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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Monday, January 18, 2010


Bob and his great, great lead guitarist Freddy Koella in happier times. And talking of New Orleans, can you believe that President Obama has wheeled out George Dubya Fucking Bush to help lead the US effort in Haiti?!!!

It's hard to recall any one political gesture more tactless and crass. What the hell must the poor still-abandoned, still-homeless and still-displaced of New Orleans feel - more than four years after Katrina struck - to see this hopeless moron, this walking combo of evil and incompetence, wheeled out into public life again specifically to help the poor homeless displaced people of Port-au-Prince and beyond? Utterly contemptible. Inexcusable. A disgrace.


Blogger Ed said...

This spittle-flinging rage is unjustified. Obama, and everyone else, is finding out how hard it is to mount a rescue operation on the fly. I encourage you to adopt a more moderate tone in the future, especially when addressing issues outside of your competence.

3:33 pm  
Blogger Pope Leo said...

So you don't like Bush, then, Michael...

6:43 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Dear Ed
Who are you to arbitrate what's justified? Your schoolmasterly response doesn't "encourage [me] to adopt a more moderate tone in the future" at all. And however calmly I'd expressed it, the point would remain the same: that George W. Bush has the worst possible track record there could be for sorting out a humanitarian disaster. New Orleans, devastated in AUGUST 2005, remains a scene of third world desolation, in which the people to suffer most have been the poorest, ie inevitably mostly black people. Has Obama, the first black US president, not noticed New Orleans? I don't believe that's possible. What he's done, in using Bush, is cynically ignore these ramifications, riding roughshod over the feelings of all those in New Orleans who voted for him because he promised CHANGE, simply to counter the Republicans' charge that he was taking party-political advantage in foregrounding the Haiti catastrophe. Appalling.

As for what is or isn't an issue "outside [my] competence", what does that mean? Am I supposed to exist in an exclusively Bob Dylan world, with no notion of anything else?

The tagline of this blog has always included "wider-world discussion", and I am a citizen, like it or not, of the American Empire and entitled to state my views. Just like you.

7:03 pm  
Blogger joe butler said...

right on michael

politics with a big p at last

where's dylan?

11:15 pm  
Anonymous Russell said...

There really hasn't been any outcry from the black community in the States about this. Largely because (as I'm sure you know) the President is the Head of State and a figurehead in all this. I don't actually think that Bush is organising the actual relief efort, it's just a way of being non-partisan and not turning the whole thing into a political event.There are far more important things happening in America and Bush providing publicity for a relief effort isn't one of them.

6:40 am  
Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

Surely the combination of Clinton and Bush will garner the maximum publicity in an attempt to raise funds to relieve what has been described as the greatest natural disater of the past decade. This is on a scale far outweighing that of New Orleans. If Bush can help with this, then good luck to him - and good on Obama for realizing this.

I guess the people of Haiti don't really care what the politics of the people trying to help them are, or what past mistakes they may have made. It's a trite truism to say two wrongs don't make a right, but truisims tend to be - well, true.

10:32 am  
Anonymous Kieran said...

The "American Empire", eh? I think we should be mindful of Leonard Cohen here, who told us to be nice about America, because what comes after America will be terrible.

I don't rate Bush either, but I would imagine that Obama is wisely trying to gather as much clout - political and economic - as he can, in a hurry, to help the Haitians in this crisis. Whatever anyone thinks of Bush, he has his supporters, they have great power and the greater good now is to help Haiti.

And I agree about Bush's reaction to New Orleans - it was criminal...

11:09 am  
Anonymous likeatrain said...

Quick intermission from the politics: a very nice photo, Michael, and Freddy Koella is well deserving of your praise. I certainly have never heard a guitarist more finely matched to Dylan's music. My first exposure to Koella's playing (a 2003 show) is a memory I'll treasure. His post-Dylan (and I don't mean that as a genre) album 'Minimal' is exquisite. It would be nice to see you post his Encycolpedia entry on this site. Sure to provoke some discussion!

6:45 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Dear likeatrain:
Many thanks for this. I've not heard Freddy's album Minimal but I should do, of course. As for your suggestion about his Bob Dylan Encyclopedia entry, I might soon do just that.

Meanwhile. Russell: You say "there hasn't been any outcry from the black community in the States" about Bush's re-emergence. Well (a) According to what, Fox News? (b) Maybe people in New Orleans are too busy rebuilding their homes and lives to put out a media statement.

Then you say "There are far more important things happening in America" than Bush "providing publicity for a relief effort" - but McHenry says Bush garnering publicity in an attempt to raise funds" is more important than any other considerations.

I want to ask you both (and Kieran) this: do you really think that the Haiti catastrophe shown to us in graphic detail on the news every day and night (quite rightly) for the last six days doesn't publicise the need for help by itself? D'you think seeing Dubya looking sincere on the White House lawn is more effective? And can't you credit Republicans with the humanity to respond to Haiti unless Good Ole Boy George is wheeled out to appeal to them?

Yes, and, er, McHenry: when you say "I guess the people of Haiti don't really care what the politics of the people trying to help them are", I agree: just as the people being tortured and killed by General Pinochet probably didn't care that some of us in Britain found Margaret Thatcher's support of Pinochet disgusting. Did it follow that Thatcher's support for him was OK, or opposition at home to her policies abroad was futile & irrelevant, or that hey, anything goes when people are in a jam?

And when you add that nor do Haitians currently care "what past mistakes [people - ie Bush] may have made", d'you mean that George was a caring person who did his best and just "may have made mistakes", so that, for instance, it was just coincidence that the pile of policies created during his regime all made life worse for the poor and better for the super-rich? I don't think so.

And since I've touched on old British politics now, I confess that part of my disgust at seeing Obama, the man who promised a new politics and real change, resurrecting and chumming up to Dubya - part of my disgust is because I lived through something similar barely more than ten years before. In 1997 when New Labour came to power in the UK, headed by glamorous, smiling wideboy Tony Blair, the Tories won the smallest share of the popular vote since 1832! Clearly people had voted for radical, huge change. And virtually the first things the new regime did were (a)announce that it was going to stick to Tory economic constraints and (b) invite Margaret Thatcher back to No.10 Downing Street and stage a photo opp for Tony and Margie to grin on the front steps. And Russell, the public may not have given the media "an outcry", but hearts sank.

Lastly, much of the problem is how to make righteous indignation not sound like ill-tempered petulance. Not inside of my competence perhaps, Ed.

9:53 pm  
Anonymous Russell said...

a) "According to what, Fox News?"- Yes that's right, everybody who disagrees with you gets their info from Fox News.

b) I've heard a rumour that there are other black people in America outside of New Orleans. If you can show me details of their anger about this I'll happily acknowledge it. Also I never actually said that Bush was being used to garner publicity so not much point in answering that.

Re the 1997 election, it was part of the Labour manifesto to stick to Tory economic restraints so (whether you agree with it or not) they didn't just announce it on their first day in office.

As the grandson of a miner I will happily dance on Thatcher's grave when she goes and can live without the "lefter than thou" outrage from someone living in the South West of France (cheap shot but that seems to be the tone you're going for here).

4:46 am  
Anonymous Kieran said...

Hiya Michael,

"I want to ask you both (and Kieran) this: do you really think that the Haiti catastrophe shown to us in graphic detail on the news every day and night (quite rightly) for the last six days doesn't publicise the need for help by itself?"


"D'you think seeing Dubya looking sincere on the White House lawn is more effective?"

I think it might help squeeze even more aid. It might put a bigger pinch on his wealthy cronies, who maybe reluctant to be seen to help Obama.

"And can't you credit Republicans with the humanity to respond to Haiti unless Good Ole Boy George is wheeled out to appeal to them?"

I think having a figurehead from the right (no matter how despised he is in some quarters, he isn't so, in others) might lend a cross-party, non-partisan impetus to things and move it along smoother. I don't see the harm, if it leads to more aid for Haiti.

By the way, I'm glad you like Freddy. I saw the show in Dublin in 2003 and I'd noted on the forum on Expecting rain he was getting some stick, basically because he wasn't Charlie.

Well, I thought he was quite incendiary and totall got Bob's music. Worked well with Larry too...

1:16 pm  
Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

Michael - With regard to Thatcher and Pinochet, you are just not comparing like with like. Thatcher was supporting Pinochet who was, as you say, murdering his fellow countrymen. Obama is - in this respect - supporting Bush who most assuredly is not murdering Haitians. If Thatcher had been supporting someone whose politics I disapproved of that was trying to help opressed Chileans, then your analogy would have more relevance.

As for the publicity value, as far as America is concerned - particularly those parts of America where Bush has influence - I have found the country to be so parochial that, yes, I do believe Bush can bring further publicity to the situation in Haiti.

1:20 pm  
Blogger Pope Leo said...

It was good to see some considered opinions after your intemperate little rant, Michael. And to see you pick them off one by one. There is something delightfully schoolmasterly about the way you put your errant ‘pupils’ right with a few rat-tat-tats!

Where is Dylan, asks Joe Butler? In Malibu, isn't he? Or was the question: where is Dylan in all this political argy-bargy? Dylan renounced finger-pointing, easy-sloganising politics in 1964 on 'Another Side' - something about becoming his enemy in the instant that he preached...

Politics, especially in America, is much too complex for easy sloganising. And if Obama is bringing on board a larger constituency to support Haiti by including the unlovely Bush, then so be it.

5:14 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

You might notice that everyone else has been pleasant about this except you. Your opening and closing paragraphs are personal attacks on me, not just my views. I have challenged other people's arguments, including yours - but I haven't implied that anyone is a hypocrite (except Bush). And since your attack is so personal, it's also predictably inaccurate. Where I live doesn't disqualify me from holding left-wing views, or make me a hypocrite for holding them, any more than your grandfather's having been a miner gives your own politics some extra validity. If you feel so hostile, why not just stop reading my blog?

6:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What has happened/ is happening is so terrible I find very hard to face.

I appreciate the fire in this debate.

It is certainly in keeping with a blog concerned with Bob Dylan's work.


8:30 pm  
Blogger joe butler said...

I asked where is Dylan?, in the vane hope that he would find in tragedy that Haiti faces, a cause that he could help. Some of us still consider his " finger pointing" songs the most important he has ever written, the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol is as powerful to me as any of Martin Luther King's Dream speech, because it personalised the casual and arbitrary viciousness of racism. and combined it with a compelling narrative. It made me aware of injustice, in a way that a thousand manifestos couldn't

Could Haiti be the Hattie Carrol of the Carribean?, and Bush its Zantzinger? why not. Third world countries in the Carribean have surely never been near the head of the table,and the tropical storms that sweep that region could be likened to cleaning up American food ( profligate US energy consumption), and Bush surely twirled a diamond ringed finger in the face of Katrina.

I am disappointed that Obama has been prepared to embrace Bush in this fashion. but Obama is above all a Politician. Populism of the sort that swept him to power needs continually to be tested. His constituency needs to push him continually to be more resolute in the face of conservative opposition. Because holding on to power can become an end in itself and politicians who start out on a platform of change ,find that the only thing that really changes is themselves.

12:14 am  
Blogger Pope Leo said...


I wasn't denying the potency of Dylan's protest lyrics, merely stating that he abandoned that kind of stance decades ago.

So your hope is indeed a vain one, alas. (I prefer, by the way, your 'vane hope': you don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.)

Your attempt to shoe-horn contemporary events into "Hattie Carroll" strikes me as somewhat contrived, and your attribution of Bush to Zanzinger is just frankly absurd. If this is politics with a big p, I'll stick with the lower case version. And if this is Dylan Criticism, I'll stick with S&DM3, which gives us the real McCoy.

2:11 pm  
Blogger joe butler said...

"George W. Bush during his six years as governor of Texas presided over 152 executions, more than any other governor in the recent history of the United States. Bush has said: "I take every death penalty case seriously and review each case carefully.... Each case is major because each case is life or death." In his autobiography, A Charge to Keep (1999), he wrote, "For every death penalty case, [legal counsel] brief[s] me thoroughly, reviews the arguments made by the prosecution and the defense, raises any doubts or problems or questions." Bush called this a "fail-safe" method for ensuring "due process" and certainty of guilt.

He might have succeeded in bequeathing to history this image of himself as a scrupulously fair-minded governor if the journalist Alan Berlow had not used the Public Information Act to gain access to fifty-seven confidential death penalty memos that Bush's legal counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, whom President Bush has recently nominated to be attorney general of the United States, presented to him, usually on the very day of execution.[1] The reports Gonzales presented could not be more cursory. Take, for example, the case of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded man of thirty-three with the communication skills of a seven-year-old. Washington's plea for clemency came before Governor Bush on the morning of May 6, 1997. After a thirty-minute briefing by Gonzales, Bush checked "Deny"—just as he had denied twenty-nine other pleas for clemency in his first twenty-eight months as governor." Sister Helen Prejean , New York reveiw of books 2005

Absurd Frank?

10:31 pm  
Anonymous teresa said...

dylan wrote the songs for the hard times and he hasnt given up on anyone. We are the World, Live Aid.. and from that, his comment fired up Farm Aid. Dont tell me that hes not part of what goes on, im sure wherever he is, he is quite aware and most likely doing what he can, as we all are.

8:10 am  

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