Monday, December 31, 2012

The Bantees

My regular pieces for the Daily Banter will resume very soon, but until then, the Banter staff has put together a series of year-end "awards." You know how it works: we run down the best moment, the worst, the most annoying thing about 2012, etc.

It's a fun little read, so by all means take a look and see if you agree with us.

The Daily Banter 2012 Awards

The 25 Best Singles of 2012 (5-1)

5. St. Vincent -- Cheerleader

Annie Clark -- known by the stage name St. Vincent -- regularly churns out fascinating music, but she really hit a new high with this track. Its frank declaration of independence is matched only by its lush, languid instrumentation.

4. Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra -- The Killing Type

The force of nature that is Amanda Palmer returned in 2012 with a record financed through a massive Kickstarter campaign. The result was everything fans could have hoped for: it was fierce, fiery, a true breath of fresh air in the pop music world. The first single from it showcased everything that makes Amanda Amanda.

3. Skrillex -- Bangarang

Nobody came into 2012 with more to prove than Skrillex. He had a lot of hype to live up to but he managed it in spades with this explosive track, one that slammed you in the chest with the monstrous beats he's famous for. With this, he proved handily that he's the king of dubstep and maybe of electronic dance in general.

2. Frank Ocean -- Thinking About You

Frank Ocean made headlines in 2012 when he admitted to having had feelings for a man. Is he gay? Is he bi? Is he just experimental? It hardly matters. The bottom line is that as a musician, few are his equal these days. Channel ORANGE was a benchmark in modern soul and hip-hop, and this song was an absolute knockout.

1. Dead Sara -- Weatherman

Dear God, does this song kick your ass all over the room. With the opening guitar crunch and the Joplin-esque howl of Emily Armstrong, Dead Sara ferociously declared themselves to be the new gods of rock. There simply aren't words to describe what a chill-inducing punch to the gut this song was the first time you heard it -- and I guarantee it hasn't relented every time you've heard it since. It was hands-down the best track of the year, single or otherwise.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The 25 Best Singles of 2012 (10-6)

10. Sky Ferreira -- Everything Is Embarrassing

It would be easy to dismiss Sky Ferreira as another bleach-blonde American Apparel model and object of Terry Richardson's lascivious desires turned wanna-be L.A. singer, but to do so is to miss out on a pretty damn good electro-pop talent. Her Ghost EP was so pitch-perfect that it really did leave you wanting more -- and this single was the ultimate infectious ear candy.

9. Alabama Shakes -- Hold On

Alabama Shakes are everything the Kings of Leon pretend to be. Their debut record deserved every bit of acclaim it received this year -- and this song in particular was just all kinds of growling, gorgeous American perfection.

8. Zedd f/Matthew Koma -- Spectrum

The best electronic dance tracks are the ones that are actually good songs -- that make you want to sing along as well as move your body. With that in mind, German DJ Zedd accomplished the most impressive feat of the year because of songs like this one. Spectrum was bold, beautiful and utterly unforgettable.

7. Tame Impala -- Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

A couple of years back they nailed the late-60s Nazz-style sound in a way that was almost otherworldly. This year, they honed that even further. Yes, Tame Impala only go backwards when it comes to their sound, but the result is something strangely, wonderfully original.

6. The Lumineers -- Ho Hey

Sometimes a simple little folk song is exactly what you need to lift your spirits. This song did it on a worldwide scale.

Tomorrow: 5-1

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The 25 Best Singles of 2012 (15-11)

15. Deadmau5 f/Gerard Way -- Professional Griefers

This was the year that electronic dance music finally achieved its true potential in the states and came to dominate pop music and pop culture, with its stars transcending cult status to become musical icons. Yeah, Joel Zimmerman -- AKA Deadmau5 -- was huge before, but with the first single from his 2012 release, Album Title Goes Here, he struck with the authoritative might of somebody who knew he was on top of the world.

14. The xx -- Angels

It seemed impossible to pare down their late-night, post-coital sound any further, but the kids from the xx did just that, and turned out one of the simplest and most beautiful love songs of this or any other year.

13. fun. -- Some Nights

They were everywhere in 2012 -- and with good reason. This song was just impossible to resist.

12. Japandroids -- The House That Heaven Built

Their album was called Celebration Rock and never has there been a more fitting title. In 2012, this Canadian duo brought the joyous thunder back to alt rock.

11. The Gaslight Anthem -- National Anthem

Simple and stunning, word has it this song was written in less than a half-hour, which would prove that it came right from the place it sounds like: the heart. Melancholy permeates every note and the end result is something as wondrous as it is emotionally devastating.

Tomorrow: 10-6

Friday, December 28, 2012

The 25 Best Singles of 2012 (20-16)

20. Grizzly Bear -- Sleeping Ute

Hailing from Brooklyn, of course, Grizzly Bear had been quietly redefining psychedelic folk rock and transcending their hipster cred for quite some time, but in 2012 they truly hit their stride with this entrancing and mysterious track.

19. Grimes -- Oblivion

24-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter Claire Boucher, who goes by the stage name Grimes, became the queen of electronic quirk with her latest album, Visions. The first single from the record summed up her overall approach: dreamy and a little silly, but thoroughly irresistible.

18. Odd Future -- Oldie

It was a good year for the seemingly endless and undefinable hip-hop collective Odd Future; they dominated more than a few forms of media and rose up out of the underground to create a metric ton of mainstream buzz, and with good reason. Nobody owns the alternative rap genre like these guys and this track was proof positive why.

17. Santigold -- Disparate Youth

The LES couldn't keep Santigold contained -- everyone knew that from the beginning. But in 2012, she truly reached her full potential with songs like this one.

16. Chvrches -- Lies

It takes a special kind of musical authority to come from out of nowhere and release a track that immediately sends millions scrambling to find a place to download it from. Glasgow's Chvrches did it with this. Dancefloor-ready and almost indescribably catchy, it was one of the best pop songs of the year.

Tomorrow: 15-11

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The 25 Best Singles of 2012

25. Muse -- Madness

With a seductive electronic purr, Muse unleashed their best single since the Absolution days.

24. El-P -- The Full Retard

Brooklyn hip-hop savante Jaime Meline, otherwise known as El-P, did what he does best in 2012 -- laying down a barrage of incendiary beats that pretty much shook your eardrums until they broke.

23. Real Estate -- Easy

The title says it all. The first single from Real Estate's Days album, released at the very start of 2012, was a breezy, catchy bit of wonderfulness.

22. DIIV -- Doused

A lot of bands were still doing the propulsive 80s indie thing in 2012, but DIIV (pronounced "dive") did it better than just about anybody else. This single proves it.

21. Cat Power -- Cherokee

God bless Cat Power. That is all.

Tomorrow: 20-16

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

While You Were Out

Just a quick heads-up that I'm still out of town and will remain there until the middle of next week. That said, even though I'm having a really nice time with my daughter, family and girlfriend in Florida, the list of the 25 Best Singles of 2012 will begin here tomorrow morning and run pretty much up until the first of the new year.

Until then, talk amongst yourselves.

Here's a topic: some big changes coming around here beginning as soon as I get back -- namely, things should get not only back to normal but infinitely busier in the coming weeks. A few things are moving around work-wise, so I'll likely have more time during the day to concentrate on writing. Not less work -- just less time-consuming work.

Monday, December 24, 2012

...And To All a Good Night

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Listening Post: End of the World Edition

Well, folks, this is it -- it's all over. Finally. Mercifully.

Been good knowing all of you.

If the Mayans were wrong, I'll be around a little next week -- but I'm flying all day today, taking Inara to Florida to visit her grandparents and so that I can see the friends and family I haven't seen in a year, since I made the road trip out to L.A. and decided to stay.

Anyway, here's to the end.

It's Oingo Boingo's Goodbye, Goodbye.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Listening Post

This is a holiday tradition around these parts and one of my favorite Christmas songs. Whatever joy we can muster is a pretty nice thing right about now.

Here's Billy Joel's She's Right On Time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Quote of the Day

"I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once."

-- Megan McArdle writing at The Daily Beast

I've tried my best to completely ignore politics and the often idiotic rantings of those who make a living proffering right-wing political opinions since last Friday. I honestly feel like that kind of pettiness should have been put to shame for at least a little while. I don't know, I guess it just seems like it's beneath all of us right now.

But this was unavoidable because Megan McArdle is apparently a very special brand of idiot. It's already been well established that her views are the worst kind of insipid libertarian drivel and that they come from an intellectual featherweight -- why anyone actually pays her to try to think is one of the universe's great mysteries -- but her most recent column crosses the line from dumb into unthinkably offensive.

For most of its painful 4,000 words, it's standard McArdle -- a lot of the-government-can't-do-anything nonsense backed up by arguments a 5th grader would be able to knock holes through -- but then comes the above quote. I never thought I'd be one of those parents, but I guess I am: There's no fucking way humanly possible that Megan McArdle has a child (and if she does, the state she dislikes so much should step in and take him or her away immediately). If you can come up with a worse idea, a more jaw-dropping disaster of a response to the Sandy Hook shooting, than to suggest to your six year old and his or her friends that they should say "let's roll," get into attack formation, and undertake a kamikaze run at a guy armed with an assault rifle, I'm open to hearing it -- although you'd probably be too high to talk.

Ben wrote a really good piece on this today over at Banter and my favorite part about it is that he acknowledges what I kind of alluded to about McArdle, namely that she's such a joke that she barely deserves being mentioned and only gets the honor today because rarely has she herself proven it so spectacularly.

No More

Today's column for the Daily Banter hesitantly wonders if we may finally be on the verge of meaningful change in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.

No excerpt for this one -- just feel free to read if you'd like.

The Daily Banter: Nothing Should Ever Be the Same/12.18.12

Listening Post

Still my favorite Christmas song.

I really do wish I were feeling more upbeat right now, but given how busy I am trying to get everything done before heading out for the holidays with Inara and how bad the news has been lately, I'm a bit out of it.

Again, though -- there's Inara soon. So that's really, really good.

Here's Joni Mitchell's River.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Quote of the Day

"I knew that day that the ideologies of my past career were no longer relevant to the future that I want, that I demand for my children. Friday changed everything. It must change everything. We all must begin anew and demand that Washington's old way of doing business is no longer acceptable. Entertainment moguls don't have an absolute right to glorify murder while spreading mayhem in young minds across America. And our Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military-style, high-caliber, semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high-capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want. It is time for Congress to put children before deadly dogmas. It's time for politicians to start focusing more on protecting our schoolyards than putting together their next fundraiser. It's time for Washington to stop trying to win endless wars overseas when we're losing the war at home ... For the sake of my four children and yours, I choose life and I choose change."

-- Joe Scarborough

This. Exactly.

In one form or another, I've covered news for two decades -- and I've never experienced an event that's shaken me to my very core like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Never. I've never had something so swiftly and assuredly challenge almost everything I believe in and force me to question my own views and the ferocity with which I hold and defend them. Like a lot of people, I've never looked at the images on my TV, read the stories in print, and felt so utterly lost -- and so positive that the risk of taking action is worth the potential reward. No, you can't child-proof the world, but you can fight with everything inside you to at least make it as safe as possible for our kids.

I understand that time will pass and, as with 9/11, things will eventually go back to "normal" -- but they shouldn't. It's such a tired cliché, but we can never forget what happened last Friday because if we do, we'll be betraying all we purport to stand for as a nation and as those with an obligation to be the guardians of the most innocent and trusting among us. If we can't at least try to keep them safe from living nightmares like this, what good are we?

Scarborough's right. How many others stand with him?

Listening Post

A very nice reader named Mary put up a link to this song in the comment section of Friday's post, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry while listening to it. I cried a lot this past weekend and I seriously doubt it's going to stop anytime soon.

Here's Pink -- Beam Me Up.

Friday, December 14, 2012


There have been times when I've felt like I'm at a loss for words. When I've sat here staring at this computer screen practically in tears, maybe even overcome with rage, because I simply can't find a way to translate the chaos and emotion in my head into actual human language. It's happened before -- but it's never happened like this.

I just keep thinking about my four-year-old daughter, Inara. I can't get her out of my head. Her blonde curls. Her smile. The way she opens her bedroom door and shuffles hesitantly over in her little Hello Kitty pajamas to where I'm working early in the morning -- her purple blanket clutched in both hands and pulled up to her face, her eyes still glossy with receding sleep -- and silently rests her head against me. The sound of her laughing uncontrollably whenever she tells a joke, no matter how often she's told the same joke before. She's like life itself to me. She's my heart and soul. My sine qua non.

I think about that, all of that, and then I try to reconcile those overwhelming feelings with the words and images that have played out all day on my TV. Parents screaming. Tiny children marching in a line to safety as they're led by police armed with automatic weapons. Ambulances lining the streets and police tape strewn throughout a bucolic suburban neighborhood in New England. "27 People Killed in Elementary School Massacre." It goes beyond surreal into the realm of unimaginable. How can our feeble minds even be expected to process it, our frail psyches to make sense of it? How can we ever come to terms with the notion that this is us -- that our society is capable of playing host to something so utterly inhuman? Who are we at this point?

Less than 48-hours after the attacks of 9/11, I was at Ground Zero, standing with a mask over my face next to a still-burning pile of wreckage ten stories high. It was one of the most horrific experiences imaginable. And yet even then, overcome by the sheer magnitude of what had happened and the searing pain it caused, I could at least see some kind of twisted reasoning at work. While the beliefs of those who had attacked us and killed so many may have been insane and misguided, they were at least easy to explain; the men who brought terror to our shores honestly considered themselves warriors, and we were their enemy. We weren't completely helpless then; we knew who had devastated us, why, and what we had to do about it.

But this: an elementary school, a 20-year-old man armed to the teeth, 20 children shot to death while they cowered in class. No matter how hard I try I just can't understand it. Dear God, why? They were just kids. And teachers. Why?

How do we go on from this? How do so many families return home to presents still under the Christmas tree for children who will now never open them -- how do they survive the unsurvivable? How do we as a nation dare to continue calling ourselves human when we tolerate such virulent madness, allowing our leaders to refuse to acknowledge that something has to be done about our obscene and grievously negligent lust for firepower and the right to supposedly wield it as we please? When does it fucking stop?

Now. It stops now. Because it has to.

Enough is enough.

There are admittedly no easy answers, but there have to be answers, because we can't have another one of these. Not like this. This is too much for us to take.

Listening Post

Nobody enjoys being naked quite like Amanda Palmer, but even putting that aside, this is easily one of the best videos of the year.

Here's Want It Back.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show, 12.13.12

The American Gun Fetish; Susan Rice Withdraws From Consideration; Why John Kerry is a Bad Choice; Speculating About the Fiscal Cliff Negotiations; Reactions to Last Week’s Show; Ted Nugent; The Oregon Shooting; Jovan Belcher; Mark Halperin and the Sequel to Game change; and much more. Brought to you by Bubble Genius.

Listen and subscribe for free on iTunes

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Labor Pains

Today's column for the Daily Banter focuses on Michigan governor Rick Snyder's fast-tracking of legislation that just turned the cradle of organized labor into a "right-to-work" state.

My take on it is personal -- and will probably draw at least a small amount of criticism from the hard-left -- while I hope being reasonable.

Here's an excerpt:

"My biggest issue when it came to the unions at KCBS was always this: workers weren’t really given a choice as to whether or not they wanted to be a part of them. I had been hired on as a 'senior producer,' a muscular-sounding title which belied the fact that the KCBS brain trust had basically just pulled it out of their asses. What they’d done, see, is label me a manager without actually giving me any of the authority of a manager — and they’d done it for no other reason than to ensure that, as a manager-in-name, I wouldn’t be obligated to join the Writers Guild of America, the union that oversaw the station’s producer corps. They likely considered the idea a stroke of inspired genius, but, as expected, the Guild saw through this bit of juvenile misdirection and filed grievance upon grievance against the station for attempting to game the system while simultaneously trying to pressure me to join up and pay them the required union dues. The station management ignored the Guild’s complaints; I threw the angry bi-weekly letters I got from it in the garbage.

Here’s what it came down to: I didn’t want to be forced into paying out part of my salary to a third-party. I had been hired by KCBS and as far as I was concerned, as shitty as it was, it was the only entity I had personally made an agreement with. I wanted the choice to not have any association whatsoever with the union.

I do, in fact, question the fairness of making workers submit, en masse, to the authority of a labor union... The counter-argument against a willingness to debate this is generally of the “well, no one’s forcing you to join, only to pay a diminished due” variety. Sorry, but that isn’t much of a salve for those who literally want nothing at all to do with the union where he or she works or is going to work. "

Read the Rest Here

Quote of the Day

"$60 billion? In this time when we’re trying to solve the deficit problem?"

-- Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, scoffing at the Obama administration's request for $60.4-billion in disaster relief for the states affected by Superstorm Sandy

I love this one simple statement because it perfectly sums up the ridiculousness of the current Republican party and why it doesn't deserve to be taken the least bit seriously. It's got it all: the phony outrage, the logic-defying implication that a future crisis should be dealt with before one that's affecting Americans right now, the shameless partisan obstructionism disguised as a principled stand.

Kyl really has constructed a thing of beauty. Please take a moment out of your day to appreciate it.

Listening Post

It doesn't take much to cause "controversy" -- as defined by gossip websites and E! -- in the world of pop music these days. But occasionally somebody can slip something into the mix that may count as genuinely subversive and it's entertaining to see the reaction to it.

And so it is with the new single from Skylar Grey. I've been a fan of hers for a while because she seemed to be deftly traversing the waters of pop and hip-hop while displaying quite a bit of honest-to-God songwriting talent and an unusual amount of class. When I talked to her briefly at a party several months ago, she was dressed like a Swiss Air flight attendant, wrapped in a tight, high-necked gray jacket with sharp shoulders and a matching gray knee-length skirt; in other words, she looked like the furthest thing from a recording industry sex-kitten. That's why I wasn't sure what to make of this new song and video when I first saw and heard it -- and apparently neither was anybody else because she's caught a lot of flak for it from those who've never really heard of Skylar Grey but who now see her as the ultimate dumb pop music slut-bomb whose stuff is nothing more than a series of over-the-top sexual innuendos strung together.

Except that that's the point. The entire song is satire. Grey knows this. Eminem, who appears on the track and who's been one of her biggest champions, knows this. The controversy, then, comes from the age old pop culture Mobius loop that leaves people wondering how far one can go in parodying something before he or she actually becomes that thing. In this case: Skylar Grey really is a knockout and she really is showing off her body here and she really is singing about sex, even if she's mocking those who do it without tongue firmly in cheek.

Whatever the answer is, I have to admit that while the song itself is kind of silly -- apparently by design -- it's shockingly catchy. And maybe that's the most subversive thing of all.

Here's C'mon Let Me Ride.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New Rules

My issue when it comes to the recent round of Republican soul-searching has mostly been that it seems focused more on "rebranding," meaning selling a bad product in a way that makes it appear more enticing, than actually presenting new ideas.

Well, even though this little soliloquy casts itself as a series of tips on how to rebrand the GOP, it actually offers some damn good advice -- good advice that would benefit the entire country.

And believe it or not, much to her credit, it comes from the normally groan-inducing S.E. Cupp.

Good for her.

Low Recoil

Today's column for the Daily Banter deals with yesterday's mall shooting in Portland, Oregon -- and how chances are nothing will change in the wake of it.

Here's the opening shot:

"So here we are again.

By now you probably know the drill so well you can follow the steps in your sleep: guy goes into a public place and shoots it up, killing and injuring innocent people; the police descend and the local news stations and networks begin splashing horrifying images of the armed response and frightened bystanders all over your TV; details begin to trickle out, as well as stories of terror and heroism from average people who witnessed the shooting and got out alive; the gunman is either caught, killed or takes his own life; the futile debate over gun control begins and the right immediately begins decrying the use of a tragedy to supposedly score political points; the NRA or one of its supporters in the conservative press or Congress makes the staggeringly offensive and stupid claim that if everyone in our country were carrying a concealed weapon, somebody else would’ve been able to open fire in a crowded public place and take the initial gunman — the one not using his arsenal in a responsible manner — down with a couple of well-placed shots to the head, Black Ops 2-style.

We’re so used to this crap by now that this afternoon there’s not really a whole lot of screaming, front-page coverage of the latest outbreak of indiscriminate violence that captured the attention of the country for a few minutes last night. Yes, there are updates, but for the national press life has just about gone back to normal."

Read the Rest Here

Listening Post

Yeah, a lot of bands do the 80s indie-goth sound, but few songs capture the true aesthetic of that time and that music as flawlessly as this one.

From the Horrors, this is Still Life.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's All Downhill from Here

Today's column for the Daily Banter takes a look at the ways in which Jeff Zucker may already be working his magic at CNN.

Here's the opening shot:

"First there was the news that may have come as a surprise to most reasonable people, but which honestly was all-but-assured to those who understand how the corporate world works: the hiring of Jeff Zucker as the new head of CNN Worldwide. Sure, pretty much everyone with a pair of eyes knew that Zucker had almost singlehandedly ruined NBC and by all accounts should’ve been radioactive for the next century or so, yet anybody experienced in dealing with modern American corporatism knows that there’s a mob-style 'blood in, blood out' thing that happens at the upper echelons of power and once you’ve been accepted into the club, with a few exceptions, you’re there to stay. Zucker has name-recognition and an adeptness at personal PR that borders on sorcery when you consider everything he manages to get people to conveniently forget about him, so the thoroughly offensive decision to give him another shot at running a television network was a punch telegraphed from a mile away."

Read the Rest Here

Listening Post

I'm 43 today.

Dear God, how did this happen?

Here's Concrete Blonde's Happy Birthday.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Die Laughing

Today's column for the Daily Banter takes a look at the pretty shocking suicide of a nurse and receptionist in London who was unwittingly involved in a prank by two Australian DJs.

Here's a quick excerpt:

"It almost goes without saying that the two DJs, Christian and Grieg, are now the targets of global outrage — because of course it was their fault that what was intended to be a harmless joke happened to inadvertently fall into the hands of someone who I have no doubt was a really terrific person but who had to be at least mildly unbalanced. Jesus, the nurse who took the call and who inexplicably didn’t catch on to the fact that the ridiculously exaggerated caricatures she was speaking to for five minutes weren’t, in fact, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles — this woman is still alive. The person who connected the call, however, kills herself. I’d ask if that makes sense at all but it would be a laughable conceit since none of this makes any sense."

Read the Rest Here

The Bob & Chez Show After Party, 12.7.12

Join the After Party.

This week: Elf; We Preview a Big Show Event; The Hopelessness of the Climate Crisis; Blogging and the Middleton Conundrum; Working from Home; the New PPP Poll, Secession and ACORN; Ann Coulter Sounds Sane; Chris Christie Sounds Crazy; Bob’s Car Problems; the New Star Trek Trailer; The Hobbit and 48fps; Bob’s Questions about The Godfather Part 2; The Death Penalty; Don’t Rape; Jovan Belcher; The Rudolph Story Sucks; and much more.

Listening Post

Two nights ago, a mysterious tweet appeared from Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance. Attached was a song from a band called DannytheStreet -- the name swiped from a Grant Morrison comic -- which featured Gerard on vocals.

Is it a one-off thing? A new side project? Nobody knows.

The song's pretty damn cool, though.

Here's Zero Zero.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show, 12.6.12

We spend the whole hour vigorously debating whether MSNBC has a so-called pro-Obama bias. Bob says no, I say yes, and we definitely go at it. Brought to you by Bubble Genius.

There’s political talk and much more in this week’s After Party -- Friday at Noon eastern time.

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Define "Self-Evident"

Today's column for the Daily Banter pegs off of a piece Cesca wrote on Tuesday.

Here's a small excerpt and you can probably get where I'm going with it:

"The headline for Bob Cesca’s column from a couple of days ago really caught my eye, which I have to assume it was designed to. It read, “There Is No Pro-Obama Bias at MSNBC.” At first I figured... that Bob was just going for the attention-grab. But once I started reading the piece I quickly realized that, no, he really did intend to make the argument that MSNBC isn’t biased in favor of President Obama; he wasn’t just trying to get me to spend a few minutes cleaning coffee off the screen of my laptop."

Read the Rest Here (and be sure to listen to Bob and I almost certainly go at it over this on today's podcast)

Q & A

If it's Thursday, it must be time for me to hit you up for questions for this week's Daily Banter mailbag. You know the drill -- I ask you nice people for questions about politics, pop culture, the media, drugs, guns, consent laws, etc. and Bob, Ben and I try to keep a straight face while we answer them.

Submit your questions via the comment section of this post, Facebook, Twitter DM or e-mail -- the address is to the right -- and maybe you'll see yourself on the pages of the Daily Banter tomorrow morning.

Go ahead, kids. Do your worst.

Darkness Falls

J.J. Abrams's Star Trek reboot is one of my favorite movies of the last five years or so, mostly because it's just so damn entertaining. It managed to get pretty much everything right, which means that I've been waiting for our first real glimpse of the sequel like a kid waiting for Christmas.

Well, Christmas is here early -- and I'm having a very nice little nerdgasm.

Listening Post

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I was in San Francisco and my girlfriend and I were wandering the temple of incredible food that is the Ferry Building, right on the bay. This song came over the speakers and I kind of jokingly started singing it to her, which of course brought out her finest Scrooge impression.

Yes, I love this time of year and yes, while I may be a cynical prick a lot of the time, I love this song. If this version of it doesn't make you smile even a little, your heart really is two sizes too small.

Here's Mariah Carey, Jimmy Fallon, the Roots and a bunch of kids doing All I Want for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Quote of the Day

"There is no scientific debate on the age of the earth. I mean, it’s established pretty definitively, it’s at least 4.5 billion years old. I was referring to a theological debate, which is a pretty health debate. And the theological debate is ... how do you reconcile with what science has definitively established with what you may think your faith teaches. Now for me, actually, when it comes to the age of the earth, there is no conflict. I believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And I think that scientific advances have given us insight into when he did it and how he did it, but I still believe God did it... I just think in America we should have the freedom to teach our children whatever it is we believe. And that means teaching them science, they have to know the science, but also parents have the right to teach them the theology and to reconcile the two things."

-- Marco Rubio, "clarifying" his earlier position that because he's not a scientist, man, he couldn't tell you the age of the Earth

Here's the pertinent part of the quote: "I just think in America we should have the freedom to teach our children whatever it is we believe." Let me see if I can translate that for you: We should be able to teach our kids, and believe for ourselves, whatever the hell nonsense pops into our heads, no matter how utterly divorced from provable fact it is and expect to be taken seriously and have our beliefs deferred to. Sure, there may be science, math and hard evidence that contradicts the magical stories we've been told by a 2,000-year-old book written by people who for the most part believed that the world was no more than a couple of million square miles wide, but so what?

This is what I mean when I talk about taking issue with faith as a general concept and why I think its acceptance is dangerous. If I told you that I was teaching my four-year-old daughter that she should ignore science and instead believe that the world was created by a giant insect that rides a comet across the night sky, you'd not only think I was nuts, you'd discount the belief system entirely and wonder what the hell I was doing to my kid. There's no way in hell you'd show my belief, no matter how understanding you might be, any kind of respect whatsoever. And rightfully so. Yet if I tell you that I'm teaching my child that the world was created in six days, 6,000 years ago -- there are those out there, like Marco Rubio, who would tell me not only that it was acceptable but that it was my right as an American. It's my right, in other words, to be wrong.

This is why I can love and respect people of faith, but I have a very hard time respecting the faith itself.

By the way, in looking over a few things for this post and others on faith-based religion, I came across this -- and it is so jaw-dropping in its hilarious insanity that I'm pretty sure it could represent the event horizon of pure irony.

Take Five

One of my favorite memories of being a kid is of riding around in the car with my dad on a Sunday afternoon, listening to his favorite jazz tapes. He loved Oscar Peterson, Coltrane, and Monk -- but above all, he loved Dave Brubeck. And he taught me, at a very young age, a love for Brubeck as well -- one that would last my entire life.

That's the importance of Brubeck for me personally. As it turns out, his importance in the lives of others and to music in general, likewise, can't really be overstated. Not only did he record one of the most landmark albums of the last century, the near-flawless 1959 masterpiece of jazz and style Time Out, he continued making incredible music throughout his many years -- right up until the very end.

I can't even begin to express how heartbroken I am that Dave Brubeck died this morning, just two days shy of his 92nd birthday. But I can't help but rejoice in the decades of musical brilliance he's left us with. The guy seriously changed my life for the better and gave me moments with my father that I'll never forget -- and for that I can't thank him enough.

Here's Blue Rondo à la Turk.

Third Rail

Today's column for the Daily Banter focuses on the New York Post's instantly notorious "dead man" cover from yesterday and the question of journalistic ethics.

Here's the opening shot:

"Denis Leary used to do an amusing bit years ago where he said that one of the best things about living in New York City is that there are so many interesting ways to die. It isn't simply a matter of the usual daily trials of living in a big city -- the potential to be shot, mugged, hassled by roving gangs of brown youths of indeterminate Latin American lineage, etc. -- it's the almost unimaginable and constantly evolving urban landmines that are indigenous to New York and that present an everyday threat, whether you choose to deny their existence for the sake of your own sanity or not. You can be killed by a block of ice falling off the top of a skyscraper. You can step on an inadvertently electrified manhole cover. You can fall through a storm grate on a sidewalk.

You can get pushed in front of a subway train."

Read the Rest Here

Listening Post

This won't come as a shock to anyone, but San Diego ska-reggae-rap outfit Slightly Stoopid are associated with Sublime. They were actually signed by Brad Nowell years before his untimely death.

You can hear the Sublime sound all over this song.

Here's Top of the World.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Time (and God) Served

Today's column for the Daily Banter takes a look at a judge's ruling in a DUI manslaughter case in Oklahoma that's, to put it bluntly, illegal. The thing is, does it shine a bright light on a larger problem when it comes to what courts often order in drug and alcohol cases?

Here's a small excerpt:

"A couple of days ago the ACLU, an organization whose work I at turns appreciate and abhor, filed a formal complaint with the state of Oklahoma in the wake of a local judge’s startling ruling in a DUI vehicular manslaughter case. Back in December of last year, 17-year-old Tyler Alred crashed his pick-up into a tree while drunk, killing the passenger, a 16-year-old friend of his. In August of this year, Judge Mike Norman made Alred an offer he couldn’t refuse: go to prison for at least four years or accept a ten-year deferred sentence, meaning no jail time, in exchange for community service, submitting to regular drug and alcohol screenings — and going to church every Sunday for ten years. Needless to say, Norman’s sentence is unconstitutional. Not only is it unconstitutional, maybe most perniciously, Norman knows it’s unconstitutional...

An incidental question we’re left with in the wake of this ridiculous ruling, though, involves... the subtle proselytization at the heart of the 12-Step program which many courts have no problem ordering defendants accused in alcohol and drug-related crimes to undergo. Is it legal? Is it constitutional?"

Read the Rest Here

Listening Post

Australian band Tame Impala went from doing 70s-era fuzz-rock to psychedelic 60s-style stuff in the span of two albums. Next time around I guess we'll be getting 50s doo-wop.

Here's Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.

I'm up to my ass in a TV project right now, the deadline for which is rapidly approaching. Sorry for the relative quiet, but I'll still be posting my usual columns over at the Daily Banter and linking here. There seriously aren't enough hours in the day.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Listening Post

The Epilogues are a Denver band whose stuff I happen to like quite a bit. From their recent album, this is The Fallout.

Happy Monday, kids.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Sunday Sacrilege

As a perfect little Sunday Sacrilege entry, here's the full text of the piece posted this past Thursday at the Daily Banter on Pastor Rick Warren and his attempt to "logically" argue against homosexuality. It sums up pretty nicely my entire view of faith and why I feel the way I do about it.

Some of the most entertaining columns written for this site, I think, come from the times when Bob Cesca and I decide to get into a back-and-forth over subjects we're passionate about. While we both write here and host a podcast together, we obviously don't agree on everything nor should we; what the hell fun would that be? A couple of weeks back, Bob posted a piece that suggested that progressives need to stop demonizing people of faith and criticizing religion in general as being, essentially, a crutch for those not as evolved as, I guess, the liberal intelligentsia (who are generally insufferable anyway). From a purely PR perspective, he's absolutely right. I'm always one for acknowledging political reality, and it clearly dictates that contemptuously mocking someone's beliefs from on-high is the wrong way to win that person over to your cause. Bob's right on the money about this.

Then today he wrote a really nice little piece about everyone's favorite smug-prick-of-God Rick Warren -- pastor of California's Saddleback Mega-Church and cultivator, along with Chuck Todd, of the majestically sentient ginger goatee -- and his ongoing crusade to become America's most seemingly unthreatening homophobe and bigot. Basically, Warren went on Piers Morgan a couple of nights ago -- which speaks volumes about his judgment right there -- and claimed that being gay is just one of those natural impulses in some people that simply needs to be denied. His point is that you can have gay urges, but to act on them is dangerous and destructive. Examples of destructive urges that he, Rick Warren, personally experiences and denies include the desire to punch someone in the face and to cheat on his wife (thankfully, not the other way around, although it would've made for a much more revealing interview). Arsenic is found in nature, Warren says, but you wouldn't swallow it, silly.

So far, so predictably awful.

It's a waste to argue with Warren's logic because there isn't any there, which is kind of the point of what I'm about to say.

In his piece, Bob asks what exactly the "danger" is in being gay and where in the Bible it's justified that being gay is wrong and an affront to God. Here's the salient quote:

"If the Bible believes homosexuality is a criminally immoral act, where’s the victim? God? Why? How? No one can answer this question even though it’s the centerpiece of homophobic religious dogma."

This is a completely fair statement to make, but it betrays the problem with faith-based religion and, as a question, basically answers itself. The reality is that Rick Warren believes that being gay is wrong, dangerous and a sin against God because the Bible says so, in Leviticus 20:13. And here's the thing: that's good enough for Warren and many, many Christians. An outsider, one who believes in such quaint notions as asking for proof or demanding rational explanations for things, will come up against bulletproof obstinacy: the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it. There's no reasoning to be found there and no need to debate it any further, since the Bible is a holy book, the word of God, and we know this because it tells us it is. See how you can't get around that?

Bob, since he's sane, is attempting to apply things like logic, the burden of proof, etc. to a belief system based on none of these things. And that's the problem, the reason why people like myself are staunchly against not simply those who pervert faith but the concept of faith itself: because if something can't be subjected to the parameters that govern every other thing on the planet, every other discussion and debate, every part of our accepted reality, then that notion can be almost entirely dismissed as potentially fraudulent. The truth -- supported by empirical evidence -- is the yardstick by which we measure reality. If you don't have an at least functionally common yardstick as a society, everything descends into chaos. Anyone can make up any story he or she wants and call it the truth. And that's basically what faith-based religion is.

What's more, taking issue with someone's beliefs isn't necessarily off limits because it's our beliefs that inspire our actions. Being absolutely sure that you'll go on to another life will certainly influence your behavior in this one. Being 100% certain that the path you've chosen to God is the right one and that your savior demands that you educate as many people as you can while warning others about the impending doom they're facing should they continue on their own path will influence you as well. A specific set of beliefs is what makes you you. If these beliefs can stand up to the burden of proof we demand in all other areas of our lives, no problem. If they can't, there's a word for that, and it isn't faith -- it's delusion.

While I know a great many people who are religious whom I love dearly -- they're wonderful, good people -- I can respect them personally without respecting the belief they've chosen to embrace. I also think they'd be the same good people they are now irrespective of their faith in a deity. Faith doesn't make a bad person good or an inherently immoral person moral. I have no doubt that faith can play a positive role in people's lives, but ask yourself this: Is it really, say, God who gives the faithful comfort -- or is it the faith itself? The unshakable belief that someone is there watching out for them? The self-assurance that no matter what goes wrong, it's all part of a grand and magnificent plan to which you're not privy nor should you be?

There's an argument to be made that, hey, whatever gets you through the day. But that argument isn't, in and of itself, proof of that thing that gets you through the day. Santa Claus keeps kids excited and maybe even on their best behavior year-round, under penalty of getting a big lump of coal; it doesn't make him real.

Rick Warren believes homosexuality is dangerous and that God hates it because he believes it. Simple as that. No point at all in arguing with him. He's immune to contradictory theories or evidence because in his mind you can't theorize against God and there's no evidence that could possibly tear a belief system that's as flawlessly self-reinforcing as his asunder. If it's not based on proof anyway, how can it be disproven with contrary proof?

Again, I agree with Bob that beating up on people of faith is a terrible idea for those who espouse progressive politics -- although it should be mentioned that when I talk about religion, despite its insidious insinuation into our political discourse, I'm generally not approaching it from the perspective of a liberal or a conservative -- but that doesn't mean anyone should turn a blind eye to the problems too much religious adherence has created in our global society.

Because Rick Warren isn't a disease -- he's merely the symptom of one.