Monthly Archives: January 2011

Keep Watching Tunisia

Reading the BBC reports, Tunisia is not a bunch of blog- and tweet-happy néo-démocrates. In fact, things French in Tunisia are being targeted in today’s riots. Prisons are burning, as well. We don’t yet know who the real president of Tunisia is – two different claimants to that role have yet to resolve the situation. If they’re able to come to a peaceful arrangement, whoever becomes the undisputed president will have a tall order in trying to restore calm and security.

And all this in a nation that Western leaders didn’t have on their lists of evil nations. Ben Ali was our dictator, after all. We could do business with him. We weren’t deliberately trying to undermine his regime, as far as I know…

But down it went. Obama and Hilary Clinton are quick to condemn Tunisia now, after its West-friendly dictator has fallen, but where was their stern disapproval before all this? Are they going to now step up their criticisms of other dictators that the US has helped prop up over the years?

More to the point, are those dictators going to wait for the US to start criticizing them? If I were in charge of a US-friendly nation, I’d be on the phone to Iran, China, and Russia right now to find out how to better oppress my people. I’d have to assume I’d need to do things to keep the domestic situation in order right now that my buddies in Brussels and Washington are going to strongly disapprove of.

I know whoever has the backing of Tunisia’s army will embark on a program of busting heads that get in the way of law and order. He’ll have to, or he won’t be able to rule. People are not going to like what will happen next in Tunisia, and Twitter and Facebook won’t forestall the bloodshed.

I see questions of “will this happen again?” Probably. The world’s in a mess. But what happens in the West when we start to feel like we’re being spammed with images, videos, and status updates from hordes of rebelling masses?

Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance?

Let it be known that I’m not a fan of country music as it exists today. When I think of country, I think of the Texas Outlaws of the 70s, among other classic acts like Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. The Texas Outlaws were my first real venture into country that paid off, though, so I keep a special place for them, particularly Rusty Wier.

On Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance, Rusty delivered his best set from the 70s, at the height of the “Cosmic Cowboy” movement. It’s got a strong rock feel to it, but it’s still a country album. While Lynyrd Skynyrd were a country-flavored rock band, Rusty Wier delivered some rock-flavored country. There’s no fiddle or pedal steel guitar on this album. It’s for the Texas roadhouses, not the Hee Haw cameras.

The title track is an anthem to me. It was a moderately big hit when it came out, and was covered by many other country artists. It’s a great singalong and has a cool guitar solo in it, to boot. The next song, “I Believe in the Way That You Love Me,” is a fine ballad that’s not an exploration of sappiness.

“Trouble” comes next, and it’s got a great riff and is fun to rock to. The tempo then changes for the beautiful ballad, “Blue Haze.” My wife and I sing along with it every time we hear it. It’s a simple little tune, but it expresses a deep love that we understand more and more with each year of our marriage.

Side one climaxes with “Agua Dulce,” a deep cut that has made me travel to Agua Dulce, Texas just to see what kind of place deserved a mention in Mr. Wier’s song. The song is about waking up after a lost weekend in some place that was either godforsaken or part of a divine plan… no way to tell until you’ve lived some more… but it’s a great song about South Texas and the distances we can cover, both physically and emotionally. The end of the song is perfect for driving off into the sunset.

“Relief” finishes off the side in a funky, bluesy way. It’s musically sparse, and it makes sense that way. I like the lyrics on it and always enjoy the fine pickin’ at the end.

Side two runs as follows: “Sing Me,” “Sally Mae,” “I Heard You Been Layin’ My Old Lady,” “Tulsa Turnaround,” and “Cloudy Days.” The first two are upbeat songs about simple, honest love, full of energy and life. If I hadn’t of told you they were country songs, you’d swear they was rock and roll. So it went for the Cosmic Cowboys… they really blurred the line between the genres, back when the line between them was worth blurring.

“I Heard You Been Layin’ My Old Lady” is a guilty pleasure. It’s a country song for sure, because it’s all about dealing with a man that’s been cheatin’ on your wife. This one is full of wit, irony, and irreverent humor. It’s a song that convinces me that Rusty Wier was the Jim Rockford of country music. He doesn’t want to fight, but it’s important to get the truth out. From the chorus: Well I like you, Joe, but wives are hard to share…

I never totally caught on to “Tulsa Turnaround,” and I don’t think I will. It’s all right, but the amount of funk in it is out of place on the album. I’ll pass over it in favor of the final track, “Cloudy Days,” another great road tune that could as well have been sung by Kermit and Fozzie Bear for all its wide-eyed optimism. It’s good to have music like that, and I’m glad Rusty Wier sang it.

9 out of 10 because it’s a monumental album. Seek it out, young music-lovers!

A Twitter Revolution? I Don’t Think So

I’m reading the book, The Net Delusion, in which the author casts serious doubts on the ability of Twitter to actually overthrow a regime. I come home today to see that very event being proclaimed on ABC News. Are they right and my book wrong, or is there more to the story?

There’s more to the story.

A month ago, a protester set himself on fire because of injustices he was suffering. That is not a tweet on Twitter. That is an act of protest that is much more significant in its scope and demanding in its implementation. That sacrifice, which set into motion the protests against the regime, was infinitely more involved than a Facebook group or a 140-character tweet.

All the same, Twitter and Facebook did come into play as protesters warned each other of sniper locations and arranged protests. Fair enough. The Tunisian government went after those people, as well, launching DDoS attacks on protest websites and arresting the people that matched the email addresses and online profiles. The government didn’t fall for lack of blocking websites. But it did fall. Was it the online flow of information that did it?

No. It wasn’t.

Go back to the guy that set himself on fire. That is a huge statement, on the same plane as the self-immolating monks in Vietnam in the 1960s, to protest the restrictions on their ability to worship. The people began to pour out into the streets as a spontaneous reaction to that sacrifice, like the spontaneous uprising in Algiers in December 1960. The online aspect of this revolution was a side concern, not a driving point. Yes, there was information about the corruption of the president from WikiLeaks. But what more did the starving, desperate people need to convince them that their lives were greatly troubled beyond their own conditions? Can people tolerate massive unemployment and extremely high food prices if they are ignorant of the way their leaders fly in ice cream from overseas?

The real key here is that the outgoing president had already lost the will to continue. The biggest protests didn’t begin until after he said he would relax restrictions on free speech and that he would step aside. Like the East German implosion, the crowds in the streets faced a government with a tail between its legs.

I would dare say it was also a government that didn’t know how to properly handle its people. I read of how heavily censored Tunisian media was. Well, there’s the problem right there. People with access to pornography and entertainment news and online games don’t get politically involved. That’s why the Russian government runs both a state-sponsored porn site and a state-sponsored online game community. If Tunisia’s government was too busy scrubbing eyeballs, the people got bored and had nothing else to do but turn to politics.

And what of old media? As events increased in tempo and intensity, a government-run newscaster openly criticized the president. The show came to an abrupt end, but the words went out over the airwaves. Clearly, everything was coming apart for the regime, and the fundamentals were the same as in other popular movements: massively bad conditions, a sparking incident, and then a loss of will to fight on the part of the ruling powers. It’s the same as the French Revolution. Twitter and Facebook? Not necessary to the conditions and could, in fact, have been used very effectively to round up leaders of the movements if the rulers had kept their will to power.

And what about the looters? Did they coordinate activities with Twitter and Facebook? Possibly. If it’s plausible that tweets could alert about the presence of police snipers, they could also indicate shops that were unguarded. This tweeting business cuts both ways, you know. Now that the president is out, what factions will be forming? Will someone use Twitter to plan a bloody coup? Will there be a faction that calls for revolution in other nations, triggering more bloodshed? Will we necessarily like the people that emerge as Tunisia’s new rulers?

There are more questions. Will this mean authoritarian regimes in the world will have to step up their game in terms of dealing with dissent? One look at Algeria, and I’m not at all satisfied this Tunisian thing is over with a happy ending. Like the French Revolution, this may very well launch a long series of bloody days, weeks, months, and years.

And Twitter? As soon as another celebrity dies or has a bad cosmetic surgery, the West will be sure to forget about the dead and dying in some dusty, faraway land.

…And Justice for All

Back in 1988, I thought I’d totally lucked out. I got a job writing for the Daily Texan, the UT-Austin student paper, and worked in the entertainment department. Instead of writing hard-hitting journalism pieces about the news of the day, I got to type in club listings for the weekend guide and do record reviews. That last part meant free vinyl.

One of the albums I scored as a review copy was Metallica’s …And Justice for All. I was so thrilled about it, since I really enjoyed Metallica’s previous work. I got it home, unwrapped it and…


I got excited about it because I was supposed to be excited about it. I was a kid, I didn’t know what I was doing, really. The album rocked, but there was no bass to it. It sounded tinny most of the time. The rhythms were complicated and, frankly, distracting. “Shortest Straw” was really annoying. I remember hating that and I remember a bunch of friends getting after someone that said he liked that song. “One” was pretty cool, but took forever to get through. I gave the album an overall good review then, but…

I can’t stand by that anymore. It’s 22 years later and I have no intention of ripping it to MP3 or buying it on CD. I don’t even want to get a bootleg MP3 version of it. I don’t want to dust it off and relive old times with it. Reading over the track list, I feel a lot of “meh” towards it. I remember one of the songs had a stupid “Oh-Wee-Oh” part to it, but I can’t be bothered to try and find it.

So many people put this on their list of awesome albums, but I feel like that’s only because Metallica made it. If anyone else but Metallica had turned in a turgid collection of overly-long songs with poor production, it would have been consigned to the cut-out bin. To me, this album proves that Metallica’s been pretty much dead from the neck up since they lost Cliff Burton. I can’t really give this album any more than a 2 out of 10 since I could listen to it again if I had to, but I have absolutely no desire to do so. I only reviewed this album because it caught my eye in my collection and I remembered how I always regretted giving it a good review when I first got it.

Brasil ’66

Herb Alpert Presents Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66… the first album from Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66, hence the “presents” in the title. This album went platinum in the USA with the catchy opening track, “Mas Que Nada.” I can hear why, too. It’s a great vocal mix on top of a tight support band. Lani Hall’s vocals are amazing on this release and there’s much to recommend in Mendes’ arrangements and stylings.

Mendes’ style, of course is that of the lounge. It’s laid-back and easy-going. While some may deride him for not adopting an edge, I find Brasil ’66 to be perfect for unwinding and relaxing. Sure, I still like metal and hard rock, but there are times when my knees hurt or I just need to chill. For those times, I can turn to Mendes with regular reliability.

Rather than go through a song-by-song assessment of the album, let me just say the whole thing plays through marvelously and that I’ve played it over and over and over again many times. There are moments when Hall’s vocals just soar into my imagination, only to come back to earth in quiet stirrings. It’s a great, soft, comfortable set of songs and wears well with time. Electronica acts that dabble in lounge turn often to Mendes for inspiration and his original work stands up well in comparison with the modern remixes. Indeed, the remixes are done with loving respect for the old masters and for good reason. They’re fantastic.

Whenever I give an album a 10 out of 10, I have to ask myself, “Really? Is this really a 10, or am I just feeling a buzz from digging it out after a while?” This is a 10. I keep coming back to it and I savor each note, just like I do with other albums I score at 10 out of 10.

Don’t Say No

I had no idea this was Billy Squier’s second solo album. I thought it was his first. Turns out, it was his monster release that kinda overshadowed all his other work. It’s a monument of rock and shouldn’t be missed.

Don’t Say No got lots and lots of airplay. Yet, unlike a lot of other albums that got played a gazillion times on the radio, it remained fresh and listenable. Well, “The Stroke” kinda got old for me, but “Lonely Is the Night” won’t ever fade. “Too Daze Gone”, “In the Dark”, and “Don’t Say No” all rock out with consummate awesomeness. This is one of those great albums you can put on the playlist and repeat it for a day or two. Squier rules on this album.

9 out of 10 for this one. It’s a great and you young people are well advised to seek out the Squier.


I’m sick, it’s Monday, I need to do a disappointment review… Time for Grand Funk to face the music.

I don’t hate this album, but I really don’t like it. There are three OK songs on it, “Flight of the Phoenix,” “I Just Gotta Know,” and “Rock and Roll Soul.” I really like that last one, come to think of it. The other seven songs are not ones I enjoy. The band had just left Terry Knight’s management and decided to produce the album themselves. The result: a failed production.

They were lots better in the hands of other producers, which would later include Todd Rundgren, Jimmy Ienner, and Frank Zappa. The sound on this record is flat, the vocals often didn’t harmonize properly (a Funk problem on other songs, as I recall), and the music often turgid. Grand Funk’s Phoenix should have stayed in the ashes until a real producer came along. 3 out of 10: go find your 70s rock jollies elsewhere.

Beethoven’s 6th Symphony

This is a great symphony for Sunday afternoons. The rolling violins and proud horns bring to life a mental landscape of verdant hills, home to a herd of wild horses. At times, the beauty of the music moves me deeply. Each movement flows beautifully from one to the next.

I actually prefer this symphony in its totality to the 9th or the 5th. Make no mistake, the choral movement of the 9th symphony is by far my favorite piece of orchestral music, but the 6th symphony is the one I love most from start to finish. It’s a perfect 10 and I can listen to it without end.

A Scary Story

Looking at the Wiki article on the 2010 budget, I noticed that total tax receipts for 2010 were $2.381 trillion. Total mandatory spending was $2.184 trillion. That’s very close to 100% of tax intake. Before the USA spent a nickel on military affairs, a further $664 billion, the USA had to borrow about $1.3 trillion dollars.

The problem isn’t in goofy discretionary spending programs, although they deserve to be cut. The problem is in the swelling amount being spent on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid… and interest on the national debt. I’m not talking about repealing so-called “Obamacare.” We’re looking at the unsustainability of our three biggest social safety net programs.

Something has to give. The question is what?

Super Amigos

This documentary has been playing on LinkTV, but you can watch it all online with 1:15 at the beginning with a reference to Santo, the great originator of the social crusader Luchador, at Snag Films.

While there are brief scenes with strong language or adult situations, the movie itself is one that demands to be seen. It follows five masked wrestlers that fight against social injustice, poverty, pollution, and despair. Each has a different calling, but all take on the wrestling mask to empower their ideas with an identity that is immortal.

When masked, each man becomes a superhero not because of any set of powers, but because he puts his heart towards a goal and does not let any setback cause him to give up. The mask and costume enables each one to be tireless in his efforts.

I loved the documentary and the way it shows that anyone can choose to access a massive amount of positive energy. No matter our circumstances, we can always make a choice that changes our lives. These men show how to make that change for the better.