Friday, August 29, 2014

Band Review: Lando

There are two sections on the Lando Studio page. There are several tracks available through which seem to be available for commercial use. I am not sure how that works. Then, under "My Music" there are other tracks, most of which are available via iTunes as the album Never Meant To Happen.

The title track was the most affecting for me. A minimalist soundtrack plays over a 9-1-1 call between George, calling in a kid in a hoodie, and following him, ending in a gun shot. I don't know if it is the actual recording, but it doesn't matter. The impending sense of doom builds until the final shot stops your heart, and there is nothing left to say.

It is followed by "If I Could Fly Back In Time" which gives different events that he would try and prevent, stopping tragedies, but then in the refrain going back and telling his mother he was wrong, balancing the social and the personal.

Maternal love is expressed more than once among the songs, which is why it is odd for me to hear the misogyny in "At It", the very next track. It seems like love and admiration for one woman should at least open up the possibility of respecting other women. That and the next track, "We Got The Game On Lock" were probably the worst for that.

The Flash files are generally more dramatic and synthesized than the other tracks, with "The Dark Child" being a good example. However, those elements are not lacking in the other songs. "Spinin'" has some accents that are reminiscent of Carl Orff.

Otherwise it is well done hip hop, with Lando's deep tones giving it a very distinctive voice.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Band Review: 40 Lohh

40 Lohh is the stage name of Chris Gibson, who is currently based in Kennesaw, Georgia, though he originally hails from Manchester, New Hampshire. He has several videos available for listening on Youtube.

His emphasis seems to be on hooks, but while listening a lot of the music seemed like it would work better as background, like he might do well scoring commercials or television.

There was an interesting mix of sources sampled, including jingles ("I'm Lovin It"), theme songs ("Everybody Hates Chris"), and contemporary songs ("Break Even").

I thought there might be a connection between how well I liked the original and how well I liked the 40 Lohh version, because I enjoyed his version of "Somebody That I Used To Know", and the Gotye version annoys me to no end. However, I am not particularly fond of Tom Jones' "She's A Lady", and I still found the remix jarring.

My favorite track was "Madness", which may be completely original, or just pulling from material that is unfamiliar to me. It is haunting, and builds intensity nicely.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

So tired

This is going up late. There has been a cold making its way through the household, and it appears to be my turn.

Even before that, knowing what I wanted to blog about did not feel great, because it feels so repetitive. I say the same things all the time.

It is true that this blog is for me. It helps me work out my thoughts, and keep them organized, and there is a certain amount of discipline involved in posting daily. All of that has worth to me, and I know I don't really have a wide audience, so I shouldn't be expecting to change the world anyway. I guess it just feels self-evident to me that there are changes needed, and that they don't happen is discouraging. I don't need to have a wide audience; the information is out there.

Clearly it must be time to do something lighter, like review comics again, but I do think I need to spend a few posts on The Act of Killing, and I am still going to try to make today's point again. I believe yesterday I promised a grand unified theory of things that annoy me.

There is a common thread between defending hip hop and hating respectability politics on Monday, and believing that there is potential in everyone, and that everyone has something to say on Tuesday, and even writing about how you need to not lose your feelings of love for people on Sunday. It is so common to make these divisions. We are gifted people and you are not. These are hard-working people and these are lazy people. Those are ignorant liberals but we know the truth. It's such a load of crap.

I can believe that their are instinctive elements in it, but there is a lot of conditioning in it too, and somehow the other group always ends up being less valuable in some way.

I believe that when some people hold on so tightly to prejudice and privilege, part of it is knowing that while they are not at the top, they are still above someone, and that feels like enough. I may not understand that mindset enough to really argue it. I do want to go back to this quote from Marriage For Moderns that I used in a different post:

"If a woman can find adequate self-expression through a career rather than through marriage, well and good. Many young women, however, overlook the fact that there are numerous careers that do not furnish any medium or offer any opportunity for self-expression. Besides they do not realize that only the minority of women, as the minority of men, have anything particularly worthwhile to express."

That attitude infuriates me. I know that when people start talking about limitless human potential it tends to be in a cult setting. Maybe that's just because so many people are selling something. That is probably a part of why I don't feel like I can do any ad-linking on my blog; I don't want to get corrupted.

However, if there is a tendency for there to be profit motivations behind most messages, that's worth looking at too. Because maybe black males get a self-esteem boost for not being black females, and maybe Asian-Americans get a boost from not being African Americans, and maybe poor white males get to look down on all of them, but no one is getting the boost that corporations get from having candidates who will do what they want because they keep getting voted in by people who are voting against their best interests. No one racial group is getting the benefits that gun manufactures are getting, or pharmaceutical companies, or Fox News.

Normally my argument against these kind of things is just that it's wrong. The hierarchy that we have in place causes so much pain and suffering, and then hearing people who are fine with it because they have bought into these divisions is sickening. That should be enough, but apparently it's not. So, it's probably worth pointing out that it is also financially stupid. Living standards go down, health goes down, free time and family time go down, everyone gets brought down together except for the very top.

Someone on Twitter had made a point about how the GOP got us to this current state of polarization, because there are things bearing fruit now that were planted in the Nixon administration. The next logical question was what the liberal strategy was, and I don't think there is one. If you care about people, it feels like that is basic human decency, and it should be self-evident, that some things are wrong and must be stopped. Well, no, there's no evidence that it works that way.

And I know that all of the things that I normally write about self-care, and gratitude and relationships, are true. I haven't really given up on humanity yet. You will know when I do because there will be no more band reviews and songs of the day and travel blogs, because there will be no point. I'm not there yet. But I am kind of discouraged, and only part of it is the cold.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Writing and talent

Yesterday I wrote about getting defensive about Hip Hop on August 21st. On August 22nd I got defensive about writing. They go together in a way that I will probably bring together in a grand unified theory of things that annoy me tomorrow.

It started simply enough with Charles Bivona, poet and writing professor, tweeting about how writing isn't born, but is taught and developed. He pointed to the main common denominator between various great writers was great suffering. As they came to terms with that, perhaps trying to find words for their feelings was the path that led them to being great writers.

It sounded reasonable enough, but it drew a lot of fire. Initially the discussion was simply reminding me of something I had already written about, where there is this kind of snobbery about writing that nothing I have seen bears out.

(That post covers a lot, and is lengthy, so I will link to it at the bottom.)

Let me go back to reviewing music for a moment. My biggest complaint is usually a lack of depth. They play their instruments well, and they are enthusiastic, so there is nothing wrong with it, but there is also nothing new. The bands that do have a unique voice, and can say different things in different ways, are the ones that truly stay with me.

Sometimes I feel like a band is young, and they will get more interesting just doing what they are doing. With others it feels like maybe they need to take six months off to dig wells in Africa or help at an orphanage in Central America -- just something to give them a bigger view of the world. And there are others that I sense will never grow; they are content the way they are. Who they are comes out in their songs. This is even more true for writers.

There is room for a lot of disagreement on who is a great writer. There are writers who write well, but whom I do not enjoy, often because of how much they seem to hate people. I won't begrudge those who do love them. I have my own.

One nice piece of symmetry was that Bivona referred to neuroscience and later that day my new Psychology Today (October 2014) had an interesting Q&A with Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist who has come out with a new style guide, The Sense of Style, because one important part of writing is understanding how your reader thinks. (Another article brought together Leo Tolstoy and Mischel's marshmallow test, so that was kind of fun as well.)

A good sense of empathy might be helpful for writing, in that without studying the cognitive processes you could still have a sense of your reader. Depth and experience helps. Certainly a good vocabulary helps, but it can also hinder as some writers end up with a prose that is too dense to be effective. I do remember learning that if a writer is making a few different mistakes, correcting one tends to resolve the others as well, because it changes how they think. That sounds like writing is something that can be taught.

It really did seem like for some people who cling to a belief in innate writing talent it was because they needed to feel gifted and special. I don't have a lot of patience with that in general, but what really angers me is that it might hold someone else back.

Writing, as part of communication, is one of the most important skills we can have. To be able to tell your story, so that all stories get told, is vital. We have enough of a problem as society getting people to even consider the possibility that something outside their experience can be true; we should at least make sure that we aren't doing anything to block evidence.

Writing is not just how we learn to understand each other, but how we learn to understand our selves. Sometimes I know that the writing I am doing is to figure something out, but it has helped so many times when it was not even deliberate. People need that, and they will become better for developing it, if they aren't discouraged.

I joke that I have no fast twitch muscle fibers. It is true that you can be genetically more likely to do well at sports, and that my genetics do not seem to lead that way. However, if in grade school, when we were running laps, someone had talked to us about proper form, and building up lung capacity, that would have been good to learn then instead of now. If someone had explained how to use legs on the rope climb, maybe I could have done it. I have to go through a lot of work now on reconnecting with my body because it seemed to be a hopeless case at a very early age, and no one told me any differently.

The teenagers I talk to now are so quick to give up. They don't think that they can draw or write or learn an instrument. I do think the constantly connected instantly updated culture is a part of that, but it is vital for their happiness that they do learn to try more than once, and concentrate, and persist. Therefore, someone who will tell them that innate talent is a necessity for any kind of success has just made an already difficult situation worse.

And they get an easy out, because if the beginner does persist, and gets really good at it, then they can always just assume that person must have had innate talent.

But maybe, really what you have is a person developing their humanity, looking inward and reaching outward, because writing can do that.

Don't discourage that.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Reconsidering Hip Hop

In case this brings any new visitors to the blog, I'm going to give a little background. I write about two music reviews a week (Thursday and Friday). Shortly after getting on Twitter, a lot of bands started following me. This is a common practice as bands try to get new listeners and build up a fan base.

I had been doing some writing about music anyway, and the reviews seemed like a natural extension of that. I have since reviewed 168 bands, with about 70 more on deck, so I don't anticipate stopping any time soon.

I hate giving bad reviews. By the time I write about a band we have been following each other for a few months, and I have often developed an affection for them. I won't give false praise, but I try and focus on what listening to the band is like, and who might like them, and be balanced in what I say. I think that is why the bands usually don't seem to hate me after a lukewarm write-up, but I still stress over it. Because of this, I cringe a little every time I get followed by someone hip hop. I usually don't like it.

I had thoughts about that, because I would think, okay, it's just not my thing; I can still listen objectively. That sounded reasonable, except then I would listen to De La Soul after not listening to them for a while, or "Rapper's Delight", and they would be so good. (I'm 42; of course I'm old school.) When the music is well done I do like it.

This weekend I found myself defending hip hop, and I read someone else defending it, and it kind of came together.

Shaun King was tweeting about hip hop on August 21st. It is not the most important thing he has tweeted about recently, but he was writing about how church music didn't fill all of the needs, and how anger needed to be expressed, and it made sense.

My defense happened because someone re-tweeted Lecrae:

I had never heard of Lecrae before, but the quote about how what's in your songs means you can't demand social justice is pure respectability politics and it is a lie. It is a lie that makes people who are already getting a raw deal have to jump through hoops, when in fact the reason they are getting oppressed is because it benefits other people.

Let me be really clear, much of my bad reaction to hip hop comes because of the misogyny and the profanity. It does offend me. There is room for improvement. It is also often speaking truth. If it is an ugly truth, that is not merely the responsibility of the speaker.

The thing that suddenly came through for me (and a completely different Twitter thread, that we will get to tomorrow, helped) is that I realized part of the beauty of hip hop is its accessibility.

The rock bands who start seeking followers have found other people to play with. Occasionally there is one person with just an acoustic guitar or a keyboard, but they have still learned to play those instruments.

For hip hop, it may just be someone with a phone, or with a computer program. Yes, that means some of them probably haven't tried as hard as they could, but there is still an outlet available, even if they can't find any like-minded people, even if there is not a way to obtain instruments and lessons, there is something.

I believe in the importance of creativity and self-expression. It has to start somewhere. I have not given proper respect to hip hop as a starting point. I will try and listen better now.

Related posts:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Band Review: Rivers Monroe

I have been listening to Rivers Monroe on Spotify this week, and because of that Spotify suggested I should try listening to Sleeping With Sirens. I guess that could work, but they remind me more of Boys Like Girls, with the combination of pop hooks and some country undertones, where it would seem like they could do well as crossover artists.

(Actually, "Summer Starts Tonight" did make me think a little of The Academy Is, so maybe that's the middle ground.)

The self-titled album, Rivers Monroe, is longer than most, with fourteen tracks and 51 minutes. The songs are very earnest and sincere, but also kind of run together. Probably the next step for the band, who are successfully building a fan base, would be establishing a more distinctive voice. Right now everything is pleasant, but it feels like there could be more. I live the guitars, but it feels like with what they are doing the songs should have more bite.

My favorite song was probably "Girls in the Front Row" for the intro, but there is a video for the first track, "Moments", and I recommend checking that out. It gives a good sense of the band, and if you like it you will like them and should listen to the rest of the album.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Band Review: GutterLIFE

This has been a good week to be listening to GutterLIFE. An alternative punk band from Long Island, their songs reflect a distrust of government and an anger that seems more relevant than ever these past few weeks.

The title track on their EP Violent Dischord is probably the most traditionally punk, short and aggressive. Other songs are longer, and it is alternative, with influences hardcore and otherwise, but there is a throughline of working in sound clips on the continuing theme. At first it can distract from the music, but then it becomes part of the music. Those who appreciate the Occupy movements and Anonymous would probably appreciate this.

GutterLife does not have their own Youtube channel at this time, but videos for "Like Cattle" and "R.F.I.D." are available on the channel for their label, We Are Triumphant:

Music can be purchased through iTunes and Amazon, or heard via BandCamp and Spotify.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cliven Bundy himself

I know many of the people who had been calling Cliven Bundy a hero tried to back down from that certain comments. I had thought I was going to write about those eventually, because when I was writing about Donald Sterling and Mark Cuban, it all seemed to relate. After all, Sterling has had racist business practices for a long time, but it was saying something overt that got him in trouble, because then it couldn't be ignored.

I imagine that Cliven Bundy has probably been a racist for quite a while, and that a lot of the people who had to back away from him kind of believe the same things, but they don't really say it, or think in those exact terms. They use code words like "urban" or "culture of work", and because those words don't specify race they think they are okay.

There is a lot to be said about how we fool ourselves or why we are happy to ignore things that happen as long as no one accurately states it, but I'm not going there yet. It does all connect though, which is worth keeping in mind.

Here is what Bundy said.

"They didn't have nothing to do ... they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."

His statements were based on seeing African American in a public housing project, and it was specifically seeing old people and children hanging out on a porch. He then talked about how hard-working Mexicans were and what good families they have, so you could know that he is not racist.

I think when someone says something that is stupid and ugly the tendency is to dismiss it out of hand. Some people knew Bundy was scum all along, and some people were embarrassed by the association and fled.

That leaves unacknowledged racism intact. It leaves logical fallacies intact. It keeps it okay to have ugly thoughts okay, as long as you don't speak them. That is how the systemic problems stay in place.

One thing I appreciate about knowing the context of that quote is that he was looking at older people and children and complaining about them not working. I don't know the specific ages, but are we then talking about seeing the retired and the young hanging out while the other adults are off at work? Because that's not a racial thing; that's normal.

Of course, under slavery it wouldn't be normal, because then there is no retirement age, and since there isn't schooling childhood play time is abbreviated, but the objection in this case would not be to them not working, it would be to them not having to work all the time. Surely Bundy is not saying that black people have to work more than other people, right?

Well, maybe he is. After all, without slavery they are getting abortions, going to jail, and not having a family life. Of course, with all those abortions there shouldn't be all of those children hanging around not working, or even any young men to go to jail after a while, and is it possible that the old people and the young people that he saw were related? Like maybe those are grandparents and grandchildren, and then after work the parents will be there and they will all eat dinner together? I'm no anthropologist, but if you see children, that sounds like there could be families.

I am going to go ahead and leave more freedom under slavery, and not having anything to do without learning how to pick cotton alone, because I think those statements are stupid in a pretty self-explanatory manner, and I think there's something more important here in Bundy's defense of Mexicans.

It does seem in this case to be specifically people from Mexico, in this case, and specifically undocumented workers because they "come over here against our Constitution and cross our borders, but they're here, and they're people...Don't tell me they don't work, and don't tell me they don't pay taxes. And don't tell me they don't have better family structures than most of us white people."

There is this still this false belief that people who get assistance are not working and paying taxes. Many SNAP recipients are employed. Many of them are employed at Wal-Mart, and many of those employees are getting housing subsidies too. There are homeless people who have jobs.

You can't rule out any of these people paying taxes. They may not be paying a huge amount, but assuming a lower income, whatever they do pay they are feeling. However, a nice family that is taking deductions for mortgage interest and property tax, children along with childcare or education deductions, and maybe some charitable donations (like tithing) pays a lot less in taxes than you might think.

Then of course, there is the grazing rights issue. I feel like the cattle and timber companies that use BLM land are getting away with a lot, compared to the usage fees, but Bundy didn't want to pay that. He didn't want to stop using it either, where someone else could pay the fees and get the benefits.

So honestly, my very first thought when he made his racist comments is that of course he would be pro-slavery. He does not believe in paying to use land; why would he believe in paying for labor?

There was more to it of course, and Rachel Maddow did a brilliant exposition on that, which you can watch:

There is a lot that is interesting there, but someone who wants to be cheap with his operating expenses for his own profit being supportive of illegal immigrants is really not surprising at all. Sure, he says they are people, and good people because they work hard and have families, but I suspect what he really loves is their lack of power.

Illegal immigrants will work long, hard hours in horrible conditions. You do have to pay them, but not very much. If they start causing trouble, it is easy to get them arrested or deported. They are easy to abuse. I think that's the way Bundy wants his black people.

We are still seeing that it is far too easy to abuse African-Americans, and we are seeing great efforts to keep that in place, that people are ignoring with double-speak and code words and urging the protesters to avoid violence when it is the cops who are bringing it. We need to look at these things clearly, not just jump away from the ugly and uncomfortable only when it is in the open.

Related posts:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bundy versus Ferguson

There have been a few comparisons made between the protests in Ferguson, Missouri compared to the Bundy standoff, and I have been thinking about it too.

The comparisons have mainly been in regards to the level of response. In the case of the Bundy standoff, the government side stood down. Even though Bundy has continued using federal land after not renewing his use permits years ago, so at least the seizure of property that remains on federal land is completely legitimate, the feds did not force the issue because they knew it would result in the loss of human life. They've had Waco, they've had Ruby Ridge, and they are careful with that.

The Bundy supporters were spoiling for a fight. They were talking about putting the women and children in front as human shields, to make the government killers of women and children, and they were armed and not just ready but apparently eager to fight. They attracted people who were so eager to kill that two of them went and killed three people two months later. Sure, the camp asked those two to leave because they were too radical, but when you are asking people to come ready to fight because you won't pay your grazing fees because you don't believe in the government, what do you expect?

The Bundy participants do not support the federal government, but they were still protected by it in their protest against having to pay to use land you don't own.

Let's look at Ferguson now.

police officer shot an unarmed man. Despite many attempts at obfuscation, it was not in connection with any crime. To me it sounds like an ego-gratifying show of force got embarrassing when the car door bounced off of the victim. There are so many issues to get to here, but I am trying to keep my focus small, for right now only focusing on the response.

There has been a much greater show of force. I do not believe for one moment that it is because the police are scared that the protesters will become violent. The protesters are not going out there armed, and their signature stance has been with the hands up in a gesture of surrender. That should prick the conscience, but not inspire fear for one's life.

Even if there had been some legitimate fear of physical danger initially, the first night that Ron Johnson was on the scene, when things were demilitarized, demonstrated that the protesters and police could coexist peacefully, and that there was not a need for tear gas, wooden bullets, rubber bullets, and pointed guns. But that was all brought back out.

I believe there was embarrassment again, and that doesn't help, but police egos should not take precedence over the public peace and safety.

The military equipment is frightening, and its origin in the "War on Drugs" makes it a good symbol for many aspects of the situation, but there are other things that are even more of a concern.

The removal of badges by police officers is a direct affront to the accountability that the protesters are seeking. They aren't afraid for their lives; they are afraid for their status quo. They are so afraid that they will trample the First Amendment.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

So curfews are set, people are told they can demonstrate but they can't stand still, tear gas is thrown into private yards, reporters are arrested and harassed, they are asked to stay confined to certain places, a no fly zone is declared, and the list goes on.

This is not for public safety. This is to prevent the redress of grievances, and the grievance is the lack of safety for too much of the public.

This is coming from state and local government. The federal government is committed to investigation, but a few comments on rights are drowned by reminders not to loot, which ignores how little looting there has been, and that has been thanks more to the protesters than to the cops. That is frustrating. It is worth remembering that when the federal government does have to step in, it is usually because of some issue with racism, and how often opposition to racial equality is referred to as "states' rights".

I wasn't sure that I was ready to write about Ferguson, and this still feels horribly insufficient, and incomplete. I'm just going to leave with another quote, from a newsreel about Jackson Mississippi during Freedom Summer:

"The Jackson Police Department operates with the best demonstration deterrent of any city in the country. In addition to Thompson's Tank, armor-plated and equipped with nine machine gun positions, the arsenal includes cage trucks for transporting masses of arrested violators, searchlight trucks, each of which can light three city blocks in case of night riots, police dog teams, trained to trail, search a building, or disperse a mob or crowd, mounted police for controlling parades or pedestrian traffic, and compounds and detention facilities to hold and house 10000 prisoners.

Along with these ironclad police facilities are new ironclad state laws, outlawing picketing, economic boycotting and demonstrating. Other laws to control the printing and distribution of certain types of information, and laws to dampen complaints to federal authorities."

Fifty years later, we're still don't have it right.

Monday, August 18, 2014

One more bad music video

There had been one video that always bothered me back in the day, and every now and then it would come to mind.

I speak of "Too Young to Fall in Love" by Motley Crue:

What bothered me then was if they were thinking of themselves as a rescue force, where were they when she was starving? They just looked at her like she was trash at the end, but if they cared about her welfare at all, she should have been there sooner. The spitting of the food at the end kind of bothered me too, but in more of a rolling my eyes kind of way, whereas I found the overall story arc really disturbing.

I recently saw the video again, and it bothers me more, partly because I have more context, but also because I noticed something new.

First of all, one thing that I see better now than I did then is that the video is really low on content. There's a lot of posing and posturing, but even the fight scene is remarkably low on action. So, I think the running gag with the rice, of Tommy (I think) wanting to taste it, and then not liking it, was filler. It was a little gross, which can offend the sensibilities of a young teenage girl, which is probably why I remembered it, but it also went with a general air of disrespect.

It is rice that is spit out, going along with a general Asian theme - I think it is specifically supposed to be Chinatown, but mainly it is supposed to denote exotic and vaguely criminal. The new thing I noticed is that despite the presence of several Asian extras, the girl and the shady guy who takes her in are not in fact played by Asians. Yes, the video is using "yellowface". Granted, there was a lot less awareness then - this was a single from 1984 - but it kind of just figures.

And still, it remains that for the plot line of the video, her actual welfare was not important. Yes, there is the assumption that she will now be sleeping with the "bad" guy, but surely the band wasn't fighting for virginity. She is contaminated now because she belongs to him. That she is now clean and fed, and would have a bed to sleep in, just makes her a prostitute.

It does, except again, I don't think the band is really arguing for chastity. It would seem the issue is that she is tainted by this guy, but that takes her out of the equation, making her an object in relation to the band and to the other guy, but not a subject for herself. That's only a music video, and not even well-done music video, but it taps into some things that have always been there, and are still around.

I have more things I could say about both the sexism and the racism, but I think that's it for today. There is so much going on right now that knowing the proper order to put things in just keeps getting harder. I may simply do some stalling this week.

Related posts:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Band Review: Birds In The Airport

There is a bit of keyboard work on the Birds In The Airport EP How's It Going To End? that reminded me of Reggie and the Full Effect. My first thought was that James Dewees pulls from so many different genres and styles that this was a completely unhelpful comparison, but that may not be the case.

Like Dewees, Tom Breyfogle is a multi-instrumentalist who supports many other acts while also creating his own music. Watching a video of Breyfogle recording "The Sky Is Falling Down" you get a good sense of how he could be helpful to many bands in a variety of ways. Listening to the EP, you get a further sense of his versatility.

I first checked out Birds In The Airport on the recommendation of Third Eye Blind's Alex Kopp, though at the time only "Under The Mushroom Cloud" was available. It was brilliant.

Musically there are echoes of the '60s and sock hops in it - I can imagine Peter Noone covering it - but instead of surfing the theme is nuclear war. However, there still is dancing and a relationship, and even if it was mainly folk music that referenced cold war fears, they were a part of that time period.

Between the title, those two tracks and "The End", a dramatic instrumental piece, I started thinking that it was a concept EP all about the end of the world, except for the other two tracks.

"Little Black Dresses" and "Quiet On The Set" are not overtly about global destruction, but there is an alienation to them that doesn't exactly turn an apocalyptic theme on its head. Perhaps enough coldness before the bomb lets you feel optimistic about the bomb, at least if you have a friend.

Maybe sometimes you just need your dog.

Musically and intellectually, there are good things here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Band Review: Hyatus and Candy Wilson

I wrote Monday about "crashing" the Class of '89 reunion. Among the many good parts of that reunion was the music, and I wanted to write a little about that.

The band booked at B3 that night was Hyatus. They are primarily a cover band, though there might have been some original material later, or they sang songs I didn't recognize.

Hyatus had a wide repertoire of songs from our youth, and did a good job with them. I can see them doing well at lots of different types of events. There were a few things that they did to bring people more into the performance. One was traveling the space, with guitar players walking through the dance floor, circling tables, and keeping things lively in that way. I made a joke about a walking bass line, but I think it was only 6-strings who did it.

The other thing they did for audience involvement was to invite people up to sing with them. There is no way that they could have predicted getting Candy.

Candy Wilson (formerly Freeman) is an Aloha Class of '89 alum, and she is a singer and songwriter. And she has an amazing voice. Hyatus kept calling her back, and it really did add to the fun.

I do have one point of disagreement. At one point the band said something about her having the voice of an angel. I get it. Her voice is beautiful and she was dressed in ethereal white. Still, there is something a little more earthy than angelic about her voice. I think she might be up for some deviltry, is all I'm saying.

I am treating the two together because right now there is not a lot of information on either. Both Candy and Hyatus have Facebook pages, and Candy has some Youtube videos of her performing at the fair, but should be releasing an album soon.

Great night everyone!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Affordable Care Act and You

This is sort of a departure for me.

I work for Regence Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Oregon. I recently participated in Innovation Week there, and blogged about it here. While working on that, it occurred to me that the presentation I recently gave to my team might work well as a blog post, even without the PowerPoint format. I'm not sure where this would fit in with work/life balance, but I am giving it a shot.

There is still a lot of misunderstanding about the Affordable Care Act. When asked about the Act being in effect a few months ago…

  • 12% thought it had been overturned by Congress
  • 7% thought it had been overturned by the Supreme Court
  • 23% didn’t know
I had my group go through a quiz together that you can find at Feel free to take it before continuing here.

My group did okay. The one that surprised me the most is that a majority of people did think that health reform law would establish a government panel to make decisions about end-of-life care for people on Medicare. I thought this one had been pretty well debunked. Fortunately, it is one of the more interesting stories, so a large chunk of the presentation was spent going over the topic.

Evolution of a misconception 

1991 – The Patient Self-Determination Act requires health care providers, including hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes to provide information about advance directives to admitted patients.

2003 – The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act began providing reimbursements for end-of-life care discussions with terminally ill patients.

2009 – Rep. Earl Blumenauer (with three Republican cosponsors) proposes standalone bill to reimburse office visits discussing end-of-life issues, including living wills and advance directives, every five years for Medicare patients. Proposed in April, the standalone bill was soon tabled and inserted into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that was being worked on.

July 16, 2009 – Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York, called it “a vicious assault on elderly people” because it required the elderly every five years to be told “how to end their life sooner.”

July 24, 2009 – McCaughey wrote an op-ed saying that presidential advisor Ezekiel Emanuel did not believe the disabled should be entitled to medical care (this was false). Within a few days, representatives like Rep. John Boehner were being quoted about government-sponsored euthanasia.

August 7th, 2009 – Sarah Palin first uses the phrase “death panel” on Facebook.

March 2010 - The provision was removed from PPACA prior to it becoming law.

January 4, 2011 - A proposed Medicare regulation to pay for end-of-life care consultations was also deleted.

Many of us with aging parents can imagine the value of our parents having coverage for periodic talks with their doctor about potential issues and options. Many of us can probably also imagine those parents getting irritated, feeling threatened, or saying something about how we will be relieved when they are gone.

There were multiple factors that contributed to the confusion. We can't ignore politics, but access to healthcare is an emotional issue, there have been changes and developments as the law was being worked on and enacted, and healthcare in general is a complex system with many moving parts.

I was lucky in that I had examples from personal knowledge of people dealing with various issues in three of the four states that we cover. (I'm sorry but I have no stories from Idaho.)

Washington: Politics was an issue for Tara Dublin, whom you may remember as a popular DJ, but who has been open about her financial struggles since losing that job. When the Washington exchange opened she signed up quickly, and tweeted about her happiness to have health care again. She was abused for this - not just because people who followed her were displeased, but because there were people specifically looking for positive references to the new exchanges so they could spew inaccurate vitriol.

Oregon: The constant changes led to some confusion for my sister Maria. We kept hearing stories of the Oregon exchange not working at all, so she used the phone number to sign up, but that just led to them sending her paperwork with her options that she was supposed to complete online. The site worked perfectly. I still have no idea how. I am curious about what will happen with the Oracle litigation. Something was going wrong, but it did not have to prevent signing up. I wonder whether there were people who could have used that information.

Utah: Finally, a friend in Utah ran into an issue with his signup. He has a disability that does not completely prevent him from working, but can hamper it, which I believe is why he was on Medicaid at one point, then he got off of it. The best option for him at the time of the deadline was to go back onto Medicaid, but there was a $2000 penalty for re-enrolling.

He was very upset. He was talking about the government valuing minorities over the majority, and moving to Australia. Ultimately, the penalty is a quirk of Medicaid, not the Affordable Care Act, and it probably won't affect that many people, but when you suddenly need $2000 it hurts. He has calmed down, and is not emigrating now, but I am not sure that he is completely reconciled to the law.

My group does not work directly with creating plans or assisting customers, so some of this might feel like it is interesting but not directly relevant. The main thing that we knew was that as we waited for programming to be completed it led to weeks where there was not a lot for us to work on followed by weeks of trying to catch up. I hoped the presentation would give us a broader picture.

For one thing, I had noticed some changes in some of the plans we were auditing, with less exemptions and increased coverage for preventive care. These are good things.

Just by knowing that we do work in insurance, people may ask us questions, and if we can give them clear answers and dispel some confusion, that is a good thing.

Most of all, there are a lot of reasons to feel good about working for a non-profit corporation. We have heard horrible stories before about insurance companies dropping customers after a major accident or illness, about letters that falsely told customers their old plans had been dropped and only provided the most expensive options as alternatives.

I remember shortly after Moda bought the naming rights to the Rose Garden there were two letters to the editor in the Oregonian. One Moda customer had just received notification that his rates were going up, and another was told that his medication was no longer covered. It might be coincidence, but it's hard not to be suspicious.

For our company, our core values are focused doing well for our members and for health care. There is no overriding commitment to shareholders, because we have none. We can feel good about working for Regence.

Related posts:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tweeting cake

I focused on some recent and specific incidents in the Stolen Labor post, but there has been a long history of paid journalists taking their ideas from Twitter without attribution. Some practices are more egregious than others, and I am not going to get into that today.

The reason I mention it is because back in May someone had suggested maybe just tweeting nothing but pictures of cake for a day to throw the news cycle off. It was never scheduled. I'm not sure that things have slowed down enough to where it would not be completely irresponsible to take a day off from news. I was ready though.

There was a picture that came to me with it, of chiffon dresses in pastel colors, maybe white gloves and hats, and a quiet murmur of conversation accompanied by red punch and delicious cake.

That isn't going to happen like that. People are spread out physically in the first place, and who even wears pastel chiffons anymore?

However, there is an important point or two in there, and it's worth remembering as more and more terrible things happen, with increasing frequency and plenty of responses to make you weep for humanity.

Take time to get together. I am probably not going to travel to associate with people whose tweets I like and admire just because I like and admire them -- that's not practical for time or money -- but there are lots of people that I love right here, and it nourishes my soul to spend time with them. So a few weeks ago we had people over for ice cream sundaes, and I'm trying to arrange a lunch date with some other friends via e-mail.

Make time for cake. Good nutrition is moderation, but there is a mental uplift in getting a treat that goes beyond the sugar spike. It can be overdone, but the other extreme isn't any good either.

It can be true that this is a horrible screwed up planet, but that is not the whole truth. We need to keep in touch with the good parts too.

Monday, August 11, 2014

25 years later

Saturday night I went to a high school reunion. It was not for my class, but I was not exactly crashing, either.

Official reunions basically happen every ten years, and the way they happen is that the student government for that year uses Classic Reunions to throw it. They did a great job for my 10-year reunion, but the value had really gone down by the 20-year reunion, and since a lot of us are connected via Facebook now, many people did not even bother going. There was still a good turnout, but I could see room for improvement.

Anyway, with Facebook many people have held less formal events, and that was good, but I was invited to a 25 year reunion for the class of '89. I was class of '90 of course, and the person who invited me was someone else who was invited, not among the organizers. I was thinking I shouldn't go, but others were encouraging, and obviously I went, and I'm glad I did. There were a few things that I wanted to go over.

One thing that is worth mentioning is that I have been going through this period of seclusion, and it has just felt right. I have chosen not to attend some concerts and things that I kind of wanted to go, but I just didn't have the emotional energy for it. I do have something coming up at the end of September, so I thought one more month of seclusion would be about right. This kind of felt too early, but it worked out.

Part of that was giving up on some things, like trying to look cute. Honestly, no one seems to expect it of me anyway; there is no precedent of it happening. So one thing I saw from that is that really, no one cares how I look, and the other thing I was free to notice is that a lot of other people have social anxiety over this kind of thing too. They have varying levels of how nervous they get, but maybe no one really has time to judge each other because they are too busy worried about their own shortcomings. While that does have an upside, if we can get to where we all love and accept each other and ourselves, that would be even better.

I was amazed by the attendance. I thought of it as more of an unofficial thing, so not really something that people would travel very far for, but they did. In some cases it was combined with travel that would have happened to see family, but still, they came! And there were people that I have not seen for the entire 25 years, some of whom I am friends with on Facebook, but some of whom I did not even know were on Facebook (and some who are kind of on, but hate it). That was great.

It is an interesting experience to see a face or a name that is kind of familiar, and then the blanks fill in, and you remember waiting at the bus stop or being in the cafeteria, and all of the pieces start falling into place.

Being a year younger than the class, there were people I did not know well, or some whom I did remember but I did not expect them to remember me really, so here are some highlights and lowlights of that.

Most embarrassing moment: Jami had indicated he was coming, and so I saw him and gave a big smile and the blank look should have tipped me off, but he wasn't Jami, he was Mark. They're not exactly twins, but it wasn't that light, I don't really know Mark at all, and I have only seen Jami a couple of times. Then later when I did see Jami I assumed it was Mark again, and did not greet him right away.

Next most embarrassing moment: Dyan's husband had me going for a while that he had sat behind me for 12 years of school and I had forgotten him. This was not as bad as it could have been because he was so unfamiliar that I was trying to figure out how I could be drawing such a blank more than feeling guilty. No grudges, anyway.

Also, I feel a little disappointed that I have forgotten how to dance. I think there was a time when I was not horrible.

Pretty good moments: Just catching up. For some people it was from only about five years ago, but I spent the first part of the evening catching up with people where we didn't see each other as much in high school as in junior high, so it was kind of more than 25 years.

Really good moments: I would probably not have periods of seclusion if there were not some self-esteem issues, and maybe this was more noticeable because I was the younger class, and there is some age stratification in high school, but it's kind of amazing that people remembered me and cared. It's the easiest thing to feel invisible when you are a teenager (except for those moments when you have done something humiliating, and you feel too visible), but really, we have no idea of our place in this word.

Best moment: I managed sport teams, and three of my basketball players and one of my soccer players were there, and their hugs were good, but seeing them hug each other so hard was something else entirely. It did bring back memories, but even more than that, seeing in the here and now that all of that teamwork and camaraderie still had a pulled them together. It's not that we have all stayed in touch, and there are a lot of miles between, but there is love too. I'm glad I got to see that.

So thanks for organizing Meredith, Greg, Chris, Diana, and Corey. You did a good thing.

I will be incorporating the music from that night into my band reviews for the week. Otherwise, I just need to reflect on possibilities for the class of '90's 25th.