Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Crazy Heart

I love the genres of punk and country music and yet it completely baffles me that so many kids who are into punk have absolutely no love for country. Three chords. Hell-raising. Personal demons. Working-class music. There's no two genres that could be more similar. And as far as rebellion goes, I'll put country music artists up against any genre of music around. And I'm not talking about the Taylor Swifts or the Kenny Chesneys.

In the early days, country music was defined by the honky tonk sound of Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers, etc. up until the 1970's when Nashville began to crank out a more pop, radio-friendly sound that still dominates the airwaves and continues to alienate country music fans to this day. Those who refused to play by Nashville's rules were known as "outlaws" and included names like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Jennings, more than anyone else, epitomized the movement as he was the first to battle Nashville and actually win creative control over his recordings.

2010 will see the release of the film Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges about a country singer in the "outlaw country" mold which I hope will shed more light on the true nature of country music instead of the garbage that is played on the radio. The soundtrack for this film includes: Billy Joe Shaver, Townes Van Zandt, the Louvin Brothers, Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings, etc. With those names, the Crazy Heart soundtrack could quite possibly be the greatest country music soundtrack in the history of film.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Antichrist


If the Academy Awards committee decides to come up with a new category for most bizarre, fucked-up film of the year, I assure you that Lars von Trier's Antichrist will win in a landslide. I never, ever want to see this movie again.

12/26/2009
I went into this movie last night without a clue as to what it was about. The only other movie that I've seen from von Trier was Dancer In The Dark starring Bjork which I thought was a great film. My brain was not really prepared for what I saw last night. Von Trier has been accused of misogyny in his movies and with this film he said that he was going through a deep depression during its creation. Whatever. I didn't pay 7 bucks to psychoanalyze the guy - I went to watch a movie. I'm not easily shocked or offended but I am squeamish and easily annoyed. I did not enjoy this film. If the job of art is to provoke - victory is yours, Lars.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Favorite Songs of 2009

My favorite song of '09 was an easy pick from the second I heard it and I still feel the same about it every time I hear it. Nite Jewel's previous EP is one of my favorites of this decade, but "Want You Back" is her best song yet. Anywho, this is the list of my 10 favorite songs from 2009:

1 - "Want You Back" - Nite Jewel
2 - "The Fear" - Lily Allen
3 - "Stillness Is The Move" - Dirty Projectors
4 - "Solitaire" - Wilco
5 - "Save Me From What I Want" - St. Vincent
6 - "Hideaway" - Karen O. and The Kids
7 - "When I'm Gone" - Vivian Girls
8 - "That Look You Give That Guy" - Eels
9 - "Lady Luck" - Richard Swift
10- "Midnight At The Movies" - Justin Townes Earle

Best Music Video:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Favorite Albums of 2009

Well, it's that time of year again where I narrow down the very few records that I've listened to this year and give you a "definitive" list of what I think is great. I hope you enjoy this crap shoot.

My album of the year is a very divisive one and the negative reviews of it have made me absolutely nuts because it's so far off base. At times I honestly think I like this album better than(yes, hold your breath)Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It may take some time for people to come around, but Wilco(the album) is a masterpiece all the way through and they are chock full of(GASP!)radio-friendly songs. But let's get back to the reviews, shall we?

"The major problem is that this doesn’t sound like a band that’s pushing itself any more, or at least not making the same sort of pushes that lead to the brilliant sucker-punch of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and the vastly underrated A Ghost Is Born."
-No Ripcord review

What do you want Wilco to do? Throw pots and pans in the air for the avant garde kitchen sessions? Wait. Is that bacon I hear frying in the background?? Wow! That Jeff Tweedy is an absolute GENIUS!

"To simply not want to skip tracks isn't exactly saying anything."
-Lost At Sea review

Really? Call me crazy, but I usually tend to skip a track if I don't like a song. You are lost in the coconut, my man.

"Wilco is a Great Band, if you like stuff that’s boring. And a lot of people seemingly do."
-Dusted Magazine review

If you're 19 and have ADD, I'm pretty sure Wilco is not for you. I, on the other hand, like to drink homemade lemonade from my porch while eating a BLT from tomatoes I grew in my garden. Different strokes for different folks. I'm pretty sure a Hank Williams album would be snoresville for you as well.

"Wilco (The Album) isn’t a failure--not by any means--but when a band has become so attached to the notion of change and then stagnates, it casts a heavy shadow that’s hard to escape."
-Tiny Mix Tapes review*

*See above response to No Ripcord review review

I honestly don't care if you like Wilco(the album) or not, the point I'm making is that music can be simple, radio-friendly, dad-approved and enjoyable(yes, hipsters, I'm talking to you).

Fever Ray - Fever Ray
This is my runner-up - a dark, isolated classic from Karin Dreijer Andersson.

Everything Goes Wrong - Vivian Girls
Many reviews of this album will tell you it's a "grower" and it's true. It took me a while to warm to this album but once it grabs you, you're hooked.

Mind Raft EP - Deradoorian
The travesty of this EP is not the lame pitchfork review but the fact that pitchfork was one of the very few to review it at all. This is an absolutely gorgeous piece by the multi-instrumentalist of the Dirty Projectors.

Actor - St. Vincent

Fits - White Denim
Austin's own keep getting better.

Hombre Lobo - Eels

Midnight At The Movies - Justin Townes Earle
Please don't associate country music with what you hear on the radio. They would never play a guy like Justin Townes Earle. And there's a whole crop of these folks that are actually good who toil in the underground away from Nashville.

Truelove's Gutter - Richard Hawley

Ashes Grammar - A Sunny Day In Glasgow

Albinis vs. USPS


Steve Albini is the lead singer of Shellac, the highly influential band out of Chicago, and he's one of the most sought after producers in music today(he produced Nirvana's In Utero). He's also considered to be one of the biggest assholes in music, but in a recent Chicago Tribune report it seems that Albini is anything but as he and his wife, Whinna, pack a rented van loaded with cash, toys, and clothing and distribute it to the needy in his hometown of Chicago every Christmas.

"People have all kinds of bad luck, and there are only a small number of ways they can be helped through institutional programs or government programs," Albini said. "With us, people don't have to stand in line, fill out forms or justify themselves to a bureaucrat."

The funds are raised at an annual Second City charity event through audience member donations, which Second City matches, as well as a round-the-clock fundraiser that features musicians and comedians. The largest chunk of the money comes from an auction in which audience members bid for an in-house concert by Wilco frontman, Jeff Tweedy.

But, alas, Scrooge has appeared this year in the guise of the U.S. Postal Service. You see, through the century-old "Letters to Santa" program, Albini's wife is able to wade through the thousands of letters sent to "Santa" to find the neediest of families and then make their charitable deliveries from there. But a policy change by the post office has changed all of that. Citing privacy and security concerns, the names and addresses of "Dear Santa" letters are now blacked out which will now make it virtually impossible for "Santa" to find their homes.

Mark Reynolds, a spokesperson for the Postal Service in Chicago, said that the policy was altered last Christmas after a convicted sex offender in Maryland picked up a letter written by a young girl. Well, how about this post office - don't let convicted sex offenders rifle through your mail, geniuses. The post office already requires ID before taking a "Dear Santa" letter, so why don't you take a little more time to go online and see if they are, actually, a convicted sex offender. Trust me, the post office has no trouble in taking their own sweet time in doing things.

However, because of this new policy, the post office is now offering to deliver your "Dear Santa" donations.

Whinna Albini said the idea of mailing the gifts is laughable. Some of the apartments they've visited in the past had no functioning mailbox. In other instances, a large package would be stolen by neighbors almost immediately, she said.

"Just the idea of mailing a gift, it almost makes me think the postmaster general has never been to a housing complex," Whinna said. "If there's no human contact, it will kill the program."

I, personally, find it odd that a cash-strapped institution such as the post office is killing a program like "Dear Santa" yet somehow finding a way around it by offering to deliver your donations if you simply pay the postage on it. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Head

While most Americans were feasting on the standard turkey/cornbread dressing fare this Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to feast on a variety of rented movies and, I must say, I came across a gem. A musical gem, of course. Was it a film about the Beatles or Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan, you ask? No. It was an abstract, psychedelic meditation on fame directed by Jack Nicholson and starring the Monkees. Yes, those Monkees. And it was amazing. If ever there were a definitive list of the greatest musical films of all-time, Head should definitely be included and you should most defintely check it out, ya dig?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Sunny Day In Glasgow


One of the more interesting releases of 2009 is Ashes Grammar by the band - A Sunny Day in Glasgow. I saw them live last night at a small bar called The Ghost Room. Their album is much more of an experimental sound than their live show which has a more straightforward pop vibe. Though I prefer the album version, both have their own separate charm and nothing makes me happier than seeing a great band at a small, intimate venue for five bucks.

Food, Inc.


When I rented the documentary film Food, Inc. this weekend, I figured it to be a sort of hippie conspiracy theory on why we should eat locally-produced, organically-grown food rather than the mass-produced, genetically-modified stuff from evil corporations who are destroying the planet while profiting handsomely at our expense. And, yet, that's pretty much the gist of it, except for the fact that the portrait painted by director Robert Kenner is far darker and far more convincing than I ever imagined.

What makes political/socially-conscious filmmaking such a hit or miss business is the fact that it's difficult to make a case on an issue that you are so passionate about without bringing your own personal bias to the table. If the truth can be skewed for dramatic effect, than so be it, because the end justifies the means, right? Not exactly. Propaganda does a disservice to one's cause because it assumes that the audience are nothing more than morons and both the left and the right are equally adept at exploiting it for their benefit. Kenner's message is a sincere populist one in which both political parties equally share in the blame. I highly recommend this film to all, regardless of political affiliation.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

All The Shah's Men: An Interview with Stephen Kinzer


Not so long ago, lives and careers were destroyed with the notion that communists lurked behind every corner, ready to take America down and destroy it. That same fear and paranoia has trained its eyes on a new "enemy" - muslims. From 9/11 to the recent shootings at Fort Hood, Islam has become an ugly word synonymous with violence and hatred and that misconception threatens to create more instability in our relations with the outside world.

In the mainstream media, commonsense in the realm of foreign policy seems to take a backseat to the soundbite, leaving those who should be heard on the outside looking in. One individual who should definitely be heard is Stephen Kinzer - an author and award-winning foreign correspondent who has reported from more than fifty countries. His book All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror was a huge influence on my thinking about one of the most misunderstood countries in the world - Iran. He recently agreed to answer a few questions I had regarding relations between the U.S. and Iran.


PopCultureJihad: There's been a lot of heated debate recently between Iran and the Obama administration over Iran's developing nuclear program. Obama said that "Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow." Is the U.S. really held to the same nuclear standards as Iran and why do you think Obama is taking such a hardline approach towards Iran on this issue? Also, if Iran refuses to comply, what actions do you think the U.S. will take being that we already have sanctions in place against Iran?

Stephen: The Non-Proliferation Treaty is essentially a deal between countries that have nuclear weapons and those that don't. The don't-haves promise not to develop these weapons, and the haves promise to reduce their stockpiles steadily with the aim of eliminating them. The haves never carried out their part of the agreement, which has naturally alienated the have-nots.

Attacking or bombing Iran is unlikely to stop this program. It could even have the opposite effect, convincing Iranians that they need a nuclear deterrent to prevent future attacks. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was right when he asserted that “there is no military option that does anything more than buy time.”

The world needs Iran to make an important security concession, just as it needs Israel to make security concessions. No country, however, makes such concessions unless it feels safe. The goal of peacemakers in the Middle East should be to design regional security accords that will reassure both Iran and Israel that their survival is not endangered. Until that happens, Iran will continue to believe that it needs nuclear weapons—meaning that it will continue to pursue its highly destabilizing nuclear program.

PopCultureJihad: The United States and Iran have a common enemy in Al-Qaida and the Taliban. Wouldn't it make sense for us to forge a better relationship with Iran?

Stephen: There would be many possible advantages to a better relationship between Iran and the US:

• Iran can do more than any other country, including the United States, to assure long-term peace in Iraq.
• Iran can also help stabilize Afghanistan, where it has been engaged for centuries.
• A stable and secure Iran, no longer in need of a scapegoat, might stop threatening Israel.
• Iran can tame militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, which would contribute to Israeli security, help stabilize Lebanon, and dramatically improve the prospects for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
• Reconciliation between Iran and the United States would decisively improve relations between the United States and the Muslim world.
• Iran will have less incentive to invite Russian power into the Middle East, something the United States is rightly eager to avoid.
• Iran is a bitter enemy of al-Qaeda and would cooperate in a transnational effort to crush it.
• Iran has 7 percent of the world’s oil reserves and 16 percent of its natural gas; if the United States does not exploit and buy it, Russia and China will, thereby increasing their strategic leverage in the region.
• Iran’s oil infrastructure is in pitiful shape and desperately needs modernizing that will cost billions of dollars; American companies are ideally placed to do the job.
• An Iran that no longer feels threatened by the United States might be more willing to compromise on nuclear issues.

PopCultureJihad: There have been allegations for quite some time that Iran supports and funds terrorist activities. What is the truth behind these allegations and will it always be the ultimate roadblock to improved U.S./Iranian relations?

Stephen: Iran's support for militant groups is a destabilizing factor in the Middle East. It is unlikely to stop this support, though, in the absence of an overall security accord. It is dangerous to exclude any country, whether it's Iran or Israel, from the regional security architecture. Iran has legitimate security interests. Once they are addressed, Iran may be willing to accept limits on its support for militant groups.

PopCultureJihad: The recent protests in Iran over the disputed election between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir Hossein Mousavi captured the world's attention. What impact do you think these protests have had on Iranian society and do you think it has weakened the clerical leadership overall?

Stephen: Opposition figures in Iran find themselves in a difficult situation in which there are no good options. The best of the bad options is for the regime to become integrated with the outside world, to be lured out of its fear, to build bridges to countries where debate, dissent, and protest are considered healthy signs of stability. If Iranian democrats change their minds about that—if they begin asking other countries to cut off their contacts with the regime—the United States will have to reconsider the logic of engagement. Until then, it should press ahead.

The harshness with which Iranian leaders repressed post-election protests in 2009 reflects their nastiness. At least as important, though, was the symbolism of the protests themselves. There are never post-election protests in Egypt, because Egyptians expect elections to be rigged, and none in Saudi Arabia because there are no national elections at all. The weeks of protest in Iran reflect the legacy of Iran’s hundred-year march toward democracy.

PopCultureJihad: With the election of Barak Obama, there was a sense of hope for a new direction in Middle East diplomacy that had never been seen before. I was swept up in the excitement and now I feel disillusioned. What is your take on the new President?

Stephen: Obama seems to accept the narrow spectrum of policy options that defines American foreign policy. His policies toward the rest of the world are in many ways a continuation of those followed in the last years of the Bush administration. Imaginative or unconventional thinking is still treated as if it were the germ of a frightful plague that must be stamped out before it infects the policymaking apparatus.

PopCultureJihad: Are there any further misconceptions about Iran that you would like to clear up?

Stephen: Direct, bilateral, comprehensive, and unconditional negotiations hold the only hope for a diplomatic breakthrough between Iran and the United States. Iran has incentives to make a deal. It craves legitimacy. It has security needs that only the United States can meet. Its government is unpopular, its economy is reeling from a combination of high inflation and low oil prices, its society is groaning under a host of social ills, its young generation is deeply alienated, and many of its most talented sons and daughters have either emigrated or hope to do so.

Is this enough to assure that Iran will negotiate seriously? No one can say for sure. The potential benefits are so great, however, that it would be self-defeating for the United States not to try.

Ditto


The Gossip's lead singer - Beth Ditto - has been a controversial figure since the release of their phenomenal 2006 album - Standing in the Way of Control - thrust her into the spotlight.

Weighing in at over 200lbs. on a 5'1" frame, it's no shock that the major labels aren't exactly knocking down her door to get her signed, despite the fact that she has one of the best voices in all of music today. Rather than starving herself to meet music industry standards, she flaunts her weight as a sort of "fuck you" to the norms of society which has made her an icon among her loyal fanbase as well as a pariah to those who challenge the notion of Ditto being a role model.

In a recent blog posting for dollymix, Amber McNaught writes:
Is she really such a great role model, in terms of size at least? And do we really want to encourage women to believe that being overweight is somehow "cool" or desirable? Surely the best role model would be someone whose weight was in proportion to her height - and surely being too fat is just as unhealthy as being too thin.

I, myself, am a thin person. But to compare and contrast someone like Beth Ditto with me would be misleading. I could easily be looked upon as someone who is healthy and possesses a good dose of self-control and will power. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I eat high fat foods quite often and I have a notorious sweet tooth. I have an exercise bike in my apartment that I sit on and think about peddling, but never do. The distance from my front door to my mailbox is relatively short, yet I drive the ridiculously short distance just to get there. Do I have a healthy lifestyle? Absolutely not. My size, however, would give the perception that I am. And, yet, the public perception is that someone like Beth Ditto is simply a lazy slob with little or no self-control when, in actuality, she may possibly live a healthier lifestyle than I do. I could eat a salad and feel full. Someone else could eat two Big Macs and still feel hungry.

In an age where the music industry places a higher premium on a female's looks rather than her talent, is Beth Ditto really promoting obesity or is she simply challenging our own twisted perceptions?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Afghan Star And The Case For Staying

I love music. I love it so much that it has made me snobbish about the subject no matter how much I try not to be. To me, there are two categories of music - that which is created out of passion and the other created for the sake of vanity or the need for attention. Though the lines are often blurred, it's hard for me to feel anything but contempt for the latter.

The TV show American Idol is an easy target for my contempt, not necessarily because of the contestants but, rather, the panel of music industry insiders who judge what is and what isn't music based on what is marketable.

Exporting the American Idol formula overseas would seem nauseating. But, in Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban has banned music, the concept takes on a whole new meaning.

Afghan Star is Afghanistan's version of American Idol, but whereas the biggest concern on American Idol is whether or not you will make it to the next round or go home, contestants on Afghan Star are literally risking their lives just to sing. This desire to sing in the face of death transcends everything American Idol stands for and speaks volumes to the human spirit in the face of oppression. That's the power of music.

Afghan Star is possible because the U.S. military has told Afghan citizens to go about their lives without fearing the Taliban. Sing. Dance. Go to school. Be free. Yet the debate continues on whether or not to stay in Afghanistan. Imagine the repercussions for those we have promised to protect once we leave. To those who say "that's not our problem," it is our problem because we chose to make it our problem. And if we betray the Afghan people by leaving, what will happen when another terrorist attack happens on U.S. soil by insurgents in Afghanistan? Round 2 of winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people will be impossible.

There are no simple solutions for the war in Afghanistan, but the consequences of leaving, I honestly believe, will be disastrous.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jello @ 7

I attended one of the best and most energetic concerts of the year last night at Red 7 and the ring leader of it all was a 51-year-old. But age is simply a number when you are the high priest of political punk. Yes, Jello Biafra hasn't missed a step since his notorious days as lead singer for the punk band Dead Kennedys, which was formed some thirty years ago. He's still railing against the system. Still mad as hell. Still Jello. If Jello and his band - Guantanamo School of Medicine - come to your town, do yourself a favor and check them out.

And while we're on the subject of punk, here are five punk classic albums everyone(yes, you) should own:

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables - Dead Kennedys(1980)

Singles Going Steady - Buzzcocks(1979)

Entertainment! - Gang Of Four(1979)

Walk Among Us - Misfits(1982)

Damaged - Black Flag(1981)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Vivian Girls @ Red 7

A video I came across recently for the Vivian Girls' song "When I'm Gone" was my first introduction to the three piece from Brooklyn. It was enough for me to buy a ticket for their concert tonight at Red 7 and I wasn't disappointed. Imagine the Shangri-Las on speed - that's what the Vivian Girls live experience is like. If Joey Ramone were alive today, I assure you, Vivian Girls would be his favorite new band. Impressive!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Eels


No one has the right until they've fought my fight
To understand just where I'm coming from
-"Ordinary Man" by Eels



I accidentally stumbled upon a memoir entitled Things The Grandchildren Should Know by Mark Oliver Everett and I absolutely had to have it as Everett is one of my favorite individuals in the world of music.

Everett is the lead singer of the band Eels which has been around since 1995. My first introduction to the Eels was through a video I saw on MTV for their song "Novocaine For The Soul" off their debut album Beautiful Freak. The Eels have released six albums since then including the recently released Hombre Lobo which is one of my favorite albums of this year. Having a career this long in the music business is tough enough, but having a long career and maintaining the artistic integrity that Everett does is especially rare.

If you're looking for a joyous read, Things The Grandchildren Should Know is not the book for you. Everett has lived through his share of tragedies and even though it's not a book of pity, it's still a sad tale. And yet Everett somehow manages to maintain a sense of humor throughout the bleakness of it all. I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

And The Nobel Peace Prize Goes To...



President Barack Obama has just today been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Really? For What? We're engulfed in a war in Afghanistan. We're maybe sort of out of Iraq. He really wants to close Guantanamo. He's told Israel to stop expanding illegal settlements. He wants a nuclear free world(good luck with that one). But what achievements does he have under his belt thus far? Nothing. Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland stated that "only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future." Whatever the merits of hope, it's still an unfulfilled promise without action. Nice job, Thorbjoern.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Karen O. Covers Daniel J.

The official soundtrack to the upcoming Spike Jones' movie Where The Wild Things Are is currently being streamed on Stereogum.com. All the songs on the soundtrack are performed by Karen O. And The Kids. It's an accoustic affair and sounds nothing like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, in case you were wondering. Two tracks really stand out to me on this album - first and foremost, the Daniel Johnston cover of "Worried Shoes" and the stellar "Hideaway."

Richard Hawley

I've always wondered why musician Richard Hawley isn't bigger than he is. Perhaps he's not a man of these times. Perhaps he would be better served crooning on a 1960's variety show with Scotch in hand. Regardless, Richard Hawley deserves more accolades than he gets.

A fleeting member of the now-defunct British band Pulp, Hawley is certainly overshadowed by Pulp's ever-popular frontman, Jarvis Cocker. As far as talent goes, however, I would put my money on Hawley any day.

His album Cole's Corner was nominated for Britain's Mercury Prize in 2006. The Mercury Prize that year was eventually awarded to The Arctic Monkeys whose lead singer, Alex Turner, exclaimed "Someone call 999, Richard Hawley's been robbed!"

Hawley's latest album Truelove's Gutter which was released last week is, in my opinion, one of the better releases of the year.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

You Suck!

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 240 to 179 to formally disapprove of the conduct of Republican Congressman Joe Wilson who shouted "you lie!" during President Obama's speech to Congress. Have you clowns nothing better to do with your time? There are quite a few individuals in this world that I disapprove of but I'm certainly not going to vote on it. Seriously though, Congress should conduct themselves in a more dignified manner much like their British contemporaries do in the House of Commons...

Girls

"It's like, everybody has a band. It's this thing people do because they think they're supposed to do it, because they want to get chicks or think they're cool. It's not about that for me. It's about finding a reason to live."
-Christopher Owens

I often yawn when I hear about an up and coming band or artist being labeled as "the next big thing" before their record is even released because a)the term is often overused and b)I'm usually left disappointed amid all the hype. Gimmickry is typically all you need to build a buzz around a band and gimmicks are a dime a dozen. Backstory, on the other hand, is much harder to come by and, I must admit, it is something that gets my attention every time. The latest "next big thing" is a San Francisco band by the name of Girls whose lead singer, Christopher Owens, has one of the more hellacious backstories in music.

Christopher Owens was brought up in a religious cult called the Children of God. Having a regular job was prohibited by the Children of God so the cult's leader, David Berg, simply prostituted the women of the cult, including Owens' mother, in order to raise money...for god, of course. In the upcoming October issue of Spin magazine, Owens claims that he was in the room "plenty of times" while his mother was engaged in the act of prostitution. Needless to say, the guy has some issues he's working out and he's doing it through the best channel there is - music. May you find solace in your creativity.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Vivian Girls

Vivian Girls are a three-piece band out of Brooklyn that I really haven't listened to enough to form an opinion. I ran across this video, however, on the internet from their newly released album Everything Goes Wrong and I can't get it out of my head. It's really good.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

In Defense of Kanye

Plenty of people have recently lined up to bash Kanye West over his interruption of Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards. Even the President of the United States called him a "jackass." Kanye's poor judgement in this matter is indisputable. What is disputable, however, is the blogosphere's chatter of Kanye being "ghetto" and racist.

Why, just look at the menacing stare of Kanye and his angry ghetto posse. Quick! Hide your wallets!


Racist? We're talking about a guy who grew up in the suburbs. A guy who has more in common with the indie music world than the rap world. A guy who has raised eyebrows in the rap community for speaking out against homophobia. A guy who admits to listening to rock music more than rap and whose favorite band is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. A guy who has collaborated musically with the likes of Chris Martin of Coldplay, Daft Punk, 30 Seconds To Mars, and other notable honkeys.

Yes, Kanye is guilty of quite a bit that gets the gossip rags buzzing, but being ghetto and racist, I must say, is quite laughable.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Extract

I previously stated that Harold Ramis and the late John Hughes were the greatest comedy writer/directors of the last thirty years. Mike Judge should definitely be added to that list.

His latest movie, Extract, is a sort of Office Space in reverse where the point of view is from a management perspective this time around. Jason Bateman is cast perfectly as the owner of a flavored extract factory who seems to be on the brink of being engulfed by the chaos of his marriage as well as his factory. Whether Extract is as great as Office Space or Idiocracy is debatable, but it is, undoubtedly, another notch in Mike Judge's belt of great movies.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Want You Back

As I am already a fan of Nite Jewel's music, her latest single "Want You Back" just solidifies that position even more. This is definitely one of my favorite songs of this year. Her music has been described as "anti-dance dance music." I have read the blogs of those who are annoyed by people like me standing at concerts with arms folded because we think we are "too cool for school." a) I don't dance and b)forcing me to participate in anything annoys me and reminds me of when I had to go to church when I was younger. Sit. Stand. Sing. Pray. Repeat...Dance. Clap. Wave Your Hands Like You Just Don't Care. Say _____ is in the house. Ugh. Anti-dance dance music? Sign me up!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures

In the world of music, "supergroups" rarely live up to the hype that is bestowed upon them before they even record a single track, yet the anticipation of what could be still makes us giddy. The latest supergroup known as Them Crooked Vultures consists of John Paul Jones, Josh Homme, and Dave Grohl, all of whom I have a great deal of respect for.

Undoubtedly, the bar will be set way too high for these guys, but the thought of seeing them live together on stage is pretty exciting. They will play Austin City Limits Festival on Friday, October 2 and an aftershow on Thursday, October 1 at Stubbs.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I Dont Like This Yes I Do

There are two concerts from this decade that I went into with low expectations and came out with a different perspective. You see, I have a bad habit of easily dismissing things after hearing one or two songs and labeling things as something that it isn't.

Item #1 - Matt & Kim @Mohawks
I thought this was a little too cutesy and upbeat for my tastes upon hearing them. Live, however, I got two intoxicated individuals thoroughly enjoying themselves and entertaining me, as well as the crowd, in the process. This cranky guy is not easily entertained, so kudos to you Matt & Kim.


Item #2 - Crystal Castles @La Zona Rosa
Turn that damn video game off and give that girl some ritalin! Crystal Castles was a chaotic show with a punk element to it which is an easy way to win me over. I was thoroughly mesmerized by their performance and it made me an instant fan. Alice Glass is quite a dynamic lead singer.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Two Faces of Terrorism

On July 3, 1988, Iran Air Flight 655 was mistakenly shot down by the U.S. Navy warship Vincennes, killing all 290 passengers onboard. Vice President, George H.W. Bush, declared that the downing of the commercial airliner had been a wartime incident and that the crew of the Vincennes had acted appropriately to the situation at the time. He refused to apologize for the incident despite the fact that the Vincennes was unlawfully in Iranian territorial waters. When they returned to the U.S., the crew of the Vincennes were awarded Combat Action Ribbons and the United States has yet, some 20 years later, to issue an apology or to admit wrongdoing.

Five months later, on December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was brought down by a bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 passengers onboard as well as 11 people on the ground. Most of the passengers were Americans. The accused Libyan bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, was released from a Scottish prison on Thursday despite outrage by victims' families and the U.S. government. President Obama condemned the hero's welcome he received in Libya as "highly objectionable." Al Megrahi has continuously denied involvement in the bombing and, despite my lack of evidence, I still honestly believe that Iran, not Al Megrahi or Libya, was responsible for this attack in retaliation for the Iran Air Flight 655 tragedy. The United States certainly wasn't going to hold Iran accountable for bringing down an airliner after refusing to be held accountable for bringing down one of theirs. To do so would be highly hypocritical. In order to appease the Pan Am victims' families, however, someone had to be brought to justice and Libya was the perfect scapegoat. In 1986, a bombing raid ordered by President Reagan on Libya killed the 15-month-old adopted daughter of Libyan leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi, thus giving him a reason to want to strike back at the United States.

Between the two air disasters, over 500 innocent lives were needlessly lost. And while terrorism is certainly to blame for the crash of Pan Am 103, the United States' arrogant lack of diplomacy in regards to Iran Flight 655 should certainly bear it's own responsiblity for the Pan Am tragedy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tiny Masters of Today

The marketing of pop culture aimed at kids and teenagers is such an influential and, often times, mind-numbing behemoth that, at best, you hope they shun it by picking up a book or a musical instrument. In Austin, there is the Girls Rock Camp where girls ages 10-18 can learn about the music business, music history, songwriting, etc. At this most critical age, it should be encouraged and it has a lot to do with why I'm a fan of a band called Tiny Masters of Today. The band consists of siblings Ada(13) and Ivan(15) and while it's very tempting to say "not bad for their age," their music is actually quite catchy. Pitchfork, however, saw it far differently. This is what reviewer, Matthew Perpetua, had to say about their latest album released this year called Skeletons:

They are impressive only in comparison to a) other kids their age who have not somehow been encouraged to become a full-time touring band by hipster stage parents, and b) their least-inspired adult contemporaries. At their best, the Tiny Masters provide self-conscious kiddy variations on vaguely arty strains of punk and alt-rock, but there is very little practical use for this music besides causing adults to go, "awww, cute!" The lyrics are predictably banal and laughable, the vocals are uniformly flat and insecure. The melodies are not bad, but they are simplistic and mostly have the irritating cadences of playground chants and jingles. (Truly, much of the album sounds like a series of homemade Mountain Dew ads.)


This work may be "pretty good for their age," but that's about it. It does not matter how old the authors may be-- this is very shallow, unengaging music, and it is hard to imagine anyone truly caring about any of these songs.


And it's hard for me to imagine how this review is worth anyone taking seriously. The beauty of this album is that it is kids being kids making music that appeals to them produced on garageband, no less - not by slick producers. How DIY is that? Put down the self-righteous pen, pitchfork, and let them be kids.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Audacity of Hope

Many in the Western world would associate the term "terrorist" with someone of Arab descent. And rarely would we say that a "terrorist" is simply engaging in self-defense. Besides, self-defense is what "civilized" people engage in, right? When the World Trade Center buildings were attacked on 9/11, nobody in their right mind would deny that the United States had the right to defend itself. And, yet, the Israeli government continues, as it has for decades now, the illegal demolition of houses belonging to innocent Palestinian families for no other reason than to make room for more Israeli settlers. And when the Palestinians, who don't have a military to defend themselves, conduct suicide bombings, we label them as senseless, savage murderers. And the United States, who has the power to stop Israel's gross misconduct, sits idly by as it happens. Why? Because one group has a strong financial lobbying presence in our government while the other one doesn't.

But that was all supposed to change once we cleared the White House of "old, white guys." But it's not about youth or race or different experiences you may bring to the table. It's about power and holding on to that power. And while Barak Obama talks a good game, he exhibits the same spineless caution towards Israel's reckless behavior as his predecessors did because he knows that it is political suicide to do otherwise. So much for hope.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Behavior Paradox

“For many people, one of the most frustrating aspects of life is not being able to understand other people's behavior.”
-anonymous quote

The brain is the most complex and misunderstood organ in the body. Even to those who study it, the brain, much like the universe, is still a mystery. Yet, there is no shortage of self-help books; Dr. Phil's; and various other armchair psychoanalysts who feel that they can either philosophically fix the behavior of someone or, at least, condemn it in the name of "morality" or "personal responsibility" which all leads back to the brain - that organ of soft nervous tissue that is housed inside our skulls.

The brain is full of chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters, that determine our personality. As much as we'd love to think that we are "the master of our fate and the captain of our soul," we're really not. There are too many of these neurotransmitters for me to list, so I will touch on a few of the more important ones:

seratonin - one of the chemicals which regulates moods and feelings of well-being. Because seratonin has the power to make us unhappy, we have antidepressants which targets seratonin.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid(GABA) - directly influences your personality and ability to handle stress.

dopamine - affects movement, cognition, pleasure, and motivation. Low levels of dopamine are often associated with those with addictive personalities.

oxytocin - associated with the ability to maintain healthy, interpersonal relationships and healthy psychological boundaries with other people.

I have my own personal shortcomings with happiness, stress, relationships, and addictions. It is the genetic cross that I, as well as many others, have to bear. I did not create these shortcomings and, therefore, am not responsible for them, nor do I blame anyone and by no means is it an attempt to sidestep accountability. We all must be held accountable for our actions. However, neither words of "wisdom" nor the lashings of guilt will fix a brain chemistry that people are born with. If you have a happy disposition, consider yourself lucky. You didn't create it. We are all the masters and captains of nothing.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Autistic Breakthrough

When you see someone with autism who is unable to speak; seems disconnected from the world; and engages in repetitive behavior, it's easy to believe that the "lights aren't on" inside their heads. I don't know a whole lot about autism and I admit that I'm very guilty of buying into those stereotypes myself. That's why Carly Fleischmann's story is so important and groundbreaking.

Carly Fleischmann is a severely autistic 14-year-old who can't speak and was thus deemed "mentally deficient" until she was taught, through intensive training, to use a computer. She now types out her inner most feelings while breaking down the stereotypes of autism that have been the norm for years. When asked in a recent interview, "what was one of the hardest things you've ever had to do?" She replied:
I think I would have to say controlling my behaviors
It might not seem like I am at times
but I try very hard to act appropriately
It is so tough to do and people think it is easy because they don’t know what
is going on in my body
They only know how easy it is for them
Even doctors have told me that I am being silly but they don’t get it
If I could stop it I would
But it is not like turning a switch off it does not work that way
I know what is right and wrong but its like I have a fight with my brain over
it

I've always stressed to people who throw out random opinions about things they have never experienced, to try and put themselves in another person's shoes or, at least, try to educate yourself about a certain subject before making a judgement. And, yet, here I am being schooled and humbled by a 14-year-old with autism. As Carly says, "I think people get a lot of their information from so-called experts but if a horse is sick, you don’t ask a fish what’s wrong with the horse. You go right to the horse’s mouth." A fool in a child's shadow, I stand corrected.

Carly's amazing story will be aired tonight on ABC's 20/20 at 10pm EST/9pm CST.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

John Hughes R.I.P.


Maybe it's because I'm not of this generation that I make this proclamation, but the two best comedy writer/directors of the past thirty years are Harold Ramis and John Hughes. I'm sorry, but Judd Apatow is nowhere close to the legacy that these two legends have carved out. Hughes, who died today at the age of 59, wrote and directed Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off between the years of 1984 and 1986. He also wrote Pretty In Pink as well as the Vacation movies starring Chevy Chase with the exclusion of the Las Vegas one. I know it's cliche to say, but they just don't make 'em like they used to.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Toto, I've a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore


Former President Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea on Tuesday to seek the release of two U.S. journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, and he was successful. Former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, however, criticized Clinton's trip saying that "the symbolism of a former president going to meet with Kim Jong Il I think is something that benefits Kim Jong Il a lot more than the United States, and it only encourages others to do the same thing."

Recently, three American tourists were arrested for straying into Iranian territory while hiking in northern Iraq which led Bolton to claim that Iran will surely follow the North Korean formula. "You can bet that in Tehran they watched this little performance in North Korea and are no doubt calculating how they might use it to their advantage," Bolton said.

My personal criticism is not with Clinton's visit, but with the fact that we had to expend this much diplomatic effort on two reckless journalists who should know better than to go snooping around anywhere close to that hellhole known as North Korea. And as far as those tourists who accidentally wandered off into Iran while hiking in Iraq? hiking in Iraq??? And one of them just happened to be a journalist. Go figure.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

BLK JKS

I have a certain affinity for global music with crossover appeal(i.e., M.I.A., Gogol Bordello) which would seem like a good reason to get on board with a South African band that goes by the name BLK JKS(don't ask me how to pronounce that). They sound more like an experimental American band than they do a South African band however, but the music is solid nonetheless. Their debut full-length album After Robots will be released on September 8 and if it's anything like the four songs I've heard from them so far, it should be good. But, please, spare me the "if you like TV on the Radio, you'll love BLK JKS." I assure you that the comparisons are going to come.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Favorite Albums Of This Decade, Etc.

As this decade winds down, it's time to ponder what albums meant the most to me over these past ten years. So, in no particular order, here are my favorite albums from the 2000's:

When Relationship of Command by At the Drive-In was released in 2000, I told everyone around that this album would be the Nevermind of this decade. No sooner than the words left my mouth, they broke up. Luckily for me, however, Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez would go on to form the Mars Volta and create what is still my favorite album of this decade...

I was expecting At the Drive-In when this came out, so it took a little while for my mind to completely wrap itself around The Mars Volta's De-Loused In The Comatorium, but it is a masterpiece. Add to the fact that their 2003 tour in support of this album is still the best concert I have ever seen and you will understand why I think history will be kind to the Bixler/Rodriquez formula during this time period.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Fever To Tell established lead singer, Karen O, as the Deborah Harry of her generation. "Maps" may well be the best song of this decade, but it's one of the more sentimental songs in what is an otherwise fast and furious 37 minutes of an album punctuated by the fantastic guitar playing of Nick Zinner.

If the Flaming Lips set out to prove that 1999's The Soft Bulletin was no fluke, they succeeded with their 2002 classic Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. The Lips have a knack for writing beautiful songs that revolve around death.

The first ten songs I heard from this album was "Rehab" and I hated it. I couldn't get away from it so I ignored the album. When I first heard it in it's entirety, however, I fell in love with it. No matter how much the tabloids skew your perspective of Winehouse, twenty years from now, I assure you that Back To Black will be considered a classic.

The trio known as Sleater-Kinney turned up the guitars on what would be their final and best album in a twelve-year career. This is truly one of the best bands ever who, in my honest opinion, have never put out a bad record.

I'm guessing that if you're a Beck fan, Sea Change is not your favorite in his discography. "Good times" Beck becomes sad, introspective Beck in a completely believable way. This album really caught me off guard and I still love it.

If there was ever an album from this decade that I anticipated the most, it's this one. I waited outside of Waterloo Records on Arular's release date before the doors were even open to get my hands on it. With Arular, I proclaimed M.I.A. the "artist of the decade" fully realizing that she could destroy it with a crappy follow-up...

...and all she did was up the ante. As much as I try to convince myself that Kala and Arular are equally great, it's really getting difficult to deny Kala as the better album.

I've seen this band live twice and they always blow me away and yet I have read some of the most awful reviews of their live shows. I'm not quite sure how The Walkmen's Bows + Arrows will be viewed over time, but this angst-ridden album from a seemingly jilted lover never gets old to me.

Cat Power = one of the best songwriters of this generation. Period. And You Are Free is a masterpiece.

I hate auto-tune. Wait, no I don't. Whatever this guy does with his voice throughout this album - trust me - it works. Black Moth Super Rainbow's Dandelion Gum is a crazy, psychedelic classic.

Bradford Cox is the David Lynch of music. Whereas Lynch creates a 1950s-esque look to his movies with dark undertones, Cox does the same with his music and his solo project, Atlas Sound, is the personification of that. Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel is his best work in what is turning out to be a prolific career.

This is how music sounds in my dreams - distant and echo-y. I accidentally stumbled across Nite Jewel as the opening act for Deerhunter at Emo's and I can't stop listening to her hazy, electronic sound on her completely underrated My CD EP.


Best Country Albums
Van Lear Rose - Loretta Lynn
That Lonesome Song - Jamey Johnson
The Good Life - Justin Townes Earle

Best Rap Albums
YoYoYoYoYo - Spankrock
Feed From Me! - Black Nasty
Shapeshifters - Invincible

My Favorite Band Of This Decade - Liars


The Most Underrated Album Of This Decade

Sunday, July 26, 2009

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Accept Hipster Nation

"I'm a romantic; a sentimental person thinks things will last; a romantic person hopes against hope that they won't."
-F. Scott Fitzgerald


In a recent article for Popmatters entitled "Hipster Hatred Knows No Bounds," Michael Brett laments the current state of music as opposed to his heyday in the '90's:

Last weekend, I made my journey to Hipster Nation’s annual convention, the Pitchfork Music Festival. I arrived with a fifth of gin, my bag chair, and an immediate distaste for many of my fellow attendees. I knew they would need to share the space with me. But I wanted to let them know without any misunderstanding that their presence was nothing but a distraction.

How had things come to this point? Aren’t rock festivals built on a foundation of one nation under a groove? Why didn’t I arrive with anticipation for that singular moment, that show moment when you look out all around at that giant sea of bliss in which you swim?

The first reason has to do with me. I’m aging. And I don’t like it.

The second reason has to do with them. They’re not angry enough. In fact, they’re a bunch of wimps.

American ‘alternative’ music prided itself on being the angriest music around. Bands like Husker Du, Jesus Lizard, Mudhoney, and Nirvana cut their teeth on ‘70s arena rock. Their guitarists knew Thin Lizzy licks. They just played ‘em faster and louder, chewed up with feedback. When I began to go to shows in the early ‘90s, I was scared shitless. There were a mess of big dudes with tattoos (when they were still cool) and Melvins shirts who lived for the moment when a scrub like me would try to sneak around their mosh pit.


In regards to Brett's first reason, I can relate - I'm aging too, but I don't mind. I'm the cranky, old guy off to the side who doesn't really fit in at these shows and I'm thankful for that. But age is important in this debate. You first encounter "alternative" music when you are in your teens or early 20's and it is a fresh, new world that you embrace uncorrupted. Musicians seem larger than life and they are expressing things that seem to speak directly to you. As you get older, however, myths fade, and while you can still enjoy music no matter how old you are, the way in which it is viewed between generations is vastly different. If this "hipster" decade was Brett's initiation into the world of music instead of the 90's, he would probably embrace it in ways he can't possibly fathom now.

In regards to reason number two, I would say that Brett is right - this generation is not angry enough, but I think that all stems from what influenced this decade to begin with...

...rap metal, fires, rapes, and the general hooliganism that was Woodstock '99.

But this trend is nothing new. The punks were angry and railed against the hippies. When the crowds at punk shows became too angry and overcrowded with jocks, many punks left it behind to form a more cerebral-type music, i.e., Johnny Rotten forming Public Image Limited out of the Sex Pistols; Fugazi emerging from Minor Threat; etc., etc.

Every scene eventually becomes stale and the next decade will find kids distancing themselves from the current decade while borrowing from it as well to form something new. And someday, someone will be at a concert in the year 2015 feeling out of place as they deplore the state of music around them wondering why it all couldn't be like that Yeah Yeah Yeahs concert in '03 that blew their mind.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why I Don't Care


Last Thursday, a woman called police to report a break-in at a house saying that she saw "two black males with backpacks on the porch," with one "wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry. One of the "black males" was Yale professor and distinguished historian, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who happened to own the house. The police allege that Gates was being belligerent as well as initially refusing to present proper identification, while Gates contends that it's a simple case of racial profiling.

Does racism still exist? Of course. Does racial profiling exist? Yes. But We ALL engage in profiling. Anyone who says otherwise is either a liar or lives in a bubble. And, while I wasn't there witnessing the Gates situation, I'm going to speculate anyway. When cops are alerted to a potential break-in, it is their job to respond and they should ask for I.D. as they have no idea who this guy is. And, yes, Gates has every right to be upset after just arriving back from a long trip to China to be accused of breaking into his own home BUT, however much of an inconvenience this is to Gates, if an officer asks you for I.D., show it to him. Anything less is asking for trouble.

Secondly, injustices happen to white people everyday. Is it any less of an injustice simply because the person handing out the injustice happens to be white as well? Had the parents of Jon Benet Ramsey been black, you can be assured that the injustices that they endured for years would have been viewed through a racial lens. Injustice is injustice is injustice. Several years ago, a black guy jumped in my truck and told me to drive. The destination was a dead-end in the ghetto where he proceeded to rob me and, luckily, not kill me which I had already convinced myself was on his to-do list. As I frantically drove away, I came across a white police officer only two blocks away. When I told him what had happened, he told me, "well, you shouldn't have been buying crack, you little motherfucker." White guy in the ghetto? Must be up to no good. I was profiled. That cop had fire in his eyes and I assure you, had I protested, he would have beat me silly and/or arrested me. As a white student at a black college, I was often profiled as smart and wealthy. Ironically, the reason I ended up at a black college in the first place was because I lacked both.

Just because injustices statistically happen more to one group than the other, doesn't mean that one should be ignored over the other. And every incident between whites and blacks should not be automatically labeled a racist incident. It's overkill and it makes it incredibly difficult to separate real racism from racial paranoia. The Gates story is not worthy of front-page headlines and I say this as someone who truly admires the guy.
free video hosting
Free Video Hosting

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Rise Above

"The public is usually slow to catch on to new things, and it's important that musicians stick to their guns and not look for that instant gratification."
-Greg Ginn

In 2007, Dirty Projectors, a band out of Brooklyn, New York, released Rise Above, a cover of Black Flag's Damaged, except that the songs were reimagined exclusively from the memory of head Projector, Dave Longstreth. While I appreciated the respect that Longstreth had for Black Flag, I was never able to wrap my brain around Longstreth's interpretation of a punk classic.

On Wednesday night, Dirty Projectors played Red 7 and brought Black Flag leader, Greg Ginn, on stage to jam with them on a couple of songs. I wondered to myself, as I scanned over the crowd, how many kids in the audience actually understood the importance of the older gentleman on stage who was the most influential architect of the 80's underground music scene.

Ginn formed Black Flag in 1977 in southern California, as well as the record label, SST Records, in order to release Black Flag albums. SST, however, would go on to be so much more - releasing some of the most influential albums of the 80's by bands such as: Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Meat Puppets, Minutemen, The Descendants, Bad Brains, etc. And, yet, the crown jewel in the SST discography is Black Flag's first full-length LP, Damaged, which was dripping with angst, rage, alienation, and humor.

Black Flag, driven by its thrashing guitarist and primary songwriter - Ginn, would become the hardest working band in the business, touring relentlessly from city to city to even the most remote areas while establishing an extremely dedicated fanbase along the way, as well as the ire of the Los Angeles police department which constantly kept tabs on the band and harassed them because of their raucous live shows that sometimes ended in riots. It was quite the contrast to see Ginn playing his slow jams on the guitar while Dirty Projectors played loudly along side of him to a serene crowd. The dichotomy, however, was thrilling all the same.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Strange Case Against Judicial Activism


In New Haven, Connecticut, eighteen firefighters(17 of whom were white and one hispanic) alleged that the city discriminated against them by failing to promote them, despite the fact that they had all passed written tests for promotions. The city invalidated the tests because none of the black firefighters who took the same tests were able to pass them, which resulted in the eighteen firefighters bringing a lawsuit upon the city of New Haven. Sonia Sotomayor, as a member of the 2008 Second Circuit panel, ruled that the city of New Haven had a right to throw out the tests as it had a "disparate impact" on minority firefighters. Sotomayor is now President Obama's Supreme Court nominee and this particular ruling has become a rallying cry by conservative opponents who have accused her of "judicial activisim."

Judicial activism occurs when a judge or justice decides a case based on their personal or political ideology as opposed to a strict adherence to the Constitution. Minority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said Sotomayor's federal appeals court ruling last year against white firefighters alleging reverse discrimination leaves the impression that she allows her agenda to affect her judgment and that she favors certain groups. "It's a troubling philosophy for any judge - let alone one nominated to our highest court - to convert empathy into favortism for particular groups," McConnell said.

If judicial activism is such a concern when nominating Supreme Court judges, then why do Republican Presidents nominate conservative judges while Democratic Presidents nominate liberal judges? In the case of the white firefighter discrimination case, Ricci v. DeStefano, the Supreme Court held 5-4 that New Haven's decision to ignore the test results were in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The five members delivering the opinion were all conservative(Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and Roberts) with the exception of Justice Kennedy who is considered a moderate or "swing" voter. The dissenting opinions were all liberal(Ginsburg, Breyer, Stevens, and Souter). In Bush v. Gore, in which voter fraud was alleged in the 2000 presidential elections, the Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 vote to uphold Bush's victory over Gore. Need I say how those votes were split? Whether you agree with any of the Supreme Court's decisions or not, the fact remains that many votes are split along ideological lines and everyone on the Supreme Court, past and present, seems to be guilty of judicial activism.