Friday, April 29, 2016

Band Review: Madmartigan

Madmartigan is a rock band from Austin, Texas.

While I have not seen any evidence that the name is a reference to Willow, some of their song titles ("Waltz of the Chupacabra", "Riding Dragons...") at least make it seem possible based on an interest in fantasy.

The construction of the titles makes it seem like they aren't taking anything too seriously, and band photos show them having a good time. The overriding feeling of the music is a bit more serious. There is a plaintive quality to the delivery, and it is reflected in the lyrics. "Paper Thin" is a good example:

You are a tornado and I am just...
Feeling kinda paper thin, falling over through the wind.

It may be that the obstacles that they see in the world appear to call for mythic heroes, and they don't feel that is what they are bringing to the fight. If so, that's okay; lots of people have that concern, and it can help to have it put into song.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Band Review: Time Atlas

Time Atlas is an alternative pop/rock band from Minneapolis.

Their video for "Falling" provides an interesting contrast. The baby-faced on the lead singer Grayson DeWolfe could make you question how much experience any of them have with the world falling down. It is not a harsh sound, but the lyrics and the music nonetheless come through. There is a sensitivity and depth to what the band expresses, and it maintains a sense of hopefulness.

Musically the band is pretty solid, especially noticeable in the guitars on "Sleepless Nights".

Their web information indicates that they are currently working on more music. That feels like a good thing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Can the Republican Party be saved?

Mind you, I have no specific interest in saving them, but the question came up recently in talking about the upcoming convention. That seems more likely to turn into a shootout than a glorious step forward, but life goes on, and can this party be salvaged?

You could also argue it's a false question. While it is hard to imagine any of the current Republican candidates winning the presidency, there are still Republicans in Congress and state positions, with the party being very entrenched for some positions. That they look like they are in self-destruct mode right now primarily comes from looking at the presidential race.

There is a lot of concern about that particular race. The new Cruz/Kasich alliance is interesting, but seems a little late in coming. Cruz naming a running mate is interesting, and may show more aspirations for 2020. Still, their actions have to be seen in light of them wanting to become president more than anything else.

Because of that, I find it more interesting that Lindsey Graham just criticized Trump on foreign policy. Yes, Newt Gingrich defended the speech, but he's more of an outlier. Graham being so negative on Trump, and even Romney's less recent comments show a GOP that is not happy with Trump's popularity.

Being able to win the presidency is important. You can do a lot of obstruction with Congressional control, but actually moving forward in destruction would be greatly aided by control of the Executive Branch. Can the Republicans get back there? Only if they acknowledge their role in getting here.

No, the Republican party is not responsible for Donald Trump's ego; that particular monster has other origins. However, the machinations that made it seem reasonable for someone like W to hold office is at least on Karl Rove, if not on the whole party, and the building up of party allegiance based on thinly-veiled racism and class warfare, that is on them.

Did they think that people didn't know what the dog whistles really meant? Of course they knew! That's why they were effective! If you wanted an electorate that was sophisticated enough that they would continue to stick to the codes, then they shouldn't have been promoting such complete ignorance. Yes, some of that is on media, but the GOP was complicit.

If the GOP wants to become a viable party again, they need to do the kind of soul-searching that turns up that both Donald Trump thinking he could run, and his run being well-received are the natural results of the political stage they have been setting. This is not a fluke.

And then they are going to have to find something else to stand for. It can't be always letting corporations get their way as job creators, because that gets proven wrong too easily to work on an educated electorate, and not educating the electorate gets us back to Trump.

It shouldn't focus on vilifying any groups of people based on race, gender, religion, or income level. Once again, that leads to Trump.

Perhaps that needs to be the new baseline - are we promoting the kind of things that make a man who is only coherent when he is being bigoted seem like the best man for the job? If the answer is "yes", this may not be the best strategy. Okay, you're thinking that's too obvious, but if you remember that the concern isn't so much about it being wrong, but about it growing out of control, then you can see how things would get mixed up.

Honestly, there has been enough of a conservative shift in the Democratic party that you could almost send it the other way, where yes, you only have Democrats, but then you have the ones who are what Republicans used to be versus those who are more progressive (we will get into some of the flaws here next week). They could change names so it would be two parties again.

But I know some people will find that insufficient, so I say bring back the Whigs! They had many values that could be consistent with conservatives. They fell apart over slavery, but perhaps in a post-slavery world they could make it work.

Yes, I see the potential flaws with that too.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A quick note on primaries

I know there have been some concerns for third party voters on being left out of primaries. I do think something should be done about that; I don't think it should be allowing them to vote in either of the main primaries.

My reasoning is largely based on memories of liberal friends who were registered Republican so they could vote for the candidate with the least chance of winning the general election. I'm not sure that they ever had much of an impact, but the thought that people might vote for the purposes of weakening a party stuck with me. Granted, that option is still available, but at least make them go through the trouble of registering.

The primary is not about who ultimately wins, but who represents your party in the general election. Granted, it's hard to get there without the support of one of the main parties, but in an essentially two-party system, that's how it goes.

Potential solutions can get tricky. The secret ballot is valuable, so you don't want to compromise its security. Currently having separate ballots for each party resolves that.

It might be helpful to look at how third parties choose their candidate. In Oregon for governor and president we have often had three other candidates represented. Do those party members caucus, or are candidates selected by party heads?

Another option might be an all write-in ballot. This could be handy in showing whether the independent and third party voters are leaning more toward the Republican or Democrat slate. This year there has been more of a focus on people who would like to vote for Sanders being shut out, but there are probably a fair amount of Libertarians out there that are not registered Republican but might be interested in that ticket.

Okay, you might be thinking but those are terrible people who will vote for Trump, but they could also try voting for Sanders so Trump has a better chance of winning. I'm not comfortable with deciding anyone's general vote doesn't count, but in the primaries, I kind of am.

One thing about that is that frequently, with Oregon having a late primary, my vote for the presidential candidate has come after the issue was already decided. Sometimes I would vote for the purpose of sending a message, and always I would vote because I believe it's important, but I do understand feeling like you don't get a say in the primary, and that's not a great feeling.

However, what I also understand is that for a long time I was the only Democrat in my family, but it was a choice I made, based on my values. As imperfect as that is, it means something to me.

If you specifically don't want to be a Democrat, but you still feel like you should have a say in who represents the party, no. You're not getting the fundraising calls. You're not taking the surveys. It's not for you.

Maybe you can work harder to make your own party more prominent. While we haven't had a successful third party presidential run yet, there have been for lots of other positions, and that can be built upon.

Maybe you don't want to be affiliated with a party at all. Okay, then the general elections are for you. If you feel strongly about a specific candidate, there are probably things you can do to help the campaign.

There are lots of options, some of which don't infringe on others. Focus on those.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Things that are said about Hillary Clinton

One of my sisters works with a lot of conservatives who are always eager to share claims of horrible liberal things, which I will then frequently research for her. Often the claims are the result of a misreporting or confusion. Sometimes they probably do start with an intentional lie, but the person who is sending it to her believes it sincerely (and eagerly).

One thing that came in a few months ago was a list of horrible things that Hillary Clinton did during her husband's presidency, so do you really want to sign in for another four years of that?

It was mainly noteworthy for its length. It sounded wrong, but checking everything would be an effort, so I decided to grab one randomly.

"After leaving the White House, Hillary was forced to return an estimated $200,000 in White House furniture, china, and artwork that she had stolen."

Fortunately, there are people who do the legwork. I initially found information at Snopes, but there is a pretty good write-up at

If you don't want to read the whole thing, the summary is that while in office the Clintons declared $190,000 received in gifts, some of which were later determined to have been gifts to the government, not to the couple. The Clintons returned some items, paid the value of others, and even some of those were later determined to actually have been gifts to the Clintons, and given back.

One issue with this is that the gift rules are fairly convoluted, which was also an issue with the Reagans, including $25,000 gowns given to Nancy Reagan, that apparently the creators of the meme did not feel were important.

Mainly, the use of the words "stolen" and "forced" are completely inaccurate. When the $200,000 named is already rounded up $10,000 from the total gifts claimed, let alone the value of the disputed gifts, well, obviously accuracy was never a priority for whoever made the statement.

I could take that as a reason to simply not bother with any of the statements, but there was one more that stood out, and may get us more to the point.

"After $80 million dollars of taxpayer money was spent, Starr's investigation led to Monica Lewinsky, which led to Bill lying about and later admitting his affairs."

Yes, let's talk about Whitewater, because Kenneth Starr did spend time investigating that, and he didn't come up with anything, so he just started looking into everything else he could come up with. Eventually the closest he came to finding misconduct was that the president had sexual relations with an intern, and lied about it when he should never have been asked about it.

Don't get me wrong; adultery is a hot topic for me. Bill Clinton's conduct was immoral and ill-advised in that case, but it doesn't make him a worse president than Kennedy, Eisenhower, Roosevelt, or Harding. (I'm sure that's not a full list.) It certainly does not make that $80 million the fault of either Clinton. That is the fault of a Republican side so determined to bring down the president that each dead end sent them grasping for new straws.

In fact, this post reminded me of a very long e-mail forward that was going around back in 1996, with a list of all of these mysterious deaths linked to the Clintons. It was so long, and the internet wasn't as well-populated then, that it was very hard to disprove. All you could do was wonder.

However, one thing a lot of people miss in the Starr report (because it's way too long for the lack of useful information) is that Vince Foster's death does indeed appear to be a suicide resulting from untreated depression. Maybe twenty years later we are better at recognizing depression and responding, but it's still a hard thing. What it isn't is a conspiracy.

The first time Hillary Clinton referred to a vast right wing conspiracy, I thought she was being melodramatic. More came out, and I had to concede she had a point.

In a way, it's not even a particularly good conspiracy. We have Politifact and Snopes and FactCheck now, and in general there is much better information available for checking things.

It works too often anyway because so many people won't bother checking. They'd rather eagerly believe the lies. And pass them on.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Band Review: Don Vaughn

Of all of the musicians who have followed me on Twitter and ended up on the review list, Don Vaughn has been the first one to have a link to a TED talk in his profile. I started listening to the music first, but thought that I should listen to the TED talk before the review.

Having done that, seeing the video later for "Absolution" made a lot more sense. The brain is an interest for him, and that influences his music. Even titling his album The Don Vaughn Experiment seems to be an offshoot of that.

Unfortunately, that was the most interesting thing for me regarding the music.

I suspect this is more of an issue with my own lack of interest in Electronic Dance Music than any shortcomings with Vaughn's performance. The large numbers of collaborations that he was able to attract to his album, including Nick Lachey, I believe indicates some respect and regard for him on behalf of other musicians. I just found the songs all blended together in my head and then exited, leaving no memories. He may understand the process for that better than I do.

If you like EDM, you should probably check out Don Vaughn. If you do not like EDM, there is probably no reason to.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Band Review: Count Me Out

Count Me Out is a pop punk band from South Wales.

It feels more serious than a lot of pop punk. Some of this may be that a large percentage of their online material is acoustic, which can underscore the more earnest aspects.

Still, if you listen to their newest release, "Guttermouth", there is a pounding energy and a sense of youth that are very familiar and at home in pop punk.

There are six tracks on Bandcamp, and that seems to be all of the musical material currently available. You can find artistic expression and reasonable prices with their merch at Big Cartel.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Two quotes plus...

Having four months focusing on the history of the marginalized felt pretty intense.

I don't know if spreading them out would have made it different, because they are always kind of intense anyway. Current events, especially of the political kind, would have still been exerting an influence. This reading and watching occurred in conjunction with #BlackLivesMatter, and the Malheur occupation, and a presidential race that is fascinating in many terrible ways.

I think that I connected some things better because other things were fresh in memory, but they might have still connected.

I guess the question exists in my mind because I don't know that I have any grand summing up to give for how they relate to each other. It feels like I should have something to say now, but in reality it will be that I will have many different things to say at different times, when different issues are raised.

Therefore, I am going to focus on two quotes from just this last section of reading. Oddly, they are probably from the two sources that I would recommend the least (Monday's post goes over why I might not recommend them), but they stuck with me and I had to capture them.

The first is from The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James:

"Where imperialists do not find disorder they create it deliberately... They want an excuse for going in." (p. 286)

That is true. Kill. Spread disease. Disrupt the food source. Stir up different factions. Sometimes the disorder is already there, and there can be people with good intentions, but as long as there is this idea that this land or these resources or this labor that isn't ours should be, it opens the door to all manner of evil. Dehumanization becomes necessary, and then abuse becomes easy.

Ages ago, after first starting to read Ann Rule, I noticed how many of these psychopaths that she wrote about were really into acquisition. I wondered why that was, and eventually decided I had it in reverse. Being greedy gives you lots of motivation to turn of your conscience. Silence your conscience often enough and it loses its voice.

Maybe seeing the movie The Corporation helped me figure that out. If you analyzed a corporation as a person, that person would be a psychopath. The fact that the purpose of a corporation is the make money might just guarantee that. So thank you Citizens United and Mitt Romney.

The other thing that stuck out came from But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies. Some of the best parts were essays on educating and building activism in communities, including "Black-Eyed Blues Connections: Teaching Black Women" by Michele Russell:

"The oldest form of building historical consciousness in community is storytelling."

It stirred me then, and it reminds me now why so much study got crammed together. I had things to write, and I couldn't do it all, so I let the reading pause.

I have always been about learning stories and telling them. Even the non-narrative things I study fill in as parts of an overall story. That is me. My studies inform the stories that I tell, but I also have to take time for telling. I can make peace with this.

There was one other thing, and it wasn't so much that I wrote it down for me as that I had to share it with a friend, but it will be something I will also ask from myself.

Still in But Some of Us Are Brave, in the course syllabi section, for a Spring 1978 class at Hampshire College taught by Gloria I Joseph and Carroll Oliver, in The Insurgent Sister -- The Black Woman In U.S.A. This was listed as the first course requirement:

"Become insurgent in a politically appropriate manner."

Okay. Maybe it is time to start writing about politics again.

Related posts:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Nat Turner

Toussaint L'Ouverture has not been the only revolutionary I have wanted to study more.

I don't remember exactly when it kicked in; it's been at least a few years. At some point it felt important to read more about the actions people of color took on their own behalf than what was done for them, especially in situations of fighting slavery.

At first I tend to think of books that I have heard of, and I remembered that there was a book, The Confessions of Nat Turner. Perhaps it could be a good book for one of my Black History months.

No. It couldn't.

It was a Pulitzer Prize winner, which seemed like a recommendation, but it was a novel. I don't automatically eliminate novels, but it was by William Styron and apparently highly sexual, and it just didn't seem like it would be helpful.

That was a few years ago. This time around, my Native American Heritage and Black History studies for 2014 and 2015 got pretty crammed together, and that may have affected my viewpoint. Still, most of it probably comes from At the Dark End of the Street.

I read McGuire's book because of that initial goal of remembering that there are people who do a lot of work and don't get credit for it. It covers Black women organizing and male leaders getting the credit, but it also focuses on how sexual assault against Black women was used at the same time when the stated construct was that the big fear was Black men raping white women.

Maybe the news played a role too, with Damon Wayans - whom I have liked - calling Bill Cosby's accusers unrapeable, regardless of how often that very word was used to justify the sexual assault of Black women.

There is a lot that can be gone into with rape and race, and about sacrificing victims (no, I didn't watch Confirmation but it could relate), but that's not where I'm going with this now. I remembered Styron's novel and got curious.

No, that didn't mean reading it; it meant looking at a plot summary, but apparently a lot of Turner's conflict focuses on his desire for a fair and pure white maiden, and killing her is his only regret.

Okay, there is no reason that a white man born in Virginia in 1925 and writing about Black people in 1963 would go that way. Actually, he might have seemed pretty progressive for some of the other plot points. I'm still pretty disgusted, including with the award.

You probably know that there is a new movie coming out about Nat Turner. I am not positive that I will see it, because it sounds like it will be pretty violent, and I usually don't go to see rated R films.

I might see it anyway because I find it to be an important act of reclamation. I am thrilled that D. W. Griffith's ugly, lying, racist film, based on an ugly, lying, racist novel, is having its title appropriated for something else. I am glad that Nate Parker is reclaiming Turner's story. Early reviews are good. Sight unseen, I have to feel that it will be something truer and better than how Styron saw it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Black History Month 2016

This took longer than I meant it to, but I kept adding, even though I have been in a busy time.

These are the books in the order in which I read them, and some thoughts on each.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

I don't know why I never picked this up when I was a kid, as I know it was around. It may have seemed too realistic, and I was drawn more to fantasy then. This is very realistic.

Reading it as an adult, one of the things that struck me was how it would be hard for a Black parent to balance telling their children enough to keep them safe, but not so much as to break their spirits or have them live in fear all the time. The book does a good job of giving enough of an idea without being too traumatic.

The reason I decided it couldn't wait anymore came via Go Set A Watchman. I didn't read To Kill A Mockingbird until late in life either. While I liked it I never loved it the way some do, so reading that an older Atticus sounds pretty racist wasn't as traumatic as it could have been. However in those discussions, some people mentioned Thunder as superior to Mockingbird anyway.

I tend to agree. In Mockingbird you can care about the Black characters, and you can see ugliness to racism, but all of that is at a remove. Thunder has it all more vivid and real and children can relate to the characters: brave ones, timid ones, and obnoxious ones. This should be read.

Vixen: Return of the Lion by Willow G Wilson and Cafu

I'm still trying to keep comics included when possible. Black Panther had been disappointing, and I feel like I should be more of a Marvel girl than DC, but Vixen was a lot more compelling. There may be too much pressure on T'Challa to be perfect.

Mari is great, but she is also utterly human. She feels friendships and grief and self-doubt. In this storyline she faces a crisis of confidence and comes back stronger than ever, and with a greater understanding of herself. She has also missed something important that is probably going to come back as a problem. I really liked it.

The Last Crusade: Martin Luther King Jr., The FBI, and The Poor People's Campaign by Gerald D. McKnight

After reading Abernethy's book, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, I always wanted to know more about the Poor People's Campaign. That is why I wanted to read this book, but it is also why I was less satisfied with this book, because I feel like McKnight missed a lot of the important things that I already knew.

That being said, I think that even though he meant to write about that campaign, there was so much that was compelling about the Memphis Sanitation Worker's Strike, which King was supporting when he died, and the FBI's role under Hoover, that he probably should have just switched gears and wrote about that. To be fair, the FBI was a part of the problems of the campaign.

So I did learn a lot from this book, "Hands up, don't shoot" applied then, and what the government can and has done is disgusting, and things do connect, but it wasn't the book I was expecting.

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

I had been meaning to get to Toussaint L'Ouverture this round, and this book has gotten great reviews, so I thought that reading something set in modern Haiti near the time that I read about the history of Haiti could be useful.

I don't know that they connected that much, but it's a beautiful book so I have no regrets there. We do all need to look out for each other, but that can go wrong too.

Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E Martin Jr.

I was really excited that for my multimedia aspect there was going to be a documentary about the Black Panthers on television, and then it got really slammed for accuracy, and I deleted it without watching.

I was going to read the book anyway, but one thing from the foreword of the book is that they were trying to be comprehensive. There was so much going on that it would be easy to focus on one part and think you understand, but there are other things that are contradictory.

This book tried to bring it all together, and certainly there could still be more to know, but this book has a lot. Pretty heavy, worth reading, and once again we see some patterns repeating, especially if you look at white support of the Panthers when the draft threatened white kids, and when it didn't.

But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies By Akasha Gloria Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith (editors)

What is not included in the official title, but helps it make sense, is "All the women are white, all the Blacks are men..."

This had been on my list for a while. I hadn't intended to get to it on this go round, but I have been running into so many things relating to intersectionality and misogynoir that I felt like I needed a better grounding now.

This is a very early work, so those terms are not really mentioned, but the concepts come through. I was also surprised to see no mentions of Octavia Butler, but again it is just a little early.

The collection attempts to give you everything, including syllabi and lists of resources and bibliographies. This doesn't make great reading, but it creates a very valuable reference source.

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley

I don't love her poems, but her mastery of the form common at that time, and her familiarity with religious and classical imagery, is impressive enough that the book needed to contain witnesses testifying that the poems were really written by her.

Wheatley obviously had a sharp mind and a hunger for knowledge. I can't help but wish she would have had the time and the resources to celebrate the place of her birth, instead of feeling like she had been delivered from it.

The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution by C.L.R. James

This was also a book that was not what I expected, because it was written as a response and defense against criticism of L'Ouverture that audiences today probably don't need. I don't know that people know a lot about him now, but I believe what is known tends to be favorable.

That was not always the case. The author wrote this book in 1938, where there were concerns about fascism in Europe, and African independence, and then added an appendix in 1963 where there was more on West Indian independence, especially as relating to Castro. Even though it is more than fifty years later, this still matters. So this book probably gave me the best reminder that history isn't really that far away

Black and Latino

I did still watch some multimedia: a short video about being multiracial. Having previously watched videos about being Black and Indian, well, there's interesting room for thought here. Not everything is race and not everything is culture, and sometimes the lines can get blurry.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Concert Review: Iron Maiden

I had some friendly people in front of me at the show, and one of them asked me how often I had seen Maiden before (she left off the "Iron"; that wasn't me). She was stunned that this was my first time.

The truth is, I had never really been into metal or even harder rock. It was always around because I had friends and family members who liked it, but I never sought it out until I started aggressively, critically listening to guitar music. That has led to some interesting places, but one of the key early moments happened when listening to some guys talking about a song, and one of them said "You can hear it goes a little Iron Maiden here", and I could hear that! It made me feel like I was getting somewhere, but it's also where I started to grasp how influential Iron Maiden has been, not just on metal, and how justifiable their influence is.

It was in light of this that when I found out three of my siblings were going to Iron Maiden in Tacoma that I said "That should be a great show!", and where it was very exciting to find out that they had an additional ticket.

You can get a great deal from listening to the band alone, but you will be missing out on the sheer spectacle that they present for you live.

The set was convertible, changing constantly to mesh with the songs. At one point, one of the venue staff said they only had 5 songs left, but the show was supposed to last for another 45 minutes. Well, based on the setup and the showmanship and audience engagement, I can believe that the average number took around nine minutes.

There were two things that especially stood out to me. We have enjoyed tracking the progress of Ed Force One, the bands customized 747 piloted by singer Bruce Dickinson.

I should also mention that we were not close to the stage, though we were aligned with it perfectly. So it was helpful that they had screens that would do close-ups of the band and we could still see things. However, at some points, these screens ran video segments, including one incorporating the plane right at the beginning. That felt very right.

That segment also had a motif of ruins being lost and forgotten in the jungle, and then being re-launched. This worked with an older band going out on another tour, but it also fit in with the set for "The Book of Souls" number, which is certainly central to this The Book of Souls tour. This ended up being my favorite number of the night, so I want to go into that.

First of all, I referred to them as an older band, which is true, but they are not a nostalgia band. They continue to produce new material, and it's smart and living.

"The Book of Souls" song does bring to mind the end of the Mayan empire, but Dickinson talked before starting about how all empires fall, which is true, and so it became part of a more universal theme, and as he spoke a reminder for kindness and respect toward others.

Perhaps that sounds kind of high brow, and that element is there, but also during this song a very tall Eddie (their mascot) came out. After making his way around the stage Dickinson dug around in Eddie's chest and pulled out his "heart", not only referencing Mayan sacrifice, but if I saw correctly also providing a souvenir for a lucky fan when he then threw the heart into the audience.

It was just cool.

And, for a third thing I liked, with no analysis whatsoever, they made great use of pyrotechnics. (I'm a sucker for fire.)

I am really glad I got to see the show.

And for whoever those Stereogum commenters were who posted Iron Maiden's "Alexander the Great" and "Number of the Beast" as tracks that should be on the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs list, well, it's hard to argue.

(But of course "Run to the Hills" is my sentimental favorite. It's my mother's favorite music video.)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Concert Review: The Raven Age

The Raven Age is a melodic metal band from London. I thought they sounded kind of Sheffield, but that may simply be because I was listening to Bruce Dickinson - who is from Sheffield - later that night. I saw The Raven Age because they opened for Iron Maiden.

I greatly appreciate the melodic focus in their music, and it is accurate to emphasize that. While the music is hard and driving, it is never overpowered by discordant sounds into becoming something less than music.

That being said, they opened with a long drum solo that filled the stadium (I saw them at the Tacoma Dome), and the primal beats set the stage for what was to come.

I thought they did well. Engagement with the audience was good, and I appreciated the sense of teamwork as the lead vocalist took time to introduce the other band members. The opening slot can be hard, especially for a band as iconic as Iron Maiden, but The Raven Age held their own.

There is not a lot of material currently available, with one 4-track EP and one official video, but you do feel them, and you can feel that hearing more of them would be a good thing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Reading for the brain

I have written before about my mother's dementia diagnosis.

Just to help keep things straight, Alzheimer's is a form of dementia, but not the only kind. Mom does not currently have Alzheimer's, but she does have it in her family. Dementia can refer to memory loss, but there are different types of memory and there are cognitive processes that are not specifically related to memory loss that can still be impaired. (The MCI book that I am going to list later does the best job of going over those.)

My normal way of trying to come to grips with things is reading and research, and then when I know as much as possible about something I can handle it.

I'm afraid my reading has not gone exactly as I hoped, but I have read various books on the topic, and it makes sense to collect some of the knowledge here.

The Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim Your Focus, Memory, and Joy in Just 3 Weeks by Mike Dow

We saw the author on television while we were waiting for the airport shuttle on our last day of vacation, and decided it was worth checking out. Although Dow indicates that the remedies recommended here can help stave off dementia, the target audience is not diagnosed patients but people who are at normal functioning levels but having moments of poor focus and occasional memory lapses from stress. This book is about getting your mind and body to work better through nutrition, exercise, and meditation. Some of the science may be a little soft, but none of the recommendations are harmful, and for a lot of people probably would help.

There are two main things I have tried to incorporate. One is increasing Mom's fish intake. She loves fish, and we all think it's gross, but of the different types of Omega-3's, fish is an effective way to get what she needs. We have done better but still have room to improve.

In addition, because it is harder for Mom to focus and be present, I could see where meditation would be helpful for her. We haven't really gotten that going yet, but I still intend to.

Meditation: A Practical Study with Exercises by Adelaide Gardner

This book was short and had "practical" in the title, which seemed like a good sign, but it wasn't. The author is not tied to any one tradition, but she mishmashes the different traditions together with no helpful analysis.

I think in this case the answer will be simple exercises found on the internet rather than another book.

The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss in Later Life by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins

Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Guide to Maximizing Brain Health and Reducing Risk of Dementia by Nicole D. Anderson, Kelly J. Murphy, and Angela K. Troyer

I need to treat these two together, though there are differences.

Since my mother was diagnosed she has been going back for a yearly check-up for monitoring, and this was the first time in three years that she has lost some ground. The doctor said we could try Aricept, but I had heard bad things and started doing more online research. A Canadian site led me to the MCI book, and then when I did a library search for that I found the 36-Hour book.

Both have a lot of information. The 36-Hour Day is geared more toward family members who are providing care. It is helpful, broken down into clear sections and covering all the topics you would expect and some you wouldn't. Living with focuses more on Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and is geared for the recently diagnosed or those who are worried they might have something. It should be helpful for spouses too, but assumes that the patient can take an active role.

Both books have a lot of things going for them, but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and I was finding them very depressing. I could see where Mom was worse; was it because the doctor said it or because reading about the symptoms made me more aware? Was the reading even helpful if I was getting so down?

I think ultimately it is helpful. There can be good reasons to buy books instead of going with libraries and due dates, allowing you to pace yourself. It can get overwhelming where you really need to take a break. There are still things I should know.

There are also questions of whether some of the things I think I should do matter, or if they would have been helpful five years ago but I waited too long. Honestly, there are still a lot of unknowns.

As it happens, the last time I went to the my endocrinologist I was reading the MCI book and I was feeling pretty down, but then in the waiting room there was a Time magazine about the Alzheimer's pill, and doctors are making progress. If my efforts can't help, someone else's might. There's some stress though.

There is also a lot of variation in what symptoms you can see, and what resources you will have, and you just have to take it as it comes, with kindness and practicality and hope if you can manage it. We could be a lot worse off, and if thinking about what could happen gets me down, then I need to bring myself back to now.

Anyway, I haven't really changed my mind about reading as a strategy, but it doesn't always work as intended. To end on a lighter note, here's the outlier:

The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain by James Fallon

Although this is about a very different aspect of the brain, having been focusing on brain function anyway made this resonate more. The story is interesting. There are two weaknesses, one of which is that your narrator is a narcissist and perhaps that lack of empathy is what did not cause him to break down some of the technical information into a more accessible form.

I read an article on Fallon discovering he had the brain of a psychopath and exploring that, so meant to read it, but hadn't gotten to it until Julie was looking for something to read and I suggested it.

Here's the fun part. My sisters had seen a horror film exhibit at EMP, and asked me about Eli Roth, who makes some twisted movies. My only knowledge of Roth was randomly stumbling upon an episode of "TMZ" where Roth and Harvey Levin were competing at Jew or Non-Jew, and they both seemed very affable (and both with a decent but not perfect knowledge of who in show business shares their ethnic background).

Roth had Fallon scan his brain to look at it for an episode of "Curiosity":

And it all makes sense. Roth is twisted, but also a mensch.

Science for the win!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Not that kind of Romance

Some of you may know that my college degree is a BA in Romance Languages and History.

I added History because I still had a lot of history classes that I wanted to take, and adding the major meant that I could keep taking them instead of taking all of these other classes for the Social Sciences requirement.

Romance Languages should have been a completely natural fit. I loved learning languages, I already had some college credits in both French and Spanish, and I wanted to take Italian. However, I initially declared for Linguistics.

I thought if I studied the science of language, that would open me up to a lot more. That could be true, but it wasn't how I worked out.

Apparently Linguistics fell under the school of Telecommunications and Film. That doesn't seem like the best fit, which makes me wonder if I remembered it wrong, but at that time budget cuts were causing TCF to be absorbed into the School of Journalism anyway, and things may have been a little disorganized as that was all being sorted out.

I did take one TCF class, which was about how technology affected communication. Unfortunately it was right after another class that I had with a friend, and I ended up skipping a lot. I read all of the material and did all of the labs, and my grade wasn't horrible, but most of the things I remember from the class weren't really part of it. I remember a Star Trek joke the professor made (since people couldn't beam in and it bothered her when they came in late, which was one of the things that made it easier to skip). I remember her accidentally stumbling upon the book The Postman, which was apparently more cerebral than the Kevin Costner film it inspired. And I remember strongly a Russell Means essay that wasn't even assigned to us but was in the book our readings came from.

I totally wish I had taken more film classes now, and I know there would have been interesting information in Linguistics. There were some things about how people use language, but I found that I mainly just wanted to learn languages. That's when I switched to Romance Languages (languages descended from the Romans, i.e. Latin), with French as my primary language and Spanish as my secondary.

My Italian classes never counted for that, because they were lower division credits. That didn't really matter, as I took them to communicate with family, but knowing elements of three different related languages did give me an idea of how they developed.

I would think about it sometimes, like when there were things written in Portuguese and I could get the general drift, or when I learned the lyrics to Romanian disco hit, "Dragostea din tei".

Romanian is an Eastern Romance Language, so it is more different. At first I didn't even think about the connection, but then some words stuck out, and I realized how the words fit together. It made sense that this was a language that diverted earlier, but there was still a logic to it.

I was thinking about it more because of the fortunate confluence of two unconnected things: I happened to be reading a novel set in Haiti near the time that I saw a movie set in Romania.

The movie was Aferim! and it wasn't quite the rollicking good time that the reviews suggested, but it was interesting and beautifully shot. I was focusing on the subtitles for understanding, but then there was a reference to bandits: haiduk. That is a word in the disco song, and it was the last name of an actress in an interview once. I knew that word. Then I could start putting other words together.

The book was Claire of the Sea Light, and there was a lot of Jamaican patois used, but usually with a translation. Then, the character name, Claire Limyè Lanmè, suddenly made sense.

Light = La Lumière
Sea = La mer

It was already clear that was what her name meant, but then it was clear how, and then everything else that was said could be traced back and put together.

This is not necessarily an important or necessary thing. I would have been able to understand the book and the movie without it. It was just something that made me happy then, and putting it together makes me feel like I was right to pick the major that I did.

I still wouldn't mind knowing more about linguistics, but Romance Languages taught me more about Linguistics than Linguistics could have taught me about speaking and understanding languages. That was what I wanted all along.