Comments

Comments have now been enabled on this here Swatting at Flies blog, so if any of you high falutin’ types wanna opine on something you have read here, then you go right ahead.

But be warned, it’s moderated by Jack ‘the Snake’ Mackarone, who doesn’t take a whole lot of guff from no one no how, so be careful and play nice. Jack knows how to look you up and hunt you down.

But seriously, moderated comments are available in Blogger, which I have just noticed, probably years later than they were made available. So, comment away!

Real Life

Comment found at http://www.loljesus.com, a slightly bawdy send-up of religion, mainly (obviously) Christianity. Although the website is a joke, the comment is quite serious:

It is not okay for people to believe in Bullshit, when people DIE because of the Bullshit. If I believed MAGIC would cure my son’s cancer, and refused life saving scientific medical treatment – I would be a NUT and a murder of my son.
There is no difference between believing in MAGIC, and PRAYER or GOD.
It is pretend BULLSHIT.

People need to grow up and start believing in REALITY.

There is a whole REAL world out there ready to be discovered and embraced and explored. It does not have demons or angels, heavens or hells, nor Gods nor Devils. It is just real.

The only evil in the world, is what Man does to Man… & Man usually commits evil against Man, in the name of religion.

It is time for Man to evolve to the next level and abandon things that are Pretend.
It is time to embrace, the Real.

Left by Golden Ratio on March 7th, 2009

I quote this now because I believe I am more and more in agreement. I used to believe that faith in the unreal, the ‘spiritual’ is a sign of goodness, a sign of someone who is seeking the truth. I am far more of the opinion now that this approach has more the effect of anesthetizing individuals to real life. It’s a coping mechanism.

What is ‘real life’? To distill it down into a philosophy for living, I would say that ‘real life’ is choosing your actions willfully rather than passively. Rather than simply allowing impulses and influences to rule you, take your education, your experiences, your knowledge, and keep learning and keep experiencing and keep educating yourself every day.

Find out what you’re good at and do it productively. Stop wasting your time. Enjoy your leisure for the rejuvenating time that it is. Stop running on the hamster wheel of life and pretending it’s OK to torture yourself.

‘Real life’ is ups and downs. Its elation and disappointment. But it also is enjoying a simple sensation or none at all, just being in the moment. Your life is long and when it ends, it will end. You will never know anything after that point. You will never even know that you are gone. Wake up and experience what is now.

Prepare for the future? Yes, of course. Be smart. There is no need to hasten death, but you are responsible for yourself. If you want to believe that God gives you certain sixth sense powers and angels take care of you and that you are going to die and go to heaven, think about what the underlying causes of these thoughts are. Are you really simply coping with events and things that you cannot control? Are you really looking for answers to unanswerable questions?

Instead of trying to rule the universe vicariously through belief in God, why not learn a new language or learn to play an instrument or walk in the park or get some fresh air some other way. This lust for power that everyone has that they have to attach their ego to ‘The Almighty’ is a puzzle. You have all the power you need. Take it and wield it with responsibility. And enjoy yourself for a change.

Stop striving for the ever-illusive ‘perfection’ and enjoy the variety that is inherent in living.

Just What is ‘Treason’?

To question and openly debate issues when you have an honest disagreement with your political opponent is not treason. To oppose war, in enacting a pacifist philosophy is also not treason. To raise your voice to air your grievances against government policies in our American system of free and open speech is not treason.

But to openly call for the failure of a sitting American President, to organize others of your political philosophy to openly oppose elected officials in demagogic, egotistic hysteria for what amounts only to personal gain, this is treason and should be recognized as such.

Again, speaking your mind and attacking specific policies while advocating a different course of action is one thing, but to wish for the American government to fail, simply because it would be beneficial for your point of view, is the epitome of what is to be anti-American.

I am very open to free speech of all kinds. I disliked many of the Republican policies of the last eight years and the twelve years prior to Clinton, actually. I believe everyone should be able to have their say about specific policies and specific ways they think the government can do a better job. But, simply stating that you want our government to fail so that you can look like less of a loser than you are is simply treason and, worse, sheer stupidity.

Rush Limbaugh should be jailed and tried for treason. He has baited the federal government into such an action with his obvious, blatant position against America. At worst, he should be executed. At best, he should be deported. But what country would take him?

The only reason I would ignore him is a) he is irrelevant b) it would only make him a martyr in the eyes of his mindless horde of followers. That said, at some point the anti-American corporatist right wing of the Republican party needs to be dismantled. If I were the Republicans I would be working on that very quickly right now. That is their last hope of remaining a viable political force in the future.

What Happened to all the Christians?

Today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch (RTD) illuminates the latest report by the American Religious Identification Survey, which shows that fewer Virginian’s describe themselves as ‘Christian’. Since 1990, some sort of transformation has occurred such that 11% less people identify themselves with this particular major religion. The RTD reports:

Michael Fletcher of Chesterfield County, who describes himself as an interdenominational evangelical, said historic mainline churches and denominations experienced the steepest declines because they “have left their foundational teachings.”

“They’ve softened the Gospel into some sort of watered-down love relationship that doesn’t require anyone to step outside their comfort zone,” he said.

When I spoke to my good friend Rollie about this, he had this to say:

“For one, why do these religious assholes open their mouths and think their opinion means more than a lump of three-week old lima beans? For two, what kind of ‘Gospel’ does this fruitcake want? Oh, God’s word has been ‘softened’! Let’s toughen it up. Let’s add some hard leather and whips and chains. Let’s bring back the Inquisition! WTF?”

I tend to agree with Rollie, though I believe he is a bit rude at times. I forgive him for that, though, because he makes very good chili.

Anyway, I think people bring to religion a kind of template that is already established based on their life experiences and point of view. This ‘hard’ Christianity outlook where believers should be venturing out of their ‘comfort zone’ to truly follow ‘the Lord’ is loaded with macho-ism and overtones of sado-masochism. Whether this is a sign of some kind of abuse as a child or something else, I cannot say. This S&M aspect of life is typically associated with silly leather costumes, handcuffs, and riding crops. However, I believe a serious desire to hurt others that lies inert inside everyone (in healthy people unleashed when we face a serious threat) as well as a willingness to be dominated is cultivated in a lot of what we know as ‘Christianity’.

Again, Rollie had an opinion on this:

“First off, I’ve got nothing against Christians, mind you. They’re good, fine, smiling people out in public, for the most part. The secret ‘Jesus fish’ thing has gotten old, though, I have to say. Then we get to this whole abortion thing. Now, I’m really sad to hear when some stupid girl gets herself pregnant by mistake because it means education-wise, we are a bunch of stupid dumb-fucks, literally. And I value life as much as the next person, of course, unless you start telling me I need to get rid of my guns. But, they talk about valuing life, but for them it seems abortions are bad because it deprives them of more victims for their insane, sado-masochistic ways.”

In this respect, I have to disagree with Rollie. I think he overstates the S&M thing. I think it is there, but it’s much more of a subconscious tendency towards glorifying pain, for whatever reason.

More reportage from the RTD:

“Churches and culture are driving the changes in religious identification, said Fritz Kling, president of Kling Philanthropy Group and founder and chairman of the Richmond Christian Leadership Institute.

“Society discourages us from making value judgments about what is or is not bad behavior, and much that is good has been lost in the process,” said Kling.

“The coarsening of society affects all faiths,” and churches have been slow to respond to societal trends.

The church’s role as “an improver” of society also has diminished, Kling said.

“Christians should be Richmond’s best citizens — always giving, loving and serving. Maybe we Christians aren’t acting that way, or if we are, the message isn’t getting out.”

I find it interesting that while Fletcher thinks the problem is that mainline churches have softened, Kling thinks society as a whole has ‘coarsened’. Fletcher, though, I suppose is concentrating on some ill-guided theological notion, while Kling seems to be speaking from a cultural aesthetic point of view.

Rollie’s take on this:

“Yeah, it’s convenient. Christianity has always been a catch-all religion. Whether you think society is too soft or too hard, Christianity has a place for you. Look, the people in this article, and all people at the heart of a religion are in the business of seeking to win people over to their way of thinking. They may honestly feel like they are trying to ‘save’ someone, but it all boils down to this – if you don’t think the way, I do, you’re wrong.

“Another thing, when I saw that bit about how this guy has the idea that religion is somehow an ‘improver’ of society… that made me laugh so hard I almost fell down the stairs.”

To Rollie’s point, I believe the improvement of society would all depend on who has gained from the religious activity. My contention would be that societal improvement usually flourishes despite the best efforts of entrenched religions.

Which brings me to a basic premise regarding the relationship between society and religion. Religion, I believe, stems from society as a cultural phenomenon and not vica versa. People form relationships, associations. They engage in essential function and life activities. Religion springs from an attempt to explain the unknown. Why did my crops not grow this year? Why did the rains not come? Why is my child sick? What happens when the elders die?

Rollie opined:

“When religion tries to go beyond the unknown and control the known, factual world, it ceases to be religion. It is simply a four-foot high pile of horseshit from a rat-infested stable where the hired hands have all gone off to gangbang the rancher’s daughter.”

Rollie has a wild imagination and watches way too much porn, but I tend to agree with his fundamental opinion. Religion, when it attempts to explain the unknown borders on science and when it uses scientific principles to move mankind forward to understand the previously unknown, it can certainly be described as an improver of society.

Unfortunately, many Christians wholeheartedly reject active engagement with the physical and known world in favor of ‘textual’ evidence that is held to be the final authority of all that can ever be known. This viewpoint is insufficient to bring any kind of improvement to society. I would argue further that it is detrimental to any kind of improvement anyone would hope to bring about.

The idea of improvement to society, though, raises a more fundamental question. That is, how do we define ‘improvement’ and who decides? Invariably ‘improvement’ favors some group over another and we are really left with a political problem, a public policy problem, best left to the realm of government, rather than religion.

At best, religion then becomes a ritualistic placeholder for the practice of beliefs once held. I see it as a kind of ancestor worship. By following the religious practices of those who came before, regardless of the logic behind them or lack thereof, we glorify the past, longing for some ‘happier day’ that we think has been lost (but may have never existed).

Perhaps those that do not identify themselves as Christians these days, do so because they do not see a compelling reason to follow in the footsteps of their forebearers. They see the opportunity to invent their own ways, their own rituals, their own culture. Perhaps the past is not so glorious after all. Perhaps, instead, we should be looking to make the future a better place.

I have always found Christianity to be a nihilistic religion. Even if you ignore the sects that concentrate on the suffering of Christ as their theological focal point, and even if you ignore the sects that believe that believers should also actively accept suffering in their own life as a homage to Christ’s, even if you see Christianity as the soft fluffy ‘love’ religion that Mr. Fletcher finds so distasteful, the end game of this religion does not make much sense. Though there are wildly differing opinions among branches of Christianity, it undeniably relies on some form of destruction of the world for its fruition. Essentially, the end game is the annihiliation of humans on planet Earth in favor of a ‘new heaven and new earth’. Believers, rather being human, take on supernatural bodies that never die and live in an eternal ill-defined ‘heaven’, a domain close to God, Jesus, etc.

Rollie, once again, had an opinion:

“Look, any nihilistic philosophy favors the now over the future. It may also favor the past to remind us of just why we believe in this nihilistic philosophy to begin with. This seems to be the Christian strategy – keep going over the same events time and time again so that everyone can feel comfortable in the fact that the world is going to end in hellfire and brimstone AND if they don’t accidentally deny the Holy Spirit or forget to accept Christ’s redemption for their real or imagined sins, they will get to go to the GREAT BEYOND! Church must be a great place to sell insurance, used cars, and pyramid schemes because if you believe that load of … well, you know what I’m saying.”

Rollie has a point in that Christianity sits in a holding pattern, spinning its wheels, emphasizing the study of its mythology which is presented as hard facts in the more fundamentalist sects. In all Christian branches, the emphasis is on a closed loop of select few past events. Christianity also makes a special point to disallow any new information to be included in the ‘canon’.

Referring back to the RTD article, Kling’s assertion that Christians should be ‘giving, loving, and serving’ as ‘best citizens’ contains some fundamental assumption which need to be challenged.

First, Kling’s assertion implies that Christians make the best citizens, as if non-Christians are somehow on a lower tier. The whole idea of ‘best’, here, is misplaced. At best, it is simplistic. At worst, it is elitist.

He also defines the ‘best’ behavior available to citizens as ‘giving, loving, and serving’. These three things sound very good on their face. However, who is giving what to whom? How does Kling define ‘love’? And to the service of whom and in what way? These questions evolve into questions of public policy (in the case of service/giving) and private relationships (in the case of love). While I believe citizenship should include contemplation of others and their needs, I do not see the need to mix these questions in with explaining the unknown or worshipping someone’s ancestors. I believe the best way to ensure everyone’s needs are met and that they have opportunity to pursue their private happiness does not rely on religion of any kind, much less Christianity. Again, these are public policy issues.

Rollie’s last word:

“My theory that you have not thought of here that explains the results of the American Religious Identification Survey is not that there are fewer people identifying themselves as Christians, but that there are simply fewer Christians. There are fewer Christians because they were taken up in the rapture. That’s right! It already happened! You missed it! The rest of the people who identify themselves as ‘Christians’ were found to be unworthy by the Lord and so they were, unfortunately, ‘left behind’! This would explain why these ‘Christians’ are not busy giving, loving, and serving because they really aren’t Christians at all!”

Amen.

The Fall of Sports in Richmond

The RTD has a ‘Back Fence’ section of their Editorial pages on which lands all sorts of random nonsense and blather submitted through their ‘Your 2 Cents’ email and toll free number. This is sort of a ‘Letters to the Editor’ for the reader at large, those who are not quite literate enough to string together logical arguments, but are media-savvy enough to formulate a pithy sound bite.

Ken Essignman of Mechanicsville laments that no one attends Richmond sporting events. The now-defunct Richmond Braves (minor league team) and the Richmond Renegades hockey team, which is struggling, are both victims of the terrible trend. Richmonders, Essignman surmises, see a night out as drinking beer in the living room rather than the kitchen.

Essignman’s sarcasm aside, my own opinion is that live semi-pro sports in Richmond have failed for other reasons:

1) The rise of school sports. Most parents are busy taking their kids to soccer, field hockey, basketball, wrestling, etc. so have little time for events sans kids.
2) The decline of beer drinking as a recreational activity among adults. While Essignman assumes drinking beer is a requisite for a fun night ‘out’, most people grow out of that by the time they leave college and get a job.
3) The declining real wages and leisure time of the working class. As inexpensive as semi-pro events seem to be, they still cost money and time, which those who would be most interested in mindless competitive sports have in short supply.
4) Night Baseball. Baseball, in particular, while mindless, still has a genteel quality that attracts families in particular. Multiple generations come to the ball park to take in the ambience of an afternoon out. Afternoons attract families because younger kids have bed times (or should have bed times) and adults when going out at night want to do other things.
5) The Rise of Visual Media. Back in the day, there were very few options. There were three shows on at any given time and the movie theater may have had three or four movies. Now multiplex cinemas may have seven movies showing at once, with stadium seating and surround sound. At home, families can sit in their own surround sound theaters and take in, on demand, multiple viewing options, both TV fare and a library of films.
6) The Rise of the Video Gaming Industry. Back when their gaming options was a lame version of Pac Man or Pong on the Atari, kids may have wanted to go out and see a baseball game with their friends. Now, with 3-D graphics and immersive game-play, not to mention gaming experiences where they actually get to play as major league players, the draw of going out gets less and less.
7) The Internet. Kids of all ages have a whole new outlet of entertainment to draw from which is bound to draw attention away from good ol’ fashioned sports.

There are a few other factors to consider as well:

1) Ice hockey in the South. Was this ever really a good idea?
2) Semi-pro sports. While college sports has gained more and more attention, semi-pro sports do not seem all that relevant.
3) The decline of pro sports. Let’s face it, baseball and basketball, in recent years, have become less and less exciting, while football has been treading water. The major pro sports, in general, have to worry about more than just the seven factors above. There is also the rise of a myriad of other pasttimes that have emerged: extreme sports, professional poker, professional gaming, and, of course, NASCAR.

Richmond, also, has the distinct problem of being of a decidedly splintered character. Old school Richmonders are still scared of venturing downtown while West Enders look down on anything that crawls out from past the Southside of the Rivah. Then the elitists on Cary Street don’t pay attention to anything unless it involves high end scotch.

It’s the divide that separates the University of Richmond Spiders from the VCU Rams. Then, it’s the affiliations that most Richmonders have with other parts of Virginia. The Hokies vs. the Cavs. Then there are those from North Carolina who transplanted here. Or the Northern Virginia-ites who have been used to pro athletics for years and see Richmond as a quaint little, quiet town to sort of blissfully live their days.

Nobody really takes Richmond seriously as a place because it’s not. ‘Richmond’ is a myth. This explains why all the counties are divorcing Richmond and taking on their own names. As a core city, Richmond sits on a hill overlooking the James, but commands nothing. Even the oldest legislature in America is an ineffective laughingstock, only garnering ‘Best Managed State’ accolodates from pro-business interests that would give gold stars to anyone who kisses ass as well as these clowns. Otherwise, the General Assembly is stymied by an immense vacuum of leadership disguised as conservative ideology. They think passing laws that raise revenue must be awfully bad since [gasp] taxes may be raised.

Someone once said, ‘if you build it, they will come’. If big developers have their way, historic and quirky Shockoe Bottom will have a baseball stadium right next to the train station. Although this seems like a good idea, developers should ask themselves if the majority African-American population of Richmond really care for semi-pro baseball enough to show up. I can guarantee that folks from surrounding counties will continue to not show up when you move the barkpark further away from anywhere convenient. Shockoe Bottom is the furthest point away from the West End of Henrico County you can be and has already gained a reputation for decidedly non-family oriented night life. A great place for the college and twenty-something crowd, but for the baseball-family crowd? No.

Sunday Tour of the RTD Editorial Pages

You can always count on the Richmond Times-Dispatch (RTD) to have a nice mix of total malarkey, usually courtesy of retired goofball editorial page editor Ross ‘Homophobia’ Mackenzie and shrill letters to the editor written by hapless citizens with narrow viewpoints (I know because I have had the honor of being a ‘Correspondent of the Day’ years ago).

And so this Sunday is no exception. Let’s run down the featured moments of hilarious logic-less punditry attempting to present a conservative viewpoint, so terribly unsuccessfully that it makes Rush Limbaugh seem like the genius he thinks he is.

The Op/Ed page begins with a column by Charles Krauthammer, former psychiatrist and the foreign policy genius who brought us the misplaced term ‘Reagan Doctrine’. In ‘The Great Non Sequitur’ ‘Sour’ Kraut-the-Hammer argues that the current crisis has been brought on by ‘Overeducated, Gucci-wearing smart-ass MBAs’ who invented terrible debt models that got us into this credit catastrophe. Being trained in psychiatry, we assume Sourkraut is simply practicing profession-bashing rather than really believing the simplistic idiocy he dishes out.

Sourkraut’s overall point is that our current president’s policies, rather than being direct responses to the actual problem, are cleverly disguised ways to socialize health care, education, and energy. His complaint is that, while Obama’s politics are clever, he is being intellectually dishonest. Perhaps Chuck should be glad that our current president has the ability to be intellectual at all. Oh whoops, did I just denigrate the ‘dread Bush administration’, but that’s Ross Mackenzie’s phrase as we soon will point out in…

‘Briefs’ by the retired and crusty Ross ‘The Mac’ Mackenzie, he of the suspenders and bow tie (which they crop out of his picture these days…. boo!). Mackenzie’s modus operandi is usually to pose ridiculous questions that he dreamed up and then answer them in a sort of internal monologue. However, this week he simply picks random subjects to comment upon. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine the focus of his ‘brief’ snippets, so I will help readers out by doing the copy editors job of adding headlines to each:

  • Recent Snow Proof That Global Warming Is Bunk
  • Mention of Playboy in This Column Proof that Ross Is Not Gay
  • Ross Looking Forward to Getting Stoned As Soon As U.S. AG Relaxes Medical Marijuna Laws
  • Ross Is On Patrol In the Middle East. His Conclusion? Iran Nukes Bad!
  • News Flash: Politician Breaks Campaign Pledge – Sort of
  • ‘Savior-based’ Economy Looks Towards Judgment Day for Relief
  • China Should Be In Charge: U.S. Congress Filled with Actors
  • News Flash: Racism in Africa! Europeans Hate Jews!
  • News Flash: Presidential Appearances Flanked by U.S. Flags!
  • News Flash: Elite, Well-Connected Washington Types Skirt Tax Laws! (I always find it interesting when conservatives point out the taxes not paid by those that they don’t agree with while fundamentally being against taxes in general… wouldn’t you think not paying taxes in some way would be a reason for a conservative to cheer?)
  • Ross Whips Out His Vast Expertise in the Tax Code (ditto my last comment)
  • ‘TARP’ Now Called Something Else: Proof that Obama is Big Brother!
  • Two Months Ago: Obama Fails To Show Up At Military Inaugural Ball. Proof that Obama is… uh… in hot demand? Against the military? Wha-?
  • News Flash: Big Football College Pays Coach More Than University President!
  • Herbert Hoover and FDR Terrible Presidents For Expressing Optimism. Obama Stands With Them (except that Obama has been universally criticized by pundits for, prior to his Congressional address, sounding too dismal regarding the economy).
  • Random Quote By Fed Chairman: “We’re not completely in the dark.”

Mackenzie’s biggest problem is that he thinks he’s being insightful by pointing out things that are indeed obvious and/or pointless or echoes of the Limbaugh/Fox News axis. Yes, while pointing out the pointless may seem interesting, it is not. It just makes Ross seem out of touch and a tad bit crotchety.

But is that not the charm of ‘the Mac’? He’s sort of there to represent the Old Guard. He’s so worried about this good ol’ country of ours he wants to ensure he leaves no stone unturned to ensure we are all well informed of the multiple threats to our well being. Whether it’s overpaid college coaches at USC (that liberal bastion – those bastards!) or the tax foibles of current administration officials, he makes sure we are kept in the know.

Never mind that his blurbs have no connection to any solid argument for or against anything in particular. Just a string of unrelated jabs here and there. One envisions ol’ Ross in an unfurnished room, with plenty of extra padding on the walls, jabbing here and jabbing there, each shadow he sees another presumed target of his expert upper cut. So Obama missed the Military Inaugural Ball? Out of 10 official balls and 10 unofficial balls, the inaugural ball Ross is complaining about, started in the Eisenhower Administration, is not one he even planned to attend. Guess what? Obama’s full time job would be attending ‘inaugural balls’ if had to show up to every single deserving cause-related event. Get real.

But Ol’ Mac at least delivers the expected drivel we love him so much for. Turning to the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section we shookour heads with disbelief as we are faced with a piece of ripe cow dung in the form of a missive labeled ‘Correspondent of the Day’. This giant bovine turd of a letter has the staggering audacity to blame customers of Circuit City’s last days as somehow insulting to the company’s employees and its business. This coming from a Circuit City employee named David Taylor. Mr. Taylor shrieks ‘Where was this support when we needed it?’ regarding the Black Friday-like crowds attending the store’s last days. I would like to ask where were these deals when it may have helped the company move merchandise? See, that’s what sane businesses do. But, the amazing arrogance of Circuit City was rooted in a near monopoly over the hi-fi business for years. When Best Buy came in, they scoffed. ‘Why be competitive in our core business?’ they asked themselves. And instead they went off on magic carpet rides, some successful (Car Max) and some wildly unsuccessful (Divx). But have a meaningful sale? Only when it’s too late.

“I can only hope that customers can try to see things from our side for a change,” wails the RTD’s Correspondent of the Day. No, Mr. Taylor. You are paid to serve customers. That is your job. That is why you exist and that is why you stay in business. You are disappearing off the face of the retail universe for the very attitude you are expressing. The customer owes you nothing. While it is regretful that there are idiots and assholes who may frequent your business, in good days you could simply refuse them service. Now? You just have to deal with it.

Finally, the RTD unsuprisingly comes out in favor of recent tobacco regulation that will favor local corporate uber-giant Altria (parent company of cigarette giant Phillip Morris). Of course, the editorial staff must mention that “we are generally skeptical about expanding government regulation”, but in this case heck it favors our buds so it can’t be bad, can it?

Then the RTD decides that socialism is a great thing as long as it is part of some giant war effort, but it is decidedly a ‘sobering thought to remember that throughout modern times economic turmoil has served as a cause of war’. So war is good, but it’s bad, but it’s good. At least it’s sobering.

At least we can count on George Will for a breath of fresh air in the form of some actual well-researched commentary on a fresh subject that is not simply an excuse to make a political point of some sort. His insightful linking of corn consumption since WWII and obesity and the health care crisis is on target. We at Swatting at Flies wish to see more thoughtful debate on subjects that impact our lives such as this.

Album Review: U2’s ‘No Line On The Horizon’

Three and 1/2 stars out of Five.

Song by Song review of the new U2 album…

No Line On The Horizon

An intro song. U2 imitate Arcade Fire. I suppose they decided that rather use ‘Wake Up’ as an intro (as they did during their ‘Vertigo’ tour), they would just write their own version.

Magnificent

U2 imitate themselves. This is their signature (proper) album opening song arrangement. The pulsing, anticipatory beginning and then… rush into the soaring guitars and high energy. This is this album’s ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’. Features a very low key guitar solo by The Edge. Standout lyrics: “Only love leave such a mark, but only love can heal such a scar.” Critics who think that the band is overblown and caught in their own hype will hate the title and all that it suggests of the band’s pomp.

Moment of Surrender

Forgetting that they already have a song in the U2 canon called ‘Surrender’, this song is a gospel soul song that bears little resemblance to the earlier tune. Standout lyric: “My body’s now a begging bowl that’s begging to get back … to be released from control”. I suppose oldsters such as Bono and Co. think about lack of bladder control enough to let the subject slip into their songs, but is it really necessary? Features another low key guitar solo by The Edge and some interesting slide guitars that are trademark Daniel Lanois (co-producer and songwriter).

Unknown Caller

This one sounds like a leftover track from The Unforgettable Fire, eight albums ago. The lyrics are credited to both Bono and Daniel Lanois and feature men’s choir unison chanting. Unfortunately, the lyrics they are chanting are rather banal. Rather than the haunting imagery of a song like ‘Lemon’ (from the underrated Zooropa album), the standout lyrics this track are “Here me, cease to speak that I may speak. Shush now. Oh, oh. Force quit and move to trash.” Features a more extended and ambitious guitar solo by The Edge.

I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight

U2 do a mash up of a bunch of their more mediocre hits. It’s the City of Blinding Lights (from their last album) meets Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses meets Ultraviolet (Light My Way). The non sequitur chorus seems like Bono is channeling Pink in between philosophical ponderings about how “It’s not a hill, it’s a mountain as you start out the climb.” I have tried to find redeeming qualities to this song, but it’s only interesting as an art piece in which Bono sings “The right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear.” This song seems to be a good illustration of this point.

Get On Your Boots

A take off on ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’ while borrowing a line from ‘Do You Realize?’ by The Flaming Lips (“You don’t know how beautiful you are”). It’s a nice rocker of a tune with that same groovy edge they had with ‘The Fly’.

Stand Up Comedy

U2 do funk without any recognizable funky bass line. I blame the mixing of this because Adam Clayton sure tries to play a funky bass line. It just gets buried beneath Bono’s ridiculous falsetto. The Edge delivers a low key slide guitar solo followed by a psychadelic guitar part that dies out fast. Standout lyric: “C’mon ye people. Stand up then sit down for your love.” Seems like a dig at organized church services.

Fez – Being Born

Its an ambient Brian Eno track, which includes an echo of ‘Let me in the sound’ from Get On Your Boots, abruptly fused into a proper U2 track. Another take on ‘City of Blinding Lights’ it seems (a little slower this time) meets ‘Lemon’ with minimalistic lyrics (for once) from Bono. Standout lyric: “Burning rubber, burning chrome”. A William Gibson reference? The male choir chanting in this one is more haunting than in ‘Unknown Caller’.

White As Snow

A better title would be ‘White Flag’ given the fact that it is supposed to be sung from the perspective of a soldier. This would tie into their War album nicely. Oh well. Heavy-handed Christian imagery makes this one more or less an artistic clunker, but nice as a churchy, Sunday School anthem. Standout lyric: “Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not. Only the lamb as white as snow.”

Breathe

The apotheosis of the U2 genre. Everything you like about U2 is right here encapsultated in this one song. After writing this song, U2 can now retire. They have hit the high point. Standout lyric: “Got a love you can’t defeat… I found grace inside a sound.”

Cedars of Lebanon

Bono gives up singing in favor of spoken word. Slow and meandering, it is more of a jazz ambient track than anything else. I really wouldn’t mind more of this type of sound from U2 because, frankly, they’ve done everything else they’ve done on this album once or twice before, and a little better. This is the first track that is actually more revolutionary for them. Standout lyric: “This shitty world sometimes produces a rose. The scent of it lingers and then it just goes.” Features a very nice Daniel Lanois signature men’s chorus that almost brings tears at the lyric “Return the call to home.”

Summary

Overall, for whatever criticism one would like to lay on the U2 chaps, the only reason it’s possible to apply any at all is because we expect so much. Ordinarily, an album would be simply music, something to have in the car and absent-mindedly hum along to. Either you like it or not. But with U2, it’s bigger than that. It’s a cultural force, a phenomenon. It’s attached to indelible memories of something powerful and wonderful. So the bar is raised high.

For that, for the most part, U2 pull it off on this latest effort. From an impressionistic point of view, this album satisifies all the requirements of a great U2 album. Only when you look very closely do you see the blurs and smudges that make up the total whole. Sit back and enjoy this album like you would relax your eyes to see a ‘Magic Eye’ poster. The images start becoming clearer and clearer until this incredible 3-D image appears.

The smudges? We can start with the vocals. I think it’s easy to assume that whenever Bono opens his mouth it’s sheer genius. Wrong. I believe a few more vocal takes would have perfected the parts and would have improved this album, especially the falsetto parts that are almost always flat in every song that he reaches to the higher regiser. Apparently, though, either Bono was not available enough to do the parts or his voice is just too shot from years of use and abuse. Sometimes the strain in his voice is painful to listen to. Sometimes you can hear the Bono of old. Unfortunately, there is not nearly enough use of The Edge’s background vocal to make up for the weakness of Bono’s aging vocal cords. To his credit, Bono pulls off some soulful singing that his aged voice actually makes more convincing because of the strain, but overall he needs to take care of his instrument more. It is failing him.

Production and over-writing is also a problem. Sometimes too many cooks spoil the broth. Eno and Lanois have always done a stellar job of adding the right touches in their own ways on previous U2 albums. Yet the albums, the great ones, always bring out the best of U2 and what they bring to the table. This time the production / songwriting team sort of take over a bit. The team that brought us The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby come through well in songs like ‘Moment of Surrender’ but ‘Unknown Caller,’ for example, comes across a little too heavy-handed, with a bit too much chorus vocal and a bit too much of the signature Edge ringing bell-like guitar, as if obligatory.

In addition to Eno and Lanois, we have U2 stalwart producer Steve Lillywhite for good measure. And if that is not enough, we also have keyboards on at least five tracks by Terry Lawless as well as production and keyboard contributions by will.i.am (strangely, it is difficult to hear the keyboard in the will.i.am tracks).

“I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” is arguably the most overproduced (and overwrought) track U2 has ever released (barring the ‘Pop’ material). It doesn’t help that ‘Crazy…’ is simply unfocused. In that way it’s a perfect song for the ADD generation. For everyone else it’s a few too many ideas fused into one song with no one telling Bono that he may want to pare his lyrics down a bit and take just one direction. I suppose it’s difficult, even for his mates, to provide honest criticism to someone of Bono’s admitted stature. Still, another few drafts would have been in order. Never mind, too, that the title’s sentiment does not fit the earnestness with which it is delivered. As I wrote in my specific track notes, above, the chorus is more like something Pink would come up with. U2, in this case, just don’t pull it off convincingly.

Finally on the production side, as nice as they may be, tracks like Fez and Cedars of Lebanon are just more obviously products of the production crew than U2 proper. It’s hard to say whether this is because U2 have simply started running out of steam and surrendered songwriting control or they are just being more honest about the role these very talented gentleman (Eno and Lanois) play in creating the U2 sound. Given the lack of success they had when working with producer Rick Rubin (someone they had never worked with before), it’s easy to surmise that it’s the latter.

But sit back and forget about all that. If you don’t listen too hard or think about the credits too much… if you listen a bit more casually to ‘No Line On the Horizon’. What is it? Yes, that’s right. It’s a U2 album. And a good one. As usual. Standout Lyrics of the Album: “Coming from a long line of travelling sales people on my mother’s side I wasn’t gonna buy just anyone’s cockatoo.” (from ‘Breathe’).

The Republican Path To Relevance

From DM, commenting at The Next Right:

“As someone in the tax bracket that will suffer most from Obama’s increase, and as someone on the board of a non-profit, I can assure you that you are not grounded here. This move by Obama is something that will be very well received. It is viewed as reasonable and fair. You characterize the White House’s defense as a “smarmy insinuation” but it is really a very clever way to look at the math, and it is inarguable. I get a a greater tax rebate for every $10K I donate to charity than my secretary does. How is that possibly fair? Yes, it is a clever new way of framing the issue, but it happens to make sense and will resonate with everyone who gives money to charity and has enough money to care about these things.

The right needs to focus on measures that will reduce waste and corruption in Obama’s spending. Obama has so out-maneuvered the right on taxes that is a hopeless angle. Lets face it, he just delivered the largest tax break in history. And his budget makes permanent his tax breaks for 95% of the country. And the 5% of the country that will pay more is largely (but not uniformly) sympathetic to Obama’s arguments–people remember doing very well in the Clinton years with higher marginal tax rates. And people with enough money to afford all the personal consumption they want–cars, houses, TVs, vacations, etc.-do care about the quality of state-delivered services: I want good schools in my neighborhood. I don’t want my town library to shut down. I care about veteran’s benefits (though I am not a veteran). I don’t want the city I am located next to (I am in the suburbs) to decline with greater crime and poverty. I can’t buy any more flat screen TVs or a larger house–just don’t need it. I do want some of those societal goods only government can provide, and if I have to pay a few percent more at the margin in taxes it is worth it. I spent more than I needed, but not more than I could afford, to buy something approximating a “dream house.” Why would I not spend what it takes, in taxes, to get the societal goods I also care about.

I think the biggest opportunity for the right is that one literally cannot spend these massive sums without waste and corruption. If the right can help constrain that, it has a great angle for relevance.”

The Conservationists

From Professor Chaos:

“What Republicans seek to ‘conserve’ is their power and privilege over the little people — i.e. you and me. It all comes back to a calculation of ‘my big government is better than your big government, but if the other party is in charge then make sure to cut me in on the booty.’  The whole project of a federal government is a gigantic scam. The Federalist Papers warned us against such folly, but it seems that we were unable to avoid betraying the founding fathers as well as ourselves.

So while the members of the two-party, DC duopoly in our nation’s capital go to cocktail parties and mock the silly ‘little people’ (you know, us), Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are spinning in their graves.

The Democrats may have no ideas other than those which they inherited from Stalin, but the Republican party continues to simply make it up as they go along. Whatever keeps them in power seems to be their only modus operandi, which is worse than pathetic for what was once the party of ideas.”