Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Matt Damon does the stupid ALS ice bucket challenge, but in a good way

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Basically, I think the ALS ice bucket challenge is fucking stupid. I'm all for fighting this awful disease, but surely there are better ways to raise awareness, and, what's more, it pretty clear that many, and probably at this point most, of the people doing it are only doing it because it's gone viral and trendy, not because they have any idea about, let alone actually care about, what it's actually all about. And then there is, to me, the problem that lies at the heart of the matter: this whole challenge involves wasting clean water at a time when clean water is in short supply and drought is wreaking havoc. Not those dumping cold water over themselves seem to give a shit, but I think it's important that we do.

And so it was refreshing to see Matt Damon, whom I generally admire a lot for his activism, find a suitable alternative (see video below):

"It posed kind of a problem for me, not only because there's a drought here in California," Damon explained in the video, uploaded to the organization's YouTube channel. "But because I co-founded Water.org, and we envision the day when everybody has access to a clean drink of water -- and there are about 800 million people in the world who don't -- and so dumping a clean bucket of water on my head seemed a little crazy."

The actor -- who nominated George Clooney, Bono and NFL quarterback Tom Brady to do the challenge next -- said swapping clean H2O from the faucet for toilet water seemed fitting for the causes near and dear to his heart, as about 2.4 billion people across the globe still lack access to clean sanitation systems. Toilet water in westernized nations, Damon added, is still cleaner than the drinking water in many underserved communities in developing countries. 

Does this mean I'll now do this myself? No, it just means I'll applaud those celebrities who do. Even if I continue to think this whole thing is ridiculous, at least in its viral, trendy form.

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Why John Eligon's New York Times profile of Mike Brown isn't as bad as many people think

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I certainly understand why so many people are upset about certain aspects of John Eligon's article on Mike Brown in the Times, specifically the use of the phrase "no angel" and, well, basically all of this:

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor. 

And initially I was upset about it as well. Because, honestly, what does any of this have to do with this young man's murder at the hands of the police of Ferguson, Missouri?

Absolutely nothing.

And yet, I think there's been a good deal of over-reaction to this article, understandable, perhaps, in such a highly-charged atmosphere. Because, really, the article is a comprehensive profile of Brown, not some hit job on Fox News. And if you're going to write an honest profile of who this young man was, you can't leave out some parts of who he was, or what he did, just because they don't make him out to be a saint.

And, further, just because he wasn't a saint doesn't mean what happened to him was just -- and wasn't murder. What the police did was wrong no matter who the victim was. The victim just happened to be Mike Brown.

Read more »

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Booker T. & the M.G.s - "Green Onions"

By Richard K. Barry


"Green Onions" arrived in 1962. It's a classic R&B instrumental hit by Booker T. & the M.G.s - of course. It has to be one of the most obvious 12 bar blues in the history of that configuration, with a signature Hammond organ riff thrown in. As sometimes happens, it was originally the B-side of another tune called "Behave Yourself" but was reissued as an A-side when it was clear it would catch on. And then there was an album called Green Onions.

As AllMusic correctly points out, the song has been a part of oldies radio play forever and of many a set list for bar bands over the years. 

And the Wiki adds this:
In the 1960s, as members of the house band of Stax Records, [Booker T. & the M.G.s] played on hundreds of recordings by artists such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla and Rufus Thomas and Johnnie Taylor. As originators of the unique Stax sound, the group was one of the most prolific, respected, and imitated of their era. By the mid-1960s, bands on both sides of the Atlantic were trying to sound like Booker T. & the M.G.'s.

Many people will also know that two early members of the group, Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn, were a part of the backup band in the 1980 hit feature film The Blues Brothers.

Got the tune stuck in my head tonight for some reason. 

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Rand Paul is wrong about himself, Democrats, the Republican Party, and 2016

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Rand Paul, riding a wave of egomaniacal hubris given his current position at or near the top of national Republican politics, thinks that Democrats are scared of him:

"I think the American public is coming more and more to where I am and that those people, like Hillary Clinton, who — she fought her own war, 'Hillary's war,' you know?" Paul said in an interview that aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"And I think that's what scares the Democrats the most — is that in a general election, were I to run, there's going to be a lot of independents and even some Democrats who say, ‘You know what? We are tired of war. We're worried that Hillary Clinton will get us involved in another Middle Eastern war because she's so gung-ho.’"

Uh, no, not so much. There are some progressives to the left of the Clintonian Democratic center who don't much care for Hillary, and who certainly object to the warmongering aspects of the Democratic foreign policy elite, but in the end they wouldn't abandon her and the party (even if they voted for a progressive alternative in the primaries). Furthermore, while Americans are, by and large, tired of -- and generally opposed to -- the sorts of military misadventures that Bush and Cheney led the country into, isolationism (or at least non-interventionism) as represented by Paul just doesn't have the level of public support he apparently thinks it does. Besides, Hillary, like Obama, isn't "gung-ho." If you want "gung-ho," just look at Paul's own party, and therein lie the deeper problems for him.

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The disgraceful Mr. Blair

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Remember when then-Prime Minister Tony Blair had more credibility over the Iraq War than Bush, Cheney, and the various warmongering American neocons given his supposedly deep-rooted moral convictions in support of freedom and democracy? For them it was about oil and power and dreams of American global hegemony, for him it was about something more essential, or so we were led to believe, something nobler.

Well, it was a thin veneer, but it was there. But there it is no longer:

Tony Blair gave Kazakhstan's autocratic president advice on how to manage his image after the slaughter of unarmed civilians protesting against his regime.

In a letter to Nursultan Nazarbayev, obtained by The Telegraph, Mr Blair told the Kazakh president that the deaths of 14 protesters "tragic though they were, should not obscure the enormous progress" his country had made.

Mr Blair, who is paid millions of pounds a year to give advice to Mr Nazarbayev, goes on to suggest key passages to insert into a speech the president was giving at the University of Cambridge, to defend the action.

Mr Blair is paid through his private consultancy, Tony Blair Associates (TBA), which he set up after leaving Downing Street in 2007. TBA is understood to deploy a number of consultants in key ministries in Kazakhstan.

Human rights activists accuse Mr Blair of acting "disgracefully" in bolstering Mr Nazarbayev's credibility on the world stage in return for millions of pounds. 

Actually, we all should accuse him of it. Because what he's doing -- following in Henry Kissinger's footsteps in making shitloads of money helping to prop up tyrants and rogues -- is truly disgraceful.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Shawn Colvin and Alison Krauss: "The Boxer" (a Simon & Garfunkel cover)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's a really great cover of a really great song by a couple of really great singers/musicians:


But it can't quite match this:

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Friday, August 22, 2014

The Pineapple Thief: "Money" (a Pink Floyd cover)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As you may know, I love Pink Floyd. Like, a lot. More than anything else in music. But what I don't like, probably because I love Pink Floyd so much, are covers of Pink Floyd songs. As a general rule, I loathe them.

Mostly it's because I'm an originalist, a purist. If I want to hear Pink Floyd, I'll listen to Pink Floyd doing a Pink Floyd song. Period. But it's also because most of the people who do Pink Floyd covers just don't seem to get Pink Floyd. And for someone like me for whom each and every Pink Floyd song is loaded with intense meaning, for someone like me who respects Pink Floyd so much, that's just not acceptable.

But there are exceptions. Not many of them, but a few. And one of them is by a band I like a lot, The Pineapple Thief, one of Kscope's awesome roster of post-prog acts along with the likes of Porcupine Tree, Anathema, and Gazpacho, three bands that for me are in that next tier after Pink Floyd (along with The Beatles). And I think this works, this respectful but also distinctive cover of "Money" (admittedly, not one of my favourite Pink Floyd songs, not even close), because the guys in The Pineapple Thief also love and admire Pink Floyd, because, yes, they get Pink Floyd. And I like them even more for that.

(If you don't know The Pineapple Thief, you're really missing out. I highly recommend you check them out, including their new album, Magnolia, set to be released on September 15.)

So here it is, Pink Floyd's "Money" as covered by The Pineapple Thief, from a Mojo magazine cover version of Dark Side of the Moon. Enjoy!

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WaPo editorial board to stop using term "Redskins"

The Washington Post editorial board said Friday it will stop using the word “Redskins” when referring to Washington’s football team, joining a growing list of other commentators who have renounced the term because they believe it disparages Native Americans.

In a statement, the board said, “While we wait for the NFL to catch up with public opinion and common decency we have decided not to use the slur ourselves except when it is essential for clarity or effect.”

The editorial board is separate from the news-gathering side of the organization, which executive editor Marty Baron said will continue to use the team’s moniker.

Someone needs to explain to team owner Dan Snyder that there is no future in being on the wrong side of history.

This is not going away, nor should it.

(Cross-posted at Culturolio.)

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Romney criticizes Obama. World gasps.

By Richard K. Barry

There is some bullshit making the rounds that Mitt Romney might just make another run for the White House. It seems to be based on the amount of stumping he's doing for other candidates and his general visibility.

Oh, please God, let it be true.  We should love to have Mittens to kick around one more time.

In any case, the right-wing media is breathlessly reporting that Romney is oh-so-disappointed in Obama's performance of late. For example, there is this from coverage of a Romney speech in West Virginia:
Insisting repeatedly that he has no intention of making another bid for the White House, Romney spoke candidly about the man who defeated him two years ago, saying President Obama was doing “a good deal worse than even I expected.” As examples, he mentioned the still-struggling U.S. economy and troubles overseas in such hot spots as Iraq, Syria and Russia. “I was not a big fan of the president’s policies, as you know, either domestically or internationally,” Romney said, “but the results of his mistakes and errors, in my opinion, have been more severe than even I would have predicted.”

You see, I'm shocked. What I expected Romney to say is "sure, Obama kicked my ass, but he's doing a fine job running the country, better than I could ever have done, and I'm proud to call him my president." Now that would have been something.

In journalism, "dog bites man" stories are not news, unless you are part of the conservative media echo chamber, in which case any source will do, no matter how lame.

Thank you Mitt. Thank you for your objective assessment of the facts.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sarah Palin - still delusional after all these years

By Richard K. Barry

The Hollywood Reporter ran an excerpt recently from a new book about Saturday Night Live. It's actually an update of an old book. Live From New York is by James Andrew Miller and Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post television critic Tom Shales (due out in September). It adds a couple hundred pages of original material to an earlier history of the show, which came out in 2002, in order to bring things more or less up to date.

If you like this kind of stuff, enjoy. Entertainment industry navel-gazing doesn't really do it for me.

I did find a couple of comments by that half-term mayor somewhat amusing.

These were attributed to Sarah Palin: 
I think SNL is egotistical if they believe that it was truly an effect on maybe the public debate about who should lead the country in the next four years.
And:
I know that they portrayed me as an idiot, and I hated that, and I wanted to come on the show and counter some of that.

Well, who can say if a very popular nationally broadcast program that constantly pokes fun at the intellectual capacity of a given politician really has an impact. I've got to think it's probably not helpful to said politician.

As for the second comment, I didn't think she did all that badly on the show. Dumb as she obviously is, I gave her points for her appearance. I am, however, pretty sure she didn't counter anything.

All of which is really just an excuse to post a collection of Tina Fey's best Palin bits. Outstanding.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Give Us A Reason

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on the question of marriage equality:
While recognizing that “our history is marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians,” Rubio argued that “traditional marriage has such an extraordinary record of success at raising children” and must be perpetuated to the exclusion of same-sex unions.

“[T]oday, there is a growing intolerance on this issue, intolerance towards those who continue to support traditional marriage,” Rubio observed, citing the firing of the CEO of Mozilla, following revelations that he supported California’s campaign to ban same-sex marriage, and other instances where opponents of marriage equality suffered economic consequences. “And I promise you that even before this speech is over, I will be attacked as a hater, a bigot or someone who is anti-gay,” he added. “This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy.”

Rubio then sought to shield himself from accusations of homophobia, by linking his position on the issue to President Obama’s.” “Supporting the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay, it is pro-traditional marriage,” the junior senator claimed.

It takes more than a little gall to shed crocodile tears over discrimination against gays and lesbians and then turn around and explain in detail why he does it.

I've heard the "traditional marriage" line so many times that I'm not going to bother to once again remind him that what he calls traditional marriage -- i.e. one man and one woman -- isn't all that traditional.  It certainly isn't that way in the bible, nor is the idea of two people falling in love and getting married as opposed to an arranged marriage between two fathers as a business deal.  Read some Shakespeare or download Fiddler on the Roof.

His claim is that "traditional marriage" must be preserved to the exclusion of all others because it of its "extraordinary record of success in raising children."  This claim may be true; it's nice to have a mom and a dad.  But there are a lot of single parents who do just as good a job with their kids as anybody else.  So they shouldn't be allowed to raise kids because they're not married?  What about straight people who for whatever reason choose not to have children?  If you're going to exclude same-sex couples from marriage because they can't reproduce the old-fashioned way, why not exclude the straight ones who don't have kids?  Must all marriage licenses require proof of fertility?

Mr. Rubio implies that "traditional marriage" is under attack.  By whom?  Advocates for marriage equality don't want to stop straight people from getting married.  It's not some zero-sum game wherein one is traded out for the other.  How can advocating for committed unions between two people who happen to have the same form of genitalia threaten those marriages between two people who don't?

That's where the intolerance comes in.  Pro-"traditional" marriage people don't want same-sex couples to have the benefits of marriage, whereas those of us who are pro-marriage equality want everybody to have the benefits.  So who is the intolerant one?  Saying that same-sex marriage somehow denigrates or mocks straight marriage is yet again another sign of intolerance because that's saying that the people in that marriage are less than worthy of respect simply because of their orientation.  Again, who is the intolerant one?

And then there's the church.  Mr. Rubio doesn't say it, but the implication is that marriage equality violates religious freedom by forcing Christians to accept something they don't approve of.  However, not all Christians accept the idea of banning same-sex marriage.  In fact, there are a number of Christian denominations, including mainline Protestants, who welcome and perform same-sex weddings, as do a number of Jewish synagogues.  Why do some Christians get to tell others who they can or cannot celebrate in the bonds of holy matrimony?

But let's be fair.  If Sen. Rubio can give us a valid reason based in law as to why same-sex couples should not be joined in matrimony, let him speak now.  So far, though, more than twenty state and federal courts have heard arguments for and against marriage equality since the Supreme Court handed down their decision in United States v. Windsor which struck down DOMA, and not one court has ruled in favor of his position.  In fact, the prevailing opinion of all those courts with judges appointed by everyone from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama is that state bans on marriage equality are violations of the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution, and some of the rulings have said that the bans are in place for no other reason than to deny those protections to same-sex couples and serve no valid state purpose other than to enshrine gay-bashing in the law.

Sen. Rubio says that he will be labeled as is "a hater, a bigot or someone who is anti-gay" because he opposes marriage equality.  So let us give him the benefit of the doubt.  He can prove he is not by giving us a reason to oppose marriage equality that isn't based on bigotry, discrimination, and intolerance.  We are all anxious to hear it.


Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.

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