Wednesday, April 30, 2008

NewPlasticWeblog is moving!

More accurate title:

"NewPlasticWeblog is dying."

Remember about two years ago when I posted a young, fresh-faced, optimistic explanation about the importance and excitement of my work with Hotel Workers Rising? Yeah, the average hotel housekeeper is still making $8.37/hr with no benefits. Still a lot of rising to do.

So I'm still too busy to do this at work, and too tired to do this at home.

BUT: check it -- we're moving everything under one roof., newplasticmusic (soon to be renamed and augmented with the first E.P. by my one man band), Natoma Studio (our DIY projects and other weirdness), and a brand new politics/culture feature called "Class Enemies."

This will happen.

Walking is still honest.
Human psychology is based on projection.

back in a month or two

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

Actually, this is easier than I thought it would be. There are some albums (and a few songs) that it feels like I heard before I heard anything else, if that makes sense. I know I listened to this record on vinyl, which was also how I learned to play records on a turntable. So, unlike the White Album, which I got when I was about 12, or Beatles for Sale, which I didn't even buy until high school, I have trouble putting Sgt. Pepper into context. I don't think I understood the difference between pop music and other kinds of music when I first began listening to this record. Actually, music wasn't even a very big part of my life when I played Sgt Pepper for the first time, so it took me a very long time to even think of "Fixing a Hole" and "Lovely Rita" as songs instead of, I guess, toys? Novelties? Fictional characters?

Anyway, sometimes I wish I had actually heard this record from the standpoint of a music fan, instead of returning to it as one. That's why I thought it would be difficult to evaluate -- who wants to refer to their beloved stuffed bear as "overrated?" Can your first pair of rollerblades, which skated you right to second base, ever be "underrated?"

But it turns out that there's no limit to the callous, clinical disinterest of a Beatles snob. See below:

Most overrated: "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." John Lennon was a master of using unusual juxtapositions to bring tension and truth to his songs. But I think sometimes (or, often), he just pasted two song ideas together and hoped they would both prove likeable. Now, the production and the performances are flawless...but is this song really profound? It's meaningless and fun to sing, which means it belongs with "Yellow Submarine" and "Everybody's Got Something to Hide..." in the category of great Beatles road-trip singalongs. It's has the feel of "I'm Only Sleeping" without any of the depth, and the wonderful imagery of "I Am the Walrus" without any of the bitter pathos. Maybe this comes from familiarity, but I don't really need to listen to this song, I just need to remember it. Kind of like early Pink Floyd. Great to know, but how badly do you need to hear it?

Most underrated: Everything on Sgt. Pepper is probably overrated in some sense, just by inclusion on what can only ever be an overrated album. (Quick rule-of-thumb: If your choppy, haphazard concept album with a bunch of great songs becomes a signpost for an entire revolution of thought and behavior, it's probably overrated...Nevermind, 36 Chambers, etc.). But "Getting Better" is really a masterpiece that feels like a throwaway, so it gets underrated as filler between the grand drug statements, the concept pieces, and the groundbreaking experimental pop. "Getting Better" falls right in with the sonically and structurally perfect singles of the same era -- "Penny Lane," "Hello Goodbye," "Paperback Writer" -- in that it builds remarkable rhythmic and harmonic textures for a fairly straightforward song structure, and lyrically it's more than it seems in the best way. Drones, Motown bounce, sparkling clusters of notes, deceptively difficult lead and background syncopations (try playing it on piano to see what I mean), and all with that exuberant Beatles feel that gets a little hard to find the deeper you get into the album.

Monday, December 03, 2007

spent all day at the holdiay inn trying to get out of bed

I'm back from Las Vegas, after a pretty darn successful campaign. Sorry for the lack of updates, but there wasn't a lot to tell:

It was hot.

Las Vegas is not a good place to go if you like to eat a lot (or any) fresh produce.

It's possible, and actually somewhat reassuring, to plan your day around the Scrubs rerun schedule.

And last but not least...
If someone who, with appropriate respect to all professions, is very obviously a male prostitute knocks on your window and asks for Derek, explain that you are not Derek in such a way that he will not return the following evening and ask for Derek.

That's it. Oh, see the Walkmen, Joe Henry, and The Hold Steady if they're coming through your town. Three shows I attended recently which were excellent.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

almost done with this the Episcopal House of Bishop's half-a-loaf response to the Anglican Communion ultimatum. I understand where the HOB is coming from, and it's probably true that no other path was possible from their perspective. But still, if the Rabbinical Assembly can manage to leave it up to the congregation without quite so much pandering to the bigots in their midst, surely the Episcopal Church can do the same.

Jeffords Schori had this to say:
"Not everyone is 100 percent happy with every word in this document, but we believe we have found a place that all of us can stand together -- at the foot of the cross."

In her defense, that is a good place to be if you owe Jesus an apology.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Retract, dude! Retract.

Guess I underestimated the Episcopal House of Bishops when I wrote about this last time. I was (justifiably, I think) disappointed with Bishop Kathleen Jefferts Schori for her statements recommending that Episcopalians acquiesce to the ultimatum set by the Anglican Communion (in brief: if you don't stop ordaining gay priests and performing gay marriages by September 30th, 2007, you can't fully participate in the Church). In reading my post again, the condemnations of Bishop Schori seem a little harsh. I reread her statement and I understand why she gave it, since the decision regarding a response to the Anglican primates isn't entirely hers, and she was trying to reconcile all kinds of factions in her church.

But still: what you want from a progressive leader at a moment like that is affirmation, not equivocation. i.e. "Gay and lesbian Christians are welcome in our church, and that's our interpretation of Jesus's teachings. We will do everything we can to make sure they remain welcome, and though we recognize this constitutes a minority opinion amongst the Anglican Communion, we will try to persuade the primates that we can preserve the integrity of the church without taking the drastic measures they've suggested." Bam, simple as that.

Regardless, the good news is that it looks like the Episcopal House of Bishops is not going to respond to the primates' request, even following the House of Bishops' September 20th meeting in New Orleans. It would be nice for the HoB meeting to produce a statement asserting the rights of Episcopal parishes to ordain gay priests and marry gay couples, but the truth is that the existence of those rights is more important than asserting them. If declining to respond allows the Episcopal church to continue its work and remain within the Anglican Communion (at least until the next ultimatum), then that's probably better for all concerned -- especially if, as one would hope, avoiding a schism would bring the Anglican Communion as a whole closer to tolerating gay congregants.

Anyway. Episcopal House of Bishops: more badass than I thought.

(title ref)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

...ain't no place for a poor boy like me

I'm in sunny, shiny, happy, plastic, recirculated, overblown, incomprehensible, unsustainable Las Vegas working on the hotel/casino contract fights here. Lucky for me, I love my job and any place is a good place to beat up on big companies.

But man. The food situation is a mess, and every day I feel socially irresponsible just by waking up.

I miss my home.

Blogging (as you've probably already seen) suspended till I get back.

(title help)

Monday, July 30, 2007

labor & boycotting Israel

Following efforts by British unions to boycott Israeli goods and imports, the Jewish newspaper Forward ran an editorial about the U.S. labor movement 's "angry rise in defense of the Jewish state."

I'm kind of conflicted here. Not because I support the boycott -- the ubiquitous amnesiac comparisons to South African anti-apartheid boycotts drive me crazy, and the strategy is flawed if not outright inhumane. No, I'm conflicted because on one hand, the editorial reminds readers (both Jewish and not) of how crucial a role Jews play in the labor movement, and how crucial a role unions play in creating the just and decent society envisioned in the Torah. On the other hand, the piece slides a little too effortlessly between generalizations about supporting Israel and generalizations about what constitute progressive values.

Here's what I liked about it:

It points out that left-wing doesn't necessarily mean anti-Israel, and that there's no reason for people who support Israeli sovereignty to make that assumption in dealing with the American left. These distinctions need to be made more often, because the kind of moral absolutism that informs leftist ideology encourages them (us?) to assume a consensus about who is and is not an "oppressor" or a "victim." I've certainly encountered the expectation that people in the labor movement should "support Palestine" and be angry at some amorphous combination of Zionism and Israel (it's never quite clear which). And I can't blame them for assuming we all agree on the Middle East, since most of the coalitions on the left rely on the same kinds of pre-established consensus: HMOs are bad, the Iraq war is a bloody, greedy mistake, corporations are anti-union, rich neighborhoods hate homeless people, etc. By the way, "supporting Palestine" among leftists usually means "opposing Israel," and, I'm equally disappointed to say, vice versa. So it's good to have the balancing viewpoint highlighted by the Forward, though the labor movement remains divided on this issue. Or, divided to the extent that anyone considers it during the normal course of his/her campaign work, which, I have to say, I hope for the sake of the near-50 million people living without health insurance is an extremely rare occurrence.

I loved the description of Jews in the labor movement, harkening back to the early days of the the
Forward and recalling just how many Jews lead America's unions. It's a good reminder that Jews in America are not uniformly wealthy, well-educated bankers, jewelers, economists, and professors -- we also "work for a living" and try to help others do the same. And obviously, it's rare for a major newspaper to refer to unions as "the single largest force for social justice and progressive values within American society." So that was nice to read.

Now what I didn't like so much:

Though the article stayed fairly clear of ideological issues in the Middle East conflict, it did present to the reader an subconscious (yet perhaps deliberate) conclusion, using a twist on the transitive property. If American labor is "pro-Israel," and American labor holds a truly progressive worldview, then true progressives should support Israel. After all, unions are the single largest force for social justice and progressive values in American society. If those progressive folks support Israel, you should too. Maybe that's a stretch, maybe not, but the editorial's narrative leads in that direction, and as I read it I wondered which of the articles subsidiary conclusions the Forward cares about the most, and what their aim was in writing an editorial that attempts to connect/unify pro-Israel and pro-union sentiments.

Personally, I don't believe that a truly progressive worldview -- one focused on the preservation of human rights, equality of opportunity, and a fair distribution of wealth throughout society -- would ever produce a pro/anti-type judgment on Middle East politics. In fact, the parts of the Jewish Labor Committee letter that appealed most to me were the paragraphs explaining why this kind of boycott doesn't work, and why the more humanitarian and rational course is to pro-actively support those organizations and leaders in both societies that are working towards peace and solidarity. Given the political volatility and addiction to violence that characterize discourse and action in the region, I'm increasingly of the opinion that a surge of progressive activity in the labor/social movements of both Israel and Palestine will be necessary to achieve any sustainable, enduring peace. And I wish the Forward had highlighted that aspect of the JLC statement a little more. As it was, the editorial kind of claimed the American labor movement for the pro-Israelites, which was neither accurate (I know 'cause I work in it), true to the JLC statement itself, or productive to the Jewish community's understanding of unions.

As for the deep connection between Jews and the labor movement, it always gratifies me to see that history preserved and (when appropriate) exalted. But, as the editorial rightly observes, that connection has frayed and somewhat disappeared over time. Now, I'm no expert on how the Jewish community makes decisions, or why it has evolved in the ways it has. I don't know enough Jewish history or have enough experience dealing with the most powerful Jewish institutions. But it doesn't seem to me that perceiving anti-Israel sentiment amongst unions would really explain why most Jews -- along with most Americans -- have little use for the labor movement.

The real reason is that most American Jews have embraced the American versions of capitalism, government, international trade, immigration, and neo-liberal economics. Our community has done well through those means, and with the exception of that progressive Jewish minority, we haven't done much to challenge them. So I'm very glad to see the
Forward arguing that "guaranteeing general welfare" and "dispensing equal justice" are/should be core Jewish values and points of connection with the labor movement, but most synagogues shrink from active political participation in the community, let alone the kind of courageously progressive stands that we need and expect from progressive organizations. Of course, the same could be said for the moribund sections of the labor movement. But it's worth pointing out that American unions haven't just "declined" due to their own inaction or obsolescence. They've been abandoned by the American people, Jews included.