Archive for June, 2013

Syria, pt 1

June 16th, 2013
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Two years of fighting — and it seems the Syrian people now solidly back Assad over the rebels. The rebels were never a homogenous group, always having been an unstructured movement including elements organized by Turkish intelligence, American intelligence, and fundamentalist Muslim fighters, but at least at the outset there were some “normal” Syrians. However, at this point it seems the “normal” Syrians are in support of Assad, as the foreign and jihadi elements are now dominant among the rebels. The brutality of these forces has been made clear, eg execution for blasphemy, murder of pro-government religious figures, and sectarian killings of Shia, Christians, etc

Because of the solidification of public opinion against the rebels, Assad’s regime has begun to win the civil war. They have gained control of a number of towns. In fact, the insurgency appears close to defeat.

And yet, Obama & the Imperialist gang are now doubling down on the rebels. America had always supplied weapons and logistical support to certain rebel elements, now Obama is upping the ante to direct and open military support on the basis of supposed use of poison gas by Assad’s forces.

The Imperialist motives of the US are clear. Under the pretext of the “Arab spring” the US has taken the opportunity to try to recalibrate the region in its interests. Thus, rebellions in Libya and Syria, countries governed by regimes Washington always wanted to do away with, were militarily aided and pushed out of all proportion to their popular support, in order to oust the regime. At the same time, in countries like the repressive dictatorship monarchy Bahrain, a US ally, in which protesters were slaughtered, the US did not raise a peep. Neither did it in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or any other similar country. In Egypt, the US remained funding and supporting Mubarak even as the police slaughtered hundreds in violent crackdowns. Only after Mubarak’s ouster by the people of Egypt, did the US change tack and declare Mubarak an unconsciounable dictator and establish ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, trying to co-opt the new regime, not caring whether it was reactionary or progressive.

In fact Obama’s actions have generally backed the more reactionary side. Libya and Syria were both, in the spectrum of Arab countries, relatively secular, redistributionist, and mindful of foreign economic exploitation. In Libya, NATO bombed and killed in order to support a shaky coalition of Islamic-jihadis, Libyan tribalists, and ready-made foreign cronies under the auspices of US-based think tanks. The country today is a wreck. In Syria, again it is, with some degree of variation, a cocktail of ethnic groups, fundamentalist-jihadis, and cronies who have been waiting in the wings in Turkey or the USA for a long time.

See for instance, Rafif Jouejati, who claims to play a leadership role in the Syrian rebellion (in reality this is not the case, as the rebels are largely locally autonomous and composed of groups that can’t work together). She is listed as one of the leaders of the astroturfed structure created by Washington to pretend to lead the rebels, and to put a good face on them. Joujeati lives in Washington DC and is head of a think tank called P3 Solutions. Her business also services clients including federal agencies, and corporations such as Microsoft, Dell, and Raytheon. Truly the salt of the Syrian earth.

Perhaps one could see it as ironic, that the US government spies on us all in the name of counter-terrorism, in true 1984 fashion, while at the same time, directly funding and arming fundamentalist forces who behead civilians as part of their jihadi quest. But there is no real joke there. It’s just the same geopolitical maneuvering the bourgeoisie always have and will do — that which puts Imperialist competition, resources, and ultimately profit, above all else.

Allow me to finish with excerpts from an interview given by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the “geostrategist” who was National Security Advisor of the Carter regime, now a Professor at Johns Hopkins:

Brzezinski: …According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention…

… Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war…

Q: And neither do you regret having… given arms and advice to future terrorists?

Brzezinski: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Country Rock from Concord Carolina

June 3rd, 2013
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San Francisco, 10/31/10

A couple weeks ago, I went to the “hardly strictly bluegrass” festival in SF. It’s a yearly outdoor musical extravaganza, with five stages sheltered from each other in little neighboring valleys in Golden Gate Park, such that you can quickly hop between performances, but don’t hear one act while at the next stage. Quick warning of potential negatives for some: you have to stand a lot as it’s crowded, and there’s also a lot of drinking and smoking. There’s also a lot of really excellent music. We heard several nice acts, but I wanted to share our favorite with you.

The Avett Brothers really brought it. They had beautiful music, great energy, and terrific stage presence. The whole crowd loved it, and we danced within the space we had.

The Avett Brothers are from Concord, North Carolina. The nucleus is Seth and Scott Avett, actual brothers. They are joined by Bob Crawford (bass and vocals) and Joe Kwon (cello). Seth and Scott trade off between guitars, banjos, piano, drums, and lead vocals… maybe more. So basically, they’ve spent a lot of time practicing a lot of music.

Family Above All

I have not done all that much research, but I know they are from a musical family: their dad has two albums released, and their sister sings on one of them. I saw one anecdote that a reporter went over to interview their dad about them and parenting, as they were starting to make it big. And he found the brothers over helping out around the house, chasing down the chickens: what he drew from that is that they genuinely like their parents and family, to be choosing to hang around with them. I love hanging around my parents too!

So, here’s the first song of theirs I’ll share with you, it appears to me to be about the primacy of family:


And here are the lyrics:

Murder in the City

If I get murdered in the city

Don’t go revengin’ in my name

One person dead from such is plenty

No need to go get locked away

When I leave your arms

The things that I think of

No need to get over alarmed

I’m comin’ home

I wonder which brother is better

Which one our parents love the most

I sure did get in lots of trouble

They seemed to let the other go

A tear fell from my father’s eyes

I wondered what my dad would say

He said I love you

And I’m proud of you both, in so many different ways

If I get murdered in the city

Go read the letter in my desk

Don’t worry with all my belongings

But pay attention to the list

Make sure my sister knows I loved her

Make sure my mother knows the same

Always remember, there is nothing worth sharing

Like the love that let us share our name

Always remember, there is nothing worth sharing

Like the love that let us share our name

/end lyrics

I think it’s a pretty simple song, just emphasizing the power of familial love. The singing is really beautiful. The lyrics have a couple little nice details to them: “dont worry with all my belongings” emphasizing what in particular is less important than love (things). I get a kick out of the part in the music video where he says “I sure did get in lots of trouble, they seemed to let the other go” and in the background his brother is going nonono and they’re kind of chuckling a little. Reminiscent of a strain from a discussion in our living room a couple weeks ago, between Michael and I about how parents are stricter with the eldest sibling and are often “broken” when the younger ones come through the same ages.

Finally, the backdrop of the whole song is “murder in the city–” why does the speaker choose that as the cause for expressing their feelings to their family? It’s just a reference to what cities have been in human history– not just a meeting place, but also an engine that has churned up the people coming to it. I’m pretty sure the Avett Brothers grew up in the countryside, and that when they started going to cities to spread their music, it was somewhat scary. Cities are scary, and the rural–>urban migration has had incredible casualties. Also note the lack of anger towards whoever does the murdering.

Popularity and Art

The Avetts actually started out in a rock band, then became interested in acoustic music, started a side project, then their rock band broke up, they were already investing more and more time and effort into their acoustic music. And then they met and teamed up with Crawford and Kwon. Their music to me is a blend of folk and rock, though you could add on lots of extra little genres: country, bluegrass, ragtime… and pop. Though these extra descriptors to me don’t seem to add that much meaning. It’s natural that at this point in human interconnectedness, they would have access to music from all genres and draw on many things. The band started to get relatively big in 2007-2008, making their first TV appearances, and moving to larger venues when they tour. As their music becomes more popular the question of whether it is “pop” looms.

On internet bulletin boards I have found many comments such as

[I went and tracked down some actual comments, rather than paraphrasing]

“they are kick a*s! especially in concert. but since they have gotten more famous it sucks.”

To which you can also find replies such as: [this is the very next in that thread]

“I hate it when people say it sucks when a band gets famous. First, I’m pretty sure the band wants to get famous or they wouldn’t be working so hard at it. Plus, I would never have heard of them if they had stayed a small, local band. Why should only a small group of people, who consider themselves special, be the only ones to enjoy the band? I’m thrilled they’re famous as I’m sure they are, too.”

Those who mourn the success of this or other bands are probably in fact snobby. Personally, I tend to prefer “underground social rap” over “mainstream clubbing rap.” But I certainly don’t hope that people will continue listening to “let’s get retarded” and “bounce, bounce, bounce” so that I can feel superior for listening to “Golpe de Estado.” (choice of a song in Spanish deliberate to make the point about feeling superior) I really, really hope that all the music I listen to would be mainstream and get listened to more. So just because the Avett Brothers have started to become known, I don’t like their music any less. I’m sure they do want to spread it, and I hope they do. This next song is about exactly that topic:

(note: yes, this is a music video, and yes it has 2 minutes before the song starts, but it’s well worth watching!)


A Slight Figure of Speech

They say “you’ve got to lose a couple fights to win”

It’s hard to tell from where I’m sitting

They say that “this is where the fun begins”

I guess it’s time that I was quitting

A slight figure of speech

I cut my chest wide open

They come and watch us bleed

Is it art like I was hoping now?

They said “I hope that you will never change”

I went and cut my hair

They say “Don’t take your business to the big time”

I bought us tickets there

A slight figure of speech

I cut my chest wide open

They come and watch us bleed

Is it art like I was hoping now?

What did you expect

And what did you forget

That to live you let go of me with each step

It becomes a progression I won’t let regret manifest

To aggression

Are you to assess what I’ve been? What I am? Or become?

Did you stop to accept how pathetically dumb

It can be to

Attack those around ’cause you’re

True to color, a town, a time, or a place?

It’s not yours, it’s not mine

And besides it is gone

And you never will find it again

But I don’t want to fight

I just ask let me be

I won’t give the chance to be my enemy

So go home

Think it through

A jet plane and a big idea

I jump over the sea

“What if”s hot on my trail

But that can’t catch me, no-o

A slight figure of speech

I cut my chest wide open

They come and watch us bleed

Is it art like I was hoping now?

/end lyrics

A really upbeat-sounding song! But dealing with some real issues. I think one thing they are clearly challenging is conventional wisdom, by offering up these figures of speech and directly rejecting them in the next line. One of the main concerns is the potential to be criticized by their own fans for 1) getting big 2) developing as musicians. The whole concept of the music video for this song is an over-the-top parody of selling out and commodification of art. They look so unhappy, as if they have been completely disconnected from their art. But I think they are claiming that they are aware of that issue, and are going to continue on developing anyway.

In the quickly spoken part, they directly address fans, challenging them on the question of what ability they have to judge others “Are you to assess what I’ve been? What I am? Or become?” I think they are suggesting that you may not know their true essence better than they do, that’s why it says “what i’ve been,” “what i am” and “become.” i think also “true to color, a town, a time or a place” is also talking about authenticity. Because the claim will be they have gone from being the “authentic them–” the version of themselves faithful to their color, town, time, place, to a new sold-out them, a version true to a cynical analysis of what the masses will consume. Then I think the lines “it’s not yours, it’s not mine, and besides it is gone, and you never will find it again” is the concept that you can never step in the same river twice. In other words, that the “authentic” is not a monolithic, unchanging quantity that can be pinned down with a simple definition. Developing *is* authentic.

Most of these points of theirs are a little bit on the philosophical side, open-ended questions designed to increase the awareness of the imagined audience, rather than provide a direct logical refutation. And so they ask at the end (“so go home think it through”) that you give what they’ve said some thought– rather than that you just admit they are right.

At the same time as they provide a pretty inspired/deep defense of their choice to popularize their music, they are also considering the other side of the argument in the refrain. Again and again they ask themselves “is it art like I was hoping now?” which I take to be questioning themselves as to whether they are making the art they intended to make out. The inclusion of “now” in this line indicates that it is in response to changing times. Also “i cut my chest wide open, they come and watch us bleed” could imply that they are partly doing something for the sake of those who will come watch. The tight link between cutting themselves and others watching indicates that they may have a conscious link between what they produce, and what people will show up for. So I think they also have some concern that the above-argued accusations could have some grounding in the truth.

All in all, however, they seem to be successful: for one this is a song which tackles some interesting issues of art, and is a success as a piece of art itself. The music video is also artful, enjoyable and successful, with the classic tv marketing slime (whose low quality skills make him kind of likable rather than revilable). So they should continue asking themselves about authenticity, but they should also not hermetically seal their music in a small country town to preserve it.

Serious and Energetic

The Avett Brothers have some nice soft songs, with a delicate beauty to the music. If you liked Murder in the City, you’d probably like this one the title track from their latest release. For me personally, I think I prefer their lively music. Maybe it’s because I saw them in a live show, and their infectious energy was one of the upsides. And when you’re standing in the SF mist/fog/rain at night, a song that makes you dance is preferred. But I like that they can tackle serious and emotional topics with upbeat songs like A Slight Figure of Speech and Tin Man (next up). In fact, the first draft of Tin Man was a very soft folk song that one of the two brothers came up with with one acoustic guitar on a drive. But when he shared it with the rest of the band, they worked on it and it evolved into a pretty energetic song, despite maintaining the same lyrics and emotional content. It’s an interesting finished product– meditating on a loss of energy in a piece which itself has a lot of energy. Is it a contradiction?


Tin Man

You can’t be like me

But be happy that you can’t

I see pain but I don’t feel it I am like the old tin man

I’m as worn as a stone

I keep it steady as I can

I see pain but I don’t feel it I am like the old tin man

I miss it

I miss it

Oh, I miss that feeling of feeling

I used to fill the sky around with happiness and joy

I had news to give the wind to keep myself and heart employed

I felt people move around me

I felt loneliness and shame

Back then every day was different now each moment is the same

I miss it

I miss it

Oh, I miss that feeling of feeling (X2)

The feeling of feeling

The wind upon my face

And caring what it brings this way

The feeling of feeling

The minutes pass away

And caring what I do with them

Maybe bring me love or something else

And so it goes a man grows cold

Some would say a man grows strong

They tell me life grows short

I say the road only grows long

But as long as there’s a road

My feet will never touch the ground

And if you won’t give my heart back I’ve no need to stick around

I miss it

I miss it

Oh, I miss that feeling of feeling (X2)

/end lyrics

Well, the concept is pretty simple, I’m pretty sure, it’s about becoming jaded and numb. But i think it’s really nicely expressed, succinct and poignant. to me, this song has a mix of: interesting topic, beauty, and upbeat. A lot of songs only have two of those three things.


One more song from among my favorites for you to check out. This song brought the house down at the live show. During the kick drum part the crowd clapped in unison. Everyone was *SO* pumped up; and even listening to the recording quietly in your own room, you probably will be too.


One short note about it: a lot of people will conclude that it’s about the thrill of young love. They’ve included some lyrics that definitely open that interpretation, and I can’t see how that is not deliberate on their parts. However, I heard them say in an interview that actually the inspiration for the song is the feeling they get at the moment when a piece of music suddenly comes together. That’s what really gets their hearts racing. There’s a common trope in song-writing where love and music are used as parallels; and I think this is a song that can fall into that category, and be given a double-interpretation.

This is an extremely positive song, that should make you want to live and want to dance!

I trust you’ll enjoy the Avett Brothers. I’ve only just begun to discover them, so if you find any other great songs, please let me know.

San Onofre — profit before safety

June 1st, 2013
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To the north of San Diego, lies the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. While it did not suffer a disaster on the level of the Fukushima plant in Japan, perhaps we can count ourselves lucky.


For a long time, a variety of “mistakes,” “accidents,” and “problems” have been known to San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. In 2008, the plant “received multiple citations over issues such as failed emergency generators, improperly wired batteries and falsified fire safety data.”


In November 2009, workers who disciplined an employee who violated regulations while handling a nuclear waste canister filed federal whistle-blower complaints alleging management retaliated against them.


A 2010 memo written by a plant engineer indicated that workers feared retaliation from management for reporting problems. The right-wing Union-Tribune newspaper noted that San Onofre workers reported safety violations “ten times more often than the industry average.” Facility operators said that the plant was safe and that they welcomed employee input.


In other words, the workers’ warning was ignored. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission signed off on operation of the plant.


November 1, 2011, an ammonia leak forced evacuation of the plant. Apparently, the leak was quickly contained.


January 31, 2012, the plant shut down. It was supposedly a “precautionary shutdown,” but speculation about a radiation leak ran rampant. The authorities denied any leak. However, the next day, February 1, 2012, a spokesman for the NRC admitted that “a small quantity” of radioactive gas leaked inside of one of the buildings at San Onofre.


In the ensuing inspection, unusual wear was found on dozens of tubes that carry radioactive water, and the plant was forced to remain shuttered until the problem was understood and fixed.


A campaign developed to keep the plant closed – permanently. Nearby residents and environmental groups did not want it back up and running. SC Edison, the operator of the plant, struggled to obtain the needed permissions to reopen. In October 2012 SC Edison requested the NRC to turn on Unit 2 operating at a limit of seventy percent power. NRC, feeling public pressure, deferred for additional study. After a lengthy PR campaign, SC Edison on April 1, 2013 again submitted a request to the NRC to turn on Unit 2 at seventy percent.


In early May 2013 a photo taken inside the San Onofre Generating Station was leaked, showing a massive leaky pipe jerry-rigged with plastic bags, masking tape, and broomsticks. SC Edison “confirms the pic does indeed show the interior of the plant, but… refused to confirm the timeline.” “The condition represented in the photograph has been identified as a minor saltwater leak at Unit 3 and poses no danger to public health and safety,” wrote NRC spokesman Victor Dricks.


May 29, 2013, Senator Barbara Boxer revealed at a press conference that her office had obtained a 2004 by SCE President Dwight Nunn to Akira Sawa of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries indicating that replacement generators were not a “like-for-like” swap with old. Yet this was the procedure by which the NRC certified their use. Boxer called for an investigation into whether the SCE staff “engaged in willful wrongdoing.”


“Edison’s strategic goal was to avoid the process of license amendment,” says a report commissioned by environmental group Friends of the Earth. “Had Edison notified the NRC that the new steam generators at San Onofre were not a like-for-like replacement, a more thorough review… would have been required.”


An NRC spokesman, however, told the Associated Press that SC Edison followed the rules and submitted all its paperwork about the generator design when it was initially up for approval.


Whether in America or Japan, capitalism – a system that incentivizes cheating on regulations and cutting corners with safety — cannot be trusted with nuclear power.