Sunday, February 28, 2010

Soundpolitic Sundays: Clean Cup, Move Down Edition

Winter has struck again in Upstate New York. If the roads themselves don't do the trick, then just digging will make you feel like you've just stepped off a rollercoaster. It's dizzying, this much snow! The storm just sat there all week, swirling above Manhattan and spinning the weather around and around. One second the snow was going left, then it was going right...

Wait. This isn't a rollercoaster. It's the Tea Cups! How fitting...since this edition of Soundpolitic Sundays sees the author taking a wild ride at a local Tea Party meeting. I attended the get-together on Saturday of last weekend.

My excuses for not getting this up earlier is twofold. First, there's a lot of back-story to what's going to be said here that I used last week's edition to take care of. Not a very good excuse, but check it out if you missed it.

My second excuse? It's the best and most obvious one: it took a week for my head to stop spinning.

Cross-Posted on The Albany Project...
Those tea-cup rides were made famous in the land of make-believe and movie studios. If you don't remember the tea party segment on Disney's adaptation of Lewis Carroll's "Alice In Wonderland" (which is actually based more heavily on "Through The Looking Glass,") then here's this week's silly contextual YouTube video:

Whaddya know? It was my unbirthday when I went to the Tea Party too! Now don't get me wrong: I'm no Tea Party activist at all. I let it be known and that much more by the end of the thing. But I'm no Mad Hatter or March Hare either. So why, oh why, would a progressive Democrat like myself want to even bother waking up early to hang out in a room full of reactionary conservatives all spewing this-for-that about bad ol' big gummint?

The answer has to do with another kind of tea party. I'll get to that soon enough...

By eleven in the morning, I arrived at the East Berne Firehouse where the aptly-named "Hilltown Homefront Patriots" were to have their first meeting. A newsman was there with his camera, interviewing the event's main organizer. I sat off to the side with a notebook and tape-recorder, offering my own pen for the sign-in roster.

As I sat down, I got to wondering whether this was all a big mistake on my part and just how boring this could possibly be. Then, a familiar face from the '08 Democratic primary for Congress in NY-21 showed up: the Lone Ranger himself, Joseph Sullivan. It was then that I knew this was going to be a good time. Sullivan had run as the "conservative" Democrat in two years ago and was well known for public outbursts. He got about three percent of the vote.

The event began with organizer Daniel Smith. He was just a regular guy in a flannel shirt, although he wore a tee this morning. He introduced the purpose of the event - which was to get like-minded people together to listen to speakers. As the first speaker, he talked about how global warming was based on lies, how a local right-wing radio format change was a conspiracy to shut out the Tea Party voice, about the Anti-Rent Wars in the Hilltowns during the 1840s, and about the recent proposals to shut down nearby Thacher Park.

"Gee," I thought, "Those last two things...I talk about those quite a bit too. Especially the Anti-Rent stuff!"

His big deal was the state regulations about burning brush. And he took things one step further. "I'm worried that they're going to come back in a year or two and tell me I can't burn wood anymore," he told the audience. He's referring, of course, to using wood for home heating. My house uses a woodstove, too. Currently, there's no plans to ban using wood for home heating; this guy was pretty convinced it was in the pipeline. Between speaking sets, I asked him if a) I could speak, since I'd run an independent campaign recently and b) if he'd actually read the rules regulating outdoor brush-burning.

No. And no. As expected. I sat down and watched the next speaker.

This member of the "flannel shirt patrol," Tom Cavanaugh, was actually wearing a Scott Brown for Senate sweatshirt. He was there to get people fired up and ready to go. "We have one, plain, simple message: We've had enough." Cheers! He went on to describe that the groups' organizers had spent the past year training in grass-roots campaigning. It was basic information about getting signatures on nominating petitions and getting small volunteer groups in small towns linked up via the Internet. He went so far as to recommend these groups become legitimate Political Action Committees.

"Gee, gee," I thought. "This is the same information I was getting from the Obama campaign two years ago. And the Dean campaign six years ago. And it's still good!"

Then, a lady named Deborah Busch got up to speak. She dropped the first news bombshell of the day by announcing she would seek the Republican, Conservative, and Independence lines to run for Assembly in the 104th District. Deb Busch ran as the Republican candidate in last year's Albany County Coroner's race, highlighting her nursing credentials; she actually didn't do too bad given Albany County's Democratic bent. She hammered away at the current Assemblyman, Jack McEneny, accusing him of ignoring constituents concerns about agriculture and the state parks.

There was plenty of anti-big-government and anti-tax rhetoric thrown in as well, but I still found myself thinking: "Well, well, well. I've known this lady for quite some time, and I haven't been too pleased with my Assemblyman regarding this park deal." Was I - a staunch progressive Democrat - getting sucked completely empty of all my principles?

Later on, another Tea Party candidate emerged. Patrick Ziegler showed up about halfway through the event to announce he was going to challenge Scott Murphy in the 20th Congressional District. This was the second news bombshell of the day. According to Ziegler, Congressman Murphy is wrong 100 percent of the time. So he's going to run for his seat. He wants to "restore" state sovereignty; he wants to cut the budget by getting rid of government agencies entirely, but still keep state parks open; and he says the two-party system is set up to keep people out of politics, so he's going to seek the Republican line in NY-20 and put out his signs to make it look like he's already got the endorsement of the Party.

"Well, well, well, well, well!" I thought. "This guy looks like an asshole!"

(No, really, he did. He was one of many speakers I asked a simple question of: "Have you seen An Inconvenient Truth?" I asked at least five folks this. Not only had nobody seen it, but they all were taken aback by the very nature of the question; they pretty much refused to entertain the idea. "I'm not watching that crap!" is an accurate paraphrase. But I posed the question back at them: "How can you say it's crap if you haven't seen it?" This got more than a few blank stares. I would then ask the blank stare this question: "Don't you think you'd be able to make a better case against it after having seen it for yourself?" I swear when I asked this of the event organizer, his pupils dilated like an ounce of magic mushrooms had just kicked in....In any case, I asked Future Congressman Ziegler the same question and very much this type of response. So I told him that if a person is going to go around saying a movie they haven't even seen is bad then that person better be prepared to look like an asshole because they're talking about something they don't actually know about. Future Congressman Ziegler would later have a drawn-out debate with me after the event about whether or not I actually called him an asshole, as a way of avoiding my questions on substantive policy issues and the validity of the Federalist Papers. Mr. Ziegler is probably still out there thinking I called him an asshole. But he can't seem to get it through his thick skull that all I was telling him was to be prepared to look like an asshole. This, I feel, makes him look like an even bigger asshole. But, really, he isn't.)

Around the middle of the event, the Organizer, Mr. Smith, got up to speak again. The ante was upped when he took out his military dog tags. His grandfather was a WWI veteran, his father a POW in WWII. The other Organizer pointed out his American flag bandana around his also-bald scalp as his way of "honoring" the people "fighting for our freedoms." This kind of militarism always makes me a little uncomfortable...but I could relax because his continued speech really had nothing to do with the military; it eventually had something to do with a "It's the government and it's us!" kind of mentality regarding "socialistic legislation," a "secret government handshake," and "welfare for people with flat screen TVs."

The point of his speech was, by his own words, "to rile people up." And he got right to work. Here's my favorite excerpt:

"I look at the lessons that the Founders gave us....they gave us a democracy. They gave us a form of government. I'm not a history scholar, but I don't know of any other form of government that was formed and given back to the people. This government was made, it was devised, and it was told to us that 'This is your government, you have a say, you can become elected, you can run for office, and its yours.' If you look at all your governments throughout history it's always been the leadership and then the subjects. So we have a government that was given to us, it is for us, it is ours."

"Who have the citizens of this nation become? I think that the founders did not mean for us to sit back and to have our elected officials raise our taxes, take our freedoms, put restrictions on business, and tell us how to live our lives. I think that they meant for us to stand up against our government. There's many quotes from the Founders that said, y'know, when there's, when people fear the government there's tyranny and when the government fears the people there is liberty. They knew what was coming. They had the foresight to know that we would have problems. And as citizens I believe we are obligated to what we're doing now.

"We've been sitting back for far too long. We've been sitting on our duds and we've been complaining and calling talk radio. And it's time to get away from the television, we stand up, we march, we call, we do what we need to do and we vote. We vote people out of office."

"The restrictions that we have did not come overnight. It has gradually come where we laid down, we've had the whip applied to our back. We haven't done anything and we're in this situation know because power corrupts - absolute power corrupts - and we've allowed them to have absolute power."

I chose to highlight this portion of the Tea Party not only because the contradictions within make it self-evident on just how wrong the movement is about so much. It was also this point when I sensed I had been completely successful in searching for something inarguably right about the movement. In other words, I had set out to both find something out firsthand and to challenge myself to discover something about myself.

I looked at the forty people in attendance who were all spellbound, as if hearing these things for the first time. Some, I'm sure, were realizing for the first time the incredible amount of political power they possessed as individuals. And here they were with a like-minded network of people, which gave them even more power!

I know this feeling well. And in spite of the glaring contradictions inherent in the speech, it had me spellbound as well. I always love me a good speechified romp with the Founding Fathers, regardless of the angle. But really, I was most pleased that I was able to get that buzz.

You know the one I'm talking about, right? The buzz you get from being in a room with other people who know what kind of power they have. Who know that our power doesn't come from the government, but the other way around. And who all have a few key positions on a few keys issues in common. The buzz you get before dropping literature or gathering signatures or carrying signs at a rally. The buzz I was almost certain I would not get at a Tea Party; the buzz you are probably certain you would not get, either.

But how in the world did I get that same buzz? By all accounts, I should have been angrier than a hive of bees, sweating hard cider and screaming vinegar. That's how I usually get when I see Tea Partiers on now was I actually getting a communal, shared feeling from them in person? How the fuck could this happen!?

The answer is simple: I had a tea party before the Tea Party. A little Zen story explains this:

Way back in feudal Japan, there was a Zen master in a monastery and a professor from a university. The professor goes to visit the Zen master to learn about Buddhism, so the master welcomes him into his home with the traditional offering of a cup of tea. But before the delicate formalities of the Japanese tea ceremony can begin, the professor starts talking about everything he knows about religious studies and what he tells his students and what he thinks of this, what he thinks of that.

The Zen master isn't able to say anything or get the professor's attention. So he just starts pouring tea into the professor's cup. And he keeps pouring while the professor talks. Soon, the tea is spilling out of the cup, onto the saucer, onto the tabletop, and finally onto the professor's lap. This finally makes him come to and he's flabbergasted. He looks at the Zen master like he's a crazy man out to boil his jewels and asks him, "What are you doing!?"

The Zen master responds by saying, "Like this cup of tea, you are full of your own ideas. So how can I teach you unless you first empty your cup?"

This was the challenge I made to myself, one of two main reasons I decided to attend the Tea Party meeting to begin with. For starters, I always like to find things out for myself. The media has a tendency to over-summarize and present caricatures of political events; I like to bear my own witness. But removing the media filters is easy. Even with those out of the way, there was still one very big thing that could get in my way of actually seeing what went down.

That thing? Me. Myself. And all of My Ideas.

You may think that going to a Tea Party yourself would be a waste of time. You already Know For A Fact that you disagree with them about Everything. You know it would be a Complete Waste of Your Time to subject your eyes and ears to two painful hours of Ignorant Right Wing Rants.

And it would be if you brought that mindset. But it wouldn't be the Tea Partiers fault; they're not responsible for your frame of mind. You are.

As for me, I had a time of it. It's not easy to give up all your preconceptions and prejudices. But in "emptying my cup" before attending the Tea Party, I was able to do two things. First, I was able to pretty much hold my tongue until the end of the meeting because I was able to listen. It's pretty hard to listen to when all you're doing is drowning out their words with your internal counter-arguments. It was much easier for me to listen, really listen carefully, when I wasn't doing this. In fact, at a couple of points in the event, it was I, the liberal, who spoke up to clarify the date and time of an upcoming "Save The Parks" rally at the Captiol. (Wednesday, March 3rd at 9:30 AM, by the way.)

Second, because I was able to listen, I found what I'd sincerely hoped to find: common ground. That buzz? It was proof, in my gut, that we progressives have these Tea Partiers all wrong, just like they've got us all wrong. We both get the same buzz, man. We really do have more in common, at a gut level and possibly at a policy level, than either side cares to think.

Why is this? It's because we've filled our cups to our liking, just like they have. We just love pouring more of our favorite fine brew because it's so familiar, all the while laughing the familiar laugh at the guys on the other side who making such a mess of things spilling their putrid concoction. We're laughing (or perhaps, jeering) so hard, we don't realize we'll need a mop and bucket to take care of our own spillage. In fact, we'll probably insist that it's their mess and they're supposed to clean it up. And so would they. So nothing gets clean, you see?

Me? I'm of the opinion that everyone is spilling tea everywhere, to the point where the puddles on the floor have joined together as one. I'd prefer to have a clean cup and move down, just like in the crazy cartoon version f Alice In Wonderland. That's the image I had in my head by the time the last speaker got up.

A Mr. Tom Chandler, this African-American speaker was the one who spoke about the Tea Party being labeled as racists. He's spent some time fighting for the Second Amendment, apparently, and gave the group even more advice about political action and organization. He spoke quite a bit about restoring an employee-employer relationship with government. This was almost straight off my flyers for my '09 write-in campaign! I kept my hand raised during nearly his entire speech, even as the organizers brought in boxes of pizza to marks the event's end. As Mr. Smith made a closing announcement and the audience began clapping and lining up for pie, Mr. Chandler pointed to me, and I had the audience's attention.

Despite all that "emptying my cup" business, I still couldn't help myself - I had to let them have it. Here's what I said, right off the cuff:

I want to say: I will disclose that I was the 2009 write-in candidate for Supervisor in the Town of Berne. All the things being said today about getting on the ballot and getting organized are correct. I will also disclose that I am the blogger Soundpolitic on a site called DailyKos. I'm sure you've heard of it.

I do wish you luck. Everything about getting organized is great. That is making use of your freedoms. I have a little saying: We the people means you the person.

I'm not here to disagree with you on policy. I ran a very leftist campaign. I have leftist views. And I want to remind you that if you are successful then your candidates who get into office are going to have to learn the art of compromise with your opponents in office. It does no good to demonize the other side.

For example, when I'm on the blogs and I see the word "teabagger," I call them out because it's a derogatory term.

(At this, one member of the audience said "Thank you.")

Again, I'm not here to disagree with your positions. But I want to remind you that nobody stopped you from being here today. That everyone who wanted to speak, including someone who disagrees with your views, was allowed to speak.

Now if you want to get better at debating my side, then you do have to watch movies like "An Inconvenient Truth," just like I watched both "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Fahren-Hype 9/11." That is why I'm able to take the moral high ground of disagreeing with the Right. Because I've read Michael Moore and I've read Ann Coulter. I read both sides, and then come to my own conclusions. It does not good to say that Scott Murphy is wrong 100 percent of the time. Nobody on this Earth who is human is either right 100 percent of the time or wrong 100 percent of the time.

(At this point, some of the organizers start saying, "Great, have some pizza!")

So do the organization, but remember: you are the government, the government is you. So if you just blame the government for everything you are blaming yourselves and asking the government to take responsibility for something that you have. And today proved it.

I imagine I would have said something very different if I had not gone in there with an open mind. And I did find things that the progressive movement has in common with the tea party movement. Like I said, the buzz was the same. The information was the same. Some of the issues were the same - I was in agreement with the Tea Partiers about the state parks staying open, after all. And there were other ideas being bounced around that didn't seem too crazy to me.

That's not to say I didn't walk away thinking a lot of their ideas were, in fact, sheer lunacy of the style that can only be bred when paranoia mates with ignorance, or that their explanations for their positions amounted to political jabberwocky. And it was pretty clear that these people's cups were all just as full and overflowing as they'd been before. But that's not what I was looking for; I was looking for proof that what President Obama said while he running for President is true while he actually is President: that we're not as divided as our politics suggest.

Because I was able to empty my cup before going to the Tea Party, that's what I found. And that is a hopeful sign, folks.
Until next week, a very merry unbirthday to you, too!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Soundpolitic Sundays: Silly Political Games Edition

There is a word out there that I can use to unequivocally and quite comfortably describe myself. It stems from my longtime hobbies: Ever since I was a little bitty baby boy I always had my nose in a book or my fingers tapping at a typewriter or clutching playing cards.

Well, not since I was a baby boy. I’m no whiz-kid, especially not at age twenty-six. But I’ll confess that I have no problem describing myself as completely, utterly, and happily…uncool.

I mean, who does stuff like this? Who at my age - or at any age - wakes up early on Sunday mornings to write politically-charged and Zen-infused rants on something that sounds so dweeby as a “blog?” This is totally uncool.

For that matter, who the hell else my age wakes up early on a Saturday morning as a progressive Democrat to hang onto every word of…the local Tea Party? And then, instead of going home to write about it immediately (and there will be lots to write about in the coming days) decides it’s time to fiddle around with some of those nerdy playing cards?

No more games, folks. Soundpolitic Sundays continues below the fold…

First of all, allow me to explain my happiness with being uncool. I really can’t do so without pointing out my all-time favorite film: Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. A quick synopsis:

Our young protagonist, William Miller, finds out he’s much younger than his overbearing, freak-out-inducing college professor mother has lead him to believe. She’s sheltered him and his sister from her perceived horrors of rock and roll in the late 1960s. Our heroes sister leaves home, bestowing her record collection upon him. He falls in love, and then we flash-forward a few years and he is fifteen years old, about to graduate high school, and is writing freelance rock criticism for a local underground publication. He meets his idol, Lester Bangs - a real life rock critic and probably the best of all time and portrayed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman - who describes both himself and the boy as “uncool.” But Bangs still gives William an assignment: 1,000 words on an upcoming Black Sabaath show.

It is there he meets up with the fictional opening band, Stillwater. The guys in the band take well to him, as does one of their groupies (played by Best Supporting Actress, Kate Hudson) and the boy ends up getting permission to follow the band on the road for a couple of days after Rolling Stone gets word of William’s work. Naturally, this couple of days becomes a romp across America for an extended period of time and the story goes into consideration for the cover of the magazine. Without getting into too many more details, Miller finds himself under intense pressure after some crazy coming-of-age wildness and has only one night to write the biggest piece of his life. He calls Lester Bangs for advice and the following conversation ensues:

That’s me. Uncool. And that’s my favorite quote of all time:

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool. Listen, my advice to you, and I know you think these guys are your friends. If you want to be a true friend to them: be honest. And unmerciful.”

Now I used to project myself into this movie as an aspiring musician myself. I am the former bassist of Albany-based string rockers Black Mountain Symphony. I weaseled my way into the band in early 2001 for two main reasons. First, when I saw them play at one of only three parties I went to during high school, I knew that placing violin in rock and roll as an integral part of the music was the next logical step. Second, I had to do something to stop being uncool! And I had a good shot because the core of the band were two of my best childhood friends. So I picked out the bass player as the worst member (they turned his amplifier off during live shows) and then badgered them every day to join as anything: back-up vocals, second guitar, tambourine, quarters. Yes, at one point, I was certain I would be in the band for doing nothing but clinking quarters together in front of a microphone. They were having fun with me.

But one day, right before an important track meet (I was captain of the team) my best friend came to me and said the bass player couldn’t make it to practice. This was my shot to grab the second-hand bass I’d been self-teaching myself with and get in the band. I raced home, still in my track uniform, and grabbed the hunk of junk, went to the practice, and was in the band. Finally, I was cool.

And I remained cool up until 2008. To tell the story of why I left would take way too long. But in a nutshell, I determined that I’m just too uncool at my core. That, and I have a tendency to over-think my bass playing, and that wasn’t up to par with their musicianship. And there were intense conflicts regarding the music business in a market of malaise (the Albany scene pretty much sucks except for it’s unique pocket of revolutionary string rock bands that get none of the press they deserve…I digress). These conflicts of musicality and business sense were too much of a threat to my friendships I’d forged within the band.

That, and I was finishing my paralegal degree (uncool!) and getting into political volunteering (uncool!) and doing lots of (uncool!) blogging about it. In short, I didn’t’ want to play silly games with my friends or my life anymore. I did exactly what Lester Bangs warned about: I became friends with the band. I let myself be fooled into thinking I was cool when I was not.

But damn did it feel good! In high school, I wasn’t known for doing something cool like playing the bass. My reputation had much more to do with silly little games. Namely, Magic: The Gathering.

This one may also required a bit of explanation. Basically, Magic was created in 1993 by a mathematician named Richard Garfield. He wanted to create a portable, expandable game for Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons dweebs (like me) to play while waiting in line at comic conventions and movie openings. What he ended up creating basically saved a floundering industry; today, Magic: The Gathering is the bread and butter of every game shop in the nation and the company that makes it, Wizards of the Coast, is one of the biggest success stories in the gaming industry. They own everything!

So what is the game? The simplest way to put it is that it’s a collectible card game. Think about it in terms of a game that’s played with baseball cards. You purchase packs of cards and with your own unique card pool, construct a deck to play with. The best “players” are rarer than others and your “team” can consist of whoever you want.

That’s it in a nutshell. But it is so incredibly deep and full of strategy as well as so mystical in the way the fantasy material is presented in the artwork and the rules themselves that it captivated me upon first sight when I was a tween-ager. So I became one of those weirdoes at the lunch table everyday playing a weirdo card game and proving myself to be on a completely other level of weird uncoolness.

But really, this is all just a part of my passion for all things written printed, anything imagined and created, and the simple joy of combining personal intellectual stimulation and interpersonal friendly competition that games give to all of us. So, I still play Magic. And I’ve collected other wacky cards games over the years as well. I’ve never been much for the standard 52-card deck. These games are fun, too, but they seem so normal to me. The cards never really change, just the rules.

So how many of you are asking “How the hell does this relate to politics? What happened at the Tea Party you went to, Soundpolitic!?”

I’ll get to that in a future column. All I’ll say is this: so much happened at the Tea Party meeting, including my usurping it by getting a dissenting last word in, that I just had to take a break. It does no good to fixate on only one thing or to not take a break and let things soak in. This is the other lesson of Almost Famous. See, I know realize that I was identifying with the wrong cast of characters (the band) instead of the main character: the uncool writer.

Writing is basically what I do best, and I never had any goals of becoming cool or famous by doing it. I like to write, as Lester Bangs says in the film, “Just to fuckin’ write,” and today, I have the Internet as a way to share my dribbling with anyone willing to suffer through it. One way for me to make my writing better is to sit on the rough drafts, or even put off drafting until my ideas are fully formed….

So instead of transcribing my tapes and organizing my notes to bang out a crap piece of writing (like I’m doing now!) for this week’s column, I took out my Magic cards and built some decks. I named them “Sticks and Stones” and “Stars and Stripes.” If you want to know more about the particular style of Magic I play, head on over to It’s a variant of the game that uses all the same rules, but restricts the cards you can use to build your custom decks: no expensive cards are allowed.

To understand this, be advised that the rarest Magic cards are also the most powerful, and therefore are all-but-necessary to use if you want to win zillions of dollars winning sanctioned Magic tournaments. Believe me: there’s a class of professional players who make a ludicrous living just playing Magic cards. I admire these guys about as much as I do rock stars and I don’t know a single Magic player who wouldn’t aspire to be them by playing the same decks of powerful cards.

Thus, there has sprung a secondary market for the cards where single cards are sold, much like baseball cards, where the rarest, most powerful cards can top fifty bucks a pop. And since you can include up to four copies of one card, and each deck included sixty cards, the most powerful tournament decks - for cards that are still in print, mind you - can often be worth over five-hundred bucks on this secondary market.

This is something I cannot afford having been out of work for the past one year and three-and-a-half weeks. So I play Pauper Magic. I only use cards that cost about a quarter a pop and only build decks that would sell for about fifteen bucks, if that. By the way, it feels really good to beat expensive decks with one of these.

Anyway, this is about the price I paid for another silly little game that finally (finally!) ties this column in with real silly little political games. This is one you might like. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Obama! The Card Game!

Looks pretty neat, eh? Man, when I found out about this a few weeks ago I just had to have it. Not only did the game’s mechanics seem simple enough to pick up yet deceptively deep enough to provide for some interesting strategy, but it looks laugh-out-loud hilarious.

After having played a few rounds with friends, the verdict is clear. This is a game that makes fun of everybody, Obama himself included. You’ve got cards with names like “Super Obama Woman!” and “Joe Bidin’ His Tongue” as well as “Paylin Botches Another Interview” and “Out-Debate McPain.” There’s cartoon pictures of Mr. Obama wearing a big gold chain like Flava Flav, and another one of him making a slam dunk like Michael Jordan.

My personal favorite? Obama in full George Washington garb, wig flying off in the wind, as he crosses the Delaware in a speedboat with wildly cheering supporters, family members, a scuba diver, and a fish giving the whole crew a big, wet, raspberry “Thppt!” It’s fucking hilarious!

Now, this might be old news to you. Check out the card game’s website and it’s pretty clear that this game was made to be sold at Obama inauguration. And I’ll admit: while it makes fun of everybody, it seems only slightly slanted toward the pro-Obama camp simply because it doesn’t really condemn him in any strong way with regard to policy. It just pokes fun for the sake of being fun.

I can recall guys like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity getting all upset that people were “cashing in” on the inauguration. It was all some big scam to make more money for “The Anointed One” and was obviously all ACORN’s illegal doing.

So much for free-market capitalism. The game’s designers obviously figured that there’s a demand for something like this. Why? Simple: because of uncool people like me! I eat this shit up and love every second of it, from the second I smell the advertisement to the tasting of the rulebook to the swallowing of the game experience right on down to shitting out the remains in crappy pieces of writing like this.

I wonder what Rush and Hannity would say about Obama Nation. It’s another one I really want just because I love non-traditional card games, especially if they’re politically tinged.

Yet I don’t hold up much hope for it being an actually good game. This is for mechanical and political reasons. I can tell by reading the game’s rule that there really isn’t much to it. And I can tell, while it makes fun of the entire political system, that it’s definitely geared towards the Tea Party audience. It seems like a simple matching game, and it’s all about pork-barrel spending and all the politicians are caricatured as pigs. So it’s clearly playing to Orwellian paranoia currently being aimed at the current Democratic majority in Congress and the Democratic President.

Say, here’s a couple questions to quickly consider: Where was the piggy-faced card game with a name like “Bush Whacked” back when it was the Republican President umtwadoopling the deficit and the Republican Congress allowing things like Enron and derivatives to happen? And why does “Obama Nation” seem to have simpler mechanics as an antagonistic flavor (the name is meant to sound like the word “abomination”) when compared to just “Obama! The Game” which employs more strategic game play while taking shots at everyone across the board.

And, hey: isn’t the former just cashing in on a political movement the same way the first one was? Fie!

Thus, these silly political games us uncool hobby-shop patrons play strike me as a very telling allegory relating to the real political games being played. And these were on full display at the Tea Party meeting I went to this weekend.

But by that, I don’t mean the Tea Partiers were “playing games” like the Backstreet Boys “Quit Playing Games With My Heart.” Or even playing games the way our State government is currently playing regarding the proposed New York State parks closures. Not that way.

Nope - at the local Tea Party, I saw people playing by the rules The same rules that we progressive, Democratic activists played by in order to win back the Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. I saw - dare I say it in this forum - that we really do have more in common with the Tea Partiers than we perceive.

Let me put it like this: while we may have built our decks differently, with different ideological cards customized to executive our unique plans to win, the Tea Party is seeking the same objective within the very same framework as us.

And we are all, each last one of us, Tea Partiers and “Obamacrats,” down to the last click of the keyboard, totally uncool - and damn proud of it.

American representative democracy is no game. But politics, the art of getting what you want and strategizing to get it, certainly is just a game. In that game, there are rules, objectives, strategies that have been tried and those we have yet to discover. And both sides<.I>, the progressive movement and the Tea Party, are both reading the same rule-book, shuffling decks we’ve built from the same larger card-pool, and are getting ready for the deals to take place in the summer and fall.

But so far on blogs like this, we have spent far too much time simply condemning our opponents, or being conniving to them. This is a huge mistake. In my experience in playing silly little games, one thing holds true: if I focus too much on my opponent’s strategic blunders, I will make twice as many mistakes of my own.

And If we get hung up thinking that they can’t even tell a club from a diamond, then our hearts are sure to be made to pay in spades.

I think this is what President Obama was talking about back when he was Candidate Obama:

“[W]e will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as out politics suggest; that we are one people; we are one nation; and together, we will continue the next great chapter in America’s story[.]

- Barack Obama, January 8, 2008

Emphasis mine - SP

That’s what I intend to keep in mind as I write the next chapter of Soundpolitic Sundays. Thanks for reading, stay tuned and keep up the good work!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Soundpolitic Is Smarter than 98% of You!

As I opened my GMail for the third time today, I was hoping I'd find at least one opportunity out of the two-dozen job applications I made in the past 24 hours.  But then, it's always nice to get a little e-mail from Mom.

A little backstory:  I'm pretty terrible to my mother when it comes to my opinions.  Pretty much the converstaions always boil down to me saying "I'm right.  Here's why.  You're wrong.  Here's why.  I'm smart 'cuz I get it.  Your stupid, 'cuz you don't.  People like me solve problems.  People like you are the problem.  Next point..."

These always make me feel really, really good about myself.  Which is a very, very bad thing, by the way.  Usually, I'll feel sorry about it afterward.  But then, I do strongly believe that conservative voters like her are to blame for a lot of this nation's problems.  After all, you can't get conservative politicians into office without conservative votes.

As I always say:  We, the People = You, the Person

Anyway, taking a break from blogging about State Park Closures (see previous two posts) and looking for work, I got an e-mail from Mother Dearest pointing me to a Pew Research Center Quiz administering a test of my "news IQ."  Basically, it checks to see how much we know about what's going on in our country.  The forwarded e-mail goes:
We have been warned: "The greatest threat to democracy is ignorance"...........Thomas Jefferson
Do you follow the news? Try answering these questions and see where you rank in the nation. Very interesting.

Test your knowledge with 12 questions, then be ready to shudder when you see how others did.
So I popped on over to test my knowledge on stuff like "Who's the Senate Majority Leader" and "How many chicks are on the Supreme Court" and "If a train leaves Denver at 4:30 AM travelling at 70 mph and another train makes up a dumb question about it..."

OK, so that last one wasn't on the quiz.  But here's my result:  I am smarter than 98% of my countrymen!

Actually, I'll admit that the first time I took the test, I was only smarter than 92% of you.  But I closed the window just before I decided I wanted the image.  So I went back and took the test again, making sure to answer every question the same way based on the notes I took, and voila!  I just got 4% smarter!

But this is only because I answered the question that asked "Which foreign country currently holds the most U.S. government debt?" with "China."  Both times. The other options were Japan, some other country that was obviously wrong ( 93% of people at best), and Canada.  But the quiz accepts either China or Japan as correct!  Here's why:
On Question 3 — "which foreign country holds the most U.S. government debt?" — both China and Japan are now accepted as correct answers on our interactive quiz. China had been the major holder of U.S. government securities for more than a year, and was the correct answer according to then-available Treasury data when the quiz was administered in a nationally represenative survey. But data released by the U.S. Treasury on Feb. 16, 2010 reveal that China sold a large block of its U.S. holdings in December so that Japan again became the top foreign holder of U.S. Treasury securities.  (Emphasis added - SP)
The only reason I did so well is because I pay as close attention to the news as I can.  I try to watch the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams at 6:30, then switch to the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric at 7:00.  This is because we don't cable on my road in the boonies.  And with Mom trying to hold down a house of her own with an unemployed 26-year old living there, she can't really afford satellite.  So I spend as much time as I can at local libraries to check various sources (yes...I do visit Fox's website too; it's the only way I can say for certain that it's not really news, but fictionalized propaganda!) or I'm able to catch the Cable Chatter News here at my father's apartment in the suburbs. 

Anyway, none of the myriad outlets I checked in the past couple days mentioned anything about the Chinese sell-off.  And in hindsight, I rarely ever hear about Japan being the second (or first) largest holder of our debt.  And I fully expect about 98% of people in this country to continue to rail about how China holds, like, all of our debt, man, and if they ever sell a bunch of it off (which they did) then the dollar is just gonna tank (which it hasn't) and it's all that socialist presidents fault!

The reason 98% of you would do worse than me?

You're not paying attention!

The point is this:  I'm not smarter than you.  I'm no smarter than anybody else.  The difference is that I don't waste my smarts on completely inconsequential things like the American Idol or Entertainment Tonight.  That's my duty as a citizen in a democratic republic.  It's yours too.

But just look at the results above:  13% of people either couldn't get any of these questions right or got lucky with one of their guesses.  A full quarter of the test-takers answered than a quarter of the questions correctly.  One in five of those quizzed couldn't get even half the answers right.  Another 15% of people got less than 66% correct, which was a big fat "F" when I was in elementary and high school.

Do the math:  that's three out of four Americans flunking the test!

A couple hypothetical questions before I sign off:

1. Does this teacher still have tenure?
2. Where do you think the Tea Partiers fit into the results?
3. How many people started to take the test and then gave up?
4. Are these people registered to vote?
5. Why does somebody as "smart" of me still not have a job?
6. When am I going to stop asking such stupid questions!?

Unlike the quiz, there's really no right answer to any of the above.  Just like there's really no right answers in life...unless they're from Mom!

State Park Closures Run Down

Just back from posting a comment on The Albany Project to summarize the Park Closures across the state.  The new list just came out and can be viewed at this link.

Here's the Run Down:

I count 43 total park closures statewide with 13 closures of state historic sites.  Keep in mind some regional economic factors in this little rundown:

In the Central Region, all but one of 12 sites are closures.

In the Finger Lakes, six of nine sites are slated to close; the other two are reductions in swimming pool access.

In the Thousand Islands eight sites are listed and all eight are to be closed completely.

On Long Island we have 11 sites listed; only six are full closures, the rest a reduction in services.
Down in The City, only three sites listed and only one closure.

For the Palisades, nine sites listed with seven closures with one pool closure and one "reduction in maintenance."

The Taconic Region we have 11 sites listed.  But only three full closures.  We have some slight reduction services, including two sites with "Reduce Golf Course Season" and two with "Eliminate Interpretive Programs."  Keep those economic factors in mind!

In my home Capital Region nine parks and historic sites are listed.  100% of them are for closing.  Right in the Capitol's backyard!

Genesee Region has only three sites with one closure; Niagra Region is four out of five (eliminate interpretive programs at The Falls...poor honeymooners!); and in the Allegany Region we have one park set to be closed and one site with the largest list of reduction in services.

So it looks like Wealthy Westchester County golfers might be the key constituency here, doesn't it?

Thanks for the follow-up.  I'm out of time here at the Library.

BTW:  Rally at the Capitol on Wednesday, March 3 at 9:30 AM to save the parks and allow State Legislators to swoop in, get on TeeVee, and "save the day."  Get out your Bat Signals!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Throwing Our State Parks Off A Cliff

As our Legislature continues its President's Week vacation as an a matter of right, and as our Governor announces he'll seek election in his own right, I found myself loathing to discover a perfect reason for not casting my ballot for any of them.

It appears that in order to "save money," Governor Paterson has, behind closed doors, slated a slew of State Parks for closure. Not to diminish the effects of these proposed shut-downs across the state, but rather to illustrate how each closure affects each individual New Yorker, one of these knifings stabbed right at my heart. Albany Times Union columnist Fred LeBrun brought this to my attention this past Sunday in a piece entitled State Parks Make Hit List:

Two lists of possible state park and historic site closures made necessary by Gov. David Paterson's proposed 2010-11 state budget finally have been prepared by senior staff at the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the governor's office.
Say goodbye to the venerable John Boyd Thacher State Park in the Helderbergs, for example, as bizarre as that sounds. At this point, it will take extraordinary measures to save it. Once closed, who knows when it reopens?
Emphasis by me -SP

Cross-Posted on The Albany Project
There's no way to truly appreciate John Boyd Thatcher State Park unless you see it for yourself. Here's about 100 words on the site from the State Parks website:

John Boyd Thacher State Park, is situated along the Helderberg Escarpment, one of the richest fossil-bearing formations in the world. Even as it safeguards six miles of limestone cliff-face, rock-strewn slopes, woodland and open fields, the park provides a marvelous panorama of the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys and the Adirondack and Green Mountains. The park has volleyball courts, playgrounds, ball fields and numerous picnic areas with nine reservable shelters. Interpretive programs are offered year-round, including guided tours of the famous Indian Ladder Trail. There are over twelve additional miles of trails for summer hiking and mountain biking, and winter cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, and snowmobiling.

Sounds pretty nifty, right? Take a look at the picture below and tell me that it's not worth ten quoted paragraphs:

Thacher Park Overlook Panorama

Now the LeBrun column goes into greater detail as to how and why this is being set up behind closed doors in the -Butcher's- Governor's office and the -Meat Packing Department- Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. I suggest reading the whole thing, but the main idea is that the first list includes a whole mess of state parks to close and the second list recommends moving some money (about five million bones) from the Environmental Protection Fund in order to save a handful from these sites, which would require approval from the -Cattle Corral- State Legislature. Regarding the thought process and implementation behind all this, LeBrun says it best:

The expression "arbitrary and capricious" comes to mind, not to mention insensitive and ill-considered.

What is utterly dismaying is that these discussions are going on behind very closed doors with no public input.

Sounds about right to me, especially considering the close relationship my community and I have with Thacher Park. Here in the Hilltowns, the park is an emblematic preservation of the escarpment we live on. It's the very thing that separates us from the "flatlanders" down below, the division between suburban and rural in Albany County.

Not only does the park serve thousands of Albany residents in the summer, but Thacher serves as an almost universal place of employment for young folks on The Hill. I can speak for myself on this. A large portion of my high school friends worked there during the summer, saving them a drive down to the 'burbs or the city in order to save money for college. My younger brother did this as many of his friends. It's a huge boon to the local economy, not a drag on the state budget!

I even worked the place for a short while. I saw first-hand how Thacher Park provided accessible and affordable natural recreation for both the urban and rural poor. It made me not mind picking up the trash so much to see the joy on young children's faces when they were able to escape the concrete jungle and stand face-to-face with something like this:

Indian Ladder Trail's Minelot Falls

Not only that, these hills have some of the most unique history in the state. Thacher Park preserves that history in the only place possible. The above photograph is of the Indian Ladder Trail.

The history of the park area dates back to the late 1570s when the trail now known as the Indian Ladder Trail was used by the Mohawk Iroquois Indians to reach the trading post run by Henry Hudson. It was here that in 1777, at a spot known as Tory Cave, Jacob Salsbury found refuge from settlers during the Burgoyne Invasion.

That just skims the surface...I won't even get into the Anti-Rent War that finally destroyed Dutch Patroonship in the 1840s; check it out for yourself, but be reminded that the terrain played no small role in our success up here. That's part of the history Thacher Park preserves.

Even in spite of the history, the trail is just below the Overlook, and from both points, one can look out and view almost the entire Capital Region and straight into Massachusetts. See can pick out the Empire State Plaza and The Capitol.

How can the Governor and the Legislature and the Department not see this?

What's even more confusing about the proposed shut-down is the amount of money that the State has put into preserving and expanding Thacher Park in just the last four years...and how the State didn't have to pay a dime for the land just four years shy of a century ago!
The park is named after Albany mayor John Boyd Thacher whose widow, Emma Treadwell Thacher, donated the land in 1914. The purchase of 500 acres of land in 2004 with a State grant of $750 00 from the Environmental Protection Fund and a donation of land from the Nature Conservancy of 81 acres and the further purchase of 188 acres on 3 August 2006 took the total area of the park to 2,155 acres.
Emphasis added -SP

So the State got all sorts of historic, geologically and geographically unique land at the premium price of, uh, zero dollars and then spent three-quarters of a million dollars to add to it, then got even more acreage for free...and they're going to shut it down because it costs too much?

Don't you just love the way these guys practice not-thinking?
Unfortunately, that's how they think. I've already contacted the Legislators whose districts include Thacher Park (these are Assemblyman Jack McEneny, AD-104, and State Senator Neil Breslin, SD-46, by the way) but since they're on vacation right now, I haven't heard back from them yet. And I'm not even going to bother lobbying Gov. Paterson on the matter. He's in campaign mode now. He'll only do something about it if he thinks it'll help him win - and realistically, nothing is going to help him win.

Besides that, I don't think the closure is going to happen. It's just far too foolish. In fact, it's downright impossible to close! Our friend and columnist Fred LeBrun tells it like it is:

Take Thacher Park. How do you "close" it? A major highway runs right through it. There's easy access on all sides. Those escarpment cliffs are dangerous; hardly a year goes by without serious injury there. Which means a squad of park police will have to be stationed there, at what cost, patrolling the area year-round to protect the state's liability interest and safeguard the public.

But what park police? Manny Vilar, a veteran park cop, is the president of the union that represents the senior officer corps at parks. He points out that repeated budget cuts and a pathetic pay scale have created a ludicrous situation. In 2007, the last year there was a park police academy for new recruits, 113 new cops were hired at a cost of $6 million. But from 2004 to 2007, 118 park police left for better paying police jobs from the village level on up to State Police. So, Parks paid $6 million for a net loss of five officers, because the agency doesn't have the funds to remain competitive. As a direct consequence, a skeleton crew of 263 officers and supervisors is responsible for safeguarding 55 million visitors a year at more than 100 parks and historic sites across the state.

So, who's going to protect and preserve Thacher Park until we can reopen it? As I said, this not a pretty picture, no matter how you focus it.
Me emphasize, ugh! -SP

Now I could have left this quote to just the top paragraph. But let me explain because this hits home for me again. See, between 2001 and 2003, I was a student at the State University of New York at Oswego. I ended up majoring officially in music, but dropped out because I truly was majoring in improv comedy and dining hall studies.

The Park Police facilities for new recruits were right on campus. In fact, the recruits had the pleasure of getting to come to breakfast before the dining hall officially opened. Which means I had the distinct pleasure of having to get my own ass up early enough to help serve the morning rush. It was a fantastic experience that really taught me the value of hard work and of knowing the whole job inside and out.

It was murder, sometimes, though. I'd be on the register at the entrance swiping cards, then I'd be at the grill flipping eggs and spinning around to serve them, then I'd be rushing about the dining hall making sure that milk and juice dispensers were full, and then careening into the "slop room" to get the dishes done, all the while anticipating the next rush of studious early-riser college kids while simultaneously getting on the phone to ask my co-workers "Hey! Did you know you were on the schedule today?" In the end, the hard work paid off: I eventually worked my way up to Group Leader, an assistant manager position of sorts. But this was only a title; I knew that my hard work was going to help these trainees become full-fledged park police, who would one day safeguard New York's most precious treasures like Thacher Park back home.

So here's what this new chopping block maneuver tells me: "Sorry, but you worked for nothing, bro. It just made ya feel rosy and good about yourself. Sorry 'bout that, but since those trainees can't make a livin' and we're shuttin' down the joint anyway, you might as well have been the one partying it up and sleeping in. Hey...wanna tax credit to make up for it?" And here's what I say to that:

Bite me.

Bite me Governor David "Run Away" Paterson, bite me Office of "Closing" Parks, bite me bite me Assemblyman "History Major" McEneny, and bite me Senator Neil "Gavel Drop" Breslin.

Even if you do bite the bullet and keep these parks funded, you've gone too far just by getting this discussion started. Former Governor Teddy Roosevelt must be spinning in his grave. This should have never come under consideration. Not. Even. Mentioned.

To me, it's perfectly clear why it did: so you could scare us all with the threat of park closure and then make yourselves all look like heroes when you "turned around" and saved the parks. So you could force us all into "taking action" and organizing protests, which requires us to raise money, which we can then donate the excess to your re-election campaigns after you swoop in like Batman with your legislative and bureaucratic gadgetry to "save the day."

Save the day from what? From your own tomfoolery, that's what!

How about this: ever see a steer shovel his own bullshit? If you haven't, Washington Avenue and State Street in Albany is a good place to start.
After that's thoroughly disgusted you, take Washington up to Lark Street hang a left, stop at one of the nice cafes, then a right onto Madison Avenue after a couple blocks across from Washington Park onto New Scotland Avenue, which will carry out right out of the Albany city limits as it turns into New Scotland Road, state route 85, through the Towns of Bethlehem and New Scotland, then just after passing through the little hamlet of New Salem, go up the hill and make a right onto State Route 157 at the fork in the road to get a glimpse of Thacher Park while you still can. It'll take about twenty minutes, depending on the traffic through Delmar.

Ironically, the sign will say that Governor David Paterson "welcomes" you.
I say instead of throwing our State Parks off a cliff, we should throw these guys out of office.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Soundpolitic Sundays: It’s All Your Fault Edition

And a very Happy Valentine ’s Day to all you lovers out there. That’s lovers of things like music and politics and words and such. See, I tend to feel like Good Ol’ Charlie Brown these past few Valentine’s Days. I’ve been too focused on things like writing and thinking and looking for work to actually work up the courage to ask for a date…not that I could pay the tab, anyway!

Then again, whose fault is it for me not “having” a Valentine? It’s all me, of course! I’m the one walking about labeling or not labeling other people with the same title we’d give a piece of mail. So I realized earlier this week that I certainly did have a Valentine and, better yet, I’d been getting ephemera from her every week for the past two years!

This is just a fancy way of saying I have a subscription to Newsweek as gifted to me by my dear old Grandmother.

Pitiful, right? I don’t think so. I do love that magazine. Every week, I take a break from the job hunting and freelancing to enjoy that what I might be purchasing for myself: the best political commentary, interviews, and journalism on shiny paper with a dab of humor and art criticism. If I had the time, I’d praise or rebut everything in it.

Which brings me to the current February 15, 2010 issue. Set aside the fact that the issue is dated one whole day in the future (I never quite understood this trick) but within the magazine’s pages were a couple of conflicting articles that could really do for a kiss-and-make-up this Valentine’s Day. So below the fold, we’ll try to get that done for them, considering they have less than 24 hours to come to terms with yourselves.

“The Take” is Newsweek’s section devoted to the finest in current punditry. The best talking heads in the business hit their typewriters with as much passion that they bring to the 24-hour news cycle.

This week, we see on the title page an article by Jacob Weisberg spoiled as “Blame voters for our political paralysis…” just above the teaser for Robert J. Samuelson’s piece saying “…No, blame politicians.” I love when this sort of thing happens. Usually when it comes to the lip-flappers on my favorite Sunday shows, I shudder in disgust once people start interrupting and talking over each other. These two pages gave me a way to at least imagine a civilized discussion…

…even though the discussion will probably go nowhere. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Mr. Robert J. Samuelson!

We have a massive candor gap, led by President Obama but also implicating most leaders of both parties. The annual budget necessarily involves a bewildering blizzard of numbers. But just a few figures capture the essence of our predicament. Here they are:

-Emphasis mine.

And then blah blah deficits and blah blah Social Security and blah blah entitlements blah blah blah...

The message: the budget is mainly a vehicle for transferring income to retirees from workers, who pay most taxes.

Followed by spending cuts yackety yack rising taxes yackey yack financial crisis don’t talk back!

I love this article like the old girlfriend who keeps popping up my head. Or like the re-runs of my least favorite sitcom episodes. I know they both don’t hold up to criticism, but I still entertain the idea. It reminds me of who I used to be.

Of course, that’s not R.J. Samuelson, Super Genius’s idea. He’s got a job to do. He’s got bills to pay. That is to say, he’s got two people he has to please beyond all reasonable doubt: his Editors and his Audience.

In order to do that, Mr. Samuelson had to display a gap in candor of his own. He’s hooting and hollering about “entitlements” and “redistribution.” This is all empty pie-filling when you consider the actual pie:

Oops! Looks like we’ve been “transferring” most of our “income” to men and women who are still working. Very. Hard.

Now why would Samuelson ignore this fact? He writes well. He’s able to craft facts together to fit his argument and come off sounding pretty intelligent. That doesn’t explain why he essentially lies in this entire article. And if the guy is that smart, he’s got to know he’s stretching the truth to please those who consume his work…

Pay attention to that word: consume. Now I feel sorry for Mr. Samuelson. He’s the one who has to try and maintain a good reputation by coming up with phrases like “candor gap.” Do a Google search on that phrase and you might as well have just searched for “Robert J. Samuelson.” It’s a phrase that essentially means nothing, except as a nice way to say that the President is lying…for those who want to believe it in order to validate their sense of self.

So who is the real problem with this article and others like it? It’s not the writer. It’s the reader. And those guys I do not feel sorry for. Not one bit. It’s these people who are causing the drop in approval ratings for a President and causes the pundits on today’s shows to talk about how Obama hasn’t “articulated” his vision properly for the American People.

Essentially, guys like Samuelson aren’t selling the truth or information for the purpose of critical thinking. They are selling soap. Like this guy:

Now we can condemn the soap salesman as a slick truth-stretcher. But what does any salesman require to make a successful pitch?

A customer.

We have another soap salesperson out there today. Here’s a humorous take on some of her sales pitches from a big party down in Tennessee earlier this week:

Zing! Bop! Pow! They’re loving every second of it, aren’t they? And rightly so. It is exactly what they want to hear. And good ‘ol Sarah Palin has learned the lesson every beauty pageant queen learns early: you give the judges what they want if you want to wear the tiara.

There’s probably a lot of condemnation of Palin around here. And a lot of scorn for the people buying up her soap. I’ve gotten into minor tussles in the comments sections regarding the use of the phrase “teabaggers” to describe her supporters.

Allow me to explain. The phrase “teabagger” refers to a rather unsavory act that involves one man disrobing and shoving his genitalia in somebody else’s face. I learned of it through some buddies in college who used to joke about it. To us, it’s disgusting and funny.

And these folks are serious. And calling them names only adds more fuel to fire. Not only that, but I’m of the firm opinion that the truth of the matter in all forms of name-calling and bullying is this:

If you call somebody else a nasty name, you might as well just call yourself that nasty name. You have become nastiness. You have become the bully. And in my experience, bullies have never served any purpose except to display cowardice and provide the opportunity for their targets to display courage.

What I’m saying to you is this: don’t blame the Tea Party. Blame yourself.

You can’t condemn these people for being stuck in a rut validating their own sense of selves as “conservatives” or “libertarian” or “ignorant” without first coming to grips with your own stack of descriptors that give you your sense of self.

Think about who “you” are. Are you just a “liberal” or a “progressive” or an “activist?” There’s really not much to that. Me? I’m not any of these things. These are just useful adjectives that describe fleeting thoughts that, ultimately, are not real.

Neither is the political climate. And this brings me to the second column I spoke of in the opening. Ladies and gentlemen, Jacob Weisberg’s “Down With The People” hits the nail on the head:

In trying to explain our political paralysis, analysts cite President Obama's tactical missteps, the obstinacy of congressional Republicans, rising partisanship in Washington, and the Senate filibuster, which has devolved into a super-majority threshold for important legislation. These are large factors to be sure, but that list neglects what may be the biggest culprit of all: the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.

That's it. He's talking about you, the person. Or rather, he's talking about we the people.

The logic is very easy to follow: if we are a government of the people, then the people are the government. Therefore, if a person has disdain for the government, or an opposing political movement, shouldn't that mean that this person has disdain for...himself?

Keep your own sense of self in mind as Weisberg continues:

Some say that the public is in an angry, populist, tea-partying mood. But a lot more people are watching American Idol than Glenn Beck, and our collective illogic is mostly passive rather than militant. The better explanation is that the public lives in Candyland, where government can tackle the big problems and get out of the way at the same time. [...] We like the idea of sacrifices and hard choices in theory. When was the last time we made one? Emphasis mine. -SP

Candyland. Or "Soapland" if you will. This is so incredibly true it's hilarious. And I've seen it first-hand as a candidate for office myself.

See, in the fall of 2009, I was still out of work and down on my luck. I realize this was of my own doing now, but at the time, I was pretty upset with the world for not hiring me. So since I had the time and had dreamed of doing it, I decided to run for Supervisor in the Town of Berne just three weeks out from the General Election.

I'll expand on this more in future posts, you can be sure, but the main reason I chose to run was because both the Democratic and Republican candidates seemed very reluctant to me. Both parties had to ask upwards of ten people to run before finally settling on somebody to say, "Alright, I'll do it." Me? I wanted the job. My youth and inexperience be damned; I had the resolve to want to apply for the job myself. And I figured that a degree in paralegal studies along with my enthusiasm to put in as much time as possible would be enough to get the job done. I knew it was a big job. I also knew it wasn't fair for the parties to badger somebody who'd just retired into a huge, stressful undertaking that they didn't really want.

So I did it. And I knew I wouldn't win. I had to run as a write-in candidate, which is almost certain doom. But the other thing I wanted to do was get out and talk to regular folks about local politics and hopefully raise civic awareness.

The verdict? Well, aside from getting 8.51% of the vote (scroll down to "Town of Berne Supervisor"), I determined one thing above all others:

This country needs a freakin' civics lesson!

You would not believe some of the questions I got. Here I was running for Supervisor in a rural town with a population of about 3,000 and people were asking all sorts of absolutely stupid questions! "What's your stance on abortion?" and "What's your thoughts on big government?" and "So what do you think of Obama?" and "What do you think of Bush?"

Now I was courteous at the doors, you bet. But people were floored when I informed them that their questions had absolutely nothing to do with running Town Board meetings. Floored! And not because they'd come face-to-face with an honest politician. Quite the opposite: they were forced to face their own ignorance. They were forced into realizing that all the soap they'd been buying from guys like Robert J. Samuelson was just that...soap!

And just like somebody whose been had by a slick soap salesman, they realized that they couldn't have been had if it weren't for their own selves.
Those sacrifices that Weisberg was talking about above? The way I read the piece, I wasn’t connecting the word “sacrifices” with any fleeting line in the budget. And I don’t’ think he was either. Consider the final paragraph:

Our inability to address long-term challenges makes a strong case that the United States now faces an era of historical decline. To change this story-line, we need to stop blaming the rascals we elect to office, and look instead to ourselves.

Emphasis mine – SP

To start making sacrifices as it comes to policy, you need to sacrifice your self. Get rid of it! If it’s the Tea Partiers way of thinking that has the power to cause confusion about Obama’s message; if it’s the definitions of self that Congressman and bureaucrats have crafted that keeps our institutions in gridlock; and if it’s the uncompromising stances that we take on the progressive blogosphere that clashes with these, then aren’t you to blame for this mess, too?

See my above logic. In a government of the people, you cannot draw a line between the people and the government. The people are the government. They (we) are one and the same. The politicians are just people, and the voters are just people too.

And each and every one of them is you.

As for me, it’s time to go downstairs and wish my dear old Grandma a Happy Valentine’s Day and thank her for my subscription to Newsweek. As for you…I hope I get to see you again next week as Soundpolitic Sundays continues.

And I hope you get to see…you.

Cross-posted on The Albany Project

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Soundpolitic Upgrades the Blogroll

A quick update today before retiring to write the Sunday post and an inaugural trial submission to the Altamont Enterprise.  I'm pleased to introduce the Soundpolitic Blogroll, over there to your right.

These are my personal favorites.  And some are worth a brief description.  No links are provided here because I'm frankly a little worn out from HTML editing.  But their rather closeby and I'm loving this Post Editor's ability to bold, italicize, and underline...

The Home Pages are straightforward.  I start off just about everything with a Google search these days, and often have lots of fun Googling myself.  Head over there, type in "Colin Abele" and see what you find!  Try it on'll be amazed, I promise.

The other two links are to the first blogs I ever created.  My first creation was on DailyKos, which I joined in December 2005 as the 71,892nd user.  They've got hundreds of thousands now, but I don't go there as much precisely because it's so huge (and because some posters there put way too much emphasis on how low your userID is).  Even then, I didn't get much attention there, and my old stuff is rather laughable.

I started getting some diaries rescued there in 2008 when I started to blog on The Albany Project as user number 691.  My first post there is dated February 5, 2008 and began covering the Congressional and State Senate primary elections in NY-21 and SD-46 during that wild election year.  The good folks at TAP decided my stuff was good enough to promote to the front-page and most of my diaries were recommended.  I'm rather proud of the blogs themselves; some of my comments, not so much.  It's one thing to use a blog to round-up the weekly news and report on debates in greater depth than the papers and conduct 5,000 word interviews with Congressional candidates.  It's another to yell and scream and cuss at commenters.  I hereby swear that practice off.

Continuing below, I've compiled what I consider to be The Best of the Capital Region Blogosphere.  These are all either New York State or Albany area blogs relating mostly to progressive politics.  My favorite would have to be Andrew C. White's The 10,000 ThingsAndrew is a fellow TAPer and his work tends to focus on Buddhism just like mine.  He's quite the role model.  If you like Soundpolitic, you'll like his work even more.  Below, we have The Albany Weblog, published by the Dean of the Albany blogosphere, Dan Van Riper.  He's still at it and I hope he keeps going, especially with his Save The Pinebush material.

Also of note are some blogs that could use some love.  Democracy In Albany was kind of an Albany Project for just the City of Albany.  But it appears it went kaput just after the 2009 elections.  This is a damn shame and I hope DIA can find the time to revive this forum.  Going even more local, Eclectic Populous is a tiny Ning that a group of my friends from the Hilltowns started up a couple years back.  We never really utilized it to its full potential, so I'm spear-heading its revival every chance I get.  This will be a great way to keep in touch with childhood, teenage, and college years friends as well as work on some visionary activism projects like Forever Rural.

A quick word on Upstream is an order.  This blog is not of the same progressive persuasion as the rest of those linked to.  The writer is definitely of the conservative Republican variety, so don't go there if all you want to get is one side of the story.  That said, I consider him a good writer and we've always been courteous to each other.  Listening to the other side never hurt anybody except the emotionally fragile.  Give it a whirl if you're in the mood for a disseting opinion.

Finally, I include my Zen & the Art of Blogging section.  At the top is my biggest influence, Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen blog.  His books have titles like "Hardcore Zen" and "Sit Down and Shut Up!" that served as my true introduction to the practice of Zen and zazen meditation.  The practice pretty much translate to "just sitting" which is all it really is and all you really need to know.  He just puts things in such a way as to make the practice very accessible (and downright hilarious!) so I'd recommend them to anybody with an open-mind and a funny bone.

Or a love of music.  While Warner is obviously punk rock based, Phillip Toshio Sudo's Zen Guitar is all-encompassing and was my first "Zen" book.  I recommend it to any musician, from a casual dabbler to an accomplished virtuouso.  Both guys are very, very non-preachy, by the way.  So was Mindful Politics, which isn't really a blog, just a way to order this influencial book.  If politicians and voters took a page from this, words like "gridlock" and "fillibuster" would vanish into memory.  In the same vein, Ethan Nichtern's One City was another book I read that focused on culture, politics, and the interconnectedness of it all that was thoroughly enjoyable.  I haven't checked out the blog quite yet, so feel free to beat me to it.  The book was good, so I'll be the blog is.

Thanks for reading this little run-down.  Hopefully I haven't reduced traffic by summarizing them!  And remember:

We're all connected!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Soundpolitic on Work and Looking for Work

I continue to be amazed at the wireless Internet connectivity of this little laptop.  Over the weekend, I got it working with a little help from my friend, a Noble Savage working on a master's thesis regarding Dutch purchases of Mohican land, while we were both congregating to work on our respective writing goals.

Now, in the days that followed, I've gotten the thing working at two local libraries!  Now I'm no longer limited to only a half-hour in my hometown of Berne, which had computers that were not kind to my document formatting; I only have a trial version of Word 07 here, and like to use good-old-fasion ANSI text to convert documents like resumes and cover letters (and blogs!) from programs like WordPad or the MS Works Word Processor.  While I have a heartfelt respect for the place and its kind staff of librarians, I just can't get any work done there... least not until I realized how much I could get done!  This laptop of my brother's only works well in Safe Mode.  But for the longest time, I just gave up on it.  That's not the laptop's fault!  Now, I'm blogging just on a whim in the Guilderland library, which also has WiFi, and this place was great as far as offering a full hour on its computers, which have all the word processing formatting tools I needed to begin with. 

Isn't it amazing when the following principle proves itself:

Attitude + Aptitude = Altitude

Lionle Richie said that in one of his interviews on Nathan East's DVD "The Business of Bass", which, along with Flea's bass DVD "Adventures in Spontaneous Jamming and Techniques", I consider required viewing for anyone.  The advice contained in these videos are music-oriented and specific to a single instrument, yes.  But see the above quote again.  Tell me you can't apply that to basic everyday things, especially your dayjob.

Or lack thereof, in my case.  I'm currently applying my knowledge of music into practice in language.  And that means more than just spontaneous jamming on blogspot.  It means crafting perfect resumes and cover letters and following up with personalized thank you notes and phone calls to confirm after nailing in-person interviews.  It's all music...see my last post if none of this makes sense.

The point is, the advice I've been privy to all my life seems to have finally clicked after a full year of ignoring it.  It is so much easier to just wallow and declare "This isn't working!" and "Why won't the hire me!?" in anger and frustration.  The root of these emotions is fear, my friends.  Nothing more, nothing less. I was the one who wasn't working; I was the one who was placing the blame on those who fired me.  And I was the one who was focusing on the trials of my past and the bleak outlook I'd constructed for my futurer instead of taking action in the present moment.

Today, I'm taking action.  I'm sitting zazen with frequency again, and let me tell you, lots of stuff can happen when you're doing something as stupid as sitting cross-legged on a sleeping bag in front a wall just before bed and just after waking up.  I'm no Zen Master like, say, this punk-rocker, but I'll tell you what: I'm starting to see the changes in between getting up.

In any case, when it comes to being unemployed and future employment, I came up with the following first rule and have since adopted the second rule with the help of my aforementioned friend:

Rule #1:  I don't work for jerks!
Rule #2:  If I'm not working, then get to work!

With that, I've gotta peace out....I've got work to do.  I'm sure you do too, so...keep up the good work!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Soundpolitic TAPs Into The Blogroll

A caveman makes a grunt in a cave.  If no other caveman is around to hear it, do they hear the grunt?

This is play on the famous and oftentimes hilarious Zen koan, "If a tree falls in a wood and nobody is around, does it make a sound?"  I won't try to answer the riddle with words.  The very nature of a koan is to defy logic.  You can't answer it unless you understand in a completely different way.  I don't have any plans to every verbalize that understanding, nor do I carry any expectations of finding it.  That will get in the way of the path to discovering...

...well look at me, I'm wasting time writing about it!

Oh well.  Since I've started, let's go on down the lineage of human communication to get down to the big leap I've made in starting this blog yesterday and following up on the next step this day.  See, that caveman, he might grunt on his own, making a sound, but if nobody is around to hear it, he's essentially just expressing something to himself.  I'm guessing he stubbed his toe or just got billed too much on his car insurance.

Now making a sound is so easy, a caveman could do it.  But a gecko can too, or a bird, or a fish, or maybe a tapeworm.  Even the worlds ugliest beasts can make beautiful music.  And they organize it in order to communicate to each other.  These are mating calls or calls of distress.  They can be songs of offspring being fed by their sires ("Alright! Worms! Puke that shit up into my mouth, daddy-o, I'm famished!") or could be communicated between species  ("Back off, buddy! I will not get in your belly!").

They key here is the organization.  What animals do is essentially make music.  And the definition of music as I was taught in SUNY Oswego is:

"Sound organized in time."

Is not the spoken word, then, just a more organized version of the caveman's grunting?  Try this: listen to a foreign language.  I mean, really foreign.  An English-speaker in America has a knack for catching on to Spanish for many reasons.  First of all, the language itself has Romance influences (thanks to the Roman conquest of the British Isles...) and in America today (a result of British conquest of the Native Americans...) the Spanish language is fast becoming into the mainstream (a result of simultaneous Iberian conquest of even more Native Americans.) and so it's not too foreign.

But Arabic?  Or Japanese?  Or one of several Hindu dialects?  Forget it!  I don't know what the fuck these guys are saying.  But they can't understand me, either.  If I'm in Delhi and I'm lost beyond belief and my bladder's about to burst, I'm going to have to resort to a hand-to-crotch gesture in order to translate the English "Excuse me, where's the men's room," into the Hindi "Help! I'm an American! And I have to take a wicked piss!"

What gets the message across is my tone of voice and the timbre of my movements.  I could do it silently, but the visual arts have similar elements to sound.  This is why the next invention in human communication became so important.  The visual symbol, starting first as pictograms and moving eventually into alphabetical systems of symbols, organized to represent a sound or a visual action or, by then, an idea that had developed as a result of millenia of developing grunts and hoots and hollers into words.

These first symbols were carved onto caves.  Then, the Phoenecians started simply pressing lines into wet clay.  They could now record what was being thought and said for future reference.  Talk about making history.  As the technology developed in different areas across the world, the verbal historic tradition was radicalized.  We could now recall details that had to be left out for purposes of sheer memory capacity.  Eventually, so much was recorded that forms of binding together individual sheets of papyrus created something I love:

The book.  Books are were the logical next step in a the growing wealth of communication.  They could carry so much information and be carried forward from one generation to the next.  One of my best part-time jobs was as a porter for an annual antiques book fair, hauling van-loads of old-ass books in and out of the Albany Armory for two long days for a modest salary and tips that depended on the compassion and crotchetiness of the book dealers.  And what a cast of characters these guys were!  What they had in common with me was the love of the bound and printed word.  Everytime I dropped something, it was because another item caught my attention and captured my imagination.  How old is that one?  What was the style of writing then?  What do the letters look like?  How was this thing put together?

The answer for the oldest books is: by hand.  After the fall of Classical European culture, the Dark Ages replaced the Roman Empire.  Who do we have to thank for preserving the roots of Western culture while the trees were burning with witches tied to them?  The monk.  The simple man who dedicated himself to the Lord and the Church in a monastery somewhere far removed from the world fuedal blood and toil.  Despite all my misgivings about monotheism and organized religion in general (and sometimes the Catholic Church specifically) I cannot thank these dudes enough.  They preserved text stroke by stroke, line by line, page by page, and cover to cover.

Of course, since only one outlet produced the books, there was just one problem.  The Catholic Church served as Editor-In-Chief for an entire continent.  And what an irate guy he was!  If you were a 10th century monks were writing and transcribing music in the original church modes - the grandfathers of our modern musical scales - and came up with the opening line of "The Simpsons," and wrote it, guess what?  You're fired!  That's a tri-tone, the exact splitting in half of the major scale, right between the perfect fourth ("Here comes the bride!") and the perfect fifth ("Star Wars!) as well as the high and low note of the octave (think disco bass lines, I can't think of any lyrics....). 

Anyway, the Church decided that the opening notes of "The Simpsons" was no less than Satan himself attempting to split the church in half.  So even singing the note was banned, much less writing it down.

Of course, that didn't really work.  The Reformation started with a percussive sound:  Martin Luther nailing his Thesis onto a church door smack dab in the middle of the Holy Roman Empire.  But he wouldn't have gotten much press with his idea if it wasn't for the press itself.  It was Gutenberg before Luther that made what is often considered the greatest invention of all time, the printing press.  This allowed information to move out of the monastery, out of authoritarianism, and out to the masses with speed and continuity that was as radical a jump in communication as the transition from sounds to words.

Now, with only a few minutes remaining here at the Guilderland Public Library, I come full circle.  The next logical step in human communication is right here.  This blog is just one example of the many outlets of information on the Internet.  This removes the need for the printing press just as the press itself removed the need for hand transcription which removed the need for verbal memorization.  Just as the printed, mass produced word ended up replacing the hand-crafted limited edition, the Web is fast replacing the mass media consumerist papers of today and letting us all become monks in our own right.

That's not to say that the old media will die out.  That's ridiculous.  Take the opposite view and visit a Native American museum.  Very few of these cultures had written traditions; everything was passed down by speaking in communion.  It's still the most intimate form of communication you can have with someone, and we practice it all the time.  When your great-grandparents start losing their minds, visit them often.  They'll tell you the same story over and over again because that's what they're ailing brain has managed to retain; show them the same courtesy and tell them about your craziest day-in-the-life over and over.  This is practice for when you're the one with the wrinkles and gray hair.

So do I think the Internet is going to replace the news paper or the television?  Well, we'll get into broadcasting some other time, but basically, radio and then television were the evolution of the telegraph and telephone.  It was a distribution method, much like this library is or the book shop down the road.  These distributors stayed put; but in the last century, first radio and then television went everywhere

This is precisely how purely American music reach the world.  Prior to radio, the American music tradition was very much a verbal and written one.  Appalachian settlers developed their own unique style of play that blended music from multiple European cultures, and was passed on from father to son simply because the child cannot help but experience joy when seeing their parent create something so wonderful.  There's a reason folk music often tells stories, you see.  But when radio came about, the underground music of America at the time, first ragtime, then jazz, finally brough forth the African influences on our continent.  Funny how all those white kids in the Roaring Twenties had black jazz and blues cats to thanks for bringing them to swing.  And with the advent of television in the fifties, it didn't take long for Elvis to rock America's world.

Now to the present day...and MTV sucks.  Compeltely.  It's no longer saying anything.  Cable TV is alot like this as well when it comes to the news.  Political news, music news, sports news, spiritual news.  And because they are the dominant medium, the printed word follows suit.  The only good stuff is on PBS if you ask me.  But where's the public printing house?

I'll finally get to the point: it's right here in front of me and right there in front of you.  The Internet is the last step.  We don't need a book bindery anymore, or an FCC granted broadcast frequency.  We have the "Publish Post" button.  And where the library and television set were once the most important forms of distribution, the home computer has replaced it.  And even that is going the way of the dodo as we incorporate our mobile lifestyle into publishing from our laptops, or sending Tweets from our cell phones.  In that respect, I believe Steve Jobs when he claims the iPad could be big, really big.  It seems like the next logical step.

But there is one missing link.  There has to be a way to find what your looking for in this muck.  Since anyone and everyone can publish, you can guarantee that the anyone and everyone will publish crap.  Even the best writers will look back on their old work and cringe.  But then, even the worst ones sometimes post something short and sweet that goes viral, and they've got their fifteen minutes in the public conscience.  So how do find it?

The missing link is the link.  And I was overjoyed yesterday when creating this thing most not after writing it, but when I copied what was already published from another blog and pasted it here.  Then I went back to the original, and linked the two together.  Now, that site and this one are forever interconnected.  You can get there from here.  And vice-versa.

Today, I'm happier still.  You can now find "Soundpolitic" on the Blogroll at The Albany Project.  This was the first blog I really worked hard at for a solid year, left for a year, and then was inspired to return to blogging and linking and writing and talking to people to begin with.  I can't thank the TAP staff enough.  Three cheers to Mrs. Robert Harding and Phillip Anderson for creating the place and allowing me and many others like and un-like me do the same.

Hip-hip, huzzah!  Hip-hip, huzzah!  Hip-hip, huzzah!

That's all for today.  I'm off to a kind of writing/music workshop just below the escarpment of the Helderberg mountains, and it's going to be slippery driving.  Drive safe out there yourself, and keep up the good work!  Remember:

We're all connected in sound and politics.