Tuesday, October 12, 2021

May Day! Crowdsourced Tour Promotion

If I'm going to have crowds, they need to be sourced!

From October 19th through November 19th I'll be on tour in Europe, and then northern California just after.  Your help getting the word out will mean the difference between audiences, and crickets!

Booking a tour is one part of the equation in this line of work.  That involves communicating with a whole bunch of really high-quality folks, some of whom run venues, others of whom are working with them to make a local event happen.  They're all trying to get the word out among their networks, but what will really amplify their efforts is if everyone who has gotten to the point of clicking on this blog post and reading this paragraph will take a moment to look at where I'm playing (below) and tell a friend in one of those towns about my upcoming gig there.

Most of the info below is expanded upon in more detail at davidrovics.com/tour, including with things like links for buying tickets online in some cases, but the basic info of date, venue, and town is below, along with posters for gigs that have their own cool graphics...


19  Kitchen Garden Cafe with Jess Silk, Birmingham
21  Katie Fitzgerald's, Stourbridge
22  Liverpool Irish Center, Liverpool
23  Don't Extradite Assange Rally at BBC Broadcasting House, London
23  Telegraph at the Earl of Derby, London
25  Folk in the Cellar at the Betsey Trotwood, London
26  The Folklore Rooms, Brighton
27  The Wax Cactus, Worthing
29  The Fox & Newt, Leeds
30  The Old Coal Yard, Newcastle


5  Corner Pocket Snooker Centre, Dalkeith (Edinburgh)
7  The Squirrel Bar with Paul Sheridan, Glasgow
10  Nachbarschaftshaus Urbanstraße, Berlin
13  FLEX, München
15  Nachitgall, Köln
17  The American Bar, Belfast
19  The Red Devil with Pol Mac Adaim, West Belfast
22  Flow Restaurant and Bar, Mendocino
23  House concert in San Francisco

Monday, October 11, 2021

Antifascist Playlist

Understanding fascism through the lens of the songs of, um, David Rovics.

I woke up one morning once again thinking about how to stop fascism, and a Google Alert mentioned a song I wrote that I had forgotten about, about people who went on trial for defending themselves against being attacked by Nazis, and I thought, I should compile a playlist.  In the process of doing that, and putting it together more or less chronologically, I realized that this playlist could use an extended introduction.

In putting together a playlist like this, my first challenge was to figure out which songs really belong in it.  This is more complicated than it may appear.  I may have mostly been going on instinct here in choosing which songs to put in and which to leave out, but to the extent that thought was involved, this required answering the question, what is fascism, and what isn't fascism?

In many important ways, the answer is irrelevant, and in other ways, the answer is crucially important.

Why it's irrelevant is when we're talking about the oppression of humans by other humans, this has come in so many different forms over the centuries.  I've written many songs about American apartheid -- slavery and Jim Crow.  Many others about genocide, pogroms, massacres, the clearing of the west, interning people in reservations.  Many more about imperial, genocidal wars, such as those waged against the peoples of Korea and Vietnam by the US Air Force.  US policies of slavery, genocide, and carpet-bombing all rival the worst horrors committed by the Nazis, as unimaginably horrific as they were.  But was or is it fascism?

Yes and no.  But for the purposes of this playlist, with its aims of brevity and specificity, no.  Why?

Because no matter how bad anything that happened before the twentieth century was -- including slavery and genocide, two of the worst imaginable things humans could do to other humans on a systematic basis -- it was not fascism.  Why?

Because fascism, or national socialism, as it is/was also known, was/is fundamentally a response to socialism -- a response to the fear of socialism, and a response to actually existing forms of it.  The national socialist movement in Europe, North America, and elsewhere, that rose up in the wake of the Russian Revolution after 1917, was a response to the Russian Revolution and the global atmosphere at the time that gave rise to it.

After the Russian Revolution, the ruling classes around the world realized they needed to up their game -- they needed to respond to this development, in a big way.  To cut a very long story short, they did respond.  Responses were complex, and varied over time and place radically.  Initially, the response in the US was a campaign of state terror waged against socialists, communists, anarchists, and any other element of society opposed to the continuation of rule by the robber barons of capitalism.  The response following the 1920's, with the election of Franklin Roosevelt to the White House, was very different, with a government more sympathetic to the welfare of the working class, much like those that were in power in Scandinavia then.  

In many countries, there were powerful elements of society pushing for a more egalitarian future, with some of the more enlightened elements of the powers-that-be realizing that major changes were necessary in order to maintain their hegemony, and not go the way of the USSR, with a successful worker uprising toppling the capitalists and the tsar's head rolling on the floor and all that.  But in these same countries, such as in the US and in Sweden, other elements of the ruling class were more interested in massacring workers who rose up -- and they did, repeatedly, in 1931, and at other times.  These elements of the ruling class -- along with major segments of society at large -- were sympathetic to the rising fascist movements in Italy, Germany, and elsewhere, and were hoping to see something like that in the US.  Some of the more prominent supporters of fascism in the US that you've probably heard of include industrialist Henry Ford and aviator Charles Lindbergh.

The policies of the fascists -- not necessarily reflective of the beliefs of all of their supporters, but the actual policies of the actual fascists in power in Italy and Germany in the 1930's -- were designed to mimic elements of real socialism, and not in small ways.  While poverty, hunger, and unemployment characterized life for the working class in much of the UK and the US, for example, in Germany there was more or less full employment, as there was in Moscow.  The full employment in Germany was largely dedicated to building up the country's military capacity, for many years prior to the beginning of hostilities in what became known as World War 2, but it also was directed at the general well-being of the German working class, who were generally in much better shape than their counterparts in most of the other countries still recovering from the devastation wrought by the last war they had all been in with each other.

Within the ranks of the fascist movement -- as with other political movements -- there are, and were, divisions.  These have included elements that are attracted to the cause out of more anti-elitist, underdog sorts of notions, hoping this would be a movement to serve the interests of the working class -- interests which many people now and in the past have not felt were not being served by the left parties that have sometimes been in power, or have failed to ever seize it in the first place.

These days, it's become fashionable in certain dark corners of the more anarchist wings of the internet to accuse people on a fairly wanton basis of being fascists or fascist sympathizers if they (we) are trying to understand the phenomenon of fascism, in its current or even historical contexts.  We are told that by making a distinction between different current and historic divisions within national socialist movements, we are encouraging "entry-ism," we are "platforming," we are basically trying to taint an otherwise pure left with fascist idea, somehow or other.

This orientation belies a deep confusion, and a profound misunderstanding of what fascism -- national socialism -- is all about, and why it has attracted so many millions of fanatical adherents around the world over the course of the past century.  It's not dangerous to talk about this stuff -- it's dangerous not to talk about it.  It's not dangerous to talk to fascists and understand why they became fascists, it's dangerous not to do that.  We will only possibly win this argument by engaging in it.

The Playlist

There are 24 songs in the playlist, more or less organized chronologically. You absolutely have to listen to the songs to understand why the songs are relevant -- I am by no means going to explain that here, just so you understand. The music is the main thing, what I'm now about to write is only accompanying material, to highlight certain aspects of the songs themselves.

1933 is the year Hitler came to power, and is the title of the first song in the playlist. As with most of the songs I've written about history, I wrote this one because of how prescient events of 1933 in Germany seemed in the period following the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Trump's appeal to the defeated and disenfranchised American working class mirrored Hitler's appeal to the German people. Both actively engaged in demonizing and scapegoating groups of people both within their national borders and outside of them, who generally had nothing to do with directly causing the problems that Hitler and Trump were supposedly so concerned about.

By later in the 1930's, my nanny Lola was one of many German Jews who fled Germany. Lola was part of an organized effort to get the children out, called the Kindertransports. She lived out the war in London, under the regular bombardment of German planes and missiles. At the end of the war, she married a New Yorker and moved to New York City, where I was born a couple decades later.

Popular history here tends to peg World War 2 as beginning when the US officially entered the war, in 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Not with the US naval blockade on Japan that preceded the attack. In what they call the European theater, the date is often 1939, when Germany invaded France (again). But it was years earlier when German and Italian troops and armor were first sent to Spain to defend the military junta from the people there. The Americans who volunteered to fight fascism in Spain in the years during which the US was officially neutral on the question were mostly organized under the banner of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion.

Many of the leftwing refugees from the Spanish Civil War who survived and escaped went to France, where they were generally treated terribly by the authorities. This got much worse when Germany invaded -- except for the lucky few who sailed to Chile, on a boat that was made available through the efforts of many people, including the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda.

Even as German troops were invading European countries, the US, Canada, and many other nations were refusing to take in refugees, such as the family of the famous Dutch Jewish girl, Anne Frank, whose father tried and failed to find asylum for him and his family in North America. He was sent back. The official atmosphere of hostility towards eastern and southern Europeans, Jewish or otherwise, in the United States and Canada at the time would be hard to overstate.

While Henry Ford was one of many supporters of fascism in the United States, Chiune Sugihara was one of many opponents of fascism from the Empire of Japan. He and his wife, Yukiko, were directly responsible for saving the lives of tens of thousands of Jewish refugees, who were able to get out of Russia before the Nazi troops arrived, using visas signed by the rebel diplomat. Many of the refugees survived the war by hiding out in China, living under Japanese occupation. To this day, their descendants refer to themselves as Sugihara Survivors.

The overwhelming majority of Polish Jews who weren't able to get out of Poland with the help of diplomats like Sugihara were condemned to die in the Nazi death camps, after being herded into ever-smaller ghettos. Once only a small fraction of what was once a large and thriving Jewish population was left, the Jews of Warsaw rebelled, fighting the Nazi troops for 28 days and nights, in what is widely considered to be among the very most impressive urban rebellions in the history of urban rebellions, in April and May, 1943.

Later in 1943, the Nazis were planning on rounding up all the Jews of Denmark, but a Nazi official spilled the beans and, possibly with the assistance of Danish physicist Neils Bohr, convinced the Swedish king it was time to give asylum to the Danish Jews. The Danish resistance soon began the boatlift operation, which successfully saved the lives of 95% of the Jews of Denmark.

In June, 1944, US, British, Canadian, Polish, Danish, and other soldiers from Allied nations landed in France, as the Soviet Army was making its way westwards, into Germany, at the cost of millions of Soviet soldiers and civilians, and a country completely destroyed. Losses among the soldiers landing in Normandy were also tremendous.

Among the principal victims of fascism in Germany were the Germans. "First they came for the communists" is a quote made famous later. One of those communists they came for was Hamburg City Council member, Franz Jacob, who was eventually executed in 1944.

Many of the losses in lives among members of the Dutch resistance to fascism during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands happened during the last few months of the war. One of the resistance members killed, in a drive-by shooting while standing on a sidewalk in his home city of Eindhoven, was a young man named Henk Streefkerk.

On May 1st, 1945, Soviet troops liberated an international group of women who had been imprisoned at Ravensbruck, who were on a forced march to Berlin, being led by the SS. Upon realizing they were free, they started singing "The Internationale," and were joined by the Soviet soldiers.

In the decades following World War 2, Germany became a society that made huge strides in coming to terms with its horrifying recent past. One of the many traditions that became commonplace across the country was that of the Stumbling Stones -- little bronze squares embedded into sidewalks in most of the cities in Germany, and some other countries as well, informing anyone who looks at them who used to live at that address, or who ran a shop there, before they were deported to Auschwitz or wherever else, and info like the date of their deportation and death.

In the decades following World War 2, the contradictions that existed within many countries that gave rise to the many different militant social movements that existed before the war, continued to exist after the war. In many cases, that got worse by the 1980's, with the dissolution of industry in many western countries, the loss of so many millions of union jobs, the rise of technology, further automation, and the precarious gig economy. Among the ranks of police officers in many different countries, fascism continued to be a popular idea. This was true of the highest-paid uniformed officer on the Portland police force, before he retired.

It was also true of the fascist on the Max Train in Portland who stabbed two men to death, and almost killed a third. It was true of the guy in the bar who had the misfortune of harassing CeCe McDonald, before he was stabbed to death with a pair of scissors right in the middle of his swastika tattoo -- right before CeCe then went to prison.

In many formerly Warsaw Pact countries, fascism has been especially popular in the past few decades, with the collapse of the former regime, which called itself socialist. Whether or not it was socialist, depends on who you ask. In any case, in answer to the collapsed state of affairs, fascism became popular. Especially in Serbia. But also in Bulgaria, where one Nazi had the misfortune of dying one night, as he attacked two Roma men at a train station in Sofia. No one knows who stabbed him, but Jock Palfreeman went to prison for it.

The ideology of white supremacy in the US obviously has so much to do with the ideology of national socialism. Anyone familiar with fascism is aware that many of the biggest inspirations of the fascist movement in Europe were the race-based systems of oppression originating in the US, especially. So there has long been both explicit and implicit connections between the white supremacist movement in the US and the fascist movement, to the extent that they are separate at all. The mass murderer who took the lives of so many people at the African Methodist church in South Carolina is a case in point.

The case of the Rotherham 12 in England is a classic example of how the police typically collude with fascists, even in countries run by people who like to portray themselves as liberal democrats. Antifascist marchers were deliberately "escorted" by police to a known far right hangout, at which point attacks ensued. Those who defended themselves against the far right hooligans were arrested, homes raided by police at dawn. For years, they faced potential prison time, until finally being acquitted. This pattern has repeated itself in many different countries over many decades.

When the far right rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia -- including many explicitly fascist members of the right -- one of them drove his car into a group of marchers, wounding many, killing one. Vehicular and other such attacks have since become commonplace across the country.

With the rise of Trump and his xenophobic policies, one descendant of people who lived under Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, Will Van Spronsen, felt the time had come to make a stand, White Rose-style, knowing he faced certain death in his effort to free those detained at the ICE facility in Tacoma, Washington.

Similarly, Michael Reinoehl was doing security in downtown Portland, Oregon after a day of physical conflict with the far right on the streets of the city, when Trump supporters descended on the place in hundreds of flag-draped pickup trucks. The inevitable happened again, when he shot and killed a member of a far right group who he thought was about to do the same to someone else. He was killed in a hail of bullets by police from several different jurisdictions days later, none of whom had their body cams on. This was yet another indication of the sympathies of the police in such situations.

Woody Guthrie's guitar had written on it the phrase, "this machine kills fascists." It wasn't that his guitar had a special function, like James Bond's guitar would. Woody was talking about the power of words, to foment movements, to inspire people, and to educate and organize them. Which requires engaging with them, of course -- not shunning them. But rather, recruiting them.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Wandering Minstrel Accosted by Bluegrass Purist at Kenilworth Park

Just by way of introduction, I'm a musician, among other things.  I was raised by musicians, and I've been playing things with strings on them for a very long time.  I even travel around the world and play music for a living.  I'm 54 years old, and I've been doing this for most of my adult life.  Intro done.

Recently I got a mandola.  For those who don't know, a mandola is just like a mandolin, but usually tuned a fifth lower in pitch.  

I was inspired to get a mandola because for a very long time I had been into improvising on my guitar, tuned in open tuning (DADGAD), with a capo on the seventh fret.  Capoed up there, and in that tuning, I love the tone, and how easy it is to play stuff involving high speed and big intervals, both of which can be harder without a capo, in first position.  A lot of the musical ideas I've been working with have kept me on the first four (lower-pitched) strings of the guitar.  It occurred to me one day that if I tuned a mandola to an open tuning like CGCF, it could be a lot like playing the first four strings of a guitar, capoed on the seventh fret.

So, I got a mandola, and my theory turned out to be correct.  I've been playing all kinds of stuff that sounds very medieval, because of the sound of the instrument, and the open tuning.  I could fit right in at a Renaissance Fair if I wore the right clothing, for sure.  (I know they didn't have steel-stringed instruments back then, but that's OK, it still works.)

For those of you out there who know what an acoustic guitar sounds like, but maybe not a mandola or a mandolin, there's one fact that's particularly relevant:  mandolins and mandolas, like banjos, are loud.  Even a steel-string guitar with lots of resonance isn't loud like a mandola is.  There's a reason mandolins feature so much as instruments for single-note soloing in the context of a bluegrass band -- you can easily be heard above a guitar on a mandolin when you play one clear note, even if the guitarist is really banging away.

When it occurred to me that my new musical obsession was exceedingly portable, I started following my small children around the neighborhood with a mandola.  They like to spend hours barreling around on the hills in the parks with bikes and scooters, and I really needed something to do other than listen to podcasts, anyway.  Playing the mandola instead of listening to podcasts has been amazing for my mental health, not to mention my proficiency at the mandola.

I've discovered that when you're playing a musical instrument in a public setting and you're not busking, most people assume you want space, and they give it to you.  Most people also enjoy the music, and they want to tell you about that, in a way that doesn't distract you too much from playing more music.  

I really don't always know how to respond when people say the music is so nice, as they so often do.  I want to tell them I'm just learning to play this instrument and I'm really not very good at it, but that seems like an arrogant thing to say, as I'm playing stuff that no beginning music student could be playing.  I'm often not sure if they're saying they like the sound of this unusual instrument -- most people have no idea what it is -- or if it's what I'm playing on it that they like.  I don't think they generally know, either.  But in any case, people tend to like it.

I have been gratified to learn that people like hearing music like this.  They may be fans of different kinds of music from whatever it is that I'm playing, be it classical, punk, hip-hop or whatever, but they can appreciate someone playing an instrument while walking down the sidewalk or hanging out in the park, just in principle.  The impact on children is obvious -- they tend to gather round me, gawk, listen, ask questions, make comments, and dance.  I find the mood in the playground is always uplifted by live background music, and the kids get along with each other better, particularly my own kids.

It's also gratifying because of the aforementioned volume issue.  Playing the mandola isn't like blasting canned music from a pickup truck or boom box or whatever, but by acoustic instrument standards it's loud, and can certainly be heard clearly at a hundred feet away, unlike with someone plucking on an acoustic guitar or ukelele, for example.  People in the vicinity -- albeit few in number when I'm in the middle of a grassy park in a residential neighborhood -- have little choice but to listen, so it's nice if they're not suffering through the experience.

There was something always lurking in the back of my mind, though, having spent many years immersed in the bluegrass scene and playing with bluegrass musicians (including as recently as recording my latest album last summer, which features a whole lot of bluegrass mandolin and banjo on it).  That is, that I was not playing the mandola properly, from a bluegrass orientation.

For those of you who aren't familiar, there are ways you play instruments if you're a bluegrass musician, and ways you don't.  Mandolins and mandolas (and mandocellos) are generally tuned like violins and violas (and cellos), in fifths.  

Aside from how an instrument is traditionally tuned, there is the way it is traditionally played.  In bluegrass, the banjo has a fifth string.  It also has a resonator, to make it extra loud.  But the more important thing is the fifth string, which is also a phenomenon shared in common with what is known as old-time music, the clawhammer style of banjo-playing, which also employs a five-string banjo as opposed to the four-string one more common in Irish folk music.

When bluegrass aficionados hear someone playing a five-string banjo in such a way that the player does not appear to be exhibiting any real understanding of what the fifth string is all about, and how it differs from the other four strings in terms of its basic musical purpose, we say they are playing the banjo "like a guitar."  This is an insult, basically.  Usually you wouldn't actually say it to someone, unless you're trying to be mean, or helpful, or both.

Likewise, with proper bluegrass mandolin playing, there is etiquette.  Nothing as obvious as a fifth string to contend with, but in bluegrass, the mandolin player tends to avoid open strings.  There are ways to finger chords that involve open strings, but there are always ways to finger them that avoid them, and this is the general preference the vast majority of the time.  When playing chords, the bluegrass mandolinist generally "chunks" on the two and four, while the bass player drives with the one and three, creating the basic bluegrass sound -- the bluegrass equivalent of drums and bass, in rock or reggae terms.  In order to get that concise, tight "chunk" sound, playing entirely closed chords is essential.  The open strings ring out way too much, and with bluegrass mandolin, string-muting is a constant thing that involves both hands, in order to get that clear, rhythmic sound that we think of when we think of bluegrass mandolin.

And when we bluegrass snobs see someone going around with a mandolin who is playing lots of open strings on it, as with people playing banjos who aren't doing anything special with the fifth string, we mutter under our breaths and we think, "that person doesn't know how to play the mandolin, that person is playing it like a guitar."

So, when I got this lovely mandola and set about to play music on it like I wanted to, in an open tuning, really playing it more like a four-string banjo, in the Irish sense, than like a mandolin in the bluegrass sense, I was always looking over my shoulder for the bluegrass purists who I might offend through my errant musical behavior.  I knew they'd be out there, and hoped I'd win them over, despite my musical rebelliousness, if they listened for a few seconds and gave me a chance.

However, this was not to be, at least not with the one guy who apparently lives right next to Kenilworth Park, who accosted me last night, as I was walking home with my little boy, passing his house.

A tall, thin man with orange hair and two small white dogs, he looked to be around forty years old.  He wasn't shouting, but he was livid, veins bulging, really scary levels of anger being displayed.  I worried about whether he was armed, and I worried about my young child, as I stood there taking in his rage.

"I live right here," he said, pointing to his house.  "You make me listen to that thing every day.  You should really go to Trade-Up Music and learn how to play that thing.  It's a mandolin." 

I didn't point out that it's actually a mandola.  Then, with much more emphasis, he continued.

"It's tuned G-D-A-E."

He spat out the proper pitch of each string like it was quoting a sacred religious verse, and I was a heretic.

"And those eight strings are four pairs, they're supposed to be the same pitch as each other."

This last bit was a particularly low blow, not even worthy of a bluegrass purist -- whatever else he might have to say about this situation, my instrument was at least in tune with itself, I have excellent pitch.  Regardless of which musical style I may be disrespecting, I'm doing it in tune.

"Are you serious?" 

This was all I could think of to say in response, as I backed away with my son and continued towards home.  He made it very clear he was indeed serious.  And I knew exactly what kind of serious he was, because he's just a really emotionally disturbed version of the bluegrass purist that most of us bluegrass aficionados have within us.

I'm actually afraid to bring my mandola back to Kenilworth Park, for fear of being shot by this guy, he's really obviously unhinged.  I wish he could just relax and enjoy some nice music instead, like most of his neighbors have been doing, but I guess not.  

Moral of the story, perhaps, is if you're going to play the mandolin (or the mandola) in Kenilworth Park, you better play proper bluegrass, or else.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Music Therapy

My latest online concert begins with a little improvisational instrumental music, and me talking about the joy of music a bit.  I thought I'd expand on that theme a little.

As most anyone who hasn't been on Mars for the past couple years knows, rates of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed.  They're pretty bad in "normal" times as well.  There are a lot of good tricks to make life more bearable, and even to improve the lives of those around you at the same time.

Before I expound on this subject, for those who have been wondering about my relative absence online in recent months, particularly compared to latter 2020, when I was livestreaming multiple interviews and performances every week:  you're not mistaken, I have been doing much less stuff online lately.  This is largely because life in what they used to call the real world got a lot busier, with concert tours in Europe starting up again.  But it's also because much of the content I've been creating isn't so much for public consumption yet.

People who know me or and my music know it's mostly very political, and that's true.  Years go by where I'm too immersed in following news developments and editorializing about them that I hardly pick up a guitar unless I'm working on a new song or giving a concert.  But then things happen.  Like a global pandemic, borders shutting down and all the tours getting canceled, and other things, like the internet becoming an increasingly toxic space to be in, regardless of its many assets.  In recent months my tendency has been increasingly to turn off the computer, and the news, and just play music instead.

This has meant that instead of listening to podcasts about the dire state of the world for hours every day in one ear while I'm keeping my small children entertained, I'm playing the mandola.  I'm a bit less informed about the minutiae of the unfolding disasters on the planet, but my skill on the instrument is improving by the day, and as I follow the kids around, if we're outside and there are other people around, I make them happy in the process.

I realize that most people with 9-5 jobs don't have hours every day either to listen to podcasts, play with their children, or play musical instruments, whether they do those things simultaneously or not.  But there are modified versions of this practice, to suit your schedule, hopefully.

There is no need to be a good musician for music to be a very therapeutic daily practice for you, your kids (if you have any), and people around you.  For you or people around you to enjoy whatever you're doing on an instrument, it helps a lot if you have some facility at it.  I find that if people focus for 20 minutes a day on learning how to play an instrument, they can make a hell of a lot of progress within a few months, by which time they can get to the point where it's fun to play, and potentially enjoyable for other people within earshot as well.

If you do have some basic facility with a musical instrument, and you know what a musical scale is, then you can engage in the practice I do lately every day.

While following the kids around in a city park with my mandola, taking in the sights and sounds and tactile sensations of the breeze, the rustling leaves, the barking dogs, the children sliding down the slide and swinging on the swings, etc., I improvise on the mandola within a particular scale (or key).  Very vaguely thinking about the Indian classical music tradition/ritual of the raga, I start an improvisation with a particular note in the scale.  I come up with a simple musical riff of some kind, and return to it frequently, ending the phrase, eventually, on the note I began the improv with.  When it feels like it's over, I pause for a little while, and start with another note, doing an improv with a different vibe, often alternating between faster and slower types of patterns.

I find that having just a little bit of repetitive framework for my musical wanderings in the park each day like that increasingly feels like I'm engaging in a sort of religious practice.  I don't know about everyone else, but for me, even as a fairly accomplished musician with a diverse musical palette, if I'm improvising on a mandola for 3 or 4 hours in a day, I'm going to repeat a lot of musical phrases in that time period -- a whole lot of repetition is involved, in fact, even if each larger phrase might be somehow distinct from each other one.  In any case, repetition is OK!  Not only OK, it's one of the essential elements in how you get better at a lot of things, very much including playing an instrument.  And the repetition, along with the music, generally, can have a lot of therapeutic effects on the player, and folks in the area who might happen to be listening.

Aside from everything else, there is something profoundly therapeutic about playing a musical instrument in a park, or anywhere else, because in doing so you are to some small extent reclaiming the real world, outside of the internet.  Your primary audience is the wind and the squirrels, not your hundreds or thousands of faceless followers out there in the ether.  In the modern age, it almost feels strange to be doing such a thing, with no one following me around with a camera, in order to livestream the event.  I'm absolutely certain if many passersby saw someone filming me, they'd think it less unusual.  

In any case, I recommend the practice.  And if you find yourself in Portland, Oregon, drop by Kenilworth Park sometime and bring an instrument!

Monday, August 30, 2021

Touring During Delta

So many complicated decisions.  Is it safe to play concerts?  Here are my two cents.

As the fourth wave of the pandemic is shutting the US down one way or another, hospitals overflowing, a thousand people dying a day, and so on, obviously a lot of tour and other travel plans are being canceled.

If you listen to the headlines, you may get the impression this fourth wave is a result of the Delta Variant.  But the Delta Variant is also the primary variant spreading in other countries that are not having a fourth wave, like Denmark.

Whereas in some countries, a central public health authority makes sensible decisions based on best practices and good data that are applied nationwide, such as in Denmark, in other countries, there is no central authority to speak of, and any regional efforts at having a strategy to cope with the pandemic are soon overwhelmed by the realities of living in one country with no internal borders, where the idea of having a regional strategy to deal with what is at the very least a national problem is basically a joke.  That's our situation in the US, so every individual musician and audience member, along with everyone else in society, is left making their own decisions, based on whatever they conclude seems to make the most sense under the extremely complex circumstances.

As one of those individuals, having no hope that the public health authorities in the US will ever get it together, I have come up with my own approach based on my assessment of the costs, benefits, and risks involved.

What the pandemic's most recent chapter has taught us, or at least those of us who are paying attention, is that under the right circumstances, a country can avoid a fourth Delta Variant wave, and end social distancing, masking, restrictions on singing, dancing, etc., through widespread vaccination, the national use of a corona pass system, and a national policy of requiring all visitors be fully vaccinated.  Denmark is one country that has demonstrated this is possible.  I'm just back from a tour there.

While there is no way to really benefit from the Danish model without a national government's involvement in its effective implementation, we can at least assume that if we do our best to approximate it, we're conducting ourselves in a way that is safe enough so as not to cause problems for society, even if there is always some kind of risk, if you're going to leave your bedroom.

So, my policy for the current situation is only to play in countries where vaccine access is universal (and where I'm allowed in), and wherever practical, to require proof of vaccination for anyone who comes to a gig, including of course any musicians involved.  When playing in countries like Denmark, all of this is already standard procedure, and legally required.  Where this isn't the case, it's inevitably going to be less predictable.

If there are bans on social gatherings or concerts, etc., I would not try to do a concert against some ordinance like that, but if concerts are allowed, then I would reject any arguments against having them, on the basis of putting people at risk.  If everyone is vaccinated then it is a risk I'm perfectly willing to take, and I think it's easy to argue based on actual lived reality (in Denmark) that any potential costs are outweighed by the benefits.

Society here in the US and in most places is twice as anxious and twice as depressed as usual.  People are overdosing on opiates and other things at a massively escalated rate.  They need live concerts, if live concerts can be conducted reasonably safety (and they can), and anything else that fosters community and togetherness.

The planet is facing unprecedented doom and gloom, and thus, we need live music and other things that bring people together more than ever.  I also believe this is the case, despite the carbon footprint involved with being a touring band.  Lots of major structural change needs to happen, and musicians giving up on touring in order not to burn gasoline is not going to prevent the apocalypse.  And if those touring bands are part of building a movement that might lead to the transformation of society, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Those of us who play music for a living are aware that there are always risks involved with this business, even if no one is worried about catching viruses from performers or audience members.  The very act of touring is dangerous.  Driving is dangerous, and every time we spend another five hours driving down the highway to the next gig, we're aware of the risk we're taking in order to continue to pursue our chosen professions for another day.  Life is full of such calculations, and now with Covid we have another one, which we may just have to get used to factoring into the mix.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Surviving the Weather

I've dabbled recently in writing some practical advice pieces, such as one I wrote about healthily eating while living out of a car, without refrigeration.  Now, for whatever it may be worth, I'm compelled to share a couple of insights about surviving the weather.

Most anyone living in 2021 is dealing with extremes of weather that they hadn't encountered before.  I grew up in what used to be the relatively temperate climate of southern New England, as it is known, the northeastern United States.  There were a lot of things I never needed to know about dealing with extremes of weather, because we didn't have any when I was a kid.  Since then, I've spent much of my time traveling.  

Although I very intentionally tried to organize tours in such a way that I would be traveling to places during a nice time of year -- like touring Australia in Australian winter, thus entirely missing the increasingly scorching summers wherever I might be otherwise, and doing gigs in California and Florida in the winter -- things didn't often work out that way.  I have ended up spending lots of time during record-breakingly hot summers in hot places like Texas, Arizona, and Japan, and I have done multiple tours of eastern Canada and Alaska in winter.

The good news is, although climate chaos is terrible and is causing so many problems for so many people and other creatures, the planet has long had a lot of different kinds of weather.  We're just not used to having all kinds of weather in all places, like is increasingly happening, to characterize the phenomenon in lay terms, the only ones I know.  But there are parts of the world where people are used to all these kinds of weather.  I've spent time in some of them, and learned a couple tricks.


Here in the western parts of North America, things are generally very dry, except for the thin strip of land hugging the coast.  So, when the temperature goes up to 116F (46C) as it did recently in Portland, although hot, it's a dry heat.  But whether you're in the desert or in the swamp-like conditions of New Orleans or Hiroshima in a normal summer, water is your friend.

In fact, just to emphasize the point, during the heat wave when it did get up to 116 degrees, I was in Portland with my family, happily playing inside and outside, even during the height of it all.  Those of you reading this who know me well may be aware that I really don't like hot weather, so you might be surprised to hear that we're getting by OK, though I'd prefer a much cooler climate, the way it used to be.  But if it gets really hot and you have access to running water and shade, you'll be fine.

The key, however, is not removing your clothes and getting in a pool.  I mean, that's great, if you have a pool, and if you don't mind staying in it all day.  But otherwise the thing to do is to remove your clothes -- or actually just your shirt or top -- get it wet, wring it out a bit, and put it back on.  When it dries out, repeat the process.  You can easily do this all day, every day, and you can do it for every member of your family, too.

If you have kids, set the example.  Do it yourself.  Outdoors or indoors, whether you have air conditioning that works well or not at all, but especially if you don't have AC or if you're outside.  Get your shirt wet frequently, set the example, and your kids will try it, too, and they'll love it.  Everyone will be happy, no one will be grumpy, and no one will get heatstroke and drop dead either.

If you have good AC, that's great, you can fight the heat that way and stay indoors all the time like they advise on the radio.  But if you lose power and you don't have a generator, you'll still need my advice here.  Also, in hot climates outside of the US, fighting the heat with powerful air conditioning that uses massive amounts of energy is not the norm.  Even in the rich and very subtropically hot and humid islands of Japan, very few households have central air conditioning.

In very fashion-conscious Japan, men often wear a wet t-shirt beneath another layer, which is a dry shirt, so they can be cool in both senses, even in very hot and humid weather.  It's also common to wear a wet towel around your neck there in summer.


Knowing how to use shade is vital for coping with hot weather, whether it's dry heat or wet heat, but especially in dry, desert-style heat like what we're currently experiencing in the western US and Canada.

For your house or apartment, if you live in one, you need to pay close attention to where the sun rises and sets.  Reflective curtains and blackout curtains work way better than other kinds, they need to be very serious curtains, but then wherever the afternoon sun is going to hit, close the windows in that room beforehand, and the curtains.  When the sun sets and things start to cool down out there, if they do, open all the windows and keep them open all night.

When you go outdoors in direct sunlight, well, just don't do that!  Don't be too cool for an umbrella.  Women throughout Japan and Mexico use umbrellas not just for rain, but for sun.  You can do it, too, whoever you are.  If it's cool enough for grandma Yamaguchi, it should be cool enough for you.  By using an umbrella, especially in combination with a wet shirt, you can happily take the dog for a little afternoon walk in triple-digit weather.  (Although make sure you do that with a very well-hydrated dog on a grassy field, or the dog will burn up on the pavement and die.)

If the heat is really dry, I swear to you it's true that you can sit in the shade of a typical cement building in the desert when it's way over 100 degrees, and you will be perfectly comfortable and cool with no air conditioning, whether the window is open or closed.  And if your shirt is wet, you might get cold.  I'm serious, and I speak from experience.


That heading may sound like a heading for coping with cold weather, and I thought I would talk about that, too, but first it bears mentioning that layers are good for hot weather, too.  There is a common misconception that if you're hot, the best thing you can do is remove your clothing.  This may be true if you're going swimming, but otherwise, it's not.  Wet clothing, or loose clothing that provides shade, will both keep you much cooler than removing your clothing will.  People wear types of clothing we might generally characterize as robe-like in the deserts and tropics of Africa and Asia for very practical reasons.

But among the weather extremes we are experiencing a lot of recently, extreme cold is another.  In Texas, known of course more for heat, and in east Texas, humidity, than any other kind of weather, it got way below freezing last winter, and stayed that way for a while.  The electrical grid froze and stopped working.  As with the heat wave that's going on now, during the freeze in Texas last winter, people died.  People got frostbite and died.

I know people who are used to cold weather were sometimes shocked to hear that people actually got frostbite and died in Texas when it was not even very far below freezing.  Pretty much any Canadian or Norwegian over the age of seven knows how to avoid getting frostbite and dying when it is well below freezing outside, while they are in fact not only not getting frostbite and dying, but are enjoying the weather, outside, for hours on end.  But in Texas, some people die when the heat goes off.

As with the heat deaths, these deaths are pretty much entirely avoidable.  Of course extreme weather will affect the vulnerable more, and more elderly people die in winter or summer than in spring or autumn, during a typical year.  (At least I'm pretty sure I heard that from a reliable source and I didn't just make that up.)  But if you know how to cope, you'll tend to die a lot less, and even be able to enjoy whatever weather you find yourself in.

This is very much true of cold weather.  I say that perhaps as someone who prefers it to hot weather, but nonetheless, all you need to know how to do is to know how to dress yourself.  This is not something people learn how to do in climates where it rarely freezes in winter, however.  

For a typical person living in Houston or Miami, the warmest article of clothing they own for the bottom half of their bodies is probably a pair of jeans.  The warmest top they own is a sweater or a light jacket.  Among the more privileged sorts who take ski vacations in Colorado and such, they may own more useful items of clothing, and I doubt any of the people who got frostbite and died in Texas when the power went out are among that set.  (Of course, they're also probably not reading this blog post.)

I've never gong skiing, but everyone has seen how skiers dress on TV.  Every bit of their skin is covered.  That's the first thing you need to do when it's below freezing.

If the warmest thing you own to cover your legs with is a pair of jeans, then you need to figure out how to have another layer either under or over the jeans.  If they're loose enough, you can wear long underwear, also called thermal underwear (if you own any or can find any to buy).  Assuming you don't have ski pants, another thing that works very well for warmth on top of your jeans are rain pants.

As with closing your windows to keep the heat out, when surviving outside in sub-freezing weather, keeping every inch of skin covered at all times means doing just that.  Not just having a top on and a bottom on, each with a few layers, but tucking things in properly, everywhere, so there is no space where air can come in between your socks and the bottoms of your jeans, or under your shirt, or down your neck.  Cover all of that in ways that it stays covered, and you don't need to keep messing with it.

Once properly wrapped and layered, with a little bit of movement, your body will keep you warm just fine, indefinitely.  You can get through an entire winter like that, without getting frostbite and dying, even if it never goes above freezing, and the heat never comes back on.  It's obviously much nicer if you have a place to live and heat, but even if you're living in a car, if you have clothing and you know how to dress, you can avoid frostbite.

When temperatures go way below they did in Texas last winter, then the advice I'm giving here is less applicable.  At least from my experience, at a certain point, there is no good alternative to serious winter clothing, like the kinds of winter pants and winter jackets that most any resident of the Arctic has hanging by their front door.  There is a level of cold where a scarf and hat is a joke, and you need goggles and a long hood, so you look like Kenny in South Park.


One of the big problems with housing of any kind in parts of the world where they are used to a temperate climate is there's no need for insulation.  Which is fine when it doesn't get very hot or very cold.  But if it does, insulation, like layers, is essential.

Of course, pointing this out may or may not be very helpful, if you can't just get your house renovated, or if you're a renter, or living in your car.  But the insulation principle is one you can keep in mind, whenever trying to avoid extremes of heat or cold.

The ground is great insulation.  The more you can into it, the more temperate the climate will be.  Basements, caves, cellars, holes in the ground, these are all your friends.  If there's no power and it's very hot out, storing food in as deep a hole as you can dig will keep it much cooler than anywhere else.

A stove is much better than a fireplace.  If you're keeping yourself warm through a fire of any kind, make it more like a stove as much as you can.  Surround that fire with objects that hold heat, like bricks, cement, stones.  After the fire goes out, even if it's been going strong for a half hour, those objects stay warm for a while, maybe even all night.  Of course, if you're indoors and working with a fireplace, this will work much better than outdoors, but the principle applies either way.

And of course, as with dressing and keeping every inch of skin covered when the weather is below freezing, even if you're in a structure with no insulation and no heat, finding and blocking every place where air may be coming in, such as cracks at the bottoms of doors, will help keep the warmth in a lot, even if the only warmth you have is being produced by your body.  Each of our bodies produces as much warmth as an old-fashioned, hot light bulb.  That can easily hot a room if it's insulated.

On the off-chance you happen to find yourself outdoors and in a blizzard or otherwise surrounded by snow and sub-zero temperatures:  the snow is your friend.  Snow is very warm.  Snow is insulation.  Make a cave out of the snow, and get in it.  If your skin is all covered, once you're in a small cave made of snow, your body will warm up the space quickly, and you'll be warm and cozy while you wait for the blizzard to pass.  You can stay that way for days if you have to, and your main problem will be the usual hunger and thirst and occasional need to expose your skin long enough to relieve yourself, but you won't get frostbite.  Just don't pee into the wind.

And thus concludes my advice for surviving the weather.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Rebel Songs 2021 WORLD TOUR

I shall be visiting the northeastern US, Denmark, England, Ireland, and California, in the course of 2021.  Quite likely other places as well, depending on the collective You, as this is a crowdsourced endeavor.
Basic outline:

Northeastern US:  July 19-August 2
Denmark:  August 10-27
England and Ireland:  October 16-November 20

If you might be inclined to organize an event, I'd be thrilled to hear from you, and talk about logistics.*  Equally, if you keep in touch and make sure you know if I'm doing a gig near you, so you can help spread the word and generate an audience for the show, that's just as wonderful.

In terms of helping spread the word about gigs or the tour in general, some relevant bits of info:

  • list of upcoming gigs can always be found at davidrovics.com/tour
  • if people follow me on Songkick that can be a good way to hear about local gigs
  • you do not need to be the organizer of a gig to spread the word about a gig -- all hands on deck
  • sharing the tour graphic along with a message about why people should get involved is so helpful
I've never worked with any agencies or anything like that.  The tours and the individual gigs, just like the career generally, is entirely crowdsourced.  How many gigs I do, where they happen, how big the crowds are, etc., is basically up to the collective You.  I promise I'll do my part, to the best of my musical abilities, in any case!

*In a nutshell, for those interested in a very brief crash course, the process of organizing a gig can go something like this:
  1. You email me to see when/if I might be coming to your area, and we figure out a date or date range that could work.
  2. You find a venue we can use for free (or which is paid for by a supporter), where we can publicly spread the word about the gig there, and where we can charge at the door and keep the proceeds.
  3. You line up 20 people from your community who will buy tickets in advance, or you or your organization or affinity group makes a plan to pay for 20 tickets, in case more than 20 people don't show up.
  4. You and me and other people spread the word about the gig in whatever creative ways we can think of, to hopefully maybe get significantly more than 20 people to show up.
  5. We have a night of rebel songs and wake up ready to riot the next day!

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Third Intifada Backgrounder

Watching the news from Gaza with great alarm, and trying to understand what's going on?  Here you go.

In much of what remains of the left in places like the US and the UK people busily form Circular Firing Squads for the purposes of eliminating microaggressions and any vestigial traces of antisemitism that might be found under old rocks.  Meanwhile in the Middle East, the US client state that rules over Islam's holiest sites, Saudi Arabia, is in the process of totally destroying the country of Yemen, where there is a catastrophic famine going on right now.  Nearby, the US client state of Israel is doing the same thing to the people of Gaza, all the while claiming to do this for self-protection and for the love of the Jewish people, who they claim to represent, as the world's only self-proclaimed Jewish State.

The US government is wading in human blood all over the world, involved with so many wars, and making them so much deadlier than they might otherwise be, if they would have happened at all.  The US is the world's biggest arms exporter, with the world's biggest military budget -- by far -- and of course by far the biggest supporter of Israel, constantly funneling US tax dollars to the country through military aid, which are not loans, but are the world's most advanced fighter jets, helicopter gunships, supposedly illegal chemical weapons, and so on.

There are a lot of other horrible wars, famines, environmental wastelands, and other extreme regional and global tragedies that the US government and US corporations are directly responsible for, right now, involving daily, ongoing crimes against humanity.  But what's dominated the news lately -- and lives of so many millions of suffering people -- is events around Israel, Palestine, and in particular, Gaza.  The amount of disinformation coming across the airwaves in the English-language press is staggering to anyone who knows what kinds of intellectual hoops these pundits are jumping through, and all the word games they have to play every other second as they speak, in order to avoid telling the awful truth, such as Ambassador Dennis Ross on NPR this morning.

So here's a little dose of reality in the form of a Q&A, to help vaccinate you from the tsunami of disinformation you are currently facing, if you are a news-reading English-speaker like me.

But isn't it all too difficult to understand?

No.  If you get into the weeds of anything, there's lots of complexity.  But when you back up, things are often pretty simple.  While we can all endlessly work out the details in terms of how people can all get along better with concern to religion, race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, linguistic grouping, sexual orientation, and so on, the fundamental situation here has nothing to do with any of that.

The Palestinians are the indigenous people in Palestine.  Palestinian people come from a variety of religious backgrounds, whether they are practicing or not.  These include Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and others.  A tiny fraction of the citizens of the Jewish State today are Jewish Palestinians, but the overwhelming majority of the Jewish Israelis are colonists or the children or grandchildren of colonists, who came from Europe, North America, or elsewhere.

But aren't Jews originally from what is now Israel?

All of us are originally from Africa, so if we go back far enough, a fine claim can be made on a patch of African land, don't you think?  

Christians were also persecuted by the Romans.  Christians could -- and have -- made the same case for colonizing other parts of the world.  It's fundamentally nothing more than a mythological justification for the seizure of another people's land.  If you look at creation myths for colonizers around the world, you'll find the same kind of nonsense, including in New Zealand (some people love to exempt New Zealand from the club of kleptocratic settler-colonial countries -- it's not exempt, and it has the prison population to prove it).

You say the Jews who settled Palestine and declared the state of Israel were colonists?  But they were oppressed immigrants and refugees, weren't they?

Yup.  This is true of colonists around the world, throughout the history of colonization.  Colonists are rarely the "cream of the crop."  Those who are rich and comfortable don't tend to leave home.  It's the desperate who leave.  That's who came to the US, mostly.  Contrary to all the mythology you grew up with about pioneers and adventurers, most of the Europeans who came to the US -- that is, the white immigrants who were allowed to come here -- were refugees, in fact.  German-speakers escaping wars between France and Prussia, eastern Europeans fleeing wars and indefinite conscription, Jews fleeing the additional horrors on top of all that of pogroms and other forms of antisemitism (both institutional and on the streets), Irish fleeing their colonial oppressors and famine, and so on.

The Europeans who colonized the US largely did so by means of a process involving carrots and sticks.  White people could emigrate, but they had to carry guns, join the militia, and be ready to kill Indians and round up enslaved Africans who escaped their captors.  White people could own land, but only if they took their guns west, stole it from indigenous people, and defended it from them afterwards.

In Israel, it's the same, just replace "white" for "Jewish" and "Indian" for "Palestinian."  The mostly white European Jewish colonizers were most definitely refugees as well as immigrants.  They were fleeing the aforementioned pogroms in the earlier period of the Zionist movement, which began in earnest in the 1890's, and then in the wake of World War II, they were fleeing what was clearly a very dangerous continent, where a fascist regime had just ruled most of for years, killing tens of millions of people, including millions of Jewish-descended Europeans, solely because they were of Jewish extraction.  The Jewish European colonizers, in short, were fleeing what was -- and what remains up til this day -- the most horrific mass slaughter of human beings the world has ever seen (Nazi-ruled Europe).

Why didn't all those Jewish refugees go somewhere else, where they might be more welcome?

Unlike today, back in the 1940's and for centuries prior to that, antisemitism was a very real and deadly phenomenon.  The worst of it, up until the 1930's, wasn't even in Germany, but that sure changed after Hitler came to power.  So basically nobody wanted the Jews.  Jews were trying to get out of the most dangerous places, like Germany or countries that looked likely to soon be ruled by Germany, back in the 1930's, but they -- my relatives, in some cases -- were kept out of places like the US, Canada, and Cuba by laws that were made specially to discriminate against Jews and other eastern Europeans.

Eastern and southern Europeans were facing massive official discrimination in the US.  Popular wisdom had it that most of the trouble-makers (mainly anarchists and socialists) were from that part of Europe, not like the well-mannered, obedient immigrants from the north and west of Europe.  As a result of these discriminatory laws -- which were not rescinded until 1944 -- the Jews trying to get out of Europe could not come to Britain or North America, so many of them fled to the countries that would take them, such as Palestine.

Palestine?  Was that a country?

Yes and no.  What we call countries in the era of nation-states is a bit different than the way these things were understood before.  Palestine was and is a region and a people with distinct cultural traditions, existing within a region with still more common traditions.  When we use the term "country" these days, we're talking about governance, mainly.  So in that sense, Palestine was sovereign to varying degrees, depending on the period, whether Jerusalem was basically a city-state, or under Roman, Ottoman, Crusader, or British control.

After the Ottoman Empire's defeat in World War I, much of the world was divided up among the victorious European powers, which were all empires themselves.  The war, in fact, was a war for empire.  Palestine was under British control.  The British were the occupying power that encouraged, along with other European powers, including, for a time, Nazi Germany, Jewish emigration to Palestine.

What this emigration meant at the time was you could move to Palestine and live under British rule, along with a combination of local indigenous people and people who the British brought in, just like in any other British colony.  The Palestine Tourism Board put out posters in English, Arabic and Hebrew back then.

So then how did Israel become a country?

In the news they talked about how the different people there couldn't get along, and they talked about intercommunal conflict and intercommunal clashes, much like they do when referring to what's going on on the streets of so many Israeli cities in the past couple weeks.  But then as now, one side was the one with the power and all the European connections, support, and funding.

In any case, what happened was Jewish militants committed a number of massacres of Palestinian civilians and otherwise engaged in a very intentional campaign of terror, which had its intended consequences.  Around 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes in fear.  The overwhelming majority of them were never allowed to return to their homes, and this continues to this day with their descendants.  Jews moved into their homes and stole them outright, with the encouragement of the new state they were declaring on the ashes of what was once Palestine, in the literal homes of those they had just displaced by force of arms or by threat of massacre.  In the many cases where Palestinian homes were destroyed in the course of these events, new houses were built upon the ruins.  In all of these ways, this settler-colonial Zionist movement was behaving just like settler-colonialism in other instances, where Europeans took over in North America, Australia, parts of Africa, etc.

What happened next?

Armies from several other Arab countries -- mostly newly-created, recently-defeated, and badly-equipped -- were sent in to try to help the Palestinians.  These largely demoralized armies were defeated once again by a better-equipped, largely European (though this time entirely Jewish) enemy, and one highly motivated by recent history in their European homelands, the Nazi genocide.  Which had nothing to do with the Palestinians, but for which they have been forever paying the price, the victims of the victims, refugees fleeing refugees.

So this is where revisionist, pro-apartheid historians like to start the narrative.  "Six Arab armies attacked the fledgling state of Israel, which valiantly defended itself, against all odds."  The problem with starting history there is that doing so shows a complete and utter contempt for anything resembling truth in advertising.  It's telling the story of what was clearly a people attempting to defend their lands from invaders engaged in massacres and ethnic cleansing, and making it seem like the story began with this attempted retaliation at invasion and occupation.

And then, what happened in the last half of the 20th century?

After establishing an explicitly Jewish state, democratic in name only, that never allowed anything resembling full participation in state or economic affairs, to say nothing of the military, what evolved was a country very much resembling the United States under Jim Crow, or South Africa under Apartheid, which has been freely compared with these examples by people who were subject to US and South African forms of institutional racism, such as Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, and many others.

The new Israeli state engaged in active campaigns of myth-building/nation-building that involved long-term efforts to convince Palestinians inside Israel that they weren't Palestinian, they were Israeli Arabs, much like those categorized in South Africa as Colored, while those Palestinians in the West Bank were another kind of Arab, more or less Jordanians of a sort newly invented for the Israeli schoolbooks.  In South African parlance, they were the Blacks in this equation of apartheid.  And then there were the growing millions in the Palestinian diaspora, in the refugee camps and around the world.

Throughout the first fifty years of Israeli statehood, Palestinian disenfranchisement and resistance was a constant, and it took many forms.  As with their indigenous counterparts in other colonized countries, the Palestinians remaining within the boundaries of what was once Palestine were living on less and less land, as it was being taken piece by piece by Israel, one way or another.  

In 1967 and again in 1973, there were major military efforts on the part of Arab countries under new, more popular leadership to try to reverse the tide of Israeli expansion and Palestinian loss, but with a blank check and a constant flow of fighter jets from the United States, the highly-motivated, extremely well-funded and well-equipped Israeli military won, and with each war, Israel got bigger and territory nominally under Palestinian control shrank precipitously, to the point where by the time of the Oslo negotiations in the 1990's, the notion of a two-state solution was increasingly becoming a total fantasy, only realistic in the minds of academics.

How many massacres of Palestinian civilians have there been?

Palestinian efforts to resist nonviolently have regularly been met with massacres.  In 1976, Palestinians protesting against more theft of Palestinian land were massacred by Israeli troops.  This became known as Land Day -- one of many days in any Palestinian calendar marked by a massacre.  On the anniversary of Land Day in 2018, Palestinians again came out en masse to protest against the same ongoing confiscations of their land and futures, and once again they were met with massacres, every Friday, for over a year.

In 1982, Israeli-backed Lebanese forces, under active Israeli protection and otherwise working with the Israeli occupation forces in Lebanon at the time, killed over three thousand Palestinians, mostly women and children, over the course of several days, raping and mutilating many of them in the process of the slaughter.  They did this after Israel had negotiated for most of the adult men from the camp to leave the country, in order to avoid being killed instead.  So then they facilitated the slaughter of the remaining women and children, many of whom valiantly resisted the invading mostly Christian Maronite forces anyway, to no avail.

On the anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, in September, 2000, the man who was well-known as the Israeli general in charge in Lebanon at the time of the 1982 massacres went to visit the holiest site in the Muslim religion that exists in the Holy City of Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  Ariel Sharon provoked Palestinians at the mosque to the point where some stones were thrown, at which point his troops opened fire.  This new massacre set off what became known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada, or the Second Intifada.

There have been so many other massacres of Palestinian civilians, I wouldn't even know where to start listing them.  In 2002, the Israeli military bulldozed refugee camps all over the West Bank with tanks, killing hundreds of people and destroying huge parts of many cities.  The Israeli Air Force bombed all ten of the soap-making factories in the biggest West Bank city, Nablus, that year.  The Israeli Air Force has systematically bombed and bulldozed hospitals, the homes of doctors, and lots and lots of journalists and offices of the press, among many other targets.

Do the Israelis imprison and torture children on a systematic basis?

Yes.  It's well-known by many that the draconian policy known as indefinite detention without trial tends to give rise to a lot of resentment and opposition among the targeted population.  That's certainly what happened when the British tried it in Northern Ireland in the early 1970's.  It works that way on Palestinians, too.  Except unlike in Northern Ireland, where the occupiers abandoned this extreme policy after a few years, it has been the normal way of doing business for Israel for decades, nonstop.

Palestinians in the West Bank live under direct Israeli military rule, they're not subject to civilian courts if they're kidnapped by the Israeli military, which any of them are subject to at any time, for any reason, without cause or justification.  If thus abducted by soldiers at gunpoint, a judge only needs renew their detention every six months, as long as the judge wants to.  While detained, being tortured through the use of solitary confinement, stress positions, and other forms of physical and psychological torture is completely normal.

But didn't Israel pull out of Gaza?

Sort of, but not really at all.  Gaza was, and is, one of the most densely-populated places on Earth.  There were enough Jewish Israeli settlers in Gaza to populate a small town, taking up a third of the space.  It wasn't tenable.  As with other non-tenable settler outposts on occasion, it was abandoned, with much fanfare, and the settlers were relocated to other settlements, which are all incidentally illegal settlements under international law, not that most governments are paying attention.

What's the deal with the wall?

The Apartheid Wall, as it's popularly known around the world, was another initiative of the early 21st century, along with the relocation of some settlers from Gaza to the West Bank.  Sold to the global public by the Israeli regime as a wall to divide what they refer to as Jewish and Arab neighborhoods, as a sort of aid to the peace process, in fact the wall was a massive process of more land theft, surrounding Palestinian town centers and villages, cutting them off from farmland or any other means of survival, basically surrounding occupied ghettoes with walls, to describe perfectly accurately.  They turned the West Bank into an outdoor prison, with a pretend, not at all sovereign government to run small parts of the inmate population.

For the first half century or so of the existence of the state of Israel, the Jewish State could never get enough Jews to move there the way they wanted them to.  Most Jews preferred to stay somewhere with less conflict, like post-war Europe or North America.  So the labor shortage was generally solved with Palestinian workers.  

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the sudden impoverishment of a hundred million Russians, people all over the former USSR were looking for a way out of this country that was in such a destabilized state.  People emigrated to where they could.  Once again, the US and Britain were often preferred destinations.  Many Russians have relatives here, just like everyone else in Europe does.  But there were quotas, and so lots of the ended up emigrating to Israel, if they were Jewish enough to be allowed to do so, which of course millions of Russians were, and are.  

Labor shortage solved, it was time to step up the apartheid and the ethnic cleansing campaign, which is what has been going on for the past two decades or so.

If the Israelis left Gaza, why is it so poor?

Because it is prevented by Israel from accessing international waters.  Although Gaza is right there on the Mediterranean Sea, a straight shot from Cyprus, there is no ferry.  There is no airport.  Nothing.  They can't even visit their relatives in the West Bank or Israel or Lebanon or anywhere else.  No one is allowed in or out, and the amount of anything else that's allowed in or out is very tightly controlled by Israel, or by Egypt, to the southwest, which is the country that receives the most US military aid in the world after than Israel, last I checked.

In addition to the land, air and water siege, fighter jets break the sound barrier over Gaza every hour of the day and night, preventing anyone from ever sleeping well.  Just like the sadistic prison guards systematically do to torture prisoners in Alabama, New York, Illinois, and elsewhere.

But what should Israel do about the rockets?

For the vast majority of the history of the state of Israel, Palestinian resistance has been overwhelmingly nonviolent, or has involved the kind of symbolic violence that is widely understood to be represented by the child throwing a rock at a tank.  The home-made rockets launched from Gaza are not much better, as can be seen from the fact that if they do serious damage or cause injury or death, it is only when they land directly on top of a structure.  Throwing a grenade can kill people, for sure, but these rockets are more like long-range grenades than anything we would normally call a "rocket."

Nonetheless, what is more surprising to most people around the world is how little violent resistance there has been, given how violent the occupation of Palestine has been and continues to be.  As with any other situation where there is such oppression and such extreme inequity, resistance of all kinds is inevitable, and the only way out of this cycle is to stop the oppression.

But don't they want to drive the Jews into the sea?

The campaign of terror against Palestinian civilians that gave birth to the state of Israel in 1947-48 was a very real and successful effort to drive 700,000 people from their homes.  Israel has been driving Palestinians from their homes in so many different ways ever since, by annexing Palestinian land, destroying Palestinian homes with armored bulldozers, tanks, and fighter jets, uprooting olive groves, beating, killing, arresting, harassing, kidnapping, and otherwise making life unbearable for Palestinians, who die of heart attacks as a result of the stress being a Palestinian in Palestine at a disproportionate rate.

As a result of living under such horrific conditions, being so regularly massacred, bombed, and so on, there is a wide variety of opinion on the ground and among political parties about how to resolve the situation.  This definitely includes those who advocate expelling or killing or otherwise dealing with entire populations, but the loudest and most powerful forces with this orientation are in power within the Israeli government, and increasingly dominant on the streets of Israel in the form of anti-Palestinian mobs.

But isn't Hamas a terrorist organization?

Palestinian society, as with most societies, is split politically in many different ways.  At the same time, it's broadly united around certain principles, as well.  All the political factions, and easily the vast majority of Palestinians on the ground, believe that responding to violent repression with violent resistance is completely justified.  

But when there isn't a crisis going on where everyone is talking about their unified opposition to the Israeli bombing in Gaza and support for retaliation against it, Hamas and Fatah are vying for control of Palestinian hearts and minds, as well as city councils.  Hamas was democratically elected throughout the West Bank and Gaza as a political party, but has only been able to exercise that power in Gaza and certain other localities, because of this ongoing conflict.  Israel and the United States don't tend to recognize Hamas as a political party, but only as what they call a terrorist organization that dares to resist the destruction of their people and their homes, and the theft of their land, such as those in East Jerusalem, which is key to the current iteration of the struggle for Palestine.  So when hospitals or other buildings that contain any government offices are bombed, the Israelis say they were destroying terrorist infrastructure.

If I speak out against Israeli apartheid, does that make me an antisemite?

No.  But it is a minefield out there.  The fact that Israel is a self-proclaimed Jewish state where there are regularly mobs of Jews marching through the streets chanting "kill the Arabs," where the far right government is actively bombing the homes of doctors and press agencies, where walls surround ghettoes, staffed by soldiers with heavy weapons in guard towers, where any Palestinian can be detained indefinitely without trial at any moment or killed for existing, these things tend to invite comparisons with even less savory far right regimes than this one, such as Nazi Germany.  Despite the many aforementioned parallels that do exist, other important parallels do not, such as gas chambers that can incinerate thousands of people per day, and so if you do engage in such inaccurate statements such as "it's the same as," you probably won't be serving the Palestinian cause very well, and you may face all sorts of accusations as well.  You may face them without making any such statements, in fact.

But fundamentally, my own personal observation of Israel and Israeli Jews, from my time growing up in the New York area and from my time in Israel itself, engaging a lot of people in very uncomfortable conversations during my visits, is in the wake of the Nazi holocaust that killed so many of my family members in Europe and so many others, when my parents were children, people growing up in the shadow of that indescribably horrific event that wanted to be known as the Third Reich, is most of them went in one of three directions, both personally and politically:

Many of them doubled down on generations of efforts to assimilate, change their names, and otherwise just be part of different societies as best they could, trying to hide the fear in their eyes, that slowly dissipated over the decades in most of the world, along with antisemitism itself.

Many others said "never again" applies not just to Jews, but to everyone.  They joined what was already a thriving tradition among Jews in so many countries, which got them in trouble, individually and as a group, with the authorities in the US and elsewhere during the waves of mass European migration to North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries -- they joined the left-liberal political spectrum that identified with the broader community of people.  Jews are the only white ethnic group in the US that consistently votes Democrat.  Jews are disproportionately to be found leading left groups, disproportionately making up the ranks of leading left intellectuals and activists.

Still others seem to have decided that "never again" only applied to them and their fellow Jews.  I am personally just as familiar with this group as I am with the aforementioned other two groups.  I have lots of immediate as well as extended family members in each group.  The "never again only applies to us" group has been dominant in Israel since the formation of the state of Israel, and is more dominant now than ever before.  And it's terrifying.

What is to be done?

As long as the US, Europe, China, etc., trades with Israel and otherwise supports Israel politically and economically, particularly with the US military aid, many people would say there is no hope for any resolution of the ongoing horrors there.  Not a solution that can be found from within, with the "two parties negotiating."  There are no two parties -- it's occupier and occupied.  No real negotiation is possible under such circumstances.  Anyone who calls this kind of thing a negotiation is engaging in gaslighting, or is completely ignorant.

I don't know what can be accomplished until we stop enabling the abuser here.  But we can certainly start with understanding the relationship as such, and proclaiming this loudly and clearly, with no fear of being labeled antisemitic as a result of pointing out that Jews are also capable of running apartheid states, along with other people.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

New Political Glossary for 2021

Times change, and so do politics.  Here I give a crack at defining the basic political camps as they exist in the US today.

It's probably always a strange time to be alive, but these days that continues to be true, possibly more than usual.  Political consciousness in the population is always a thing, and it changes depending on lots of circumstances.  There have been plenty of more or less new developments over the past few years that warrant a reevaluation of the basic categories of political cultures that exist in the USA today.

On a long walk through the park I was continuing to digest lots of recent experiences with being doxxed, and participating in various social movement activities, over the past year or so around the Portland area, and for many decades around Portland and the rest of the US before that.  In a flash of brilliance it occurred to me that we need new vocabulary to talk about the political landscape of the US today, and I have some terms and definitions for you to consider here.  These are all very broad categories that could contain many sub-categories. 

Ecumenical Left

The Ecumenical Left is responsible for many of the good things that happen, on the occasions that they do.  The main characteristic of this group is a desire to make the world a much more equal and just place, that isn't destroyed in the process by industrial society.  This group is motivated by a common opposition to US imperialism, planetary extinction, extreme inequality and the marginalization of any group of people by race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.  

Within the Ecumenical Left are those who adhere to principles of horizontal organizing who may or may not publicly identify as anarchists, and others working within more top-down organizational structures.  It includes organized groups and disorganized groups spanning a wide range of political approaches including pacifist and militant, anarchist, communist, socialist, and social democrat, all with common basic goals in mind.  There is a general focus in this more functional end of the left on movement-building, finding common ground, and winning campaigns, whether of the civil disobedience variety or electoral variety or other.

The most militant end of what I would still consider to be the Ecumenical Left include those who believe smashing corporate property is an appropriate tactic.  Despite the opposition to this sort of practice by many others within the Ecumenical Left, for fear of alienating the populace or for other reasons, for some who practice this sort of tactic, there is a strict adherence to rules of engagement, out of concern for the same thing.

Wingnut Left

An uncomfortably large element of the broad left has long been of the cliquish, exclusionary sort, and in the age of anti-social media and growing inequality, this element of the left seems to be growing at an alarming rate.  It runs the gamut from communists who talk endlessly of their love of Stalin, to those who identify with anarchism or other political philosophies that are oriented towards creating a more just and egalitarian world, presumably.

What characterizes the Wingnut Left is infighting.  It is mainly engaged in criticizing or attacking other members of the left who don't see something the way they do.  There is a strong tendency in this section of the left to adhere to a rigid and uncompromising orientation, regardless of whether it makes any real sense when applied to reality, because it is morally superior.  Moral superiority is far more important than winning or achieving anything on the Wingnut Left.  Doxxing members of the right or other leftists that they don't like is a favorite tactic, along with denouncing, disavowing, and calling people out for their transgressions, whether major or minor, with no concern for any possible consequences for their victims or their families.  

Although rigidity is a general feature of the Wingnut Left, it is perhaps uniquely capable of engaging in wildly circuitous logic.  Among people in this group you can meet those who consider themselves to be communists or anarchists, but who simultaneously believe it is anti-Semitic to call Israel an Apartheid state, or if they're on board with the existence of Israeli apartheid, then they cannot differentiate between a supporter of Israeli Apartheid and an opponent of it, if the apartheid opponent doesn't define anti-Semitism in exactly the same rigid way as the Wingnut Left does, which is somehow surprisingly the same way Netanyahu defines it.

There are, of course, gray areas to be found between any of these broad categories, but if you're trying to determine whether someone is coming from the Wingnut Left, one indication is most of their posts on social media are oriented towards taking down someone else on the left, for perceived transgressions against the codes of moral superiority that are carefully guarded by the Wingnut Left.  Any endeavors oriented towards reaching beyond the choir, doing popular education, communicating with people who have different opinions, or even posts related to supporting movement-building efforts will be hard to find a mention of.  Gifs involving fascists and cops being hit with projectiles are extremely popular in certain sections of the Wingnut Left, and Twitter accounts mainly dedicated to sharing such gifs are popular in these circles.

Grassroots Liberal

The Ecumenical Left may dabble in electoral politics -- in other countries much more so, because other countries have more functional democratic systems -- but the liberals are eternally hopeful about the possibilities for electoral politics to make society a more just and equal place, even if they may not be interested in as much equality or as much justice as the folks on the left.  They generally maintain a delusional state of mind when it comes to the prospects for the Democratic Party to ever become the party they wish it would be, while at the same time they're constantly disappointed that the Progressive Caucus is never the majority in the Congress.

Corporate Liberal

The Corporate Liberal, or the Fake Liberal, makes up the majority of Democratic politicians on the municipal, state, and federal level across the country, because of the nature of our plutocratic, money-driven system, even if the majority of people who vote Democrat are much more progressive than the people they end up electing.  For a variety of reasons, mostly opportunism, the corporate liberal thus tends to mouth the talking points and concerns of the grassroots liberals, while proceeding to betray the vast majority of the promises regarding the concerns that got them elected in the first place.  The corporate liberal tends to talk about peace while supporting war, talk about equality while supporting policies that lead to greater inequality, talk about affordable housing while instituting policies that lead to a bigger housing market bubble than before, talk about ending poverty and homelessness, while reigning over its growth.

Grassroots Conservative

Much like the grassroots liberal, but whiter, the grassroots conservative is characterized by a similarly delusional degree of disconnection between what the Republican Party is and what they believe it to be, as long as they remain gainfully employed.  They believe in a world where it's good to be rich, but there's opportunity for people who aren't rich to become rich, if they work hard enough.  

They believe in some version of the rule of law, although they're more resigned to what they see as the necessity for their country to have a bloated military budget, and military bases all over the world, which they believe is playing a generally useful role, although also generally an unappreciated one.  What especially differentiates the grassroots conservative from the grassroots liberal are views on social issues such as guns and abortion, along with a tendency to believe that if there's a problem, the answer is probably lower taxes and higher prison sentences.

Corporate Conservative

Like the corporate liberal, the corporate conservative is an opportunist at heart, ruling on behalf of the corporate elite and landed gentry, while saying whatever they need to say in order to appeal to their grassroots conservative constituency, which vastly outnumbers them.  When it's opportunistic to do so, the corporate conservative will dabble with the wingnut right, and all the time with the corporate liberals, but they make a show of pretending to believe in things like more guns and no trans girls playing sports in high school, or whatever their conservative constituency is currently obsessing about, determined largely by their Fox-based media diet.

Wingnut Right

The wingnut right includes a wide and growing variety of terrifying people and networks, from the former president to a broad array of mostly white people, who are otherwise from all walks of life, from Class C apartments in the suburbs of Portland to penthouse suites in Manhattan.  The wingnut right is completely unhinged from any connection to reality, and believe they can just make it up as they go along.  

Usually more on the fringes but recently less so, the ranks of the wingnut right include fascists, white supremacists, and accelerationists who like to pretend to be members of the wingnut left in order to sow division within the ranks of the left more broadly.  The ranks of the wingnut right are always amplified through the active participation of lots of undercover cops and other agents, who play the role of trying to render any effective movements, networks, or organizers as ineffective as possible, by sowing discord and spreading disinformation.

The wingnut right has an endless appetite for conspiracy theories which are based on reality, but then go other places.  Being obsessed with real or invented conspiracies used to be more a hallmark of the wingnut left or the more apolitical wingnut sector of society, but these days, despite their ranks including many billionaires, the conspiracy theorists most obsessed with billionaires tend to come from the wingnut right and prefer to single out Jewish billionaires that they don't like because they're progressive, such as George Soros, or like the Sackler family, who they don't like because it's very convenient when you're anti-Semitic to begin with, and some of the most evil billionaires in a generation, in the case of the Sacklers, happen to be Jewish.  (Hatred of the Sackler family is possibly the only thing that unites almost the entirety of US society, including the wingnut right.)

The wingnut right can be very difficult to distinguish from the wingnut left when they're making accusations against an enemy, because the tendency both groups have is to accuse their enemies of being the polar opposite of what they actually represent.  For example, their constant enemy of socialism is one they tend to associate with poverty, misery, and lack of opportunity, when in fact the more socialist-run societies are the ones that have the least poverty and who rank highest in the happiness index and in social mobility.

There is, of course, a lot of crossover between the corporate conservatives and the wingnut right, and they easily form awkward alliances all the time.  Currently there appears to be a general consensus in both camps that the 2020 election was stolen, and Black people shouldn't be allowed to vote.