Pete Seeger: Beating Flagpoles into Ploughshares

From Common Dreams:

by Michael Winship

Not only was it sad to hear the news this morning of Pete Seeger’s passing but startling to realize that it was 45 long years ago that we first met. It was in 1969, at Georgetown University, when I was a callow college freshman and he already was a legend among folk music lovers and political activists.

I knew his songs, had many of his records and played them all the time, especially a concert album with the great Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock, and the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, the Baptist minister in charge of folk culture for Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

There was another album I loved called “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and Other Love Songs.” It wasn’t so much the folk music revival of the fifties and sixties that first drew me to Seeger, but that title song. “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” told the story of a captain ordering a platoon to cross a river despite his sergeant’s warning that the water was too deep and treacherous.

It was an explicit metaphor for the quagmire of Vietnam and the escalation policy of President Lyndon Johnson, each verse but the last ending with the bitter, “The big fool said to push on.” When Seeger first tried to sing it on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, CBS network executives censored it from the broadcast but relented under pressure and he returned to perform it in late February 1968; coincidentally, less than a month after the attacks of the Tet offensive took US forces in South Vietnam by surprise and radically changed American public opinion about the war.

In the years after, Seeger and his music would float in and out of my life like a warm summer breeze, that unique combination of laid back and earnest always in his light tenor voice. I’d see him from a distance or we’d talk backstage at concerts and rallies. That first time, at Georgetown, was the Friday afternoon before the massive Moratorium March on Washington on November 15, 1969. Kids from around the country had come to DC for the anti-Vietnam protest and Georgetown had reluctantly opened its dorms and other buildings so they’d have an indoor place to sleep, one of several times in those years that the school would become a de facto Day’s Inn for protesters.

One of the rooms that had been opened to we, the rabble, was a lecture space off the main campus at the foreign service school called the Hall of Nations — so named because the walls were lined with the national flags of UN members. That weekend, the university removed all the flags, apparently fearing theft, desecration or students from Vanderbilt or Ohio State huddled under the banner of Ethiopia for warmth. But they left the shiny metal flagpoles in place, each of which, for some unknown reason was sharpened at the top end to a fine point.

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Dr. V and the Inescapable Closet

From Huffington Post:


Last week a story broke on the Grantland blog and has been burning up the Twitterverse, listservs, Facebook and other social media outlets. It’s a story that is a profound tragedy, with innocent and not-so-innocent victims, culturally reaching back to the ’60s, and spotlighting an all-too-common profound ignorance still present in our society.

I suppose it’s fitting that it began as a story about a “magical putter,” a golf club of interest, I imagine, to the dwindling coterie of avid golfers in our country. A sports story written by a young and hungry sportswriter for a sports blog, a story pursued because, as Caleb Hannan wrote, “strange stories can find you at strange times.”

This “strange story” was clearly a detective story, a mystery that had been perplexing golfers, with twists and turns that made for riveting reading even for those who care little about golf. I came on it, and read the entire 7,700-word story, only after the story blew up online and I was told it had a trans angle. I was also told that the language used on Twitter was fierce, calling for the head of the reporter. Within days a response by the editor, Bill Simmons, was posted, as well as a very thoughtful piece by my friend and colleague, Christina Kahrl. What was immediately clear to me upon concluding the story was that the writer and his editor should have contacted Christina before publication, and preferably as soon as the writer became aware of the protagonist’s “secret.” That it didn’t work out in that manner is indicative of the profound ignorance of so many Americans about the transgender experience, even in 2014.

There are so many layers to this story for me. The first, which stood out starkly, was the tragedy of the life of the protagonist, Essay Anne Vanderbilt. She committed suicide in October, long before the story was published but following increasingly strained interactions with the writer. She had been suicidal before, and clearly had been struggling emotionally through much of her life. People don’t concoct completely new histories, revising and re-revising, to cover themselves while trying to hide in plain sight, without serious underlying emotional fragility. She is representative, unfortunately, of many trans women who have transitioned gender in mid-life and have been so emotionally stressed that they’ve contemplated, attempted or actually committed suicide. The prevalence of serious suicide attempts among trans people has been reported at 41 percent; I can relate, as I’m one of the 41 percent.

When any life is lost, it is a tragedy. When it is lost because of unbearable social pressures, it is an unnecessary tragedy. Her story is, unfortunately, still way too common.

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More Proof Right Wingers Hate Women: Fox’s Martha MacCallum Says Women Get Paid ‘Exactly What They’re Worth’

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What Would Jello Do? Part 41 Super Marijuana Bowl

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Appeals court ruling in California is another sign of conversion therapy industry’s collapse

From Southern Poverty Law Center:


A ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upholds California’s ban on conversion therapy for minors, a discredited practice that claims to “cure” people of being gay, is another sign of the collapse of the conversion therapy industry, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The court reaffirmed its earlier decision upholding the ban Wednesday. The ruling means that the only recourse for the therapists challenging the law is the U.S. Supreme Court. 

“We are thrilled that the federal appeals court has, for the second time, confirmed that states can protect kids from the harmful practices used in so-called ‘conversion therapy,’” said David Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director. “Science proves that it doesn’t work. It harms kids, and it tears families apart.”

In 2012, the SPLC filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit on behalf of four young men who claim they were defrauded by Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), a New Jersey organization that offers conversion therapy services.

In therapy sessions, the men were instructed, among other things, to stand naked in a circle with other patients and a naked counselor; to cuddle with members of the same sex, including other patients and counselors; to violently beat effigies of their mothers with a tennis racket; to go to gyms and bathhouses in order to be nude with father figures; and to participate in mock locker room and gym class scenarios where they were subjected to ridicule as “faggots” and “homos.”

Conversion therapy has been discredited or highly criticized by all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations. In addition, the American Psychological Association has expressed concern that conversion therapy practices “create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”

“With our lawsuit against JONAH and the collapse of Exodus International and other conversion therapy organizations, it is clear this industry is crumbling,” Dinielli said. “Also, states across the country are taking steps to ban these harmful practices marketed to unsuspecting kids and their families. Soon, conversion therapy and its practitioners will be relegated to the dustbin of history.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state’s ban on conversion therapy for patients under the age of 18 in 2012. Conversion therapy services have been discredited or highly criticized by all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations.

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Snowden nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

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McCarthy had help: How big business snuffs out political dissent

From Salon:

Repression carried out in the name of anti-communism was made possible by the cooperation of the business community

Thursday, Jan 30, 2014

This article originally appeared on Corey Robin’s blog.

Pete Seeger’s death has prompted several reminiscences about his 1955 appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). And for good reason. Two good reasons, in fact.

First, Seeger refused to answer questions about his beliefs and associations—up until the 1940s, he had been a member of the Communist Party—not on the basis of the Fifth Amendment, which protects men and women from self-incrimination, but on the basis of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech.

While invoking the Fifth was not without its perils—most important, it could put someone on the blacklist; individuals who invoked it frequently found themselves without work—it had the advantage of keeping one out of jail. But the cost of the 5th was clear: though you could refuse to testify about yourself, you could not refuse to testify about others.

So Seeger invoked the First Amendment instead. A far riskier legal position—the Court had already held, in the case of the Hollywood Ten, that the First Amendment did not protect men and women who refused to testify before HUAC—it was the more principled stance. As Seeger explained later, “The Fifth means they can’t ask me, the First means they can’t ask anybody.” And he paid for it. Cited for contempt of Congress, he was indicted, convicted, and sentenced to a year in prison. Eventually the sentence got overturned.

Second, not only did Seeger refuse to answer questions about his associations and beliefs, but he also did it with great panache. When asked by HUAC to name names, he refused—and then almost immediately offered to sing songs instead. Much to the consternation of the Committee chair, Francis Walters, Seeger followed up with a more personal offer.

I know many beautiful songs from your home county, Carbon, and Monroe, and I hitchhiked through there and stayed in the homes of miners.

Parenthetically, I should note that Seeger’s hearings were not the only such circus of absurdity.  If you want to treat yourself to an afternoon of giggles, check outAyn Rand’s testimony, where she insisted that no one in Russia ever smiled. Or this wondrous exchange between Zero Mostel and two members of HUAC.

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