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Archive for February, 2010

Like many of you, I have been following the doings of the Obama administration and the 111th United States Congress with considerable despondency.

While the ‘politics of hope’ message inspired a great many people, it’s easy to say that sort of thing when one is campaigning, but very difficult to get it done.

This is especially true, I believe, for the left-leaning end of the political spectrum, where part of the ethos is the willingness to include a variety of viewpoints, to reach compromises and generally to try to “make nice” with as many people as possible.

At this point, however, the Republican opposition has become increasingly obstructionist and stubborn, often seemingly to the point of opposing much-needed common-sense legislation for no other reason than it having been put forth by a Democrat.

But there was a filibuster-proof Senate super-majority, wasn’t there? The Dems were going to be able to cram through any measure they wanted.

Here’s the problem. A super-majority requires party unity. Party unity is hard to come by when you’re including lots of differing views under one big tent. This is especially true when among the differing views include folks such as Joe Lieberman, representing the minor and unofficial “Whatever It Takes to Benefit Joe Lieberman” party, and Ben Nelson, representing the larger but similarly unofficial “I’m Only a Democrat Because That Made Me Electable” party.

Obama himself is similarly handcuffed by this process due to the separation of powers. By the time something makes it to his desk, it’s hardly worth his time to read it.

So scratch party unity. But the message should still be compelling, yes?

Yeah, well.

The right-siders, whether Cheney or Limbaugh, Palin or Steele, have been very good at the art of the five-second soundbite. Remember the “death panels”? The “socialist agenda”?

The Republican message, starting back in the Bush years, has been one of fear. Be afraid that the terrorists will attack your city next. Be afraid that Obama will allow doctors to kill your grandmother. Be afraid that the Democrats will tax you into poverty.

The Democratic message, from most quarters at least, has been, “Hey, that’s not true, quit being so mean. Incidentally, I still respect your right to say it even though I disagree with you, but I still think you’re being unnecessarily mean about it. Perhaps we can meet somewhere in the middle. Or possibly even slightly toward your end from the middle.”

Which of those is the more compelling message?

In this country, most of us grow up with the overarching societal concepts of divine judgment and knee-jerk patriotism, two notions which have been blended together very skillfully by the religious right. As such, being “un-American” is as much a sin as any violation of the Ten Commandments and a charge gleefully thrown at any so-called liberal to whom it will stick. “Socialist”, recalling as it does notions of Russia and Eastern Europe, has much the same effect.

So if you’re even remotely undecided, are you more likely to vote for the people who tell you you’re hell-bound if you don’t, or for the people without the balls to stand up to them?

No wonder the Democrats have gotten nothing done.

Want hope? Want change? Let’s see some real leadership from Reid and Pelosi, or a change in leadership if those two can’t get it done. Let’s see Team Blue get their own soundbites own there, show the Republicans a little backbone. Let’s see the insightful and incisive puncturing of the over-inflated rhetoric. Why are you appeasing the people who have screwed you over time after time after time?

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So another decade of music has now passed.

Thank God.

Since the end of World War II, if not earlier, every decade brought one if not two large-scale movements in the evolution of popular music, but surely the 2000s was the least inspired and most insipid of the bunch. And the scary thing is, it’s not because I’m not getting any younger, it’s because the music isn’t getting any fresher.

I think the predominant themes of the last 10 years in popular music were “artists” who consider screaming a valid alternative to singing and the “artists” whose idea of music has more to do with what they look like than how they sound.

These trends were to be expected, of course; the over-hyped pretty-but-talentless thing certainly had its share of precursors in the 80s and 90s, and the screaming “singers” were doubtless born of the roaring vocals of Sepultura and Pantera as well as the “Territorial Pissings” end of Nirvana’s oeuvre. Nevertheless, they appear to have assumed a place of prominence within the last ten years, a place which I look forward to seeing them lose.

This is not to say by any means that all the music of the last ten years has been bad – it is still possible to create excellent new music even if one is not truly innovating. A quick listen to such acts as Jealousy Curve, Cherry Suede or Kick Up The Fire is certainly proof of that.

There has also been a small degree of continued innovation; Radiohead, for example, have continued to push the envelope, delivering album after album of fresh-sounding material.

By and large, though, the 2000s certainly didn’t produce a musical shift on the order of rock and roll, punk or even disco. The electronica end didn’t evolve much. Rap hasn’t particularly grown beyond where it was in 1999.

I believe that part of this is due to the continued dominance of the RIAA (and its parent, the IIPA) over the majority of what gets out there. The record labels want a sound which has been focus-grouped and market-tested to death before they spend a nickel, hardly an ethos to foster revolutionary content.

I also believe, however, that this is beginning to change for the better; as recording technology becomes ever cheaper and the means to distribute and disseminate music over the Web becomes ever easier, we approach a scenario wherein a band still rehearsing in a basement or garage out in Wheretheheckisthat, Iowa can change the face of the world. The number of views to their MySpace or PureVolume pages, the number of plays on Last.fm or YouTube can skyrocket without the need for expensive label promotion or indeed any backing beyond the skilled leveraging of social media.

Unsurprisingly, the cries of the RIAA against music piracy have grown ever more strident as time has passed; many months ago I wrote an ‘open letter’ to them on this blog, and little has changed. Their product, for the most part, continues to be anemic tripe. Especially in a recession, it is hardly worth the gas money to drive to the record store for this stuff, never mind drop fifteen or twenty bucks for an album which is three-fourths filler.

Here, then, are the seeds for the next big music revolution. Not looking like Lady Gaga, not screaming like Avenged Sevenfold, not delivering balls-less impressions of punk rock like Fall Out Boy. Coming up with your own ideas and getting them out there without worrying about the market will prove to be a true test of where the world really is.

Independent radio stations get this. Some Internet radio providers get this. The RIAA will never get this.

Roll on the 2010s, let’s hear what you have in store.

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So I’m thirty now.

I guess being worried about turning thirty is less of a guy thing; either that or I am somehow immune to an otherwise universal damngiving regarding this particular milestone.

It may be a materialistic and shallow way to look at it, but it helps to have received some rather awesome birthday loot.

After many many years of searching, I now own a pair of rollerblades – and can even use them without causing bodily injury to myself or others.

Even better, though…

Yeah, baby. I have a nook.

I’ve been carrying three or four hundred books around on my cellphone, but the screen size on that is somewhat limiting. This, on the other hand, is much more like a regular paperback in terms of page size and device weight. Unsurprising, really.

It’s pretty awesome. No backlight, but aside from that, I’m very happy with it.

EDIT on 2/26: Have a clip-on LED for it now, along with a case and a car charger.

Those of you who have me friended on Goodreads may well have noticed that my total number of books read so far this year has been quite massive. This snazzy little doohickey is why.

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