Note: Posts appear in chronological
order from top down.
Fact and friction
by Bill "damned proud of being modest" Ring
"I have too much respect for the truth to bandy it about indiscriminately."
New for 2010
Episode 1: Starting
the Year On Some Positive Notes Jan
Somewhat belatedly (and couldn't that
be the title of the entire blog?), I am making good on my promise to
publish the results of my "frog smooching" (i.e. looking around
for good stuff) on the internet. These are some music videos I found
that I can't seem to stop watching. A lot of them come from the"Transatlantic
Sessions" originally broadcast on the good old BBC. The Eddi Reader
songs are mostly with her acoustic playing partner Boo Hewerdine. The
Utah Philips concert is a particular treasure trove for anyone who has
never seen him. The Bob Dylan thing is one of his lesser known songs,
performed live with Patty Smith in what I find to be a brilliantly ragged
style. Then there is a time capsule from another age, featuring Phil
Ochs and a pair of well-meaning but not entirely "with it"
suits (one with his collar on backwards). The others are probably self-explanatory.
Actually they probably all are, but I felt like I should write something.
Reader with Boo Hewerdine - Hummingbird
Eddi Reader - Bell, Book and Candle - Live At The Basement
Eddi Reader - Kiteflyer's
Reader with Boo Hewerdine - Footsteps Fall
READER - Prodigal Daughter (live at Cabot Hall)
Reader: "Town Without Pity"
ATTRACTION - "Find My Love"
Martyn with Eddi Reader - He Got All The Whiskey
Martyn - Spencer The Rover
Martyn with Kathy Mattea - May You Never
Kathy Mattea with
Dougie MacLean - Ready For The Storm
with Kathy Mattea - Turning Away
Mattea - Further And Further Away
Dement - Our Town
IRIS DEMENT - SWEET
IS THE MELODY
DeMent - God May Forgive You
Kelly And The Dubliners
Dransfield - Wings of the Sphinx
Utah Phillips (1 of 7)
links on YouTube for parts 2 thru 7.)
Marling - My Manic And I
Rilo Kiley "Silver
Rilo Kiley "The
Dylan and Patti Smith - Dark Eyes
Ochs - Cannons of Christianity - I Ain't Marching Anymore - Interview
Episode 2: That
Is, I Think I Disagree Feb
28 , 2010
I don't write a lot of "protest" songs. Most of
my own recent compositions are either love songs or attempts at humor,
although the humor will sometimes be seasoned with a dash of social or
political comment. When I do tackle a "serious" subject, it's more likely
to be philosophical rather than political in nature, and even then I am
more concerned with the poetry of the thing (if I can dignify my doggerel
with that term) than with expressing a carefully reasoned argument.
This is certainly not because I don't think
there is anything wrong in the world, and most certainly not because
I think that folk music is an inappropriate medium in which to raise such
matters. It's just that the things I feel moved to expound on these days
are mostly too complex to make for a good lyric. That's why I write a
blog in addition to writing songs. I find the obligation to maintain rhythm
and a rhyming scheme too great a burden when trying to discuss a subject
that is not simple enough to be summed up in a catchy "hook".
Protest songs are great for marshalling the troops,
preaching to the choir, etc. (Pick your own metaphor.) But what do you
do when the choir has left the building? Probably the classic protest
song is We Shall Overcome, but these days I'm not so sure who "we"
are or exactly what it is we are trying to overcome. I see problems, but
I'm uncertain about solutions. The US is currently involved in two wars,
one of which (Iraq) seems obviously absurd and pointless - a classic imperialist
fuck-up - while the other leaves me a little uncertain. Obviously I want
them both to be over, but somehow "Get the hell out of Iraq now and don't
move too many of the troops to Afghanistan while you try to sort that
one out." is a little unwieldy for a hook.
It would be easy enough to rip off a satiric ditty
about Tea Parties or filibuster gridlock or one of the many public figures
(political and otherwise) currently featured in some ludicrous scandal,
but somehow I haven't been feeling inspired in that direction lately.
In a nation of 300 million plus people, individuals, even famous ones,
aren't the problem. Even a windbag like Rush Limbaugh isn't personally
responsible for global warming, however much hot air he may expel. Obama's
election was a monumental historical event, but at the end of the day
he's still just another politician slogging through the mud of inertia,
special interests, greed, and stupidity that is politics here in the US
(and pretty much everywhere else, as far as that goes). I think our problems
are institutional and systemic, which are not words or ideas that lend
themselves to catchy lyrics. And yet ...
Interestingly enough (at least to me), as I write
this explanation of why I don't write protest songs, I am beginning to
have an idea about how I could perhaps come up with one or two.
Choir practice, anyone?
Episode 3: Media
Before there were such things as newspapers,
in England not long before the American Revolution there were many people
and groups publishing things called "Libels" which were essentially
the early prototype of what we now call blogs. These single-sheet publications
ranged from editorials to humorous and/or vicious satires, to occasional
reporting of events in a more or less accurate manner (according to
how well those events fit in with the author's prejudices). Everyone
who could read them did so, but it was taken for granted that each expressed
a particular point of view. The concept of objective journalism had
yet to be born.
Eventually our modern, somewhat idealized,
standards of objectivity came into being. Now we attempt to distinguish
between "legitimate" news organizations and propaganda purveyors
according to how blatantly they stretch the truth to conform to an agenda.
Most of us assume that the media tell us about pretty much everything
we need to know, and that when they get it wrong someone will blow the
whistle and a public debate will follow. Of course there is no such
thing as objective truth that can be proven to everyone's satisfaction,
but we assume that by paying attention to a variety of "reputable"
sources we will get enough information to make up our own minds and
form a reasonably accurate picture of what is going on in the world.
The problem (and you knew that word was coming,
didn't you?) is that media content, including news, is determined by
a lot of different considerations, most of which have nothing to do
First and most obviously, the slanting of news
and even distortion of fact to fit an agenda has not disappeared. It
has only gone underground (although in the case of Fox it has been peeking
up out of its hole more than usual lately). To some extent this problem
can be mitigated by seeking out multiple sources who can be expected
to slant in various directions, and for that reason it doesn't bother
me all that much.
What I see as a more insidious problem is the
question of editorial selection. That is, I am more concerned with what
our "reputable" media chose to ignore than with what they
say about the stories they do report. Fox and CNN may differ dramatically
in their editorial perspective, but you will almost always find them
reporting on the same basic stories. (And therefore ignoring the same
stories as well.) This arises from a perception that the media audience
doesn't care about certain things, or that those things aren't important
because the media ownership doesn't care about them. When some spectacular
disaster occurs we take notice, but the rest of the time our indifference
the 2/3 of the world's population that live outside the bubble of prosperity
we call the "first world" leads to a type of distortion that
I find much more troubling than out-right bias.
If you were the proverbial Martian trying to
learn about Earth from the western news media, You would conclude the
Most humans live in apartments or private homes
with running water, central heating, electricity, and internet access.
People who live in abject poverty in the "third world" are
exceptions whose deprived circumstances are being corrected by generous
Literacy, access to medical and dental care,
safe drinking water, and a variety of other civilized amenities are
all but universal, although health insurance costs are a problem for
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
We may know intellectually that roughly 20% of the human race lives
in China, but when our news media report about that country it always
seems to me that they are talking about some country of no more significance
than Belgium. Just another bunch of foreigners who need to be straightened
Try asking someone you know whether the average
person owns a TV set. They will probably look at you as if you've gone
nuts. Of course everyone owns a TV! Right? Well, actually, the average
person doesn't own what you would call a decent pair of shoes, much
less a TV or any place to plug it in if they somehow acquired one.
I don't want to beat this point to death. I
just wanted to remind you that the way you and I and everyone else we
know live IS NOT NORMAL. Not if normal means median or average. We are
the privileged few, and I think it might do us good to contemplate that
more often. You can be sure that the news media aren't going to do much
to remind us.
11, 2010 (revised August 3)
I am revising this post because my original
was a little off the mark. I had thought that the Arizona law was less
complicated than it actually is. You can find out more about that by
perusing the many news stories available.
All I really want to add is that this law strikes
me as very similar to most of the Tea-bag agenda. A real problem is
presented in a distorted way and an inappropriate and unworkable solution
proposed. This solution is then sold to as many people as possible by
appealing to racism, ignorance, xenophobia, greed, and any other base
impulse that can be of service.
The fact is that crime is down, not up in the
border regions. Illegal immigration is lower than several years ago.
There is no crime wave by illegal immigrants against citizens. Also,
very few of the people supporting the Arizona law would even consider
doing the sort of work illegals are supposedly "taking away"
Illegal immigration is a problem, but destroying
the Bill of Rights and creating a free-for-all of conflicting and/or
redundant state laws is not a reasonable solution.The most troubling
aspect of the the new Arizona law (now on hold pending litigation) is
that the police are empowered and encouraged to demand papers from anyone
they "suspect" might be an illegal immigrant. This new police
power is in clear violation of the constitutional protection against
unreasonable search and seizure. The constitution as interpreted by
the Supreme Court prohibits police from searching people and demanding
papers without probable cause. Looking poor and Hispanic isn't enough.
"I am you, and I'm a fool." October
14 , 2010
When problems without acceptable solutions
abound, no one can win an election by telling the truth. Every "serious"
candidate of whatever party lies like a rug, then whoever gets elected
has to squirm and dance to pretend to live up to absurd campaign promises
that defy logic, history, and simple arithmetic. After a while the party
in power is discredited and we start believing the alternative lies
of the other party and "throw the rascals out," thereby acquiring new
This is our fault, people. As long as we insist
on denying reality and refuse to vote for anyone who tells us the unpleasant
truth, as long as we keep cheering for vague feel-good slogans, we are
doomed to repeat this cycle. We want to maintain Social Security and
Medicare and continue funding a military budget that exceeds that of
the rest of the world combined, but we want to balance the budget without
raising taxes. This is impossible, even though both parties say they
will do it.
The Democrats at least acknowledge the necessity
of asking the top 2% who receive more than 25% of total US income to
pay a little more, but even their numbers don't add up. Since the Dem's
are slightly closer to reality, they are of course doomed in the next
The Tea Party, being a fictional virtual "grass-roots"
movement funded by mentally disturbed billionaires and fronted by a
clown-car full of bizarre hucksters whose policies include "second amendment
remedies" (If this doesn't mean shooting elected officials, what does
it mean?) and banning masturbation, is naturally highly popular.
When you refuse to vote for anything but liars,
the biggest liar gets elected. The next time a politician tells you
what you want to hear, give him/her the gate and find someone who will
tell you the truth. As your mom used to tell you, "Take your medicine.
I know it tastes bad, but it's good for you."
Boy, am I glad I was wrong! October
16 , 2010
I have been going around saying that because
there are 300,000 people born every day and 150,000 dying per day, that
the human population would continue to grow indefinitely until the old
Malthusian "solution" of plague, war, and mass starvation
reduced most of the world to chaos. Now I find that I was too hasty.
Apparently it's not that simple.
According to the article you can read by visiting
the link below, current trends in birth rates and age demographics lead
to the startling prediction that the world population will continue
to grow over the next 40 years until it reaches around 9 billion, then
start to fall until it is only about half what it is now by 2150. Of
course a lot can happen between now and then, but this is still surprisingly
good news compared to what I expected.
I only hope that the decline in human population
comes soon enough to end the horrific mass extinction of species that
is happening as we speak. For more on that subject, check out the link
No doubt the decline in population predicted
by the article I refer to above would cause economic and social disruptions,
but I believe this would still be preferable to mass starvation and
wars over resources. Add to that the consequences of wiping out most
of the other life on Earth, and I think it's pretty clear where the
PS: While I'm doing a "mea culpa" about being wrong, I might
as well mention my wildly inaccurate prediction after the last Presidential
election that Sara Palin would fade from the national spotlight. I based
this on my expectation that she would return to her duties as governor
of Alaska and continue to be a politician in the traditional sense.
It never occured to me that she would share my insight about her future
prospects and become a "reality" TV personality instead. Now
that the Delaware "witch" has shown that it is possible to
become a serious contender for the US Senate without so much as a functioning
campaign organization within the state, who knows what is possible?
Sometimes being wrong isn't so much fun.