former NYT reporter Judith Miller, who played a role in making the country think that Iraq was a war of necessity.  She has just released a book and is trying to redeem her reputation.  But there is nothing she can do to redeem herself at this point, especially when she still seems not to understand the full ramifications of her actions.  She helped lead this country into a war that has caused untold pain and suffering, with thousands of dead soldiers and even more innocent Iraqis killed, along with untold numbers that were either maimed or now face psychological trauma.  She betrayed the public trust in a way that I don’t think can ever be fully forgiven.

Twinkle Passes Away

Pop star Twinkle has passed away.  I found out about her through The Smiths cover version of her song Golden Lights.  (Which I actually like, despite many fans problem with the song.)  However, the real reason why this news matters to me is that I absolutely adore her teenage death disc Terry. (above)  I am extremely fond of the “death disc”.  These are pop songs that are about teenage tragedies.  Other songs in this genre include Leader of the Pack and Dead Man’s Curve.  I love the duality of the genre, where effervescent melodies are combined with death.  This song is extremely great, one of my favorites in the genre, because Twinkle’s voice is largely dead pan, highlighting the comedic element of the song.  It’s if at an extremely young age she is telling the listener that, “oh well, these things happen.”  And they do.  Twinkle is stoic in the face of tragedy, narrating the song with a removed distance.  She has excepted the hand that fate has dealt.  Her singing represents the idea that tragedy plus time equals comedy.  It’s one of those times when song and singer are greatly matched, providing layers to the material that might not be there in another interpretation.  Twinkle is beyond us now.  Is Terry still waiting?

Mass Death, Critical Thinking, and Media Distortion

There is a digital sign, very close to where I live, that lets the passerby know that 457 people have been killed on Texas roads this year.  That is 457 people killed on the roads in the state of Texas only, in just over three months of one year.  There were 2,877 victims during 911.  So roughly one sixth of all of the people that were killed as the result of 911 have been killed through traffic accidents in the state of Texas this year from January 1st to March 24th.

Yet, no one is particularly troubled by this, unless of course they have been some how touched by one of these accidents in a personal way.  Meanwhile when 911 happened we lost our collective shit, resulting in the invasion of a country that in no way was related to 911.  That invasion led to far more death and destruction than 911 did.  I am not saying 911 was not a horrible event.  I am not saying that no response was necessary.  I am only saying that if you compare the results of 911 to the results of what happen all the time, it didn’t warrant the kind of response that it created.  We did not need to change every law in the land, drop bombs on other people, etc.  We should have gone after the people directly responsible, mourned the dead in the way that we should mourn all people that have fallen before their time, and gotten back to business as usual.

I would imagine that most people would agree with this now, especially in concern with our ill advised adventure into Iraq.  So why am I bringing this up?  (And I’m even bringing it up again as I have touched upon this idea before.  I am constantly reminded of this idea from the sign that I see every time I leave my house to go out into greater Austin.)  Today over at Huffington Post the headline is about a plane crash in the Alps where right now 150 are feared dead.  This number is less than a third of all the people that have been killed in Texas highways this year, and it is far away, so the chance of us knowing someone that died is even less.  Yet, this is the HEADLINE at Huffington Post.  I can only imagine what cable news is going to do with a story like this.  I assume, and hopefully I’m wrong, but I doubt that I am, that cable news is going to have a fucking field day with it!

We live in a democracy.  To have a democracy that functions efficiently, it is important that the citizens of the democracy can assess what’s going on and make educated choices concerning problems.  Yet here in America, a sort of tabloid lizard brain runs the show in determining what is important to focus on.  That is if you take the view that things aren’t being actively manipulated to keep us afraid and in the dark.

When horrible events occur, which with news cameras in almost every part of the globe, they are going on consistently in some form or fashion on a daily basis, we must try to maintain some kind of perspective on things.  As citizens of the United States and as citizens of the greater world, what actually concerns us?  What is a tragedy and what is a threat?  Given that we as humans only have so much time in a day to devote to understanding the world around us, what is really important for us to know and what is not?  When is something blown out of proportion to where it actually prevents us from making wise decisions?  This does not meant that we should be callous to suffering.  It only means that we should not let suffering blind us into creating other suffering in the world.

The way that our news media operates actually causes us to be less informed, as we are overloaded with the horrific and the sensational.  Anytime a news story comes on one should ask, “Does this affect me and my life in anyway?  Does this increase the likelihood that I am going to make better decisions about the world?  If it does not, can I acknowledge that I am watching this for mere entertainment or escapism?”

I would prefer that all Americans quit watching TV news.  If they can’t, I would at least prefer that they limited the amount of time they spent viewing it.  TV news, even though I mentioned Huffington Post up above, is the worst at pumping up false threats, while ignoring real events that we should be learning about.  However, if one is not going to stop watching TV news, I think people should at least take the right set of tools with them, as they try to sort through the insanity of the day.

Critical thinking is more important than ever.  In a world full of information, it is those that understand how to interpret information that are going to stand the best of thriving in this world.  Unfortunately our schools are moving more towards standardized testing, more towards rewarding the unthinking worker bee.  These are the exact opposite of the skills that are truly needed in the modern world.

The Language of Death

I played a funeral this afternoon.  If a funeral can ever be joyous, this one was, with stories that had people rolling with laughter. That’s not to say there weren’t tears shed, as saying goodbye to someone is always had, but even someone like me, who didn’t actually know the deceased, was left feeling love for the man that passed away.  His memory sounded more alive and full of life than some people I know that are still on this earth!  The event was a celebration of a life well lived as much as it was an acknowledgement of death.

Other than when I was actually playing, I was standing somewhere where I could hear what had been said, but could not see the speakers.  It got me thinking about language, and how certain kinds of language can bring additional meaning to important events, or detract from them, especially religious language.  I am actually someone that loves religious language, even if I myself am not a member of any organized religion.  I can admire it from a purely poetic standpoint.  Some of my favorite writers are people like Flannery O’Connor, whose work is heavily steeped in haunted Biblical language.  This kind of language is something that has greatly influenced my songwriting.  However, religious language never seems more hollow to me than when it is part of a ceremony in church.  (Today was not in a church and I am not specifically referring to that event.  Other than a few acknowledgments of Christianity this was again more of a celebration of life than a traditional funeral.)

Language, however poetic, when stripped of any meaning other than ceremony, loses its power.  However beautiful a sonnet of Shakespeare is, if it is recited flatly and out of context, probably will have little effect on those listening.  So much religious language at the big life events, these ceremonies, aside from it being part of tradition, is detached from the real life that it is supposed to be bringing meaning to.  Even if someone is particularly religious or pious this kind of language will, unless you select the right passages, and tie them in somehow to a person’s life, and try to communicate the words with passion, still ring hollow.  So many ceremonies are just that; a set of rituals, nothing more than going through the motions.  When faced with the blackness of the void, these words of ritual are but brief whispers in the din of the whirlwind.  If you are the kind of person that finds comfort in mere repetition, then maybe they’ll comfort you.  But if you are trying to celebrate a life in the face of death, then to me they don’t do real life any justice.  For life is the sacred and the obscene and everything in between those two poles.

The only thing as greater than death is love.  Part of love is caring about someone in spite of all of their faults.  You can’t remove anyone’s faults anymore than you can remove whatever good qualities they possessed, or they will lack their true humanity.  Whenever I am at a funeral and there is someone up front spouting euphemisms, or just saying the same ritualistic words that could be said about anyone else, which is essentially the same as saying nothing at all, I feel cheated.  Even if someone were to go up to the front and say, “So-and-so was a goddamn bastard”, you would at least know that that person had lived, that they were on this Earth from point A to point B.  Ritual, by itself, if not infused with any other meaning, is worse than actual meaninglessness, because it is a facade for that meaninglessness.  It gives cover to the fact that no one really has much of anything to say at all.

When I die, if my body isn’t just rolled out into the river at night, let people speak the truth.  Otherwise, a moment of silence will do…

Walmart, Grey Skies, and a Street Corner Symphony

Slate grey Victorian skies
Come Back to Camden by Morrissey

I found myself buying pants at Walmart today for a funeral, on a day where the sky resembled the above quote.  Luckily it struck me as funny, instead of morose.  I am convinced if there is a God, that He has a strange sense of humor.  If you are afraid of death, and want to fear it less, spend some time walking around Walmart looking at the lost souls in that place.  Walmart is the endgame of the American dream.  It is where we got everything we ever wanted, for a low low price, and all we had to give up in return was our culture and a living wage.  I try not to shop there, but am low on cash myself and didn’t have a lot of time to play around with.  If you live long enough, there are times in life when being a hypocrite is the only option.

Life isn’t all dust and bones and skeleton smiles.  Earlier today I was walking my dog and The Persuasions Medley: He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother / You’ve Got a Friend came on my ipod.  The clouds parted and pure joy reigned down.  The Persuasions are an a capella soul group.  Their masterpiece is probably the album Street Corner Symphony.  Here is the song:

The album’s title is perfect.  They create an entire world of sweet soul music with nothing but the human voice.  How can you be down when something like this is out there?

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows when
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there

Flirted With You All My Life by Vic Chesnutt

I have long been a Vic Chesnutt fan.  He was one of our most brilliant songwriters before he took his own life.  The above song, Flirted With You All My Life, is just about as powerful as songwriting gets.  It doesn’t flinch from the bleakness of human experience, yet their is something truly beautiful about it as well.  Normally I would post the lyrics, but I think it is best if they unravel while listening, as he plays with expectations during the first half of the song.  I love the creeping death cartoon music of the intro, followed by the transcendent almost African sounding music in parts of the proper song.  This song still gives me the chills when I listen to it, as I realize someone is tapping into the unexplainable and profound.  A true masterpiece.

Below is a live performance of this song recorded near the end of Chesnutt’s life.  It is almost hard to watch because of the emotions laid bare.

American Sniper: Divide and Conquer

I want to talk one last time about the controversy surrounding the movie American Sniper, at least until I’ve seen it.  So much of history has been divide and conquer.  You saw this in the South during Reconstruction, where poor blacks and whites were pitted against each other instead of forming a union against the oppressive few.  But it seems like, concerning the movie, you have one side claiming that we shouldn’t make mythical heroes out of trained killers, and the other claiming that we should honor all of our men and women in uniform.  Both arguments can have their valid points, depending on the context and how they are made.  However, why argue over this when both sides should be arguing for peace?  Peace will prevent innocent lives being lost on either side of the divide.  Peace will ensure that our men and women don’t have to kill in our names.  It will also ensure that these men and women don’t come home maimed, psychologically damaged, or worst of all, in body bags.  Yet while our positions harden as insults from both sides reign down, over a fucking movie, the “owners” are planning the next geopolitical move that will lead to more death.

Death, Mortality, Abraham Lincoln, and His Secretary of War


If you want to know why Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals is such a thing of beauty, look no further.  The following two pages (at least on my Kindle) shows you how jam packed this book is with ideas and humanity.  Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton were polar opposites in personality, but were a perfect team when working together.  The one thing they both personally shared was a deep understanding of mortality due to the fact that both of them suffered the tremendous loss of loved ones.  As well as losing family members, Lincoln’s first love died when he was young.  Stanton lost his first wife at an early age.  Excerpt:

That Lincoln was also preoccupied with death is clear from the themes of many of his favorite poems that addressed the ephemeral nature of life and reflected on his own painful acquaintance with death.  He particularly cherished “Mortality,” by William Knox, and transcribed a copy for the Stantons.

Oh!  Why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of lightning, a break of the wave,
He passeth from life to his rest in the grave.

He could recite from memory “The Last Leaf,” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and once claimed to the painter Francis Carpenter that “for pure pathos” there was “nothing finer…in the English language” than the six-line stanza:

The mossy marble rest
On lips that he has prest
  In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
  On the tomb.

Yet, beyond sharing a romantic and philosophical preoccupation with death, the commander in chief and the secretary of war shared the harrowing knowledge that their choices resulted in sending hundreds of thousands of young men to their graves.  Stanton’s Quaker background made the strain particularly unbearable.  As a young man, he had written a passionate essay decrying society’s exaltation of war.  “Why is it,” he asked, that military generals “are praised and honored instead of being punished as malefactors?”  After all, the work of war is “the making of widows and orphans – the plundering of towns and villages – the exterminating & spoiling of all, making the earth a slaughterhouse.”  Though governments might argue war’s necessity to achieve certain objectives, “how much better might they accomplish their ends by some other means?  But if generals are useful so are butchers, and who will say that because a butcher is useful he should be honored?”  

Three decades after writing this, Stanton found himself responsible for an army of more than 2 million men.  “There could be no greater madness,” he reasoned, “than for a man to encounter what I do for anything less than motives that overleap time and look forward to eternity.”  Lincoln, too, found the horrific scope of the burden hard to fathom.  “Doesn’t it strike you as queer that I, who couldn’t cut the head off of a chicken, and who was sick at the sight of blood, should be cast into the middle of a great war, with blood flowing all about me?”  

The Police in America Are Becoming Illegitimate

The Police in America Are Becoming Illegitimate

A great article about the Eric Garner case.  Taibbi knows what he is talking about as he has written a book on this kind of thing.  Read the article to the end.   Taibbi talks about these kinds of cases are even more problematic when we view them in light of the large scale economic criminals that get off all of the time. 

Ian McLagan Slips Away…

The great Ian McLagan is no longer with us.  He played keyboards for the Small Faces and the Faces.  He worked with an incredible amount of musicians, everyone from Paul Westerberg to the Rolling Stones.  He also had a great solo career along with the Bump Band.  Ian was from England, but he chose to live the later part of his life in Austin, Texas.  I now live in Austin and might not even have moved here if not for him.  I have him to partially thank for all of the friends I have made here and for the musical career that I found in this city.

My brother and I wanted to move to a city that had a larger music scene than our home town.  At the time he was dating someone whose mom lived in Austin.  We had heard great things about the city and we wanted to check it out while we were trying to make a decision on where to move.  We were only down here for a couple days and we wanted to check out some live music.  Our friend’s parents just happened to take us to Ian’s free happy hour at the Lucky Lounge.  Although I knew his music, as I was a Faces fan, I was not really aware of him.  Our host mentioned something about his storied career, but it was only after his show that I checked out more about him and realized just how many amazing records he was involved in.

Seeing him live for the first time was one of those magical musical moments where every song struck some chord in my being. I remember walking out of that show feeling more alive than when I had walked in.  I couldn’t believe I could see someone like him for free on a weekday night.  The feeling we had leaving that show was one of the things that influenced our final decision.  He was also the first artist we went to see when we moved here.  He put on another amazing show as our plans that we had been dreaming of so long came to fruition.

Although I have seen his show countless times since those nights, have met him several times, and even got to sing on stage with him once, I highly doubt he would know me by name.  (I shared the stage with him at a show dedicated to the British Invasion at the ACL theater.  Shinyribs played that event and some of us got on stage for the big finale with Eric Burdon and the Animals.  Ian MaLagan was on stage as well.)  Yet even without knowing me, he was one of the kindest and friendliest musicians that I have ever met.  Usually people will make that bullshit up after someone dies, but with Ian it was true.  Even though he was a two time Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Inductee, he would walk through the crowd at his shows like he was just another part of the audience.  Several times when I was catching a smoke between his sets he would also come outside to take a break from the bar.  He would smile and talk to you as if he had known you for years, even if you were what I was, just another face in the crowd.  I can be somewhat quiet by nature sometimes, but he would always initiate the conversation with myself and whoever was standing around.  His ego never separated him from the people that came to see him perform.  At the British Invasion show he wasn’t holed up in his dressing room or only talking to people that were “names”.  He was right down in the thick of things talking to everyone, including me, a simple bass player in one of the opening acts.  I’m just trying to get across that this was a warm guy, that lacked any kind of visible pretension.  I walked away from every meeting I had with him thinking that there goes someone truly decent.

His music is fantastic, but that really goes without saying if you know any of it.  His keyboard playing was good enough for so many top tier artists, and his voice was sensitive and gruff, honest and true.  I’m especially a fan of his album Never Say Never, which is one of those front to back great albums.  The title tack is the song above.  However the song that will always mean the most to me is his song Wishing Hoping Dreaming from his Rise & Shine album.  It is one of those songs that creates its own world.  It’s sad and happy at the same time and you never want to leave its orbit once it is on:

You could have stayed a little longer
But you slipped away instead..