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Lunch Break Blog Has Moved! 04/09/2009

Posted by Nick in Uncategorized.
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At the request of those visionary contributors who feel the need for a more memory friendly url, the lunch break blog has been moved to http://lunchbreakblog.wordpress.com/ Please bookmark the page and keep reading. Bon Appetite!

Same Old Song and Dance? 04/08/2009

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The other night, while flipping back and forth between Bill Maher’s interview with “Joe the Plumber” and “Dancing with Stars”, I noticed that one show actually referenced the other. I am by no means a frequent watcher of either of these two pop culture phenomena and have only seen each a handful of times, so maybe this sort of thing happens more often than I realize. But it seems odd to me that Bill Maher would end one of his segments by alluding to another popular show that airs during the same time slot. After smugly dismissing Joe Wurzelbacher as a right wing nut and a media ham who never had a serious intention of starting a plumbing business anyway, Maher ended the interview by saying “we’re not going to agree on everything, but you have to admit it’s always better to be dancing with the stars.” Maher’s suggestion here is that “Joe the Plumber’s” self-described common sense politics are not credible because they do not fit into the host’s close-minded liberal worldview, but at least the guy has been able to attain some of the Hollywood glitz and celebrity despite his lack of substance. In protest to Maher’s thinly veiled distaste for anything blue-collar and red-state, I immediately followed his suggestion and changed the channel to “Dancing with the Stars.”

The suggestion posed by the host of the first TV show raises many interesting questions about the second TV show. First, is it always better to be dancing with stars? Second, do appearances on these types of song and dance talent shows intimate a celebrity career that’s in danger of losing it’s substance? Which show has more entertainment value and is more worth watching, “Real Time with Bill Maher” or “Dancing with the Stars”? And as another Lunch Break contributor recently pondered, are these shows okay for our children to watch or do they allow kids to grow up too fast and turn them into prima donnas and gadflies?

The answer to these questions may be found in the personalities featured on “Dancing with The Stars.” There are some whose fame appear to based on superficiality or a waning cultural relevance. For starters, take Holly Madison, former girlfriend of Hugh Hefner and recently recognized as one of the Top Hooters Girls of All-Time, or Steve-O, stuntman from the Jackass TV series and movies best-known for getting drunk and stapling his scrotum to his leg in a stunt called “The Butterfly”. Other stars on the show are not as obviously ill-suited to play the part of role model but may have some redeeming qualities. For example, NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who was once mainly known for his wild party animal persona and multiple cocaine convictions, has since admitted his faults publicly, reformed his life and is now drug-free. Another morally ambiguous celeb might be Lil’ Kim, the grammy-winning rapper. While known for her raunchy lyrics and a 2001 perjury conviction related to a Manhattan night club shooting, she has broken barriers as a female artist including being the first female to have #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Finally, there are a few stars that most parents would be proud to call their own. David Alan Grier has had a long successful acting and comedy career, most notably starring in the sketch comedy series “In Living Color”. Perhaps most impressive of all of this year’s “Dancing with the Stars” cast is Steve Wozniak, famous inventor and co-founder of Apple Computer. For most of these celebrities, it probably is better to be dancing with stars. Some may have had much more substantive moments in their lives and some much darker times, but positive exposure dancing on a family oriented prime time TV show can only be good for their careers.

As to the other questions of whether or not “Dancing with the Stars” has worthwhile entertainment value and if it is appropriate for children, these are matters of personal tastes and moral standards that people have to decide for themselves. As for me, just doing the research on these “stars” and learning more about their successes and failures mostly moved my opinion of them in a positive direction. However, I probably will not become a regular viewer of the show for a number of related and unrelated reasons. To state a few, I never did understand the American fascination with snooty British critics like Simon Cowell and Len Goodman. Also, no graceful dance routine or fancy costume can ever erase the nasty things I have heard said and seen done by Lil Kim’ and Steve-O. And if all that is not enough, suffice it to say I just can not take watching Melissa Rycroft get rejected on national television any more. The one thing I can say for certain is that the next time I have a choice between watching Bill Maher and “Dancing with the Stars”, I will choose the show that at the very least gives its B-list celebrities a fair opportunity to proove their worth in front of a panel of judges and the audience instead of subjecting them to the acrid witticisms of its partisan host.

Karzai’s War against Women 04/06/2009

Posted by shiketyshaq in Uncategorized.
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“Laws can embody standards; governments can enforce laws–but the final task is not a task for government. It is a task for each and every one of us. Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted–when we tolerate what we know to be wrong–when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy, or too frightened–when we fail to speak up and speak out–we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.” Robert Kennedy

I do not want to preach against the Afghan people, or its government or its laws. I do not want to look like an imperialistic commentator mocking the mores of a different society. I do not want to judge a people or customs that are foreign to me. I want in fact to allow people to live freely as they so choose within the borders of America and abroad. But somehow the atrocities of the disregard of human rights compel me to speak if not for my own conscience, but at least to be a voice of compassion for those who suffer under intolerant regimes. As Americans, the majority of us believe that we should live as we see fit so long as it does not infringe upon the rights of other to share in the benefits of a democracy. But also as people who subscribe to these beliefs, we can not sit by and allow governments we support to pass laws that are repugnant to the rights of half its citizens.

I am talking about the recent laws passed and signed Hamid Karzai “that would restrict the rights of Afghanistan’s minority Shia women and make it illegal for them to deny their husbands sex, leave the house without permission, or have child custody.” The United States has spent over 864 Billion dollars since 9/11 on the Iraq and Afghanistan operations according to CRS Report to Congress as of October 2008 which includes 2.4 Billion a month in Afghanistan. This is mandatory reading for anyone who does not believe we have a vested interest in the future of democracy that is being proposed by not only our President and troops, but with our very own money. This report predicts that by 2018, the cost of operations will be between 1.3 to 1.7 Trillion dollars since 2001, most of the new funds being switch from Iraq to Afghanistan under the new administration military agenda. The investment of tax payer monies gives us the right to expect that human rights need to be supported and increased in Afghanistan. There is good in the world as we have read in recent blogs on this site that should not be sullied by our borders. Though most ethical topics can be eroded into Humanistic arguments, our mothers and faiths have constructed a clear set of values that must be part of any democratic society that supports and values all of its people. Terrorism works on the extremes of those who believe they have been outcasted or rejected. Democracy is the only chance that we may remedy the feeling of alienation. By letting Karzai pass this law, we have compromised our beliefs that all humans are equal. We have placed aside the hard fought civil rights of the past 200 years in this nation so we can compromise with sexist and violent notions of discrimination. The American government has helped Karzai gain his place and he has thanked us by placing the most vulnerable in his society in danger to appease anti-democratic supporters. We must rise up and stop this abuse. We must call on all civil governments to rebuke this law until women are seen as equal.

We must do something more than shake our heads in disgust. We have and will invest our blood and money in the hills and cities of Afghanistan. We deserve more than lip service to Democracy and America’s sacrifice.

Boredom is Not Freedom 04/02/2009

Posted by Nick in Uncategorized.
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With the Easter Holidays coming up, I hear alot around the lunch table about how much people are looking forward to a few days off. This vacation time is natural and necessary. It is a time to worship, visit with family and friends, and catch up on spring cleaning or gardening. I believe in all of these things as components to a happy life. What troubles me is when people look forward to doing nothing. It is also a natural inclination for humans to delay responsibilities in the hopes of temporary respite from work. However, if this notion is allowed to persist, one can fall into the trap of believing that boredom equals freedom.

Most responsible adults I know see through the illusion that freedom is idleness and know that an empty agenda is an empty happiness. This wisdom is why most people plan family or social gatherings, projects or trips for themselves on their days off. But make no mistake about it, the culture of American consumerism would have it so no one has anything to do all the time. Why? So we can buy their ipods, cell phones, cigarettes, fast food, PSPs, or whatever else. Beware of the person with too many time-consuming gadgets, this person, in reality, avoids real responsibility and maturity.

Take the President’s recent gifts to our British cousins across the pond as an example. First, he gave Gordon Brown a collection of 25 DVDs and most recently, he’s given the Queen an ipod. Are these the best gifts America can offer foreign diginitaries? Now I know meetings with the Queen and press conferences with heads of state are largely symbolic and do not have much practical impact on diplomacy. But do not ignore the importance of symbolism on the American psyche, especially in times of stress. Ipods and DVDs suggest that there’s nothing better to do than to sit around in front of a TV or to isolate yourself from everyone around you with your ears plugged up.  Are these the greatest products of the American ideal of liberty that we would present to the world?

Instead of offering leisure items to our best allies, our President needs to convey the finer fruits of the American experience. We should show the Brits and the rest of the world that the American brand of freedom breeds hard work, discipline and ingenuity. Instead of wasteful DVDs give them steel shovels and muddy tractors; instead of shiny ipods, present inky pens and well-worn guitars. Maybe these things are only symbols, representative of an all-but-forgotten America, but they show the true worth and value of the liberty to work, create and pursue happiness.

Symbols, whether true or false, can give still the correct message. Maybe this message, once verbalized and symbolized, will be once again actualized and lead us to brighter days. Maybe people have to be forcibly stripped of their savings and jobs and forced into the prison of their own boredom to see that free time does not equal freedom. Maybe then will we recognize our consumerism-driven thirst for leisure as the “deliverance which does not deliver” and rise up from the economic trench we have blindly dug under the pretense of vacation and holiday. The next time chronic boredom strikes, remember you have been warned. Turn not to your personal screens, gadgets and doo-hickies; rather turn to your school books, your vegetable garden, or your pile of paperwork. Come to the realization that, as once stated by  the Big Lebowski, “The bums lost . . . do what your parents did, and get a job sir!”

Got Corruption? 04/02/2009

Posted by newchinaguyritchie in Uncategorized.
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Crossing over the Somers Point Bridge into Ocean City, NJ was always an exciting moment.  The opportunity to see the bridge raised for passing ships enticed me in an inexplicable manner.  I don’t know if it was the idea of bad timing, or the mechanics of the bridge, or the increase of suspense and anticipation for my one week of vacation to begin, but whatever it was, I simply loved sitting in Somers Point an extra five minutes to ten minutes as the bridge carefully raised and lowered itself.  That is until one summer, around the age of 11 that my excitement got the better of me.  As I saw a large boat approaching, I goaded my mom into hurrying up so we wouldn’t have to wait.  When she slowed down, obviously realizing there was no way to beat the raising of the bridge, I became so infuriated and proceeded to utter the worse two words imaginable in my house, or car as it was, “Jesus Christ!”.  With a quick, yet gentle smack on the back of the head, and a stare twice as painful, I was reminded of the one thing too sacred to take in vain.

This degree of sacredness was fostered at a young age, and reinforced on a frequent basis in my household.  As I got older and was able to reflect on the nature of this reverence, I realized that my mother wasn’t merely trying to indoctrinate me with religion, but rather reflect to me that there must always be something sacred in a person’s life, and that whatever that ideal is, it should be the foundation for that individual’s entire life and must never be demeaned, neglected, or questioned.  And while this devotion and worship perplexed me at times, and irritated me at others, I always admired it and still do.  Now, I know there are many individuals around the globe of equal and even greater devotion to some ideal, good and bad.  And again, good or bad, I admire them for that commitment.  But, I wonder is there any institution left unsullied?  Is there anything that we collectively, as a society, haven’t denigrated, insulted, or rebuked?  As if there isn’t any societal establishment left uncorrupted, then are we simply painting over a graffiti-ed wall that will soon be defaced again?

Recent examples of corruption in politics, sports, religion, law, and the media, some addressed on this very blog, seem to confirm the answers to my rhetorical questions that we are involved in a never ending cycle of corruption that no one righteous man or large civilized society can correct.

Political Corruption- As if I need to cite examples.  However, simply rereading shiketyshaq’s entry, “The Smoking Gun: New Tax Against the Poor”, will cause any sensible reader to second guess the true nature of federal taxes and their purpose.  I believe the logic must have been mathematical because the government thought they could simply turn two negatives into a positive.

Sports Corruption- Four letter sums it up best:  NCAA!  Every year around this time, the NCAA manages to brilliantly cover up their biggest money making scheme outside of the college football bowls, the Tournament.  All of the advertising, endorsement, and ratings’ revenue goes to lining the pockets of a select few individuals.  This year you may have noticed that there is no advertising of any schools on the court at all.  The NCAA felt it would be a conflict of interest for the schools to seem to be profiting off a sport rather than the institution of education.  So what did they replace it with? More NCAA logos.  Collectively, all college sports teams garnered $4.2 Billion in 2006.  In 2008, the Final Four alone generated $47 million.

Religion- The horrifying story out of Brazil about a nine-year old raped by her step-father, allegedly, and then excommunicated by the Archbishop for having an abortion continues to get worse.  Now the Archbishop wants anyone who helped the young girl have the abortion to be excommunicated from the church as well.  Oh, by the way, the step-father has yet to be excommunicated.

Law Corruption- Unfortunately, this one hits too close to home.  In Philadelphia this week, the police took the worst three day hit of bad press I’ve ever seen.  Allegedly selling drugs, robbing stores, and flippantly hurling racist comments about the people they are sworn to protect?  Again, this is all in only one week.

Media Corruption- This again hits home and is actually connected to the previous area.  While philly.com did its finest to smear the entire Philadelphia Police Force, it chose to almost completely ignore the shooting of a 16 year old four times right outside of a school in the city.  Attempted murders of teenagers apparently aren’t news worthy anymore.  Ironically, only corruption is.

All of these institutions are connected, intricately strung together like a fine Dickens’ novel.  Even my very own, education, is a part of this cyclical decadence, maybe the worst part (I just didn’t have any large scale examples to cite tonight).  So where does that leave us?  Do we continue to paint over the graffiti, fight the good fight, repair the broken glass?  Well I don’t know about but for me, I just hope my mom speeds up next time and gets me over the bridge to someplace sacred like the Jersey shore, so I can relax and forget about all this corruption.  At least for a week.

Brave New World 04/02/2009

Posted by shiketyshaq in Uncategorized.
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O brave new world, That has such people in’t!

These words were celebrated in the protests of London today. The significance of the action of the people congregated on the streets speaks to how far we have come as a society and human race. After months of the rich saving the rich; after months of governments bailing out systems that have protected the world order and powerful; after months of the unemployed, the betrayed, the working class watching billions of the dollars being spent to uphold companies that have made a mockery of the legal and monetary system; we have finally spoken. We have spoken through the anger and frustration of the thousands who require equity and justice. We have spoken because those in those office buildings and capitals refuse to hear the justice of a monetary system that is meant to share wealth for the benefit and progression of the society’s health. We have spoken because it has not been as apparent for a long time that a gentry class has privileges and connections that the vast majority of us will never share.

It was a great day for working citizens of the world because we no longer stayed quiet in the face of economic oppression that the choices of a few have placed on our lives. Their actions have spoken enough. There is nobility in forcing the tailored business suit to be exchanged for jeans and t-shirt for the safety of the employees of these bailed out companies who made their most recent wealth in exploiting a system of speculation and predatory loans. There is justice in the symbolism of the bank windows being shattered. There is mistrust in the motives of the governments who continue to save organizations who led their countries precipitously close to economic collapse. There is honesty in admitting that greed is the only motive for business when the sole goal is to exploit the people of their own nation, as well as their indifference to the global impact of their immoral practices. There is power when the people no longer trust the free market or their government’s devotion to an antediluvian idea that creates class disparity. For so long the wealthy and governments have posed the middle class against the poor. The wealthy have hid behind the government programs to disperse the 10% of the economy to 90% of the people. They have made us content to have the homes and jobs that make us loyal as well the clear delineation that separates us from those who have less. Their mantra of “working hard will get you ahead” is one that promotes racial, sexist, and class ceilings just above our heads. The bail-out numbers for the few organizations make us no longer paranoid or suspicious, because those ideas have proven to be true. So much has been learned in so few months about the role of government and the power and influence of the rich that pull its strings as well as its purse.

Take pleasure in this day when the rest of us had our voice. I hope the governments and the wealthy realize their safety is as precarious as our economic futures when their greed is exposed. Let them know that they may own the governments, but they do not own the people. They may own the buildings, but they do own the streets. England has always had its economic apartheid stemming from the middle ages. It has created the American system, but perhaps the time has come for true economic equality. We no longer have race and gender to hide behind. Look in your empty wallets; look at your precarious jobs; look at your children’s options; and decide for yourself if you are in the buildings staring down in disgust, or in the streets yelling up for justice. Tonight, the people of London have taught America to stand up for itself. Will we do it?

The Smoking Gun: New Tax Against the Poor 03/29/2009

Posted by shiketyshaq in Uncategorized.
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The Government is playing an April Fool’s day joke on us once again. As of April first, our caring government is raising the federal tax on a pack of cigarettes 91 cents. The joke of it is that most Americans will shrug their shoulders and say, well people shouldn’t smoke, but it is a tax that affects 21% of the population. These are the very Americans that complain about their taxes being used for welfare and government subsidies programs that alleviate some of the economic discrepancies resulting from the ever widening gap between the poor and rich. After giving billions of dollars to bail out the very richest organizations in this country, the federal government is now about to help pay for the bill using the poor and the addicted. Before you blow me off as a libertarian who hates taxes or an employee for Phillip Morris, here is some data to prove that this tax is a direct attack against the poor, and more specifically African Americans, of America and a disgusting attempt to burden the poor with another tax. The poorest states in this country are in the delta area (MI, LA, AL etc.). They also hold a heavy majority of the African American population. The states also have the highest percentage of smokers in the country. The largest racial group and age of smokers is African American males aged 18-24 at 31%. African Americans males have a 26.1% smoking rate. The male rate in this country is 23.6% and if you figure in women that number drops to 20.8%. This new federal tax on cigarettes that will be signed by President Obama will in effect remove more of the income from the poorest states and the poorest racial group while increasing the gap between the rich and poor. This will result in more federal programs or at least monies to be shifted to welfare programs, thus increasing the tax burden on us all. It may look like the tax is against the smokers, but in the end, the Federal Government’s refusal to ban cigarette sales in this country and using the sales to build up their tax coffers, is a round about way to eventually tax the middle class for needed social, health and economic needs of the poor.

This gives us three options to address the concern. The first option is that all Americans need to stop smoking. We need to help each other, not because of the health risks that are clearly evident, but because we can stop one more unneeded tax against the systematic poor. We can instantly make the government sweat over their unfunded CHIP programs because they will not have their source of income. If using smoking to fund a child’s health plan is not definition irony (this is exactly they say where the money is going), then it is clearly the most disgusting and cruel idea to allow a dangerous product to get FDA approval and poison and addict the people they are supposed to be representing while benefiting from the sales.

Our second option is to boycott all stores that sell, make and promote tobacco products. If the government is correct and the rise in price really does decrease use, then this will be the fastest way to rid our communities of this social ill. Phillip Morris is a good place to start. In the face of this new federal tax, three weeks ago they raised their products 31 cents to make as much profit from smokers who they fear will quit due to the tax increase. This obvious greed and manipulation of their knowingly detrimental product displays their callousness towards the American public, as well as their loyal customers. If we boycott tobacco selling stores, we will send a clear message that profit is no reason to sell, display and promote dangerous products. Without the added tobacco license revenue, the state and federal government will have one less avenue to hide and exploit the American public’s money.

The third option may be tongue in cheek, but I believe this will force the government to take a more caring and observant look at the impact of their swinging tax arm. Every American needs to start smoking and become addicted to these products. You have many different options of tobacco as well as flavors. If smoking rates start to rise and the impending health impact becomes apparent, then maybe someone in government, hopefully our president, will be brave enough to finally kick tobacco off our shores and out of our homes forever. When everyone starts to pay the incredible price for an addicting substance, we will not just shrug our shoulders every time government wants to tax a legal product. It will not be just a tax against the poor, but also the middle class, seniors, the rich and our children.

We have to make tobacco our problem even if it is just to hold our politicians accountable. We can not allow any group to be exploited for the benefit of any other group, or our democracy will be broken. Even if the one group is as disgusting to you as smokers, we will all suffer from the tax burden and the countless ills that arise from legality of the dangerous, poisonous and killer product.

Long Live the Long Player 03/29/2009

Posted by rmzak in culture, music.
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After catching up with recent posts on “The Lunch Break Blog”, I recognized a common theme of better days gone by. Whether looking closely at the state of higher education or our current political and economic situations, there seems to be a nostalgia for a time when things were better. Nostalgia for any idealized past can be a dangerous thing. As legendary musician/social critic Frank Zappa said in reference to a famous Robert Frost poem entitled “Fire and Ice”, “It is not necessary to imagine the world ending in either fire or ice. There are two other possibilities. One is paperwork, the other is nostalgia.” The word itself once meant “severe homesickness” and was considered an actual disease. With all of that said, I am going to contribute to this “disease” with my own thoughts on one of my favorite aspects of contemporary music that may be quickly becoming a part of our idealized pasts–the LP.

LP is the the abbreviated term for “Long Play” that was used to describe the approximately 12 inch vinyl records that were first introduced to the public in the late 1940s. They were played at 33 1/2 rpm, and provided roughly 45 minutes of recorded sound. This was a pretty drastic change at the time, since all previous recorded music came on smaller discs played at 78 rpm and contained about three minutes of sound per side. To backtrack just a bit without getting too far into the monumental impact of recorded sound all together, this three minute “single” is the biggest reason why most popular songs today clock in at roughly 3-4 minutes, even though the album is a forgotten relic (I showed a 12 inch LP to my 5 year old daughter the other day and she couldn’t get over how “giant” it was). Prior to that, most songs had much longer playing times, since being played only in live settings musicians could dictate how long the tune would last. Especially with the birth of jazz, where musicians began altering popular standards into new tunes with multiple extended solos that could last as long as the mood fit, limiting tunes to three minutes was often a challenge and, according to some, hurt the quality of the songs. The same can be said with a classical piece, which rarely lasts for such a short amount of time. Admittedly, the three minute length was not come upon arbitrarily–it was and still is a good amount of time for most popular music. Still, this is a case where the new technology dictated the format to which an art form had to adhere if one wished to have it heard by the masses (and of course make money off of it, which is for another post at another time). I can hear those old culture critics now, warning about how this new recorded sound disc will ruin the attention span of the youth, making them only able to pay attention for three minutes before losing focus…

Now back to the LP. When the “Long Player” was introduced, songs had much more room to breathe. In addition, artists could organize multiple singles on one album and sell it for a higher price. At first, these LPs were merely compilations of past material such as a greatest hits collection, but quickly artists saw the possibility of specifically creating songs that would all fit together and work as a single unit. Although there are many earlier examples such as Woody Guthrie’s folk music and Frank Sinatra’s 50s recordings, I will use The Beatles to illustrate. Pre-1965, The Beatles’ recordings released in both the US and Britian, such as Meet the Beatles and Please Please Me, were collections of their singles or songs they were playing live at the time. A Hard Day’s Night and Help were soundtracks to movies the band made partly to promote more potential hit singles. By the time Revolver, Rubber Soul and most clearly the concept album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band reached the public, the boys from Liverpool had embraced the idea of thematically or at least stylistically related songs arranged in a specific order that work together as a greater whole (to be fair, it is often noted that Paul McCartney got the inspiration for Sgt. Pepper’s from The Beach Boys 1966 release, Pet Sounds). The only single from any of these Beatles records to hit number one on the charts was Paul’s “Eleanor Rigby” off of the 1966 Revolver. Obviously, an artistic shift from creating a hit single had occurred. Many musicians now bought into the idea of producing an entire album of music that would work under a single title and be packaged in a sleeve that would feature appropriate art to match the music.

Enough history. Has the LP disappeared? Well, of course we have moved from the album to the cassette to the CD and now the mp3. And even though the technology and packaging have changed drastically, we still have musicians creating roughly forty-five minutes to an hour’s worth of music that works as a unified whole. With the mp3, there really is no reason for this time constraint, and with digital downloading music lovers can pick and choose individual songs to download. Sitting and listening to an entire “album” worth of music in the order the artist intended happens less and less with the rise of iPod shuffles and other portable mp3 players (Remember the A and B sides? Your children will have no idea what that means). Internet music sources such as Pandora and LastFM both allow people to create their own “radio stations” that play single songs for free, but do not allow for a listener to listen to an entire album. The music industry still hopes these kinds of sites will make people seek out the album if they hear something they like, and statistics have shown that many have, but you have to wonder how long this trend will last. As we move another generation away from the LP, will musicians and music lovers still value the time and attention span needed to appreciate an hour’s worth of music put together for a unified artistic effect? Will there still be a place in our culture for the LP, or will we return to the era of singles, or something entirely different? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but, nostalgic or not, I do hope that during my lifetime I will always be able to find enjoyable, new music arranged in a way to be appreciated as a unified whole.

To conclude, here are some great LPs from each decade since the 1960s (off of the top of my head):

1968: Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks

1972: Lou Reed’s Transformer

1988: Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation

1990: Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet

2002: Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

A final quick note about the last album: The 2002 documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart follows members of Wilco as they create their album, and does a great job capturing the long conflict the band had with their record label that felt the album lacked a catchy enough single that they believed was needed in order for the album to sell. Even for those who don’t know or enjoy Wilco’s music, it’s a fascinating look at how the music industry and their desire for profit affects the artistic integrity of a musician’s vision.

Parts of Things 03/28/2009

Posted by Nick in Uncategorized.
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There’s a story on drudge today about stimulus money going to pay for an anti-suicide fence on a bridge in Akron, Ohio. After reading the article, several things struck me about the current state of affairs. While suicide prevention is an admirable goal, building an anti-suicide fence treats the effect of the problem, not the root cause. This approach to problem-solving is similar to politicians who clamor for anti-gun laws, but do little to address poverty and other social issues that lead people to violence. I remember this logic being applied again when my wife went to the doctor’s complaining of chronic fatigue and aches and pains. The doctor did a cursory examination and a few routine checks, but found no obvious infection or virus. Instead of digging deeper into more root causes, the doctor diagnosed her patient with depression and prescribed Zoloft to treat the symptoms. Only after repeatedly insisting that she was not depressed did my wife convince the doctor to do more tests and was correctly diagnosed with a case of Lyme’s disease. The same is occurring with stimulus money in Akron, Ohio. Do we really have to live in a society of caged bridges and rooftops, so that our mental illness cases stay hidden? The better, but more difficult approach is to address the underlying causes of suicide not futilely remove the most blatant instruments of self-destruction.

I believe the “treat the symptoms” approach is partially due to our Western focus on subject-object relationships. We can analyze, divide and sub-classify our problems into such small compartments separate from each other and separate from ourselves, that we fail to see them in any holistic way.  To assume that superficial, aesthetic value and underlying function are unrelated and have no impact on the people’s attitudes is to deny reality. When our society figures out that problems aren’t fixed by building fences alone, maybe then we will stop throwing money and smooth rhetoric at the economic problems and start remedying the financial laws and toxic loans in a meaningful way.

The topic was addressed at lunch yesterday in another way. The Geithner plan to create more government control of financial institutions does not address the underlying cause of our financial crisis. As shikety says, hedge fund managers only do one thing well – make money. No one will stop them from creating capital for their investors, even if they do it in such a way that hurts the rest of us. They cannot be appealed to in terms of morals, they are just doing their job. No government oversight or “fence” can stop them, because they are smarter and more well versed in economics than the bureaucrats and law makers. The hedge fund managers, just like people intent on suicide, will find ways around external barriers, which is why the change agents of this world have to start treating the root causes of problems and before the effects. To put it in simpler terms, consider the words of Richard Proenneke, a man who lived alone and self-sufficient in the Alaskan wilderness for thirty years without modern conveniences. He wrote that “too many men work on parts of things. Doing a job to completion is what satisfies me.” Perhaps if this sentiment was applied to our current societal ills, we might have less  of a need for anti-suicide fences.

Manna, What a Great Place to Live! 03/26/2009

Posted by newchinaguyritchie in culture, food, philadelphia.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

“To him that overcometh, to him will I give of the hidden manna.” Rev 2:17.

At chow the day past, shiketyshaq absurdly commented that bread is meaningless when it comes to concocting a sandwich.  Shiketyshaq contended that it was the meat that was the essence of a great sandwich, and not the securing slices of a perfectly baked slice of rye or wheat bread or a delicately sliced and prepared Amoroso roll.   Please keep in mind that shiketyshaq has been eating white bread for an extremely long time, and all of the residual chemical bleach has warped his palette clean of refined taste buds, so it’s not really his fault.  However, the discussion lingered with me longer than the smell of John’s left-over fish, and I realized there was something much more intriguing and scary about shikety’s conjectures.  To me, bread, and more specifically the roll, is a quintessential part of the Philadelphian’s ethos.  If forgotten or neglected for its true value and necessity in creating an amazingly distinct sandwich, then we as Philadelphians run the risk of forgetting who we are, where we come from, and what makes us so great.  And it is this displacement, this lack of civil pride, and this displeasure with our communal identity that stirs great fear in me for our future.

In John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley, Steinbeck encounters many fascinating people along his journey.  One unsuspecting meeting introduces him to a father who lives in a trailer park somewhere in the Midwest.  During the course of Steinbeck’s conversation with this man and his family, the man presents the idea that no Americans have roots.  The man goes further to contend that the idea of roots is merely a euphemism for being trapped.  Steinbeck was obviously intrigued enough by this astute insight to put it in his book.  I think it resonated personally for him as well since Steinbeck was a bit of a drifter himself, never content in one place.  Also, he did eventually depart from his birthplace in the Monterey area and West Coast for his eventual retirement home in New York.

Whether its educationally, racially, or economically, this man was correct that many people are trapped or limited by their environment.  However, I often find it is these same people who have some of the greatest pride in where they’re from.  It is these underprivileged individuals who manage to create the most admirable amount of dignity from the greatest amount of squalor.  And, ironically, it is often the most privileged, well-educated members of society who know nothing of their roots and have no respect for their past.  It is these individuals who flee like cowards to the West Coast for greener pastures and warmer weather, who loath their homes and neighborhoods and denigrate them as ignorant and archaic, who overlook all of the good and genuineness of their home.

But again, it is not these two groups that concern me most.  It is rather the members of these communities who are not shackled, who are educated, and who do desire adventure and culture beyond their borders but decide to stay anyway that worry me.  They worry me because I think they feel trapped when they are not, and in turn, resent their environment and home for preventing them the luxuries of a delusional freedom.  You see, these individuals have so much around them that is good and essential, and more importantly, the capacity to appreciate it.  Ironically, it was shiketyshaq, the man that started this digression, who also brilliantly said that he wants his son to row when he is older.  He wants his son to row so he can learn to love the river, the Schuylkill of course.  That is the admiration that I love, the kind that will set us apart from other cities and cultures in the country and world.

So, do me a favor this weekend.  Go out!  Go into the city for a walk along the river.  Take your kids to the Please Touch Muesum.  Take your wife, girlfriend, husband, boyfriend, or gumar to dinner and a show at the Merrian Theatre or the Ritz.  Find out what neighborhood or parish your grandparents grew up in and take a drive there (If it’s safe of course).  Walk around South Street and make snide comments about the kids with green hair and nose piercings and hope your kids never turn out that way.  Or, just sit back, put on Rocky and order an Italian Hoagie from your favorite deli and ask for extra oil on the Lord’s bread.