Archive for July, 2011

Political Racism

Posted by on Friday, 29 July, 2011

I occasionally hear the accusation that conservatives and/or Republicans (if one wants to make the distinction) want to see President Obama fail because “He’s Black,” and that Republicans, especially “the Tea Party”, are nothing but racists.

Now, while I am sure that many conservatives do happen to be racist (the “birther movement” comes to mind), but that is hardly a defining characteristic of the whole. Here is what I think happened: Obama’s election was an enormous symbolic victory. Many people probably voted for him specifically because he is Black; I would not be surprised if many people voted for the first and only time in their lives simply because he is Black. Even people who supported his policies, or those would have automatically voted for the Democratic candidate regardless, no doubt felt a little extra proud about their choice. Like Jackie Robinson, who was not necessarily the greatest baseball player even in his own time, the fact that Obama was the first Black president will most likely be historically more significant than anything else he does as president. I also think that many people were fully expecting the same sort of backlash against Obama that Jackie Robinson faced.

Therefore, if one believes either openly or subconsciously that the most important thing about Obama is that he is Black, then obviously an attack of any kind must be for that reason. Yet I think you have to objectively ask: exactly who is the racist in that scenario?

The last Democratic president prior to Obama was Clinton, whom the Republicans tried to run out of office. Yet Clinton was (that particular issue aside) in many areas more conservative than Obama. The Democrat before that was Carter, whom I have frequently heard refered to by conservatives as “The Useless One” or something similar. However, both Carter and Clinton were white, Southern Baptists, so the objection to them was obviously not fueled by racism. It turns out that Republicans just really dislike liberals.

In fact, returning to the “birther” idea, while that particular accusation would never have worked against a white president, I suspect that at least some people supported it simply as any excuse to get rid of a liberal president. I believe that most intelligent, respected conservatives tried to distance themselves from the idea as an embarrassing distraction from the real issues. One might even argue that the liberally biased media gave the issue more attention than it deserved for exactly the same reason.

Republicans do not want to see Obama fail. Even conservatives who may or may not have respect for the man or his policies can still be proud at least that the racial barrier to the presidency has been broken. I have never heard this point argued before, but to me it seems that the fact that right now, in America as it is today, a Black man born in obscurity is capable of rising to the highest office in the land is actually more in line with conservative ideology than liberal. (Though I admit that it is entirely possible that I am missing part of the story there.)

Republicans want Obama to succeed. The catch is that they will judge Obama’s success or failure based upon how well he conforms to conservative policies and principles. Under such criteria, he is most certain to fail.

Casual Racism

Posted by on Thursday, 21 July, 2011

A year or so ago I was at one of those “pieces of flair” restaurant/bar places with a small group of people. At some point, the other members of the party had wandered away from the table for whatever reason, leaving me alone with a guy that I hardly knew. He proceeded to solicit my opinion on every woman in that establishment, which is not a game with which I am particularly comfortable.

Quickly tiring of my noncommittal answers, he began a more direct line of questioning to determine my “type”. At some point in this line of inquiry, he asked my opinion of Black girls, and being annoyed at every aspect of the conversation thus far, I exasperatedly replied, “I’ve never met a Black girl that I wanted to date.”

Now that is the kind of statement that you really wish you had not said the very instant it leaves your mouth. My companion was momentarily shocked, but undeterred, he began to name some African American celebrities and do I not find them attractive? Sure, whatever.

As if it was not obvious enough before, we were at this point clearly not on the same page. For I specifically said “date”, while he was (at least for the purpose of this exercise) not remotely interested in dating.

Regardless, that statement of mine has been troubling me ever since. The most obvious defense is that it was merely a statement of fact, in the same sense that “I have never been to Brazil” is a statement of fact. Or perhaps a better analogy in this case would be, “I have never wanted to go to Brazil.” What do I have against Brazil? Absolutely nothing. It is not that I refuse to go to Brazil. It is simply that, although technically I could get on a plane at any time, at no point in my life thus far has “Go to Brazil” seemed like the thing to do at that moment. If the opportunity should arise that I had a compelling reason to go, then I probably would. But as it stands, there are a lot of places to which I have never been, and that is merely one of them.

I am not opposed to the idea of dating a Black woman. I have met some wonderful ones that I have gotten along well with over the years, it just so happens that I have thus far not have felt that sort of chemistry with any of them. I almost feel like I should now go out and date a Black woman just to prove that I am not racist, although realistically, I fail to see how that is in anyone’s best interest. If we are really going for brutally honest T.M.I. here, I actually have a preference for Asians, yet I have never dated one of them either. The truth is, it has been years since I have met anyone at all that I have wanted to date, although that is a rather separate issue.

Maybe I would have let this whole thing pass, but some time later, a coworker was telling me about a time that he went to a strip club, and that a Black stripper was wanting to give him a lap-dance, but he had never been attracted to Black girls. This conversation also was rather outside my comfort zone, yet I felt a certain guilty relief in being able to agree with him on this point.

More recently still, I found two videos online (independent of each other, and I do not recall now how I came across either one.) The first is from a comedy series. The second is heartbreaking. So I see that this is much more than one poorly phrased, frustrated comment. This is a deep cultural problem.

Not Alone in the Dark

Posted by on Thursday, 14 July, 2011

Last night I think that I dreamt that someone was in my house with malicious intent. I woke from that dream into another dream. “Home” in my dreams is almost always the house in which I grew up. (It is so uncommon that I dream of the current house, in which I have lived (off and on) for eight or nine years now, that when it does happen I always wake up surprised. This was not one of those times.) The house was built sometime in the 1890s… and I have always been a little confused when people mention “old houses” when referring to houses built only thirty years ago. Californians.

Anyway, I awoke in my old house, in my childhood room, though I was now the only one who lived there. And from the dream I was filled with dread and convinced that I was not alone in the house. From my gabled bedroom, I could step out of my window onto another part of the roof, and I proceeded to do so. Growing up, the lot next door was an orange grove until sometime in high school when they cut down the trees and relocated another old (Victorian old, I mean) house there from another part of town. However, in my dream, I saw that for some reason that house was now gone again, leaving only a dirt lot next door. I made my way to the back of the house, where the previous owner had inexpertly enclosed a porch into a flat-roofed room that did not match the style of the rest of the house. On this flat portion of roof, I discovered five teenagers just sitting around and drinking. Not sure how to handle the situation, I looked straight at one Macaulay Culkin-ish looking guy whom I took to be their leader and yelled, “Get out of here!” in my best threatening voice. It worked, and the kids scattered. I began to check the rest of the house for further intrusions.

The architecture and history that I have mentioned up until this point was surprisingly accurate, and not the product of dream logic, with two exceptions: the relocated orange-grove house is still very much present (as far as I know), and the major remodel that my parents did to the back end of the house shortly before leaving the country was apparently non-canon in my dream.

At this point I think that I awoke briefly and returned to sleep. I was still in my house, and still looking for intruders, only now my house was a five-story mansion, yet I still lived in it alone. From somewhere in the house, I heard a female voice ask her companion, “Did you hear someone?” Apparently a couple of teenagers has sneaked into my mansion for an illicit rendezvous.

In the center of the house was a grand sweeping stairway that spiraled up all five stories with a wide opening in the middle. Not having the patience for five flights of stairs, and being a former circus performer, I opted instead to climb up an ornately carved wooden pole that formed one of the supports for the staircase. At this point, there were two girls with me. I do not know why, or even who, as they had not been present prior to now, and not wishing to climb in the manner that I had chosen, they were not around subsequently. I only mention them for completeness in case someone is doing in depth dream analysis on me.

At the very top of the house was a doorway that opened into a very small room – walk in closet sized actually –  with another door slightly ajar on the opposite wall. I knew that this was wrong… it felt like the set up to a horror movie. Rather than entering the room, I gripped the door frame on either side of me and kicked the opposite door open. I do not pretend to understand the physics here, but it was not a door at all, it was a mirror reflecting a door that I could not see. It was a trap. When I kicked it, it began to turn until it revealed a wooden cabinet with seven doors. I knew that the door behind me was supposed to have closed and locked me in, yet my hands on the door frame had prevented it. I also knew that whatever was behind those seven doors was NOT going to be pleasant. But I was having none of that, and I promptly woke myself up.

That was strange in itself, because I do not normally have the ability to consciously pull myself out of a dream like that. Now I was in my real house, in real life, in the dark. But was I alone? I recalled that there is a series of video games and/or movies called Alone in the Dark. Yet I could not help thinking that there is nothing scary about being alone in the dark… it is NOT being alone when you thought that you were, or that you ought to be, that is truly terrifying.

So was there someone in the house? Was my subconscious trying to tell me something? For is that not what dreams are, just your subconscious bringing up things that your conscious mind overlooked? That is what I get for sleeping with the windows open. Anyone could wander in, and it seems unlikely that it would be harmless teens merely looking for some fun.

There was no one else in the house. Unless maybe… I am still dreaming even now.

The Hills Are Alive(ish)

Posted by on Friday, 8 July, 2011

I usually feel guilty every time that I write a post about music, because I imagine that it is not why folks come here. “Ugh. Another post about guitars? I’m not reading that.” Yet today I am of the mood that they should be happy that I am posting anything at all, jerks! (timoth is good with the people.)

I have been having some internet difficulties again lately, which naturally means picking up the guitar a little more often. These days I have been focusing more on instrumentals, because a while ago I had an idea for a Purple Robe project that would consist of a series of short (one to two minutes) guitar instrumentals in wildly different styles to try to create different moods. Why? I do not know… is there a good reason “why” behind anything the Purple Robe has ever done? Basically just to see if I can, I guess.

To give you an idea of what I mean, I came up with one piece that I think is kind of “piratey”, and another that, though I am not really sure how to describe the style, sort of reminds me of a summer breeze. There is also a “Chinese” flavored one that has been kicking around for a couple of years, and a couple of other snippets as well. None of these are anything close to full songs of course. And just because *I* think that they sound like a particular genre that I know nothing about, does not make it so.

I am not sure why I even bother to mention this, because I think we all know that I am never actually going to finish it. In fact, with my tendency toward total secrecy when working on a project, merely bringing it up pretty much guarantees that I will not finish it. Why all this mucking about in genres of which I know nothing anyway? You know who does that? People far more talented than I, and it still results in the poopiest music of their careers.

Then I somehow got to thinking that one problem with my body of songs is that none of them have a really “killer riff”. I do not like to think of my self as merely a “chord strummer”, in the sense that you often see someone in at a coffee house, open mic or church simply strumming basic open chords as accompaniment for the vocal. (Although some of my songs actually are exactly that.) Still, for whatever reason, I do not really like to move my fretting hand a lot when playing guitar, so my style does boil down to mostly picking or strumming chords, even if it is not the most common or obvious form for a given chord.

Technically speaking, a “riff” is any repeated musical passage, so even a simple chord progression qualifies. But what we are talking about here are KILLER riffs. I am thinking of “Rebel Rebel”, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “Iron Man”, “Oh Pretty Woman”, “Boys Don’t Cry”… I could go on and on, but hopefully for at least one of those songs, the mere mention of it created a distinct musical passage in your mind. A killer riff gives a song identity*.

A killer riff should be short, often only one or two bars, although it can be longer as even some of my examples above are. It should contain notes of a scale and not just a chord. (Until very recently I thought that a scale and a key were basically the same thing, and even now knowing that they are not, I am still a little fuzzy on the distinction and the purpose of each, but even so.) A riff is different from a melody, although they can be melodic. It should be a “hook” rather than repeating through most of the song, which I think makes it more of a “rhythm” than a “riff”, though that is a somewhat ambiguous and possibly artificial distinction.

So what to do I have? “Wasting” has a neat little guitar thing, although it is really just two alternating chords with a little flourish in the middle. “Art of Letting Go” has a riff that I feel gives the song identity, but it does not have notes that you could hum or scat sing or whatever like the above examples. “SoPoard” has a nice repeating phrase, although it is quite long and slow. I think my riffiest of riffs is from a song called “The Wait” which no one has ever heard. [I should totally finish that one, you would like it I think. Well, maybe not if you have not liked any of the other ones. Nevermind.] Yet even that one underlies most of the song, which was against one of my conditions.

So, it is as I said: no killer riffs.



*The leader of a band that I used to be in was always talking about giving songs “identity”, by which he usually meant taking a perfectly good groove and changing it around so that it messed with people’s expectations (including the rest of the band) and quite frankly, now sucked. That is not what I mean here.