Tuesday, December 31, 2013


It will be much easier to offend people in this post, but I think if you make it through yesterday and today, then tomorrow everything will make sense.

Yesterday I referred to one convention incident, and as I said, while the perpetrator did out himself and apologize, many people felt it was inadequate and were upset not just with him, but with others in the press for letting him off too easily, and they made good points.

While I was mulling over that, another random comment directed me to a different incident, in this case with some complaints on the part of the perpetrator of backbiting and people being two-faced. This reminded me of some other comments I had seen. In the third case, some were complaining about one web site posting unfounded allegations irresponsibly, and then others were complaining about that attitude, which seemed soft on the harassers.

Those last two paragraphs may be confusing, so I'll sum up. There is a total of three incidents, involving three separate comic book creators, usually with multiple victims, and unhappiness in all directions. None of the creators were people that I had heard of before, but in all of the commentary people I like were criticized for not being harsh enough.

(I'm omitting names deliberately, because I think it would be a distraction, but it may not be that hard to figure out.)

One of the common refrains in a lot of the articles was "We all know there are a lot of creeps in the industry." There are, but labeling them creeps means that for someone who is friends with the creep, and has had good working experiences, "creep" does not describe the person. They may go too easy on a friend, because it's hard to accept someone we like and respect doing that.

It may be more helpful to think of the industry as full of people, but with a culture that encourages some pretty creepy behavior, and with a population where the majority benefits from that culture, so there is resistance to change.

It's not that some people are not super-creepy; they are. It's not that people shouldn't know better; they totally should. It is also remarkably easy to go along with the norms without examining. I'm going to refer to a non-convention related story.

There have been several edits as new things happen, but the original post that I read starts below the 12/23 edit. This was a frightening experience for the author, and I don't blame her for that. I appreciate her compassion for the driver; she is correct that they need better training and procedures in place. If nothing else, the driver should have silenced the guy once they were both on the bus.

There is also something that I notice with the harasser though, and this is not a defense of him. He was offended too, for being perceived as dangerous. Race appears to have been a factor. Now, responding to that by threatening language is so stupid and wrong, and not having any empathy for the author, really, everything that he did was wrong. I also notice that in what she quoted, he threatened to slap her, but the other things he told her that she deserved, not that he was going to do them.

It seems to be an important part of rape culture that while there is a limited number of men who will rape, there are a lot more who are okay with the mention of it, and with all that is demeaning and dehumanizing. Maybe it is easier to feel like they are still good people, because they aren't doing anything illegal.

There is a whole spectrum of this behavior. Rape and physical violence is the extreme end, and that does sometimes happen at comics conventions, but not nearly as much as groping, which still happens less often than verbal harassment.

What I wonder about with the guy at the bus stop is if that could have been turned around. She was viewing him as a threat, which was reasonable. While the burden of his bad behavior is totally upon him, ff she had said something that acknowledged his humanity, but still turned him down, could that have been a better experience? I don't know, but I'm going to link to one more thing:

The first time I read the ten percent statistic, it was being used as an argument against direction rape prevention at rapists, because a ten percent improvement isn't very effective. I disagree. For the people affected by that ten percent, it's really significant, yes, but also I think there is a bigger impact.

Let's say you have some people who will assault and rape, no matter what you do, another group who was never going to sexually assault anyone, and then the target group, who views things differently after the campaign and does change behavior. They don't become criminals, which is good, and means that some people are not becoming crime victims who otherwise would have, which is also good.

I suspect there is also a difference in the group that would never commit the assault, because maybe they are now less likely to think "She was asking for it." That's a key part of the culture, and it matters, so reducing that attitude matters.

And the changes in that group make a difference for the ones who will not be educated. Maybe some of them won't be moved by education, but would be moved by societal pressure. Maybe some of them will have to retreat when there are no longer safe places for them to demean and hurt.

I know, I am going back and forth between things that are crimes and things that are awful but legal, but there are correlations, and I think the correlations are important. That's how we pick up on the trends and themes, and how we can extrapolate to find solutions, which is where tomorrow will be going.

Monday, December 30, 2013


More often than you would think, I find myself exhorting young girls not to lie to their therapists and counselors. It's not because the deception keeps the professional from having the knowledge to help them, because frankly hearing their experiences has not really bolstered confidence in available mental health services.

It was more a realization that they were already too disconnected from hiding too much. Every lie they told reinforced that what they really thought and felt and wanted didn't matter. It didn't mean they should tell everyone everything, but it was important not to lie. So refusing to discuss something was fine, and I may have at times encouraged telling the professionals that they were doing lousy jobs and that the things they were suggesting were stupid, but that whatever they said needed to be true.

Honesty has been a recurring theme this year, often by its absence. The lack of honesty has been an issue in politics, and comics, and every social issue, because refusing to look at things with a clear eye is often what allows the perpetuation of the issues, so honesty is an important thing that we do for society, but I am also recognizing it more as an important thing that we do for ourselves.

This probably sounds like I am beating around the bush. That is partially true. I am nervous about doing a bad job with my overarching theme for the week, but also, making these connections is important. Looking at the big picture, it makes total sense that we need to be true to ourselves. There are countless examples of how lies erode and corrode, so it makes sense for me to apply that where we're going now, and this week is going to basically be about sexual harassment in comic culture. Some of my examples will go beyond that, but my solution is going to be centered around conventions and events. And I am nervous because there will be many opportunities for people to take offense, and if they must they must, but I want to at least write clearly enough that nothing is misinterpreted.

One of the incidents that has led to this series of posts is written up pretty well here:

There is quite a bit more to the story, because the harasser has come forward, and apologized. There were some deficiencies in the apology, and apparently some patterns, and that probably goes more with tomorrow's post, but one thing that really had me thinking was this:

"We get the hell out of there. I vent to my husband. We drive to my friend’s house and I vent to her and her partner. That evening, I distract myself with comfort food, wine and an engaging movie, and hope that I’ve gotten past it, but six hours after the panel has ended, I’m sobbing on the couch, feeling helpless and self-loathing.

I hate myself for acting like everything was fine, for not standing up for myself, for letting him disrespect me in front of all those people. Thirteen hours later, it’s the middle of the night and I’ve woken up in a rage. I’m not over it. In fact, I can’t think about anything except how victimized I feel. How there’s nothing I can do about it now."

That hit home. I know from my own experiences that when I have let others disrespect me, it haunts me, and when I have stood up for myself, I have felt proud. Sometimes there was really no difference in how the people were treating me, only in my reaction. What I have decided years later was that when I played it off or ignored it, I was essentially giving these people permission to abuse me, and so I believed what they said, and internalized it.

I was not thinking, oh, it's okay for them to do this, but at times we are taught that words don't mean anything, or that people respect you more if they can't get a rise out of you, and various other things that sound good but don't take the psychological cost into account. If you are female, you are taught over and over again to be nice and not make a fuss.

There are a lot of things that I am willing to suck up without complaining. I can work long hours in uncomfortable conditions, and I can clean up disgusting messes for loved ones, and I can let someone be very annoying if they need a listener and I accept a role in fulfilling that need. Those all have purposes where there is a good reason for the trade off. I'm not sure we do a good job of analyzing the choices involved in accepting some things.

So, the first way I could offend someone is if this is taken as victim-blaming; that is not my intent. MariNaomi handled a difficult situation with dignity, and when that did not feel like enough she has been brave and open about the experience. I will not criticize her for that. It is in that open communication that we have a description of one big cost to the current attitudes, and the current normal.

Often reading about comic culture, or gamer culture, and probably several other cultures that I am not going to get into, there are costs that we think about more than others. We do think about how overall that makes things less pleasant, and it reinforces a lack of diversity which has creative costs, and makes it harder for talented people to succeed, but right now the cost I am thinking about is personal. I am thinking about how women take abuse, and shrug it off, and are then left with this lack of resolution, and self-loathing.

What I am saying that is possibly different is that I now understand that self-loathing as being a result of feeling complicit in one's abuse. We can take an honest look at that, and reasons why it was logical and that may be helpful. We can also decide that speaking up is important, and figure out the best ways of doing that. But first, we also need to take an honest look at the other side of it.

I do ultimately believe that the truth sets us free.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Band Review: Sina Lloyd & Buddy Greenfield

I almost bumped Sina Lloyd to a different week, because I was concerned that the similarities in sound between her and Femke Weidema would result in confusion. That ended up being okay, largely because of the Cotton Wine element for Femke.

Looking at Sina Lloyd specifically, there is another element there, with most things being listed as Sina Lloyd & Buddy Greenfield. The Twitter account that followed me was, I think, initially just Sina, and so I am not sure how long they have been collaborating. They seem very united, musically and romantically, so I did put him in the title, but I have been thinking of her as solo for months.

Like yesterday, this is essentially synth pop again, but this time the focus feels more slinky rather than perky. Perhaps with a couple working together, it makes sense to feel a little more sexual.

Among the individual songs, there is a certain feeling of sameness, which is probably fine if you like club music. My favorite was "Bound to Occur", largely for the visuals of the video. They have put interesting visuals with a lot of the songs - sometimes with original footage, sometimes not - so Youtube is probably the best starting point.

The other thing that may be of interest is that they do a lot of holiday songs, so you can find songs "Favorite Time", "Happy Halloween", and "My Valentine".

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Band Review: Femke Weidema and Cotton Wine

I wasn't sure what to do with this one. Femke Weidema initially followed me on Twitter, so ended up on the review list. I did not find a lot of songs on her main site, but as I searched more I found that she also is apparently in a new band, Cotton Wine, and it did not seem right to neglect that. So, I have been listening to both.

There are several links given, but I believe the most valuable is the Soundcloud one, because there you find her solo material, Cotton Wine tracks, and even collaborations and background music. If there is anywhere to get an idea of the full range, it is at Soundcloud.

In the most general, basic terms, the solo songs tend to be a little more dance/techno, whereas for Cotton Wine it feels more country, but possibly more folk than country. Actually, "Bloody Mary" kind of reminds me of All The Apparatus.

I feel like the work with Cotton Wine grounds her, where there is more substance and more interest than in the solo material, so that might be the best starting place.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


I have written about the toy drive we do at work before, but this was the first year that I ended up doing a volunteer shift with it.

I was a little surprised at how it went. We got to the place and found two mountains of bags. We were opening the bags from one mountain, which were the donations as they had come in. We emptied those, and then put them into new bags in groups of 15, because the toys hadn't been counted yet. And we did some sorting. Sometimes there were clothes or school supplies, and those went into separate places, and sometimes we would find things that were broken or not new, and those did not go in the new bags, but mainly it was open, empty, count while loading into new bag, tie, and toss it onto the other mountain.

Agencies would later come and take a specific number of bags, based on (I assume) how many children they were serving and also how many bags there were. I know there have been years when we were under goal. I don't know how things came out this year, but I know it was a lot of toys.

Bikes are handled a little differently, and some of the larger toys, but ultimately there is a certain element of randomness to which agencies get which bags and what is inside. Previously when I had thought about kids getting what they really want, I thought in terms of whether what they wanted happened to be donated, but there's a lot more involved.

That's not to say that there is no value in getting any presents, or that this drive is their only shot. I know at different malls you will see requests for specific items on their giving trees, and some of the agencies may work with multiple collection sources, but there is still this thought that there could be some special wishes that don't get fulfilled only because the right connections are not made.

The work of official charities and agencies is important. I don't want to take anything away from what they do, because it is valuable and it is hard, and they put in a lot of effort. (And I imagine I will never stop thinking about the importance of an equitable society.) However, there are some things that only work out when it is individual to individual.

There are food banks to keep people from starving, but that favorite, homemade food usually requires a person. There are also a lot of times when our basic needs are met, so we aren't on any charity's radar, but there may be wants that seem hopeless. When someone who knows makes that happen, that is magic. Actually, it's better than magic; it's love.

In the Tuohy's book, In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving, they do focus on the cheerful part, but also they talk about "popcorn giving" - responding to things as they pop up.

There are chances all around when you pay attention. Sometimes you just realize, I can do that. I could get that shirt for her. I can send cookies. These are rarely life and death things, but they provide little bursts of joy, because they show that you have been seen. Someone noticed. Someone cares.

I read Howard's End because of the phrase "Only connect." I thought it would be about connecting to each other. It is actually about connecting the animal and the angel, the poetic and the prosaic. It is about connecting all of the forces that seem to be in opposition but that actually require cooperation. It still worked though, because to fully connect to each other, we need to deal with the contradictions of each other.

We need to love each other despite the nuisances and the flaws. The general feeling of goodwill to men is important, but it is even better to love specifically. I see you. I care about you. I can do this for you.

Charity is only something that we do until it is something we become.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hope for humanity

This week is kind of a series, I guess, which I have been doing a lot lately. So, if you guess that tomorrow's title will incorporate "charity" in some way, you get a gold star.

If there are things about the "white Santa" thing that are irritating or sad or befuddling, that's just part of humanity. It's popular in some circles to blame religion, but these are things that come up in non-religious contexts too. Really, the issue is human nature, and one of its ugly sides is the tendency to create divisions and pick out who does and does not belong.

For all of the hostility and ignorance and stubbornness, there is more to the story. There is kindness, beauty, and moments of sweet surprises. Here are some of the things that have lifted my heart this year.

I really didn't think there was any way he could still be alive. He was old, disoriented, and without a cell phone. But they found him. Even with his confusion issues, he was able to do what he needed to do to stay alive, and they may have a reason for the confusion now. Sometimes things go much better than we could ever expect.

I was initially surprised that the makeovers were outlandish instead of attractive, because that's the normal thing, but no, it was perfect that they were outlandish. Feeling attractive is nice, and when you have been sick and losing your hair and the chemo is causing issues with your weight and skin, it probably would be appreciated. They did something different here, and they caused surprise.

Maybe the subjects were expecting to look conventionally good, and that would have deadened the impact. What they got was something that was so thoroughly unexpected that it stopped everything, and for a moment it brought relief. Priceless.

There are a couple of different things here. The initial man's gift of the laptop and textbook and coding lessons is good, and that he saw something in the man, but there is more. There was also a new friend, and other people looking out for him. That is good. That the app he is working on is something to help the environment is good too. What problems would be solved if more people had access to unlock their potential for solving problems?

Of course, there is also the story of him being arrested and losing his laptop, because he is homeless, which, while it does show some good in others, highlights that we do not have good policies in place for the homeless. However, seeing his story, and realizing his potential, makes this next story even more intriguing:

How about that? Giving with no strings attached is cheaper and more effective than the current system. Perhaps it's a good reminder that it is much harder to replace something that is lost than to maintain it, so boosting people past that spot of getting into a home again is huge.

Of course time lost cannot be replaced, which makes this article particularly discouraging:

Okay, there is healing possible, but to know that there are patterns and stresses built in that add so much hardship to a developing child is a sickening thing, literally.

But even here there is hope, because of what they say about "serve and return"; that ultimately to pay attention, to let children, and people, know that we see them, and acknowledge them, that is our most basic need and it is completely possible to provide.

Okay, one more story, and I love this one:

First of all, thinking about the logistics of that, and that they managed to pull it off, is amazing in itself.

I shared it with someone, and I knew her response would be (and it was), "Why doesn't stuff like that ever happen to us?"

And you know, this was a one-time thing, I am sure. It was great for everyone who participated - even the guy who just asked for socks and underwear seemed really touched at getting them - but that's not the norm, and no, I was not on that flight.

However, I live in a world where that happened. Someone got the idea, someone approved it despite expenses, and people worked to make it happen. And I live in a world where someone sees something in a homeless man, and taught him to code. I live in a world where a whole team of people worked to give some cancer patients a moment of forgetting and turned it into art.

Therefore, I live in a world where a multitude of good things can and do happen, making it possible that any number of good things can happen to me.

Leave some room for hope.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Faith in a White Santa

Yeah, that title sounds pretty bad, but lots of people have already used "Fear of a Black Santa", and I think it will work with where I'm going with it.

(Clearly this is building on Megyn Kelly's response to Aisha Harris's Slate piece. Relevant links are down below, including a Jon Stewart segment that I had a really hard time finding after the first time I watched it, because now it is all about Kelly's "obviously that was humorous" response.)

If anyone has forgotten from last year, I will not support any of the Christmas deceptions, no matter how cute, so if your child reads this and realizes that Santa Claus is not real, there will be no retractions and no apologies.

That being said, I am not going to criticize Megyn Kelly for her "And by the way kids" stuff. I remember "Good Morning America" getting a ton of flack for outing the Elf on the Shelf, and that is also a show that is not specifically targeted to kids, so fine.

It did underscore the childishness of everything else she was saying, though, because the need to believe in Santa came across exactly the same as the need to believe he was white. She appeals to the historical record of St. Nicholas as a real person, and you can't just arbitrarily change the race of a real person, but that real person died in 343. Yes, there is a Saint Nicholas, and he is part of the origins of what we believe about Santa Claus, but there is so much else that goes into that, pulling from many different histories.

Thinking about the color issue, a man born 1743 years ago in Greek-ruled Turkey might indeed have had dark skin, but not all of Santa Claus comes from Saint Nicholas. I started wondering about the North Pole thing. Could he be a Laplander? They're pretty Caucasian. At the same time, I recently saw a picture of a little girl whose family were reindeer herders, and she was Mongolian, so her skin was somewhat dark.

Apparently the North Pole thing came from stories of Hyperborea, which could be Celts or Siberians or maybe even Uyghurs, which is a Turkish Ethnic group living in Central Asia including China. I guess with the Saint Nicholas connection, we should vote for Uyghurs, so still somewhat dark-skinned.

Actually, the biggest personal thing for me is that I suddenly understood an argument that has occasionally come up during some of my prison correspondence, with someone bothered by white Jesus and apostles. I was always thinking, well, they're Jewish; that's Caucasian, right? Well, maybe not.

And that's when it started feeling kind of dirty, to get into this argument about white enough or dark enough. Let's get out a paper bag and check Santa against that! What a stupid thing to get hung up on!

(Incidentally, I like the picture they show on Jon Stewart of how Saint Nicholas might have looked. I like that guy. He looks kind. It's in the screen capture if you don't want to watch the whole thing.)

One friend reminded me that it does change. Jews are probably lighter-skinned now than they were at the time of Christ. (Congratulations Jon; Jews are now white!) In addition, attitudes change. The scapegoat immigrants used to be the Irish, and then it was people from Southeastern Europe, and that eventually goes away.

We still have problems racially, though, and it has repercussions. The Slate piece (if I am related to Aisha Harris, I don't know it) was humorous about changing Santa to a penguin, but that feeling of illegitimacy, of not being included is real. If we had a more inclusive and egalitarian society, Santa's color might not matter so much. That's worth thinking about.

Remember, there are many different traditions that have fed into Christmas, and which ones we have kept and which ones have dropped may have been chosen unconsciously, but there was still an element of choice, so we can choose.

I was fascinated to read about Black Peter. Yes, there is a black counterpart, and that leads to use of blackface in some countries, and often he is the bad one (though apparently not always), so that can be problematic, but listen to this:

"if you've been bad then Black Peter will beat you and maybe take you off to be a Spanish or Barbary Coast pirate's moll..." (http://www.milism.net/blackpeter.htm)

I haven't been a particularly bad girl, but that's an intriguing option! Maybe we can find a way to work that in.

In all seriousness, we do have choices about our lore. The names of Santa's reindeer were made up by one poet, and we accepted them. The way he looks came from a couple of cartoonists, but there are many cartoonists.

So perhaps the most important thing to remember about the historical Saint Nicholas is that his focus was on helping the poor. He was the patron saint of thieves and pawnbrokers, students and children, and sailors and prostitutes. He was the patron saint of merchants as well, and for one method of celebrating Christmas, that may be the only group that matters, and the children, I guess. Oddly, this is the exact same transformation that we see happening with the perception of Jesus. Forget about helping the poor; there are sinners to judge!

And that's where it becomes about faith. For faith to be of any value, it has to be in something true. Faith takes away fear. Listening to Fox - and this goes so beyond Megyn Kelly - there is always that undercurrent of fear. There is fear of dark-skinned people, fear of teenagers, and fear of tyrants (but only if they belong to the wrong party, otherwise it's they are just strong leaders).

As silly as it is, I hear fear in Megyn Kelly's insistence on a white Santa. I don't think she has examined it, but I would guess it is rooted in the fear that things might not always be the same, and that her place might not be secure. Inclusion for others might mean less for her. And you would think that bringing on three talking heads is a step towards examination, though I think she was dissatisfied with their level of cooperation.

So here is my faith. I have faith that children can survive seeing a multi-racial Santa and be better for it. I have faith that the world is big enough for all of us. I have faith that giving, and fighting poverty, and turning away materialism, is better, and will lead to increased happiness. I have faith that there is a world full of beautiful people out there, and the more people I come to know, the more I know that I am right.

Anyway, it's the Fox mindset, as voiced by Romney, that called Obama Santa Claus. What color is your Santa now?


Friday, December 20, 2013

Concert Review: Third Eye Blind

Yesterday I mentioned that TEAM was a good opener for Third Eye Blind due to the broad range of musical influences, and I want to touch on that briefly.

There was a point during Third Eye Blind's performance where I realized something sounded a little reggae. There are songs on Blue that remind me a little of Led Zeppelin. Actually, initially I remembered "Graduate" as a Jane's Addiction song. (Yes, that is embarrassing.)

I mention this because I appreciate variety in music, and the inclusion of different sounds. I appreciate that not every song sounds the same, but also because it shows an appreciation of a lot of different music on the part of the band, and a love for music, and that is meaningful for me. So I mention this to say that I consider Third Eye Blind to be a band that really knows music and has a lot to offer.

I say I only wanted to touch on that briefly because there was another type of inclusion going on that had an even bigger effect on the concert, and I want to focus more on that. Where it really became clear to me was during an extended solo by drummer Brad Hargreaves.

He started playing and the band left, and it was just him. I thought perhaps this was something they were doing to maintain continuity before the encore. I think Def Leppard used to do it that way. Then, after the band came back and played some more, they had a big finish and left again, but they left without playing "Semi-Charmed Life" and the house lights stayed off. (The ultimate guide to whether the band is gone or not is always the house lights.) So, that was not the pre-encore break; it was just a drum solo.

Anyway, that got me thinking about how there had also been an extended bass solo by Alex LeCavalier - bass solos never happen - and I realized that every individual up there had been given a chance to shine and have the focus on them. We're used to singers taking their moments, and guitar solos, and not even surprised by an extended keyboard sequence, but this was more. This was unity with a care for individuals.

In some ways it was not surprising. This is the band that asks people to introduce themselves to the people nearby (which is pretty unusual). I was glad to do it. As I was standing in line waiting for the doors to open, and the people behind me were talking about how it seemed like less hipsters than usual, and I have been wondering at some shows how many attendees were fans, or if it was just something to do. I wasn't sure here, but once Third Eye Blind came on, I knew, because I saw the joy on the faces of the people around me at that moment, and heard them singing along, and that was moving, so it was great to talk to them, and shake hands. I had already been moved by them. We shared the band, and the band has us personalize it.

In other ways, the unity of the band was kind of surprising. Third Eye Blind has had a lot of turnover. Singer Stephan Jenkins has been the only constant throughout the 20 year run, though Hargreaves comes close with 18 years under his belt. Guitarist Kryz Reid, keyboardist Alex Kopp, and LeCavalier have all joined within the last three years, so after the last new album (Ursa Major in 2009), but there was no sense of that listening. They played the music right and they felt like a band.

This is my 100th band reviewed since I started doing this, and I will probably write a bit about the writing itself in a week or so, but I like that the milestone coincided with a concert, and that it was a good one. The other interesting thing about that is that it is also a band I have seen before, so I had some basis for comparison.

It has been a very long time. I saw them at the Schnitz when Tonic opened for them. The internet indicates this was in 2000, and that sounds right. That is a bigger venue, and I remember it as a really good show, but my main memory of it is Jenkins going up into the balcony on "Never Let You Go". And it was great showmanship; we all had a good time.

(It did end up in one of the overview posts, written later: http://sporkful.blogspot.com/2011/06/concert-journal-part-v-best.html)

This show was different though. It was emotionally moving. It was fun and it rocked, but there were other things going on. During their set, TEAM kept using "beautiful" in reference to Third Eye Blind, and yes, that made total sense later. If I met the band, hugging them and telling them they were beautiful would feel like the most honest thing to do, while quite possibly not being the most appropriate.

There was a schedule up at the venue indicating that the show would end at 10:45. That did not end up being true, possibly by as much as a half hour. And they said they didn't have a really defined show, so different things can happen, but it felt like they didn't want to leave, and we didn't want them to leave, so that was about right.

It's not that the Third Eye Blind that I saw in 2000 wasn't great, or that the band with the strong self-titled release in 1997 in wasn't great, but they feel like something new now, and something really good. I am excited about the new songs that they played, and for that next album.

Let them be loud.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Concert Review: TEAM

TEAM is a four-member band from Dallas, Texas. They opened up for Third Eye Blind Monday night at the Crystal Ballroom. I had been unable to find out who was opening in advance, so I had no expectations.

With the first song, "Come To My House", it was a little reminiscent of "Space Age Love Song", so I thought the sound was going to influenced overall by 80's-era New Wave, but that really wasn't the case. There were all sorts of different influences involved throughout the night. One thing I did not pick up on at the concert, but did listening to the CD, is that it feels like there are hints of Hawai'i in "Am I Alive"; that without actually using slack-key guitar or that style of chanting, you remember them.

I take that as a sign of them being really open to music in its entirety, which made them a good match for Third Eye Blind. For the overall sound, the band lists itself as indie/rock, which I still tend to think of as alternative. The mood is often downbeat and moving, with a sympathetic understanding of the human condition.

Perhaps because of the sincerity that is felt in the music, it seems like they are playing really straightforward, without a lot of embellishments. However, the more closely you listen, the more you find that there are many little touches here are there, with different things being done with vocals or with keyboard, or whatever is called for, and none of them are overpowering, but they are effective.

I was able to speak with the singer briefly after the show, and he said they didn't have a lot out there on the internet, but they did have a CD. He undersold a little. First of all, their release date shows as December 3rd, 2013, which is brand spanking new, but in addition to three songs they have four bonus singles, and seven tracks on a first CD is two more than average. They also have two pretty high-quality videos out there (for "Am I Alive" and "Human War Machine"). That is a pretty strong freshman offering.

Unfortunately they do not have a video for "Come To My House" yet, you can listen to it on their web site, along with the four bonus singles, so really everything but "On My Way" and "Light In The Sky", and those aren't bad odds.

Definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


The death of Mandela was a celebrity death, but one where there was a lot of personal feeling.

There have been a lot of eulogies going around, and I don't really have anything to add to them. I was talking to my sister Maria on the way home from church, and we were talking about what people should know. I mentioned three points. They were the exact same three points that I then saw in a piece in the commentary section of the paper, and that was by a writer I have become sort of disillusioned with. It was pretty deflating; nothing original to say here. Move on.

However, the reason we were talking was not because Maria did not have her own love for Mandela, and memories of him, but because her Sunday School class (16 year olds) knew nothing about him. They knew there was a movie, Invictus, but they didn't really know anything about it.

It was not too surprising. One of the sad stories we tell is that when we were showing Invictus to some friends, we did have to explain a lot, and the worst was when one girl asked if that (Apartheid) was why South Africa split from North Africa. I initially didn't answer because I didn't believe it was a serious question, but it was.

Anyway, I was still kind of okay with that, but a friend posted that her kids didn't really know about him either. They were younger, so it was less surprising, but someone else commented that it was better that way, to not put hate in young hearts, and I knew that was absolutely wrong.

I'm not saying that it's impossible that anyone could get ideas on how to be oppressive from history, but I know that it is really possible for people to forget the very real ways in which people were oppressed, and then to minimize them.

Mandela died on December 5th, 2013. On December 5th, 1955, a mass meeting was held in Montgomery, Alabama to see if the bus protests that had started with Rosa Parks' arrest would continue. That boycott was a significant and important thing, and it still matters now. What is happening in United States prisons and with drug policy now is important. What is happening now with GOP-led efforts to disenfranchise large populations is important, and it is still real.

Studying this type of history is valuable because it reminds us of the good and bad of how people can be, and it shows us what works.

For my own memory of Invictus, they briefly mentioned some of the meetings and trips to get investment in South Africa, and it took me back to various efforts here to get countries and corporations to divest from South Africa. I have written before about the Black Student Union at University of Oregon asking the Student Union to not sell Coke products on one day a week. I remember thinking it didn't seem like it could have that much of an impact. Looking back now, I think they felt that if they asked for more, they would not be able to get it. I also realize that the focus on corporate activity may have been a direct result of feeling that there was no way Reagan was going to exert any pressure.

And I remember Artists United Against Apartheid, and "Sun City". When Paul Simon went to South Africa and worked with South African artists, I thought he was flouting it, though possibly in a good way, but I didn't understand what Sun City was, compared to the rest of the country, and why having popular artists boycott it would be important. There was so much that was poorly understood here.

Years later, having read more and seen more, there is still so much more. The story of how the power imbalances and racial divisions grew in South Africa may not be that different from many tales of colonialism and slavery, but we forget those stories. It was while reading Long Walk To Freedom that I began to make the connections between how Communism and Nationalism relate to each other; there are things there that relate to current politics, even if no one is calling themselves Communists or Nazis.

There are lessons in patience, and planning, and why some people might feel like they need to consider violence. And for the handful of people who still call Mandela a terrorist, it might be worth exploring how they spoke about the Contras, for example. And surely there is a lot we can learn from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

I want people to know more about Mandela, because he was a very special man. His ability to see the individual and the mass, going back and forth between small and big pictures, was invaluable, and his ability to find joy in it was inspiring.

But there is more to the story. I said I wanted to see a comic book about not just Mandela, but the ANC and Biko and Mbeki and de Klerk and Esterhuyse. Some of them are still alive, but they won't be forever. This is a good time for it.

So, last night I wrote to Top Shelf Comix, who put out March and The Montgomery Story, to request it, because I need to be the change I wish to see in the world.

Related posts:

Really old post on college politics that mentions the boycott: http://sporkful.blogspot.com/2006/07/lame-ducks.html

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


"Jane went back into the kitchen to the inexorable tasks that death has no power, even for a day, to blot from existence. He can stalk through dwelling after dwelling, leaving despair and desolation behind him, but the table must be laid, the dishes washed, the beds made, by somebody."

from Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin

I first read that in grade school, I think, and it made a big impression on me then, and it's still something I think from time to time. Lately, it was because we had to put Jane down.

We got our first greyhound by accident, and then my mother started working with the adoption group around 1995. We have taken in a lot of old ones and ones with health problems, and we have had other dogs and cats, so I have been down this road before, but that never really makes it easy.

I read recently that children don't have a sense of permanence about things, so even if you deal them that death is permanent, they don't really believe it. My first thought from that was that parents should not shield young children from death, because it's better for them to get used to it early, while it doesn't seem so bad. Pets can be a good part of this. They are valuable for teaching caring and kindness and responsibility, but also for teaching us about death.

I've lost people that I love, but never someone who was a part of my daily life, so a lot of what I understand of grief comes from them. Normally Forest would be at my hip the moment I reached the door, or Jenny would be sitting there, but no, they're gone. Each jostle of memory retells the story until at some point it shifts mentally and we know they are dead.

With Jane it came really fast, because it happened the day before Thanksgiving, and Jane was our difficult dog. Normally we had to keep a basket on top of the garbage to keep her out even when there was nothing special in it, so turkey wrappers and giblets would need to be carried outside immediately, but not this time. There were doors that did not need to be closed, and things that did not need to get put out of reach, and if that had been a relief I would have felt guilty, but it was only sad.

Still, I needed to cook dinner, and we needed to clean up, and there were phone calls that I needed to make. I still have a job. With all the reminders we have of who is gone, there are even more reminders that we are still alive. We still get hungry and tired and being happy isn't a betrayal because it's a necessity.

We got Jane after Suzy died, and while we had thought we would be okay with two dogs, I noticed that our two older ones were sadder and slower, and so we got a young one. She annoyed them terribly, because of many of the traits that made her Jane, but she also cheered them up.

Jane's death left us with a single dog, and he was one we got for free due to the previous owners deciding, after four years, that they wanted a small dog. (I normally advise on not judging, you have a dispensation here.) Geno is very mellow, and very focused on people. Also, vet bills keep getting more expensive, and we were thinking, maybe we can be okay with one dog and one cat. Maybe we need to cut back.

It seemed like that was what we were going to do, but I noticed subtle things about him, where I felt like he wasn't doing as well. Mom was a wreck, too, and I started remembering how much getting Maeve helped after Max died, and how much Jane pepped up Jack and Randi. It is not a betrayal, it is a necessity. I knew we had to get another dog.

Now we have Adele. She is very shy, and she is straight from the kennel, so everything about having a home is new. We have had shy dogs who have been in homes, and we have had confident dogs who came straight from the kennel, but this combination is new.

It has its difficulties. She is scared to tell us when she needs to go, which makes it hard while we are still teaching her where to go. Tonight we will work on sitting in the living room, which as the social hub is the most desirable, but as the open space is the most terrifying. We'll get there.

That night after we put Jane down, many people said kind things, and I couldn't respond until I just got everything out, and I did that, but mainly the overwhelming thing was how connected I am to life. I am connected by my needs and my responsibilities, and sometimes the lines blue a little between them, but the best part is how much of the connection is love.

Monday, December 16, 2013

And then everybody died

There have been three recent deaths that will influence the posts this week, but today will focus on just one.

I wrote recently that there will always be someone who will tell you that you are doing it wrong. I was writing in the context of how to be a member of your marginalized group, but I have seen a lot lately that applies to internet use, after reading a piece on how basically posting anything at all makes you insufferable, one on the wrongness of selfies, and several reactions to the reactions (meta-reactions?) to the death of Paul Walker.

I have seen part of She's All That, but nothing else. I didn't think Walker was bad looking, but I wasn't particularly attracted to him. I did not know about his charity, his daughter, or his tendency to date 16 year old girls, or anything really, and I would not know those things if he were still alive. I was pretty indifferent, basically.

I still felt bad that he died. It didn't seem real, but it was, and you start seeing messages about it. Because I had been so indifferent before, I thought about whether it made sense to post something. Just "RIP Paul Walker" is pretty perfunctory. I have done it for others, though generally they meant more to me. Still, it meant something.

I was thinking about it more, because someone had tweeted recently about learning that Ken Ober was dead. He died in 2009. I knew it happened, and I was not indifferent on that one.

Ken Ober was the host of an MTV game show "Remote Control". I watched it in high school, and I loved it. When I was on Jeopardy, I was talking with some of the other contestants in the green room about other shows we would have wanted to do, and one of guys had attended a taping, so three of us were talking about the show, and how he had died, and it was important.

They never really announced a cause of death. Based on the symptoms and the time of year when he died (November), it sounds like flu, but he wasn't super famous, there was not a lot of press, and I think it kind of led to a lack of closure. Maybe you shouldn't need closure for a person you watched on a show over twenty years ago, but I know when I saw the one tweet, I had to reply. What I replied added nothing, and I felt kind of silly, but I had to, and if anyone else mentions Ken Ober in the future, I will have to say something, because that's how it is.

I think there is this process we go through in terms of coping with death, where we have to build this acceptance and comprehension that they are dead and we are not. With the people we know, there are memorial services, and commiserating with others, and we tell the story enough times that we believe it is true. We go over details, and are frustrated when we don't have details, and then sometimes we get details and are still frustrated because it still doesn't seem right.

We don't know celebrities, but we know of them, and so we know they are dead. Not being in their circle, we don't get to take part in the same way, but maybe we do need something.

I did not do a Facebook status update or tweet for Paul Walker, but I saw many people that wished him a peaceful rest, which I respect. This was shortly followed by complaints about the trite nature of them, though more with Lou Reed, because many people who did appreciate Lou Reed knew that others did not truly appreciate him enough. We'll now repeat the process with Peter O'Toole.

Having been through that thought process, I got what they were saying. Paul Walker was nothing to me, except a human being, whom I knew about, who died. That was enough to make me feel something, and for people who had seen his movies, or had thought about him more, well, I can't really criticize anyone for caring that someone is dead.

Later criticisms involved the lack of caring for others, like the other passenger, Roger Rodas. It does not feel the same, because we did not know him, but we could have. I saw a picture of friends trying to come to the rescue. I don't know their names, but there were emotions coming through in the picture, and I felt something there.

There is a powerful concept here, that has been tested. If you make a charity appeal focusing on a general problem, with a large number, or if you focus on one person, people respond more to the one person. If you try and combine the approaches, it can still be less effective than just focusing on the one. Therefore, the most important piece of recent journalism this week may be http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/invisible-child/#/?chapt=1, because there are many children and families who need help, which is daunting, but people can focus on Dasani, and they are responding to her.

A news story Saturday night added another thought. They were playing the final recordings of the Hotshots crew who died this summer. I did not know any of them, but I read John Maclean's Fire on the Mountain last year, about a different fatal fire. Because of the similarities, I felt things there. I understood what certain things meant, and what it would lead to.

Usually when we talk about death, we focus on how you need to appreciate life now, and the people you have now, and that is valid. What I am thinking about now, though, is needing to be open to more.

One theory about the charity campaign thing is that having a large number feels overwhelming. We feel free to care about one, but maybe we are scared to care about 22000 homeless children in New York, or 3.9 million people displaced by a typhoon, or 7 billion people on Earth.

As understandable as that is, we are capable of caring a lot more than we think, if we do it incrementally. In conversations and in books and in surprising ways, we expand. So talk more, ask more questions. Read more books. Make more eye contact. Smile at strangers, maybe even greet them if you're feeling really wild. 

And don't suppress your impulse to care about something, even if you are not sure how to express it meaningfully. Caring is one of the best things about us, so it the last thing we should leave latent.