12 November 2008

Trippin' Through Amerika

On a recent road trip, one of those distinctly American activities, I put an old CD in the player. It's a compilation of songs that are good driving songs, and that tell a story of sorts about the United States--past and present. I created the compilation when someone else asked me to put together some music that might facilitate conversation. It was the first in a series I titled Trippin' Through Amerika. Volume one has twenty tracks.

1. Cream, "Crossroads (Live at Winterland)," from The Cream of Clapton

Recorded at the Winterland Auditorium in San Francisco, 10 March 1968 as part of the British band Cream's second US tour. The Cream of Clapton is a 1995 compilation album that includes Eric Clapton's solo work and music from several bands.

2. Dizzy Gillespie, "Salt Peanuts," Jazz Biography

This Bebop standard emerged from Gillespie's play with the Lucky Millinder Band in 1942.

3. Cher, "Gypsies, Tramps And Thieves," The Way of Love

Cher's first number one chart song reached the Billboard Hot 100 #1 on 6 November 1971. This episode from 1971 television--the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour--has been preserved on YouTube.

4. James Taylor, "Line 'Em Up," Hourglass

This song, which calls to memory the day President Nixon resigned, bridges Cher's fiction and James Brown's critique.

5. James Brown, "Funky President (People It's Bad)," James Brown: Greatest Hits

Although this song makes me think of Nixon, James Brown stated in James Brown: The Godfather of Soul (1986) that it concerns Gerald Ford. In any case, a funky President is always worth contemplating.

6. Elvis Presley, "Big Boss Man [Alternate Take 9]," Today, Tomorrow, & Forever

When I was compiling this CD, I wanted to include Koko Taylor's version of "Big Boss Man," but had it only on an old cassette tape. In the world of digital, I had to settle for Elvis. The song was recorded in 1967.

7. Gene Autry, "Back in the Saddle Again," The Roots of Country

This classic, first released on the eve of the Second World War, is one of very few five star Country Songs. It sometimes makes me think of the Eighties.

8. Glen Campbell, "Rhinestone Cowboy," Glen Campbell: 20 Greatest Hits

A song about superficiality and compromise on the road to fame, ironically became one of the best known songs and top hits released by Glen Campbell.

9. The Byrds, "Citizen Kane," Byrdmaniax

The Byrdmaniax album was released in 1971 to a poor reception amid some controversy. Nevertheless, I think this song, based on a movie, cuts to the heart of many contradictions in American culture.

10. Grateful Dead, "Uncle John's Band," Workingman's Dead

The world's greatest jug band's signature song. It is neither their best song, not the best recording. But it is true Americana and everyone should know it well.

This video is a Halloween performance in 1980 at Radio City Music Hall.

11. Fruteland Jackson, "Goin' Down to King Biscuit," I Claim Nothing But the Blues

Fruteland Jackson is a relatively young man (b. 1953) devoted to acoustic blues from the Delta and Piedmont. This song presents American history that never appears in textbooks, but is every bit as significant as work within the beltway.

12. Billie Holiday, "Strange Fruit," The Very Best of Billie Holiday

Now that we've headed into the South, it's time to remember John McCain's statement, "We never hide from history. We make history." Of course, he hadn't yet said that when I put this compilation together.

13. Cisco Houston, "This Land in Your Land," This Land is Your Land: Songs of Freedom

There are few listeners that properly appreciate Woody Guthrie's voice singing America's all time number one song, but Cisco Houston's sweet voice pleases many. It's not my favorite version--I prefer Odetta, Arlo Guthrie, Will Geer, and others on A Tribute to Woody Guthrie,--but space is an issue when packing twenty songs into one CD.

14. Joan Baez, "Joe Hill," Best of Joan Baez

John McCutcheon's Live at Wolf Trap album includes this song with a heartwarming story about Paul Robeson in Australia, but Joan Baez has such an alluring voice that it's difficult not to prefer her version.

Phil Ochs sang another piece about Joe Hill worthy of attention, although not as well known as the "I Dreamed I saw Joe Hill" song sung by Baez.

15. Miles Davis, "John McLaughlin," Bitches Brew

John McLaughlin played the guitar for Miles Davis, and earned the rare distinction of having a song named for him on one of the most important Jazz albums of all time.

16. John Lee Hooker, "This Land Is Nobody's Land," The Real Folk Blues / More Real Folk Blues

After Woody's classic, Baez singing America's number one labor protest song, and an instrumental song celebrating a musician in the band that performs it, the Blues' chords strike deep. Hooker may be well known for a drinking song covered by George Thorogood, but this song deserves more airtime.

17. Judy Collins, "Get Together," This Land is Your Land: Songs of Freedom

This anthems of the 1960s, written by Chet Powers in the early decade, and sung in many elementary schools by the end of the decade. Judy Collins recorded it in 1966 at Newport.

18. The Blind Boys of Alabama, with Tom Waits, "Go Tell It On the Mountain," Go Tell It On the Mountain

This Christmas song doesn't sound out of place in the spring and summer.

19. Louis Armstrong, "We Shall Overcome," Louis Armstrong and His Friends

This version of "We Shall Overcome" last nearly seven minutes was recorded in May 1970.

20. Leonard Cohen, "Closing Time," The Essential Leonard Cohen

YouTube has an interesting video of this compelling song.

10 November 2008

Poetry: Joy Harjo

Most poetry in the world isn't on the page.
Joy Harjo
Joy Harjo speaks about her new CD, Winding Through the Milky Way.

I've been reading and enjoying Harjo's poems since the late 1980s, and met her in 1991 when she did a reading where I was in graduate school. Her grace and charm made a deep and lasting impressions upon me. I've long enjoyed the way she plays the saxophone during her readings as an integral element in her poetry. Her comments in this video respond to those that see music as separate and distinct from the lines she writes and reads.

From her website:
Start with a voice. Let it fly free. Bring in a saxophone to touch those places the words can't reach.

05 November 2008

Booker T Washington's White House Dinner

John McCain's Concession Speech

In his warm and honorable concession speech, Presidential candidate John McCain highlighted the historic significance of Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 election. In a nation where many citizens once considered it scandalous for an African American to dine with the President, the President-elect is now an African American.
A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States.
Senator John McCain, Concession Speech
Booker T. Washington joined President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House for dinner on 16 October 1901. In Theodore Rex (2001), Edmund Morris notes that dinner "proceeded behind closed doors, under the disapproving gaze of a Negro butler" (52). Southern politics was the central topic of conversation.

News of the dinner traveled along the Associated Press wire throughout the night, and the morning newspapers were generally positive. But the next afternoon, the Memphis Scimitar called the event a "damnable outrage," and Morris notes, used a term that "had not been seen in print for years ... [and now] had the force of an obscenity" (55). Morris quotes the Memphis Scimitar at length:
The most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States was committed yesterday by the President, when he invited a nigger to dine with him at the White House. It would not be worth more than a passing notice if Theodore Roosevelt had sat down to dinner in his own home with a Pullman car porter, but Roosevelt the individual and Roosevelt the President are not to be viewed in the same light.
The newspaper went on to criticize Roosevelt's claims that his mother was "a Southern woman," and to assert that Southern women can no longer accept invitations to the White House "with proper self-respect," nor is President Roosevelt welcome in Southern homes.

One week later reports circulated that Washington and Roosevelt were expected to dine together again, this time at Yale University. Security was tightened, the Secret Service did not permit the President to work the crowds (President McKinley had been assassinated the previous month, elevating Vice President Roosevelt to his present office), and Washington was seated far from Roosevelt during the event. There was no mention of dinner.

Booker T. Washington visited Roosevelt's White House again, but only in the morning during regular business hours. Dinner invitations became impossible for both men.

John McCain praised the United States and its people: "We never hide from history. We make history."

Patriots and Peoples

The controversy that erupted in the wake of President Theodore Roosevelt's historic dinner hosting Booker T. Washington occupies the whole of the second chapter in Edmund Morris' Theodore Rex, the sequel to his Pulitzer Prize winning biography The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (1979). The dinner gets only passing mention by Howard Zinn in A People's History of the United States. In a discussion of post-Civil War racism, Zinn writes:
In this atmosphere it was no wonder that those Negro leaders most accepted in white society, like the educator Booker T. Washington, a one-time White House guest of Theodore Roosevelt, urged Negro political passivity.
This note about the 1901 dinner leads a paragraph that focuses upon Washington's 1895 Atlanta Exposition Address, which was soundly criticized by W.E.B. DuBois in The Souls of Black Folks (1903).

Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen offer a full paragraph concerning Washington's dinner and the resulting controversy in A Patriot's History of the United States. They state that "the event showed both how far America had come, and how far it had to go" (483). In the next paragraph, however, they discuss African American soldiers in Brownsville, Texas in 1906 "shooting up the town, killing a civilian, then managing to return to the base unobserved" (483). Roosevelt discharged the soldiers , and they were denied their pensions. Schweikart and Allen note that these soldiers' military honors were restored by Congress in 1972.

The abrupt transition from a dinner regarded as scandalous by some to the narrative concerning African American violence--mistreatment of the soldiers by Brownsville residents is mentioned, but without any detail--hits me with the sort of force effected by the Memphis Scimitar's choice of words. I become immediately suspicious of their intent. This passage is not the only place I have observed an abrupt transition to depredations perpetrated by the victims of racial injustice within the pages of A Patriot's History.

02 November 2008

The End of Google

I found my own blog this morning through an unusual route. That is, I found another blog based upon Patriots and Peoples, but without my input, nor my explicit consent. It was not up-to-date, nor complete, and it contained alterations that I dislike and oppose. The blog in question is a sample Mobiforumz blog (I will not provide the link--Google them if you want). It is called Journey of James Stripes and consists of posts I wrote 18 April - 2 August, 2008. It has all the appearances of having been created by some webcrawling robot. Each of my posts is attributed to "hidayath," who may or may not be a real person.

Theft might be the right word.

I was ego-surfing as part of the process of helping a young man just out of his teenage years understand how a potential employer might look at his MySpace or Facebook page, or use Google, to supplement his self-disclosure in a job application. I've been ego-surfing longer than I've known the term, and am well aware of what comes up when my name is fed into search engines. This practice of checking up on myself was part of how I evaluated when someone owning a few shares in the company was touting it. It returned a lot of unrelated junk a year ago. It does better now, but still lacks Google's ability to find what it should.

Because I have an uncommon name, a search for me finds mostly stuff I've written. Many of the hits that are unrelated to me connect to "St. James Infirmary Blues" by the White Stripes, or Jack White attending a James Bond premier, or articles in the Stars and Stripes newspaper with photos by Stephanie James.

If articles I've written for scholarly journals are not returned in the first few pages by a search engine, it's not worth using. My article on Russell Means, for example, should be found easily. If one plumbs the depths, my contribution concerning "blind swine" to Edward Winter's enterprise should appear.

Most often Patriots and Peoples is the top hit. It seems as though Google thinks that this blog is my most important work.

When I found a Mobiforumz blog with my name in the title in the first page of hits, I was curious. My first glance at the site brought to memory many frustrating Google searches for specific information. Often I use the web to quickly find a credible source of real information--a book or website that I recall dimly. For years, Amazon has filtered its way to the top of most searches. In the past few years Wikipedia has risen to a place of preeminence. As the universal encyclopedia written equally by the ignorant and the knowledgeable improves, Google's tendency becomes less fatal.

More and more, however, it seems that searches through Google turn up information that originates with Wikipedia or Amazon, but was cannibalized from there for another site. Some cannibals add a service, Pickii, for instance sells books too. Many of these other sites contribute no original data, but exist solely to offer an abundance of the advertisements absent from the originating sites. These Para-Sites are an inevitable product of late-capitalism, and its tendency to nurture marketing saavy more than quality product development. They are the "fast food" of an information diet. They produce information bloat akin to what one would expect from a steady diet of Big Macs.

Copyright Issues

Patriots and Peoples carries a Creative Commons license. Today I changed this license as a consequence of my ego-surfing misadventure. Previously I had encouraged derivative work, thinking of the sort of use that was called "fair use" before lawyers and the free market went after the work of honest people.
In K-12, higher education, and after-school programs and workshops, teachers face conflicting information about their rights, and their students’ rights, to quote copyrighted material. They also confront complex, restrictive copyright policies in their own institutions. As a result, teachers use less effective teaching techniques, teach and transmit erroneous copyright information, fail to share innovative instructional approaches, and do not take advantage of new digital platforms.
The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy (2007)
When I added my CC license, I chose "Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States." After witnessing derivative work with advertising hyperlinks thrown randomly into the text, dating site marketing, and other changes, I had to reconsider. This work now carries the "Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States" license. I understood before I wrote my first Amazon review that once something is in cyberspace, the author loses control. Socrates said the same thing about printing speeches in the Phaedrus, but the global internet kills authors with a relish unknown in ancient Greece.

Presenting one's corpus to cannibals is another matter.

Derivative Work

Chesstiger's "Two rook pawns with an extra pawn on the opposite side" builds on something I posted as "Fox in the Chicken Coop." Although I created the diagram found there, it almost certainly has been independently created by others. Nevertheless, Chesstiger mentioned my Chess Skills blog when he posted the diagram with his own extended analysis. Scholarship is the usual term for building on the work of others, and it should not require explicit authorization by the copyright holder. Still, the Creative Commons license seemed to connote a world where knowledge is freely shared for everyone's benefit. That was my intent. The license change should not affect responsible extensions of this sort.

My writing is also replicated by Reuters and similar services with full attribution (see Lee Resolution). That derivative work does no harm, and may confer benefits both to me and to readers. Reuters also has explicit permission. Alas, Google does not pick up these syndicated articles often, at least not any of mine.

Google seems to be finding too easily this new Para-Site containing my words in an alien context hostile to my intent. As it crowds its way onto the search pages with others that mine Wikipedia, Google loses its value. Google's recent drop in stock value has been part of the painful economic correction afflicting all markets; however, if the search engine can be hijacked so easily, it may be still overpriced.

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