Saturday, August 23, 2014

Country Club 52: Bloodshot Eyes from Western Swing to Jump Blues

Hank Penny was a Western Swing musician from the late 1930s to the 1970s with an affinity for jazz (and comedy). He employed jazz-oriented sidemen like Jimmy Wyble, Benny Garcia, and Noel Boggs, as well as Merle Travis. He even recorded "Hillbilly Be-Bop" for King Records in 1949. In 1950, he wrote a hit "BloodShot Eyes," which became a souped-up jump blues hit for Wynonie Harris a year later. He had a long stretch in Las Vegas and worked for a while at a Wichita radio station.

Let's start with the Penny original.

And, here is Harris.

Both Penny and Harris were largely performing on the West Coast at the time, but they recorded for Cincinnati-based King Records, which specialized in "hillbilly" and "race" records and encouraged the sharing of songs between the two sides of the label.

There is a chapter on Penny in Rich Kienzle's 2003 book "Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing and Country Jazz."

And, this fascinating article "Hank Penny's Cowboy Swing" by Burgin Matthews and "Forgotten Artists: Hank Penny" by Paul W. Dennis are also recommended.

There are a number of CDs of Penny's career which would be worth checking out.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gary Burton with Jerry Hahn (bootleg audio)

As promised in a recent post of a video of the Gary Burton Quartet with Larry Coryell, here is nice authorized  audio bootleg of the Gary Burton Quartet with Jerry Hahn on guitar in Hamburg 1968. Steve Swallow is on bass and  Roy Haynes and drums.  It was recorded at the "Funkhaus Hamburg" in Hamburg (Germany) on November 8, 1968. (See the set list at the end of this post.)

After Larry Coryell left the Burton Quartet, he tried to form a group with pianist Chick Corea, but the chemistry wasn't quite right.  He then heard Hahn who was based in San Francisco on the radio.

Hahn played on three albums with Burton:

Country Roads is the most outstanding of the three.

Jerry Hahn grew up in Nebraska, attended Wichita State University, and moved to San Francisco in 1962 where he played and recorded with John Handy from 1964 to 1966. After leaving Burton, Hahn formed the jazz-rock fusion group Jerry Hahn Brotherhood which featured keyboardist and vocalist Mike Finnegan.

Hahn has a website and there is a nice 2008 interview online which covers much of his career.

Here is the set list (clicking the time will take you to approximately the beginning of each tune on YouTube.)

1 Falling Grace (Swallow) (00:00)
2 General Mojo's Well-Laid Plan (Swallow) (3:45)
3 Green Mountains (Swallow) (8:26)
4 Walter L. (Burton) (11:29)
5 Sweet Rain (Gibbs) (15:44)
6 Singing Song (Burton) (18:53)
7 Good Citizen Swallow (Burton) (21:36)
8 African Flower (Ellington) (26:08)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Country Club 51 Tommy Duncan after Bob Wills

Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes informatively about Tommy Duncan on

As the lead singer for the classic lineup of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, Tommy Duncan was the definitive Western swing vocalist. Crossing the smooth croon of Bing Crosby with the twang of Jimmie Rodgers and the bluesy inclinations of Emmett Miller, Duncan had a warm, distinctive, and welcoming voice that helped the Playboys cross over to a wider audience. Not only was he a wonderful, trendsetting vocalist, Duncan also wrote many of the Texas Playboys' biggest hits, including "Time Changes Everything," "Stay a Little Longer," "Take Me Back to Tulsa," "New Spanish Two Step," and "Bubbles in My Beer."'
Duncan split from Wills, or more accurately, was fired  in 1948.  "Gambling Polka Dot Blues" was his one big hit on his own. In the 1960s, Wills and Duncan reunited for a while and Duncan then continued an independent career.

Friday, August 15, 2014

From my archives: The New Cuba reviewed (1976)

Following up on my recent post of Theodore Draper's analysis of the broken, original promises of Fidel Castro, I thought it would be interesting to share a book review I wrote in 1976 of a book edited by Ronald Radosh that evidenced the disillusionment of some important New Leftists with Castro's Cuba. (I don't think the title was mine.)

Radosh has, of course, moved to the political right, but this collection was an important intellectual contribution at the time and, I think, the points I make in the review are still valid, albeit some aspects are historically limited. In retrospect, I think I should have discussed some of the other contributors so I have included the Kirkus Review at the bottom.

I've added a few links and notes which weren't in the original.

The New Cuba is out-of-print, but it should be available in college libraries and from used-book dealers.

"Stale Cigars, Bad Rum and Repression"
by Stuart Elliott
New America
October 1976
Yet another Communist paradise has disillusioned its erstwhile Western enthusiasts. Cuba, once the ideal to the New Left in America, Europe, and Latin America that the Soviet Union was to an earlier generation, has been criticized as a degenerating or flawed revolutionary state by such radical intellectuals as Rene Dumont, K.S. Karol, and David Caute.* The most recent echo of this disillusionment is a collection of essays edited by American New Left historian Ronald Radosh, The New Cuba: Paradoxes and Potentials.

Compared to the writings of Herbert Matthews, Frank Mankiewicz, and Senator George McGovern, The New Cuba is an expose. Matthews, for instance, criticizes the critics of the arrest and political confession of the Cuban poet Herbert[o] Padilla and denies that torture has ever been authorized in Cuba. Mankiewicz and his associate Kirby Jones conclude that "if one compares Cuba's lack of political freedom and social mobility to any other Latin American country, then to all but a handful of landed aristocrats it must seem a very desirable place indeed." George Me Govern has described Cuba as a nation "whose policies sometimes irritate us."

If Radosh and his colleagues are more critical than Matthews, Mankiewicz, and McGovern it is because they expected Cuba to create a "new man" and a "new society," not simply an egalitarian authoritarianism. Radosh, in particular, is critical of the failure of Castro to develop a socialist democracy, cultural and political repression in Cuba, and the price that Cuba has paid for the receipt of Soviet aid.

Although Radosh's analysis develops little new ground, his recapitulation of the work of Karol and Dumont may give wider circulation to their incisive views. Karol, in his important study Guerillas in Power, penetrated to the heart of the Cuban revolution when he accused the revolutionary elite, including the supposedly heterodox Che Guevera, of importing two myths from the Soviet Union: that the workers had no interest other "than the acceleration of production in accordance with the overall economic plan," and that the revolutionary leaders "know best how to interpret the thoughts and needs of the working class." Against the utopianism of the New Left, Dumont argued that the policy of moral incentives followed in the early years of the Cuban revolution! inevitably meant the militarization of work. After the failure of the ten-million ton sugar harvest in 1970, moral incentives have been replaced by material incentives. However, as Radosh points out, Dumont's expectation that the introduction of material incentives and market relations would mean a corollary, if 'partial, political liberalization has proved erroneous. Instead, the Cuban economy has been Sovietized.

Yet for all its comparative honesty, 'The New Cuba is ultimately disappointing. It provides no real insights into the potential development of Cuba. Rather than examining the contradictions in Cuba, we are presented with paradoxes. Both in his essays in this collection and in a recent review in Dissent# Radosh retains an optimistic outlook for the possibility of a more independent and democratic socialism in Cuba that finds little support in his analysis of Cuban society. Radosh even suggested in Dissent that the normalization of relations with the United States is the one factor that might lead away from the Stalinization of Cuba. However, in The New Cuba Radosh observed that rather than lead to political liberalization, detente with the United States might well result in increased ideological conformity.

Radosh and his associates have rejected the notion that to criticize the Cuban revolution is to serve the cause of reaction. But their opinions are biased and, ultimately, less than convincing, because they continue to see themselves as friends of the Cuban revolution and to define the present system as socialist. So while Radosh is willing to criticize Cuba's "socialism" as flawed, he refuses to describe it as a totalitarian state. 

The limited, and therefore apologetic, nature of Radosh's criticism is reflected in his criticism of political and cultural repression in Cuba. He condemns the imprisonment of Herbert Padilla and the suppression of the last quasi-independent journal in Cuba, but neglects to mention that there are 80,000 political prisoners in Cuba, held in barbarous conditions. Castro himself has admitted  to holding 20,000 political prisoners and details about conditions in the Cuban prison camps are readily available in the reports of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. In its Fifth Report on the Status Human Rights in Cuba, the Commission reported that in the last five years violations of human rights" are far from decreasing, and arbitrary and excessively strict procedures continue, particularly in the treatment of political prisoners, with complete disregard for "the dignity of human beings."

Shocking Allegations

The allegations which have been filed against Cuba are among the most shocking instances of torture ever recorded. Yet by refusing to respond to the allegations as required by the regulations of the Organization of American States, Cuba has not only confirmed the accuracy of the charges, but has demonstrated its total disrespect for human rights. A chain of prison and labor camps crosses Cuba, and one camp, in Havana province, holds a capacity of 20,000. One camp for women originally named "America Libre" is now called "Nuevo Arnanecer" (New Dawn). Reading Radosh one would never know that this is part of the "new Cuba."

Nor do Radosh and the other critical sympathizers take a hard enough look at Cuba's economic and social performance outside the prisons. The Castro government's own statistics, for instance, show infant mortality increasing through the 1960s. Average per capita consumption of rice in 1968 was half the level of 1956. By the late 1960s the Cuban economy was faltering and political discontent was growing. The Cuban economy is relatively healthy today, but that is because of increased, Soviet aid and booming world sugar prices, which are higher, relative to their 1968 level, than petroleum prices.

In return for stepped-up economic aid, Castro was forced to grant the Soviets more direct influence in Cuban affairs. The Soviet Union has insisted on the "institutionalization of the revolution" to protect its economic, political, and ideological investment in Cuba. The first Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, held in December 1975, was symptomatic of the process of strengthening government and politics along Soviet lines and the widespread adoption of Soviet- style administrative and economic practices. Fidel's charismatic, personalist rule was limited by a party program that stressed the "leading role of the PCC.”

Another stage in the Sovietization of Cuba was the adoption of Cuba's first “socialist" constitution in February 1976. The constitution accords the PCC the status of "the leading force of the society and state" and bears a remarkable resemblance to the 1936 Soviet constitution.

The new "Organs of People Power" are an attempt to provide evidence of popular support . that is both more. stable and controllable than Castro's charisma. Matthews and Mankiewicz point to the experimental elections held in Mantanzas Province in 1974, soon to be duplicated throughout the island, as proof that the institutionalization of the revolution is leading to new forms of mass democracy, Although there were contested elections, the Commission to regulate the elections is headed by the veteran pro-Moscow Communist Blas Roca. The Castro regime and its Soviet masters have no intention of licensing the development of an opposition. The "new Cuba" resembles nothing so much as the old Soviet Union. When apologetic criticisms of the Castro regime are replaced by genuine solidarity with Cuban democrats, there may at last be a hope for a new Cuba.


* Rene Dumont, Cuba, Is It Socialist?
                           Cuba, Socialism and Development Grove Press, 1970
   K.S. Karol, Guerillas in Power
   David Caute, Cuba, Yes?

Both Dumont's Cuba, Is it Socialist? and Karol's book were listed among the Castro's five least favorite books by Atlantic magazine in 2005. Both remain essential works to understand Cuba.

Ronald Radosh "On the Cuban Revolution" (Review of Social Security in Latin America: Pressure Groups, Stratification and Inequality, by Carmelo Mesa-Lago, and Revolution in Cuba, by Herbert L. Matthews)Dissent, pp. 309-314 June 1976]

For comparison, here is the Kirkus Review

Eight essays by leftish Cuba-watchers, assembled by a history professor at Queensborough Community College, a libertarian anarchist and author of Prophets on the Right (p. 61). Radosh seems to be saying that Cuba has succumbed to Leninist authoritarianism but pop music is still played, so hope persists. Among the critics are Martin Duberman, identified by Radosh as a "homosexual author," who believes that Cuba has failed "in the area of psychosexual transformation." Rene Dumont, who was kicked out of his agricultural advisory post by the Cubans under suspicion of CIA activity, joins K. S. Karol, Jean-Paul Sartre, writer Jose Yglesias, and French economist Charles Bettelheim in attacking Castro as dictatorial. Latin American specialist James Petras and former National Security Advisor Maurice Halperin also fault Cuba for declining to decentralize and for jailing the poet Padilla in 1971. Radosh adds an indictment of Raul Castro for his attacks on "U.S. youth culture" and his demand for "ideological purity." The book does not aim at analysis of Cuban economic development or, except for the aspersions against Castro's ties to the USSR, place Cuba's development in the context of international politics. The book is far from a shrill blast--Frances FitzGerald, for example, presents an on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand judgment. But it will provide low-keyed reinforcement of the suspicions of academics regarding "collectivism" and "centralization."


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Castro's Promises Betrayed: Theodore Draper's Classic Analysis

Since August 13 was the 88th birthday of Cuban dictator emeritus Fidel Castro, it is  appropriate to revisit the classic and brilliant 1962 analysis of Castro's original revolutionary promises by historian Theodore Draper in his book Castroism, Myth and Realities. Particularly since Cuba is undergoing a distorted, centralized discussion of Constitutional changes.  Democratic left forces are trying to intervene in the process and some are raising the issue of whether the 1940 Cuban Constitution should be the basis for  new changes.

by Theodore Draper

Was the Cuban revolution "betrayed"? The answer obviously depends on what revolution one has in mind--the revolution that Castro promised before taking power, or the one he has made since taking power.
[Leo] Huberman and [Paul] Sweezy have written: "Fidel had made his promises and was determined to carry them out, faithfully and to the letter." But neither they, nor [C. Wright] Mills, nor [John-Paul] Sartre ever says what these promises were. The oversight has been a necessary part of the mythology.#

I have made a brief inventory of the promises, political and economic, made by Castro from his "History Will Absolve Me" speech (at his Moncada trial in 1953) to the end of 1958.*

 These promises so soon became embarrassing that some of his literary champions began to rewrite history (after less than two years!) by avoiding all mention of them. **


Castro's 1953 speech predicted that the first revolutionary law would be restoration of the 1940 Constitution and made an allusion to a "government of popular election."

Castro's manifesto of July, 1957, his first political declaration from the Sierra Maestra, contained a "formal promise" of general elections at the end of one year and an "absolute guarantee" of freedom of information, press, and all individual and political rights guaranteed by the 1940 Constitution. Castro's letter of December 14, 1957, to the Cuban exiles upheld the "prime duty" of the post-Batista provisional government to hold general elections and the right of political parties, even during the provisional government, to put forward programs, organize, and participate in the elections. 

In an article in Coronet magazine of February, 1958, Castro wrote of fighting for a "genuine representative government," "truly honest" general elections within twelve months, "full and untrammelled" freedom of public information and all communication media, and reestablishment of all personal and political rights set forth in the 1940 Constitution. The greatest irony is that he defended himself against the accusation "of plotting to replace military dictatorship with revolutionary dictatorship." 

In his answers to his first biographer, Jules Dubois, in May, 1958, Castro pledged "full enforcement" of the 1940 Constitution and "a provisional government of entirely civilian character that will return the country to normality and hold general elections within a period of no more than one year." In the unity manifesto of July, 1958, Castro agreed "to guide our nation, after the fall of the tyrant, to normality by instituting a brief provisional government that will lead the country to full constitutional and democratic procedures." 


In the 1953 speech, Castro supported grants of land to small planters and peasants, with indemnification to the former owners; the rights of workers to share in profits; a greater share of the cane crop to all planters; and confiscation of all illegally obtained property. His land reform advocated maximum holdings for agricultural enterprises and the distribution of remaining land to farming families; it also provided for encouragement of "agricultural cooperatives for the common use of costly equipment, cold storage, and a uniform professional direction in cultivation and breeding." In addition, the speech expressed the intention of nationalizing the electric and telephone companies.

The manifesto of July, 1957, defined the agrarian reform as distribution of barren lands, with prior indemnification, and conversion of sharecroppers and squatters into proprietors of the lands worked on. 

The Coronet article favored a land reform to give peasants clear title to the land, with "just compensation of expropriated owners." It declared that Castro had no plans for expropriating or nationalizing foreign invest was based on the principle that those who cultivate the land should own it. This law, signed by Fidel Castro and the then Judge Advocate General, Dr. Humberto Sori Marin, made no mention of cooperatives" or "state farms." 

Its entire intent was to implement the hitherto neglected agrarian-reform provison in the Constitution of 1940.* 

Such were the promises that Fidel had made.  The near unanimity with which Castro's victory was accepted in January,1959, was the result not merely of his heroic struggle and glamorous beard but of the political consensus he appeared to embody. This consensus had resulted from the democratic disappointments in1944-52 and the Batista despotism of 1952-58. There was broad agreement that Cuba could never go back to the corrupt brand of democracy of the past, and the Cuban middle class was ready for deep-going social and political reforms to make impossible another Prio Socarras and another Batista. Castro promised to restore Cuban democracy and make it work, not a "direct" or "people's" democracy but the one associated with the 1940 Constitution, which was so radical that much of it, especially the provision for agrarian reform, was never implemented. 

It is, moreover, unthinkable that Castro could have won power if he had given the Cuban people the slightest forewarning of what he has presented them with--a press and all other means of communication wholly government controlled, ridicule of elections, wholesale confiscation and socialization, "cooperatives" that are (as Huberman and Sweezy admitted) virtually "state farms," or a dictatorship of any kind, including that of the proletariat. It was precisely the kind of promises Castro made that enabled him to win the support of the overwhelming majority of the Cuban middle and other classes; a "peasant revolution" would hardly have been expressed in quite the same way.

The least that can be said, therefore, is that Castro promised one kind of revolution and made another. The revolution Castro promised was unquestionably betrayed. 


•Its full text, which became extremely rare after Castro took power, may be found in Enrique Gonzalez Pedrero,La Revolucion Cubana (Mexico: Escuela Nacional de Ciencias Politicas y Sociales, 1959), pp. 143-56. 

**Castro's pre-1959 promises are dealt with by Huberman and Sweezy in a peculiar way. They cite twelve and a half pages of the 1953 speech but omit the five-point program on which Castro said the revolution was based. This program began: "The first revolutionary law would have restored sovereignty to the people and proclaimed the Constitution of 1940 as the true supreme law of the state, until such time as the people should decide to modify it or to change it." The others provided for grants of land to small planters and peasants, with indemnification to the former owners; the right of workers to share in profits; a greater share of the cane crop to all planters; and confiscation of all illegally obtained property. 

Although the speech makes other important points, this is the only itemized program in it, and it is hard to see how its omission can be justified. The unity pact· of July, 1958, is handled in the same way. It contained three points: a common strategy, postwar "normality," and "a minimum governmental program." I have quoted the second point in full in the text. Huberman and Sweezy cite a paragraph in this unity pact that asked the U.S. to cease all military and other types or aid to Batista, but ignore the three-point program, which might have put Castro's promises in a somewhat different light.Mills simply ignores the whole collection of Castro's prepower pledges.

#The three books Draper discusses are

  • Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezey, Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1960 
  • John-Paul Sartre, Sartre on Cuba
  • C. Wright Mills, Listen, Yankee : The revolution in Cuba

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Islamic antisemitism "as if it were there from the start"

An intense debate has raged in recent years over the nature of Islamic antisemitism. Leaving aside the vulgar apologias that deny its very existence, the debate is rather more nuanced than it first appears. It is not whether present day Islam is deeply infected with antisemitism but whether it is inherent in Islam.  Historian Marc R. Cohen is one of the leading proponents of the view that antisemitism was less severe in the Muslim than in the Christian world in the Middle Ages and that Islam is not theological or inherently antisemitic.

In a 2009 paper, Cohen made an astute observation. "Christian antisemitism has since become absorbed into the fabric of Islam as if it were there from the start, when it was never there from the start at all."

In a little larger context
The idea that modern Arab antisemitism comes from a medieval, irrational hatred of the Jews, similar to the antisemitism of Christianity, with its medieval origins, cannot be sustained. Understood as a religiously-based complex of irrational, mythical, and stereotypical beliefs about the diabolical, malevolent, and all-powerful Jew, infused in its modern, secular form with racism and belief in a Jewish conspiracy against mankind-- antisemitism is not an indigenous or inherent phenomenon in Islam. It was first encountered by Muslims at the time of the Ottoman expansion into Europe, which resulted in the absorption of large numbers of Greek Orthodox Christians. This Christian antisemitism became more firmly implanted in the Muslim Middle East in the nineteenth century as part of the discourse of nationalism. Seeking greater acceptance in a fledgling pan-Arab nation constituted by a majority of Muslims, Christians in the Arab world, aided, among other things, by European Christian missionaries, began to use western-style antisemitism to focus Arab/Muslim enmity away from themselves and onto a new and, to them, familiar enemy.
This Christian antisemitism has since become absorbed into the fabric of Islam as if it were there from the start, when it was never there from the start at all. The widely read Arabic translations of the late-nineteenth century Russian-Christian forgery, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," seems to many Muslims almost an Islamic text, echoing old themes in the Qur'ān and elsewhere of Jewish treachery toward Muhammad and his biblical prophetic predecessors. The "Protocols" seem all the more credible in the light of the political, economic and military success of Israel. Sadly, the pluralism and largely non-violent attitude towards the Jews that existed in early and classical Islam seems to have lost its public face. Equally sad, age-old Jewish empathy with Islamic society among Jews from Muslim lands, and memory of decent relations with Muslim neighbors in Muslim lands in relatively recent times, have similarly recede,

Mark R. Cohen Princeton University

Personally, I don't find Cohen formulation of a radical distinction between Christian and Islamic antisemitism to be entirely convincing.  And, in this passage he paints entirely too benign a picture of the Islamic treatment of Jews.  Elsewhere Cohen comments
The interfaith utopia was to a certain extent a myth; it ignored, or left unmentioned, the legal inferiority of the Jews (and all non-Muslim “People of the Book”) and periodic outbursts of violence.
If antisemitism has been absorbed into Islam "as  if it were there from the start," that is an elementary fact of global politics that must be appreciated.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Gary Burton Pioneering Fusion Band in Concert (video)

I recently discovered this outstanding live concert of the Gary Burton Quartet, which can arguably be called the first jazz rock fusion group.

Gary Burton (wikipedia,, website)  has had a very long and distinguished career as a vibraphonist and combo leader. Burton innovated the four-mallet style of playing vibes, a revolutionary and now often emulated method of playing.

Burton was also a pioneer of jazz-rock fusion.  In 1967, he formed the Gary Burton Quartet with Larry Coryell on guitar, drummer Roy Haynes, and bassist Steve Swallow. (Bob Moses is on drums in the video.) The GBQ got there before Mile Davis, who began to turn electric with Miles in the Sky and Files de Kilamanjaro in 1968 and In a Silent Way in 1969. And, they got there with excellence.  Burton was recognized as Downbeat magazine's "Jazzman of the Year" in 1968.

I bought those Davis albums and several of Burton's when they were new and fresh and, you know what, they still hold up.

The Burton Quartet with Coryell recorded these albums

Coryell left the group in 1968, replaced by Jerry Hahn, and, later, a string of other outstanding guitarists.

More on the Burton group with Hahn in the near future.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Country Club 50: country loves hippies

This is cool. The Bellamy Brothers, a country pop duo have followed their hit "Old Hippie" with updates through the decades. Some of remember a time, let's call it Okie from Muskogee time, when country fans hated hippies. That changed quite a while ago.

The Brothers had a Number One pop hit in 1976 with "Let Your Love Flow," a song written by Larry Williams, a former roadie for Neil Diamond, who turned to song down. In 1979, they had their first number one country song with "If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me"

Friday, August 08, 2014

In midst of Gaza Conflict, Religious Dispatches Finds an Opportunity to Attack Sam Harris and Lie About Hamas

Atheist thinker Sam Harris has a new podcast with text and supplemental text, "Why I Don't Criticize Israel," in which he does in fact criticize Israel. To mention four specifics, he attacks the concept of a "Jewish" state, criticizes Jewish extremists (though underplays their significance and incorrectly assumes they are declining), calls for an end to funding of settlements, and says the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes.

On the other hand, Harris correctly says that the Israelis have used restraint and then he says something true that was almost guaranteed to get him in trouble with certain people.

Here is the major point of Harris' article.

The discourse in the Muslim world about Jews is utterly shocking. Not only is there Holocaust denial—there’s Holocaust denial that then asserts that we will do it for real if given the chance. The only thing more obnoxious than denying the Holocaust is to say that it should have happened; it didn’t happen, but if we get the chance, we will accomplish it. There are children’s shows in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere that teach five-year-olds about the glories of martyrdom and about the necessity of killing Jews. 
As might be expected, the religious progressive site "Religious Dispatches" is up quickly with an attack on Harris. It's not RD's first attack on Harris.  Harris was denounced as an Homophobes (he responded here), attacked for criticizing the Quran, attacked for criticizing Obama's pick to head the National Institute of Health, and attacked him in an article urging Atheists to oppose Islamophobia, and naturally his book on morality was lambasted.

There's nothing some people like more than the opportunity to attack an atheist and promote a benign view of Islam. So it is not surprising that Religious Dispatches has an attack on Harris' views on the Gaza conflict.

Ussaid Siddiqui's article "In Gaza Siege, Atheist Author Sam Harris Finds Yet Another Opportunity to Disparage Islam " avoids confronting Harris's essential point with some intellectual flim-flam.

British Muslim activist Mehdi Hasan took a different tack recently when he wrote an honest and revealing article: "The sorry truth is that the virus of anti-Semitism has infected the British Muslim community".It's too bad Siddiqui didn't have the same intellectual courage to confront a real, urgent problem, instead of dishing up cheap Harris-bashing.

What we get instead is a confused and, at least in part, dishonest attack on Harris. Siddiqui writes that the Hamas Charter "allegedly" advocates the destruction of Israel and asserts, to refute Harris, "before the [2006] parliamentary elections, Hamas removed the call to destroy Israel from their charter." (emphasis added)

Siddiqui accuses Harris of "discount[ing]" this.  With good reason since it didn't happen.

The omission  was only in the Hamas electoral platform. Hamas has not altered, changed, or amended its charter.

Confusing the Hamas Charter and its election manifesto is a an elementary mistake that a competent journalist would not make and which a reputable website like Religious Dispatches should have caught.
The Hamas Charter is, in fact, one of the most hateful, antisemitic, and genocidal document around. To use "allegedly" as Siddiqui does is simple dishonet,

Chapter Seven of the Hamas Charter, for example, states "The Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realization of Allah's promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: 'The day of judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jews will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say 'O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him."

And, Siddiqui would have us believe that there are no theological roots to Islamic antisemitism.

It should also be noted the Siddiqui writes that Christians make up nearly 20 percent of the Palestinian population. In fact, according to wikipedia, the figure is 6 percent.
A simple fact gone wrong, but perhaps not so simply.  Siddiqui doesn't want to confront the extremism of Hamas, so instead of discussing Harris' views and the present reality of Hamas and other Islamist groups, he presents a long digression about the non-golden and non-anti-golden age of Islamic tolerance.  Siddiqui imputes to Harris an essentialist view of Islamic hostility to Jews that Harris does not assert in this article.  Harris does not argue, at least in this podcast/article that Muslim anti-semitism goes back to the origins of Islam. The effort to refute views that Harris does not advance is really misplaced.

Just this week, Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan, refused to disavow his assertion that Jews kill Christian children to use their blood in matzah. It might be nice if religious progressives paid attention to Hamas's antisemitism instead of engaging in Sam Harris-bashing.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Kobach campaigns inside the virtual polling booth

There are long established laws and regulations that prevent campaigning within 50 feet of voting places.   But when it comes to internet, there are not such clear cut rules. We are often left with only ethical restraints.

It is not surprising that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has taken advantage of the lack of regulations to make sure he is prominently promoted in the state's web sites promoting voting and reporting voting results.

Here is Kobach at the very front of the website

And, here Kobach on the site which reported Kansas primary elections results Tuesday night.

And, of course, on the Secretary of State's webpage.

There may well be more serious problems with Kobach's political activities.

Tmservo433 wrote on Daily Kos
Topeka Capital Journal reports it entered a whole new phase as Kris Kobach (Secretary of State, lead ALEC drafter) found his private PAC (The Prairie Fire PAC) in the troubling position of having been caught red handed financing attack ads against sitting Republicans who just aren't right-leaning enough.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach's political action committee sent out mailers seeking to influence at least two House Republican primaries this week, without reporting the spending on campaign finance reports.
 Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, and Rep. Kent Thompson, R-LaHarpe, both said Monday that Kobach's Prairie Fire PAC was active in their races with a mailer blasting Jennings and another endorsing Thompson's opponent in Tuesday's primary.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Words that drive me crazy

Here are some words that drive me crazy, some are neo-logisms, some words which once had perfectly fine, even noble, meanings but are now being twisted and distorted into something ugly.

Pro-active--this is a non-sensical word, which doesn't mean what people think it means. It is used to indicate a policy or practice that is not reactive. However, pro- is not an antonym for re-. "Pro" means to support or favor. When someone or some organization says they will be "pro-active," it is usually an expression of vague intention.

Militant--has become the state of art to describe an irregular fighter for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah or Hamas. It used to mean a grass roots activist in a left wing political party. A New Yorker article in the late 1940s described Leon Birkhead's League for Democracy as "militant" defenders of civil liberties.

Dissident--a while back, NPR described the breakaway violence-prone splinter of the Irish Republican Army as "dissidents." The term that once described brave men and women like Andrei Sakharov who spoke and acted for democratic rights against the Soviet dictatorship is now being applied to thugs who have more in common with the Gulag masters and the KGB than with real dissidents. Apparently, the term "dissident" is used in Irish political discourse in this manner., but that is no excuse for the journalists of NPR to adopt it.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The state of small "d" democracy in Kansas

With the August 5 primary a few days away, some thoughts of the state of democracy in Kansas seem appropriate. An article in Friday's Wichita Eagle predicting  low turnout for Tuesday's primary, despite heated US Senate and House Republican primaries, indicates that there is a real problem. Here are some thoughts.

 The biggest issue, in my opinion, is the restrictive voter identification laws enacted by Secretary of Sate Kris Kobach, but there are others.

Another problem is outsider dark money which has poured into Kansas elections at the last minute with minimal transparency, minimal honesty, and minimal respect for the facts.

Kansas has a closed primary, only one of 12 in the nation.  That means that you have to be a registered Democrat or Republican to vote in the respective primary.  However, the chair of the party can allow independents to vote in their primary. In recent elections Democrats had allowed this. This year the KDP, at its February state convention,  joined the Republicans in adopting the more restrictive policy.

The Kansas legislature at the prodding of Kris Kobach made it more difficult for voters to change party registration. In the past this could be done up to 21 days before the election. This year the deadline was moved back to July 1 and in future elections it will be June 1. If I understand correctly, there will be different deadlines to change party registration and to change from unaffiliated to a party.

CORRECTION August 4: Unaffiliated voters can still chose a Democratic or Republican ballot at the polling place on election day. and thereby register for that party.  That hasn't changed.

Kansas Democrats have filed a full Federal and state-wide slate.  In 2010, Democrats had no candidate in the prohibitively Republican Big First District and no candidate in the potential swing 3rd Congressional District. (The 3rd gave Obama 48.8 percent in 2008 and 44.3 percent in 2012.)

Far too many Kansas voters won't have a choice on their ballot for the state legislature this November. Forty-seven seats, nearly 40 percent of the state's 125 House seats, will  have only one candidate on the ballot.  This includes 38 Republicans.  And, of these, only 16 have a Republican primary challenger.  Also, two Republicans will face only a Libertarian challenger.  Nine Democrats will face no challenger, and two will have only a Libertarian challenger.

The same problem crops up in the State Board of Eduction races where Democrats filed candidates for only one of the five seats up this year; they filed for only two when the same set of seats were up in 2010. And, for three of the different set of five seats up in 2012.

It would take a detailed analysis to figure out what is behind this low state of competitive elections.  From what I can tell it's not just a Kansas problem and it's not new.  A 2005 article reported that "state legislative races were even less competitive [than Congressional races.] Nationwide, 40 percent of the more than 7,000 races were uncontested."

Parties can put energy into recruiting as many candidates as possible, even in districts that are very strongly partisan for the other party.  Or, they can concentrate resources on a smaller number of swing districts. I don't know if a switch like can explain the poor number of Democratic candidates, but it is certainly possible.

Campaign finance reform, some form of public financing of legislative campaigns might increase the number of districts with races.  One possibility, for example, has had a system where candidates can get public financing after they show a basis of support, raising, say, $50 each for 100 district voters. Arizona has a system somewhat like this.

Ballot access for parties and candidates is the other side of the right to vote.  On the positive side, the Kansas legislature passed a law allowing out of state canvassers for petition drives.  (It is not obvious to me that this is a good development, but courts have been ruling this way so it seems a positive.)

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach changed the interpretation of state law making it more difficult for minor parties to remain on the ballot and ruled the Reform Party off the ballot. In 2012, Kobach argued successfully that Kansas did not have to allow voters register in unqualified parties that are active in the state.

To be established as a new political party in Kansas, the group must present petitions must be signed by qualified electors equal in number to at least two percent of the total vote cast for all candidates for governor at the last preceding general election. In Kansas, currently, that would mean 16,777 valid petition signatures.

To nominate an independent candidate for statewide evidence takes just 5,000 signatures.

To maintain party ballot status, a qualified party must get one percent of the vote in the lowest voted race it contests. In 2010, that threshold would have been 6,772 in the Commissioner of Insurance race.

If a minor party gets five percent of the vote in the Governor's race it will become a "major party" and thereby hold primaries instead of conventions.  That is a major goal of Kansas Libertarians  in the belief that being port of a statewide primary along with Republicans and Democrats will give them the potential for further growth. They may be helped by the demise of the Reform Party as there have been several statewide races where the LP +RP vote came to 4.4 percent (2010 Governor) or 4.2 percent (2006 Secretary of State).  Libertarian Patrick Wilber received 4.2 percent in the three-way 2006 Insurance Commissioner race.  With Libertarian nominee Keen A. Umbehr drawing five percent in the latest SurveyUSA poll that Libertarian goal doesn't appear unreasonable, although there is usually a fall off from polls to election results.

Perhaps if the Libertarian Party achieved "major party" status (with five percent of the vote) they might field more than seven legislative candidates they have in 2012. And, that could increase participation.

Perhaps if there were additional parties--a Moderate Party,  Constitution Party, a Working Families Party, or others there might be more competitive elections, a higher turnout, and better state government.

But, I think, there is a limit to the potential of additional minor parties to enhance participation and increase democracy.  Kansas is one of a vast majority of states that ban fusion voting.  By allowing a candidate to aggregate votes on more than party line, fusion voting avoids the spoiler affect when voting for a more conservative (liberal) candidate takes votes away from a slightly less conservative (liberal) candidate and thereby elects a third more liberal (conservative) candidate.   Fusion enables minor parties to influence election results and policy by offering to endorse or nominate a major party's candidate.

 Wichita activists have gathered signatures to place a referendum on the ballot to decriminalize marijuana possession.  This could have the potential to increase turnout among voters who usually stay at home during off-year elections.

The real path to improving Kansas democracy will be based on re-invigorating the Democratic Party, the growth of grass-roots progressive organizations like Kansas People's Action, and a more creative and energized political effort by teachers and other unions.

Country Club 49: long haired redneck

The lead-off song to David Alan Coe's Long-Haired Redneck album, the single was the follow-up to "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" and was a fairly big hit reaching number 17 on the charts. Besides the references to the "outlaw country" movement, it is notable for the chorus which features Coe impersonating classic country artists Ernest Tubb, "Whisperin" Bill Anderson, and Merle Haggard.

I recognized the impersonations, but I have no idea which Tom T. Hall melody Coe borrowed for this song.