Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tea & No Sympathy

I can't say I'm surprised by how both liberals and conservatives are reacting to last week's passing and executive approval of health care reform. After making several minor concessions, the Democratic majority passed far-reaching legislation in a manner that would've been unheard of five years ago. In short, President Obama succeeded where nearly all of his predecessors from TR onward had failed. Where Democrats are rejoicing, Republicans are seething, and independents and moderates are wary. It's a victory on paper for the Dems, no question about that, but the moral victory remains to be seen. Half the country has their misgivings about "Obamacare," but they'll have to learn to swallow this big pill, figuratively and literally. The various lawsuits, noble in their intention, will likely fail. It is what it is, and 1/6th of the nation's economy has been irreversibly changed.

In the wake of the March 21st vote, a rash of vandalism and character assassination has hit several Democratic lawmakers (or in one case, a legislator's brother). Bricks have been thrown in windows, death threats have been faxed and called in, the list goes on. On the floor of the House of Representatives, pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak was taunted as a "baby killer" by a fellow anti-abortion (albeit GOP) congressman. Yet one incident was like something out of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Did anyone hear about this story, then thought about that one scene where the Boy Rangers rally for Sen. Smith in his hometown, then get rammed off the road by Jim Taylor's henchmen? Thank God that little girl wasn't injured. Sure, Rep. John Boehner went on Fox News to condemn all these actions, but it doesn't feel like enough.

It's saddening to think that this is what political discourse in this country has been reduced to. The tea parties don't want to hear a second opinion, they just want to reinforce their fears and underinformed viewpoints; instead of exchanging new ideas, they only get louder and shriller. I'm not implying that the Tea Party movement is behind all this reckless behavior, but the influence is certainly there. I want to give Boehner the reason of a doubt that the GOP core is not encouraging this mob rule, yet it was their ineffectual response to Obama's original platform that set the wheels in motion. (His "Hell no!" speech didn't exactly help matters.) How many of these tea-baggers are accepting unemployment checks, social security, and/or Medicare? How many of them would be willing to sacrifice those "socialist crutches" for their common cause? Will they keep protesting if the economy improves? Either way you look at it, in the long run somebody's going to look awfully sheepish.

Next week: my ever-so-slightly-delayed 2010 baseball preview.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1965

As everyone knows by now, the House of Representatives passed Obamacare the other night. Problem is, I'd been working on this particular blog for well over a week and I didn't have the time to write something else. If the health care debate is still raging next week, I'll probably post my thoughts on the topic then. Thank you for your patience.

If 1964 was the year that audiophiles first took notice of the LP as an all-encompassing artistic statement, as compared to a collection of recent songs, than 1965 was the first great year for long-players. It was also a year of double vision, as nearly every major act of the time --most of them now recognized as all-time greats-- released at least two new albums that year. 1965 was more than just the halfway point of the decade; it drew a wedge between the straight-laced sounds of the Camelot era and the psychedelic free-for-alls that closed the '60s. The British Invasion, Motown, and the folk sounddominated the American music charts outright, while surf-rock and the Brill Building slowly faded from sight. Jazz had both feet planted in its modal period, and suddenly it was cool for white guys to play the blues. These are my favorite albums from '65:

1. Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan. And just like that, the unwilling leader of the folk movement went full-blown electric. After dipping his toe into that rock n' roll sound on side A of Bringing It All Back Home, the second phase of Dylan's long and unparalled career was initiated. The playful folkie from Greenwich Village had transitioned into an angry young man with a knack for wordplay. The snare shot that kicks off "Like a Rolling Stone" is like a call to arms, and the six-plus minutes that follow could be described with an infinite number of adjectives; arguably, it's the nastiest, visceral, metaphor-laden, powerful, difficult, unexpected, and unrelenting song ever recorded.
2. Rubber Soul, The Beatles. Speaking of second acts, The Beatles' 6th long-player was also a portent of things to come. Bridging the simplicity and innocence of their early work and the lyrical and instrumental experimentation of future efforts like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's, Rubber Soul is a transitional album in the most complimentary sense. The sitar that carries "Norwegian Wood" is discerning and lulling at the same time, while the piano solo on "In My Life," warped in post-production to mimic a harpsichord, is dainty and pretty without ever sounding effete or trite.
3. Maiden Voyage, Herbie Hancock. Building upon the themes of his 1964 breakthrough Empyrean Isles, the aquatically obsessed Hancock devised a concept album aimed at creating an oceanic atmosphere. Borrowing (so to speak) bassist Ron Carter and drummer Anthony Williams from Miles Davis' legendary second quintet, Maiden Voyage showcases a promising young jazz pianist at the high point of his creative powers. Sure, Voyage may not be as adventurous as Isles, though it certainly does a better job of balancing accessible, lyrical jazz with risk-taking hard bop.
4. Bringing It All Back Home, Bob Dylan
5. Help!, The Beatles
6. E.S.P., Miles Davis
7. Speak No Evil, Wayne Shorter
8. Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrds
9. Ascension, John Coltrane
10. Out of Our Heads, The Rolling Stones. If the Stones' third LP (fourth in the States) was remembered solely for "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction)," it'd still be a great album. A rumination on sex and commercialism, "Satisfaction" was unlike anything on the radio at the time, much less on an album of mostly blues and R&B covers. The track listings for the US and UK versions vary wildly, but both versions are equally... satisfactory.

Honorable Mentions: The Cape Verdean Blues, Horace Silver; Soothsayer, Wayne Shorter; December's Children (And Everybody's), The Rolling Stones; Begin Here, The Zombies; Today!, The Beach Boys.

1965 was also an excellent year for singles. If you know any or all of these 20 songs, I'm sure you'd agree:

"A Well Respected Man," The Kinks
"We Gotta Get Out of This Place," The Animals
"You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," The Silkie
"Yesterday," The Beatles
"I Know a Place," Petula Clark
"Catch Us If You Can," Dave Clark Five
"For Your Love," The Yardbirds
"I Want Candy," The Strangeloves
"Concrete & Clay," Unit 4+2
"Go Now," The Moody Blues

"I Hear A Symphony," The Supremes
"Since I Lost My Baby," The Temptations
"It's The Same Old Song," The Four Tops
"In The Midnight Hour," Wilson Pickett
"The 'In' Crowd," Ramsey Lewis Trio
"Do You Believe in Magic," The Lovin' Spoonful
"Eve Of Destruction," Barry McGuire
"Treat Her Right," Roy Head and The Traits
"She's About a Mover," Sir Douglas Quintet
"Unchained Melody," The Righteous Brothers

NOTE: I confused the release date of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme (February 1965) with the recording date (December 1964), so it appears my 1964 list from several months ago. I humbly regret the error.
Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Random Notes, March 2010

I think I've done enough ranting and navelgazing these past two weeks. Time for some random notes:

+ My bracket is still a work in progress, but for once I'll probably be paying more attention to the NIT than the "Big Dance." My alma mater (Illinois State), my dad's school (Northwestern), and our mutual nemesis (University of Illinois) will all be duking it out for college basketball's greatest consolation prize. Unfortunately, the Fighting Illini arguably have the best shot of taking the championship of the three; Stony Brook, Kent State, and Tulsa aren't fooling anyone, so the Blue and Orange are probable locks for the NIT quarterfinals. NU has a tall order against Rhode Island, while my Redbirds will need to get past Dayton's efficient pressure defense. As for my "real" Final Four picks, I'm going with Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky, and Villanova.

+ An article in last Sunday's New York Times suggests that the Tea Party has no stance on any issues besides fiscal policy and limited government. Gee, you think?

+ I woke up Friday morning to learn that both of Conan O'Brien's shows in Chicago (May 19th and 20th) are sold out. On one hand, it's encouraging to know that Big Red still has a rabid and devoted fanbase that will support him through thick and thin. On the other hand, I won't get to see him live, and I doubt that they'll add a third show. I would've gone in '06 when Conan did a week of shows at the Chicago Theatre, but it was the same week as finals at ISU. Oh well.

+ While I can only hope that this level of egregious political activism doesn't spread across the country, this really sums up the sad state of the American educational system.

+ I've seen the movie "Airplane" about ten times. Some people will say they've seen their favorite movie anywhere from 50 to 100 times, but for me ten is excessive enough. I was reminded of that Sunday night when I heard about the passing of Captain Oveur, a/k/a veteran character actor Peter Graves. I keep going back to that movie because there's always something new to discover with each viewing, and Graves certainly figures into that equation. Oveur was a silly character played straight, a seemingly straight-arrow airline pilot with some repressed urges (no spoiler alerts here), and the role wouldn't have worked with any actor besides Graves. I'm not mourning, but thanking a good actor for a memorable performance.

Next Week: the year in music, 1965.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Stop The Madness!

March 4th, 2010 was not a good day to be a Republican. To begin with, we woke up Thursday morning to read the details on California state senator Roy Ashburn's DUI. Nobody would bat an eyelash at this obscure politico if it weren't for the fact that A) Ashburn is vehemently against gay rights and B) he was busted in walking distance of a gay bar. I giggled upon hearing about this because quite frankly, I love it when homophobes and outspoken gay-bashers are exposed as hypocrites. Maybe it's schadenfreude, but it's amusing when public figures' lives are revealed to be double-standards. While I feel sorry for his wife and family, I don't shed a tear for the man.

Between Mark Foley, Larry Craig, John Ensign, and Mark Sanford, it probably comes as no surprise that the GOP has stopped referring to itself as the "family values" party, and this only further undermines that image. That's not to say the Democrats have taken that honor by default --look at John Edwards or Eliot Spitzer-- but family values is such a vaguely defined phrase, it's impossible to keep up. When impressionable children are asked who their personal heroes are, they usually cite their parents, a TV character, or an popular athlete, but never a legislator. Politicians aren't supposed to be heroes and they rarely aspire to be, and the Ashburn incident made that pretty clear.

If Ashburn's dabbles into bi-curiousity wasn't enough of an issue for Golden State conservatives, the next GOP news story would be a PR mess on the national scale. A long-gestating liberal conspiracy theory was substantiated when a leaked document revealed that GOP leaders intended to use scare tactics to garner votes in November. Basically, underinformed and deluded voters that already believe our president is some hybrid of a socialist, anarchist, and/or terrorist were going to have their baseless and irrational fears reinforced to ensure Republican gains in the midterms. Any connection to the growing "Tea Party" crusade is debatable, though it does compliment the mob rule mentality of their platform. Jyarter put it best a few weeks ago when he said that Republicans are better with slinging mud at their opponents than Democrats, but this takes the slime to a whole new level. If you want to nitpick President Obama's policies or his hands-off approach, that's fine; however, he has not done anything to necessitate full-blown character assassination.

Of course, politicians embarassing themselves or putting their feet in their mouths is not a strictly American trend. Apparently, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has joined the "9/11 was an inside job" bandwagon. First he says the Holocaust was blown out of proportion, now this; I suppose it's only a matter of time before he'll join the "birther" movement. Sadly, regardless of whether or not he's a puppet of the Ayatollah, it's hard to not view him as a windbag and a tease. Speaking of which, on Friday Glenn Beck (not an elected official, though he thinks he is) blasted the Catholic Church --to be more specific, The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis-- of encouraging "social and economic justice," alleged code words for some type of communist uprising. As Nathan Empsall pointed out, why would addressing the needs of the poor, sick, and needy and similar acts of charity be socialist protocal? My goodness...

These four recent events, not to mention the growing Eric Massa mess, sums up our increasingly chaotic world in a nutshell. In November, hardly anyone will vote for who they feel is best-suited to represent us in Washington. Instead, people will vote Republican because they think that their needs aren't being addressed, or they will stick with the Democrats because they look stable in comparison. Those that disagree with our government's policies, home and aboard, are merely sharping their knives or posturing for attention. The people with the loudest voices are the fools and the charlatans, attention-hungry hypocrites whose uninformed opinions do more to invoke fear and hysteria than bring people together for the common cause. There's no unity, just bickering. It's sad, it's mortifying, and it's enough to give anyone a headache, and I can only wish there was a way to stop the madness.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The House of "No"

A couple weeks ago, I was skimming my news feed on Facebook when Daniel Solzman's latest status update caught my eye. Solzy had commented that the Democrats will lose the both houses of Congress come November. Reactions were mixed, though I commented that the Republicans don't really offer any solutions, implying that a GOP comeback was little more than a power grab. About three hours after I posted my opinion, a conservative pal of Daniel's posted a link to the GOP's health care strategy. While I concured that there were a handful of valid points, I asked this fellow where was this agenda during all the debating last summer. Sarah Palin dreams up all that "death panel" garbage and town hall meetings nearly turned into riots, and that went to the backburner? He never responded.

I was reminded of this cold shoulder when President Obama staged that 6 1/2 hour bipartisan health care summit last Thursday. Was it courageous for the president to address both sides of this heated debate in such a grandiose and public manner? Yes. Did he state his case to the GOP fully knowing that they'd never come around to his side? Also yes. The summit was as extraordinary was it was testy and highly partisan, and in the end nothing was accomplished. To some degree, this unprecedented powwow was a Hail Mary pass for Obama's core platform, one that was defanged somewhat in the past week (we'll miss you, public option!) in order to garner support from across the aisle. Maybe this more moderate approach will work; nine centrist Democrats stated on Monday that they wouldn't rule out changing their vote from "no" to "yes" if Obama plays his cards right. If control of both houses of Congress comes down to the public's stance on health care reform and that issue only, the best-case scenario for the Democrats is to regroup ASAP, vote, and hope for the best.

Other Notes:

+ Last Sunday, my troupe Keepin It Mediocre had their second show at Second City. Our 25-minute performance was the culmination of my Improv Level D class, and we start Level E next weekend. When the show is posted on YouTube, I'll let everyone know.

+ Time again for "HeyStu Recommends." For the twenty or thirty of you that weren't already aware, Conan O'Brien has joined Twitter. He tweets about once a day, and his account is still fairly new, so there's plenty of time to catch up to Coco's musings.

+ It was David Geffen? Seriously?

+ A representative in the South Carolina legislature has proposed a law that will replace paper currency with gold and silver in The Palmetto State. He also intends to shut down the state's banks and replace them with "Cash 4 Gold" centers. ;)