Monthly Archives: July 2015

U2 Live at TD Garden – July 14, 2015

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U2 are easy to take for granted.

They’ve been so huge for so many years, it’s easy to dismiss them as mind numbing pablum. Their mawkishness and sentimentality begs for ridicule.  I’m accustomed to hearing musicians deride them and make snarky comments just to get a few easy “likes” on social media. 

The funny thing is that I really like U2.  I always have. 

My wife suggested that we see them and since I hadn’t seen them, I realized I’d missed out on the very phenomenon that has sealed a bond with millions of fans and placed them in the firmament of rock in the first place. 

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And boy, am I glad I did.

U2 are a band who’ve earned the superlatives.  They are the consummate Big Time Rock Band. 

For over two hours, U2 reminded me that love is the healing force of the universe and that maybe, just maybe, we can redeem ourselves through rock music.  Perhaps most significantly, they reminded me that sometimes the most transgressive, punk rock thing you can do as an artist is to write a song about your mother and actually affirm the gift of life and express love. 

In a pop culture world overrun by narcissistic wankers and smug, detached handlebar mustachioed would-be hipsters so consumed by their cynical sneering and ironic, postmodern deconstructions, U2 come across as the real radicals. 

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The music succeeds on so many levels.  It’s got a missionary sense of purpose, but never forgets that rock and roll is a secular church.  It has equal reverence for Motown, Jimi Hendrix, Kraftwerk and Elvis, but never forgets its Dublin roots.

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It’s music that says “All I want is you” and means every word.  They are a band so grounded in the emotional truth of what they’re laying down, it’s really difficult to remain unmoved.

The tour is called the Innocence to Experience Tour and naturally, as the title suggests, the show traces the arc of their development as artists and men. 

Visually, this show was a marvel.  There was a giant rectangular structure which served as a projection surface and an elevated stage.  At various points in the show, the screen showed animated renderings of their neighborhood, star constellations, oceans, nighttime cityscapes, and a virtual Johnny Cash among many other things. 

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Dublin’s favorite sons paid homage to their formative years with several selections from their latest release, “Songs of Innocence”.  I was especially moved by their rendition of “Iris”; Bono’s tribute to his mother. He set up the song with a story about his mother’s death and how it served as an opportunity to deepen his artistry.  “We all find ourselves orphans at some point in life,” he said.  As someone who lost his own mother, this sentiment hit home for me in a big way.  

U2 have never been shy about their political convictions and openly proclaim their desire for peace, justice and love in many songs.  The scars of violence in Ireland were transformed into a plea for justice for victims of terrorism in “Raised by Wolves” and a pared down “Sunday Bloody Sunday”.  Photos of victims of IRA violence were woven into a devastating digital collage while the words JUSTICE FOR THE FORGOTTEN hovered over the images like a command from beyond the grave. 

“We must never give in to fear.  There are people who hate freedom.  Who hate rock music. Who hate women.  We must never give in.  We must send the love that’s present here and radiate it everywhere so that it reaches every community,” exhorted Bono. 

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Right on, man. 

At midpoint of the set, they began to lean more heavily towards the classic canon and the show gathered momentum. 

“Bullet the Blue Sky” revealed U2 at their rockist best and successfully channeled Cream and Band of Gypsys.  Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen churned out a thunderous groove that bored into the center of the earth while Edge’s searing sheets of feedback and noise soared over the top.  A kaleidoscopic mashup of Wall Street trading pits and American iconography served as the visual companion to Bono’s Morrisonesque declamations.  “America is an idea. I want to be part of that idea”. Nice work, guys. 

The highlight was without question their transcendent rendition of “Pride”.  “This song is for peacemakers,” declared Bono. He stepped back and allowed the congregation to carry the wordless vocal phrase; gently goading the crowd to ever increasing intensity culminating in full throated ecstasy with each chorus.  This is the kind of secular devotion that is often attempted but rarely matched. 

For their encore, they delivered a trio of gems; “Beautiful Day”, “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”.  By the time the chiming chords of the latter began, the crowd was in the palm of their hands.  Once again, Bono didn’t even sing the first verse and simply allowed the song to be carried by the reverie of the crowd.

They exited the stage one by one until all that remained were the sounds of Edge and Bono. The show ended just as it began. Bono sneaked in a line of Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power”.

Message received, gentlemen.  Thank you for bringing it home. 

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Selma

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Here are the million dollar questions.

If you criticize this film as a work of art, what are the odds you’ll be branded a RACIST?

If you question the premise that the acquisition of voting rights has resulted in greater self-determination for the black community, what are the odds you’ll be branded RACIST?

Survey says….100% CERTAINTY!

Though it may invite this kind of condemnation and censure from the online masses, I’m going to do both of these things.

By and large, it’s a decent film. It’s certainly not without flaws and just like King and his legacy, the themes and ideas at its core deserve closer scrutiny.

What’s good about it is its unflinching portrayal of the acts of violence and intrusiveness carried out by agents of the State as well as the manipulative and racist attitudes of who wield state power. I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t make libertarians out of everyone who watches it.

I also think that it buckles from the weight of the subject matter. It suffers from a certain turgidity. It’s a film so certain of the moral righteousness of King’s insistence on acquiring of political power that it feels like a psychological truncheon.  It has a faint air of propaganda.

The film is focused on King’s three month campaign to secure voting rights for blacks culminating in the signing of 1965 Civil Rights Act. It is unambiguously black and white in its portrayal of the events and individuals involved. Up until the hamfisted Hymn to the Glory of Government ending, the various government agents and politicians are portrayed in a relentlessly negative light.

Aside from the controversy over the portrayal of the negotiations between Johnson and King, these aspects of the film seem accurate.

The film sets the tone in the first two scenes.  Oprah Winfrey plays Annie Lee Cooper dutifully reciting American civics questions to a cruel bureaucrat. He is solidly intent on making life as difficult as possible for her while she attempts to register to vote.  The following scene portrays a group of girls enjoying one another’s company at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama until their lives are tragically and abruptly cut short by a violent explosion.

From there, events are demarcated by log entries made by FBI spies who are monitoring events and phone calls.  The film is letting us know that the roots of the surveillance state are deep.

The scenes of King’s private negotiations with Johnson portray him as a callous and calculating politician. He’s more concerned with his agenda than the war zone that’s happening right under his nose.

Martin Luther King Jr.: We need your involvement here, Mr. President. We deserve your help as citizens of this country. Citizens under attack.

President Lyndon B. Johnson: Now, you listen to me. You listen to me. You’re an activist. I’m a politician. You got one big issue. I got a hundred and one.

One could argue that little has changed.

Hoover exhibits the kind of black hearted malevolence which seems befitting of his legacy.

J. Edgar Hoover: Mister President, you know we can shut men with power down, permanently and unequivocally.

The scenes of police brutality are harrowing and realistic.

On the flipside, the film seems doggedly determined to present King as a paragon of unambiguous virtue, restraint and composure. No matter how much brutality the movement faces, King makes a consistent appeal for non-violent resistance. When tensions are frayed, King exhibits a paternalistic gravitas which immediately calms all overheated emotions.

The film makes an attempt to present the flaws in King by hinting at allegations of infidelity, but they are largely are glossed over.

Despite the soaring speeches and appeals to democracy, it feels leaden.

The grand contradiction that’s seemingly overlooked is that his appeal to non-violence was completely at odds with his desire to acquire political power. Blacks acquired the political power he sought. But has this elevated the ranks of the black population in the way he hoped?

On the one hand, the terrorism and violence is less overt and severe than it was in that period.

On the other, one wonders whether the right to vote has enhanced black self-determination or thwarted it.

As events in Ferguson and Baltimore attest, having access to the vote did not forestall these crackdowns.  In fact, the vote has arguably created and exacerbated the conditions which allowed for these incidents.  Black politicians lent their support to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 which contributed directly to the militarization of the police, expansion of the prison complex and the swelling of the ranks of the police force.  Public subsidies for housing and government initiatives have only entrenched racial segregation and economic stagnation.

The vote hasn’t prevented many other manifestations of state repression of the black community either.

Government police brutality against blacks remains prevalentIncarceration rates remain very high.  Compulsory public schooling has simply created a bridge to the state prison industrial complex.  For black youth, labor force participation is down and unemployment rates are up.

Despite the grand intentions of the Great Society to elevate the ranks of the impoverished, one wonders whether government welfare has created upward economic mobility for blacks or kept them mired in poverty.

King openly equates voting with self-determination, but says nothing about economic self-determination. Have blacks achieved greater economic self-determination as a consequence of the ’65 Act or in spite of it?

Unfortunately, the grand failure of this film is that it seems only to buttress the current narrative around racism. In other words, that there’s no distinction to be made between state violence, arbitrary acts of unprovoked violence by private citizens or racist attitudes and speech. By today’s logic, the latter is the sole cause for historical and current acts of violence regardless of whether they are carried out by private individuals or police officers.  As perverse as it seems, we are now living in a time where speech itself is conflated with violence.  The whole phenomenon of microaggressions and the policing of speech is built off the ridiculous premise that being a self-appointed arbiter of “anti-oppression” affirms your progressive bona fides. This contributes to the delusion that being an obnoxious authoritarian will prevent the next Dylann Roof or improve the quality of life for blacks or [Insert oppressed group of choice].

Let’s just take the case that every act of white on black violence carried out by police officers is a product of racist attitudes.

Why isn’t anyone questioning why the police departments around the country seem so overloaded with racists?

Why is it that the social justice cops of the progressive left are dispensing idiotic lectures about “white privilege”, but are supporting the candidates who advocate for the very police state that continues to terrorize the black community in ways that are every bit as brutal as those carried out during the era in which the film is set?

Doesn’t this affirm Hayek’s argument that the  “the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful” in the ranks of government?

The other big disappointment of the film is that it perpetuates the myth that our humanity and basic ability to treat one another with decency and respect as well as our freedom to live self-determined lives is somehow fundamentally tied to the machinery of government.

What a sad and self-defeating message it is to assert that we are so inept as a civilization that we must prostrate ourselves before a collection of elites with guns in order to achieve moral outcomes.

The film ends with King delivering a soaring speech and cuts to the various individuals who went on to serve in seats of government power.

Due to intellectual property laws, the filmmakers were unable to use King’s actual words.  Perhaps this artistic license lent itself better to perpetuating the myth that politicians and civic leaders who seek social change through the power of the State have the power to create real racial harmony and economic prosperity.

Sly & The Family Stone – Don’t Call Me Nigger

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I was listening to this song last night, and I genuinely wondered if we’re headed towards a culture of repression that would censor this song purely because of the title. 

I’m concerned that we’ve already become a culture so consumed by the surface appearance and rhetoric of diversity, and yet so afraid to be labeled a racist for saying something that might be perceived as a microaggression. 

I’m concerned that we’ve become a culture that stigmatizes the usage of a word all by itself and makes no distinctions around intent or context. 

I’m concerned that we have become a culture that encourages self-appointed racism cops to go around pointing the finger and accusing RACISM in everyone but themselves. 

I’m concerned that we’ve become a culture that’s more comfortable ascribing blame to symbols and doling out moronic lectures about “white privilege” than ascertaining responsibility for the actions of individuals. 

My biggest fear is that we’ve conflated speech and words with actual violence, and by extension, are ceding a fundamental liberty that each of us has to the authority of the state and all of the sycophantic, authoritarian would-be do-gooders who believe that calling everyone and everything racist is actually creating any real racial harmony. 

If policing speech over the usage of words or enforcing some prescribed template of PC virtue becomes the norm, then we have effectively ceded free thought and agency themselves. 

This song is precisely why free speech matters.

We have the opportunity to access the best in ourselves because we’re free. 

We have the opportunity to see the basic humanity in everyone because we’re free.  

We have the opportunity to create racial harmony because we’re free. 

Not because some self-appointed social justice cop posted a link to a feminist website and not because a politician doesn’t like what someone said or wants to use the power of the government to pass a hate speech law. 

But you have to choose free speech and you have to be willing to defend it.  Not with a gun, but with the power of your own convictions. 

What will you choose?

End the Fed

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Prior to my full conversion to libertarianism, I held two opinions of Ron Paul.  On the one hand, I admired his apparently principled and consistent vision of limited government conservatism. He seemed to walk the walk. Seeing him openly trash the legacy of Saint Reagan in the Republican primary debates lives in my memory as one of the single biggest moments of political audacity I’ve ever witnessed. 

On the other hand, I regarded him with a sort of bemused, smug condescension.  His views seemed painfully simplistic at best and outright delusional bordering on conspiracy theory territory at worst. In other words, the very attitudes to which I’m subjected on a daily basis on social media whenever I assert my point of view! 

His argument against the Federal Reserve seemed tainted with just a bit too much of an InfoWars/John Birch Society stink.  And there was so much establishment opinion deriding it as naïve, I simply couldn’t allow myself to go there.  Marx had delusions of an omnipotent state, so why should I entertain delusions of a limited state whose scope rendered it seemingly irrelevant? 

Needless to say, I eventually came around to a purely libertarian view, and thankfully, I can now fully appreciate the magnitude and elegance of what Mr. Paul has achieved in 210 pages. 

This is the single most potent political argument of our time. 

This book is equal parts history lesson as well as a primer on Austrian business cycle and hard money theory embedded in a minarchist polemic. 

Mr. Paul is a master of brevity and he succeeds in packing a lot of great stuff in a short space.  After a brief overview of personal and American economic history dotted with generous references to his Austrian forebears (Rothbard, Mises, Hazlitt, et al), Paul lays out his case. 

He devotes two chapters to transcripts of his exchanges with Greenspan and Bernanke and exposes them as cagey, prevaricating gasbags.  Mr. Paul revels in needling Greenspan over his abdication of his objectivist convictions around hard money, and his responses are exactly the kind mealy mouthed obfuscating ramblings that define all too many bureaucrats. 

But even if Greenspan suffered from acute bureaucratrititis, Bernanke makes him seem generous and accommodating by comparison. 

After giving a brief tour through the Fed’s historical origins, the connection between the warfare state and central banking, business cycles before and after the Fed, the depreciation of the dollar, and the current state of economic affairs, he lays out the argument in four parts.  The philosophical, the Constitutional, the economic and the libertarian. 

The moral case is certainly compelling on its own. Here, he touches on the secrecy of the Fed and its ability to inflate without restriction. I certainly believe that the roots of the illusion of something for nothing, a free lunch, start here. He exposes the collusion between corporate interests and the state that everyone can see, but few trace down to its roots in the halls of the Eccles building. 

The only thing that undermines this section are his attempts to bolster the case by making reference to the Biblical passages which specify hard money as legitimate currency. Despite the cognitive dissonance inherent in their own fealty to the state, statists denigrate the notion of free markets and libertarianism itself as religious belief.  This strikes me as an appeal to tradition and helps neither the case for libertarianism or hard money. 

Ironically, the Constitutional case, though sound in terms of a strict reading, is actually the weakest. Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution is explicit.  He proceeds to torpedo this argument a few pages later.

In reality, the Constitution is incapable of achieving what we would like in limiting government power, no matter how well written.

He goes further by showing how the Supreme Court itself has been largely ineffectual in ruling in favor of this reading of the Constitution. Easily the least compelling of the arguments. 

He returns to solid ground with the economic case.  The regime of the floating dollar and interest rate management by technocratic planners has bred an unhealthy incentive to borrow and consume in excess. It has undermined economic growth and enshrined a culture of permanent moral hazard where people continually overlook the source of the malignancy and politicians prey on this ignorance by insisting that another expansion of the regulatory state will deliver the Real Change. 

It is revealing that Keynes and Marx, two of the left’s intellectual leading lights, were explicit about the impact of monetary inflation and the importance of central banking in maintaining authoritarian rule. The former once repudiated it as a malicious invisible tax, but like Greenspan, abandoned his principled stance as his influence grew.  The latter advocated for it openly and without reservation.  The legacy of totalitarianism and suffering that was carried out under the banner of Marxism is explicit and undeniable. 

We are seeing the poisonous outcomes of this arrangement unfold once again as the current catastrophe in Greece attests. 

And what more can be said about Ron Paul that hasn’t already been said?  Without a doubt, he has one of the most interesting stories in American politics. He has certainly earned a place in the history books alongside the likes of Wright Patman as one of the most outspoken critics of the Fed. There’s also no doubt that he did everything he could to stop the encroachment of the state and that his political career was just as much about advancing the ideas of the liberty movement as it was about trying to stop bad legislation.  

Would we be better off as a country if more politicians were as principled as Mr. Paul? 

Perhaps.

But not all politicians are and after 20+ years in politics, all it really got him was a reputation as a gadfly.  Don’t get me wrong. The fact that he got as far as he did is nothing short of remarkable, but the establishment forces have clearly prevailed.

And this is where the minarchist argument runs out of gas for me. Despite what was an apparently earnest attempt to set up a framework which would presumably keep government limited, we have the biggest government in the history of human civilization. There is no “change from within” to be made. His son is proving this point each day as he tries to contort himself into new and increasingly contradictory shapes.  A 15% flat tax and yet somehow the entitlement state can be funded by business taxes? Right.

The cause of liberty must be waged in the battlefield of ideas. Not the ballot box. 

Keynes famously derided opponents of state intervention with the oft quoted line, “In the long run we are all dead”.

This approach has been tried and the verdict is in.  

End the Fed.