REM Automatic For the People
Overview: Athens, Georgia's REM was the pre-eminent alternative rock band of the 80's, releasing a string of albums that pioneered and anticipated many of the burgeoning genre's key features (save for its metallic edge). The group really struck it big in 1991, when the success of the single "Losing My Religion" and the breakthrough of alternative rock brought them into the mainstream. Yet it wouldn't be until the following year when the quartet released their masterpiece, Automatic for the People.
Automatic emphasizes the darker, personal, more literal side of REM over the exuberant rock and abstract lyricism of their early years, producing a deeply affecting and personal set of songs. It's kind of funny that this effort came right as Nirvana and their ilk were destroying everyone in sight, both because the Nirvana frontman openly adored REM (and was close friends with frontman Michael Stipe) and because of how out of step the hushed melodies and atmospheric arrangements seemed with the harder, punchier sounds dominating the airwaves. But great songs are great songs, and Automatic is packed with them. "Man on the Moon," a tribute to comedian Andy Kaufman, is the most accessible pop hit here, and the maudlin "Everybody Hurts" had its moment as well. But like many great records, Automatic isn't defined by a few radio successes - it's a consistently strong set of songs that flow together expertly for a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Album opener "Drive" is the perfect way to kick off this record, setting it on an acoustic, slightly melancholy footing, while deploying strings and flourishes of rock guitar from Peter Buck. Like the entirety of Bill Berry's career, the song also exercises considerable restraint, maintaining its tension throughout as Stipe croons, "hey, kids, rock and roll..." The excellent "Drive" sets the stage for a remarkably consistent and diverse set that really only falters with the über-boring "Star Me Kitten," apparently an homage to a band called 10cc but in practice an exercise in boredom. (REM would revisit the song and make it even worse by having William S Burroughs mumble the lyrics on a version for a greatest hits album.
REM succeed here with straightforward pop songs like "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight," "Try Not to Breathe," and the sparkling "Monty Got a Raw Deal," each featuring memorable melodies and plaintive vocals from Stipe. They also explore new territory within the album's overall aesthetic with the noisy clatter of "Ignoreland" and swirling, organic "Sweetness Follows." They even throw in "Everybody Hurts," a Bill Berry composition that is probably their most disputed song outside of "Shiny Happy People." I get the feeling that a lot of folks think that it's too sincere, too maudlin, to be effective art, and I disagree. Once you get past the idea of REM doing something as, as Buck describes it, "atypically straightforward," it really is a powerful and heartfelt song. Sometimes it's OK for alt-rockers to write songs unironically.
The real payoff to Automatic for the People comes at the end, where the driving "Man on the Moon" is followed with the moonlight piano anthem "Nightswimming" and lovely "Find the River," providing the rare treat of a record that closes with some of its best material and feels like it's exactly the right length.
3 best songs: Drive, Man on the Moon, Nightswimming
JPJ sighting: The strings on "Drive" were arranged by Led Zeppelin's multitalented John Paul Jones, because of course they were. I can't imagine any record being made worse by Jones contributing to it.
Wrapping up: I once wrote an article in CMU's school paper about how pretty much every record is front-loaded and ends on a weak note. This is one that I cited as a counterpoint.
Andy did you hear about this one: Like most people, I like when I hear my name in songs, like "Man on the Moon."
"Call me when you try to wake her up": is what he's been saying in "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight" all these years.
Perspective: My college buddy Al once remarked that it was great to have the musical skill and freedom to record and publish something like "New Orleans Instrumental #1." I take the opposite view - if you're a great artist and have artistic freedom to make the music you want, you don't need to clutter your records with aimless filler like this.
Excellent: Wayne and Garth did a great parody of the "Everybody Hurts" video ("Did Wayne forget to turn the stove off?") in one of their MTV specials. While I'm here, please spend three minutes and watch "Pain Cave".
What if they'd written "Losing My Religion" a year later and put it on Automatic?: This disc would have appeared in this space sooner, and I'd have saved the $5 I spent on Out of Time.
Minor flaw: All of "Star Me Kitten."
Why It's Great: Proof that alt-rock can dazzle with musicianship and songwriting, even without turning up the volume
REM Automatic For the People
Interested in knowing how the states of our great Union stack up on a number of key health metrics? No? Fine then, don't read this article. We don't need you here anyway, jerk!
I'm sorry, that was uncalled for. No reason for me to get all defensive like that. If you are interested in such a thing, you might want to take a look a America's Health Rankings, a report compiled annually by nonprofit group United Health Foundation. Here's a quick look at the overall rankings:
As with pretty much everything else in America, the South is dragging us down here, as Dixie is filled with many of the lowest-ranking states in overall health. Not a huge surprise. Interestingly, and unlike some other similar metrics, the poor performance extends further up North through the Rust Belt, with Indiana, Missouri, and, sadly, Ohio, turning in weak showings. The Northeast states and the West Coast scored very well, as did a number of the Plains and Rocky Mountain states. Who knew Minnesotans were so fit? I sort of wondered if and how this map might resemble the iconic red/blue electoral map - the two share some commonalities, but it turns out not to be so simple. Republican states, for instance, run the gamut from rock-bottom scorers like Mississippi and Arkansas to high-performers like North Dakota and Utah.
Hawaii at #1? Perhaps we should all do some more surfing.
In any endeavor like this, it's natural to focus on one's own home turf, and I frankly wasn't happy with Ohio's performance. We scored a pathetic 40th overall - worse than Texas and Georgia! - and don't have anything pointing us towards strong improvement in the near future. The survey highlighted some positives for the Buckeye State - strong High School graduation rates, high insurance enrollment rates, and plenty of GP doctors. The rest of it ... not so good. The main factors are simple - we're too fat (38th in obesity), we smoke way too goddamn much (39th, a big thorn in my side), and, again, too fat (45th in diabetes risk). There's a telling graph on Ohio's page, showing a massive (ha!) increase in obesity (defined here as a Body Mass Index, BMI, greater than 30). In Ohio's case, it has jumped from 11% to just over 30% since 1990, which is crazy. Every other state has also experienced a dramatic rise in obesity - they all have basically the same chart, except the y-axes don't reach quite as high for some of the fitter states. Vermont (#2 overall) also started around 10% in 1990, but topped out at 24%, a full 20% better than Ohio.
Some of the comments in the survey were revealing as well. 23% of us are still smokers, which, given all that we know about both the health hazards of smoking and how annoying and gross it is, remains shockingly high. One in four? Come on, Ohio. Utah is the vanguard here at just 1 in 10. Let's work on this.
Perhaps related to our high smoking rates, and also without a doubt intertwined with our elevated obesity rates, we find that more than 1 in 4 adult Ohioans are physically inactive. This is one lifestyle choice I've simply never been able to understand.
Violent crime down 15% in the last 5 years! Score.
12% of us have diabetes? A million people? How is that even possible?
In the past year, immunization coverage among children decreased from 74.7 percent to 66.8 percent of children aged 15 to 35 months. Fuck you, Jenny McCarthy.
The study closes by noting a key disparity: "50% of adults aged 25 years and older with at least a high school education report their health is very good or excellent, compared to only 23% with less than a high school education." Simply finishing high school more than doubles your chances at enjoying good health. Education improves quality of life in many ways - turns out that health is yet another one of them, and in a major way as well.
I'm curious how Northeast Ohio would have fared, were it considered as its own state and split apart from Sohio. I suspect that we would have bested Ohio in an overall ranking, but still placed well in the bottom half of the United States. Either way, it's incredible to reflect that, if people simply stayed away from tobacco and sugar, we'd be immeasurably healthier.
Overview: Joy Division. Ha! I did it right there in the first two words, making the rock journalist-required (yes, I'm a rock journalist - an amateur blogger hack one, but still) comparison to Interpol's most recognizable antecedent in a review of their stunning debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights. Truth be told, I'm not a huge Joy Division fan - I thought Unknown Pleasures was good and Closer was unlistenable - but Interpol does a great job here appropriating the best elements from Ian Curtis and company. On Turn on the Bright Lights, Interpol blends Joy Division's atmospherics, the Strokes' relentless rhythms, and Paul Banks' commanding baritone into a rich, remarkably cohesive debut album.
Garage-oriented rock Strokes, White Stripes, and Hives are most commonly credited with the "rock revival" of the '00's, but the 2002 release of this disc deserves a spcial mention as well. In fact, a survey of today's rock landscape reveals that Interpol may have had the most lasting influence out of the bunch, even if their subsequent releases weren't as well-regarded. Although they trade in the much buzz and crunch of those contemporaries for ringing, chiming guitar tones, they share those groups' focus on the rhythmic aspect of guitar rock, building a precisely propulsive fundation for their moody tales of nightlife.
Interpol also has here at their disposal the remarkable baritone of frontman Paul Banks. it's a unique tool in rock - it almost doesn't sound like a real person's voice, as authoritative and powerful as it is. The band's music already has a somber, serious feel to it, and Banks' voice serves to lend it further gravitas, both on uptempo tracks like "Say Hello to the Angels" and more restrained moments like the stunning "Leif Erikson"
Turn on the Bright Lights is a terrifically consistent and well-paced disc, but like any Great Record it has its standouts as well. The disc kicks off with the slow-building, mostly-instrumental "Untitled," whose title hints at its introductory, table-setting nature. Having been properly warned, listeners are dropped into the dueling chords of "Obstacle 1," an obvious highlight of the disc.
"Say Hello to the Angels" is the hardest-rocking tune here, and fittingly should rank among the best rock tracks of the decade. This song absolutely cruises along. Interpol doesn't need to keep the tempos quick to dazzle though, most notably in album centerpiece "NYC," a semi-sarcastic ode to the band's hometown. Featuring slowly churning guitars, sweeping strings, a unique rhythm (it loops every 8 quarter notes but the percussion turns it over with 5 sets of three eighth notes and one bonus strike), and a rich vocal from Banks, "NYC" makes Interpol's artistic potential seem almost limitless. A beautifully orchestrated song on a tremendous debut.
The overall sound of Turn on the Bright Lights remains pretty consistent from start to finish, but Interpol effectively varies their tempos and flourishes throughout to keep things fresh. Dropping the pace builds the mood effectively on album closer "Leif Erikson" and especially on the aforementioned "NYC," giving those songs character while setting the stage for their more rapid counterparts. Turn on the Bright Lights remains one of the best and most influential albums of the early 2000's rock revival, one that added a bit of style to the rejuvenated genre's rediscovered substance.
3 best songs: Obstacle 1, NYC, Say Hello to the Angels
Apt: Someone once said that Interpol was the NYC band to listen to if you were doing cocaine, while the Strokes were for drinking. I can see where they're coming from.
Their other records: No idea. They don't seem to be as well regarded as this, though I liked Antics OK the couple of times I heard it. They wouldn't be the first rock act unable to duplicate a massive first act.
Carlos D. I loved Spin magazine back in the 2000's, absolutely I did, but I always found their fascination with Interpol's impeccably-dressed bassist to be odd.
Vijay, oh Vijay: A good friend of mine with whom I played in a few bands was a big champion of this record, but inexplicably doesn't like "NYC," to me one of the crucial tracks. This frustrates me!
Vijay's "NYC" thing is kind of like: the friend of mine who claims winter is his favorite season. That's flatly insane.
Magic moment: The layered intro to "Obstacle 1"
Minor flaw: Even at 11 tracks, the lack of stylistic variation wears a bit thin, though the group was wise enough not to extend this disc past 50 minutes,
Why it's great: Among the garage rock revival of the 2000's, Interpol stood out as vanguards of style, atmosphere, and polish with their outstanding debut
Inspired by the weekly roundup of the craziest things said each week by those on the far right of the American political spectrum collected each week by Alter Net's Janet Allon, I thought I'd share a few that have been kicking around in my head.
Before I could even turn the dial on the talk radio when I got in my car the other day, I heard a caller to one of those right-wing echo chamber shows say to the host, completely without irony, that "I agree with you 100% that we have a dictator for a President."
Come on, man. Look, it's OK to dissent, and it's OK (encouraged, even) to criticize our nation's leaders if you think they are doing the wrong things. That's democracy. But it's not OK to say dumb shit like this (legally it is - not my point), and I really wish there was some way to hold people accountable for idiocy like this. I mean, yes, this caller has to live his life with a diminished capacity to reason, but I suspect that ailment doesn't deter him, nor even occur to him. Honestly, does this guy know the meaning of "100%" or "dictator"?
This statement can be pulled apart on two levels. The more fundamental one is, simply and objectively, that we do not have a dictator for a president. We have a president, the executive who leads one of three branches of government. The Executive Branch has, without a doubt, gained prominence over the past half-century or so, but the current balance of power is so far removed from what actually happens in a dictatorship as to become irrelevant. Look at an actual dictator for five minutes and tell me if you still agree with this 100%. Making a statement like this says far more about the speaker than it does about Barack Obama - it illustrates a complete inability (or unwillingness) to understand world affairs, politics, degrees of separation, or anything, really. It's quite pathetic. We get it, you don't like policies like modest health care reform - perhaps you could mount a more reasonable opposition to it than simply lobbing patently false exaggerations?
The other approach to addressing this statement looks past the hyperbole and addresses the underlying meaning, which is (I assume) an attack on the perceived overreaches of the Obama Administration. I hope we can leave the Affordable Care Act on the sidelines for this particular discussion (though I doubt the caller would), inasmuch as the ACA passed both houses of Congress, was signed by the President, and upheld by the Supreme Court. A description the health care law as dictatorial can be dismissed out of hand.
I assume that the caller is referring to Obama's recent declaration that he wouldn't hesitate to use Executive Orders to work around this intransigent House Of "Representatives," something which, to hear Obama's opponents talk, is a practice he completely invented as a means to LITERALLY trample, shred, and piss on the Constitution, 100% dictatorially. I'll simply point out that Obama issued 147 Executive Orders in his first term, plus an additional 21 this past year. GW Bush carried out 291 over his two terms, Clinton 364, GHW Bush 164 (in one term), Ronald Reagan 381, Jimmy Carter 320, Gerald Ford 169, and Richard Nixon 346 (in 5 1.2 years on the job). By this measure, which forms the foundation of much of the criticism being leveled at Obama, he's been more cautious than his predecessors. I know, his critics are generally undaunted by facts, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
Garbage in, garbage out
I love that the LA Times has kept Jonah Goldberg's awful hatchet job on Nate Silver on the eve of the 2012 presidential election up on its site. It serves as a perpetual reminder of what a douche Goldberg is and just how delusional that side of the political divide was just before the election. Goldberg's article was terrible when it was published, and is even more so today. Do people take this guy seriously?
Godwin always wins
I'm not sure what to even say about billionaire asshole Tom Perkins' letter to the Wall Street Journal where he "would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its 'one percent,' namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the 'rich'" that it doesn't say about himself. Where would I even start?
Update: turns out he's not just an asshole, but an unrepentant asshole.
You gotta be in it to win
Turns out you don't have to have earned (or even inherited) your fortune to adopt right-wing attitudes towards society - even lottery winners shift to the right once they get theirs.
Blame it on Doom
I read a Connie Schultz's fascinating article in Cleveland Magazine about Nick Walczak, a survivor of the February 2012 school shooting in Chardon, OH where three students were killed. Walczak was paralyzed from the waist down by one of the murderer's bullets, and in addition to his defiant remarks about his attacker ("I don't forgive TJ Lane... It's not about me. Look what he did to those three. Those three who died.") the piece covers how he has become an advocate for gun rights. One of the more interesting parts of the story was a visit to Representative Dave Joyce, who was the prosecutor in the Chardon shooting until his election in November 2012 to the US House. Joyce's performance in this tale is amazing - he agrees to a meeting with Walczak and a friend to discuss a bipartisan bill requiring background checks on commercial gun sales, then during the meeting admits that he hasn't even read the bill, rightfully drawing the students' ire. Democracy in action! Like any good politician, Joyce deflects any criticism of his dereliction, offering platitudes and misdirection:
I'm not going to get into who said what. I thought it was a good meeting.
How was it a good meeting? You completely failed them and they yelled at you for it. What would constitute a bad meeting?
I really applaud what they're doing. I'm proud of these two. They took what was a terrible tragedy and turned it into advocacy. I understood they were there to make a point.
I suspect Joyce never did read the bill. According to Schultz, "He won't say whether he would have voted for the legislation, which never made it to the House floor," so draw your own conclusions there.
Then he adds some deft politician topic-changing gibberish:
We have to do something about mental health issues, safety in schools and address the issue of violent video games.
Just ... amazing. The "mental health" thing is ridiculous - everyone knows it's a problem, but it's Joyce's party consistently refusing to expand funding for its treatment. "Safety in schools" is a glittering generality that somehow provides cover for men like Joyce unwilling to do anything for safety in schools like, I don't know, background checks on commercial gun sales. And the "video games" thing is just fucking stupid, and Joyce knows it.
I wish we would stop accepting these non-answers and attention-deflectors from politicians. Why can't we just have them speak clearly and honestly? Would that really be the worst thing in the world? For some of them, I suspect that it would be, although the steady stream of craziness flowing from Ted Cruz doesn't seem to have diminished his brand much.
As self-evidently and appallingly stupid as this graphic is (and it's by no means over the top by the standards of its genre), I have to wonder: did the individual who constructed it think for one second about how the three pro-gun luminaries at the end of the top row were all assassinated by guns? I suppose once you've lost all sense of perspective and logic (somehow I missed the part where Obama said citizens shouldn't own any guns), you're not going to be great at irony, either. There must be more effective ways to argue against gun control, because insanity like this cheapens any effort at a legitimate pro-gun position.
A blog article about evolution - on Charles Darwin's birthday, no less!
This piece is also timely because it comes right on the heels of the "debate" between popular science promoter and evolution-understander Bill Nye, and Answers in Genesis director and young-Earth creationist Ken Ham. The debate garnered a lot of attention prior to the debate, most of which I saw focused on the question of: was it a good idea for Nye to agree to the debate? For some time, scientists have refused to debate creationists on the topic of evolution, simply because it isn't a topic fit for debating. It's a scientific fact, supported by hundreds of years of indisputable data, whereas creationism has absolutely zero evidence supporting it and a huge mound refuting it. (No, I don't consider the Bible evidence, nor do I consider any other work of fiction as such). The phrase, "that would look good on your CV - on mine, no so much" has been the common refrain from scientists who realize that the format and the equal footing present them only with an opportunity to lose, regardless of how well-argued their cases may be. I don't have a strong feeling either way - it's both a good idea to debate creationists (so that anyone with a working brain cell can see how insane the opposition is) and also a bad idea (to lend them credibility), so I certainly won't criticize Nye for accepting the discussion.
The debate itself probably didn't win any converts. People who ignore facts and evidence in favor of a book of myth written two millennia ago will continue to do so, and people who incorporate the reality of evolution into their worldview will also continue to do so. The debate exposed Ham as a fraud and a lunatic, but anyon who's had any amount of exposure to Ham already knew that. I will say, the man is fascinating - I could never stick myself out there like that, looking so incredibly moronic, and feel not even the slightest bit of self-doubt or embarassment. It's really amazing, possibly the only thing amazing about Ham, as his mind-blowingly awful PowerPoint slides and remarks demonstrated. The most telling moment of the debate was the end, where each participant was asked what it would take for him to accept the other side's argument. Nye listed a number of things that, were they discovered to be true, would support Ham's view and cause Nye to switch over. Ham basically said, "nothing." Unfortunately, Ham isn't alone in his resistance to reality.
The debate took place not long after the release of the latest Pew Forum on Public’s Views on Human Evolution, a sobering report that shows how far away we are from even achieving basic scientific literacy, even now in modern times with near-limitless access to information. The argument for Nye participating in this debate is strengthened, I believe, by the sheer number of people who, in a strikingly willful display of ignorance, still refuse to accept the theory of evolution.
Quick aside: I will not say "belief" in evolution. "Belief" is what people do without evidence. Also, in case I haven't dispensed with the whole, "only a theory" thing, it's worth reiterating that a scientific Theory is much, much different than the casual guesses on hazards in conversation. A scientific Theory is something that describes a large body of facts, and in this case, it's one that has been rigorously tested and stood up to every single challenge presented to it.
The main headline from the Pew report is this: 60% of Americans say that, "humans and other living things have evolved over time," whereas an evidence-averse 33% of our friends and neighbors still, somehow, believe that, "humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time." The remaining 7% apparently didn't hear the question. Maybe they were sleeping or something. Sadly, the 60% number hasn't budged since 2009, so I imagine we're still at the bottom of the world in that. I recall a survey a few years back on this topic and only Turkey had a less-informed citizenry than the USA. Nice work, Americans.
I was going to insert a dig about what percentage of these non-accepters also refuse to go along with the Theory of gravity, a fun retort. This, of course, always prompts the response that one can actually observe gravity happening, the counter to which is, of course, you can also observe evolution. Read a book or go to a museum and stop being such an idiot.
I want to hang the whole thing on religion, but the numbers say that's the wrong approach. Note that the belief category with the highest incidence of accepting evolution is "White mainline Protestants," which I find very intersting. Consider also that, among "Unaffiliated" respondents, only 57% agreed that humans and other living things have evolved over time and due to natural processes. Granted, these could be very spiritual people who don't adhere to any specific faith, but that's still surprisingly high. I wish the Pew Forum had polled atheists, in part because undoubtedly it wouldn't be 100% and I would love to delve into the worldview of atheists who believe that we've been like this since time began.
I don't want to totally absolve the pernicious influence of religious belief on our disappointing performance here. It's by far the single biggest factor in people not accepting evolution - I'm just saying the subject is a bit more complex than all that. Some of the lag in our public's education on this topic also appears to be tied up in political affiliation. As with everything else, Republicans are more wrong on this than Democrats, as a whopping 48% of them reject the fundamental tenet of modern biology, vs just 43% who acknowledge it. That's a staggering number, readers. Among Democrats, the numbers are 67-27 in favor of the real world; interestingly, the statistics for Independents (65-28) are nearly identical to those of Democrats. Obviously, one can't ignore the role of religion here - Republicans are generally a more religious tribe than their Democrat counterparts, including a higher proportion of the groups (like evangelicals) most likely to have answered this survey question on the side of foolishness.
The more amazing finding is upon comparison of the GOP's 2009 results to these most recent results: Republicans are getting dumber! Back in 2009, 54% accepted the fact of evolution, versus only 43% today. This absolutely blows my mind, the idea that, in the utter lack of any evidence prompting such a switch, and inreasingly easy access to information, self-identified Republicans are nevertheless now 20% less likely to accept evolution, and 20% more likely to adopt a creationist stance. Sweet Jebus, Republicans, what is going on over there?
The demographic breakdown later in the survey provides a few interesting tidbits:
- The table is broken down to animal evolution vs human evolution, with the latter inevitably polling a few percentage points lower. Come on, people who think animals evolved but not humans, give it up. You're an animal. It's OK.
- Members of ethnic minority groups (Arfican-American, Latino) are less inclined to accept evolution, and among those who do, are more likely to incorporate the hand of God behind it. The church influence and education gap in those communities play a role here.
- Huge gap here between women's acceptance and men's acceptance. Honestly, not even being sexist, women, this is awful. You need to be smarter than this. Women are, according to this poll, 35% more likely (38% vs 28%) to answer in favor of creationism, and that's not good enough. Perhaps we do need better science education for girls in our schools. My hope is that women will catch up as they have in many other academic pursuits, though I wonder if this number is partially reflective of a difference in men's and women's attitudes towards belief.
- Young people are much more likely to accept evolution than old people. Good. I like the way this is trending.
- Education matters in one's likelihood of accepting evolution as a fact. College grads scored a 72&, "some college" people at a 62% clip, and high school (or less) educated individuals at just 51%. No surprises here, friends.
To conclude, I'd like to say that I really enjoy how we have public "opinion" polls where people are asked about straight-up facts. I heard an "opinion" poll on the radio about what percentage of Americans think we're still in a recession in the United States. It is a fact that we are not. None of the metrics that indicate a recession (decreases in GDP, increases in unemployment, etc.) apply to our current situation. Repeat: we are not in a recession in the United States. Yes, we did have a major recession several years back (thanks, greedy, soulless bankers!), and yes, the recovery is slower than many of us would like (thanks, policymakers who don't understand a Liquidity Trap!), but that's not what the question asks. To me, that question, as well as this Pew survey, aren't in any way measures of public opinion. This is a knowledge quiz, just like those ones where like 35% of Americans don't know who Abraham Lincoln is or whatever (I actually wrote this well before locking in a Feb 12 publication date and just realized today is also his birthday). I suppose you could argue that the recession poll gauges public perception of economy, but it's not a true opinion poll because, like the evolution question, it has a right and a wrong answer. In both cases, I hope improved education and understanding leads to more respondents getting these questions correct, though the Pew poll, especially the Republican side of it, suggests this will take time.
Wayyyyy back in March of 2010, I wrote an article in response to a staggeringly pompous column written by George Will, titled "Immature Men Won't Grow Up," apparently his effort to seem as old, condescending, and out of touch as possible. It's still striking not only how weak his arguments were, but also how badly he constructed them. As a consequence, I slashed through the article line by line with glee.
A fellow named Don Johnson (!) dropped in to TFB by mistake after I published that missive, and offered a comment in response shortly after I ran the article, arguing that, "One day, when you're older and wiser, you may reread some of these essays you are so proud of today and shake your head and mutter to yourself, 'Damn, I sure was immature.'" Don turned out not to be as crochety as that opening line indicated, but I still found his prediction interesting to keep in mind as I recently reread my article.
He's right that I have reread many of my old essays on this site - I even go through a year's worth of posts occasionally and point out mistakes that I made in my thinking and analysis. That's true, though it's not fair the way he throws "you are so proud of" to make me look like some kind of egomaniac. I don't lament my old pieces as much as DJ predicted (though I suppose there's time), and in this particular case I don't regret it at all (though I suppose there's time). That Will article was ill-conceived and terribly executed, and I'd smash it apart today just as fiercely as I did then. A bad argument is a bad argument.
In this case, the bad argument being made was a shining example of the ever-popular genre of social commentary one might call "these damn kids today," as well as representing a contribution to the burgeoning "men suck" literature. Let's address these in turn.
The first is, in my opinion, the most intellectually vapid and hacky style of commentary around, with the possible exception of theologically-based "analyses". People have been taking the younger generation to task for laziness, immaturity, attitude, clothing, whatever, for as long as there have been generations. You're not doing anything new here, Self-Righteous Guy Ripping on Today's Youth. Your parents did it too. The kids you're castigating in your missives will do the same thing to their offspring when they're middle-aged some day, and it will be annoying and pointless then too. Naturally, not every older generation is correct in this particular analysis; otherwise, the greatest humans ever would by definition be the first ones, since every generation automatically presumes their own superiority over the one they've spawned. You know the World War II "Greatest Generation"? Guess what: their parents thought they were lazy, undisciplined, and would never amount to nothing, just like Will does about men my age, and just like you do about today's texting teenagers. Maybe at some point people will simply realize that - news flash! - kids aren't as mature as adults, because, well, they're kids, and then we can stop this pointless, endless haranguing.
This tendency to lob bombs at one's younger counterparts isn't confined to just the realm of dowdy Washington Post columnists. You see it in sports discussions, where everyone automatically (and wrongly) assumes that players from previous eras were tougher. You see it in...yesterday, when a colleague told me that people these days are wimps (his word) because when he was younger, you see, they played hockey in -15 F degree weather and no one complained. Sure they didn't, just like they didn't complain when they walked to school every day up hill both ways through two feet of snow.
The tendency to lob bombs at men is a newer phenomenon, but it's really gained momentum following the 2008 financial crisis, as women have made significant gains relative to men in education and in the workforce. I think it's appropriate to recognize, understand, and report on these trends, as they have considerable impact on the dynamics of modern society. Yet I find that the style of such pieces leaves a lot to be desired, especially the headlines. Ugh, the headlines. I get it that in the Internet Age, with so much competition for readership, that you need to make a big opening splash, but come on. And yes, Hanna Rosin of The Atlantic, I'm looking at you with your famous article and book titled "The End of Men," and, more recently and inflammatorily, "Men Are Obsolete." It's tough not to just take potshots and make ad hominem comments about Rosin at this point - she's earned it - but I'll stick to saying that these titles are foolish and unconstructive. They are quite obviously not *literally* true, which she freely admits, and in my view they don't work as hyperbole or metaphor either, nor offer any explanatory power. All they do is try to reel in readers with cheap shots in an effort to get people riled up. It's pathetic. I read "The End of Men" (the article) and left quite unconvinced that men are ending. I mean, I get it, women are taking more college degrees than men these days, which, cool, but we're still here. I'm here. The men who serve as CEO's at 95.8% of the world's Fortune 500 companies and head of government of 90% of the world's nations are here, just to take some random examples.
Five readers, I have to say, writing this is taking an awful lot of restraint. It's hard not to kick back, especially since Rosin's ludicrous claims represent her punching first, but I'm sticking with just trying to reestablish some perspective with some framing facts. She does clarify what she means by "obsolete," but it doesn't help much:
Are men literally obsolete? Of course not, and if we had to prove that we could never win. For one thing, we haven’t figured out a way to harvest sperm without them being, you know, alive. But in order to win this debate we have to prove that men, quote unquote, as we’ve historically come to define them — entitled to power, destined for leadership, arrogant, confused by anything that isn’t them. As in: “I don’t understand. Is it a guy dressed up like a girl? Or a girl dressed up like a guy?” They are obsolete.
Here's something fun to imagine: the backlash if a man wrote something so dismissive and contemptuous of women as this is of men. If a man wrote something like this, about how we can't figure out how to get their eggs without them being alive and calling women entitled, arrogant, and confused ... I don't think it would go over well. Nor should it, and nor should this tripe. If these are the straw men upon which she's conferring the blanket term "men," then fine, whatever, Hanna Rosin, we get it, you can go away now. I'd suggest that she clarify that distinction in her ridiculous headlines, but I suppose "My straw man stereotypical definition of 'men' is becoming obsolete" doesn't make for great copy, nor would the very accurate but somewhat boring "Men's roles in society are changing over time."
And the article is such unmitigated rubbish. Look at the intro:
How do I know men are finished? I’ll read you a quote that says it all: "Yes. There have been times when I’ve been in a drunken stupor."
This quote was from Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Great point, Hanna - there exists a Canadian male mayor with poor impulse control, therefore men are finished. My goodness we've set our standards of "evidence" low. For the record, lots of men, and women, have been in a drunken stupor.
Just for fun, here are her five reasons why we are DEFINITELY seeing men becoming obsolete, according to Rosin.
It’s the end of men because men are failing in the workplace.
Nah, it's just a good thing for equality, even though men still earn a dollar for about every 70 cents a woman earns, which is of course not fair. It's fascinating how Rosin elects to view these gains through the unflaggingly negative lens of men being ended, or obsoleted, or whatever, instead of highlighting the positives that increased female workplace participation can offer. There is something very strange about the fact that this woman seems to have staked her career on male-bashing. I suppose serious scholarship and analysis wasn't paying the bills. This section ends with a quote from a sorority sister claiming that, "Men are the new ball and chain,” because sorority girls always offer the most insightful perspectives into all matters of importance, especially social science.
It’s the end of men because the traditional household, propped up by the male breadwinner, is vanishing.
Times are tough. Again, this doesn't signal the end of men in the slightest - not even the end of Rosin's weird micro-definition of the species. There just isn't any connection between the two clauses. Yes, there are fewer single-income households. No, this doesn't indicate that men are ending. Why am I still wasting time with this?
It’s the end of men because we can see it in the working and middle class.
I suspect that she only came up with four reasons for this list but added this one to pad it to a more appealing five, then shifted it up to #3 so that people wouldn't notice. Nice try! She opens this section by offering, "When I speak at public universities with commuter populations about the disappearance of men, the women find what I am saying to be totally obvious." I'm fighting my hands like Dr. Strangelove here ... Must...not...make fun...
It’s the end of men because men have lost their monopoly on violence and aggression.
Only Hanna Rosin, it seems, sees women getting in more fights and men beating women less as a good thing. This list is much dumber than I had anticipated, and I anticipated that it was going to be really dumb.
It’s the end of men because men, too, are now obsessed with their body hair.
Yeah, no we're not. You would think Rosin would have access and could look up the word "obsess." Allow the Most Interesting Man in the World to clarify:
I think the take-home lesson from this article is that it's generally a stupid idea to offer blanket, generalized criticisms at entire demographic groups of people. You'll come off looking bad, as a man-hater, a fuddy-duddy, or worse. It happens that in our current social climate that I fall into a few of the groups (male, Millennial/Xer) that it's still OK to level criticisms at. But pieces like Rosin's and Will's that address these non-protected classes only differ from similarly generalized critiques of blacks, gays, or whatever because the subjects they've decided to drop their hammers on are currently societally acceptable targets. And I'm fine with being one of the open targets, as long as I can fire back and expose the flaws rampant in their arguments.
It's important to distinguish blanket criticism of a demographic group from criticism of a set of beliefs that people may hold. In my mind, those are more reasonable grounds upon which to criticize a group, because the individuals (in most cases) have a choice to believe or not believe those things. My molotov cocktails hurled at religious beliefs are not the same as Hanna Rosin's moronic man-bashing, and I intend to continue using this forum to strike back at bad ideas ... like her's.
You may have seen a thing or two about the weather in the Eastern United States of late. It's been wintry, if I may summarize, incorporating key features of winter weather like cold temperatures and snow. We had the first Polar Vortex a few weeks ago, resulting in the first sub-zero Fahrenheit temperatures I can recall since I was a kid.
While I'm here, 0 Fahrenheit is a waste of space. You know what it means physically? It's the temperature of brine, in this case a 1:1:1 mixture of water:ice:ammonium chloride. Because why wouldn't it be that?
We're facing down another Polar Vortex next week, resulting in two more delightful days in the -10's (Centigrade!) In the meantime we're getting some freakish spot blizzards crashing in from time to time. I went to shovel this morning and found a most unusual distribution of snow, thanks to some high winds.
While I'm here, wind fucking sucks. I've hated it ever since I was a kid and it seemed to exist solely to knock my basketball shots offline, and now that it's almost solely responsible for every time I have to deal with uncomfortably cold temperatures, our relationship has not improved. Seriously, though, regardless of what the thermometer says, if there's no wind, it's not really cold out.
I unwisely went for a run after finishing up my shoveling; I'm glad to have the exercise banked now, but it was a chore, especially crossing the Lorain-Carnegie bridge headed west into the teeth of a harsh wind hell-bent on driving icy little shards of snow into my eyes. I love running, but only being able to open one's eyes every 10 steps or so dampens even my enthusiasm.
I've been pleasantly surprised at how infrequently I've heard people who cannot (or will not) understand the distinction between climate and weather crow about how a few days of abnormally cold temperatures represent some sort of refutation of the fact of Global Warming (or Climate Change, if you prefer). It doesn't. I'm shielded from such short-sighted remarks in large part because I'm not on Facebook and I try to mostly steer clear of the right-wing echo chamber (though I did catch wind of Rush Limbaugh saying something insane about Obama controlling the weather), but it's been nice not to have to sigh as often at this as in the past. Why do people still listen to this clown?
Lastly, I'd like to talk about the Dairy Queen Blizzard, one of the finest dessert treats around.
Quick: what did you think of when I mentioned the Blizzard? You thought of an Oreo Cookie Blizzard, didn't you? Nena and I had a discussion this morning where I proclaimed the Oreo Blizzard the king of the Blizzards, the most iconic and popular of them all, the gold standard. This isn't to say that every single person's favorite Blizzard is going to be the Oreo. Even I like to get a Cookie Dough one every once in a while. I'm sure there are people who enjoy willingly ingesting poisonous matter who like Reese's Pieces Blizzards or whatever way they find to put that rubbish inside an otherwise good Blizzard. Nevertheless, to me it's pretty clear that the Oreo Blizzard is the top dog in the world of Blizzards.
For some reason, Twitter is promoting something called "Reagan Coalition" into my feed, which: ick, but the tease was intriguing enough that I clicked and ended up on a rubbish heap of a website called "Downtrend.com," which is so over-the-top preposterous and badly-written ("Barrack Obama") that I wondered if it was a Poe. After some careful examination, I think it's earnest. Incredibly stupid, but earnest. From there I found a link to some idiot on Piers Morgan's show citing the Bible at Morgan, emphasizing strongly Matthew 19, and I thought, why not, let's go ahead and annotate Matthew 19. I'm using the New International Version, because that's the one I found first, and seriously, who cares, because whatever version you choose, it's a nonsensical mismash of idiotic superstition written by semi-literate goat herders 2 000 years ago in an entirely different language. It's hilarious that anyone has a preferred translation of this nightmarish collection of foolishness.
19 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan.
How come pastors never cite mundane verses like this? It's always money shots like John 3:16, but we never hear about exciting river-crossings from today's top preachers. That and the "begats" - they never spend a whole lot of time on the geneaology verses. For my money, the best geneaology in the bible are the two entirely separate lineages it produces linking Jesus' father Joseph to King David, as if that weren't a) completely contradictory and b) irrelevant if Mary was a virgin. Infallible!
2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
This never happened. Matthew was written many decades after Jesus' supposed life, as were the other gospels. If you thought the 24 hour news cycle was intense, get a look at the 50-year news cycle. Also, is it not fishy to anyone else that all of these miracles and healing happened during a very short time interval, one where no one had videocameras or, apparently, skepticism?
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
Springing the trap! Those crafty Pharisees.
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
A "no" would have sufficed. But let's dig deeper into this "one flesh" thing. That doesn't really happen. Married people maintain their own bodies. They just can't have sex with other people without legal repercussions, and often have the same last name.
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Maybe she was running around on him? Maybe because the bible is completely lacking in internal consistency and authorship?
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.
Oh, that explains it all! Silly us! We'll just be on our way, then, with this perfectly logical explanation.
I love in the Old Testament when God, taking a break from genocidal insanity, takes time to "harden [guy]'s heart," as if that's physiologically possible. When did the Great Heart Softening happen?Seriously, Bible reader, don't you get to those parts sometimes and think, "this whole thing is crazy"? You don't?
But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Lots to unpack here. First of all, modern Xtian men, this is pretty straightforward: you cannot divorce unless your wife cheats on you. There are hundreds of thousands of modern American men straight-up violating this, who still hide behind their bible and go around condemning gay people and doing other dumb shit like that.
The catholic church offers the comical "annulment" to sidestep the stigma this passage puts on divorce, but that seems like semantics to me. And I'm aware that the annulment formally means that the marriage never actually happened, which, you know, everyone saw you get married and all that.
And finally, this is plainly dumb. If a husband and wife aren't getting along, they should separate. Only a psychopath would suggest otherwise. This is, at least in part, why marriage is viewed as an outdated institution by many.
Also, look at the wording! "anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality...commits adultery." So if a man goes out and has an affair, he can freely divorce, according to this. There's sexual immorality there - the old NIV just never says by whom. In fact, it doesn't even say that one of the parties needs to engage in said adultery - it just said "for sexual immorality." You could seek a divorce for having written a book about sexual immorality, according to an open reading of this line. Hey, if people are going to cherry-pick stuff out of this hideously-written text to justify their bigotry, I'm going to gleefully throw it back at them.
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
Rock on, disciples.
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.
For a paragon of wisdom, Jesus said a lot of weird things, this included. This is the Jebus version of "because I said so."
12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb.
13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
WTF, disciples? This obtuse non-lesson on divorce was so important that you rebuked parents for trying to get their little kids healed? It seems Jesus' message of peace and love hadn't quite sunk in, even to his closest allies.
14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Nothing. Live your life for real while you're here, bro.
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied.
Because you act like this bigshot rabbi, always preaching and making declarations, that's why. Seriously, this cat spends all his time wandering around making proclamations, and someone asks him a legitimate question right in his wheelhouse, an absolute fucking softball and he's like, what are you asking me for?
“There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
You couldn't have just said this to start with? Had to make the guy feel bad first? Classic.
As for keeping the commandments: there are three distinct versions in the OT. Woulda been cool if Jesus had clarified a bit. Our man is on it, though:
18 “Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[c] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]”
Six. There are [various versions of the] 10 Commandments, and the last one he says here isn't even one of them. Honestly, Jesus people, don't these inconsistencies bother you at all?
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
A brain? A spine?
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Just like modern Republicans do! I'm curious how proponents of the "Prosperity Gospel" talk their way past this one. If bible-believers actually did the things the bible told them, we would have well eliminated poverty in the United States by now. We'd also have a lot more stonings, but, hey, no such thing as a free lunch.
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then he realized that he had great wealth, and became happy again.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
LEVITICUS SAYS GAYS ARE BAD THAT'S THE ONLY PART THAT MATTERS IGNORE THIS PART.
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
Did people really talk like this in 24 CE?
28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[e] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
People base their entire lives upon this book.
Overview: This is now the third time I've covered this record here on TFB; originally, in a Bob Dylan special where I gave it the top spot among his classic works, and later on in a Very Good Records post where I stingily gave this record an A. Come on, Andy, lighten up. It's an A+.
The most storied and well-known of the stylistic changes Bob Dylan has made throughout his 50-year career was, of course, his decision in the mid-60's to "plug in," adding electric rock and roll to his foundation of acoustic singer-songwriter folk music. Controversial at the time, Dylan's transformation is now heralded as a key development in rock music, producing some of the genre's finest works. These include his first couple of releases after "going electric," Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home, followed by what is for me his career-best outing, 1966's Blonde on Blonde.
Nominally a double album (though it fits on a single CD, yay technology), Blonde on Blonde finds Dylan expanding his folk-rock sound even further, fully developing his lyrical and songwriting skills and incorporating elements of hard rock, blues, gospel, and of course folk. Compared to the rest of Bob-o's career, the melodies here are the clearest, the lyrical images the most imaginative, and the overall package the most enjoyable for listening.
The album kicks off with a bit of a curveball, "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35," a song that you know better as the "everybody must get stoned" song. The drunken brass band and background ruckus of the track, combined with Dylan's silly lyrics (during which he cracks up laughing twice), belies the more mature bent of the remaining 70 minutes od music on the record. Throughout the record, Dylan and his band jump back and forth between more rocking tracks and more traditional-sounding folk styles; in a sense, the sprawling disc is a microcosm of Dylan's career up to that point.
You're not going to believe this, but I like the more rock-oriented selections here on Blonde on Blonde. "Obviously 5 Believers" is, to my knowledge, Dylan's rockingest tune ever, and a personal favorite - I love the rambling, funky groove over the verses and the harmonica-vs-bass riff break that serves to break up the verses in lieu of a proper choruses. It's enough to make one wonder what kind of heavy rock Dylan had been capable of, if that had been his thing. Dylan's way with an easy groove propels the magnificent, heartfelt "I Want You," one of the number of songs here about relationships with an honest, sincere feel that Dylan often left on the sidelines. "Absolutely Sweet Marie" bounces along on a keyboard melody harkening back to the previous decade's styles, but Dylan makes it sound like his own.
The gentler numbers have some standouts, including the long, poetic "Visions of Johanna" and the delicate acoustic plucking of "Just Like a Woman" and "4th Time Around." It should tell the reader something that I'm highlighting these tracks, because in general this isn't my preferred style. I'm always impressed when an artist manages to capture my imagination without necessarily having a sound that I'm immediately drawn to.
"Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" closes the disc on a reflective, melancholy note, in stark contrast to the lighthearted opener. At over 11 minutes, it's far longer than it needs to be to serve its purpose (and yet still ends on a fade out), but maybe that was the point. Either way, it's the culmination of a remarkably accomplished set of folk-rock, further cementing Dylan's place as an icon of modern music.
3 best songs: One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later), I Want You, Obviously 5 Believers
Newport: When Dylan first plugged in, a couple of years before this, a lot of the folkies hated it - calling him a sellout, booing him, and in one memorable instance, calling him "Judas." What the fuck was wrong with these people?
Complaining about Bob Dylan's voice: Yeah, we know, it's not a classically good voice. Really, we know this. You aren't adding anything to the discussion by complaining about it, just revealing that you've totally missed the point.
It seems like it'd be hard to play guitar like this and also play harmonica and sing: I'm just sayin'.
Magic moment: The spine-tingling rush to the chorus of "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)"
Minor flaw: "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" probably doesn't need to be 11:20
Why it's great: This is what folk-rock is.