Naternet

I write. I edit. I talk into microphones. I point cameras at things.

Jun 29, 2014

It's that time of year again. June is almost at a close. The real heat of summer is yet to come. And a deluge of "Best Album of the Year...So Far" blog posts and articles are flooding the web.

As usual, I've spent this month hemming and hawwing over whether I want to throw my hat into the ring and cobble together my favorite records along with seemingly every other Joe and Jane Internet. In the end, I guess I'm more or less powerless to stop myself. Besides, there have been some surprises this year and some highly anticipated records that have fully lived up to the hype. 2014, at least up to this point in the year, has been a very good one for music. These choices aren't at all objective or often even based on anything other than my own personal enjoyment of the music. If you're looking for cut and dry critiques, you can find that elsewhere.

Let's get right to it, shall we?

Here are my ten favorite records so far for 2014, in no particular order.

Augustines - Augustines This is a record that sounds like a rainy, foggy night in the midst of the city, yet doesn't fall into the trap of being weepy and full of melacholy, even though there are plenty of both throughout. Augustines create a huge sound for just three guys. This is what I'd imagine U2 would sound like, were they still at all relevant.

Aan - Amor Ad Nauseum Aan took their time in making this record, and it was well worth the wait. There are standouts all over this record, starting with the opener, "Wet and Dripping" and running all the way through "Spiritual Provisions," "Bubble Bath Pop," and "Somewhere's Sunshine."

The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream Another record filled with stretched out, ethereal jams from The War on Drugs find them honing their sound. Hauntingly remeniscent of the glory days of FM radio and it's standard-bearers like Tom Petty and Springsteen, yet strikingly original.

Future Islands - Singles It's been said over and over again, but there's really no better way to describe this Future Islands record - it's dad rock at it's finest. The audaciously-titled "Singles" is filled with just that, perfect pop singles that, were this still the 1980s, would be plastered all over the radio dial and MTV.

Afghan Whigs - Do to the Beast The first new material from the Afghan Whigs in over a decade was well worth the wait. Sure, Greg Dulli has been busy on his own during that time, churning out music as The Twilight Singers, The Gutter Twins, and as a solo act. But the 90s kid in me loves that the Afghan Whigs reunited, and that they still sound as unique and powerful as ever.

The Both - The Both It's no surprise that two artists so well-versed in writing hook-laden songs mesh so well. Ted Leo and Aimee Mann compliment each other perfectly as The Both. It's not groundbreaking or a massive artistic departure, but that's fine. Sometimes, you just want to tap your foot and lose yourself in something that sounds vaguely familiar.

Black Prairie - Fortune The fifth album from Portland's purveyors of bluegrass-ish supergroup, Black Prairie, is a true gem. Though they started out as a side-project for members of The Decemberists, it's hard to argue that they haven't made a name for themselves in this iteration. Fortune is less bluegrass and more alt-folk with pop leanings, there are still some of those bluegrass elements, and they're often perfectly timed for maximum effect.

tUnE-yArDs - nikki nack When Merrill Garbus burst onto the scene with tUnE-yArDs a few years ago, she was a breath of fresh air that took the music world by surprise in 2011 with w h o k i l l. It's often hard to follow up such a surprising debut, but nikki nack does just that. It's just as inventive, while at the same time building off of the style and sound she laid down.

Kishi Bashi - Lighight I admit, I had no idea who Kishi Bashi was a few months back. But this record (and the stellar debut 151a) are filled with lighter-than-air moments a plenty and so much wide-eyed joy that they are hard to put down. Behind the pure pop awesomeness, there are some serious chops and quite a few nods to 70s prog rock that create a surprisingly perfect mix.

Sharon Van Etten - Are We There Heartbreak and depression can be to heavy to bear for a listener. It's easy to just tune it out after awhile, yet somehow Sharon Van Etten keeps it compelling on Are We There. From the defiant opener "Afraid of Nothing" to the bleakly wistful closer "Every Time the Sun Comes Up," she weaves us through an all-too-human rollercoaster of love, loss, redemption, and perserverence that pushes you away while begging you to come closer.

Black Pistol Fire - Hush or Howl Sometimes, you just want to turn the stereo up to 11 and be gloriously overwhelmed by fuzzed-out, distorted guitar, thundering drums, and yelped vocals. No pretense, no overarching message, just raw rock and roll that has no other purpose than to fuck you up in the best way possible.

Jack White - Lazaretto Jack White is a singular character in the music scene. He helped to usher in the garage rock revival in the late 90s/early 2000s with his "sister" Meg thumping away on the drums, to spending a few years floating around as a guitar-for-hire with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, to dabbling as a more than capable producer for nearly-forgotten icons like Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson, and setting up his own label, Third Man. He's a man who wears many hats and manages to look dashing under every brim. Lazaretto is a true tour-de-force by an artist that knows what he's doing and doesn't give one shit what you think. A fine record in it's own right, it somehow still feels like White (or Jack White III, as he now seems to be calling himself) is only scratching the surface.


And for good measure here are some of my favorite songs of the year so far. I just can't seem to get these tracks out of my head, and I keep going back to them over and over and over again.

Play each of the following tracks here:

Against Me! - True Trans Soul Rebel: Laura Jane Grace made this record a tour-de-force after coming out as a transgender woman in 2012 and this track in particular just kills.

Augustines - Nothing to Lose But Your Head: I love this entire record, front to back, but this song always gets stuck in my head.

Aan - Wet and Dripping: It's rare that a band can capture the fervor of their live performance in the studio, but that's exactly what Aan did with this track (and most of the album, too!)

St. Vincent - Birth in Reverse: St. Vincent is a frustrating artist for me. One minute I love her music, the next I'm frustrated by her apparent desire to be weird for the sake of being weird. Occasionally, she ties it all together.

The War on Drugs - Eyes to the Wind: Red-eyed, weary, hopeful, and gorgeous.

Perfect Pussy - Driver: While the back half of Perfect Pussy's debut record is a bit of a mess, Driver kicks the record off in arresting fashion.

Future Islands - Doves: Future Islands often feels like a suburban dad singing songs that Cyndi Lauper would've rocked back in the day. This is a perfect example of that, and it's catchy as hell.

Howler - Don't Wanna: It's hard for me not to love a Minnesota band aping The Replacements.

NO - Leave the Door Wide Open: NO played a studio session for opbmusic earlier this year and this song in particular just wormed it's way into my head.

Tom Brosseau - Today is a Bright New Day: Bittersweet and full of hope is Brosseau's wheelhouse. If you like folk music and haven't picked up a Tom Brosseau record, you're missing out.

Afghan Whigs - The Lottery: Greg Dulli doing Greg Dulli things. Enough said.

Black Prairie - The 84: I dare you to find a catchier chorus. In fact, I double dare you.

Wye Oak - The Tower: A little different sound from Wye Oak on their new record. This one just wormd it's way into my head.

Pink Mountaintops - Ambulance City: This record is a mish-mash of styles, but the driving opener just howls.

tUnE-yArDs - Water Fountain: Unique.

Black Pistol Fire - Hipster Shakes: As long as bands like Black Pistol Fire are around, The Black Keys can keep diddling around with refining their sound for maximum commercial appeal all they want. Raw, rough, and catchy without giving a single fuck.

Kishi Bashi - The Ballad of Mr. Steak: Delightful, silly fun.

Sharon Van Etten - Every Time the Sun Comes Up: Heartbreaking and gorgeous.

Bob Mould - The War: In his 50s, Mould can still rock harder than most half his age. This song proves it beyond a doubt.

Jack White - That Bat Black Licorice: Jack is at his best when he's pissed off, and on this track, he comes off as flat-out furious.

Glass Towers - Halcyon: Bright and shimmering, a wonderful song for summertime.

Strand of Oaks - Goshen '97: A surprising record and surprisingly rollicking opening song from a band that is usually sparsely beautiful.

May 25, 2014

pills It's Memorial Day weekend. People are out at the lake, out camping, out at the ocean, the vacation home, the rental cottage, the timeshare. They're grilling out and mowing lawns and sitting in hammocks. They're hanging out with friends and family, playing softball in the park, playing volleyball on the beach. They're relaxing, enjoying themselves, and trying to make the most of one of the few holidays between now and Labor Day.

Some are attending parades where veteran's organizations march down the street in between a restored firetruck from the 1920s and the newest model John Deere from the dealership, both driven by dapper old men. We still think about veterans on Memorial Day, but not really. We think about them as a mass, a disembodied entity encapsulating everything we want our country to be - brave, just, sacrificing, tough, virtuous. We celebrate the idea of veterans more than the reality.

In reality, many of our veterans are struggling. This is true today as it was when soldiers came back from Vietnam. We have spent over a generation forgetting about our vets as people once they return from our wars of choice.

Yes, the majority of vets come back and, either with no trouble or a little help, are able to slip right back into society and live their lives. But we also live in a time when more of our soldiers killed themselves than died in combat. That's disgusting.

We need to stop thinking of our soldiers and veterans as faceless masses and more as people. We need to demand that our veterans and soldiers are going to be taken care of when they return from war. It is morally reprehensible to send young men and women off to war and then not take care of them when they come home. If we have the will and money to fight a war, then we ought to find the will and money to take care of those fighting it. Especially when they are wars of choice, and especially when they are two of the longest conflicts in US history.

It's stories like this one that make my blood boil. A young man, a veteran, hooked on heroin because he was give Oxy and other painkillers after being wounded, like those solve anything, long term. We're creating addicts. And we're watching them die, either by their own hand or from the addiction. It's despicable, given what we know about painkiller addiction, to do this to anyone, much less our vets.

What can we do? Well, you can call your representatives and demand better. You can volunteer to help. But most of all, you can get informed and talk about it. Getting out and doing is always the most valuable option, if it's available to you, but simply being informed and discussing the problem, keeping it top of mind and educating others so that perhaps they might stay aware - that is important. Because unless we acknowledge the problem exists, we can't have a conversation about how to fix it. And we can't have a productive conversation unless we understand, to some degree, the problem at hand.

I know it's not a pleasant subject. I know that you'd rather be relaxing on this three-day weekend instead of thinking about suicide and addiction and PTSD and war. I would, too. But if we really want to celebrate Memorial Day, it's not all flag-waving and parades and burgers on the grill at the lake. It's also thinking about the actual, individual men and women who fought on our behalf, whether we wanted them to or not and whether we supported those wars or not. We owe them that much. Not just because they are soldiers, but because they are people.

Dec 27, 2013

While I'm as big a union supporter as the next guy, I'm not sure that the lack of unionized labor in the fast food industry is the main problem I take away from this article. Should fast food workers make more than $7.25, and on top of that, isn't $7.25 an unfair wage for anyone in this day and age? Of course the answer is yes. Now, of course, there are parts of the country where $7.25 will be enough to get by alright. And $15 an hour would be simply unfeasable for a fast food place in a small rural town, or a similar place with a low cost of living.

But before we get caught up in the numbers, which we could argue about forever and not come to a resolution, let me tell you my big takeaway from this article, since it's not "more unions" or "they don't get paid enough." Not entirely, anyway.

My takeaway is larger, and it's laid out pretty clearly in the article.

The fast-food industry says that what is going on here is a structural anomaly: that its wages were not intended to sustain a permanent work force — especially adults supporting families — and that it is happening because of larger economic forces. “The minimum wage was never meant to be a living wage,” said Steve Caldeira, the president of the International Franchise Association, a trade group for restaurants and other franchised firms. “It was meant, from the start, for entry-level workers and for those with lower skills.”

Exactly.

There is a growing hole in our economy where the middle class used to be. The structure of our income distribution isn't pyramid shaped, with a disappointingly large poor class but at least a solidly-sized middle class, it's more like a flagpole. A narrow shaft of wealth and prosperity founded on a large, heavy base of the poor. The pole is greased, too, causing an increasing number of Americans who were clinging to that middle class to slide inexorably downward, until they land with a thud at the bottom, with nowhere else to turn. Those already on the bottom are likewise unable to get a decent foothold to climb up.

This is why an increasing amount of older fast food employees are flooding the market, taking jobs that were never really meant for them. Unionization of fast food workers won't fix this problem. Raising the minimum wage won't fix this problem. They would both do good, in measured steps, for the industry as a whole, but they aren't going to fix the larger issue.

How do we fix this problem of the disappearing middle class and the increasing difficulty to "get by?" I don't know. I'm no economist, so anything I throw out as a solution would fail to account for any number of factors, since I'm not conditioned and trained to see the whole scope of the issue. But I don't have to be an economist to see that there's something wrong. I don't need miles of data to understand that people shouldn't have to work 70-80 hours a week just to make ends meet, be it in New York City or in New Ulm, MN. On top of that, someone shouldn't have to move from New York City to New Ulm or anywhere else, just to eek out a life.

Of course, sometimes we learn the hard way that certain places or walks of life aren't in the cards for us. Not everyone gets everything they want in life. Often, we don't even get what we deserve. But that doesn't mean that the opportunity shouldn't be there, that it shouldn't exist. That it shouldn't be attainable. Our country is falling farther down the pole of economic mobility, while a precious few are sliding up that pole, giving us the gap between the rich and the poor that we've seen since the 1920s.

This is not sustainable, and it very well could lead to cascading problems in the job market. For example: younger people can't get experience because the older workers can't afford to retire or they have resorted to fast food-type jobs to get by. It clogs up entry-level jobs. It stunts the growth of younger employees, because there's nowhere to move up to. Meanwhile, the wealth gap grows and grows, and we resort to bickering over crumbs instead of wondering why we no longer get our own slice of bread to eat.

Not the whole loaf, mind you, just a slice, so that there's enough to go around. A rising tide lifts all boats. When we all do better, we all do better. Et cetera.

Dec 6, 2013

mandela

My heart hurts.

Yesterday, as I was shooting the shit with our midday host, Jason Sauls, in the control room at OPB, the news broke on the BBC Newshour - former President and leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was dead.

I could barely breathe. Eventually, we tried to crack a few morbid jokes to break the silence (literal silence, because there were microphone problems during the announcement...awkward...). A profound feeling of loss came over me. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes, straining to justify the emptiness. Why did it feel like a gaping hole had opened up? Why was the death of this one man - albeit a great man - hitting me so hard?

I first heard of Nelson Mandela when I was 10 years old. It was early 1990, and he had just been released from prison after 27 years. He was the first contemporary international figure I can remember learning about in detail in school. As we learned about Mandela, we learned about apartheid, and, consequently, America’s own shameful history of racial inequality. Nelson Mandela was my generation's chance to see societal change writ large in real time.

It’s long enough ago that I can’t remember details, but I do remember being confused. Why were South African whites, who looked just like the adults I saw every day, persecuting other people just because of the color of their skin? My ten year old self simply couldn’t fathom how this was possible in this day and age. I'd learned about slavery and the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, but that was in the past. Apartheid was happening now! That adults could be so fundamentally wrong and misguided and hateful was hard to take.

To ten year old me, adults were authority figures. Paragons of knowledge and right and wrong. It’s one of the first times I can recall being upset at adults for their actions - not just superficially so, like when I couldn’t stay up past my bedtime or get a toy I wanted, but deeply, fundamentally so. What had been done to this man, Mandela, was wrong, and he was just so...gracious about it.

That he wasn’t overcome with with deep-seated anger and even rage was unfathomable. That he didn’t seek out vengeance against those who had imprisoned him for 27 years was, and still is, unimaginable to me. Such supernatural decency and empathy cut me to my core. I was a bullied kid, full of anger and fear and self-loathing, and here was this man who had gone through 10,000 times what I could even imagine...and was still strong.

And the backstory to it all, how he had tried at first to protest and push for change with non-violence. But after years of no progress, he was left with no other option than to resort to violence. That struck me, too. It was reinforced by a lesson my parents taught me about dealing with bullies during this time. Try everything to get them to quit peacefully - ignore them, laugh with them, try to befriend them - if they won't stop, appeal to authority figures, and if they still won't stop, after you've exhausted all other options, punch them in the mouth. Here was a man who had gone through all of that, finally struck back at his aggressor, and came out on the other side desiring a "Rainbow Nation" instead of scorched earth.

It may have taken a few years to sink in, but Nelson Mandela inspired me to look for the best in people, despite how they treat me or others. To search for compromise instead of conflict, if it's available. These values were ingrained in me, as they are in most of us, by my parents. But this man half a world away let me see the best of humanity in action.

He wasn't a perfect man by any means. None of us are. An imperfect world will never produce a perfect man, but that doesn't mean we can't try. Nelson Mandela tried harder and got closer than most, and he left the world a better place than he found it.

So that's why my heart hurts. That’s why tears welled up in my eyes. That’s why it feels like there is a hole in the world right now. We will recover and move on. We always do. But we will not soon forget Nelson Mandela. We lost a great man, but what we gained during his 95 years on this earth ensure that he will be remembered long after each and every one of us has been long forgotten.

Nov 27, 2013

I've always had a devil of a time focusing on the things that I should be thankful for. Its like a weird cognitive roadblock. I know that good things are happening, but I can't help but focus on the negative. I suppose it fits into my "optimistic pessimist" world view. I always want to believe things will work out for best, but deep down I know that they probably won't. So I'm not surprised when they don't.

Because of this I always have a hard time around Thanksgiving when it came to the "what are you thankful for?" discussions come up. My initial response, no matter how good or bad the year has been, is to pluck out the shitty things. It doesn't even have to be something that life-affecting. "Some fucker just cut me off on the way over here." or "that time I had to go to the emergency room because it felt like somebody stuck a hot poker into my balls" sit on roughly equal footing. Which is weird, because one of those is obviously much more, shall we say, memorable. (hint: it's not the guy that cut me off, it's the one that sewed me up)

But good things have happened this year. I do have many things to be thankful for. I know this, even though it gets buried under all the bullshit. So I'm going to try to revel in that for a little bit. Let's do a list, shall we?

  • Sara and I celebrated our 15th year as a couple a few weeks back. That's insane! 15 years!!
  • I've had a front-row seat to watch her express herself with her art. It sounds cheesy and hippie-ish, but whatever. My wife is an artist. It makes her happy. And that makes me happy. Plus, I think her stuff is really good.
  • I have a host position at one of the larger public radio stations in the country. That's kinda crazy, considering where I was five years ago. Just knowing that I people all over the state are spending their evenings listening to me (and Fresh Air, Think Out Loud, TED Radio Hour, etc) is kinda crazy for a guy whose last radio gig was in college radio, twelve years ago.
  • And an addendum on that last note, working with people who really care about their work is great - so much so that I almost have to pinch myself. Working with people who love what they do creates an amazing work environment.
  • My friends. Near or far, I am so lucky to have so many creative, funny, caring people in my life. If I've done nothing else right, I've managed to stumble upon some incredibly cool folk. I don't see nearly enough of you nearly as much as I'd like. Hell, there are some of you who I haven't seen in years, yet we've managed to stay in touch. I fully admit that I'm not the easiest person to get to know well. We midwestern boys tend to be stoic to the point of ridiculousness. So those of you who saw me as worth it enough to stick it out are pretty amazing, in my book.
  • My little sister is happy again. She really deserves it.
  • And on that note, I'm thankful for my precocious little niece. I get the occasional quick phone "conversation" (Jolene has no patience for phones, yet...) and pictures on Facebook and in text messages, but I can tell she's one very loved and bright kid and that she's going to only get smarter and smarter and remind me of myself and Anna more and more as the years go on.
  • Our dogs, despite health scares earlier this year, are still furry little balls that make us smile every day.
  • Finally, I'm thankful that I live where I do. But I'm also thankful that I grew up where I did. Growing up in the rural midwest was fantastic. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I feel the same way about Portland and the Pacific Northwest. I love living here and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Nov 19, 2013

The talking heads who surround the NFL are having a field day with the bullying allegations against Richie Incognito by former teammate Jonathan Martin. It’s the kind of red meat that sports media loves to chow down on - an antagonist with a checkered past (Incognito), racial elements (Martin is black, Incognito used racial slurs), macho bullshit (Incognito was supposedly tasked with "toughening up" Martin), and management-level intrigue (the Dolphins management supposedly knew all of this was going on).

While I’m not a member of the sports media or a talking head, bullying is something that I know a thing or two about. I was bullied non-stop through elementary and middle school and into high school.

Football is something I know a thing or two about, too. I was a pretty decent high school linebacker. At least slightly above average. It was easy to want to hit other people really hard when I had years and years of anger and frustration on tap whenever I needed it. Punishing nameless, faceless opponents for the wrongs inflicted upon me by my schoolmates wasn’t fair, but once that ball was snapped, the source of your violence doesn’t matter as long as it’s unleashed on the guy with the ball.

Like Jonathan Martin, I was bullied as a football player. Bullied playing all sports, really. When I started playing sports, I was undersized and a bit of a smartass. People who have only known me as an adult might be surprised to learn that, for most of my adolescence, I was a nerdy, awkward, bookish kid. But I loved sports and competition, so I played football, basketball, and baseball. All of my sporting seasons were covered.

And I was bullied playing all three.

My baseball teammates would laugh at me from the dugout when I struck out and heckled me when I’d fail to field a grounder or make the proper throw.

My basketball teammates refused to pass me the ball and - I swear I’m not making this up - scream at me not to shoot in the middle of games. I can still hear their shrill “NO, SJOL!!!” as I lined up to shoot a jump shot.

This was not a supportive environment, to say the least. If I'm being honest, things like this (and worse) fucked me up for a long time.

Football was different, though. I was still bullied and picked on, but I was also accepted to a degree, because I could run, I could catch, and I could hit people. No one made fun of me in the middle of games. But I was bullied on the practice field and in the locker room. Teammates would drive their helmet into my chin during form tackling drills as a joke, leaving me bloodied. I got taped to benches. (granted, it took eight guys, and I broke someone’s glasses, but still…) I was on the receiving end of numerous wedgies that ended in ripped and torn underwear and bands of skin where my waistband had rubbed raw. I got punched in the face on the team bus during halftime of a game, in front of our coaches. I was degraded, harassed, and overall made to feel less-than.

Most, if not all, of this went on with the coach's knowledge. My freshman year, when the football team was asked to go door-to-door selling something to raise money for whatever. We were asked to split up into groups of 3-4, with one player driving and the others combing houses, block by block. They let us pick our own groups. One by one, groups of my teammates piled into cars and pickups. None let me to join their group, so the coaches had to assign me to the last one left in the parking lot.

Let me repeat that - the team paired off by groups of friends, and the coaches ended up having to assign me to a group, because none of my teammates wanted me around.

Resentful at having to cart me around, those guys spent the next few hours tormenting me. They'd drop me off and quickly drive a few blocks away, leaving me to run after them. Then they would swerve toward me when I would try to get back in. And they made me ride in the bed of the pickup (despite there being plenty of room in the cab) in sub-40 degree weather.

And then we had a pizza party afterward, to celebrate our “teamwork.”

To top it off, those assholes even spent the rest of the season bitching about how they HAD to cart me around, like it was the worst thing that could happen. They even did so in front of coaches, some of whom would chuckle along. None of them told the kids to stop or reprimanded them.

How much do you want to bet that I remember exactly which coaches thought it was funny?

The bullying didn’t taper off until I hit a growth spurt and hit the gym, making me larger and stronger than my tormentors. That’s the thing about bullies - they only target easy, safe targets that don't pose a threat. Another word for people like this is “cowards.” Cowards and bullies kick people when they are down. But when that person stands up, suddenly the bullies and cowards are nowhere to be found.

Bullying in sports is no joke. It’s not just isolated incidents like Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. It is, sadly, a part of the culture. In a sport that values macho attitudes and toughness, there is also an undercurrent of weakness and tiny-dick syndrome. Bullies are weak mentally. They are weak socially. So they act out by making others feel weaker than they are. This is true inside and outside of sports. All that it accomplishes is dragging everyone down.

There are some wonderful, useful, powerful things that I learned playing sports. I learned to believe in myself. I learned that amazing things can happen when you work together as a team. Most of all, I learned perseverance and resolve. I kept getting up, no matter how many times I was knocked down - physically and mentally.

I learned all of these things despite, and occasionally because of, bullying. So even behind the positives lurks the specter of bullying. It still haunts me today, fifteen years after I last strapped on a helmet. Every time I’m presented with a situation where one of these lessons proves to be valuable, somewhere in the back of my mind, a memory of being bullied pops up. It's an ongoing reminder that there are better ways to learn important life lessons than through physical and mental abuse.

Nov 11, 2013

On this November 11th, I'll spend the day pretending that we still celebrate Armistice Day here in the US. Why, you ask? Well...a certain WWII vet probably explains better than I ever could.

"I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November 11th, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day.

When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the 11th minute of the 11th hour of Armistice Day, which was the 11th day of the 11th month. It was during that minute in 1918, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another.

I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not. So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things. What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance."

-- Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

Instead of going shopping to take advantage of sales and blindly congratulating military service, I'd rather remember the original reason that we set aside November 11th - to commemorate the end of a war. I'd argue that sentiment is nearly universal. Most of us will never see the realities of war like veterans have. But we can see the effects of war on those vets that come back - shell shock, depression, and suicide. When a country sends off healthy, hearty young men and women and they come back broken, it doesn't take a genius to see that something awful got hold of them. I'd rather spend November 11th thinking about the end of war, keeping those men and women from having to fight in the first place.

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, take a moment to be silent and remember those who gave their lives. Take a moment to acknowledge how awful and brutal war is. Take a moment to think about the tens of millions killed on battlefields over just the past century (20 million in WWI alone). Think about their families left behind, think about the lives that they could have led, the people that they could have become, the things that they could have accomplished, had their lives not been cut short by war.

Nov 5, 2013

play

Sometimes, the answers to problems present themselves unbidden at just the right moment. The serendipity is like a shot in the brain's pleasure center. It's a shame that it doesn't happen more often.

I was sitting here in my office at home, sipping coffee, petting the dog at my feet with my feet, trying to think of something, anything to write about. Then, out of the blue, comes this gem - School Bans Kindergarteners from Touching Each Other.

Fucking seriously?!

It's a blog on a site I've never heard of, so I was glad that they provided a link to an actual news article on the ban. I thought for a minute there that this was some sort of Canadian version of The Onion. Sadly, no. This story is real.

"I don’t know how anyone would be against this,” Arthur Bourke (a school employee) said. “They’re trying to make it safe for everybody."

"Trying to make it safe for everybody." That kind of sums up the whole problem right there, doesn't it? I'm sure that the school administrators who came up with this 'no touching' policy had the very best of intentions. Who doesn't want five year olds to be safe? I'm sure this is doubly so for an institution that is entrusted with other people's children's care. But often reality and good intentions clash. This is surely one of those instances.

Making everything 'safe' is a slippery slope. Simply being alive isn't safe. Thousands of times a day, each and every one of us avoids (or succumbs to) minor or major injury - from stubbing a toe to breaking a nail to getting hit by a car. Life is an inherently dangerous undertaking, and much of modern society is built around making life a little safer. That's why we have seat belts and speed limits, laws and rules and guidelines, bike helmets and warning lights, and a myriad of other little things to keep us safe, both from each other and from the world at large.

But if you go too far down the road to make everything safe, you end up sterilizing the world we live in. You take out the possibility of chance, of risk, of adventure, of achievement, of fun. And the first place those overreaches usually happen is in regard to the most vulnerable of us - children.

That overreach brought us participation trophies, because kids that lose might get their feelings hurt. It led to kids being carted from safe place to safe place, instead of walking around and exploring and interacting with the world. It led to (and was furthered by) helicopter parents who coddle their children far beyond what is necessary. It led to banning dodgeball, kickball, or any form of potentially rough play on schoolyards that might make kids feel left out or might result in any injury, no matter how fleeting.

And now it's led to this - kindergarteners can't touch each other at a school in rural British Columbia. Sure, administrators say it's a temporary thing, but even on a temporary basis, it's ridiculous on its face. Kids touch each other. They touch adults. They touch pets. They touch EVERYTHING. I don't even have kids and I know this. You want to know why? Because I've seen other people's children. It's what they do. It's what they've always done. And somehow, we've made it this far as a species. Amazing, right?

I remember getting reprimanded for roughhousing on the playground in elementary school. Multiple times I had to spend recess periods in the classroom, writing out "I will not hit other kids on the playground." until it filled the entire chalkboard. Did that teach me not to hit other kids? Sort of. The rote exercise taught me not to get caught again. But it was the recess monitor taking the time to explain why I shouldn't hit (or bite - yeah, little Nate was occasionally a biter) other kids, usually by asking me if I'd like to be treated like that by my schoolmates.

Sometimes, some little asshole kids hit or kick another kid. It happens. Life sucks. They're kids. An appropriate response to "several injuries in the past few weeks" would be to reprimand kids who kick or punch or push or shove. Actually deal with the problem instead of throwing out silly blanket policies that will only further push kids into a protective bubble.

Oct 27, 2013

modernkin

In the age of instant information and instant gratification, what exactly constitutes a "world tour?" Is it still strictly defined as a artist or band packing up instruments and self and hitting the road (and taking to the air) to play in front of curious audiences in foreign locales? At a time when we're redefining how we connect and share with other people, it is fair to ask whether the established ideas around what a "tour" is can be tossed aside. That is just what Modern Kin did from Friday night into Saturday afternoon.

A more concentrated version of the Pastors Wives, Modern Kin embarked on their modern world tour Friday night at Mississippi Studios and by Saturday afternoon had traversed the globe, playing the Midwest, East Coast, Europe, and even the Pacific Rim. All in time for a well-deserved afternoon nap.

Band members Drew Grow, Kris Doty, and Jeremiah Hayden tore through seven full sets in 24 hours to make this tour happen, starting at 7pm Friday and wrapping up 2pm Saturday afternoon. Each was streamed live over Youtube for different time zones the world over. Voila, world tour. It'd be fair to call this the most economical, hassle-free world tour ever.

Modern Kin's 10pm record release set Friday night was blistering and taut . Grow and Co. tore through most of the new, self-titled record, and peppered in some old Pastor's Wives tracks. Most notably, an utterly haunting version of "Friendly Fire" that left much of the in-house crowd speechless. The new songs shined, too. "Congratulations Lack Earth," the frenetic "Unannounced," and the taut and deliciously theatrical "Wicked Crush" really stood out.

The room was charged and Grow was the live wire at the center. With hunched shoulders, he tensed and undulated, conducting something unseen. He perched on his tip-toes when his legs weren't spastically jutting out at odd angles. Every movement bumping up against the edge of the stage, the room, and even the Youtube stream sent out to the four corners of the earth.

Some bands can fill a room. Modern Kin inhabited Mississippi Studios and then bristled at the confinement. Doty delivered urgent bass lines and keyboard passages, occasionally wrestling with one while playing the other. And holding it all together was the perfectly pitched drumming of Hayden. Backup vocals swirled like a maniac chorus.

The impermanence of the live stream (the shows were not recorded, so if you missed it, tough luck) was balanced out by the memorable performance. A nice reminder that while the things we make can be fleeting, the experiences we share can last a lifetime. No matter if in person, or across the world.

Modern Kin's debut album may be self-titled, but their 24 hour album release tour was titled "Hello World." An apt title if there ever was one. Modern Kin is going to be hard to ignore.

Oct 17, 2013

I've been struggling to stay apolitical here for a few years. All of the anger and frustration wasn't doing anyone any good and I hated to think that I was adding (in even a minuscule way) to the partisan bickering that bombards us day in and day out.

So maybe a primer on where I stand is in order, before I dive in.

I lean left on some issues, slightly to the right on others.

Marriage equality? I'm baffled that it's still an issue. It's 2013, not 1913. But I also don't see the need for the federal government to have any hand in marriage. Make it civil unions across the board. If you want to get "married," head to your church, synagogue, mosque, whatever and do so, no one is stopping you.

Gun control? Obviously a tricky, contentious issue. I see a gun as a tool, like a hammer or a wrench. It has a purpose (hunting, protection), but the desire has far outpaced need. Want a rifle or shotgun to go hunting with or shoot varmints invading your property and digging up your garden or whatever? No problem, it's your right. Want a handgun to protect yourself and/or your family? I'd be the last person to stand in your way. But you have to get it registered. It's a deadly weapon. Yes, 99.9% of gun owners don't run around shooting up schools, malls, or elected officials. But look at it this way - 99.9% of drivers don't go around driving drunk, getting into deadly accidents, but we all still have to register our cars.

Want a semi-automatic "assault-style" weapon (AR-15, etc.)? You had better have a good reason, and not "it looks fun to shoot." (even though they are very fun to shoot) That kind of weapon is a luxury item, a collectable, or a toy, and it should be far more difficult to acquire a weapon whose sole purpose is putting bullets into other people.

Military/foreign intervention? I'm all the way over with folks like Ron Paul on this one. Why do we have tens of military bases all over the world? Why do we have to be the world's police force? The defense industry is essentially a jobs program, and those jobs and the technology and innovation that they spawn should be put to better use than, say, a boondoggle like the F-35. Here's an idea - maybe if we stopped throwing our weight around, fucking about in other people's business (Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Chile, etc, etc), and generally being self-centered assholes the world over, we wouldn't have so many "threats" to defend ourselves against.

Government spending/relative size of government? This is a massive issue to boil down into a single paragraph, but I'm going to try. I want a lean, effective, efficient, transparent as possible government. Given the way that our current government seems to not work, this sounds like a pipe dream. Where there is a will, there's a way. We just have to show the will. But I'm not going to hold my breath.

Health care? I'm in the socialist's camp on this one. It should be a basic human right to have access to health care. We should expect it to be a big chunk of our nation's budget, not be complaining about it. Is socialized medicine perfect? No. But people shouldn't be terrified to go to the doctor for fear of incurring life-altering debt. Health insurance is a sham. Profiting off the pain and suffering of others is abominable and disgusting.

Anyway, back to the task at hand - "GOP Rep Looks to Next Showdown: 'We're going to start this all over again.'"

Two words - Fuck. Off.

If cursing isn't your cup of tea, then maybe a simple - Grow. Up. - would work. Because seriously, grow the fuck up. Then fuck off.

Look, we get it. You don't like the Affordable Care Act and you really don't like that a black man is the President. You're bought and paid for racists, and that's okay, you're allowed, but that doesn't mean that the rest of society needs to constantly put up with your whining, puling bullshit tantrums. The ACA passed both houses of Congress, was signed into law, upheld by the Supreme Court, and re-affirmed when Mitt Romney ran against it in 2012 and lost handily. All 42 attempts to get rid of it by the House have failed, and will continue to fail. You lost, get over it.

That doesn't mean that we can't have a discussion about how to move forward and add/remove things from the current law. I personally think that the ACA is a step in the right direction, but only a baby step. We still have a long way to go. The Republicans and their tea bagger constituents are more than welcome to put forward amendments to the law. They're more than welcome to help improve it so that their constituents can get the best care possible for the best value so that we can all live healthy and happy lives moving forward. I'd love for that to happen. When we all work together, we can achieve wonderful things.

Instead, they want to continue to throw hissy fits, continue to shut down the federal government (hurting millions of people in the process), and continue to have their campaign coffers filled by the Koch brothers and the Heritage Foundation and whomever else shovels money their way. This is not sustainable. It's not governance. It's a fucking farce, and it needs to stop. It's the governmental equivalent to letting a screaming toddler dictate policy.

With the exception of the dangerously clever (and dangerously self-centered) Ted Cruz, these teabaggers are more dull than a kindergardener's fat pencil. That's a jab and a joke, obviously, but go ahead and try listening to Gohmert or Bachman or any of them talk for an extended period of time. They're either being intentionally obtuse and stupid or they really are that fucking dumb. I'm not sure which is scarier.

So, Congressman Fleming (R-LA), shut up, sit down, and try to remember how to act like an adult. You and your ilk shut down the government for two weeks and got nothing for it. And now you want to do it all over again, thinking that the result will somehow be different? If you want to have a real conversation about spending - which we desperately need to have - we can do that. But stamping your feet and holding your breath to try to get your way is how toddlers negotiate. And toddlers are shitty negotiators.