A few examples of mass hysteria in US history (and a new addition)

An American Tradition

A few months ago, a friend asked me my opinion as to how the right-wing craziness we’re witnessing in this country came about. Unfortunately, I couldn’t marshal a coherent response at the time, and fell back into pounding on the table, hollering and cursing. It bothered me that I didn’t give him a decent rundown of what I consider the history of mob madness in the US, and I’ve finally gathered a few examples of a true American tradition – Fear of The Other.

1) The Salem Witch Trials (1600’s) (burning of a “witch” pictured above)

One of  the defining examples of the American character, this collective seizure of Puritan colonists in the New World by the hysterical belief of Satanism in their midst truly set the example for what came after. A few pre-teen girls began to have “visions,” and were “seized by the Devil,” who was summoned to mess with them by…  the people they didn’t like. These people were then “tried,” tortured, and, usually, burned at the stake.

An American Inquisition, which prepared the way for many movements that came after.

2) Lynching in the United States (1860 – 1960)

Briefly, the Confederate states – after losing the Civil War – had visited upon them the ultimate indignity: Reconstruction, which gave freedmen (former slaves) the rights of human beings. That is to say, desegregation. That didn’t go over so well in the South (and still doesn’t, to some extent, anywhere in the US), and for about 100 years, any black person in the South accused (not convicted of any crime) of looking at a white woman, whistling at a white woman, touching a white woman, talking back to a white person, refusing to step into the gutter when a white person passed on the sidewalk, or in some way upsetting the local crackers was liable to be hauled from their house or jail cell by a mob, mutilated in a ghastly fashion, hung, and then burnt to a crisp. All governments – state or federal – and their agencies (like the cops) simply ignored this. You could buy picture postcards from proud local merchants of notable area lynchings.

A labor union's headquarters after a Palmer raid

3) The Red Scare and The Palmer Raids (first 1919 – 1920)

Besides an abiding fear of people of color, the greatest mass hysteria in the US has been generated by fear of Communism. Any sort of collective effort by people not in power – the efforts of laboring people to form unions, for instance – has been tarred with the epithet “Communist.” Free speech, the right of assembly, the right to privacy, the right to earn a living – none of that stands up in the tide of anti-communist madness. The Palmer raids were essentially the illegal kidnapping and deportation of any “radicals” (i.e.; labor and union leaders) who appeared on a list compiled by the US Attorney General.

4) Japanese American internment during WWII (1942)

After Pearl Harbor, xenophobia towards everything Asian spread through the US, leading to the building of a series of domestic concentration camps for the confinement of thousands of Japanes and Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast of the US. Without trial, these people had their businesses confiscated and their homes stolen (permanently) while they were moved to godforsaken settlements hundreds or  thousands of miles away from their homes.

Waving his lunch list and calling it the names of Communists in the federal government

5) The Second Red Scare (1940’s – 1950’s) – McCarthyism, Joe McCarthy, and the blacklist

One of the truly wild (and modern) forms of manufactured political hysteria (see what I’m getting at?) was the rise of an alcoholic Senator named Joseph McCarthy after the end of WWII. To condense a long story, the Republican party was fading into insignificance after FDR and the Democrats managed to drag the country out of the Hoover/Mellon Great Depression and then engineered the US victory in WWII. What to do? Joe McCarthy and his never-verified-even-once accusations that the US government had been thoroughly infiltrated by Communists – that’s what he said, yo – managed to plunge the country into a cesspool of paranoia and fascism the Republicans exploited to the hilt. Thousands of people – teachers, public workers, anyone really – lost their jobs because they either wouldn’t sign “loyalty oaths,” or because they wouldn’t “inform” on their friends and neighbors, or because someone saw them actually reading a book (it’s true).

He was aided in his disgusting efforts by none other than Roy Cohn, who became a famous political fixer and all-around sleazebag in New York. Nixon trailed along after them, waiting for his time in the spotlight.

There’s a lot of great stuff on YouTube showing this guy’s successful efforts to derail civil society; this is an excerpt from an Edward R. Murrow broadcast on CBS (back when the network wasn’t complete trash, if you can believe it) refuting McCarthy’s lies:

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The difference, of course, is that today, rather than stand up to this pig, the networks would be in a bidding war to hire him as an “analyst.” His spirit hovers over Fox; in fact, Glenn Beck is channeling him.

6) Satanic Day Care Scandals (1980’s)

In a situation with certain distinct resemblances to the American witch trials (see #1, above), some day care providers in the US were, during the 1980’s, accused of abusing children in satanic rituals. Their accusers? Children who had been coached by traveling “experts” to “remember” satanic child abuse by day care centers. No cross-examination of the children was allowed; most of them weren’t even present in the courtrooms. A national moral panic, fueled by trash like the book above and dozens of unbalanced fundamentalist parents ensued. Trials were held all over the US. One trial, the McMartin preschool trial, turned into the most expensive criminal trial in US history.

Was there satanic abuse? Hell no. Almost all of the people accused were acquitted, and successfully sued their accusers for millions of dollars in damages and settlements. But the newspapers and TV networks reported this garbage with straight faces, in the same “he said – she said” fashion they report any accusation today.

So this is by way of apology to my friend. I couldn’t organize my thoughts so many months ago when he asked me my opinion, and it’s been bothering me ever since. I suppose my point is that the haters in right-wing media, Sarah Palin, and the Tea-Partyers are part of a long American tradition of hysterics. What they say and believe elevates illogic, patriotism, hatred, paranoia, and fundamentalist religion over democracy and reason. That’s the way hysteria works, and it’s a basic part of The American Way.



Paul Krugman’s column on “Pretending To Be Crazy As A Career Strategy.”


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Get up off of that thing, and give, and you’ll feel better

WFMU is entering its annual 14-day fundraising marathon, and needs your money as well as your ears. Give it up. For not a lot of money, you get to support the station, and also receive – depending on your generosity, sport – much excellent swag.

Truly the best radio station in the world, available over the air and online, with absolutely no support whatsoever from anyone except the listeners. No thinly disguised commercials “This program brought to you by your friends and neighbors at Home Depot,” no playlists or restrictions, no dress code, just the best radio any damn where, freeform style. Every kind of music and non-music, every viewpoint from left to right, and they put up my podcasts, too.

Even if you can’t give much in these freakish times, please give something. Thanks.

Pledge to the WFMU Marathon!

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A little bit of logrolling

Logrolling, defined as “pumping the stuff your friends do,” is this today’s theme.

1) My man Craig Bevan is a superfine recording engineer/musician/mastering engineer/composer/label head, and, as well, sells some exceptionally boss t-shirts and other items aimed at the media community from his multifaceted website. The meter visual above is one of many attractive designs that will – if it doesn’t get you laid immediately – at least let people know you’re a hipper-than-average audio hipster. I wear my certified gangster tee (limited edition, no longer available) quite proudly.

2) Dale Reeves (pictured) is one of the best voice-over actors and all-round talents I’ve ever worked with. He’s rolling thick with the blogs; one is a political outlet (includes excellent podcasts – Bongo Radio – featuring his many contemporary characters), and another features his commercial work. Among his many credits as a commercial broadcaster, Dale was the morning man and program director of WKTU when it kicked everyone’s butt in the NY metropolitan radio market at the height of disco (remember Paco?).

3) The Breakbeatles is/are re-issuing his/their fine work with cover art; as soon as it’s completed, it will appear here.

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George Lakoff on “What Conservatives Really Want”

Dr. Lakoff lays it out in this short piece.

Excerpt from the Huffington Post:

“In conservative family life, the strict father rules. Fathers and husbands should have control over reproduction; hence, parental and spousal notification laws and opposition to abortion. In conservative religion, God is seen as the strict father, the Lord, who rewards and punishes according to individual responsibility in following His Biblical word.

“Above all, the authority of conservatism itself must be maintained. The country should be ruled by conservative values, and progressive values are seen as evil. Science should not have authority over the market, and so the science of global warming and evolution must be denied. Facts that are inconsistent with the authority of conservatism must be ignored or denied or explained away. To protect and extend conservative values themselves, the devil’s own means can be used again conservatism’s immoral enemies, whether lies, intimidation, torture, or even death, say, for women’s doctors.”

George Lakoff is the author of The Political Mind. His website is GeorgeLakoff.com.

Lots of Lakoff on YouTube; here’s a long piece on the difference between liberal and conservative thought, if conservatives can be considered thinking entities.

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And don’t forget: less than half the people in the US believe in evolution

The results of a recent Harris poll, as mentioned in the text of a long, excellent speech by Bill Moyers, called “Facts Still Matter”:

In a Harris survey last spring, 67 percent of Republicans said Obama is a socialist; 57 percent believed him to be a Muslim; 45 percent refused to believe he was born in America; and 24 percent said he “may be the antichrist.

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A few items of interest

These have been hanging around in my browser for more than a minute, time to shoo them outside to play.

1) Independent federal agency finds Bush White House routinely broke federal election laws

I’m shocked – shocked! – to find that Karl Rove and Dictator Cheney routinely broke federal laws, especially those pertaining to the Republican effort in the 2006 elections. I’m 100% sure that justice will be done swiftly.

“The Bush White House, particularly before the 2006 midterm elections, routinely violated a federal law that prohibits use of federal tax dollars to pay for political activities by creating a “political boiler room” that coordinated Republican campaign activities nationwide, a report issued Monday by an independent federal agency concludes.” NY Times

2) A really nice site sent from our friend Al Dente: If Charlie Parker Was A Gunslinger, There’d Be a Whole Lot Of Dead Copycats. Chock full of fullness.

3) I was wondering what machinima was; this answers the question.

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4) R.I.P. Poppa Neutrino. Quite a guy.

Mr. Neutrino

5) And, as always, I’d like to point out that there’s a lot going on at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the arena of privacy and individual rights. Their EFFector e-mail blast is always eye-opening.

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Rough Mix Podcast 1 (walkin’ and talkin’) download and track listings

For the past year, I’ve been throwing selected audio files into a folder marked “walkin’ and talkin’,” with the idea of doing them up as a podcast for WFMU’s online stream.

I finally got it together, and it streamed a few weeks ago. It’s 3 hours of people talking over beats; not rap exactly, but around the neighborhood, with closely related Beat material, poetry, and whatever I wanted, because I could. I’ve broken it up into individual tracks for e-z listening on iTunes, your iPod, your phone, or your digital toothbrush, and so you can skip over my VO if you want, you ingrate. And it’s most definitely not safe for work or children.

You can download it (160 meg) in a zip file, and the multi-media track listing is below.

Please let me know what you think in the comments section, and if you like it – or even if you don’t – please consider contributing some cash to WFMU, one of the only truly all-listener sponsored radio stations anywhere, and absolutely the best freeform station in the world. Because of their high standards and high quality, they’re perpetually broke, so your cheddar is always appropriate.


walkin’ and talkin’ (rough mix podcast vol. 1)



in which stein attempts to talk his way out of the whole thing




saul williams & momolu stewart

jail cell rap

from the movie slam

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apologies for this version with the freaking subtitles; i couldn’t find a good version that didn’t have them. several great scenes in this film with williams, and a few with bonz malone, although overall the story’s a tad on the earnest side for cynical old me.



gil scott-heron

the revolution will not be televised

from small talk at 125th st. & lenox

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the original version, before the larger radio hit version with brian jackson/midnight band.



the last poets

black is

from the album this is madness.

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sloppy, but informative



mic break

mumbling about some damn thing



jack kerouac/al cohn/zoot sims

american haikus

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kerouac reads and talks on the steve allen show.



langston hughes

blues montage

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no footage of the man himself on youtube, unfortunately, but this will do fine.



jean shepherd w/charles mingus jazz workshop

the clown

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a dramatization of one of the great storyteller’s famous anecdotes.

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the great bass player (and notable eccentric) makes his point with lasting emphasis.



pleasant gehman

cookin’ with ray

from ruined

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the writer/actress/singer is also a professional belly dancer. is life not wonderful?



ken nordine/david grisman/jerry garcia

mr. slick

from devout catalyst.

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the voice of god, working for a living.



tom waits

step right up

from small change

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waits on fernwood tonight, with martin mull.



mic break

i’ll have the veggie burger and the fries.



william burroughs & the disposable heroes of hiphoprisy

the last words of dutch schulz

from spare-ass annie and other tales a hal willner production

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burroughs down with cut-ups.

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from drugstore cowboy



brooklyn funk essentials feat. david allen

the revolution was postponed because of rain

from cool and steady and easy

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this song is so great.



danny weizman


personally, I like weizmann’s first record (the wet dog shakes) better – the title cut especially – but this one’s nice over a pleasantly groovy track by paul goldowitz. (i think this is the right goldowitz, but I’m not 100% sure.)

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i couldn’t resist.


brooklyn funk essentials feat. everton sylvester

i got cash

from make them like it

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everton sylvester doing his own thing.

i got cash has been recorded in at least 2 different versions, I believe, and someone also floated an accappella over the instrumental of the 1980’s electro track jet set by dr. john (track produced, if I’m not mistaken by arthur baker), and that’s up on youtube; however, the version in the podcast is the one to have. trust me.



mic break

they’re coming. i seen them.



laurie anderson

walk the dog

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video for o superman, the a-side of the single. walk the dog is the b-side.



flying lizards


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finely-aged producer and vocalist discuss the track and video.



the normal

warm leatherette

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fan video, not bad. and if you think of grace jones when you hear this song, hers was the cover. this is the o.g.



ian dury & the blockheads

reasons to be cheerful pt. 3

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early video. meh.



mic break

if you don’t like my peaches, why you shake my tree?



lightnin’ rod


from hustler’s convention

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last poets doc footage.



lightnin’ rod/jimi hendrix/buddy miles

doriella du fontaine

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very boss video



umar bin hassan


from be bop or be dead

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mostly pretty good homemade video



stone cold boners

lesson one

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that’s a young stanley crouch on the mic.



mic break

able was i, ere i saw elba



dj /rupture & elizabeth alexander

into the ohio river

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music, and an interview (with maga bo, no slouch himself)



jean grae & 9th wonder

don’t rush me

from jeanious

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video of a different song from the same album



the disposable heroes of hiphoprisy

tv the drug of the nation

from hypocrisy is the greatest luxury

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video quality could be better, but you can’t beat the message



saul williams

black history month

from the inevitable rise and liberation of niggy tardust

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mic break

management is not responsible for hats and coats



mc paul barman

a somewhat new medium

from paulellujah

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well done



lcd soundsystem

losing my edge

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lots of other good stuff by them, but I’m ill from spending hours putting these notes together; find it  yourself



edit and the grouch

artsy remix

from certified air raid material

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original version, probably; the remix is in the podcast



mic break

404 error not found



the conception corporation

the first poets

from conceptionland and other states of mind



mic break

thank you for continuing to hold



paul beatty

a 3 point shot from andromeda

from the united states of poetry

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Soul Searching (Sheriff Dupnik’s rmx)

Clarence Dupnik, speaking the truth.

I had to; and not a bad couple of minutes for a day and a half’s worth of work, if I say so myself.

My apologies in advance to Sheriff Dupnik. May you always speak your mind as clearly as you did on this occasion, sir.

The beat’s appropriated.

If anyone puts picture to this, I’d love to see it.

Soul Searching. (5 mg. mp3 download)

I put it up on YouTube, and so did someone else.

Update: My man Dale is articulately on the case.

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