Monday, September 30, 2013

Is this what we want?

I am always behind on what I want to accomplish versus what I am actually accomplishing. Whether this is because I am overly ambitious, or I don't understand how long it actually takes to do certain things, well, it's probably a bit of a mix, but there is one thing that I have been meaning to do for months, and my inability to complete is not my fault.
One young friend was trying to figure out what to do about a career and schooling, and then there were others expressing the same concerns. I thought that it would be good to write something up, because I have been through that, and I have learned a few things. Every time I try and start, I get paralyzed, because of the way things are different now.
I was lucky. When I graduated a lot of employers were happy to see the BA, but they did not particularly care what it was in. There were a lot of jobs available, and because of those, employers offered pretty good wages and benefits. My actual student loan was about $6000, and I had run a balance on some credit cards, but the amounts were relatively small. I had those loans paid off a few years after graduation.
That was not due to great planning on my part. I took the classes and the majors I wanted to take and that I was drawn to, ending with a dual major in Romance Languages and History.  I didn't worry about it too much, because the plan was always that I wanted to be a writer, and if that didn't work out I was also interested in teaching, and I just believed it would all work out. When I ended up in various technology jobs, it was still biding my time to be a writer, but it did not matter in the least that I had not been planning to be in the tech sector.
I can't tell these kids that it will work out like that. Going to school will probably result in crippling debt, and there is no guarantee that an employer will pay them enough to support themselves, let alone pay off their debt. Not getting a degree will surely bar some paths too. I know that you don't have to do your dream job to be happy, because plenty of jobs can suit you, and life satisfaction does not have to come from your job - it might be better if it doesn't! But I want to be able to tell them that they will be able to find a job that does suit them and on which they can support themselves, and I can't.
That should not be the impossible dream. We're not talking about wealth here, or not having to work too hard. It feels like we are setting the bar at avoiding misery, and it is still set too high. So you will work long hours at Wal-Mart, more hours than you get paid for actually, and still have the people in line behind you judging you when you use your SNAP card to buy groceries.
(I'm sure that SNAP is a double boon to Wal-Mart, because not only does it allow them to underpay their employees, but I'm sure a lot of the SNAP users shop there, taking advantage of the low prices and thus supporting the system that pushes them down.)
Or maybe you will not need SNAP because you were able to get two menial jobs, but you will use meth to get through, and it does get you through the overwork and the despair, but not in a good way. And then maybe you will end up in jail for that, which will take care of room and board, but also separates you from loved ones, mentally beats you down more (probably without getting you off drugs), and takes a lot more of taxpayer money than the food stamps would have.
Is this really the world we want to build?
If this was truly what pure capitalism built, that would be an excellent reason to reject capitalism. That is not even the issue. Subsidizing corporations and deregulating and cutting programs is not simple free market and Adam Smith would back me up.
Also, even if you decide that you don't care about human suffering, this system is clearly unsustainable. I have thought for a while that we seem to be heading towards feudalism, but it is scaring me more now. Too much money is being pulled out of the economic flow as the wealth is concentrated, too many people are losing homes and job, and it just feels like we are approaching a breaking point.
Finally, think back to last Monday's post, on how drought increased the instability in Syria, and being a year away from global riots (that's a few months old, actually). Think about the people here who have been so sure that the problem with the world is everyone else. They know they are surviving because of their hard work, and everyone else is a loafer. How are they going to take it when the loss comes to them?
We have seen sometimes how badly people lash out, killing themselves but taking along their families, or strangers, or first responders, and setting fire to their homes or other buildings. That's not just despair. That is rage, and hatred of the world. I don't like that the people promoting "us versus them" are also so big on gun ownership.
So, those are the things that worry me, and that's what I'm trying to fight. I hope that some of the things that I say over the next two days can be helpful for that.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Band Review: Space March

Where Space March first grabbed me was with the track "Mountain King", referencing Edvard Grieg's "In The Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt.
It wasn't the first track I listened to, and it certainly wasn't the first time synthesizers gave pop life to a classical tune. The iconic notes grabbed my attention though, and combined with Craig Simmons' voice to create something that felt seductive and perilous. As you listen more, the peril is not that there will be sudden violence, but an inexorable loop that you can't escape. It feels unanswerable, and it works.
My other favorite track from the Mountain King album was "You Are Electric", but the album is strong overall. I believe I liked it best of the other albums. There are not dramatic departures from the synthpop style of his earlier work, but I think he is on an upward trajectory.
Music can be purchased via the Space March web site and through Amazon. The web site also has three videos, which are also available on Youtube, but they are pretty perfunctory. "You Get What You Deserve" is the best of them, but really, the songs are way better than the videos.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Band Review: Rozenhill

Rozenhill is a five-member band from Stockholm, Sweden.
They list their genre as metal meets pop, and that's fair. In places they remind me of Linkin Park, but more core, if that makes sense. A good example of that is their song "Addictive", which both showcases the fusion and is probably their most prominent use of keyboard, with some haunting soft tones. "Aurora" taps into a similar vein, but more with voice.
Speaking of that, with two vocalists, they can have something more melodic countering the growls, making for some interesting combinations. They only list one person on guitar, plus bass, but that seems impossible given how powerful the sounds sometimes get. When they are not reminding me of Linkin Park, they remind me of Metallica. Try "Well Of Lies" for a good example here.
(Actually, I saw another picture with six people, so maybe they added a guitar.)
That is not all they can do. "King Without Domain" is an interesting departure. It's not exactly mellow, but instead of the raw anger it is a measured, possibly jaded portrait.
I can't find that the music is currently available for purchase, but you can listen on Spotify, and there are some Youtube videos.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Gaming the system

In keeping with my tendency to read more about television than actually watching it, I am fairly up on "Breaking Bad" even though I have never seen an episode. One of the most interesting things I have read on it lately was an article exploring how accurately it depicted meth:
It was interesting from a scientific point of view, but what really got me was the section on meth often being an economic necessity:
"There are "functional" addicts, especially working mothers, who rely upon strong stimulants like meth to juggle their sundry responsibilities. One plausible theory has it that the rise of meth coincided with the rise of low-paying low-skilled service work, where people had to work multiple menial jobs to earn the same amount they used to earn in one manufacturing job, or other good-paying low-skilled position...
This holds up if you look at places where meth use is highest. Hawaii's heavy rate of meth use has been attributed to its high cost of living and service-based economy."
We went to Hawaii in 2006, and we talked to a few locals. Everyone worked multiple jobs and had a lot of roommates, and that was the only way to survive. Now, being on an island that is several hours away by plane from the mainland, moving to an area with better jobs and a lower cost of living is pretty difficult. Even if you're here, though, moving is big. There can be application fees, paying deposits and the first and last month's rent, possibly with moving costs, and those are purely economic factors. Time is huge, especially if you are working multiple jobs.
This is the new normal. McDonald's put up a budgeting tool that assumed that their employees had a second job. They got a lot of flack for that, and then they had defenders pointing out that minimum wage jobs are supposed to be temporary things. That only works if there are better jobs out there.
We have had a decent amount of economic recovery, in that a lot of corporations are profitable again, and stocks are doing well. Job recovery is still an issue, not just for quantity but for quality. Employers who took benefits away and imposed wage cuts when things were tight have dragged their feet on bringing things back. And why wouldn't they? Isn't it always better to keep as much as possible for yourself? Okay, maybe not, because that money does not flow through the economy like it could, producing more business, but hey, they've got theirs.
This just isn't sustainable, and I am going to go back to SNAP here. If people spent an average of three months unemployed, and during that time collected unemployment and SNAP, but then got good jobs, where they could support themselves and their families, that program is probably giving you the right amount of good for the money spent. People don't get too desperate during the bad time, and the bad time is temporary.
However, if they get the job and still need their food subsidized, or if they need two jobs, so it is not enough to have a job for everyone, but everyone needs two jobs, the pool of people needing help is going to be unworkable.
Let's pick on Wal-Mart for a bit:
Again, their employees are working. In fact, they are working horrible jobs for such low pay that taxpayers need to help them buy food. That might be okay if it was a struggling company on the verge of becoming successful - again with the idea that the government can help you through the rough patches - but Wal-Mart makes billions. They make more in pure profit than the government assistance required.
This is the real abuse. The bipolar person who complains about not getting disability and that McDonalds doesn't take SNAP is annoying. Yes, she could probably be a more productive member of society than she is, but you could have a million people just like her and they would not be the drain on the taxpayers that Wal-Mart is, or oil companies, or, well, that's a really long list.
Some time ago I remember reading about how the changing economy required changes in rules. One option would be greater government regulation of wages and healthcare, or the other would be a much expanded welfare state. Very few people like being on the dole. It's demoralizing. I prefer the other one.
Double the minimum wage. Move to single-payer health care. Properly fund basic education and make higher education free.
Does that sound radical? It's not nearly as radical as this move towards corporate feudalism. Some smaller companies will have a hard time perhaps, but this is a good place for corporate subsidies. Once you get the additional income into the economy, that will help a lot of businesses.
I do realize there will be some concerns about working teenagers, and I was one for a long time, so I get that. I don't propose allowing minors to be paid less, which will surely lead to different problems, but I think you can make those under eighteen exempt from any withholdings. They can't vote until they're eighteen anyway, so it is taxation without representation.
There is a lot that goes into it. There are scary things that are happening now that I have not gotten into, and ways that things could work that I have not gotten into, but my short point here is to point out the real enemy. And this is already long, so I will save my other two points on that for Monday.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Okay, let's talk about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp program. I will be saying a lot of things I have said before, but maybe it's time.
One thing I have mentioned before is that there were a few conservative writers I would read regularly, because it's important to be exposed to other views, but that they were getting much worse. I remember that with Rich Lowry, the turning point was when he wrote an article on gun control where he used an anecdote and said he didn't care what the statistics said.
Stories are powerful, and I get that, but they can also mislead. Statistically, SNAP has a low incidence of abuse, and a good track record for being a temporary program, helping people through hard times and then they get off. Even the beach bum band guy says he is setting up his career, which would theoretically result in him paying taxes later. But why pay attention to statistics when you saw someone with a manicure using that card!
And that is truly the train of thought. People complain about people who have tattoos, or who look like they work out, or who went into a Subway, or who bought cookies, or who have cell phones and cars.
Remember, the idea of the program is that you help people get through a time of low finances so they can end up doing better financially. Many of the people on SNAP are unemployed, and job hunting. One thing that is helpful for job hunting is have a way for potential employers to contact you. I personally am against eliminating land lines in favor of cell phones, but I know a lot of people have done it. I also know that even if you have your land line, using the cell phone number that is only for you and that you always have with you may be better for job hunting purposes.
Those are the thoughts that I have had on my own. Reading more about the subject, I have also read that a lot of people job hunting get temporary use phones, and there are programs that help with this. I was also reminded that you may not be able to easily get out of the contract that you signed when employed.
That leads to another key point. Sometimes you have things before you lose your job, and you still have them while unemployed. This includes tattoos. A person with a tattoo paying for groceries with a SNAP card does not mean that the tattoo was purchased with SNAP funds, or afforded because using SNAP for food meant they could blow their other money on tats.
Consider the car. Paul Ryan would like to eliminate people who have a car worth more than $5000 from the program. Here's something else I was reading about - economic recovery has been moving faster in cities where you have mixed income housing and businesses close together, because people can get to jobs. Great news for those cities, but perhaps a chilling reminder for areas with a lot of sprawl. For someone who needs to obtain a better income, is handicapping them by making them sell their car really a good idea?
There can be explanations for anything. Maybe when you see that manicure, a friend did the nails, or she saved up for a treat, or thought it would help for a job interview. Or maybe they are abusing the program. My sisters went to school with someone who doesn't work, and honestly she probably could, at least a little - the denial of her disability claim seems to imply that.
Unfortunately, somehow that seems to translate into people's minds that it is a bunch of users and abusers and exploiters, you know, like the families of active duty soldiers, and people who work really crappy jobs.
Actually, that is the biggest problem right now, and it is not a failure of SNAP, but of society. People who work full-time at many jobs can't afford to feed their families. Active duty military can't feed their families. A program that is designed to help people through hard times loses effectiveness if hard times don't end.
Further reading:

Monday, September 23, 2013

One more thing about Syria

Actually, Syria is just a departure point here, and I am going to be linking to articles, but my own writing will be short today, and these are good articles.
Granted, there is a long and complex background to the violence in Syria, both for things that happened within the country and external influences, but there is something that has made the situation much worse:
Yes, drought was a factor in leading to displaced persons, which never really increases stability. Now, while climate change appears to be a factor, mismanagement of resources was also a factor, but remember, mismanagement of resources is pretty common. Let us also consider that part of the article is security forces looking ahead to how this might affect other parts of the world, and then check out this article:
Yes, food shortages can lead to people having not much energy, which makes rioting harder, but before that you get to them being irritable, scared, and less able to weigh consequences and alternative strategies, because it is hard to maintain concentration when you are hungry. These will include people not just hungry on their own, but desperate to feed their families.
That's a global thing of course, but what about the United States, where we have such an abundance of food that we worry more about obesity than hunger?
Well, actually, we should worry about hunger, because there is already more of that than you would expect, and hunger and obesity are not mutually exclusive. There are ways in which recurring hunger will contribute to obesity.
Anyway, that's an interesting thought. We seem so modern and advanced for food riots, but there are a lot of problems with the system. The Farm Bill stems from the great depression, and its purpose was not only to help farmers, but to make sure that there was always an adequate food supply. It doesn't work very well now, because corporate interests have turned that into something where you have fields full of crops that can't be eaten without tons of processing, and where most of the benefits are going to corporations, not family farms.
(See the movie King Corn for more on this.)
Part of the Farm Bill is also the SNAP program, with food stamps, and that relates to hunger too, and it could relate to riots. We'll spend more time on that tomorrow.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Band Review: Color Theory

There is an interesting story on Color Theory's main page. His song "Ponytail Girl" was mistaken for a Depeche Mode song, so much so that it ended up as bonus track on bootleg Depeche Mode CDs. (I did not know that bootleggers attempted to add value in this way, but knowing that now I can totally see then making mistakes like this, because real fans would not be pirates.) This led to Color Theory's 2003 release, Color Theory presents Depeche Mode.
Color Theory does, in fact, sound a great deal like Depeche Mode, though less so on that album. While Depeche Mode, and other '80s synth pop has been an influence, Color Theory has also been influenced by contemporary techno groups like Deadmau5. So there are throwbacks to an earlier time, like a cover of A-ha's "Living a Boy's Adventure Tale", but there are also mixes that explore electronica.
There is a huge amount of output here. Normally in the week that I do a review, I like to listen to the artist's entire catalog three times. There was not a chance of that happening. So I jumped around in listening, hoping to get a good representation, and there were two questions that came up.
One is whether you can learn more by avoiding or diving into the remixes. You can learn some things about an artist by listening to completely different songs, but hearing them pull different nuances out of the same song is its own education.
I actually don't have an answer for that. While there are several remixes on the list, they are generally of different songs. It was not a Youngblood Hawke situation where there were six mixes of "We Come Running". It looked like there were three remixes (plus the original) of "What You Said", but that appears to be the maximum, and the exception.
The other question is, when someone reminds you so much of Depeche Mode, do you need them, because we already have Depeche Mode. And the answer for me there is "I Should Have Kissed You".
It was one of the first tracks I listened to, and it just caught me, like songs sometimes do. There are emotional connections that can't always be predicted. Color Theory gave me something that touched my heart, and there is value in that. Often the songs seem rather muted, but there is emotion in them. I also really responded to "If It's My Time To Go (Original Mix)".
Songs are available via iTunes and Amazon, and can be heard at

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Band Review: The Senators

By chance, on the same week that it was time to review The Senators, someone posted this:
I don't feel qualified to give them a proper score, but I feel comfortable saying that they are quite old-timey. There is the use of older instruments, like a banjo and mandolin, and there are references that feel as if they belong more to the past, even though we still have whiskey and trains. At the same time, they seem to have a fairly modern sensibility.
Listening to them is mellow, and quietly intellectual. It reminds me a little of Coldplay, or maybe a bit of The Verve on "Music From Another Room" where the strings hint of symphony.
That should not be taken to mean that they are always downbeat. "The Sea and Its Floor" lifts with an upbeat tempo. In general, though, it is quiet listening, with a touch of pathos. Perhaps the connection between the past and the modern can't help but be tinged with loss. Even though the lyrics to "Sweeter than Wine" don't seem inherently sad, there is a touch of melancholy in the lilting rhythm.
Music from The Senators is available via Amazon and iTunes.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


First of all, the best thing I have read about Syria was this article:
I strongly recommend reading it. It gives a great, high-level overview of the various factors in play. What I want to talk about though is the information in section 8, on why lines are drawn over chemical weapons, and if it makes sense.
I'm going to also link to the Wikipedia article on the Geneva Conventions, which also links to the Hague Conventions and the Geneva Protocol, which is actually where the bio-chemical issue came up:
There is a paradox here that is hard to work around. Part of how you get world wars is alliances between other countries; if one gets into trouble, it pulls the others in. These alliances can also be agreements to not attack each other, and to treat each other well.
So, it is entirely understandable that people who had been horrified by what the chlorine gas did at Ypres, and seeing that these weapons did more to terrorize civilians than it did to move the conflict closer to resolution one way or the other, would decide that it is reasonable to ban these weapons. It is reasonable, except then when you have someone violating it, then everyone who agreed it was bad is supposed to go to war.
That sounds bad, but you were already in a world of paradox when you set rules for humane war. My soldiers will kill your soldiers if we can, but then if they surrender we have to take good care of them. Being cruel to prisoners is evil, so that's valid, but it's still not exactly satisfying.
We probably feel best about World War II. The Holocaust needed to be stopped. However, if Hitler had only been killing his own people, instead of moving into other countries, would anyone have acted? Even with that, the US only joined in after a personal attack. Therefore genocide happened in Darfur, and Cambodia, and Rwanda, and large scale murder that might not technically be classified as genocide happens in China and Indonesia. You might see prosecution in the Hague eventually, but people don't really want to go to war for it.
And honestly, killing to stop death sounds like a losing proposition. It can be that they will kill more people than we will in order to stop it, or they are killing for worse reasons than we would have, and that's not completely invalid, but still, then we our losing our people to save theirs.
The problem when you get into discussions like this is suddenly everything sounds ugly. That we might care more about our soldiers than your civilians sounds petty, but there's something to it. If the side that was starting it cared about the lives on their side, that could really shrink the problem.
Sometimes we are actually really effective. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, that crossed a line, and it was resolved fairly quickly and easily, but much of the credit for the international cooperation there goes to Kuwaiti oil fields, making that matter more serious than chemical weapons being used on Kurds. There's some ugliness there, and some ugliness in how responsible the Western world is for the troubles in the Middle East and Africa based on colonialism.
Another interesting article I had read was from Laurie Penny, an English writer, after Cameron had failed to gather the votes for intervention in Syria.
Her article focused on the concern of an image problem, but that it's a false problem. They don't have the moral high ground, and people are becoming too aware of that. That is ultimately a good thing, but then what do you do? That for this specific instance Assad appears to be willing to surrender his chemical weapons is a miracle, and we should just be grateful for it.
On the question of do we need to punish the use of chemical weapons so that other people know not to use chemical weapons, I believe the answer is no. Anyone that you need to worry about for that is operating on a level where they are not going to care about what happened to the previous guy. Even if they do care, there are enough examples of people getting away with it that the one that does face censure is probably not going to make too much of an impression. That's the easiest question; it all gets worse from there.
After that it becomes "Do we care that terrible things are happening? Do we care enough to put resources into it? Is it our job? Can we intervene without making things worse? Can we get humanitarian aid distributed to the right people? And the answers are often discouraging.
So, I guess that makes this post really discouraging, and I feel bad about that, and about the lack of answers for what to do about these things. North Korea's Kim Jong Un starves his people and may have just executed a slew because his wife was jealous of his ex-girlfriend. Anyone want to go in?
I think there is an important point here, and I hope that will be the saving grace of this long and meandering post. The fact that there are no easy answers gives me sympathy for pretty much everyone, except for those who only criticize. There is that partisan thing going on, and that Fox News thing, but John Stewart addressed that pretty well, though I am not sure he gave John Kerry enough credit.
The other thing though is that when you have so many conflicting valid points, it requires a fairly sophisticated level of thinking. Anyone who is confident they know exactly what is right is probably ignoring multiple things. We need to get less comfortable with criticizing and more comfortable with critical thinking. We need to be able to put aside our own egos, both to be willing to put other needs above our own, but also to be able to accept that many things are beyond our power. That's true for individuals, for nations, and for groups of nations working together.
And, it requires good information. So, just as a reminder...
" I get that Fox opposes the Syria peace plan because its modus operandi is to foment dissent in the form of a relentless, irrational contrarianism to Barack Obama and all things Democratic to advance its ultimate objective of creating a deliberately misinformed body politic whose fear, anger, mistrust and discontent is the manna upon which it sustains its parasitic, succubus like existence, BUT... sorry, I blacked out for a second I was saying something?"

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Building on yesterday's theme about the danger of having secrets, you might think today would be about the importance of individuals living their lives in such a manner that they have nothing to hide, but it's not.
I do believe in doing good things and living a good life, and also I have seen how shame and secrets isolate in a continuous spiral, but I have already written some things about that, and I probably will again. Yesterday was about politicians, today is about government.
It's been a few years since I read Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes. At the time I was focusing on the disasters of US foreign policy and the CIA, and how sometimes the root of the problem changed, but there always was a problem. That could be wrong-headedness on the part of the president, the head of the CIA, or head of individual departments, and part of that was certainly the idea that communism was worse than anything else.
What has become more clear to me now is that the reason things could keep on going wrong was the secrecy. It was easy for incompetence or insanity to be hushed away. If someone didn't agree with orders and acted against them because they knew better, it was not always obvious.
In today's world, secrecy has become significantly more difficult. Yes, some of the Benghazi outrage is because Republicans and Fox hate Obama, so similar attacks that happened under Bush just don't matter.
Beyond that, there is just more information out there. We are always online, links are shared via social networking, there are more cameras everywhere, and once something is online even if the original site deletes it, some other site has usually captured it. That's just the way it is. Clinton wasn't the first president to cheat on his wife, but he did it in a world that has changed a lot since Kennedy (who also was not the first).
In this world, we find out about programs we would not have known about in earlier times. We know about drones and PRISM, and we know some things about Gitmo even though there are other things that are not released, and it can make the current administration look awful, but I don't think the others were better - we just didn't know.
In some ways there is a loss of innocence, and contentment; I see a lot more bitter people than there used to be. I still want more of it. We need to know, because then it forces us collectively to behave better.
My biggest disappointment with President Obama was when he renewed the Patriot Act. That needs to go. PRISM needs to go. There should not be warrant-less wire taps. If there is a valid reason for the tap, there is no reason not to get a judge to agree. Taps are for gathering information over time, so there should not be a time crunch on what can really be a speedy process.
(That's just one example. A lot could be said about drones here.)
There are times when the checks and balances in the Constitution result in gridlock, and that is frustrating, but the idea that no one should have too much power is a good one, and that should hold true in the legal system as well.
The Patriot Act gave too much power to the executive branch. That wasn't an Obama thing; that was a Bush and Cheney thing (especially a Cheney thing). Yes, the people who complain about it now and didn't then are rotten hypocrites, but that's not the point. The point is that it was wrong then, and still wrong now. The person who has too much power does not see it as too much, and it is hard to get it back.
(Here I am largely influenced by Charlie Savage's Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy.)
We need to move towards transparency, and away from the covert. Yes, there will always need to be some subterfuge in intelligence gathering, but there need to be limits on it, and safeguards. Building on Lord Acton's remark - "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" - perhaps we can view it as the level of corruption being proportional to the level of power. Secrecy increases the effect of the power, because it takes away the chance for others to interfere.
And because it relates, I'm going to reiterate something. Before any of these new programs, we had sufficient warning about September 11th. There were desperate unheeded warnings, because priorities were not set based on the intelligence. We did not need better intelligence; we needed better leaders. We are not going to get better leaders by giving them the opportunity to become ever more corrupt.

Monday, September 16, 2013


My thoughts here are probably going to be poorly organized, but I'm going for it anyway.
The train of thought started with Jeff Cogen, as the news items started that would turn him into a former Multnomah County Chairman:
Initially everyone was insisting that he played no role in Sonia Manhas getting her position, which based on this article looks less true than it originally seemed. Even if that had been true, perhaps the best illustration of how things go wrong would be when it came out that Manhas got the budget she requested, which doubled it from the previous year.
Now, there may have been valid reasons for doubling the budget, but once you find out that the approver is having an affair with the requester, it looks pretty fishy. If the relationship had been disclosed then you could do things like having a third party review the request, though this might just be one of those situations where you don't want people having personal relationships, but of course, there is adultery involved, so no one wanted to disclose.
The point is that by all accounts Cogen was doing a good job, but that's sunk. Too many of his decisions can be called into question now, and because the trust is lost, his abilities are now lost.
It was the right thing to resign - his attempts to fight it initially showed bad judgment - but obviously the much better thing to have done would have been to not cheat on his wife. If there are problems in the marriage, deal with them openly and honestly. Secrets get in the way.
Obviously we could make correlations to Anthony Weiner here, and we could spend a lot of time talking about stupid men and the dogs they are, but that's not really what is eating at me here, so I am going to share another story, that is very gossipy in nature.
About two years ago there was controversy over Portland's reluctance to participate in the join-terrorism task force because they would not have access to full information. Now, the rumor I cannot substantiate is that the information issue was actually that two relevant people were not approved after their background checks.
Now, at that point, we all already knew about Beau Breedlove, so it's not necessarily a Sam Adams issue, but I think the reminder there is that if you have sensitive information, you do not want someone who is vulnerable to blackmail. You don't want decisions made by people whose judgment has been compromised by other things they have done.
Perhaps the ridiculous part is that people are really very forgiving about those who are open. People tried to take Weiner back. Spitzer is not still living in disgrace. Adams is finishing his term, and a beloved extra on Portlandia. You can debate whether that's a good thing or not, but that's how it goes. That's not to say that no one would have any qualms about politicians never hiding their sex habits, but when you are unapologetic a lot of people seem to accept that no apology is required.
Once you keep things secret, though, you have created a weakness, and it's a weakness that can be a breeding ground for all sorts of problems.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Concert Review: Adam Ant

Yesterday I gave confusion between two groups as a possible reason why I might have been over thinking Prima Donna. However, I seem to be taking a more cerebral reproach with Adam Ant as well. Maybe it was the mood of the night, or something shared between the bands, or I may just be reading too much lately. Anyway, that's where I'm coming from.
In listening to the new album, Adam Ant is The BlueBlack Hussar Marrying The Gunner's Daughter, I initially thought I did not like it as much as his previous work. Going back and listening to more of his older songs, though, I hear a real connection. I was more familiar with the hits, and those probably are a bit more accessible, with the pop hooks and all, but some of these sounds have always been there.
Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the music is the use of two drummers. Never having seen him live before, I had never really thought of it before. It was fascinating to watch, as the two were not exactly synchronized, but were pretty much in unison. The effect was most felt in "Prince Charming", where the percussion becomes a primal force. In the other songs, I suspect that is a big part of what causes the music to approach cacophony - it's too well constructed to go all the way, but there is a messiness to it that is unusual. There is more going on, and it feels slightly off kilter.
This feeling is enhanced by Adam Ant himself, who dances with an odd gait, never quite losing his balance, but seeming close. Since the obvious question is whether this seems to relate to Ant's history of mental illness, I don't know. He is very lucid when he speaks - thoughtful, appreciative, and witty. Having watched some interviews, I think he can be great for increasing understanding towards mental health issues, and that's a cause close to my heart.
It's possible that what as a part of his life experience, that had an influence on his sound, and totally reasonable. What I was thinking about more was the history of taking on characters. He has been Prince Charming, the Dandy Highwayman, and now the BlueBlack Hussar. It makes sense that he does well as an actor, because he is good at playing a part. At the same time, my favorite song was "Wonderful", which seemed to come from a period where he was just Adam, and no one else.
So, on one level, his preferred way of doing things seems to be the opposite of my preferred way of doing things, which could lead to a disconnect, but what I came away with overall is that he is doing things his way, on his terms, and carrying on, and I admire that a lot.
I had thought his voice sounded a little off, which I thought might have been a result of his taking a break, but listening to some other things, he sounds pretty good. It might have been just that night.
That did not really get in the way of the show. He was himself, from start to finish, and played a really long set. There was a good mix of old and new, which can be tricky for someone with such a long career, but I thought it was a really good balance.
The audience seemed to approve. I was surprised that I didn't see any face paint or military style jackets. There was one person ready for a Renaissance fair, and one with a top hat who looked kind of like a chimney sweep, but it was probably some glam reference that I was missing, and one person was dancing very mysteriously. Otherwise it was your basic rock concert crowd with just a touch more of a punk influence. I think it worked.
My one regret was that I was up in the bar area instead of down on the floor. It's a completely different feeling, and I like it better down there. However, I was with other people, and it was necessary. So maybe that was part of my being engaged more intellectually than emotionally, or maybe it was the other things. It was still good.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Concert Review: Prima Donna

Prima Donna was the opening act for Adam Ant. I had been trying to listen to them in advance, to be kind of ready, because that's how I roll. I found one on Spotify that seemed to be the right one, and the biography said they were a female-fronted alternative band, not to be confused with the Los Angeles punk band, or a Texas band.

Once they stepped on stage, they all looked pretty male, but then they started playing "Sociopath", which I knew was one of the songs I had listened to. So, despite the warning not to mix the bands up, Spotify has, which I suspect means that royalties are not being distributed correctly. That's worth looking into for the principle of the matter, even if it only makes a 35-cent difference.
I didn't get all of that mentally sorted out until I was back home and on the internet, so during the show I was probably analyzing more than I usually do, trying to figure out who they were and prevent my lack of adequate preparation take away from the eventual review.
For a moment I toyed with the idea that this was still the other Prima Donna, because their bio referenced multiple roster changes, and they'd had male members at different times. These guys seemed too together for that. They had a unity that felt like it stemmed from playing in garages together.
Actually, I kind of felt the grease from the garage, which made me think perhaps there was a rockabilly influence. Lead singer Kevin Preston has played with Foxboro Hot Tubs, so maybe that makes some sense. Maria's first thought was glam rock, but they were opening for Adam Ant. Ultimately, they seem open to a wide variety of influences.
I will say that they did not seem very traditionally punk in terms of tempo. The attitude and the intelligence was pretty punk, but based on the sound alone it felt more like it was rock, but bouncing around the various rock fringes - here we are going to give you rock with some juke joint piano, and here we are going to get a little bit grungy, and then I'm going to throw some Gospel influences at you, and feel free to throw in some call and response.
The other way it seemed different for me is that, at least with the punk I gravitate to, it tends to be more fun. Here I feel traces of nihilism, like it's all going to end, so just have fun, which primarily seems to mean alcohol and sex, but then it's not actually that fun. This makes sense but makes me a little sad.
I have to balance that with saying that it was a great show. They are good performers - strong on instruments, strong on energy, and playing with a real sense of unity. I like Preston's voice, and I kind of love his guitar. I couldn't get a good look, but I think it had triple humbucker pickups and a whammy bar in a column, and that sounds crowded, but it was gorgeous. Maybe a Fender; I don't know.
I am absolutely not kidding about the intelligence, both with vocabulary used, and with the concepts in the songs. And if it was not clear earlier, when I say they bounce around the fringes of rock, that means they have great variety, and I do not get tired of listening to them, but I can see where people might get turned off. Maybe they're just a little dirty. Actually, I think they could make a great lineup with Jack Rabbit Slim ( That would be a good show.
Prima Donna's newest album is Bless This Mess and seems to have pretty good availability. They do not have their own Youtube channel that I can find, but there are some videos on a channel belonging to the label, Acetate Records.

Edited to add: It occurred to me that I might be able to get some help on the guitar from Stray Dolls, who focus on news about Prima Donna. They answered my question promptly, and I think it makes sense to include them here as a good source of information:

Also, Kevin Preston plays the Ultra III from Schecter Guitar:

I don't understand why I respond so strongly to some guitars versus others, but I don't really question it either. I say she's a beaut.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Death in song

Back to Thomson's book, one thing that was interesting to me was his contention that while folk music did help people deal with death, pop generally did not. Of course, how a song should help, and which songs did, and that some songs were helpful even though they did not seem to earn it, was all up for debate.
One point that was mentioned, but possibly not explored enough, was that death is less immediate for us. Modern medicine is better, life expectancy is longer, and while media allows us to know about catastrophic events, they happen at a remove.
So, is it that shallow pop fails, or is it perhaps that it should focus on other things? Maybe we don't need as many songs about death now as we need songs about alienation and connection, and image and individuality. If contemporary music has a role to fill in contemporary times, it seems like the most natural thing in the world that the scope of that role would change with the times.
Thomson got off on the wrong foot with me by making a grossly inaccurate My Chemical Romance reference, and then he was dismissive of them overall. He was also quite dismissive of "Emo". Without getting into what defines emo and whether he was even using the term correctly (I am still a few months away from feeling confident in talking about that), I have to take exception with the dismissive attitude.
There are a lot of young people now who feel alienated, alone, and without a place in society. They have doubts about ever being able to find love, or satisfaction, and sometimes even whether life is worth living. There are many bands that put words to those feelings, and give encouragement to them. Death is not the specter here; the enemy is the misery of life, for which death appears to be a relief. I don't like that things have gotten that way, but it's there, not for every teenager, but for a lot.
And yet, what these teens are saying over and over again is that these bands saved their lives. They post the lyrics, because the lyrics are beautiful and because having someone beautifully express what they are feeling helps soothes the ache. Also, over and over again, these bands tell them to live, to not harm themselves, and to be proud of who they are. So, I think a need is being met.
It is odd to me that as many times as Thomson admits that people need different things at different times, he seems so hard-nosed about what he will consider helpful.
One thing that I was thinking about, between yesterday and today, is that despite being very religious, I don't like my music to be religious. Well, let me walk that back. In church I sing hymns, and I many of them are very meaningful to me. When I went to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I enjoyed it. My mother loves them, but I am pretty much always listening to rock, and I kind of hate Christian rock.
I can see different camps believing that is because Mormons aren't really Christians, or because Christian music is horrible, and I lean more towards the latter, but one thing that I have really responded to are songs that question. They are looking for meaning, but they don't have it. I remember liking Audioslave and Linkin Park for this.
Maybe I just think the Christians rockers are too smug, or perhaps it doesn't feel like the best way of expressing faith to me. For example, while I do love Jesus, I generally do not refer to him by merely his first name, and I would never consider honking to be an appropriate and meaningful way of expressing that love.
It may be meaningful for some people, and Christian music may be meaningful for some people, and that's okay. I will say I think "Love Song For A Savior" by Jars of Clay is kind of creepy, and its use in the Christian Mingle ad is even more creepy.
There are songs that relate to death that have touched me deeply. Yes, that includes the entire Black Parade album. I disagree with Thomson that My Chemical Romance glorifies death, but they do face it a lot. You know, maybe that makes sense, given that the band was formed as a direct result of the 9/11 deaths. So there is death on Bullets, and death on Revenge, and then you get The Black Parade and if it was ever not clear that death songs end up being about life, it becomes clear here. And I have written about that before.
There are a few other songs that come to mind, and I have written about some of them before too.
"Like A Stone" by Audioslave: I used it in a talk in church once. Again, this is a questioning one, not an answer one, but it is powerful, and it makes sense. "On my deathbed, I will pray to the gods and the angels, like a pagan, to anyone who will take me to heaven." Okay, I am not a pagan, and I only pray to God, but that's because I believe it. If you don't know, it is reasonable to reach out, and to find what will work. I empathize with the search.
"Tears In Heaven" by Eric Clapton: Based on very specific circumstances, the questions that it raises are nonetheless questions that many people can relate to. Will you recognize me? Will I know you? There is also an ache that many can relate to. I miss you. "Beyond the door, there's peace I'm sure, and I know there'll be no more tears in heaven."
"A Heart To Hold You" by Keane: This really hit me after my Zio Paolo died. It's not like he we spent a lot of time together, but when we did his love for me was so evident, and that was new for me. He died so suddenly, and at a time when everything else was so bad, and he was gone. "When you're lonely and sad, if you think of the times we've had, just the thought will bring you back to me."
"Kids In The Street" by the All American Rejects: This is not specifically about death, but it became about my childhood friend Josh, after he died, at that same bad time. "A glory night is a story saved, mark the chapter, but turn the page."
"Won't Give In" by the Finn Brothers: This is more general, and it doesn't even have to be specifically about death, but there is a power of connection there, and that is no small thing. "What does it mean when you belong to someone, when you're born with a name, when you carry it on."