Believe Nothing, But Believe In Something

You’ve likely seen it all over social media; for reasons personal, professional, public and political, 2016 has been the worst year in recent memory for many Americans. There has been no return to casual discourse, no sense of normalcy and no sense of pride. If one were to ask a single resident or group of them, it’s fair to say that they would likely be embarrassed about everything the country has endured in the previous 365 days.

The job of a voter this year was perhaps the most difficult (or the easiest, depending on your perspective) that it has ever been. Social media has many positives, but the negatives were never more apparent. Fake news, trolls and bots seemed to dominate the online landscape, and people appeared to be too apathetic or too lazy to do their homework. Perhaps never has a single person felt so helpless. After all, a man who has degraded, denounced and destroyed everything about the election process in which we used to believe was just bestowed the highest honor in the land. No doubt that he will not treat the position as such.

Believe Nothing

It’s tiring, but our job now is to believe absolutely nothing that we read or hear. Donald Trump is what happens when people take Twitter bots and Facebook memes at their word. That @Deplorables4Trump account and the shoddy statistics placard over the face of an immigrant which your racist uncle shared should not be argued, reasoned or negotiated with. I’ve seen it happen in real life; the worst thing for a troll to deal with is silence. Sure, they may try to keep yelling louder, but if they are continually ignored, eventually they will go away.

So what or whom can I trust, you may wonder? In this fashion, I am more than happy to be of service. It is my full time job to research, write and edit online content, and the company for whom I work (and our clients) will accept nothing less than information that is 100 percent verifiable. Breitbart does not qualify. Here is a list of sites that can help you delineate fact from fiction:

  • White House Press Briefings – Press Secretary Josh Earnest has an incredibly difficult job; provide as much information as he can while maintaining protocol. The White House Press Pool are astute, and they leave no stone unturned. The briefing from the day following Fidel Castro’s death is a perfect example of this. It would have been a big deal if the President had sent an official delegation to the funeral, and Earnest had to deflect and dispel that notion with civility. If you are wondering whether the President has a comment about anything, this is the first place to look. Do a simple Ctrl+F (or Command+F on a Mac) and search for your term; “Affordable Care Act” for example. The Press Secretary cannot and will not shield, hide or peddle false information, because if he does, the Press Pool will hound him relentlessly.
  • Politifact or FactCheck – Independently funded and devoid of special interest connections, these sites employ dozens of experienced and diligent fact-checkers who have the unenviable job of sifting through the bullshit. The problem isn’t that Trump feels like he can say that Hillary Clinton would allow 650 million illegal immigrants, it’s that people believed it when he said that. However, don’t just take the ratings of “mostly true” or “pants on fire” at face value. They provide context for their rankings, so read them. The one thing subjective about these sites is that they can say something is “half true” but you can determine it to be “mostly false.” You can email them too! Fact-checkers love to clarify things.
  • ProPublica and FiveThirtyEight – These sites are run by journalist’s who write for journalism’s sake. Statistics are pretty hard to argue against, and they back up their information by applying proper context to the situation. Of course there are newspapers that are reliable and do good work. Contrary to what a certain sentient Cheeto would have you believe, the New York Times is one of them. Relieve yourself of the 24-hour news cycle, and focus on the reporters who care about the facts.
  • GovTrack – Ever wondered exactly how your Senator or Congressperson voted on this bill or that ballot measure? You can find out! GovTrack’s site has the actual text of the bills as well. These are incredibly difficult things to read, and it won’t take long for your eyes to glaze over, but if you see an article which says a law up for vote will include a certain provision, you can use that handy Ctrl+F function to find it for sure.
  • Google – The search-engine uses an algorithm which can delineate something reliable from something which is the exact opposite. Sure, sometimes dishonest information can appear first, but usually the return presents trustworthy pages. But again, check that these pages corroborate their story with sources and data. Speaking of data though, it’s easy to manipulate. Politicians try this all the time, and one that comes immediately to mind is when a few tried to dispel job growth under Obama by saying that more than 90 million people are unemployed. If you count babies and retirees, yes, 90 million people are unemployed. But of those citizens who are actually eligible to work, that number is less than 10 million.

The easiest way to avoid being swindled is to continually ask yourself questions. Do not be scared into believing something, and for God’s sake whatever you do, don’t, under any circumstance, share an article upon reading just the headline. This is dangerous and misleading.

For example, you may have heard from plenty of politicians that it’s too easy for refugees to get across our borders. The first thing that should pop into your mind upon hearing this is, “is it really, though?” Get your answers from reliable places; all I had to do was Google search “refugee process” and the third result down is this page from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services which spells out in great detail every piece of the nearly TWO YEAR process necessary to be accepted as a refugee in this country. Let me say that again:

It takes, on average, anywhere from 18-24 months – TWO FULL YEARS – to be accepted as a refugee in this country. Think about that the next time you hear some politician threaten to revoke sanctuary cities or try to use refugees and immigrants as a scapegoat. If you want to kick them out, then kick yourself out, because you’re an immigrant too.

Believe In Something

I hope you’ve made it this far. I’m not arrogant enough to think any of the words here will change things, but I want to help you wade through everything; just like Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. It’s tiring – no, it’s downright exhausting – to keep up with the minutiae of everyday news and politics. But if you put in just a tiny bit of effort, you will feel so much more informed.

This is the part where I tell you to figure out what you believe in, and fight for it. You can call and write emails to your representatives, you can join a protest, you can write letters to the editor, you can just pay attention. Whatever you believe in, you can make sure that it stays the truth.

But some people believe that those who are LGBT should not be allowed to marry; some people believe that those who are not white are second-tier human beings; some people believe that those who are not Christian don’t deserve to safely practice their faith; some people believe that a woman should not be allowed to decide what she does with her own body; many people still voted for Trump despite what he said about the disabled, about women, about prisoners of war, about his opponents.

If you are one of those people, all I can say is: be better. The next time you see a protest, don’t just say “that’s not the right way to do that” or “the timing is wrong” because that’s dismissive. Listen to what the people are saying.

It’s a difficult job to be a voter, but the information I’ve provided here is not to help you vote; it’s to help you be a better person. If you understand the plight of another human being, then you can apply that knowledge to treat them equally. None of us will ever be perfect, but if we can just listen when another person is feeling like they have been disenfranchised, discriminated against or bullied, then we can make the world a better place. Disagreements will of course happen, but at least the discourse will be enlightened, rather than futile.

Change does not happen from the outside, it happens from within. There are a lot of bad people out there, but you don’t have to be one of them. Simply listening can go a long way to enacting positive change, and help the country as a whole strive forward rather than dig backwards.

Here is something to help you feel good. Happy Holidays everyone.

Posted in Politics, Sports | Leave a comment

Ken Griffey, Jr.: What ‘the Kid’ Meant To a Kid

Ken_Griffey_Jr._1997

I don’t recall the first time I heard of him, and I don’t recall when I decided that he was going to be my favorite player growing up; hell I don’t even remember much of anything from the first time I saw him play. But I’m fairly sure that my cognizant awareness of baseball coincided with that of Ken Griffey, Jr. The Royals were terrible and had no players I could grasp on to, aside from maybe Jeff Montgomery or Bob Hamelin. So Junior became my idol.

I did the things all other kids my age did. Even if we were right-handed, we had Griffey’s gorgeous left-handed swing down pat. That classic bat wiggle, the smooth stroke through the zone, and of course the one-handed finish with the left hand raised high in the air. I collected every card, pored over the box scores every morning before school to see how Griffey did the previous night, and donned his number 24 throughout my own playing career in elementary and middle school.

None of this is special; there were millions of other kids just like me who did the exact same thing. But that’s exactly what made Junior so special. For every curmudgeon who griped about his backwards hat, there were a million kids emulating his style. For every home run he hit, a million more would be brought to their feet, cheering at the television set. For every gravity-defying catch that he made, still a million more would marvel at that smile of his and try to bring that joy to their own games.

I think my favorite highlight of his comes from Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS, when the Mariners were playing the Yankees. Down by 1 in the bottom of the 11th, Griffey strode to the plate with Alex Cora on 1st base. Having already homered earlier in the game, I’m sure all Mariners fans had their hearts set on a walk-off. But Junior singled, which set the stage for Edgar Martinez. Brent Musberger’s call here gives me chills:

Have you ever seen anyone happier to be at the bottom of a dogpile? Scoring from 1st on a double to win a playoff series is the dream of a lot of ballplayers, purely because of the adrenaline rush; running 270 feet in a circle in an effort to score a game-winning run gets you on your PF Flyers, and nothing could have felt more satisfying for him than sliding safely into home.

I did see him hit a home run once, and contrary to what many of you might guess, no, it was not against the Royals. It was against South Korea in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. The only highlight of this that I can find is actually in Korean:

Griffey and most of the crowd seemed to know it off the bat, despite the ball only carrying into the first row of seats. I remember kicking myself afterwards because I had the thought of going from our seats along the first base line to those in right field, just in case he hits one, but I decided against it.

Throughout the mid-2000s I was constantly defending Junior when he sustained a barrage of injuries (I think the best line I heard was from a friend of mine’s dad, who said, “Griffey was born with a pulled hamstring”). But no matter how prolonged his struggles were, no matter how long he was on the DL, he never stopped being, in my eyes, the greatest player to ever set foot on a ballfield.

That World Baseball Classic game I mentioned? That was during spring break of my senior year in high school. While just about everyone in my graduating class was on a cruise or in Mexico, I wanted to go with my Dad to LA and watch Junior play baseball. I was very fortunate to have parents who were able to take me on a weekend trip upon completion of middle school. They did this for my brothers as well. Did I want to go somewhere cool like New York? Nope, I wanted to go to Cincinnati to see Junior play baseball.

That’s what I’ll always remember about his career; that I never wanted to miss a minute of it. The effortless joy, charisma and swagger he brought to the game was beyond compare. I dearly wish I could be in Cooperstown today to watch him be inducted. I’ve never met him, but I hope one day I will. And when that day comes, I imagine the only thing I’ll be able to say is, “Thank you, Junior.”

*Featured image from clare_and_ben, via Wiki Commons

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Problem With All Lives Matter

Black_Lives_Matter_Black_Friday_(15742148387)

“I don’t know.”

Those are the words that, according to Charles Kinsey, were used by the police officer who shot him. This answer was given to Kinsey’s rather reasonable question, “Why did you shoot me?” The officer’s answer, in three simple words, emphasized the racism that exists, implicitly and explicitly, within many police departments across the country. The Miami Police response to this shooting is downright appalling. Kinsey was just trying to protect an autistic patient of his. Watch the news report. Kinsey is screaming, “I am this man’s case worker, all he has is a toy truck! My hands are raised!” And yet shots were still fired.

This is just the most recent in a barrage of police brutality this month, all against young black men, whose only crime was being black. As soon as you finish reading that sentence, you say, “but they had a gun!” You mean that thing the Second Amendment guarantees is a right to own lawfully? Which by the way they were. Philando Castille and Alton Sterling both had concealed carry permits, and declared as such. A white man would have been treated much more fairly.

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot

You know about these cases, so I’m not going to recount them for you. This post won’t be very long either. But there is something that I feel needs explaining, as too many folks out there are too ignorant to realize it themselves.

The BLM movement does not mean, “ONLY Black Lives Matter.” It means, “Black Lives Matter TOO.” So when your response is to say “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter,” you are undermining an attempt to quash the racism that has been, and still is, so prevalent in this country. Black Lives Matter does not mean that police lives don’t, or white lives don’t, it means that Black Lives Matter as well.

Image by The All-Nite Images, via Wiki Commons

Image by The All-Nite Images, via Wiki Commons

Make no mistake, the U.S. was founded by racists. You can’t blame them I guess; it was the late 1700s after all. We can’t fix the past but what we can do is shape the future. And the shape the future will be in if the most ignorant blowhard of an overgrown oompa loompa to ever be a presidential nominee actually wins the election, it will set this country back 100 years.

I am not talking about white guilt, white privilege, or any other phrase uttered by social justice warriors that cause everyone’s eyes to roll. What I am talking about is putting yourself in another person’s shoes. Imagine being black. Your grandfather or great-grandfather was literally owned by another human being. Your father participated in a sit-in and was beaten up just for being there. You, even in 2016, have been called the n-word by a white person. Think for a second the psychological effect that unwarranted hatred will have on you. And it’s all because of something you did not choose to be. But you are damn proud of it, and you’re going to do everything in your power to ensure that your children do not have to tolerate the same abuse.

We can and have to be better than this. If we allow ourselves to devolve into a country that only knows fear, that is skeptical of another person just because of the color of their skin, then we as a nation are doomed. Muslim, Christian, white, black, gay, straight and everything in between, it should not matter.

And that is what Black Lives Matter stands for. That is what Malcolm X died for. Black Lives Matter means equality. All lives matter, however well intentioned you think the phrase is, does not. Of course there are extremists, as there is with any religion or social viewpoint. But this is what the majority of BLM believes, that it was created as a plea: stop this hatred and violence.

So, instead of dismissing valid concerns among an entire race of people who are feeling more and more disenfranchised with every Facebook post and every Twitter rant that people like Leslie Jones have to endure, understand the mindset that black people have: they do not feel protected. They feel like they can’t trust cops. Don’t dismiss their feelings. We must do better. Everyone can’t be TREATED equally unless we are all VIEWED equally. The first step to accomplishing this, as it is with any problem, is admitting we have one.

*Featured image from The All-Nite Images, via Wiki Commons

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Our Only Hope Is That Love Will Conquer Hate

How is this, hate so deep
Lead us all so blindly
Killing, killing, fools are we
If hate’s the gate to peace
This is the last stop.
–Dave Matthews

There is just nothing more to say. 50 people are dead. 53 people are wounded. Hundreds more are likely never going to be able to go to a public place with a lot of people again. Those at Pulse were just trying to have a good time; spend their hard-earned money on a couple of drinks, dance with their friends, smile on a Saturday night. But an extremist terrorist bigot cut so many beautiful lives short. Their names need to be remembered.

These mass shootings keep getting worse; more deaths, more bloodshed and, the worst part about it, more blustering. Politicians are always ready with their “thoughts and prayers” but when it comes to spending time trying to find real solutions, to figure out a way to keep Sandy Hook, San Bernardino and now Orlando from happening again, they can’t be bothered. Thoughts and prayers are nice and all but they don’t accomplish jack shit. Those who perished have so far died in vain.

I live with a lesbian couple in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego, which, per capita, I believe has the highest LGBT population of any neighborhood in any city in this country. I was in Denver when the shooting in Orlando occurred, and when I got back, I could feel two things: one, resiliency. People were at the bars with huge pride flags hanging in the window, partying and enjoying each other’s company like every other Sunday. But the other emotion, one I have not felt since moving here, was fear. I could feel it in the air; a shooting just like the one that happened at Pulse could happen here at Moe’s or Flick’s. And the reason this could happen anywhere is because no one in Congress is willing to do anything substantial to combat gun violence. And way too many elected officials are trying to find an excuse to treat the LGBT community as less than human.

The AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle, capable of holding a 100-round magazine with a firing range of nearly 600 yards. It is easily available for civilian use, and I am not sure why. This gun has one purpose, and one purpose only: to kill everything that moves. There is no home where this gun is necessary for defense, no hunting trip where this gun is needed. It should be for use by active duty military personnel only.

This is the gun that was used in the shootings at Sandy Hook, San Bernardino and Orlando, along with many others, such as the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. And there are still those who want to use anything and everything else as a scapegoat for these horrific crimes.

There are those who were against the abolition of slavery. There are those who viewed Irish immigrants as locusts. There are those who were against giving women the right to vote. There are those who were against giving black people the right to vote. There are those who were against marriage equality. You know what these people have in common? They’re all on the wrong side of history. They are looked down upon, we shake our heads at them in disgust. This is another one of those times in history. If we continue to not act on smart gun policy, these shootings will keep happening. If we allow a certain demagogue to ban a people because of their religion, and another people because of their race, then my grandfather and millions of others like him will have fought to stop Hitler for nothing.

Thoughts and prayers are not going to end this. They are not going to donate blood. They are not going to counsel the grief-stricken, they are not going to bring back the sons and daughters that have been lost. Many politicians offering thoughts and prayers are the same ones who want to take away rights for those in the LGBT community, those who refer to God as Allah and those who have a darker skin tone than them. It should be painfully obvious by now that this divisive rhetoric is the cause of the violence in this country.

We have to find solutions. We have to demand solutions. We cannot let fear and bigotry continue to drive the decisions we make as a country. I believe that 99 percent of Muslims are good people; same with 99 percent of Christians, 99 percent of Mexicans, 99 percent of any race, religion or other group you can think of. But there will always be extremism. There are those who claim to be Muslim and yet are a part of ISIS, there are those who claim to be Christian and yet are a part of Westboro Baptist Church. Let us not be swayed by any -ism, let us instead seek within ourselves the resolve to find a real solution to gun violence, and all violence for that matter. It is a plague upon the human race, it is a disease on our land. We cannot let hate win.

Let us find the love for others. Let us embrace the beauty of those who love differently, pray differently or dress differently than you or I. Let us believe in our common goal, let us recognize that underneath it all we’re just skin and bones trying to survive in this world. We all have jobs or are trying to find one, we’re all trying to pay our bills, we’re all trying to soak in the natural beauty that surrounds us. “We all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s future, and we are all mortal.”

Let us strive for the power of forgiveness. People make mistakes and they say stupid things. Let us forgive the imperfections in others so that we may seek to better the imperfections within ourselves. Let us learn from our mistakes, let our hunger for learning never cease. We must not teach tolerance, but preach acceptance. We must not crumble under the weight of these tragedies, but embrace the idea that we all can be the change we wish to see in the world. We must find a way to put our bigotries and our phobias aside. This country, this planet, must always put love above fear and hate. After something like this happens, we all feel anger. There are a lot of bad people in this world; but you don’t have to be one of them.

Hate only begets hate. Let us find the fortitude to allow the good light of love into our world. When we as a people are free to love who we want, pray how we want and do what we want with our bodies, without belittling those who do these things differently, then we as a country can truly thrive. And that, my friends, is something worth praying for.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The 10 Albums That Straight Up Blew My Mind

“I prefer you 1) Write less blogs on politics, and 2) Write more blogs on girls, sports cars, and Bruce Springsteen’s classic 1975 album ‘Born To Run.'”
                                                                                                              –Stephen Lachky

There’s been a lot that has made me angry lately. And it’s not a cynical anger, like an “Oh man, ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is quite possibly the least funny show that’s ever been made” type of cynicism; which, let’s be honest, I still do that. The Big Bang Theory is objectively just not funny. But I’ve made a conscious effort to tone that down a little bit. After trying cynicism with my attempts at humor for a little while, I’ve realized that it’s a bit too much. But again, this is not the type of anger I’ve been feeling lately.

Politics suck. They really do. For every uplifting episode of “The West Wing” I watched, there were enough real life situations to make me sick. The election cycle always creates this type of anger, and maybe I’m having the exact same realizations that every mid-to-late 20s person has; the world sucks, and so does growing up, as Ben Folds once said. So I guess you can say what I’ve been feeling is a frustrated anger. The point of this rambling can be boiled down to one word: moderation.

This is a word I’ve always felt very few Americans understand. McDonald’s, Doritos and gummy worms aren’t very good for you, but that doesn’t mean you have to torture yourself in the name of losing a few pounds. Same thing with television, cologne and social media. Too much of it, and you do more harm than good. But just the right amount, properly applied, can be beneficial.

So, when my tall and ticklish (and recently engaged) friend gave me the constructive criticism that graces the header of this post, I knew I had broken my own rules. I had gone from moderation to saturation, and during the course of that I had become boring. I still stand by and believe in every word I’ve written in those “political” posts, but when you’re repetitive, people will start to tune you out. So with all of that in mind, I’d like to write something fun for a change.

The album is dead. What for decades was the barometer for musical success has now become but a mere footnote on an artist’s tagline. Music has become much more focused on the single or YouTube view, perhaps in part due to listener’s shrinking attention spans. When people find out I still buy albums (no, not download. Buy the physical album. I like the liner notes) they give me a look that says, “Oh that’s adorable” and insinuate I was perhaps born in the wrong decade.

But some of my finest memories of musical discovery come from hearing an artist’s single on the radio, and wanting to find out what else they were about. So I would go out and buy the album. I’d always find the time to listen to it from front to back without interruption, so that I could get the full context of what whomever I was listening to was trying to say. Sometimes, I would be less than impressed. Other times, my mouth would be left hanging agape and I would play the album ad naseum until I had every drum beat and lyric memorized. Those were the albums that put a hold on me and, no matter how long I went without listening to them, never really let go.

A couple of my own rules for this ranking: Duh live albums count. As I said, no one actually buys albums anymore so the artist has to bring something to the stage lest they be forgotten. And when the power of a band’s live show is conveyed through speakers, that’s when they’ve got something really special. Also, I tried to ignore nostalgia as much as possible. It’s a powerful emotion, but I tried to recollect how I felt immediately after my first listen of the album. You’ll see that quite often, one song tips the scales from good to great in five minutes or less. So, almost 700 words in, and here it finally is, the 10 albums that straight up blew my mind.

10. Stunt – Barenaked Ladies

“One Week” had been getting mountains of air time, and I remember spending literal hours one day trying to memorize every word of that song. I succeeded, and I’ve still got it down. But when I played this album, I had immediately forgotten about the tongue twister, “ticket to China, the Chinese chicken, you have a drumstick and your brain stops tickin’.”

“Alcohol” is a song that became increasingly relevant as I got older, and the same goes for “Who Needs Sleep?” I absolutely adore “It’s All Been Done,” but when I heard “Some Fantastic” I knew I had a great album on my hands. The song combines daydreaming (“I can’t stand to wait in line long, so I built a new machine. It just measures up the distance, and then eliminates the folks between”) and genuine heartbreak (“Bye bye self respect, I haven’t had much of it since you left. I missed out on the best, of you.”) seamlessly. And those are two things we’ve all experienced at one point or another.

9. Third Eye Blind

The self-titled debut album of the most quintessential late 90s rock band was one that enthralled me from the start. “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Jumper” are probably the 4th and 5th best songs on this album, respectively. The opener “Losing a Whole Year” is the perfect introduction to an album full of angry heartache. “Narcolepsy” completes a fantastic one-two combo to open, but the song that makes this album for me is “Motorcycle Drive By.”

I remember I would listen to that song like I imagine most pre-teen middle-class white boys pretending to be punk did: I’d keep the volume at a normal level for the first part, and then when the beat picks up, right after he says, “I’ve never been so alive,” I’d crank up that jam and belt it out like it was the last song I’d ever sing. I don’t know what it was about that song at the time, but it just got the most energy out of me every time I’d listen to it. Also, just a little side note, my mother hated this album cover with every fiber of her being.

8. The ’59 Sound – The Gaslight Anthem

I had first heard of these guys by watching highlights of the Hard Rock Calling festival back in ’09. And any band loved by Bruce Springsteen is a band that I’m willing to lend a listen. I’m so thankful I did, because what I discovered was a testament to the continuing existence of bands who truly know how to rock. So many people lament how there are no bands left that play genuine rock and roll, but the truth is that they’re there. You just have to get past the mainstream.

“Great Expectations” showcases the sense of urgency that would be a continuing theme throughout the album right off the bat. But the final three songs really bring it home, particularly “The Backseat,” the album’s finale. This song brings me back to the warm summer nights in Kansas, when reprieve from the sweltering daytime heat would envelop us in comfort. My friends and I would sit on a porch drinking cold beer, just passing the time without a care in the world. And when you’re in high school or living in a house with six other people in college, it can sometimes be tough to get a little privacy. “You know the summer always brought it, those wild and reckless breezes. And in the backseat, we just tried to find some room for our knees.”

7. Whatever & Ever Amen – Ben Folds Five

This was the album that got the most spins by my brothers and I when we would play Tiger Woods PGA Tour after school. The funky piano rhythms of Ben Folds are irresistible, and his incredible talent is apparent on the opening track, “One Angry Dwarf & 200 Solemn Faces.” It’s a wonder to watch this man play that song live, and Jerry Lee Lewis would absolutely be proud watching Folds throw his bench at the piano at the end of the song.

The rest of the album, including “Kate” and “Steven’s Last Night in Town” are made for singing along. “Brick” showcases his straightforward lyrical prowess in addressing such a tough situation, and “Song for the Dumped” adds that relatable relationship angst for which Folds is now quite popularly known.

6. AC/DC Live – AC/DC

This album is from their run of shows on The Razor’s Edge tour in 1991. This is when the band was at their peak; the album from which the tour got its name had just been released, and many believed it to be their best work in the studio since Back in Black. This is because that album had two songs that would become staples in their live shows, one of which a mainstay in the decades to come.

We all love “Back in Black,” “Hell’s Bells,” and “Highway to Hell.” Hearing these songs for the first time mainly blew my mind because I found it literally unbelievable the kind of unique sound that can be created from just four chords. But “Thunderstruck;” that song is what really separated AC/DC from everyone else, and it came about 15 years into their existence. The intro guitar riff just builds and builds like a volcano about to erupt, and once it does, the sheer force of power is enough to knock you over. Angus apparently came up with it by taping over the other five strings on his guitar, so that only the second was visible. I’ve never seen them live, so my most fond memories of this song come from when it was played during crucial moments in big games at Allen Fieldhouse. One in particular comes to mind.

5. Blood Sugar Sex Magik – Red Hot Chili Peppers

The funky punk rock that the four people who comprise the Red Hot Chili Peppers are able to churn out of their instruments is truly a melody worth hearing. I had a greatest hits album of theirs, so I already knew four songs from this album, including “Breaking the Girl” and “Suck My Kiss,” which by the way, is just a fantastic song to hear them play live. But it wasn’t until I heard Blood Sugar Sex Magik front to back that I realized how insanely good this album is.

“The Power of Equality” makes apparent, given historical hindsight, the racial tensions that ran rampant at the time of this album’s release (“death to the message of the Ku Klux Klan”). I struggle to find a better back-to-back-to-back three song run on any album than “Give It Away,” “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” and “Under the Bridge,” which chronicles lead singer Anthony Kiedis’ struggle with drug addiction.

There it is though, the eponymous title track. Any RHCP fan would tell you that this song is probably not even in their top 20 best of all time, but for some reason it has a hypnotic hold on me. I guess you can call it a guilty pleasure, but that’s not entirely accurate because that would insinuate that I don’t want other people to know that this is my favorite track on the album, which is obviously far from true. “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” is what took this album from great to mind-blowing for me.

4. The White Album – The Beatles

I had heard the singles, thanks to the oldies radio station that played in my mom’s car. I took the Beatles at face value; the beginning of pop as we know it, all of their song’s about loving girls eight days a week while wanting to hold their hand. “Hey Jude” changed this perspective, but it wasn’t until I discovered The White Album that I really found out what the Beatles had hiding beneath their soft exteriors.

This album is a monolith, a gargantuan collection of some of the best songs that have ever been written. The catchy and kitschy “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” has been my mantra every time one of my favorite teams loses a crucial game. Obviously “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” with Eric Clapton sitting in on guitar, is one of the best songs not just on this album, but in the Beatles entire catalogue. “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” has always been a favorite of mine, and “Blackbird” is beloved by all. But where we get to the mindblowingness of this album is when “Helter Skelter” kicks into gear.

This song is forever linked to Charles Manson, killer and professional psychopath. But I remind myself this song was an influence on him, not the other way around. A quick perusal of the song’s Wiki page tells me that McCartney wrote it in response to Pete Townshend calling “I Can See For Miles” the loudest record the Who had written to that point. Which is a ridiculous premise when you hear it, and McCartney thought similar. So he wanted to write a song that was louder and dirtier, and he succeeded. This song is the escape for short-haired headbangers everywhere, and absolutely floored me when I first heard it. I got blisters on my fingers!

3. Talking is Hard – Walk the Moon

By now you all know this band. “Shut Up and Dance” is impossible to ignore, and people harbor strong feelings about it, some are not so positive. Like most of you, “Anna Sun” is what introduced me to this band, and I happen to like “Shut Up and Dance,” so I gave Talking Is Hard a listen. Believe me when I say that, like so many other albums on this list, the single is maybe the 5th best song on there.

The opening track “Different Colors” lays out the welcome mat for anyone who may be within earshot. “Come on lovers, come on haters, tonight we raise the fire. Cause if the people get to dancin’, they’ll forget about picking sides.” I wish it were that simple. “Sidekick,” “Work This Body” and “Aquaman” are the backbone of this album, but the song that shines brightest, perhaps to the surprise of even those who wrote it, is “Portugal.”

“I know everyone you know, you know everyone I know, our Venn Diagram’s are one circle.” When have you ever heard “Venn Diagram” worked into a song before? The answer is never. I believe that close to every song out there is written about relatable human experiences and emotions, but what makes those songs special is the presentation. “One summer turns into ten summers, one lover turns into ten others, but this memory is still with me.” I don’t care who you are, there is something you can relate to in that one line alone. “Portugal” was enough to put this album over the top, but the rest of the body of work in Walk the Moon’s sophomore release carried it into another stratosphere.

2. Weekend on the Rocks – Dave Matthews Band

Those who know me may be surprised by this; they may very well have expected The Central Park Concert, as it was the first album from this band that I heard. But this live album, showcasing highlights from their four-night stand at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater, better encapsulates the wide range of sound of which DMB is capable. I challenge you to find a rhythm more complex than “The Stone,” or better drumming than what comes out of Carter Beauford on “You Never Know.” The pure deliciously evil guitar riff of “Halloween” absolutely scared the shit out of me the first time I heard it. But what really got me, what really set off my eternal love for this band, was “Pig.”

Never before had I heard such a powerful testament to love. This song is its own life force; it has a unique blend of sage advice (“don’t burn the day away”), sad reality (“all good things must come to an end sometimes”) and uplifting hymns (“all we need is the good light of love in here.”) The chorus induces chills to this day, and even though I’ve seen them 16 times I’ve only heard them play it once. Its lyrics encompass all human emotion, and takes us on a wonderful journey from the cloudiness of misery to the sunlight of letting love in. This song always picks me up if I’m having a bad day.

1. Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

Front to back, there is no better album that has ever been made. Devoid of any fat due to every note having been excruciatingly agonized over by the Boss, it takes the listener down a path of hopes and dreams, which happens to run parallel to a road of agony and heartbreak. There is no better summation of life, no more powerful poetry that exists in the musical realm than on this album. Every song is an introduction, an encouragement to sit down and take that ride through the trials and tribulations that no one except Bruce is more able to encapsulate.

We begin with “Thunder Road,” where Bruce implores upon the young Mary to join him as he pulls out of the town full of losers. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” is about him trying to find his own way (“It seems like the whole world’s walkin’ pretty, and you can’t find the room to move”). “Night” is undoubtedly the happiest song on the album, with the faith in his machine to win that drag race. “Backstreets” takes us down memory lane, perhaps of a time before the character had really grown up, when a tale of unrequited love between him and Terry never advanced further than the beach at Stockton’s Wing. On the LP, this is where side one ends and the vinyl is flipped over to side two.

“Born to Run” is a behemoth. On the studio recording, there were something like four guitars and an entire damn string section played simultaneously to achieve the “wall of sound” inspired by Phil Spector. The hope and optimism of a brighter tomorrow is evident in the urgency of his voice. Wendy needs to decide, and she needs to decide right f****n’ now, if she’s going to go with him. He certainly makes a strong case. And even though he doesn’t know when they’re gonna get to that place they really wanna go, he knows it’ll be someday.

The love song on the album, “She’s the One,” may not be a love song at all, depending on how you interpret the lyrics. “The angel in her eyes that tells such desperate lies” can be simultaneously irresistible and conspicuous. “Meeting Across the River” is a fantastic mafia tale, fraught with danger and carelessness. It truly seems like the character doesn’t much worry about what might happen to him. Then we come to “Jungleland.”

This song is Bruce’s magnum opus. It is the finest work he’s ever done, and it should be; it took six months for him to get this one song just right. It feels like a combination of West Side Story and Mad Max is playing out as the Rat and the Barefoot Girl attempt to escape the Maximum Lawman. It’s unclear whether it was the Lawman or just his dreams that gunned the Rat down, but one thing is for sure: the Barefoot Girl seems to feel relief now that he is gone. A more powerful saxophone solo has never been played, and it’s enough to make a grown man cry. A better album wasn’t heard before, and hasn’t been heard since.

So there you have it. The 10 albums that my mind just could not handle the first time I heard them. I hope to make this a continuing series, maybe songs or live shows will be next. In the mean time, what were the albums that blew your mind? What collection of songs on a singular disc from a musician just left you stunned? Tell me in the comments section. And remember everyone, a single on the radio is usually not the best song on the album. Happy listening!

Posted in Music | Leave a comment

Sam Brownback: Still Out Here Ruining Kansas

The resting bitch face is strong with this one.

It was just a little over a year ago that I wrote about what the criminal Sam Brownback was doing to my home state of Kansas. Since then, he has not slowed down and he has not stopped. He is in fact ramping up his efforts to turn Kansas into a futuristic-dystopia similar to what the Immorten Joe created in Mad Max.

Brownback is pure, uncut evil. He just looks like the type of guy who will arrest one of your kids and at the same time try to convince you how much money you’ll save now. He is the scum of politics, he is dirtier than mud caked in dog shit. But he’s still sitting on his throne, unchallenged, telling you that the dog shit that now covers your home is actually making it smell wonderful.

I bet if you asked him, he would be against dictatorships that arise out of communism. He’d tell you capitalism works, and then go on some tirade about America and values and “religious liberty” (so long as you aren’t a Muslim) and everything else. But this is where seemingly all Republicans have problems. They want to make government small, but only if it benefits them. They’re completely fine with government invading your personal life and telling you who you’re allowed to love, who you’re allowed to worship or what you’re allowed to do with your body. And if it’s convenient for them, they seek to manipulate court rulings as well.

It was well documented how much Republicans hated the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made marriage equality legal at the federal level. “Why do these people make the laws?” they asked. “Why don’t we let the voters decide?” they pondered. Well, it’s because that’s how it works, and I’m pretty sure the voters did decide.

I think every voter knows that the President is entrusted with many powers, and one of them is appointing Supreme Court judges, pending approval of the Senate. The voters decide who they want to be President, the voters in each state decide which two senators they want to represent them.

It’s also pretty funny how little talk there was of all this from the Republican side in 2008, when the Court ruled in Columbia v. Heller to protect an individual’s right to keep and bear arms (despite the most overlooked line in all of the Constitution, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” I would argue that individual citizens do no represent a “well regulated militia,” but that’s just me). When it’s something they agree with, they talk about upholding the Constitution and individual freedoms. When it’s something they disagree with, individual freedoms be damned, everyone has to do what they tell us to do.

That’s where we circle back to Sam Brown-stain-on-the-mattress, who is attempting to reshape the State Supreme Court purely because they are upholding laws he doesn’t like, such as striking down anti-abortion laws. They are so mad that they are threatening to take their ball and go home, by suspending all funding to the state courts. My parents would get upset with me if I acted like this when I was 12, much less an adult with a responsibility to the voters to protect all rights afforded to them in the Constitution.

Nowhere in the First Amendment does it say, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (unless you’re Muslim).” Nowhere in the Declaration of Independence does it say, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (unless you’re gay).”

This is what upsets me the most. The hypocrisy of these “religious freedom” bills and supporting wretched trolls like Kim Davis and defunding Planned Parenthood (even though the GOP front-runner is well aware that abortions make up a very small fraction of what they do. Seriously, how can that overgrown oompa loompa be the front-runner?) while simultaneously touting they’ll decrease the role of government is just pure snake-oil salesman tactics. This is also what scares me the most, because way too many people are buying into this crap.

I was so sure that when President Obama came out in favor of marriage equality that no one would ever hold that office again who didn’t share those beliefs. I was so sure that once 99 percent of scientists agreed on the harsh, man-made effects of climate change that real solutions would be brought forth. Then they named climate-change denier Ted Cruz head of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. I was so sure that when President Bush’s tax cuts were partially at fault for causing the worst recession in 30 years that we would finally have the rich start paying their fair share. But people like Sam what-can’t-Brown-do-for-you has me sincerely concerned that Kansas will end up with kids who were educated by 20 year old textbooks.

In the next couple of years, I am still hopeful for a great ideological shift in this country. As important as this election cycle is, the mid-terms in 2018 will be just as important. We cannot keep electing xenophobic demagogue’s to public office. We have to get the small-minded bigots out, and elect those who truly believe in equal rights. Maybe then the bigger problems of this planet, like climate change, mental health and gun violence, can be solved.

I am hopeful that one day even Republicans will accept the fact that white, black, Christian, Muslim, gay, straight, it doesn’t matter; underneath the flesh and skin our skeleton’s look the same. If they truly want to tout Republican values set forth by Abraham Lincoln, then they will follow through on their promise to get the government out of everyone’s way. I hope that one day, who we choose to love and what we choose to do with our bodies will be of little concern to the government. Because at the end of the day, if we aren’t allowed to be true to ourselves then we can never be true to those around us.

I hope for a day when they will realize that, despite the presence of people in this world who want to hurt us, that only love begets love. Banning people because of their religion or the color of their skin is not “protecting ourselves.” That is giving in to the fear that terrorists are trying to instill. We must be a beacon of inspiration, not an example of hate.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Guns: Where Violence and Apathy Collide

It’s become routine. A gunman, or gunmen, commits mass murder on an unsuspecting populace, a bluster back and forth goes on for a couple of days and then, like an elderly person with Alzheimer’s, we all just forget what we were arguing about in the first place and move on with our lives. There’s plenty of reason for this. We live in a time when outrage is at a constant. People get just as worked up about murder as they do about what some old crow on the View said about nurses.

Rationale and reason have given way to hysteria and people constantly finding things offensive.

So when some selfish asshole decides if he’s going to kill himself then other people have to die too, it’s just what we should be outraged by today. Tomorrow there will be something else, and it all will be forgotten.

That doesn’t mean there is any shortage of blame to go around. The media gets blamed because people think they essentially make martyrs out of these gunmen. Politicians on either side just blame the other. This song and dance goes on for a while, but nothing gets accomplished because, as per usual, common sense is largely ignored.

Once politicians were okay with 20 kids under the age of five being gunned down in one of the most vicious and cowardly acts I’ve seen in my lifetime, we all knew nothing would ever get done. How can they sit idly by while these horrible crimes are being committed and do nothing? Well, it’s either because they are lazy, or they rely so heavily on gun lobbyists for funding that they actively trumpet guns as a way for problems to be solved.

The arguments these people come up with for looser, not stricter, gun laws is appalling. To wit:

“We should just give EVERYONE guns. That way if some guy starts shooting up a place, he can be taken care of quickly.”

If some kid on the playground was throwing rocks at other kids, would you just give rocks to all of them and say, “all right, take that bully down!” Or would you do the sensible thing and take the rocks away from the kid throwing them in the first place? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Anyone who thinks more guns will solve the problem of guns is an idiot. A good guy with a gun is absolutely just as dangerous as a bad guy with one.

“Ban guns all you like, people like this are still going to find a way to kill.”

Really? This is your argument? You think that just because someone can kill another person using a knife, bat or bomb that guns shouldn’t be taken away? Who are you, Mr. Body’s butler? Guess what, there are laws against speeding but people still find a way to do that, don’t they?

That right there is the main problem I have. Some guy tries to blow up a plane by smuggling a bomb in his shoes, and now we all have to take our shoes off when going through security. How many gun deaths have to happen before something is done?

“You’re taking away my constitutional rights!”

Look, I’m all for the Constitution, but times have changed. Back then you’d have to be an expert to get off three shots in under a minute with a musket. Now, automatic weapons and assault rifles are available with ease. The Second Amendment, nor anything else written in that document, doesn’t just give you the power to do whatever you want. Freedom puts a great deal of responsibility on a person. The rest of the Constitution has changed with the times, this should too. A couple of examples:

Here’s what Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution originally said: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” That last part there, written by racists with a few good ideas, was changed by the 14th Amendment, which was enacted not long after Lincoln gave the Emancipation Proclamation.

Then there’s the First Amendment, the freedom of speech which everyone holds so dear. This also applies to freedom of the press, freedom to gather peacefully, and freedom of religion. Of course, people want that freedom of speech not to apply to things they find offensive (like when a few students at Yale want one of the brightest minds of our generation fired purely because of what his wife said about Halloween costumes). The press can’t have freedom when they’re covering something we don’t like, that whole thing about gathering peacefully gets thrown to the wayside all the time, and people don’t like religions that aren’t theirs being practiced freely (like when a bunch of ignorant racists protest the building of a mosque because they think that the Muslim religion is an “evil cult.” Anyone who actually thinks this should also never be allowed to have a gun.) Sorry for the long run-on there, but the point I’m trying to make is, these freedoms apply to everyone at all times, not purely when it’s convenient to you.

There is still the stake of responsibility. You can’t shout, “Fire!” in a crowded room and hide behind free speech when the person who was nearly trampled to death sues you. And that’s where I circle back to the Second Amendment. Yes, everyone was given the right to bear arms by the founders of this country, but Hancock and Franklin didn’t intend for responsibility to be taken away.

When you want to drive a car, what do you have to do? Well first, you have to be of a certain age. Depending on the state, you most likely have to take some sort of drivers ed. course. Then, you have to take a written test, usually 25-35 questions in length. (I even had to take this test just recently when I got my California driver’s license, as I had moved from a different state.) Then, a DMV employee tests your eyesight. After that, the actual driving test. Ah, but to even get to that point, you have to drive a certain amount of hours, with your parent or other experienced driver, while you have a learner’s permit (in Kansas, I believe it was 50 hours.) Now that you have a license, you have to be insured. It is against the law to drive without insurance, which protects you in case of an accident. Oh, now you’d like to own a car? Well, here’s a certificate of title and lien, registration, license plate and tags, most of which has to be renewed every year, and claimed on your personal property taxes.

Think about this. If we have to go through all that just to own and operate a vehicle, it stands to reason a person should have to go through the same thing if they wish to own and operate a deadly weapon, right?

And that’s what we need. To own a gun, you should have to answer two main questions: 1. Have you ever been arrested for, or convicted of, a violent crime? 2. Do you have a history of, or take any medication for, a mental illness? If you answer yes to either of those, you should not be allowed to own a gun. Ever. But hey, if you answer no to both, then you’re on your way. But first, a few things:

You should have to be a certain age. I think 14 to operate, 18 to own is good. You should have to complete a training course that teaches operation techniques and safety instructions. This course should be at least 4 hours long. At the same time, you should have to spend a certain amount of hours at the practice range; 25 hours should suffice. Completion of the course and the hours are both required if you wish to own a gun and get your concealed carry license. Then, you should have to take a written test signifying that you’ve actually retained all this knowledge, and an eyesight test. You should have to take a test with a certified instructor who can determine that you know how to safely operate the gun.

One side note, this should have to be done with every type of gun out there. Want to buy a shotgun or hunting rifle? Class and training for that. A handgun or pistol? Class and training for that. I’m going to be honest, I wish that civilians weren’t allowed to purchase automatic or semi-automatic weapons. I think those should be left to active-duty military, but I realize that’s unlikely to happen. Anyway, class and training for those as well.

There should be a limit on the amount of magazines or bullets you’re allowed to purchase at one time. If you wish to purchase more ammunition, you should have to prove that you’re out of what you purchased previously. There should be a limit on the amount of guns you’re allowed to own as well, unless of course they are antique or collector’s items. But again, I know that’s unlikely to happen.

Once you purchase a gun, you should have to register it. I realize you already have to do that, but I’m going to take it one step further and suggest that you have to have tags for it as well. These could be placed on the butt of the gun, so it can be easily seen, just as we place our car tags on the license plate. Speaking of being easily seen, the gun should have to be placed in a holster on your waist. I know that sort of defeats the purpose of “concealed” carry, but just as headlights on your car help others see you at night, others should know if you’re carrying. The gun(s) you own should be claimed on your personal property taxes, and the tags to be renewed every year. Your license should have to be renewed every five years, and a written test to be taken at each renewal.

I really don’t think this is asking too much. This is just common sense. No one wants to take away rights, but we have a responsibility to our fellow human beings to be as safe as possible. I know that nutjobs might still be able to gain access to guns with the intention of harming others, but that does not mean we shouldn’t try to make it as difficult as possible for them to do so.

The number of deaths caused by guns in Chicago alone doubles the number of soldier deaths in Afghanistan in the entire duration of the war. From 2003 through 2011, 77 percent of the murderers had prior arrests. Seventy-seven percent. Not allowing those with an arrest record to purchase a gun would take care of much of that problem in a heartbeat. I know a lot of the guns were not purchased through legal channels, but that’s where my system of registration and tags comes into place. This would make the guns easy to track and, much like if you were to sell your car privately, the title and registration would have to be transferred from seller to buyer.

I do live in the realm of reality and I know that something like this will unfortunately never happen. Extremists who believe it’s their right to walk around with high-powered rifles in a Chili’s unfortunately hold way too much sway over Congress. Those “activists” use fear to get what they want. So do terrorists. And we cannot continue to let that hypocrisy stand.

I realize that nothing I’m typing here is actually going to get anything done. I’m basically preaching to the choir here in California, and anyone in Texas who reads this will probably think of me as a nancy-boy quaker. But nothing I’m suggesting is an effort to take guns away from those who understand the responsibility.

All I’m saying is that, if we’re willing to sacrifice our privacy and personal space with NSA spying and TSA pat-downs because of one terrorist attack, then 25,000+ gun-related homicides from 2010-2012 alone should cause us to be willing to sacrifice just a little bit of our ego. We should be willing to do whatever it takes to protect us from harming each other, and ourselves.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment