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Archive for June, 2009

The world, and more specifically American politics, do not give much cause for optimism most days. In order to not turn into a bitter angry shell of a human being, I spend a lot of time thinking about shit which doesn’t inspire feelings of impending doom. Instead of waking up and saying, “Oh, isn’t it depressing that The Post still has George Will writing for them. Oh, how unsurprising that all the Hummers are back on the roads now that gas prices have temporarily gone down. Oh, and isn’t it frustrating that nothing is being done about the environmental/social/financial crises…” No, this shall not do! I prefer a different attitude: “We mustn’t dwell. No, not today. We can’t. Not on Rex Manning Day!” While I think about shitty things, and try to do what I can about them when possible, it’s important to focus also on that which gives cause for hope. It helps to remember that other people are out there doing way more good than me, so there’s no excuse to not jump in and do what we can.

But not now. I would like to take some time to indulge the despair and cynicism this morning’s examination of our heartbreaking world has inspired in me. For the rest of this post I take the position that we shall all perish and all is lost. Joy and adoration to be resumed at a later time.

Exhibit A: Michael Jackson died four days ago. Fucking CNN’s headline article is still about Michael Jackson. I hate to break it to you, Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper, but Michael Jackson was a sad, lonely man whose life had value to the public based solely on his ability to entertain them. He wasn’t the  first person to be given too much fame, too much money, too much permissiveness and too much pressure, and he won’t be the last. This sick obsession with celebrity has got to be curtailed, especially since so much else is going on right now of major importance. Such as:

Exhibit B: Honduras had themselves a coup. Personally, when I hear about governments getting overthrown in Latin America by the military I tend to get a little antsy. I get more nutty when the new leader of said country gives a speech praising democracy.

Exhibit C: In the midst of an environmental crisis, crisis meaning a threat to not only our way of life but our ability to sustain human life on this planet, we lucky Americans are getting a fantastically watered down bill from Congress that will really not be of so much help! We also get the treat of ever-helpful Fox not -so-subtly insinuating that Congress and Nancy Pelosi are engaged in some sort of treason due to said bill! This is fucked up for more than one reason, and I’m pissed off about this enough to list them.

1) After calling people who were reasonably critical of George Bush and the war in Iraq “unpatriotic” and worse, after spying on them, after endless harassment… these same people are completely willing to accuse other elected leaders of “treason”…for dealing with the issues they were elected to … my, God… deal with. Right.

2) After acts of domestic terrorism in Knoxville, Pittsburgh, Kansas, and DC, which all involved right-wing men influenced by insidious eliminationist talk, Fox still thinks it’s a good idea to put up pictures of Nancy Pelosi with the word “treason.” Thank you, fellas.

3) Oh, Fox, I did not realize you were so concerned about the industrial base of America!! Does this mean you would like to put some restrictions on multinational corporations which outsource their jobs, thus crippling our domestic manufacturing base? Are you ready to support unions which protect the legal rights of our industrial workers?? I, too, would like to do some of these things. Silly me, I didn’t realize we were allies all this time! except:

4) As much as I value protecting the jobs of workers in difficult industrial jobs, some of our industries are hurting the planet. Like, for real. It sucks, Fox, I mean, it was really great of you to start thinking of protecting American workers, but protecting an industry which is engaged in rampant destruction isn’t really a great idea. It might be better to create jobs for those workers which did not imply, you know, pillaging the Earth.

5) But of even more importance, I have to let you know that this bill is not an attack on workers. It’s a grown-up way of dealing with childish, petulant corporate elites who have refused to make the slightest bit of change to their industry in order to maximize their profits. They have had every opportunity to make some changes on their own. They were presented time and again with the evidence of how their practices are rapidly destroying parts of our planet. They did not care. This bill is not intended to hurt workers, but to force their employers to adhere to some minimum standards. When I say minimum, I mean minimum. And Fox, your inability to show even the slightest bit of interest in the future, your refusal to accept that there is a day after tomorrow and a generation after our own… it’s severely discouraging. You make me want to weep into a blueberry pie.

Exhibit D: Of all the Supreme Court decisions being handed down this week, I am probably the least knowledgeable about Ricci v. Destefano. As a supporter of affirmative action, I must also acknowledge there are individual situations which are unfair. I suspect this may have been one, but I am just not qualified in getting into a debate which is, quite frankly, out of my league. I also am loathe to ally myself with a group which includes Clarence Thomas or John Roberts. What I do feel capable of chirping in on is not the specifics, but how this decision may affect us in a more general sense. I am so protective of the good that affirmative action has done, and of how much more needs to be done, and I am worried about how strong the wave of sentiment is against affirmative action. I am afraid this decision may be used in such a way which will cripple affirmative action programs and strengthen the support for those who would dismantle them. More so, I am concerned that Sonia Sotomayor, who was obligated by binding precedent to rule as she did when the case came before the 2nd Circuit, will be the target of even more warped right-wing attacks. The initial criticisms of her were so absurd, sexist, and racist that I just can’t read about it anymore. This country is not ready for a serious talk about race, class, gender, or sexuality, but this country is entirely ready for white men to attack people as playing the victim while… playing the victim (and get away with the contradiction). Oh Despair, your name is I.

Exhibit E: Obama. Seriously. Listen, I know Congress is a wreck. I know our legislative process is failing us utterly. It needs an overhaul, but we will not get it. But I need you to not go down the same path as George Bush. I shouldn’t be surprised, and I’m not really, but this is just so disappointing. Because as much as you spoke about change, you don’t want to give it to us. None of you do. You don’t want to really worry about what happens later.  You continue to make bipartisanship your idol, to make half-measures and baby-steps your hallmark. I understand why. It’s worked in the past. Sometimes you can keep the wolf at bay, but not forever. I hate to say it again, but the environmental crisis doesn’t care about your legacy or how you look in the eyes of Republicans. It doesn’t care about negotiations and compromises and if big business is okay with things. Capitalism was supposed to be about putting self-interest first. Our self-interest now lies with having healthy citizens and a healthy planet. So when you said “change!” did you really mean it? Or did you just mean finding a way to create little islands of security for the wealthy and letting the rest of humanity fend for ourselves? I believe you have good intentions, really I do. But I also believe that you, like so many West Wing-devotees and Beltway Insiders, are utterly insulated from the real-world results of your half-measures. I believe that if you circumvent Congress and continue to enhance your executive power that you make it that much easier for a more ambitious individual down the road to go all Augustus on us. Deal with problem of legislating, but don’t give up on it. Don’t take more power for yourself, don’t rationalize behaving as Bush did. Please.

Exhibit F: I kinda have always had massive disdain for people obsessed with economic models and talk of GDP. This is because I usually find them totally dismissive of the needs of real people, and also lacking in all common sense. I get tired of hearing endless talk about what works for the economy. What about what works for people? I will talk about this more at another time. I only mention this because that is why I enormously appreciated this post by Nate Silver. I hope someone is paying him for his work.

Exhibit G: I first thought about starting my own blog during the unending campaign of 2008. I was able to restrain myself because I knew exactly what said blog would resemble: immense despair, ramblings consisting of pleas, curses, frantic prayers to the heavens, weeping, and an increasingly incoherent panic which would suggest the need for something resembling WaitMate (I love you, Tim and Eric) after Sarah Palin’s nomination for VP. Ah, lucky those days are in the past! Now, I can sit and look back: with regret. Regret, regret that there was the possibility of anything like this being true about the candidate with the best political ideas and the most incredible stupidity and disloyalty towards his family, as well as his supporters (thanks for using that money we donated to let your mistress make shitty videos asshole! if there’s a sex tape I swear to God, that better have come out of your own pocketbook). I can also regret that though we can never know what a Hillary presidency would have been like (and I really don’t think it would be much better), I still feel in some deep part of my soul that she would have been delighted to tell republicans to Suck It. I just feel bipartisanship is not the idol for her that it is for Obama, and she would be pushing for a public option right now so much more vocally and vehemently. I also feel she could not possibly be worse for the gay community than Obama has been.

The country is ready (yeah Iowa!) and who cares about who isn’t because this is about civil rights. I am frustrated that in this country, a country whose infrastructure is falling apart and is in the midst of several crises, we are debating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Are you fucking kidding me? Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a ridiculous and shitty policy which needs to be repealed right now so that we can start solving the shit that cannot wait. I cannot hear one more word about Miss California-whoever. I cannot listen to anymore talk about Prop 8 or if the country is entirely ready for gay marriage. This is a travesty. I don’t care who is ready and I don’t care who isn’t just like I would hope Obama wouldn’t have tolerated such shit standing in the way of his parent’s marriage. Stop being insane and give the gay community their basic fucking rights because it’s so obvious how wrong and inane your defense of the horrible Defense of Marriage Act was. You have to do this so that we can talk about how we are all going to die because health insurance companies do not help sick people and unemployment is still climbing and the planet is warming and our use of torture may not mean death for me but it is so horribly wrong and why can there not be some sort of basic justice and accountability for that kind of evil and  obesity is climbing and animals are being mutated and their miserable lives are filling the poor Chesapeake with chicken shit and why are gay people not allowed to get drunk wtf and our pathetic justice system still refuses to deal with a man who is very likely innocent (let alone the fact that the death penalty is inherently wrong and fucked-up no matter what) and Iran is apparently having some sort of military coup and these are some obviously pressing issues and maybe someone should take Ezra Klein’s analysis on the grander scheme of things seriously so we can stop having our government fail cos, you know, maybe it’s time to really fix some of these things??

… Of course not, silly me. Oh well. I accept this. We shall all perish in flames. But I must not leave you all in complete despair. Not today, not while there is such a thing as true love left in this world. Not while there is something to warm the cockles of our bitter hearts. I am referring, of course, to my new love:

Mark Sanford’s press conference.

My Own Guilty Love

My Own Guilty Love

Not Mark Sanford. No, he’s an asshole who is in the midst of a nervous breakdown and needs to resign. But his press conference… that press conference. Mark Sanford showed me Love is Real. I am not referring to his love for Maria or his wife, of course. I am referring to his love for the Appalachian Trail and Tom Davis. This is why all the above shit has pissed me off. It is just taking up too much space in our national discourse. I really really need to spend some more time on this.

Why can’t I just have a few more days to enjoy the fact that a Republican politician was so incoherent and fumbling that I actually empathized with him? Is it so wrong to want a bit more time to focus on how he was such a spontaneous mess of self-indulgence and sorrow, on the way he gave the public a press conference which was actually less polished or controlled than Sarah Palin’s Katie Couric interviews? I realize enjoying it’s sweet inanity is the antithesis of the craving for sanity in our public political discourse that I expressed above. But every time I think about this current state of affairs I find myself longing for that simple time of last week when a man named Mark Sanford was twenty minutes late to his own press conference. I think about how he wept his way through it, called a man with the joyous name Cubby Colbertson a “spiritual giant”, thanked all the Tom Davises of the world multiple times, referenced Jurassic Park, evoked (in spirit though not literally) Evita… and made me cringe and want to leap onstage and create an escape path for such a wreck. Poor, poor man. But I thank you for having been such a complete dick of a politician in the past that I was able to smile at your incoherence as much as did the hilarious young woman behind you. I thank you for being such a non-threatening disaster that I could guiltily enjoy your shenanigans and put off thinking about our health insurance crisis for a little while. Thank you, Mark Sanford.

And thank you, Tom Davis.

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At last.

MichelleObama

The media’s coverage of Michelle Obama has been largely a depressing affair. Right when I was starting to be captivated by her intelligent and sharp speeches, the cable news networks had one of those moments they live for. Michelle Obama said something which they deemed unpatriotic and they proceeded to cover her statement with as much stereotyping, negativity, and general bullshit as possible. Far from using her provocative words as an opportunity to gain insight into the minds and hearts of people who are not wealthy old male WASPs, they fell back on their favorite games of demonizing, wilful misunderstanding, and engaging in outright racism while pretending they’ve somehow been victimized (see: Sonia Sotomayor). Her role in her husband’s campaign was drastically altered. I was completely depressed about how this interesting woman was being relegated to weird stories about her arms and the clothes she bought and which designer she was wearing etc etc: ugh argh curses.

So imagine my surprise when I began to read The Washington Post’s front-page article by Lois Romano about Michelle Obama on Thursday. I couldn’t believe it. Here was intelligent insight into the First Lady which was encouraging, refreshing, which was not about clothing! In fact, there were actual signs for optimism!

Although Obama’s job-approval ratings have soared, the first lady — a Harvard-educated lawyer — wasn’t satisfied with coasting. She is hiring a full-time speechwriter and has instructed her staff to think “strategically” so that every event has a purpose and a message.”

This sounds promising.

In the past couple of weeks, Obama has been more vocal about the specifics of the president’s health plan, and she will play a substantive role in promoting it. She will soon announce the creation of an advisory board to help military families. And she will be the face of the administration’s United We Serve, a summer-long national service program, which she launched on Monday. Even her social events have a message: She let congressional families know that before the annual White House barbecue today, the 500 guests are expected to show up at Fort McNair to stuff camp backpacks with goodies for the children of military personnel.”

Really? I am loving this.

…Obama wants to continue to offer opportunities to people like herself. She grew up in working-class South Chicago, in the shadow of one of the most elite private colleges in the country, the University of Chicago. Yet Obama recalls vividly that when she was a high school student hoping to rise above her circumstances, the university seemed far beyond her reach. She was determined this would not happen at the White House on her watch.

“No one there had ever reached out to say, ‘Hey, maybe there’s a place for you here,’ ” Johnston said. Obama has either visited or invited to the White House students from 30 Washington schools, and she was instrumental in developing the first White House summer internship program specifically for D.C. high school students.”

Are you kidding me? I can’t believe it. I’m surprised and angry it’s taken this long to involve DC kids with the White House, but I am beyond thrilled it’s happening.  And why is it? Because Michelle Obama is sensitive to people who aren’t able to go to elite private schools, to the people who live so close to so much wealth but do not share in it. This is getting inspirational.

“She also intentionally served a formal dinner to the nation’s governors on mismatched china — 28 years after Nancy Reagan famously complained because nothing matched and proceeded to spend $200,000 on a new set of Lenox.”

Oh, so you have a sense of humor too. Stop it, I feel dizzy with joy.

Obama tasked Rogers with ensuring that every social event has a populist component, as she did last week when Duke Ellington High School students attended workshops with jazz greats. Rogers said that the Obamas want to convey that coming to the White House is “just a home visit.” That’s why, she said, the first lady hugs so many people who walk through the doors. “You try to take the fear out of just the mere awe of walking through the gates.”

Fine, Michelle. Are you proud of yourself? You just want to live in the White House and do all these wonderful things and make sure “every social event has a populist component” and you don’t care if it makes me tear up? What if I can’t handle this? After years of living next to DC and watching wealthy elite families roll by, well, I just might not be ready for you to come in here and start trying to make the most famous residence in the nation accessible to the people. Have you thought about that? After eight years of people basically spitting in the face of the poor you come to town, and then one day there’s a  garden for DC students and then suddenly all White House events are supposed to include everyone… Where is the gradualism? How are we supposed to process all of your awesomeness? I want you to know, Michelle Obama, that if you keep this kinda shit up I might be all “Eleanor who?” soon, and that would make me feel bad for about two minutes. Then I will look at this picture of you gardening, just like Eleanor, and I will be swooning with adoration for the both of you.

Michelle. Being Awesome. As Usual.

Michelle. Being Awesome. As Usual.

I guess I’ll just try to live with having an incredible woman as our First Lady. A woman who, yes, is a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a lawyer, a woman who wears J. Crew and has nice arms and charms old Queens into hugging her. But she is also a seriously great human being who is actually using her power and voice to do good things for the people who need them the most. At last.

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On June 14, 2009 The Washington Post’s Book World ran a beautiful collection of memories/vignettes by Latin American author Eduardo Galeano. I imagine I would have been entranced by the piece regardless, but I was in the midst of reading Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America which meant I spilt a lot of things in my excitement. The essay is a lovely introduction to an author who I had never heard of until I read The Shock Doctrine a few months ago. I ordered it on-line right after finishing Naomi Klein; a few days later I discovered Barack Obama was given a copy of the famous yellow book by Hugo Chavez, and its popularity skyrocketed. Then Thom Hartmann, a favorite person of mine, reviewed said book for BuzzFlash. At that point I was getting pretty excited for my own copy to come.

For people who do not know much about Eduardo Galeano, as I knew nothing till recently, he is a political and historical writer/poet who hails from Uruguay and focuses largely on the history of the Americas and of the oppressed. He writes about the pillaging of his home continent and is able to say why this has happened, who has benefited, and why it is still happening. This has meant, since life is the way it is, that he’s had to flee for his life and live in exile more than once. Since Open Veins was published in 1971 he has continued to explore the history of Latin America and the world through his work. His most recent achievement, Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone will be released this month.

eduardo-galeano

There are several aspects of Eduardo Galeano’s style which I find immensely appealing. The obvious is Galeano’s incredible storytelling skill, which is bound up with one of my favorite traits in an author: his interest in others. Pause for a moment. It’s assumed that writers simply must be interested in other people and the world, because what else is a story? This is absolutely false. A great many authors (just like a great many people everywhere) are interested entirely in Themselves, and their writings reflect this. No matter how they may turn a pretty phrase, no matter how stinging their hilarious sarcasm may be or how accurate their analysis of a certain situation is, they are primarily writing about Their moods, Their troubles, the wrongs They have suffered, the indifference/superiority They feel, how They cope with the world and get by. They are writing to be adored, to be seen as brilliant, but not because they are burnt up about the way things are or should be. I would call them the anti-Kurt Vonneguts. They are so unlike the man who could write absurdly and be sarcastic and tell the truth and feel complete compassion for our species while deploring the state we’re all in. That is the sort of author who really has something to say of value. The best writers, in my opinion, are writers who are passionately interested in what it means to be human, in how society and humanity work and fail, in the pain of being alive, the injustice, the loss… and have this anger at suffering actually mean something because they are passionate about celebrating life. Eduardo Galeano is this type of writer.

He is a man who sees people, who takes an utter interest in everyone around him. Unlike people who lock their doors when driving through a crummy neighborhood, Galeano is the kinda guy who would hop out and start asking questions and making friends. Unlike our mass media which is devoted to keeping its eye on the lives of the wealthy, Galeano does his best to yank our attention to how the conspicuous luxury at the top rests entirely on the backs of others. As I’ve read our major newspapers and magazines through our Great Recession I’ve been thoroughly sickened by the obsessive focus on our elites giving up a yoga listen here or a cruise there. Only recently did the lives of our worst off get any significant attention, and as usual it was up to Barbara Ehrenreich to provide that voice.

The United States is a country with some of the greatest extremes between the rich and the poor in the industrialized world at the same time as there is the greatest divide between the two in human history. Normal people who think of themselves as good have been taught to ignore poverty; if they see it they learn to blame the poor for not pulling themselves up. The media encourages this attitude and works to exacerbate it by shows, news programs, and articles which demonize the poor, the minorities. It becomes so easy to forget the existence of people who have lives unlike our own, and easier to forget about our culpability.

The segregation between NW and SE DC is tied in to our country’s tendency to threaten, oppress, bomb, and intervene in other countries. A man like Hugo Chavez becomes an easy target to demonize because we know so little of the lives of the people he represents. We take so little interest in the lives of others in our own communities, and then we pay even less attention to the lives of the dispossessed around the world who make our lifestyles possible. Our elites attack anyone who does not show subservience to our ideal lifestyle, they chant their mantras about letting the free market decide and accuse anyone who wants to do things differently as being an agitator, a communist, a real mixer. I don’t mean to say the US has never done any good anywhere. That’s baloney. But there have been some real crimes, and they have not been redressed; many are on-going. Oppression and wrong-doing are not things which only Happen in the Past because We Have Good Intentions and Are Different. Because of this we need to hear someone like Eduardo Galeano, who goes through the world telling us the stories of people we’ve refused to listen to.

The highlight of the stunning essay that was featured in The Post provides a heartbreaking example of what I’m talking about:

The Bolivian town of Llallagua lived from the mine, and in the mine its miners died. Deep in the shafts in the bowels of the mountains, they hunted veins of tin and lost, in a few short years, their lungs and their lives.

I spent some time there and made good friends.

The last night, we were drinking, my friends and I, singing laments and telling bad jokes till just before dawn.

When little time remained before the scream of the siren that would call them to work, my friends fell silent, all of them at once. Then one asked, or pleaded, or ordered: “And now, my brother, tell us about the sea.”

I was speechless.

They insisted: “Tell us. Tell us about the sea.”

It was the most difficult challenge in all my storytelling life. None of these miners would ever know the sea; each was doomed to die young. And I had no choice but to bring them the sea, the sea that was so far away, discovering words that could drench them to the bone.”

That is why Galeano is a great writer. More than that, it is why Galeano is a necessary writer. He brings to the forefront the voices of men we’ll never hear, a reality intertwined with ours, a reality we depend on, and yet is mostly unacknowledged. Celebrate Columbus Day and go to the mall. Yeah, he didn’t really discover anything and he enslaved, raped, and murdered the people of Hispaniola, but that’s not cheery. Let’s make that a side note in 9th grade history, explain “sadly slavery was acceptable back then”, talk about cultural relativism and point out that Columbus was only acting in the way his hierarchical, isolated, racist, sexist had taught him to behave, and move on. We won’t have to draw a connection between those crimes and how we ignore , rationalize and marginalize them, and then see how they relate to the crimes and injustices of today. The subtle dangers of such thinking are a huge threat. By not calling things by their name and denouncing them we can pretend they don’t exist and keep going to megastores because clothing and food just pop up here like that don’tchaknow?

I have never understood people who found history boring, or those who didn’t understand why I could never read enough. When I set out to college I just wanted to study history, literature, learn more about philosophy and religious history. How could people not want to spend time studying what human experience has taught us, and what is has not? How could anyone not want to commune with past minds, to see how others found our world? Do people not realize how neat it is we are here, existing? Maybe not, since a great many of them seem eager to shut their minds and hearts down with whatever they find as quickly as they can. Perhaps history books have focused too much on the winners, on analyzing how people have risen to power without asking why, on following a sequence of events without asking what they signify. Perhaps literature classes have too often asked their students to focus on the style of the writer, to monitor what themes and motifs are employed. I know I’ve been frustrated repeatedly by professors who kept wanting me to write about how Hemingway or Morrison were doing something when I just wanted to talk about why they were writing, what they wanted to tell people, what their purpose was for each book. For sure there are those who write conscious of the symbols they employ, who use repetition to reveal something quite meaningful. But to miss the forest for the trees is a great and often-repeated crime when teaching literature and history. The best wonder why, and so many don’t ask. Maybe they don’t want to have to live with the answer.

Eduardo Galeano is writing spectacularly beautiful books that bridge the gap between history and poetry/literature. This is heartening. He looks at the marginalized, the disposable people of the world, all the Surplus Humanity. He dignifies them, he makes them more than statistics of tragedies, or tools/means to perpetuate our lifestyles. He summons up the power of a real artist and uses it to step into the role of a prophet. He’s what I think of as a connector, a person who points to something here and something there and explains why it’s like that. This isn’t rewriting history, and it’s not empty art, but living words which seek to break the grip that this bland, drugged, sanitized worldview has on so many.

As he says so poignantly in  Days and Nights of Love and War (translated by Bobbye Ortiz):

“One writes out of a need to communicate and to commune with others, to denounce that which gives pain and to share that which gives happiness. One writes against one’s solitude and against the solitude of others. One assumes that literature transmits knowledge and affects the behavior and language of those who read…One writes, in reality, for the people whose luck or misfortune one identifies with – the hungry, the sleepless, the rebels, and the wretched of this earth – and the majority of them are illiterate….Our effectiveness depends on our capacity to be audacious and astute, clear and appealing. I would hope that we can create a language more fearless and beautiful than that used by conformist writers to greet the twilight.”

Those are meaningful words, those are ideas to remember when we talk about reality if we want to describe it with any relevance. Galeano reminds us that there are those who will never see the sea, and whether or not it’s fair, the facts of our very different lives are bound together. We don’t live in a vacuum; rather, our every move and every act is connected to everything else. Whether we like it or not that’s the way it is. If we recognize that perhaps we can work to make some real good happen and end some of the injustices around us. The worst crimes happen because we refuse to admit we are involved and turn inwards. Galeano challenges us to change the way we see things and one another, and live in not just our own small world but with everyone else too.

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Hell Yes

Hell Yes

This is the phenomenally lovely cover from an album entitled Wavering Radiant. The band is called Isis. They are not just any band, but a heavy metal band. Not just any heavy metal band, but a sludge heavy metal band.

…I must be honest.

I am not into metal. This sentence will never escape my mouth: “Hey, guys, I am so into sludge metal lately and I really need to hear some growling right now! Get something with deep screams and pounding drums!” It’s just, it’s not going to happen. I keep a pretty open mind and will listen to just about anything people suggest. Someone gave me a “power violence” cd once, and for about three minutes in the car we had a blast. Then my natural instincts kicked back up (or more drifted since they are too unaggressive to get rambunctious and dominate the scene) and inside I was all: “Hey, how about some ‘Gang Bang Suicide’ by Broken Social Scene?!” Yeah, that sounds wild!

That would definitely not be true. It is the antithesis of hardcore. It is spacey and marvelous and beautiful and it is not for people who don’t enjoy taking lots of naps (I do). So automatically: crazy-devoted. I will maybe think about going to one of the metal shows I’ve been asked to someday (I suspect it will include me saying things like: oh, this is unusual and No! of course I don’t wish I could find a place for a nice little catnap). But there’s no use pretending my attempts at being open-minded means I am in anyway knowledgeable about something like metal. I am too passive and I kinda hang out around Neptune.  I respect what they do because most metal artists, when I read about them, are fucking interesting and out there and way smart. Plus the metal dudes I’ve met are by far some of the calmest, sweetest, and most thoughtful people I’ve encountered; something which was only a surprise to me since I grew up with boys whose love for metal was only rivaled by their dedication to creating trouble, and occasionally being overprotective of nerdy young ladies (me!) down the street. Point: our musical tastes are just different.

So I saw the cover illustration above and went: “whoa! this is fucking fantastic art work to my untrained eye! I am wild about this!” Then I read the review and it was: Isis. Metal Band. Me: Oh. Huh. The album is entitled Wavering Radiant. Again: “fucking gorgeous, I love it!” But then… is that a joke? Is a title as dreamy as Wavering Radiant an attempt to have all the space cadets of the world flock to it and be suddenly “Oh… I was not prepared for so much howling.”  Am I too earnest to realize this could be some mild mockery of people who get starry-eyed and flock without thought to something with a word like ‘radiance’?

Because, man, some words do get me like a magnet (see ‘snort’. Ha, oh man!) My personal adoration for the word ‘radiance’ came into being when I was a young lass of 17 and encountered the band Athenaeum and their album Radiance.

These Guys Are Not Metal.

These Guys Are Not Metal.

Man, I loved them. My sister and I (who for the rest of the time I write this blog shall be referred to as SisterSister until I forget) drove down to North Carolina to see Athenaeum multiple times (not a short drive). It was not the coolest thing we could have done. Athenaeum was, well…. let’s say Gin Blossoms-esque. I haven’t listened to much Athenaeum for a while except ‘If Baby’s Gone’, a totally dreamy song that pretty much embodies radiance. While I have moved on from nearly all the music I first went nuts over (People born in New Jersey are born in love with Bruce Springsteen. It is a pure love we never leave behind), still, deep down, sitting very patiently and quietly next to my interest in spacey Icelandic music, is a pretty solid desire to listen to some lovely pop songs on a patio in North Carolina on a gorgeous evening.

So it’s strange to see a word like ‘radiance’, which is attached to a lot of shit for me, used by a band whose music I couldn’t associate less with the word. But I’m into this. We need words such as ‘beautiful’, ‘good’, and ‘light’ because they can refer to nonphysical Ideas as much as solid shit so perfectly; they also are such unspecific adjectives that people reach for them too often and the words become vague and meaningless.  ‘Radiance’ summons up a much more precise image while retaining the sort of superlative quality that ‘beautiful’ and ‘light’ bestow. Since I elected to become crazy-devoted to the word it seemed it’s usage increased (though I probably just noticed more). I worried it would get used up and worn-out since it’s pretty, evolving into an object of ridicule for people who despise the cheesy, the sentimental and the simplistic.

I think of heavy metal musicians being the sort of people who call out “bullshit” because they are good at detecting insincerity and big egos. They seem to take special aim at it. So I wondered if an album with what seemed to be quite a few guttoral ARGHHHs might not have been named Wavering Radiant cos they were feeling cheeky towards the people of the world who were all: radiant = mellow? Yeah! I don’t think this interpretation would be silly to someone who knew nothing about them:  Isis referred to this as their “pop” album. Excuse me, but I know me some pop songs gentlemen. I grew up with pop songs. Your songs are no pop songs. I would like to assure you that, to me, you will always absolutely be sludge metal. If you want to. Or not. Please, don’t sell yourself short, do what makes you happy. I just think you have way too many screaming riffs to create and howl around the world before anyone comes close to confusing your music with Justin Timberlake or Coldplay. I do not want to seem patronizing: I decided to learn a little bit about you. You guys are pretty fucking interesting. When I was thinking ‘radiant’ seemed a little out of place in a title by a metal band, I forgot that no one (except people with bizarre priorities) enjoys having themselves defined by others. Plus, it’s been quite a while since I’ve thought about metal. Let’s just say I’m rather out of touch about with that scene.

But Isis, I’ve grown. ‘Radiance’ doesn’t make me think of heavy metal? Who gives a shit! And I am not saying that because one of you was in a band called Agoraphobic Nosebleed, I promise (though that does give me sincerely warm feelings for you all). I have been won over by other winning traits: your complete unconcern for people who insist on defining and categorizing everything. The fact that you are influenced by the likes of Jorge Luis Borges and Jeremy Bentham. Your interest in creating narratives and themes for your album about women, water and the danger of mega-corporations and life in a surveillance society. Guys, I never want to see you live. It would be intriguing, but I’m fairly certain I would be kinda terrified. I listened to some of every song off this album. The title song was very pretty, and I am quite impressed by how you slid with ease from that ethereal piece into a sound which, personally, I wouldn’t quite describe in the same way.  Maybe I will listen to some more of your album one day if someone will hold my hand and tell me the sound of impending doom is intentional and I shouldn’t be hiding under my desk. But you know, I love what you’re doing though I can’t really listen to it. You’ve made an album that delights a lot of people. I like that this is, to you, your pop-ish album that needed a pretty cover and title. I appreciate that you are capable of moving between sounds and can pick and choose between them, cos I can’t move between all musical genres with such ease myself. So I think this is goodbye for us right now, but I really do think you are super.

So Isis is a sincerely weird band defying limits and genres: sweet. What I like best is how they use a word, one which doesn’t normally come up when talking about metal (dark slamming psychedelic guitars! mmm, i feel so peaceful and isn’t the light right now so beautiful), and their usage shakes it of all it’s tiredness and hands it back to the audience as something new. I fell in love with that word from a 90s alt-pop-rock band and it won my heart. Repetition began to dull it, and then Wavering Radiant recreated its potential. Now my subconscious will add ‘strange heavy metal group’ to the connotations I have with ‘radiance’, and I like that. A lot.

I’d like to make one more point which doesn’t have much to do with Isis or Athenaeum, though they got me thinking about all this. This is about how we all think and react to music in different ways. We all love stuff that we’re well-aware others can’t stand, have no interest in, or feel substantial sarcasm towards. I think this is a good opportunity to be honest from the get-go about secret passions. Sure, I can play The Replacements and the Rolling Stones and the YYY’s all night. I love to drive places shouting along to ‘Wolf Like Me’ and ‘Ceremony’ and do a half-dance, half-jumping out of the car thing. I get crazy-devoted and think about the genius of Broken Social Scene and KC Accidental and Do Make Say Think for hours straight. But there’s a part of me devoted to some shit I don’t really brag about. Like, a part of me which has a few drinks on Friday with SisterSister and ends up watching every Maxwell and Boyz II Men video, and not in the ironic too-cool-for-school-I-still-love-Motownphilly way. No, in the I must sing ‘Water Runs Dry’ from the bottom of my soul three times way. A part which wonders if the day will ever come when I hear ‘November Rain’ and actually get out of my car to run errands instead of circling the block till the song finishes (I LOVE ANTHEMS). Will I admit that Mr. Big is a cheesy hairband and it is time to get rid of their album (…albums? Don’t be silly, stop prowling around my room)? Of course not. What? I had an enormous crush on Steven Tyler? I don’t know what you’re talking about. No, I didn’t suggest we get silk pajamas and re-enact TLC’s ‘Creep’ video. That would be strange, leave me alone.

I’m talking about it because as much as I love listening to good music, and as much as I roll my eyes at myself when I’m listening to bad music, bad music makes people happy. It unites people when they find out they share a secret obsession, it reminds us that no one has perfect taste and we should tolerate other people’s passions with grace. People can share great songs, but the bond formed between two acquaintances when they realize they both love, oh, Dexter Freebish: that can create a real fucking friendship, because, no joke, you get that the other person has stuff they love they don’t share with the world too. It’s like when Vanilla Ice comes on at the beer and wine store and all the customers get disproportionately excited: they’re sharing something they love that is so bad and they can just chill out and be dorks together. It’s the best. When no one feels a need to prove how cool and awesome their taste is then people can sit down and get serious about how much they love ridiculous songs, and that is one of my favorite activities. I can’t help but sometimes feel I must let someone know how much I wish I was back in Houston driving on 59 out to Victoria with acres and acres of green grass and low trees…and singing ‘Fast Cars and Freedom’ by the Rascal Flatts with fucking passion.

So though there may be writings about social justice and good books, it’s so good to ramble and rave about shit that makes me happy, including the not-too-hip shit which isn’t always at the forefront of my mind, but is always waiting for me to remember it and go nuts for it all over again. There should be a place in the universe for people who love fine literature and get irrationally angry about Dan Brown’s writing style… and yet have Robbie Rob’s ‘In Time’ from Bill & Ted on their computer and listen to it more than sporadically. Bonus: no one can be too disappointed or frustrated with my ideas and writings, because, if you actually read all of this, you now know I have a soft spot for the Rascal Flatts. My judgment cannot be entirely trusted. It’s not all diamonds, in case My Favorite Moose didn’t clear that up.

This was a long post about how I liked an album cover and title. I need to drink less caffeine and study more.

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Saturday Links

What’s happening in Iran is (understandably) overshadowing the continued bombings in Iraq and airstrike attacks in Afghanistan, but I think it’s important to remember the bloodshed caused by American interventions in the Middle East has yet to stop.

This is also a critical moment for healthcare reform, and the American version of the House of Lords is doing all they can to prevent it. Digby had one in a string of great essays about it; favorite line? “There’s one thing nobody can take away from the United States. We produce some of the very best politicians money can buy.” Excellent stuff.

Also, via crooks and liars: Mahablog reminds readers that the health care industry in our country, as it stands, has nothing do with helping sick people. I’d say that means it has zero right to be sitting at the table.

Again, this comes from Heather at Crooks and Liars. The video is over there, but I love what Bill Maher said last night so much that I need to put it here too:

Now people talk a lot about a third political party in America. We don’t need a third party. We need a first party. You go to the polls and your choices are the guy who voted for the first Wall Street bailout, or the guy who voted for the next ten. This week we’re hearing that a public option for health care is unlikely because it doesn’t have the support of enough Democrats. Even Ted Kennedy’s plan, Ted Kennedy, yeah, leaves thirty seven million uninsured.

This is because we don’t have a left and a right party in this country any more. We have a center right party, and a crazy party. And over the last thirty odd years, Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital.

Well, yeah, exactly.

That being said, I think all eyes are on Iran today. Opposition candidate Mousavi has apparently said he’s prepared for martyrdom. I’m reading the constant updates on Huffington Post and The New York Times. I don’t think anyone really knows what’s going to happen, and my heart goes out to all the people who are enduring this terrifying situation and still working for change.

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I loved Goodbye, Solo.

GoodbyeSolo

Let me see if I can find a way to do it justice (I’m going to discuss the ending, so if you haven’t seen it and want to you might want to skip this). Ramin Bahrani has made a film about people I recognize, about lives that seem real. This might not seem like a big deal, but since the majority of major film releases involve boys with Peter Pan complexes, superheros, super-techno gadgets, and ladies who must. find. a. husband, I think this is a major accomplishment. Of course, this is an independent film which pretty much means it has to be of different quality than the latest bullshit.

What I liked best about it, I think, is more than than it’s a film about real people: one of the main characters is a good human being. Is that shocking? Think about it. Lots of small, smart films create characters I sympathize with. Take Half Nelson. I loved Ryan Gosling’s school teacher, and I loved Shareeka Epp’s portrayal of a young woman faced with two very different role models. But I can’t say that anyone in that film was a lovely, extraordinary person interested in helping strangers, capable of withstanding multiple rejections and obstacles in order to help a person in pain. I loved Goodbye Solo because it created a beautiful portrayal of a young man who cared about people he barely knew.

That’s remarkable. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film about a person like that: a person with a real life and real goals, a person who is disappointed in some of them and a person who works and needs the love and support of the people he cares about. He accepts that they can’t always give him what he needs and he manages to tread a line where he gives them all the love he can while trying to not entirely give up the things he wants. So far, so good: that makes his character a lot less selfish than the vast majority of self-involved personalities on the screen. What makes Solo so memorable is how he takes on an interest in William, a man who is obviously troubled and lonely. Solo makes William’s well-being important to him despite William’s reluctance. He goes as far as he can to involve the suicidal William in the world, but he also knows when to stop pushing. The audience doesn’t really know how Solo’s attempts to reach out to William affect him; we do know that Solo’s probable failure to change William’s mind hurts Solo.

Who can’t relate to wanting so much to help a person… and failing? After failing his flight attendant test, after his wife (who, I must say, I think is making a reasonable request but there is not enough of a back story here) continues to ask him not to pursue his chosen career path, after Solo knows that William has in all likelihood ended his life… Solo stays strong for his step-daughter (a wonderful character, btw) and allows her to quiz him so he can take his flight attendant test again. Solo’s been disappointed, he’s tried his best to help another human being and he simply is refused the comfort of knowing he did. He can feel sorry for himself and let the world know it, or go on and keep trying to be a decent person, which is what he does. Souléymane Sy Savané, the actor who portrays Solo, is just tremendous. The same shot of him silently driving his taxi and staring ahead is used throughout the film, and each time his face reflects the way things are unfolding by barely moving a muscle. It’s simply in his pained and empathetic eyes. He’s incredible.

My one issue with the film relates more to the film industry at large. Why oh why don’t women get the same sort of captivating material to work with? I’m racking my brain trying to think of films in the past year with women who had comparable interesting personalities. I can think of I’ve Loved You So Long and Happy-Go-Lucky (I refuse to include Rachel Getting Married as a film with an interesting lead female character because by God I hated that film so much, which makes me apparently one of a very small minority but whatever). By far the majority deal with men, men’s issues, men’s lives. I don’t understand why; what makes men’s lives so much more captivating than women’s? I can think of tons of ideas about films that involve female relationships beyond mother-daughter bonding and I-am-woman-I-must-get-married. So maybe I should write one and stop complaining about it. But despite that one bone, Goodbye Solo is a quietly triumphant film about the decent people in our world whose small acts of goodness may go unnoticed most of the time, but make life worth living.

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A great but sad post on Joan and Richard Feynman.

Glenn Greenwald discusses Dan Froomkin’s dismissal from the Washington Post.

Aung San Suu Kyi celebrates her birthday in prison by sharing cake with the guards.

Well, that about sums up how I feel about that.

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