Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Since You Asked...

A friend writes: "I'm wondering what you think of this video

I found myself agreeing on a few things, like the "nothing is free" and "personal responsibility" aspects.

It also reminded me of the things a parent might say to a child..."

Well, since you asked, here is the heart of my entire political philosophy.

As far as fiscal policy goes, he's got some good ideas. "Forgiving" student loans by paying them with taxpayer dollars is wrong. (And what a perfectly sad picture of the wretched occupy kid! To misquote Jewel, I hate him 'cause he's pieces of me!) I even think bailing out GM was a bad idea, even though it won Obama Michigan and probably Ohio. I am on the fence about Obamacare, but I'm willing to wait and see. Basically, there's still an awful lot about Democrats I like less and less as I get older and this guy kinda nails it.

I am a fiscal conservative. No doubt about it. I am Taxed Enough Already. Government is overly huge and incredibly wasteful and gets more so all the time.


Believing this causes me to vote for Democrats. What? Why? Aren't they the ones who tax and spend?

Here are the last six presidential administrations (basically my life), in order by the size of the percentage increase in the national debt on their watch:

Ronald Reagan 188.6
George W. Bush 89.0
George H. W. Bush 55.6
Jimmy Carter 42.3
Barack Obama (through 2011) 41.1
Bill Clinton 35.6

Historically, Republicans waste more money than Democrats. Republicans do not like wasting money on American poor people. Democrats do not like wasting money on wars. Whoever is in office, some of my taxes will be wasted. But I'd rather have them be wasted here on something that helps our people instead of there on something destructive. Ergo, I am a fiscally conservative Democrat.

This naturally leads me to where this video goes horribly off the rails: foreign policy. Yes, there are bad societies who do horrible things. But it's not our job to kill them all and replace them with good societies. We simply can't go to war with Darfur, China, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Alabama, Mississippi, Pakistan, and Egypt just because they aren't free democracies with full rights for all citizens. The cost is just too high in blood and treasure.

Instead, we must be a model of freedom that other societies will see and want to emulate. Revolutions will happen. They will grow towards us and our way. If we learned anything yesterday and in the last thirty years, it is that the tide of time swells toward freedom. Like the United Federation of Planets, we will welcome these countries to the big table when they are ready. But we must not bomb them in the meantime unless we want dreams of revenge against us to become inextricably linked with their dreams of freedom.

Let's move on to domestic policy and a word about the Republican narrative of personal responsibility, entitlements, and the culture of poverty. The story goes something like this. Ever since FDR and LBJ created all these entitlement programs like social security, the American people have become more and more dependent upon them. FDR inadvertently created a monster, a lazy person who just sits at home and lets the government money roll in and uses it to buy high speed internet, Cheetos, and beer. Times a few hundred million. They choose to live in a culture of poverty supported by the government. This narrative is not completely false. The situation must be reformed.

I believe in personal responsibility. I believe in working hard and having a good life come as a result. I believe in if you snooze you lose. But take a person who is born into poverty. Say they work their way up. The person takes responsibility and doesn't ask for nothin' from nobody. Works two or three jobs. Gets married, stays faithful. Has children they love. The person is scrimping and saving $25 a month for higher education to get a better job someday, providing for their children, basically living on a razor's edge like so many Americans are. Then the person's spouse is killed by a drunk driver. All the personal responsibility in the world isn't going to bring that spouse back, continue to bring in that spouse's income, or fill the permanent hole in those kids' lives.

Bad things happen to good, hardworking, personally responsible people. And when they do they don't deserve to be abandoned by their government.

There has to be a safety net. My theoretical person needs social security and maybe even welfare and food stamps and those things should be there for that person. That is not a waste of my taxes. That could mean those kids go to college instead of living under a bridge. Yes, Democrats perhaps tend to cast the safety net too wide, even to lazy people who just lean back and use the safety net as a hammock. But it's better to cast the net too wide than than to shred it and let everyone who gets unlucky fall.

I finally understand what my seventh grade history teacher Mr. Peck was talking about when he contrasted the "culture of poverty" ideology with the "cycle of poverty" ideology. I tend to believe that government aid will help people break out of the cycle more often than it will encourage them to loaf in the culture. Man, Mr. Peck was a good teacher.

Finally, ever since I started paying attention to such things as a teenager, Republican presidents have brought war and recession while Democratic presidents have brought peace and recovery. That's hard to ignore.

That's about all I got. Like all of us, the guy in this video has got some good ideas and some horribly bad ideas.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Billy, Ya Let Me Down

So Billy Graham. Has he always been a conservative tool and I just wasn't paying enough attention? All these people that I thought about positively during my Christian upbringing. I even put one of his delightful book titles in a GUH song. Geesh. James Dobson, whose book we read as a family to help my transition into puberty. Turns out? Right wing tool. I couldn't listen to him on the radio for two minutes without becoming furious.

These people who take the extremely powerful name of God and use it to promote their pet political agendas really piss me off, especially when I find those agendas un-American, restrictive, and hateful. What makes me maddest is that if someone was to ask me if I was a Christian I would say definitively yes, but I would feel the need to add "...but I'm not a misogynist, homophobic, idiot asshole."

I believe the bible is the inspired word of God; a beautiful, wonderful, endlessly engaging, guiding, and challenging holy scripture that I elevate above all other books. I'm also able to admit that a lot of it is really specific to the time and place it was written and a lot of it is just fucking weird and you can't possibly live by it all.

Perhaps unfortunately, what you CAN do, if you want to, is take any position you want to and support it with cherry-picked quotes from the bible. Whatever else you can say about it, the bible is versatile.

Plus, this country was not founded strictly on biblical values. And despite my own personal love for the bible, I think that's a good thing. Countries that try to mix holy scripture with governance never look like good places to live from where I'm sitting. America was founded to promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Some people think that means running as far away from the bible as they can get and I respect their right to do that.

My favorite moment from any of the debates, Presidential or Vice-Presidential, was Joe Biden admitting that his Catholicism told him that abortion was wrong but that he didn't think he had the right to force that belief on someone else. I agree on both points. This is the line that we people of faith must walk as we vote and help to create public policy in this wonderful, amazing, miracle of a country we live in. (I also have a fervent love of America but again there feel the need to add "...but I'm not a etc.")

So how can we solve the original problem, that is that the very words "Christian" and "American", which are both so precious to me, have come to suggest a hateful, misogynist homophobe who would have us living in an Iranian style theocracy? How about if someone says something like this:

I'm a Christian who believes in the bible and I think it's time for America to acknowledge marriages regardless of the gender of the two people involved.

I'm a Christian who believes in the bible and I don't think states or the nation should be making decisions about women's bodies for them.

Whew! I feel better! I think that's what I needed to do. Okay, now you.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Favorite Bob Dylan Album And Why

Desire is my favorite Bob Dylan album. Why? The stories. The high drama. The wildly inaccurate tales of actual people like Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and Joey Gallo. The legend of Dylan's time with a gypsy tribe in Spain. The myth of Isis. Bob and Sara on the beach with their kids. The Greek and the natural disaster on Black Diamond Bay. All these stories and the characters are beautiful and full like a Megan Bell painting and yet they leave plenty of space so they go on and on in your imagination after the music fades.

Why? The players. Rockin' Rob Stoner and his dancing bass. Emmylou Harris, who felt like she was not keeping up and broke down in tears and must not have noticed the powerful spell she was casting over the whole thing, especially Joey. Scarlet Rivera, whose violin and Bob's harmonica should be a train wreck on paper but merge and wail like a mystical spirit on tape.

Why? Because like so many other Bob albums, the recording method shouldn't have worked but it does. Too many players on too few tracks resulting in an erratic mix, confusion, discord, legal issues over the lyrics about actual people, and as always no rehearsal, chord sheets, or lyric sheets for the players. Just follow Bob. Watch his hands. Listen hard. It shouldn't work, but the performances are magnificent, spontaneous expressions of joy and sorrow.

Why? The collaboration. As a devoted fan who wants Bob to be well and happy, who believes that after all he's given us that he deserves to be well and happy, I like that he wrote a bunch of these songs with someone. Jacques Levy, a playwright, contributes to the cinematic quality of the best songs on the album. I imagine them having fun, late nights writing and creating together and I'm glad for Bob.

Why is Desire my favorite Bob Dylan album? Because all those things occurred to me when I was asked the question. I could just have easily said Time Out Of Mind and how it seemed eerily to speak directly to me the first time I heard it in September of 1997. I could have said Highway 61 Revisited and the way I involuntarily barked laughter, disturbing the peace and quiet of the St. Olaf music library, the first time I heard Jesus say, "The sun's not yellow, it's chicken!" I could have said Blood On The Tracks, of course. And who knows what will happen this afternoon, when I listen to Tempest for the first time? I could go on, honestly and sincerely, for at least this length about any and all of them. So yes, Desire is my favorite Bob Dylan album. But ask me again in five minutes.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Ballad Of A Thin Man

Ah, God this sucks. We shouldn't even be playing this game. How did I screw up that throw? Should have been a double play. Dammit! I just threw away the whole thing. Career over. This is horseshit. These guys should be sitting on a couch somewhere watching us play a division winner, not running the bases after I throw the ball into rightfield. All right. Shake it off, just like a thousand times before. Back in the game...

Yes! We're going to get it back! This'll even it up! McCann, Bourn, Prado, Heyward, me. Everybody hits. Here we go! Another shot at the...what? Oh, fuck me. Infield fly rule? Are you kidding me? We shouldn't even BE here!

Hey, what was that? Did something just fly onto the...oh, that's great, fans. Stay classy, Atlanta. You people. Ugh. I should get on a microphone and tell these drunk assholes where they can shove their beer cans. Oh, this is disgusting. Well, we can't all go out like Elway. Fuck.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Judiciary Election Thrills!

Against my better judgment I spent time researching the candidates in today's primary election. I blame my friend Justin Bell, esquire, for telling me that if people really understood politics they'd be as excited about the judicial branch elections as they are about the executive (President/Governor) and legislative (Senate/House) branch elections.

So I read the websites for all of today's candidates. By the end of it I was indeed wound up about the judicial elections, as well as the primaries. Why?

Democratic primaries:

For U.S. Senator I support Amy Klobuchar. As I understand it she will be the Democratic nominee. This is not why I decided to go.

For U.S. Representative District 5 I support Keith Ellison. He did a direct mail piece and some facebook ads that ultimately made me check out the candidates and wonder why he was bothering with campaigning in the primary. Well!

Ellison, who is a Muslim, is facing a Tea Party DINO (Democrat In Name Only) who is accusing him of all kinds of things. As soon as I saw "Sharia Law" on the front page of the guy's website I decided I'd continue researching and maybe even vote. I like to vote against any candidate who uses hate and fear. And I like what I see of Ellison. His interview with Stephen Colbert and the fact that he embedded it in his website doesn't hurt either.

For State Senator District 46 I support Ron Latz. He is running unopposed in the primary.

Judiciary elections:

For Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court I decided to support Jill Clark. The incumbent has scads of supporters, some of whom I like (Walter F. Mondale, etc.) but she was appointed by Pawlenty. Jill Clark has a very good website where she clearly outlines her candidacy.

In these judiciary elections the winner will not be decided until November. However, the candidate field will be whittled to two. As I understand it the incumbent usually wins the primary, gaining one of those two spots. This basically means I'm voting for either Jill Clark or Dan Griffith. Griffith had a lot of smart, meaningful things to say about judges and how they are chosen but I just heard and saw too many buzzwords suggesting he resents the poor and is basically a Republican.

For Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court I decided to support Alan Nelson. A clear, well written website splash page (and more importantly its content) made this an easy choice for me. That's actually where I learned the electoral procedural information in the previous paragraph.

For Judge, 4th District Court 22 I narrowed it down to either Deborah Russell or Elizabeth V. Cutter. I asked J. Bell if he had any information and he did not. Deborah Russell would be a fine candidate and I will vote for her if she makes it to November. However, she used two spaces after a period on her website. Thus today I voted for Cutter.

Cutter had a lot of evidence to back up this bold statement on her about page: "Liz is dedicated to issues of fairness, justice, and integrity across a wide spectrum." Plus she is a musician.

So that's what I did today for the first time ever. I actually researched and cared about judicial elections. Then I ran across the street and voted my conscience and my beliefs. When I got home I told bride who I had voted for and encouraged her to do the same since we have similar visions for America and Minnesota.

For someone who once wrote in the Twins lineup on the judicial part of the ballot, today was progress.

Update: 8:44 p.m. The Dems we voted for and Elizabeth Cutter are winning in landslides. Nelson and Clark are losing pretty decisively and will not make it to November. It doesn't look like my vote, even combined with bride's, if she even voted my line, is going to make any difference. Was it all worth it?

Check your own races here if you are so inclined.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Beatles Fan? There's Something You Should Know

There is an album available now called Silver Beatles At Home 1960. It strongly suggests (with my scientific psychology major I have insurmountable internal prohibitions against using the word "proves") that before The Beatles were The Beatles The Beatles were The Velvet Underground.

The tape is of four teenage kids (Paul, John, George, and Stu Sutcliffe) goofing around with a tape recorder. The sound quality is terrible. The music is fascinating. It's almost all based on simple blues changes and a lot of it is instrumental. It's impossible to imagine these Beatles creating a song like If I Fell, to say nothing of Eleanor Rigby or Martha My Dear. Ironically, it's easy to imagine them going immediately to Tomorrow Never Knows, a monolithic slab of a song if there ever was one.

They are much closer to The Velvet Underground song What Goes On than The Beatles song What Goes On.

If Andy Warhol had heard this band in 1960 instead of Brian Epstein in 1962 they seriously would have become The Velvet Underground. Wild. Obviously two years of going to Germany and the Cavern Club and having to learn actual songs and having to entertain people for hours at a time made The Beatles what they became.

I highly recommend listening to a few tracks at

My fellow residents of Hennepin County can get it free at a rate of three songs per week using Freegal. (That link may only work if you log in first.)

Hurry, because this album will disappear as soon as The Beatles legal team gets their way, just like The Complete Decca Sessions did last year. It is part of that "Grey Market" of semi-legal bootlegs that bands don't actually want released but that were recorded before they had their legal team in place.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Seven Easy Questions

In the Saturday Star Trib there was an article about an event called The Great American Think-Off that started in New York Mills, Minnesota. To illustrate the point that they were wrestling with "big questions" the Strib created a colorful graphic with the questions below. In the interest of saving everyone some time I have answered these questions. It took me about two minutes. In the interest of clarity, I have added appropriate capitalization and corrected syntax where the Strib had tortured it.

Q: Has anyone ever had a better run of four albums than Joni Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon, Blue, For the Roses, and Court and Spark?

A: No.

Okay, that one I just put in myself because I've been listening to those. I challenge anyone to disagree. Please put your candidate for superior four album run in the comment section. Now to the Strib:

Q: Does God exist?

A: Yes.

Q: Does life have meaning?

A: Yes.

Q: Is the nature of humankind good or evil?

A: Evil.

Q: Is the pen mightier than the sword?

A: No.

Q: Should assisted suicide be legal?

A: Yes.

Q: Head or heart: which should you trust more?

A: Head.

And done. Whew! You're welcome.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Two Bruce Springsteens

In the early '70s there was this skinny guy who wrote these epic story songs about really fantastic characters. You never knew where the songs would go or which of his huge, wild band was going to play the next solo. They blasted out of your stereo speakers and played long, unpredictable jams in concert.

From 1979 until now there's been this guy who writes these wordy folk songs about people who seem all too real. They're mostly people struggling in hard economic times or broken relationships or both. Once in a while they are happy. They're just like you and me. There's a highly predictable verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo or bridge, verse, chorus structure.

Since summer 2011 I have had a CD player in my car. What I've been doing is putting one CD in and leaving it for weeks, really listening to the music. It's been great and I highly recommend it. Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding, They Might Be Giants' John Henry (just a coincidence - didn't see that 'til just now), R.E.M.'s Reveal, and the Minnesota Orchestra's Beethoven Symphonies 1-8 (not ready for 9 yet) have been the heretofore neglected pieces of music I've really enjoyed getting to know in more depth. Recently I've been listening to Bruce Springsteen's Lucky Town.

Turns out there are also two of me. Here's how one part of me hears Lucky Town.

- Ugh. Why is every single melody 3-3-3-3-2-1-2-1-1-1-1-(down to)-6-5-5? (These are scale degrees. If you don't know what I'm talking about listen to my very sincere tribute to Bruce Springsteen.)
-These chord changes are the same in every song just in a different key.
-The drummer must have gotten really sick of playing that same medium rock beat on 7 out of the 10 tracks. I wonder how he got up the energy and enthusiasm. Maybe the huge amount of dollars per thump?
-The quiet songs are inaudible and if I turn up for them the next loud song blasts me away. Ah, early CD mastering. Still preferable to current CD mastering though.
-He might should have kept the E Street Band on hand for this one.
-Why is he trying so hard to become Bruce Cockburn? He was BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN!?!?!?!
-Boring, boring, boring. I can't take another repetition of this whole album.

Here's how another part of me hears Lucky Town.

(Weeping) "Yes, Bruce, I too treasure the beauty, mystery, terror, and joy that comes with being an adult and being in a loving marriage and raising a family! Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh-ha-ha-ha!" (Further laughing and crying)

I don't know how that works, but there it is.


Check it out yourself for a penny plus shipping at amazon. It's super cheap used because it was one of those "artist does something slightly different after a huge hit album so the public buys it right away then sells it when it doesn't sustain popularity because the public doesn't really care about music as music only about music as a cultural signifier for part of their fickle, shallow, hollow, insubstantial identity" albums. (See also: R.E.M.'s Monster, which, if they were really super environmentally friendly, they would just take out of print since there are four or five copies in every single used record store and they could save the petroleum used to manufacture new copies.)

Monday, March 05, 2012

In Which I Find More Really Great New Music

You know me, always looking for good music I am not aware of. So today I'm at art class and the teacher is playing something that I think is really great.

After class I'm like, "What was that CD you were playing?"
She looked at me for a second and said, "Adele? 21?"
I was like, "Ohhh, yeah. Wow that was really good! I haven't heard that before."
"Yeah, I try to find good music that will help the students be sort of mellow and do their art."
"Yeah, that was perfect for that."
We talked a little bit more. I felt like sort of a dope. I hope she didn't think I was making some hipster joke or something. I knew ABOUT that album, but I'd never heard that album. So, hey, in case I wasn't the last person on Earth to hear it and you actually are:

There's this really good album you should check out called "21" by this singer from England named Adele.

What's weird about it is that during the class I discreetly texted myself some of the lyrics in order to look them up later on the internet (which I don't have or want on my phone because it's a PHONE) but then I thought, "No. That's so isolationist/information age/sitting at home on the computer instead of getting to know the people in your community!" So yes, I made contact with another human being and, yes, I'm sure she belived I had just crawled out from under a rock.

Friday, January 06, 2012

I Found Some Genuine Good New Music

You know how I'm always like, "What good new music is there?" I mean, I love listening to new stuff from my long time favorite artists and the nth iteration of something with which I'm already familiar. People are like, "Yo La Tengo" or they're like "Arcade Fire" and I'm like, yeah, okay, I can see why people like that. But I'm not like BUWHAAAAH!

But now I am. Somehow I can't remember I came across this:

album: Alopecia
artist: Why?

Hennepin County Library

I do not know how to link to iTunes.

That is some really, really creative new music that is not really quite like anything I've ever heard before. I really connected with that. And it's from here!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Can You Help?

This morning I thought of a rhyme. Then I thought of a way to make those things that rhyme into a rap song that brags about my identity using irrelevant similes. But I didn't get very far. Please help me complete my rap song.

I'm suckin' on the BLOOD of the INNocents like DRACULA
I'm jumpin' through TIME and solvin' CRIME just like Scott BAKULA

See where it was going?