There are more than a few people I know, particularly among Libertarians and libertarians (the former being the political party, the latter being the philosophy and its adherents; there actually is a difference), who are quite thrilled about the problem and scandal-riddled week the Obama administration has had recently. Between increased allegations of misconduct in the Benghazi attack, the IRS improperly (and perhaps illegally) investigating conservative groups, and the Justice Department seizing Associated Press phone records, this hasn’t been an easy one for the administration. Being overturned for the second time by an appeals court on recess appointments did nothing to improve the week from a governmental standpoint. Even Slate.com and The Daily Show, hardly a pair of right-wing nutjob pandering organizations, are piling on. So why am I not dancing in the streets with everyone else?
In short: been there, done that.
I’ve seen too many examples of “big government chicanery exposed” to start celebrating, certainly just yet. While I am a little too young to remember Watergate (I was born about a month before Nixon left office), there have been plenty of scandals, real and manufactured, since then. Abuse of power is practically endemic to government, and the worst abuse tends to happen in the hands of those who believe they are doing it for the right reasons. It’s always easiest to justify doing the bad things when you have good reasons.
As examples, I offer “Scooter” Libby and the Valerie Plame affair, Lawyergate and the Bush White House email controversy, the Ambramoff scandal, the NSA warrantless wiretapping scandal… and those were just during the younger Bush administration. There’s also the entire Monica Lewinsky affair (excuse the pun), the Whitewater controversy (including Travelgate, Filegate, and Vince Foster), and the Iran-Contra affair.
If you look at these different scandals across decades and administrations, there’s a striking pattern of similarities. First, in almost every case those who perpetrated the misconduct believed they were doing the right thing at the time (and may even try to defend their actions today if cornered on the subject). Second, the abuses are almost exclusively a matter of using government power to benefit one’s friends or hurt one’s enemies; it’s never a value-neutral thing that one can look at and honestly say “well they were definitely doing what was best for the country, even if I might happen to disagree.” And third, each abuse expands the reach of government; there’s nothing here that says “I have too much power, I better find a way to restrict how I or other manage to use it”, except perhaps in the most backhanded, Orwellian sort of way.
Oh, and in case you didn’t notice: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The abuse of power stretches across five administrations (If you include Reagan in Iran-Contra, which you should) and almost three decades. And I didn’t even bother to include Watergate or any other scandals from administrations back before Reagan (or most of Reagan’s scandals), because I wanted to keep it to stuff I actually remember. Let’s face it; I have more than enough ammunition to condemn both sides.
The problem, as I may have mentioned before, lies not in our politicians but in ourselves. The disconnect between what we are promised and what we receive is based on two things. First, there is the cognitive disconnect that people want the government to provide for them BUT also expect the government to leave them alone. The second is what I refer to as “My Guy Syndrome”: it must be okay as long as “my guy” is doing it. A couple prime examples of this would be the Medicare Modernization Act, the largest expansion of Medicare to that point in the programs history… passed in 2003 by Republicans, and the denial of basic Constitutional rights to a terrorism suspect… in 2013, by a Democrat. Things like this would be unconscionable if the other side did it, but since it was being done by “My Guy”, their respective mouthpieces (particularly within the government, but also in the media) tend to spin and do damage control, and the people who vote for them find ways to justify it in their own minds: “well, sometimes you have to do the politically expedient thing… you gotta break a few eggs… you have to compromise…”
And it is that exact sort of thinking that is likely to prevail in the end, despite the latest string of scandals, unless we change our culture. I don’t mean to suggest that no heads will roll; there may be a token sacrifice, and it may even be enough to get a Republican elected in the next election cycle (for all the good that will do). But until we stop allowing “the politically expedient thing” to happen, until we start holding every politician accountable, and most importantly, until we as a society acknowledge that even if Lord Acton was wrong and absolute power does not in fact corrupt absolutely, that sometimes it’s not a question of corruption but simple out of control idealism that’s the problem, it will never be a good week for liberty.
There are some albums that for me not only define a point in my life but also define the artist or artists who made them. While there may be other albums I love by that artist, that specific album will always be the one I point to when I say “This is what they sound like.” Here are a few of those albums.
Queen – A Kind of Magic: It almost seems offensive to pick just one album to “define” Queen. Freddy Mercury was truly mercurial, reinventing himself (quite successfully) almost on a whim. And yet the powerful, soulful, and almost operatic performances that he and the rest of the band brought to rock and roll are undeniable, and the entire range and depth of their considerable ability is on display in this one compact album. Granted, I have a special love for it in that it encompasses not only the soundtrack for one of the greatest movies of all time (seriously, I once wrote a class paper on just one scene from this film), but also includes the themes song from one of the other greatest movies of all time. All that having been said though, this is still an amazing work of art on its own. To truly appreciate the range and scope of this album, check out “One Vision”, “A Kind of Magic”, “Who Wants to Live Forever” (one of the most beautiful and poignant songs I have ever heard), “Gimme the Prize (Kurgan’s Theme)”, and “Princes of the Universe”. You won’t be disappointed.
Genesis – Invisible Touch: The first Genesis album I remember being old enough to really appreciate, this one absolutely floored me. From the first time I heard “Land of Confusion” I was hooked. Granted the video was pretty cool, but that was just a bonus. When I listened to the entire album I became obsessed. I would literally spend hours listening to it (no, it wasn’t healthy, but this isn’t about me, this is about Phil Collins… and my obsession with him… shut up.) Three amazing musicians explored all kinds of new territory, including a practically unheard of (at the time) nearly 11 min. long song, as well as a nearly five minute long instrumental piece that is absolutely amazing. The best songs on the album for my money are “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”, “Land of Confusion”, “In Too Deep”, “Domino” (the aforementioned 11 min. song, so brace yourself), “Throwing It All Away”, and “The Brazilian” (the instrumental piece). Give it a try; it’s a lot more than just a pop rock fixture.
Jimmy Buffett – Last Mango in Paris: I first got exposed to Jimmy Buffett the same way lots of fans did: someone I knew (in my case my Dad) owned a copy of Songs You Know by Heart, and I listened to it incessantly. Eventually after several years I decided to take a risk and venture out into, you know, actual albums (instead of just the “greatest hits”) and this was one of the first I stumbled across. Johnny Loftus of allmusic nailed it for me when he wrote that “Last Mango in Paris’ host of high points make it essential for anyone enamored of Buffett’s live shows, or even the casual fan looking to expand beyond Songs You Know by Heart.” While the songs all had the same wry wit and fun I had come to expect from Jimmy Buffett, there was also something fresh and unexpected in some of them. In particular I recommend “Please Bypass This Heart” and “If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me” for the sound and texture of them, “Gypsies in the Palace” and “Jolly Mon Sing” for the storytelling, and “Desperation Samba (Halloween in Tijuana)” just because it’s a fun, different sound from this versatile artist.
Billy Joel – Piano Man: As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been a lifelong Billy Joel fan, and it started with Glass Houses. The defining album for me when I think of Mr. Joel’s work however (I’m sorry, I just can’t call him Billy, it just feels too informal; we’ve never even been introduced) is Piano Man. It’s more than the storytelling that is evident not only here but throughout his career, and it’s not just the title track that (admittedly) had such a strong influence on my perception of him for decades to come. There’s a passion and theatricality to the songs on this album, as well as a certain gritty realism, that defies simple classification as “pop music” or “soft rock”. The soaring vocals are matched by Mr. Joel’s earnest and full-bodied compositions. The stand-out tracks on this album are “Piano Man” (obviously), “You’re My Home”, “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” (which I always silently dedicate to my family in Long Island), “Somewhere Along the Line”, and “Captain Jack”.
Oh, and Mr. Joel, feel free to call me Bobby.Related Posts:
One of my favorite conversation starters has always been to ask people what they would do if they were filthy rich, but excluding the boring stuff. Everybody says buy houses, cars, take care of family, whatever. I want to know about the crazy stuff people would do. What are the really wild, silly, or just plain idiotic things you would do if you had more money than sense?
Here’s my list.
First, I would have a mascot of myself designed. You know, the kind with the really big heads that they have at sporting events. It would look just like me, only bigger. Then I would pay someone to wear it and follow me around all day, trying to get people to cheer me on as I went about my daily routine. I might even hire a marching band to follow me around as well.
Does anyone else remember this commercial? I would do this. I would go to the nicest restaurant in Washington D.C. and I would totally do this. I would also treat the entire orchestra to dinner, because I’m that kind of guy.
I’d get a t-shirt cannon and launch t-shirts through the window of every Keynesian economist’s office that said “Sorry about breaking your window, but at least I’m stimulating the economy”.
I would have my own musical soundtrack, and it would be played by the group that would follow me everywhere. This group would, of course, be composed entirely of little people. Don’t ask me why.
I would offer to donate $1 to any politician’s re-election campaign for every foot of the highest skydive they do out of a moving airplane. There’s just one catch: their parachute would have to be packed by the poorest person they represent. Never let it be said I don’t have a sense of social justice.
I would donate $1,000,000 to the first Ivy League university that conferred an honorary doctorate on me. I’ve always wanted to be Doctor Bob. I’ve always wanted to bring down the tenor of the Ivy League even more.
I’d donate $5,000,000 to Oral Roberts University if they bestowed an honorary degree of divinity on me so I could be Reverend Bob. I would then turn around and donate $10,000,000 to the Anti-Defamation League and GLAD. Never let it be said I don’t have a vicious sense of humor.
Of course, the one I’m most famous for among friends and coworkers is Butter Bob.
Imagine, if you will, a statue of me (to help I’m about 5’9”, average middle aged Caucasian male) that’s 50 feet tall. Only this statue is carved entirely out of butter.
That’s Butter Bob.
My Not So Humble Wife wanted to be a part of it as well, so I decided she could have a macaroni statue that’s 49 ½ feet tall standing right next to mine, and we’ll have a statue of our dog carved out of Kraft powdered cheese mix next to it and a swimming pool of chilled milk next to that, so when Butter Bob inevitably melts and falls over it will create a grand cascade of mac and cheese goodness.
If anyone has their own fun ideas, please share!
Some guys will say that “I love you” are the hardest words in the English language to string together, but “I was wrong” are even harder, for both men and women. If you don’t believe me, make a mistake about something, anything, but make sure to do it in front of at least one person. It’s even more difficult when we have to challenge our own sacred cows, our most cherished ideas and beliefs.
Once we’ve staked out a position on just about anything re-evaluating it, even in the light of new facts, can be hard. It’s not just a matter of admitting error; most of us are personally invested in our opinions and beliefs, and we have defended them in arguments, sometimes passionately, and to go back and admit that each one of those passionate defenses was wrong can feel shameful. The desire to double-down and discount any contradictory information can be alluring (what psychologists refer to as “confirmation bias”), and the more invested we are in our own position the more likely we are to fall prey to it.
I understand this tendency as well as anyone. Back in late 2002 and early 2003 I truly believed that invading Iraq was the right course of action and would end in a quick victory for the U.S. and its allies. I believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; I believed that we were doing the right thing for the citizens of Iraq and for our allies; I believed that we would have a quick and relatively easy victory; and I believed that the benefits would vastly outweigh the costs. I was wrong.
When No Child Left Behind was first passed, I believed it was good legislation. I believed we needed some kind of accountability in schools, some way to measure when children were actually learning and to end “social promotion” so as to stop graduating kids who couldn’t read or do math. I believed this new system would fix the problems we had; instead it just created new ones. It endowed us with perverse incentives ranging from “teaching to the test” to cheating for cash and prizes. And kids still aren’t learning. I was wrong.
When I was barely a teenager, 13 or 14 years old, I was honestly a little homophobic. I was very uncomfortable around homosexuals or even the idea of homosexuality. I don’t know why; maybe because I was just starting to understand my own sexuality and everything was awkward, and I had to reject everything that I couldn’t understand. Maybe I thought there was something wrong with them. Maybe I thought they were “coming to get me”. I honestly have no idea. I was wrong.
It’s hard to admit that you’re wrong. It’s hard to admit that what you truly, deeply, firmly believed was absolute, unvarnished truth at one point in time simply isn’t. I think that’s because nobody holds these ideas and takes these positions planning to be wrong; we honestly believed we were right at the time, whether it’s because we didn’t have sufficient information, or because we were misled, or simply because we were endowed with certain prejudices, or maybe just because it seemed like a good idea at the time but since then it’s proven not to be.
There’s nothing wrong with being wrong. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t make you evil. What’s bad and wrong and makes you a bad person is when you’re wrong, demonstrably wrong, and you refuse to acknowledge it, own up to it, and change. Unfortunately more and more often what we’re not only seeing but demanding in our politicians is that they stake out a position and they cling insistently, tenaciously, viciously to that position and refuse to back away from it regardless of how the circumstances might have changed, or how it might have been proven that what seemed like a good idea at the time simply wasn’t, or how it might have been proven that “Look, you were never right in the first place, just admit it and move on.” We call them flip-floppers, we call them wishy-washy, we use it as an excuse to attack rather than acknowledging that they’ve grown and matured.
We tell kids “When you’re wrong you should admit it.” We expect of adults that when they are wrong they will acknowledge it and change. What we need to demand of our leaders that when they are wrong they admit it, they acknowledge it, and they do something about it.
To all mothers everywhere, but most especially to My Not So Humble Mother.
Sometimes it seems as if my life is less a continuous journey from one point to another and more a disjointed, constantly interrupted bashing about through random stops in time. This is particularly the case when I look back on my teens and early twenties, when I managed to find every way to creatively screw up that I could that didn’t involve drugs, violence, or jail (although I may have flirted with all three at some point, Your Honor). Among the few signposts I have as I journey back through those tumultuous memories are the songs I listened to, the soundtrack that accompanied my foolish decisions and what seemed to me at the time to be heroic deeds.
Dire Straits – Making Movies: I love this album for a lot of reasons, some of which are personal memories from my senior year of high school (and if My Not So Humble Wife is reading this, let me remind you honey that was about fifteen years before I met you, so you don’t get to hold it against me), and some of it is because the song “Romeo and Juliet” was indirectly referenced by Douglas Adams in So Long and Thanks For All The Fish (it would be the song with the really good guitar bit when Arthur goes flying), or so I was told when a friend first introduced me to the album. Having listened to the song many times, I have no reason to doubt his word on this. It really is an excellent guitar bit. The album covers a fair bit of terrain artistically, more I dare say than on most other albums from Dire Straits (except possibly Brothers in Arms), and while the expected jazz-rock fusion is there for the entirety of the album they manage to find a lot of room to experiment. In addition to the aforementioned “Romeo and Juliet”, I highly recommend “Tunnel of Love”, “Expresso Love”, and “Hand in Hand”.
Bruce Willis – The Return of Bruno: This album will always hold a special place in my heart for two reasons. First because it’s one of the first real records I ever owned that I bought just for me. Second because it’s one of the first records I played so much that just the mention of it is enough to make My Not So Humble Sister want to throw something heavy at my head. Ah, memories. So why do I enjoy this album so much? Is it because Bruce Willis is a great singer? No. But let’s not kid ourselves; neither is David Lee Roth, and everybody howled for his return to Van Halen. What Willis does do is attack the songs on this album with a passion and an honest love that you just don’t find in most singers today. What he may lack in technical performance is more than made up for in his virtue of an indescribable fun and joy. It’s clear that this is exactly what he wants to be doing, and he has the charisma to transmit some of that sense of fun to the listener as well. In addition to that, as I’ve previously mentioned I really do enjoy a good bit of harmonica playing. He may not be a virtuoso, but just because not every guitar player is Jimi Hendrix doesn’t mean we say they are somehow lacking, we just enjoy what they bring as long as they bring enough, and Bruce Willis brings more than enough. This album would be enjoyable enough on its own merits, and it’s doubly so considering it came out in an era of vanity albums being produced on behalf of other actors who didn’t understand they should have stayed actors. The best tracks off this album are “Young Blood”, “Under the Boardwalk”, “Secret Agent Man/James Bond Is Back”, and “Jackpot (Bruno’s Bop)”.
Sponge – Rotting Piñata: This is another album that I love as much for the memories (good and bad) that it invokes as much as for the music. It reminds me of a time in my life when I made some of the worst choices and best mistakes, and I ended up with some great stories if nothing else. I also learned some of the most important lessons, although I didn’t appreciate most of them until much later. Things like who truly cared about me and who didn’t; who I could trust, and how to figure it out fast enough not to get burned too badly; and exactly how much my family really means to me, and just how much they’ll forgive. Vinnie Dombrowski’s vocals, which sound like he regularly gargles with straight whiskey, blended with the gritty post-grunge sound of the instrumentals on the album immediately bring me right back to that place, and the shadowy (or at best semi-bitter) lyrics remind me again of all the damn fool things I’ve done, enjoyed, survived, regretted, and come out the other end of, hopefully better than I went in. Top tracks on this album are “Pennywheels”, “Miles”, “Plowed”, “Drownin’”, and “Molly (Sixteen Candles)”.
R.E.M. – Out of Time: This is another album that was pretty big my senior year of high school. Ironically this album starts off with “Radio Song”, a song about music on the radio controlling the tastes of the masses, which is kind of appropriate, since I feel like a lot of the best music on this album never got the airplay it deserved. I also seem to remember most of the R.E.M. fans I knew at the time being disappointed (if not outright horrified) by this album, which I find to be rather ironic as well, since this is the first album of theirs I loved from start to finish. Despite the two biggest songs on this album being “Losing My Religion” and “Shiny Happy People”, I personally feel like those are the least representative tracks for the album as a whole. For my money “Low”, “Near Wild Heaven”, “Belong”, “Half a World Away”, “Country Feedback”, and “Me In Honey” are a better sample of what the album is about.Related Posts:
Some of the worst advice I have ever heard is “do what you love for a living”, or alternatively “do something you would do even if you weren’t getting paid, and then find a way to get paid doing it.” This advice is generally given either by people who are miserable in their own life choices and wish they had found a way to make this fantasy come true, or else it is the sort of illusory advice given by type-A personality entrepreneurs who would find success in anything they do because they are so driven they WILL succeed, even if they have to grab success by the throat and chokehold it into submission.
There are two inherent flaws with this advice as I see it, and I’ll break them down one at a time. The first is the fallacy of “do what you would even if you weren’t getting paid”. I honestly don’t know many people who have a passion for something that extends far enough to cover a career. Sure, plenty of people think they do, but that’s because they don’t have the time to really see it through, or else they don’t really make an honest effort at it. I’ll give you a couple examples: My Dad loved golf; I love video games. If he had the time, I think Dad could have played golf for a good four days a week, at least for a month or so. Then he would have started cutting back, because golf is tiring. As for video games, at my peak I was playing World of Warcraft like it was a second job – a part-time job. I played, I kid you not, at least twenty hours a week (after I quit I found time to start blogging. Not a coincidence.) When I would take a staycation from time to time, I would play upwards of forty hours a week in a single binge… and then lay off for a few days, because I needed a break. I then went back to my original routine.
The problem wasn’t that either Dad or I stopped loving what we did, it’s just that at some point most people can’t sustain the passion for something sufficiently to make a career of it. Those who can often do, or else they dedicate their lives to finding ways to incorporate that something into their lives in other ways, either though volunteer work or hobbies. Notice how at no point in that entire set of examples did I mention skill or demand; those would be elements of problem numero dos.
My biggest aggravation with the breezy advice “do something you would do even if you weren’t getting paid, and then find a way to get paid doing it” is the “then find a way to get paid doing it” part. As if it was that simple. In many cases, the things people love to do people are already getting paid to do. Let’s go back to my previous examples. There are already people getting paid to play golf. They’re called professional golfers. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of them (Tiger Woods, anyone?). There are even, to the best of my knowledge, golf pros at pretty much every country club in the nation, and every one of them is a much better golfer than my father was on his best day. Believe it or not, there are even professional video game players. Any one of them could romp me without paying attention. In the face of this, how does a simple person come along and just “find a way to get paid doing it”, especially when so many others want to?
Here’s my take on work: work is what you do to make the money you need to enable you to do the things you love. That doesn’t mean you have to hate your job; in fact, if you do hate your job (not just had a bad day, but actively hate your job and dread going in each day), seriously, quit. Find another job first if you must, but you might actually find being unemployed better for your mental and physical health. I did. But if your job is tolerable often that’s as good as it gets, and there’s nothing wrong with that; chasing the rainbows that someone else is offering will only make you miserable when you have no need to be.
If you can make money doing the things you love, hey, bonus. If you are one of the lucky few who gets paid doing what you love, do yourself and the rest of us a favor, keep your mouth shut about it, because nobody wants to hear it.