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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Colbert Truth

Letterman welcomes Stephen on tonight's show, here's preview.  Stephen with new glasses to signify...becoming his own man?

A 'Pastoral' Day

For Earth Day  enjoy Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, the "Pastoral," in what my esteemed buddy Tim Page calls its greatest rendition, via Klemperer--who died 40 years ago today.   In a just world, this would be enough to cut carbon emissions and slow climate change by 50%.

Rain of Terror?

For Earth Day: Creedence, "Who'll Stop the Rain."

Still Time, Before the Deluge

For Earth Day:  Jackson Browne warned us, more than forty years ago.  Best version I've seen.

Photos for Earth Day

Some of the favorites I've taken in recent years that tell the story without words.  I'll add as day goes on.   My photo blog here.

Moonrise at Sedona at Sunset

Wellfleet, Cape Cod

Cold Spring, N.Y.


Sunrise, Hudson River

Over the Alps

Heart of a Tulip

Over the Grand Canyon

Daybreak, Muir Woods, California.

Ballots Over Broadway

The NYT has a preview of wide-open races for Tony Award nominations, coming April 29, for the best of Broadway, and glad to see that the favorite to grab a Best Musical nod (and no doubt other nominations) is "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder."  This is the play by the two talented guys--Robert L. Freedman and Steve Lutvak--whose next musical is (believe it or not) based on my book about Upton Sinclair's race for governor of California, The Campaign of the Century.  It's had stagings of one sort or another in San Jose, Chicago, L.A. and New York.

What, a witty musical about a leftwing grassroots campaign that almost put a socialist in control of California during the depths of the Depression?  Well, it does (as did the book) feature Hollywood's first all-plunge into politics, not to mention FDR and Eleanor and W.R. Hearst, Aimee Semple McPherson and more, and the wild race did inspire a change in how all top campaigns would be run ever after. 

Getting the Kinks Out for Earth Day

Couldn't be more pleased that the Rain Forest Alliance with star-studded video of folks singing to 1960s classic from my old fave group The Kinks (yes, I interviewed Ray a couple of times at length), "The Village Green Preservation Society."  Donald Duck can go, however.

My Climate Change Warning, 1983

I've never thought of myself of a pioneer in warning about climate change, but maybe, just a little.

Back in 1984, Viking published a book I wrote with Pascal J. Imperato, titled Acceptable Risks, which examined how regulators, and individuals, choose to ignore certain hazards--such as smoking or living in earthquake-prone California--while taking action against others, often in a highly irrational way.   The penultimate chapter explored an emerging danger we called "The Ultimate Risk: The Greenhouse Effect." 

This is what it was called before it was referred to as "global warming" and then more accurately and broadly, "climate change."  Back in the good old days we figured we still had plenty of time to address it.  In that period, nuclear threat was the prime concern.

On the eve of another Earth Day, decided to check back on that chapter, which I penned myself in 1983, for the first time in a few years. What I found:  There's not much new under the ever-hotter sun.  The "inconvenient truth" of global warming has been told for decades--Dr. James Hansen was featured in our chapter--to little avail.  Ironically, I had interviewed the young congressman, Al Gore, for my previous book on whistleblowers, related to toxic dump sites.

In fact, the chapter in Accepable Risks opens with a warning about the Antarctic ice sheet melting,  and a rising of the sea level likely to "submerge" coastal cities.  The paragraph that followed could have come directly from the famous Al Gore film (without the slide show) twenty years on: "There have been warming trends before, but never one so rapid as this -- virtually overnight on the geological clock.  Rather than having several hundreds years to cope with the changes it may bring, humankind will have to adjust in little more than half a century." 

Of course, we are now 30 years into that half-century.  

"More than a severe disruption of the world economy is at stake," I wrote.  "The very survival of Earth's highest forms of life may be on the line."  But, I advised, "Something can be done to prevent -- or at least mitigate -- this threat.  On a global basis, humankind can cut down its burning of fossil fuels, stabilizing the excessive accumulation of carbon dioxide in the earth?s atmosphere that creates the hazard known as the Greenhouse Effect.

"There is no sign, however, that we have the slightest interest in doing this." 

Back then, scientists felt sure the warming would soon come -- they accurately  projected a one degree global rise in 20 years --but  that normal temperature cycles were probably masking the trend, and "the  lack of clear-cut evidence for a major warming effect may have terrible consequences, for it has already undermined efforts at getting governments of the world's nationals to deal with the threat of such an effect."

So what was our own Congress doing about it then? About as much as it is now.  But there was sort of an excuse.  Climate change, as noted, was still somewhat speculative.  One top scientist told me, "To really KNOW anything you?ll have to wait another thirty years, so we won't be able to convince Congress of anything until 2010."

As it turned out, we came to  know a lot long before thirty years passed.  As Leonard Cohen once put it, "We asked for signs/and signs were sent."  But about that 2010 deadline...

Monday, April 21, 2014

When Dylan Met Donovan

Forty-nine years ago (ouch) next week, Bob Dylan toured England, the experience famously captured by D.A. Pennebaker for his groundbreaking doc, Don't Look Back.   Dylan had already recorded his first electric album but was touring acoustic and his real coming out at Newport was still a few weeks off.  He'd write "Like a Rolling Stone" a month later.  I'd catch him, live, with the Hawks, that November.

Anyway:  One of the most famous scenes in the movie relates to young folkie Donovan, who was getting a lot of press while Bob was there, and became a kind of running gag, with Bob tacking up his press clippings in hotel rooms and all that.  Finally, Donovan appears in Dylan's room at party, and sings a somewhat sappy song for Bob, who sarcastically exclaims, "Good song, man!"    Dylan then cruelly, you might say, debuts "It's All Over Baby Blue"--the two songs are not even on the same planet--while Donovan good-naturedly looks on, even as Bob laughs as he sings about "the vagabond who is rapping at your door / is standing in the clothes that you once wore."

This Is the Story of The Hurricane

As you may have heard, ex-boxer and wrongfully imprisoned fighter in all respects "Hurricane" Carter has died.  He was, of course, the subject of a famous mid-1970s Bob Dylan song and then major movie starring Denzel Washington.  As it happens, I was present for Dylan's first public performance of the song before a paying audience, before its release as a single (which I still have) or on the Desire album, on the opening of his legendary Rolling Thunder tour in 1975, in Plymouth, Ma.  I caught him doing it another half-dozen times, culminating in the Madison Square Garden show where Ali came out and spoke.

Hurricane - Bob Dylan from LA REVOLUCION ES AHORA! on Vimeo.

Sweet Jesus

From the squarest show on TV, Lawrence Welk somehow offered this duo in 1971 singing the pot classic "One Toke Over the Line," I guess because there's a Jesus reference.  He even refers to it as a "modern spiritual."  Indeed.  Historic note:  I interviewed the writers and hitmakers Brewer & Shipley for Zygote a few months before.  Yes, we lit up.  (h/t Stu Levitan)

The Tillman Tragedy, Ten Years On

Marking the 10th anniversary of the death/killing of Pat Tillman,  I thought I'd re-publish a piece I wrote on March 6, 2006, on "How the Press Was Spun" at Editor & Publisher, where I was the editor.   More on this and other Iraq outrages in my book So Wrong for So Long.

The Pat Tillman case is back in the news, with the Army’s belated announcement that it is launching a criminal probe into the “friendly fire” killing of the former pro football star in Afghanistan in April 2004. It’s a long way, indeed, since those days immediately after the tragic incident when Tillman's death was promoted by the Pentagon as a symbol of American goodness in the war on terrorists.

While the criminal matter takes center stage, we should not forget that the military not only lied to Tillman’s friends and family about the episode, but also--in the tradition of the Jessica Lynch affair—to the press. Eventually, the media played a key role in helping to get the truth out. As far as anyone knows, none of the Army officials who misled the world have been punished.

Tillman's mother, Mary, told The Washington Post on Saturday that she believes evidence of a crime has existed all along, and that the family's repeated calls for a criminal investigation were ignored until now. Her husband, Patrick Tillman Sr., commented, "if you send investigators to reinvestigate an investigation that was falsified in the first place, what do you think you're going to get?"

The Tillman tragedy was last in the news in a major way last May, thanks to an account in The Washington Post, which has taken the lead on this story from the beginning.

The Post's Josh White reported in May that Tillman's parents were now ripping the Army, saying that the military's investigations into their son's 2004 "friendly fire" death in Afghanistan was a sham based on "lies" and that the Army cover-up made it harder for them to deal with their loss. They were speaking out because they have finally had a chance to look at the full records of the military probe.

"Tillman's mother and father said in interviews that they believe the military and the government created a heroic tale about how their son died to foster a patriotic response across the country," White reported.

While military officials' lying to the parents gained wide publicity then, hardly anyone mentioned that the press had dutifully carried one report after another based on the Pentagon's spin.

Tillman was killed in a barrage of gunfire from his own men, mistaken for the enemy on a hillside near the Pakistan border—perhaps, we will soon learn, criminally. "Immediately," the Post reported, "the Army kept the soldiers on the ground quiet and told Tillman's family and the public that he was killed by enemy fire while storming a hill, barking orders to his fellow Rangers." Tillman posthumously received the Silver Star for his "actions."

The military investigation, exposed by the Post, "showed that soldiers in Afghanistan knew almost immediately that they had killed Tillman by mistake in what they believed was a firefight with enemies on a tight canyon road. The investigation also revealed that soldiers later burned Tillman's uniform and body armor."

Tillman's father said he blamed high-ranking Army officers for presenting "outright lies" to the family and to the press. "After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this," he told the Post. "They purposely interfered with the investigation, they covered it up. I think they thought they could control it, and they realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy.”

Mary, the mother, complained to the Post that the government used her son for weeks after his death. She said she was particularly offended when President Bush offered a taped memorial message to Tillman at a Cardinals football game shortly before the presidential election last fall.

It is worth recalling that Steve Coll, then with the Washington Post, in December 2004 described the early weeks of the Pentagon spin on Tillman, before his paper helped reveal the truth.

"Just days after Pat Tillman died from friendly fire on a desolate ridge in southeastern Afghanistan," Coll wrote, "the U.S. Army Special Operations Command released a brief account of his last moments. The April 30, 2004, statement awarded Tillman a posthumous Silver Star for combat valor and described how a section of his Ranger platoon came under attack&hellip.

"It was a stirring tale and fitting eulogy for the Army's most famous volunteer in the war on terrorism, a charismatic former pro football star whose reticence, courage and handsome beret-draped face captured for many Americans the best aspects of the country's post-Sept. 11 character.

"It was also a distorted and incomplete narrative, according to dozens of internal Army documents obtained by The Washington Post that describe Tillman's death by fratricide after a chain of botched communications, a misguided order to divide his platoon over the objection of its leader and undisciplined firing by fellow Rangers.

"The Army's public release made no mention of friendly fire, even though at the time it was issued, investigators in Afghanistan had already taken at least 14 sworn statements from Tillman's platoon members that made clear the true causes of his death.

"But the Army's published account not only withheld all evidence of fratricide, but also exaggerated Tillman's role and stripped his actions of their context. ... The Army's April 30 news release was just one episode in a broader Army effort to manage the uncomfortable facts of Pat Tillman's death, according to internal records and interviews."

Now the Army is going after soldiers who presumably pulled the triggers at the scene. There is no evidence that it is looking at its own high-level cover-up.

"Maybe lying's not a big deal anymore," Tillman’s father told the Post last year. "Pat's dead, and this isn't going to bring him back. But these guys should have been held up to scrutiny, right up the chain of command, and no one has."

More on Tillman and other Iraq and media outrages and controversies in my book, So Wrong for So Long.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

For this weekly feature, on Easter Sunday, what else could it be LvB's "Hallelujah" chorus?  In his hands, of course, it's roll-away-the-rock-and-roll. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

More for Easter from Sam Cooke

From our greatest modern singer, with Soul Stirrers, mid-1950s.  
And another

From '1971' to '1984'?

You may recall that a few weeks back I covered the important new book about the infamous 1971 "citizens committee" break-in at an FBI office in Pennsylvania that revealed the notorious COINTELPRO domestic spy program and more.  Of course, I followed the story back then in 1971 and even had strong connection to some COINTELPRO victims (I was probably surveiled myself).  Tonight, a film based on the same episode debuts at he Tribeca Film Festival in New York, and AP just posted interviews with director and a producer--none other than Laura Poitras of NSA/Snowden fame....So, natch, we get valid connections to the NSA scandal today.  Trailer:

Blues for Breakfast

UpdateNYT just posted blog piece by the chief researcher on this story, Caitlin Love, on one of her chases.  Don't miss.

Earlier: Some may be looking at their newly-delivered NYT right now and notice that the Sunday magazine's cover story is "The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie."  It's a lengthy and remarkable story of two black women who recorded a total of six blues numbers, vocals and guitar, around 1930, that have knocked out listeners when they were re-discovered quite a few years back, and posed a mystery re: who they were, how the records (few of which survive) came to be, and what the heck happened to the two women.  But make sure you that the Times has done what their cool multimedia things online with video and a lot of audio and extra photos.  And here's one of those classics, in minor key but oh so major, which promoted the mystery when used the Crumb doc back in the 1990s.

'NYT' Admits to 'Gag Orders' in Israel

Big controversy on this--although, one has to admit, not a total surprise, given the paper's history in that country--which has been building, and NYT finally admits, amazingly, that it agreed to gag orders in Israeli in exchange for credentials.  The Times' public ed. Margaret Sullivan covers here but does not go quite far enough (and see update below).
The Times article mentions a court-imposed gag order that was lifted on Thursday. What it doesn’t mention is that The Times, too, is subject to such gag orders. According to its bureau chief in Jerusalem, Jodi Rudoren, that is true.
In an email, Ms. Rudoren told me that in order to get press credentials in Israeli, The Times agrees to abide by such court-imposed orders...

The Times is “indeed, bound by gag orders,” she said. “Apparently we agree to this when signing up for government press cards, which are required to operate here, for access to public officials among other things.” She said that two of her predecessors in the bureau chief position affirmed to her this week that this is the case.
Two ranking editors at The Times – the managing editor, Dean Baquet, and an assistant managing editor, Susan Chira (who was the foreign editor for eight years) – told me that they were unaware of The Times ever agreeing to abide by gag orders in Israel.
Meanwhile, an online publication called The Electronic Intifada published a number of articles about Mr. Kayyal’s detention over the past several days.
The author of those articles, Ali Abunimah, said in an email that “readers have a right to know when NYT is complying with government-imposed censorship.”
UPDATE  Sullivan has added this clarification to her column:
The Times is “indeed, bound by gag orders,” Ms. Rudoren said. She said that the situation is analogous to abiding by traffic rules or any other laws of the land, and that two of her predecessors in the bureau chief position affirmed to her this week that The Times has been subject to gag orders in the past.  (An earlier version of this post said that The Times agrees to abide by gag orders as a prerequisite for press credentials, but Ms. Rudoren told me today that that is not the case, although it was her initial understanding.)
She added link to a 2010 story that was written from the U.S. as a possible example of how the paper has handled this ban in the past.

My anti-death penalty e-book

My anti-death penalty e-book
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