Ignore Ignorance

This world is a funny place…

Get With The Times

Posted by Brandon McKoy on June 3, 2010

Ya know, we sports fans tend to be quite…extreme…in our opinions. It takes less than 5 seconds after a play or an important call for us to either celebrate and defend it with the passion of a thousand suns or bemoan and deride it as though we just lost our first born child. There are times where this attribute is quite useful, but more times than not it really undercuts our credibility. It is with this consideration that I am intentionally late in presenting my opinion on the Armando Galarraga Perfect Game/Jim Joyce Blown Call fiasco. Yep, not even 24 hours after the instantly infamous call and I’m probably one of the last few people to give my two cents on the matter. The minute Jim Joyce incorrectly called Jason Donald, the 27th batter, safe at first, sports fans everywhere let the barbs fly with no regard. I’ve read and heard everything from Joyce being called a “douchebag” to a fan saying that he believes Joyce wanted to ruin the perfect game so that Roy Halladay (who threw a perfect game of his own only a few days ago) would have more time in the spotlight… *face palm*.

It’s obvious that the runner was out, by a full step even. The fact that Joyce missed the call is really inexcusable considering he had an ideal perspective to make the correct decision. Despite that, he messed up and made the wrong call. Does that make him a terrible person, a douchebag, a human pile of shit, as some have said? No it doesn’t, and it’s incredibly wrong and immature to say such things about him. Jim Joyce has been widely regarded throughout his career to be one of the best umpires in the game. Unlike Joe West, he does his job well and, until now, remains invisible from the game just like umpires should. He didn’t make the call on purpose out of some misplaced sense of spite or anger, he genuinely messed up. After the game he said, “It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the shit out of it…I just cost that kid a perfect game.” If anyone should be outraged at Joyce it is Galarraga, who has already forgiven Joyce for his error. During today’s Tigers/Indians game Galarraga brought the Tigers lineup card out to Joyce, the home plate umpire for the day, who was wiping away tears.

The perfect game was ruined and because of Bud Selig’s trademark old school, hard headed nature, the call will stand for all-time preventing the perfect game from being marked in the record books. But, from the worst call in regular season baseball history, we have been given great examples of good sportsmanship and respect for which we should constantly strive to achieve. Unfortunately, Galarraga and Joyce are both victims of an illogical system that does not allow umpires (the only ones with the responsibility to make the correct call) to utilize a tool that everyone except them has easy access to – instant replay.

Not long after anger over the blown call began to settle, the cacophony of screams for instituting replay in baseball began to dominate the conversation. The knock against replay has always been that it would lengthen the games and take away from the “human element” that makes baseball so special. First of all, the only people that complain about long games are journalists and Joe West; I guess long games cause them to lose precious minutes of much needed beauty sleep. Fans (at least the ones I know) love longer games because they get more bang for their buck. Franchises and television stations also love longer games as they mean more revenue from concessions sales and commercial breaks. Aside from the financial positives of longer games, there’s the logical fact that replays insure the integrity of the game. I love baseball as much as anyone, but it becomes awfully hard to watch and accept outcomes when vital rulings are blown by the umpires, changing the outcome of the game. Getting the call right is the most important thing. Like my 3rd grade English teacher Ms. Hopper told my class, “quality over quantity.” It’s not about how fast you can get a game in, it’s about making sure the game is called the right way. If replays create a longer game then that’s just something we will have to live with. Baseball’s highest priority should be presenting a legitimate and virtuous game to its fans, particularly coming out of the steroid era. I’d rather have peace of mind knowing that the outcome of the game was the correct one than leave 10 minutes early.

The other 3 major sports have all incorporated official replays into their games and overturn incorrect calls when necessary. In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Kendrick Perkins of the Boston Celtics was incorrectly charged with a technical foul. The next day, the NBA league office revoked the technical. Last night in the 2nd game of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Flyers appeared to have scored the game winning goal in overtime. The officials looked at the replay, saw that the puck never fully crossed the goal line, and reversed the call. No harm, no foul.

For those who expected baseball to follow suit today and reverse the blown call, their bad news was delivered when Bud Selig stated that he would not do so. The frustrating thing is that there is historical precedent within baseball for reversing calls. In what is known as the “Pine Tar Game”, George Brett of the Kansas City Royals hit a go ahead home run against the New York Yankees in the top of the ninth. Yankees manager Billy Martin requested that the umpires take a look at Brett’s bat because he believed Brett put too much pine tar on it. The rules of baseball state that “a bat may not be covered by such a substance more than 18 inches from the tip of the handle.” The umpires decided that Brett violated the rule and called him out, striking the home run off the board. The Royals protested the game and American League President Lee MacPhail overruled the decision, stating that the intent of the rule had not been violated, and restored Brett’s home run.

However, there are more situations in baseball’s history where incorrect calls have been allowed to stand rather than be overturned. Exhibit A: Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, “The Call”. The first base umpire in the game was the well-respected Don Denkinger. With the St. Louis Cardinals leading the Kansas City Royals 3-2 in the series and 1-0 in the game, Jorge Orta of the Royals lead off the 9th inning with a ground ball to the first baseman who tossed it to the pitcher covering first base. Denkinger ruled Orta safe, but replays showed him to be out. The Royals went on to win the game and the series. In the aftermath Denkinger received hate mail and death threats for over two years and is forever known as the umpire who robbed the Cardinals of the championship. What does it say about a sport that its rulers will allow an incorrect call to be the deciding factor in a championship series?

It’s up to Bud Selig to decide what the course of action will be in the wake of this event. He’s already refused to change the ruling, but the least he can do is give serious consideration to expanding the use of replay to all important calls. Keeping replay out of the game for the sake of preserving the “human element” is like having to drive across the country in 5 days, but using a Segway because you enjoy being a smug jackass. The only reason replay was absent before is because the proper technology did not exist; now it does. If baseball wants to ensure that its games contain integrity and that fans aren’t robbed of historic moments like Galarraga’s perfect game, then replay will be instituted in a concerted manner. It’s a shame that on a night where baseball should be celebrated, with Ken Griffey, Jr. retiring and what in actuality is a 3rd perfect game in less than a month (when there have only been 20 in the 140+ year history of the game), we are now focusing on the game’s flaws. Enough is enough and the time has long since passed, for if this situation doesn’t usher in a legitimate replay system in baseball, nothing will. It’s freaking 2010, get with the times already!
Now playing: David Bowie – Under Pressure
via FoxyTunes


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Haters Gonna Hate

Posted by Brandon McKoy on April 22, 2010


I’m pretty late to the party in this regard, but Roger Ebert’s article discussing why he thinks “video games can never be art” really perturbed me. Ebert is someone whose work I admire a great deal. His influence upon the movie industry is indescribable and (as far as I can tell by his tweets and posts) he is a respectably intelligent and open individual. Considering all of this, it was with great surprise that I read his comments about video games not only not being art, but that they will never reach that distinction. How does one even make such a statement that is so inherently dissonant? As Gabe from Penny-Arcade puts it, “Of course video games are art. They are nothing but art. They are art piled on top of more art.” His partner in crime Tycho remarks, “…there’s nothing here to discuss. You can if you want to, and people certainly do, but there’s no profit in it. …do we win something if we defeat him?” (the daily comic is pure gold, as usual) No, there is nothing to win here, it is a waste of time to argue against such a frivolous stance. There is more to this though than just a discussion of what does and does not constitute art.

Ebert makes his point without having any significant interaction with video games. No, there is no where in his rant where he proclaims wholly virginity in the realm of video game experience, but I do believe it’s safe to assume he’s never stabbed a Covenant soldier with a Spartan Sword or directed Link to fire an arrow while riding horseback through an endless field of grain. Sure, I may be wrong, but his opinions lead me to believe otherwise. Would Mr. Ebert appreciate it if I were to cast a negative opinion on all of cinema after viewing Glitter, but never venturing to experience Casablanca, North by Northwest, or The Big Lebowski? It would be grossly irresponsible to do so, yet that is exactly what Ebert has done in offering up such an incendiary proclamation in service of delegitimizing video game artistry. It is disturbing when a widely respected critic (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) sees no error in lecturing on a public soapbox with a foundation composed of quicksand.

It is impossible to define the subjective. Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. No matter what Mr. Ebert says, he cannot take away the dearth of enjoyable experiences that video games have provided me. Through and through there are games which have inspired me simply through their artistic representation, narrative, execution, and realism. Video games transmit and reflect ideas, emotions and values, to me that is the ultimate form and purpose of art. I read an article once on Manny Ramirez, the famous slugger now of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The journalist of the article was interviewing one of Ramirez’s teammates as he watched Manny take batting practice. “He never hit a ball above the outfield fence. Not one. Every ball he hit was on a line. Honestly, it was like watching Picasso paint. It was like a work of art.” Who is anyone to tell him otherwise?
Now playing: 近藤浩治 – The Legend of Zelda
via FoxyTunes


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Tiger Tiger Woods, Y’all

Posted by Brandon McKoy on April 7, 2010

So in my last post I totally gushed over the Yankees and how Spring officially marked the beginning of baseball and yada, yada, yada. Well, Spring also brings another sporting event of which I look forward to year round – The Masters. You see, I’m a golfer, and a pretty darn good one if I don’t say so myself. I started playing when I was 5-years old, playing on the county team and competing in tournaments throughout my youth. If you think my “baseball teaches life lessons” jive was a bit much, well you certainly don’t wanna hear my thoughts on golf. I’ll just say that I consider golf to be the most difficult, rewarding and humbling sport (yes, sport..screw you) there is. The Masters is the first of four major tournaments to be played during the golf season and it is the only one that takes place at the same course every year. Augusta National is so incredibly gorgeous it’s hard to believe anyone but Jesus himself designed it.

This year, there’s a bit more attention being paid to The Masters than in past years. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Tiger Woods is making his return to competitive golf at the tournament. After suffering one of the longest and most embarrassing falls from grace of any athlete, ever, Tiger Woods is making one of the most difficult tournaments of the year his first of the season. Now, before this little occurrence, if you were to assert that someone could win The Masters playing it as their first tournament of the year, you’d get laughed off the planet. It’s a ludicrous thought, and anyone would be insane to even attempt to do so…but this is Tiger Woods.

Let’s get one thing straight, because it needs to be said: I don’t care what you think about his long list of well documented infidelities. It was damn wrong of him do what he did. He embarrassed himself, his family, his friends, and more than tarnished the once stellar reputation that he had. There is no excusing his actions, end of story. However, for those of you who feel that he owed you an apology simply because you purchased his products based on his endorsement, I ask you this question – Did you stop buying Michael Jordan’s products (Hanes underwear, Nike athletics, Gatorade, McDonald’s, etc.) when his many troubling character flaws were revealed? He was and is a role model to many children, playing the game of basketball in a way no one had before. His passion for the game is legendary, his competitive fire so great that the Chicago Bulls did not lose 3 games in a row for a mind-boggling 9 consecutive seasons (626 games). Yet, Jordan’s transgressions are widely known. He cheated on his wife repeatedly, has a terrible gambling problem, and recently showed in his Hall of Fame speech that he can really hold a grudge. Now, I don’t remember any 24/7 news service covering these issues for a 5-month long span, do you? This nation has a selective memory when it comes to history, and the media operates in a hair-trigger, knee-jerk kind of fashion now more than ever before…but it doesn’t make it right. Tiger Woods did not violate the rules of his sport and he didn’t commit a crime. He did something that, albeit in a rather extreme manner, about 25 percent of married men do (give or take a few depending on the source). No matter how much the media and the public put him on a pedestal, failing to realize that he is still a human being who makes mistakes is just not a mature way to look at the situation.

There are those who say that they don’t think Tiger will ever be the same, that his aura is gone. Well, let me tell you a story about a man named Kobe Bryant. Before Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant was the poster boy for hugely-successful-athlete-who-stupidly-cheated-on-his-amazingly-gorgeous-wife. In the summer of 2003, Bryant had sex with a 19-year old hotel clerk in Eagle, Colorado (which is really one of the last places a Black man wants to go on trial and be judged by a jury of his “peers”), and the popular sentiment at the time was that he had ruined his career and would never get back to where he once was. Fast forward seven years to now: Kobe Bryant is a member of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and holds the top spot for best-selling NBA jersey. What amazing bit of magic did Kobe use to get from where he was 7 years ago to where he is today? He won, simple as that. Sure, he became a nicer, more lovable Kobe, but without winning none of that would have mattered. Kobe Bryant is arguably the best player in the league today and no one has said a word of what he did in Eagle, Colorado in a long, long time. The same recipe holds true for Tiger Woods. He has already pledged to be nicer, more accessible to fans, and more respectful of the game. All of that is well and good, but the only thing that can and will return Tiger Woods to and beyond his previous legendary status is winning.

So, on the eve of the first round I ask: What happens if Tiger Woods walks in off the street after 5 months of not playing competitive golf and actually wins The Masters? Like I said before, it’s a ludicrous thought, and up until last month you would’ve been thrown into a mental hospital and put on a combination of Ritalin, Percocet, and Viagra in a desperate attempt by doctors to cure your mysterious ailment. But this is Tiger Woods we’re talking about. The man who won The Masters by a record 12 strokes in only his second year as a professional. The man who once won all 4 major tournaments in a row. The man who basically won the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg, suffering from a torn ACL and taking 5 days to secure victory as it required an 18-hole playoff on Monday. Golf is the craziest, most nonsensical, most difficult sport to play, and Tiger Woods is better at it than you will be at anything in your entire life. You can write him off, but you do so at your own peril. He will win again, he will return to his previous form, and in due time people will realize just how silly all of this overblown coverage really was. But if Tiger Woods wins The Masters this weekend, well, I don’t know what will happen. Here’s to hoping we find out.
Now playing: Queens of the Stone Age – No One Knows
via FoxyTunes

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The Annual New Beginning

Posted by Brandon McKoy on April 5, 2010

Taken by me at the first ever game played at the new stadium. Click and enjoy.

OMFG it’s Spring!! While people around the country are excited about the warm weather, trees blooming and longer days, I only care about one thing: Yankees baseball. That’s right, I’m one of those guys. The guy who goes to a game and gets pissed at people for doing the wave. The guy who sees a girl wearing a pink Yankees hat and pelts my Dippin’ Dots cup straight at her face. I take my Yankees seriously and do not appreciate half-hearted attempts at fandom. Either you’re on the wagon from game 1 or you’re not, and if you’re not then I better not catch you celebrating when we win it all in October or I will knock you straight on your ass. My Church is Yankee Stadium. My God is Mariano Rivera. My Pope is Derek Jeter. My Saints are Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neil, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte. George Steinbrenner speaks the Gospel and winning is what we do. Yes, I take my Yankees seriously.

Though my love and devotion to the Yankees is great, Spring represents more than just the beginning of baseball; it marks the beginning of a new chapter in my life. The baseball season is such a marathon (162 games in the regular season) that by the time it comes to an end there are areas of my life which will have changed significantly. I have no idea what these changes will be, but I do know that the one constant over the next six months will be Yankees baseball. I will have good days and I will most certainly have bad days, but just about every day I can count on a Yankee game for me to watch and enjoy. A win puts me in a fantastic mood and a loss, while it tends to put me in a sour mood, makes me look forward to the next day that much more. No matter how badly we lose, there is always another game tomorrow.

The beauty of baseball is that the game is not measured by time, but by success and failure. There’s no time limit. Momentum dictates the pace of the game. Every inning, every at-bat, every pitch represents an opportunity for something great to happen. And so it is with the beginning of the 2010 baseball season that I will be presented with new opportunities in my life. By the time November rolls around who knows what experiences I will have had, how many new people I will have met, or new places I’ll have visited? There are numerous things that I don’t know about the coming months, but I do know that the Yankees will be there the entire time. No doubt this is going to be one wild and exciting ride…WHO’S READY FOR SOME PIE?!

Now playing: Metallica – Enter Sandman
via FoxyTunes

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No Pain, No Shame

Posted by Brandon McKoy on March 30, 2010

I agree, No Pubic Option!

When it comes to health care reform more than enough has been said about the legislation and it’s effect on the country. There are those who welcome many of the changes with open arms. I for one will directly benefit from the new law preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions. I am certainly not alone in this considering that insurance companies seemed intent on eventually listing “mammal” as a pre-existing condition. Since this is just one of many benefits that are soon to take effect, you’d think there would be a whole lot of happy people out there.

Considering just how many people will gain from these benefits, the size and degree of right-wing backlash is not surprising, but peculiar nonetheless. They too will benefit from health care reform, it’s not as if President Obama signed the bill and proclaimed it to be effective only for liberals and progressives. I would like to say that it is mostly the extreme portion of the right-wing that is so upset about this, but that simply isn’t the case. The GOP and the Tea Party Patriots are lockstep in their disapproval over health care legislation. Many Tea Partiers have, in expression of their growing anger, become quite violent in their rhetoric and actions. Individuals have vandalized the offices of Democratic representatives, posted the address of a representative (which in actuality was the rep’s brother….someone cut his gas line), wished cancer upon Bart Stupak, and threatened to assassinate the children of those who voted for reform. While all of this was happening, Republican representatives both downplayed and stoked the fiery anger of their constituents. On the day the health bill passed the Senate for the first time Republican representatives stepped out onto a balcony to show their support for the crowd of protesters. The previous day several of these same protesters participated in behavior that has not been seen since days that this country would like to forget. “Nigger” was yelled at Civil Rights icon John Lewis. “Faggot” was yelled at Barney Frank. Emanuel Cleaver was spit on (a claim which was initially questioned by many on the right). Stay classy Tea Partiers.

Enough people have already pointed out the obvious; such behavior is despicable and immature, the silence on behalf of GOP Representatives is deafening, and the last time such hatred and anger occurred Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City FBI building, killing 168 people. It is clear that we are now in dangerous territory. Like I said though, I can’t square just why there is so much anger. Certainly a portion of it comes from the fact that President Obama is a black man (to deny this is simply disingenuous and intellectually dishonest), but it doesn’t explain the majority of it. People who oppose this bill do so because they feel it is unconstitutional and encroaches on their personal liberties. The idea of the government forcing them to purchase insurance is infuriating.

I don’t mean to be prejudiced, but hearing conservative whites (I can count the number of conservative minorities I’ve seen protesting on one finger, so yes, whites) express anger over having to purchase health insurance is mind boggling to me. All my life, from casual conversations to college courses, I’ve heard conservatives complain about the poor and minorities leaching on the system. They strongly disapprove of the government giving the less fortunate “handouts,” believing it only makes people more complacent when it comes to “getting a real job,” “growing up,” etc. Well, what do these protesters think will happen when they get sick and don’t have insurance? For those who have insurance and are angry because they believe they will be forced to change their coverage, there’s nothing I can say to that; such thinking lies purely in a deep-seeded distrust of anything the government says or does. For those who do not have insurance and are angry about being forced to purchase it, there is a really serious case of cognitive dissonance at work.

Everyone gets sick. It’s a fact. If you happen to make it throughout life without contracting any serious illness, becoming involved in an unfortunate accident, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can consider yourself a member of an extremely exclusive club. Congratulations, wear that members only jacket with pride. However, if you’re a member of the much, much, much larger club of people who will get sick at some point in their lifetime, what do you expect will happen when the time comes for you to receive medical care? Are you just going to show up to the hospital without insurance and expect to be treated? If so, you will either become a financial burden on the state or get hammered by an avalanche of costs. In the latter scenario your life is thrown into chaos and all but ruined. You could lose your home, be forced to work multiple jobs, and lose the right to pursue the happiness that the Declaration of Independence proclaims you to have. In the former scenario, you become a leach, the very thing that you have hated all these years. So why are people protesting against something that will help them and their country?

When Frank Rich writes that much of this right-wing rage is not about health care, he’s 100% correct. There are those who have legitimate issues with this President and his administration. The health reform bill certainly has its flaws and is no where near a perfect bill. However, health care legislation is not the beginning of Orwellian rule. It simply isn’t. To say so and believe such is ignorant. Even more disturbing is when members of the right have become increasingly violent and their leaders do not feel it necessary to take control and tamp down out of control emotions. Leaders want to be taken seriously and legitimately, to not be associated with the extreme wing of their party, and simultaneously urge the extremists to continue what they’re doing. They get mad when liberals accuse them of guilt by association – an idea they should be completely familiar with considering that right wingers believed Barack Obama was “paling around with terrorists” simply because he had met Bill Ayers.

I am disappointed and disturbed by the dissonant anger, but I can’t say I’m surprised. Not when John McCain makes a concession speech pledging to work with this President on the tough issues of the day, then sixteen months later states that there will be no more cooperation for the rest of the year (when there was no cooperation to begin with). Not when 24% of Republicans believe that President Obama is the anti-Christ and the anti-Christ is supposed to be the last person one suspects (in this case, Sarah Palin, anyone?). I especially can’t be surprised by this dissonance when there are Tea Partiers who are unemployed and have no problem receiving unemployment benefits from the government as they protest taxes. Facts mean nothing, opinion means everything.

I mentioned these issues with a conservative friend of mine the other day and he simply told me I was wrong. He didn’t have a reason why, he cited no statistics or reasons, he simply said I was wrong. There used to be a time when facts meant something, now people dismiss anything they don’t agree with. I don’t know which is more of a threat, this country’s financial crisis or it’s ignoramus outbreak, but both need to be fixed. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late former Senator from New York, once said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” I fear that time has passed, for reality is no longer influenced by perception, it is fully displaced by it.
Listening to: Santana – Evil Ways
via FoxyTunes

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Living in Perfect Harmony (Gorillaz – Plastic Beach)

Posted by Brandon McKoy on March 11, 2010

This week has been one filled with a whole lot of excitement for a sizable portion of the music world as Gorillaz’ much anticipated third studio album Plastic Beach was released (listen to the tracks on Plastic Beach‘s Last.fm page, sans Stylo). It has been almost five years since Gorillaz’ last album Demon Days, a critically-acclaimed and widely loved album that really opened one 18-year old’s eyes to just how varied, spacious and inclusive alternative music can be.

At the time when Demon Days released I was just graduating high school and had been keeping hip-hop/rap and classic rock on heavy rotation on my iPod. It was a time when I considered No Doubt to be alternative just because I didn’t know how to place them in the niche genre (in my head) of rock. Oh, high school…when you think you have all the answers, meanwhile you don’t even know the questions. Needless to say, I eventually got a copy of Demon Days into my library and was instantly blown away. The difference between tracks, the amazing depth and breadth of instruments used, all flowing together seamlessly throughout the album to create an incredibly impressive sonic experience. After seeing the video for Feel Good, Inc. I was hooked. I wanted to learn all about the four band members that each character represented, surely they must be an interesting group of people to create such music and videos, right? …please forgive my youthful naiveté. After doing a few seconds worth of research I came to find that Gorillaz was no group of people. Damon Albarn of the British band Blur is the mastermind behind the music while Jamie Hewlett, the co-creator of the comic Tank Girl, is responsible for the artistic vision represented in images and videos. How these two individuals could create such an innovative virtual band blew my mind. For a young kid finding out just who the Gorillaz actually were was really an inspiring discovery.

It has been 5 years since I discovered the group that would help change and improve my music persuasions forever. I have graduated college (now thinking I know all the questions but have none of the answers) and am lucky enough to have a steady job. Recently, music has taken a more prevalent role in my life as I don’t have much of one anymore. I wake up, go to work, come home, eat, read/play games, go to sleep….lather, rinse, repeat. Music, more than ever before, has become a way for me to relate to people and understand where others are coming from. I could travel down to the backwoods of Kentucky and run into a rowdy group of Neo-Nazi skinheads and I’m confident I could relate to them in some significant manner simply through music. Music to me is literally the soundtrack of our lives as it influences society and visa-versa. With any significant lifetime memory you have, you can just about remember a song that was popular or special to you at the time. Music shows where we’ve been and how far we’ve come; Plastic Beach, to me, is the perfect representation of where we are. I’ve listened to the whole album over 10 times now, easy to do when you have a day that requires six hours of driving up and down I-95. Here are my impressions:

Right from the get-go we can see the medley of sounds and genres used in the album. It starts off with “Orchestral Intro,” a simple, yet absorbing movement, transitioning into “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach,” a relaxed hip-hop beat with Snoop Dogg laying chill lyrics over the warm tunes of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble; a fitting introduction to Plastic Beach. The next track, “White Flag,” I can’t even describe. It draws from hip-hop, instrumental, oriental, and bass synth sounds. The track features The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music…if this doesn’t give you a sense of just how inclusive this album is then nothing will.

From here the album moves into three consecutive tracks that I think will end up being the most popular. “Rhinestone Eyes” is a groovy techno tune with tweaked vocals and a catchy chorus, so far being the most played song on the album according to Last.fm. Next up is the first single from the album, “Stylo.” This song also utilizes some sweet techno and synth rhythms and features Bobby Womack and Mos Def. The video for the song is absolutely fantastic and must be seen as Murdoc, 2D and Noodle are rendered in full 3D. They are racing down a desert highway as bad ass bounty hunter Bruce Willis chases them…what more could you want? The final track in this portion is “Superfast Jellyfish” which is the first real pop song so far. It features Gruff Rhys and De La Soul (who were featured on Gorillaz’ most popular song Feel Good Inc.) who provide a smooth rap flavor to go with a happy and upbeat tune.

The next handful of tracks all feature a heavy dose of techno and synth, but each evokes a starkly different emotion and feel. Gorillaz really show off just how diverse they can be in production when utilizing the same tools. Once the twelfth track “Sweepstakes” rolls around it’s as if someone hit the reset button. “Sweepstakes” itself is two songs in one. Mos Def has a really nice flow throughout the whole thing, but musically the track starts out with purely techno impressions. Halfway through, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble make their second cameo on the album and replace the techno with a happy-go-funky rendition of the melody. To me this is the most underrated track on the album as it has so few plays on Last.fm and I haven’t seen any review mention it specifically. By the time it’s over you’re left in a happier mood than when it began. If that’s not the sign of a good song then I don’t know what is.

The next song is the title track, being “Plastic Beach.” More techno and synth here, but it’s used in a way that evokes a unique orchestral feel. The last three tracks “To Binge,” “Cloud of Unknowing,” and “Pirate Jet.” All do a very good job of bringing a very solid and impressive collection of music to an end. Even so, I feel as though “Plastic Beach” would be a perfectly fine ending to the album without the last three tracks, although they do hold their own and do not detract from what is a great musical experience.

The reason I say that Plastic Beach represents where music is today is because of what it is. It’s an album that is all over the place, yet works exceptionally well as a whole; organized chaos as I like to call it. There’s orchestral movements, hip-hop tracks that sound like they were plu
cked straight from a Mos Def album, and several techno pieces. Featured artists are popular hip-hop stars like Snoop Dogg, Mos Def and De La Soul, a techno group just beginning to really grab the limelight in Little Dragon, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble who were not so long ago playing shows in the NYC Subway (a few videos on YouTube), and The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music whose name is a better descriptor of who they are than anything I could come up with. All of these people were brought together by Damon Albarn, a guy from Essex, England who happens to be a truly great composer and producer with a considerable eye for talent.

Sure, most people will say Demon Days is better and just as diverse and spectacular if not more so; I completely agree. Plastic Beach, however, is really an international effort, and this is what I mean when I say that it represents where music is today. The fact that a producer from England, Rappers from the United States, an electronic group from Sweden, a brass ensemble from the NYC subway, and The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music can come together to create such a fantastic work of art that completely flows and works together is inspiring. You couldn’t say this about too many albums just a few years ago, but nowadays music is becoming more entwined and connected. People from all over the world are coming together to create beautiful harmony; the power of music is truly amazing and it shines through in Plastic Beach.
Listening to: Gorillaz – Sweepstakes (Feat. Mos Def and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble)
via FoxyTunes

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Pepsi Presents: New Zanzibar…courtesy of the Supreme Court

Posted by Brandon McKoy on January 22, 2010

The number of people who have any idea what the title of this article refers to is undoubtedly less than the total membership of Team Leno (I’m with COCO). It is a quote from an episode of The Simpsons where the family travels to Africa. While arriving on the plane, the flight attendant announces to the passengers:

“Please prepare for our landing in Tanzania.”

(someone hands her a note)

“Excuse me. It is now called New Zanzibar.”

(someone hands her another note)

”I’m sorry. It is now called Pepsi Presents New Zanzibar.”

It is a light jab at the general acknowledgment that corporations are taking over anything they can get their hands on, and would even conspicuously rule an entire country if they could. Back when the episode aired on April 1st, 2001, the gag didn’t click (with me at least) as any kind of foreshadowing moment. Unfortunately, on January 21st, 2010, the once fictional situation became a very real possibility.

In 1907 Congress passed the Tillman Act, prohibiting corporations from contributing money directly to political campaigns. In the 1990 case Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting “corporations from using treasury money to support or oppose candidates in elections did not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments.” They based their decision on the notion that “corporate wealth can unfairly influence elections.” In 2002, Congress passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also known as the McCain-Feingold Act in honor of it’s sponsors.

The act addressed two key issues:

  • The increased role of soft money in campaign financing, by prohibiting national political party committees from raising or spending any funds not subject to federal limits, even for state and local races or issue discussion

  • The proliferation of issue advocacy ads, by defining as “electioneering communications” broadcast ads that name a federal candidate within 30 days of a primary or caucus or 60 days of a general election, and prohibiting any such ad paid for by a corporation (including non-profit issue organizations such as Right to Life or the Environmental Defense Fund) or paid for by an unincorporated entity using any corporate or union funds.

In 2003 the Court upheld the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold in the case McConnell v. Federal Election Commission.

In 2010, in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to remove all limits on corporate and union campaign financing, citing that it was unconstitutional and in direct violation of free speech (you can read the entire decision here). This decision overturned years upon years of legislation and Court precedence. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “Government may not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker’s corporate identity…No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations.” With this ruling, corporations and unions are free to inject unlimited money into the political system. As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his descent, “The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation…[it’s] a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding…While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

In the minority’s 90-page descent, Justice Stevens acknowledges that with the Court’s ruling, corporations are now free to support any candidate they choose using as much force and power through financial capital as they please. In other words, if this ruling goes unchanged and avoids any restrictions, corporations will literally have the ability to directly determine who wins elections. This means that if Exxon wanted to defeat a candidate who was anti-oil drilling and pro-green energy, they could literally spend billions of dollars in negative advertising against that candidate. If Aetna wanted to make sure that Joe Lieberman stayed in office forever and ever, reliably throwing a wrench in any health reform legislation to hit the floor, they could use the depth of their finances to support him and his campaign in any way possible. Even though Justice Kennedy seems to not think these scenarios are a negative addition to the political process, I’d have to say that it’s a sufficient governmental interest to prevent such things from occurring.

So where do we go from here? Some say that the worry over corporations having unlimited influence in American politics is overblown and that the ruling isn’t as effective as some think. Even though I disagree with this, I certainly hope those who believe it are right and that I am wrong on every level. I wrote this because even though many people are aware of the ruling, many more are not. Even some who are aware of the ruling don’t fully understand the possibilities of resulting repercussions. Any political science-fiction nightmare you can think of now has a real possibility of occurring. Despite the fact that it sounds incredibly dumb, I don’t particularly mind attending a stadium named Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. However, I don’t think I’ll feel all that well if, upon my descent into Puerto Rico, the flight attendant says, “Welcome to Puerto Rico, brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” You know what though…that will probably be the least of my worries if there ever comes a day when that is the case.

Hopefully Congress is able to put some restrictions on this ruling, for if they are not, I fear an unruly future full of George Orwell’s greatest imaginations. Upon hearing the ruling I immediately thought of a telling quote by Abraham Lincoln:

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country; corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in High Places will follow, and the Money Power of the Country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the People, until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war.”

Lincoln (supposedly) said this in 1864. Now, 146 years later, his monument sits only a mile away from the source of his
anxiety. Will this decision send the country on a path of corporate rule and eventual revolution? You can be certain that if corporations and unions take full control of our politics, people will not sit idly by. This is an issue on which both Liberals and Conservatives, Progressives and Tea Party Patriots, can agree. There is no room for corporate influence in our politics. They already have a ridiculous amount of power in our everyday lives. From supposed brand loyalty to product monopolies, corporations know everything about us. They know what we like and how to make us like something else (which is usually more expensive and of cheaper quality). What do you and I do before their ability to control what makes us tick lulls us into an apathetic acceptance of Democracy as a simple choice between a small or large Sprite? I’ve never had such a pit in my stomach upon hearing political news as I have upon hearing the Supreme Court’s ruling, and I hope that I am not the only one who still feels that pit eating away at me. Right now I don’t know what to do except sit back and see how this all develops, to see how people react to what I consider to be a radically influential decision. Until then, I think I might take a trip to Tanzania. I’d like to see how it is now, before there’s a Pepsi Challenge on every corner.

Now playing: Rage Against the Machine – Take the Power Back
via FoxyTunes

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They Don’t Want Music

Posted by Brandon McKoy on October 21, 2009

Recently a friend sent me a link to Party & Bullshit in the USA, the Miley Cyrus / Notorious B.I.G mash-up song, proclaiming that it was “incredible.” I’ll let you decide for yourself whether or not the song deserves to be held in such high regard; personally I think Biggie is rolling around in his grave waiting for someone to say his name three times so that he can temporarily come back to life and put a cap in the ass of whoever created it.

After listening and letting my buddy know how much I really hated the song, and by extension all things Miley Cyrus, we got into a pretty deep conversation about music tastes, appreciation, and the role of radio. When I mentioned how much I liked the new Raekwon album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. II (one which many hip-hop heads think is better than Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3) my buddy said, “not everyone can be into super underground shit.” …at this point my head almost “asploded” as some would say. Raekwon isn’t even close to underground rap, anyone who has any decent grasp of the genre knows his name and his reputation. On the website Metacritic.com (which compiles reviews and ratings from all over the place and combines them into an average score, with 100 being the highest), Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. II is listed with a score of 89. Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 has a score of 65. Underground music barely has any potential to get recognized, let alone outscore an album by arguably the best rapper of all-time. But I digress…let me get to the real reason why I started writing this.

There is a Huh-UUUGGEEEE difference between the music tastes of people who simply listen to/enjoy music, and those who play/have played an instrument (this includes singing, not trying to segregate or discriminate here).

That’s not a particularly surprising or sensational statement, and I think a lot of people agree with it, but the reason for this is really troubling to me. Sure, people who play instruments are going to naturally have a deeper appreciation for music since they have at least some base understanding of how it works and is constructed. I can play drums, bass, and piano, but enjoy drums the most. When I listen to songs my ear immediately tunes itself to the drum track before anything else, it’s an automated behavior. That’s probably not going to happen for anyone who hasn’t played an instrument, so right off the bat it’s easy to see why people who have played instruments have a deeper appreciation for the music they listen to.

The level of appreciation someone has is going to affect the diversity and variety of music they listen to. Remember the kid that almost made my head “asplode?” Well during the course of our conversation I discovered that he had “1,000 to 1,500 songs” on his computer. That many songs comes down to about 60 albums worth of music (using 15 songs per album as the average)…that’s barely anything at all! According to my Last.fm page I’ve listened to 1,389 artists…let alone songs. I said to my friend that the difference between he and I was the whole playing a musical instrument thing, and that kids who did play instruments had a greater diversity in taste. His retort was that “if you know what you like, what is the problem?” That’s just it though, how do you know what you like if you don’t make the effort to listen to different things. When I was a wee-child (not as long ago as it seems) I absolutely hated watching my mother eat her favorite food, lobster. It was disgustingly abhorrent to me that someone would crack open a poor lifeless animal and gouge out its insides, simply for selfish personal satisfaction. Then one day, my mother made me try a piece of her lobster tail…and my favorite food for the past five years has been lobster. One can’t really know what they like if they keep experiencing the same thing over and over. My buddy said that 1,500 songs is plenty and you don’t end up listening to the same thing over and over….I just yelled at him.

At this point my snide remarks and berating got to my friend and he called me a music snob. I get it, I definitely do feel that I have a really great perspective on music. I don’t discriminate, I listen to anything and everything I can get my hands onto, even death metal thanks to my college roommate Steve. But who’s the real music snob here? Someone who’s open to anything and everything with open arms, or someone who thinks they already know what they like and isn’t really willing to go out and listen to different things?

I previously mentioned Last.fm, which I consider to be a Godsend of a website that tracks all of the music you listen to on iTunes, Winamp, your iPod/iPhone, the Last.fm website itself, and 78 other gadgets/mediums. You then have your own profile where you can view all of the songs and artists you have listened to in a pretty sweet layout. You also get your own personal library radio stream which is based on the statistics of your listening habits. You can sort these stats for the last 7 days, 3 months, 6 months, year, and all-time. There are even apps out there that will create little artistic pictures for you of your musical tastes, such as a collage of your most listened to artists that you can use as a desktop wallpaper. You can add your friends and look at what they’re listening to, join groups, and track the tour dates of your favorite artists. It also suggests artists you might like based on your listening habits. Simply put, I think Last.fm is awesome-o.

A lot of the people I know who play/played instruments use Last.fm. A lot of the people I know who listen to music for pleasure/enjoyment use Pandora. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain Pandora considering it’s popularity, but just in case: Pandora is a music streaming platform that creates playlists and stations based on the artists you enter. Kind of like the personal library stream that Last.fm has, except it relies on a self-report of your tastes instead of statistical tracking. It’s pretty good, but it’s no Last.fm.

All in all, I have to say that I’m pretty happy that people are at least listening to music on platforms that encourage them to discover something else they may like. These services along with mp3 players have made the radio a non-entity for a lot of people. I can’t remember the last time that I listened to the radio and enjoyed it. Has anyone ever heard a song last longer than 3 minutes and 30 seconds on top 100 radio? Sure, you have your classic rock stations or your old school R&B; stations which play lengthy songs in their en
tirety, but I’m talking about current radio. Everything is tailored to an ADD, 10-second attention span, twitter & facebook updates every half an hour, kind of generation that writes something off as crap if they don’t like it in the first few moments. What happened to listening to something all the way through before you formed an opinion on it?

Some of the good bands that I’ve been listening to lately (and Last.fm will confirm this, so very convenient) are Passion Pit, Raekwon, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I have never heard any of them on the radio (maybe Gold Lion by YYY’s once…ONCE). Why? Because their songs take more than a couple of minutes to play out and be fully appreciated. Who do I hear all the time on Z100 though: Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, etc., etc. I get it Z100, D.O.A. is a pretty good song, but when you played it almost every half hour for 3 weeks straight and one of the lyrics is, “this ain’t for Z100, ye told me to kill y’all to keep it 100,” you look stupid.

Popular radio doesn’t care about providing the public with good tunes that’ll do more than just make your head bop. They don’t wanna expand your horizons. They just want the dollar bills. No, I’m not naïve, I know it’s a business, but I do have a problem with people who base their music tastes on what the radio plays. In a previous post I commented on the mainstream news media, saying, “all it’s doing is reinforcing your current opinion, not challenging it.” Well that’s what “popular” music radio is. It plays something that you won’t necessarily hate, and doesn’t play it long enough for you to form a proper opinion of it. They just keep force-feeding people whatever financially benefits them and the industry the most. Music is more than a techno beat with uninspired lyrics thrown on top of it. Music has the power to do so many things; it can challenge, sadden, and inspire you. It can pick you up from the bottom of the pit and give you the confidence to take on any obstruction you may face. It can humble you and make you appreciate the many little things that you take for granted every single day. The radio doesn’t care about that, and listeners don’t seem to mind ’cause they just want to bop their heads. They don’t want music.

Listening to: The Black Eyed Peas – They Don’t Want Music (feat. James Brown)
via FoxyTunes

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“You better hope Blue Cross doesn’t consider ugly a pre-existing condition!”

Posted by Brandon McKoy on September 6, 2009

We are about to enter a very important week in the health care debate. On Wednesday President Barack Obama will deliver a health care speech to a joint session of Congress in an attempt to change the tone of the discussion. So far things haven’t been going so well for the Democratic party. Not only is there no single bill that they can present to the public, but they aren’t even able to agree on the type of bill they wanted. Should there be a public option, a co-op, or what? Some people think meaningful reform can’t be achieved without a public option, while others think a public option would mean the end of private insurance companies (even though private companies compete with the government in many, many other markets and still do just fine).

Let’s put aside the talking points of both sides for a moment. There’s one fact that I think most of us can agree is quite discerning: The United States of America is the only western democracy without universal health care. Whether or not you think universal health care is a good idea, there is something unsettling about the fact that all other democracies have it; as a country that claims to lead the fight for freedom and equality this just doesn’t sit well. We have tried to attain universal health care before and it’s no surprise that we are engaged in this battle again. Health care in this country is run by drug companies, health insurance companies and wall street. I don’t have to tell you this, but that makes absolutely no sense. Imagine if we allowed the food industry to run the FDA, would you trust any of the food you ate to be clean, healthy or relatively nutritious? Companies that are in business to make money cannot be trusted to regulate their industry, that requires a separate, objective entity. The primary interest of drug and health care companies is to make money by increasing the value of their company share; this is certainly a good business model, but it is not the way to decide who lives and who dies. When we value profit over the health of our citizens we expose ourselves to be greedy and ignorant. It’s amazing to me how people can say that America is the best country in the world and at the same time defend a profit-driven health care industry in order to fulfill some kind of blind allegiance to capitalism. Capitalism is all well and good, but not everything in this country needs to be for profit. If we don’t reform the health care system, our country will quickly go bankrupt:

Here’s a few important stats (courtesy of the previous link, National Coalition on Health Care) –

  • Without health care reform, small businesses will pay nearly $2.4 trillion dollars over the next ten years in health care costs for their workers
  • 178,000 small business jobs will be lost by 2018 as a result of health care costs
  • $834 billion in small business wages will be lost due to high health care costs over the next ten years
  • Small businesses will lose $52.1 billion in profits to high health care costs
  • 1.6 million small business workers will suffer “job lock“— roughly one in 16 people currently insured by their employers.

Health reform is no longer an option, it’s a necessity if this country wishes to remain financially viable and competitive. Besides, health should not have a price tag, it should have a value, and when you get right down to it this country does not hold the health of all its citizens in high regard.

In order for Obama to achieve any kind of reform whatsoever, he needs to do what JFK did with civil rights and present universal health care as a moral issue. To do this Obama first needs to regain the communication skills that helped him win the presidency. During the campaign, the Obama team got a lot of credit for their ability to use technology and the Internet to get their message out. From Facebook and Twitter to their very own iPhone application the Obama team had multiple avenues at its disposal to communicate with it’s supporters. Since the campaign, Republicans have seen the importance of the Internet and the need to effectively use it as a battleground of ideas, even if those ideas are blatantly false. It’s great that the Internet can be used to spread ideas and information, but when that information is false and misleading it has a negative effect on important conversations being held. The GOP is going right to the playbook here, they are playing on the base emotions of the public and spreading falsehoods to take control of the health care debate. How is it that the party that nearly destroyed the economy over the past eight years is now preaching fiscal responsibility as a reason to not take on health care reform? Even so, I can understand why the Republicans don’t want health care reform (no matter how much they say they do). If Obama were to achieve any kind of reform whatsoever it would be a huge blow to the GOP’s chances in the 2012 elections. Right now, they’re just trying to delay any serious reform before the 2010 elections so that they can regain some seats in the House and the Senate. Sure, this sort of behavior is putting politics over the needs of the country, but do you really expect anything else?

Wednesday night we will see just how influential Obama’s speech is for his political colleagues. He can take all the hard-line stances he wants, but if the people in that congressional chamber don’t believe him, they will not pass the legislation that he wants. As Bill Moyers recently said in an interview, great presidents “have the power to move people with words, and then by making the choices that back up those words.” The speech on Wednesday is a nice starting point, but Obama needs to back up whatever he says with strong decisions. In regards to the use of political capital, Obama needs to treat health care like Bush did Iraq; not lie about it, but essentially push it through with force. He needs to dig in his heels and pound his fist on the table, to say that we need health care reform because it is the right thing to do. The war in Iraq was a war of choice, health care reform is a necessity. Yesterday it was reported that the White House will draft it’s own health care bill if necessary, which is great news. This way, everyone
can point to a single bill that they know has the President’s approval, and debate what is in the bill rather than rumors and fiction.

Even though I remain optimistic, I have my doubts about just how much reform can be achieved. As I said before, health care is run by the drug industry, health insurance industry, and wall street. These three sectors are also the same groups that will determine just how successful Obama’s re-election bid in 2012 will be. During the campaign in 2008, Obama received a lot of funding from these groups, and no matter how much public support he has going into 2012 he will still need the big money interest groups to fund his campaign. So, how can there really be significant change in health care when this administration (and the vast majority of politicians) has strong ties to corporate interests? Money rules Washington, even more so now than it used to. Fortunately, the old saying that money is everything isn’t quite true, there’s one thing that’s more important: votes.

Yes, it’s cliché and people sound like a broken record when saying it, but it remains true that when people join and rise together for a cause there is nothing they can’t achieve. One of my favorite quotes from the ever-insightful Margaret Mead reads, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world…indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” There needs to be a movement of liberals and progressives in this country, one which hasn’t happened since the 60’s, where people demand their representatives to do what they voted them to do. Barack Obama was voted to end the war in Iraq, fix the economy, and really reform health care; essentially he was voted to put this American house back in order. Now that he’s been elected President, people seem to have said to themselves “okay, my job is done, let’s see what you’ve got.” That’s the wrong approach to take. No matter how well-intentioned Obama is he can only do but so much. He’s going to need the undying backing and support of Democrats to push through any sort of meaningful, effective health care legislation. I’m not saying to devote yourself to Obama and stop asking questions, no-siree-bob; but Democrats need to support Obama with as much fervor as Republicans supported Bush if they want anything to get done. It’s time to take all of the hard work that was put in to get Obama elected and now double that effort for health care. Electing a president that represents one’s ideas isn’t enough. The people need to move together and demand the change they so desperately seek. Blaming the media won’t do anything, what else do you expect them to cover? Television is all about ratings which are driven by sensational stories. That’s the way it is going to be for the rest of time. But if there is a serious movement of progressives who are all focused on achieving health care reform, it will be sensational enough to make the airwaves.

Democrats need to remember, Obama was voted into office less because of his ideas, and more because Bush messed up so badly (yes, Palin helped too). This is the way it’s been for the last three Democratic presidents (Obama, Clinton, and Carter). The Republican who was in charge before messed up, so the country chose the other party. It’s time for Democrats to fortify as one, to remember how to use the spine that they’ve got, and do what’s necessary to bring this country back from the brink. It’s time to stop sitting on the sidelines, we need to get in the game and make it loud and clear what we want and why we want it. Be educated in your opinion and support it with charisma. Don’t demonize the other side, name calling and childish behavior won’t help the cause. Refute their ideas with facts and stay on topic, don’t get drawn into ignorant conversations about death panels and birth certificates. Obama is going to need all of the help he can get from his supporters, and we need not waste any energy bickering amongst ourselves when we all have the same goal in mind. Time to get involved before this crippled giant falls. Well, actually…that depends on a completely different yet equally important issue: Afghanistan… but that’s a story for another time; stay tuned.

Listening to: Wyclef Jean – If I Was President
via FoxyTunes

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Lost In Hollywood

Posted by Brandon McKoy on July 28, 2009

It’s only July and we can already tell what the most important topic of 2009 will be; health care. I didn’t say most popular because things that are popular have to have a certain degree of entertainment value to them. The issue of health care is the most important topic of the year because a great deal of America’s future hinges on how we deal with it in the coming months. A lot of important conversations need to happen as we figure out all of the intimate details that need to be included in such legislation. Deeper issues like payment, late-life treatment (at some point you can’t keep spending money to keep those who are a lost cause alive, grim but true), doctor’s salaries, and much more need to be discussed at length so we can figure just how this thing is going to work.

Tonight I watched a good debate about health care on the Daily Show between Jon Stewart and noted conservative William Kristol of the New York Times. The interview was so long that they couldn’t show all of it within the allotted time for the show, so I had to go on-line to watch the whole thing. Afterwards, I wanted to catch up on any new developments of the issue from today; how were the negotiations going in Congress, were the conservative blue dog Democrats still holding firm, etc. In my search for this information I turned to CNN. My television guide showed me that Campbell Brown’s program was on at the moment, so I became confident that I’d get what I was looking for. After all, Brown is a good reporter who usually delivers the facts without much personal bias. Not long after the commercial break ended and the program returned did it take for me to become extremely pissed off. Not only was Campbell Brown not talking about health care, but she wasn’t talking about any sort of important political issue at all! Instead the story was that the Los Angeles police and the DEA raided Michael Jackson’s doctor’s office in search of evidence. “WTF mate!”

Let’s set one thing straight here. I am one of the biggest Michael Jackson fans you will ever meet. From the age of 3 years old, I carried around my little Fisher Price stereo and played cassettes of Off the Wall and Thriller, memorizing each song without fail. Michael Jackson not only introduced me to the magic and creativity of music, but he showed me that it could also be a powerful force for change with songs like “Heal the World” and “Will You Be There.” I have every single song Michael Jackson ever released in my iTunes library. I also have a poster of the cover of his album Dangerous, with his autograph in the upper right hand corner. The man was a musical genius and I will always be mesmerized by his ability. You get the point…

The King of Pop died on June 25th, 2009. Today is July 28th, 2009. There is not a single reason, absolutely zero, why a self-respecting news channel should be running a story having anything to do with Michael Jackson over a month after his death during prime time (at least until the toxicology reports come in). Not when our country is in the midst of a shaky financial recovery. Not when our younger generations have a very expensive financial situation in their future, and can’t even get a job at the moment. Particularly not when serious health care reform has a real chance of coming to fruition for the first time since Hilary Clinton gave it a go! As a friend who took playing Halo way too seriously once yelled at me through his microphone, “This ain’t no game! This is real mothafuckin’ life!” For the past couple of weeks all I’ve seen on the news are stupid, sensational stories about Michael Jackson, John & Kate plus 8, and this “controversy” over President Obama characterizing a police officer’s stupid actions as being just that, stupid. Of all the important conversations we need to have in this country at this critical time, we’re talking about completely useless and frivolous nonsense!

Don’t take this the wrong way. I understand that there’s all types of news; entertainment, sports, financial, world, etc. However, there are dozens of channels on television tailored to each of these specific categories. When I want to get my sports news for the day I go to ESPN, not CNN. That’s the way it should be, and it should be that way across the board. A terrible chill goes down my spine when I go to cnn.com and see headlines that read “‘Bachelorette’ Jillian Harris makes her pick” and “Kim Kardashian and Reggie Bush call it quits.” You can go to the website for People magazine and find out this information, that’s what they as a news source cover and no one expects them to cover anything else. The fact that such ridiculousness is now commonplace at CNN disturbs me even more so because I can’t think of any other 24/7 new channel that at least portrays itself as attempting to be fair to all sides. I can’t watch MSNBC because it’s all liberal talking points, and I can’t watch FOXNews because it’s all conservative (and seemingly demented) talking points. You know that’s exactly what you’re going to get when you turn to those channels so why even watch? All it’s doing is reinforcing your current opinion, not challenging it. That’s the problem I have; the news is supposed to present the story not so that it coddles you into believing what you already thought to be so, but in reporting the facts so that you are challenged to reaffirm your stance in face of those facts.

Everything is about entertainment and sensationalism now, it’s as if no one cares about substance or objectivity. I wish I lived during Walter Cronkite’s hay-day. With his recent passing, everyone and their mother has lauded him with praise for his amazing ability to do his job with deliberateness and honesty. He was the most trusted man in America because of these qualities, and clearly is dearly missed by his colleagues and contemporaries. I will never know what it’s like to have such a person deliver the news to me. In my life, I can’t think of a single television news anchor (other than Dan Rather, who was fired for doing his job) that embodies even half of the qualities Cronkite held. The best anchor I can think of right now is Brian Williams. He is certainly a good news anchor in that he delivers the story in a clear and understandable manner, but I’ve never seen him grill a politician on an important question. When I watch Campbell Brown discuss issues of actual importance, she certainly gives her best effort to give all sides of the story a fair representation. When I watch Chuck Todd ask tough questions during Presidential news conferences, it seems as though he’s looking more for a sensational response instead of a fair one, trying to create a story rather than reporting it. Of course it’s not only news anchors and journalists who are responsible for th
e decline in quality. Producers choose the stories that their anchors will discuss, they themselves have become less concerned with important stories and more worried about demographic ratings.

So I find it sad that in turning from Comedy Central to CNN, I was turning to a lower quality of journalism. I mean, Comedy Central has only two “news” programs on each day, CNN is an all news, all the time channel. Yet, today I learned a great deal more about the important issue of health care by watching Comedy Central than I did by watching CNN. It’s no wonder why Jon Stewart is now the “most trusted man in America,” he has interesting guests and talks about pertinent issues. The rest of his journalistic colleagues are all too concerned about entertainment value and have clearly become lost in hollywood…
Now playing: System of a Down – Lost in Hollywood
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