Thursday, June 30, 2016

Band Review: Harbors

Harbors appears to be one musician, David Shayne (joined by friends at least sometimes), operating out of Orange County, California. Even that amount of information required looking in more than one place.

I find that surprising because Harbors is one of the first bands I have reviewed that uses a Patreon. I am familiar with that option via various writers and bloggers. Often when people are asking for regular support in that manner, they are more personally open, and you are brought into this life that you are helping to support.

That made me wonder if gaining patrons would be harder with that sense of a wall standing there. There's not even an entry for the type of music. Genre classification is often inadequate, but it can still be helpful.

In fact, I am not sure how to describe the music. I suspect it would end up being classified as alternative, and that might not be particularly helpful. It's guitar-driven, with some keyboard accents. It is not acoustic, but an unplugged set shouldn't require too much adaptation. My favorite tracks were "Stranger" and "Glass Heart".

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Close to home

In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting I had reached out to some gay friends, concerned that they would be hurting. Talking with one of them, actually, we were both hurting over it. Still, a difference for me was that it didn't make me feel more vulnerable; no one is targeting straight white people.

Those conversations, and some others that happened around different things, will probably eventually be their own post. This anecdote is just here because, shortly after that, something happened to make me feel more vulnerable. A man was shot walking near my house. When I say near, we are third house down in the cul-de-sac, and he was shot right outside of the cul-de-sac. That is really close. Beyond that, what I have not told anyone yet is that I was almost there.

I have been thinking about how I need to be walking outside more. That is the exercise that works best for me, mentally and physically. I was trying to work out a time that would be safe for me and when I wouldn't be leaving Mom alone. In the morning, while my sisters are getting ready for work seemed like the best time. Some of the streets would be busy then, but I could at least do laps around the park, I thought. I nearly set my alarm Sunday night to do that. He was shot last Monday morning while my sisters were getting ready for work.

It doesn't ultimately mean that the area is unsafe. The shooter has been arrested, and in a relatively short time. There was a confrontation, indicating prior knowledge of each other. (They haven't released any motive, as far as I know.) It didn't even happen in the park, but outside the park. If I was at the top of the walking loop, I would actually be farther from it than I was in my bedroom.

I also could have been on my way back, or just coming around. And then, if there were a witness, could it have not happened?

One other thing that came up in the previously mentioned conversation was that my friend kind of felt guilty feeling more vulnerable or anything like that, because this wasn't about him. I feel that here. I'm not the one who died, I'm not the one going to jail, and I am not the families that are grieving and upset. That's something I think about too.

There is still an awareness that there was danger nearby, and it's an uncomfortable feeling. It's human. I'm human. Maybe something gets our attention because it is so close, or because it is so big, and then with some time and distance we get back to normal. Saturday evening all four of us took a walk in the park, and it was full of children. There are flowers set up across the street as a memorial to the victim, but I have already gotten used to them being there.

One incident is a blip. Some blips are more personal than others but can still be viewed separately. Then sometimes there is a pattern. That's something we'll look at Monday.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Things we get wrong when we talk about guns

There are several popular arguments that come up all the time when talking about gun control.

I am not interested in getting into arguments about weapons definition of assault weapons ("that's not automatic; it's only semi-automatic", "there's no such thing as an assault rifle"). Those arguments seem to exist solely for gun enthusiasts to show disdain for others, and anything where we are focusing on looking down on other people is counterproductive.

There are guns that make it possible to be much deadlier much faster, and they are often involved in headline grabbing big shooting incidents that drive the conversation, but it's probably the wrong conversation.

That's good, because going there will next result in very fatalistic arguments: "You can't stop them; they would just find another way." Keep that in mind when it comes to suicides, because that comes up a lot there too, and it's a lie. Sometimes all you need to do is stop someone in one moment to get them to their next moment. Don't lose track of hope, because we will need it.

The most common legislative reforms mentioned are universal background checks and a ban on assault rifles. Most gun deaths are not committed with assault rifles. It's the children playing with the handgun that is supposed to be there for protection, or maybe the rifle that is used during hunting season. It's accidents when hunting season is celebrated with beer. It's the argument that breaks out between relatives. It's the escalating domestic abuse. It's someone taking offense to another driver, or loud music, or someone texting in a theater. The mass shooter in our mind was specifically planning on killing; a lot of these deaths - even the ones that aren't accidents - still weren't that intentional.

That's going to be harder to fix by legislation. Even if you focus on safety training, where do you put it? As a part of a school curriculum? Lots of people will object to that, and you don't get those who are already adults. License people for gun use, including passing a test on gun laws and safety? There are already so many people with guns out there.

I have a friend who works a suicide hotline, and she learns a lot through that. One big problem is that often when you have a suicidal member of a household, and you ask the other family members to at least temporarily remove the guns, they won't do it. It is their right to keep guns! Well, I guess it is also their right to lose a family member, but even for my most difficult family members I know what I would do and give up to keep them alive, and I can't comprehend that you wouldn't find somewhere else for the guns.

We are not always sound in our decision making about guns. For those who are more against guns, there can be a strong emotional revulsion to the associated violence, where they do not understand that it can be reasonable to enjoy guns and want to have them around. For those who love guns, it can become so entwined with identity that any attempts at changing the status quo can feel like a personal attack. Neither attitude is helpful.

My thoughts go in three directions on this, and it will not be practical to explore all of them today. I'm not sure how long it will take to get there, but we will be looking at background checks, and racism, and mental illness, and how we talk about things, and interpersonal violence and sexism and toxic masculinity, maybe not in that order.

Look, if the answers were simple we would have fixed everything already.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Congressional Sit In 2016

Wednesday morning House democrats started a sit in to attempt to force a vote on four gun control measures that Paul Ryan refused to allow. House Republicans responded by turning off the cameras, to which the protesters responded by live streaming via Facebook and Periscope. It was ultimately unsuccessful, as the representatives adjourned still without voting on the bills, but even before that it attracted a lot of criticism.

I am becoming less patient with those who just dump on others without bothering to do anything themselves anyway, but there can still be value in looking at the questions and in examination. That's what I want to look at today.

Now, for people who actually are trying to accomplish good things, the most common criticism is that the laws they were trying to get votes on were the wrong laws. They have some good points, but I am going to try and explore that side tomorrow.

Gun control itself has been a contentious issue for a while, but the four bills in question and the protest were fueled by the Orlando nightclub shooting, which leads to an earlier criticism that's worth addressing.

The Orlando Club Shooting is not the worst mass shooting in history; Wounded Knee was.

An estimated 300 were shot and killed at Wounded Knee. That is deadlier, and so some have amended their statement about Orlando to call it the worse mass shooting in modern history. By most definitions of the term, 1890 would be included in modern history.

My initial problem with the complaint is that it feels like an attempt to minimize what happened in Orlando. In a time when hate speech against the queer community and immigrants and people of color is on the rise, a shooting in a gay nightclub on Latin night needs attention. Distractions from that seem harmful.

I also understand why the complaint would be made. Too often we act like atrocities against Native Americans didn't happen, and that they are non-issues now. If calling Orlando the worst makes them feel disappeared again, I don't want to contribute to that.

There are still some key differences. I don't know how many soldiers were at the Wounded Knee massacre, but there were at least 25 dead and 39 wounded. In terms of havoc wrought by a single individual, there is still a proportion where Orlando stands out.

That may be splitting hairs, but another key difference is that because it was the army escorting prisoners, the Wounded Knee massacre falls under the umbrella of state-sanctioned violence, like police shootings. That is not a justification, and there are important discussions to have about that. There is also an important discussion to have about how some people feel more acceptable as targets than others, and there's a lot to correct. The comparisons to Wounded Knee may have been intended as a teachable moment, but it felt like it was in the space where we still needed to be focused on binding up wounds. There can be legitimate arguments against that, but that was how I felt.

Now let's focus on Paul Ryan.

One thing he did was call it a stunt. The internet reminded me of two things in response. One was that the Ryan family once spent fifteen minutes in an empty soup kitchen for a photo opportunity. I had known that, and not thought about it for years, but the internet never forgets.

The other thing was more to the point: as of February, the House has voted 63 times to repeal Obamacare. That does kind of feel like a stunt. I would think that after the first twenty attempts you could figure out that the votes aren't there and move on to something useful.

That actually leads to another criticism - the protest was pointless because even if the votes were allowed the bills would have failed. That might seem like a reason to just let the vote take place, except what Paul Ryan and House Republicans know is that gun control is extremely popular with voters. Support for universal background checks consistently polls from around 85 - 93%. However, Republicans get a lot of money from the gun lobby. For many representatives there would be a choice between angering their voters or their bread and butter, which may not feel that symbolic. Yes, there would be value in them having to publicly make that choice.

Ryan said that the Democrats were introducing chaos and possibly threatening democracy. I think the guy who turned the cameras off we doing more to threaten democracy, and we have been reminded how technology can help. There are multiple ways to get a message out. There are lots of people keeping track and researching and bringing things back up. Those are some good reminders.

Let's also take a moment to remember that stunts and symbols can be important. Protests were important in the Civil Rights Movement, but they also happened in conjunction with economic pressure and working with elected officials on legislation. Those parts might not be remembered as well, because it was the protest that got the attention, but that attention is important.

For people who have been waiting for Congress to act on guns, this is your reminder that House Republicans won't even hear a bill drafted by someone in their own party, let alone from the other side of the aisle. How many of those seats are up in November? It is not too early to think about that.

Protest can energize those who see it, but it can also energize those who do it. It must be very frustrating to deal with the gridlock and the obstruction, but these participants have shaken off some dust. They have joined a sit-in with John Lewis! How do you think that would feel? And when he says they must look forward to July 5th - the first day back after the break - they can do that, rested and ready to go forward in unity.

John Lewis is one of my heroes, but I am proud of Suzanne Bonamici, my representative, for her participation. I was happy to see Earl Blumenauer there. It's been a long time, but if I recall correctly the first time I saw criticism of Blumenauer, years ago, was that he was too by-the-book and boring; well he's a chaotic threat to democracy now, bow tie and all!

I have great faith in Paul Ryan's ability to obstruct, but I have faith in the sit in participants too, to keep pushing back. I hope they can be an inspiration to the Senate that refuses to hold confirmation hearings.

Capitol Hill needs a jolt sometimes. This could be one.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Band Review: PEAR

A funny thing happened with this review.

I want to be better about working bands off of my Recommended list. I saw that Dave Hause had recommended a band called Pear and found this one. I started listening, and I begin to think it was the wrong band. In trying to figure that out, I saw a reference to one of their last public appearances.

So, this PEAR band is not the only band named Pear that I will ever review, but if you like this one and want to see them love, you have a limited amount of time to do so. It was a married couple based in Calgary, Alberta and they are divorcing. They are fulfilling all contracted appearances through the fall, but that's it.

(I believe this is the saddest band breakup I have encountered, but they seem to be keeping a positive attitude.)

So, briefly, before they are gone, at one point they describe themselves as pop/folk/country, but on a different page they reference roots music, and that feels more accurate to me. There is a modern twist.

One good reference point might be to listen to their version of "Tennessee Waltz". It is updated in its delivery, though still with some traditional instrumentation, and it sounds completely contemporary, but not.

"Tennessee Waltz" is a good introduction, but my favorite track has been "Dance of the Chicken Snails", which has charm beyond the title. "I'll Love It" may be the most traditionally "roots" music, the "Eleanor Rigby Smooth Criminal" track may be the best example of their modernity, and "Dali's Dream" may be the intellectually boldest, but there are also sweet and charming songs all the way through that have their own simple appeal.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Band Review: Brian S Carr

Brian S Carr is Los Angeles based composer for film and television.

His review came up at a bad time, just as his home page was expiring. I saw the nicely organized page, and knew it was there, and then I ended up listening to everything via Soundcloud, which is not as nicely organized. A media composer has different promotional needs than a band trying to get gigs and sell downloads, so it's highly possible that the other page was superfluous, but I liked it.

For the Soundcloud page, Carr has the greatest variety I have heard among composers. There are the epic mood pieces, which is common, but there are also more upbeat pieces (some of the songs for the Russian film 8 First Dates remind me of tango music) and even things like a reproduction of "Eye of the Tiger" for "Family Guy" so Peter could sing over it.

Listening through is a good reminder of how much versatility is needed for some endeavors, and how there are people who can provide it.

Personal favorites are  "Cabdango" and "Your Love".

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Thoughts on Roots - Connected

Having loved Roots the book so much, it was disappointing to hear claims of plagiarism and fabrication. It looks like there are two main issues. The section on the ship from Africa pulled largely from another novel, Harold Courlander's The African (1967). Then for the ending, it appears that government officials told the griot whom Alex Haley spoke to - who may not have been a griot at all - to give him a good experience. Therefore, what Haley found in Africa may not have been real, but he may have thought it was. How the makers of the mini-series handled both of those sections impressed me.

In The African there is a revolt on ship, and some time of freedom before being recaptured by French troops. I suspect the revolt in the mini-series, and possibly even Kunta Kinte's time escaped and joining an English army were nods to Courlander, and that feels appropriate.

For the issue of plagiarism itself, and being able to be fooled in Gambia, based on the book Haley only really had three pieces of information: a name (Kunta Kinte), a place (Camby Bolongo, which would be Gambia Bolongo, or the Gambia River), and the name of an instrument.

Reading the book, you can see that a lot is filled in. There are parts of his heritage that he has to imagine and doesn't know. It makes sense that he would have been researching a lot, where the copying from Courlander may not even have been intentional. You can kind of tell that when time passes with only the current events that were well known historically being discussed in the book. I think Haley felt a limited freedom to invent.

When it gets to Haley's grandparents, there is more detail, but even then, all that is known of two great-uncles is that one was angry and one was fat, and that could just come from faces in a picture. Not all stories get passed down. One reviewer of the mini-series pointed out that the real Kunta Kinte would have encountered other slaves from Africa, and not been the lone one. Probably, but if the family lore is that he was from Africa, and that was unique about him, that's how you remember it.

The most painful thing about the book was how connections ended. After Kunta was kidnapped, you never find out how his parents react or about the men his brothers grew to be. We don't know if Kizzy's parents tried to run away after she was sold, or if their hearts simply broke. That was how it happened for his family. That was how it happened for many families.

A thing I loved from the book was how when George started thinking about buying freedom, it wasn't enough to get his and his wife's, or even the children and his mother. They also needed their fellow slaves. When Kizzy was ripped from her parents and immediately impregnated, they became her new family, and then George's, and that wasn't going to change.

The new mini-series hints at that in the scene where a newly-returned George talks to Miss Malizy, but it also carries it further. An escaped Kunta Kinte tries to protect another young soldier, and his grandson George later tries to do that as well. In both cases, the young men die, additional losses in a long tally. It is completely understandable, then, that Fiddler tries to resist his growing affection for Kunta Kinte, and that Mingo tries not care about anyone, let alone George. It is also appropriate that they fail. Attachments form. They bring pain, but they don't only bring pain. So when George tells Cyrus that they are his family if he wants them to be, of course he does. He could not be any other way.

That brings us to the last scene. There is a familiar face again, with Laurence Fishburne as Alex Haley writing. He narrates that truth can only be known as stories, reminding us that we have been shown things that are possible, but we don't know.

The scene in the book where Haley is embraced by people he believes are his distant relatives is really moving, and knowing it could be based on a lie, it wouldn't have been right to film that. Instead, they have two of the people he has been writing about come stand behind him, and put their hands on his shoulders. That seemed so impossibly cheesy, and completely incongruous with all that had come before. I should have known it wasn't going to end there.

The room opens up and they move forward and there are old photos, and then others step out of the photos, and they recognize Haley and he recognizes them, because they are family. That is true.

I have two personal experiences I want to share.

In family lore, my great-grandfather left Tennessee because he didn't like his stepmother. My great-great-grandfather was married three times and had fourteen children. Because of my great-grandfather's side, I thought of his father as being kind of selfish - just keep getting married and having more kids instead of focusing on the ones you have.

I felt that until some distant cousins compiled a genealogy, and they included a letter from the last surviving child of the fourteen. She was raised by relatives for the most part, and she wrote that her father just wasn't much of a hand with the kids.

That was when I imagined how hard it was to keep being widowed, and to believe you need a woman to take care of the children and to lose her again, and it looked different. I could feel something different for him then.

The other is getting to know the family on my mother's side. We knew about each other before, we were connected before, but then when you have spent time together, and talked, and you look at the pictures and recognize each one instead of it just being a photo, that's what happens.

I recognize you. I know you. I love you.