Monday, November 29, 2010

Music Video Monday: Jermaine Jackson

This week's music video is inspired by the idiot who thought he was going to blow up "Portland's Livingroom" on Friday evening for the Christmas Tree lighting. That's right, Jermaine Jackson's 1980s hit "Dynamite" is the perfect song for a blog post on the surprising news that the liberal People's Republic of Portland was targeted in a terrorist plot.

I actually thought about going downtown to the tree lighting ceremony. If I still lived downtown, I likely would have gone, but since I live so far from downtown, I got lazy (it means waiting for the bus in the cold and then riding for 45 minutes). For those who haven't heard the news, the FBI had intercepted electronic communications with a young Somali man who went to school at Oregon State University in Corvallis (about an hour and fifteen minute drive south from Portland). The disturbed young man, Muhamed Osman Muhamud, wanted to activate a car bomb at the Christmas tree lighting, killing and injuring as many people as possible, because in his mind, Oregonians apparently don't take the terrorist threat too seriously. He had ideas of committing an act of terrorism since the age of 15 and had contacted people in Pakistan to become a jihadist. Thanks to our government's surveillance program, they were able to read his emails and have an agent pretend to be the contact person to set the sting operation up.

Seeing the picture, you have to feel sorry for the moron. He looks young. Maybe he was one of those victims of bullies when he resettled in the U.S. If anything, he needed the help of a psychologist, not to be "entrapped" by our intelligence agency. He was simply a mouse being toyed with by the clever cat before chowing down.

I happened to watch the news on Friday night because I was curious to see what the reports of Black Friday would reveal. I'm almost too ashamed to admit it, but I love reading about and seeing video footage of crazy shoppers stampeding the doors of big box stores upon opening hours. Its a reminder of how sick and twisted our fellow country folk are: trampling over each other just to be the first to get at the big sales item! Its capitalistic consumerism at its ugliest.

Confession...I did indulge in my first early morning shopping ritual this past Black Friday. I did not intend to do so, but I saw an ad that Best Buy and Fred Meyers were both selling DVDs of Mad Men for $9.99 each. I was stunned. This is my favourite show, so at that price, of course I wanted all three seasons! I just had to go. Best Buy was the easiest to get to (a short bus ride to the MAX station, several MAX stops south, and across the street), so I went there, though I was an hour after it had opened. I worried that my trip would have been for nothing. I saw a few copies of Seasons 2 and 3 available, so I grabbed them and looked around. I was stunned by how many people were in the store at six in the morning. I've never done the early morning thing because I usually never get up that early. I also saw The Hurt Locker for $9.99, so I got that film as well. The line was super long, but I didn't mind because I had brought along the book I couldn't put down (The Politician by Andrew Young. Review is coming this week). Some annoying ladies were behind me yakking about boring subjects. Then I overheard the girl say that she wished that she had brought a book along like the guy in front of her did (that would be me!). I always have a book (or two) with me wherever I go.

When I got close to the cash register, I saw a section of the store I had missed, where they had cardboard display stands with even more copies of Mad Men. I debated whether or not to get out of line to see if they had season 1 available. This is where being alone sucks. I thought about asking someone to see if they could get season 1 for me, but I didn't want to impose on people's shopping sprees. I figured that I'll see season 1 on sale somewhere someday, or a used copy.

After paying for my DVDs, I was out of there and back on the MAX to the bus. Total time gone: two hours! Total amount spent: $34 (I had also bought a DVD of The Pelican Brief for less than $5). If the typical shopper had my Black Friday spending habits, the corporations would hate us!

Anyhow, Friday evening, when I watched the news, the anchors got into their serious voice and used overly dramatic language. The teaser ads for the 11 o'clock news were manipulative. They said that a major terrorist attack had been thrwarted in downtown Portland. I nearly dropped my pumpkin pie upon hearing the news. WHAT?!? A terrorist attack in Portland? That's crazy! In the news segment, they took their time before they revealed that it was a sting operation and that no one who attended the event was in any real danger. It made me mad that the news was so deliberately deceptive in how they initially reported it. I was also mad that the FBI would use all those people attending the event as bait to trap a disturbed young man into attempting to commit an act of terrorism. He didn't even know how to build a bomb, so the undercover FBI agent had a fake one set up in a van that was parked near the square. All the would-be terrorist had to do was use a cell phone to "detonate" it, which he tried twice before he got arrested and taken away.

As I read the story online, I was disturbed by the whole thing. I'm not a fan of entrapment, though I can understand why its done. However, I believe an opportunity was missed in this act of entrapment. By pretending to be part of the jihad, the undercover agent spent months talking with the would-be terrorist, allowing him to make plans and come up with ways to carry out his plans. How better would have been if the young man was mentored into a more creative, and positive pursuit? If an FBI agent met someone who was planning to commit suicide, would they be a genuine friend or help them plan out the suicide? What the FBI did here immediately brought to mind Minority Report, where people are prevented from committing murder, arrested, and imprisoned indefinitely. All based on the idea in their minds. As Prince once sang in one of his songs from the Batman soundtrack: "If a man is considered guilty for what goes on in his mind then give me the electric chair for all my future crimes."

When I saw the picture of the guy, what comes to my mind immediately is "disturbed", "confused", "victim of bullies." If anyone needed a mentor to steer him in the right direction, he is it. Instead, he faces possible rendition, GITMO, secret military trials, torture, life in prison, or even death. He probably regrets being led into making the worst mistake of his life. Like I said above, he was no match for a bureau that has buildings full of statistics and behaviour profiles on every personality type. He was a mouse being played with before becoming dinner to the clever cats. I wonder how those FBI agents sleep at night. There is a difference between apprehending a terrorist attack in the planning stages or infiltrating a terrorist cell ... and pretending to be a contact in Pakistan to lead a not too bright resettled refugee into planning a terrorist attack that he had no bomb-making skills to achieve.

Because this incident was not kept confidential, we were bound to get news of redneck morons exacting revenge out of their own ignorance and hatred. On Saturday night or early Sunday morning, the mosque in Corvallis was set on fire, though fire fighters were able to put the blaze out and save nearly all of the building (save for one office). The mosque was one that this young terrorist-wannabe attended occasionally. Weird how conservatives always blame the group for the actions of the individual. Its the number one characteristic of conservatives that I dislike (the group mentality, as you can see in many areas. For example, in conservative religious views, God always punishes the group for the sins of the individual, like some Boot Camp Drill Instructor in the Sky. Drop, humans! Give me 50 push-ups before I send y'all to hell because heathen Nick is questioning religion again!). Hopefully the arsonist will be caught so we can post his picture everywhere and make an example of him.

The entrepeneur in me wants to silkscreen T-shirts to sell that would say: "I almost had a blast in Portland for Thanksgiving 2010!" But my sense of humour might be taken the wrong way by uptight, politically correct, humourless ladies who don't get "gallows humour" or snarky irony and biting sarcasm. Welcome to the Portland, where you can be arrested for committing a thoughtcrime!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Obama Doesn't Think About Palin

I watched Barbara Walters' special Thanksgiving interview with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. I loved it. How can one not like the Obamas? They are an intelligent couple, well-spoken, and just ooze class like we haven't seen since John and Jacqueline Kennedy lived in the White House. The president comes across as a likable person, with a sense of humour that would make him fun to hang out with. The most remarkable thing about the interview, though, is that no matter how vicious the opposition has been towards him since Day One of his administration, he refused to be uncivil in his remarks.

For example, Ms Walters revealed that the Obamas have a ritual at every meal where the family reveals their roses and thorns to one another. Walters answered for Obama in that the Republicans are his thorns, but he said that the high unemployment numbers are his thorns. Good answer! I was pleased to hear about the roses and thorns ritual, because at the Atlanta Area Council, my last supervisor had a weekly meeting in which we were expected to give a "roses, thorns, and buds" (the "buds" were upcoming things we were looking forward to). I liked the idea, though I was certainly cautious about what I chose to reveal to management (for example, I did not share as a "bud" that I was planning to leave the job and move to the West Coast).

The juiciest portion of the interview, which was advertised and hyped over and over, was the comments Sarah Palin had made a week earlier to Barbara Walters. The Quitter Queen had told Walters that she believed that she could beat President Obama in 2012. Of course, our shallow, corporate media loves stirring up the drama and hoped to draw our president into a "tit-for-tat" cattiness that Palin is quite famous for. However, Obama is Mr. Cool Kat and he refused to take the bait (whoo-hoo!). When pressed by Ms. Walters for his non-answer to her first question, he finally said: "I don't think about Sarah Palin." I loved that answer! It made me laugh. Whether it is true or not, it was the only answer a president should give. Palin is a non-entity. Her most recent slip of the tongue when she said that we should stand with our "North Korean allies" only reminds people what a vapid, ignorant shrill this woman is.

Even more, I love the rest of what President Obama said about Palin's popularity in certain circles: "Obviously, Sarah Palin has a strong base of support in the Republican Party and I respect those skills." That's sure to aggravate Ms. Palin, as she sure seems to be obsessed with the Obama family, as she attacks them constantly in her speeches, comments on political talk shows, tweets, Facebook posts, and even her just released, ghostwritten second novel, America By Heart. Her latest attack is on First Lady Michelle Obama's crusade to end childhood obesity through a promotion of healthy eating and exercising habits. This is baffling, as Michelle mentioned in the interview that fighting childhood obesity is neither a Democratic nor a Republican issue. Its non-partisan. Why is everything turned into a partisan debate these days?

Even though I did not like George W. Bush, I never thought poorly of First Lady Laura Bush. Her cause was reading and there was nothing partisan about that. It is tradition that the First Lady takes up a cause to advocate, and usually its not a controversial one. Tipper Gore would have likely taken up the cause of mental health. Barbara Bush's was literacy. Nancy Reagan's was "Just Say No" (to drugs, not deficits). Jacqueline Kennedy's was White House preservation. Hillary Clinton started with Health Care Reform, then focused on children's and women's issues in the larger, global sphere. She was a lightning rod, though, and thus why its understandable that Michelle Obama chooses to focus on military families and childhood obesity. She's an intelligent woman, and too many people are still threatened by a smart woman. Doubly so if she happens to be African American, as well. So when Sarah Palin attacks Michelle, one can't help but wonder if it might be based in a little bit of jealousy because Palin is nowhere as intelligent as Michelle. For a person suspected of harbouring racist views, Palin is probably seething with envy. Can you imagine the outcry among conservatives if a Democratic candidate for president or vice president harped on First Lady Laura Bush?

Like last year, Sarah Palin has had a big media push in the month of November. As is well known in the U.S., November is considered "sweeps month" when television stations go all out in putting on high-profile specials, interviews, or programs in which to increase viewership because the all-important ratings determine the ad rates for the next period. Its a silly ritual, because advertisers could have access to the ratings of television shows during non-sweeps month and demand lower rates. So, knowing this, of course Sarah Palin is going to boost viewers. She is a human train wreck that hasn't crashed yet.

This month, her TLC reality series, Sarah Palin's Alaska debuted to strong numbers (the highest rated show on TLC) but in subsequent weeks has seen a significant drop, which indicates the curiosity factor was a big draw for the first show but that was it. After the curiosity was satisfied, people didn't see a reason to tune in each week for more of her family dramas.

Next came the controversy regarding her daughter Bristol Palin who has been dancing each week on ABC's Dancing With the Stars. When she made it to the final three to the shock of audiences everywhere, reports have emerged that the Palin cultists had swamped phonelines to vote early and often for Palin to win the show. As Bristol had reportedly told her mother: winning Dancing With the Stars would be "a huge middle finger" to everyone who does not like the Palin family. Damn, she inherited her mother's petty desire for revenge. You would think that she would want to win for herself, as a sense of accomplishment. That reveal is important, because it shows just what motivates this family. Its all for the sake of revenge against everyone who hasn't fallen under Palin's winking cult of personality.

When Bristol was not voted off, one viewer shot his television! Whoa, that's a little too obsessive there. You would think that a gun owner would just love the Palin family, since Sarah loves to shoot wolves from helicopters! I don't watch the show because I think its inappropriately named. They keep getting B or C list celebrities, which is scraping the barrel of mediocrity. The "stars" who are selected to learn how to Ballroom Dance should be making guest appearances on a new Love Boat series. Bristol Palin is about as annoying as Charo ("coochie coochie!"), who was a frequent guest on that cheesy 80s show about a cruise line. I don't consider Bristol Palin to be a "star." She's only famous because her mother is famous. Getting pregnant as an unwed teen and using that to gain esteem among evangelical Christian voters who are proud that she didn't get an abortion is not the stuff stars are made of. You know our country is in decline when we make celebrities out of the likes of Bristol Palin. To be fair, though, I don't think Mike "The Situation" is a "star" either. He's just some stupid meathead on a popular reality series. I did harbour a secret wish that he would impregnate Bristol...just to be the middle finger to the Palin family! Now that would have made for an excellent sweeps attention grabber!

I was pleased to hear that Jennifer Grey won this season's Dancing With the Stars. She seemed to be the emotional favourite because of her warm tribute to the late Patrick Swayze. Bristol had to settle for third place. On the same day as her fate was revealed, her mother's second book was released in bookstores, just in time for Black Friday. In the book, Palin claims to hold the vision of "the real America", which I find as a nightmare version that I want no part of. I love living in a multicultural, highly educated, diverse community. The pride of ignorance and being uneducated, while obsessive worship of the flag and military servicemembers is so foreign to my experience. There is nothing to be proud about in remaining ignorant. It means that you are easily manipulated by demagogues who know the truth and want you to be distracted and confused. No thanks. If Sarah wants to promote that in her book tour, she can be the Quitter Queen of their ignorant dreams for all I care. Palin and the teabaggers deserve one another.

All of this attention has the media elite wondering...will she or won't she? As in run for president in 2012. There is no logical sense why anyone in the media is daring her to make a run for it. Anyone with a triple digit IQ can see just how vapidly ignorant Sarah Palin is. It should be considered treason to encourage such an inexperienced ignoramus to run for political office. The fact remains: she quit her elected position in the middle of her first term. In the world of reason and logic, no person who quits after two years would be taken seriously in any industry if they indicated that they wanted to interview for the top position. Who would be dumb enough to hire such a flake?

I have my theory on why the media is practically egging her on to run in 2012. The 2008 election was truly the greatest election cycle in our lifetime. It was exciting and unprecedented. It sold a lot of newspapers and magazines. It generated bigger audiences for all of the debates. The crowds that showed up at rallies all across the country were larger than in previous years. Voter registration was up in many states. The electorate was electrified by the 2008 elections. With the standard GOP lineup of geriatric white men, the corporate media is actually bored by the prospect of more of the same in 2012. If Palin enters the race, many newspapers and magazines will be bought, interviews and debates will find larger audiences, and rallies will likely be large everywhere Palin goes. While she would certainly provide much entertainment if she throws her Prada bag into the race, I'm still hoping for the sake of her family and her own self that she opts not to run. Its hard to predict which way she will go. There's speculation on some blogs that Palin is a narcissist with a chip on her shoulder that her team lost to "the black man", thus she might harbour delusions of grandeur that she will be more successful without the old geezer on the ticket.

I read an article that appeared in the New Yorker magazine online about a truly scary prospect: Sarah Palin could become president if New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg decides to make a third party run for the president (a la Ross Perot). He's a billionaire with a vast media empire (America's Silvio Berlusconi?). Since he is a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, who leads America's largest city, he has the possibility to drain votes away from Obama in the swing states, which could give Palin the numbers she needs to reach that critical 270 electoral votes. Bloomberg had thought of running in 2008, but I've read online speculation that the reason he did not run was because he did not want to deprive Barack Obama the chance to make history. He, like many others, saw the election of Obama as a good thing for the country. Now, though, if the unemployment crisis is not dealt with, voters might be looking for someone who has more experience than Obama brought to the office. I hope not, though. If Obama is going to be a one term president, I'd much rather see Mitt Romney as the Republican president, for another historical election (our first Mormon president). If by some fluke Sarah Palin ends up as our next president, all I can say is that option is completely unexceptable. Her fans seem incapable of understanding that we have already tried the experiment of putting an incurious, ignorant ideologue in the White House and it ended in disaster of epic proportions. How on earth could anyone think that putting an even more ignorant and incurious ideologue in office will succeed where the previous one failed? It defies logic.

Ironically, I agree with Barbara Bush, who said in an interview recently: "I hope Sarah Palin stays in Alaska." I concur. Its where the Quitter Queen belongs: her frozen queendom, standing eternal vigilence against the invading hoards of Russians sent by Vladimir Putin across the Bering Strait to bring communist death panels to America. Give the woman a pair of binoculars to watch for the invasion from her back porch and let the rest of America live without her mediocre mendacity.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Johnny Clegg's Latest Winner

I have been meaning to write a review of the latest album by my favourite singer, Johnny Clegg. It was released in late October and I received it in the mail on the day I was set to take Amtrak to San Francisco. This trip allowed me to listen to the CD quite a few times. Whenever I get a new CD, I generally will listen to it over and over to get a feel for it. If it grabs me, its a hit. If it doesn't grab me after several back to back listens, its a dud (such as the last U2 album). That's just the first impression listen, though. Sometimes, I don't like an album on the first few listens but it grows on me. This happened with Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor, which I was disappointed by at first, but two years later, it was still getting frequent play on my CD player. The music of that CD is really that irresistable.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is also the album that I love at first which does not have longevity and I end up not liking it as much. This was the case for Johnny Clegg's 2002 album, New World Survivor. He experimented with a new sound that was quite popular at the time (including the electronification of his voice). While I love some songs on that disc, most of the songs were not as great as his long catalogue of songs. The new sound did not work. It was a refreshing change for Clegg, but in the end, a big reason why I love his music so much (for twenty years now) is because he used a lot of African instruments, musical traditions, and the Zulu language to create many awesome and exotic sounds. This is his trademark. Save the electronica for the likes of Cher.

In 2006, when Clegg released One Life, I was so relieved that he returned to his signature sound. I love this album. He even recorded his first song in Afrikaans, which is awesome to listen to. I've long considered Afrikaans to be one of the most interestingly strange languages I've ever seen and heard. This is the kind of innovative ideas I like Clegg to use in his music. Thankfully, though, he did not make an entire album singing this language. The standard mix of English with a Zulu chorus works well for me.

Now we come to Human, which is the first album he has released in the U.S. and Canada since 1993's Heat, Dust, and Dreams. Due to some licensing problem, three of his albums were not released in North America: 1997's Crocodile Love and the two I mentioned above. I was only able to know about these releases through a Scatterlings fan club mailing list and I bought them from the fan club's president. I'm so glad that he was able to find a distributor for this release, so I could receive the album much sooner and cheaper than the ones that had to be ordered from South Africa. Along with this album, Johnny Clegg has scheduled a tour in North America next year, which I can't wait to see. Portland is not on the schedule, though, so I might have to travel to either Eugene or Tacoma to catch a show. He last performed in the U.S. in 2004 and I was able to meet him for a third time, giving him one of my old license plates from Utah, which I had personalized with his former band's name: "SAVUKA". It was a cool license plate, too, because it features the orange Delicate Arch with a blue sky background. When I gave him the license plate backstage, he actually remembered me from 1996, when I had given him one of my old Virginia license plates with "SAVUKA" on it.

As far as the album Human goes, its classic Clegg. This means his signature sound and chants are apparent in several songs, there are some creative song titles and the lyrics are timely and international in scope. I don't mind waiting four years for an album when its this well-written and produced.

The album begins with a song called "Love in the Time of Gaza", which is about young Palestinians finding love during the current conflicts between Israel and the PLO. Johnny Clegg is ethnically Jewish (his mother is Jewish), but as far as his spiritual beliefs goes, it seems to be a mix of Judaism, Christianity, and Zulu spiritual beliefs. In other words, he's a universalist like me, so its not surprising that he would write a song that presents Palestinians in a positive light. I love how the song title makes an obvious reference to the modern classic novel Love in the Time of Cholera.

The second song also happens to be the first single released: "The World is Calling." This is far and away the best song on the album. I especially love the lines: "But I most rise now and leave your company, the world is calling and the road is longer..." I almost used this line in my annual Christmas newsletter (which always features key lyrics from a song which describes some aspect of my year or message I wish to convey), but there were two other song lyrics that better described my feelings and I only had enough space to feature one of those songs. The other thing that I really love about this song is that it has an incredible sound at one point that is like crack cocaine to my ears (not that I know what it feels like to be on crack). I can listen to that piece of music over and over. I love it!

"All I Got is You" is a bouncy, feel good song with a cool line and melody: "helter skelter in the swelter through the hard night give me shelter." The next song is "Asilazi" which was taken from his One Life album and has a Zulu intro and chorus. This is what makes Clegg unique on the music scene. "Give Me the Wonder" has a kind of Spanish dancing style to it and I love the lyrics: "In the dark night of the soul, I know I will never be alone." I'm just emerging out of a four year long "dark night of the soul" myself, so I appreciate the timely reference. "Congo" has an interesting carousel sound to it. The song is a commentary on the current situation in Congo (formerly known as Zaire), which the American media has not reported on, which is a shame. Glad that Clegg is continuing to raise awareness through his music.

"Here Comes that Feeling Again" is probably the weakest song on the album for me. According to the liner notes, Clegg said that this song is "about a new beginning...having to re-negotiate each day and find new space and perspective." Yep, that describes my new life. This is followed by my second favourite song on the album, "Hidden Away Down" which I hope will be his next single. Its a hard charging song with an awesome sound. Clegg wrote this after being inspired by CNN's coverage of Senator Edward Kennedy's funeral. In the song, he incorporates a famous line by Ernest Hemingway and adds his own creative spin to it: "the world breaks everyone and often which you will find some stronger in their broken parts in the wild mountains of their hearts." In the liner notes, Clegg says this about Ted Kennedy: "In the end, Kennedy found love, made peace with his demons and gave good laws to the disadvantaged people of his country. I have always been inspired by people who overcome deep wounds that are inflicted either by their own choices or by events that make them unwilling victims of circumstance."

"I Know That Sound" is a ballad that would have fit well on his album Heat, Dust, and Dreams. "Manqoba" is from the movie The Colour of Freedom which I'm glad that Clegg included on this album. I love that song. I especially love the bagpipe sound in the beginning.

The final two songs, "Nyembezi (Tears)" and "Magumede" are perfect closers on this album. He sings both in Zulu, the first one sounds like a lullaby and is about the tribal culture where a young wife is accused of witchcraft by her in-laws until she bears a child. Young girls getting accused of witchcraft happens to be very current in Africa right now. Geez, this is "proof" that Africa is about 400 years behind the U.S. We went through that with the Salem Witch Trials and all it amounted to was false accusations, paranoia, and needless death of innocents. Hate that this is going on in Africa, where ancient superstitions never seem to die. The final song, "Magumede" is classic Clegg from his Juluka days. Its a high energy Zulu dance song with his signature "hum oh hum" style of chanting chorus. What a brilliant way to end an awesome album! The Johnny Clegg that most of his American fans love is back and better than ever. This is the kind of song that you simply cannot sit still for! With this release, Johnny Clegg shows that he still has it. His unique musical style, often blending genres, is on full display here. Though he uses his signature sound and chorus lines, it still sounds fresh. With pop music in such bad shape these days, you can't go wrong with a true classic. Clegg is it!
The photo above was taken during his photo shoot for the Heat, Dust, and Dreams album in 1993. What I liked about Clegg's style is that he showed me that it was okay to wear a bolo tie without a button down shirt. I had worn a bolo tie without a button down shirt once and got heavily criticized for it, which shocked me. I love his style. I've liked bolo ties since elementary school, but did not like the western style (Cowboy-ish) centerpiece (sliding part) that most of them have. Though you can't see it in this photo, his bolo tie has an arrowhead for the sliding part. I have a similar one. I also have one of a wolf howling at the moon, which I love because in his song "Dela", there's a line he sings: "I know why the dog howls at the moon." If I manage to get backstage passes at his next concert, I may give him that bolo tie.

So, if you're willing to hear some unique music and expand your music library a bit, I highly recommend buying Human by Johnny Clegg. Its worth the investment, especially when so much of the music played on the radio is complete trash. This album is a celebration of what makes us human.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Music Video Monday: Natalie Merchant

Today is the anniversary of the tragic fate of President John F. Kennedy. I wanted to select a song that reflects him, his legacy, or his family, but I could not think of any. Since this is the week of Thanksgiving, the best song that comes to mind is Natalie Merchant's "Kind and Generous", in which she sings "Thank you" a zillion times. I actually played this song at the Orem RLDS Church at the conclusion of my fourth and final sermon. The elderly folks who make up the congregation did not seem to appreciate the song very much, but it was a tribute to their kindness and generosity while I was a college student. In their little ways, they made the loneliness at BYU tolerable. I honestly don't know how I could have endured BYU without the support of the church members there.

Natalie Merchant is a lady who has the kind of look that I find most attractive. If I were to say that I have a "type" that I gravitate towards, it would be the look that Natalie Merchant, Barbara Hershey, Frances O'Connor, and Janeane Garofalo have (they all look similar). I once dated a lady who looked like those women. That was freaky. Really, though, I'm an equal opportunity dater and could see myself marrying a lady of any race, but if you want to know the look that I find most attractive, it is the Natalie Merchant look.

As for the Kennedy assassination, here's what I believe: John F. Kennedy was assassinated in a Military-Industrial Complex coup d'etat because he did not want to commit U.S. troops to Vietnam while Vice President Lyndon Johnson was more willing to. Lee Harvey Oswald was the patsy fall-guy who would get the credit for the assassination, though the likely fatal bullet was fired from "the grassy knoll." I also believe that the truth about the Kennedy Assassination is told to every single president as a warning that they will do what the Military-Industrial Complex decides is in the country's best interest if they want to avoid the same fate as him. This is the only explanation that makes sense to me when contemplating why President Jimmy Carter's administration supported the unpopular Shah of Iran, why President Bill Clinton went along with standard Republican agendas like NAFTA, GATT, and the military action in Kosovo as well as sending predator drones to bomb sites in Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan.

And of course, liberals who are disappointed in President Obama for not closing Guantanamo Bay or getting troops out of Afghanistan, need to understand that he may not have a reasonable choice. I would much prefer to see him live to complete a full eight years in office, get a presidential library, write his memoirs, and shape his post-presidency agenda, than to see a president assassinated. I know its a compromise with "evil" forces, but what can you do? I believe a President does have some power to shape his own agenda, but when it comes to foreign policy, particularly where the military is concerned, the Military-Industrial Complex has the true power and presidents disobey at their own peril. Its not difficult to understand why they choose in favor of the M-I-C. They have children they want to see grow up, get married, and give them grandchildren. They have the promise of greater wealth for the eight years of obedient servanthood. This applies to both Democratic and Republican Presidents, and no one was a bigger whore for the M-I-C than George W. Bush.

Kennedy rightfully deserves the distinction of being known as the last president of considerable conscience. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco and how close our nation came to nuclear war with the USSR over the Cuban Missile Crisis, its understandable that Kennedy did not trust the military brass. They were the ones who wanted to do a pre-emptive strike against Cuba which would have caused an immediate retaliation by the Soviet military. If Kennedy had been president in 2003, he likely would not have invaded Iraq. If GWB was president in 1962, we probably wouldn't have existed. Nuclear war would have ensued, making the planet uninhabitable for a long time.

God bless Kennedy. He might not have been completely moral in regards to sexual fidelity, but he was moral where it counted the most: not getting our nation entangled in a costly and completely unnecessary war.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fun Friday: My Favourite Debut Albums

It has been awhile since I've done a "Fun Friday" post and I have been wanting to do a countdown of my favourite debut albums of all time for awhile now. Before I get the countdown started, I need to define what "debut album" means. Basically, it is the first album that is released by a singer or group, which brings them into public awareness. Some singers become famous later on and when I listen to their debut album, even if I really like it, I'm not including it on this list because this is for those who found success with the first album. Also, this list excludes singers who first achieved success in a group, then went on to release a debut solo album. That means no Faith by George Michael (of Wham!), Fur by Jane Wiedlin (of The Go-Gos), The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (of The Fugees), Love Angel Music Baby by Gwen Stefani (of No Doubt), or The Dutchess by Fergie (of Black Eyed Peas).

In the #10 spot is Whenever You Need Somebody by Rick Astley. This album was released in Europe in 1987 while I was a teenager living in Germany. It took a few months before Rick Astley's worldwide smash "Never Gonna Give You Up" hit the American music charts and for his debut album to be released stateside. I was absolutely crazy about this single and could not wait for his debut album to appear in the PX (a U.S. military department store for military members and their dependents on Army bases. Its called a BX on Air Force Bases or NEX on Navy bases). Its rare that I ever achieve the same level of excitement for an upcoming release than I did back then with this album. Not even the latest Johnny Clegg CD inspired the same level of anticipated excitement, and I was really stoked about this album!

To this day, I still don't know why I was so enthralled by Rick Astley's singles and debut album. It could have been because it was really popular in Europe at the time and unescapeable. His songs all sound the same, as they were written and produced by the British hitmakers known as Stock / Aitken / Waterman, which has also produced hits for Bananarama and Kylie Minogue. Rick Astley was a bit of an anomaly because his deep vocals blew everyone away when you heard his song on the radio. Seeing his videos after having heard his songs came as a bit of a shock because he looks nothing like one assumes a person with his voice would look like. In fact, he looked very boyishly young. In 1988, when Rick Astley and Australian singer Kylie Minogue were tearing up the music charts, a D.J. cleverly sped up one of Astley's singles and he sounded exactly like Kylie Minogue! When the D.J. slowed down one of Kylie Minogue's singles ("I Should Be So Lucky"), she sounded exactly like Rick Astley! Weird.

Anyhow, besides "Never Gonna Give You Up" (which is now a popular viral prank known as "Rickrolling"), Astley had follow-up hits with "Together Forever", "It Would Take a Strong, Strong Man", and my personal favourite "Don't Say Goodbye." The album ends with a remake of a Nat King Cole song, which only someone with Astley's voice can pull off: "When I Fall in Love." At the time of this album's popularity, I was not much of a "standards" fan. I didn't care for torch songs or jazz, but I really liked Astley's remake. Celine Dion's remake can't even compare to Astley's version.

#9. Teen sensation Debbie Gibson released her debut album, Out of the Blue, in 1987 and found "competition" with another teenage singer, Tiffany. In the battle of the teen queens, I preferred Debbie Gibson by far. Tiffany's debut album was a little too mellow for my liking and she relied too much on remakes. Debbie Gibson wrote her own songs and they were quite good. Granted, bubble gum pop, but good overall. Those who knew me back in the late 1980s know that I had a HUGE crush on Debbie Gibson. I even fantasized marrying her someday (last time I checked a few years ago, she was still single, which surprises me. She has only grown more beautiful with age, even if her songs don't get played on the radio anymore).

I heard her debut single "Only in My Dreams" when my family was on a three week vacation through the British Isles in August 1987. I listened to British radio and heard a lot of new songs, some of which never charted in the U.S. (such as "Call Me" by Spagna, "You Win Again" by the Bee Gees, and "Everlasting Love" by Sandra). Other singles followed, including the ridiculous "Shake Your Love", the awesome "Out of the Blue", and the ballad "Foolish Beat" hit #1 on the singles chart, making her the youngest person to have written, recorded, and produced a #1 hit single. What does she do to follow that up? She released a throw-away single "Staying Together." "Wake Up to Love" would have been a better choice, as would my favourite song on the album that was never released as a single: "Between the Lines." I love that ballad!

Because I loved this album a lot as a teenager, anticipation grew for her sophomore album, which was released in 1989 (Electric Youth). The follow-up had some good songs on it, but I didn't think it was nearly as good as her debut. A few albums followed until she changed her sound and showed her grown-up side with an album that I consider her "masterpiece": 1993's Body Mind Soul (I especially love her song "Do You Have it In Your Heart?"). But, considering the memories attached, her debut album still conjures up positive memories of my adolescence, when I had a huge crush on her. Marry me, Debbie! (Ha.)

#8. In 1999, breezy pop hit the big time right when I most needed it. The previous year was a dismal one for me because of a combination of factors (loneliness at BYU, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, doubts about my future in my major, an abundance of sad songs on the radio). When a single by New Radicals played on the radio, "You Only Get What You Give", it was such a welcome blast of energy. I really felt energized by the song and when I bought the album, Maybe You've Been Brainwashed, Too, I was stunned by how great it was. I loved all of the songs on there. I couldn't get enough of it. This was the case of a right album being released at the right time: breezy, happy pop when I'm at my most positive, optimistic self. The hit single seemed to allude to karma, which was a topic I was gaining interest in learning about at the time. Their follow-up single was an awesome ballad called "Someday We'll Know", which had a great line in: "Someday we'll know why Sampson loved Delilah." That has to be the most perplexing mystery of all time!

To this day, whenever I listen to this album, I'm brought back to my college years. Perhaps in my next Fun Friday post, I will write about the albums I listened to during my college years. Out of all of them, this is probably my favourite of that time period. Unfortunately, despite their success, New Radicals broke up soon after this album was released. They will always be a one-album wonder. Was success that scary that they couldn't tour or create a follow-up? Tragic.

#7. In the spring of my senior year in high school, a new female group started gaining radio play with a hit debut single, "Hold On." I loved this anti-suicide song so much that I nominated it for my graduating class's official song. My class wisely voted for a more optimistic "Tomorrow (A Better You, A Better Me)" by Quincy Jones featuring Tevin Campbell.

The band, Wilson Phillips, is considered Hollywood royalty, as the daughter of John and Michelle Phillips (Chynna Phillips--the blonde, who is married to William Baldwin) of the Mamas and the Papas, and the daughters of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys (the other two) formed this vocal trio. Follow-up singles include "Release Me" and "Impulsive." In the summer of 1990, my family attended a Richard Marx concert at Six Flags over Georgia amusement park. Wilson Phillips was the opening act. Though they were underwhelming, I do remember them singing the song "Eyes Like Twins", which I liked.

I did not buy the album, though, until nearly a year later, when I was in Yeoman "A" School for the Navy in Mississippi. The last single from their debut album, "The Dream Is Still Alive" was released while I was in basic training, so whenever I hear this song, I always think about my boot camp experience (which ranks as the greatest experience of my life). I finally just had to buy this album, which I did in Mississippi and listened to it over and over all summer long. Thus, to this day, this album transports me back to the summer of 1991, after all the singles were released, rather than the summer of 1990, when it was popular. The success of this debut album was probably too much for the trio to ever overcome. Their sophomore album did go deeper (particularly the powerfully personal song "Flesh and Blood" about Carnie and Wendy Wilson's father Brian), but it was rather unremarkable. Looks like they're still around, though, as their first Christmas album is out this year. I like their harmonies, so I might just buy it. However, I doubt that they will ever be able to create an album as great as their debut. That's the problem with hitting a home run on your first time out!

#6. When I first heard the single "I Try" by Macy Gray in the fall of 1999, I was stunned by her unusual vocals. She made me stop and take notice. I don't know how else to describe her, but sultry comes to mind. Such a great single and voice made me excited about her debut album, which I bought when I was an intern in D.C. Thus, Macy Gray On How Life Is is time capsuled in my mind to my great internship experience (the second greatest experience of my life). I listened to this album a lot in the winter and spring of 2000. I was stunned when a Mormon lady on the program whom I did not talk to much happened to ask out of the blue one day if I knew about Macy Gray. When I told her that I had bought the album, she asked to borrow it and she loved it as well.

When I described Macy Gray and her debut album to someone, I said that I did not know how to compare her other than to say that she was the new Tracy Chapman, even though their music genres are different. The other person agreed with my assessment. Her debut album is a perfect mix of funk and blues, and her unique voice made this album one of my favourites. However, I have not bought subsequent albums. She was a novelty who laid out all her brilliance on her debut.

#5. This debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of Arrested Development was released in March 1992, but I did not discover them until January 1993 when Bill Clinton was inaugurated as president. A cousin of mine had sent me a video tape of MTV's coverage of the inauguration and the music of Arrested Development featured quite prominently. I was living in Italy at the time, so their music did not make it to European radio. Perhaps they were too African-American-centric for the white continent, but this was the kind of rap that I liked: positive and political (no NWA, 2 Live Crew, or Ice-T for me). The single that really captured my interest was "Mr. Wendal", about a homeless man who has the kind of wisdom that a person who pays a lot of money for a college education usually don't receive. Its an awesome song. "Tennessee" was their debut single and one shipmate I worked with hated that song because he was from Tennessee and did not appreciate the line about "climbing the trees that my forefathers hung from."

I thought it was interesting that Arrested Development had similar titled songs back to back: "Fishin' 4 Religion" and "Give a Man a Fish." I like both songs. Another awesome song is "People Everyday", which was played at Obama's Waterfront Rally in Portland in May 2008. I hadn't heard the song in years, but I noticed that people around me we getting into the funk and groove of that song. I had forgotten how good that song was.

They came along at the right time, and on the heels of another positive message rap group PM Dawn. In the early 1990s, the negative rap of 2 Live Crew, NWA, Sista Souljah, Ice T, and Ice Cube became the focus of media attention for their lyrics that degraded women, promoted crass materialism, or even encouraged killing police officers. Thus, it was a breath of fresh air that rap groups with a positive message emerged on the scene. I never really got into rap, though I liked some songs by LL Cool J, Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Salt n' Pepa, and PM Dawn. Arrested Development was the first rap group that I truly liked. This debut album is a reason why.

#4. Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby is an amazing, soulful album. The dreadlocked D'Arby first found success in England, even though he was an American ex-patriot in the mid-1980s and pretentiously changed his last name "Darby" to a British styled "D'Arby." I heard his first single "Wishing Well" during my family's vacation in the British Isles in August 1987. I loved the whistling part of the song. Though he might be American, I think of his album as English / European. Other songs that I love are "If You Let Me Stay", "If You All Get to Heaven", "Seven More Days", "Rain", and "Let's Go Forward."

Besides "Wishing Well", his other big hit from the album was "Sign Your Name", which I love. I remember in the fall of 1988, when I was a new student in my last high school, the English teacher passed around a piece of paper asking us to sign it. One girl in the class, who was the class clown, passed it to the next student while singing the chorus of this song. We laughed at her antics. Its strange that one person could capture the memory I have of this song by one simple act of singing the chorus of the song in 11th grade English class. I always think of her whenever I hear this beautiful song. Sheryl Crow sings a cover version of the song on her most recent album, 100 Miles From Memphis, but no one compares to the smoky style of Terence Trent D'Arby.

#3. This debut album was released early in 1985, but did not take hold until a year later. I don't know what it was about Whitney Houston, but she captured my heart with this amazing debut album. Though I was never big on ballads, it was her voice that made me take notice. It did not hurt that she was the most beautiful African American I had ever seen since Lisa Bonet played Bill Cosby's eldest daughter on The Cosby Show. I admit that until Lisa Bonet and Whitney Houston came along, I did not find African American women to be attractive. Those two ladies, followed by plenty more in the years since, opened my heart and mind.

From the debut music video, of "You Give Good Love", I was smitten by this lady. Its a simple video and a great introduction to a great new singer. She's singing in an empty ballroom of a hotel and one guy is filming her while the kitchen staff stop working to watch her belt out the song. This is signature Whitney. Though her first song did not reach #1, the next three singles would, starting a chain of #1 singles that continued with her sophomore album. "Saving All My Love for You" is about her as "the other woman" in an affair with a married man. "How Will I Know" is my personal favourite on this album, and one of her few up-tempo songs. "Greatest Love of All" became one of her biggest hits. It has a powerful message, about loving oneself. After all, its hard to love someone else if you don't love yourself first. Unfortunately, though, whenever I hear this song, I can't help but think of Eddie Murphy's off-key version of the song in the film Coming to America.

"All At Once" and "Take Good Care of My Heart" should have been released as singles as well. However, the songs all added up to a great debut soul album. I was so crazy about this album that I could not wait for Whitney's sophomore album. It was probably one of the most highly anticipated albums of all time for me. In the summer of 1987, I could not wait until it was released in stores so I could rush out and buy it with my allowance money. Whitney managed to do what few people with a great debut album have been able to do. I actually love her second album, Whitney, even more than her debut. I think its a much stronger album. My interest in Whitney only increased through the end of 1988. By the time her lackluster third album was released in the fall of 1990, I had outgrown my crush. Though I loved her songs on The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale, and The Preacher's Wife soundtracks, I pretty much lost interest in her after her brilliant role in The Preacher's Wife. It has been sad to see what being married to an abusive, jealous, drug-addicted bad boy has done to a woman who had everything. When I was a teenager, I saw her marrying a distinguished gentleman, likely an actor. Though I did not hear about him at the time, an actor like Denzel Washington seemed to be the kind Whitney would marry, not a trashy bad boy with a bad reputation.

Several attempts at a comeback have failed to revive her career. I'm thinking that the damage she did to herself is unrepairable. What a shame to watch such a talented, beautiful singer self-destruct before our eyes. At least we'll have her first two albums to cherish.

#2. The Retrofits was a Portland group that created an album I did not expect. I was blown away when I first heard Away From Here and to this day, I still never get tired of listening to it. This is one album that I wish had found radio success all over the country because I'm certain that if people listened to it, they would love it. I actually love every single song on this album, which is rare for me to like every song on an album. Only a few groups have managed to create what I consider to be "the perfect album." This is one of them.

One thing I love about this album is that the opening line of the first song ("Anything You Like") just sets the tone in a very good way. The line is: "Love is changing and unfolding now..." Sometimes, this line will just come to me when I'm not thinking of anything in particular.

I first came across The Retrofits when they played a few songs at the announcement rally of Jeff Merkley in the fall of 2007, who was starting his campaign for the Senate (he won in 2008). When they played, I noticed that people were moving to the songs. Even I couldn't help myself. They perform such happy pop that you can't help yourself. I wish more music was like this. And I wish that they had found success on the radio and music charts. A song or a few of their songs should be featured in key scenes of a movie, which could ignite the album into the consciousness of people seeking awesome new music.

Unfortunately, the band no longer exists. The lead singer Jake Oken-Berg has his own music projects going on. Not sure if that was a wise thing. Each time I listen to this album, I'm just amazed how one local band could manage to create such a perfect album on their first try. I wish they had stuck together to create more awesome music. Sometimes, it takes awhile for a band to catch on (Dave Matthews Band and Maroon 5 come to mind). Though we'll never know what could have been, this album will remain in my memory as the soundtrack of my first couple years in Portland when I was just learning about the local political scene and developing a friendship with Christine before losing her to another guy and seeing her move away.

Finally, the #1 best debut album of all time for me is Tracy Chapman's self-titled debut from 1988. The album opens brilliantly with a rousing anthem, "Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution" which I'm sure that conservatives probably think is communist. The song always makes me think of Jesus, though. This was the kind of revolution he'd be talking about. The next song is her hit single "Fast Car." I love the line: "Tonight we've gotta make a decision: leave tonight or live and die this way."

Two standouts that I really love are "Baby Can I Hold You" and "Mountains O' Things" (about the accumulation of unnecessary things). Really, though, there is no bad song on this album. It is perfect and flawless, catchy and deep, covering a broad range of ideas from homelessness to poverty to spouse abuse to materialism to questions about the inconsistencies of our society. I was never really a fan of folk music, but Tracy Chapman's songs fall under the genre of folk and it worked quite brilliantly on this album.

During my internship in D.C., nearly everyone was three to eight years younger than me but I was surprised that quite a few agreed that Tracy Chapman's debut album was one of the best ones they've ever heard as well. I had bought Chapman's sophomore album, Crossroads, but wasn't impressed. Each time I decide to give it another chance, I'll listen but it simply does not grab me the way her debut did. I doubt that I will ever hear an album by anyone that compares to the brilliance and overall impact of Tracy Chapman's debut.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Election 2010 Wrap-Up

I know that it has been two weeks, but I have been meaning to write a post about my take on the mid-term elections. Basically, I think American voters are basically stupid. Would people be as forgiving if a person set fire to their house and trash-talked the fireman who tried to salvage the house before it was completely destroyed? Would a person then give the arsonist house keys to their replacement home? No? Then why did American voters return to power the very party that put our country in the worst economic crisis since Herbert Hoover (another Republican) was president?!? I don't get it. I always knew that one of our blessings as well as curses as a country is our ability to forget the past. Its good in a way that has helped our country avoid the centuries long grievances people hold in the Balkans or the Middle East. But its not so good when there is a political party that encourages Americans to forget the incompetence, graft, and corruption that they've done for the first six years of the century.

The optimist in me held out hope that Americans would not be duped by the Teabaggers and the Republican Party once again. I guess American voters did not listen to George W. Bush's famous misquotes: "Fool me once, shame on--shame on--fool me twice, you can't get fooled again!" Not in America, suckas! We are now a Charlie Brown country. You probably remember the often repeated Peanuts comic strip where the obnoxious Lucy promises that she will not pull the football away from Charlie Brown like the last time. Like the gullible idiot loser that he is, he falls for it every time! Lucy does indeed pull the football away at the last minute and Charlie Brown once again lands on his back staring up at the sky.

You have to wonder how many times Americans want to be conned and robbed by the most deceitful political party our country has ever seen. I've read that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Take a look at history. Every time the Republicans are entrusted with power, the country ends up in an economic mess. The Robber Barons of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The combined pro-corporate business policies of the Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover administrations. The oil shocks and inflation of the Nixon / Ford years. The voodoo economics of the Reagan / Bush years. And of course, the Clinton surplus-squandering economic disaster that was Baby Bush the Terrible.

What can we expect from a Republican controlled Congress? How about the worst aspects of the Gingrich / Hastert era: open-ended investigations into President Barack Obama to find the silver bullet in the closet that will bring down his presidency and lead to his impeachment. No allegation is too outrageous. A team of Drudge reporters are probably being dispatched to Nairobi, Kenya right now to turn up a faked birth certificate. Hey, if a forged document written by a college student claiming that Saddam Hussein had sought yellow-cake uranium from Niger could be used as a rationale for an illegal invasion of a sovereign country, you don't think this political party is going to let a little Hawaiian birth certificate stop them, do you?

I don't think its accidental that the next Speaker of the House is named Boehner. The message in these election results is quite clear: Bend over, America. We're about to be boned! Goodbye Health Care Reform. Goodbye Jobs Creation Bills. Hello gridlock! Hello unmerited investigations! Any investigation of a president needs to begin with George Walker Bush, because he is the reason why our Founding Fathers set a provision for impeachment. It sickens me to see his face on the public scene so soon after leaving office in disgrace. His smirking chimpy face, bragging about authorizing waterboarding deserves only one response: a renditioned flight to the Hague to face the International Criminal Court for a War Crimes Tribunal. Maybe that will wipe off the smirk from his face once and for all!

The biggest reason why American voters were stupid in this election is because the exit polls indicated that the economy was the #1 issue of concern for voters. Yet, by voting for an opposition party to the president, they have basically guaranteed that our economy is going to drag on for two more years. The Democrats have a vested interest in improving the economy for the 2012 elections, because President Obama is up for reelection. The Republican party has a vested interest in the economy being weak through the next election because its the best way to capture the White House. Its amazing to me how lacking in clarity that voters can be. They will punish a Democratic president for not cleaning up a Republican president's mess fast enough, yet they were more than willing to give the Republican Party six straight years to do whatever they wanted (Bush defied history when his party made gains in Congress during his first mid-term elections). Stupid, stupid, stupid! Americans who voted Republican basically just screwed over everyone who is unemployed and looking for work, people struggling to maintain their mortgage, and people in dire need of affordable health care. Screwing over their fellow citizens to reward the corporate fatcats who are undoubtedly popping bottles of the most expensive French champagne in celebration of the American lunacy of voting against one's economic self-interest.

I really wish Blue States of America would divorce Red States of America. We'll see in a generation just which part of the country is worth living in and which one becomes a third world country. If people really want to vote against their own economic self interest, they should bear the brunt of the brutal economic policies, not those who voted for their own economic self interest.

While the election result was disappointing in many ways (most shocking of all, the honourable Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, who has been considered the conscience of the Senate after Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota died tragically in a suspicious plane crash in 2002, was voted out of office in favour of a millionnaire beholden to corporate interests), the fact that the Senate still remains under Democratic control is a relief. Even more positive, Sarah Palin's meddling in several key Senate races basically cost the Republicans control of the Senate. She supported the most extreme candidates over moderate, Republican-establishment backed candidates in Connecticut, Delaware, Nevada, and Alaska. The one that got the most attention was Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. She was a gift to Democrat Chris Coons, who was likely expecting to be a sacrificial lamb against the popular Republican Congressman Mike Castle for Senator Joe Biden's vacated seat. All the Teabaggers did was guarantee that independent voters and moderate Republicans would vote for Chris Coons. Surprisingly, the Fox Propaganda Network indicated that they weren't planning to hire Christine O'Donnell after her defeat. That's saying something when a conservative is considered to be too kooky for even Fox!

In Nevada, the milquetoasty wimp Harry Reid managed to beat back the Teabagger challenge in Sharron Angle, who was another scary candidate. Many of her comments and views on things seem straight out of Nazi Germany. Apparently, it was too much for Nevada voters and you kind of have to feel some sympathy for them. Reid did not deserve to win reelection, and had the Republicans offered a more reasonable candidate, he would now be looking for a new job. Instead, he remains as the Majority Leader in the United States Senate.

In Alaska, the Senate race has finally been called for Lisa Murkowski. She becomes the first person in fifty years to win a write-in campaign for the U.S. Senate. This race is interesting because it shows just how toxic Sarah Palin is, right where people know her the best. The conflict was not just political for Palin. It was downright personal. Lisa's father, Frank Murkowski, was a Senator when he won the governor's seat in 2002. Upon taking office, he appointed his daughter to fill his Senate seat, which was considered controversial and inspired a nepotism law. Other allegations of corruption came out of the woodwork and in a Republican primary in 2006, little-known Sarah Palin was able to wink her way past him. Since Alaska is a safe Republican state, once a candidate wins the Republican primary, they basically cakewalk through the general election. During Palin's short time in office, she did enjoy popularity and was known to work across the aisle with the Democratic minority in the state legislature. After John McCain selected Palin as a running mate and she received a thorough vetting in the public eye, the glitter started falling off as people learned the truth about her. Because she was so vicious in her partisan attacks against Obama and the Democrats, when she returned to Alaska after the Republicans lost in 2008, her campaign speeches basically turned her Democratic allies against her. Palin might have loved to talk about the Bridge to Nowhere, but she burned that bridge and had nowhere else to go.

In the Republican primary, Palin supported a guy named Joe Miller over Senator Lisa Murkowski. Because it is widely known that Palin and the Murkowski family do not get along, voters could be excused for seeing this as an endorsement that was mostly personal rather than political. The Teabaggers managed to defeat the Senator in the primary and rally behind their Quitter Queen's selection. Since Joe Miller won the nomination and more news emerged about him, things looked worse and worse. He had a reporter handcuffed. He came down hard on people who received unemployment insurance (calling them "lazy"). Granted, that's a standard Republican viewpoint. However, news reporters turned up information that Miller's wife had received unemployment insurance within the past decade. Hypocrisy! Its amazing that so many candidates can lie so brazenly in the age of Google, Wikipedia, YouTube and blogging.

Above is a copy of the Alaska ballot that I found in a Google image search. Senator Murkowski said that she did not plan to run a write-in campaign, but so many people urged her to do so because Joe Miller was so scary and the Democratic candidate was inexperienced and virtually unknown. The problem with write-in campaigns is that the rules can be strict to the point where a candidate's name has to be written correctly. Misspellings, even when its obvious who the voter intended to write, can be disqualified. Since many Americans tend to be bad spellers, particularly for ethnic names, this way of keeping the Senator in office was a risky move. It was probably too late for her to register as an independent to have her name printed on the ballot, so this was her last option if she cared about retaining her job.

Thus, because she took this risk and thousands of Alaskans wrote her name on the ballot, she gets to remain as Senator, and Palin's stature is diminished quite a bit for backing the wrong horse. More than 92,000 voters wrote her name perfectly on the ballot, while another 8,000 were being contested by Joe Miller. She had received 10,000 more votes than Miller. Its amazing to reflect on the difficulty to pull off a write-in campaign. It shows just how little sway Palin has in the state where she resides. That should send a signal to the Quitter Queen's fans in trailer parks throughout the South. People in Alaska know Palin and they don't want her or her chosen candidates to represent them. This is probably one of the most satisfying defeats in this election cycle.

My favourite defeat, though, belongs to Meg Whitman, who tried to buy the California governorship. In the last days of her campaign, she contributed another $2 million to pay for ads, bringing her tally to $144 million. That is the most money ever spent on a political campaign by an individual. To get an idea of how crazy that is, in the 1992 election the tally was $100 million on the presidential race. I am pleased that California voters have made Whitman the biggest loser ever. So, Meg, how does it feel to squander $144 million? If she has any children, I wonder how they feel. Give me $144 million and I would do a lot of good with that money. None of my plans include buying political office, though. I'd form my own foundation, be my own boss, hire some good people, renovate a building to create affordable loft condos, travel the world, and donate to worthy causes and political campaigns.

One of my favourite Senators, Barbara Boxer, managed to squeak in another win. Whew! That was a relief. Her opponent, Carly Fiorina, was a mess. After a disasterous tenure at Hewlett-Packard, she had let several thousands of employees go to save the company money, but she also had a multi-million dollar parachute when the board decided to let her go. What do rich people do with all those millions when they already have everything they could possibly want (mega-mansion, luxury cars, luxury yacht, private jet, vacation homes)? Why, they try to buy their way into political office! Thank God the voters of California are smart enough to say no to the two corporate ladies who tried to buy their way into office. One of the few shining moments of a disappointing election (in which the Democrats lost 60 seats in the House, which is more than the 54 Clinton lost in 1994 or the twenty-something seats the Republicans lost in 2006).

Unfortunately, though, the voters of Kentucky aren't as enlightened as the voters in California. Teabagger favourite Rand Paul defeated Attorney General Jack Conway, despite some disturbing red flags surrounding Rand Paul and his overzealous supporters (one of whom pressed his foot on the face of a protestor while she was on the ground). There is something I don't trust about Rand Paul. You can bet, though, that he now becomes the Teabagger favourite to run for president in 2016. Sure, they'll beg and plead with him to run in 2012, but that would be a mistake if he were to throw his hat into the ring so soon after winning his first political office. Its more likely that his father will run another quixotic campaign. Those annoying Ron Paul cultists will probably be out in force in Portland and other cities in the next couple years.

With this election out of the way, we will likely see Republicans starting to announce exploratory committees for a presidential campaign in January. When the dust is settled, I still think Mitt Romney will be the nominee and his choice of a running mate will either be Jeb Bush or Bobby Jindal. The evangelical Christian voters in the Republican party will just have to hold their nose when they vote in 2012, though in an ideal situation, Sarah Palin will resurrect Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party and run as a Teabagger alternative to President Obama versus Governor Romney. I'd love to see that!

Other notable election results include:
Marco Rubio winning the Senate seat in Florida. He was born the same year as me (1971)! You can bet that he's a future presidential candidate (I'm predicting for 2020).

Ben Quayle, the son of Vice President Dan Quayle, has unfortunately won a seat in Congress to represent a district in Arizona. We must stop viewing political office like an inheritance! Especially when Ben has shown himself to be his father's son, at least in the brains department. Ben garnered some media attention when he stated in a campaign commercial that President Obama was "the worst president ever." Gee, that's a phrase most associated with George W. Bush. Funny that the son of one of the worst Vice Presidents ever would think that Obama, who is cleaning up Bush's mess, is the worst president ever. That goes for any Teabagger, though. They all seem to suffer from amnesia or an early onset of alzheimers.

Finally, Sean Duffy won a seat in Congress to represent a district in Wisconsin. For those who don't recognize his name, he was one of MTV's The Real World houseguests for the Boston season (in 1997). That was my last year of eligibility for the show and I had thought about submitting an application for that season. It wasn't my favourite season, though (I liked the San Francisco, Hawaii, Seattle, and New Orleans casts. I stopped watching after 2000's season). Sean was the wholesome, Midwestern, All American lumberjack. He met his wife Rachel, who was a castmember of the San Francisco season (in 1994), on a special Road Rules that featured five Real World castmates (Eric from the New York cast, Jon from Los Angeles, Rachel from San Francisco, Cynthia from Miami, and Sean from Boston) traveling New Zealand by caravan. I wish that season was on DVD.

Sean and Rachel had conservative, Republican politics in common. They fell in love, got married, and had at least five children. Sean became a lawyer and is probably the first Reality Show celebrity to win political office. There was talk that Michael Skupin of Survivor: The Australian Outback was planning to run for a Senate seat in Michigan a few years back. He's likely a Republican, as well. My impression of Sean Duffy, though, from watching both the Real World: Boston and Road Rules: New Zealand is that he and I would have likely been friends. I generally get along with people who are more conservative in the personalities, if they are moderate in the politics. I don't get along with ideologues, and he doesn't seem like an ideologue. I wish him much luck and I was happy that he won, even though he's a Republican with Teabagger support.

Here's to an interesting 112th Congress. I hope that Republicans will put aside the politics of the campaign and do all they can to help turn our economy around. At some point, they have to realize that there is a time to put aside one's party for the betterment of the country as a whole.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Over Our Dead Bodies!

This week, a public debate has ensued over the full body scanners being used in American airports that many people who care about civil liberties and privacy issues are having a loud backlash against. Then there are the sheeple who will go along with whatever the government wants because they believe that this will actually be an effective deterrent against terrorism.

On the Coast to Coast AM radio program, host George Noory brought up an even scarier possibility. He mentioned that there was little to stop a Jihadist on a suicide mission from opening the hatch of an airplane in mid-flight. That involves no weapons at all.

As one can see from the pictures, the body scans do reveal quite a bit. It appears, though, that it is mostly women who are raising a fuss because of concerns about TSA agents being perverts who save the images they like for personal use or who get a "Peeping Tom" thrill during the course of their workday. Many guys seem to shrug it off as a necessity in the "war on terror."

Is it really necessary? I believe the government has gone too far. As my friends know, I'm no anti-government radical. I don't spend my days reading about the Trilateral Commission, Blackhawk Helicopters with United Nations markings being seen in Western Montana or Northern Idaho, or the New World Order. I just think people are allowing their fears to overrule their reason. I love the Benjamin Frankling quote: "Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." It simply amazes me how quickly Americans want to give up their long-fought liberties, all because of a fear of a possible terrorist attack. One probably has a better chance of winning the lottery than dying in a terrorist attack! More Americans die in auto accidents every year but Americans aren't afraid to get behind the wheel.

Apparently, for those who do not want to walk through the full body scanner for whatever reason (privacy issues, health-related issues), one can opt for a patdown. One passenger in San Diego did just that last weekend, leaving his cell phone camera running through the 12 minute ordeal as he argued his rights. I loved his comment, "If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested." His comment was kind of funny. I'm not one to refer to my crown jewels as "junk." If a man really thinks that of his, he should consider a sex change operation! The sad part of this is, if we do not want to be body scanned, our only alternative is an intrusive patdown by a TSA agent. So, that's our choice: get blasted by radiation and have our nude x-ray seen by TSA agents (and possibly released on the Internet for all to see) or get groped by a government agent! Its enough to make one miss the 1990s when a security check meant that an airline ticket agent asked you just two questions: did you pack your luggage and has your luggage been in your possession the entire time.

This intrusive body scan and patdown alternative actually violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Have a quick read:

‎"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Don't people get that the terrorist win when liberty gets restricted? We are allowing our fears to give away our Constitutional rights and freedoms. Guess what? Life is a risk! In the past decade, I have been on Amtrak and Greyhound more than a dozen times and no passenger ever has to walk through a metal detector to board a train or bus. Is it possible for a crazed lunatic to bring a gun on board and shoot everyone up? Yes, of course. Has it happened? No. Granted, airplanes have a higher element of danger involved and airplane crashes of any kind tend to scare people in ways that train, bus, or car crashes generally do not. I'm okay with the metal detectors and even the enhanced screening that requires people to take off their shoes and belts, even though it looks ridiculous.

One thing that bothered me about flying, though, is how stupid TSA agents look when they randomly select a person to do an individual search and the person happens to be an elderly lady or a young child. Granted, this is done out of a principle fairness that "racial profiling" won't be used (that everyone is subject to a search), but come on! People need to get real. When I interned in D.C., I learned that the Secret Service and the FBI have procedures based on statistical data and psychological profiles about who likely threats are. They don't have time to waste by "fairly" picking people at random. Secret Service and FBI Agents have a trained eye in knowing what to look out for when they scan crowds of people. Do you think they are wasting their time looking at elderly ladies or young children? The likeliest suspect of any violent crime is going to be a male. That's pretty much a given.

Here's something to consider. In December 1999, a border agent in Washington State managed to catch a terrorist suspect crossing the border from Canada. There was an increased alert because of threats made regarding Millennium celebrations at the Space Needle in Seattle, the Los Angeles Airport, and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The border agent noticed that a driver of a particular car was sweating, even though it was cold outside. The driver was also nervous in his speech. Who knows what else about the suspect caused the border agent to feel that the car needed to be searched? There is a reason why psychological profiles and training in human behaviour comes in handy. We need to stop deluding ourselves that life is fair and equal. After all, the time wasted giving an elderly lady a more thorough search at the airport might mean that the Jihadist slips through without being noticed.

So, I hope Americans will engage in a boycott or massive protest or even refuse to participate in this charade and violation of the Fourth Amendment. Since people might need to travel for the jobs or to see family and friends across the country, we can't really avoid this as much as we might like. Since I live far from my folks, as well as from destinations on the east coast, I'll most certainly have to fly at some point. As much as I hate being touched, though, I would much prefer a patdown than walking through a full body scan. The next time I fly, I'll be sure to wear a shirt that quotes the Fourth Amendment or makes a statement about being groped by a government agent. I wonder how the TSA agent would feel if the person he does a patdown on starts acting turned on by the touches. Would that get the passenger in trouble with the law?

What can we do as a matter of Civil Disobedience? The best idea I read online was that men should wear Kilts, the full Scottish-style (sans underwear), when we travel. One could imagine how much the TSA agents will hate their jobs if they had to give a patdown to men wearing Kilts. I really hope some people do attempt this soon. The busiest travel day of the year is fast approaching (a week from Wednesday). I have a feeling that stress levels at airports all across the USA are going to be super high. Glad I'm not going anywhere.

The picture above is a good motivator to join a gym. Some comments I've read on various articles are hilarious. One lady mentioned that she feels sorry for the TSA agent who will get a hard-on upon seeing her body. Some guys wrote that they believe the TSA agent will be jealous when they see the "size of their tool".

Those who don't have a problem with full body scanners, I highly recommend watching the films Minority Report; I, Robot; and Total Recall. Is this really the future we want to live in? Not me. I'll take the terrorist risk over the violation of the Fourth Amendment. There is a smarter way to fight terrorism. It does not involve fear or giving up our rights as Americans. So, TSA can scan my dead fucking body, because you won't have my consent as long as I'm alive. Capisce?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Map Video Monday

Instead of a regular music video this week, I've decided to feature a cool video that compresses one thousand years of European history into five minutes. It really shows you how impermanent national borders are. This is fascinating to watch, as I could watch it over and over for hours. I haven't yet, but I probably will watch it a few times a day, focusing on one country on the map. Its particularly interesting to me that there was a country named Bohemia, whose borders were pretty consistent through most of the past 1,000 years. I don't know why it prefers to go by Czech Republic now, as Bohemia has historical prestige.

Some other points of interest include how the borders of Great Britain, France, and Spain seemed to be set pretty early, while Italy and Germany were slow to become united. Even more interesting, you can see when the Napoleonic era happened as France increased its land area. You can also see when the Nazis came to power in Germany, as the expansion happened really quickly and then imploded even more quickly. For a history buff like myself, not to mention map-obsessed, this animated history is awesome! I inherited from my paternal grandfather a love of maps. Like him, I could stare at maps all day. As a youth, I loved creating my own maps of imaginary countries and even an amusement park. My favourite class in college was a Political Geography class in which our final exam was a take-home exam featuring an imaginary continent and we had to come up with our educated guesses about which countries would be natural allies and which ones would likely go to war with one another. I impressed the professor when I named each country and major city on his map (he used numbers and letters). I got an "A". I should've majored in Geography, I think, seeing as how worthless International Politics has proven to be in my search for a meaningful career in my major.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this cool feature! The music video selection should return next week.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Send a Veteran to Congress

On this Veteran's Day, I find it remarkable that the Republican Party has finally found a military veteran to send to Congress. Most of the military veterans who are in Congress are Democrats. In a Southeastern district of Missouri, a veteran of the Iraq War and a Democrat, Tommy Sowers, tried to defeat the Republican incumbent, but he only managed to get around 29% of the vote. I was sad about his defeat, as I think he would have made a good member of Congress. In Illinois, though, a 32 year old who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan for supposedly five tours of duty, has defeated the Democratic member of Congress. Adam Kinzinger has a frat boy look to him (he looks as though he could be the long lost twin of Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly).

Kinzinger has a girlfriend who works in some non-profit organization and had left Haiti just hours before the earthquake struck the country in January. He will represent the citizens of Bloomington and Normal, Illinois. In nearby Peoria, a single, young Congressman has won his second term: Aaron Schock. I have a bad feeling that these two All-American frat boys are going to be workout buddies in the House gym. Kinzinger might want to be cautious, though, because of the constant rumours about Congressman Schock's sexuality. Hopefully, Kinzinger will marry his sweetheart soon, before the gorgeous interns of Capitol Hill tempt him into some after-hours liaisons. I can see Congressman Kinzinger being quite popular with all the young female interns crawling all over Capitol Hill.

Though I don't agree with a lot of Kinzinger's views (he, like many of the members of our generation who have won political office in the last few years, points to Ronald Reagan as a role model the way an earlier generation cited RFK as their political hero. I must be a Boomer born in the wrong generation, as RFK is my political inspiration), I think its actually great that more members of our generation are coming into power. The sooner we flush out the Baby Boomers, the better. Not that I'm confident that our generation will get it right. I know human nature all too well. People conform to the prevailing system, even when they believe that they won't. It happens in nearly every organization, because that is just the nature of someone with a conformist mindset and the strong desire to fit into the prevailing culture of an organization. Our country is one of the biggest conformist societies ever, though we pretend to value rugged Cowboy individualism. The truth is that truly independent thinkers and non-conformists are marginalized in organizations.

I expect that Adam Kinzinger is likely to become a shining star in the Republican Party. How could he not? He's the rare Republican politician who served in the military, in a combat zone as an Air Force pilot. The Republican Party desperately needs combat veterans in a high profile, to make up for all the chicken hawks who have strutted around in the past couple decades making bad policies.

Below, I have included both Kinzinger's political ad and a statement about why he is running for Congress. On this Veteran's Day, I salute him for his military service as well as his recent victory in last week's election. I hope he will serve honourably and not be swindled by the Teabaggers or the sinister forces within his party. If he plays his cards right, we might see him in higher political office someday (though it is highly unlikely that a Congressman is elevated to the presidency. Perhaps a future position as Senator, Governor, or Vice President will come about in the next decade). If he plays into the paranoid racism of the Teabagger, though, I hope his career goes nowhere. As an elected official, he represents his entire district, even those who voted for his opponent. Winning over supporters from the opposite party is possible when a politician is gracious, fair, and works in a non-partisan manner. Let's hope that he follows that principle.

Happy Veteran's Day!