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New Music: Jose Gonzalez - In Our Nature / Iron and Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 4:46 PM EDT

No phrase can make the heart sink quite like "singer-songwriter." Patchouli seems to waft out from between the words along with all the most hippie-tastic implications of "folk music," and a cue to set your self-indulgence force fields on maximum. While both Iron and Wine (aka Florida-based Sam Beam) and Argentinian-Swedish José González are beardy guys with guitars, they've transcended the stereotypes in very different ways: the former bringing in his buddies and aiming for an aural maximalism, the latter isolated in a kind of monkish self-denial. But both have made spectacular albums.

Iron and WineThe Shepherd's Dog, Iron and Wine's third album, will immediately surprise anyone familiar only with Beam's whispery cover of The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights;" the first track, "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car," with its jaunty beat and multi-part harmony, is already more New Pornographers than Nick Drake, although, like Drake, Beam's delicate voice softens these songs, even when there's a lot going on. It doesn't take long for more musical influences to pop up: "Wolves" has a roots reggae feel that's just this side of jam-band, again held in check by Beam's soft-as-silk vocals.

mojo-photo-josegonzalezlg.jpgCritics talk about the Argentinian influence in Swedish-born José González' work, but I'm not sure: his precise, almost repetitive guitar work and James Taylor- reminiscent voice express such a bleak world-view, it seems unfair to foist that on a whole country. In Our Nature, expressly concerned with, well, man's inhumanity to man, doesn't always avoid the pratfalls of political folk music: "How Low"'s line, "invasion after invasion," makes you cringe a little with its awkwardness. But at other times, the restrictive palette, enhanced by a stomp on the down-beat or a bongo slap, seems to explode into a thundering storm of emotion, made all the more powerful by its humble origins.

Both Iron & Wine and González owe debts to Nick Drake, who despite the lovely 2000 Volkswagen ad featuring "Pink Moon" remains criminally below the radar. While González aims towards a melancholy, electronica-covering update of Drake's folky style, his barely-30-minute-long album seems more a collection of songs; Iron and Wine's album (over 50% longer!) succeeds as such partially because of its surprising stylistic turns. In any event, after listening to both, I'm getting out Drake's Bryter Layter for afternoon happy time coffee break listening. After all this tear-jerky music, somebody might want to just check on me later.

Stream all of Jose Gonzalez' In Our Nature at his MySpace, ditto Iron and Wine's The Shepherd's Dog at his MySpace.

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El Pais Publishes Transcript of 2003 Bush/Aznar Discussion: Invade Iraq

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 3:27 PM EDT

El Pais, the major Spanish daily newspaper, just published what it professes to be a transcript of a private discussion between George W. Bush and Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar that took place on February 22, 2003 at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. El Pais says that the transcript was prepared by Spain's ambassador to the United States, Javier Ruperez.

In their alleged conversation, Bush states that "if there was a United Nations Security Council resolution or not....We have to get rid of Saddam. We will be in Baghdad at the end of March." He also said that the takeover of Iraq would occur "without widespread destruction," and that he was willing to play "good cop" to then-British prime minister Tony Blair's "bad cop" (some of us may have trouble sorting that one out).

Throughout the conversation, Aznar calls for caution, but Bush tells him "My patience is exhausted."

Notable quotes:

"We can win without destruction."

"I am the one [who] has to console the mothers and the widows of [the dead]."

And one I will leave as translated by the Spanish translator because it actually sounds like Bush himself:

"We are developing a package of humanitarian aid very hard."

A Million More Marches

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 3:23 PM EDT

Abner Louima, Rodney King, Amadou Diallo. Now the Jena 6, black people speaking truth to the power of undisguised racism, the good old proveable, Movement-y kind.

They came together as one as they like to do once a decade or so, then got back on their long haul buses and went home. No doubt, the kente cloth and waist-lengths 'locks were glorious to behold as they rode home in triumph. To dangerous neighborhoods, underperforming schools, and obese kinfolk praised for prefering prayer to prescription meds. Or, perhaps, to continue being an "only;" only black in the neighborhood, only black in management, only black in the Philosophy Department. The only black who's sick of one-shot wonder marches, rallies and protests? Sick of preformatted analyses which gloss over black quiescence or perfidy (OJ, anyone?) and unerringly conflate the forest with the trees?

Let's get this out of the way: what happened to the Jena 6 was heinous, non-blacks should be reexamining their hearts, and heads should be rolling Nifong-style. I'm as happy as the next Negro to stick it to the man (I'm on record as saying I'd have thrown a rock, just one and into a bush--more of a tossing if you will--after the Rodney King verdict had I been an Angeleno), but this wasn't exactly Selma and these brothers weren't exactly the Scottsboro Boys. Folks should go to jail for stomping a random (and lone) person into the ER, white or not, nooses or not. Not for attempted murder, of course not, but aggravated battery sounds about right, especially when you factor in that the stompee was not, as far as we know, one of the noose hangers. And when we have it on good authority that Jena High also boasts "black bleachers" where honkies fear not tread. Racism, and its effects on the ground, is rarely simple.

If you didn't know about the bleachers, you probably don't know this either: the names of the true inheritors of the Civil Rights Movement, the brave students who sat under the "white tree". Note that they first asked, and received, permission to do so. Something tells me that there would have been no march last week, no year of unrelenting "Afro-sphere" agitation , had the school refused them permission and no black took it on himself to kill whitey in revenge. Anti-black racists aren't the "only" ones who have a use for black oppression, the same oppression to which the black community continues to apply anachronistic, gotcha!, 60s-style tactics.

Sorry, but if Jena doesn't lead to a re-embrace of non-violence when confronting racism and inequality, it's not what Rev. Sharpton deemed the "beginning of the 21st-century civil rights movement;" it's vigilantism. If it doesn't lead to a sustained re-focus on non-symbolic tactics aimed not at white guilt but at black uplift, it'll have to be written off as mere masturbation: feels good but doesn't produce life. We dont need another movement, not if it's focused on the doings of outsiders. Instead, we need to hunker down for a community-wide soul searching of the Chinese re-education camp variety designed to help us figure out what our role in America's racial morass is and what our response to the continuing existence of systemic racism should be. I remember when the untalented Jackson sister LaToya made news for having multiple plastic surgeries to "improve her career." Arsenio Hall mused, "I'm thinking: why not singing lessons? I'm with Arsenio.
Slate put it best: wrong poster children, sorry analysis of the problem.

I made no effort to get to Jena. Instead, I spent that time reading worthy analyses of the proveable, addressable, effects of racism in the criminal justice system. These bespectacled economists and sociologists are downright radical. They already knew that racism filled our prisons; now they're proving how it affects America at large. They're doing more good on Capitol Hill making these "tough on crime" politicians change gears than all the buses in Jena.

The 1960s Civil Rights Movement had to be about what whites were doing to us. Any modern movement needs to be focused inward, on what blacks are doing to themselves or what we're failing to pragmatically respond to.

If you want to stick it to the man, let's police our own neighborhoods. Let's snitch. A lot. Let's make our schools so good they're suing us to get in. Let's take care of ourselves and outlive the bastards. Let's stop using corporal punishment as our primary means of child discipline, limit their TV time and read to them every night. Any one of these will do more for us than a thousand Jenas.

Too bad they don't involve TV crews and tussling with white folks. Then it would be done with a quickness.

If a Gay Musician Has a Picture of Naked Underage Girls, Can He Still Be Arrested?

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 3:19 PM EDT

Elton JohnIt's a zen koan for the 21st century. Elton John is being faced with a child pornography investigation after a Nan Goldin portrait he owns of two naked girls was about to be included in a gallery show. The photograph, called "Klara and Edda Belly-dancing," was to be part of an exhibit at the Baltic gallery in Gateshead, UK, but managers there apparently called the police the day before its scheduled opening. That's right, the gallery called the police. Were they just suddenly wracked with paroxysms of guilt or something? "All this time we thought it was art, but we were wrong, officers, so wrong! Take it from us!" So the police have seized the photograph and are apparently still assessing its worthiness as art. A statement on Elton John's website pointed out that the photograph has been exhibited around the world with no previous kerfuffle. Besides, if they were going to seize something, why not seize this Donald Duck photo?

Terror Overhaul at the FBI

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 2:49 PM EDT

From this morning's Washington Post:

The FBI has begun the most comprehensive realignments of its counterterrorism division in six years so it can better detect the growing global collaborations by terrorists and dismantle larger terrorist enterprises, according to senior bureau officials.
The bureau will merge its two international terrorism units -- one for Osama bin Laden's followers and the other for more established groups such as Hezbollah -- into a new structure that borrows both from Britain's MI5 domestic intelligence agency and the bureau's own successful efforts against organized-crime families, Joseph Billy Jr., the FBI's assistant director for counterterrorism, said in an interview.
The new approach is meant to channel raw intelligence and threat information through "desk officers" with expertise on specific world regions or terrorist groups, allowing those experts to spot trends and set investigative strategies for field agents and joint terrorism task forces that collaborate with local law enforcement, Billy said...
Borrowing from its mob-busting strategies in the 1980s, the bureau will encourage counterterrorism agents to forgo immediate arrests when an imminent threat is not present, allowing the surveillance of terrorism suspects to last longer. The aim is to identify collaborators, facilitators and sympathizers who increasingly span across multiple groups and countries, Billy said.

Could it be that the FBI is finally learning to play this game? It's going to funnel information to people who actually know what they're talking about and who can help make informed decisions about how to proceed? They're going to wait longer to bust people to see if they can catch more and bigger fish? I don't know what was going on there until now, but this has got to be progress.

India Outsourcing Its Outsourcing

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 2:27 PM EDT

India is, and has been for years, the Third World answer to our First World economy and has fulfilled all of our outsourcing "needs." It is especially known for its call-centers, which as an American you encounter when you call, well, just about anywhere. Currently, India accounts for 60 percent of international back-office services.

Although, recently, there is a new twist in the world of outsourcing. According to the New York Times, Indian firms such as Tata Consultancy Service and Infosys, India's second largest software services outsourcing firm, have set up shops in places like Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, and the Czech Republic. Another Indian IT services firm, Wipro, is contemplating opening up centers in places like Idaho, Virginia, and Georgia, U.S. "states which are less developed," claims the firm's chairman. Well, isn't this ironic? The New York Times article goes on to say that an American company will outsource Indians to "supply it with Mexican engineers working 150 miles south of the United States border."

Isn't globalization efficient?

—Neha Inamdar

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Hilarious Website of the Week: Cops Bitching About Other Cops

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 1:52 PM EDT

Hey, have you heard of copswritingcops.com? If not, you have a new favorite website.

Copswritingcops.com is a forum where cops who have been written (i.e. given a ticket) by other cops bitch and moan about being held to the laws that they are paid to enforce. Just to take the first example off the site:

On June 20, 2007, I was heading to Springfield, Illinois from Chicago on Interstate 55 (I-55) to give a training seminar on LAW ENFORCEMENT defensive tactics . As I am driving, I'm really not paying attention to where I am at or how fast I was going. I was pretty much keeping up with the cars in front of me and next to. Most of the time I had my cruise set at 77-79 in a 65. Up ahead, I saw a few state police units (4 or 5, when you you work in the city a bunch would be 15-20) with people pulled over. Being the cop that I am (and what we all should be), I slowed and then made sure none of them were in any danger or getting their ass kicked.
As I passed a state trooper, she kept her lights on and pulled back onto the highway and got behind me. I pulled over and had my license out when she approached. I figured that she saw the FOP badge on my plate... It's not something that any ordinary person can buy. They're numbered and you have to be the police to get one.
Once she got to my window, she took my license and told me that I was clocked by airspeed doing 84.9 miles per hour. That seemed a little high, but we know not to argue. She asked why the hurry. I told her I wasn't in a hurry and that I was en route to give a LAW ENFORCEMENT defensive tactics training seminar in Springfield. I actually gave her the business card of my contact at the Police Academy. The same academy that trains the state police! I then mentioned that I have been law enforcement for almost 15 years and would appreciate a break. She then told me that she couldn't do that because she was the "catch car". I then rattled off a couple names of who might be flying the plane that was above (Butler, Galvan). I worked with a couple during a DEA detail once and I KNOW they would give me the nod. That didn't even phase her. I then realized that I was getting a ticket. After stopping hundreds of cops on Lake Shore Drive, some state, I was getting a ticket. I have friends in state police districts 2, 5 and of course Chicago. This troop, Trpr Schroder #3512, from district 6 is the only officer to ever give me a ticket while I have been a police officer. Congrats to you. [emphasis in original]

So the guy is ticketed going 85 in a 65 zone, and is pissed because (1) he thought he was only going 77-79 in a 65 zone, and (2) his attempts to name-drop his way out of the ticket didn't work. Consider me, a guy who has gotten more than one bullsh*t ticket in his life, surprisingly unsympathetic.

You can check out a whole bunch of stories like this at the site. The story in which a cop was most aggrieved by his fellow man in uniform wins the coveted "Dick of the Month" award, which Boing Boing thinks should be renamed "Cops Who Actually Do Their Jobs."

Now that I've written this, I'm going to have cops across the country running my name to see if I have any unpaid tickets. Jonathan Steins from California to Maine shall pay for my cheekiness.

Oh, and PS — The banner on the website is "Cops Writing Cops - Where's the Professional Courtesy? Law Enforcement and Polcie Officers help each other." That's right, a website by cops for cops misspells the word "police."

More stories after the jump.

Doug Brooks: Blackwater's Man in Washington

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 1:46 PM EDT

Laura posted here earlier today that Blackwater is the subject of heated discussions between the State and Defense departments over the company's conduct in last week's shootings in Baghdad. It's not the first time the company has been accused of unauthorized killings. Laura noted that "the mercenaries who provide security to the US embassy in Iraq may be looking for their own sort of protection in Washington." Well, to some extent, they've got it in the form of Doug Brooks, founder and president of the International Peace Operations Association.

IPOA is a trade group representing 42 of the private military industry's biggest players, including Blackwater, MPRI, and DynCorp, among others. Last week, as news of the Blackwater shooting was breaking, I met with Brooks to discuss how he had come to be the unofficial spokesman (and outspoken defender) of the private military industry. He told me of his travels in Africa in the 1990s, during which he had visited Sierra Leone and observed military contractors in action. His favorite story from that period deals with a South African helicopter pilot—a former member of the world's first modern private mercenary army-for-hire, Executive Outcomes—who, for a period of months, almost singlehandedly kept rebel forces at bay until his gunship broke down. Afterward, the rebels advanced and killed thousands of people in Sierra Leone's capital city of Freetown. The lesson to be learned from this, according to Brooks? Private companies can save lives in areas of conflict, particularly where the rest of the world lacks the political will or capability to intervene.

After his return from Africa, Brooks founded the IPOA, which represents the interests of the private military industry, while simultaneously claiming to oversee its activities. Each member company agrees to adhere to IPOA's code of conduct, which is backed up by an enforcement mechanism, ostensibly to guarantee compliance with IPOA standards. Problem is, Brooks' association is funded largely by dues from member companies. To live up to its own rules, IPOA would essentially have to bite the hand that feeds. This, needless to say, has never happened and seems unlikely to do so.

So, is Doug Brooks just a shill for Blackwater? Or is he a privately frustrated idealist, clinging to his hopes for private sector security even in the face of accusations of unauthorized killings in Baghdad? Decide for yourself. Click here to read more.

Secretary of Defense to Ask for $180 Billion for Iraq, Afghanistan Wars

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 1:34 PM EDT

I have officially lost track of all the spending requests.

United Auto Workers Reach Agreement with GM, End Strike

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 11:12 AM EDT

Congratulations to the United Auto Workers, who reached a tentative agreement with General Motors this morning and ended a brief strike that saw 73,000 workers walk off the job around the country. It appears the union received additional job security for its members in exchange for taking over responsibility for the health care costs of GM's retired workers. A union-controlled trust fund will now manage retirees' health care and absorb many of the expenses associated with that health care.

Far more information available here.