Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Country Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck: Christmas Cookies

 This song by George Strait ought to be a holiday standard.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Country Holiday Muic that Doesn't Suck: Lucinda Williams and Holly Cole 'If we make it through December"

Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December" is not only one of the Hag's great songs, but it is on its way to becoming a standard. It has not only been covered by mainstream country artists like Alan Jackson and Marty Robbins, but also by roots musician Lucinda Williams and the Canadian jazz-pop  Holly Cole.  (Here's my post on the Hag's version.)

Holly Cole

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Country Holiday MusicThat Doesn't Suck:: Steve Earle "Christmas Time in Washington"

Some might say it's not aholiday song, but rather a protest song. Some might question whether Steve Earle is a country artist. I say, it's a damn fine song and close enough to country for me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Country Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck:Joe Nichols "Let It Snow"

You may know Joe Nichols from his 2005 Billboard Number One hit  "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,"one of his four career hits, but he deserves a more thorough listen/   He might remind listeners of Alan Jackson or George Strait with a little more rock sound.  Nichols, unlike too many other country artists, keeps his holiday music country. This is a 2006 performance at the Grand Ole Opry.   If you like this you might look for his 2004 CD A Traditional Christmas

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Country Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck: Wille Nelson "Pretty Paper"

Willie wrote this.

Fox News Presents "It's a Wonderful Life"

From the Jimmy Kimmel Show. Trailer sarts at about 2:12/

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Country Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck: Alan jackson "Please,Daddy, Don' Get Drunk This Christmas"

Alan Jackson covered this tune first recorded by the schmaltzy John Denver in 1973 on his highly regarded 1993 album Honky Tonk Christmas.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Country Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck: George Strait "Christmas Time in Texas"

A pretty simple video, but a great song from George Strait.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Country Holiday MusicThat Doesn't Suck :Merry Christmas from the Family

Robert Earl Keen is a Texas singer-songwriter associated with the Americana movement. His songs have been covered by Lyle Lovett and many others. Here is his humorous take on Christmas.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck Retrospective

 I was in a store the first part of this week that was playing a radio station devoted to Christmas music.  It reminded me of just how dreadful, how dreckish far too much of our holiday music is.  And, why I created the "holiday music that doesn't suck" series the last two years.  Before launching two series for 2013 (one for country and one for blues/jazz/and R&B), I thought it would be nice to reprise.  There are play list videos for each years selection and link to the individual posts that have a little background information.

 2011 Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #1

     Sonics "I Don't Believe in Christmas"

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #2

     Louis Armstrong, "Zat You, Santa Claus?"

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #3

      Denise LaSalle "Santa's Got the Christmas Blues" 

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #4

    Charlie Parker "White Christmas" 

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck # 5

     Holly Cole  "Santa Baby"

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck # 6

    Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December"

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #7

    Miles Davis and Bob Dorough "Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)"

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #8

    Amos Milburn "Christmas Comes But Once a Year.

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck # 9

    Charles Brown  "Merry, Christmas Baby."

2012 Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #1 (2012 edition) 

      Lowell Fulson "Lonesome Christmas"

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #2 (2012 edition)

       Ella Fitzgerald  "White Christmas"

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #3 (2012 edition)

     The Moonglows  "Hey Santa Claus"

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #4 (2012 edition)

     Dexter Gordon  "Christmas Song" 

Holiday Music that Doesn't Suck #5 (2012 edition)

     Ms. Jody "It's Christmas. Baby"

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #6 (2012 edition)

     John Coltrane "Greensleeves/What Child Is This?"

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #7 (2012 edition)

      Sonny Boy Williamson II "Santa Claus"

Holiday Music That Doesn't Such #8 (2012 edition)

       Blossom Dearie and Bob Dorough. "Baby, It's Cold Outside"

Holiday MusticThat Doesn't Suck #9 (2012 edition)

      The Modern Jazz Quartet - England's Carol or God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

My books of 2013

It's the time of the year for "best" and "top" lists.  As in 20122011, 2010, and 2007, I've looked back over the books I've read this year to come up with . I'm considering only books I read for the first time this year and ones published fairly recently, basically in 2012-2013.   For the most part, as I did last year,  I have excluded all but a few books on economics and unions which deserve separate list. Maybe  I'll get a post done on labor and economic books from 2011-2013.

I have a  large stack of books bough but not read in 2013 and late 2012. There are undoubtedly some that might have made this list had I been more diligent. There's a good chance they'll make next year's list.

1.  Michael Austin. That's Not What They Meant!: Reclaiming the Founding Fathers from America's Right Wing  (Amazon )

 This is an entertaining and enlightening take down of the right wing's  distortions  of the founding fathers and the Constitution.  Austin has carefully read David Barton, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and other right-wing pundits and the Federalists and anti-Federalists, so  you don't have to.  But you are most likely going to encounter the specious arguments  of the right-wing from co-workers,. neighbors, and family.  That's when Austin's book comes in handy. I think it would make an excellent gift.

Austin has also written an e-book supplement, That's Not What They Meant About Guns

2. Andrew Levison, The White Working Class Today (Amazon  )

 As a young leftist, I was a big fan of Levinson's 1974 book The Working Class Majority.. Now, almost three decades later,  he has written a follow-up of sorts, a more examination of the white working class.  This is a chock full of data analysis with many important insights.  It is pitched at Democratic Party electoral strategists, but  has lots to say to community and union activists.

Levison and Ruy Texeria present a summary of the analysis in a New Republic article

To create a stable Democratic majority, Democrats need to win the support of a significant group of voters who are now part of the Republican coalition. As the 2012 elections demonstrated, the group that has perhaps the greatest potential in this regard is the white working class.
a significant group of white workers who currently vote for the GOP are “open minded,” not progressive but persuadable, on a wide range of issues including many traditionally associated with conservatives and the GOP. Such issues range from assistance for the poor and the need for government regulations to attitudes about social, ethnic and religious tolerance. Many white workers, while not Democrats, are also not Rush Limbaugh/Fox News conservatives.

3. Frank Dikotter,  The Tragedy of Liberation  (Amazon  )

The title of this important readable  book recalls Harold  Isaac's classic book on 1925-27  The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution (on-line from Marxist archive).Isaacs was a Trotskyist political activist  who later became of college professor of liberal or social democratic views.  Dikotter is a professional historian. 

Dikotter builds his book around official Chinese government and party documents thatr have become available in recent years, but he presents his findings in a lively way.

Some takeaways.  First, the early years of Chinese Communist rule exerted a tremendous human cost.  The millions who were killed and the millions others who were sent to prison camps would have made Maosit China, even before the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution,  one of the worst violators of humanity in our past bloody century. Second,  there was no economic miracle.  By many measures, the living standards of Chinese workers and peasants declined after Liberation.  Third, there were widespread.     struggles from workers, peasants, and citizens against the dictatorial policies of the new rulers.

4.-5.s Robert Kuttner, Debtor's Prison (Amazon  )  and  Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Amazon )

 Mark Levinson wrote a tandom review of these two in Dissent's summer issue.  Unfortunately, it's available on-line only to subscribers. I assume that Kuttner is familiar to most of my readers, but if you want to know more about Debtors Prison, Richard Eskow has a great review on Huffington Post.

 There's an excellent review of Blyth  at the London School of Economics website. Declan Jordan writes

At times I wondered if it was a contradiction in terms to enjoy so much a book about austerity. This is an intelligent, well-written book that is recommended for anyone wishing to understand, in both practical and intellectual terms, how the global economy has found itself in crisis.

We have heard the common mantra “austerity is not working” so often that it has now become cliché. The most irksome element of that mantra, at least for this reviewer, is that so often it is not clear what austerity means and even what would it mean for austerity to ‘work’. This is why it is refreshing for Mark Blyth to offer his definition of austerity early in the book, when he says it is “a form of voluntary deflation in which the economy adjusts through the reduction of wages, prices and public spending to restore competitiveness, which is (supposedly) best achieved by cutting the state’s budget, debts and deficits” (p.2).

The author argues that austerity is a dangerous idea for three reasons: it can’t work in practice, it imposes a disproportionate burden on poorer households, and it ignores the fallacy of composition that says that all countries cannot be austere simultaneously.

6..William Jones, The March on Washington  (Amazon  )

A history of the 1963 March on Washington which stresses the role of black trade unionist and the radical economic message of the march.

7. Sasha Abramsky, The American Way of  Poverty (Amazon )

On the 50th anniverary of Michael Harrington's influential The Other America,  Sasha   Abramsky has written a very useful and information-packed book.   He combines vignettes, analysis, and policy prescriptions.

8.  Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel (editors) The Syria Dilemma  (Amazon  )

A wide-ranging collection of views about Syria from a variety of mainly US leftists.

9.  Blaine Harden Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West  (Amazon)

The publisher describes the book this way

The heartwrenching New York Times bestseller about the only known person born inside a North Korean prison camp to have escapedNorth Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped

 No one, that is, except Shin Dong-hyuk.

In Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state through the story of Shin’s shocking imprisonment and his astounding getaway. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence—he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother.

Hardin interweaves Shin Dong-hyuk personal story with historical and sociological analysis of the North Korea prison state to make this a very readable and educational book. It  has received almost 1000 reader reviews on Amazon with an average of 4.5 out of 5 starts.

Harden gave a book talk at Watermark Books in Wichita in the Spring.  It was a good talk.  During the pre-talk socializing, Harden confirmed that much of the machinery of North Korean machinery was learned from Stalin's Soviet Union.During the Q&A period after Harden's talk,, I asked about B.R. Myers' research showing that the North Korean ideology is based on racism and has more in common with Fascism than with the left..  Harden had good words to say about the relevance of Myers' views.

10.   John Curl, For All the People (Amazon  )

The subtitle sums it up: "Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America."  There is much in this book that I knew from the edge from readings about the American labor and socialist movements, but here it is front and center. There has been a powerful and enduring impulse in the American people to seek cooperative and communal alternatives to capitalism. Curl does an excellent job in exploring that history. For  my taste, there is a little too much on the intricacies of co-op and communalism in the counter-culture of the 1960s and beyond.

11. Peter Dreier, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Amazon)

A very useful  collection of biographical essays  about the 100 Americans Dreier judges to have contributed the most to social justice in the 20th century. i would have had slightly different choices and I was disappointed that Dreier down played or ignored  controversial and unfortunate aspects of some of his selectees.  Nonetheless, I recommend it highly.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Country Club 26: Hazel Dickens

Here's a  wonderful  song about working from the great Hazel Dickens.  If you like old-timey  country and bluegrass and have left-wing politics,  you probably like Dickens.

Hazel Jane Dickens (June 1, 1935 – April 22, 2011) was an American bluegrass singer, songwriter, double bassist and guitarist. Her music was characterized not only by her high, lonesome singing style, but also by her provocative pro-union, feminist songs. Cultural blogger John Pietaro noted that "Dickens didn’t just sing the anthems of labor, she lived them and her place on many a picket line, staring down gunfire and goon squads, embedded her into the cause." The New York Times extolled her as "a clarion-voiced advocate for coal miners and working people and a pioneer among women in bluegrass music." With Alice Gerrard, Dickens was one of the first women to record a bluegrass album.(wikipedia) [See also the allmusic.com  biography.]

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Global Labour Movement: a review

Here's a book review I recently posted on Amazon and Good Reades The Global Labour Movement: An Introduction: A Short Guide to the Global Union Federations, the Ituc, and Other International BodiesThe Global Labour Movement: An Introduction: A Short Guide to the Global Union Federations, the Ituc, and Other International Bodies by Edd Mustill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Workers of the world unite" is a phrase that most every leftist knows, not to mention. plenty of non-leftists. Today, more than 175 million workers are members of unions affiliated with the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation), This short guide to the global union federations (GUFs) of the ITUC belongs on the bookshelves of union activists, CLCs, state feds, international unions, and their equivalents outside the US. It is particularly important for US Americans who are not as exposed to the international cooperation of unions as our European comrades to have this knowledge.

In addition, to profiles of the GUFs, there are enlightening interviews with union campaigners from the UK and Nepal and short contributions from the head of the UK TUC's international department, Dave Spooner of the Global Labour Institute, Amnesty International's labor adviser, and the director of the International Centre for Trade Union Rights.

There are longer books on global unionism, but this short guide contains the basics. I think it would be a natural not only for labor educators, but also for many international studies classes.

If you've ever said or thought that unions need to respond to capitalist globalization by going global themselves, you owe it to yourself to get this book.

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Country Club 25:Brandy Clark

I've got a feeling we're going to be hearing a lot from Brandy Clark. Her debut album,12 Stories, released in October of this year started at number 28 on the country chart   has the air of a classic. Clark has written hits for other artists, including; an earlier Country Club featured Miranda Lambert's Momma's Broken Heart.

Will Hermes writes in his Rolling Stone review

further proof of commercial country's sea change. Her debut is all airtight craftsmanship, sly wit and precise detailing that treats mainstream style like artisanal fast food. ...mostly her ear is unerring and her characters true — the kind of talent who makes the term "alt-country" unnecessary.
In short it's an excellent CD. "Stripes" is perhaps the most commercial  song on the CD  and it has a great video.  Enjoy

"There's no crime of passion worth a crime of fashion.
The only thing saving your life is that I don't look good in orange and I hate stripes."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

My November 22, 1963 Memory

I can't remember whether I was in the fifth or sixth grade when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but I know exactly where I was.  Once I week, on Fridays,  I rode my bicycle six blocks to take piano lessons during our lunch hour. I had turned north from 12th Street onto Gary that in three blocks would take me to our house and Stevenson Elementary which was right across the street.  A classmate rushing to school shared the news that Kennedy had been shot. Oswald shot Kennedy at 12:30 pm, so the timing is right.

My class would have started at 1:00 pm. the same time that Kennedy died and about forty minutes before the news was broadcast that Kennedy was dead.  I'm sure that we were told that the President was dead fairly soon after classes resumed. Likely we were allowed to listen to radio broadcast, but I don't remember for sure. Nor can I remember whether they let school out early or not.

I think I was  watching on Saturday when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.

I also remember that we had the Vaughn Meader Kennedy impersonation LP and that after the assassination, we bought a memorial book from Time or Life.  Another memory is that during that the Cuban missile crisis, I remember taking the garbage to the trash can in the ally --in a sprint and back.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Albert Camus at 100: reclaiming his radical,democratic legacy

November 7 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Albert Camus, the author  of The Rebel, The Stranger, The Plague, the Myth of Sysiphus, and other works and the winner of the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature. The odds are high that if you  are of a certain age, you were assigned to read one or more of these in high school or college. I know I was. I remember liking the Camus I read, but haven't thought about him for years. I doubt that Camus is still taught.  Existentialism and the absurd are out of  date.

But I am thinking that Camus is not passe and am pleased to see that others agree. 

Sean Carroll, in the Huffington Post explains   "Why Camus Has Endured"
World War II produced a pantheon of great statesmen who rallied their countries in their hour of need. But even the immensely popular Churchill and de Gaulle promptly fell out of favor after victory. One prominent voice of the war, however, managed not only to grow in influence in peacetime, but continues to enjoy widespread admiration and popularity today: the writer Albert Camus.

On the centennial of his birth into a poor family in Algiers, and more than 50 years after his tragic death in an auto accident, Camus and his works still attract intense interest around the world. The struggles in which Camus fought -- World War II, the Cold War, Algeria -- have long passed, why has he endured so well?

University of Houston history professor Robert Zaretsky, author of  Albert Camus: Elements of a Life (2010) and A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning (2013) had two very interesting interesting articles on Camus published about Camus on Huffington Post and In These Times

On Huffington Post he concludes 7 Things You Didn't Know About Albert Camus

Camus was not George Orwell's twin who, separated at birth, was raised in French Algeria. Orwell was taller and wore tweed. The rumor is, however, understandable. Both men smoked relentlessly, both men were tubercular, both men died too young and both men acted on their political convictions: Orwell during the Spanish Civil War, Camus during World War II. (Camus had also wanted to join the republicans in France, but his tuberculosis prevented him from doing so.) Both men remained on the Left, despite the very best efforts of the French and British Lefts, mesmerized by communism, to disown them. Both men, with their moral lucidity and personal courage, were essential witnesses not just to their age, but remain so for our own age as well.
Zaretsky's In These Times article "Reading Camus in Tunisia: The Rebel and the Arab Spring."
 Arab voices have begun to echo the man who was once seen as an apologist for French colonialism. The Moroccan magazine Zamane recently identified Camus as the “moralist missing in this new century of fear,” while the Tunisian intellectual Akram Belkaid, discussing the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi—the foundational act of Arab Spring—exclaimed: “Yesterday it was Camus, today it is Bouazizi: He is no longer part of our world, but he is not silent. His cry is primal: he demands the right to dignity.” And though Algeria remains quiet, its writers increasingly turn to Camus. Assia Djebar, for one, has placed Camus in the pantheon of Algeria’s—not French Algeria’s—political martyrs. The Algerian writer Hamid Grine published a novel titled Camus dans le narguilé (Camus in the Hookah), in which the narrator discovers that his biological father was none other than the author of The Stranger. This leads to his odyssey for both his real father and the literary legacy lost to Algeria.

The November 7  NPR report on Camus narrowly focused on Camus' Algerian connection and included the strange comment that  "Though he hailed from the left, today he's embraced by conservatives."  This  is a clumsy formulation that implies Camus started on the left, but ended up somewhere else.

Camus, in fact, was a man of the left. He  resigned from UNESCO in protest when Franco's Spain was admitted. This was not an isolated protest. Even after he became a best-selling and affluent author, Camus wrote for and served on the editorial boards of small journals of the non-totalitarian left.

Lou Marin, a European anarchist activist and writer, has  written a very useful and informative essay The Unknown Camus: Albert Camus and the Impact of his Contributions as a Journalist to the Pacifist, Anarchist and Syndicalist Press ( (I suspect that Marin's essay may neglect Camus' relationships with other segments of the left.)

Here are a few  quotes
In 1948 Camus set up an organisation to help political prisoners in Franco’s Spain, the Soviet Union and other authoritarian regimes, the Groupes de liaison international (GLI) (International Liaison Groups)....the proletarian activists and the intellectuals collaborating within the GLI were positioned somewhere in between Trotskyite and anarchist milieus, but were working together in this campaign.
It sees that Camus adopted a "third camp" position on the Cold War.  Camus was on the editorial board  of
La Révolution prolétarienne
which warned of a new world war in the Cold War era of the 1950s and worked for a concept of peace based on anti-Stalinist premises.
Marin also provides important information about Camus and Algeria which is usually ignored.
an additional appeal by Camus, dated October 1957, in which he condemns the assassinations of the armed Algerian Liberation Front, Front de Libération nationale (FLN), and the murderous campaign it was waging against the syndicalists of the Algerian independence movement under Messali Hadj (1898-1974). In this appeal, Camus poses crucial questions. For example: do these assassination tactics against fellow nationalist-syndicalists suggest a totalitarian character on the part of the FLN? Every syndicalist killed, Camus argues, reduces the legitimacy of the FLN a little further. He considers it a duty for anarchists to speak out publicly against the good conscience’ of an anti-colonialist left that justifies everything, and against political murder within their own ranks in the first place.
And the conclusion
While we are happy about the Camus renaissance in France – after two decades of decided neglect by the pro-Sartre European left of the 1970s and 1980s – and while we welcome a rehabilitation of Camus’ critique of violent tactics and nationalism in the face of a civil war in Algeria, we nevertheless reject this kind of opportunistic appropriation of Camus by French New Philosophers such as André Glucksmann and others, who are nowadays nothing more than cheap apologists for the ruling capitalist system and the French right. To present Camus as a right-wing critic of totalitarianism is to put him back in the bipolar context of the Cold War, where Sartre and Jeanson wanted to place him during the debates of the 1950s, and from which Camus always wanted to flee with the help of his anarchist friends and the relationship he maintained with anarchist, pacifist and syndicalist periodicals.

(Another account of Camus and anarchism can be found here.)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Country Club 24: Busted

I heard John Conlee's version of "Busted" on the radio this week. Both the deejay and I thought of it as a Ray Charles song. But it was actually written by the great country songwriter Harlan Howard.It was a #13 coutnry hit for Johnny Cash in 1963 and a #4 Hot 100 hit for Ray Charles in the same year. And John Conlee reached #6 with it on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart in 1982.
Here's Johnny Cash

And,Ray Charles (with some great horn lines that I suspect were borrowed on many a blues and r&b tunes.)

Messiing Up Big Time on Univeral Declaration of Human Rights

Upworthy is a great for progressive memes,videos, infographics and the like. While I recommend it highly, a recent infographic on the Universal Declaration of Rights is almost great, but it contains a major mistake, misrepresenting the UDHR and promoting a retrograde, reactionary definition of a fundamental right. And to make matters worse the infographic has a copyright notice on behalf of the UN. Which means that the  UN  has, whether intentionally or, endorsed a most controversial simplification  that rewrites  the UDHR.

The infographic by Zen Pencils is introduced by Ray Flores with these words:

Did you know that the United Nations outlined what basic rights and freedoms we are entitled to? It's called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I’m really glad Zen Pencils drew up this simplified version, because it sure looks like a lot of countries need a refresher. Yeah, America, I’m looking at you, too!

Can you spot the problem with the infographic?

How about in this enlargement?

In  contrast, look at Article 18 of  the UDHR

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. (emphasis added).
"The right to belong a religion" is a poor simplification of these 47 words.  A better simplification would be "Everyone has the right to choose a religion." One fewer word.  And it is big difference.

It seems that Zen Pencils and the United Nations need their own refresher course.

Some of the worst religious persecution is done by those who believe you have a right to belong to a religion as long as it is their religion or the religion you were born into. But no right to join a new religion or to reject religion.

Wikipedia's article on religious freedom notes
Among the most contentious areas of religious freedom is the right of an individual to change or abandon his or her own religion (apostasy), and the right to evangelize individuals seeking to convince others to make such a change.

Other debates have centered around restricting certain kinds of missionary activity by religions. Many Islamic states, and others such as China, severely restrict missionary activities of other religions. Greece, among European countries, has generally looked unfavorably on missionary activities of denominations others than the majority church and proselytizing is constitutionally prohibited.[68]
Another  wiki article notes

many modern Hindus are opposed to the idea of conversion from (any) one religion to (any) other per se.[39]
...conversion out of Hinduism is not recognized.[44]

Historically, the  overwhelmingly dominant position in Islamic jurisprudence applies the death penalty to apostasy (from Islam). Both law and public opinion in contemporary Islamic societies still impose  heavy penalties on those who wish to change theirw religion or to have no religion at all.

See this article on "Apostasy in Islam" on wikipedia. for some details, including poll results on the public attitudes towards  religious freedom in Islamic societies.
A 2010 poll by Pew Research Center showed that 86% of Muslims in Jordan, 30% in Indonesia, 76% in Pakistan, 6% in Lebanon and 51% of Nigerian Muslims agree with death penalty for leaving Islam.

A 2007 poll by Policy Exchange revealed that 31% of British Muslims believed that leaving the Muslim religion should be punishable by death.
Let's hope Zen  Pencils and the United Nations will fully embrace the full concept of religious freedom enshrined in the UDHR  and not a watered down version that de facto enables religious discrimination and persecution.   How about changing the wording on this infographic and creating one dedicated to the full meaning of religious freedom in the UDHR?

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Country Club #23: George Strait

George Strait won his third CMA performer of the year award earlier this week.In May 2013, "Give It All We Got Tonight" became his sixtieth number-one single,the most of any country artist ever. Next year, he will have a 25 city retirement tour The Cowboy Rides Away. For those who are not close followers, that is the title of an early Strait single and his set closer.

I highly recommend Strait's career 4-CD box set Strait Out of the Box

There are lots of great Strait songs to pick from.I have chosen an early Strait single his third number one hit and his first video, "You Look So Good In Love" It's a beautiful love song--to the one that got away

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Country Club 22 Tulsa Twist


No, that's not Django and the Hot Club of France. It may not be country.  And it might or might not a dance tune.

The video has some fascinating film that seems to be from Tulsa in the 1930s or 1940's, including an Africa-American adults and children entering a department store. (Actually some of the video could have been from the 1950s.)

Dickie McBride, who according to Allmusic.com was "a member of Cliff Bruner and His Texas Wanderers. In late 1939, he formed Dickie McBride and the Village Boys with Grady Hester playing fiddle, Russell "Hezzie" Bryant on bass and himself on guitar. They were later joined by musicians such as former Port Arthur Jubileer Dickie Jones, Floyd Tillman, J.D. Standlee, Mancel Tierney and Millard Kelso, among others. The Village Boys disbanded in late 1943. McBride continued to be active with the Music Macs, Laura Lee Owens, and the Ranch Hands, keeping busy into the '60s".

It's music made by professional musicians who played in country bands for country artists. But it sounds closer to jazz to me. There is, of course, lots of others "country" music that is closer to jazz than what most people think of as country. That's something worth a future post, but lets note that both country musicians and country audiences are more sophisticated than our stereotypes allow.

Now about the song title. "Twist" had the slang meaning of "broad" or low-class woman. So that's one possibility. But, don't discount the possibility that it's a dance.  The "twist" became a world-wide dance craze with Chubby Checker's 1960, but the dance goes back to at least 1890.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Country Club 21: nobody answers

A great understated sad song from Vince Gill from 1989. "When I Call Your Name"reached number 2 on the country charts. Patty Loveless sang background on the record,while Matreca Berg appeared on the video.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Country Club 20: El Paso, Faleena, and El Paso city

Since the series finale of Breaking Bad was named after a character in Marty Robbins' great 1960 country and western ballad "El Paso," it seems fitting to feature that tune. At 4:38 "El Paso" stands out for being extraordinarily long for a 45 single and for Grady Martin's outstanding guitar work. I've found two bonuses to share. In 1966 Robbins released an even longer 8 minute song "Faleena" and in 1976 a sequel to both "El Paso City."

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Saturday, October 05, 2013

Country Club 19: the blue side of Western Swing ("Milk Cow Blues")

Western Swing, from its beginning, has had a special affinity for the blues. Milk Cow Blues has become the quintessential Western Swing blues. Surprisingly, it was  written and recorded in the 1930s by African-American bluesman Kokomo Arnold  in several different versions, Sleepy John Estes, Big Bill Broonzy,  Josh White, and adapted by Robert Johnson ("Milkcow Calf's Blues").

As Charles Townsend writes in his classic book on Bob Wills  San Antonio Rose   "Without exception, every former member of Wills's band interviewed for this study concluded, as Wills himself did, that what they were playing was always closer in music, lyrics, and style to jazz and swing that any other genre." (p. 63)  This was true of other Western Swing bands, as well. Apparently, Milk Cow Blues was in the repertoire of most Western Swing bands.  The first WS recording of Milk Cow Blues was by Cliff Bruner in 1937.  Four years later, Bob Wills brother Johnny Lee Wills recorded the tune, followed by Billie Jack Wills.

Several of the now standard elements apparently first appeared on the "Bob Wills Special, which reportedly borrowed a riff from Benny Goodman. Since the Wills band covered Goodman tunes like "Seven Come Eleven" and "A Smooth One" and competed for the same dancers in California that sounds plausible.

Within a few years the tune was covered by national starts like  Maddox Brothers and Rose and regional artists like Billy Hughes.

Merle Haggard performed the closely related "Brain Cloudy Blues" on his tribute to Bob Wills.

Here's George Strait's version

The contemporary Mexican American Western Swing artist Bobby Flores performs MCB very much in the Bob Wills tradition.

Neo-Country artist Wayne Hancock preformed MCB live in a radio station with instruments, players, and arrangement closely related the the classic Wills bothers version.

There's another chapter or two in the saga of "Milk Cow Blues."  It was one of the songs that Elvis Presley recorded at Sun Records.  Most likely, Elvis learned the tune from a Bob Wills transcription that played on a radio station.  Many British invasion and roots rock bans have included it on their play lists.  And, more recent, Milk Cow Blues has become a Blue Grass standard.

PS. Just before posting this I came across an excellent academic study "The Many Faces of 'Milk Cow Blues': A Case Study" Jean A. Boyd and Patrick Kelly.  If you have an interest in blues and/or western swing, it is well-worth reading.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Those Bogus Pro-Assad Polls

Listening to NPR's Diane Rehm show on Friday, I heard a caller claim that a poll has shown that 70 percent of Syrians support Bashar Assad. Regrettably, none of the experts on the show had enough knowledge or guts to refute this claim which has gotten wide circulation on Facebook and the internet. After all,  Syria, like most police states doesn't allow independent polls.

The 70 percent figure has been pushed hard by the official Iranian Press TV.

An opinion poll, conducted by the US daily news service World Tribune, shows that 70 percent of Syrians support President Bashar al-Assad, 20 percent say they do not support either side involved in the ongoing unrest in the country, and only 10 percent back the opposition. 
Big problem. Not only is the World Tribune a shadowy, obscure, web publication, but it clearly states it did not conduct a poll.

The sources said no formal polling was taken in Syria, racked by two years of civil war in which 90,000 people were reported killed. They said the data came from a range of activists and independent organizations that were working in Syria, particularly in relief efforts. (emphasis added)
The World Tribune report is nearly totally unsourced.  It says "a Western source familiar with the data," but it headlines misleadingly says "NATO Data"  It describes "data, relayed to NATO" and a "report to NATO," but gives no real reason to think that NATO took the report seriously.

 Should World Tribune be taken seriously?  Look at their ties.
The following World Tribune.com content partners have both contributed articles and columns and have helped alert the worldwide web to its exclusive reports:

DrudgeReport.com Middle East Newsline GertzFile.com
Breitbart.com The Washington Times Hoover Institution
NewsMax.com Geostrategy-Direct.com Hudson Institute
WorldNetDaily.com East-Asia-Intel.com Int. Strat. Studies Assoc.
 Moreover, as recently as July 2013, World Tribune reported that "Forensic findings on Obama’s birth certificate: ‘A 100 percent forgery, no doubt about it." A crazy, birther site isn't one that should believed by anyone, particularly by anyone on the left.

The Flawed 55 Percent Poll 

It is more modestly claimed that 55 percent of Syrians support Assad by Ed Hussain in the New York Times, Jonathon Steele in the Guardian,  Al Jazeera (in Arabic), Iranian owned Press TV, and Syrian news sites.  In this case, the number does come from a real poll,but the poll cannot bear the weight of showing that Assad has the support of most Syrians that has been placed on it.

Charlotte McDonald of the BBC points out that while YouGov poll interviewed 1000 people in 18 Middle Eastern countries, only 98 were from Syria.
This is a very low sample according to the managing director of survey company ORB, Johnny Heald, who has been carrying out polls in the Middle East for many years.

"When we poll and we want to find out what Libyans think, or what Syrians think, we would rarely do anything less than 1,000 interviews," he says.
"One thousand is the generally accepted industry minimum to be able to speak confidently about what people from a particular country think about an issue.

"If you say that this poll covers people from 18 countries, then that's fine. But you need to be very careful when you interpret the findings.

"It is not good to say that 55% of Syrians, for example, think that Assad should stay when only 97 people were asked that question."
YouGov's Sept 2013 Poll

YouGov, the British based internet polling, recently  released the results of a poll of 835 Syrians and found
 248 supporters of the Assad regime, 152 opponents and a larger number who support neither side or prefer not to tell us
In percentages, just under 30 percent support Assad and 18 percent oppose.

YouGuv notes
This is not a representative sample: three-quarters are male, over half are under 30 years old, and just under 50 percent say they have a university degree.
So, when we finally get to a poll that has some, limited validity, support for Assad is about half of the claimed 70 percent.

Pepperdine's Secret Survey of Syrian Public Opinion

Next up is a poll that has polar opposite results to the non-existent 70 percent pro-Assad poll, but not without its own problems.

Pepperdine University conducted secret surveys in Syria in 2010 and 2011. Here is an article which describes how their guerrilla polling was done.  The results of the 2011 survey were summarized this way.
Eight out of ten Syrians surveyed want to see regime change and won't be satisfied with mere reform, according to analysis by Angela Hawken, associate professor of economics and policy analysis at the School of Public Policy (SPP), of interviews done for the Democracy Council of California.

That latest "secret survey" results reflect face-to-face interviews with 551 Syrians collected between August 24 and September 2, 2011, despite an official ban on public opinion gathering. An earlier effort took place in January and February of 2010. "The most surprising thing about these results is that they could be collected in the first place," explains Hawken.

James Prince, President of the Democracy Council and a leading expert on Arab civil society, says, "This survey further illustrates the deep-seated angst felt by most Syrians. The Syrian people do not have confidence in the Assad regime. They no longer want to live in the Baath security state. As in other regional countries, the Syrians are fed up with the corruption, nepotism, and lack of opportunity in Syria. The people are searching for alternatives to Assad."
Elizabeth Buckner, a PhD Candidate at Stanford University, however,  raises serious questions about the scientific flaws and political biases of the Pepperdine study here and here.

In sum, there is a flawed poll to go with whatever your position on Syria. 

Country Club 18: I Fell in Love

Carlene Carter had a number 3 country hit with "Every Little Thing," in 1993 from her album Little Love Letters. It's an excellent "concept" album. For those who don't know, Carlene is the daughter of June Carter Cash and Cal Smith.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Books from the library sale

As if I didn't have enough books on my to-read shelf, last week the Friends of the Wichita public library had their book sale. Saturday was bargain day, a bag of books for $5.00.  I couldn't resist.

The photo above is what I found--16 books, two not pictured.  They included three of four that I already have and can now freely loan out. From the top.

Frank Tannenbaum, Ten Keys to Latin America  (a classic from the early 1960s, but well worth reading--I'm wondering if I actually read it.)

Michael Harrington Socialism (one of my favorite Harrington books, which I can now loan out more freely)

Melvin Kranzberg and Joseph Gies, By the Sweat of Thy Brow: Work in the Western World (1986, looked interesting)

Margaret Fuller: From Transcendentalism to Revolution (biography of one of the first American feminists, associated with the Transcentendalists, but with a social, rather than individualistic, bent. I didn't know anything about her, but now I do.)

Pam McAllister (editor), Reweaving the Web of Life: Feminism and Nonviolence (I'll learn some new things from this I'm sure.)

Cornell West, Race Matters  (another duplicate to loan)

Michael Cloud, Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion (I'm wondering if this can be reverse-engineered, so to speak.)

Joe Conason Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth  (not sure whether I have this one or not)

Sepehr Zabih, The Communist Movement in Iran Hardcover  (This is from 1966, so it is dated in its treatment of the 1953 coup, but it's treatment of the Tudeh party as both a tool of Stalinist Russia and a complex movement with internal pressures to revolution and democracy and the presence of a non-Communist socialist left is well worth reading.)

David Caute, The Great Fear (a classic on McCarthyism and a duplicate)

David Brock, Blinded by the Right

Noreena Hertz, The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy 

John W. Dean, Conservatives without Consciences

Not pictured

Richard Kirk, The Conservative Constitution (I think the conservative view of the constitution is mainly bunk. In skimming through this, that view was mainly confirmed, but I found a few surprises akin to Hayek's support for a minimum wage, etc in Roads to Serfdom.)

Theodore H. Von Laue, Why Lenin? Why Stalin? (I know I read this one a long time ago.  There was a later version that added Why Gorbachev to the title.  Would have been cool to have found that one.  Oh well.)

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Country Club 17: redneck woman

John Ruhlman writes on allmusic.com

In late May 2004, Gretchen Wilson's debut single, "Redneck Woman," became the first by a solo female singer to top the Billboard country singles chart in over two years; it also reached number one faster than any single in the previous decade. At the same time, her debut album, Here for the Party, entered the country album chart at number one and the pop album chart at number two with sales of 227,000 copies, the biggest opening week for a new country artist on record. Given the overtly country style of her music at a time when much country had been leaning toward pop, Wilson was immediately hailed as the latest in a long line of country artists leading the music back to its roots.

Her own roots went back to the tiny town of Pocahontas, Illinois (36 miles east of St. Louis, Missouri), where she began singing as a child. Her mother was 16 when she was born on June 26, 1973; her father left when she was two. She grew up poor, living in a succession of trailer parks. She went to school only through the eighth grade, and at 14 was working as a cook and bartender in the same club where her mother worked. By the age of 20, she was singing in two different bands in the area. She moved to Nashville in 1996 and tended bar while singing on demos and in clubs for the next seven years. During this period, she became part of an informal group of singers and songwriters known as the Muzik Mafia who met once a week to try out new material. She and John Rich, another member of the group (and a former member of Lonestar), wrote "Redneck Woman," an autobiographical song in which she unabashedly celebrated her redneck, white-trash background.
Wilson went through a dispute with her label Sony after several hit albums and now records on her own label.  Her albums have continued to get high marks, so if you haven't followed her closely since her early mega-hits, you might want to check out  I Got Your Country Right Here,Right on Time, and Under the Covers .

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Country Club 16: the perfect Country and Western song

It probably comes as no surprise that there aren't a lot of Jews in country music--Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel is probably the most important. But the "perfect" country song was written by a Jew from Chicago, Steve Goodman, in a room in the Hotel Roosevelt in New York City. Goodman was mainly a folk singer, but he also wrote another classic county song. "The City of  New Orleans"  which won Goodman a posthumous Grammy Award for Best Country Song

The perfect country song,of course,  is "You Never Even Called Me By My Name," which was co-written by John Prine, who declined to take writer's credit and royalties. In Goodman and Prine's versions the added verse is a little different than Coe's.

Here's Coe's version

Doug Supernaw version includes cameo vocals from Waylon Jennings and Charley Pride, Merle Haggard, and David Allan Coe.
John Prine shares the background of the song

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Great Moments in Leftism pokes fun at DSA

Great Moments in Leftism is a cool new cartoon blog that pokes fun at, mainly, the American left. It is pretty damn funny. Here's one the takes aim at DSA, Democratic Socialists  of America. (Here is the link to the cartoon  on the GMIL site)

I particularly liked United Front, Meanwhile in Pyongyang (which shows a profound understanding of the real North Korean ideology), and Mother Jones  reads Mother Jones.  Browse the site.  You may find your own favorites.

You can also like GMIL on Facebook and follow on Twitter @gmilcomic

Friday, August 30, 2013

Country Club #15: Merle Haggard's Suppressed Anti-racist Single

After his tremendous hit "Okie from Muskogee" which was released in September 1969, spent 4 weeks as Number One on the Top Country list, and namedthe Country Music Association Single(and album) of the Year in 1970, Merle Haggard wanted a very different song to be his next single, instead of "Fighting Side of Me," an even more jingoistic song.

The record Haggard wanted to release was "Irma Jackson," a song he had penned about an interracial romance. Capital Records, Haggard's label,didn't like the song and thought it would alienate his fans. Finally, it was included on Haggard's 1972 album Let Me Tell You About a Song.

In 1970, "Irma Jackson" was covered by Tony Booth as his first single on  MGM. It reached Number 67 on the country charts.

Never knew about this monstrosity. Disgusting and sad - but maybe to be expected from a Hillary Cunton supporter.   John Briggs - (August 15th, 2009, 04:47 PM)

Merle Haggard reveals himself as a mudshark from a song that he wrote in 1970. - See more at: http://vnnforum.com/video.php?do=viewdetails&videoid=1122#sthash.ehi8Oys2.dpuf
     IRMA JACKSON lyrics

I'd love to shout my feelin's from a mountain high
Tell the world I love her and I will till I die
There's no way the world will understand that love is color blind
That's why Irma Jackson can't be mine

I remember when no one cared about us bein' friends
We were only children and it really didn't matter then
But we grew up too quickly in a world that draws a line
Where they say Irma Jackson can't be mine

If my lovin' Irma Jackson is a sin
Then I don't understand this crazy world we're livin' in
There's a muddy wall between us standin' high
But I'll love Irma Jackson till I die

She tells me she's decided that she'll go away
And I guess it's right but she alone should have the final say
But in spite of her decision forcin' us to say goodbye
I'll still love Irma Jackson till I die

If my lovin' Irma Jackson is a sin
Then I don't understand this crazy world we're livin' in
It's a muddy wall between us standin' high
But I'll love Irma Jackson till I die.
'd love to shout my feelin's from a mountain high
Tell the world I love her and I will till I die
There's no way the world will understand that love is color blind
That's why Irma Jackson can't be mine

I remember when no one cared about us bein' friends
We were only children and it really didn't matter then
But we grew up too quickly in a world that draws a line
Where they say Irma Jackson can't be mine

If my lovin' Irma Jackson is a sin
Then I don't understand this crazy world we're livin' in
There's a muddy wall between us standin' high
But I'll love Irma Jackson till I die

She tells me she's decided that she'll go away
And I guess it's right but she alone should have the final say
But in spite of her decision forcin' us to say goodbye
I'll still love Irma Jackson till I die

If my lovin' Irma Jackson is a sin
Then I don't understand this crazy world we're livin' in
It's a muddy wall between us standin' high
But I'll love Irma Jackson till I die.