Monthly Archives: January 2011

Weekend Fun…

Steve Rashid, Terry Barron,  Tom “Wolf” Larson and Rockin’ Ronny Crawford are a rather fab four themselves. Below, Brad Hall imagines what will happen when the boys make their iTunes deal.In fact, no sooner had Brad imagined it — then he saw this poster on Sunset Boulevard. From San Francisco to iTunes to Sunset — all in one weekend afternoon!

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Filed under Music, Random Commentary

Aliens Among Us?

In his 1968 book, Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, author Erich von Däniken speculated that the religions and technological advancements of some ancient civilizations were the work of ancient astronauts who were welcomed to Earth as gods.

Now, I dig contemplating the mysteries of Stonehenge, Easter Island, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and those crazy ancient lines dug into the rock on the Plains of Nazca in Peru (pictured below) – but I can’t say I subscribe to von Daniken’s theory.

However…

At various times in human history, certain people have appeared on the scene who were so far ahead of their peers — intellectually, artistically, scientifically, philosophically and morally – that you have to wonder just where the hell they came from. Were these geniuses simply the result of natural human evolution? Were they the special blessings of a loving God, eager to advance His human experiment? Or did they somehow drop out of the sky as the gift of extraterrestrial overlords, desirous of seeing human civilization grow and prosper for reasons we can’t yet fathom.

The following 15 great minds were so far advanced for their time that it seems entirely plausible that they were, indeed, space aliens plunked down among us to enlighten humanity and move us Earthlings forward: or at least the result of divine intervention. Either that, or humankind just got lucky.

I admit that this is an entirely Western list. I’m sure students of Eastern culture would rank Buddah and other Asian greats in this elite category. But I don’t know a damned thing about Eastern culture beyond the legend that claims Marco Polo brought pasta from China to Italy – which is hard for a proud Italian like me to endure. Maybe that’s why I’ve never delved much deeper into Asian studies.

At any rate, here’s my list of 15 possible alien geniuses dropped out of the sky into the world of mortal men.

1. Socrates (469-399 B.C.) What most school kids know about this leading light of ancient Greek philosophy is that he got in trouble for corrupting the youth of Athens and was made to execute himself by drinking hemlock. (Probably the first and only reference to hemlock most of us will hear in our lives.) Among those Athenian kids learning at Socrates’ feet was Plato, who also did some pretty advanced thinking of his own – and wrote a classic account of Socrates final days. Socrates work is the foundation for the study of Western philosophy. Tuition-paying parents can blame Socrates for the fact that their sons and daughters will earn a college degree that almost guarantees poverty. More than two centuries after downing his hemlock cocktail, Socrates is still corrupting the kids.

2. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) Another great Greek philosopher, Aristotle was a student of Plato. He taught Alexander the Great. (Which is a good thing if you’re Greek and a bad thing if you’re Persian.) Aristotle was a great writer — the first to explore logic (long before Star Trek’s Spock). He is considered one of the central figures of Western philosophy. Back in the day, Aristotle and his followers were known as the Peripatetic school, after the ancient Greek word peripatetikos, which means “given to walking about”. He must have been a fast walker, because, to this day, students find it hard to keep up with Aristotle.

3. Jesus (1-33 A.D.) For the moment, let’s just set aside the divisive two-millennia long debate over whether Jesus was a god or a man – or both. Even if he was no more than a Galilean carpenter’s son, his “love your neighbor as yourself” philosophy was revolutionary. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was certainly not the prevailing attitude of Jesus’ time – and few people live up to that Golden Rule today. But it’s a philosophy that could save humanity, if only we’d all live by it. Whether you’re a deist or not, read The Beatitudes — and marvel at all that wisdom flowing from an impoverished, poorly educated guy from an oppressed backwater of the Roman Empire. Turning water into wine was a nice trick, but the transformational ideas Jesus expressed were truly miraculous.

4. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Where in the hell did Leonardo da Vinci come from? Okay, so he’s one of the best painters of all time — and one of the great scientists and inventors, too. The same guy who painted The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa also drew up plans for a helicopter and a tank. His notebooks are filled with brilliant ideas – which he liked to write backwards! (My wife is the only other person I know who can do that with ease.) How good was Leonardo? Da Vinci was so good that Michelangelo was jealous of him. Leonardo was the quintessential Renaissance man: painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, engineer and jazz hipster. (I made up that last one.)

5. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) Simply amazing. To call William Shakespeare the greatest writer in the English language still sounds like faint praise. A supreme poet, a brilliant wordsmith, and an unparalleled playwright, he created nearly 40 plays and about 150 sonnets – and they all kick ass. Hamlet not enough for you? MacBeth not enough? King Lear? Othello? Romeo and Juliet? It’s just silly how incredible the Bard’s body of masterworks is. You can’t go through life for a day – you can hardly live through one hour – without hearing or reading or seeing a phrase written by Shakespeare. And half the time you don’t even realize it! Bill Shakespeare is not simply the greatest writer in the English language: he is the English language.

6. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) The second great Italian on this list, Galileo was a revolutionary astronomer, physicist, mathematician, and philosopher. He’s been called the “the Father of Modern Science – and for good reason. He’s the guy who figured out some fundamental things about gravity, the laws of motion – and that little business about the Earth moving around the Sun (rather than vice versa). The great authority of Galileo’s time, The Catholic Church, rewarded him for his discovery of this essential astronomical truth by charging him with heresy and threatening to torture him if he didn’t take it all back. Galileo was in his 70’s when they and took him to the church dungeons to show off the instruments of torture they planned to use on him if he didn’t recant. Knowing the Church had already burned his scientific predecessor Giordano Bruno at the stake for heresy, Galileo recanted and spent the last seven years of his life under house arrest. Nice, huh?

It was a memory of such state-sponsored religious tyranny that led people like the next man on this lost to espouse the separation of church and state.

7. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) Ben Franklin is not just one of America’s Founding Fathers. Given his Olympian libido, he might be literally our founding father. But his infamous satyric exploits aside, Ben Franklin is still an incredible character: the most multi-faceted Renaissance man since Leonardo da Vinci. Franklin was an innovative author, humorist, printer, politician, inventor, and scientist. His legendary kite-flying experiments advanced our knowledge of electricity. He wrote hundreds of wise and witty sayings in Poor Richard’s Almanac, invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, the odometer – and contributed to much of the philosophy and lawmaking that gave birth to the government of the United States of America. Oh yeah — and as our first ambassador to France, Franklin was instrumental in bringing the French into our revolutionary war against England. Game over. Bow down to Ben.

8. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) Born in a log cabin and largely self-educated, Abe Lincoln overcame the disadvantages of a hardscrabble frontier life on the edge of American civilization to become the central figure in saving the American experiment from itself. How did such a rough-hewn man become the supreme poet that wrote the Gettysburg Address – or his second inaugural address? (“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right…”) And it’s not just Honest Abe’s flair for poetry that rings down the centuries – it’s also his uncanny leadership in the Civil War. No American president since George Washington (and possibly James Madison) faced a more grave threat to America. But Washington had already won his war before he took office as President – and Madison’s English invaders also had Napoleon to deal with. Lincoln faced a wholly internal threat. He persevered and won. And he freed the slaves, too. He was the right man at the right time. Did we just get lucky? Or were our alien overlords looking out for us?

9. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) Naturalist Charles Darwin took a great scientific leap forward — and infuriated generations of Biblical fundamentalists — with his pioneering research on natural selection leading to his theory of evolution. Without Darwin’s tireless voyages and observations and his bold assertions of evolutionary theory, many of the great scientific and medical advances of the 20th century would have been impossible. No scientist since Galileo has pissed off more small-minded religious conservatives than Darwin. That alone is a fine reason to celebrate his landmark achievements.

10. Mark Twain (1835-1910) We all had to read Mark Twain’s books in school — but Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are just the tip of the Twain iceberg. Twain’s literary, journalistic, intellectual and humanist advancements are still underappreciated in his own land. But the more you read Twain’s works, the greater he becomes. In fact, Mark Twain may be the greatest writer in the English language since Shakespeare. What couldn’t this guy write? Drama? Check. Comedy? Check. Adventure? Check. Political commentary? Check. Travelogue? Check. Philosophy? Check. Twain wrote it all – and he did it in a voice that still sounds contemporary today. Do yourself a favor and get his newly published autobiography. Mark Twain is the American literary colossus. (And no, let’s not replace the N-word in Huck Finn with “slave”. Twain knew what he was doing.)

11. Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) In his own time, Thomas Edison was like Bill Gates, Steven Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg combined. Is there any modern appliance that we now take for granted that Edison didn’t invent? The incandescent light bulb, sound recording devices, the phonograph and the film camera would be enough to make him a legend – but Edison did much, much more.

In his New Jersey laboratory, The Wizard of Menlo Park pretty much invented the modern world. Without Edison, there would be no vinyl records – and thus, no late 20th Century rock & roll. ‘Nuff said.

12. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) In a violent century marred by two world wars, pogroms, massacres, bloody civil wars, nuclear bombs and revolutionary struggles against colonial powers – Gandhi achieved independence for India through non-violence. And he did this in a region where tribal, religious and ethnic violence was a way of life. Gandhi showed humanity a way forward, just as Jesus did two millennia before him. And, like Jesus, Gandhi paid for his non-violent vision with his life.

13. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) Martin Luther King brought the non-violent humanism of Jesus and Gandhi to America – combined with soaring, moving poetry not heard in the political realm since Abraham Lincoln. As a result, he helped America to advance civil rights and form a more perfect union. What was Martin Luther King’s reward for his genius? Alas, the same reward that Jesus, Lincoln and Gandhi got. (Noticing a pattern here?)

14. Bob Dylan (Born May 24, 1941) How did a 22-year old kid from a backwater like Hibbing, Minnesota write “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’”? Bob Dylan became the voice of a generation by merging folk music and rock and roll with cutting-edge social, political and passionately human commentary. Dylan’s influence on popular culture since the early 1960’s is impossible to measure. My favorite Dylan album, Blood on the Tracks, is the most romantic collection of love and loss poems since Shakespeare’s sonnets — and you can sing them. In my estimation, the greatest poets in the English language are Shakespeare, Lincoln and Bob Dylan.

15. Lennon & McCartney (Met Saturday, July 6, 1957) The only partnership on this list, Paul McCartney and John Lennon are the greatest songwriting team in history: their influence on popular culture in the second half on the 20th Century and beyond is immeasurable. Eleanor Rigby, In My Life, Yesterday, Let it Be, Across the Universe – the list of their undying classics goes on and on. What would your life be without Lennon & McCartney? Kind of like a life without Shakespeare. Maybe even worse. After all, you can’t dance to Titus Andronicus. We tend to discount the geniuses amongst us. It’s said that true genius is never appreciated in its own time. But Lennon & McCartney are either once-in-a-generation geniuses – or space aliens dropped into working class Liverpool during World War Two.

A couple observations about this list:

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is not on the list because his big scientific breakthrough (E = mc2) led to the atomic bomb. That may not be fair, but consequences matter. Nobody else on this list came up with anything that directly cost lives. UPDATE: The wise and fair minded Jim McCutchen reminds me that Einstein is NOT the only one on this list to have his work misused to the detriment of mankind. Jim is correct. Now, I am keeping Einstein off the list simply because I am not a big fan of math and because his hair looks too much like Mark Twain’s.

Of the 15 geniuses on this list, more than half were severely punished for their gifts to humanity: two were executed (Socrates and Jesus), four were assassinated (Lincoln, Gandhi, King and Lennon), and two were persecuted by religious fundamentalists (Galileo and Darwin).

Who would you put on this list?

Who would you take off this list?

And where do you stand on the whole Chariots of the Gods thing?

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Rock Me!

“ROCK ME!” — a Rock & Roll Musical written by Barrosse & Hall — will be performed at Northwestern University on March 7 and 8, 2011.

More details to come…

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Filed under Art, Music

“I’m Stickin’ to the Union…”

“If I went to work in a factory, the first thing I would do is join a union.” Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In the mid 20th Century, back in the day when the postwar United States was the preeminent world power, we could boast a robust and growing organized labor movement which improved conditions for working Americans — union and non-union alike — and helped to build the great middle class in this country. But the labor movement – union men and women alike – paid in blood to give generations of their fellow workers a share of the American Dream.

Big Business didn’t just give Americans the 5-day working week, the 8-hour workday, and vacation and overtime pay. The Robber Barons didn’t give up Dickensian child labor without a fight. Do you think you’d have a pension today if your union brothers and sisters hadn’t fought for it? Many brave men and women in the Labor Movement died to win these basic workplace conditions. We take for granted so much of what organized labor earned for us over nearly two centuries of heroic struggle.

But the battle for workers’ rights didn’t end back in the 1930’s and 40’s. There’s been no final victory. Rather, the struggle for economic justice in the workplace is ongoing. And for the past three decades, American workers have been losing what little we’ve gained.

Ever since President Ronald Reagan broke the air traffic controllers strike in the summer of 1981, the right wing has mounted a steady counter-attack against organized labor. In 1983, 20% of U.S. workers were union members. By 2009, only 12% of American workers were unionized. Today, 30 years after Reagan renewed the right wing assault on labor unions, only one in 10 workers are union members. That’s right. Union membership has been cut by half since Reagan took office.

And the anti-union drumbeat continues.

Today, revenue-strapped GOP governors complain that hard-earned public employee pensions are generous boondoggles we can’t afford. Teachers unions are constantly under attack — as though earning about $40 thousand dollars a year for heroically schooling America’s youth (while working most weekends grading papers and spending personal funds for school supplies) is too high a price to pay for an educated electorate. Right wing politicians call out nurses and firefighters as overpaid unionists with luxurious benefit packages. Meanwhile, in the halls of Congress, contemporary union-busters are taking steps to weaken unions and limit American workers’ ability to bargain collectively.

Greedy elitists have been working very hard for the past three decades to give unions a bad name.

The Republicans and their corporate overlords have managed to confuse a shockingly large percentage of blue-collar lunch-bucket working Americans to buy into their anti-union rhetoric – despite the fact that the gap between executive and worker pay has become truly obscene.

In 1965, American CEOs earned 24 times what the average worker in their company took home. By 1978, the CEOs got paid 35 times more than their average employee. That figure rose to 71 times more in 1989. By 2005, CEO pay had risen astronomically.

Blue collar, Joe the Plumber Republicans might be shocked to learn that the average American CEO in 2005 earned 262 times the pay of their average worker. In other words, CEOs earned more in one day than an average worker earned in 52 weeks. And in the last five years, it’s only gotten worse. Today, according to the accounting firm, Towers Perrin, the average CEO is paid 500 times more than the average worker.

And that’s only half the story. Working class fans of conservative supply side economic theory should know: nothing trickled down.

While the top corporate executives were lining their pockets, the wages of working Americans declined in real dollars.

In 1979 the average hourly wage in the U.S. was equal to $15.91 in 2001 dollars. By 1989 it was only $16.63 per hour: a gain of just 7 measly cents a year for the entire Reagan decade. (In case you already forgot: CEO pay during that same period rose from 35 times what workers earned to 71 times what the guy on the line made.)

During the Clinton years, there was a slight up-tick in workers wages. Between 1995 and 2000, the average wage rose to $18.33 per hour, driven in part by higher pay for college-educated workers in the tech and service sectors.

But for the more than 100 million laborers without a college degree, average inflation-adjusted hourly wages at the end of 2000 were less than they were in 1979.

That’s what blue collar Reagan Democrats got for switching their allegiance from a union-friendly party to a union-busting party. Reagan and his corporate cronies waved the flag at hardworking blue collar Americans, puffed them up with pride about that “shining city on a hill”, riled them up about abortion and gay marriage – and then robbed them blind. The right wing is still doing it. And working class people are still falling for it.

The shameless profit-grab at the top of the corporate food chain has taken place while for the past 30 years U.S. worker productivity rose steadily as wages remained flat.

Since Ronald Reagan took office in 1980, American worker productivity has increased by nearly 40%. Yet, I remind you, real hourly wages for workers have declined since Reagan’s inauguration.

So who got the reward from all that increased worker productivity? Who got the big performance bonuses? The CEO’s, upper management and Wall Street middlemen did. (Of course, today’s grease monkey, shipping clerk, loading dock foreman, or self-styled Joe plumber can dream of one day becoming a CEO or stock trader himself himself. Or he can play the lottery.)

Workers have fallen behind while the fat cats stuffed record profits into their bulging pockets. (All the while crying that the unions were making it impossible for their companies to compete.) Yet the corporate elite aren’t satiated with their outsized slice of the economic pie. So, their right wing tools in government are stepping up their attacks on organized labor.

In my own home state of Ohio, newly-elected Republican Governor John Kasich proposes to deny the right of 14,000 state-financed child care and home care workers to unionize. He also wants to ban strikes by teachers, much the way some states bar strikes by the police and firefighters.

“If they want to strike, they should be fired,” Mr. Kasich said in a speech. “They’ve got good jobs, they’ve got high pay, they get good benefits, a great retirement. What are they striking for?”

By the way, this is the same Governor Kasich who has complained (rightly) that white-collar state employees are not paid enough to attract the best candidates to public service in Ohio. (In the GOP worldview, what’s good for college educated white-collar workers need not be shared by lowly blue-collar workers. Yet they have the nerve to call Democrats “elitists”.)

The right wing attacks the labor movement to convince blue collar Americans that unions are simply greedy and corrupt. This anti-union calumny is promoted by the GOP and bankrolled by big business execs and Wall Street moneymen whose own greed and corruption was manifest in the final years of the Bush administration. (BTW, it was blue-collar working Americans whose hard-earned payroll and income taxes bailed these A-holes out.)

Of course, there have certainly been some illegal shenanigans now and then in the annals of organized labor. (We still don’t know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.) But that doesn’t change the fact that the union movement in America has been a force for good in this country. And that union men and women paid for what we now take for granted in the workplace with their freedom and their lives.

Listen up, my working class friends who vote Republican: I’m talking to YOU. It’s time for a history lesson. A history, alas, that you can no longer read about in most public school textbooks, thanks to conservative members of your local school board.

April 27, 1825: Carpenters in Boston are the first to strike for a 10-hour workday.

July 1835: Child laborers in the silk mills of Paterson, New Jersey strike so they only have to work an 11-hour day — 6 days a week.

July 1851: Two railroad strikers are shot dead by the state militia in Portage, New York.

January 13, 1874: Unemployed workers demonstrating in NYC’s Tompkins Square Park are attacked by mounted cops who charge into the crowd, beating men, women and children with billy-clubs. There are hundreds of casualties, but the Police Commissioner says, “It was the most glorious sight I ever saw.”

July 14, 1877: The “Battle of the Viaduct” in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. Protesting members of the Chicago German Furniture Workers Union are put down by federal troops (recently returned from an Indian massacre) killing 30 workers and wounding more than 100.

September 5, 1882: 30,000 workers march in the first Labor Day parade in New York City.

May 1, 1886: Bay View Tragedy. About 2,000 Polish workers walk off their jobs in Milwaukee in protest of the ten-hour workday. They march through the city, gathering other workers until they are 16,000 strong and gather at Rolling Mills, sleeping in nearby fields. Wisconsin Governor Jeremiah Rusk calls out the state militia, and on May 5th, as the workers chant for an eight-hour workday, the commanding officer of the militia orders his men to shoot into the crowd (some of whom were armed with sticks, bricks, and scythes) killing seven, including a child.

October 4, 1887: The Louisiana Militia, aided by bands of “prominent citizens,” shoot 35 unarmed black sugar workers striking to gain a dollar-per-day wage. They also lynch two strike leaders.

May 11 to July 10, 1894: A nationwide strike against the Pullman Company begins when workers walk off the job after their wages are drastically reduced. On July 5, the 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago is set ablaze, and the mobs begin burning and looting railroad cars and fighting police in the streets. On July 10, 14,000 federal and state troops succeeded in putting down the strike, killing 34 American Railway Union members. Strike leaders, including Eugene Debs, are imprisoned for violating injunctions, causing disintegration of the union.

September 1897: The Lattimer Massacre. 19 unarmed striking coal miners are killed and 36 wounded by a county sheriff’s posse for refusing to disperse near Hazelton, PA.  Most of the victims are shot in the back.

March 25, 1911: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, occupying the top three floors of a ten-story building in New York City, is consumed by fire. 147 people, mostly women and young girls working in sweatshop conditions are killed. Greatly adding to the death toll was the incredible fact that Triangle bosses had locked the factory doors from the outside to keep the ladies from taking breaks.

June 11, 1913: Cops gun down three maritime workers (one of whom is killed) who are striking against the United Fruit Company in New Orleans.

1914: According to the Commission on Industrial Relations, approximately 35,000 workers were killed in industrial accidents and 700,000 workers were injured in the U.S.

April 20, 1914: The “Ludlow Massacre.” In an attempt to force strikers at Colorado’s Ludlow Mine Field to go back to work, company “guards” (hired by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and other mine operators) attack a union tent camp with machine guns, then set it afire — killing five men, two women and twevlve children.

January 9, 1915: The famous labor leader Joe Hill is arrested in Salt Lake City and convicted on trumped up murder charges. Despite worldwide protests and two attempts to intervene by President Woodrow Wilson. Hill is later executed. In a letter written shortly before his death, Hill urged his supporters, “Don’t mourn – organize!”

August 19, 1916: Strikebreakers attack picketing strikers in Everett, Washington, while local police refuse to intervene.

Three days later, 22 union men attempting to speak out are arrested. On October 30, vigilantes force union speakers to run a gauntlet, whipping, tripping and kicking them, and impaling them against a spiked cattle guard at the end of the gauntlet.

In response, the union calls for a meeting on November 5 – but when the union men arrive, they are fired upon. Seven people are killed in The Everett Massacre (also known as Bloody Sunday) and 50 are wounded. An unknown number wind up missing.

March 15, 1917: The Supreme Court approves the Eight-Hour Act under the threat of a national railway strike.

August 26, 1919: United Mine Worker organizer Fannie Sellins is gunned down by mining company goons.

March 7, 1932: Police kill striking workers at Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan plant.

October 10, 1933: 18,000 cotton workers go on strike in Pixley, California. Four are killed before the workers win a pay hike.

1934: During the Electric Auto-Lite Strike in Toledo, Ohio, 1,300 National Guardsmen including three machine gun companies are called in to break up as many as 10,000 strikers and protesters. Two strikers are killed and over two hundred wounded.

September 1-22, 1934: A strike in Woonsocket, Rhode Island results in the deaths of three workers. Over 420,000 workers ultimately go on strike.

1935: The National Labor Relations Act is passed. It guarantees covered workers the right to organize and join labor movements, to choose representatives bargain collectively, and to strike.

May 30, 1937: Police kill 10 and wound 30 during the “Memorial Day Massacre” at the Republic Steel plant in Chicago.

June 25, 1938: The Wages and Hours Act passes, banning child labor and setting the 40-hour work week. It establishes minimum wages and maximum hours for all workers engaged in covered “interstate commerce.”

That’s the basic progressive history of labor unions before Ronald Reagan (himself a former Screen Actors Guild union president) began his successful counter-attack against organized labor.

The fact is that unions have a positive impact on the wages and working conditions of unionized and non-unionized workers alike.

Unions raise the pay of unionized workers by roughly 20% — and raise compensation, including both wages and benefits, by 28%. Plus, unions raise wages more for blue-collar than for white-collar workers — and more for workers who do not have a college degree. Unions force nonunion employers to follow suit. Organized labor’s impact on total nonunion wages is almost as big as its impact on union wages.

Wake up, working class Americans! Conservative GOP anti-union politicians are not on your side. Organized labor is on your side.

As Woody Guthrie sang, “You can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union!”

Here’s the legendary Pete Seeger (who I’ve had the honor to interview and see perform) with Woody’s son, Arlo Guthrie singing “Union Maid”.

And finally, here’s old Pete throwing down the gauntlet. “Which Side Are You On?”

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Retro Rockme…

(Left to right) Ronny Crawford, Tom Larson, Larry Schanker, Rush Pearson, Peter Van Wagner, Casey Fox, Tom Kalicky, the author, Brad Hall.

ROCKME PHOTO FUN (Circa ’82-’83)

On a sunny day in 1982 (or perhaps the spring of ’83), the members of Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation gathered for a photo session in the park next to the house I was renting on Sheridan Road in Evanston. (Someone will, no doubt, recall who the photographer was, so I can give him/her credit.) Luckily, theses photos are sharper than my memory.

Update: Rush Pearson informs me that the photographer was none other than Suzy Crawford!

In the photo above, we give joyous physical expression to our band’s motto: “Make the kids jump!”

In the photo below, we attempt our own version of a classic Beatles album cover.

And in this final photo, Riffmaster Peter Van Wagner proves that, yes ladies, sometimes a man’s guitar IS an extension of his……talents.

In the coming year, The Rockmes plan to return to SPACE in Evanston for our annual Rock & Roll Reunion. Stay tuned.

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Miserable Performaces…

Rarely have I awakened to the news of two more miserable performances – in two totally different spheres – than I did today.

Yesterday, my hometown Cleveland Cavaliers came to Los Angeles and embarrassed themselves in an historic way. Yes, they lost LeBron James last year – but now they are in danger of losing their dignity as professional sportsmen.

The Cavs lost their 11th straight game, as the Lakers cruised to a 112-57 beat-down. It was The Lakers best defensive performance of the shot clock era, their second largest margin of victory, ever — and a new record for points allowed by the Lakers: eight fewer than their previous low of 66.

The line score looked like this.

It was, in every way, a miserable performance.

“It can’t be any worse than this. If it is, someone will have to help me because I don’t know how much of this I can take,” said Cavalier Antawn Jamison. “This by far is rock-bottom. It’s definitely by far one of the most embarrassing moments that I’ve been a part of as far as basketball.”

Luckily for the Cavaliers, Sarah Palin chose today to come out of hiding (at least electronically) after the tragic shooting in Tuscon. Like Bin Laden in his cave, Sarah has sent us all a video so that we should hear her message loud and clear.

Palin’s message is shameless and entirely self-serving. Not a hint of grief. Not a moment of self-reflection. Only a crassly-constructed case for her own victimhood, including an awful reference to “blood libel,” which has even right wing commentators like Jonah Goldberg scratching their heads.

I wont bother to post her video here. You can find it easily on YouTube. You may especially enjoy the exquisite madness of her reference to how American political discourse was more polarized back in the day when there was dueling. Yes, Aaron Burr vs. Alexander Hamilton has so much to teach us about the events in Tuscon…

On the day when President Obama is scheduled to address a national memorial ceremony in Tuscon, sister Sarah’s attempt at hand-washing via video could not have come at a more inappropriate time. I doubt she understands why.

Both the Cavaliers and Sarah Palin have just turned in absolutely miserable performances.

I can forgive the Cavs.

In closing, here’s a sign that was left at the spontaneous memorial outside of the medical center in Tuscon where Rep. Giffords and other victims are being treated. In just a few symbols, it says what Sarah Palin can never allow herself to say.

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The Year Begins in Tragedy

I never imagined that my first blog entry of 2011 would be about something as tragic as this…

I’m wrestling with a lot of thoughts and emotions in the wake of the horrific shooting in Tuscon, Arizona that wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others, including a federal judge and a 9-year old girl.

The first thing that comes to mind is this:

Let us all pray for the victims: the slain, the injured, and those who survived but will always have that awful scene seared into their memories. Let’s hope that Rep. Giffords recovers from her terrible wound and returns to Congress to pursue the work that her would-be assassin tried to destroy.

The next thing that occurs to me is this:

The killer shot 19 out of the three-dozen people at that gathering – killing six of them. How in the world do we, in a civilized society, allow people to legally arm themselves with that kind of automatic firepower? Could this coward have slaughtered that many people in so short of time with a knife, a hunting rife, a shotgun, or a six-shot revolver? Not a chance.

Sorry NRA supporters and Second Amendment apologists, but anyone who thinks they need that kind of firepower for self-defense must imagine that their enemies are coming at them with even bigger firepower. (Like their own government?) They are clearly fearful and paranoid. And frightened paranoids are the last people we want to have armed with automatic weapons.

I also think about this:

Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik is a hero. At the press conference on Saturday, he called it like it is – whether it was politically correct or not. He said over and over that the vitriolic anti-government political rhetoric spewed by some voices in the media contributed to this tragedy. Sheriff Dupnik reminded us of the consequences of that kind of speech. He’ll be savaged by the right wing in the coming days – but he spoke the truth.

The right wing is selling hate and intolerance – and this is the inevitable result.

What an awful way to start the year.

I’d rather have written about the wild results in the first round of the NFL playoffs.

Let’s hope this makes Beck and Limbaugh and Sarah “cross-hairs” Palin think before they rant. But, then again, they aren’t really paid to think.

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