I'm looking for someone who understands politics and the law better than me, to explain away what I'm finding to be quite the puzzlement. Obviously, there's something here I'm missing, right? And that's where I'm hoping you, dear reader, come in.
I mean, to wit:
--Bush has a secret program to have the NSA spy on Americans domestically, without a court order. This is revealed by the NY Times. Obviously a hand-in-the-cookie-jar moment, and arguably quite illegal.
--So the justice department launches an investigation into who exposed the spying to the media, while the administration basically accuses the leaker of treason. By implication the NY Times is little better, having aided and abetted treasonists (free press, as has become usual, notwithstanding.)
--New for '06, the administration will now be applying pressure to journalists, punishing those who break stories unfavorable to said administration by forcing them to (a) reveal sources, or (b) go to jail. Because, you know, when reporters print the truth, the terrorists win.
--Bush actually says of the leak perpetrator, direct quote, "My personal opinion is, it was a shameful act, for someone to disclose this very important program, in a time of war."
In a time of war. Such gravitas. Only... only... only it ISN'T wartime. There was no declaration of war, we are not AT war. Now granted, we are in an ongoing occupation of the country we invaded. But invasion and occupation isn't being at war, and besides, we all know Bush doesn't mean to imply that we are at war with Iraq. Indeed on CNN, where I saw him say this, the reporter led into the story by referencing the "war on terror." Trent Duffy, White House Deputy Press Secretary, released a statement about the matter talking about how, hey, Al Qaeda's playbook isn't on page one, so obviously the "war" Bush thinks we are at is with Al Qaeda (or, as he likes to call them after he's put on his Darth Vader pajamas, the "doers of evil.")
There. I don't think I'm leaving anything out.
So what I've got is this: a president breaking the law; blaming the guy who caught him breaking the law; criminlaizing the conduct of catching him breaking the law; and, waving away any suggestion that his own behavior was illegal with the caveat that we are at war. Only, oh yeah, we're NOT actually at war, which I have to figure cinches the deal that said behavior is indeed therefore illegal.
But no one seems to be calling for an investigation into the president's behavoir, which would obviously follow from all this. So then surely, I must have this wrong, must be leaving something out. Can anybody help me get a handle on all this?
Labels: The politics
I've long ago given up the conceit that these are the best of the year, or that they somehow reflect what music sounded like this year. Mainly the list reflects the tastes of a young-at-heart middle-aged guy who didn't like 80s synth pop the first time around, and certainly has no interest in its revival (Franz Ferdinand, I'm looking at you); and, who has little patience for two-person bands with no bass player (Jack White, I'm looking at you.) Indeed very little on this list sounds like the year in which it was recorded, because over time I've come to accept that I generally dislike music that sounds like the year in which it was made (exceptions: 1957; 1972.) These are the ones I personally liked, listened to most, and expect to come back to most often over the years.
1. Ryan Adams, Cold Roses
Love the guy. The first (and I think best) of three albums Adams released in 2005; all 3 are on this list. This was one of two with his new (and it turns out changing) band, the Cardinals. Very much inspired by the two acoustic studio masterpieces of the Gratetul Dead, American Beauty and Workingman's Dead, right down to the bear and rose iconography on the cover art. Adams broke his hand in January 2004 and spent the year learning to play guitar again, growing a beard, and listening to the Dead. He came out the other side a changed man, more interested in working with a band and in reworking his songs anew in a live than before. I think this record has the-- I have to quote my wife here-- "the warm familiar ring of every record you loved as a kid." It feels more like a classic to me each listen. I wrote about the album in great detail when it was released, here. RIYL: American Beauty, old Van Morrison records, a little twang with your coffee.
2. Sufjan Stevens, Come on Feel the Illinoise!
Perhaps you've heard that this eccentric, spiritual, leftist folkie is planning to record a whole album about each of the 50 states. He's done Michigan already, and this one, the second in the series, is a sweeping elegaic masterpiece. The eerie and sympathetic "John Wayne Gacy" is a particular highlight. The music isn't Illnois music per se; no sign of Chicago blues. One minute vocals and acoustic guitar, the next synths and glockenspiel and he's channeling Phillip Glass. Yet it all works seamlessly. The kid is a real live "auteur." RIYL: Brian Wilson's Smile, Phillip Glass, "the new folk."
3. Josh Rouse, Nashville
The follow-up to 2003's 1972, a plush, meloncholy slice of pop, heavy on the acoustic guitars and harmonies. Title notwithstanding, there is nothing Nashville-esque about the music here; just very warm, easy-on-the-ears folkish power pop, less power than pop. I was sure in June that this was not as good as 1972; now I'm less sure. My wife, who has a golden ear, loves both of them. RIYL: Emmit Rhodes, Rouse's 1972, Ballad of Todd Rundgren (with a lot less piano).
4. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Jacksonville City Nights
His second of the year, also cut with the Cardinals. Supposedly culled from the same recording sessions as Cold Roses, but whereas Cold Roses was an homage to those two Dead records, this is a country record, lilting pedal steel figuring prominently throughout. Probably the record Adams fans from the Whiskeytown days were waiting for. As with Cold Roses, the reason I like Adams so much is evident here: like all his best work, the record plays to me like old records by the Band, Neil Young, Van Morrison; you could put him in the changer with those artists and not wince when his tunes come up. RIYL: Hank Williams, the high lonesome, Whiskeytown, Cold Roses.
5. Jim Boggia, Safe in Sound
I first discovered Jim Boggia doing a solo set at an afternoon IPO gig in December of 2001, shortly after George Harrison died. He sound checked with an introspective "Long, Long, Long," which I found quite touching, and on the phone discussing what numbers he was to do at an upcoming Harrison tribute, he asked for "Wah-Wah-- the song, not the store." I laughed, and he shrugged and said, "Hey, I'm from Philly." He's a super good guy, he plays a lot with perrenial favorite Jill Sobule, and his first record, Fidelity is the Enemy, was great in a sort of Josh Rouse vein. So good, in fact, that it took me almost all year to hear this one on its own, and not in terms of the first one. Safe in Sound, like everything Boggia does, is comfortable in its own skin and its Beatle references. Lusher, obviously a bigger budget record than Fidelity is the Enemy, full of breezy hummable pop songs featuring Boggia's achingly earnest voice and his exquisite musical sensibilities. Catchy as heck, and it'll grow on ya fer sure. We have met the enemy, and they is us. RIYL: Josh Rouse, Help!, post-surf Beach Boys. Add a point if you're from Philly.
6. Los Super Seven, Heard It on the X
The third album by this rotating cast of Tex-Mex banditos. This time out one of my favorites, Calexico, serves as house band as ten diffrerent vocalists sing lead on 12 different tracks, different styles but all evocative of Tex-Mex border radio (the high-wattage "X" call letter stations south of the border that give the record its title.) Highlights include Joe Ely singing the Bobby Fuller Four classic "Let Her Dance"; John Hiatt on "I'm Not That Kat (Anymore)"; and, Lyle Lovett on "My Window Faces the South." And Freddie Fender is always great (yes, is too.) It shouldn't sound so seamless, shouldn't flow this well (and I'm ALL about the flow.) But it does. RIYL: Tex and/or Mex, Los Lobos, Calexico, your Americana with a little piquante.
7. Son Volt, Okemah and the Melody of Riot
Son Volt is usually twangy, planted firmly in "alt.country," whatever that is. Truth to tell, I'm not really an expert on this band, I only have one other of theirs, and I bought that one for the Ronnie Wood cover tune. After doing a couple of well-received solo records (which I have not heard, not yet anyway), Jay Farrar reformed Son Volt with an all new cast. What grabbed me inside of fifteen seconds on the first song was the sound of the guitars-- evocative in the best possible way of Neil Young and Crazy Horse on songs like "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" and "When You Dance (I Can Really Love)." All humming and simmering and crackling and electric; taut rhythm guitars brushing up against each other and sending sparks flying. Several of the reviews at Amazon-- including both spotlight reviews and my own-- invoke Neil Young; it is difficult not to here. The Okemah in the title is Woody Guthrie's birthplace, and the music is deeply-felt Americana, but Young is more of a touchstone throughout. I could wax on longer, but really, I liked it for the way the guitars sound. So I'll wax off now. RIYL: the way guitars sound, chords, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, the real folk blues.
8. The Rolling Stones, A Bigger Bang
Yeah, I know. What can I tell you? You've probably read that its their best since Tattoo You. I'm still reserving that honor for Voodoo Lounge (or at least, for the oft-bootlegged alternate version of it.) At its best, A Bigger Bang is the Stones doing whatever it is they do, and when they do it well, its ageless. Ageless, like Muddy Waters was ageless singing Hoochie Coochie Man in his 70s. This is a really solid 40-minute album, disguised as a spotty, over-long 64+ minute record; in the vinyl age you'd have gotten just the 10 best songs instead of all 16 , and it would be an everybody's year-end list (Some Girls was 10 songs and 41 minutes.) Try this one without tracks 3, 9, 10, 11, 13, and 14 and see what you have left. RIYL: The Stones.
9. Susan Tedeschi, Hope and Desire
I love a record with a concept (as opposed to a concept album.) Here the concept is, Tedeschi sings but does not play guitar; every song is a brilliantly-chosen cover; and the core band is a group of ace studio pros. Joe Henry produces with great empathy for the artist (he may be producer of the year; he was also responsible for Ani DiFranco's Knuckle Down, and Aimee Mann's The Forgotten Arm.) The result is something that sounds like an old soul classic, like an early-70s Al Green record. Husband Derek Trucks shows up on three songs, his entrance on the Stones cover "You Got the Silver" is unmistakable; he's one of those guitarists that you know immediately by his tone. Clapton's sidekick Doyle Bramhall II is the house guitarist here. My favorite track is Bob Dylan's "Lord Protect My Child," which Ms. T-T sings the hell out of. Some fans have been critical of this release because she doesn't do her own stuff or play guitar; its "only" a cover album. But the thing works, and the next one she'll be fronting her band again on original tunes, so what the hey. This one has the flow mojo going on. RIYL: Otis, Aretha, and Al Green; Bonnie Raitt; Clapton and the Allman Brothers.
10. Neil Young, Prairie Wind
Ryan Adams, Son Volt, even Josh Rouse and Jim Boggia all testify to the enduring impact Neil Young has on-- well , on the records I seem to like. His own this year was a good one; folk-rock in the general vein of Harvest, Comes a Time, Harvest Moon, like that. You imagine him on the tour with the harmonica thing around his neck. His work has been spotty this century-- Greendale was quite good, Are You Passionate, not so much. Here he confronts mortality, and if he's older and mellowed, I still bet on him burning out as opposed to fading away. Even if he is singing about Elvis here ("He was the king") instead of Johnny Rotten. RIYL: Harvest, Comes a Time, oh hell, you know if you'll like this or not.
11. Van Morrison, Magic Time
Nothing special as Van Morrison albums go. Which makes it one of the best of the year. More shaman Celtic soul that goes down as smooth as Tupelo Honey, still. A genre exercize, but the genre is Van Morrison Records, and he makes the best ones. RIYL: any Van Morrison record since 1990.
12. Ryan Adams, 29
And that's the hat trick. Obviously you probably won't like the guy as much as I do; I've got him placing three records in my dozen favorite of 2005, so I must be biased, and I plead guilty. This one is a "solo" record as opposed to the other two, which were band efforts with the Cardinals. The first track is so much a rewrite of the Dead's "Truckin'" that at first I thought it was a cover, but he does it like Paul Westerberg would. The rest of the album is minor key, piano-based, melancholy. My wife, again: "Its sad, but I like it." But hell, check out my spotlight review at Amazon. RIYL: Ryan's Love is Hell; rainy days.
13. Iron and Wine, Woman King
13. Iron and Wine & Calexico, In the Reins
Two EPs that I'm letting share a slot (an EP is like a mini-record; these are each about 25 minutes long and $7.) Iron and Wine is Sam Beam, a folk singer from Florida with a beard and a whispery voice who seems to be quite popular with 20-something women (judging from the crowd at the Calexico/Iron & Wine show I saw at Webster Hall.) Woman King is 6 songs thematically linked by their subject matter (females), highlighted by "Jezebel." Not really long enough to merit inclusion on its own, but certainly good enough; I missed last year's Our Endless Numbered Days, so I'm making amends now. In the Reins is a collaberation between the two acts, and on paper it shouldn't work, but boy does it ever. Hypnotic and beguiling; this and the Los Super Seven will have to last us until the next proper Calexico album. RIYL: American folk music; whispered vocals; organic sounds.
14. Big Star, In Space
Yet another Amazon spotlight review by moi. Much-anticipated by fans of the original band who put out three little-heard records in the 70s (I mean the band put them out, not the fans; although the fans have been puting out records ever since.) that helped define the genre of power pop. Is this a worthy successor to those three discs, part of the collective Rosetta Stone of power pop? Uh, no. No, it is not. What it is, is the record that you'd expect the current version of Big Star to make right now. It sounds more like a solo Alex Chilton record in some places, or like the Posies in others (Posies Auer and Stringfellow join original members Chilton and drummer Jody Stevens), than it does Radio CIty. Turns out that stripped of expectations and baggage, that's pretty good. I call it the dance party record of the year, if your idea of a dance party includes "Cool Jerk." RIYL: solo Chilton; the Posies; the Beach Boys; Memphis soul.
15. Bruce Springsteen, Diamonds and Dust
It is nigh on impossible to be objective about Springsteen's work; he is as close to mythic as anyone. Ponder that; he isn't a celeb, he's mythic; on an imaginary spectrum with Paris Hilton on the left and Paul Bunyon on the right, he's hard right. ("Saw him back in '78... played for four hours... stood eight feet tall...") I did not care for The Rising-- it didn't please my ears, the production sounded thin, the instruments were mushed together, and every time I played it I looked at my watch, which is almost always a bad sign. But this one is a fine solid outing, a durable gritty collection of modern folk songs best compared to Nebraska (but not really) or Ghost of Tom Joad. Others may like it more, but I go for records based on how they sound, as opposed to lyrical content, and this one is heavy on the lyrical content, so much of the charm goes right over my head. Of course the release of the Born to Run anniversary edition places all his post-River work in a dimmer light. (By the way, I should mention that my Sony dual disc won't play on my Sony CD player. What's up with that?) RIYL: Ghost of Tom Joad; Woody Guthrie; everything Springsteen does (in which case you have this already.)
16. Ani DiFranco, Knuckle Down
As much as I love Ani, her studio records since the double Reveling/Reckoning have melted into a sort of amiable sameness. This one sounds nice, with organic timbres and a breathing vibe I attribute partly to Joe Henry's deft production (Ani doesn't generally work with outside producers.) Better, I think, would be to grab one of her official bootlegs for sale at Righteous Babe; especially the duo sets with bassist Todd Sickafoose (try 11/15/04). Ani is still great live, but I want her to make another visceral, concise, bracing record, as opposed to the moody jazzy sweeping stuff she's been doing, which I like, but which just doesn't play to her strengths. Her website describes this as "some of the most inviting music in Ani's career," and I agree-- but I don't want Ani inviting me, I want her in my face. And Ani, I love ya. RIYL: Rikkie Lee Jones; poetry/folk/jazz; cool mint heartbreak.
17. Amos Lee, Amos Lee
Man, did I not want to like this record. Marketed (through Starbucks!) as the male Norah Jones (she even shows up on 2 tracks), dude's on the cover with jazzbo stubble and hepcat hat; had faux cool written all over it. But.. those... damn... songs. Sound byte him as James Taylor meets Philly soul; a very 70s charm but unique in that those two old schools don't generally graduate together. Maybe I'll get lucky and hate his next one. RIYL: Norah Jones; grande no fat lattes; Adam Duritz.
18. Oteil and the Peacemakers, Believe
I could easily have put this one a whole lot higher, and maybe I should have. The record positively drips soul and spirit and faith, but here faith is a groove, not a sermon. Recorded almost entirely live on the first take to capture the spontaneity of a live show, very funky, jazzy, soulful. Jazzy jamband fare, the songs are given time to develop, allowing for the moments that occur when musicians play together in the now to unfold in their own time. And remember, I'm all about the flow. RIYL: the Allman Brothers; Jack Johnson-era Miles; the influences of James Brown and Hendrix; faith.
19. Ike, In Real Life
The second outing from this well-pedigreed Philly Phoursome. Power Pop the way it oughta be, and "Into Philadelphia," the second track, was hands down one of the best songs of the year. Click on that link and check out the tune on MySpace. I go through a lot of Power Pop, and find too much of it to be generic; but these guys are the real deal. RIYL: power pop.
20. Tan Sleeve, American Blood
Honestly, I liked last year's Bad From Both Sides better-- I thought that one flowed better, whereas the songs on this one don't seem to lead into each other; all are fine in their own right but they sounded more like one band last time out. The two political songs that bookend the set-- "American Blood" and "Condoleeza Will Lead Them"-- are rockin' tunes, but they seem a little out of place, as if "American Woman" had appeared on Number One Record. Better, "Baby Took a Good Man Down," a great quirky Lane tune; "The Girls Like the Hits;" and, the epic Steve Barry song "When Lindsey Buckingham Shaved His Beard," an "American Pie" for the next generation which could be sub-titled "The day the music died again." RIYL: Beatles; Beach Boys; Big Star; Bachrach; Big Oil.
People raved about the new McCartney record, but it left me cold. I spent a couple of days with it, then by chance my iPod served up 1976 Wings tune "Beware My Love." When it became abundantly clear that this was the best McCartney song I'd heard in days, I put the new album away. NIgel Goodrich (Radiohead etc.) produced it, and I think that was a mistake; morose ballad after morose ballad without any pay-off, and with Paul McCartney, if the whimsy is missing, what have you got, really?... Beck's Guero was interesting, and I don't want to call it forgettable, but I can't remember a damn song off it... One of these days everything will snap into place and I'll suddenly "get" New Pornographers. I'm really looking forward to that day, because a whole bunch of people who's tastes I really respect love the bejeezus out of them. Maybe I'm just not giving them a fair shake... I liked both Bright Eyes albums (the two studio records that came out in January), but for whatever reason, neither stuck to my ribs as the year wore on, and both fell from the list. I preferred the electronic one, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, but both were betrayed by Oberst's annoying vocal resemblance to Steve Forbert... Ry Cooder's Chavez Ravine was real nice, and in time I may regret its omission here... Andy Mac, who APW readers will remember from his SOD appearance herein, put out a solid self-produced CD of acoustic-guitar-and-harmony-laden power pop. Watch this kid... and I loved the Marianne Pillsburys 3-song EP, which you can download free at their MySpace page, and the Prince cover is especially recommended... Sheryl Crow's Wildflower hit me early but faded; to her credit her goal was to evoke Harvest and All Things Must Pass, and I think she succeeded. SHe might want to consider evoking Tuesday Night Music Club once in a while... She still rates high on my list of people I'd like to spend an afternoon listening to records naked with... The Vinyl Kings record Time Machine sounded like a Beach Boys session at Abbey Road in 1968, and was great fun in the summer...
King Crimson, Ani DiFranco, Gov't Mule, Hall & Oates, and of course my home boys the Allman Brothers all released great live stuff-- "official bootlegs"-- via Instant Live or via download or through their websites. I listened to some of these as much as anything else this year. I could easily have populated a top-20 list with such live releases; said list would have surely included the Allman Brothers from Red Rocks (9/18/05) and Hall & Oates from Jones Beach (8/26/05.)
Labels: The tunes
Since I started writing this column on A Pennys Worth, I've been reading other blogs. (By the way: "blog." Is there any word you people can't turn into a verb?) The so-called blogosphere seems to draw and quarter the human race-- left versus right, Jesus versus the Devil. (God's Tip of the Week: go Devil and take the points.) So, so divisive. Tsk tsk.
Anyway, here's a good article on religion that I found at Bring It On! (Where APW reader and fave Pia writes).
Thou shalt read it.
And then there's this, from one of My favorite books.
Whatever holiday you choose to observe, and even if you observe none, you might want to keep that in mind.
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?
"It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags."
He puzzled for three hours, till his puzzler was sore
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more."
Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good night.
"So what I think is, its a reasonable expectation to have full employment, health care and education for all, decent housing, day care for children from an early age, a reasonably transparent government... Big money in politics is dangerous and anti-democratic. Well, to me these are all conservative ideas."
--As quoted in Mojo Magazine, January 2006, page 95
Labels: The tunes
I'm not a big fan of unions. Of course since my wife happens to belong to one, I should probably remember on which side my bread is buttered. But the way I look at it, monopolies are bad; they drive up price and drive down quality to the consumer. A union is essentially a monopoly on the commodity of labor in an industry. The compensation packages for transit workers should be determined by the free market-- like my compensation is, like I bet your compensation is. If the union is looking to get more money for transit jobs than these jobs would pay on the open market, that is bad for me, bad for the city, and bad for the economy. If you don't like the job, do what ambitious people do and seek different, better-paying work. And if the existing wages paid for transit jobs aren't attracting sufficient talented candidates, the pay must be raised. Free market. Its what makes America great, its what makes our economy work.
This is a city, and indeed a region, that runs on mass transit the way an army runs on its belly. People in Dallas or Atlanta or Los Angeles probably can't relate to this, but if you live in Manhattan, chances are you don't even own a car. I don't even have a driver's license. (My wife does, and we do keep a car, and she drives to work most days. I take the bus or a subway.) Every day the strike goes on, kids are missing school, businesses are losing money. Christmas in New York, for goodness sake; we should be bopping to the jingle of the cash register, not the cursing of the commuter.
Finally, in the wake of 9/11, I am finding this strike to be particularly heinous. That's all I'll say about that.
"There are only two options in the war in Iraq: victory and defeat."
The president's address tonight was more of the same sad blend of miscomprehension, misdirection, and outright lying that we've been subjected to for five years. But let's boil it down to one simple thing.
President Bush reports that we are winning the war in Iraq. The war against the terrorists.
Before president Bush invaded Iraq, there were no terrorists in Iraq. There were Ba'athists in Iraq, the ruling party of Saddam Hussein. But these people were not the terrorists, and they've been long vanquished. That mission was accomplished 21 days after we invaded, and I know that because at the time, Bush told us so. I'm sure you remember; it was in all the papers, and there was an air craft carrier involved.
But make no mistake, there were no Wahhabis, no al Qaeda, no radical fundamentalist Muslims in Iraq. Not until Bush's war turned Iraq into a petrie dish for terrorists.
The president is resolute that we won't stop fighting in Iraq until there are no more terrorists there.
There are only terrorists in Iraq because we are waging war there.
Really, that's all you need to understand.
The people who decry the jingoistic and bullheaded insistence on "victory in Iraq" understand this paradoz. The victory we seek is over an enemy we created by declaring this war in the first place. There is a fundamental fallacy in the logic upon which this war is based, and that fallacy is not going to go away. And if the premise is false, every goal, every objective, every action we take is misguided and doomed to failure.
Juunkies take heroin to keep from getting sick. They get sick because they're hooked on heroin. The only way to kick the addiction is to stop taking the drug. By Bush's logic, the junkie would take more and more heroin, until the sickness abated. Regardless of the fact that the heroin is causing the sickness.
We have a prsident with an Iraqi monkey on his back. It is long past time for an intervention.
Labels: The politics
"Even in the developing world, where I spend lots of time doing my
work," Hodges says, "if you tell them that you're from MIT and you tell them that you do science, it's a big deal. If I go to India and tell them I'm from MIT, it's a big deal. In Thailand, it's a big deal. If I go to Iowa, they could give a rat's ass. And that's a weird thing, that we're moving in that direction as a nation."
And frankly, in the wake of Bush admitting that we went to war based on faulty intelligence, you ought to read our post on the topic from earlier this week. Which is suddenly even more relevant.
Labels: The politics
(God's column appears in this space every Friday.)
First off, I want to wish everyone a Happy Holiday season.
For those of you who think that I, before anyone else, ought to be wishing you a Merry Christmas, let me remind you that the Christians, Jews, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Hindi, and so on are ALL God's people. So Let's not leave anyone out.
Ultimately, of course, all the winter holidays are tied in some way to the notion of the Winter Solstice. In your Roman (solar) calendar, December 21st is the shortest day of the year-- the day when the sun, which had been disappearing a little bit each day since the summer, finally stops receeding and begins its return to prominence. Back when people lived their lives around the things that happened in the sky, this was an event of profound importance. There was a time when people had a legitimate fear that the days would just keep on getting shorter until the world was engulfed in the darkness. The collective memories of those times are burned into the fabric of humanity. And I should know, because I burned it.
If you look carefully in the bible, you will see that the boy was not born in the winter. He was born in early fall, shortly after the harvest, and well before the frost set in. The celebration of the "Christ Mass" was first held on December 25 by the church of Rome (in your fourth century) in order to make Christianity more palatable to the Pagans within the Roman empire, who already celebrated the birth of 'Invincible Sun' Mithras, the conqueror of darkness, on that date.
(Note to Self: send holiday card to Mithras...)
In the northern hemisphere, the time around December 21st has always been an especially sacred time, because the light begins to retake ground against the dark on that day. It is the darkest day of the year, the last day before the light begins to triumph again over dark. Hence the migration of holy days to that season. Even Christmas retains the imprint of the solstice.
As for the so-called "War on Christmas"-- why is it that the ones who presume to speak for Me in the loudest voices always bring the greatest shame unto Me? To act with such arrogance, belligerence, and spite toward other men and women, for no other reason than that they choose to wish you "happy holidays" is, in this season of profound joy and reflection, about as UN-Christlike as you can possibly be. Ignore these false prophets, for they be fools and worse. They speak not for Me.
Regardless of your faith, you all rejoice in the onset on the return of the light, at the time when the days are at their coldest and darkest, but the light continues to shine on, shine in the heavens, and if you know how to feel it, shines deep within each one of you. Hallelujah, peace on earth, good will toward men.
And Happy Holidays from the Man upstairs.
Labels: The politics
Labels: The tunes
Labels: The tunes
OK, fair enough. Today, I’ll even go that far.
But there is a growing trend in the way information, disinformation, PR, spin, the media, and politics converge and interact, and it is a disturbing trend, and Iraq provides a fertile ground (or, if you like, a fertile crescent) for understanding this troubling new dynamic.
In the run-up to the war in 2003, we were assured by the administration of several things:
· That Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to American security;
· That Saddam Hussein provided support, safe harbor, and allegiance to “the terrorists,” which we took to mean Al Qaeda, the Wahhabi fundamentalists, Osama bin Laden, and the 9/11 attackers.
· That Iraq was somehow implicated in the 9/11 attacks.
We understand, now, that none of these things was true. Even the administration is long past contending with any conviction that any of these things were ever true. Now the dialogue has shifted to, “The intelligence was faulty, the decisions were made in good conscience given faulty intel, and now that we’re there, well, Hussein sure was a bad man, and we can’t ‘cut and run.’” (Apparently there is something heinous a priori about “cutting and running.” As opposed to, say, “Dying and killing.”)
When the left enters into the current debate about the quality of the intel, they are, as usual, sadly missing the point. Because entering into this debate at all is conceding that the debate has merit, that we must understand how the administration responds to intel. When in fact they do not respond to intel at all; rather they use intel to sow the seeds of public support for the things they have already decided to do. The intel IS the response.
To place blame for policy on the interpretation of intelligence requires a belief that the intel drives policy decisions. This is a fallacy.
Rather, this administration makes policy decisions in an intelligence vacuum, based on ideology. (The neo-conservative belief that we should invade Iraq, oust Hussein, and install a Western style democracy pre-dates the Bush victory in the 2000 election; a direct consequence of that victory was that the US would act to implement that neo-con world view.)
Once the policy decision is made, then intelligence is sifted until nuggets emerge that support the decision. These nuggets are used—regardless of their veracity—to generate PR, or “spin,” in favor of the policy decision. Intel that feeds the PR machine is hyped, intel that does not is suppressed. So Bush talks about Niger and yellowcake in his state of the union, not because we believed that intel (we did not), not because it dictated our subsequent actions (it did not), but because it helped the spin to deploy public opinion accordingly.
We did not decide to invade Iraq because of some interpretation of the intel. Rather, we elevated or ignored intel based on whether or not it supported our decision to invade Iraq.
We think that the logical sequence should go, (1) collect intelligence; (2) interpret intelligence; (3) formulate action plan based on intelligence; (4) take action. But in practice, the sequence goes, (1) formulate action plan; (2) collect intelligence that supports action plan; (3) use PR machinery to disseminate selected intel as spin; (4) take action.
Consider: (1) In the wake of 9/11, the administration begins talking up a link between Al Qaeda, 9/11, and Iraq. (2) The administration goes to war in Iraq, sold as part of the “war on terrorism” which was joined on 9/11. (3) It becomes increasingly clear to the American people that no link at all existed between Al Qaeda and Iraq (indeed Bin Laden saw Hussein as an enemy—but then, the administration knew this all along, even if you did not;) (4) We are told, “It isn’t important that no link existed; what is important is that the American people had reason to believe there was such a link.”
Only, the source for such a belief was the assertions of the administration, who knew better, and the support for the assertions was bad intel, which the administration knew to be false and misleading. Knew, in the first place.
So when the left argues that the administration was cavalier in believing faulty intel, they have again missed the boat. The administration did not believe the false intel; rather, they deployed it, set it loose into the spin machine, specifically to win popular support. As soon as the discussion shifts to, how egregious was it for the administration to have believed bad intel, the wool has been successfully pulled.
The administration never believed the faulty intel. They just wanted you to think they did, because they want you to think they invaded Iraq as a result of intel (faulty or otherwise.) So when you accuse them of using faulty intel to justify the Iraq invasion, well, all they can do is sit back, toss up their hands, and cry, “Whoops! Guilty as charged.”
And again, the Democrats are left with the look on their face that the dog gets when you fake throwing the tennis ball.
There was an article in a recent Rolling Stone called The Man Who Sold the War, about John Rendon, a government contractor who operates in the world of intelligence, public relations, and propaganda. Read the article. Then read his company’s response; they contend that all they do is PR for the government. And I’ve decided that they are telling the truth.
However, when the government uses PR to “create consumer demand” (let’s call it by its name) for an unjust war that Americans would otherwise oppose, and which they now oppose anyway—well, maybe there is no such thing as “just PR.” Because we’ve come to a place where the veracity of intelligence is irrelevant, but public opinion is paramount.
Labels: The politics
I mean, I'm not complaining. Just asking, is all.
(God's column appears in this space every Friday.)
Since my blog host and humble earthly vessel Josh so often writes about music, I thought I might share the "big picture" perspective on music for you all.
Music, as those of you who have studied formally know well, is a lot like math. Half tones, semi tones, octaves, scales; and if you've ever seen King Crimson live, you've probably counted along in your head. Music is the sound that the calculus of creation makes. Music is the thunder to life's lightning. This is why it alone among the art forms you earthlings deploy can evoke the entire range of human emotion-- joy, sorrow, wonder, terror, angst, lust, hate, love.
And those are just the human emotions. You should hear some of the music made by higher orders of species in other galaxies, ones who experience a wide range of emotions (your range is actually pretty narrow, defined by two axes: "I'm sad" to "I'm happy," and "I lack" to "I have in abundance." All your emotions may be plotted on that simple 2X2 grid.) Some of their stuff blows me away. There is this one horn player on Rigel IV who Rigelians listen to for hours on end. Imagine the Grateful Dead, but interesting.
My favorite earth band of all time is, hands down, the Beatles. Their entire oeuvre is essentially dedicated to the most Godly topic of all: they arrived singing "Love Me Do," and left singing "and in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make." (That last sentiment is profoundly divine and spot on, and betrays an insight rarely found in your species. Although that was around the time I inadvertently left all that LSD lying around. That was NOT earmarked for Earth.) In between, the Beatles told Us that "All You Need is Love," "Its Only Love," "She Loves You," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "Can't Buy Me Love"-- it just goes on and on. Points awarded for thematic consistency.
Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death. Even I was bummed. And I have live tapes of every Beatles show that would have happened from 1985 until 1998 (when they would have split again.) The MTV unplugged remains a would-have-been classic.
I also really dig Miles Davis. Dude could blow. He's with Me now, and he's re-invented jazz 4 more times since I've taken him.
Now, think about the Wahhabi Muslims. A sect that claims holiness for itself, yet eschews the most quintessentially holy thing on earth: music. When people decry music, you can generally assume evil is afoot.
But let's keep it light. So remember to always keep a song in your heart, and when all else fails, a whomp ba-ba-lula, a whomp bam BOOM!
Saw a great concert Tuesday night: Iron & Wine, and Calexico. These are two of my new fave bands, and while I never would have seen it coming, they collaborated on an EP (that’s like a CD but shorter) that came out in September. Here, we get each band alone, plus everyone together, plus three other acts. The first notes were played shortly after 8, and the music kept coming until about twenty after twelve with very little downtime.
And it was unlike any show I’d ever seen before, in that it was a rock show, sort of, but it was so mellow. The venue was Webster Hall, which I remember from the 80s when it was the Ritz and I saw the original Pretenders, Plasmatics, Eurythmics, Utopia, Los Lobos, the Blasters, Marshall Crenshaw, and Squeeze (to name a few) there. I was inside 40 minutes prior to show time, and found myself a nice comfy spot on the raised platform to the side, where I sat (or indeed lay down) for most of the evening. I was surrounded by a gaggle of 20-something girls (sorry, I know that’s not politically correct, but trust me, these were girls, as in, “Did that boy call you back?”) The crowd was surprisingly heavily female, although I realized later on that Iron & Wine has a distinct feminine appeal. Usually being in the middle of so many young girls would make me feel old, but here it just made me feel… I dunno, sort of hip. (I even gave boy advice to the two sitting next to me; they were in the midst of texting to a potential suitor of one of them.) Indeed all through the show the phones were out, the girls around me texting the night away.
Tim Fite hit the stage at a little after 8. He had a three piece—himself, his brother, and a computer. I can’t describe what they did, except to say it involved acoustic guitar, singing, computer graphics, suits, and sound effects. The video screen showed a musician (it might have been Kite) playing various instruments throughout the set, and each time, the music the image on screen was making was part of the live sound. Very trippy effect. At times I was reminded of Talking Heads, Flash and the Pan, and Devo. Whatever it was they did, I thought they did it well. Local boys though; I don’t think they’re on the tour.
Calexico was up next. I've become quite a fan of theirs over the last 18 months or so; they're from Tucson, and the music is very Southwest, very Tex-Mex, very noble and moody and American. During their set they went through numerous permutations and combinations, shuttling players on and off the stage; one song might be just trumpet, voice, and acoustic guitar; the next might have 8 players on stage, some of them members of Calexico, some of them friends who just happened to be there. Their set was heartfelt and sounded just as I'd hoped it would. Great clarity, top-notch playing, and the moody Southwest vibe was leavened with some in-the-moment joy.
When Calexico left the stage, flamenco singer/guitarist Salvador Duran, who was on stage with them for their last number, stayed out and performed a mostly solo set of folk-oriented songs on acoustic guitar and harmonica, singing mostly (and maybe only) in Spanish. No down time at all between sets; he continued right out of Calexico's last number. On a couple of tunes he was accompanied by a lone, plaintive trumpet. A brief set-- 15 minutes or so-- but very nice; it was his first time in New York, and he was made to feel welcome. (If you have the In the Reins record, he's the one with the deep voice on the first track.) Duran is a Tucson-based artist, and has been on the tour with Calexico and Iron & Wine.
Brooklyn folk singer Mary Mulliken played next, as The Mullikens. Easy-listening, Lillith-style folk that fit nicely with the vibe of the evening. Overall, though, sort of a pallate cleanser before the rest of the show.
After a short break, Iron & Wine took the stage. It was clear from the response that this was Sam Beam's crowd. Beam, a Florida-based songwriter and former college professor, IS Iron & Wine. His records feature a minimalist follk approach that seems discontinuous with the history of folk; I can't find his influences. His sound is distinctive for the whispered, hushed vocals (supposedly he recorded the first Iron & Wine record at night after his daughter went to sleep, and had to whisper the vocals so as not to awaken her.) Beam had his sister with him on backing vocals and violin, and a number of other musician came on and off the stage. I recognized songs from all their records, including a couple from this year's Woman King ep. Beam is laid back to the point of deadpan, and he sports a full beard that seems somehow out of time. The net effect is about as anti-rock star as I've ever seen. Their set was outstanding, hushed and soothing and yet engaging and spellbinding; edge-of-your-seat listening deceptive for its low energy sound.
In the climactic segment, Calexico joined Iron & Wine for a presentation of In the Reins, their collaberative ep released in September. Truthfully, with so many musicians coming on and off the stage, it would be impossible for me to even attempt to guess who was actually in each of the two bands; but the shuttling continued during the joint set as well. The two groups of players melded seamlessly into one large entity, with Beam doing most of the singing, and with much vocal accompaniment. Calexico's Joey Burns co-fronted the merged band, and he and Beam seemed to have great mutual respect. Two neat covers: The Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties," and on the penultimate encore, the Stones' "Wild Horses," sounding a little like the Cowboy Junkies.
The crowd remained remarkably civil-- almost no testosterone in the room-- and the music was lovely and friendly all night long. It was like a lovefest; great music, rendered with conviction and courtesy, and lapped up by an apreciative but surprisingly laid back room full of young adults (and one old one.)
Cool link of the day: You can download the Calexico, Iron & Wine, Duran, and In the Reins sets from Washington's 9:30 club, each set as one long MP3, at NPR's site right here.
Labels: The tunes
Labels: The tunes
There has been much written on the Internet about the recent Sony debacle with CD copy protection. (You can read more about it than you ever wanted to know, here.) In a nutshell, Sony has been shipping CDs with a copy protection system embedded within (called a "rootkit"), which literally infects your computer when you play the CD. The Sony disc installs spyware that is almost impossible to remove, and which opens up your system to hacks and viruses. The system has been deployed without the knowlwdge of artists on their roster (here's a list of infected titles); some have disavowed the practice on their own websites.
Its bad enough that a record company should even want to stop me from putting the songs I buy from them, legally, onto my iPod. But to actually go so far as to infect customer computers in the interest of copy protection suggests that, at least as far as Sony is concerned, what began as bad marketing has morphed into sheer contempt for the customer.
Music downloading and digital duplication are seen as the scourge of the music business. But phonographs didn't kill the music business (sheet music publishers thought the phonograph was the end of the world); cassette recording didn't kill the music business. Video still hasn't killed the radio star.
When consumers want to download your product, that's called demand. When consumers don't want to buy your product, that's called bad marketing. When you blame the consumer for your inability to successfully market to them, that's heinous. And that's where the record business is today. Simply put: if you think you're losing money because consumers don't want to buy your product, MAKE A PRODUCT PEOPLE WANT TO BUY. Period. Change your economic model, revisit pricing and manufacturing costs, explore new modes of distribution. You know, MARKETING. Could you imagine if McDonald's started selling fewer burgers, and they turned their wrath on their best customers? "If sales don't pick up pronto, we're going to cancel breakfast!"
If you don't let me put my new $15 CD onto my iPod, then you've made it worth less to me, not more, and I don't think I want it. In fact, I think I want my money back. And that's if the copy protection works (None of it does, by the way; if you know even a little about music software you can burn anything.) But when your copy protection damages my computer-- and all I wanted to do was listen to the new CD I actually bought and paid for (as opposed to the people you think are killing your business, the ones who DON'T buy your CDs)-- that is simply beyond the pale. it betrays an attitude of arrogance and contempt for the consumer, an attitude that says the company can-- and should-- punish its best customers for the unforgivable sin of actually buying and using the product.
I look around my home. The 26-inch TV in the bedroom? Sony. The new flat-panel TV in the living room? Sony. The two DVD players? Sony. Oh, and the digital video camera? Yup.
But not anymore. I will not buy anymore goods or services from Sony. I won't go to their theaters, I won't buy their CDs (although I will probably make an exception for Derek Trucks, unless they rootkit him.) I choose who gets my money, and if you treat me with outright contempt, and I still give you money, that sort of makes me a sucker. I mention all these Sony gadgets we have, not to impress you with our state-of-the-art gadgetry, but rather to impress upon you that my household is-- or has been-- an extremely profitable customer for Sony. So that's one less they have as of today.
I'm not saying YOU should boycott Sony. I'm taking ownership of my own actions, not yours. You do what you think is right for you.
But whatever you do, be very careful putting new CDs into your computer. At the very least, you might want to disable the autorun feature on the CD drives in your computer, so any such malware isn't automatically activated when you insert the disc.
Labels: The tunes
(God's column appears in this space every Friday.)
As promised last week, today We’ll take a look at why bad things happen to good people. I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday, and there were 32 books grappling with this question. And did you know you can get a cappuccino in a book store now? I don’t know who thought that up, but I like it!
So let Me pose a question of My own: Why SHOULDN’T bad things happen to good people?
You humans have a very quaint and childish view of religion and justice and morality. “I was a good boy; how come I fell off my bike?” Uh, maybe you were a good boy with lousy balance? Maybe you were a good boy in the wrong place at the wrong time?
I’ve been wondering where you humans got the idea that “goodness” somehow protects you from ill fortune. I think maybe it goes back to the job I did on Sodom and Gomorrah. Well, be wary of over-generalizing the apocryphal stories of the bible. I mean, Vegas is still there, right? And that town is a cesspool (although interestingly, the suburbs are a lovely place to raise a family, if you can take the heat. Or if you’re a gila monster.) And don’t throw New Orleans at Me; that town will be back faster than you can say Jambalaya.
One would think humans would have gotten over the belief that bad things happen to good people when My own boy was crucified (which is, trust Me, not a great way to go.)
To Me, a much more interesting question might be, why do good things happen to bad people? How does one explain, say, Donald Trump, Paris Hilton, or Hitler? (OK, maybe I’m being unfair to Hitler.)
So let me explain it all to you. Two things you need to remember. First, I am a big fan of randomness. I created the heavens and the earth, all the animals, blah blah blah, put a bunch of interesting stuff into the environment for you to discover (like say the results of splitting an atom; surprise!) Then I just sat back and watched things unfold. The cosmic beauty of randomness, the sacred patterns that emerge—this is God’s way.
Second, your time on earth—that fleeting flash of a spark of consciousness you call life—is all about the struggle between good and evil. Each one of you is confronted by both in abundance. Many of you can’t tell which is which. And how you experience the afterlife is determined by how you reconcile that struggle in your own life (Donald Trump’s afterlife: nothing but supermodels who only date rich guys with hair, and he’s broke and has no toupee.) So yes, good people will face adversity. Some more than others. Because it comes randomly, but it comes to all of you. Being somehow inherently “good” doesn’t buy you a “get out of misery free” card; no, it merely governs how you handle that misery.
Let Me give you an example. I’ll have this example appear to you in a form you can recognize: a celebrity. Christopher Reeve. Nice guy, decent actor, even I loved the first 2 Superman movies. Then he has that accident, and he’s paralyzed. Did I do that to him for some sort of spiritual retribution? No; it wasn’t me, it was the horse. It was random, and unfortunate. But hey, stuff happens.
So how did he respond? You all know, because you read People. He responded like an ace. He fought, and he worked for others. And now he’s up here with me, eating shrimp, and playing intramural volleyball two nights a week. And he runs the mile in nine seconds.
So don’t whine to Me when something bad happens. And by all means, don’t stop believing in Me. I have not forsaken you, and I have not stopped pulling for you. I’m actually waiting to see how you handle the adversity, and no matter how horrible it may seem, I know you can handle it. I might even answer your prayers. (Actually, I answer all your prayers. But sometimes I say “no.”) And when you’re all done, there’s plenty of room at My table.
This year the Allman Brothers Band have made 37 of their summer shows available for purchase. These shows were recorded and sold at the venue as part of Clear Channel's Instant Live series; now they are available to everyone whether you were at the show or not. They sound great; as good as or better than any live album you might buy. And just in time for Christmas, too! With incendiary guitarists Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, this incarnation of the band may just be-- and this is rock'n'roll heresy-- as good as the originals. Read our review of the Jones Beach gig here (scroll down); read about how bass player Oteil Burbridge inspires us here.
There's a lot of swell merchandise available from Kid Glove (the Allmans merchandising arm), but I recommend the Instant Lives.
So bop on over to Hittin' the Note and buy something good. Tell 'em Josh sent you. I recommend Wannee (second night, 4/16/05), Jones Beach (8/24/05) Red Rocks (9/18/05) and Charlotte (10/2/05).
Labels: The tunes