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I was born at a relatively young age. Growing up consumed the better part of my childhood. As a young man I chased a lot of girls. But they kept getting away. Then I got older and even slower, so I got married. I've lived in New York City almost since before I moved here. I summer in Manhattan, which is like New York City, but with more humidity.

Here's me, without baby, thinking big thoughts. (Actually, what I'm thinking is, "Hey, these aren't Pringles!") I think I look better with baby.

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This is it: the Top-25 Albums of 2004
Friday, December 24, 2004
This is not an attempt to rank the 25 best albums of 2004. Rather, it is an attempt to rank the albums that seem to have made the biggest impact on me, and which I expect to listen to the longest after the year is gone and they’ve all been properly filed. I’m not always right about that (Mark Knopfler’s Sailing to Philadelphia made this list in 2000; I don’t think I’ve played it since.) The main thing is, I’ve stopped trying to determine which albums are “best” and simply try to figure out what the hell I personally happen to like.

Things are starting to get dicey because of the live releases that many bands are making available (see #2.) How do you rank a live show made commercially available, alongside studio records over which the artist has taken 64 tracks and painstakingly labored? Answer: I don’t know. I suspect more and more of the live stuff will start creeping ointo these lists, because I buy and listen to a lot of it. I also get a lot of it for free via my insatiable appetite for that next great elusive bootleg.

After Smile, The rest of the top-10 is a total toss-up; if I did this list tomorrow the order might be entirely different. There’s one version with Sobule, Tan Sleeve, and the Silos ranked 2-4, but that one is based on how much I like the artists personally.

RIYL, of course, stands for "Recommended if you like."

1. Brian Wilson Presents SmiLE: With the exception of this release, it was difficult to array the 25 albums I wanted to acknowledge in any kind of order. But no question, Smile is the record of the year. Thirty-seven years in the making, and while it isn’t the album the Beach Boys would have put out in ’67, it is a magnificent piece of “rock opera” composition, expertly performed by an all-star, all-Wilson-loving band featuring the Wondermints and Jeff Foskett. This one is a timeless classic. Brilliant, timeless material, beautifully rendered. Many of the songs are so familiar in different versions that at first I found it jarring; I missed the audible edits in the original “Heroes and Villains.” Wilson is the lead singer on every song, which was very much not the case with the original Beach Boys. But a few listens gets you over that. As I said, I try to evaluate albums based on whether I’ll be listening in 5 years, and on that scale there is this, then there is everything else that came out this year. RIYL: Pet Sounds, Sergeant Pepper, the Beach Boys, Jeff Foskett, the Wondermints

2. The Allman Brothers, Instant Live, 9-25-04. They put out a proper live album this year (One Way Out) and it is quite good, but these “Instant Live” recordings of live shows—made available immediately after the gig is over, so you can take it home with you—are a revelation. I could just as easily have placed 3 more in my top-25 (Jones Beach; Knoxville with Jack Pearson; the previous night at the Fox), but this may be the best of all the shows they did via Instant Live, so here it is. Among other things this one features the first rendition of “Blue Sky” since Betts left; a spot-on “Les Brers in A Minor;” and an incandescent version of “Dreams” with Derek Trucks taking the lead. Consider this one album a placeholder for the entire Instant Live Allmans series. RIYL: The Allman Brothers. Even if you think without Betts you wouldn’t.

3. Todd Rundgren, Liars. There is a synthetic sound to this record that may be off-putting to some, but I find that it adds to the thematic content—ostensibly about the lies we tell each other and live with, but very clearly, there is a distinct undercurrent of facing mortality throughout, an almost palpable fear with which the artist wrestles. Maybe immortality is the biggest lie we tell ourselves. Todd’s best album in over 20 years, and a 75-minute slab that demands to be listened to in one sitting, the songs flowing one into the other. Some people won’t like this—the fake drums, the dreaded 16th notes—and some fans have said it hasn’t worn well since release. But I still like it. RIYL: Todd Rundgren, Philly soul, computers.

4. The Silos, When the Telephone Rings.
A bunch of my favorite bands made albums this year, and most all of them were very good. This is the best Silos record since the classic Cuba, with Amy Allison on vocals and Mary Rowell on violin back in the fold. Alt.country (whatever that is) of the absolute highest caliber. Several great songs, including the title track, “The Only Love,” and “Dumbest On Parade.” After two albums that deviated from the formula, this one is right back in Walter’s sweet spot. RIYL: The Silos Cuba; Los Lobos, alt.country where quality songwriting trumps barroom bravado.

5. Tan Sleeve, Bad From Both Sides. Steve and Lane, who some might remember from the obscure, lamented 80s archetypal power pop band the Wind, are back together in this delightful and underappreciated (under-marketed?) band. Ok, sure, I went to summer camp with Lane, so maybe I’m less than objective. But this is just redolent of the four Bs—Beach Boys, Big Star, Beatles, Bacharach. Steve’s songs are the more wistful, Lane’s the more biting, but both can do both. Delightful power pop of the highest order. This record will be over before you know it, which is to say, you might just want to hit play and hear it all over again. A much better sign than if you find yourself looking at your watch 5 songs in (as I did with Springsteen's The Rising.) RIYL: Big Star, Beatles, Beach Boys, Later XTC, early Stones.

6. BoDeans, Resolution.
A return to form—hell, a return, period—from the BoDeans, an earnest roots rock combo who haven’t put out an album since 1996. Too long to wait. Essentially a vehicle for Kurt Neimann and Sammy Llanas, the band shines brightest when the one wraps his voice around the other one’s songs. I like the first 4 or 5 songs, and “617.” RIYL: Indigo Girls, E Street Band, U2, Everly Brothers.

7. Chris Stamey, Travels in the South. It sounds like a Chris Stamey record, which is good enough for me. There is a Beach Boys influence which he grudgingly concedes hearing. A great summertime record, light and airy. RIYL: picks #1, 3, or 5 above.

8. Jonathan Rundman, Public Library.
Almost another Silos entry, as Walter Salas-Humara produces, and the Silos are Rundman’s backing band (Drew and Conrad, the rhythm section, but not Walter). But Rundman is a player in his own right. From my Amazon review: “The thing that makes this record so good is the song writing. Rundman's songs are simple and direct, yet full of profound word play; the beauty of the song form is that you can embellish words by their use within the melody. Ideally there is a synergy between the two. On paper the lyrics ‘I'm a librarian’ may seem hopelessly flat; but when Rundman lays into them here, emphasizes them, makes them anthemic, it is a sort of poetry. I almost said a poetry for the ear-- but all poetry is for the ear. And ‘Librarian,’ of course, is one of the album's key tracks.” RIYL: The Silos, Walter Salas-Humara, the great roots rock revival of the mid-80s..

9. Jill Sobule, Underdog Victorious. As a fan it is difficult to be objective—especially knowing all the songs (some in altered versions) before the album is out (and I still can’t believe she left off “Perry Street”…) Sobule’s happiest record ever, with both “Jet Pack” and “Cinnamon Park,” but there are the requisite tear-jerkers as well. Several recurring themes weave in and out and around each other on this album, but one of the strongest is an almost wistful nostalgia for the 70s. The joyous “Cinnamon Park” is set then, as is “Strawberry Gloss,” which is steeped in sweet adolescent pain; The title track is essentially Jill’s own take on “All the Young Dudes;” and “Last Line” is a great piece of song craft about a quintessential co-dependent 70s couple. Her writing continues to improve; live, very few can command a room with just voice and guitar like Jill can. I’m still waiting for a studio album that is as captivating as her live work, but the playful production here makes this one come close. And Artemis gave it a nice push. RIYL: Brains, poignancy, humor, charm.

10. David Grahame, Eric. More power pop. As my wife aptly said, “It sounds like the Beatles if the Beatles were still recording.” The Beatles influence isn’t that overt, but these are wispy, tuneful, gems of songs that sound like they exist out of time. You buy this directly from Grahame, who can probably be Googled via Dog Turner records. RIYL: picks #1, 3, 5, or 7 above.

11. Bjork, Medulla. I wasn’t sure what to do with this one. It is possible that this is a brilliant album and over time becomes the best of the lot. Or it could wear like a novelty and sink from my consciousness without a trace. At first listen it reminds of Todd Rundgren’s 1985 A Capella, because both albums are made with virtually every sound coming from the human voice. I have no context for Bjork—this is the only album of hers I know— but it is haunting and mysterious and other-worldly, and it doesn’t sound like anything else I heard all year (although if I were hipper, that might not be the case.) Full of breathy, oddly-textured vocal arrangements that aren’t quite singing. Hell, most of it isn’t close to singing. RIYL: Warm music that sounds cold (a la Madonna’s Ray of light); checking out some weird shit every once in a while.

12. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose. Another one for which I have no context. Even though I’m not a White Stripes fan (or detractor either; I’ve never checked them out), no question Jack White’s presence all over this record (producer, guitar, even vocal partner) put it on my radar screen. This is what country music is supposed to sound like, and once did—authentic, from the hills, worldly wise, and a little scary. And for all I know its her worst in years. Shame on me. Anyway, everyone I play this for—13-year-old kids, my mom—can dig it. It’s the first time Lynn wrote everything on the album, and there is a hint of lingering sorrow here, perhaps owing to the death of her husband in 1996 (Think, "I caint, Dew, I caint.”) If Lynn and White have one thing in common, it is that both are totally real, and that shines through here. RIYL: Coal Miner’s Daughter; chicken-fried steak, real country music.

13. Los Lobos, The Ride: Album and tour represent a year-long celebration of 30 years of this great band from East LA. They bring on the guests like it’s the Grammys, and revisit a number of their own old favorites in the process. The companion EP, Ride This, where they cover some of the artists helping out (Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, The Blasters) should be seen as part 2 of a single work. A great record, but like a number of artists on this list, this is a band best served live, which is causing a number of albums to slip a few slots. Mature, adult, multi-cultural rock’n’roll. RIYL: As with all Los Lobos records that are mostly in English, this is RIYL rock’n’roll.

14. Gov’t Mule, Déjà Voodoo. Another case in point. Warren Haynes and Matt Abts, after the series of “Deep End” projects involving rotating bassists and line-ups, have picked up where they left off on Life Before Insanity as a 4-piece, with Andy Hess (bass; Black Crowes) and Danny Louis (keys; long-time Haynes crony) joining as a foursome. The album is an unabashed triumph in that Haynes manages to take the songwriting growth he’s undergone the past few years, and the traditional “whomp” of the Mule, and fuse them together into a logical and seamless whole. This is a long and major work, one you can play loud and get lost in, and the songs will form a good part of the nucleus of their stage show for some time. There’s the rub, though. I take future play into account on these rankings, and I know full well that when I want to hear these songs, I am more apt to go to one of the CD-quality Mule Tracks live concert recordings that I bought and downloaded from the band. I think so far my favorite of these is Halloween, and my favorite moment is from the Nashville show on 10/20/04, where Jack Pearson sits in and joins Warren on the 2-guitar showcase “Sco-Mule” (which you can preview at the Mule Merchandise site.) RIYL: Cream, Vanilla Fudge, the Allman Brothers

15. The Finn Brother, Everyone is Here. Finn albums—by Neil, by Tim, by the duo, or most famously by Crowded House—either grab me right off, or they never do. This one did (whereas the popular Neil Finn outing One Nil did not). It is my personal favorite Finn Brothers-related project since Woodface, which was the one Crowded House album where Tim joined brother Neil’s band. This one has a smooth, flowing melodic feel to it. Still relatively new, I expect it will reward repeated listening, always the hallmark of a good album. RIYL: Woodface.

16. Prince, Musicology. Not the return to form some have called it—Rainbow Children and his solo-piano club release One Night Alone were both better—but a solid album to tour behind in what was basically a year-long celebration of his induction into the rock Hall of Fame, and of the concept of actual musicians playing actual instruments and doing actual live singing. The tour blew away audiences all over the world, although the smaller One Night Alone tour documented on the 2002 live album of the same name was probably more rewarding for the true fan. Here we have Prince channeling his muse through the sound machine that made his biggest hits, resulting in an album that is not packed with hits, but reminds you of ones that are. And you know, I thought Parade was a dreadful let-down when it came out, and now I think it is a stone cold classic. So time will tell. RIYL: Old school Prince. But make sure you have the old school Prince stuff first.

17. Joss Stone, Mind, Body & Soul.
Remarkably, this new Aretha-voice lives inside the head of a 17-year-old British white girl. She could probably win bar bets. The arrangements are old school, Stone’s voice providing just the right combination of soul and grit. This was one of those albums I “bought for my wife.” And then wouldn’t let her keep it in her car. One day in the not-too-distant future this woman is going to make a truly great record. You’ll know it because it will be the one that doesn’t sell. RIYL: Slow jams soul.

18. Ani DiFranco, Educated Guess. After a seven-year stint with a tight band, first a 4-piece, then a 6-piece as she added a horn section, Ani completed the skin-shedding trilogy with, fittingly, 2003’s Evolve. Educated Guess is the beginning of a new phase, a one woman and guitar phase, and not the first time she’s been there. Ordinarily Ani albums rate more highly on my lists, but I found this one to be a disjointed listen. Evolve is growing in my esteem in the almost 2 years since its been out; this one seems stalled. Frankly, I find her political expressions far more effective when they are less overt, when they are the politics of the personal (e.g., “Letter to a John” from Out of Range.) Good folk protest music is about one hungry family, not the president’s economic policy (see Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.) But remember, this IS an Ani album, and that means we’re grading on a steep curve. RIYL: Dennis Kucinich, the environment, poetry, rhythmically challenging folk music.

19. Paul Westerberg, Folker. I’ve been trying for years to appreciate the Replacements and Westerberg’s subsequent solo output. I have been wholly unsuccessful. Until last year’s Dead Man Shake—that one sounded like the Stones playing the blues without rehearsing, and with Ryan Adams fronting. (Yes, I know about the Westerberg/Adams celebrity feud.) That I liked. Folker isn’t exactly more of the same, but maybe now that the last one has opened up my ears this one is hitting the pocket. I love the first song, “Jingle” (“This is my jingle, this is my single, buy it now, buy it now.”) Loose, sloppy in the way critics use “sloppy” when describing the Faces (which is to say, drunk-sounding.) RIYL: The Stones.

20. Robert Fripp and Brian Eno, the Equatorial Stars. Instrumental, ambient, an update on their mid-70s collaboration with newer technology. This is background music for when you want to give your brain something to do; “Here brain, go listen to this while I try to catch some shut-eye.” I listen to it on planes sometimes. Each artist breaks out his usual array of sonic gimmicks, but the trick is they both play wholly devoid of ego and with a full understanding of how to deploy technologies in the service of making music. It’s like you hear them dueling over who’s there least. The result is captivating music that breathes gently with you under a starry sky. RIYL: Naps.

21. Derek Trucks Band, Live at the Georgia Theater. This saw limited release—through iTunes, direct from Sony, and I gather at shows. Oddly, while Trucks is one of the most exciting and incendiary guitarists around today, I put this so low because I’m finding that it isn’t one of the first Derek shows I go to from the past two years when I have a hankering for that sweet tone. This is a fine starting point for the fan interested in hearing a live show without embarking into trader culture, though. I wish it had “Afro-Blue,” “Naima,” or both. RIYL: Duane Allman, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana.

22. U2, How to Dismantle an Atom Bomb. The first few times through, I was calling this “stuck in an album that you can’t get out of.” Much-lauded, but it just didn’t grab me. While I was never a fan of “ironic” 90s U2, I did miss the Eno/Lanois team here. The buzz is that this is a guitar record and harkens back to their very earliest stuff. Well, it can’t touch Boy, and I’m not even sure it’s as good as the last one, which I liked quite a bit. But un-ironic U2 is good enough for me, and maybe if it had come out earlier I’d have had a chance to live with it more. Still, my lack of particular desire to do so says something, which is why it’s way down here. RIYL: early U2. Say, War.

23. Patti Griffin, Impossible Dream. A present from my brother, and I’m not an easy guy to buy an album for. Graceful, part country, part “Lillith Fair,” a very pretty album that I’m probably underrating. It will probably wear well for years to come. RIYL: the less cloying part of the Lillith Fair spectrum.

24. Wilson Phillips, California. Hard to believe I’m rating this band’s covers album (all familiar 60s and 70s songs about or associated with California) and not k.d. lang’s album of covers of Canadian artists. But while lang’s is a fine, “serious” listen, this one is fun, fun, fun till your daddy takes the T-Bird away. A great summer-in-the-car record. RIYL: old songs you recognize.

25. Hall & Oates, Our Kind of Soul. And speaking of covers albums, here Hall and Oates spend most of the CD covering the songs that inspired them—“Ooh Child” (they actually met at a Five Stairsteps concert), “I’ll Be Around,” “Neither One of Us.” The originals fit in seamlessly, but make no mistake, it is the covers—some done faithfully, some re-interpreted, but all sounding like Hall & Oates—that make this record fun. RIYL: Philly soul; “Betcha By Golly Wow” (even though it isn’t here.)

Also noted: The Indigo Girls album All That We Let In has its stellar moments but I found it to be a let-down after the high of Become You; David Byrne’s Grown Backwards could have cracked the list; Dave Alvin’s Ashgrove is a rockin’ good time; Cloud Eleven’s Terrestrial Ballet is more great sunshine power pop from Rick Gallego, a generous odds-and-sods collection which you’d see above if it had been a new Cloud 11 release; Green Day’s American Idiot drew raves as a punk rock opera, and so I checked it out, and it just sounds like punk rock to me, which I never much cared for; Matthew Sweet’s Living Things is the usual gorgeous Matthew Sweet album, and maybe with time it will emerge a favorite; as I said, I spent some good times with k.d. lang’s Hymns of the Forty-Ninth Parallel; as good as Smile is, that’s how forgettable Brian Wilson’s other solo album, Getting In Over My Head, is; all I can say about Wilco’s Ghost is, I still just do not “get” this band; Vinyl Candy and Cliff Hillis both put out fine power pop sets; Clapton’s Me and Mr. Johnson is a nice blues set; John Fogerty’s Déjà vu All Over Again just didn’t stick to my ribs like he usually does; and Elvis Costello’s The Delivery Man didn’t deliver, save for the Lucinda Williams duet. Oh, and Marianne Pillsbury’s The Wrong Marianne is a sexy, poppy, funny blast, a cross between the Go-Gos and the first Liz Phair.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 11:29 AM  1 comments

Its been simply AGES! And how are YOU?
Friday, December 17, 2004
This is probably the longest I've gone without an entry, and I feel just horrible. Well, OK, not really. I guess its just that time of year-- Christmas parties, shopping. Of course, I haven't been to any parties or done any shopping. But still...

Item: Bernie Kerik, segueing into rambling. I thought I liked the guy, mainly because the two biggest knocks on him were not political enough and not bureaucratic enough. But boy, everything I've heard about him since his nomination-- including first hand from NYC cops and firemen-- has been pretty negative. Oh well... I note that he was recommended by Giulliani, who I thought was a logical candidate for the job himself. Kerik works, I believe, at Rudy G's company. If Rudy thinks a subordinate should get the Homeland Security gig-- a job that reports to the president-- it kind of suggests that he sees himself as on the presidential level. Personally I could never stand the guy (he was my mayor for 8 years). But my wife says he'll never run for public office, owing to the cancer, and my friend Ira says he'll never run owing to all the wives and the cheating. Anyway, I don't see him beating McCain in the 2008 Republican primary. And maybe I'm just a sap who is taken in by world class spin and manipulation, but I can't help but like McCain, and if he gets the Rep nomination in '08 I will vote for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time. Of course its a long ways off. But you gotta love his digs at Rummy. He strikes me as the only national politician who tells the truth; even when he isn't telling the truth, he makes such a face you know he isn't happy about it.

Gin Rummy. So Rumsfeld says that bit about going to war with the army you have, and suddenly everyone wants his head. I was once a fan (I watched CNN constantly after 9/11, and his press conferences always contained a line or 2 that made me laugh out loud.) Now, not so much. But isn't it disingenuous for the press to make such a fuss about his comment, while neglecting to air the STANDING OVATION he got from the troops for his answer? I think he's mishandled Iraq badly-- you DO get to wait for the army you want when the war is a discretionary one, and anyone paying even a little attention to the region's recent history saw the insurgency coming. But should he resign over this? No way. If abject incompetence isn't a reason to resign, surely a straight answer that gets a standing O from the troops isn't a reason either. Personally I think he and Bush deserve each other.

But spare me the bojive that this proves a liberal media bias. The media has one bias, and that is for events with a strong narrative component. (That's my way of using different words to say, they like a good story.) No one in the "liberal" media had any problem playing pile on the president over the Lewinsky affair. And if someone somewhere snatches a pretty young blond child, or goes and kills his pretty young wife, sudden;y Rummy is yesterday's news faster than you can say Larry King. Politically, the media likes the eternal drama of rise, fall, redemption. So they love Bama (rise); pile on Rumsfeld (fall); and have embraced revisionist history with respect to Carter, Nixon, and Clinton (redemption.) Actually their attitude toward Dubya is a good example of the redemption angle; doesn't matter he was a lazy drunken failure his whole career pre-Texas governor; he found Jesus, and that is text book redemption (especially if your text is the bible.)

Item: The end of the year. This means that soon, readers of APW will be treated to an early look at my outrageously popular top-20 album list for 2004. Watch this space; it'll be up before Christmas, and here before anywhere else. See if you can guess some of the albums that will make the list based on what I've written before. Hint: I'm virtually sure the BoDeans, Tan Sleeve, Smile, Silos, Jonathan Rundman, Jill Sobule, and Chris Stamey will be on there. That's 7 slots before I even dig. But I found this to be a surprisingly good year for music, and I'm actually still wading through stuff. Like the new U2; universally lauded, but the phrase that sticks in my mind is, "Stuck in an album that you can't get out of." And I bought the new Green Day, which everyone is raving about, but its just punk to me, and I don't care for punk. And the Prince album hasn't had legs with me, although the concert was outstanding. And I don't know what to do about, say, the Instant Live recording of the September 25 Allman Brothers show, made available via Clear Channel (and later by the Allmans web site) immediately after the show. Should I count things like this as albums? It was commercially released (I bought it legally), and if I do count it as an album-- it is a better live album than the one they officially and more broadly put out-- I could have 5 or more live concerts on my top-20 list. Stil pondering that one. I mean, I liked the new Gov't Mule album (and Warren Haynes really seemed to enjoy my explanation of why when we spoke about it in Atlanta), but you can buy and download shows of their fall tour online, and if I want to hear these new songs, I listen to the concerts. So what to do?

By the by, I have an article in the next edition of the Allman Brothers magazine Hittin' the Note, covering their 3-show Fox run. Not sure when its out, but after it is I'll be happy to send my (unedited) version to anyone who wants to read it. Look for it in Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Tower.

There is an album that came out in 2003, alas, that I'm touting. (I say alas because if it was an '04, it would make my list.) Donna Hopkins Band, Free to Go. Biting blues rock, sounds like if Bonnie Raitt fronted Gov't Mule.

Item: Maureen Dowd. Liberal commentator for the NY Times. I think she's really hot. I'd like her to have at my policy wonk.

Posted by: --josh-- @ 11:41 AM  0 comments

Battlefield Earth: Why You Should Be Just a Teensy Bit Worried About the Religious RIght
Sunday, December 05, 2004
My favorite quote from Moyers: "When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind."

I will continue to believe that religion is one of the most dangerous forces on this planet.


By Bill Moyers, AlterNet
Posted on December 4, 2004, Printed on December 5, 2004

This week the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School presented its fourth annual Global Environment Citizen Award to Bill Moyers. In presenting the award, Meryl Streep, a member of the Center board, said, "Through resourceful, intrepid reportage and perceptive voices from the forward edge of the debate, Moyers has examined an environment under siege with the aim of engaging citizens."

Following is the text of Bill Moyers' response to Ms. Streep's
pesentation of the award.

I accept this award on behalf of all the people behind the camera whom you never see. And for all those scientists, advocates, activists, and just plain citizens whose stories we have covered in reporting on how environmental change affects our daily lives. We journalists are simply beachcombers on the shores of other people's knowledge, other people's experience, and other people's wisdom. We tell their stories.

The journalist who truly deserves this award is my friend, Bill McKibben. He enjoys the most conspicuous place in my own pantheon of journalistic heroes for his pioneer work in writing about the environment. His bestseller The End of Nature carried on where Rachel Carson's Silent Spring left off.

Writing in Mother Jones recently, Bill described how the problems we journalists routinely cover – conventional, manageable programs like budget shortfalls and pollution – may be about to convert to chaotic, unpredictable, unmanageable situations. The most unmanageable of all, he writes, could be the accelerating deterioration of the environment, crating perils with huge momentum like the greenhouse effect that is causing the melt of the artic to release so much freshwater into the North Atlantic that even the Pentagon is growing alarmed that a weakening gulf stream could yield abrupt and overwhelming changes, the kind of changes that could radically alter civilizations.

That's one challenge we journalists face – how to tell such a story without coming across as Cassandras, without turning off the people we most want to understand what's happening, who must act on what they read and hear.

Asdifficult as it is, however, for journalists to fashion a readable narrative for complex issues without depressing our readers and viewers, there is an even harder challenge – to pierce the ideology that governs official policy today. One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the oval office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters an politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.

Remember James Watt, President Reagan's first Secretary of the Interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the ever engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, "after
the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he was talking about. But James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots out across the country. They are the people who believe the bible is
literally true – one-third of the American electorate, if a recent Gallup poll is accurate. In this past election several million good and decent citizens went to the polls believing in the rapture index.

That's right – the rapture index. Google it and you will find that the best-selling books in America today are the twelve volumes of the left-behind series written by the Christian fundamentalist and religious right warrior, Timothy LaHaye. These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the 19th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove
them into a narrative that has captivated the imagination of millions of Americans.

Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre (the British writer George Monbiot recently did a brilliant dissection of it and I am indebted to him for adding to my own understanding): once Israel has occupied the rest of its "biblical lands," legions of the anti-Christ will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the messiah will return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to heaven, where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts, and frogs during the several years of tribulation that follow.

I'm not making this up. Like Monbiot, I've read the literature. I've reported on these people, following some of them from Texas to the West Bank. They are sincere, serious, and polite as they tell you they feel called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That's why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and
volunteers. It's why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelations where four angels 'which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of man.' A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed – an essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The last time I Googled it, the rapture index stood at 144 – just one point below the critical threshold when the whole thing will blow, the son of god will return, the righteous will enter heaven, and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire.

So what does this mean for public policy and the environment? Go to Grist to read a remarkable work of reporting by the journalist, Glenn Scherer - 'the road to environmental apocalypse. Read it and you will see how millions of Christian fundamentalists may believe that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed – even hastened – as a sign of the coming apocalypse.

AsGrist makes clear, we're not talking about a handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half the U.S. Congress before the recent election – 231 legislators in total – more since the election – are backed by the religious right. Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian right
advocacy groups. They include Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Conference Chair Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Policy Chair Jon Kyl of Arizona, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and Majority Whip Roy Blunt. The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian coalition was Senator Zell Miller of Georgia, who recently quoted from the biblical book of Amos on the senate floor: "the days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land." he seemed to be relishing the thought.

And why not? There's a constituency for it. A 2002 TIME/CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the book of Revelations are going to come true. Nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the 9/11 attacks. Drive across the country with your radio tuned to the more than 1,600 Christian radio stations or in the motel turn some of the 250 Christian TV stations and you can hear some of this end-time gospel. And you will come to understand why
people under the spell of such potent prophecies cannot be expected, as Grist puts it, "to worry about the environment. Why care about the earth when the droughts, floods, famine and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of the apocalypse foretold in the bible?

Why care about global climate change when you and yours will be rescued in the rapture? And why care about converting from oil to solar when the same god who performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few billion barrels of light crude with a word?"

Because these people believe that until Christ does return, the lord will provide. One of their texts is a high school history book, America's providential history. You'll find there these words: "the secular or socialist has a limited resource mentality and views the world as a pie... that needs to be cut up so everyone can get a piece." However, "[t]he Christian knows that the potential in god is unlimited and that there is no shortage of resources in god's earth... while many secularists view the world as overpopulated, Christians know that god has made the earth sufficiently large with plenty of resources to accommodate all of the people." No wonder Karl Rove goes around the White House whistling that militant hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers." He turned out millions of the foot soldiers on November 2, including
many who have made the apocalypse a powerful driving force in modern
American politics.

I can see in the look on your faces just how had it is for the journalist to report a story like this with any credibility. So let me put it on a personal level. I myself don't know how to be in this world without expecting a confident future and getting up every morning to do what I can to bring it about. So I have always been an optimist. Now, however, I think of my friend on Wall Street whom I once asked: "What
do you think of the market?" "I'm optimistic," he answered. "Then why do you look so worried?" And he answered: "Because I am not sure my optimism is justified."

I'm not, either. Once upon a time I agreed with the Eric Chivian and the Center for Health and the Global Environment that people will protect the natural environment when they realize its importance to their health and to the health and lives of their children. Now I am not so sure. It's not that I don't want to believe that – it's just that I read the news and connect the dots:

I read that the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declared the election a mandate for President Bush on the environment. This for an administration that wants to rewrite the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act protecting rare plant and animal species and their habitats, as well as the National Environmental Policy Act that requires the government to judge beforehand if actions might damage natural resources.

That wants to relax pollution limits for ozone; eliminate vehicle tailpipe inspections; and ease pollution standards for cars, sports utility vehicles and diesel-powered big trucks and heavy equipment.

That wants a new international audit law to allow corporations to keep certain information about environmental problems secret from the public.

Tht wants to drop all its new-source review suits against polluting coal-fired power plans and weaken consent decrees reached earlier with coal companies.

That wants to open the artic wildlife refuge to drilling and increase drilling in Padre Island National Seashore, the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world and the last great coastal wild land in America.

I read the news just this week and learned how the Environmental Protection Agency had planned to spend nine million dollars - $2 million of it from the administration's friends at the American Chemistry Council - to pay poor families to continue to use pesticides in their homes. These pesticides have been linked to neurological damage in children, but instead of ordering an end to their use, the government and the industry were going to offer the families $970 each, as well as a camcorder and children's clothing, to serve as guinea pigs for the study.

I read all this in the news.

I read the news just last night and learned that the administration's friends at the international policy network, which is supported by Exxon Mobil and others of like mind, have issued a new report that climate change is "a myth, sea levels are not rising," scientists who believe catastrophe is possible are "an embarrassment."

I not only read the news but the fine print of the recent appropriations bill passed by Congress, with the obscure (and obscene) riders attached to it: a clause removing all endangered species protections from pesticides; language prohibiting judicial review for a forest in Oregon; a waiver of environmental review for grazing permits on public lands; a rider pressed by developers to weaken protection for crucial habitats in California.

I read all this and look up at the pictures on my desk, next to the computer – pictures of my grandchildren: Henry, age 12; of Thomas, age 10; of Nancy, 7; Jassie, 3; Sara Jane, nine months. I see the future looking back at me from those photographs and I say, "Father, forgive us, for we know now what we do." And then I am stopped short by the thought: "That's not right. We do know what we are doing. We are
stealing their future. Betraying their trust. Despoiling their world."

And I ask myself: Why? Is it because we don't care? Because we are greedy? Because we have lost our capacity for outrage, our ability to sustain indignation at injustice?

What has happened to out moral imagination?

On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: 'How do you see the world?" And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: "I see it feelingly.'"

I see it feelingly.

The news is not good these days. I can tell you, though, that as a journalist I know the news is never the end of the story. The news can be the truth that sets us free – not only to feel but to fight for the future we want. And the will to fight is the antidote to despair, the cure for cynicism, and the answer to those faces looking back at me from those photographs on my desk. What we need to match the science of
human health is what the ancient Israelites called "hocma" – the science of the heart... the capacity to see... to feel... and then to act... as if the future depended on you.

Believe me, it does.

© 2004 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

Posted by: --josh-- @ 1:10 PM  0 comments

New Homeland Security Nomination
Friday, December 03, 2004
Well, turns out Bush nominated Bernard Kerik, former NYC police commissioner under Giulliani on 9/11. While I still think the job is a bullshit job (and if they put out duct tape that was color-coded to match the alert levels, you'd have all of Ridge's contributions to American life summed up in one fell swoop), Kerik's a good choice. The early criticisms of him-- that he isn't a politician; that he doesn't have experience with a bureaucracy-- aren''t critisms in my book, they are attributes.

But again, I'm from the school that thinks it is the role of the military to protect the homeland. Although I guess the new role of the military is to invade Islamic countries and bless them with democracy. I'm loving this-- Buh insisats that the Iraqi elections be held as planned January 30 and not be postponed. Um, if we're so supportive of Iraqi self-government, shouldn't that be their decision, not ours?


Posted by: --josh-- @ 1:42 PM  0 comments

Thursday, December 02, 2004
Been a while siince I've checked in with you all. In the interim, several people-- including some very nice Republicans-- have suggested to me that I am too worried about the Religious Right. I hope they are correct. But what I keep coming back to with respect to the Religious Right is how effective they are at playing the political game-- mobilizing, getting out the message, getting out the vote, just good old fashioned grass roots politics. What I'm told is that they don't represent the mainstream of the Republican party, and that there are built-in checks against going too far in either direction.

That puts me on my high horse about the essential problem with politics, which is that it is uni-dimensional-- one axis, left to right. Which is why I've supported the idea of a third party since I've been old enough to vote (of course the fact that in my first presidential election my then-favorite musician, Todd Rundgren, toured for John Anderson may have been something of an influence in that regard...)

Quick note on the opposition to Condi Rice as Secretary of State. It is foolish; get over it. She's already National Security Advisor, and can have any role in statesmanship the president chooses to write into her job description. So just drop it and confirm her.

I see where Tom Ridge stepped down. I wonder if they give that gig to Giulliani? I think it would be a mistake. We associate RUdy with terrorist response, but he demonstrated no aptirude for PREVENTING terrorism, for making us safer. Even his greatest supporters (and I do not number among these) would have to concede that he jumped into action AFTER the damage was done. He was equally adept at mobilizing to remove the snow after a major storm; that doesn't mean he can keep it from snowing. Of course I don't know who would be good at this silly job (duct tape and color-coded alerts, anyone?) And I still don't understand why Homeland Security isn't the job of the Armed Forces.

So back to music.

It is almost time for my annual year-end top-20 album countdown, and APW readers will be the first treated to this anxiously-awaited piece of rock writing. For me it was a great year for new music, and while there are many albums that are a lock for my top-20, there are some late entries (e.g., U2) that I haven't even had a chance to digest yet. I think for the first time, I will have some real trouble winnowing down to 20.

Right now I'm llistening to the latest Hall & Oates, on which they tackle a slew of 70's soul standards. A natural move for them; its something of a slight album, but like WIlson Phillips' all-covers California earlier this year, a guilty pleasure. "I'll Be Around," "Used to Be My Girl," "Neither One of Us"-- fun stuff, although I doubt it cracks the top-20.

Saw the Silos last Monday; they played the Living Room every Monday in November, and if I wasn't a new father I'd have gone to all of them. (Wuss that I am, I'd rather be home with the baby listening to her gurgle than at some not-smoky club.) Walter Salas-Humara and company kind of lost me a little on the last album, Laser Beam Next Door, too heavy for the refined and heartfelt songwriting that makes his (and their) work so special. But as I've said here, the new album is a triumphant return to form. This show featured the core Silos trio, a friend on keys, another on guitar, for a full rich sound in a tiny room. Nothing from Laser Beam; the set list for anyone interested. Way too short:

A Picture of Helen
When the Telephone Rings*
Start the Clock >
Change the Locks
Only Love*
Dumbest On Parade*
Tenessee Fire

*off the new album, which will make the top-20.

This was classic Silos at their best. After, when I asked Walter to sign my CD, he apologized for forgetting my name. I was thinking, hey, I'm thrilled you remembered we'd met. And he had good things to say about the time he spent making Public Library with Jonathan Rundman, a sleeper album of 2004.

The Monday prior I saw my girl Jill Sobule at XL, the "it" gay bar in Manhattan. Yes, I ended up on stage with Jill for "Cinnamon Park." And no, no one hit on me. Well, it IS nice to be asked... She'll be at Joe's Pub for 2 shows December 28, and these gigs are highly recommended. Jill promises to unveil some of the new songs she's written since the election. Like me, she's a member of the northeastern Jewish liberal elite.

Posted by: --josh-- @ 11:23 AM  0 comments

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