Monday, July 18, 2011

A Different Perspective, and a Rocking 90s Band

Some may have noticed a title change at the top of this page and a few more things shuffling around lately. To make a long story short, I simply decided that since I have way more interests than just the day-to-day tussle of American politics, why should I have a blog that's so limited in its subject matter? When I launched this space I did it from the perspective of a regular blowhard with an opinion. Commenting on sports, music, cars and whatever else fits nicely into that, and quite frankly sometimes a person needs to not focus on politics for a while or they will surely go insane.

That is not to say this blog will not get political at times. It will, believe me. There are a few social causes that I believe are worthy of mentioning also, so those will get their day in the sun at some point. But right now, an upcoming event this Friday makes me want to go back into music history a bit, and discuss the band Soundgarden.

I started getting into music slowly starting around the age of 9 or 10. Before that I definitely had interests, tapes I liked to listen to and the like, but aside from a few favorites I didn't know any artists or band names, I did not follow music careers of anyone and really my musical taste consisted solely of things my parents listened to, simply because at that young an age I had no ability or inclination to dig any further.

From the time I was 9 to when I turned 10, two really significant albums came out of the Seattle grunge scene. The most remembered and culturally significant of these of course was Nirvana's Nevermind. But a month or two later, Soundgarden released Badmotorfinger. It was, in many ways, unlike any album they had released before. It was labeled "grunge" simply because of geography, but it was unlike a lot of its contemporaries. While Nirvana was still very much rooted in shorter songs with simpler lyrics and a typical punk-like song structure, Badmotorfinger pushed ahead with a grinding intensity that included longer songs, deeper lyrics, Kim Thayil's experimental guitar shredding, Matt Cameron's jazz-inspired drumming, and Chris Cornell's urgent banshee-like screaming over the whole thing. It was a powerful musical statement, and it put the band on the map. They never looked back.

The band's creative high point, obviously, was 1994's Superunknown. I was 12 years old by then, just entering middle school. For me, this album resonated in a way few albums have with me, either before or since. It was a very formative thing. To this day I hear songs like Spoonman, Let Me Drown, Fell On Black Days, and of course Black Hole Sun with its nightmare-inducing music video, and it always takes me back to how I felt when I heard each of these songs the very first time. It expanded my musical horizons and really set off a love of collecting, listening to, and eventually playing music, that lives on to this day.

In 1996, Soundgarden released the self-produced Down On The Upside, which spun off the classic songs Burden In My Hand, Pretty Noose and Blow Up The Outside World. It was not as tight or focused as their previous album but I didn't care. I devoured it voraciously then and I still enjoy many of those songs today. I was beginning high school by then, and after a year or so of enjoying this newest album, I wondered if I could ever manage to get my parents to buy me tickets and let me see the band live in concert.

But then the announcement came over the airwaves: Soundgarden was breaking up. Apparently tensions had been building during the recording of Down On The Upside and culminated during the subsequent tour but I had no way of knowing that. My favorite band was calling it quits. The era was over. For my generation that was like The Police breaking up at the height of their popularity nearly two decades before. I figured I'd never actually see them play the songs I loved so much live, and that was that.

In 2007 I saw Chris Cornell perform with a solo band he put together, and it satisfied the urge somewhat. He had put together a decent enough band, and they played a random collection of his various solo stuff alongside songs from both Soundgarden and Audioslave. Each show was a really fun experience and it was really something to hear him scream out those vocals live on stage.  I saw him on three separate occasions and each was an event to remember.

But it wasn't Soundgarden. That drummer wasn't Matt Cameron. That guitarist wasn't Kim Thayil, and that bassist wasn't Ben Shepherd. Maybe it's splitting hairs but for me it was like seeing Roger Waters performing Pink Floyd tunes. Sure it was the same songs but the rest of the band wasn't there. Something was missing.

A full year and a half of rumors finally resulted in the reunion tour we all knew was coming one of these days, and this coming Friday, July 22, I have GA floor tickets to see my favorite band from my youth perform at the LA Forum. They have done a few slots on this and that late night talk show, so I know for a fact the guys still have it. I guess you could say my expectations are a bit on the high side for this, and you would be right. I'm going to go wild at this show, I mean really let go and go crazy and just enjoy every second. Seeing the songs you listened to hundreds of times be performed live and with amazing skill by the guys who made them famous in the first place, it really can be a transcendent experience.

Now all I need to do is talk myself out of driving out to Vegas on the 23rd and see them all over again!

Keep rocking.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Osama Is Dead: Now What?

So, Obama has finally done it.  He authorized the raid by Navy SEALs in Pakistan that finally killed Osama Bin Laden only a week ago now, and I do not think it is hyperbole to say that the game has changed now.  But, now what?  After ten years, two wars we obviously did not need, hours and hours of torture of Guantanamo detainees that mostly led to no provably useful intelligence (even though various Bush administration apologists would beg to differ), and thousands dead on both sides it does beg the question, did we really need the last decade to unfold exactly as it did to achieve the end we now have?

No.  No matter how much people like Dick Cheney (who never ceases to grace us with his presence at times like these, from beyond the grave even), Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo and others in the Bush administration want to spin this and somehow take belated credit, the policies they advanced and directives they acted upon were complete unnecessary bullshit.  Obama has exposed this, even as he continues a lot of the same failed policies in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We didn’t need to throw the Constitution in the garbage with things like the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps, holding people (including juveniles) for years without trial in Cuba and torturing them to get information that was largely bogus anyway.  We definitely did not need the thousands upon thousands killed, both among the ranks of our military and the many civilians killed overseas.  I won’t even mention the thousands more of our people that are no longer productive members of society anymore, whether it is due to a traumatic physical injury or a traumatic mental injury.  This was a giant mess we did not need, and the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of George Bush, Dick Cheyney, Donald Rumsfeld and all the rest of the Bush administration.  We did not need two wars and thousands dead just to kill one man.  We needed one surgical, covert strike.
So where do we go from here?  If Obama has any sense at all, hopefully it means our immediate and total withdraw from both Iraq and Afghanistan.  I realize that we have “drawn down” our troops significantly in Iraq over the last year or so but we had no business going there in the first place.  It was wrong then, and it becomes more and more wrong the longer our troops are there.  Obama should not perpetuate Bush’s revenge fantasies any longer.
Afghanistan should be a no-brainer.  One superpower already got stuck in that quagmire and now we are the other.  Our stated mission in invading Afghanistan in the first place was to unseat the Taliban in a greater effort to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice.  The Taliban part then, at the outset, was merely a means to an end.  The fact that they continue to stick around, consolidate power, and occasionally gain territory, should be irrelevant to us.  We got the bad guy.  Now we need to leave.  Let these people fight it out among themselves. 
The second reason we should leave Afghanistan is one related to practical concerns.  How do we run a war, transport troops back and forth, get supplies inside Afghanistan, when we do not know if we can rely on a military presence in Pakistan any longer?  They were likely harboring Osama Bin Laden right under our noses even as they professed their allegiance to our cause, and now in the aftermath of his death, they’re crying foul for us essentially conducting a unilateral military raid within their sovereign territory.  I say this relationship is going to deteriorate, and quickly.  Pakistan has a lot to answer for, and I think right now they think the same about us, so this may get ugly.  If we need to enter some sort of “cold war” with Pakistan to cease operations in Afghanistan then I am all for it, as long as it means less combat troops overseas.  These wars need to end.
Obama scored a major political victory in ordering the raid that finally killed Osama.  How he handles what comes next, I think, will determine his political future in 2012 and his legacy beyond that.  Will he continue the wrong-headed approach of Bush and send troops to Afghanistan and Iraq to die for nothing, especially since we caught the main guy we were after?  Or will he extract us from these quagmires once and for all?  Whether he is elected President again in 2012 likely depends on him doing the latter.  I for one will not even consider giving him my vote unless that is in fact what he does, and no one else should either.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Coming GOP Rift: Lines Drawn Over “Birther” Issue

In my last post I spoke about Donald Trump and sarcastically poked fun at his stirring the “birther” pot as a blatant ploy for relevance in a vague and confusing Republican 2012 candidate pool.  Little did I know that his little PR gambit would actually rip a giant chasm within the right wing of today, forcing people on either side of the “birther” issue to decide where they stand, once and for all.

A recent poll indicates that a majority of registered Republican primary voters (51%) thought that Obama was not born in the United States.  This is a significant shift from a similar poll taken in August of 2009 that found 44% of Republicans believed Obama was not a natural born citizen.  This is a simple case of “appealing to the majority” for Trump.  He decided simply to speak to 51% of Republican primary voters and use the “birther” issue as a sticking point, basically to curry their favor.  It’s a fairly transparent strategy.
But this week there was a new development.  A recent bill making its way through the Arizona state legislature, if signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer, would have made it a requirement for any Presidential candidate to (per the linked article above):

“…have their national political party send the secretary of state an affidavit from the candidate saying that they are natural-born citizens, have lived in the U.S. for 14 years and are at least 35 years old. The party must include documents proving that information, preferably a long-form birth certificate. If that document is not available, the candidate can provide at least two of the following: early baptismal or circumcision certificate, hospital birth record, postpartum medical record signed by the person who delivered the child, or an early census record.” (azcentral.com, by Alia Beard Rau)

Obviously this bill, as written, is ludicrous, and is indicative of how far to the insane right Arizona Republicans have gone.  This is the same state that produced the “show your papers if you look/sound foreign in front of a cop” law, as you may remember.  So you would think, given all that has happened under Jan Brewer’s tenure as Governor of Arizona, this bill should be a shoo-in to become law, right?

Not so fast.  Brewer shot the law down, saying it "creates significant new problems while failing to do anything constructive for Arizona."  Wow.  Here is the lady that found it politically advantageous to persecute immigrants and subjugate them to de facto second-class citizen status saying it “creates significant new problems” to have Obama submit his baptismal certificate and hospital birth record so he could appear on the ballot in Arizona?  It would seem incongruous, at first glance, that she could hold both of these opinions at the same time, but that’s only at first glance.

Simply put, the “birther” issue is political poison.  The writing has been on the wall for quite some time, from the beginning even.  Want proof?  Michele Bachmann, another loony favorite of mine, has also now distanced herself from the issue.  So have Karl Rove, Tim Pawlenty snd House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.  Essentially, the “birther” issue is rapidly becoming a wedge issue within the Republican Party, with the true die-hard wingnuts on one side and the more politically savvy, more serious contenders on the other.  Much as I hate putting Michele Bachmann in any group labeled “politically savvy,” I must call them as I see them.  Besides, it’s likely a campaign aide or other handler has guided Ms. Bachmann’s opinion on the issue at least somewhat.

The main reason the “birther” issue is absurd to me, mostly is its blatant, but implied, racism.  Here we have a guy who has sort of an “international” upbringing, was born to a non-American father, has spent significant time abroad, and generally has lead a life most Americans who were born, live and will die in the same city or town, consider strange and alien.  Oh, and by the way, he’s black too.  And he has a Muslim-sounding name.  Simply put, adding this up does not produce someone the ignorant, uneducated, white, mostly rural people that make up the majority of these “birther” Republicans and Tea Partiers think is very "American."  To them, each of the details I described above about Obama’s life are evidence that he is really a secret Muslim who was born outside of this country, and no amount of logical, reasoned and evidence-laden counter-argument will change their mind.  It’s real because Glenn Beck said it’s real, and that’s that.

So, where does that leave the Republican candidate pool, you might ask?  In a game of choosing sides.  Do they play to the simpletons out there who believe Obama was somehow constructed by al-Qaeda almost 50 years ago to take over America and secretly place a Muslim in charge?  Or do they play to the upper middle class and rich business interests the GOP has usually played to?  Basically, does a Republican candidate fully embrace the wingnut Tea Party element, or not?  A similar rift has been present ever since the latest Congress has convened, with John Boehner having to somehow appease both of these sides at the same time as Speaker of the House.  It’s made policymaking a bit complicated, to say the least.  Democrats definitely wasted no time in exploiting that, and they nearly succeeded in wiping out the Paul Ryan budget proposal.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Obama as President.  He is a terrible leader and a terrible negotiator.  What we have right now is a “Committee Chair-in-Chief,” who is always looking to have everyone “come together” and “compromise,” even on issues where there are two distinct and radically opposing sides.  It makes for complete chaos, and middle-of-the-road, milquetoast policy decisions that end up satisfying neither side of a given issue and making people on both sides of the political spectrum dislike him a little more each time.  Obama is a college professor in President’s clothing, simply put.  Dislike him for the right reasons.  He should be replaced with a better leader, but not because he’s black, or Muslim, or any other silly thing he’s been accused of.  He should be replaced just because he’s a shitty President.


UPDATE: There is actually now a birther bill making its way through the Louisiana state legislature, with language very similar to the Arizona bill.  Governor Bobby Jindal, another GOP grandstanding wunderkind, has promised to sign it into law if it passes.  I guess we know where he stands on the issue.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Obama 2012: So What?

It hit the news this week that President Obama has officially launched his re-election campaign for 2012.  Since this comes at a shock to absolutely nobody, it was mildly surprising to see so many news outlets kicking off their morning newscasts on Monday with news of this inevitable development.  The question is: so what?  He’s a sitting president and this is utterly unsurprising.
The thing about the election in 2012 that interests me though is witnessing the continual erosion of Presidential elections in this country to the point where we’re not even choosing between a giant douche and a turd sandwich anymore; we are choosing between the naked pseudo-progressive corporatist sitting President and the nutjob Teabagger wannabe du jour that will inevitably win the Republican party nomination.  I can hardly wait.  The election of 2012 will definitely be an epic and unprecedented shit storm.  So, you may ask, who are the other confirmed (and semi-confirmed) players in this mess?  Here’s a quick overview:
Mitt Romney
Mitt is probably the sanest one of the group, which is saying a hell of a lot for the only Mormon in the Republican field.  Mitt, you may remember, was for a lot of things before he was against them, most notably what is now referred to colloquially amongst Republicans as Obamacare and gay marriage.  He’s the ultimate coiffed businessman-type.  Always flashing that trademark smirk, Mitt is the ultimate chameleon, always adapting and changing to be as electable as he feels possible.  Will it work this time after failing in 2008?  We shall see.
Michele Bachmann
Where to begin?  Michele Bachmann has come to embody the lunatic fringe of the Tea Party as she tries to balance a Presidential campaign with appearing on seemingly every Fox News talk show in existence.  She’s the one who started the 100% untrue rumor that Obama’s trip to India was costing US taxpayers $200 million per day.  This bit of foot-in-mouth rumor mongering quickly went viral as all the anti-Obama folks out there tripped over themselves deriding the President for the trip, while the Pentagon strenuously rejected the claim, calling it “comical.”  That’s not all.  Michele is also thoroughly confused about the Founding Fathers and their opinions about slavery, and she tends to swallow whole any crazy conspiracy theory Rush Limbaugh sends her way.  She is a loon, pure and simple, and I do not believe she has any support or interest besides the voyeuristic pleasures afforded to those who watch her many stumbles and falls in the media.  Not enough to win any primaries, anyway.
Newt Gingrich
Newt goes back a ways.  In 1994 he was the face of the Republican takeover of Congress during the Clinton years and was involved in the so-called “Contract with America.”  While I feel that his marital infidelities have no bearing on his fitness for office, I do take issue with how he handled Bill Clinton’s peccadillos, especially since he was having his own fun back then.  Not to mention, he’s managed to conveniently rewrite history and even managed to present the most absurd reason for cheating on one’s spouse anyone ever dared to utter.  Newt is trying very, very hard to look, act and sound presidential but this is a guy that couldn’t even hold onto his job as Speaker during a time of Republican control of Congress.  I would be surprised if he makes it further than Super Tuesday.
Tim Pawlenty
Tim is a fairly by-the-numbers social conservative.  He hates Roe v. Wade, opposes abortion, advocates lower taxes along with spending cuts and wants to re-enact Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Probably the biggest stain on his political resume has to be appointing this lady as the head of the Transportation Department of Minnesota (MinnDOT).  It was during her, and Pawlenty’s, tenure that the I-35 bridge collapse happened, and this is significant because funding for MinnDOT was cut significantly during this time.  Ms. Molnau, who had been serving as an unconfirmed commissioner during her most current term, had apparently never read one bridge inspection report during her time as head of MinnDOT.  She was fired from her post by the Minnesota state legislature in a move Pawlenty criticized as a “disappointing partisan move.”  How well Pawlenty will do remains to be seen, but he does seem to be one of those not as visible gubernatorial candidates that come out of nowhere but gains a lot of ground as the primaries go on.

Haley Barbour

Haley Barbour, the current Governor of Mississippi for the uninformed, is definitely not a Governor, past or present, that has any chance of winning the Republican nomination.  His main issues seem to stem from a deep misunderstanding of race relations, both past and present, in the United States.  Haley is a holdover from a previous and no longer relevant era and in all probabilities will not go far should he choose to run.
Rick Santorum
I will leave Rick’s Google problem aside for now because, while very hilarious, it does not really have any political relevance.  It is extremely funny, however, and probably the most intricate and unique troll of a public figure that I have ever seen on the Internet.  No, there’s plenty of other things to bust Rick on, such as his, shall we say, unique views on homosexuality and his intense and undying love for Intelligent Design.  Rick Santorum has all the insanity of Michele Bachmann, only with a less modern, more new-testament, and old-school feel to it.  His campaign is a veritable joke in every sense, seeing as how he lost his Senate job in spectacular fashion during the 2006 election.  Seeing him blunder his way through a Presidential bid should prove comical, to say the least.
Donald Trump
Media whore.  Reality television star.  World-famous comb-over.  Known the world over for being a total asshole.  Really, I cannot even rip on this guy; it is just far too easy.  All I will do is point out things like he’s a billionaire who cannot seem to run a casino correctly, which is amazing since every game a casino hosts is tilted so that the house wins every single time.  I could point out how he thinks we could bring the leaders of “rogue states” we don’t like by screwing them over like businessmen or how his producing his American birth certificate stunt horribly backfired on him.  But really it comes down to this: how could we elect a guy with hair like that?  Trump’s “candidacy” is a publicity stunt, folks, a mere sideshow act or a carnival barker on the electoral midway.  Ignoring him is the best approach.
…And these are just the people that are either definitely running or probably running.  With a motley assortment such as this, the likelihood of this country being subjected to four more years of waffling, caving, further-to-the-right-than-Reagan, business-first Obama is increasing every day.  I wish we truly had a dynamic multiple-party political system in this country that could provide a milquetoast-at-best President like Obama with a real re-election challenge, but the reality of our two-party duopoly is that we get different shades of the same exact shit election after election.  Giant Douche vs. Turd Sandwich.  Let the battle lines be drawn, America.
So, with all that said, I’d like to submit our endorsement for Giant Douche 2012!