Soul 2.0 by Lee Fields

Lee FieldsAbout five years ago, as a promotion for some media player (probably WinAmp), I got some free mp3s. It was something the company did now and then and it was cool; it allowed listeners to sample relatively unknown acts. By far, the best artist I discovered was Lee Fields — an incredible soul singer. At that time, I could find almost nothing about him other than that he had some minor success in the 1970s, seemed to drop out of music, and came back in the aughts. Mostly, what I knew about him was this one song, “Love Comes and Goes” off his album, My World. I think it is absolutely fantastic — musical perfection:

I still don’t know that much about Fields. He does, however, have a Wikipedia page now. According to it, he’s got the nickname “Little JB” because people think he sounds like James Brown. True enough. And other than mentioning a few people he’s worked with and a listing of his recordings, there isn’t much there. The main information about him is found in an article in the French language l’Express, Lee Fields, a Veteran of the Soul. As best as I can piece together, Fields released one album in 1979, Let’s Talk It Over. Listen to the title track and see if you don’t think it’s brilliant. But it didn’t become a hit or anything. So he disappeared, at least from the recording studio. It is certainly implied that he’s been working all this time. And someone with his talent would certainly be in demand for live music. But I have no idea what he was doing, except playing the “southern circuit.”

In 1999, he met up with a bunch of these white teenage R&B fanatics, The Expressions.[1] So he started playing with them. In 2002, he reemerged with Problems. It is more a funk album — very good but not the great stuff he would go on to do. In 2009, they put out My World. It is outstanding. Their next album, Faithful Man, is more mellow. I don’t like it quite as much, but it is still wonderful. Here is an actual music video for “You’re The Kind Of Girl”:

This year, Fields and company put out Emma Jean. It too is an outstanding album — as good as My World. The guy is just amazing. The band is fantastic. And here, for your listening enjoyment is a half-hour set that Fields and his band did at KEXP. It features a number of tunes off the new album:

My sister is always telling me about this or that great singer that she’s seen on television. Like recently, she mentioned Sam Smith. And I listened to him. He’s good. But it never moves me the way that, in this case, Lee Fields does. Part of it is just that it isn’t over-produced. Fields’ work is well produced, but there isn’t a great deal that is necessary. The music is enough — especially when you have a voice like Fields!

[1] I’m confused about The Expressions. It is not clear how constant the personnel are from year to year or ever day to day. Fields discusses this a little in live video.

Odds and Ends Vol 14 — Special Torture Edition

Odds and EndsThis is a special “torture report” edition of Odds and Ends. There has been so much great reporting on it that I could easily put out ten quotes posts. But I don’t want to do that. I think we all understood in a general sense what was being done. It is important that it be laid out now, as disgusting as it is. See my article on the subject yesterday, Torture Report Shows We Are Unjust and Creepy. I have to say, I can’t get over how every time we misbehave in this way, we show ourselves to be sexual perverts. I don’t think it is a surprise that this is what comes from a country that is almost 80% Christian. Paul the Apostle had real sexual issues and he poisoned the Christians who came after him.

We Have Seen the Enemy…

Charlie Pierce wrote a downright poetic response to those who refuse to accept what we have done and attempt to minimize it, The Torture Report and What it Says. Here is his summation:

Anyone who still believes [that the report is off base because CIA agents are “patriots”] is an idiot and a coward and I have no time for them.

I no longer take seriously anyone, in or out of government, who talks about “the debate” over whether the United States tortured people. The only debate left is the debate over whether or not it will remain the policy of this nation to torture people, or to outsource the job of torturing people, or to otherwise commit moral and national suicide by euphemism.

Anyone who still believes there’s a “debate” over whether or not the United States, using techniques previously used by the Japanese Imperial Army, the Gestapo, the North Korean People’s Army, and the KGB, tortured people is an idiot and a coward and I have no time for them. Not any more. Debate’s over. We became what they think we are. And worse. This is not debatable and, alas, it is anything but a surprise.

Pierce also wrote two other articles worth checking out: The Torture Report and What it Means and The Torture Report and What Comes Next.

False Equivalency

You may have seen Bob Kerrey’s ridiculous USA Today OpEd, Partisan Torture Report Fails America. How did it fail America? By not including the Republicans after they refused to be part of the investigation! Ed Kilgore hit this one out of the park, A Textbook Case of False Equivalency:

When Republicans “check out” of a bipartisan process because they cannot control it, it is by definition the fault of the Democrats for not finding a way to prevent it.

Lord-a-mercy. When a former Democratic senator — a former college president, for God’s sake — succumbs to this kind of “logic,” is it any wonder Republicans keep blowing things up so they can scream for fire trucks?

A Little Help From Our Friends

The Washington Post put together this color-coded map so you can follow along in the torture report to know where the atrocities were committed. Fun for the whole family!

Color Coded CIA Black Sites

That’s the great thing about invading a country — so much room to stretch out your torture program. But there’s more! Check out Max Fisher’s article at Vox, The 54 Countries That Helped the CIA With Its Torture-Linked Rendition Program. It’s not just Poland! But note: at least France and Norway are clear!

54 Countries That Helped CIA Torture

But don’t worry. That’s only 28% of the nations on earth.

How Despicable Are We? Let’s Count Some Ways!

Dylan Matthews at Vox put together, 16 Absolutely Outrageous Abuses Detailed in the CIA Torture Report. You will be aware of some of them, of course. It provides the relevant text from the report, but here’s the list:

  1. The CIA put hummus in a detainee’s rectum
  2. Interrogators forced detainees to stand on broken feet
  3. CIA interrogators threatened to sexually assault the mother of a detainee
  4. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times
  5. KSM and Abu Zubaydah nearly drowned to death during some of their torture sessions
  6. Abu Zubaydah lost his left eye in CIA custody
  7. The CIA conducted torture sessions knowing they’d worsen detainees’ injuries
  8. Detainees were kept awake for as long as 180 hours — over a week
  9. CIA interrogators broke down a detainee until they judged him “clearly a broken man”
  10. The interrogations probably killed at least one person
  11. The CIA tortured people before they even tried asking them to cooperate
  12. CIA interrogators objected to the torture but were told to keep going by senior officials
  13. At least 26 out of 119 known detainees were wrongfully held
  14. The CIA lied to the White House about the effectiveness of torture
  15. The CIA refused to vet participants in the torture program who had admitted to sexual assault
  16. They refused to impose disciplinary sanctions on an interrogator involved in a detainee’s death

Number 11 goes right along with what I’ve always said: torture wasn’t about getting information; it was about being “tough.” I’m so ashamed. But I’ve got to remember that no matter what we do, America Is Awesome!

Once a Liar…

The New York Times has reported that CIA Director of Public Affairs, Bill Harlow, claims that the CIA disagrees with the report, “We don’t think it’s true.” Well, he would, wouldn’t he? Jon Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution noted that, Organizer of Told CIA’s Most Blatant Lie about Iraq and WMD:

Bill Harlow told the CIA’s most blatant lie about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, just weeks before the US invaded in March, 2003. Here’s what happened:

By the end of February, 2003, the US case for war with Iraq was disintegrating. That February 15th had seen demonstrations of millions across the world in the biggest antiwar rallies in human history; the British parliament was showing signs it might vote against participating in the invasion; and most crucially, the UN had found no trace of WMD in Iraq.

At that point Newsweek published what was, to the Bush administration and CIA, the most terrifying story possible — that Iraq likely had no WMD, and the United States knew it.

What Newsweek revealed was that in 1995, when Hussein Kamel — Saddam’s son-in-law and head of Iraq’s WMD programs — had defected to Jordan, he told the UN, CIA and British intelligence that in fact Iraq had no WMD left.

According to Newsweek, “The CIA did not respond to a request for comment.” But the story quickly gained traction online, and when Reuters followed up on the Newsweek story, they went to Bill Harlow…

He then quoted Harlow from the Reuters‘ story saying, “It is incorrect, bogus, wrong, untrue.” Schwarz continued:

There’s absolutely no ambiguity here; Harlow was lying through his teeth. He wasn’t addressing what Iraq was doing in 2003, or even whether what Hussein Kamel had said in 1995 was true. Rather, he was simply addressing what Kamel said, something that the CIA knew with 100% certainty.

But it doesn’t matter. No one in the power elite like Bill Harlow is ever held accountable. They can lie and be caught again and again, but they are still treated as though their opinions matter. It’s an outrage Harlow isn’t in prison, much less being quoted as an authority by The New York Times.

Bleed for Me

This Dead Kennedys song is from 1982, when I thought we just supported countries that tortured. How far we’ve progressed! Backwards.

Another Unique “Best Books” List

What You Need To Read To Know Just About Everything - Allen ScarbroughMy earlier reading led me to an idiosyncratic book by Allen Scarbrough, What You Need To Read To Know Just About Everything: The 25 Best Books for a Self Education and Why. I love this kind of thing. For one thing, although I am very formally educated, it is in physics. And that means that just about everything beyond science was pushed out of the way of my education. An old friend of mine who had intended to be an artist insisted on getting a degree in English Literature, because he didn’t want to be, “One of those ignorant artists.” But the truth is that I don’t think any field of study is enough, and if you want to be educated, you need to do a lot of work all by yourself.

I feel like I’ve spent my whole life trying to get caught up on all the things I missed early on. That mostly involves reading a lot of books. I still feel pretty ignorant about science, but given that I know far more science than pretty much anyone I know, I figure I’m covered. Anyway, I was curious about Scarbrough’s list. So let’s take a look. First, here’s the list:

  1. Siddhartha
  2. Walden
  3. The Brothers Karamazov
  4. The Republic
  5. On the Road
  6. Leaves of Grass
  7. The Bible
  8. Crime and Punishment
  9. The Catcher in the Rye
  10. The Grapes of Wrath
  11. The Sun Also Rises
  12. Moby Dick
  13. The Wisdom of Insecurity
  14. Tropic of CancerTropic of Capricorn
  15. Big Sur
  16. The True Believer
  17. The Old Man and the Sea
  18. War and Peace
  19. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  20. The Odyssey
  21. Anna Karenina
  22. The Art of War
  23. East of Eden
  24. A Sand County Almanac
  25. A Brief History of Time

Even though the list is weighted heavily with Russians, it is a very American list! John Steinbeck has two places on the list. And rightly so! Steinbeck is still my favorite English language writer. I quite agree about The Grapes of Wrath. Every American should read it. But I would recommend Cannery Row or even Of Mice and Men before East of Eden. Regardless, you just can’t go wrong with Steinbeck.

I think Scarbrough picked the exact right Hemingway too. Both of those books were very important to me when I was a young man. I dare say (and this is embarrassing) that they taught me a lot about how to be a man. There is important wisdom in those books that our police officers would be well to learn. Just the same, how in the hell do you put two Hemingway books on the list and not one Fitzgerald or Stein? Nix The Old Man and the Sea and add Tender Is the Night. I’ll admit, Stein’s work is still difficult for me.

The most disappointing thing on the list is that he gave two Jack Kerouac books places. Really?! Okay, I’ll admit it: I don’t get Kerouac. I’ve never thought much of him. But I understand that I’m not the ultimate arbiter of taste. (Although I should be!) But two books?! Really? I feel much the same way about Henry Miller. Scarbrough was tricky with him — throwing in two novels as one. Maybe he means you can read either of them. In my opinion, that would be true of any of his work. I really don’t like Miller and I don’t feel he has anything to teach me. But I know there are a lot of people who are just mad about him. Imagine some books that could have taken these three (or four) places!

And then we get to the Russians. I have never been able to get very far in either The Brothers Karamazov or War and Peace. And I probably should! I like both these writers. Similarly, I haven’t read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. And so I’m going to. I’ve requested it, along with Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. I’ll see about getting to the old Russians later.

I think that Siddhartha is a good choice, but there are other Hesse books that would be as good. Walden is a disappointment. I guess The Republic is a book that everyone should read. But I thought they already had! Leaves of Grass is a bit of a problem for me. I like the content of Whitman more than the form. I certainly think people should read him, however. Let me just abstain regarding The Catcher in the Rye, because I’m not exactly objective about it; it is a great book; I don’t really think it is worth reading.

I do think everyone should read the Bible. It is so ingrained into our culture. I think there are large sections that can be skipped however. I do wonder if Scarbrough thinks it ought to be read for its theology. That would be a mistake. It would be better to read someone like Thomas Aquinas for that. But in terms of understanding our cultural myths, the Bible is a must read.

The same can be said for the Odyssey. But apart from the Sirens and Cyclops, there isn’t that much. I think the Iliad is a much better choice in that it teaches most of what you need to know about the folly (and nobility) of man.

As for, The Art of War — okay. I haven’t read it. It seems awfully trendy these days. I think The Prince would probably be better. But you could always read both — they’re short. I had never even heard of A Sand County Almanac, but it does sound interesting. The same goes for The Wisdom of Insecurity. But I think A Brief History of Time is probably a mistake. Not worthless, but a waste of a spot on the list.

Overall, I think the list is rather good. Scarbrough’s idea is that one would carve out an hour or two per day and read all of these books over the course of a year. I think that’s a rather good idea. It might make for a good group project, although two years might be a more reasonable time frame. If I were to change the list, I would only give any author one slot. Also, I would make the list a little less male. There is not a single woman writer on the list, and I think it shows. Should we really read The Art of War without reading Emma? Perhaps I will put together my own list one day.

The Appeal of Fascism

Max BlumenthalThe story began in 1958, when Eisenhower received a letter from Robert Biggs, a terminally ill World War II veteran. Biggs told the president that he “felt from your recent speeches the feeling of hedging and a little uncertainty.” He added, “We wait for someone to speak for us and back him completely if the statement is made in truth.”

Eisenhower could have discarded Biggs’s note or sent a canned response. But he didn’t. He composed a thoughtful reply. After enduring Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who had smeared his old colleague Gen George C Marshall as a Communist sympathizer, and having guarded the Republican Party against the newly emergent radical right John Birch Society, which labeled him and much of his cabinet Soviet agents, the president perhaps welcomed the opportunity to expound on his vision of the open society.

“I doubt that citizens like yourself could ever, under our democratic system, be provided with the universal degree of certainty, the confidence in their understanding of our problems, and the clear guidance from higher authority that you believe needed,” Eisenhower wrote on Feb 10, 1959. “Such unity is not only logical but indeed indispensable in a successful military organization, but in a democracy debate is the breath of life.”

Eisenhower also recommended a short book — “The True Believer” by Eric Hoffer, a self-educated itinerant longshoreman who earned the nickname “the stevedore philosopher.” “Faith in a holy cause,” Hoffer wrote, “is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”

Though Eisenhower was criticized for lacking an intellectual framework or even an interest in ideas, he was drawn to Hoffer’s insights. He explained to Biggs that Hoffer “points out that dictatorial systems make one contribution to their people which leads them to tend to support such systems — freedom from the necessity of informing themselves and making up their own minds concerning these tremendous complex and difficult questions.” The authoritarian follower, Eisenhower suggested, desired nothing more than insulation from the pressures of a free society.

Alluding to Senator McCarthy and his allies, Eisenhower pointed out that cold war fears were distorted and exploited for political advantage. “It is difficult indeed to maintain a reasoned and accurately informed understanding of our defense situation on the part of our citizenry when many prominent officials, possessing no standing or expertness as they themselves claim it, attempt to further their own ideas or interests by resorting to statements more distinguished by stridency than by accuracy.”

It is worth noting, of course, that these Cold War exaggerations weren’t just a Republican specialty: John F Kennedy was making a supposed “missile gap” between the United States and the Soviet Union a key element of his presidential campaign.

In closing his letter, Eisenhower praised Biggs for his “fortitude in pondering these problems despite your deep personal adversity.” Perhaps it was the president’s sense of solidarity with a fellow soldier that prompted him to respond to Biggs with such care; and perhaps it was his experience as supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe that taught him that the rise of extreme movements and authoritarianism could take root anywhere — even in a democracy.

—Max Blumenthal
Ike’s Other Warning

Emily Dickinson

Emily DickinsonOn this day in 1830, the great poet Emily Dickinson was born. I feel a great kinship with her because of her agoraphobia. I would rather conduct my relationships through letters. (I’m not saying this is a good thing.) But Dickinson was also interested in a lot of the same things that I am, and her thinking of metaphysics certainly parallels mine.

Regardless, I thought I would present “The Mystery of Pain.” I found a version online for teachers where it comments, “This poem is suitable to be taught for Junior High School students because it has a great moral value of life. It notices to be patient when we are in a pain, and we have to realize that everything will change, there is no everlasting pain. Since the language used is quite hard to understand, the teacher should assist students to find the correct interpretation of the poem.”

All I can say is that I hope the teachers understand the poem better than whomever wrote that! Let me give you my interpretation. We tend to not be able to imagine that we will always feel the way we now do and that’s a drag when we are feeling pain. But the enlightened mind will know that the pain will go away, only to be replaced by another pain. I would find that a depressing thought if it were not exactly what I know to be true.

Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.

It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.

Happy birthday Emily Dickinson!

This article was part of last year’s birthday post, The Best Birthday Post Ever. I don’t normally do this, but I am suffering from some kind of food poisoning or something. I hope I feel better later!