Friday, September 19, 2014

Band Review: Sisteray

Sisteray is a four-man rock band based in London.

While affiliating with alternative and punk-mod revival, you can hear a definite bluesy influence on many of the songs.

The guitars are prominent, and well-played, but there is also a low-key feeling to the tunes, where they accompany your life well. "She Likes the Drama" may be one of their tracks, but you can listen to them without a lot of drama, and simply enjoy the experience.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Band Review: Bill Madden

Bill Madden recently released a new album, New Religion, so this seemed like a good time for a review.

One thing I have found is that I am not relaxed listening to the music. I feel more on edge. I think this is due at least partly to some of the higher sound registers that are accessed, but it occurred to me that this may also be for the best. Madden's Twitter handle is Activist 360, and there is a strong activist bent to many of the songs. Perhaps listening should be uncomfortable.

In general I responded better to his 2008 release, Child of the Same God. It's a little more rock-oriented, though with a strong folk influence. One of the songs the struck me more there was "Bosko and Admira". I had noticed it for the tune, but watching the video I learned it was based on the true story of a Muslim and Serbian couple who died during the conflict.

The video shows the lyrics, along with general art and photos of the couple and their news coverage. On one level it heightens the very simplistic lyrics, which could be a drawback, but at the same time it puts a face on the conflict, reminding us that every statistic of a tragedy is a person, and so it becomes emotionally affecting, and the most effective of his videos.

I do think fans of X Ambassadors would like this music, and my favorite track, "Save Is From Ourselves", reminds me a little of Roy Orbison and the Traveling Wilburys, so those fans should check it out as well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Yesterday we covered that the things I do to be more environmentally friendly are both inadequate and a matter of location. One thing that I do pretty well on is that I am not very acquisitive.

I got my first computer in 1995, and my first cell phone in 1996 . I am on my fourth and third respectively. (The current phone's battery won't really hold a charge now, so I am going to have to replace it soon.)

Some of that is being cheap. We don't have a lot of money, and what I do have I want to spend on experiences, like concerts and travel. That leads to the other part; I am over knick knacks and dust collectors. I'm not a clotheshorse. As much as I like books, and having books on hand, it is still most effective to just keep some and go through the library system for the rest. So I never would have expected that my lifestyle requires 32 slaves:

A lot of the evils of the world come from being willing to benefit off the harm to and exploitation of others. It makes our lives easier and more luxurious, and it makes the lives of others miserable.

I wrote about e-waste disposal Monday. Ultimately the price of our easy disposal is that people on the other side of the world are exposed to toxic chemicals, not to mention the fossil fuels used in transportation, and most of us don't really think about it, but there are people who know that's what's happening and are okay with it.

It's not all people in developing countries either. Fracking causes earthquakes and contaminates groundwater, leads to contaminated air, acid rain, and ground level ozone, and is associated with birth defects and cancer. How is that continuing?

Okay, I guess that turned a little dark.

I'll tell you something else I have done for the environment, and that was boycotting several brands that use unsustainably harvested palm oil, which is a habitat problem for many species including orangutans. I have not done a great job of it, because I have not sent letters to those companies saying why I have stopped buying their products, and also about every six months I give in and buy some ramen noodles, because I love them and apparently no brand makes them responsibly.

I have thought about doing other boycotts, because I know economic pressure is an important part of change, but it could easily go to where there are no brands to support. From the other side, the first time I looked up boycotting the Koch Brothers, not only was there not anything I already used, but there were a lot of things that were used in construction and areas where I would not even have the option of using or not using them.

My point there is that you need to accept some limitations. There are a lot of issues in the world, and some of them will require greater efforts than you can make alone, though that does not mean that your effort does nothing. There are two issues that I keep coming back to.

One is awareness. Seeing those answers - 3.42 earths and 32 slaves - felt pretty horrible, but it is eye-opening, and that is worth something. A lot of these things can happen because people don't know, and they are okay with not knowing. Be aware, ask questions, and engage.

The second thing, and this is my broken record part, is that we need to value all people. Instead of looking for reasons why their suffering is deserved and acceptable, look for the ways we are alike, and acknowledge their value as being equal with your own.

Those may be the very first steps to not being evil.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

This environment

One of the exercises we did for the Environment module was measuring our global footprint. You answer information about your consumption, and in response you get how many Earths it would take to sustain that lifestyle if everyone had the same lifestyle.

3.41 Earths. That's how much it would take everyone in the world to live like me.

I was pretty horrified by this, because we try to be pretty responsible. As other classmates responded with their answers, and it was more commonly 4.5-6.5 earths, with I think one person over 7, it's not exactly that I felt better, but I started to understand better the smallness of some of the things we do compared to the typical lifestyle.

The other thing that I had to consider was how much of my "smaller" impact is dependent on other circumstances that I don't really control.

Our electricity comes from hydro-power and our heating comes from natural gas. That is better for the environment than goal or nuclear (which is often called clean, but only in certain senses of the word), but it's not really a choice about using them, because that's what we have here. Well, we could choose do to the heating through electric as well, but basically, environmentally we get clean power here. I had already come to realize how lucky that makes us economically after visiting with my cousins in Italy, who pay much more for utilities, but it is an ecological boon too.

My family is very conscientious about recycling. We have a hard time on vacation when there aren't options. Usually we can find some place for bottles and cans, and we will cart paper home with us, so we try, but here it is so easy. They pick our recycling up every two weeks. We don't even have to do that much sorting. Not everyone has that. I like to think that I would try anyway, but there is limited time and energy, so the obstacles in the way matter.

Finding food grown locally is easier here. It may still be more expensive, and take some effort, but it can be done. This year there is a community garden nearby, so that has affected our habits. I am starting to be more optimistic about trying to grow in our yard. Not only do we have a yard, but even if the soil is not particularly nutrient rich, it is at least not contaminated, and I feel confident using it. I feel confident using our water. This is not true for every place you can live, even in the United States.

Our refusal to eat fish can be viewed as environmentally friendly, at least with certain species, but it wasn't really a moral choice. My sisters and I think fish is gross. Mom likes it, but not enough to miss it.

One objection I have seen to the ice bucket challenge is that it is wasting water when lots of people don't have access to clean water, and closer to home California has a drought. Based on that, it does seem a little irresponsible to do it in California. I know Henry Rollins only takes short showers because so many people don't have access. I get that, but I really enjoy my shower. I don't even take a really long shower, I just enjoy it.

I mention these things because it's important to remember the others. It's important to remember the ways we are lucky, and the ways that other people aren't. If people in developing countries are digging coal out of the ground and burning that to keep warm and cook their food, I know there is an environmental impact, but how can I judge it? When they want to build factories that pollute while providing jobs that allow them to have the kind of lifestyle that we have, how can discourage them based on our own luxury?

Tomorrow we will go over an even more devastating assessment, and talk more about environment and inequality.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Inequality and the Environment

Last week was spent reviewing the comics read for the MOOC, but there were some other things I wanted to follow up on based on the non-comic materials, and that is because of the way the different areas interact.

One article covered e-waste disposal. You are probably aware that you are not supposed to throw old computers and tech waste into the regular trash. Inside the casing there can be lead, mercury, and arsenic, as well as other chemicals and metals.

What you may not know is that after you responsibly turn your old gadgets in on a tech-waste round up, the recycling process that they go through often involves women and children in developing countries stripping them apart, that they may use other hazardous chemicals in the process, and that in addition to endangering their own health, various toxins enter the local environment as runoff.

We do get those toxins out of our environment here in the United States, but that doesn't mean they are not an issue anywhere, and this is a system that can happen because there are enough people who do not care about poor people. Those workers may not be fully aware of the health threats, but they may also be desperate enough to accept it. The people who may drink contaminated water or food grown in contaminated ground have even less choice.

That's sobering, and we are going to think some more about that, but I want to bring up two other things.

Often, having money can shield you from a lot, but in an area with more inequality, the air and water are worse for everyone. You can only drink bottled water, and have water delivered, but you probably aren't going to bathe in bottled water, or wash dishes in it, and you are still going to breathe air.

Inequality harms everyone. Yes, it hits those on the lower end of the scale the hardest, but it does not only hit them. That brings us to the last link for today:

They are actually not sure if the super rich are harmed by inequality, but they can confirm that 90-95% of the population benefits when there is great equality. They wrote a whole book on it.

If self-interest helps some people care about inequality who would not care otherwise, I will take it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Concert Movie Review - Duran Duran: Unstaged

This is a first for me.

Duran Duran: Unstaged was a 2010 Duran Duran concert performed at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles, filmed by David Lynch, and broadcast over the internet. Wednesday night it was turned into a Fathom event, in theaters for one night only.

I have reviewed concerts and films, but not both at the same time. I have been to Duran Duran concerts, but not since I have started writing reviews. Taking into consideration the merits of the concert, the film, and the theater experience will cover a lot of ground.

My previous shows happened on the Astronaut tour, which brought all five original band members together, and the All You Need Is Now tour. From that I know that Duran Duran stages phenomenal shows. Costumes, visual effects, and powerful performances combine into something that is obviously professional but doesn't feel stuffy or overdone. Copious amounts of charisma from the band members helps, but there is also a lot of expertise and savvy that is easy to overlook as you get carried away. Balancing those elements could be a difficult task for a filmmaker.

I am happy to report that being in the theater felt remarkably like being at a Duran Duran concert. I think making it available for only one night helped with that, turning it into an event that we had all chosen to participate in.

Most people did stay in their seats, which was different from a live show, but there was a lot of moving around in seats, singing along, and some shouting. There was that communal feeling and enthusiasm, even knowing that we were watching something from four years ago.

It was not just filmed as an ordinary concert either, because there was the broadcast going on. The primary different this made in the performance was the inclusion of special guests. They brought out Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance for "Planet Earth", Beth Ditto of Gossip for "Notorious", Mark Ronson for several songs, and Kelis for "The Man Who Stole A Leopard" and "Come Undone".

The guest performances were enjoyable on a musical level, but I think they were even more important for the sentimental factor. First of all you could see how excited the guests were to be included, reminding us how important and influential Duran Duran has been regardless of time periods and genres. In addition, seeing how sweet and supportive the band members were to their guests increased the emotional bond.

They are lovable. We know this, but seeing Roger hug Gerard at the end, after finally getting out from behind the drum kit, or seeing John wait for Beth to hug him, even though she had gotten in a hug earlier, gets the heart even more melted.

We had never known Kelis was pronounced that way, but then, Gerard isn't pronounced that way, so maybe Kelis isn't, but listening to Simon talk is so charming regardless. And then he told a total dad joke (How do you make a dog drink? Put him in the blender), but he is a dad now. They all are.

The film aspects worked pretty well for the most part. Often Lynch chose to overlay the visual effects over the band. These ranged from fairly amorphous objects like smoke, clouds, and flames to more concrete images like masks and houses. This made it possible to see both the visuals and what the band was doing, which was a good parallel for being at a show with a large screen behind the band. There were a few times when it was more obtrusive, with mixed results.

This was most distracting on "Sunrise", where the multiplying nude Barbies with blurred out faces could have been very effective for some type of commentary, but really did not seem to fit the song. Unfortunately, it felt like it deflated the song, which was tragic because that is a really good song.

On the other hand, the visuals for "The Man Who Stole A Leopard", while the initially appeared fairly abstract, shed a new light on the song for me which I hadn't been expecting at all.

Finally, while the footage for "Come Undone" was somewhat distracting, there is also something appropriate about completely ineffective grilling practices for a song about things coming undone, and I kind of loved the puppets. It felt so David Lynch, more than any other part of the concert.

Overall I have to call it a success, as a concert, as a movie, and as a Fathom event. However, I went with three other people, so you don't need to take my word for it.

Maria: Freaking awesome!
Julie: Freaking amazing!

Yes, they said "freaking". They did use less quotable language as well, but those were their first responses.

Also, our 71-year old mother loved it, and she would not be up for a live concert, which is more strenuous. We had her in the handicapped section of the stadium seating, and this worked well for her. Also working for her, that her kids were not the loudest people there. (Still loud.)

Duran Duran:Unstaged

Duran Duran

Me on Duran Duran

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Band Review: Blue to Brown

Last night I watched the concert movie Duran Duran: Unstaged. Knowing that would be my Friday review, I decided the perfect Thursday review was the blues duo Blue to Brown, featuring Duran Duran guitarist Dom Brown and his father Rob Brown.

There are generous helpings of funk and groove, as one would wish. Overall, it is pretty basic blues. Vocals tend to the smokier side, growling in the lower registers. It reminded me a little of Joe Cocker and Tom Waits, but more intelligible.

The guitar parts fill me with joy. "Talking Blues" may be the best example, as the guitar speaks and sings. However, listening to "Sweet Mercy" and "Please, Please" together may give you a better idea of the range, with the former punching and aggressive, and the latter soulful and pleading. Conveniently, all three tracks are grouped together on the album, Blue to Brown. The CD can be purchased via the band web site or downloaded via iTunes, along with Dom's solo albums.

They're worth checking out.