Friday, December 30, 2016

So 2016 is killing astronomers too

Vera Rubin discovers some stuff no one can actually see.

This year has involved a lot of deaths of a lot of people, which has clearly never happened before.

To be fair, we are talking some real giants, I mean we've lost Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard and probably even some others. It looks like the death toll of well-known-and-loved people from various entertainment fields will just keep growing until 12:01am, January 1, 2017 clicks over ... assuming this is in fact due to some sort of Witch's Curse and not just the natural attrition of a generation of post-WWII entertainers from the '60s, '70s and '80s passing on and becoming the repository for a collective grief over a social era being destroyed by neoliberalism while civlisation is threatened by twin horrors of climate change and the disturbing rise of the far right.

But more than just gay icon George Michael, bi--open-minded-and-questioning icon David Bowie and "all sexual preferences in the Known Universe" icon Prince who passed away. Vera Rubin, an insanely smart woman who revolutionised our entire understanding of the universe also left us. The astronomer, who discovered dark matter and died Christmas Day aged 88.

Sure 88 is not a bad age to go, but I am sure Rubin's death caused much grief for her family, friends and the POOR FUCKING JOURNALISTS tasked with WRITING ARTICLES, like AT CHRISTMAS, about DARK MATTER.

Some journalists got off easy, getting to write pieces about Carrie Fisher, filled with a variety of the sassy quotes she helpfully provided through her colourful life and with the opportunity for some cool "cinnamon bun" retro images. Or they got to write about George Michael, with the clear-cut excuse to play "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" unironically for the first time since the journo was in primary school, coz like it was "research"!

Others were tasked with explaining dark matter in short news pieces, forced to desperately try to think back to year 11 Physics and reassuring themselves they must know SOMETHING about this shit and thinking "OK let's start with matter... that is easy... matter is... SHIT what does matter mean, what does Wikipedia say? [furious typing] Right... so matter is 'everything'! Well that's easy! Everything is everywhere! And therefore dark matter is...

"What, he invisible part of everything??? WHAT THE FUCK! HOW CAN YOU BE THE INVISIBLE PART OF EVERYTHING??? Jesus... and this invisible shit no one can see or properly makes galaxies spin as fast as they do???? WHY THE FUCK COULD VERA RUBIN HAVE NOT DIED *NEXT* WEEK WHEN I'M ON FUCKING LEAVE!"

The answer seems to be basically dark matter, and for that matter dark energy and probably anything else the physics community deems"dark" (like there is a competing theory called "dark fluid" and something else called "dark flow" that no amount of re-reading its Wikipedia entry makes it make any more sense to me), exist to make mathematical equations work that wouldn't otherwise, at lest that is what I have gathered from a couple of SBS documentaries I was mostly paying attention for.

Still...  Vera Rubin seemed pretty cool.



'I'm not bragging or complaining, I'm just talking to myself man to man...' This has nothing to do astronomy, it is just I wrote an angry rant about Jacobin Magazine and Merle Haggard, which was the highlight of my year.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

There are poor-hating hypocrites and then there is Bronwyn Bishop.

Brownyn Bishop thinks dole bludgers are flying helicopters to their drug dealers, or something.

Huffington Post reports:
Former MP Bronwyn Bishop, who was forced to resign as Speaker of the House of Representatives after using taxpayer funds to take expensive helicopter rides, claims "many" people with depression are "rorting" the welfare system, and are "drug addicts".
Yes Bronwyn Bishop, whose "own abuse of the parliamentary expense system was so egregious that it spawned its own '-gate' suffix in Choppergate". Brownwyn Bishop, who:
...was forced to resign as Speaker in 2015, after she chartered a $5200 helicopter flight from Melbourne to Geelong -- which would have been a 90 minute road trip in her Commonwealth car, also paid for by the taxpayer -- for a Liberal party function ...
She also famously billed the taxpayer $88,000 for a 15-day official visit to Europe in 2015, and nearly $43,000 for an 11-day trip to Asia.
Leaving aside the surely self-evident point that Bronwyn Bishop manages to slander an entire group of people without any recourse while simultaneously stigmatising people who use and abuse intoxicants while proposing stripping them of their only source of funds in a move that probably wouldn't help them or society too much... it is worth noting Brownyn Bishop's achievement here.

This is a country with a very long tradition of politicians with six figure salaries, almost unending perks and gold-plated pensions cynically bashing welfare recipients while slashing taxes for the rich. After all, Bishop was just echoing similar comments by ex-PM and loyal backbencher Tony Abbott, who made repealing a mild tax on mining companies a centre-piece of his campaign for power.

There is nothing new about some cynical pollie going bludger-bashing with ridiculous ill-though out logic in a bid to set different sections of the working class against each other, score some cheap points and -- most importantly -- get the Murdoch press tabloids and shock jocks off their backs because if they DIDN'T say this shit, the screeching would be about THEM. It is basic self-defence for a major party politician to bash the defenceless before the right-wing media bashes them for not bashing the defenceless.

That is all to be expected, it is how our political system functions. Murdoch mags and shock jock screechers wail, and politicians join in on harmonies.

So far so "Australia Is The Greatest Country In the World Or It Would Be If Not For All the Bloody Bludgers and Bleeding Heart Pollies Wasting Our Hard Earned Tax Dollars, Christ Some Of Us Actually Work For A Living (TM)". 

No, what is impressive about Bronwyn Bishop's intervention is the hypocrisy is so insanely intense that it manages to be unavoidable. And if there is something the mainstream media of all stripes like to do, it is avoid political hypocrisy, if only because otherwise they'd talk about nothing else and there'd be no time left for the cricket scores.

It takes some extreme bullshit for the stench to be even noted. Others in her position would take their parliamentary pension and just shut the fuck up. Not Bronwyn Bishop. Fair play, I suppose.


'You tell me anyone without a job should go out and die...' Brownyn Bishop's comments are hardly new, but fucking evil enough to drive me to post a song by anarchist industrial band iNsuRge, who I haven't listened to since about 1997.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

OK 2016 wasn't great but don't panic, Tony Abbott's on a crusade to promote Western civilisation

'So the really great thing about Western civilisation up until 1955,...'
Many treat this year like it has little to commend it, and OK it is has been a bit of a bumpy ride, sure, but it is important to look at the positives. There was one development, in particular, I firmly believe history will record as of profound historic importance. A huge turning point for humanity.

I refer to the day it was announced that Tony Abbott had been appointed director of a new think tank to "promote" Western civilisation. On October 4, in a rare piece of good news, The Guardian reported:
Tony Abbott has been appointed a director of a new centre for western civilisation – a thinktank which he says aims “to promote a more widespread study and understanding of the western canon.”
If nothing else, this should end Western civilisation pretty quickly. And not before time, or we could face World War III or another season of The Farmer Wants A Wife.  Don't forget, there was no bigger "promoter" of Tony Abbott's prime ministership than Tony Abbott. Western civilisation looks as doomed as the 2014 federal budget and Prince Philip's now-retracted knighthood.

Those worrywarts concerned about a Trump presidency potentially bringing on a nuclear war... it is hard to see Western civilisation staggering on long enough for that even to be a factor. I am not sure when the former Prime Minister and onion lobbyist takes up his position, but if it is January 1, we might not even make it Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration.


There was thunder, there was lightning
Then the stars went out
And the moon fell from the sky
It rained mackerel, it rained trout
And the great day of wrath has come
And here's mud in your big red eye
And the poker's in the fire
And the locusts take the sky
Well, the earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming

Friday, December 16, 2016

2016 got you down? Fear not, in 2017 Cory Bernardi says you will 'hear more from him'

A self-described voice of common sense.
Worried after a rough 2016 that 2017 might be worse? Don't worry, this week Cory Bernardi says we can expect here more of him next year! 

The SMH reports:
He has never been among the shy and retiring elements of the Turnbull government backbench. 
But Cory Bernardi has sounded an ominous warning to his Liberal Party colleagues for 2017 - he's going "all in" to bring about the type of political change that American voters were thirsting for when they put Donald Trump in the White House.
That is what this country needs. A political offensive by an over-exposed far-right ultra conservative fundamentalist climate denier who has insisted Syrian refugees are perfectly safe in the Middle East and suggested gay marriage could lead to bestiality.

Bernardi has said some pretty offensive shit in his time, like that time he said, "Why then the levels of criminality among boys and promiscuity among girls who are brought up in single-parent families, more often than not headed by a single mother?"  But suggesting if we let gay couples marry, people might want to marry animals is surely the most offensively absurd.

Not only does it appear to equate gay sex with bestiality, it is just so out of step with modern values. Because, sure we all know a barnyard animal can show you a good time, but they just aren't marriage material! So typical of Bernardi's outdated 1950s morality. Like, it's the 21st century, we don't actually have to marry all of our one night stands! Move with the times!

Bernardi insists on his website that "common sense lives here", which may be true, but does it pay rent? I don't know what that last comment means either, but it makes as much sense as else to do with that site so fuck it, the line stays.

Really, why wouldn't we hear more of Bernardi? The far right are on the march throughout the West, so even here in the slow, backwards Australia, they feel sure this is their moment! They are taking the power back from the tyrannical elite of social workers, school teachers and Guardian subscribers who run the banks, or something.

So we all get to watch the squabbles over scraps of power between the more fundamentalist Christian far right types like Bernardi and Kevin Andrews, the "climate change is a UN globalist plot" wackos like Malcolm Roberts and the "I just don't like the coloureds" faction, headed by Pauline "We are being swamped by Asians and/or Muslims" Hanson.

All have a strong overlap in their concerns/neuroses, of course, but also their own territory of Batshit Crazy Island to protect and seek to extend.

As we slide further into Hell next year, it is nice to know our descent will be accompanied by the screeching of time travelling madhouse inmate escapees from 1951.

Anyway, here is Lily Allen because of course I'm going to post this track.


'You're just some racist who can't tie my lace, your point of view's medieval...'


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Look, for God's sake, *you* are working class, you bloody idiot!

Not actually working class: A billionaire property mogul and a private schooled City banker. 
"I was looking for a job and then I found a job and Heaven knows I'm miserable now," sung Morrissey in Manchester band The Smiths' song from the depths of Thatcher's England in the mid-80s.

I have never really heard a better description of the essential condition of the working class, forced to look for work they hate just to survive. I don't want to get all "Karl Marx" on you, but that is the basic definition of that mythical beast, The Working Class ... those that fucking work, or seek fucking work, and do so because they have no fucking choice.

Does that apply to you? Does that apply to the vast majority of people you know? Then I am sorry to be the one to break the news, but you're Working Fucking Class. Or WFC if that makes you feel any better in this age of social media-speak, hell go for a #wfclol hashtag if you want to retain your essential ironic sense of self-deprecation. You'll still have to get up far too fucking early tomorrow morning and go perform mind-numbing and possibly body destroying tasks under the direction of some prick you despise.

Does this matter? Does such a passe concept as "class" really count for much in our glorious neoliberal post-modern, post-class, post politics, post fucking a safe fucking climate for human fucking habitation world? Does it matter if most people view "working class" as some outdated trope of a white bloke in a hard hat or as some sort of sociological label determined simply by income level? As opposed to, you know... whether you work?

Yes, I think so, to judge by the endless think pieces right now on a fictional working class where everyone is white and fulfilling the stereotype thought up in the heads of some journalist who, just days ago, was certain Donald Trump would lose badly and now, having ignored class for years, is full of wisdom about a mythical Working Class that Must Be Heard.

I think it matters because, understood as "those that work", the working class is a large majority in the world, divided up, of course, across many racial, ethnic, gender and other lines.

It matters because we've been hearing so much about this great mythical Working Class beast since the Brexit vote in Britain in June. We've been hearing even more since the position of Leader of the Free World/Nation that Drone Strikes Children and Overthrows Governments for Fun and Profit, was won by the KKK-backed billionaire child rapist slumlord Donald Trump.

Many, understandably, want to know how the Hell did that freak reality TV show bigot win the White House.

Was it maybe the hollowing out of US institutions and total corruption of what little democracy that was by oceans of corporate money? Was it maybe the fact that the Democrats, in the Oval Office for the past eight years, have long pushed a brutal neoliberalism destroying livelihoods across the country, while also pursuing brutal war overseas and mass incarceration of predominantly Black people at home (a key part of their voter base), while also mass deporting Latino migrants... and in doing so totally destroying the ground on which they seek to stand?

Was it the fact that when Bernie Sanders ran an insurgent campaign for the Democrat nomination, setting it alight with calls for a "political revolution" against the "billionaire class", and received polls after polls suggesting he could easily defeat Trump while Clinton would struggle, the Democrats sabotaged his campaign and installed the ultimate establishment candidate any way?

Was it the extreme restriction of democracy in the self-proclaimed Greatest Democracy on Earth(TM)? Things like the fact that many who wanted to vote couldn't, in part coz the elections are on a working day, the Voters Rights Act to protect Black voters had been rolled back for the first time in 50 years, and there were hundreds of less polling booths in places where predominantly poor and black people vote? Was it the fact that literally millions of (again disproportionately Black) prisoners and ex-prisoners were denied the right to vote at all?

No. It was, as alleged "think" piece after alleged think piece insists, The Working Class. Somewhere, Hillary Clinton is angrily shaking her fist as terrified campaign workers cower while she shouts, "AND I WOULD HAVE GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT, TOO, IF IT WASN'T FOR THOSE DARN WORKERS!"

Don't worry about the fact that actually the evidence is Tump attracted the support of wealthier voters than Clinton (perhaps not surprising since he did promise widespread tax cuts), don't worry about his appeals to deep-seated racism and bigotry, don't worry about the fact that the Republican vote actually dropped overall compared to 2012, it is just the Democrat vote dropped even more.

Forget all of that. In some key states, some white rural workers with economic concerns voted for Trump and therefore, we must all listen to The Working Class, OK?

And don't get the liberal think pieces wrong. They don't mean this as an attack on The Working Class! God no!

Sure their version of The Working Class voted for a misogynist racist self-confessed sexual abuser, but it is only because the poor people are in such pain. We just need to listen to their pain! Don't call them racist just because they say, think, chant and vote racist. Try to understand.

Of course, at this point, it probably important to note that the working class of these think pieces has one clear characteristic that is usually openly admitted.

That it, it is white.

Yes it was the white working class, which, to go by the think pieces, is the most workering working class to ever be a class and also work! 

This, of course, is not the entire US working class. Huge chunks of working people in the US are not, actually, white and research suggests white people will be a minority of the US workforce in about 15 years.


Not a white worker.
But not only do many pieces talk about the US working class as if it is exclusively white, they describe a narrow layer of blue collar white workers.

Take this piece I've seen shared around. It's headline is "What Many People Don't Get About the US Working Class" and it was shared by Daily Kos, a pro-Democrat liberal, progressive leaning site as a "must read".

Despite a headline suggesting it is about the "US" working class, it explicitly about, and only about, a narrow sector of workers — a layer of blue collar white workers who, as the post spells out, support a right-wing agenda, such as resenting and opposing those poorer than them receiving government assistance.

And what does the Daily Kos, a website associated closely with the Democrats, conclude?
Must read Harvard Business Review article for all of us as we reflect and regroup. We don’t have to pander to any racism but we still need to retain enough of the white working class vote in MI, PA and WI for 2020 with a message of economic populism even as we wait for the demographics to turn. 
Well that is real caring for The Working Class right there!  Send a "message" of "populism" to a sector you clearly don't understand and seem to despise while you "wait for the demographics to turn"!

Really I have no idea how such people failed to defeat Trump.

Forget Black people robbed of the right to vote! Forget the poor who found voting near impossible or just couldn't bring themselves to vote for either candidate who hates their guts, forget the fucking millions of Latino migrants who grow the fucking food and clean the fucking homes and face mass fucking deportation (and not just from Trump but from Obama first)...

The Key Sector is the White Working Class. And the White Working Class backed Trump because... well because it seems to suit people to imagine they did even when the statistics say that wasn't who voted Trump.

And I see this shit about the "need to listen to the working class" being shared on social media by people who a) don't support Trump in the slightest and b) are themselves working class.

Now that is self-hatred for you. Left-wing working class people pushing the idea that the working class, as a collective, is right wing. The working class is forever presented as some sort of "Other", mysterious, romantic, hard-to-pin-down... as opposed to what it is — that is, those who work.

So was Brexit and Trump's win a "revolt" of the working class?

Yes, in Brexit, many working class people voted for Brexit. Many working class people also voted to stay in the EU too. In the stay camp was the large majority of people who identified as Black, as Asian and/or as Muslim — who are overwhelmingly working class — and most Scottish and northern Irish people.

So if you want to talk about the "working class revolt" in Brexit and ignore Black, Asian, Muslim, Scottish and Irish workers within the British state.... then... well the polite way to put it is you are not really helping combat racism exactly.

And in Trump's win...  we are told, endlessly, we need to listen to Trump supporters. Never mind that actually the vast majority of American people did not vote Trump and he won with about 25% of registered voters.

The problem with presenting The Working Class as that narrow layer of white blue collar workers who joined the largely middle class voting base for Trump is it ignores a key challenge facing the actual working class. Which is how, when so stratified by race, ethnicity, gender and more, to actually unite to pose a challenge to all of our enemies in the corporate elite?

Because Trump's appeal is to small-minded privilege, for white people to blame those weaker, for men to keep their power over women in their lives, and to see the "Swamp" in Washington in these terms — those whose "political correctness" hands over the narrow, petty privileges of white people, of men, of straight people, of "proper Americans" over the fucking usurpers of every minority that wants to get the fucking boot off their necks.

We hear repeatedly that "We need to listen to Trump supporters", but the people who say that clearly don't. I mean have a fucking listen! It is not like they are quiet! These bastards SHOUT their views and concerns at the any opportunity!

As  wise man once said (ie me in my Green Left Weekly column last week):
When Trump supporters chanted “We don’t like Muslims, we don’t like Blacks, we want our country back”, it is unlikely this was code for “we need to be more concerned about the impacts of pro-corporate trade deals on our nation’s manufacturing industry and its flow-on effect to a drastically weakened working and middle class”.
It is likely they meant they don’t like Muslims and they don’t like Blacks.
And when Trump supporters at Sydney University responded to Trump’s win by chanting “grab them by the pussy, that’s how we do it!”, it is unlikely they meant “What Australian politics needs is a genuine outsider to take on a corrupt, out of touch political class and reverse the neoliberal economic policies causing a serious decline in living standards”.
It is likely they meant they like sexually assaulting women.
 Plus there is this tweet, which says the same thing in much less words:


If you want an actual working class revolt in the United States... well I can think of two right now that are worth actually listening to... and these revolts are completely against the interests and policies of BOTH Trumpite Republicans and Clintonite Democrats.

On May 1 2006, more than 1 million largely Latino migrant workers staged mass walk-outs in protests for amnesty for undocumented migrants and and end to deportations. They shut the country down.

More workers who aren't white.

As Green Left Weekly said at the time:
According to combined police estimates, 1.1 million immigrant workers and their supporters marched in more than 75 major cities across the US on May 1 ...Over and above those who marched were hundreds of thousands more who boycotted shopping and skipped school or work ...

One of the goals of the actions was to demonstrate the impact of a "day without immigrants". This goal was surely met. School attendance in cities with large concentrations of immigrants was way down. The New York Times reported that "stores and restaurants in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York closed because workers did not show up or as a display of solidarity with demonstrators". In one area of Chicago, only 17% of students showed up. There were TV pictures of empty supermarkets usually patronised by immigrants.
 
In California's Central Valley, where much of the country's produce is grown, no farm workers came to work. TV showed eerie shots of vacant fields. Much of the construction industry was shut down across the country. Major meat-packing companies, including Tyson Foods, Swift and Perdue chickens, shut down many plants because their immigrant workers didn't show up. The largest port on the west coast, in Long Beach, California, was shut down, because the truck drivers were nowhere to be seen. 
Vast swaths of service industries — hotels, restaurants, car washes, and so forth — were affected. Nannies took a day off. Workers who couldn't take the day off went to rallies after work ... 
I might go out on a limb and suggest this is what a working class revolt against an out-of-touch establishment looks like. But there is a second, more recent, example. CNN reported on October 31 on a mass strike by US inmates, who do large amounts of forced labour for very low pay, producing key goods for various authorities and companies:

Last month, on the 45th anniversary of the infamous Attica Prison uprising, tens of thousands of US inmates launched a nationwide protest that continues today, according to advocates who helped organize the effort.
The inmates' grievances are as varied as the states they came from: Pennies for labor in South Carolina, racial discrimination in California, excessive force in Michigan. However, they share an overarching goal: End legalized slavery inside American correctional facilities...  the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, while banning slavery, allows prisoners to work for little to no pay, in what inmate advocates say crosses the limits of human decency, amounting to modern-day servitude ... 
Since September 9, the Incarcerated Workers' Organizing Committee, a prisoner rights advocacy group, estimates as many as 50,000 inmates have taken part in coordinated strikes planned through social media on cell phones and snail mail across nearly two-dozen states ...

OMG,  more non-white workers? But then who do we listen to???

Don't forget that those carrying out these working class revolts generally can't vote (as prisoners or undocumented migrants). Yet, hand-wringing liberal media responses to the rise of right-populism notwithstanding, they form part of the working class you might want to consider listening to.

This all matters because working people have some real power. But not if you invent a fictional working class, based on a narrow layer of some white workers, because it fits some strange narrative you are trying to present. Consider that actually, the actual working class, the one capable imposing its will  for progressive change, includes you.

Here are two songs about the working class I really like. The first is those working class Welsh rockers and socialists, the Manic Street Preachers, with their track about working class culture and defiance (which went to number 2 int he UK charts in 1996). the second Latino hip hop duo from the Bronx, Rebel Diaz, re-interrupting the classic working class anthem "Which Side Are You On", written in the 1930s in support of a US coal miners strike, for the 21st Century.



Libraries gave us power
Then work came and made us free
What price now for a shallow piece of dignity
I wish I had a bottle
Right here in my dirty face to wear the scars
To show from where I came
We don't talk about love we only want to get drunk
And we are not allowed to spend
As we are told that this is the end
A design for life


Making money for suckers and our communities poor
Ripping flags off of coffins, man, this ain't our war
Colonized and terrorized by the world's biggest killers
The US government, the biggest weapon and drug dealers
Filling prisons with children, incarcerating the future
Myspace and Facebook got us stuck on computers
Stuck on stupid bumping music that's abusive to the shorties
And the nonsense that you spitting, they just listen and absorb it
I've been dormant, I've awoken, I'm a giant, I'm ready
I'm with the APPO in Oaxaca and we holding machetes


Monday, November 14, 2016

ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit'sworldwouldfallapart

This Manic Street Preachers song from 1994 is pretty much just true. The same applies to Australia.



Images of perfection, suntan and napalm
Grenada, Haiti, Poland, Nicaragua
Who shall we choose for our morality?
I'm thinking right now of Hollywood tragedy

Big Mac, smack, Phoenix R, please smile y'all
Cuba, Mexico can't cauterize our discipline
Your idols speak so much of the abyss
Yet your morals only run as deep as the surface

Cool, groovy, morning fine
Tipper Gore was a friend of mine
I love our free country
The stars and stripes and an apple for Mommy

Conservative say, there ain't no black in the Union Jack
Democrat say, there ain't enough white in the Stars and Stripes

Compton, Harlem, a pimp fucked a priest
The white man has just found a new moral savior
Vital stats, how white was their skin?
Unimportant, just another inner city drive-by thing

Morning fine, serve your first coffee of the day
Real privilege, it will take your problems all away
Number one, the best, no excuse from me
I am here to serve the moral majority

Cool, groovy, morning fine
Tipper Gore was a friend of mine
I love our free country
The stars and stripes and an apple for Mommy

Zapruder, the first to masturbate
The world's first taste of crucified grace
And we say, there's not enough black in the Union Jack
And we say, there's too much white in the Stars and Stripes

Fuck the Brady Bill
Fuck the Brady Bill
If God made man they say
Sam Colt made them equal

Saturday, November 12, 2016

'All the news is bad, is there any other kind? And everybody's talking at the same time...'

I think I might just leave this here.





Get a job, save your money, listen to Jane
Everybody knows umbrellas will cost more in the rain
All the news is bad
Is there any other kind?
Everybody's talking at the same time


Well it's hard times for some
For others it's sweet
Someone makes money when there's blood in the street
Don't take any lip
Stay in line
Everybody's talking at the same time


Well the dog is in the kitchen
And the war drags on
The trees wait by the freeway
All the moneys all gone
Well she told me she would leave me
I ignored all the signs
And now everybody's talking at the same time
Everybody's talking at the same time


Ain't no one coming to pull you from the mud
You gotta build your nest high enough to ride out the flood
I know you're leaving and there's no more next time
Everybody's talking at the same time


A tiny boy sat and he played in the sand
He made a sword from a stick
And a gun from his hand
Well we bailed out all the millionaires
They've got the fruit
We've got the rind
And everybody's talking at the same time

Everybody's talking at the same time

Friday, November 11, 2016

'Everybody knows the fight was fixed, the poor stays poor, the rich get rich...'


The way this year is shaping up, I am not sure there will actually anyone left alive soon — and with Trump in the White House, I am not just talking about the seemingly endless parade of musicians dropping off. Leonard Cohen is the latest at the decent age of 82.

And while Cohen's crimes included supporting the terrorist state of Israel and writing a song ("Hallelujah") that subjected humanity to an even greater amount of horrific cover versions by dodgy pub acts and buskers than even "Wonderwall", it has to be said "Everybody Knows", from 1998's I'm Your Man, is a disturbingly accurate song for our times...




Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you've been faithful
Ah, give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you've been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

And everybody knows that it's now or never
Everybody knows that it's me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah, when you've done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old Black Joe's still pickin' cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it's moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you're in trouble
Everybody knows what you've been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it's coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Thursday, November 10, 2016

'To hell with you're double standards, we're coming rougher every time'.



President-elect Donald Trump can talk all he wants about walls and send armed thugs in uniform to deepen the terrorisation of immigrants in the United States. But it is unlikely you can stop people who are determined to win what little freedom and safety this fucked up world has to offer.

For that matter, that smug suited prick Malcolm Turnbull should consider this too.


Immigrada, Immigraniada
Immigrada, Immigraniada da da
Immigrada, Immigraniada
We coming rougher everytime
In corridors full of tear gas
Our destinies change every day
Like deleted scenes from Kafka
Flushed down the bureaucratic drain
But if you give me the invitation
To hear the bells of freedom chime
To hell with your double standard
We comin' rougher every time
We coming rougher, we coming rougher
We coming rougher everytime
(Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey)
We coming rougher every time

Immigrada, Immigraniada
Immigrada, Immigraniada da da
Immigrada, Immigraniada
We comin' rougher everytime
And those who made it and quickly jaded
To them we got nothing to say
Immigrada, Immigraniada
For them Don Quixote kind of way
But if you give me the invitation
To hear the bells of freedom chime
To hell with your double standard
We comin' rougher every time
We coming rougher, we coming rougher
We coming rougher everytime
(Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey)
We comin' rougher every time
Immigrada, Immigraniada
Immigrada, Immigraniada da da
Immigrada, Immigraniada
We coming rougher everytime
Frozen eyes, sweaty back
My family's living on the railroad track
All my life I back in black
But man, I got to earn this black
I gotta pay representation
To be accepted in a nation
Where after efforts of a hero
All comes start again from zero
It's a book of a true stories
True stories that can't be denied
It's more than true, it actually happened
It's more than true, it actually happened
It's more than true, it actually happened
We comin' rougher every time
Rougher every time
We comin' rougher every time
We coming rougher, we coming rougher
We coming rougher everytime
(Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey)
We coming rougher every time
Immigrada, Immigraniada
Immigrada, Immigraniada da da
Immigrada, Immigraniada
We comin' rougher everytime

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Political scum, political scum! You lead the way and you beat the drum...

In the Land Of The Free (TM). a vote is about to happen. Like the rest of the world, multiple alien civilisations are no doubt watching, looking down on us and watching the result closely to see if there is any point invading. 

The short answer is: probably not. At least, if Clinton wins, not unless you can muster the invasion force within the for years or so before the inevitable nuclear war with Russia and/or eco-holocaust renders the planet simply not worth occupying. If Trump wins... well, no one need bother travelling galaxies with a bid to harvest our brains, they will have all melted in horror, even ignoring the near-inevitable nuclear war even sooner

A wise man (ie me)  once said of these elections that it was a battle "to determine who gets to order new crimes against humanity, in which one candidate is a far-right, racist, woman-hating, tax-avoiding failed property mogul, reality TV star and serial sex offender, and the other is, by all available evidence, a robot built by Goldman Sachs".

As a less wise man (ie not me, but unAustralian writer Peter Green at The unAustralian) summed it up in an unOz piece headline: "America Prepares To Vote For Which Type Of Chaos To Descend Into"
But  ultimate, chicago-based Celtic punk veterans The Tossers say just about what needs to be said in this little ditty below:


Well over the sea, and far away,
Our kids die in deserts, they been sent that way,
To guard oil rigs where the head cutters reign,
And blow them away without any refrain
Well why are we here? It’s thinning us out,
To see our life’s work in your constituents clout,
Is your exclusion of dissidence masking your guilt?
Do you want to be dissident in the world that you’ve built?

Political scum! Political scum!
You lead the way, you beat the drum
Political scum, Political scum!
Sacrificing your own while their under your thumb

When broke powerless people grab any power they can get
Dominance over women, racism and threats
We’ll be loosing media jobs and you make us your pet
Reconsidering this weakness and the promise he forgets
Do you really believe in the stories you tell?
How Christ turned his cheek or came down from the hill
Will you profiteer or ransack with the soldiers you kill,
Are you upward bound or will you burn in hell?!

Political scum! Political scum!
You lead the way, you beat the drum
Political scum, Political scum!
Sacrificing your own while their under your thumb...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Remembering Guy Clark: 'I believe everything you're saying, just keep on, keep on playing...'

Guy Clark with songwriter and wife Susanna.

Guy Clark, the godfather of an incredibly creative Texas music scene who died on May 17 aged 74, is described, at his official website as a "master songwriter".

There are few who could make such a claim without it jarring as an unseemly boast. But there's no empty boast or inflated ego here. It is simply an accurate description of Guy Clark, who built a stronger bridge than anyone else between country music and poetry.

To mention "poetry" suggests pretensions, but there is zero pretense to a Guy Clark song. They are stripped back, recorded simply and featuring lyrics filled with straight-forward yet vivid images. I hear a Guy Cark song and I can see every bit.

Clark sings his most famous song, "Desperados Waiting for a Train", and I can see the scenes clearly. The old men in the Green Frog Cafe with beer and dominoes; the kid hanging off the old driller (a real character from Clark's life), absorbing everything he sees, driving the elder's car while the drunken man slumps in the passenger seat; and the bemused sadness and nostalgia taking over the fully grown Clark as he watches his hero disappear irretrievably into the black hole of old age.

He sings "The Randall Knife", a story about his father told through his relationship with a famous brand of knife, and I see the knife. I see Guy Clark as a boy managing to snap off half an inch off the prized possession when, in his youthful incompetence, he tries to "stick it in a tree". And I see the adult Clark, opening the bottom draw in his dead father's study, taking out the knife from where it has long sat, being overwhelmed by tears.

That song is as good as an example as any of Guy Clark's mastery of the form. It is filled with sentiment, yet never becomes soppy, or even damp, with sentimentality. It is like Clark's songs were carved from granite and he delivered them with the dirt still on.

Legendary Texas country singer Ray Wylie Hubbard noted of Clark:

"LA Freeway and Desperados – they were like [Sam] Peckinpah movies, they were that powerful. Then he had this ability too to write these incredible love songs that were just so simple in what they said. And turn around and write Dublin Blues that would make you cry."

The simplicity and directness of Clark's songs is not accidental. He crafted them with care and everything extraneous was cut off or filed away, until all that is left is all needed to tell a heart-rending story with a well-packed punch. The result is a collection of songs that, each of them, sound like a picture of the sun setting on a lone tree in the Texas outback that has survived a century of battering storms.

Friend and fellow country singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell said:

Guy Clark was the best self-editor I've ever come across. He had lines that other songwriters could hang a career on, but Guy would throw them out if they didn't fit the narrative. That was the technical part of his skill as a writer.

To consider how consistently great Guy Clark was, his final album (2013's Pictures of You) is of the same quality as his debut, (1975's Old No. 1). If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, implying he hadn't developed over his career, then you clearly haven't heard the debut.

Few debuts can have contained so many classics -- "Desperados", "LA Freeway", "Old Time Feeling", "Anyhow I love You", "Let Him Roll"... Not even Tom Waits, who can make the rare claim to being a better storytelling songwriter than Guy Clark, had a debut of the same calibre. It took Waits probably four albums (until to 1976's Small Change) before he developed from "promising" to "brilliant". Clark's first album was already there.

On "Let Him Roll", Clark sings a chorus in which a wino declares that "Heaven was just a Dallas whore" -- and manages to make the listener feel genuine empathy for the characters, the alcoholic and aforementioned sex worker both. Not for nothing does discussing Clark bring to mind Tom Waits (whom Clark pays tribute to in the bitingly ironic "Cold Dog Soup").

A perfect measure of the quality of Clark's early music is the fact that Johnny Cash covered two songs from his debut ("Let Him Roll" and, with the Highwaymen, "Desperados") -- and then covered a third from his second album. Cash covered many songs from many artists, but I doubt too many could claim such a hit rate with their initial recordings.

It is hard to talk about Clark without raising his late friend and fellow Texas country singer Townes Van Zandt, who died in 1997 aged 52. Hubbard notes:

Guy and Townes – that was the level that everybody aspired to. I don’t think anyone reached that level of writing that the two of them did. But if your heart was in the right place, you would aspire to that caliber of writing.

It can be frustrating to consider the relative obscurity Clark enjoys; in his field he is a giant, but outside is little known, except perhaps some who may have heard "Desperados" at some point. From Sydney, Australia, where there seems an ingrained hostility to country music unless you can package it up in some cool label like "alt.country" or "Americana", that obscurity can seem overwhelming.

Van Zandt, on the other hand, although hardly a household name, has a cult following Clark never developed outside his own genre. Partly, this might be explained by the "doomed romantic" side to Van Zandt -- the genius poet who drank himself to death (unlikely to have felt very romantic to anyone who knew him).

Clark, no stranger to some heavy drinking (just look at the boozy scenes in the great 1976 documentary about the Texas country music documentary Heartworn Highways), was far less a "burn bright and burn out" character.

But partly Van Zandt's cult comes not from myth, but the very real spark of genius that seems to enliven his songs. Clark, on the other hand, was much more the hardworking craftsman. He fashioned songs like a master carpenter fashions a beautiful-yet-functional chest of draws. They last.

Clark was a giant in the history of Texas music and country music more generally -- both for his own music and his role as mentor to more than one generation of up-and-coming songwriters. Clark was a huge source of direct inspiration to a whole generation of songwriters in Texas and Nashville and beyond. You can see his status as the head of a rambling troupe of younger performers in Heartworn Highways (including a young Steve Earle and the aforementioned Crowell).

For instance, one successful country singers (and I reject bullshit labels like "roots music" or "Americana", which are just ways to try to make country music sound cooler to ignorant dickheads who think "country" means OTT country pop singers with stupid cowboy hats leading line dances, as opposed to one of the most vivid and alive forms of folk music) Gillian Welch wrote on Facebook after Clark's death:

Guy was one of my most vocal, and inebriated, supporters when I moved to Nashville. He used to recite my lyrics aloud at dinner parties and barrooms to people who said they had never heard of me. He took Dave and I out on the road with him for our first tour through Texas, where I learned more than I could ever say. I could never thank him enough for his support and his artistry ... 

As his official website noted when he died:

For more than 40 years, the Clark home was a gathering place for songwriters, folk singers, artists and misfits; many who sat at the feet of the master songwriter in his element, willing Guy’s essence into their own pen. Throughout his long and extraordinary career, Guy Clark blazed a trail for original and groundbreaking artists and troubadours.

When I hear the likes of Guy Clark -- when I hear his song about a woman's dash for freedom in "She Aint Goin' Nowhere", for instance, filled with poetic humanism -- I always think that letting this world be destroyed by corporate greed is too insane for words. Who could let a world that produced such beauty be killed off.

I made a playlist of 21 songs by Clark, but below that is a handful of songs of other artists covering Guy Clark (or in the case of Hayes Carll, singing a song he co-wrote with Clark).

But most likely if you are not already a Guy Clark fan, you aren't going to listen to most of these, if any. So if you want one Guy Clark song that best captures his simple, heartrending poetry, then go for the song Guy Clark calls, in the clip below, his own "favourite song". When you listen to it, consider how, like New South Wales where I live, the government is cutting women's refuges.




'She had a way of her own, like prisoners have a way with a file...'









'That old time feeling goes sneaking down the hall...'





'I wish I had a dime for every bad time, but the bad times always seem to keep the change...'





'And I'd rather die young than to live without you. I'd rather go hungry than eat lonesome stew...'





'There aint no money in poetry, that's what keeps the poet free. I've had all the freedom I can stand...'





'How dark is it? It's so dark the wind gets lost...'




'One man's angel is another man's ghost'




'And everything's forgiven that did not wash away ...'

Not a cover but a song that the brilliant contemporary Texas country singer-songwriter Hayes Carll co-wrote with Clark for Carll's 2005 album, Little Rock. Carll was just one of many beneficiaries of Clark's mentorship and collaboration.





'To me, he was one of the heroes of this country...' 

Well, Johnny, Willie, Waylon and Kris know a classic song when they hear one. There is not much that can be said when they cover you.




Friday, May 20, 2016

Another beautiful day in Sydney! Enjoy it! While you still can!



'Well the Earth died screaming, while I lay dreaming...'


http://www.smh.com.au/environment/weather/scorching-start-to-autumn-smashed-national-heat-records-bureau-of-meteorology-says-20160312-gnha5q.html

https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/climate-records-smashed-during-mad-march

https://bze.org.au/zero-carbon-australia-2020

https://socialist-alliance.org/policy/environment-climate-change/climate-change-charter




'What does it matter, a dream of love or a dream of lies ... we're chained to this world and we all gotta pull.'

'Has every well I've drilled run dry?' Life made into poetry


I think the most frightening thing about Guy Clark, probably the very greatest of the very fertile Texas songwriter scene who died after a long illness at 74 on Tuesday, is his songs were generally true stories. The real world is not meant to be such pure poetry. This one was about his grandmother's boyfriend named Jack Prigg.
Desperados Waiting For A Train

I'd play the Red River Valley
And he'd sit out in the kitchen and cry
And run his fingers through seventy years of livin'
And wonder, "Lord, has ever' well I've drilled run dry?"
 
We were friends, me and this old man
Like desperados waitin' for a train
Like desperados waitin' for a train
 
He's a drifter and a driller of oil wells
And an old school man of the world
He let me drive his car
When he's too drunk to

And he'd wink and give me money for the girls
And our lives were like some old western movie
Like desperados waitin' for a train
Like desperados waitin' for a train
 
From the time that I could walk he'd take me with him
To a bar called the Green Frog Cafe
There were old men with beer guts and dominos
Lying 'bout their lives while they'd played
 
And I was just a kid
But they all called him "Sidekick"
Like desperados waitin' for a train
Like desperados waitin' for a train
 
One day I looked up and he's pushin' eighty
And there's brown tobacco stains all down his chin
To me he's one of the heroes of this country
So why's he all dressed up like them old men
 
Drinkin' beer and playin' Moon and Forty-two
Like a desperado waitin' for a train
Like a desperado waitin' for a train
 
A day before he died, I went to see him
I was grown and he was almost gone
So we just closed our eyes and dreamed us up a kitchen
And sang another verse to that old song
"Come on, Jack, that son of a guns are comin' "
 
Like desperados waitin' for a train



'To me, he was one of the heoros of this country...' Johnny, Willie, Waylon and Kris know a classic song when they hear one.

Friday, May 06, 2016

An Open Letter To Jacobin Magazine On The Matter Of Merle Haggard: Please just shut the fuck up before you embarrass the Left any further


"Merle Haggard meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people but to me he was THE songwriter of California. Not the California of Malibu, Silicon Valley or Beverly Hills but the California of Highway 99, migrant workers and the struggle to survive in the promised land. All the political ambiguity and one dimensional stereotypes aside, Mr Haggard was one of the giants of modern American Music."
So said Dave Alvin, from roots rock/rockabillly band The Blasters, on Merle Haggard, who died on April 6.

For his part, Tom Waits, not just one of the greatest songwriters but one of the best writers in any form in modern America, noted about Haggard:
"He takes the lives of common folk who we had all stopped seeing and put them in songs and gave them a voice, and kept them alive ... their particular poetry can only be born out of hard times lived through and then remembered."
You might think that any self-respecting left-wing magazine seeking to speak about -- if not give voice to -- the downtrodden might actually try to capture some of these points in any piece they ran on Haggard and what he represented.

In the case of US radical publication Jacobin you would be very wrong. So wrong, I wrote the bastards a letter. Bizarrely, it got no response, so I will include it below -- edited to increase the degree of spite and hatred I feel, as there is no point being polite now...

***

Dear Jacobin Magazine,

As you are know, Merle Haggard, a giant of American country music, died on April 6. You decided, God only fucking knows why, to run a hostile, distorted and factually wrong article on this man who was a huge part of American popular culture (in quite contradictory ways).

Haggard's influence was massive, not just on country music but far wider. He was beloved by huge numbers of people, deeply respected by other artists across the popular music spectrum for his groundbreaking contributions, and he gave dignity and voice to some of the lowest of the low in our society -- prisoners.



How do you, as a respected left publication, respond? You publish one of the worst, most distorted hit pieces, combined with the most disgustingly staid, dogmatic Stalinist attitude to popular culture I have ever fucking read.

Honestly, "Merle's America", by Jonah Walters, comes across as absurd, outdated, should-never-be-heard-from-again Stalinist socialist realism.

I mean, if your thing is whinging that Haggard's songs about working people were not about them struggling for their "liberation", then just be fucking done with it and go buy the entire fucking back catalogue of that paradigm of pointlessness that is dull folk singers with acoustic guitars who sing of nothing else. (And no, in the interests of public health and safety I won't link to any such song, I will just note that whatever you think of another very contradictory singer, ex-Smiths frontman Morrissey, he did have a point when he sung: "I used to think if you had an acoustic guitar, it meant that you were a protest singer/Oh I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible".)

The insulting piece's factual errors or omissions are so many -- and significant -- as to question how the author felt he could write on this topic. Jonah Walters appears so ignorant as to be unaware of how ignorant he is.

Haggard was a contradictory figure with a shifting relationship to, and attitude towards, society -- one that evolved well beyond the two key songs the author highlights to prove he was just a reactionary (a redneck in the 60s, a Nixonite in the 70s, a Reaganite in the 80s, apparently...all actual evidence to the contrary conveniently ignored.)

Walters' picture just isn't true -- as a simple investigation of the commonly known facts shows, such as that provided by this blog post.

Walters notes Haggard's impoverished background as a child of "Okie" refugees -- the impoverished people who fled the Dust Bowl poverty during the great Depression and lived in terrible conditions in labour camps in places such as Bakersfield, California.

Haggard, like Buck Owens, became a major proponent of the "Bakersfield sound" in the 1960s -- a type of country music that was much rawer, harder-edged and less polished than the commercial country sound pushed by the Nashville establishment. It was a sound developed in Bakersfield's working-class bars.

Yet Walters managed to mention this only in passing -- as he does the decisive years Haggard spent as a young man in prison, serving a term for armed robbery.

Haggard first saw Johnny Cash while jailed in San Quentin in the early '60s, a gig that changed his life and convinced he could and should make a career in music. (Cash's prison shows have always struck me as a truly radical act -- to go to San Quentin and sing directly to the prisoners songs like "San Quentin" in which he condemns the prison and, to cheering crowds of San Quentin's victims, sings: "San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell/May your walls fall and may I live to tell".)

Walters fails to mention Haggard's multiple prison songs despite this being absolutely central to his life and his early music career.

Haggard wrote many songs about prison and its impacts. The article states that Haggard's two breakthrough hits were the right-wing "Okie" and "Fighting Side of Me", but actually he had already had a string of number one hits before then, and several were quite humanist prison songs.

The best example is "Sing Me Back Home" --  a major song the author misses entirely. It was released by Haggard in 1967, two year before "Okie". It was a number one hit in the country charts.

It is a true story from Haggard's time in San Quentin, involving the death penalty. There was a prisoner (known as "Rabbit") that Haggard knew who planned an escape and asked Haggard to join him. Haggard decided not to, Rabbit escaped and, after two weeks on the run, was captured again -- but not before he had killed a state trooper, for which he was sentenced to death.

The song is about the prisoners, including Haggard, watching him being lead out to be murdered by the state -- an event that deeply affected the future country star.

Haggard said: "Even though the crime was brutal and the guy was an incorrigible criminal, it's a feeling you never forget when you see someone you know make that last walk. They bring him through the yard, and there's a guard in front and a guard behind — that's how you know a death prisoner.

"They brought Rabbit out ... taking him to see the Father ... prior to his execution. That was a strong picture that was left in my mind."

The song, while not explicitly political, is profoundly moving and deeply humanist. If you can watch Haggard singing it without being moved in the general direction of tears then... I don't know if I can trust you as a human being, you apparent fucking psychopath.


'I stood up to say goodbye like all the rest...' WHAT A FUCKING REACTIONARY ARSEHOLE!

The truth of Haggard is he was neither a progressive saint nor reactionary devil -- but a contradictory human being who was a product of his circumstances and times in a constantly shifting fashion.

And what he was is so far from the piece in Jacobin as to be ridiculous. The piece, for instance, bizarrely states: "The America Merle Haggard sang about was an ugly, indefensible place ... where history and politics remained untroubled by the presence of non-whites. "

Clearly the author knows nothing of Haggard's anti-racist songs. He must have no idea that Haggard wanted the B-side to his anti-hippie hit "Okie from Muskogee" to be "Irma Jackson" -- a song about inter-racial marriage at at time when it was still a hot issue in the South and among Haggard's fans who took him at face value over "Okie".

His record company overruled him on the understandable grounds it would upset his new, redneck, fan base. Haggard spent the next three years fighting to get the song released -- he finally won, and, of course, upset his right-wing fan base.

Wikipedia records: "According to American Songwriter, 'some conservatives who had flocked to 'Okie' were shocked by 'Irma Jackson', Haggard's pro-tolerance take on interracial romance', but Haggard was 'unfazed' by this."

But I mean who gives a fuck for such minor trivialities of an artist going to war with their record company for the right to release an anti-racist song at the time the country was on fire with huge struggles over racism, when his own fans tend to be based among the still-solidly racist sectors.

Obviously not worth mentioning. That just gets in the way of a fucking false, fake, bullshit projection of an artist that fits nothing more than the author's own prejudices, which he is clearly happy with coz he bothered to do zero research before spitting on the grave of a giant of popular music beloved by millions!

That is how Jacobin thinks the left should do popular culture is it? GOD FUCKING HELP US.

Haggard released other anti-racist songs, including a song in the late 70s called "The Immigrant" that was entirely pro-immigrant and hostile to racist attacks on them. Pointing out it is the "illegal" migrant labour that keeps the US economy going, Haggard tells the migrants: "Viva La Mexico, go where they let you go/And do what you can for the land."

He continues a bit later about the gall of the "gringo" complaining about migrants when "he stole this land from the Indian way back when..."

Yeah. What a racist piece of shit that Haggard was with his world vision "where history and politics remained untroubled by the presence of non-whites". Jonah Walters...

Walters highlights two songs of Haggard's -- songs that are undeniably right-wing and were hits in the late 60s -- "Okie" and "The Fighting Side of Me". The songs were aimed at anti-war protesters -- hippies especially.

"Okie" was clearly a joke that got taken far more seriously than Haggard intended -- though his comments over the years about how much he supported its message are contradictory. "Fighting Side" was a deliberate attempt to cash in on the popularity among rednecks for "Okie".

"Fighting Side" is unambiguously right-wing and actually threatens violence against those who "run down" the country Haggard loudly insists he loves. But Walters piece over-reaches itself when it tries to blame "Fighting Side" for contemporary country right-wing "patriot" Toby Keith's pro-war songs around time of the Iraq War.

In what is becoming something of a big fucking trend, Walters somehow fails to mention that at the same time as Keith was releasing his right-wing pro-war nonsense in the aftermath of 9/11, Haggard -- having moved a long way from the days of "Okie" -- was releasing songs against the Iraq War.

And actually, as terrible as the politics of "The Fighting Side of Me" are, it is nothing compared to how bad Toby Keith's song "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue" is, because not only is "Fighting Side" a better song musically, it contains a clear crack, a clear point at which, for all its bluster, the singer gives a sign of ... God forbid ... contradiction. This is when Haggard sings:
"An' I don't mind 'em switchin' sides,An' standin' up for things they believe in."
You cannot imagine Toby Keith singing anything like that. Singing that he didn't "mind" anti-war protesters post 9/11 supporting the other side. Admitting they were "fighting for what they believe in".

Haggard's song is clearly hostile to anti-war protesters from a jingoistic perspective, yet is also not "pro-war" in the way Keith is when the 21st century country star sings: "we'll put a boot in your arse, it's the American way".

As objectionable as the politics of "Fighting Side" are, there is more going on here, with contradictions clearly working within Haggard that are absent in the mindless patriotism of Toby Keith.

To note this is not in any way to defend what was Haggard's most right-wing song -- which threatened violence to anti-war demonstrators. It is just to note the fact that Haggard was always more than, and better than, the politics of that song, and that the song itself contains the hints.

Haggard's songs like "Okie" and "Fighting Side" have to be understood in a certain context. "Okie" was a joke song that took off in an unexpected way. Haggard cashed in with "Fighting Side", but he was already trying to undercut his association with the Nixonite "Silent Majority" with songs like "Irma Jackson".

That is not to say Haggard disagreed with what he sung, just that he also wasn't a hardened reactionary either. His attitude appeared to be something along the lines of a contradictory "well a man has got to eat" -- cashing in while seeking to move to undercut being stuck in that corner. He tried to exploit the "silent majority" label and rebel against it simultaneously.

So, Haggard's political consciousness was contradictory. Was one Jonah Walters born with some sort of pure consciousness? Or, like everyone else, is his consciousness a moving thing?

If Walters has said things over his life that he would not, right now, wish to be held to, he probably won't be, as no one knows about them. Haggard, however, put his sentiments in songs that became hit singles, so he could never escape association with those views. This is despite the fact Haggard later described a song like "Okie" as a "documentation of the uneducated that lived in America at the time" (and he meant himself as much as anyone).

Walters makes the even more bizarre accusation that Haggard was a "hypocrite" or "maybe just confused" because he sung a line in "Okie" against marijuana, but later became a daily pot smoker and proud advocate for the drug. (The last film clip Haggard appeared in was the pro-marijuana song "It's All Going To Pot" with Willie Nelson, the video for which features the elderly Willie and Merle sharing joints.)



Maybe there is a different explanation than "hypocrisy". Maybe Haggard's views did not stand still. Maybe Haggard wrote a line against marijuana when he didn't know any better (which is Haggard's own explanation), and later had a totally different attitude towards the drug -- one he pushed, as even Walters admits, in public!

As to the idea in Walters' piece that Haggard sings of the working class as martyrs rather than in a context of a struggle for liberation -- well, that is how most working class people experience their condition. That is just a fact. And Haggard's songs gave them dignity.

This also applies to his songs about being heartbroken. Yes, there is a tendency for them, as Walters notes, to play into sexist stereotypes that reduce women to the role of heartbreakers or the heartbroken, but that is hardly unique to Haggard. It is not even unique to country music, but popular culture in general. By all means criticise it -- but don't imagine that it is any particular argument that Haggard was nothing more than a Reaganite reactionary.

And Haggard's "heartache" songs were also frequently really well-written songs. For instance, a Haggard classic like "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" was a genuinely original take on the hardly original country music trope of the heartbroken character drinking hard in some dive bar.

In Haggard's tale, not only is the singer heartbroken, in a bar and drinking to forget... but worse... far worse... the fucking booze has stopped working. What an unspeakable nightmare!


'The one true friend I thought I found... tonight the bottle let me down!' May I never experience such horrors.

Yes, I know. It is not about workers storming barricades or whatever visions help Jonah Walters sleep better at night, but it is a well-written angle on the "heartbroken and drunk" trope to which many people can actually relate.

(It was also cleverly re-imagined by young, contemporary country singer Lydia Loveless in her 2014 track "Head" — on the surface seemingly just a song about getting laid, but in reality a bold, sexually-explicit updating of Haggard's "Tonight The Bottle". No doubt Walters doesn't care for it -- after all, it may be a young woman vacillating between proudly owning her sexuality and dealing with heartache and alcohol abuse, but the track also features absolutely zero examples of a worker seizing their workplace and demanding its nationalisation under workers' control, so like whatever.)

Haggard's nostalgic songs for the "good old days" are also not as automatically reactionary as Walters says. The fact is, life for most people has gotten worse -- the "good times" have long felt over. The idea that Haggard's songs are reactionary for noting this ignores the facts that he tended to be either silent in terms of who is to blame, or contradictory on blame and consequence.

For all the contradictions and twists in Haggard's politics and their public presentation, he gave some of the lower ranks of the working class -- such as those jailed -- some real dignity. For all sorts of cultural reasons, the appeal of Haggard was often largely to the lower ranks of the white working class, but unless you think the lower ranks of the white working class are nothing more than scum, so who cares... that is surely still worth doing.

Plus, as Dave Alvin noted, he also had a strong appeal among migrant workers, too.

Maybe, rather than the ignorant and insulting muck Jonah Walters wrote, Jacobin could start by taking a lead from left-wing country singers like Steve Earle or Kris Kristofferson -- whose attitudes to Haggard are very different.

Or take a lead from those singer songwriters who know something of the craft, and who are not reactionaries, like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits.

Dylan, who pointed out he was at the opposite end of the "cultural wars" to Haggard in the late 60s, pointed out that Haggard had shifted and was with "the counter culture" in later years. Dylan said: "Merle Haggard has always been as deep as deep gets. Totally himself. Herculean. Even too big for Mount Rushmore."

And as Waits said: "He takes the lives of common folk who we had all stopped seeing and put them in songs and gave them a voice, and kept them alive."

Not "liberating" enough? Well maybe another Tom Waits quote is valid here:
"The world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering. It cheapens and degrades the human experience, when it should inspire and elevate..."
Haggard's writing inspired and elevated. If only the same could be said of Jonah Walters. I appeal to Jacobin to never, ever run anything as stupid and factually wrong as this again.

I can only conclude that the author is one of a specimen of fucking middle-class university educated hipster "to cool for country music like LOL those cowboy hats" privileged pieces of shit who knows nothing about what they talk about once they move beyond their comfort zone of soft, comfortable rubbish of the sort pumped into late monopoly capitalism's empty void like Mumford and Sons or Bon Ivor.

And maybe that judgement is a little unfair... but I will bet my life it is nowhere near as unfair as the deeply absurd hit piece the author did on Merle Haggard that your magazine chose to fucking publish.

Thank you for taking the time to fucking ignore my letter.

best wishes,
Carlo Sands