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  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 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.