Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TWI THE HUMBLE FEATHER: Music For Spaceships And Forests
Dec 15, 2008

Proving that unplugged need not be synonymous with simple, Brooklyn acoustic three-piece Twi The Humble Feather take a composition-like approach to their sound, and claim influences ranging from Bach to Philip Glass. Their debut concept EP, Music For Spaceships And Forests, is unique in its refusal to commit to one sound. "Adventure Of Castle One" features chilled guitar strumming along with lilting harmonies that suddenly touches of reggae and trance. Lullaby-like sounds resonate on "Higher Than The End," while "Finale" flirts with faster, more urgent beats.

The upfront guitar strumming combines classical and flamenco influences while sensual, abstract chanting provides the background. Instrumentals are confident and experiment with different rhythms whilst retaining a delicate sound; the result is captivating and almost tribal, and no two tracks sound like one another.

Tracklist For Music For Spaceships and Forests:
01. Higher Than The End
02. Adventures Of Castle One
03. Music For Spaceships And Forests
04. Adventures Of Castle Two
05. Finale


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Racists for Obama
Plenty of white bigots will vote for Barack Obama on Tuesday. There are some things they fear more than black people.

Nov. 03, 2008

The photograph is of a house in Indiana displaying the confederate flag flying over an Obama for President campaign lawn sign.
Sean Quinn, of the polling site FiveThirtyEight, respected for its obsessiveness and eerie prescience, recently posted a hair-raising story about a pair of Barack Obama supporters. Quinn writes that he will verify its source after the election. It goes like this: A man canvassing for Obama in western Pennsylvania asks a housewife which candidate she intends to vote for.
She yells to her husband to find out. From the interior of the house, he calls back, "We're voting for the nigger!" At which point the housewife turns to the canvasser and calmly repeats her husband's declaration.

Ah, racism. It's always a step ahead of us. Even before the majority of Democrats decided that Obama was electable despite being the first openly black presidential candidate, pollsters began gradually raising the level of speculation about the tide of bigotry that might overwhelm white voters once they got into that private little booth and faced the prospect of pulling a lever that suddenly seemed to read "Some Black Dude."

For the past six months, though, countless pollsters have shown that the so-called Bradley effect, named after African-American Democrat Tom Bradley, who lost the California governor's race in 1982 to a white opponent after leading in the polls, has ceased to exist, if it ever really did. Most likely, they say, it won't significantly affect the outcome of Tuesday's election. A recent Gallup Poll suggests that the number of all voters who would reject Obama based on his race, and the number more likely to vote for him because of his race, is about the same. (The numbers for those who would vote for or against McCain because he's white are about the same.) In other words, the Bradley effect is neutralized.

Those polls don't mean that racism still isn't alive in America. It is. But it's not as black and white as all the talk about the Bradley effect might lead us to believe. The couple in western Pennsylvania suggests that people can look past skin color while acting in their own best interests. For whatever reason or reasons -- the economy, healthcare, the Iraq war, Sarah Palin -- some racists are determined to vote for the black guy over the white one. A recent photo published in Politico (here and above) shows a Confederate flag proudly flying over an Obama sign in an Indiana home's front yard. Racists for Obama? It's a bracing contradiction and causes us to look deeper into what Obama's candidacy is telling us about race in American life and culture. People have criticized Obama for his willingness to reach out to America's international enemies, but they've seldom acknowledged that if he's elected, he's also going to have to deal diplomatically with haters in his own country.

The Pennsylvania couple's intended vote also suggests that we base our impression of what it means to be racist on a number of false assumptions. To be biased, you don't have to be a muscular guy with a shaved head and a swastika tattoo, or a late governor of a Southern state. You might be a radio personality, or even a liberal guy with a tendency to jam his foot into his mouth. In August, back before Obama gained his current lead, Jacob Weisberg worried in Slate that 5 percent of white voters telling CBS/New York Times pollsters that they would not personally vote for a black candidate "surely understates the reality," and that if you went by the numbers, racism would be Obama's downfall. It may seem like a logical conclusion, but actually there's no way of knowing whether that self-admitted 5 percent represents something called the "racist vote." Even if 5 percent of white voters claim they won't vote for a generic "black candidate," that's not the same thing as saying they won't vote for a specific individual named Barack Obama. (And the poll doesn't differentiate by party, so we don't know how many of those five-percenters are die-hard Republicans who wouldn't vote for a Democrat of any ethnicity.)

Furthermore, telling some stranger on the phone about how you're going to vote isn't equivalent to casting a vote. Nowadays statisticians have identified a complementary phenomenon to the Bradley effect, the reverse Bradley effect, in which a voter tells a pollster she won't vote for a candidate based on race and then votes for the candidate anyway, probably while feeling very, very naughty. Leaving us exactly nowhere in our quest to pinpoint the degree to which racism might hurt Obama at the polls. It leaves the media in a situation that black Americans are all too familiar with -- struggling in vain to identify and measure racial discrimination as it hides, transforms and eludes our understanding.

The number of racists who aren't voting for Obama isn't as interesting as the number of racists who are. That he has any racist supporters at all points to a quality in bigotry that few people ever acknowledge -- flexibility. It's usually assumed that racism is all-powerful, that it alone will cause someone to vote against a black candidate. But blackness is just one possible plus or minus in a balance sheet with many entries. In an abysmal economy during which the white candidate's campaign has seemed disorganized and erratic, common sense or shared values can prevail over gut fears about the color of a candidate's skin. Dem consultant Paul Begala, quoted by Smith, suggests that the current state of our union might be dire enough to erase the fear of a black president:

If you got to a white neighborhood in the suburbs and ask them, "How would you feel about a large black man kicking your door in," they would say, "That doesn't sound good to me... But if you say, "Your house is on fire, and the firefighter happens to be black," it's a different situation.

Perhaps urgent circumstances require so much self-interest that racism can wait, at least until the crisis is over. Maybe this is why Obama's poll numbers seemed to rise along with the volatility of the world's financial markets.

Though our biases may be the result of some hard-wiring, we can choose not to express them, or not to let them get the best of us. Maybe that's why when people do cling to their prejudices, they have a hard time defending them. The cause may have a scientific explanation, but the justifications we give to racism are largely irrational.

And speaking of irrationality, there's apparently more than one reason for a racist to vote for Barack Obama. As Earl Ofari Hutchinson notes in the Huffington Post, some racists want Obama to win because they assume his presidency will give credence to their belief that blacks want to give whites a taste of their own medicine. When Caucasian Americans wake up to this idea, the theory goes, their outrage will spark the racial holy war that white supremacists so desperately await. Their theory does not, however, explain Joe Biden's presence on the ticket.

Apparently a new political time may have come after all, that voters, including racist voters, can make policy choices among candidates ahead of racial choices. It's what progressives should have wanted all along, it's what Barak Obama declared his candidacy was all about. Cynically, I had been taking that statement as a calculated political position of Obama's. But now I think I was wrong - that Obama does see his message and his purpose as bringing a new politics not only to this nation, but to the world.

Tomorrow, on the 4th, I think we will have a new President of the World. I think everything will be changed forever. After a lifetime as a political activist, an observer, and as a political commentator I have never been so hopeful as I am now. It really is a beginning of a new time, and a time or a new generation. Enjoy.

François Mitterand brought civilization to France. One of his first acts as president was to end the death penalty. A guy named Philippe Maurice had his date with the guillotine cancelled.
Amazing but true: the country that gave the world "The Rights of Man" was still lopping off heads in 1981.

Fortunately, things change. Other countries followed France's lead. Today, just a quarter century later, fewer than a quarter of the world's nations still carry out capital punishment. Nations that do can't get into the European Union.

Our next president--Barack Obama--has a similar opportunity to create a transformative moment toward a fully civilized United States. I'm not talking about abolishing executions, though that is long overdue. President Obama should close Guantánamo.

Not after appointing a commission to look into it. Not after finding a nation willing to take the detainees. Like Mitterand, he should do it immediately.

After years of denial, Bush Administration officials now admit that hundreds of men and children--as young as 13!--have been tortured and otherwise abused at Gitmo. Inmates were penned up in dog cages, denied exercise, and waterboarded.

One guard vehemently denied urinating on a prisoner's Koran. His defense? "The guard had left his observation area post and went outside to urinate," according to a Defense Department report. "He urinated near an air vent and the wind blew his urine through the vent into the [prisoner's cell]." You see, he wasn't trying to pee on the Koran. He was trying to pee on the prisoner. His urine stream had inadvertently splashed off the man onto the book.

Not surprisingly, a lot of the inmates--who'd been sold to U.S. troops by Afghan warlords, locked up for years without being accused of anything, denied access to an attorney or their families, denied most of all of hope--freaked out. Some hung themselves. Others went on hunger strike.

The military's response? Suicide, they said, was a diabolically clever act of "asymmetrical warfare." They strapped the hunger strikers into special chairs, pried open their jaws and jammed feeding tubes down their throats so roughly that they vomited blood.

Most of this, the government claims, no longer happens at Gitmo. But there's no way to verify that. Reporters and human rights groups are denied access to the facility and its misérables. Wherever there's a secret, there's something to hide.

Life at Guantánamo has entered a weird second phase. Originally dedicated to the forceful extraction of information about impending terrorist attacks, prisoner interrogations now torture inmates in order to obtain information on activities within the camp itself. "The primary focus is the safety of the detainees as well as the detainee guard force, and that's why we have this intelligence activity," said the camp's commander, Navy Rear Admiral David Thomas in the NY Times in August. In other words, the circumstances of the prisoners' incarceration necessitate further incarceration.

Kafka would have loved it. We keep them in Gitmo, not to keep us safe, but to keep Gitmo itself safe.

As anyone who has spent time behind bars will attest, uncertainty is worse than abuse. Bruises heal; urine dries. Not knowing whether you will ever again be free to walk down a street, sit in a café or hug your children is constant torment. You deaden your emotions in order to survive, wondering whether you'll ever be able to get them back.

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of America's premier gulag, however, is its use and abuse of military and civilian courts to jerk around inmates and their families. The quasi-judicial system set up to process the detainees is itself a paragon of psychological torture characterized by sadistic glee and aggressive indifference.

This week the Pentagon decided not to pursue charges against five other Gitmo prisoners. Apparently government prosecutors were afraid that the trials--even those conducted by the military's kangaroo courts--would publicize how people are treated at America's Devil's Island.

"They have been cornered into doing this to avoid admitting torture," said Claire Algar, executive director of the legal group Reprieve.

So the lucky five go free, right? Wrong. "There are no plans to free any of the men, and the military said it could reinstate charges later," writes the Associated Press.

Bush, it came out recently, "never considered proposals" to close Gitmo. Both Obama and McCain say they want to shut it down, but neither has said when. Their reticence stems from the mentality expressed by a Bush Administration official: "The new president will gnash his teeth and beat his head against the wall when he realizes how complicated it is to close Guantánamo."

There is nothing complicated about it. Gitmo is useless. It's evil. It--and the secret detentions at Bagram, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere--have destroyed America's reputation.