Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday Rock Show

When Zebra released their only studio album in 1983, it had the potential to be the beginning of a great career. Their first single, "Whose Behind The Door", had heavy rotation on MTV and FM radio. The album, though full of really good moments, was uneven, and the time was not quite ripe for a kind of heavy prog sound.

Dream Theater's recently released Black Clouds and Silver Linings has a Deluxe edition with a second disc of covers. Here's their pretty faithful version of "Take Your Fingers From My Hair".

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's All About The "R" Word (UPDATE)

Reading this summary of a recent focus group study by Democracy Corps, I was struck by this following:
Another major theme on the call was that hatred of Obama is not centered around race -- the focus groups were given an open, relaxed environment to discuss what they thought, and this never came up. I asked whether race might be there as an undercurrent, taking shape in other forms such as birtherism, but even here the hosts shied away from it.

Greenberg said that while there were certainly some individuals who used racial epithets, it wasn't a motivating force overall. "I'm not saying people don't have racial attitudes, but in these discussions they didn't slip into a racial discussion," said Greenberg. "They had very explicit discussions about being accused of racism, and the one thing they gave Obama credence for was saying it's not racism."

Now, this study was conducted by, among others, James Carville and Stan Greenberg. Like them or hate them, neither one of these guys is stupid, naive, or blind. Yet, upon what else is the deep-seated loathing for everything President Obama does, or proposes, or whatever accolades he receives overseas based? Since the dominant cry at the heart of all the tea-party crap, all the 9/12 protests, all the right-wing screeching about socialism and Nazism and "Obama worship" is, "We want our country back", it seems to me pretty clear what they are saying is, "We want the white face of our national leaders back." The racial - and with it social and cultural as well as political - change in leadership threatens the foundations of the worldview of many conservatives, even those who, as the study leaders suggest, do not have race as a dominant factor in determining their dislike for the President.

The schizophrenia - and I really am not sure there is another word to describe how completely bizarre some of the stuff coming from the right is - on the conservative political side cannot be explained by ideology, because the President is not an ideologue. It can't be explained by media fawning and adulation, because that just hasn't happened. It can't be explained by any reference to actual events, laws, Executive Orders, or any other action on the part of the President, his Administration, or the Democratic leadership in Congress (a very different animal from the Administration). While it is true the loathing of the right for Bill Clinton entered in to weird territory - the whole drug-smuggling through Mena, killing Vince Foster, on and on - there seems to be a change from hysterically stupid and occasionally scary (Clinton) to frighteningly unhinged and dangerously unsettling (under Obama) among the right.

It seems to me the various political labels tossed at the President - socialist, communist, fascist - all hinge not around ideology, but differentness. He is Different even from African-Americans. His father was Kenyan. He has an African name, rather than an Anglo name. He spent time in his childhood overseas. He grew up in Hawaii. All these things suggest that there is something different - not like us - about President Obama. The constant attempt to strip any legitimacy from him, the actions of his Administration, or even now, it seems, his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, are rooted not in any act, or statement, or even general theme of his Administration. Rather, it is rooted in a deep fear of the perceived threat that comes from the implicit social and cultural change inherent in having a President whose skin color happens to be darker than the norm.

Not all the opposition to President Obama is rooted in race, to be sure. Yet, the kind of thing this focus group report talked about, the kind of thing we see on the right day in and day out makes it pretty clear to this observer that the elephant in the room is race. I wonder how it is possible not to see that.

UPDATE: While hardly indicative of the folks in the study group, I think the kind of thing in this indictment make the point pretty clear. Sick, scary stuff, rooted not just in race, but also in a belief that Obama's Presidency is, fundamentally, illegitimate. The stuff about killing his family in front of him - God, that's just awful.

Adding, it is odd they left out the racial epithets, but left the rest of the foul language in.

The Challenge Of Peace

Under the recommendation of ER, I watched the great Cornel West expound on President Obama's Nobel Prize. Quite simply, his message is simple - now, he has to live up to it.

West's message is both a blessing and a warning to the President. His heartfelt desire that the President's parents and grandparents had lived to see this is genuine. His insistence that the Peace Prize obligates the President to rethink how he envisions himself as the leader of the greatest military empire in the history of the planet is clear.

We can argue back and forth over the appropriateness of the prize - and even the President seems more than little embarrassed by it - yet, should he accept it, it seems to me that West is exactly right. This is the political equivalent of baptism; he is no longer just the President of the United States. He, like those West mentioned (King, Mandela, Bunche) and others (Carter, Sadat/Begin, Medicins Sans Frontiers) unmentioned should remind him that he has joined a great cloud of witnesses. His dual role as President and Nobel Laureate makes him more than just our President, but the latest member of a small, elite group of men and women who have dedicated their lives to making the world better, or perhaps just to doing what they could to making it less full of pain and misery.

Barack Obama has people all over the world looking to him as a beacon of hope. Few human beings can really live up to that challenge, yet the Nobel committee certainly seems to believe he can meet it. It is up to us, the American people, to help him.


The title describes this.

Since John McCain was born in the Canal Zone, he was ineligible to run for President, yet he did.

There is so much BS in the world. Why do we need newspapers to add to it?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Satire Is Beyond Us

If this is any indication.

We are all drug-addled sex tourists who spout fact-free race- and sex-hatred three hours a day on the radio and get paid far too much for it.

While I think most Americans are far better than we give them credit for, the person who wrote this, and the folks who think it just teh awwwwweeeeeesssssoooooommmmmmmmmeeeee are the ones who drag down our national IQ. You can't make fun of people like this; it's like making fun of the disabled - poor taste.

Just Wondering

Is it just me, or are more and more Republican politicians just so lost in the minority that we are only now seeing how kooky they have always been?

I'm not talking about people like John Boehner or Michelle Bachman. Charles Grassley suddenly sees the 10th Amendment to the Constitution as a problem for health care reform. Rep. Sue Myrick has a list, apparently, of "intern spies" - Muslim interns working on Capitol Hill.

Do they expect people who have brain cells to take them seriously?

Is it any wonder that some of us hold them in contempt?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Religous Freedom Except For Those Who Actually Live It Out

While conservatives rail against President Obama and his Administration’s threats to our liberties, a direct assault on our constitutional liberties is unfolding in Marathon County, Wisconsin. Dale and Leilani Neumann were sentenced on Tuesday to six months in jail and ten years probation in the death of their daughter, eleven-year-old Kara.
They didn’t beat her. She wasn’t locked away in a room. By all accounts, they were loving, attentive parents. Their crime was refusing on religious grounds medical treatment for Kara. During the sentencing, Dale Neumann said, "I am guilty of trusting my Lord's wisdom completely. ... Guilty of obeying my God.”
Even more dangerous to our freedoms than the conviction were the words of the judge at sentencing, as reported by CBS News. “We are here today because to some, you made Kara a martyr to your faith.” This direct attack upon the Neumann’s religious beliefs by an agent of the state is a disturbing moment. Any person who treasures our freedom of religion should tremble at those words.
It is gut-wrenching to consider the reality of losing a child. It is far worse to have an officer of a court of law inform you that your faith is in error. To insist, as the prosecutors did in this case, that the Neumann’s had a legal obligation to seek medical care for Kara against the tenets of their religious beliefs is an assault upon the Constitutional guarantee of the freedom of religion. The judge’s admonishment from the bench that their religious beliefs were wrong puts all who believe at risk of state intercession in the practice of their belief.
Suppose, in the name of improving our national educational standards, the state removed children from home schools, forcing them against their parents’ religious beliefs to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution. Or perhaps a judge, acting on the tenets of his faith, would mandate nonsectarian moments of silence against the wishes of an atheist parent.
The constitutional protection of religious belief is meaningless if the state can decide that certain acts done in the name of religious belief are criminal. Our liberty to believe and live by those beliefs, whether others accept them as legitimate or not, are threatened when a judge can say, from the bench, that those beliefs are not only wrong, but criminally so

The Freedom Of Obscurity

In case semi-regular readers have noticed, I haven't been posting over the past week or so. In fact, I've been struggling with a serious decision. Last Monday, I learned of the Washington Post's "Next American Pundit" contest. I initially tossed my scruples aside, wrote a not-quite-400 word piece, and have been sitting on it ever since, allowing my conscience to eat away at me.

I consulted a couple people, both of whom encouraged me. Yet, I knew I was being a big fat hypocrite by doing so. Worse, as the week went on, instance after instance of truly bad writing and analysis was offered up by this same newspaper. I realized I was deliberately holding back writing what I wanted to write because I might be courting this newspaper. Worse, in the off-chance that I actually won, there were even more things to consider beyond censoring myself out of company loyalty. I would be surrendering my freedom to write what I wanted in the way I wanted.

The fact is, pundits are whores. They do not serve the people, but fellate office holders and their staffs, administration officials and various power-brokers, currying favor and ensuring that even obscure officers now and then. I have no desire to sell my services, as meager as they may be, to any one. I refuse to keep silent on the degradation of our public discourse because those degrading it happen to work at the same place I do. If Charles Krauthammer writes something both abysmally stupid and dangerous, I would rather be free to have four people read it here, than thousands read it as my last column in a major newspaper.

Print punditry, television punditry does not serve the interests of democracy. Blogs do. I recently heard of a political science study on blogs; the author said that most bloggers type away in obscurity, with only a few of the big ones getting links and hits. I guess the conclusion was that blogging is relatively unimportant to our national life.

Which begs the question, of course, of how one defines "important". Especially liberal bloggers tend to be scrupulously addicted to factual accuracy, to a certain set of moral principles, and to empowering more and more people to get involved in our public life in part by becoming more and better informed. Even if this blog only has a handful of readers, that's OK, because with obscurity comes the freedom to say what I want to say in my own way, without fear. If I feel like saying David Broder is a senile old fart who passed his prime before Lyndon Johnson left office, I at least can do so without having David Broder threatening my job.

So, I am not entering. I am not going to compromise my freedom, or my understanding that the paper in question is becoming a sad parody of a serious newspaper, publishing junk and nonsense written by people who continue to believe that nothing fundamental has changed in the country; people who believe that John McCain and Ben Nelson and Olympia Snowe and Charles Krauthammer and Richard Cohen and David Broder and George Will present views in tune with the American people.

To the editors at the WaPo, may I quote a scribe from the New York Times": Suck. On. This.

And the next post is the piece I was going to enter. I'd like your opinion on it, if you don't mind.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Music For Your Monday

This post is done out of spite. On my way to my wedding reception on Saturday, I was listening to Chicago Public Radio's program, "Sound Opinions", a talk show on rock music hosted by the critics from the Tribune and Sun-Times. After an interesting show on the use of instruments outside the regular rock idiom - the autoharp, the didgeridoo, the marimba - they did their usual bit of reviewing recent releases. One was the latest by the British band Muse. They panned it, calling the music and lyrics self-important, without that necessity of rock, a sense of humor and that favorite of rock critics, a sense of irony and distance.

As if David Bowie wasn't a pompous blowhard who takes himself too seriously. As if Bono wasn't a pretentious nincompoop at times. As if Bob Dylan didn't take his music, and by extension himself, seriously.

This is the kind of thing I just detest about rock critics.

In honor, then, of this panning by two rock critics, here are three offerings from Muse, the biggest band yet to break in America (they're huge in Europe).

From the aforementioned panned release, The Resistance, this is "Uprising":

From a DVD recorded during a sold-out two-day stint at Wembley Stadium in London, this is "Knights of Cydonia":

If you think the stage set is a bit over the top, consider some of the stuff U2 has done. . .

No Fan Of Big Marches

There was a "March For Equality" in Washington yesterday. While such gatherings are a good way for disparate folks from all over to come together, to fell not quite so alone, for the most part, I think they are a huge waste of time.

In 1993, I participated in a huge March for Equality. Nearly a million people, lining up on the Mall, listening to speakers, comedians and comediennes, singers, activists while the line inched so slowly up Pennsylvania Ave, past the White House and toward the Capitol. It was a sunny April day, not too hot, with a nice breeze. As the group with whom I was marching made their way from the Metro stop to the spot where we would get in line, we walked past a homeless man, sleeping on the sidewalk, his few belongings pressed close to him. As my group walked on, talking about the need for equality, about working to make the country better for LGBT folk, some actually stepped over the homeless man without looking at him. Later, as we stood around waiting, that image flashed through my mind as I listened to speaker after speaker insist that the march was about protecting individuals, about promoting a more just society, about encouraging diversity. All the speakers, except one, were white. Most of the marchers, not only from my own admittedly limited vantage point, but also from news reports seen after the fact, seemed to be middle to upper-middle class. All looked well-fed, well-dressed, and the biggest inconvenience seemed to be the wait to get water to keep off the effects of standing in the sun.

The image of that homeless man, curled up asleep, while all a group of earnest, impassioned folk walked by without noticing, haunted me. Even as I walked up Pennsylvania Ave, past the White House, past counter-protesters holding signs telling me I was going to hell, I wondered if that man managed to get out of the way before the crowd overwhelmed him. Did he manage to find a spot, maybe under one of the overpasses in SW Washington, or perhaps further up the Mall in some shrubs, where it would be cool and quiet?

Finally, I left the line, around the Old Post Office. When Lisa got back, she asked me why I left. Was I hot or otherwise uncomfortable, she asked.

No, I said. I was angry. I was angry because of the refusal by some who claim allegiance to something they call Divine Justice, not even to see a human being sleeping on a sidewalk even as they went to protest injustice. Who, I asked, was marching for this man? Did he have a mental illness, or an addiction, that made it difficult for him to hold down a job, or maintain a place of his own? Where was the insistence that this man, too, deserved our concern, our support, perhaps even a march of his own?

While not at all denying the reality that we are in need of legal guarantees of protection for sexual minorities in this country, I find marches like this, or any such demonstration to be nothing more than a necessity for the participants. As soon as anyone shows me evidence that they have any effect on public policy, I might begin to change my mind. As soon as organizers develop a march not just for the homeless and neglected, but by the homeless and neglected, I might begin to reconsider. As soon as one of those participants with me that April day so long ago apologizes to that man for refusing to even see and acknowledge him as a fellow human being, of worth and value and deserving of our consideration, I might change my mind.

Otherwise, not so much.

When An Old Rag Becomes Evidence

I have to admit, when I first saw this story at TPM, I thought it was serious. Considering that it seemed to be coming from Oklahoma (no offense to my various Okie friends online), I feel quite abashed that I took it seriously.
A new law set to come into effect on Nov. 1, will require all men in Oklahoma to reveal personal details regarding every sperm that they murder.

"Every year in Oklahoma, a googolplex of sperm die lonely deaths inside socks, in showers and other places," said Oklahoma spokeswoman Sally Kern. "This holocaust of the unborn must end."

It was only when I clicked a link that I realized it was a bit of turnabout on a new Oklahoma law that really does go in to effect soon regarding abortion.
For women in Sally Kern's state of Oklahoma, all your wombs are belong to us as of Nov. 1. A law will go into effect that will require that personal details about every single abortion performed in the state will be documented and placed online.

Here are the first eight questions that women will have to reveal:

1. Date of abortion
2. County in which abortion performed
3. Age of mother
4. Marital status of mother
(married, divorced, separated, widowed, or never married)
5. Race of mother
6. Years of education of mother
(specify highest year completed)
7. State or foreign country of residence of mother
8. Total number of previous pregnancies of the mother
Live Births
Induced Abortions

After due consideration, I think a law stipulating that any act of spermicide be published online is a good and necessary thing. After all, male masturbation can lead one to become gay, along with blindness, insanity, and other hazards. In the name of public health, if nothing else, a public record of male self-abuse is a good thing.

The only thing I see creating serious problems would be the overload on servers as men report in, especially late on Friday and Saturday nights.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Saying "No" To The Party Of No

This article in The New York Times is, quite simply, the biggest laugh, politically, I've had in a long time.

I will bet anyone - anyone - any amount of money not only will the Republicans not take back either House of Congress. I will further bet that the Republicans will lose seats; up to a half-dozen in the House, as few as two or as many as four in the Senate.

Any takers?

Participation And Civility

For some reason, the idea that participation in our public discourse needs to be conducted with something known as "civility" continues to float around, like an untethered balloon. The notion that we should conduct our discussions of questions of national import without rancor and with respect toward those with whom we disagree persists even as our freedom to be uncivil continues unabated. Usually, those who insist that we the people not get too heated when discussing politics comes from those who, until relatively recently, enjoyed a role as gatekeepers of our national discussion. With the advent of the internet, however, the gatekeepers stand around a gate attached to nothing, the wall having been torn down by crowds chanting and cheering.

When a writer like Ann Gerhart at The Washington Post tries to approach the subject, it becomes muddled, false equivalencies suddenly arise, and much of our recent history is ignored. For example, she calls Michelle Malkin "a best-selling and often inflammatory conservative writer with a heavily trafficked Web site." Except, of course, Malkin is much more. She has posted the personal information of opponents on the internet; she has stalked the family of a young teenager who spoke out publicly on an issue; when she published information on a group of college students, they were harassed so much by her readers that one committed suicide. These are facts, and flesh out why someone not in the public eye might be a bit concerned when Malkin's feral gaze turns upon them.

Gerhart mentions the man whose finger was bitten off this past summer. At all the town hall meetings, with all the invective thrown at the President, at Democratic members of Congress, all the guns being worn, we have this one, single incident as an example of liberals behaving badly. Of course, it occurred because the biter was being slapped by the bitey, which also goes unmentioned.

The long and the short of it is quite simple - issues of public import arouse passions. Sometimes, those passions crowd out rational control and our insistence that we be heard, that our point-of-view be considered meritorious ends up in shouting matches. There is nothing wrong with this. Those who desire that we keep accord ourselves with some arbitrary notion of civility forget that questions of war and peace, taxation and healthcare are important to people; sometimes, they mean the difference between life and death. The gatekeepers at their lonely stations may stand like Kevin Bacon in Animal House, shouting "All is well!" to the mob, but it is far more important that all these voices are out there. Even those, like Malkin's, one finds odious. Freedom and democracy are far better practices today because of our freedom to ignore the calls for civility.

Virtual Tin Cup

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