are you taking over, or are you taking orders?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Croft's Response and Some Clarifications

So, I'm going to be the first to admit that my piece at In Our Words today is, organizationally, not my best. I tend to write shorter pieces there because I spend my life writing 15+ page opuses on Rousseau and conceptual art, and because I know no one who reads that site wants my take on the nature of ethical and political and linguistic quandaries a la Quine, Levinas, Nussbaum, etc. As such, this particular piece is distinctly lacking, when it should have been more robust in this issue. Especially as it deals with a topic that has caused much miscommunication, bickering, and name-calling, I should have done my damnedest to be as clear as possible, and I did not. For that, I'm sorry, and the lesson has been learned.

So, here I go.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rick Perry's Ad

Dear readers, another Republican has come out of the closet. That's right: Rick Perry has decided that he's not afraid any more, and has to let a deep secret be known: he's a privileged, homophobic ass.

Not exactly a revelatory statement. The video really is just a desperate ploy by Perry, previous not-Mitt Romney Republican frontrunner to remain relevant in an election campaign that has long since shot him in the knee and left him for dead by the side of the road. This video is absurd, and awful, and seemingly just the sort of thing that should be ignored and pushed to the side in a supposedly civilized society like ours. But, as I wrote a few weeks ago, that is not a viable option.

See, the reason why this video has resonated so much is not simply because of its blatant bigotry, but instead because its warped view of reality is one that is at the forefront of rightwing policy. Sikivu Hutchinson, one of my absolute favorite writers and someone EVERYONE needs to be reading, put it perfectly:

In American politics, patriotism, race-baiting and faith-based pandering are the last refuge of a scoundrel.  And this political season militant GOP appeals to white Christian evangelicals have veered into neo-Cold War hysteria. One of the most powerful scenes in Orwell’s 1984 was when Party member O’Brien succeeds in brainwashing protagonist Winston Smith into believing that 2+2 equals 5.  The Religious Right has been practically virtuosic in its 2+2=5 mass doublespeak; convincing mainstream America that Christians are the new minority and that commie pinko “secular progressives” (Bill O’Reilly’s preferred “smear”) are at the helm of a socialist conspiracy.

That's right, folks. In the United States, the nation with the highest percentage of Christians in the population in the world, the Jesus-lovers are now a minority and the homo atheist socialists are in control. At least, that's what the Republicans would like you to believe. Personally, I wish with all my might it was true, but that's just me.

Christian nationalism is very much a thing, people. The Ricks Perry and Santorum would like nothing more than our country to become a theocracy, with Pat Robertson at its head. They may not have poll numbers of any relevance, but they have still been elected, in some cases repeatedly, and they have many, many allies in Congress and other branches of government.

I don't think I have to tell you what would happen if they actually managed to be elected to higher offices. They all hate non-straight people openly, hate non-whites a smidge less openly, and if Perry's record as Governor of Texas is any indication, have itchy trigger fingers and plenty of weapons for them. Their platforms are the old fascism of the 30s and 40s wearing new faces. We can deride them, and we should do that, but we must not let that derision stop us from taking these people seriously. They have the capacity to make things awful for all of us, not just make our brains drip out our ears with their inanity.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cain and Gingrich

Comedians and pundits all across the country let out a great sigh of disappointment a few weeks ago when Herman Cain dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination for the presidency. The mounting pile of allegations of sexual harassment against him just proved too much for the Pokemon and pizza enthusiast who was generous with material for Jon Stewart.

Now, though, his supporters have moved to support Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and the only other person in the race who could be said to have an even more horrifying history with women than Cain. This is the guy who was not just cheating on his wife with another woman before and during when said wife was in a hospital bed recovering from cancer treatments, but actually brought a handwritten contract for their divorce and presented them to her in said hospital bed, then refused several months later to pay alimony or child support. He was cheating on his second wife with his current wife when he was leading the witch hunt against Bill Clinton. It's safe to say that he is a fucking atrocious example of a human being from just those tidbits, but there is so much more. From Lawrence Lewis at Daily Kos:

The politics of Newt Gingrich are obvious. Not only is he a cookie-cutter Republican champion of the 1 percent, he also is an enemy of the 99 percent. A typical Republican hypocrite on fiscal responsibility, he espouses a balanced budget but after voting for the policies of Reagan and the elder Bush that created the largest federal deficits in history, he then voted against the Bush tax increases that were meant to begin to address them. He then voted against the Clinton tax increases on the wealthy that helped balance the budget and spark the economic boom that created near full employment. And while opposing most of the best of President Clinton's policies, he supported President Clinton's worst policies.

The rest of that particular article provides a laundry list of his horribleness. Every action he took while in officer seemed to explicitly benefit himself or the wealthy who bankrolled his and his party's campaigns, while waging war against food stamps and other such welfare programs for the poorest in America. His actions became so reprehensible that he was the first Speaker ever to be disciplined for ethics violations. Lovely person, isn't he?

His actions have been so outrageous that after a short period, many conservative intellectuals (I use the term cautiously) are turning against him. George Will said that Gingrich "embodies the vanity and rapacity that make modern Washington repulsive." Peter King, the biggest Irish Republican Army fanboy in Congress, says that Newt "lacks the capacity to control himself." Finally, Peggy Noonan makes the point that the people most worried about him becoming President are those who worked with him.

Not exactly a stirring endorsement by anyone but himself, then. Imagine that.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Language and Community

In the past few years, as the atheist movement has really begun to gain traction and grow, it has become generally accepted in the community that trying to organize a bunch of nonbelievers is akin to herding cats. Since what could arguably be called the beginning of the movement in 2004, there hasn't really been a huge emphasis on activism; especially in America, where atheists are among the most loathed people in the country, most organizations have been focusing more on building safe communities rather than getting out and making change. The rationale is entirely logical, but as I've written before, I feel strongly that there needs to be a shift in the movement towards activism.

But how does that happen? I return to the herding cats metaphor. Over the past several years, all kinds of different organizations for nonbelievers have either formed or come to prominence: the American Humanist Association, American Atheists, the Secular Coalition of America, the Center for Inquiry, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and the Secular Student Alliance, to name but a few. Each organization is ostensibly working towards the same goal of making the country more welcoming for nonbelievers, but all have different methods, or are more focused on certain things: the FFRF is a legal body that works to maintain separation of church and state, the Secular Coalition lobbies in Washington, etc. With each group comes their own egos and beliefs, and thus, conflicts.

Back in October, the Boston Globe published a story about the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy, an organization at that university which is "dedicated to building, educating, and nurturing a diverse community of Humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the nonreligious at Harvard and beyond." And, as you might have guessed from the name, their community takes on many aspects of what could be called, well, a church service. The head of the organization, Greg Epstein, has the title of chaplain. James Croft, who occasionally writes at In Our Words, says that just because they "leave behind their religious beliefs doesn’t mean they stop having those needs. But secular society has not yet come up with a way to give them moments of significance with the same level of beauty and care that goes into religious ceremonies. That is a big gap.’’

There was a lot of blowback on this issue from nonbelievers of all sorts, especially PZ Myers of Pharyngula, whose response you can read here. Rather than re-hash all of the arguments for and against, I want to take issue with the nature of the HHC's language, which, above all, seems to be the main complaint from detractors of the organization. I should point out here that I am not a linguist; I'm not about to infuriate you by nitpicking every root and ending of a word and completely ignore the context. (I've just had a very infuriating run-in with a linguist in a Facebook debate. They're on my shitlist at the moment). I'm much more interested in why the HHC is so desperate to align themselves with religious images.

Take, for instance, Croft's quote from the paragraph before: secular society, he says, does not offer the same kinds of significance and beauty that religious ceremonies supposedly provide. Not being a regular churchgoer myself, and relying on my experiences as a troublemaking seven year old who hated Sunday school because I had books about the Big Bang and space travel which were SO MUCH COOLER than the Jesus fellow... I just don't understand what he means. To me, church has always looked like this:

Not too much exciting about your typical Christian service, I would wager. So, what is Croft talking about? The only thing that seems to make any sense in this context is the spiritual part of religion: the great sense of belonging, everyone believing in one thing, maybe being inspired by the tone or content of the man in fancy robes standing at the front of everyone. In essence, the irrational, hive-mind aspect of religion. The part that's at the core of our resistance against religion. 

The thing is, as far as I can tell, the HHC doesn't really do that sort of thing. They have potlucks and philosophical debates and guest speakers who talk about things like discrimination against atheists in the military. The Globe article mentioned meditation, but that's hardly supernatural in character: even fanboy darling Sam Harris does that kind of thing, and attempts to explain it using neuroscience. In essence, all very rational activities that are not based on any kind of dogma. Yet, both Croft and Epstein claim that the HHC fulfills that supposedly missing aspect of secular society, something that the latter claims in that Globe piece that groups like the Secular Student Alliance cannot. Yet, they deal in the rational, while that missing piece they talk about seems to be entirely irrational.

I'm not hating on the HHC here. I'm not interested in burning bridges or yelling at anyone unless they really deserve it. I think they're a good organization doing interesting and important work, and boy is that Chris Stedman a charming little hipster. (Seriously, though. He is.) But I do find their language problematic for its religious connotations, especially in a movement that is so supposedly based on rationality as ours is. That "supposedly," by the way, is a topic for a whole other righteous rage piece. But another time.

I hope this is taken as a constructive criticism, and if I have indeed mischaracterized James' statement, I'd love for him to correct me; print journalism these days doesn't necessarily always quote in context. I'm not PZ Myers, though I do love him: I'm just a perpetually furious progressive philosophy major searchin' for some truths. Or something like that.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Yes, Virginia, We Can Be Mad at Obama.

Ah, 2008. Remember that year? That was a fun time. Television writer's strike, Eliot Spitzer got taken down for being anti-Wall Street, the first blows of our economic catastrofuck, and the country was all aflutter for Barack Obama, that suave, eloquent, handsome Senator man from Chicago who played basketball and unapologetically smoked weed during his college years. His speeches were rousing, he had a catchy slogan, and with grouchy Old Man McCain as his opponent, he was always going to be the popular choice.

Predictably, he swept into office on the back of his message of hope and change, and even more predictably, he has unequivocally failed to deliver on his promises. In fact, he's been doing his finest George W. Bush impression: despite ordering the closing of Guantanamo Bay, it hasn't happened. He let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans be renewed. He has extended the Patriot Act. He has been the worst president for whistleblowers in history, and has turned a blind eye to the torture of Private Bradley Manning by US intelligence. And that is just his domestic policy.

In the Congress, it's been even more frustrating. Obama entered office with strong majorities in both houses of the legislature, but in some strange, Doris Kearns Goodwin fantasy of his, instead of pushing through as much good legislation as possible, the President decided that attempting to work with the Republicans, that most reasonable and calm of political parties, was a better idea. It backfired spectacularly, leading to progressive laws like the health care bill and the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell either being gutted, endlessly delayed, or dying out altogether.

You'd think, then, that the establishment of the Left would be pissed at Obama for failing to live up to even a modicum of his hype. But it's there that you'd be wrong; there's a new trend now of middle-left Democrats accusing their more progressive peers of being unreasonable, of asking too much. Our own mayor called those who criticized so-called Blue Dog Democrats for balking on the health care bill "fucking retarded." Jonathan Chait, war apologist and the guy those Blue Dogs have posters of on their walls, wrote a feature for New York Magazine two weeks ago making this claim:

Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president.

Why is this? Chait makes the claim that liberals have a strong case of Reagan-envy: that is, a figure of idolatry who is made to epitomize all that is great and good about the party, a demigod. Chait concludes that

If recent history is any guide, they are simply not capable of having that kind of relationship with a president. They are going to question their leader, not deify him, and search for signs of betrayal in any act of compromise he or she may commit. This exhausting psychological torment is no way to live.

So, what Chait wants liberals to do is stop questioning and challenging our leaders and blindly follow the path, as the Republicans have done for so long. Besides the incredible hilarity of the fact that he's ignoring the fact that many, many Democrats already do this, isn't it just a fucking awful thing to want anyways? Sit down, shut up, be happy with what you get, don't try to make change? Great, that's an inspiring message to tell your children. That's exactly what we should be teaching: be mediocre, and you'll never be disappointed.

So, is it reasonable to be disappointed with Obama as a liberal? You bet your ass it is. Should it come with certain caveats, since the Congress is incredibly messed up? Sure. But don't call for your fellows to be satisfied just because of that. Disappointment is an inevitable part of life, so use it as a driver to make change, not an excuse to give up.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

OWS and the Orwellians

When a government decides to egregiously violate the law of the land and brutally oppress the people it is supposedly responsible for, it usually won't be long before someone mentions George Orwell's 1984, the favorite book of every convalescing shrill liberal in high school. I say that with the greatest of affection; I was once that kid, though I was more a fan of Aldous Huxley. 1984 is an excellent book, one I would say everyone needs to read at some point, but namechecking it in such situations seems to have become more than a bit cliche. Or has it?

On November 15th, in the dead of night, the NYPD surrounded the Occupy Wall Street camp at Liberty Plaza in Lower Manhattan and proceeded to completely destroy it, running the protesters out, arresting around 200 people, and either throwing out or confiscating their belongings, including a 5,000 volume library that included some very rare books. This follows similar actions by police in Oakland, Denver, Portland, Cincinnati, and several other Occupy camps. Perhaps most notable is what happened at University of California-Davis, where Lt. John Pike pepper-sprayed protesters at point-blank range just for the hell of it.

Why has the response to Occupy from city governments been so brutal? Because they've been treating the protesters like terrorists. Seriously. The NYPD used their counter-terrorism unit at the Liberty Plaza clearout. Jean Quan, mayor of Oakland, let slip that eighteen mayors and the Department of Homeland Security were collaborating on responses to the movement. Add in the fact that in each of these cases the press was blocked off from filming or directly witnessing the assaults, you've got a heady cocktail of fascism and police state tactics.

So, is the 1984 allusion apt enough? I'm not sure it is; our current circumstance is not based upon one totalitarian state dictating our lives, though it may seem that way sometimes. No, I think if we are to invoke Orwell in all of this, perhaps we take some parts of 1984 and mix them with my personal favorite book of his, Down and Out in Paris and London. That book is Orwell's firsthand documentation of the lives of people who are forced to live hand to mouth, on the street, working the shittiest jobs imaginable just to survive. Sound familiar to anyone? Because that's what is happening now. We have a government run by the richest for the richest, who will happily climb over the bodies of the workers they have employed for basic wages and no benefits to do all the work in order to reach the top. Those two aspects, I think, are needed to call something Orwellian.

Moral of the story, we're up against a massive system that has had its way for a damned long time. But Occupy isn't giving up, and neither should we.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What Happened to the Voices?

In those golden days of uprising and unrest, the 1960s, there was a brilliant soundtrack along with them. Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles all made great songs of resistance and spoke out publicly against the war in Vietnam amongst other political issues. In the 70s, when austerity came along, we had the greatest band of all time (in this writer's humble opinion), The Clash, leading the wave of punk rock and its angry, subversive sounds. Before then, there were great Irish songwriters making statements against the British occupation, and plenty of other examples. Musicians were rebels, and were taken seriously because, in many cases, they made serious, insightful comments on the world at large.

Then, all of a sudden, the 80s came along and all of that died. Capitalism killed political music as a mainstream thing. Yeah, U2 sang Bloody Sunday, but they were never really underground. Subhumans and Bad Brains were around with hardcore punk, but their message never made it to a wide audience. Live Aid too... wait, there's no fucking way I'm talking about Live Aid. No. Bob Geldof is evil. End of.

The 90s? Similar story. Brief blips with the arrival of hip hop at the start and Bad Religion getting mainstream success. But honestly, though the latter's politics are in the right place, the less said about their sound, the better. Only so many "hyuuuuuaaaaaaaaahs" before I lose my mind.

This is not to say that rock music has not had great societal commentators since the 70s: Pulp were and forever will be one of my all-time favorite bands, and Common People is, quite simply, one of the best songs written in the last twenty years. But aside from them, the pickings are thin. No expressly political bands really exist anymore; sure, lots of members in bands talk politics, but their music isn't political. And even then, those messages are coming from the likes of Bono, Thom Yorke, and those kinds of people. I mean, yeah, I assume a lot of you reading this are big fans of Mr. Yorke and his band of mischievous inventive elves, but they ain't the 99%. They went to an expensive private school and university and never struggled a day in their lives.

So where has this sentiment gone to, then? Well, the easy answer is the hip hop now holds the torch, more or less alone. It has historically been a politically engaged genre, with Public Enemy and the Wu-Tang Clan in particular making statements about urban life, being black in America, and other social issues. After them, though, like rock 'n roll, the record industry caught on and coopted the music, spinning out the likes of 50 Cent and other artists who were in it for the money, not the content.

Recently, though, the original underground hip hop ethic has resurfaced. Artists are veering away from corporate labels to a DIY, grassroots business model. For instance Sole, instead of going major, formed his own label, Anticon, that is now home to many up and coming MC's. Another artist, Ceschi, formed Fake Four, which is an amazing label home to Sole, Astronautalis, and Dark Time Sunshine to name just a few. Then there's my personal heroes, the Doomtree collective in Minneapolis, who have spent ten years building their entire operation more or less by themselves: they put out their own records, make and send their own merch, set up their own tours, managed only by themselves.

That's an essential part of protest music, I think; denying major corporations money and status from artists. It's even more poignant now that these independent artists are getting bigger every year as the mainstream music industry dies. But their messages, too, are just as progressive as their business models. Just listen to Sole & the Skyrider Band's "A Sad Day for Investors" or Blue Scholars' "The Ave" or Macklemore's "Make the Money" for ideas.

This is where the fire of protest music is living now. These groups have got the ethos and the words to soundtrack the revolution, so listen up and give the money you were giving to party rap to these artists. That way, you're not lining the pocket of the man, but instead helping a movement.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Most Important Election of 2012

We've reached that point of time every four years when the hysteria around the presidential elections begins to stir up; the Republicans have already held (what feels like) several thousand debates, talking heads are talking poll numbers, and primaries are on the horizon. But, I'm not going to talk about any of those blowhards and their posturing (though, if you haven't seen Herman Cain's newest campaign commerical, go watch it now. It's seriously amazing). Instead, I want to talk about a Massachusetts Senate race.

Why, you ask? Because I think it's going to be the most important race in 2012, because it pits the two biggest forces in Washington reform against one another: Elizabeth Warren, creator (though not head, in a baffling circumstance) of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is running for the Democratic nomination against a field that she will almost certainly sweep. While this won't be decided until next September, she will be running against the incumbent Scott Brown, a Republican and Wall Street shill. Essentially, this will be a referendum of populism vs. Citizens United.

I will freely admit, I'm a bit of an Elizabeth Warren fanboy. She's a conflagration of awesomeness and relatability; she was one of very few women in her time to ever receive a scholarship to George Washington University, holds degrees in audiology and speech pathology, taught children with disabilities in a public school, and was editor of the Rutgers Law Review. She then entered academia, teaching in Texas, Michigan, and at Harvard, was the Vice President of the American Law Institute, and is also a member of the FDIC's Committee on Economic Inclusion and the Executive Council of the National Bankruptcy Conference, amongst several other high-level economic institutions. She entered government service in 2008, when Harry Reid tapped her to lead the TARP Oversight Committee.

So, she's got the CV. But, as has been proved in the past, Americans are not necessarily crazy about brainiacs serving in public office. This is Warren's trump card: she is able to clearly and concisely talk about the issues at hand. Watch:

See? She's the complete package. She's the kind of person who might actually be able to make change in Washington.

Her obstacle, then, is Scott Brown. You probably remember him from last year, when he beat Martha Coakley in the special election to fill Ted Kennedy's seat in the Senate, thanks largely to Coakley's own deficiencies as a candidate. That election occurred just before the Citizens United ruling passed, and thus Brown was unable to take advantage of its largesse; now, though, he'll be able to reap its benefits, which should be enormous, given Brown's friendliness with the financial and banking sectors. His donor list is almost comical in this way; just look at his top donors. FMR Corp is Fidelity Investments, the largest mutual fund and financial services group in the world. Greenberg Traurig LLP? That's Jack Abramoff's old law firm. Goldman Sachs we all know from the time they helped destroy our economy. General Electric, Bank of America, and most of the big insurance groups turn up there too. This is not someone on the side of Occupy Wall Street or any group seeking to take power from corporations.

Oh, did I mention Warren is a big supporter of Occupy? Yeah, just in case you needed something else.

Were Warren to be elected to Senate, not only would she be defeating one of the biggest allies of the banks and insurance groups who want to destroy Dodd-Frank and gut the new healthcare bill, but she'll be joining the ranks of the few real progressives in elected office, like Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, or Jan Schakowsky right here in Illinois. This is how we start to turn the corner and start repairing all the damage done to our country, by electing progressives to office. Voting is important in all elections, but I think especially in this one; the Massachusetts race really is a microcosm of what's happening in our country right now; people are mad, on both sides of the divide, and if more Tea Party schmucks get into office, we're in serious trouble.

I can't claim that if, say, the Democrats got the House back in 2012 that they'd fix everything, because we all saw what happened when they did have a majority, but in our fucked up political system it's pretty much all we've got to work with. And I don't think anyone with a progressive outlook on life can argue with what Elizabeth Warren wants to do. So, I doubt many of you live in Massachusetts, but you can kick a few bucks her way, which frankly will do as much good as casting a vote for her; especially when you're running against someone who will have more or less unlimited corporate funding, every dollar counts, especially when you're an enemy of the corporations who control the media who will put out word of your campaign and ideals.

So, there we have it. Elizabeth Warren 2012: a fucking good reason to be optimistic about politics again.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Unruly Youths Go Marching: A Word on Corporate Media

This will be crossposted at In Our Words, an awesome new project I'm incredibly proud to be a part of.

So, it's been a minute since I posted anything on here. Might as well start again with a bang.

For my topic this week, I was given the question of why the media never covers protest movements, and whether or not the Occupy movement can change that. I'll try to tackle both, but the answer, as it so often is, is simple: corporations suck.

Okay, maybe that's a bit pejorative. What this post concerns is corporate media, and how it controls the airwaves, and thus the discourse, around current events in this country. This phenomenon is not a new one; corporate ownership of broadcasters has been a thing since television's inception. However, what is not immediately apparent is what an impact on content in broadcasting it has; despite the fact that we live in an age of 24-hour news channels, a shocking amount of important stories go unreported, thanks in large part to our new sources being beholden to the money their corporate backers offer. This, I contend, has led to a severe dumbing-down of our news channels; one only need to watch CNN or Fox for five minutes, where they will invariably be showing funny YouTube clips instead of covering the Somali famine, and this fact will become readily apparent.

So how does corporate media work? Let's start with this picture, which I found on Wikipedia (click to enlarge):

This is from 2004, but it shows how the boards of directors of various corporations interlock, meaning that directors of one corporation often serve on the boards of other corporations, regardless of whether the fields are related.. Circled in red are four major media and telecommunications corporations; as you can see, their influence reaches into all kinds of industries. But why does this matter?

It matters because what we have here are some seriously questionable conflicts of interest: for instance, this chart shows that in 2004 one member of Comcast's board of directors is a member of the board of Northrop Grumman, a major defense contractor. Comcast owns several different media outlets, including the recently acquired NBC Universal (which is a whole other story of evilness). Now, when this person's financial interest rests not only in Grumman but also Comcast, do you think that they will condone NBC covering negative aspects of the war in Iraq? If, say, a Grumman F-14 fighter jet has a serious mechanical failure in a combat zone and crashes, will NBC be allowed to report it that way? Or will they instead report exactly the Grumman press release, that says something like "The figher went down," with no explanation? Or, when American soldiers kill innocent civilians, will those innocent civilians be passed off as insurgents? Or claim that the Americans were under fire?

As for the Occupy Wall Street movement, the mainstream media has realized that it cannot ignore it anymore (at least until Sarah Palin comes back on the teevee), but instead of covering it as a legitimate movement, they are resorting to making fun of it and passing it off as a hippy drum circle gathering. A few weeks ago, at the inception of the assembly at Liberty Plaza, Ginia Bellafante, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote a piece for the paper supposedly analyzing the movement. It was, to say the least, erratic. Here's her opening paragraph:

By late morning on Wednesday, Occupy Wall Street, a noble but fractured and airy movement of rightly frustrated young people, had a default ambassador in a half-naked woman who called herself Zuni Tikka. A blonde with a marked likeness to Joni Mitchell and a seemingly even stronger wish to burrow through the space-time continuum and hunker down in 1968, Ms. Tikka had taken off all but her cotton underwear and was dancing on the north side of Zuccotti Park, facing Liberty Street, just west of Broadway. Tourists stopped to take pictures; cops smiled, and the insidiously favorable tax treatment of private equity and hedge-fund managers was looking as though it would endure.

Sounds like one big Woodstocky hippy funzone. I mean, come on, the girl in her underwear is leading the gang! This is clearly inane! Bellafante even calls it "air[ing] societal grievances as carnival."

She goes on, just a paragraph later:

Occupy Wall Street, a diffuse and leaderless convocation of activists against greed, corporate influence, gross social inequality and other nasty byproducts of wayward capitalism not easily extinguishable by street theater, had hoped to see many thousands join its protest and encampment, which began Sept. 17. According to the group, 2,000 marched on the first day; news outlets estimated that the number was closer to several hundred.
So, after saying that silly hippy Zuni is the leader, now they're "diffuse and leaderless?" Which is it? Or is Ms. Bellafante simply playing the ignorant, privileged, TV critic she's been for a while now? Note that she barely mentions in the entire article anything about the arrests or police macings that had occurred; this article is like the group of rich teenaged girls at the mall who gather around and titter at the unpopular girl who shops at Hot Topic. It's mean and lacks any worthwhile content.

This was the response on pretty much all of the major news outlets when Occupy began. Occupy was fluff, a two-minute video piece before the anchors got to talk about the Grammys or something.

If they had bothered to dig a little deeper, as Allison Kilkenny, a writer for The Nation, host of podcast Citizen Radio, and all around amazing human being did, they might have found these people:
I’m reminded of Matthew Prowless, a 40-year-old father of two, who attended the Occupy Wall Street protest, and who is as unassuming of a man as I’ve ever seen—not someone who would have caught Bellafante’s gaze. He wore a baseball cap and stood with his friend by a group of black bloc protesters, whom Matthew was eyeing curiously like they were exotic fish in an aquarium.
When I spoke with him, Matthew called the louder aspects of the protest (the black bloc, the “protest yoga,” etc.) distractions from the far more serious cause.
“My home has been seized, I’m unemployed, there’s no job prospects on the horizon. I have two children and I don’t see a future for them. This is the only way I see to effect change. This isn’t a progressive issue. This is an American issue. We’re here to take our country back from the corporations,” he said, adding he fears for the future of the United States where corporations can now spend unlimited, anonymous dollars to elect the candidates of their choices. After the protest ended for the day, Matthew couldn’t occupy the park because he had to go care for his two children.
I also spoke with a young man named Kevin Stanley, a nurse who made the trek to the protest filled with optimism and left feeling simultaneously elated and disappointed. He was alarmed that the protesters (he calls them “kids”) are held up in Zuccotti Park without the presence of medical professionals. During his time there, he treated three cases of hypothermia and a person going through withdrawal as well as infected wounds from not being able to care for open blisters.
That does not sound like a bunch of dumb teenagers skipping school to smoke pot and dance around for the hell of it. That sounds like real people with real issues.

So why would the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NBC, et al pass off this movement? How could they avoid talking about its legitimate concerns? Because their corporate masters won't let them. Because if Brian Williams starts talking about how GE, Verizon, Apple, and Bank of America haven't paid income taxes for years and owe this country billions of dollars, Average Joe at home might start thinking about how his life has been fucked over for the past three years. He might see those protesters marching around Manhattan, or Denver, or Boston, or Grant Park here in Chicago and think he could actually change something. He and his neighbors might get angry, and this movement might start to spread even faster than it already is. The ranks would close around Occupy, and the corporations who have lived off of the backs of the working and middle classes for decades would be in trouble. Then, their whole world would be in trouble, and we just can't have that. They're job creators, after all.

So, will Occupy change this? I highly doubt it. The mainstream media has started to cover it more frequently, but the only positive voices are coming from people like Rachel Maddow, and amazing as she is, she can't do it alone. The vast majority of media is still mocking the movement, or passing them off as students and communist agitators. There's a lot to be done before the full force of public opinion and action can change that.

So, what can we do, against such an enormous, entrenched foe? I'll tell you what: SUPPORT INDEPENDENT MEDIA. Watch Democracy Now. Listen to Citizen Radio, The Young Turks, or Majority Report. Read Naomi Klein, JA Myerson, Glenn Greenwald, The Nation, The Guardian, and Mother Jones. All of these people exist without corporate backing, and so from them will you find the unreported news, the stories of the marginalized and the word direct from those on the lines at Occupy and from around the globe. Citizen Radio and Democracy Now, in particular, regularly hear from journalists on the ground in Egypt, Somalia, and other areas in the midst of huge conflicts that aren't making the nightly news over here. Get yourselves educated, and then never stop devouring the news: this is how we can start actually making the world a better place.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Albums of 2010

Only a few months late.

So, as I do every year, I'mma list off a few albums that have been blowing my mind this year. Frankly, thought I'm tired of doing only ten, so I'm following my man Evan's precedent and doing however many I like. Also, his list gave me a bunch more albums that I hadn't heard that are bloody awesome (The Bad Plus. Holy shit). However, I'm restricting myself in this list to records that I've spent more than a week listening to.

So, these are the albums that really, truly, stuck with me this year. Hope you find something you like.

17. Carlton Melton - Pass it On

Really cool, fuzzed out psychedelic guitar sounds from California. Basically, the Hold Steady if they took one too many acid trips.

Favorite track: Sequoia

16. Erland and the Carnival - Erland and the Carnival

After Damon Albarn's best band ever, The Good, The Bad, and The Queen broke up (and I mean the best ever part seriously,) Simon Tong of Verve fame went on to form this little group. It's full of great freaky folk songs you'd expect to be sung round a gypsy campfire. The stories will carry you off into another realm entirely.

Favorite track: "You Don't Have to be Lonely"

15. Murder by Death - "Good Morning, Magpie"

Oh, how I love this band. Think Nick Cave's slightly deranged son goes out to the Old West, drinks a lot of whiskey and gets into knife fights. But, after the masterpiece that was "Red of Tooth and Claw," this one doesn't merit higher ranking. Oh, it's damned good; but it doesn't have that same menace that made "Red" such an brilliant record. But, again, absolutely go get it. It's well worth it.

Favorite track: "As Long As There Is Whiskey In The World"

14. Laura Marling -  "I Speak Because I Can"

Beautiful, haunting sounds from yet another ridiculously talented British singer. One of the best-written albums of this year, bar none.

Favorite track: "Rambling Man"

13. Manic Street Preachers - Postcards from a Young Man

Quite frankly, they have absolutely no right to still be this goddamned good. They have a habit of making a dark, broody record and follow it up with a big, soaring chorus album. Last year's "Journal for Plague Lovers" was certainly dark enough, and so here comes Postcards. Full of choirs, strings, and guest appearances from Ian McCulloch and John Cale, it's just awesome. Not available Stateside yet, but find a way to get it.

Favorite track: "Some Kind of Nothingness"

12. Jeff Beck - Emotion and Commotion

For the first time I can think of since the legendary "Truth," Jeff Beck gets some vocalists along with his mind-blowing guitar work in the form of Joss Stone and Imelda May. Lots of slower pieces in this, but his trademark brilliance nonetheless.

Favorite track: "There's No Other Me"

11. Sage Francis - LI(F)E

What can I say about this guy? He is THE indie hip-hop messiah. Another album full of great rhymes and rhythms and stories.

Favorite track: "Little Houdini"

10. Gayngs - Gayngs

MPLS supergroup. Full of Bon Iver, Doomtree, and other greats. Will make you want to make sweet, 80s-style love on the dancefloor of the prom of your dreams. Yeah, I know it doesn't make sense, but hell. This is one of those albums I just can't quantify.

Favorite track: "No Sweat"

9. Roky Erickson and Okkervil River - True Love Cast Out All Evil

When I heard Roky Erickson was back, I knew I had to pick this up. Formerly the lead singer of what is possibly the most underrated band of all time, The 13th Floor Elevators, Roky took a few too many drugs and ended up in a mental institution. Now he's clean and in good health, and with the River backing his scratchy yet soulful vocals, this album cannot be missed.

Favorite track: "Ain't Blues Too Sad"

8. Dark Time Sunshine - Vessel

Finally, some hip hop NOT from the Midwest. I kid. But, these guys are from my home and favorite place ever, New York City, and managed to make what is probably one of the best debut hip hop albums ever. This is something that has only rarely left my CD player since its arrival.

Favorite track: "Primor"

7. Lazerbeak - Legend Recognize Legend

This one goes in the same category as Gayngs: I don't know WHAT the hell is happening here. But it's damned good. Beatmaster Beak loses his damned mind and makes some spacey electropop-type-thing. Like I said, I just don't know.

Favorite track: "Dream Team"

6. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang

When I saw Gaslight play the House of Blues in Chicago in November (or was it October?) of 2009, with Murder by Death opening, lead singer Brian Fallon said that their new album would be "The Clash meets The Supremes." Well, that's about what happened. And it's magical. I never want these songs to leave my head. Too damned catchy, too damned good.

Favorite track: "Bring it On"

5. Ceschi - The One Man Band Broke Up

Founder and head of the Fake Four label, home to most of my favorite hip hop artists (read: Sole, Astronautalis, Dark Time Sunshine), Ceschi makes what one might describe as folk-hop. Don't run in fear: it's damned good. And like you might expect from his labelmates, it's intelligent and thought-provoking.

Favorite track: "No New York"

4. Astronautalis - DANCEHALLHORNSOUND!!!!

Yeah, I know, it's a mixtape, but I don't care. My favorite MC of all takes his stories of railroad thievery and American revolutionism and puts them to popular beats, with a few new tracks thrown in. Pure love.

Favorite track: "Do You Believe in Life After Thugs?"

3. Paul Weller - Wake Up the Nation

Paul Weller has been a hero of mine pretty much since I started seriously listening to music. The Jam were one of my most important formational groups, and his solo stuff has always been good with regular brilliance (Stanley Road, Wild Wood, 22 Dreams). I don't know if it's as good as my previous album-of-the-year choice 22 Dreams, but it's still brilliant. Lots of anger, driving guitar, and lyrics about the downfall of society. So, y'know, typical Modfather.

Favorite track: "No Tears to Cry"

2. Paper Tiger - Made Like Us

While it's not number one, it would have been but for his labelmate. Without question my most-played album of the year, Paper's done very, very well his first time out. With appearances from Maggie Morrison and Dessa on vocals, it's an album that I don't think I'll ever be tired of listening to.

Favorite track: "The Bully Plank"

1. Dessa - A Badly Broken Code

Really, honestly, even with the ridiculously high calibre of this year's contestants, no one was gonna top her. Evan, I don't give two shits about Arcade Fire or Kanye. Neither album grabbed me in any meaningful way. For Dessa, on the other hand, I hang on every damned syllable like it's the only fresh air left in the world. She is a whole new level of brilliant and talented. People like her don't come around too often, but damn, do they make the world richer.

Favorite track: "Seamstress"

That's it. For honorable mentions, I'd encourage you to check out the albums that Dr. Dog, Midlake, Gil-Scott Heron, Massive Attack, and Gorillaz put out. They're all excellent, but I don't think they make this list.

Hopefully, blogging service will resume soon. Posts will most likely be philosophy-related as I work out a thesis for a big paper I'm planning. More soon. Much love.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Quick One (While Boehner's Away)

Got twenty minutes before the Feminist Front meeting, and felt the need to put this out there.

Without question, John Boehner is an asshole. He's the head of an increasingly deluded and reactionary Republican party, his only legislative aims are to repeal everything President Obama ever so much as blinked in agreement to. Matt Taibbi puts it best, saying that he is "the hairy blue mold on the American congressional sandwich." The man will only do harm to this country; here, I have absolutely no disagreement with my fellow progressives.

But for fuck's sake, everyone, stop it with making fun of the fact that he cries a lot. It's just not important, and by making a mockery out of this act, no matter how much of an easy target it is, by doing so we're putting ourselves in the same douchebag boat as the Republicans. If the emotion is genuine, then, that's about the guy's only redeeming quality. And mocking someone for having emotions is just childish; what one does by making fun of another's genuine tears is just propagating the genderization of the act of crying: that it's girlish and silly. It accomplishes nothing and only fosters the festering filth at work in Washington.

So, progressives and lefties, please: focus on the fact that he's a partisan hack. Focus on the fact that he's in the pocket of every K Street lobbyist who waved a dollar bill in his face. Focus on the fact that he was caught handing out checks from Big Tobacco on the floor of the House. Don't sink to the petty name calling and middle school antics of the GOP. Just stop it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Topical City, Citizen Radio, and Apocalyptic Hip Hop

Two months after the fact, and we begin.

I've been losing my mind the past two months, during which I had finals (which I crushed, thanks very much) and also started my new job at the DePaul University Art Museum which has been really great. For an art nerd like me, it's the perfect position, doing all the behind-the-scenes work and seeing how a professional gallery really operates. Aside from my boss' appallingly awful taste in music (think alt-country wailing), it's just fantastic. Add to the fact that the renovations on campus are going to yield a brand fancy new space for us in the fall, it's going to be a really cool experience.

I've also been writing a fair bit, both for my novel and for a brand new Internet publication called Topical City. It's a magazine written by Manchester City fans like myself from several different supporter's sites on the Webz. You can find it at http://topicalcity.co.uk, and I'm really pleased with the end product. I've got a piece in there on our underperforming midfield dynamo James Milner, who has really managed to pick himself up after the article was published! Not taking credit or anything... in any case, it's a great publication and if you have any interest in City or football in general you should take a look.

All is aflutter on the Blue side of Manchester, as it always is, and December was a damned good month for us, as we won four out of five. What we've really been missing, though, has been a killer edge in front of goal, especially during Carlos Tevez's snit fit a few weeks ago; he is brilliant, in my opinion the best striker in the world, but even with him in the side we have been missing a simply ridiculous number of scoring chances. To my great delight, however, Roberto Mancini completed the signing of Bosnian international striker Edin Dzeko, who until recently played for Wolfsburg in the German Bundesliga. Having watched him a fair bit, I can honestly say I am buzzing at this signing; he's the complete package, tall enough to head them in and good with both feet. Once he gets settled, and starts receiving crosses from Adam Johnson and David Silva, who has been a brilliant signing himself, City will really start charging towards the title.

Alright, Americans, I'm done talking football. Onto something you really like.... socialist independent media. For the past few months, I have been madly in love with a little podcast called Citizen Radio, hosted by the up-and-coming standup comedian and ninja fighter extraordinaire Jamie Kilstein, along with his brilliant political writer spouse Allison Kilkenny. For a taste of the ideology, watch this clip:

Fucking great, right? The show is on three times a week, and they discuss all the big stories that come along in addition to the ones that are far too unfashionable to be covered by the mainstream media. If you're reading this blog, I'm guessing that you're some kind of lefty wacko progressive like me, and if that's the case (and even if not), try out a couple of episodes. They do tend to start off a little goofily, but hang around for the meat of the political stories. And if you like it, become a member. Jamie and Allison are totally independent, putting together the whole operation by themselves, and they need moneys. I'm a Miscreant myself.

So, that's about all I've got. Going to try and get my Top 10 Albums of 2010 up sometime this week. In the meantime, I'll leave you with the track that's currently blowing my mind, by a Denver MC named Sole, in this case remixed by my absolute favorite person alive, Astronautalis. Have a good week, kids.