Monday, April 27, 2015

The Sunken Soul

Any city that you travel to, and stay for any given amount of time, you will say "People in Townsville do not know how to drive!!" And you'd be right.  People are so preoccupied with their own lives that they just let the whole "driving thing" become a subconscious act.  Cell phones, make-up, talking and making wild gesticulations with hands and arms, braiding long strands of hair (somehow), dealing with the ill begotten children imitating Tasmanian devils in the back seat, reaching for that last french fry that left the container and is hidden among the napkins, or better yet, the action that will ultimately kill me and be on my obituary--trying to get the pickle off the cheeseburger.

And yet, as I walk around the city of Dallas, I notice that people here aren't those kinds of distracted drivers.  The ones I see are those that are totally engaged in driving their car (or land beast, a large charging bull of metal and gasoline) and determined to get to their goal three seconds faster than anyone else, resulting in someone imitating Tron's light cycle (I wish I had one).  Swerving in and out of traffic, only to be stopped at the next light a foot in front of the person they just sped past.  Then, to make up for some inadequacy of their own, attempt to break inertia laws and speed off with their lack of mufflers roaring like a pride of lions feasting on an antelope.

Even this I can understand, especially if their sugar levels are low. Never drive when you're hungry, unless it's to get something to eat.  The true monsters of the freeway appear after it rains.

Dallas is particularly bad after it rains because of the refusal of officials to repair side streets prior to building the ornate bridges high over their fair city.  Thus, potholes and dips become small oceans after a thunderstorm goes by.  And being a simple pedestrian, just trying to get to the bus, I worry little about the rain coming from above, but rather the sloshing of water coming from the roadways by unaware drivers, or, as I suspect, by people who deliberately speed up (as I've witnessed first hand) to soak the walker before he can get his umbrella down parallel to the street.

The cartoons we watched as a child, they are full of illustrations of people getting splashed with rain water.  Movies as well.  It's a symbol of someone down on their luck, or more accurately, a depiction of the depravity of the human soul. It's the same monster that shows up in the "comments" section of most any internet article, the bully who mercilessly picks on the twitter account of a celebrity or, honestly, anyone, because they can, and they will get away with it.  For that driver is basically a troll, an anonymous face behind a window that drives off, never to be seen again.  Chances are the soaked pedestrian didn't get the tag number, nor the cyber-victim the IP address of the person who posted.  

What really ticked me off was a simply search on Youtube for "splashing people with a car."  There's a ton of them.  All people who decide to film themselves splashing people with rain puddles, on purpose, and then putting it on the Internet for everyone to see.  Because it's funny!! It makes you Cool!!  Well guess what, it doesn't.  I'm not going to put an example on here, as it will drive up their views, but you can go look if you want to.  If you want to put your sunken soul for all the world to see, go right ahead.  I will be wet on the sidewalk, but my soul will be on solid ground.  It will be yours that will be drowning.  I know Someone who can save you, if you will let Him.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Journey of a Thousand Steps

Wearing something on my wrist to tell me how far I walk is absurd, for me at least. Why should I let a number dictate to me how I live my life? And yes, I realize that you'll say "how about your Blood Pressure, or Cholesterol, or Weight?" Or how about even the years I've lived? How do pure facts, empirical data, control my every move? 

I see commercials telling me that my cholesterol is too high, but with this new medication, Xenatoleratrapine, or something, it'll be lower, but just watch out for all these disastrous side-effects that will probably make that number feel much less important.  And "feel" is the key word here.  Do you go about living your life, filled with medication, hoping that it would do you some good, and then spend that same amount of time wallowing in misery because of what the treatment is doing to you? What have you gained? 

But let's look at why this is the way it is.  I found it very interesting in Weber's Safehold series that one of the main keys that the lead scientists banned from the culture was Arabic Numerals. The anti-technological society created didn't know about the decimal for 800 years.  That, of course, was exactly the point.  With numbers comes technology, because there's a way to measure things, to take data and analyze and utilize and mold and shape it into man's own image.  At some point, however, numbers become the master, and human beings become controlled. 

Neil Postman called this phenomenon Technopoly. Quoting Neil Postman (and since my copy is buried under a mountain of books right now, I'll quote from Wiki, and assume that their quote is right):
Postman defines “Technopoly” as a society which believes “the primary, if not the only, goal of human labor and thought is efficiency, that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment ... and that the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts.” (p. 51 of Technopoly)

We live our lives based on cold equations.  Everything we analyze becomes quagmired in numbers... and the start of the baseball season is a prime example.  For each team could be digitized and computerized into it's basic parts, and each players could become a strain of numbers called "VORP" and "WAR" and hundreds of other values that it takes specialized experts to determine and say "You have Chosen Wisely" to those about to start their seasons.  And more often than not, the numbers are wrong.  The Braves were widely panned this year as being mediocre at best. Then they started out 4-0 and suddenly those same analysts were trying to say, "well, we were right, but we didn't take into account this..." When the numbers turn on the analyst, one must use the numbers to lie, leaving us to wonder if those same numbers were being truthful to begin with. In fact, the veracity of numbers in any subject is crucial, as it is vitally important to the rulers of this world that they be able to control the data coming into our minds.  The data must be right.  The Number Is God...

So when we put on our Athletic Apple App, and slap it on our wrist like some handcuff chaining us to the chair in a holding cell, we are essentially telling the controllers of the data harbinged inside the computers that we will abide by anything they say, no matter how accurate, because whatever it is, it is the truth.

I am not saying that whenever I take my blood pressure with this cuff device that my brother got for my mom prior to her dying by having blood pressure over 200/whatever it was, that I don't take those numbers seriously.  Truthfully, I am thrilled when my efforts, and medication, have resulted in a normal number here.  I just think that it shouldn't be the king of our world.

One of my friends on facebook (actually, several of them) have decided that taking 10,000 steps a day is a goal for fitness and healthiness. And who am I to think they're wrong.... except... when that number forces them to doing whatever it is they do to fulfill that number, no matter how torturous and mind-numbing it might be, then it's not worth doing.  Because the number, in my opinion, isn't important, it's how those steps are achieved. Playing hopscotch with your kids? Definitely! Walking down the local nature trail, hearing the birds, and watching the squirrels eat without concern on the
trail beside you? Absolutely! Walking on a treadmill or around a circle someplace with a whole bunch of people like cattle? I'd rather drink Lysol.  It's the feeling of doing it that makes whatever it is you're doing worth it.  I will not stand to be miserable for one minute of my life trying to obtain a goal from a doctor who says "This is where you should be," or some Health Care Insurance Carrier says, "You scored X on your Health Questionnaire."  I won't do it.  But walking for miles on a path less traveled, or eating healthy foods, either through my kitchen or from a restaurant like Sweet Tomatoes (which I'm going to in a day or so), I will do it in a second, and I will rejoice all the way.

Is it enough? To deny the power of the doctors and their numbers, and enjoy instead the journey down a road without speed limits, without deadlines and measurements? Do I ensure myself a life as long or longer than with obtaining those same goals through the numbers reported to me on Fitbit? I don't know, nor do I care.  This is the point where the doctors and I differ.  How long do you want to live? Is that important, to live the quantity of life as the sole achievement? That a person turned 90 or 100 living in a nursing home without any knowledge of who or where or why? Is that the apex of our civilization?  Or is it the better knowing that, given the balance of happiness, fullness of life, and the enjoyment of the life that, we would just as soon live to be 70 and die, then turn 90 and be miserable? Or 60? Only a half-century?  You see, there is a balance, one that, frankly, I don't know the answer to.  God knows... and, with the life that God gave us, is He expecting us to have a long and miserable life, or a somewhat shorter one, and live it with all the joy that is around us?  It is certainly still possible to enjoy life and still be in step with the journey God has in store for us.

I am probably the most conservative Epicurean to walk the planet, as the joy that I get from this world has nothing to do with drinking, or smoking, or sex, (maybe a little gluttony of food, as everyone has weaknesses, but that's for another time) but if it makes me happy, and it's worth it, then I'll do it, or won't do it, as the case may be.

Since we're talking about eating... an example.  We sell protein bars at the college bookstore.  Truly foul things that, to me, tastes exactly like chocolate mixed cardboard.  However, they are extremely popular with those of the athletic mindset, and they pay $3.50 a bar for them, and go off and work out or run or whatever. And while I realize that, given the ideal circumstances, they could potentially go play professional sports and make millions of dollars a year to make themselves as happy (or not) as they desire, I think that if you're going to eat something, even to get protein or energy or whatever, that it should at least taste good.  But it's something they can wolf down and forget about, portable, as forgettable as the seconds it took to eat it.  Then multiply that by the number of forgettable minutes, hours, days, and then ask yourself, "Have you really lived your life?" 

Sleep the days away, but if you dream, then those hours have not gone in vain.  It's one of the things I found the most sad about how my mom lived her life, with chemicals directing her physical life.  Her headaches and stresses caused her to take what is generally a tranquilizer to get herself to sleep (and that's another story, one I won't go into here.) But the sad part about it was, she went into deep sleep, and then instantly awake.  She never had REM sleep.  She never dreamed.  What good is sleeping if not for the dreams? Aye, there's the rub.  Give me 4 hours of sleep, but a good flying dream, over rivers and cities like Atreyu on his Luck Dragon, and that's better than 8 with a "late for school" dream thrown in.

But I've gotten off topic.  The point is... I want to "feel" my way through life, even if it's shorter, than analyze and compare and follow a set of numbers blindly.  I want to say that my life counted, not that I counted life.  And if all I can claim about my day is that I've walked 10,000 steps, but can't remember a single one, then there's no point in getting out of bed.  To duplicate that last great ending line,  I'd rather make my steps count, than to count my steps.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Book Review: Orfeo by Richard Powers

I'm Hearing the light from the window... 
 I'm Seeing the sound of the sea...  ~Michael Nesmith "Rio"

I've never read a book so in tune with what a musician feels, what he or she sees, when playing symbols from a page, contrasting the diaphragm, sounding the notes which would set angels to attention.  I've never read a book that says what it means to love music, to be enthralled with every passage of sound in one's life.  And never have I read a book that contains in its pages its own soundtrack.  But it's here, and it's here.

I don't think I have to say that any musician will love this book, as the division between someone who simply listens to music while jogging or cruising down the block and the person who hears the music, the notes fill up every corner of the air around him, has never been so aptly described.  I have often said that Mozart or Beethoven would weep and render their clothes asunder if they knew that their most famous works are now used as cell phone tones, heard in grocery stores as an irritant, rather than praises to God, or messages to Life, Death, and Time itself.  I want to grab the earplugs of the people around me and yank them out, saying, "Listen!! The music is all around you." Would they miss the trumpets of Gabriel for the autotuned babble of One Direction?

But this book contains all this, and a story as well.  It is the story of Peter Els, a prodigy child musician (on the Clarinet, no less), and an outcast from the rest of the social order, as he spends his time listening to music and seeing inside of the notes what Kant would have called the Noumenal World.  He sees the notes as the pure Forms, outside the cave, that other people can but dance to, shake their hips and gyrate.  (No, I see nothing of this person in me at all..............) He sees in mathematics the numerical order of the musical world, and in Chemistry, the underlying tones of the Universe.

But, alas, he is torn to choose between chasing after standing on the mountaintops and gazing out at Paradise and real life, love of a woman, and the constant pressures to understand to his professors' ideas of music theory in the Twentieth Century.  The book transitions back and forth between his life story, his past, the events of the 1940's on (reaching the present), and the point where the story begins, where FBI agents raid his home after finding potentially deadly homegrown bacteria.

Els becomes, perhaps, a mirror of Willie Loman, as well as the defiant character found in Faustian legend.  All bound together in a work of literature that may not ever get the acclaim it deserves.

I say this because a reader who is not a musician probably will have little patience with the verbal description of long works of music composition.  The reader will tire of little plot in the present and too much back story.  A reader not familiar with Post-Modern literature will not understand that the journey throughout the book, in time and mind, is the story worth telling.

I've told my own story about singing, about belting notes in my car, where no one could hear, of singing Art Garfunkel's "Skywriter" in the grocery store parking lot, late at night (and this was before the days of iPods and mp3 players, where every bagger is totally deaf to anything going on around them because they're too busy listening to the rot in their brains.) I've told why, even though, to my parents, I had a great voice, but never used it.  And I feel a kinship with Peter Els.  The last thing he wanted to do was to actually publish a work, and he hated every time he did it.  To face the criticism of the expression of the Music of the Spheres as Peter heard them, I wouldn't want to publish them either, but rather hold them close to my chest and hear the notes late at night, rotating around my room, illuminated by the lamp post outside.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Red Velvet Oreos and Key Lime Poetry...

I am a fanatic about Oreos.  I remember sitting on my broken down recliner in my apartment in Milledgeville some 14 years ago, with a cup of milk and 4 or 5 Oreos, dunking them in milk and hoping for the perfect dissolve ratio before eating the whole thing in one magnificent yalp. The chocolate, the filling, all hanging together just by a thread, else the whole cookie dissolves and you have to fish it out of the bottom of the cup (or it goes down your shirt, whichever).  I got so mad when, after gleefully purchasing the white chocolate dipped Oreos at Christmastime, to discover that the white chocolate made the Oreos undunkable.  They were useless to me then, and so, in a fit of depressed euphoria, as was my premedicated state in those days, I threw them away.

So I happened upon "Red Velvet Oreos" at the grocery store sometime in February, and I bought them... Red Velvet Oreos with Creme Cheese Frosting.  It had a date with a perfectly poured glass of milk just at bedtime... and so I bought some milk.  And got sick.  No milk for me when sick, so the milk sat in my refrigerator, bacteria multiplying, becoming some foul brand of yogurt, and I had to throw it out.  When I got over my combined ear/sinus infection (doctor said it was the Flu), I then had paid said doctor $160 dollars, and so I had no money to purchase a new container of milk.

So, after my health, my budget, and my milk supply met in unison, I finally poured that cup of milk and dunked my Red Velvet Oreo and waited the prescribed seconds for the milk to penetrate the layers of cookie and filling.  I actually figured out (either from Online or by sheer luck and genius) that I could use a fork, stuck in filling, to force the Oreo under (as Oreos float, leaving the top cookie exposed to air and not milk) to continue the saturation process.  I don't remember if I did that this time, although I didn't need to.  The Red Velvet concoction dissolved perfectly, and the flavor was spot on, a creamy, fantastic Red Velvet Cake in the shape of a cookie. I cannot recommend an Oreo higher than this.

Have you ever eaten something that made you want to write poetry? That made fireworks go off and your taste buds wake up and say "Why have you been stuffing tasteless mush into yourself all these years??"  I have had those experiences, and I've learned that the best foods come from those who put as much passion into their cooking as spices and seasonings.  I had a Javanilla Shake at Borders made by the most wonderful cook (Katrina, who is now at a hospital revising the notion of Hospital Food), and every single sip of the heavenly drink tasted as good as the first.  Even down to the bottom, where ice clumps were known to gather, turning everything into a watered down mess, it was evenly flavored.

And then there's the Honey Soy Salmon that the family owned Bangkok Grill serves in Covington, GA. You don't go into a place yearning for their Rice Cakes, but this one makes amazing Rice Cakes. I took some on my move to Dallas with me, to keep me awake. You can't eat and sleep at the same time.  But the Salmon...ohhh... that was a precious gift (my friend Gwen took me there as a going away meal).  I have made a close replica of it in my own kitchen, but the tenderness of it, and the soy, truly awesome!!

So today, with the first warm sun beaming down upon Dallas, I decided I was going to splurge, just this once, and go to Sweet Tomatoes and try their Banana Upside Down Cake they were advertising. It was mediocre... but, amongst the flavors which I experienced there (and read my prior blog about all those amazing flavors at Sweet Tomatoes in Addison, TX.) I found the Key Lime Muffin.  Sweet and soft inside, and tart and Crispy, with the right amount of sprinkled sugar on top... all the parts of my tongue and mouth were awake and aware and understood their function in life.  I only had one.  I only needed one.  I understand now the idea that cooks have when they bring out their culinary masterpieces, and it turns out to be some little dinky piece of something with something swirled around for decoration.  Their attempt, whether it succeeds or not, is to provide an instant shock of flavor and recognition of genius, and then let the signals enter the brain and form new neurons of memory, recorded for all time.  It matters not that the stomach is full, but rather that the mind is full.  You can go to any Chinese Buffet and eat enough that your stomach is ready to burst out of your skin, but what of flavor? What of the memory of that meal?  It is forgotten by the time you leave the parking lot (possibly to be revisited later, which may or may not be pleasant).  But this, this muffin, I only have to have one of them for the engram to be recorded forever into my skull.  I hope it's not a limited time thing, as Sweet Tomatoes often does, as I will want to sample those fireworks again.  

Oh, to work at the kitchens of that company, to invent the things which mouths will record and brains remember for years to come!  If that is not a chef's dream, to live in immortality through the food they create, then I don't know what is... We all strive to create things.  Some have babies, others have books or music or art.  I have a blog, my brother has a son. Chefs have something that maybe only musicians have, an art form that is temporary, where the notes are produced and soar through the concert halls and into the ears, where those signals are captured forever.  And that, if they are lucky, is immortality.  Chefs do likewise, through the signals the mouth and tongue create when they bite down into that Honey Soy Salmon, or that Key Lime Muffin, or the Red Velvet Oreo.  Somewhere, the inventor of that Oreo can be grateful that he or she can live in the recorded sensations in people everywhere, as they dunk the cookie in milk, and then, with eager anticipation, and urgency, pop it into their mouths.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sociopaths, Psycho-Killers, and Half-Life Levels

I know I'm the last one in the universe that should be talking about Reality Vs. Fantasy.  The person who thought himself a Transformer for many years of his life, who still makes a "transforming" noise when I get up off the ground, who, as Jimmy Fallon read off in his "hashtag" segment, waves his hand in front of automatic doors like a Jedi.  So, as you can see, I'm not the best person to talk about knowing the difference between fantasy and reality.

I can't help but think as I'm walking to the car in the cavernous parking lots of the Galleria, with the endless pathways of concrete, with stairs and elevators, how the makers of Half-Life would have loved to make this into a playground for the first-person shooter crowd.  Computer graphics and interaction has become so realistic that anything short of reality is considered "retro."  I've said many times that, when the game Zork came out for the Commodore 64, and it actually had sounds that somewhat sounded like English, I was amazed.  Now we live and communicate with people all over the world in 3-D universes with their own economies and cultures.

So in college, and mind you, this was in the 1990's, when Half-Life came out, the Internet at the time was able to host multiplayer maps of any design, as long as you learned the graphic interface.  Among the favorite maps made was that of a parking lot.  Snipers could find people on the lot below, trip-wires could be set in stairwells.  One day my brother and his roommate spent quite a bit of time setting trip-wires all up and down a stairwell, hoping that one of our friends would come along and set the whole thing off, blowing up that part of the map.  It was hilarious.  There doesn't come a time when I'm in a new building, a hotel, a parking garage, The Galleria Mall itself, when I don't think, "This could be a great Half-Life level!"  And of course, I know it's just a game, a world outside of this reality, a playground for a few hours of entertainment.  I wonder, though, how many people trained for their own lives playing Grand Theft Auto, and then tried to carry out those actions, to some extent, in real life?  The arguments oscillate on whether violence in video games affects the mentality of teenagers, or people in general.  I would say, "Of Course!!!" It's not a great leap to go from me pretending to be Lion-O on the playground to someone "pretending" to be a sniper or a Halo soldier.  And it's not a great leap, given internal circumstances, to go from "pretending" to actually doing it.

People have always told me that I couldn't differentiate between Fantasy and Reality, and I have to dispute that claim, especially now, because there are people out there who simply cannot do it.  We've seen many examples of this, and the end result is usually tragic.  We've communicated to people (Postman) that violence is okay, that extreme scenes of gore and brutality are perfectly okay to show on television, as long as they don't show a breast.  And since pictures are worth a thousand words, each image is internalized and reacted to with vehement emotion.  We strive for more, for images of grief and violence, as constantly pushing the boundaries of what we have seen will create ratings, talk, (and negative or positive attention are both good things in the Entertainment business.) Zombies eating people?? Sure!!  No problem!!  Psycho-Killers on a neighboring channel? Wonderful! 

I've recently watched episodes of Criminal Minds on the basic cable television channels I have, and I found it quite understandable why Mandy Patinkin left the show after two seasons because he was disturbed by the material presented to the American public each week.  Shortly after watching this, I went walking at the Harry Moss Park (as the dirt trails were still too muddy).  Seeing single female joggers in their sweatsuits and ipods and earplugs running past, I could only think, "Well, she's dead." Because any sociopath that wanted to drag her off into the woods could easily do it. Plenty of places to hide a body.  Now, this is not to say that I'm going to become some mass-murderer, but you can easily see how someone with a loose grip on reality, or with sociopathic tendencies already built in, if they watched these television shows, could learn quite a bit from just watching and then start acting it out in the real world.  And all this for the final objective of making money through advertisement.  It's quite disturbing, actually.  All in all, however, I believe the places I walk to be safe, and my relative mental health to be stable.  I'm just not sure about the rest of the city. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Duplicity: The Decemberists

Perhaps it should be obvious with an album title like What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, that the album's theme should be duplicity.  It's something that has been done before, even in the genre which The Decemberists are known for.  I loved the Simon & Garfunkel cut of Silent Night merged with a clip from the "Seven O'clock News." I know that it's possible for artists and music video producers to make such a cut now, but it just doesn't seem like something this brilliant has been done lately. 

As I said in the previous blog, people nowadays are too afraid to stand up for their beliefs, for fear of being labeled an extremist, a racist, or an out of touch crazy person.  It's what I find so refreshing about the Decemberists music, that they make bold statements with their music, and it hearkens us back to the folk music of the 60's.  So as I listened to The King Is Dead album, with the "Bold and Brilliant" songs that are so much different from the excrement being played on the radio today (and I hear enough of it at work, I should know), I began to fear that their next album would be nothing like it, and it would be simply a shining diamond amongst a cable car of coal.  It would be just another flash of genius like Keane's first album, or John Mayer's first album.  I should have placed more faith in them, however.  What The Decemberists produced was an album of songs written and formed and molded into a masterpiece.  Social Media and the Internet has allowed Colin Meloy to describe the creation of the album, how it all came together, and I find it endlessly fascinating. 

He says "We had to change, some." It what is so notable about the last two albums, because I go back and listen to the first 5 they released, and I just don't like them as much.  They're darker, more "alternative," and they rely on solely narrative tracks about Mariners and dark and Gothic characters. I once read an article debating whether the Decemberists were an "Emo" band. With these last two albums, the answer is a resounding "no." This is why many of the reviews for The King is Dead are so negative.  They didn't want their band to change.  Well, Meloy had kids, one of the band members had breast cancer, and they started looking at life differently.  They had to change, some.  

But the duplicity of this world, this terrible, beautiful world, is what the album is all about.  In "12-17-12," we have a father elated by the coming of his second son while dismayed at the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.   In "Cavalry Captain," we have the glorious leader of the army, describing himself as "the printed upon your stars," while convincing his underlings to ride off into battle, "and only for a second, we'll be alive."  In "Philomena," it starts out as a 50's doo-wop hit, something that the Everly Brothers would sing, and yet, it reveals itself as an aroused teen trying to get under the skirt of his crush.  In other words, a distinct reality from the "innocent" days we all think of the 50's, a time when probably so much more was taking place.  At the end, with all this in mind, Meloy writes "The Beginning Song," in which he asks, "I am Hopeful, should I be Hopeful?" in a Prufrockian tone that easily brings up the room where women come and go.  However, The Decemberists leave it on a note of wondrous positivity, a bold stand that says, "Yes, we should be hopeful." 

It's an album that, I believe, should easily connect the older, more Gothic works, with The King is Dead.  It works out well in my mp3 player, as the newer album is played prior to the older one, and it works out so well this way.  "The Light, Bright Light..." joins right in with the "Bold and Brilliant Sun" that starts the previous album.  It brings hope to a dark world, in seeing the positive side to what can be one very long marathon of Law & Order, where criminals and serial killer stalk the streets, and where there is no happy ending.  But let's "raise our glasses, to the turning of the season," where we can do something about all this negativity, if we stand upon our beliefs and see the miracles that happen every day, the bright light all around us.  

Saturday, February 28, 2015

This is Why We Fight: Folk Music and Republicans

"Bold and brilliant," is what I heard over the Borders overhead as the CD started.  A band I had never heard of, "The Decemberists." Lots of harmonica, lots of guitar, something that I would have fallen in love with anyway.  People call The King is Dead album "Dylanesque," and they're so right about that.  Folk music is, after all, about taking a stand, and this album does it. "This is Why We Fight," a track at the end of the album says, "And when we die, we will die, with our arms unbound." All this right before a moving song about his autistic son.  There is no better music (and hip-hop artists will disagree with me) to deliver vehement statements about the world we're living in than folk music.  The Decemberists stand fast, and proudly defy all the injustice in this world, and it's so much more than other artists, those that disrupt award ceremonies, or those that sing about money and fame and love and sex, none of them can fill that hole... a desire to stand up against the wrongs in this world, to have some power when so many of us feel powerless.  

It's not something that I take lightly, those who can stand for a cause, no matter what side of the political isle you're on.  Those who have a voice and can use their talents to be heard, when sometimes just a vote (as so many political pundits say is the most powerful voice) is not enough.  And then there are those with money, of which I most assuredly am not, who can influence the world with capital, and that is effective, but quiet.  The people who can spread messages through song and speech, through words and poetry, they are the ones that can influence people well beyond the political cycle.  

And it's odd that I would say all this, as I am definitely Conservative, decidedly Libertarian, and occasionally Republican when I go to the ballot boxes.  Those people that see the Republicans as some massive white, rich, heartless group of men (mostly), would think that my love of Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Crosby Stills, and Nash; would run counter to my ideologies.  It is in fact quite the opposite.  

Conservatives choose to stand for causes, but they are quite lacking in the ability to put a voice to it.  The Republicans are equally, if not more, inept at putting anyone in the spotlight that has any ability to stand for anything.  Just looking at the CPAC meetings this week will tell you that.  The person who is leading in National polls (read, the ones made by all the mainstream media that have already crowned Hillary as the next Democratic Candidate, because they all have their ducks in a row, while the Republicans are akin to cannibalistic hyenas) is Jeb Bush, who while speaking during the meeting, was met with a walkout and blasted by most of the other speakers.  And so this, and Mitt Romney, and John McCain, and Bob Dole (we can go back that far) are the candidates that the mainstream people have given the opponents of liberalism to vote for.  And none of them had voices, at all, to speak about anything.  The VP candidates who could speak were silenced or denigrated into headline jokes on late night talk shows.  

There's no cultural fervor about the Conservative movement at all.  Sure, the Christian social conservatives are going to vote as a block, and have plenty of music and speakers to give their point of view.  And that's well and good... I enjoy some of it.  The music and speeches that are intelligent, thoughtful, and non-hypocritical of everyone (yes, I know everyone speaks of Christians as being hypocrites, and there is obviously some truth to this, or it wouldn't be so easily proved). Take a look at any of Mark Lowry's performances to see exactly what I enjoy that comes from the Christian world.  It's no wonder that I say I'm "Libertarian," when Facebook asks me my Religious beliefs.  It's all about my personal, individual relationship with God. For that, I need no other church telling me what to believe or what is evil or wrong in this world.  God does that quite nicely.  

But I've digressed from what I really wanted to talk about.  I'll get back to it eventually.  What I value in the music of the Folk music movement of the 60's, or The Decemberists, or of people like Mark Lowry in the Christian world, is the ability to stand up and say "This is what I believe in. It's something that very few people do nowadays.  We are too busy being afraid of who we might offend to stand up and defend anything.  We think those that have a cause must be those who are victimized, or those who are clearly crazy.  And those who stand for something have either Love or Hate in their hearts.  You can stand with the rainbow flag on one side, or the flag of ISIS (or, unfortunately, those of Westboro Baptist Church) on the other.  Those in the middle, every day citizens who live and love and work, they are just busy trying not to stand, lest they be labelled an extremist about something.  Why can't we just stand up and say, "I am a human being, and I love this world where I live, and I love the people in it." ?  Isn't that what God said is half of His greatest commandment? 

If the Conservative movement, Christians and non-Christians alike, could stand up and say that, and put all other differences aside (for having irreconcilable differences is exactly what opponents of Conservatism would like nothing better than us to have), that would make all the difference, no matter who we elected President.  But I dare say that this can't happen, not in the polarizing, white/gold dress- blue/black dress world we live in today.  

This was not supposed to be a post on political ideology, or religion, or anything close.  I was trying to review The Decemberists' latest album, which I never even got around to.  But nevertheless, I'll let this one stand, and try again in a few days. Let March (now that's convenient, a term of standing and acting) take that review, and let February, known for love and introspection toward times when people had to stand up for their rights, take this one.  

(During this album period, I think Colin Meloy looked a ton like my dad. My mom didn't think so, but with those glasses and that shirt, he very much does.)