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#NPRreads: Electric Dylan, Fracking And The Iran Deal Deconstructed

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom share pieces that have kept them reading. They share tidbits using the #NPRreads hashtag — and on Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.

This week, we bring you four reads.

From NPR's Washington correspondent Don Gonyea:

It's only rock and roll.

A musician straps on an electric guitar, lines up in front of a noisy collection of band mates.

The amps are turned up.

And it's all great fun.

Unless it's the venerable Newport Folk Festival and the date is July 25, 1965 and the musician is a young Bob Dylan — just 24 years old — who had emerged from a small town in the Midwest to become the new voice, not just of American folk music, but of an entire generation.

In the two previous years, the folky version of Bob Dylan played Newport. But this time he looked out over the packed lawn and let loose a blast of noise no one could have expected. On this day, Dylan was about very serious business.

Author Elijah Wald sets the stage with the very first paragraph of the introduction to Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night that Split the Sixties.

"On the evening of July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival in black jeans, black boots, and a black leather jacket, carrying a Fender Stratocaster in place of his familiar acoustic guitar. The crowd shifted restlessly as he tested his tuning and was joined by a quintet of backing musicians. Then the band crashed into a raw Chicago boogie and, straining to be heard over the loudest music ever to hit Newport, he snarled his opening line: "I ain't gonna work on Maggie's Farm no more!"

Loud booing ensued! This was a betrayal! Where was the "old Dylan" and his protest songs. This was apostasy. Some in the crowd did cheer. Most certainly. Memories vary. Wald gives you a seat on the lawn.

He also takes us onstage — and backstage — at an event that had become an annual gathering of everything from mountain fiddlers and old-bluesmen, to the polished sounds of Peter, Paul & Mary.

You can find recordings of the noise Dylan and his band made that day.

Keep them handy as you read the book.

And, yes, play it LOUD.

From NPR Weekend Edition producer Sarah Handel:

Defense Secretary Ash Carter is in the Middle East to sell the Iran deal, which Congress is currently considering. I wanted to understand what Carter and the administration are up against, and this piece popped up in my Twitter feed just in time. The Atlantic's Peter Beinart, David Frum and Jeffrey Goldberg do a nice job of presenting the for/against – what's at stake, and for whom.

Beinart's pro-deal. He says it's better than the alternatives — do nothing, go to war, or more sanctions. But what's instructive is how he breaks that down, particularly the bit about sanctions:

"Deal opponents talk about increasing sanctions, which would supposedly force Iran into concessions. But I rarely hear them explain how that will work given the internal politics of Iran. Seems more likely to me that scuttling this deal, and passing more sanctions, would devastate [Iranian President] Rouhani and [Iranian Foreign Minister] Zarif politically. Rouhani was elected to improve the economy; torpedoing the deal would make him a failure. That would empower those hardline opponents who never wanted any deal. Beyond that, what basis is there to believe European and Asian countries, which have strong economic interests in Iran, will maintain sanctions indefinitely?"

Frum is a critic. He says it's a weak deal:

"The United States did not negotiate the way people negotiate to get the best deal obtainable. It signaled from the start of the talks that it regarded the military option (supposedly always "on the table") as in fact unthinkable. It collared Congress to prevent imposition of new sanctions when the Iranians acted balky. It was a mistake too to send the secretary of state to head the delegation, especially a secretary of state who had been a presidential nominee: Secretary Kerry was too big to be allowed to fail. His Iranian counterpart, by contrast, could easily be disavowed by a regime whose supreme authority always maintained a wide distance from the talks."

And, Goldberg's in the middle. He explains it this way:

"I agree that ISIS poses a greater threat to Iran than it does to the U.S., and I would hope that the U.S. would communicate this notion to the Iranians. And, as I've said before, I agree with David [Frum]—presumably, the "critic" in the two-step—that the release of funds to Iran is going to spark more aggression and terrorism (though, to be fair, Iran has used its limited terrorism dollars fairly effectively over the past couple of decades).

But on the matter at hand, the putative weakness of the current deal, well, I'm not so sure. No arms-control agreement is perfect—no arms-control agreement with the Soviet Union was perfect—but if this deal is properly implemented, it should keep Iran from reaching the nuclear threshold for at least 10, if not 20 years. I'm aware of the flaws, and I hope they get fixed. The lifting of the international arms embargo is a particularly unpleasant aspect of this deal. But I'm not going to judge this deal against a platonic ideal of deals; I'm judging it against the alternative. And the alternative is no deal at all because, let's not kid ourselves here, neither Iran nor our negotiating partners in the P5+1 is going to agree to start over again should Congress reject this deal in September."

Where do we end up? It's an imperfect deal, and I don't think that's an earth-shattering conclusion. But the Beinart/Frum/Goldberg roundtable feels like a preview of some of the arguments bound to surface as the administration works on selling the plan.

From NPR's South America correspondent, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro:

What do American oil independence, the Iran deal and Saudi Arabia have in common? In this article originally published by The Washington Post but re-posted by The Guardian, the answer comes in the story of American shale oil entrepreneur Harold Hamm:

"Behind the low price of a gallon of gas at the pump this summer lies a competition worth trillions of dollars that is capable of swinging the geopolitical balance of power. On one side are Hamm, a famous wildcatter, and other American oilmen who rode the discovery of hydraulic fracturing to tens of billions of dollars of wealth and a promise of, in Hamm's words, ending the "disastrous" days of Saudi Arabian control. On the other are the Saudis and their allies in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), which are trying to stem rising US oil power and maintain their 40 years of dominance."

What I loved about this article is that it took a subject that's actually quite confusing and complex — global oil and geo-politics — and put it into an American context. As the article notes, there is a lot more at stake than simply the price at the pump. But the real star of the piece is Hamm and his very American story of rags to riches.

"Hamm rose from poverty in Oklahoma, the 13th child of a sharecropper, and spent the early part of his career working dirty oil jobs, cleaning tank bottoms and trucking supplies to drilling sites. But he grew obsessed with the idea of the big strike, the discovery of treasure in the ground, according to The Frackers, a book about the nation's new oil billionaires. He started a tiny company in 1967 named after his two daughters, used the proceeds to pay for geology classes and learn about computer mapping, and ultimately bought up land on the cheap in hard-to-drill places like North Dakota."

It's people like Hamm who will determine if the U.S. will indeed be "energy independent," with everything that implies for Americans at home.

From NPR's Sarah Gilbert, Weekend Edition's senior supervising editor:

Willis Conover was the "voice of America," but his face was more or less unseen in his own country. That may be about to change.

For 40 years, Conover hosted a jazz show on the Voice of America in which he tried to help America's finest jazz music seep quietly into the homes of fans behind the Iron curtain. But, by law, VOA programming cannot be broadcast inside the U.S. So, save for a few shortwave fans, the most famous jazz DJ in the world wasn't heard in his own country.

But the WSJ's jazz writer, Doug Ramsey, noted a proposal to put Conover's face on a postage stamp this week. He writes:

"Never a government employee, to maintain his independence he worked as a freelance contractor. With knowledge, taste, dignity and no tinge of politics, he introduced his listeners to jazz and American popular music."

And it worked. Ramsey quotes Conover's New York Times obituary: "In the long struggle between the forces of Communism and democracy, Mr. Conover, who went on the air in 1955 ... proved more effective than a fleet of B-29's."

Surely the purveyors of anti-ISIS propaganda at the U.S. State Department must look on in wistful awe. If only they could be as effective.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sarah Gilbert
Sarah Handel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.