Saturday, October 24, 2009

Saturday Rock Show

The fall of 1990, I listened to Sting's second solo CD over and over again. Don't ask me why. . .

Keeping It Real

I am re-reading Faking It: The Quest For Authenticity in Popular Music by Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor. I am still impressed with the book, and am glad it was written. Yet, while they certainly push the reader to reconsider whether or not "authenticity" is a category worth considering when evaluating an artist, they never directly ask a question via their use of examples that would challenge their readers to question whether the word has any meaning at all.

The first chapter discusses the lives and careers of two artists - Kurt Cobain and Leadbelly - and the way the epithet "authentic" distorted the perception of their music, and in particular Cobain's view of himself as a public figure. The relationship between the two became fixed forever because Nirvana's last performance, on MTV's "Unplugged" series, was of the Leadbelly tune "Where Did You Sleep Last Night". This chapter illuminates all the problems and pitfalls inherent in using the category "authenticity" when approaching American popular music (and, by extension, the artists who perform it), yet it might have been just as illuminating to use another performer entirely - Britney Spears.

I have yet to read a serious music journalist who takes her or her music seriously. Yet, when one considers, in detail, what it is she does and how she does it, I have to wonder if the whole question of "authenticity" isn't one that, in the end, is only applied to those performers certain people prefer, and withheld from those whose music they do not like. Her music is danceable, as the best popular music has always been. Some of the songs, especially on her more recent recordings, deal with sexual themes, including masturbation and a menage-a-trois, yet sex has been at the heart of popular music styles for centuries. Her shows are elaborate productions, very often choreographed with her lip-synching rather than singing the songs. Do the words "Michael Jackson" mean anything? Her voice is limited both in tonal range and emotional reflection; Billie Holliday could barely sing more than an octave and even her happiest songs end up sounding quite melancholy because there was something about her voice that seemed to bring out the ache that always existed deep inside her. Her music has been popular, for the most part, with young teenagers, particularly girls. All I will say to this is "Elvis" and "The Beatles".

What I believe most people object to about Britney Spears is the deliberate packaging and production of "Britney Spears" as something more than just a performer. Yet Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Metallica - these performers are also packaged as "not just" performers. Really, though, that's all they are; musicians or groups of musicians of varying musical talent and ability (not the same thing at all) who play for our enjoyment (another word that deserves to be unpacked in book form).

So if Britney Spears is a big faker while U2 is the real deal, all I can ask is, "Why?"

Friday, October 23, 2009

I Don't Like Media Whores

While it is nice to see that a liberal member of Congress has a set of testicles and is not afraid to use them (politically), my guess is Rep. Alan Grayson is becoming a bit too enamored of all the attention he is getting. Like Newt Gingrich, Joe Lieberman, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and a few others, saying all sorts of stuff that grabs the attention of journalists is a sure-fire way to raise your favorability ratings; yet, it also runs the risk of saying all sorts of stupid stuff that really is beside the point. What's worse, when you actually start to believe the stuff you're saying, it becomes embarrassing (Newt and Joe . . .).

My hope is Rep. Grayson learns that a well-timed bon mot is far better than just shouting all sorts of things so your name appears in the papers and you get invited on to cable chat shows.


Of all the stories of the health insurance industry acting like dicks, this one makes my blood boil. It is, quite simply, indefensible.
After being drugged and physically assaulted, Christina Turner woke up in a ditch. She feared that she had been sexually assualted and so she went on a PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis, to prevent an HIV infection) regimen of pills. However, what Christina did not realize is that the history of having taken those medications would raise too many flags and inhibit her ability to be insured in the future. She had a dreaded pre-existing condition.

I am quite sure that they feel no shame, they are in fact incapable of any emotion whatsoever. For the sake of all the Christina Turner's out there, we need a public option.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Liberal Heresy

I'm a left-winger who works at Wal-Mart. As such, I think I have a pretty good idea what the company is like, how it is managed, and what working there is like. In her book Nickled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Barbara Ehrenreich revealed that she lied her way in to several jobs, including one as a Wal-Mart associate, and reported her findings. In a style reminiscent of Barbara Bush's at the Super Dome in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Ehrenreich wrote disdainfully of having to zone underwear, of the perfidy of their anti-union orientation video, and on and on.

Wal-Mart is no more or less evil than any corporation. They manage to get all sorts of bad press because they are so large. Extremely risk-averse - trust me when I tell you they try to avoid anything that will cost them money - when bad things happen, they usually manage to make it far worse than it actually was.

As far as the zoning thing is concerned, yes it is mind-numbingly dull, as Ehrenreich suggests. On the other hand, would anyone reading this visit a store where it was impossible to shop because everything was cattywampus on the shelves and impossible to find? Does Ehrenreich think that a store stays neat and clean all on its own? Does she object to zoning because it is, hm, I don't know, manual labor?

Unlike most left-wingers, I have no objection to big box stores, to chain bookstores, or other large and variegated companies that provide all sorts of amenities to all sorts of people. I am not blind to their preference that their workforce not be unionized; I also happen to think that, should EFCA pass (which I predict it probably will), Target, Wal-Mart, ShopKo and other such places will be unionized within a few years. I am not blind to all sorts of things Wal-Mart does that I would prefer it wouldn't. On the other hand, I was not surprised by the "news" that Whole Foods is no better than Wal-Mart, precisely because it is a corporation in business to make money.

The disdain many left-wingers have for Wal-Mart is, I believe, rooted not in some principled stance in favor of an organized workforce, or better working conditions, because the conditions at Wal-Mart are, for the most part, no different than any other place of employment. Rather, I firmly believe, as evidenced by Ehrenreich's tone of hauteur at having to mix with the polloi as she zoned thongs, it is rooted in a class bias against working people and their lives. You see the bumper sticker that reads, "If you see this car at Wal-Mart, it has been stolen", and you have to celebrate such a huge love of the working class.

In short, while I have no problem with getting the word out when any corporation does something illegal, it would be nice to have a little perspective. Wal-Mart is a corporation, no different from Standard Oil, DuPont, or Whole Foods. The tension between the company and its desire to make a profit and the employees who have a desire for stable work at a decent wage will always exist. Don't make any company out to be either a hero or a villain, because, for the most part, it's just a corporation doing what it has to do.

Please Don't Play "Toxic" Again!

If it was me, I'd ask them if they took requests.
Last year, a coalition of musicians, along with British human rights charity Reprieve, created an anti-torture initiative called “Zero db” that sought to end the use of music in torture. Now, a new coalition of international musicians, including Trent Reznor, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Jackson Browne, Rage Against the Machine, Rosanne Cash, Billy Bragg and the Roots, is launching a new protest against the use of music used during torture and are joining the National Campaign to Close Guantanamo.

As part of their protest, the musicians are supporting an effort seeking the declassification of all secret government records pertaining to how music was used in interrogations.

OK, maybe being force-fed Pearl Jam should be outlawed by the UN . . .

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Silence Is Not Consent

I have been quiet about the Louisiana JOP who refused to marry an interracial couple. This is not because I am shocked and saddened by this; nor is it because I think it relatively unimportant. On the contrary, I think this incident, which might seem small and insignificant to some, is hugely important. I guess I just don't want to follow the herd with various web-stories and all.

Yet, it has occurred to me that my silence on this matter might actually be interpreted as acquiescence. The reasons the JOP gave for refusing to marry this couple - out of "concern" for "the children" - actually makes me want to rage, because I know four intelligent, funny, gifted children without whom the world would be a little less special had this kind of thinking prevailed: my nephews and niece.

I recently got in to a bit of a pissing contest with someone whom I admire, like, and am grateful for. I know that he, too, is married to a lovely, talented woman and has lovely, talented children none of which would be true of this dork had been in charge.

The man's statement the other day that he didn't break any laws and didn't "prevent" them from getting married because he gave them information on another justice who would do it misses the point. As long as the basic legal qualifications for marriage were met by this couple, this man was obligated to perform the ceremony as long as it didn't interfere with his other duties as JOP.

The refusal to marry a couple based solely on race is not a minor glitch, but an affront not just to the constitution and our laws, but to common decency. What's worse, the stated reasons are as small-minded and bigoted as the act itself; as has been pointed out a bit too much, our President is the result of a mixed marriage, as is the world's richest pro golfer. Besides these examples, there are millions of young people who are alive and smart and funny and tender and have loving homes with parents of different races. The arbitrary, illegal, and bigoted decision to refuse to marry this couple is an insult to all those families as well, betraying an ignorance of the reality that our wonderfully diverse land is filled with all sorts of success stories, all sorts of families and people, who lead happy, productive lives without necessarily following the rules of what used to be considered acceptable.

I guess I was feeling a bit bad that I hadn't made it clear how angry and sad I was when I heard about this. I did not want in any manner, fashion, or form, for my silence on this event to be considered consent.

Offered with apologies.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I Feel Better And Better About My Decision

My conscience is even more clear today concerning my decision not to enter the stupid WaPo pundit contest after reading this.

Pat Buchanan's Mourning

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Pat Buchanan has written a sad, mournful column about the current state of America. It shouldn't surprise anyone that his mourning is mostly about the fact that "white people" feel their country has been stolen from them.

In fact, the only thing about Buchanan's column that is surprising is the absence of code, the naked racism, the bald-faced assertion that "America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right." These three short sentences, that end this sad tale of the demise of "traditional America's" dominance should stand as a monument to the way Barack Obama's Presidency has liberated us from Nixon-era "law and order" public discourse, a veiled way of talking about what was really on the minds of right-wing white folks - keeping the brown folk down, in the ghetto, and back in de facto segregation. The on-going social and cultural gains of African-Americans, culminating in Barack Obama's Presidency 40 years after Nixon won, in part, by creating a new vocabulary for racist public talk, is now over, and we should at least be celebratory enough to recognize that it is OK for racists in the limelight to speak openly.

Make no mistake. MSNBC will continue to feature Buchanan even though - or perhaps precisely because - he is honest enough to put his racist thoughts on paper (or over the 'net) for all the world to see. Unlike Peggy Noonan*, who misused the word "boorish" to describe President Obama, because she didn't want to use the word "uppity", Buchanan is right up front talking about how some white folk are just plain scared of the black boy in the White House who isn't a cook or a butler. Conservatives should follow Buchanan's lead and be unafraid to let the world know their dislike of Pres. Obama is rooted not in any supposed ideological radicalism he embodies, because such doesn't exist; but, rather, they dislike him precisely because he is the first African-American President. Period.

I do not mourn with Buchanan. I do celebrate the end of a too-long era when racists with a big audience couched their hatred in euphemisms. We no longer have to sit around and decode all sorts of words about "law and order", and "traditional values". We can use this column by Buchanan as a template for judging the honesty and integrity of conservative talk about Obama.

*Isn't it fascinating that Noonan used to be a speechwriter, yet used the word "boorish" incorrectly?

Monday, October 19, 2009

What Pluralism Is Not

In a fit of . . . I don't know . . . openness, maybe, I tried to begin, again, reading Jurgen Moltmann's God For a Secular Society: The Public Relevance of Theology, and was again struck by its many faults early on. I realize it's pretty bold to call out a major theologian as writing something that just doesn't quite cut it, but sometimes, you have to call it as you read it. On the very first page, I realized that I just couldn't do it. From p. 1, the preface, in the Fortress Press edition translated by Margaret Kohl:
Remembrance of the crucified Christ makes [public theology] critical towards political religions and idolatries. It thinks critically about the religious and moral values of the societies in which it exists, and presents its reflections as a reasoned position. But it refuses to fall into the modern trap of pluralism, where it is supposed to be reduced to its particular sphere and limited to its own religious society. Because today these restrictions to one's own particular reserve in Western multi-religious society can be felt everywhere, and are actually welcomed by certain church leaders and theologians, I hope that these contribution may demonstrate and reinforce the public relevance of theology.[emphasis added]

I do not know if Moltmann is being coy here, or ignorant. I do so hope it is not the latter, because the definition he gives of "pluralism" is hardly my understanding of it. On the contrary, liberal pluralism accepts the diverse ways human beings go about the task of living out a fully human life; it also accepts the incommensurability and incompatibility of this variety, and accepts, with sadness, the reality of conflict that will arise because of these differences. The hope that liberal pluralism holds out is that these differences, and the ensuing conflict, can be settled via negotiation rather than violent confrontation.

By defining "pluralism" as restricting Christian theological reflection to a Christian ghetto, Moltmann may be reacting to the on-going marginalization of mainstream Christianity in Western Europe. His position, however, is just not tenable in more vibrantly religious places of the world, which make his apologia for the "public relevance of theology" absurd on its face, whether in a religiously diverse place like the United States, or robust Roman Catholic states such as Mexico (which, ironically, has an even greater constitutional stricture on the place of the church in public life than the US).

While I could be heartened by learning from a different perspective, I cannot move forward because Moltmann's position - that Christian theology needs to fight for relevance in the public sphere - is one I just don't take seriously. For my part, I really don't care that other scholars find theology a joke, or that most leaders don't listen to what the Church has to say on this or that issue. All that really matters is that the Church does say it. The rest, well, that's up to God.

If you begin your argument by spending a whole lot of intellectual energy attempting to prove to other people that what you have to say isn't nonsense, you've already lost. Just say it; if they don't like it, or laugh at it, well they laughed at Noah, they tried to kill Elijah, and we all know what happened to Jesus.

It might also be important, along the way, to not set up straw obstacles like the "pluralism" that Moltmann seems to have invented.

Music For Your Monday

As someone who took years of piano instruction, I can only sit in awe when I listen to Art Tatum. Somehow this blind lover of baseball and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer ran his thick fingers as light and fast over the keyboard as a feather. He never seemed to miss a downbeat, play off-key, or take the music out of whatever mood it was supposed to inhabit. While many seem content to dwell on his technical ability, he combined that with a sense both of rhythm and melody that was unmatched until Charlie Parker emerged in the post-war years.

Here he is doing Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me"

Another standard, Rogers & Hart's "Isn't It Romantic"

One of my favorite songs of all time, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes"

The nice thing about these clips is there is no "video" of him playing, so you can get lost in his playing.

Health Care Reform

There are now five bills that have passed various committees and need to be reconciled in order to pass both Houses of Congress and receive a Presidential signature. Only one does not contain a public option. It seems to me that anyone who says the "public option is dead" can't do the math. The House Democrats, led by the Speaker, are demanding it. Many Senators are inclined to support it, except for the noisy few like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman.

The latest tactic to derail this, revealed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is to demand a long debate. His arguments for a long debate would make sense if this were a new issue, or something that hadn't been discussed in public forums ad nauseum for months. Besides that, the real debate will be behind the scenes in the attempt to reconcile all the undotted "i"'s and uncrossed "t"'s of the five bills currently in circulation, and McConnell and everyone else knows this. With the White House bitch-slapping the insurance industry late last week, any attempt to drag their representatives along will probably be met with hostility.

Since I have to guess, not knowing exactly why the statement was formulated the way it was, the White House statement today that it "prefers" a public option without threatening a veto over it sounds kind of namby-pamby. Yet, when you consider all the veto threats of the Bush White House - threats seldom honored - combined with the desire by the Obama White House to get Congress to move on this issue, a veto threat at this point makes no sense. Passing a bill that is imperfect, even a bill with no public option, is far better than dragging the whole reform train to a halt. Should a bill pass without a public option (again, I doubt it, the math and the numbers are against it), it seems more than likely that after the '10 midterms, when the Democrats have solidified their control over both Houses (still running with my prediction they will kick some ass next year), they can revisit that issue on its own.

Yet, simply by stating a Presidential "preference", it seems to me that puts enormous pressure on wavering Democrats in both Houses to make sure he gets that preference. It makes the Ben Nelsons and the Max Baucus's look like they are being presumptuous, placing their own preferences over and against not just the President's, but the majority of the American people's as well.

I have said it before and I will say it again. I wouldn't want to play chess with Barack Obama. I believe that the obstructionists in Congress have no idea how bad he has consistently made them look.

My prediction - health care with a public option will pass, the President will sign it, and the world will not shift on its axis.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bible-Burning Christians

I have to admit, I agree:
I don't even get angry about book burning anymore. Book burning is quaint and laughable. It's like these North Carolina pigfuckers are members of the Society for Douchey Anachronism, carrying out re-enactments of the kind of douchey behavior that used to matter a whole lot in the Dark Ages, but now is just a historical curiosity. Come on down to the Book Burning Faire, and relive a simpler time, when knowledge had physical form!

They're burning all non-KJV Bible translations. And even contemporary Christian CDs, which they label "Satan's music", an idea I could possibly get behind.

Burning books by Billy Graham, though, a favorite son of the Tar Heel State? These folks are hardcore.

A Great Churchman

I just learned that a great leader of the United Methodist Church, a long-time faculty member at Wesley Theological Seminary, my academic adviser while there, and a good man has past away. The Rev. Dr. James Cecil Logan was E. Stanley Jones Professor Emeritus of Evangelism, after having been professor of Systematic Theology for a quarter century. Schooled in Florida, serving in Virginia, taught at Boston University by L. Harold DeWolfe and at Basel by Karl Barth, Dr. Logan was a student favorite not because he was a great teacher - all who had a class with him understood that - or a towering scholar - I only know of one book of his still in print, an edited collection of essays on Methodist history and evangelism - but because he really cared about us.

His first love, though, was the United Methodist Church. He served it faithfully and well, turning down offers of Episcopal office over and over again so he could stay where he was. Not uncritical, he embodied true Christian love for the Church, wanting it to live up to its promise and potential.

When I started at Wesley, in the fall semester of 1990, he was then serving on the general committee that was reviewing the Discipline statements on homosexuality and the Church. He told me once, in a meeting in his office, that he was being forced for health reasons to step down; he also told me he was glad. The committee was bitterly divided between ideologues with far more interest in forwarding an agenda than prayerfully and lovingly studying and considering alternatives. He predicted there would be two reports, mutually exclusive, that would not move the denomination forward. His prediction came true a year and a half later when the committee released its report prior to the 1992 General Conference.

Also prior to the 1992 General Conference, he was offered the opportunity to sign The Memphis Declaration, an attempt by some folks to turn the United Methodist Church in to a confessional denomination. Historically, the UM Church and its predecessors had not unique confession; rather, like John Wesley, we much preferred to concentrate on living a Christian life in faith through grace than figuring out whether or not this clause in this sentence accurately reflects "Truth" about God or anyone else. The confessions we read together in worship are collected in the back of the UM Hymnal, and include the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed (which is really the Constantinopolitan Creed, which reaffirmed the statement from the Council of Nicaea), the Creed of the United Church of Canada, and several others. Dr. Logan understood the two-fold attempt to distort what the Church is, and to move a small group of southeastern conservatives in to a position of authority within the denomination. He also pointed out, off hand, that several of the clauses of the declaration, were rooted in historical heresies, and being a former professor of theology, it would be bad form to sign on to a heretical document.

He was asked to perform our wedding, but had to decline due to back surgery after initially agreeing to do so. Anyone who knew his history of health problem should understand.

It is a sad day for those of us left behind, but I also think we should all celebrate his life, his work for the United Methodist Church, for Wesley Theological Seminary, and for all the students who passed through his classes. I know of no one who would ever speak ill of him, even as we poked fun at his drawling, occasionally stuttering style of lecturing ("Uh, uh, uh . . ."). He was loved quite simply because the grace that saved him, gave him the strength to teach hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students over the decades, and we all were the richer for it.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More