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When Elvis Died

Named after an essay by Lester Bangs, a rock journalist and one of the my favorite authors, this blog is my scratch pad for ideas, commentaries, and links.


Workers occupy a factory... 1936, 2008.

Looks like the economic crisis isn't going to be as free from labor unrest as folks have been saying. This will be the tip of the iceberg, I guarantee.  This occupation is peaceful, so far, but as conditions get worse, so will violence.

Support unions and pro-labor politicians.

If you really want to get your mind blown (and have 45 or so minutes to spare), check out UMASS economics professor Rick Wolff on the economic crises and a socialist solution:

Capitalism Hits the Fan: A Marxian View from UVC-TV 19 on Vimeo.


Thinking (positively) ahead

My last post was a bit of a downer, I realize now.  I can't say that I've completely escaped the feelings I expressed, but reading things like this, by the anti-racist scholar and activist Tim Wise makes me...well, I won't say optimistic.  Maybe level-headed and clear-eyed are better terms.  As he says, let's rejoice, and then get back to work making this world a more just and equitable place for everyone.



I have been very quiet today, because I have been embarrassed to say that I am more than a little ambivalent about the last 12 or so hours and the 21 months that preceded them.  I campaigned for Obama in New Hampshire, spending several weekends knocking on doors and having long conversations on porches across the state.  Last night, when his victory was announced, I was overjoyed and tearful.  And that joy was immediately dashed when I heard (and have continued to hear) the non-stop parade of racist invective broadcast across the radio and television news desks.  The liberal commentators and reporters proclaimed "the end of racism" (pretty much everyone on MSNBC last night, but can't find any quotes), while conservatives lauded the end of blacks' "excuses" about racial discrimination.  And I have no doubt that such thoughts, which are nothing more than varying shades and flavors of whiteness and the cultural re-alignment of white supremacy, are bubbling up in the heads of people all across the country today.  I suppose, after studying the history of racism in the United States for many years, I should have seen these tenacious responses as predictable, but it still made my heart, so recently soaring with joy, sink to see it paraded in front of me.

I want to take some pleasure in this moment, but I continue to wonder whether the joy that I and others are feeling is only a displaced passion--a tentative catharsis from the illusion that, thanks to this presidential election, our consciences can now be assuaged, our privileges forgotten, and our responsibilities to ourselves and each other set aside.  Maybe Ishmael Reed's satirical vision will actually come to pass, but I doubt it.

I know my problem is the attempt to chase joy, rather than seeking peace, and to care for my soul, as Alice Walker suggests.  I suspect that right now, Barack Obama is feeling the love and adoration of the millions who voted for him, and billions who stood around the world, hoping for his election.  I can't imagine what that must feel like, but I suspect it must feel pretty good, and possibly even addictive.  I hope that he will take Walker's words to heart, and seek peace with his own soul, rather than to continue chasing the bedrock joy directed at him today.


Voting in Northampton MA 7:15 AM

Voting in Noho

Voting in Noho

Go VOTE!!!


Canvassing for Obama: pt. 2

Last time, I wrote about my incessant reading of polls and political blogs, and how I decided to trade the anxiety of that for some motivation and action by knocking on doors for Obama in New Hampshire.   Today I want to talk about what it's like to canvas for the Obama campaign.

I signed up at, and wanted to say a few words about the website.  Whoever set up their campaign knows quite a bit about social media.  When you first get there, you create a profile.  Then you're off and running.  Basically people can post events and their details (location, time etc..) and when you log in, it gives you a list of events to choose from in your area.  You get your own blog, where you can presumably post information about the campaign, issues you're concerned about, or whatever, and can share that with contacts that you make, through fundraising, events, etc... Finally, everyone has an "activity index", which is a number indicating how much you've been involved in the campaign.  Lots of stuff, which I didn't have much interest in exploring, but which seems to have high traffic, based on the main feed area.

I signed up to go to Keene, New Hampshire each weekend until the election, and election day.   I wasn't sure I could do all of that, but I figured I'd sign up for anything I possibly could.  Immediately I received four emails, confirming my participation, and giving me a contact phone number, an address (and a time), and a link to edit my events.  A few days later, I got a call from someone at the Obama organization, confirming my participation on the 12th of October for a canvassing event in Keene, New Hampshire, a small city in the southern part of the state.  The guy on the phone (who sounded to be in his early 20s) also told me to email the person listed on my event if I needed a ride (which I did).  He thanked me, and with that, I was part of the Obama campaign.

That Sunday, I woke up and printed off Obama and Biden's "Blueprint for Change" and skimmed it over coffee.  Alanna drove me over to Sheldon field in Northampton, where I found a crowd of about 20 or 25 people.  They ranged from teenagers to older folks, with clustering more towards the latter...I counted 5 people or so younger than me.  The guy in charge, whose name was Joe, asked us to give our names, and then hit us with a bit of a right-turn--we weren't going to Keene, we were going to the rural village of Ashuelot, to the south of Keene, in the Modnadnock mountain region.

I met up with Elaine, Bonnie, and Kaitlin.  They were all older than me (between 40s and 60s), and were all from Northampton or the surrounding area.  We hopped in Elaine's car and were off.  The conversation up in the car was interesting, consisting mostly of the usual Bush bashing that I'm used to from "happy valley" liberals.  Not really my cup of tea...

After a certain point, the Bush bashing lost its steam, and we pulled out the Blueprint.  We read through Health Care, Economy, and Energy policies, to try and learn some specific things to say to people.  I tried to pick up a few policies that I could regurgitate on command, and latched onto the Energy Tax credit, choice in Health care plans, and renewable energy infrastructure improvements. I have to say that I didn't find much in the Blueprint to really get behind.  Most of the policies seemed like pretty mild prescriptions.  For example, I'm not particularly impressed with Obama's continued support of  more private insurance (I'm a single payer guy).  Even his National Health Insurance Exchange will be a clearing house for private insurance, and he has yet to outline what his "New Public Health Plan" will look like--most of his Health Care policy statement consists of promises to cut waste in current health care, which seems to me like a ridiculously easy promise to make, and a harder one to force insurance companies to keep.  Under Energy, Obama continues to support nuclear power, and clean coal, which is a joke wrapped in the authority that Obama is giving it.  Still, we'll see what he actually pushes for once he gets in.

We got to Ashuelot about an hour later.  Ashuelot is a village situated between Winchester and Hinsdale. Just as an aside, this was New England at the height of the fall, and I was in prime leaf country.  Throughout the day, we would all stop and look around, stunned by how beautiful the whole thing was.  The day was warm and sunny, and the light added that much more brilliance.

The Obama headquarters in Ashuelot was in a print shop owned by Dan Carr.  Dan was the local campaign coordinator, a printer, and a candidate for state senate from the area.  He's also a really cool guy, who I would link to if he had a website--though I don't think it would do him much good, as I suspect face-to-face campaign is probably a lot more effective in a place like Ashuelot.  Dan told us that this area had been basically democratic since 2000, and old North republican prior to that, though there were definitely lots of independents and more than a few conservatives.  He asked us to confirm Obama supporters, push leaners and undecideds, and leave literature if no one was home.  He also told us to ask about whether they were supporting Jean Shaheen, the democratic candidate for Senate, and, if we got around to it, Paul Hodes for congress.  Obviously, being Massachusetts residents, we wouldn't have much to say about those races, but Dan wanted us just to record what folks said about that, and give them literature if we could.  If we did encounter any undecideds, we were told that our best strategy would be to tell why we, personally, were voting for Obama--it was a compelling story, and sounded better than trying to memorize policy points or anything like that.  Finally, if they were supporting, we were told to ask if they'd volunteer (which I almost universally forgot to do).

He had a stack of packets, with lists of names, addresses, and google maps of locations. The name lists had ages, addresses, party affiliations, and then columns where we could circle Support/lean/undecided for Obama/McCain, Shaheen/Sununu, Hodes/Hom.  Finally, there were boxes we could check for Refused, Moved, Not Home, and other things.  Our job was essentially come back with those forms filled out.

Elaine, Bonnie, and I took the most rural area we could find, and started driving. I met a lot of interesting people that day.  Elaine and I came up the driveway of one house...well, more like a shack, to find a woman with fiery red hair cleaning out a woodshed, in the company of the largest dog I've ever seen.

--"hi, we're from the Obama campaign, and we..."

--"You can relax, he's got my vote"

She then proceeded to tell us how this was the first time she'd voted straight democrat, because "this country has gotten crazy".  Lots of people said the same thing.  New Hampshire really prides itself on independence--for those of you who don't know, it's state motto is "Live free or Die!", and being very cautious of political affiliation is something of a team sport up there..  So it's pretty dramatic when, to a T, they almost all said the same thing as this woman--straight dem, to pull the country back on track.

I met a man in another cabin on the same mountain who drove a home-heating oil truck.  He told me that it broke his heart to hand out increasingly higher bills every month to the people he delivered to.  He had voted for Perot, and Ralph Nader, and wasn't sure if he trusted Obama.  He sure as hell wasn't going to vote for McCain, with Palin on the ticket, but he thought he might sit this one out.  I had a long chat with him, and at the end, I got him to give Obama a second look.

A general observation--There were no Obama signs anywhere we saw, and there were lots of McCain signs.  What Dan told me was that the republican strategy in this area is to send TONS of yard signs, but little in the way of ground support, where Obama was exactly the opposite--very little in the way of advertising and signage, but lots of ground game coordination...hence, my being there.

One of the moments that I've thought about the most occurred right at the beginning of my day.  I wandered into a family gathering, where I was clearly not welcome.  Men and women of all ages were sitting around a porch, drinking beer, and chatting, as families chat.  I asked for the person on my list, and said I was knocking on doors for Obama.  One of them cracked a joke about not knowing who he was, and we all laughed.  But after that, they all indicated that they weren't voting because "all politicians are liars".  I said a few weak things about Obama not being a liar, but they weren't having any, and wouldn't commit to anything.  I didn't press the issue because they were having a gathering and I was wandering into it un-invited.  It bummed me out at first, but then it struck me that, far from being ignorant rednecks or hicks, they actually had a pretty clear sense of how the world would (or, actually, would not) change no matter who was sitting at the top of the hill.  Something for all of us to think about as we try to make the world a better place.

In the end, I'm not sure if I changed anyone's mind, but I want to conclude with a story, which I suppose is kind of prophetic--maybe it means something or not.

Dan told me that when he first started his campaign for state senate, he decided to knock on every door within his district.  This included some pretty out-of-the-way places up in the mountains.  One day, he came to a house, and met a man who had moved to Winchester in 1950.  He had been registered as a republican since that time, and had always voted for whoever the republican was on the ballot.  He and Dan got to talking, just chatting away about living in the mountains, and he told Dan that in his 56 years of living in New Hampshire, not a single politician had ever been in contact with him, or asked him for his vote.

This makes me think a few things.  First, that's a fucking sorry commentary on American democracy, such as it is.  Secondly, it put my experience in perspective--was my simple act of knocking on doors in rural New Hampshire all it took to convince people to vote for Obama?  What about issues?  Character?  Policy?  It boggled my mind, and made me feel really cynical--the idea that people are so alone, and alienated, that just human contact will sway them politically.

Dan did get the guys vote, but to me, that's almost immaterial.  The thing I liked the best about that story, the thing that gives me some hope, and some real perspective on what I did, was that Dan and this mountain man had a conversation.  Dan said that just talking to him was enough to get his vote, but that's point--they talked.  They talked, and listened, and heard each others perspective on the world.   In a country like ours, so often cold and barren with isolation, it's moments like those that I hope for, and give me a hint that maybe, with just a conversation, a better world is possible.


Canvassing for Obama: pt. 1

I just got back from knocking on doors in rural New Hampshire for Barack Obama, and I want to say something about my experience, both to get it all out of my brain and into the world, and to give people a sense of what it's like to be part of what is so abstractly called "the ground game", and say, in some small way, why I'm gonna vote for the guy.

I'll split this up into two posts, because I think it's a little long for just one.  This week I want to talk about where my head was at that made me do this, and how I got hooked up with the Obama campaign.  Next week will be the story of my day of hiking through the mountains of southern New Hampshire.

I read news on the internet.  A lot.  I don't get a newspaper (I'll occasionally flip through our local news and culture rag "The Advocate", for concerts, Tom Tomorrow, and Ask Isadora), and I watch as little of network news as I can stomach. I used to make time for the McLaughlin group, as I've previously written, but that seems to have fallen by the wayside recently--probably because they replaced Tony Blankley, whom I found smug and annoying, with Monica Crowley, who makes me ask this question.  BUT, all of that, added together, PALES in comparison to how much time I spend reading news on the internet.

I have a google reader feed aggregator.  Much of my work in the lab and my disseration work are done at computers, so I basically have my google reader on in the background, and check it every hour or so for whatever new stories have come up.  In terms of JUST POLITICAL CONTENT I read the Guardian, Rawstory, crooksandliars, dispatch from the culture wars, boingboing, dailykos, huffingtonpost jontaplin, louisproyect, tomsdispatch, and probably a whole bunch of others that I'm forgetting.  To be fair, not all of these are strictly political blogs, but, from the other side, I also read at least this many feeds that aren't political.  From these, I get all kinds of information on the inns and outs of the campaigns, from polls, to gaffes, to videos, to essays, to whatever else the people who run those sites pump out into the flow.

In addition, I've taken to reading polls.  I usually start at Pollster, whose interface I like quite a bit (no zogby, thank you very much), and then stumble over to, which not only has some pretty interesting pieces about polling, but also scratches some of my nerdy math-related itches about how one could project elections.

What all this adds up to for me is that I am tied into the slightest changes in the news and polling cycles.  As soon as the latest political soundbite comes over the wire, I know about it, and have read multiple opinions on its impact on the horse race.  As soon as the slightest up- or down-tick occurs in the polls, I'm instantly figuring it into trendlines and comparing it to other polls. As soon as some major event happens in the world, I'm flush with knowledge of how candidates, pundits, and whatever "local man"-type people anyone can round up think of it.  All this has led to me caring about what I've taken to calling "news-cycle politics"--the day-to-day, back and forth that comes from 24 hour news in an 8 hour day.

Now, I consider it part of my duty both as an educator and as a citizen, to keep myself informed of where my country and my world are at.  And I'm not advocating for or even hinting that I'm going to give that up.  But what I do know is this:  I'm more anxious and tense now than I was one year ago, and I've filled my head with more useless knowledge than perhaps ever before in my life.  And that realization made me realize something else.

I don't care about the latest Biden/Obama/Palin/McCain gaffe.  The fact that I can list "gaffes" here for all them means just one thing: all politicians are people, and as much as they spend an incredible amount of time, energy, and money training themselves, they will sometimes say stupid shit.  And sometimes, when they say that stupid shit, they will be in front of the largest mega-phone in the history of human civilization.

I don't care about this or that change in the polls.  As dhp and others have said to me recently, the only poll that matters is the one on election day.  Polls change, and they matter in some small ways, but they matter most if they get you to do something--spur you to action, and that brings me to my final point.

Here I was, very knowledgable about the minutiae of the two campaigns, aware of what states were "swing" states, and what states were "safe" states (what a dumb-assed idea in what is ostensibly a democracy!), and rather than feeling flush with the joy of being a good citizen, all I felt was anxious and exhausted.

So I made a vow.

A little background--I voted for Obama in the primaries, basically because he spoke out against the war, and Clinton didn't (and never repudiated any of her actions, to my satisfaction).  I'm not super happy with all of his policy proposals (let alone whether the corporate-financed political parties, media, lobbyists, and a recalcitrant congress will let him pass any of it), particularly his half-assed attempts at universal health care, renewable energy, and economic reform, all of which feel to me like trying to put out a fire with fly-swatter.  BUT, the one thing I've come to believe about the Obama campaign is that they are making an attempt, moreso than maybe any democratic campaign in my lifetime, to be responsive to their supporters.  I see that in Dean's 50 state strategy, where up-ticket and down-ticket races are mutually supporting each other.  I see that in Obama's campaign strategy, that priveleges face-to-face interaction above printing lots of signs and buying lots of ads.

I don't think this makes Obama some kind of great populist, in the traditional sense.  Quite the contrary, I think he's being a shrewd, pragmatic politician--the kind he learned to be in the political machine of Chicago.  From what I understand, Chicago citizens are adamant that if you represent them in some public office, you better be available and a good listener 24-7, or you are out on the street.

I decided that I'm voting for Obama because he's building a political movement around that idea.  I'm not sure what is being moved, and who for, or to.  It sure as hell can't be his policies, which seem little different from previous liberal bullshit policies the democrats have put out.  But it is a movement, nonetheless, and it's needed to fix this, and this, and this, and figure out why they were broken.  And maybe, if Obama really is a pragmatic politician who knows how to listen, the people who put him into office would be in a singular position to light a fire under his ass to do just that.

So my vow was two-fold.  First, that I would stop seeking out polls, and stop reading, as much as possible, the news.  I still keep my feed going, but I've cut out a bunch of the political feeds, especially the ones that are spitting out short, pithy announcements and analyses of the news-cycle politics that's made me so tired.  I'm done.

The second part of my vow was that, in an effort to be spurred by what I had learned and be part of that movement, I was going to help the Obama campaign win New Hampshire.  My state of Massachusetts has been in the bag for a while, but New Hampshire, though trending Obama, is still wavering.

So I signed up at  to be part of the "drive for change" campaign.  I didn't know what the hell it was going to look like, but I knew it'd be better than staring at a computer screen, waiting for a news-feed to update, or a poll to be averaged.

It was, but in very different ways than I expected...


You gotta listen:  Pseudopod

To pay for my graduate education, I run an archaeology lab.  Well, that's actually unfair.  What I really do is manage chaos.  I work 20 hours a week, making sure that artifacts, paperwork, maps, photos...whatever material from 600+ archaeological projects, undertaken over the last 20 years, manages to stay in some kind of order, and that the new stuff that keeps coming in gets properly curated and cataloged.  To paraphrase Jon Stewart:  "this is 60-70 percent less exciting than it sounds".  Most of my week is spent entering coded data into a computer, with a slight plurality of the remaining time spent labeling photographs and washing artifacts. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do, and sometimes it is just downright cool to be handling objects that were made hundreds or thousands of years ago.  But... well, lets just say that most of the time, I'm basically a cubical monkey, if the cubical was splitting at the seams with pottery and stone tools.

As such, I have recently started accumulating podcasts, in order to fool my brain into thinking that I'm not doing mindless tasks, and I wanted to pass one on down the pike. Pseudopod bills itself as "a weekly horror podcast".  Every week, they put out a show consisting of one narrated horror story, usually between 20-30 minutes long.  Just enough for a taste, and not enough for indigestion.  They're usually by published authors, although I think they accept user submissions, but the quality is consistent either way.  The stories range from funny to grotesque to skin-crawlingly unnerving, and they're all narrated extremely well...even the occasional bad dialogue, so endemic in horror literature, is given more tastefulness than it probably deserves:  witness "The Land of Reeds" which, among other things, is a revenge story set in Ptolemaic Egypt, and contains more than its share of ghostly dialogue, but manages to keep the tone serious.

The most recent story, as of this post, is a perfect example of why I eagerly await Pseudopod on my RSS.  It's called  "Jihad over Innsmouth", borrowed from H.P. Lovecraft's famous tale of degeneration and monstrosity in crumbling coastal New England.  (Lovecraft is clearly a favorite inspiration at Pseudopod, so much so that for their 100th episode, they read his startling and evocative story "The Music of Erich Zann").  "Jihad..." is a kind of alternative history of Islamic terrorism, with the main character as a Sufi, and the terrorists as...well, I won't give it away, but if you know Lovecraft, you'll love this story.  Even if you don't, I think you'll find it a fun, creepy adventure.

Pseudopod has a sister podcast called "Escapepod", which I haven't checked out yet, but if it's up to the same high standards as Pseudopod, I'm sure I (and you) won't be disappointed.

Toss it in your feed and give a whirl.


"...confused and inclined to supinedness"

Apparently the CIA has been declassifying a bunch of old documents. Not only that, they've scanned them and put them up on-line, which you can access here. I have just found my personal favorite, on a quick monday afternoon search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

A document from the CIA in 1949.

Seriously, spend an hour or so searching for whatever floats your boat in that little text window--I guarantee, you'll love what our government has done with the place.


One Track Mind: "Wishbone" by Clutch

The Burning Beard

I once heard a story that Jerry Garcia used to close his eyes when he listened to Carlos Santana, and see what images were conjured in his mind. I can't remember what images he talked about, but I'm sure rainbow colors were involved. The point is, the only time I ever tried that was while listening to Clutch. The image that I see in my head is a tank, rolling over piles of debris, crushing stone and steel and concrete, plowing ever-forward. Riding on top, is a mad priest, dressed in black, shouting and spitting at nothing in particular, speaking in tongues and making supplications.

It's not religious fervor that makes me equate Clutch with a crazy old padre. It's the idea of the mystical, that small, innocuous things may lead us to ask large and profound questions, maybe even questions that the original things have no part in creating. Like all great art, Clutch doesn't provide us with easy roads to understanding. Nowhere is this truer than on "Wishbone", a complex and mysterious song that also happens to rock my face off.

"In the morning the weathercock was heard
asking what he had learned of the Earth.
"Is it a round place with deserts and oceans,
housing as many winds as one might wish?"
We were standing by the gate.
He said, "Oh my, it's getting late!"
Then he took off flying to the south
with a black snake in his mouth.

I have no idea what that "means". I think it might be about the end of the world, heralded by changing of the wind, or the flying of a mighty bird. I think it also might be about the perils and pitfalls of trying to predict or control the future, and the sorrow we feel when the future goes so opposite to what we want. I suppose it also could be about family, and the way in which our lives are always, in part, decided by our kin.

"For Thanksgiving we had 'tatas,
succotash and rudebagas.
Then came turkey from the oven.
Broke the wishbone.
Covenants were sealed and set.

Who knows? I don't have an answer, and neither does Clutch. There's a CD extra on "The Elephant Riders ", from which this track comes, where Neil Fallon explains his reasoning in writing every song on the album. But truthfully, I've had way more fun pondering over the lyrics, trying to find meaning in them, playing out the different stories they tell in my head. Add to that, that the song has one of the most pummeling rock riffs on the album, and a tasty groove breakdown to cut it all into nice pieces. It's not preaching to's more like scripture, where meaning comes between and behind the words, and from the world you live in that you apply them to.

Actually, forget all that. Just go and buy "The Elephant Riders " and crank it up.


An Epistle

I'm cleaning up the house, in anticipation/ preparation/ exhaltation of my girl returning home. She's been gone a year, a very lonely year, and I'm picking her up at the airport on wednesday.

However, I've taken a break, because I wanted to put up something that I acquired nearly 10 years ago, and recently rediscovered. What I've uploaded below was given to me by someone I once knew. It might be best to call it an evangelical letter, in the spirit of Paul writing to the Romans, though a better analogy might be C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity . I post it in the spirit of constantly revisiting my own spiritual life and the journey I've taken trying to be more human in an dehumanized (post-human? posthumous?) world.

I've taken out all discernible biographical information (names, mostly), but I wanted to point out a couple of things. First, when the author refers to "the blasphemers", he's not speaking specifically of non-christians, but rather of the name that my friends and I had arrogantly given ourselves. It came from a quote by George Bernard Shaw, who said "All great truths begin as blasphemies", and in our rebellious teenage years, we took this as our mantle. Secondly, at the end of the third page, there's a note to turn over, but I couldn't get that page to scan. Suffice to say, the four words that appear on it are "with bitterness and hatred." Incidentally, the "P.S." from which those words come refer to a t-shirt I used to wear that said "Love Sucks", with a picture of a vampire biting the neck of a woman.
During the letter, the author asks me to destroy it if it means nothing. In reading it again, I found myself pondering why I hadn't destroyed it. I think at the time, I probably would've told myself that it was a great laugh and worthy of keeping for the comedy file. Still, given my ever changing sense of humor, it would've hit the trash at some point if all I had seen in it was punchlines. No, I think something struck me about the depth of feeling, and the poetry of the language. It is quite a moving plea, and even now I feel somewhat overcome (overpowered?) by the strength of conviction in the words. I can't say I've become an evangelical, or even a christian, but I'm infinitely more spiritually minded now than I ever was in High School, and I know I respect the author more now than I did then. So, thanks man, for having my back, even when I didn't.

"... with bitterness and hatred."