Monday, December 21, 2009

How would you like it if I called you bilingual?

After my tussle with Gabriel Ash over Chomsky's genocide denialism, after Martin posted some fantastic Gnome Chomskies, after revelations of Chomsky's capitalist business practices, after Venezualan anarchists have described Uncle Noam as "Chavez's clown"... I felt it was time for a Noam Chomsky post. However, not having the time to write it, let's hand over to Ali G.

Just before I do (because it is related), can I recommend Michael Tomasky's take-down of Michael Moore as a "blowhard"? I got there via Martin's post on the "anti-imperialist reflex" of the "post-left" (that also applies to Chomsky). Another person taking apart the anti-imperialist left, or "Manichean left" as he calls it (and he includes Chomsky), is Michael Bérubé in his new The Left At War - read a free sample here and a review here. Angilee Shah sums up:
Bérubé pits Noam Chomsky against Stuart Hall; the divide lies between what Bérubé calls the “Manichean left,” which did not just oppose the Iraq war but supported resistance to America’s intervention, and the “democratic left,” which maintains that, though U.S. foreign policy is not always guided by virtue, there is still space for the defense of human rights in the international sphere. To put it another way, one side of the left adopted the position that state sovereignty is supreme and another said that the world has a responsibility to protect repressed people. These seemingly irreconcilable principles — both which have become hallmarks of leftist thinking — collided on 9/11. “The left suffered for decades because one branch of the family tree was willing to tolerate a certain degree of tyranny if it advanced the material well-being of the peasants or proletariat,” Bérubé writes. “The left does not now need another branch whose position on tyranny is that tyranny is bad, but tyrants can only be legitimately overthrown by their victims.”

With a Democrat in the office, about to increase troop levels in Afghanistan, this argument leaves the left in an awkward position. Can those on the left support Obama’s position even though Chomsky predicted that the war in Afghanistan would become a “silent genocide”? Bérubé is ultimately optimistic that a middle ground can be found in a “democratic-socialist, internationalist left” that encourages “a capitalism with a human face,” and insists on human rights at home and abroad.

And, finally, Scott McLemee has slaughtered another sacred cow of the post-left, Brother Cornel West. He also responds to his critics here.

So, here we are. Ali G interviews Noam Chomsky, humourless ponce.

Oh, for the sake of fairness, here are two defences of Chomsky, from Slack Andy and from Phil Dickens.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bob's beats

To add to my Hanukka tunes, here's Some Lost, Some Found's seasonal contributions: the Sounds of Raj, Yehuda Ovadya Ftyad & the Ha'Yonah Ensemble, and John Zorn's Masada project. It's all good!

A couple of blips from Flesh is Grass:
I've been regularly reporting on Locust St's wonderful history of the 20th century. 1924 is now out, but I realise I missed 1923. I particularly enjoyed these, having just finished reading the superb 1923-set Carter Beats The Devil (my third huge book in a row, after Hilary Mantel's wonderful Wolf Hall and Ma Jin's Beijing Coma). Here's an extract from 1923 (hyperlinks added to the mp3s - you'll need to be quick to catch them):
I.J. Hochman's Jewish Orchestra offer a version of the "Russian Sher" on disc. A sher is a "scissors dance," basically a type of square dance popular among Eastern European and Russian Jews in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. As with much early klezmer, the melody is carried by fiddle and clarinet, bass by tuba, rhythm by trombones. It's the Yiddish blues, straight from the shetl. This was one of Hochman's rare instrumental cuts--he was mainly an accompanist to singers like Jenny Goldstein. Recorded in December 1922 and released as OKeh 14059 c/w "Kamenetzer Bulgar."(On Klezmer 1910-1942.)

Harold Lloyd, social climber

Fiddlin' is like salvation--free and without price.

Attributed to Fiddlin' John Carson.

Fiddlin' John Carson, born in Fannin County, Georgia, three years after the Civil War ended, was a wildcat fiddler, a one-man song and dance band, a storyteller, a professional hayseed, "a defiler of tradition" (Allen Lowe) who kept 19th Century music alive. He was one of the first professional "hillbilly" musicians to record. A track from his first session, "The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Gonna Crow," is a fine example of his sound--both archaic, with the music broken up by Carson's barn dance calls, and modern (the occasional dissonance when he plays "double stops," holding down two strings at once).

You may recall this story: In 1913, a 14-year-old girl named Mary Phagan was killed at her workplace, an Atlanta pencil factory. Her supervisor, a Northern Jewish man named Leo Frank, was convicted of the murder, mainly due to testimony by janitor Jim Conley (who likely was the real killer--he had been found washing stains off his shirt and he had given a series of contradictory statements). Georgia Gov. John Slaton eventually commuted Frank's death sentence.

So Fiddlin' John Carson wrote "The Ballad of Little Mary Phagan," a story of a poor girl murdered by cruel Leo Frank. He sang it at every Frank-related protest rally in a 30-mile radius of Marietta, which were many. After Frank's sentence was commuted, Carson changed the lyric to suggest that a "New York bank" had paid Gov. Slaton off.

One August day in 1915, an armed mob hauled Frank out of prison, drove him 175 miles to Marietta and lynched him. "For audacity and efficiency, it was unparalleled in southern history," C. Vann Woodward later wrote of the Frank lynching. All the day long, while Frank's corpse hung from an oak tree, Carson stood in front of the Marietta courthouse, playing his "Little Mary Phagan" over and over again, while the assembled crowd "cheered and applauded him lustily," according to a contemporary newspaper account.

Carson cut records throughout the '20s and died a happy old man in 1949.

Recorded in Atlanta ca. 14 June 1923 and released as OKeh 4890 c/w "The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane."
To finish, from the Southside. This is possibly the only song I know to namecheck my postcode (although I imagine Transpontine can tell me otherwise).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hanukkah music

Note: Not sure why the box below only has a fraction of the songs in it visible. Will try and fix it. However, if you play the tracks, the invisible ones do actually play. Update: If you click Menu in the top left, then Go to, you can see (and play) the whole folder.

I uploaded a Hanukah mix for my virtual friend Schalom Libertad, and thought as I'd taken the trouble I'd share it with my wider on-line family. Not sure of the legality and ethicality of this - let me know if you own this music and want me to remove it. Folks, if you are inspired, try and buy the originals!

Some explanation:

"Dreidel Song" = This is Don Byron from Plays The Music Of Mickey Katz. See here.
Y-Love = African-American convert to strictly Orthodox Judaism, raps in Hebrew/Arabic/Aramaic/English.
"Miserilou" = Middle Eastern folk song made famous by Lebanese surf hero Dick Dale. This is an old Sephardic cantorial version. See here.
Oi-Va-Voi ("Balkanic" and "Yuri") = British klezmer/Balkan/drum & bass. See here. These tracks are from their self-titled second/third album.
"Matovu-Bor'chu" = a recording of a Friday night Jewish prayer ceremony in 1968, set to jazz by Herbie Hancock and Thad Jones. Info here.
"Boee" = Israeli multiculturalist Idan Raichel, here remixed by Diwon, featuring Y-Love.
Boom Pam = Israeli surf rock band.
Hop Hop Hoodios = Ladino rap.
Kutiman, Karolina & Funset = contemporary Israeli funk/soul/reggae. See here.
Soul Messengers ("Saviour...") and Tonistics ("Holding On") = Black Hebrews who migrated from Chicago to Dimona and recorded these in the early 70s. See here.
Musicmarkers Ltd = Italian disco band of the late 1970s. See here.
Kinky Friedman = standing for Governor of Texas in 2010.
Blue Fringe ("Eshet Chayil") = Dov Rosenblatt's American alt.rock band.
"My Yiddishe Mama" = the version here is Connie Francis.
"Der Galter Bulgar" = A Dave Tarras song, here recorded by Japanase klezmer band A-Muzik. See here.
Meshugga Beach Party = Jewish surf rock. See here.
"Kol Nidre" = This is the 1958 Johnny Mathis version. See here.
Rest should be reasonably self-explanatory!
"Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" = This is the Harlem Experiment version. See here.

Want more? Klezmonauts - Xmas Yiddish; Pudie Tadow and DJ Flack - hip hop and illbient dub; a huge playlist from avante-klezmer hip hop to Christmas forro; a mostly hip hop playlist from Brooklyn Vegan; Neil Diamond; Etienne de Crécy - sacred house; Gods of Fire (for Keith); and all sorts of beautiful, mainly folksky, things from Boogie Woogie Flu.

Finally, Erran Baron Cohen featuring Y-Love (via SoundRoots)

Monday, December 07, 2009

Cut and paste thoughts on Honduras after the election

After The New Centrist (happily back to regular blogging) and Flesh is Grass posted about Honduras from different perspectives, I made some comments that I have linked to in a previous post. The New Centrist took the time to respond to my comments in an update to a second post. I am pasting here my reply to his response, although I think they stand alone, and I have tidied up some typos and added a couple of hyperlinks. Flesh is Grass has also subsequently written another post, which I liked.

I agree that the removal of Zelaya was not a coup d’etat in the classic sense. There were significant differences between the de facto government and earlier right-wing military dictatorships on the continent, although many leftist observers rushed very quickly to impose the same descriptive frame. My instincts, having been formed in the period of Contragate, the American-backed dictatorship in El Salvador, and so on, were similar, but I held them in check, and tried to find out more about the Honduras situation before taking a view. I still cannot claim any specialist knowledge about Honduras, and still do not know which sources to trust, and everything I say here (and in previous comments) should be read as heaviliy caveated.
Nonetheless, it seems to me very clear that the Honduran constitution, like many Latin American constitutions, is a contradictory document, with lots of vague terminology and lots of scope for latitude, in dire need of reform. There is also no doubt that the changes to the constitution which Zelaya proposed might have spelled a drift towards the sort of electoral authoritarianism which we see in Venezuela. On the other hand, what was actually proposed was simply a constituent assembley, and any changes it might have legislated would have occured after Zelaya’s term was over. The present constitution has been amended some two dozen times, most of these in the last decade of democratic rule, so it is not in itself problematic to seek to further reform the constitution.

The removal of Zelaya had elements which were in line with the existing constitution and elements which contradicted it. For example, his forcible expatriation was straightforwardly unconstitutional. The subsequent suspension of constitutional rights for 45 days by the de facto government was technically constitutional, but both unnecessary and against the spirit of democracy.

A formalistic or legalistic interpretation of what counts as democracy or as constutional is, in my view, inadequate. It is inadequate for two reasons. First, the importance of interlocking forms of power and privilege – the role of oligarchy – in Honduras (as in elsewhere in Central America) undermine the integrity of the interpretations of law made by key state actors: the military, judiciary, legislature and media are in the hands of a tiny number of interrelated families. Second, it is perfectly possible to constrain genuine democracy while following the formal rule of law. The many “democratatorships” across the world, from Belorussia to Iran to Venezuela, make that clear. While the problem of Latin America in the 20th century was naked military dictatorship, its problem in the 21st is electoral authoritarianism.
There seems to be an absence of decent news reportage from Honduras. There is a severe lack of international observers. The decision of the OAS and Spain not to send observers because it would have granted legitimacy to the election was a very foolish move. I have put a certain amount of faith in NarcoNews and WW4 Report, although I recognise them as partisan. Amnesty has reported a number of the abuses that these sites mention, altho I know some people see Amnesty as partisan too. See e.g.

For some of the more extreme claims I made, google Roger Iván Bados or Ramón García. I am not claiming that the de facto government directly assassinated these men, but as you know the oligarchy has not just the military and police at its disposal but also paramilitary and organised crime forces.
The lack of decent news makes knowing the turnout problematic – but so does the utter lack of transparency from those in power, who have still, I believe, not released a detailed breakdown of polling station results. When this sort of fudge comes from the Iranian authorities we are suspicious, and we should be here too.

Here are some of the accounts of turnout:
the nonprofit group that the TSE [Honduras' Supreme Electoral Tribunal] contracted to do exit polls, Fundación Hagamos Democracia (FHD), also disagreed with the official turnout projection of 61.3%. The FHD’s projection for turnout was about 47.6%, significantly lower than the 2005 turnout. At the Nov. 29 press conference, TSE magistrate Ortez Sequeira noted that the FHD’s exit polls were close to the TSE’s projections—except on the question of turnout. Skeptics also noted TSE president Saúl Escobar’s admission at the press conference that the electoral results were being delayed because of a technical problem in verifying the digitalized data. (El Tiempo, Nov. 30; Honduras Coup 2009 blog, Nov. 30)
Election officials in Honduras on Friday revised down the participation rate in controversial weekend elections from more than 60 percent to 49 percent.
An independent group of observers estimated that the turnout number was 48 percent. “Because of a lack of serious election observation, it’s difficult to know exactly what the exact numbers are,” Daniel Altschuler, an independent political analyst in Honduras told CNN. However, a CNN calculation based on official figures provided by Supreme Electoral Tribunal spokesman Roberto Reyes Pineda shows that the actual voter turnout is 56.6 percent.

Therefore, it seems that the Frente Nacional’s claims for large-scale abstention have turned out to be false, but the rulers’ claims for increased turnout and therefore secure legitimacy for the results is also false. (The Frente Nacional claim something like 60% turnout in 2005, which appears to be false, as most sources put it at around half, i.e. similar to this election.)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Peruvian fat-stealers, Turkish psych-rock, Chomsky's stocks and bonds, and much more

Peruvian fat stealers: bizarre but fascinating.

TNC's last Sunday round-up (see my comments there and at FiG on the Honduras elections).

Capitalism a love story: on the high finances of Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky.

Tired of the Israel lobby? Meet the oil lobby.

David Miliband: and Yiddishkeit.

Joel Schalit posts a mix of Turkish psychedelia to complement the stuff I posted here. Here it is, about the length of two sides of an old LP (more info here).
TurkishPsychMix by Elders of Zion