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Same As It Ever Was: War, Peace, Wall Street, and the Smothers Brothers

1:45 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

The Smothers Brothers dressed in Roman outfits as centurion and statesman

The Smothers Brothers. The work of the best jesters is timeless.

Firedoglake’s Elliott recently reminded me of the immortal humor of the Smothers Brothers. Though this duo was before my time, their humor resonates today in political satirists and jesters like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. From a lengthy discussion between David Bianculli, well known media critic and author of Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and Fresh Air’s Terry Gross:

I think that it’s most visible right now in places like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Saturday Night Live and Bill Maher. All of them are outside of prime time, but they’re all sort of doing elements of what the Smothers Brothers did.

Stephen Colbert tried very briefly to throw himself into the presidential race, just as Pat Paulsen had. A lot of Jon Stewart’s humor is very much what the Smothers was, and he admits that they were a very strong influence. Bill Maher says the Smothers were a very strong influence. And Saturday Night Live I sort of see as what the Smothers Brothers almost had the chance to become.

Their appeal was cross-generational:

GROSS: And that’s one of the things that makes the story so interesting. You know, it’s the second half of the ’60s. The youth culture has become the counter-culture. Youth culture has also become, a lot of it, the anti-war movement. The country is, like, divided, people are going wild, and television is reflecting somewhere between very little and none of that.

Mr. BIANCULLI: Yeah, it’s almost – there are so many parallels to today that it amazes me, in that now you think of red state, blue state, and we have this giant divide, and the parties are divided, and the whole country seems, you know, ideologically divided.

[...]

And the Smothers Brothers came on, and at a time when there was one television in the house, and everybody watched it; for the first couple of seasons, they pulled this amazing magic act and straddled the chasm of the generation gap. They had Kate Smith and Simon and Garfunkel on the same show. They had Mickey Rooney and The Who on the same show and appealed to both, you know, generations.

As Elliott said, “even my businessman dad liked the Smothers Brothers!”

Censored for years, they kept on satirizing. In the end their uncompromising political message drove them off the air, with CBS firing the duo and the rest of their comedy ensemble under pressure from the White House. Though the Brothers and the ACLU fought a successful legal battle in response, their careers were effectively over. A documentary, Smothered, tells the whole story — but only clips seem to be available online.

Who Goes to Jail?

Compare the lyrics of “Big Time Crime,” the video above, with this story from yesterday’s Democracy Now! In “Who Goes to Jail?” Amy Goodman interviews Matt Taibbi about his new book, The Divide.

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A Conversation with Scott Crow, Part 3: Intersectionality & Technology

8:03 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Previously: Part 1, Occupy & Activism and Part 2, Mutual Aid

A black & white portrait of Scott Crow

Firedoglake’s Kit O’Connell concludes his interview with anarchist author and organizer Scott Crow.

One important tool which defines modern activism is the use of social media for organizing and building solidarity. While social media does little unless paired with “meatspace” direct action, it can be a powerful tool for motivating people, reporting on live events, and building intersectionality. When arrests first occurred at Occupy Austin, we heard from activists in Egypt who had staged an impromptu protest at the US Embassy.

Between times of “rupture,” social media becomes even more crucial for strengthening solidarity and relating about core issues. This can be seen in recent, vital discussions on Twitter over race, feminism, and the meaning and origins of Occupy. Likewise, more people are using social media and the Internet to educate themselves about politics and current events. To close our conversation, I asked Scott Crow how he thought social media was changing our political conversations.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: The word ‘anarchy’ or ‘socialism’ used to be these hot button words that could be used to turn people off. You used those words and people’s minds closed down. The mainstream media and the politicians use this constantly. “Obama’s a socialist!” But it doesn’t seem to be working anymore. People are less likely to believe you. Why do you think that’s happening?

Scott Crow: Because people are smart. And they can see that it’s propaganda. Even if they don’t have a ‘political analysis’ they can see that it’s total bullshit. And — can I say bullshit?

FDL: Yeah. You’re not going on the radio!

SC: I think you’re totally right. The thing is — with words like that — I can’t speak to socialism because it did get such a bad rap. But anarchy was always assumed to be chaos and bombthrowing. Because anarchy is the largest set of ideas in ascension in social justice movements — nationally, in the US, Canada, Mexico, even Europe — more than Communism (big C Communism). The New York Times and CNN, they can’t ignore it anymore. Sure, anarchists are out in the streets in black bloc throwing tear gas canisters back when they get shot at them, but they are also at the front lines of disaster relief, they’re at the front lines of occupying and reclaiming spaces that should be the commons — you can’t deny that. You can’t knock it off to a fringe element and people can see that clearly. We’re in an anarchist renaissance — there’s more anarchist literature produced in the last 14 years than there had been in the previous 50 or 60 years in the United States and even internationally.

Anarchy went underground. People stopped talking about it. They started to hide in other organizations. It reemerged in the 60′s but still at the fringes. But now there’s a huge body of work — more books have come out, more articles are written now. And the Interwebs help with that because it is an open platform to talk about things, because if you’re in Idaho or you’re in Texas or you’re in New York, you can be connected and hear people share ideas.

FDL: That leads into the intersectionality that’s happening. That’s not a new concept obviously but the Internet seems to promote it. In my view, when Occupy worked was when it was its most intersectional. That’s also when there was the most pushback against it from the media, from people who just wanted it to be the Democratic answer to the Tea Party.

SC: But that tension’s always there. There’s always groups trying to pilfer off of you, trying to suck like vampires. The labor unions, the Democrats, they’re always trying to do that. There’s a long history of that. Used to be Communists who’d try to control it.

FDL: But intersectionality seems like a key to growing any kind of movement right now.

SC: Absolutely. That’s the thing that attracted me to anarchy originally. I came to it late in my life. I came to it in my late twenties … but anarchy was one of the only political philosophies that seemed to embrace intersectionality and connecting the struggles. That it was important what was happening in prisons, in the environment, with animals, rape culture, what happened outwardly but also inwardly — how do we treat each other? While a lot of movements are about converting people to their party, their line, their nonprofit.

You bring up a point that needs to be reiterated. I think the Interwebs is very conducive to that. It’s almost like a cacophony —  where you can see something about animal liberation and then something about prisons right below it in your news feed. And you say, ‘Oh yeah, those are both important.’

FDL: And on the ground, doing the work it can seem really obvious. How is Palestine linked to Capitalism? Because Capitalism props that occupation up. But then it becomes time to regurgitate that into a sound bite and that’s where it starts to break down.

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Goodbye to Iain M Banks

8:03 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A guilty system recognizes no innocents. As with any power apparatus which thinks everybody’s either for it or against it, we’re against it. You would be too, if you thought about it. The very way you think places you among its enemies. –from Iain Banks’ Player Of Games

One of the greatest writers of our time, Iain Banks, has died.

Iain Banks

Scottish author Iain Banks died Sunday morning.

From the BBC News‘s obituary of Banks:

Author Iain Banks has died aged 59, two months after announcing he had terminal cancer, his family has said.

Banks, who was born in Dunfermline, Fife, revealed in April he had gall bladder cancer and was unlikely to live for more than a year.

He was best known for his novels The Wasp Factory, The Crow Road and Complicity. In a statement, his publisher said he was ‘an irreplaceable part of the literary world.’

A message posted on Banksophilia, a website set up to provide fans with updates on the author, quoted his wife Adele saying: ‘Iain died in the early hours this morning. His death was calm and without pain.’

Banks is that rare author who could bridge both the worlds of genre fiction and so-called literary fiction. Even some of his mainstream works like The Wasp Factory borrow heavily from the imagery of genre (horror, in the case of Wasp Factory) but his incredible skill as a writer carried him above the genre ghetto.

On Firedoglake, I don’t feel like I need to apologize for science fiction — we’ve held book salons with literary heroes of mine like Kim Stanley Robinson. But Banks’ talent surpasses even Robinson. Many of my writer friends seem to be struggling today with the news, coming so soon after the cancer announcement just months ago. Author Neil Gaiman tweeted:

Iain Banks is dead. I’m crying in an empty house. A good man and a friend for almost 30 years. — Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) June 9, 2013

Though science fiction is often a genre of grand ideas, I can think of few others in his field — with the exception of Ursula Le Guin — who have made me think so deeply about humanity in so many new ways. But unlike Le Guin, his main series — the Culture universe — is more than just a conceptual place to put stories. As one reads his books, the level of detail and forethought he put into his world building is staggering. Banks even created a new mathematically-derived alphabet used by the Culture which includes built-in encryption. Clumsier, less skillful authors bog down their stories with needless exposition that serves simply to show off their clever imaginary worlds; Banks, instead, nearly always begins in medias res and allows us to experience his glittering deep space creations.

“Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying.”― Iain Banks, 1954-2013 #RIP— Stuart Immonen (@stuartimmonen) June 9, 2013

The Culture books center around the eponymous galactic society, largely populated by what are inherently humans, but surrounded by other sentient creatures of all kinds, and many cunning artificial intelligences too. The technology of the Culture is so far in advance of ours that the connection with humanity can become very tenuous — residents of the Culture have “drug glands” installed which allow them to control their emotions and bodily responses, or even get high with a thought. Gender, appearance, even the basic makeup of human bodies can be swapped with only a little effort. The society is post-capitalistic, with money unheard of except on the most backwater planets, and everyone is free to generally do as they please.

All these amazing conceits free Banks to deeply contemplate what it means to be human, the nature of human sexuality, human society, nearly every aspect of what we are. The alien races too create that wonderful funhouse mirror effect of the very best science fiction — intriguing us with their strangeness while simultaneously reflecting back on ourselves. If an alien society lasted so long that even their parasites evolved sentience, what kind of society would those parasites build and how would they interact with their former hosts?

This passage is a bit of philosophy from the Morthanveld, an aquatic species that appear in the novel Matter:

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Antonio Buehler and Peaceful Streets

1:35 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

It’s been a busy year for Antonio Buehler.

When he agreed to be a designated driver for friends on New Year’s Eve, 2011, he had no idea how much that simple decision would shape 2012. As reported by RT.com (one of many media sources to pick up this story in recent weeks) Buehler, a 34-year old Iraq Veteran and West Point Graduate, had stopped to refuel at a 7-11, when:

he witnessed officers with the Austin Police Department attempt to detain a woman under suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol at a fueling station. By the end of the evening, though, Buehler also found himself being apprehended by authorities.

“I saw a woman getting assaulted by the police. It looked like police abuse, and I decided to speak up and take pictures. I think that is every person’s right,” Buehler told Austin’s KVUE News earlier this year.

The authorities, however, see things differently. According to the officers, Buehler was interfering with their investigation. Buehler says he was simply exercising his First Amendment rights from afar, but the police department begs to differ. Buehler was “in my face,” Officer Pat Oborski writes in the official police report. The officer also claims that Buehler spit at him, an allegation that Buehler rejects.

Buehler faces a felony charge for his supposed assault on Officer Oborski. Police have gone to court to prevent release of the dashboard camera which would show this incident clearly. However, the viral video ‘No Spit! No Wipe,’ constructed from witness video solicited by Buehler via Craigslist, clearly shows his innocence. Footage also shows police restraining not just the alleged drunken driver, but also violently pinning the passenger in retaliation for advising the driver of her right to refuse a breathalyzer test. Despite these abuses of the rights of all three, the toothless Citizen Review Panel recently cleared Officers Pat Oborski and Robert Snider of any wrongdoing; per their policy, they also won’t release any details of that investigation. Antonio Buehler faces up to ten years in prison if convicted. A grand jury must convene in order for the felony charges to go forward, and he’s next due in court on July 20.

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Watercooler: Occupy Music

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Music can unite us, but also divide us. I don’t always enjoy the music at Occupy; I’d sometimes rather listen to Drastik IV, whose video here uses footage from Occupy Austin, than most of the twangy folksinger types — an attitude that might not be popular here on MyFDL. For every person who loves a dubstep-fueled street party, there’s another occupier who’d rather we had a drum circle or a sing-along.

When Tom Morello called for his original May Day Guitarmy march, he invited everyone, regardless of talent or whether they were using a handmade acoustic guitar or a plastic Walmart toy.

I watched as the 99 Mile March of the Guitarmy arrived in Liberty Square and celebrated with song, dance and music. While the voices were sometimes out of key, what mattered was the people are singing together — the real unifying effect of music. Police crack down on drumming (as seen in 2 of today’s arrests) not, in my opinion, because of the noise it makes but because of the way that sound and rhythm can empower the people and lead them to greater acts of civil disobedience. Music inspires.

Real music made by people, for people, rather than a recording company, is a powerful tool of the 99%.

That’s what’s on my mind tonight. How about you?

This is the latest MyFDL open thread.

Watercooler: Mud

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

I had a lovely weekend camping at a small camp-out in the Texas hill country, a small followup (or ‘decompression‘) for the bigger festival I attended last month. I had a great time dancing in the rain, but now all that’s left is the mud on my dancing boots. It’ll soon wash away — except today it’s raining in Austin, so now it’s not the time for drying my things.

A DJ turned the Ben Harper song to the right into a foot-stompingly good mix late Saturday night, but I found a live track for you in all its unaltered glory. And speaking of dancing, how about this story of dancing in New York from the Daily Mail (admittedly, not the world’s most reliable paper)?

Caroline Stern, a dentist, and George Hess, a movie prop master, were waiting for a train at the Columbus Circle station after a late evening at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night’s Swing last year when they began dancing the Charleston to a musician playing the steel drums. … That’s when police came in and spoiled the fun, they told the New York Post.

The officers demanded their ID. When Ms Stern only had a credit car, the police ordered the couple to go with them.

When Mr Hess pulled out a camera to start recording the incident, the officers called for backup and the situation turned nasty, the couple says.

After being wrestled to the ground, they spent 23 hours in jail. Though the incident occurred last summer, it’s receiving renewed attention because of a lawsuit the couple brought against the city. Besides, if Occupy Wall Street has taught us anything, it’s that the NYPD hasn’t gotten any less repressive of free expression in the last year.

That’s what’s on my mind tonight. This is tonight’s open thread. Come chat with MyFDL.