Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why I was reading what I read

I finished The Bell Jar on July 1st last year, so that's how long I have been working on this reading list. I know have referred to it at times, but I have never spoken very clearly about, because it is hard to explain for multiple reasons.

First of all, there is no clear way to categorize the reading. Some of it is psychological in nature, and some of it is feminist, but I don't know that there is any one word that takes in all of them. They were all connected, and all intended toward a single purpose. That's the second thing that's hard to explain.

I have referred to making friends through Twitter that have made me more aware of mental illness, eating disorders, depression, suicidal tendencies, and self-harm. They are mainly female, and largely in their teen years, but saying that I am connecting with young girls via the internet can't possibly sound right. It would be easier if I had some simple way to refer to them, but no label has ever felt right, and that is probably not a coincidence. Suffice it to say that there are people I care about a lot, and want to help.

I  have pretty clear memories of my own adolescence, but there were still a lot of things I have never dealt with, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to be able to help more. My standard operating procedure when I want to know more is to look for a book. That's how I came up with the reading list.

It started with a list of about nine books. Obviously there was mission creep. Some of that was that I had other things going on. In the course of reading it I went through two Black History months and one Native American Heritage month, plus the MOOC and books that my sisters checked out that I wanted to read too.

I eventually needed to use a spreadsheet to keep track of it, and while that spreadsheet now has 11 tabs tracking various things, the Books tab now contains 10 other reading lists, though only one of them is really long. (Those will probably all eventually get their own posts.) It wasn't a fast process, but it was never going to be.

It is also not a tidy ending. For one thing, going back to the mission creep, there are books that I had not planned on reading initially that are sort of connected now. For example, Her Mother's Daughter mentions the Summer Hill school, which I felt like I needed to look into more. So I am now reading a book about the school, and after that I have one that is a follow up for many of the students who attended.

(I am also reading Drop Dead Healthy, which relates to the aftermath of the reading and things that I need to do, and Last Chain on Billie, which is a book that Julie read because it was mentioned in the Elephant Sanctuary newsletter.)

I could consider that still having those books unread means that I am not done, except there will always be more books. What I have read has covered the intended ground. I'm not going to stop reading, but it's okay to work on some other things. There were some exercises that I did with certain books, especially Behind the Mask and Fat is a Feminist Issue II, and they made me think of other exercises I should do, some of which are done, but some of which are not. They are extensions of this moving forward phase that I am in now.

There are going to be many, many blog posts about the reading. There has already been some journal writing, and there will be more, but there are two things that I want to point out now.

One is that having recently read Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson, one of the points mentioned is that the big innovators tend to have hobbies, and friends in other fields, because then you can get diverse ideas bouncing off of each other.

Seeing a justification for my dilettantism is nice, but the other interesting thing was that he mentioned some famous minds, like Bill Gates, taking reading vacations where they will take a month and read a variety of different books, and it can stir up ideas.

For the past few months, any time someone has asked me if I did anything interesting, the answer was always reading, so I totally see the appeal in just setting time aside and doing it all at once, and yes, I know I have forgotten things from the start because of the time elapsed. It is also not practical for everyone to do such a thing though, so I would like to recommend Smithsonian Magazine. They cover a range of interesting topics each month, and I can see it working well for creativity and general knowledge. (I say that admitting that my magazines are piling up too.)

The other thing is that when I mention moving forward, I hope there is something literal there. I have been restless and I think I am on the verge of change. I have been through big projects a few times before, and interesting things have happened.

About seven years ago I finished 100 pages of introspection, and then I had a dream with a haunting image that became the basis of my first screenplay. After writing one and a half screenplays, the world economy crashed and I lost my job. After finishing six screenplays, not selling any but getting a new job and having many other things happen I crashed, and I couldn't write anymore.

About two and a half years ago, I fell in love with a band and was shaken by a video, and four hundred pages later I had worked through what I needed to, and it was right after finishing it that my timeline began to fill up with young girls. That's what led me here.

This has been different. The other projects were writing, not research. Now the writing will start, and maybe that will be the real conclusion. I have never known in advance where something would take me, and I don't know now.

I will be trying very hard to capitalize on my other writing, and there will be some more on that tomorrow and next week.

It will be a new month, after all.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A very long reading list

I have kind of completed a reading list. It was a long one, that kept growing so it ended up requiring a spreadsheet. That led to me using the spreadsheet to start grouping other things that I want to read, so that I now have ten other reading lists waiting.

(They range from 2 - 14 books, except for the one that will be over 100, but they will probably all have their own blog posts in due time.)

This one was only 31, kind of, but it is so nebulous and there was so much mission creep, that I think today I just need to list the books with a little information, and then tomorrow I will try and explain how it all goes together. I'll link to two posts at the bottom that should kind of help.

1. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath - This covers depression, mental illness, and suicidal thoughts. Very good.

2. Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence, Rosalind Wiseman - This is for the adolescent social order, especially for girls. It was okay, but I ended up finding Odd Girl Out more helpful.

3. Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher - This was for suicide again. I thought it was really helpful.

4. You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier - This was for how the internet and the way we interact with it affects us. It was interesting, but not really what I had been looking for. It's a little dull.

5. The Plague, Albert Camus - A friend had mentioned this book a long time ago, about how there were healers and carriers and the ill. That actually just comes up at the very end, but it was still a pretty good book.

6. Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein - This one was great. It's about how marketing targets young girls and affects them, which is a big subject, but it moves at a good pace and doesn't get you bogged down.

7. In Search of Fatherhood: A Mother Lode of Wisdom From the World of Daughterhood, Kevin Renner - This was the most disappointing, because I thought my biggest issue might be in here somewhere, and have a solution. The author said he could listen to any woman talk about her relationship with her father and predict her current relationship. That may be true, but you can't tell it from the book.

8. Behind the Mask: Adolescents in Hiding, Dennis Rozema - This was okay. I think it would work best for a teenager to read and go through the questions like a workbook. A parent might find it helpful, but they might find it to be really familiar group.

9. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, Ntozake Shange - This is not that much about suicide, but it is different sides of the female experience women of color. It is probably more useful to see it performed, but that's not always an option.

10. Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, Suzanne Pharr - Very enlightening. This was for sexism, but it works for knowing more about the prejudice and the obstacles that can be out there.

11. The Colossus and Other Poems, Sylvia Plath - Basically after reading The Bell Jar I wanted to read everything by Sylvia Plath ever, and I do still want to read more, but it did not necessarily fit in with the rest of the list after reading it.

12. Slut! Growing Up Female With a Bad Reputation, Leora Tanenbaum - Pretty good. One of the most important things, though it did come up in other books, was seeing how the word is used for reasons that have nothing to do with promiscuity.

13. Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson - This was for eating disorders, and because some people I care about referenced it a few times. It's pretty good.

14. Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, Melissa Mohr - Excellent book. I wanted to read it to understand better how language is used in that way, and why, based on some things I had seen and heard.

15. Odd Girl Out, Revised and Updated: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, Rachel Simmons - This is the social order of girls again, but I thought it was much better in terms of both the writing style and the practicality of the information given.

16. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, Jon Ronson - This was a really interesting book. In terms of the mental issues that are described, I am not sure that they relate that much to the project, but as there are factors that can increase narcissism and decrease empathy with the internet and gadget use that is quite common today, it seemed relevant.

17. Columbine, Dave Cullen - This was for a different side of teen feelings. Well-written, and it is also important because what people remember and think they know about Columbine is wrong.

18. Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991, Michael Azerrad - Based on the title I thought it might have more about how devoted fans, especially young fans can get, but it was really more about the bands. Still, it helped me understand Nothing Feels Good (which does not appear on this list) better. It was on the music list too.

19. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Female Beauty Are Used Against Women, Naomi Wolf - Well, attitudes about female beauty have been a key factor in this whole thing, and this book is excellent.

20. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan - This makes so much sense. I read it and The Beauty Myth concurrently, and they work really well together. I know that as old as this is, it should be less relevant, but it is not.

21. Her Mother's Daughter: A Memoir of the Mother I Never Knew and of My Daughter, Courtney Love, Linda Carroll - As I was getting to the next one, it was Mental Health Awareness month, and I thought together they could really help. One thing this book really reinforced, along with another book I was reviewing around the same time, is how not having a sense of self leads to passivity, especially sexual, which is not healthy.

22. The Day the Voices Stopped, Ken Steele - I needed to be able to tell people that it is possible for the voices to stop, and that would have been enough, but this is also a great window into what it is like to have schizophrenia.

23. Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson  - This was for sexual harassment, and there was good information, though it is probably more interesting for the political aspects.

24. The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, Astra Taylor - I read this hoping that it would fill in some of what You Are Not A Gadget missed, but it was really slow going, and a lot of it felt unnecessary.

25. Fat is a Feminist Issue 2, Susie Orbach - I hadn't realized that I ordered the second one until it came. This mainly meant that there was more of a focus on support groups and exercises, and that was pretty helpful.

26. Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes, Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown - This covered similar themes to Cinderella Ate My Daughter, but in much greater detail. They may have overdone it, but at the same time it covered a lot of things I had never heard of.

27. Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children, Michael G. Thompson with Lawrence J Cohen and Catherine O'Neill Grace - This considers friendship from the point of cognitive development, and was really interesting.

28. The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914, Philipp Blom - It feels like we are in a similar type of world to the one in the time period covered, and maybe on the verge of disaster. I wanted to explore that. The book had a lot of interesting information, but I didn't really feel like it cohered well.

29. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert D. Putnam - This was more for seeing how society is going in terms of relating to each other, and there was some good information but it was terribly dull in the execution. It was overly academic, but there is lots of data if that's your thing.

30. Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City, Russell Shorto - A lot of the people that I was thinking about are Dutch, and they say their society is really superficial, and as an American seeing other people call their country more superficial is kind of weird. It was a really good book, though I am still not sure about the superficiality thing.

31. Reviving Ophelia, Mary Pipher - I had read this before, but I promised to do a refresher before I had teenage daughters. It's really good.

Anyway, that's what I had been working on. Tomorrow I will try and make it all make sense.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


It was a really good show.

I was worried that I would miss something, coming off from work, but just as I got onto the floor level I heard screams, and I could tell they had just come onto the stage. (A lot of the 7:00 bands don't get a lot of respect, but not this time.)

The band started playing with an extended instrumental sequence that was full of unity and intensity. That was probably the most amazing thing to me throughout the show - the level of unity felt with the band. Iero wrote the album himself, and did all of the performing on Stomachaches except for some drum tracks performed by Jarrod Alexander (currently touring with Gerard Way and the Hormones).

You cannot tell this by watching them. Everyone takes ownership and plays their heart out. Some of this may be due to Iero's performance style. I am tempted to call it low-key, but that's not accurate. It is intense, but other than the occasional water fountain it is not really showy. Usually when he thrashes it is facing the drummer, away from the audience. There is no preening or flirting with the audience, which a lot of lead singers do and it works for them, but here the focus is just on making the songs live.

Previous relationships also probably do not hurt. Bassist Rob Hughes and Iero have played together in LeATHERMOUTH, and in addition to Iero doing some production work for guitarist Evan Nestor's band Science, they are brothers-in-law. I can't find any information that drummer Matt Olsson has worked with any of them previously, but there are geographical ties and they have all brought their own amounts of skill and experience, and together it works. It is not a flashy show, but it doesn't need to be.

(And maybe it's better not to be - I could barely see one of the other acts due to all of their back-lighting.)

One thing I like about live performances is the chance to get a different perspective. Listening to Matt Olsson's own music, it is pretty mellow, so seeing him here just pounding on those drums showed a completely different side.

Rob Hughes has incredible stage presence. At first I thought it was helped by his height, but once he was off the stage he did not seem as tall - still lanky, but up there he was a giant! I think it's just that when he is performing he fills the space.

(Evan Nestor was the one performer I did not have a good view of, and technically while I could see Frank I rarely saw Frank's face, because I was on the side where his hair hangs down.)

I just want to say a little about Stomachaches itself. Two tracks have already been released: "Weighted" and "Joyriding". I can't decide which I like better. I like the grooves in "Weighted", but the way "Joyriding" builds and comes together is really cool. There's great energy on "Blood Infections", and then a switch to yearning and hope on "The Prettiest Girl" which is romantic, but it is about more than that. The track that keeps catching me off guard and making me pay attention is "Tragician".

The album overall reminds me of '90s punk, when you were starting to get the grunge influence, but my head keeps going back to 1994 lately, so that could just be me. It is frustrated and heartfelt, and it pulls triumphant sounds from the angst. There are occasionally some industrial sounds - I thought I heard a jackhammer at one point - and even a little techno on the intro to "Smoke Rings".

Overall Stomachaches provides great variety, depth, and music. It is as it should be.

I am not aware of sites or accounts specifically for this band as a unit, which makes sense, so the links below are primarily for Frank Iero, and then one link each that relates to the other members, some of whom probably could have a larger web presence if they wanted to.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Band Review: Matt Olsson

Let me clarify some scheduling first. Tomorrow night I am going to see three bands, one of which is incredibly important to me. To make the schedule work, the travel review that normally goes up on Saturday will be posted Friday (Dole Pineapple Plantation!), and Saturday I will post the concert review for frnkIero andthe cellabration.

That makes today the perfect time to review cellabration drummer and accomplished musician Matt Olsson. I will be focusing on his 2012 album Part One: The Sabotage, partly because it is his most recent work, but also because with my poor Bandcamp navigation I did not realize there was other music there until I had listened to The Sabotage six times, so it's just more familiar.

The album is described as "The fictional story of a young American Spy in Europe during the early years of the Cold War."

Based on the cover art, and the use of older instruments (fans of the Decemberists should enjoy Olsson's work) there was initially a feeling that it was something even older than Cold War, perhaps more like the Crimea. As the story continues, crossing Europe with intrigue and danger, there is a sense that it is emotionally correct.

The political does not overwhelm the personal. As much as the protagonist refers to work that others have died for, there is also a family legacy and a passionate, blinding love for his collaborator.

That sounds like it can't end well, and with the final track titled "To Avalon (The Gulags)" that doesn't sound encouraging. It is Part One, so anything can happen, but also there is still a note of defiance left, and resolution to do what needs to be done. Before that, with my favorite track "Snakes (Langley)" there is a note that while not exactly optimism still seems to have some peace, that there is an overall connectedness, and knowledge and purpose.

I love the string work on the album. There are moments where the vocals become less musical, and more spoken, like parts of "Some Truth (Paris pt. 2)", but I feel that works well to heighten the dramatic tension. To be fair, the music works for that too.

I think Woody Guthrie would like this album.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Liberating the press

I have been pretty unhappy with the way things are going for media. There have been a few things. Yes, some of it has been the Ferguson coverage, but there are a few things.

One was the coverage of Robin William's suicide. There were two things that bothered me. One was their coverage of the cause of death. At first when they gave a basic cause, I was a little worried, but then they kept adding more details, confirming not just what he did, but also what he used, and the other thing that he did to increase his odds of dying.

I have several people whom I don't want learning how to commit suicide most effectively. The only reason they are alive now are failed attempts. Teach them how to be successful in anything but that.

I discovered that this is actually something that is advised against, and not my own concerns:

"Do not go into great detail about the methods"

It reminded me of the guidelines on covering mass shootings, and how they say the expanded coverage leads to copycats, and it does, but the news stations still can't seem to pull away.

That was the other thing about the Robin Williams coverage, as they kept the cameras outside his house. There was nothing to be seen there, or gained from this coverage. There were other stories going on that could have used more time, but they stayed like vultures.

Maybe it became more obvious to me because I had started seeing so many compelling video clips from home surveillance systems (see Monday's post), but I started to think about our local news channel's propensity for footage of people not answering doors, or asking restaurant employees about recent inspections, where they clearly don't know what to say.

Is this their way of showing us how hard-hitting they are? Letting us know that the family of an arrested person doesn't want to talk about it? Understand, I am not faulting them for going and asking, and if they got an interview and there was good information in it, great, but as things are it feels pointless at best, and bullying at worst.

There is the lack of diversity in newsrooms, that leads to sadly biased reporting ("angry black woman" and "no angel" come to mind just off the top of my head). There is the Huffington Post attempting to crowdfund a reporter for Ferguson, even though they are a wealthy organization and they would get revenue from the page hits generated by that reporter. There is Sarah Kendzior losing her job for not being willing to relinquish researching her own articles.

It may simply be that no one believes that good reporting can make money now. Turning a profit has become harder, and revenue is not just a nice thing to have, but necessary for operating expenses, including wages.

Still, it should never have been only about the money. Having a free press has been one of this nation's most basic values, and investigation and reporting are important tools for informed citizenship and for justice.

I get a lot of my information via Twitter now, some of which is real time reporting and some of which is links to longer pieces or commentary. Something I am seeing more of lately is when several related tweets are put together via Storify, which is also valuable, but it is a very patched together thing too, and it feels like there should be more.

Not long ago I wrote about how important it was for everyone to be able to write, for self-expression, and analysis, and a creative outlet. I suggest to you that it is also becoming important so that people on the ground in various places can describe what is going on. The media is letting us down, but they are not the only option.

Related posts:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The War on Drugs

Someone recently asked me what my solution was, because I am always posting these articles about racism and injustice. Well, it's not really just one problem, so there can't really be one solution. It may be more useful to think in terms of things that can help, like police wearing body cameras as I wrote about yesterday. Another thing that would be helpful is ending the War on Drugs. I have been thinking about it more because of this:

The first impression reading over the article is the apparent racial bias in choosing to not only prosecute Guy (who is black) but to seek the death penalty, when Magee (who is white) was not even indicted by the grand jury. (And yes, the use of the photos shows clear bias.)

After that initial reaction, I started to wonder why there are still doing no-knock raids after Magee killed Sgt. Sowders. It sounds like a dangerous practice anywhere, but it seems like especially in Texas it would not be unreasonable that many people will own guns, and will bring out those guns when they hear people breaking into their house.

Surely such a dangerous practice would only be taken in cases of urgent and well-demonstrated need, right? Okay, they did not find anything that indicated drug dealing, but they must have had a good reason to suspect it, right? No, it was an informant tip.

Let's suppose that there is no history of informants lying or simply being wrong, where you would want more corroboration to go on, is it so important to arrest a drug dealer that breaking in at night is a good idea? I ask this bearing in mind that police raids in the middle of the night are more associated with Eastern European dictatorships, and not really something we would want to emulate as a democracy based on justice under the law.

That's the way the War on Drugs has been going though. More military equipment, that can now be used to suppress protests. More SWAT style tactics. More likelihood of sweeps where you just arrest everyone. The one thing it really hasn't been more effective at is reducing the amount of drugs being used.

That's not really surprising, because that was never the intent. The War on Drugs was code for getting tough on people of color, especially black. "Urban" and "Tough on Crime" were similar code words, because they knew were it would be targeted.

There is a much better recounting of all of that in Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, and for anyone who hasn't read that yet, I highly recommend it.

One thing that I learned from it, that I had never really thought of, is that previously drugs were considered to be a social issue. If you found someone using them, you would try and get them in treatment, but it wasn't really criminalized.

I don't fully know how decriminalization would work. Yes, you could definitely quit conducting raids, and quit giving military equipment to police departments, and there would be definite benefits to that, especially in light of this interactive map:

We can kind of watch how legalization of marijuana is working now, but would you really allow legal manufacture of meth? That sounds questionable. Honestly, there are a lot of questions that we haven't even looked at because there is so much stigma. We can't even rationally discuss stopping seizures when the THC dose is so low that there isn't even really a high:

And, you know, I really hate drugs. I hate the stupidity that seems to accompany marijuana use, as well as the smell. There are people I love who use it, but it's not my favorite thing about them.

Still, if I really wanted to wage a war on drugs, and get people off of them, I think I would take some clues from this:

Maybe parks would work better than tanks, and social workers can do more good than SWAT teams. I don't know.

However, knowing that the expensive program that gets people and pets killed, and fills up the jails (also expensive) and plays into the worst racist stereotypes doesn't work makes ending it a pretty easy decision.

Monday, September 22, 2014


I noticed something interesting back when everyone was talking about Snowden and PRISM and the NSA, which was that the news was starting to show videos of everything. We saw bold thieves stealing plants and packages from doorsteps, lazy mail carriers dumping mail in the trash or throwing packages at front steps. We saw hit and run accidents. We even saw a cat save a child from a dog.

Some of these videos helped identify criminals, and some were just for amusement, but they were made possible by the increasing number of people with cameras installed.

Honestly I have very ambiguous feelings about it. I see the value in having a video record to go back to in case something happens, though I would rather prevent bad things from happening. Also, it's a strange thought to realize how often I am on camera.

I suppose the reason people don't mind this is because they are choosing to install the cameras, not finding out later that the government did it. You may end up filming people who had no interest in being filmed, but often the only reason anyone is checking the footage is because someone clipped a little girl and drove off or followed the UPS truck and stole your package.

We can lament the end of privacy, or laud the end of crime, but probably both are premature. You may have footage of all of your neighbors picking their noses, but not realize it because nothing has happened to cause you to look.

(My impression is that the same thing happens with most of the PRISM data. Does the impracticality of using the data make collecting it less problematic? Probably not.)

You could also be using video technology to get up-skirt photos of women, and find that a Texas court considers a ban on that to be an attack on free speech. There may be a technological solution to that, or a legal solution to that, but having better people would be the best solution of all.

I have been thinking about this in terms of police body cameras. Some people have said that this will not solve everything, and I agree. I have seen video footage of abuse. I have also read stories about cameras being shut off shortly before a shooting.

I know that, but I also am impressed by the Rialto, California study, and I am not surprised by those results:

There was an 88% drop in complaints, and a 60% reduction in use of force.

I am not against the police. I have friends on the force whom I care about deeply, and I know people who have done great jobs. I also know that if someone has a tendency to abuse authority and bully, it's the kind of job that can make them worse. Also, everything seems to indicate that everyone hates Internal Affairs. Maybe it's common for those squads to handle things badly, but oversight and correction is necessary to keep things working right.

I think body cameras can help. They have already been used to show that a situation with a shooting was justifiable, which may not sound encouraging, but there is an element of protection for the police in this as well. A lot of the reduction in complaints that Rialto saw is probably that better policing was done, but also that the cameras provide evidence against false complaints as well.

In addition it is that check on being a jerk. I doubt that Darren Wilson was planning on killing Mike Brown. I think Wilson wanted to bully Brown a little, and probably ticket him; Ferguson has a history of that kind of behavior. If Wilson had been being filmed, and if all of the officers were being filmed with that footage used to back up complaints, and discipline happening, I don't think it would have happened.

I know that it is a large and complex "if", and cameras are only a part, but I will take them. I will certainly take them over tanks.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Band Review: Sisteray

Sisteray is a four-man rock band based in London.

While affiliating with alternative and punk-mod revival, you can hear a definite bluesy influence on many of the songs.

The guitars are prominent, and well-played, but there is also a low-key feeling to the tunes, where they accompany your life well. "She Likes the Drama" may be one of their tracks, but you can listen to them without a lot of drama, and simply enjoy the experience.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Band Review: Bill Madden

Bill Madden recently released a new album, New Religion, so this seemed like a good time for a review.

One thing I have found is that I am not relaxed listening to the music. I feel more on edge. I think this is due at least partly to some of the higher sound registers that are accessed, but it occurred to me that this may also be for the best. Madden's Twitter handle is Activist 360, and there is a strong activist bent to many of the songs. Perhaps listening should be uncomfortable.

In general I responded better to his 2008 release, Child of the Same God. It's a little more rock-oriented, though with a strong folk influence. One of the songs the struck me more there was "Bosko and Admira". I had noticed it for the tune, but watching the video I learned it was based on the true story of a Muslim and Serbian couple who died during the conflict.

The video shows the lyrics, along with general art and photos of the couple and their news coverage. On one level it heightens the very simplistic lyrics, which could be a drawback, but at the same time it puts a face on the conflict, reminding us that every statistic of a tragedy is a person, and so it becomes emotionally affecting, and the most effective of his videos.

I do think fans of X Ambassadors would like this music, and my favorite track, "Save Is From Ourselves", reminds me a little of Roy Orbison and the Traveling Wilburys, so those fans should check it out as well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Yesterday we covered that the things I do to be more environmentally friendly are both inadequate and a matter of location. One thing that I do pretty well on is that I am not very acquisitive.

I got my first computer in 1995, and my first cell phone in 1996 . I am on my fourth and third respectively. (The current phone's battery won't really hold a charge now, so I am going to have to replace it soon.)

Some of that is being cheap. We don't have a lot of money, and what I do have I want to spend on experiences, like concerts and travel. That leads to the other part; I am over knick knacks and dust collectors. I'm not a clotheshorse. As much as I like books, and having books on hand, it is still most effective to just keep some and go through the library system for the rest. So I never would have expected that my lifestyle requires 32 slaves:

A lot of the evils of the world come from being willing to benefit off the harm to and exploitation of others. It makes our lives easier and more luxurious, and it makes the lives of others miserable.

I wrote about e-waste disposal Monday. Ultimately the price of our easy disposal is that people on the other side of the world are exposed to toxic chemicals, not to mention the fossil fuels used in transportation, and most of us don't really think about it, but there are people who know that's what's happening and are okay with it.

It's not all people in developing countries either. Fracking causes earthquakes and contaminates groundwater, leads to contaminated air, acid rain, and ground level ozone, and is associated with birth defects and cancer. How is that continuing?

Okay, I guess that turned a little dark.

I'll tell you something else I have done for the environment, and that was boycotting several brands that use unsustainably harvested palm oil, which is a habitat problem for many species including orangutans. I have not done a great job of it, because I have not sent letters to those companies saying why I have stopped buying their products, and also about every six months I give in and buy some ramen noodles, because I love them and apparently no brand makes them responsibly.

I have thought about doing other boycotts, because I know economic pressure is an important part of change, but it could easily go to where there are no brands to support. From the other side, the first time I looked up boycotting the Koch Brothers, not only was there not anything I already used, but there were a lot of things that were used in construction and areas where I would not even have the option of using or not using them.

My point there is that you need to accept some limitations. There are a lot of issues in the world, and some of them will require greater efforts than you can make alone, though that does not mean that your effort does nothing. There are two issues that I keep coming back to.

One is awareness. Seeing those answers - 3.42 earths and 32 slaves - felt pretty horrible, but it is eye-opening, and that is worth something. A lot of these things can happen because people don't know, and they are okay with not knowing. Be aware, ask questions, and engage.

The second thing, and this is my broken record part, is that we need to value all people. Instead of looking for reasons why their suffering is deserved and acceptable, look for the ways we are alike, and acknowledge their value as being equal with your own.

Those may be the very first steps to not being evil.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

This environment

One of the exercises we did for the Environment module was measuring our global footprint. You answer information about your consumption, and in response you get how many Earths it would take to sustain that lifestyle if everyone had the same lifestyle.

3.41 Earths. That's how much it would take everyone in the world to live like me.

I was pretty horrified by this, because we try to be pretty responsible. As other classmates responded with their answers, and it was more commonly 4.5-6.5 earths, with I think one person over 7, it's not exactly that I felt better, but I started to understand better the smallness of some of the things we do compared to the typical lifestyle.

The other thing that I had to consider was how much of my "smaller" impact is dependent on other circumstances that I don't really control.

Our electricity comes from hydro-power and our heating comes from natural gas. That is better for the environment than goal or nuclear (which is often called clean, but only in certain senses of the word), but it's not really a choice about using them, because that's what we have here. Well, we could choose do to the heating through electric as well, but basically, environmentally we get clean power here. I had already come to realize how lucky that makes us economically after visiting with my cousins in Italy, who pay much more for utilities, but it is an ecological boon too.

My family is very conscientious about recycling. We have a hard time on vacation when there aren't options. Usually we can find some place for bottles and cans, and we will cart paper home with us, so we try, but here it is so easy. They pick our recycling up every two weeks. We don't even have to do that much sorting. Not everyone has that. I like to think that I would try anyway, but there is limited time and energy, so the obstacles in the way matter.

Finding food grown locally is easier here. It may still be more expensive, and take some effort, but it can be done. This year there is a community garden nearby, so that has affected our habits. I am starting to be more optimistic about trying to grow in our yard. Not only do we have a yard, but even if the soil is not particularly nutrient rich, it is at least not contaminated, and I feel confident using it. I feel confident using our water. This is not true for every place you can live, even in the United States.

Our refusal to eat fish can be viewed as environmentally friendly, at least with certain species, but it wasn't really a moral choice. My sisters and I think fish is gross. Mom likes it, but not enough to miss it.

One objection I have seen to the ice bucket challenge is that it is wasting water when lots of people don't have access to clean water, and closer to home California has a drought. Based on that, it does seem a little irresponsible to do it in California. I know Henry Rollins only takes short showers because so many people don't have access. I get that, but I really enjoy my shower. I don't even take a really long shower, I just enjoy it.

I mention these things because it's important to remember the others. It's important to remember the ways we are lucky, and the ways that other people aren't. If people in developing countries are digging coal out of the ground and burning that to keep warm and cook their food, I know there is an environmental impact, but how can I judge it? When they want to build factories that pollute while providing jobs that allow them to have the kind of lifestyle that we have, how can discourage them based on our own luxury?

Tomorrow we will go over an even more devastating assessment, and talk more about environment and inequality.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Inequality and the Environment

Last week was spent reviewing the comics read for the MOOC, but there were some other things I wanted to follow up on based on the non-comic materials, and that is because of the way the different areas interact.

One article covered e-waste disposal. You are probably aware that you are not supposed to throw old computers and tech waste into the regular trash. Inside the casing there can be lead, mercury, and arsenic, as well as other chemicals and metals.

What you may not know is that after you responsibly turn your old gadgets in on a tech-waste round up, the recycling process that they go through often involves women and children in developing countries stripping them apart, that they may use other hazardous chemicals in the process, and that in addition to endangering their own health, various toxins enter the local environment as runoff.

We do get those toxins out of our environment here in the United States, but that doesn't mean they are not an issue anywhere, and this is a system that can happen because there are enough people who do not care about poor people. Those workers may not be fully aware of the health threats, but they may also be desperate enough to accept it. The people who may drink contaminated water or food grown in contaminated ground have even less choice.

That's sobering, and we are going to think some more about that, but I want to bring up two other things.

Often, having money can shield you from a lot, but in an area with more inequality, the air and water are worse for everyone. You can only drink bottled water, and have water delivered, but you probably aren't going to bathe in bottled water, or wash dishes in it, and you are still going to breathe air.

Inequality harms everyone. Yes, it hits those on the lower end of the scale the hardest, but it does not only hit them. That brings us to the last link for today:

They are actually not sure if the super rich are harmed by inequality, but they can confirm that 90-95% of the population benefits when there is great equality. They wrote a whole book on it.

If self-interest helps some people care about inequality who would not care otherwise, I will take it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Concert Movie Review - Duran Duran: Unstaged

This is a first for me.

Duran Duran: Unstaged was a 2010 Duran Duran concert performed at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles, filmed by David Lynch, and broadcast over the internet. Wednesday night it was turned into a Fathom event, in theaters for one night only.

I have reviewed concerts and films, but not both at the same time. I have been to Duran Duran concerts, but not since I have started writing reviews. Taking into consideration the merits of the concert, the film, and the theater experience will cover a lot of ground.

My previous shows happened on the Astronaut tour, which brought all five original band members together, and the All You Need Is Now tour. From that I know that Duran Duran stages phenomenal shows. Costumes, visual effects, and powerful performances combine into something that is obviously professional but doesn't feel stuffy or overdone. Copious amounts of charisma from the band members helps, but there is also a lot of expertise and savvy that is easy to overlook as you get carried away. Balancing those elements could be a difficult task for a filmmaker.

I am happy to report that being in the theater felt remarkably like being at a Duran Duran concert. I think making it available for only one night helped with that, turning it into an event that we had all chosen to participate in.

Most people did stay in their seats, which was different from a live show, but there was a lot of moving around in seats, singing along, and some shouting. There was that communal feeling and enthusiasm, even knowing that we were watching something from four years ago.

It was not just filmed as an ordinary concert either, because there was the broadcast going on. The primary different this made in the performance was the inclusion of special guests. They brought out Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance for "Planet Earth", Beth Ditto of Gossip for "Notorious", Mark Ronson for several songs, and Kelis for "The Man Who Stole A Leopard" and "Come Undone".

The guest performances were enjoyable on a musical level, but I think they were even more important for the sentimental factor. First of all you could see how excited the guests were to be included, reminding us how important and influential Duran Duran has been regardless of time periods and genres. In addition, seeing how sweet and supportive the band members were to their guests increased the emotional bond.

They are lovable. We know this, but seeing Roger hug Gerard at the end, after finally getting out from behind the drum kit, or seeing John wait for Beth to hug him, even though she had gotten in a hug earlier, gets the heart even more melted.

We had never known Kelis was pronounced that way, but then, Gerard isn't pronounced that way, so maybe Kelis isn't, but listening to Simon talk is so charming regardless. And then he told a total dad joke (How do you make a dog drink? Put him in the blender), but he is a dad now. They all are.

The film aspects worked pretty well for the most part. Often Lynch chose to overlay the visual effects over the band. These ranged from fairly amorphous objects like smoke, clouds, and flames to more concrete images like masks and houses. This made it possible to see both the visuals and what the band was doing, which was a good parallel for being at a show with a large screen behind the band. There were a few times when it was more obtrusive, with mixed results.

This was most distracting on "Sunrise", where the multiplying nude Barbies with blurred out faces could have been very effective for some type of commentary, but really did not seem to fit the song. Unfortunately, it felt like it deflated the song, which was tragic because that is a really good song.

On the other hand, the visuals for "The Man Who Stole A Leopard", while the initially appeared fairly abstract, shed a new light on the song for me which I hadn't been expecting at all.

Finally, while the footage for "Come Undone" was somewhat distracting, there is also something appropriate about completely ineffective grilling practices for a song about things coming undone, and I kind of loved the puppets. It felt so David Lynch, more than any other part of the concert.

Overall I have to call it a success, as a concert, as a movie, and as a Fathom event. However, I went with three other people, so you don't need to take my word for it.

Maria: Freaking awesome!
Julie: Freaking amazing!

Yes, they said "freaking". They did use less quotable language as well, but those were their first responses.

Also, our 71-year old mother loved it, and she would not be up for a live concert, which is more strenuous. We had her in the handicapped section of the stadium seating, and this worked well for her. Also working for her, that her kids were not the loudest people there. (Still loud.)

Duran Duran:Unstaged

Duran Duran

Me on Duran Duran