Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Music criticism and more

There's a new book out on the history of popular music, Jack Hamilton's ROCK AND ROLL AND THE RACIAL IMAGINATION.  Colin Vanderburg reviews it at BLACK AGENDA REPORT:

In some of his sharpest passages, Hamilton shows how much rockism’s whiteness depended on these confining ideas of blackness. In 1968, as black artists enjoyed unprecedented chart success, the critic Mike Gershman dismissed “denatured Negroes” who had “learned only too well … the value of getting Top 40 airplay,” in the process abandoning “the Negro blues, the most honest and meaningful contribution of black people.” Many even found fault with Motown — maybe the most unanimously beloved music the United States has produced — for what they saw as its commercialized, diluted blackness: Hamilton notes that historian Peter Guralnick “excluded [the label] from his otherwise excellent history of 1960s R&B […] on the grounds that it is not ‘soul music’” because it appealed, in Guralnick’s words, to a “far more to a pop, white, and industry-slanted kind of audience.” Even sympathetic white scholars remained blinkered by the belief that “real” black music had to be rough, raw, natural, pure.
While such attitudes about black artistic expression have circulated for centuries, Hamilton traces their outsized influence in rock criticism to the midcentury folk revival. In the pages of the Little Sandy Review, a proto-fanzine co-edited in the early 1960s by Paul Nelson (then an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota and later a prominent critic for Rolling Stone), the highest praise a black musician could earn was the kind bestowed on a solo-acoustic album by John Lee Hooker, commended “for returning to his ‘primitive and harsh’ style,” a truer sound than “his recent, ‘more sophisticated’ recordings.” Hamilton cites another Little Sandy contributor who celebrated songster and penitentiary inmate Robert Pete Williams as “a singer who has developed to a fabulous level of artistry in an all-Negro environment completely free of any reason or desire to ‘refine’ for a sophisticated folkum market” — as if Williams’ musical blackness was a precious substance that could be kept isolated and unsullied. (Such tributes to what Hamilton cleverly terms “authenticity-through-incarceration” might give pause to some of Gucci Mane’s more ardent white fans.)
The dehumanizing noble savagery behind such passages is only barely disguised. While breathlessly praised for their “artistry,” black musicians are never allowed to make “sophisticated” or “refined” art. For these writers the very notion appeared laughably incompatible with black music. The result, Hamilton writes, was “a near-incoherent double standard”: “black artists [were] derided as ‘Toms’ for aspiring to make money, then castigated for conforming to expectations of musical blackness on the part of white listeners” — a group, of course, to which all these critics belonged.

In practice, the rockist preoccupation with purity confined black music to the realm of communal experience and raw instinct, while individual genius and high-minded experimentation were reserved for white artists. In one of the book’s strongest sections, Hamilton compares the disparate ways that artistic leaps taken by Bob Dylan and Sam Cooke were received. The image of Dylan “going electric” in 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival and storming the Top 40 with “Like a Rolling Stone,” is by now a mythic clich√© of white rock-star defiance and artistic autonomy. Though Dylan’s folkie fans were appalled at the time, the story is now remembered as one of a restless genius’s search for a new sound. Cooke, by contrast, has never been studied, or heard, with the same seriousness. Though it has been quoted and adapted by countless musicians and has served as an anthem of collective black struggle, his 1964 masterwork “A Change Is Gonna Come” has received only a fraction of the critical attention that even Dylan’s minor lyrics have, and most stories of the song’s genesis emphasize that Cooke was moved to write it after hearing Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Meanwhile, the album Sam Cooke at the Copa, recorded that same year, in which Cooke glides through a nightclub set of standards and showtunes, has been dismissed by white canon-builders as so much glitzy pandering to a clueless, “soul”-less white audience, while his rougher, looser performance for a black audience at Miami’s Harlem Square Club, recorded a few months earlier, made Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums.” Hamilton points out that the only criterion by which Cooke’s Copa performance, which is as smooth and suave as the Harlem Square set is wild, can be called “inauthentic,” is the same standard that demands that all black art be raw and un-self-conscious, while expecting white music to be searching and cerebral. Cooke commanded both stages with equal talent and commitment; indeed, the sheer distance between the two performances is the mark of an artistic range at least as impressive as Dylan’s more celebrated transition from protest singer to rock star.

At DISSIDENT VOICE, Jane Biral offers her take on the election:

The stampede away from the Democratic Party didn’t begin with the recognition of how unfathomable the economy has become for most Americans —income inequality being the tip of the iceberg. A lot of history goes into the growing disaffection — the party that brought Americans social security, the minimum wage and Medicare left that heritage in its rear view mirror and transmogrified into the neo-liberal sanctuary of wealthy corporate CEOs, financial elites, and billionaires without a conscience. When it comes to the Republicans, it was more — much more — of the same. The legacy of the last sixteen years is a dirge in red for those below the top rung of the income ladder stuck in contingent, benefit-free jobs, college grads with a crushing load of debt, over 6 million seniors with zero savings thanks to QE and zero interest rates and a rhapsody in green for corporations whose profits have doubled in the last seven years (The Atlantic), for shareholders and investors vacuuming up more than $5 trillion in stock buybacks and dividends in the same time frame and anticipating another $3.4 trillion (Joint Committee on Taxation and CBO) pay day with the 2012-2013 Obama-inspired extension of the Bush tax cuts for another ten years.
Let’s look at some of the more dismal effects of living in America below the millionaire class: Struggling under $1.3 trillion of students loans (average $35,000 for 43 million young Americans) and looking in vain for a job that isn’t contingent, benefit-free, part-time or in the gig economy (e.g. Uber), one-third of the 18-35 crowd are living at home. For the working class, things have gone beyond dismal to deplorable. Gouged by the drug companies ($600 for two EpiPens, $69 for the same product in England), seeing their health insurance premiums skyrocket anywhere from 25% to a stunning 116% (midlevel plans on the Arizona marketplace) and sick to death of globalization that promised so much and wound up stealing their jobs, eliminating wage increases, creating low paid, temporary, contract jobs mainly in the service industry with no path to permanent employment.
Forget the pretty words (“the dreamers”) and feel-good sentiments, Latinos, a core democratic voting block, have been deported by the self-identified “champion in chief” of immigration reform in record numbers (2.5 million up to 2015), deportation numbers unmatched by any past administration (George Bush deported just over 2 million) and surpasses the total for all twentieth century presidents. (ABC News). African Americans, too, have come in for their share of pain under the first black president. Inner city America has been the hunting ground for a militarized police force whose law enforcement credo starts and ends in violence.
Combine the ingredients mentioned above with a healthy dose of unchecked fracking poisoning our water and air, an infrastructure slowly rotting to its core, corporations stashing over $2 trillion overseas to avoid taxes leaving ordinary Americans to fill the gap and what do you get— beleagured Americans of all stripes rushing to exit, at least temporarily, a democratic party that has traveled light years away from its roots as the “party of the people.”

Staking her presidential hopes on the previous administration, Clinton disregarded the sour mood of her core constituencies. If the pundits were correct, low voter turnout would help Trump and hurt Clinton. Preliminary numbers peg the turnout at 55%, the lowest in sixteen years (CNN). Advantage Trump. Lack of turnout was not the only failing of this doomed campaign. She lost crucial majorities that she needed and that put Obama over the top among Blacks, Latinos, young voters (18-29) and the white working class. Among Blacks, she lost 7% of the votes Obama received in 2012, 5% of the Latino vote and 6% of the youth vote. Apparently a lot of African American voters took the late Ed Brown’s (long time Black activist) advice —“The view is that blacks [ditto for Latinos and young people] have nowhere else to go but blacks always have somewhere to go — they can go fishing.”  The low turn out among African Americans may have cost HRC important and expected wins in battleground states like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. A combination of factors spelled defeat in Pennsylvania — the increase in white voter turnout in rural counties along with the loss of black support in the cities. The writing on the wall became clearer and clearer as election night progressed.

If Carly Simon really is confused why people didn't vote for Hillary, she might try reading Jane's article.

And I'll help her a little more: Hillary doesn't like her.  Hillary has always felt Carly slept with Bill Clinton (she didn't).

So she might want to forget about that sympathy letter she was planning on writing Hillary.

Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Wednesday, December 7, 2016.  Chaos and violence continue, the Mosul slog continues, where's that political solution, a veteran walks across America to raise awareness, a Canadian veteran is released from a KRG jail, the Matt Lee State Dept Press Corps laughs at teachers, and much more.

REUTERS reports that the Baghdad-based Iraqi government has approved the 2017 budget.

This is big news.

There were times under former prime minister and forever thug Nouri al-Maliki that Iraq would be well into a calendar year and still have no approved budget.

The budget was not supported by the Kurds who note that their fighting force (the Peshmerga) and their government employees are not fully covered in the budget.

This is said to be punishment for the Kurds selling their own oil.

It may not be a success for the Kurds (and we'll certainly note any criticism they continue to offer of the budget) but in terms of Barack Obama-installed prime minister Hayder al-Abadi it is one thing he can call a success.

It may be the only thing -- but never say when didn't give him credit when he actually accomplished something.

And then there's Mosul.

On day 51 of the operation to liberate or 'liberate' Mosul, the slog continues.

And, please remember, the Islamic State took the city in June of 2014.

Only 51 days ago did the Iraqi government begin trying to move the Islamic State out.

Turns out the government of Iran was more strategic on the Mosul battle plan than the Iraqi government (or the US government) according to REUTERS.

How sad that something as basic as circling the city couldn't come to Hayder's mind (or his generals) during all this time.

How embarrassing for admirers of the Iraqi government that Iran was able to solve what Iraq could not.

More to the point, how embarrassing that even success in Mosul would mean so little.  Saad Aldouri (ANADOLU AGENCY) offers:

The campaign to liberate Mosul has seen an unprecedented coalition of military and paramilitary forces come together to fight ISIS [. . .], but so far this level of cooperation has not been reflected politically.
Without a comprehensive political settlement agreed upon by all invested political factions, any post-[Islamic State] setting in Iraq would be left extremely vulnerable to failure, which could bring catastrophic consequences with it.
The Iraqi government faces several challenges in setting aside vying political ambitions among competing interest groups involved in the fight against [Islamic State].
The early signs are that little progress has been made on this front, with high-profile Kurdish, Shia and Sunni leaders making contradictory statements on what governance structures and arrangements should be put in place.
If a sustainable victory against [Islamic State] is to be achieved, a political agreement over a roadmap for state re-building and reconciliation must be reached in the near future. Any long-lasting future solution must address fundamental issues to encourage greater social and economic inclusion among Iraq’s local populations.
And the above is accurate and true.
Where is that political solution?
It's the one US President Barack Obama insisted June 19, 2014 was the only solution for Iraq.
And nothing's been done on it.
But the White House continues to supply the government of Iraq with US troops and with weapons.

Turning to veterans . . .

This Iraq war veteran is walking nearly 6,000 miles from Maryland to California in search of hope and healing

Ben Bamsey (CNN) reports:

He was a combat veteran who had simply seen too much -- too many brother Marines dead on the battlefield in Iraq. When he came home he faced fresh battles: alcohol, arrests and a suicide attempt.
He chose a date that resonated -- and on September 11, 2015, Jonathan Hancock set out to prove that hurt would no longer define him.
Carrying 70 pounds of gear, he hit the road to walk 5,800 miles from Maryland to California and many backroads in between. He was searching for hope and healing. 

Some may remember Iraq War veteran Troy Yocum also hiked across America.


(Troy Yocum photo taken by John Crosby)

Hike for our Heroes was a non-profit started by Iraq War veteran Troy Yocum who is hiking across the country to raise awareness and money for veterans issues.  Hike for our Heroes has been replaced with Active Heroes.

That was in 2010.  In 2014, C.J. Lin (STARS AND STRIPES) reported what had happened since:

The journey spanned 7,800 miles, 37 states and 17 months. Hike for Heroes raised $1.3 million, which was distributed to help pay the bills of 1,800 military families, many of whom were about to have their homes foreclosed on, he said.
“Every step I took meant it would support veterans and their families,” he said. “It mostly centered around a lot of my (veteran) friends not being able to find good jobs to take care of their families and then getting behind. Luckily for me, just the hike across America raised so much awareness and funds for that cause that I felt like that was my reward.”
But just like that, the money was gone, and there were more struggling military veterans. Yocum couldn’t keeping hiking across America.

“I see so many Vietnam, Korean, World War II veterans who are wounded or disabled that are not necessarily tended to as much as the younger wounded veterans,” he said. “So we wanted to make sure that the new post-9/11 wounded veterans were going to be helped years and years and years down the road.”

I wish we had room to note all Active Heroes' "our story" statement but we will note this part:

Yocum came up with a plan to raise awareness and funds to help military families by hiking across America. He began the 17-month journey, dubbed the “Hike for Heroes”, on April 17, 2010 and finished more than 7,800 miles across 37 states on September 3rd, 2011. Yocum became the first veteran to ever walk the length of 3 times across America and was awarded the Citizen Honors Medal by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The hike garnered national attention for veteran suicide awareness, raised $1.3 million for military families and helped to create the charity named Active Heroes to continue a mission to end veteran suicide.
Since the inception of Active Heroes, the programs have adapted to identify the triggering points associated with veteran suicide. Active Heroes has national programs in every state and regional programs serving with locations.

  • Active Challenges – Free events, seminars and Team Leader trainings for every state.
  • Peer mentors, business partners and resources in every state
  • A Military Family Retreat Center located in Shepherdsville, KY
  • A Military Family Community Center in Louisville, KY

We'll try to note Active Heroes regularly in the future.  I did know it existed until  CNN's story about Jonathan Hancock made me think of Troy.

 Meanwhile, a Canadian veteran has been released in Iraq.

Link to headline article

VOCM explained yesterday, "Kay Kennedy has confirmed for VOCM News that her son, Michael, was released today.  Kennedy told VOCM that her son would not leave others he was travelling with when they were arrested for visa infractions, even though his visa had not expired."  Colin Farrell (TELEGRAM) added:

 “He called me and he said, ‘Mom, I’ve been released. I’m good, I’m in good health and I’ll be home for Christmas.’”
She explained that her son had been travelling as part of a group when they were arrested.
“The five guys he was travelling with, three Americans and two Germans, their visas were expired,” she explained. “So it was a visa violation, Michael’s visa was not expired. It didn’t expire till January.”
Kennedy explained her son was given an option to go free or stay with the group.
“He turned around and said, the option for me, I am going to stay with my buddies, I am not abandoning them.”

The KRG is standing by their decision to arrest Michael. Murray Brewster (CBC) reports:

But Kurdish authorities, while not disputing the account, say Kennedy's side-trip into Syria was a serious violation that warranted his detention.
"He is arrested because he came from Syria and crossed [the] Iraq and [Kurdish Regional Government] borders illegally [at] Shingal," Dindar Zebari, the assistant head of foreign relations in the semi-autonomous region, told CBC News on Tuesday.

Zebari said Kennedy had been dealt with under Iraqi law.

And the five others that were arrested as well?  Garrett Barry (CBC) reports, "Though the other fighters have yet to be released, Kay Kennedy says their governments -- Germany and the United States -- have begun to work on the file."

I hope those in the United States realize how much they owe Kay Kennedy.

Three Americans.

Being held by the KRG.

And where's the focus on that in the US?

The US State Dept should be working to secure their release.

But at yesterday's State Dept press briefing, no one asked spokesperson Mark Toner about it.

No one said one damn word.

About that.

Please be clear, Matt Lee had his usual b.s. questions and "chest thumping" derision of the government of Iran.  And he had lots of questions about what Trump will do.

Donald Trump has not been sworn in as president.

I wish Toner would stop indulging this crap.  Or is he, in fact, encouraging it -- will more embarrassing e-mails for Matt Lee turn out that explain he is yet again coordinating with the State Dept to figure out what topics and questions to emphasize ahead of time in order to assit the current administration?

There was time for that nonsense from the Matt Lee State Dept Press Corps.

There a bunch of men and few women who want to be men (or, in Elise's case, sleep with the Secretary of State).

They're not people that anyone should take pride in.

Yesterday, they couldn't ask about three Americans being held in Iraq.

They did find time to mock teachers.

QUESTION: Let me just add one more question.


QUESTION: I met today with this Palestinian teacher. She won the best teacher award in the world and she’s in town. She actually has a very creative program --

MR TONER: Did she really win the best teacher of the – in the world award? Is that right?

QUESTION: In the world. Yeah, she --

QUESTION: She gets a mug. It says “World’s -- ” (Laughter.)

QUESTION: She has – oh, yeah, she did. Last year --

MR TONER: No, that’s amazing, actually.

QUESTION: -- it was an American teacher, this year it’s a Palestinian teacher.

MR TONER: World’s Greatest – well, okay.

QUESTION: And she has a creative program where she teaches kids to reject violence and so on and all these things. But – and she said – she told me that at one point you guys talked – or the State Department, someone, wanted to invite her over, and then – and they – like they did not disinvite her, but they stopped the process. Are you aware of that? Would you like to see someone like this come and visit with people and --

MR TONER: I apologize. So we’re talking about a different person now. This is not the individual that was just denied entry.

QUESTION: No, no. She was not – she’s here, actually.

MR TONER: She’s here.

QUESTION: She was not denied --

MR TONER: I’m not aware of this case, so we’ll look into it. I promise.

Oh, how funny it was to them.

I guess if I were nothing but a cheap whore who presented the administration's views and opinions as factual events, if I were that much of a liar and coward, I wouldn't like teachers either.

Because good teachers instill ethics and honesty.

Good teachers bust their asses doing actual work -- unlike the Matt Lee fluffers covering the State Dept.

Good teachers make a good difference.

Unlike the Matt Lees who pave the way for war by unquestioningly repeating lies over and over.

They think teachers are something to laugh at?

Have they looked in the mirror?

AFP reported earlier this year:

The Palestinian woman who this week won a $1 million “World’s Best Teacher” award returned home Wednesday and pledged to use part of her winnings to help students and educators.
Hanan al-Hroub, who grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem and now teaches at a school near Ramallah in the West Bank, was awarded the Global Teacher prize at a Nobel-style ceremony in Dubai on Sunday.
She received congratulations from Pope Francis, who announced the winner in a video message.

Here's Pope Frances announcing the award:

Here's Bill Clinton congratulating the finalists.

Here's Hanan al-Hroub.

They think she, her work and the award she won are funny?

What service do they provide?

With the continuing demise of print, they can't even claim to provide good fish wrapping these days.

Their 'work' is forgotten in an instant.

It has no value.

And they want to mock a teacher?

And a great teacher at that?

Talk about out of touch with the rest of America.

Oh, and a million dollars?

Can you imagine how many people in the administration Matt Lee would have to give head to in order to make that kind of money?  His lips would fall off before he got to $2,000.

Go ahead and laugh it, fat boys, you're the ones who look ridiculous with your frat boy ways at a State Dept press briefing.

Your outlets should be monitoring your behaviors and pulling in your for corrective discipline.

You disgrace both yourselves and them when you act like that in a public press briefing.

From Global Teacher Prize:

2016 Winner

Hanan Al Hroub from Palestine received her Global Teacher Prize award from Sunny Varkey of the Varkey Foundation.


Hanan grew up in the Palestinian refugee camp, Bethlehem, where she was regularly exposed to acts of violence. She went into primary education after her children were left deeply traumatised by a shooting incident they witnessed on their way home from school. Her experiences in meetings and consultations to discuss her children’s behaviour, development and academic performance in the years that followed led Hanan to try to help others who, having grown up in similar circumstances, require special handling at school.
With so many troubled children in the region, Palestinian classrooms can be tense environments. Hanan embraces the slogan ‘No to Violence’ and uses a specialist approach she developed herself, detailed in her book, ‘We Play and Learn’. She focuses on developing trusting, respectful, honest and affectionate relationships with her students and emphasises the importance of literacy. She encourages her students to work together, pays close attention to individual needs and rewards positive behaviour. Her approach has led to a decline in violent behaviour in schools where this is usually a frequent occurrence; she has inspired her colleagues to review the way they teach, their classroom management strategies and the sanctions they use.
Hanan has shared her perspective at conferences, meetings and teacher training seminars. She hopes that, with education, her people can reclaim their homeland.

  • Grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp; motivated to teach by her experiences as a mother of children traumatised by a shooting incident
  • Offers specialist care to pupils exposed to violence
  • Focuses on providing a safe space in the classroom and pays attention to individual needs
  • Has shared her approach at Ministry conferences and teacher training seminars

The following community sites -- plus Jody Watley and BLACK AGENDA REPORT-- updated: