Saturday, July 30, 2005

When "Christians" lose the Gospel

One of the tragedies of the agglomeration of all organized religions into mega-corporations is that the original teaching--based on experience, reflection, person-to-person teaching, and so on--gets lost in a theology. There's a fantastic article by Bill McKibben in the August 2005 edition of Harper's, "The Christian Paradox: How a Faithful Nation gets Jesus Wrong," in which the author, a self-described "devout Christian," with great precise insight demonstrates exactly how selective "Christian" politicians and other spokespersons have been about cutting and parsing fragments of Biblical teachings in order to undermine the truly radical nature of Christ's teachings in the Gospels. Such mouthpieces call themselves "Christian" but they darned sure don't follow the Gospels: remember "sell all you have, give it to the poor, and follow me"?

The same tragedy happened in Tibet when Buddhism became the state religion and religious leaders were conflated with political leaders. It's what kept Tibet a feudal nation and what gave China the excuse they needed to "liberate" the country.

It's happened, tragically again, with fundamentalist Islam--when imams and teachers in madrassas have "cherry-picked the evidence" in the Holy Qu'ran to preach jihad to disaffected teenagers.

Religion is personal--based on internal reflection, person-to-person teaching and insight, and good works in the world. It's not a theology--and it's damned sure not a theocracy. When religion has moved from the personal, communal, local, and self-reflective to become the national, political, or proselytory, people have suffered and died.

It's not what Christ or the Buddha taught. The true followers of Christ are the people volunteering at Goodwill stores, building houses for Habitats for Humanity, nursing AIDS patients in hospices, teaching reading in prisons. That's where Christ taught and that's where he is now--and as a Buddhist I can say those people are my "brothers and sisters in Christ." Not Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, or the bozos at Joel Osteen's church complaining because the Krispy Kremes ran out.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Nailed: DOD fails to keep its propaganda straight

Two different terrorist attacks in Iraq, two different comments condemning the attackers, both comments attributed to an "unidentified Iraqi," both using identical language. Even CNN figured out that the DOD was falsifying pro-US comments.

DOD, State, and the White House continue to lie about the situation. Top headline on CNN's website on this day/date/time: Iraqi insurgents are infiltrating police recruit intakes "due to poor screening procedures by the US."

This cannot be done on the cheap. White House needs to admit error, acknowledge it's a chaotic situation, and formulate a real (if painful, and politically costly) exit strategy. See Robert Dreyfuss from, same date. White House refuses to do so, because to admit error or formulate an exit strategy would be to acknowledge that the near-1800 US deaths (and the intentionally-uncounted but possibly 6-figure Iraqi civilian deaths) were preventable, and occurred so that W could "build political capital."

Saturday, July 23, 2005

HP's Advertising department sends Customer Relations to cover their butts

Dear Ms ---:

Thanks for your prompt and detailed response to my recent complaint. Let me begin by assuring you I realize that your department probably has little or no input on advertising-campaign decisions.

I feel strongly, however, that your HP colleagues in the marketing department have provided you with inadequate arguments to counter my critique (and I feel sure that mine was not an isolated complaint--I would imagine you have heard from a number of academics). Regardless of whether your target audience recognized that the spot "was intentionally exaggerated and unrealistic"--and I've known thousands of undergraduates, and in most cases what they say they understand and what they actually comprehend are two very different things--it was a cheap shot at educators. Your ad cynically targetted professors and the classroom as exemplary bores, and suggested that those students who were "cool" enough to buy HP could avoid this boredom in class by surfing the web, playing video-games, text-messaging, and so forth.

Your advertising people know well that students do suffer from a short attention span. The spot's implicit argument, that HP technology could be used to indulge the short attention span and help students ignore classroom activities, is a massive disservice to the students receiving the education, to the families paying for that education, and to the faculty providing it.

I cannot withdraw from my earlier position, to wit: the agency who designed the campaign should be terminated and the HP marketing people who approved it should be spanked. Or down-sized.

I've placed my previous communication and my text from this one on my blog--might as well bring the argument directly to the cyber-space the students occupy. And I'm sharing my opinons with colleagues across the country. It will be interesting to see just how many academics respond as I have

Thanks again to you personally for your attention in what I'm sure must frequently be a stressful job.


Friday, July 22, 2005

"Landscape in the sky"

Not much topographical beauty in Lubbock, but the skies are something else.

Corey Green's great "Music Tonight" sign for O Reilly's

Corey Green made this sign for the nights we're playing at O Reilly's. I installed hardware that included a small padlock (I don't trust those punk-ass fraternity guys in the Depot District as far as I can spit).

A nice touch for the walk-in traffic.


To the Editors:

I write from the buckle of the Bible Belt, the most crimson county in the Reddest of Red States, in the belly of the fundamentalist beast, to inform George W Bush that "even the boys in Lubbock can understand" Karl Rove's treachery and betrayal.

Rove revealed the identity of an undercover CIA agent to two different reporters. This is unethical, possibly illegal, and erodes national security. Does the President really imagine that any career officer in the intelligence establishment will ever trust him again? I think not.

If Rove was an independent, a Democrat, a Green--if fact, if he was anything except the thinking part of Bush's brain, Republicans would be howling for his trial on charges of high treason. Failing that, at the very least the President should keep his *original* promise to "fire anyone responsible for such a leak." If the President does not do so, it will be a clear indication that he values his own political welfare above that of the CIA, the US government as a whole, or the American people.


7.23.05: former CIA operative and Republican Larry Johnson agrees.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Triumphalist hubris

I'll have more to say about this in an updated post, but let the following initial comment suffice (Should also say here that I am fortunate to be blessed with close friends of all religious traditions. The "hubris" cited below is reserved for those who think their good luck is due to "God loving them better").

One of the things you encounter in Red-State Conservative/Protestant attitudes about politics is a kind of triumphalist hubris, exemplified by the fact that 9 months later, many people still have their "Bush for President" signs up in their yards, or are sporting "W -- Still the President" bumper stickers. I think this proceeds from a conviction (arrogant, naive, and provincial though it is) that W won because he was supposed to win, by some kind of all-knowing/all-seeing Deity.

One of the problems possibly endemic to a Deistic religion is that it tends to lead people to assume that good or bad things are intended by the Deity to happen. So if someone is poor, it's because the Deity intends that. If someone wins an election, it's because the Deity intends that.

When linked to a sin/punishment/reward model--"if you do bad things, God will punish you; if you do good things, God will reward you"--these attitudes almost inevitably lead toward blaming the victim: if someone is poor, or sick, or disadvantaged, it's because God intends them to be...and God must intend that because they're being punished for doing something bad.

Lots of people are poor, sick, disadvantaged, or lose elections simply because we live in a world that contains suffering, a political system that is massively corrupt, and a society that practices a lot of injustice. Many of those people are poor, or sick, or disadvantaged, or disenfranchised, as a result of the purely human actions of others more fortunate.

What's even more revealing is when this triumphalist hubris is subverted: when someone who thinks of themselves as "good" has something bad happen, the cosmology can't explain it: "I'm a good person; why is God punishing me?" The When Bad Things Happen to Good People syndrome. No one is more arrogant than a fundamentalist (of any religion) who believes "God wants me to do this and is rewarding me for being a Good Person." No one is more disoriented--and potentially more angry and vengeful--than a fundamentalist who is being confronted with irrefutable evidence that God doesn't give s shi*t about him and may not even exist.

Removing God's judgement, rewards, and punishments from the equation puts the responsibility back on the individual: bad actions have bad long-term consequences. Good actions have good (if unforeseen or unseeable) long-term consequences. The universe is a sacred place, and positive or negative actions do have lasting consequences. But that's because all beings are interdependent, not because God is some vengeful, spiteful, favorites-playing Mean Dad.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Just how education-unfriendly can a hardware manufacturer be? Say hello to H-P!

To the Advertising Division:

I write to castigate the Advertising Division on what may be the most education-unfriendly advertisement I have ever seen on network television. I refer to the recent series in which students in a large lecture hall secretly surf the web, play video games, or exchange text messages because the professor speaking is so obviously "uncool" and "boring." The idea that a hardware supplier positioning itself for the educational market would attempt to sell its products by conveying to students how easily those products may be used to ignore classroom material and cheat students of the value of their own educations would be laughable if it were not so irresponsible.

I'm a popular professor at my large state university (check if you doubt me) and I can assure you that I will share my displeasure regarding your distorted, adolescent, and irresponsible advertising as widely as possible. Lexmark, Dell, and Linux will see a lot more of my and my colleagues' business as a result of this asinine advertising campaign.

The agency who wrote the ad for you should be fired and the HP executive who approved it ought to be spanked.


Status update

Status since last report

Big news: Coyotebanjo materials finally shipped! Master and graphics are in the hands of Oasis and I'd expect to have discs by September 1 05. Been a long time coming

Altramar was SUCCESSFUL at extricating ourselves from Dorian bankruptcy proceedings. NY State bankruptcy judge found strongly in our affair, making a hugely positive statement about the rights of artists to control their own futures and their own creations. Anybody who would like to know more about our experience is welcome to email me through blogger, but suffice it to say that they were wrong and we were right; we won and they lost.

Articles submitted this summer:
  • "Trusting the Tradition: The Meaning of the Irish Session Workshop”. Accepted for publication in Proceedings of the VIIth International Symposium on Cultural Diversity in Music Education: The Local and the Global (Brisbane, Australia). This is the print "Foreword" to the workshop to be presented at the Queensland conference (Nov 2005) on "Diversity in Musical Education"
  • "Reclaiming the Commons One Tune at a Time: Teaching Irish Traditional Music as Culture and Community." Submitted by invitation to New Hibernia Review (Spring 2006 publication anticipated).
  • "'Between Green Hedges and Ditches:' Narrative, Allusion, and Musicality in a Folk-Recitation by Séamus Ennis." Submitted by invitation to the Journal of Folklore Research (Fall 2005).
  • "Gaelic and Continental Musical Interaction in Early Modern Ireland." Accepted for publication in The Renaissance in Ireland (Four Courts, forthcoming).
  • "Cinematic Constructions of Irish Musical Identity." Accepted for publication in Popular Culture and Postmodern Ireland (Blackrock, forthcoming).
  • "Jazz Processes: Nicholas Gebhardt's Going for Jazz and David Ake's Jazz Cultures" (review). Journal of the American Musicological Society (Summer 2005).
Articles in progress:
  • "Ethnomusicology in Oils: Irish-Americans, African-Americans, and the Ethnographic Paintings of William Sidney Mount." Targetted by invitation to Music in Art (2006 publication anticipated).
Other activities:
  • I'll be serving as "Celtic Guitar" consultant/interview subject for four-part series on BBC-World Service, The Story of the Guitar.
  • Planning a trad-music duo recording with Angie.
  • Updating/expanding WebCT sites for Fall 2005 classes "World Music" and "Introduction to Research and Style Analysis"
  • Just about completed CJS tenure dossier; due September 1.
  • Guest lecture "FJ Haydn's Missa in angustiis" for TTU Summer Choral Institute.
  • Having completed PPT presentation and "Creative Class" (Richard Florida) report, resigned Supporters of Fine Arts (friends of the Buddy Holly Center), Lubbock, TX
  • Coaching various master's and DM students' theses: Eric Peterson (on Welcher's Minstrels of the Kells) and Arthur Plotts (on Primitive Baptist hymn singing in West Texas)
  • Regular Friday pub session with Last Night's Fun continues.
  • Regular Thursday evening listening gig at Sugar Brown's.
  • Planning TTU Honors College seminar "Music, Folklore, and Traditional Culture in Irish History" for Spring 2006. Looks like this intersession trip will definitely happen.
  • Getting started on Oxford proposal for The Wheels of the World: The Untold Story of American Music and Radical Politics
  • Fine-tuning article on William Sidney Mount for Music in Art (CUNY periodical)
  • Just completed show #17 (Acadie: Celtic Music from French Canada) for the new Celtic Shores program on KOHM; good initial feedback from the community
  • Submitted proposal on Patsy Touhey at 1893 World Columbian Exposition (Chicago) for Society of American Music meetings in Chicago May 2006
  • Practicing box and learning tunes, but these days mostly working on bouzouki (with Angie gone, bouzouki is better in sessions than banjo).

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Rove subverts national security for political protection

It's now become obvious that Karl Rove intentionally "outed" a member of the CIA in retaliation for her husband's having publically criticized the White House. This is not only unethical (and possibly illegal), vengeful, and opportunistic, but it is tremendously cowardly. Rove was prepared to let two journalists go to jail for refusing to divulge him as the source, and he was willing to erode the security of all CIA covert operatives, in order to send a scary message of intimidation. This is consistent with his behavior throughout the Bush administration: almost everyone in Washington is deeply afraid of Rove.

No doubt the journalists were reluctant to name him--the Rove White House has shown itself to be political, vengeful, and retaliatory in the extreme. But Geo W Bush had said repeatedly that anyone in the White House who had hypothetically committed such a leak would be immediately dismissed.

But watch: Rove won't be. George W Bush has always gained undeserved success by doing what the smarter boys in the organization told him to do, no matter how unethical, contradictory, or unimaginative. It worked in the fraternities, it worked in the oil business, it worked with the Texas Rangers, it worked for him as governor, it's worked (so far) for him as President. He will never cut loose the smartest of the "smart boys" to whom he owes his tactical success. Rove will remain, the White House will attack all those who call for Rove's dismissal or question the President's prior "ethical" statements, they will frantically seek to change the story to move Rove's name back out of the spotlight (as of 3pm Wednesday Fox was referring to the "Rove Media Frenzy"--as if the coverage were the media's fault), and they will probably succeed.

As of 7.14.05 12noon CDT, this is precisely what is happening.

But watch further: cooperation with the White House on the part of salaried members of the intelligence community--CIA, NSA, FBI, or Defense--will erode to almost nil. Those career professionals, once they accept that Rove actually did this to one of their colleagues, will roadblock every White House request, even if it comes from their own (politically-appointed) supervisors. This in turn will erode the ability of either Defense or the White House to anticipate, predict, or prevent terrorist activity.

Rove's outing of Valerie Plame will, just like the invasion of Iraq itself, make us less secure and create more opportunities for terrorists.

Update 7.23.05: Republican CIA-veteran Larry Johnson agrees.

Way to go Karl--you gutless punk.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Photos from MoveOn-inspired "Traditional Tunes for Progressive People" party

A bunch of folks got together to talk politics and play music.
One of the best perks of being a leftist? Better parties!!!

7.9.05. Visit MoveOn's Operation Democracy site to find an action team near you.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Living the revolution

If we're going to make a revolution, it's got to be more joyful, more peaceful, and more comical than most that have preceded it. We need a sense of humor, a sense of compassion, and a sense of community. If we can't drink beer and play tunes while at the same time changing the world, it's not worth it.

And, as I always tell the bar staff, in my parallel universe, poets and musicians drink for free, and it's the politicians who work without pay.

We'll all be together, where we'd rather be
Standin' on the corner, where the poets drink for free
With Malory and Sappho
And you my friend and me

Take care of each other.


Spirituality for activists

One of the great tragedies of the 1960s social-activist movements (well, there were several tragedies: idealizing drugs, indulgin ego, financial privilege, tendencies toward naively single-issued topical focii) was the absence among many activists of a sense of spiritual center. Blaming poor grunts for the Vietnam war, creating rage even while protesting its murderous results, damning opposing views instead of building bridges, burning out on anger: these all resulted from a lack of spiritual center, and the sense of compassion and right ethics that a spiritual center provides. Three of the great hopeful paths arising from the ashes of the Sixties were feminism's desire to strengthen individual and minority identity, the environmental movement's sense of personal responsibility and global impact ("Think Globally, Act Locally"), and the discovery/rediscovery of life as a spiritual expression found in Buddhism, Hinduism, Primitive Christianity, Judaism, Native American spirituality, paganism, and related wisdom traditions.

If we're going to keep our sanity as activists, we need each of us to find a spiritual center. We need to laugh, pray, and mourn as well as do battle.

For me, engaged Buddhism's been helpful. For example, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship makes this connection explicit, focusing on social justice issues and provides community and agenda ideas. Gary Snyder's poetry and prose puts it into words and actions and has done for the past 50 years. See his joyful pledge of allegiance to Turtle Island, For All.

Meanwhile, tonight I'm going to go play music with my friends.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The roots of terrorism

In light of today's London bombings (and those prior in Madrid, and New York, and Beirut, and Belfast, and Oklahoma City, and London again, and Omagh, and Moscow, on and on in the sad litany):

In contrast to what national governments might claim, terrorism is often an effective, if amoral, political tool, for logical reasons: it uses minimal resources, picks its points of confrontation, imposes massive losses on the target at (usually) minimal costs to the perpetrators, and historically has proven to be deadly effective at sapping the target's will to fight.

Terrorism cannot be stamped out by military action. Police work, international cooperation, covert surveillance, bribes and turncoats can all help, but they also cannot stamp it out. Terrorism can only be resisted, in a lasting fashion, by addressing the environments in which it breeds.

Terrorism is opportunist: it cannot flourish in the absence of a social, economic, and rhetorical climate that allows it to grow. It takes root in conditions of economic despair: when the poor have no hope, some will become desperate. And some percentage of those will be receptive to the murderous rhetoric of the gangsters who understand how to motivate and direct such human targets.

Terrorism exploits desperation:

If for example you're sixteen years old, without work, have repeatedly been roughed up by foreign soldiers who don't speak or language and haven't been properly trained, with friends and relations killed by opponents or random violence, have been brainwashed in madrasas or within the family, are living in a war zone, and if the only heroes in your neighborhood are the local gang-bangers, why wouldn't you be receptive to rhetoric that glorifies romantic violence?

Terrorism is always about economics: about making the price to opponents too high. Al Qaeda speaks about "bleeding the West into bankruptcy," the Viet Cong spoke about "sapping the will to fight."

It's also often about economic gain for the terrorists themselves. This is why terrorism is sometimes supported by larger or more "legitimate" organizations or states: because it can be economically profitable, if only because it's a way to make war on the cheap. The US employed the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union because it kept the cost of that conflict, in both dollars and US lives, very low. US and British corporations sold arms to the Nazis for a very long time before their respective governments finally decided the possible future costs outweighted the current profits. Wealthy Southerners encouraged dumb shit-kickers to violently oppose integration in order to keep their own hands clean. The conflict in Northern Ireland continues because the gangsters who perpetuate it can use others to continually destabilize the situation in order to profit from guns, drugs, and extortion.

Poverty breeds violence. Economic disparity across class, race, ethnic, religious, or national boundaries breeds resentment and provides easy targets for terrorist rhetoric. A rhetoric of "shock and awe" will not heal these resentments: it only feeds them.

The poor are not stupid. It's a terrible outgrowth of the Judeo-Christian (and particularly Protestant) cosmology that poverty is presumed to be divinely-intended. Thus the poor are poor "because they deserve it," and, by implication, because they're stupid. This is a convenient presumption: it means that poverty--and its repair--is the poor's own responsibility, not that of the world community. But it is false. The roots of poverty, and thus of terrorism, are a product of global economic interdependence

Policy-makers in the west, and especially in the US executive branch, have consistently and historically underestimated, misunderstood, or blithely ignored the actual motives behind foreign populations' behaviors and actions: in Sudan, in Gaza, in Northern Ireland, in the Civil Rights Era American South, in Lebanon, in Cuba. It has always been easier to whip up domestic support for overseas conflict by oversimplifying, concealing, or lying about the other side's legitimate complaints. It's also usually been lucrative.

The corporate executives who make international economic decisions and the politicians who they purchase to execute those decisions are the children, grand-children, and proponents of privilege. They do not know what poverty feels like, even though they are often wealthy as a result of it. Rather than understand, recognize, or admit the global and economic bases for poverty, and working to alleviate them, it is thus easier and far more profitable for national governments to claim that terrorists are "fanatics" who "hate our liberty."

But the poor are often sophisticated observers of their own economic conditions. They often do know why they're poor. They often do blame "us", or at least our governments. They don't hate our liberty: they may very well hate the greed, selfishness, opportunism, or wilful ignorance of our governments.

And so the resentment the poor might feel toward those who are richer is often based in an accurate analysis--and thus is responsive to the violent rhetoric of terrorists.

If we want terrorism to end, we must all work to eradicate the conditions of poverty which are the roots of receptivity to terrorist rhetoric. And we can do this, by relentlessly pushing our national governments to forgive debt, subsidize anti-epidemic drugs, invest in third-world infrastructures, develop economical and appropriate subsistence farming techniques, work to limit globalization's impact on the poor, use sanctions against repressive regimes, promote education across the globe, lower our consumption of fossil fuels and the world's resources, educate ourselves about other cultures, use our damned passports.

We are all in this together. We can defeat terrorism only by choking it off at the roots.


See also Patrick Doherty's thoughtful, impassioned response to the London bombings.

Note that PD surmises that the bombing's goals may well have included shifting the G-8 topics away from debt relief, AIDS, and global warming and back to terrorism. If this is allowed to happen, then Al Qaeda is once again controlling the agenda, and those crucial other topics will once again be ignored, thus reinforcing the cycle of poverty, anger, and terror.

As of 3:02pm CDT, this is precisely what has happened. George Bush is probably delighted: more justification for his "war on terror," the one area in which some Americans still believe he's doing a competent job; no awkward questions about the Kyoto agreement, the non-existent WMD's, or why the US contribution to African debt relief is so despicably small.

Addenda July 11: in re/ paragraph above, this is precisely what Bush has done.

The London Attacks

Prayers for all those affected by the London bombings.

We are all targets. Work for peace!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Traditional Tunes for Progressive Goals

Always interested to connect music, community, and grass-roots political activism. Hosting a MoveOn House Party Saturday evening July 9; details below:

Tech Terrace
9 Jul 07:00 PM

Traditional Irish music house party rallying for community and progressive politics. Semi-handicap accessible (two small steps up), 1 friendly cat in residence.

If you're interested in signing up to attend, click on the link

Thought for the day: There was a time when all music was local music first, all politics local politics in impact, if not in origin. Global corporate states seek to erode local community, because alienated individuals are more willingly-passive consumers. Taking control of local music-making and the re-creation of local culture is thus a political action. This hearkens back to the 1970s environmentalist slogan "Think globally, act locally." E.g., recognize the global impact of personal choices, but emphasize action in your local environment, as that is where you can have the most immediate and ongoing impact. It also connects with Buddhist ethics about taking responsibility for one's own direct actions.

Local music builds community. Communities can act in concert to shape the policies affecting their lives. Music, particularly local music, particularly local music made by participants for participants, can help strengthen communities' connections and sense of purpose.

The linkup, therefore, between local music and local community activism is a logical, venerable, and still-vital one.