Friday, September 11, 2015

Looking Past the Window on 9/11

On a crisp morning in September my father summoned my brother and I to join him in the room where the TV was. We were both fairly certain we were in trouble--though neither of us knew why. Looking back now, I wished we were in the worst kind of trouble as opposed to why we were actually called over. It was the eleventh of September.

That was the day the world burned. That was the day the world changed. 
Or did it?
We think the world changed but the truth is that it was our perception of the world that changed. Unfortunately it seems that our perception has reverted in many ways, to the pre-9/11 state, despite those horrific events giving us a window by which to see the world.

For the last 6,000-10,000 years, human history has been covered in bloodshed. The campaigns of Alexander the Great, Nebuchadnezzar, Napoleon and even the Second World War pale in comparison to many of the wars fought in Asia, where untold millions died in decades-long conflicts. The annihilation of towns, villages, peoples and cultures litters our text book pages now as it littered the fields with bodies and blood then. 
John Calvin argued that humans are depraved. Sigmund Freud quoted Plautus from centuries earlier when he said, "homo homini lupus est"--man is a wolf to man. Isaac Newton said chaos is the natural state of things. Plato said, "Only the dead have seen the end of war." 
Peace is unnatural, infrequent, and largely absent in the world. It's not because of guns, governments, or greed. It's humans. That we blame inanimate objects or practices only reveals the furthest reaches of our evil--not only can we not face it, we must lie about it, even to ourselves.

The truth is, we've been lucky, or blessed. We were started by a group of men who recognized this, and set up a system where men are free to work, deal and defend themselves from other men and governments.
It's blessed us tremendously: there's been no state of true war on our continent our lifetime, nor in the lifetimes of our parents or grandparents. We live in a bubble, a bubble of time in history and a bubble of space in the world where we have enjoyed what most living humans would call a fantasy. Even the most developed and westernized countries look on with envy at our good fortune. 

The response to this truth should be then two fold: first to be thankful for the fantasy we live, and second to recognize that for the rest of the world, September 11 is normal. Israel experiences events of proportional magnitude to 9/11 multiple times in every decade. We've had only one such event since Pearl Harbor over 60 years ago.
For villages in Africa, peace and safety are wild dreams that the scraps of humanity cling to, by which to keep hope alive. For Syrians displaced abroad or living in their war torn country, peace and safety are as hallucinations brought on by drug use. These places are samples. They are indicative of the whole--the American sample is an anomaly the rest of the world envies.  9/11 gave us a glimpse into what humans do, what they are and what the rest of the world looks like--both bad and good, as seen in terrorism and in resistance to terror.
We've forgotten that 9/11 wasn't a mural painted by radicals--it was a window opened by averages. It showed us the horror the world sees every day. Rather than gaze out the window of 9/11 and gain understanding, we've walked by and pretended there was nothing on the other side of a wall, a wall that is thin and crumbling. It's not that we forgot the event, it's that we missed the lesson. 9/11 was not the past--it is the world we cannot bear to look upon. It is our world, and we must accept it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Politically Incorrect: The New Rape Culture

Rape Culture. Those delicious words tickling the tongue of the Tumblr generation who really have no idea what they mean outside of the context of a movement that rediscovered it’s purpose in demonization—as fart rape, and yes, that’s an accusation they’re making and taking seriously. But perhaps the phrase “rape culture” isn’t entirely useless.
What is it to rape? It’s to force oneself on another. It’s to place ones own needs for anger, rage, release, and catharsis above the needs of another human and to fulfill those needs by force. It’s to enslave a person for ones own use.
It is of note that when people talk about slavery that there are certain words that recur quite often: chains, capture, injustice, emancipation, freedom. There are also words much less used, and less associated with the idea of slavery than the aforementioned terms—wages, payment, money, compensation. Somehow it is understood quite clearly that the primary (not sole) issue with slavery is not whether or not one is paid, but whether or not one is free. Having control over one’s own self-determination trumps the wages of being an unwilling participant.
What then is the defense of a human against rape and slavery? It is the right of a human being to say one word: “no.” The Right to No is sacred. It dictates that every relationship (whether economic or personal) is voluntarily taken up and maintained. Ideally it is only forfeit when one violates another’s right to the same. “You must do this for me—you have no option” is the language of a slaver, and a rapist. If you want to see real rape culture, look around and see who forces whom, and who lacks the right to say “no”. Start with Aaron and Melissa Klein.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What the Nigerian Girls’ Crisis says About Our Own Tragedy

I’d like to start this off with a bit of truth (albeit somewhat crassly put).
I’ve censored and paraphrased this quote as the original is attributed to someone from the US Special Forces community and not a Sunday School Teacher. Here it is:

            “Hashtags, like buttons, and retweets aren’t going to do @#%$ to get those missing Nigerian girls back. It’s just a way for lazy westerners to feel good about themselves without having to sacrifice any of their time, money, or physical safety. This internet heroism is as fake as Chaz Bono’s *^$#. Dudes with guns started this mess. Dudes with guns are going to end it.”

In our western world of celeb worship, we forget that the rest of the world (terrorists in particular) don't really care about sad duck-faces and Hashtag Diplomacy. Over here a trending topic can get you fired and publically shamed for life. In Africa they use AK47s for firings, and machetes for public shaming. Such is the case with Boko Haram. The mere name of this terror group indicates their cause, as the BBC reports that the group “promotes a version of Islam which makes it 'haram', or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society.” If this group militantly hates western influence on these girls, how are they going to feel about a jet-setting 1%er like the First Lady with a hashtag? This group hates the idea of western education. Are they suddenly intimidated by western entertainment and pop culture? Not likely.

If anything, this campaign of internet heroism may serve opposite the purposes of its participants. The Boko Haram group is vehemently anti-western—so if the West disapproves of their actions, they have succeeded. In fact, the publicity is likely welcome for them: the purist group that defied the west and showed the world that they could do whatever they wanted with no more resistance than a formidable twitter campaign. Their name is getting repeated over, and over again. Boko Haram. The little Islamists that could. Every outraged cry against them is a mark of approval in their minds. Peer pressure sucks, and it sucks more against an assault rifle.

“Well,” some might say, “It’s to raise awareness.” Ok. Awareness is cool. But let’s take a trip back in time…to the year 2012. And let’s take a look at a trending topic that might be slightly embarrassing. I’m talking of course about the Invisible Children Project. You might better know it as a 29-minute video called KONY 2012.
            Joseph Kony is a cult leader, warlord, and human rights violator in Africa. His big claim to fame is of course the child-soldiers phenomena, which he propagated till the child combatants numbered in the tens of thousands. Kony found himself targeted by western Hashtag Diplomacy in 2012 when the KONY 2012 video was released. The video garnered 99 million views. The Invisible Children project reportedly raised over $8 million dollars. What happened? Exactly nothing. Today Kony is as free today as he was back then. He is supposedly considering surrendering to face the ICC and a host of other consequences. Why? Because of a few million hashtags? Because of vast financial resources marshaled against him? Because of international pressure? No. Because he’s reported to be “in poor health”, he’s 52 now, and he’s tired to being sick out in the jungle and on the run. So what did 99 million views and millions of dollars raised actually buy? Perhaps nothing more than to serve as salve for guilty consciences.
            The tragedy of these girls isn’t that this is a first time event. Islamic militants actively use kidnappings and much worse to advance their agenda—and on a weekly basis. The tragedy here is that this is what we’ve been reduced to. Hashtags. Videos. Trending topics, tweets, glib demagoguery, and little else. And somehow, we’re “helping.” The opening quote comes to mind again: “It’s just a way for lazy westerners to feel good about themselves without having to sacrifice any of their time, money, or physical safety.” This is our tragedy: not that such events happened on our watch, but that internet heroism and hashtag diplomacy was the best response we could come up with, and worse, that we thought much of ourselves for our “bravery”. How grateful we are that such “bravery” costs us nothing more than 30 seconds and 140 characters. Tragic, isn’t it?

Monday, March 31, 2014

World Vision's True Failure: Playing with Political Fire

World Vision recently started yet another fracas in the Christian community by allowing homosexuals to serve in their organization. As one might imagine, the backlash was strong with this one. And, if I’m honest, the political side of me fully believes that World Vision deserves the full sting of this backlash. The other side of me mourns that their work has been hindered by their own shortsightedness. The truth is, they made two mistakes that hurt them, and hurt their ministry to impoverished children…and their backpedalling may or may not help.

            First, World Vision dictated terms of sexual purity and fidelity explicitly in their employee conduct codes. As the WV-friendly blog Rage Against the Minivan put it, World Vision, “has always held a pretty rigid code of morality for employees. Specifically, employees are not to engage in sex outside of marriage”. Rather than make a blanket statement that covers the bases of general Christian morality, they got too nitty gritty. They went a legalese route, which gets complicated. Can their employees drink beer or wine? If so, how many? See the problem? There’s no stopping point for rule making—and no backing out. This isn’t saying that WV should have been open to hiring a bunch of folks with loose morals, but rather that getting too specific was a mistake—their first.

            Their second mistake was that they then took their too-detailed legalese and created a position regarding gay marriage. They swear up and down they have no stance, but to acknowledge an issue (and then create a policy about it) is to take a stance—and the very real backlash proves my point. This is a highly divisive and political issue. But it shouldn’t have been their issue. My question to them would be, “what does gay marriage have to do with feeding hungry kids?” Nothing. By way of policy World Vision got into de facto politics. It’s a losing game 100% of the time; there is no coming out ahead. Brian Broderson made a good case for this recently when he said, “…some of the things…like immigration reform—these are not things that I am going to address from the pulpit… I feel like the church sometimes has too much to say.” Bingo.

            Unfortunately the board and the president or World Vison failed to see this beforehand. Is it right for a Christian organization to want its employees to be morally pure and Biblically consistent? Yes! On the other hand, you can’t go around installing CCTV systems in everyone’s house to make sure they are morally pure. In lieu of that, I suspect they went with more rules, and more detailed rules at that—and detailed rules mean two things: legalism and amendments. And amendments mean more details—the very location the devil seems to be found in. And so here we are: on the devil’s playground playing politics (for where else is it played?)

            In short, the overly aggressive morality codes had unintended consequences: they dragged the organization into nitty-gritty discussions of moral politik (and those always end well, right?). Gay marriage and gays in the church is perhaps the most polarizing debate in Christianity, and World Vision should have known better than to get anywhere near such an issue. It’s not in their interest and they foolishly meddled to their own hurt—again, backpedalling not withstanding. Now some third world children might lose their sponsorships over this. It’s not fair, but it’s reality. It’s the price of politics. It’s possible that the last second reversal might help, but now they’ve pissed off the gays too. Rather than stay away from it all, they made a choice to build a fence, ride it, pick one side, and then pick the other. And now? Everyone is mad. The best thing they could have said (to any political or social issue) is, “That’s not our area of theology, expertise, or ministry… but let me show you what is.” That answer would have acceptable to anyone.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Empiricism: The Dark Reward of Hegemony

A. I. McIntire

             One definition of power might be “how much an actor, be it person or state can forward their will and/or act either without significant opposition or with the ability to disregard opposition.” This power can be expressed through “hard” or “soft” means, “hard” being militaristic or forceful, and “soft” being the idea of cultural and diplomatic cooperation (Agnew 875).  This loosely (perhaps too loosely) invites the idea that hegemony is soft power control of markets and ideas, and empire is hard power control of territory and nations. This of course begs the question as to whether hegemony is achieved by empire, and at least to an extent it would seem so. However, there may be another way of looking at the relationship of empire and hegemony—not as opposing ideas, but instead as consecutive ideas. While creation of empire is arguably also to create hegemony, modern events might well suggest that hegemony creation has rewards of its own: increased power allowing for unhindered empirical actions.
Immanuel Wallerstein argues that hegemony is “one state . . . able to impose its set of rules on the interstate system, and thereby creates temporarily a new political order” (Scheidel 4). This implies that this sort of soft power reorganizes an existing economical or political structure of a region or group of states to favor the one state’s agenda. In this case, holding the high cards (e.g. natural resources) is nice, but making the rules on how, when, and where the cards can be played is a far more preferable and superior position. By this a hegemon, through soft power can arrange a system that narrows the options for opposing agendas set forth by other states or non-state actors. If this is the case, then hegemony helps dictate future responses, and sets a precedent for future actions by those under the umbrella of its own authority and influence.
This level of hegemonic influence isn’t necessarily a moral force in and of itself, but rather a stage for the actions and values of the hegemon. It’s possible to argue over whether or not states should possess such power and influence, but the focus here is instead to ask what states can do with said power. Agnew divides this expression of power into two themes, “involving either relatively benign (or even sacrificial) ‘leadership’ or profoundly exploitative relationships based on steep power gradients between a hegemon and its subordinates in a hierarchy of power” (Agnew 876). One expression of “benign” leadership might be seen in “Operation Unified Response”, the US humanitarian mission to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake near Port-au-Prince. The hegemonic power of the US in the region allowed for the greatest organization of aid, and the US worked to ensure that although troops were on the ground, they did not interfere with Haitian politics, nor did they stay long. It would be naïve to assume that this was entirely based on good will; merely being the hegemon in the region dictates a certain necessity and expectation of humanitarian response. Likewise being the recipient of such a benefit implies the need of the beneficiary to remember the hegemon’s interests and preferences in the future. Even so, this sort of qui pro quo arrangement (though unspoken) is a reflection of benign, soft power.
On the other hand, Agnew calls negative expression of this power “profoundly exploitative” as hegemonies engage in practices that have little semblance of concern for states under the umbrella of the hegemon. Worse, in such a situation the dominant power often has relatively little commitment to the weaker states. However, this approach seems to rest on the idea of hegemony as the end goal. There may be another approach to consider, one with far more serious consequences: not empiricism to gain hegemony, or even exploitative hegemony, but rather hegemony being used as a means to control the game to the point where all options are viable options—including those that abuse power and state sovereignty. One such example of this might be seen in modern events: Russia as a hegemonic power and its current relationship to Ukraine.
In recent years Russia has emerged as a renewed hegemonic power. Vladimir Putin’s brokering of the Syrian quasi-disarmament deal certainly lent credence to the idea of his extensive regional authority. However, this authority has been expressed more recently and extensively in Ukraine itself. In December 2013, the Kremlin bought $15 billion in Ukrainian bonds, and cut natural gas prices by a third for Ukraine according to EUbusiness. The move was to save Ukraine $7 billion alone on the natural gas purchases, arguably a good deal for the struggling nation. However, this move was at the very least somewhat exploitative, or possibly even predatory. Maria Lipman expressed no doubts as to the motives when she said, “This is not done out of the kindness of Putin's heart. This is to strengthen Russian influence over Ukraine and make the country more dependent on Russia" (“Putin . . . ”). EUbusiness also affirmed this idea by stating, “Putin will above all gain a new economic foothold in Ukraine” further reinforcing the idea that at the very least Russia, and Putin in particular, hold to an idea of hegemony that is even stronger than Wallerstein’s (“Putin . . .”).
Just how much stronger has been revealed in the last month, and in particular the 48 hours. As protestors opposing the pro-Russia regime gained the upper hand the president of the country fled, and the opposition installed a new, more pro-EU, pro-western government after the state failure of February 2014.
On Friday, February 28, US President Barack Obama warned Russia against violating Ukraine’s state sovereignty, but by Saturday night the Crimea region was in Russian control (Smale). Obama made a 90-minute call to Putin on Saturday, March 1 opposing Russian troop presence and control of the Crimea region and government buildings (Smale). Thus far Russian forces and leadership have not yielded on any front.
            This then is where the idea of hegemony leading to empiricism takes shape. Russia acted in a hegemonic manner with the last Ukrainian regime that was loyal to the Kremlin, but the ousting of this regime has forced their hand.  When Ukrainian leadership was allied with Moscow the norm of was for Moscow to use economics as the means of control. Now that power has shifted to a party that seeks membership at the EU table, Putin seems determined to bring Ukraine back to his own table. Carnegie analyst Maria Lipman foreshadowed this with her prerevolutionary statement, “from Putin's point of view, it is absolutely unacceptable to lose control over Ukraine" (“Putin . . .”). At the time this could only be read as an indicator of strong hegemony politics, but time iteself has revealed a deeper meaning. Russia may have established itself as a hegemonic power in the region, but it revealed empirical motives and methods when soft-power politics failed. Russia’s military presence in Ukraine is vastly different from the US military in Haiti in the aforementioned example. The US presence was finite in Haiti from the beginning and exclusively for humanitarian aid, whereas Russian forces have no withdrawal date and their mission is to secure control for pro-Russian factions in Ukraine. By doing so, Russia has moved from merely hegemonic maneuvering to empirical action in Ukraine.
            In conclusion, hegemony is soft power control and influence that can be used for positive and negative purposes. Russia engaged in the more powerful methods of hegemonic influence with Ukraine, but switched to empiricism once soft power was no longer expedient. Arguably Putin has taken Russia to a place of powerful hegemony, where others may oppose or speak out against his actions, but the true show of his hegemonic power is revealed when he can ignore the outcry of the international community and advance an agenda of empiricism. Russian hegemony has allowed the country to write the rules of the regional game; with the final rule changing exactly which game is being played. Perhaps traditional wisdom suggests that empires are built to gain hegemony, but it may well be that Russia has attained hegemony to build its empire. How far this power goes will be revealed in the backlash, or lack thereof from the international community as time unfolds.

Works Cited

"Putin Bails out Ukraine to Assert Kremlin Power." EUbusiness. EUbusiness Ltd, 18
Dec. 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2014. <

Scheidel, Walter. "Republics between Hegemony and Empire."
Princeton University, Feb. 2006. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.

Smale, Alison, and David M. Herszenhorn. "Kremlin Clears Way for Force in Ukraine;
Separatist Split Feared." The New York Times. The New York Times, 01 Mar.
2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2014.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

What is Post-Rock? Defining the Elusive Cult Genre

(By A. I. McIntire)
    In a world of fast-and-dirty pop songs that give up their secrets in the first ten seconds of play, fusion genres and new ideas are emerging in the back room studios of Europe and the US. Artists with long names, and longer song titles are finding an underground niche of expressiveness with audiophiles the world over. Many are unsigned, and some publish their music straight to YouTube as a free yet effective means of delivery and distribution. So what are these musicians up to in the back rooms and alley studios of Europe, the US, and around the globe? They’re forging a cult genre known as post-rock.

            Post-rock is what could be called a response, a backlash against oversimplified pop movements and clichés in traditional rock and alternative styles. It’s a deviation from modern music in many ways, not the least of which is the usual absence of vocals, the slower development times, the atmospheric and ambient qualities, and the highly intention composition of music motifs and riffs. The melody lines are highly lyrical--only without words mucking things up. This article is one definition of the genre and the's not the "right" definition or the "only" definition. There's many ways to categorize music depending on the listener. That said, for this writer, Post-Rock is a genre of largely instrumental music that takes traditional rock instrumentation, and fuses it with other musical ideas which results in an ambient, expression, subtle, understated yet powerful musicality. It's a broad definition, but we'll narrow it down a tad as we go. One way to do this is to talk about the band instruments themselves and how they usually work in post-rock.
            Post-rock bands are quite often built upon a 4 or 5-piece rock ensemble idea. Most often present are electric guitars and synthesizers, followed by bass, drums, and more rarely, vocals. Samples, sections of speech, and nature audio are also used by some groups.

Guitars are often warm, dirty and wet, that is with an overdriven or distorted sound into a tube amp, and a healthy amount of reverb and delay added. Volume swells, or use of an “e-Bow” a device that acts like an electronic violin bow are also common. Guitars are regularly layered, with two or three layers being common, but up to five or even seven layers have been used by bands like Mogwai. Slides, octave units, and synth units are also common. Guitars are used in post-rock to generate riffs, and long fill lines by means of triplets, 1/16 notes, or 1/32 notes. They also serve as the “lead vocal” of the song many times, “singing” passages with repeated motifs and planned deviations off of a riff idea. Rather than improvise lengthy passages played at high speeds, the guitars often play carefully composed melody lines and arpeggios that layer with the synths and other guitars.
 Synthesizers often conjure images of 80s metal bands, hairspray overdoses, and polyester poisoning. Audiophiles shudder at the thought of the quintessential nauseous sounds of a Casio keyboard retching out a “saw-synth” tone that is akin to fingernails on a chalkboard. Yet post-rock’s second most common ingredient is a synthesizer. The secret is in the synth itself. Often the synth is a true synthesizer, not a keyboard loaded with presets. The Nord synth is one common and well loved example because it generates ambient tones and pads that add spaciousness to the music. Often it is difficult for an unfamiliar listener to hear a synth in post-rock with any distinctiveness. Instead, a wash of ambient “air”, “cloud like” or “ocean-esque” tones are heard. This is probably one of the reasons post-rock is also sometimes referred to as ambient rock.

The bass is also a key and common instrument in post-rock. Occasionally an overdrive is added to the bass, but usually the bass is a warm, filling, rumbling instrument in post-rock, with full and quarter notes holding a steady rhythm together. The bass often meshes with the synth to create a smooth and well-rounded sound to the music.

Drums in post-rock are also a defining instrument. Some bands use them extensively; such as God is an Astronaut. Some bands hardly use them at all, like Hammock. Others are in the middle—Explosions in the Sky for example, or This Will Destroy You. Drums can vary widely in playing style and approach. Double kick drums and rapid playing can help create a “wall of sound”, though a subtle approach is used as much as an aggressive style. Out of all of the instruments in post-rock, drums are one of the most widely varied, showcasing a good deal of unique approaches and styles.

Vocals are highly uncommon in the post-rock world. In this writer’s opinion this is because post-rock is supposed to put sound to feelings, and allows a listener to create personal meaning behind each song. Vocals—lyrics, more specifically, tell the listener the meaning rather than let the listeners interpret and create meaning for themselves. This is possibly the appeal and driving force behind post-rock: the ability to create a journey, to evoke emotion, and images without using words. Modern music often focuses on fusing lyrics with music to create a message that generates emotion in the listener. Post-rock creates music that draws out emotion from the listener, and lets the listener’s mind go where it will. Simply put, post-rock is music to dream and feel by.
However, there are always exceptions, perhaps most notably Sigur Ros. The band creatively circumvents the “meaning” problem of lyrics by simply having vocals with lyrics. This Enya-like approach creates an incredible amount of emotion to their music, albeit with a far different tone and timbre compared to Enya. The wordless lyrics have a distinct sound, almost like a foreign language—small wonder given that Sigur Rós is composed of band members from Reykjavik, Iceland. Sigur Rós front man Jónsi Birgisson has a tenor voice that often strays into gentle falsettos, and conveys both gentle and intense emotions.
Ambient powerhouse Hammock recently released “Oblivion Hymns” which featured limited vocal work much to the shock of the listeners. As the album title might suggest, the band used boys’ choirs for some of the “hymnal” like interludes with great effectiveness. As a final stunner the last song on the album, Tres Domine featured lyrics sung in English with a strong hymn-like motif. Despite the deviation from the normal the album has proven to be well loved.

Other sounds are often used as well: Sigur Rós has incorporated nature sound effects as well as many other bands, Collapse Under the Empire used breaking glass sounds in one track, and Hammock has several tracks that feature speech, often in an obfuscated or highly effects laden manner. Many other bands have used strings, horns, piano, and so on to help create their signature sound.

Now that we have our band, the question arises, “yes, but what does it sound like?” This is a bit like trying to explain what a painting or a stunning photo looks like without actually looking at it. Nevertheless, we’ll give it a go.
The songs are often somewhat longer than pop songs, ranging from around three and a half minutes to upwards of seven minutes. In that time, the songs often evolve in a very composed manner. A good post-rock song is like a good wine. One sip will not give you all the flavors. Instead, flavor, character, and nature are revealed over time. If you listen to a pop song, you know the nature, character, and feel of the entire song usually by the end of the first chorus, 45 seconds in. In post-rock it will take longer for the song to develop. In short, post-rock is not for the impetuous or impatient listener.
Some songs are highly aggressive, with snappy drums, catchy riffs, and a louder feel. The latest God is an Astronaut album, Origins features a number of songs in this category, such as Spiral Code, The Last March (a personal favorite), and especially, Transmissions. Generally, God is an Astronaut (often abbreviated GIAA for obvious reasons) has a more aggressive, tight, loud, rock feel with a strong synth presence. If we say they are a post-rock band, they are on definitely the post-ROCK side of things. Likewise, some post-rock tracks dive into chaotic (yet composed and defined) dissonant explosions of sound, as GIAA and If These Trees Could Talk demonstrate.
Conversely Hammock is possibly on the opposite end of the spectrum. Long, slow intros with smooth swells, and a far “spacier” feel. If you were flying through a nebula, odds are you’d want to listen to Hammock. The synth-dominated sound is anything but aggressive, and has a very soft, subtle quality to it. Strings often accompany their pads and ambient swells, giving the music a dreamy, atmospheric quality. Dissonance is rarely something Hammock uses, instead relying on clearly defined notes at the right time, like water drops on a glassy smooth pool.
GIAA may make you want to drive somewhere in a fast car on a lovely highway, but Hammock makes you want to close your eyes and dream. And then there’s everything in the middle.

In the middle is Explosions in the Sky, a band that takes a “drier” approach to guitar work, with extensive finger picking, and slower tempos, and a notable general lack of synthesizers. 
This Will Destroy You relies on powerful lyrical-like melodies played on guitar, strong crescendos, and wall-of-sound climaxes that are incredibly emotional and effective. Listen to Quiet, A Three Legged Workhorse, and They Travel on Tracks of Never Ending Light for a sampling of This Will Destroy You. 
Collapse Under the Empire is also a strong synth band, but is more aggressive than Hammock. Their style is perhaps heard best in the layered slow building track The Reminder, and their track Shoulders features a great approach to the dark, swell-driven side of post-rock. 
If These Trees Could Talk showcases the idea of a minimalist lead guitar in the slow tempo piece Deus Ex Machina, but also delivers a great example of a more controlled chaos sound in the track, From Roots to Needles
I am the Architect demonstrates a more epic composition with guitars as integrated lead instruments double-picking the melody line in the track Walk in Regret.
Want more without having to dig and sort through songs? Perhaps the best way is to find one or two songs or artists that you like, and plug the song or the artist name into Pandora and let Pandora find similar music. This will help bring the post-rock genre into your earbuds continually without having to do another search at the end of every song.

Hopefully this has created an idea in your mind of what post-rock is, and where you might start listening. Need a list to get you started? You’re in luck!
Below is a list of artists and YouTube links to full albums to listen to online. Keep in mind that style will vary from album to album! Be sure to check out the video descriptions for links to each song within the video so you can skip around.

Artist                     Album
God Is An Astronaut – Origins
Mogwai – Les Revants
This Will Destroy You – This Will Destroy You
Explosions in the Sky – The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place 
Sigur Rós – Takk…
Hammock – Oblivion Hymns 
Collapse Under the Empire – Shoulders and Giants Playlist
Sleep Dealer – Imminence
If These Trees Could Talk – Above the Earth, Below the Sky
Long Distance Calling – Avoid The Light

Random Samplings (single tracks) from the Post-Rock Facebook group
…Of Sinking Ships – I set Sail on Winds of Renewal 
Litro – Nera 
La Mar – Anchors
Terronaut – Return to Reality
I am the Architect – Walk in Regret

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What Saeed Adedini's case says about US Legitimacy

            One of the roles of the State Department is the protection of Americans living and traveling abroad. John Kerry, as Secretary of State is the head of this agency.
            Yet in September of 2012 the State Department failed to accomplish this protection as Ambassador Chris Stevens, and four other Americans were gunned down in Benghazi under the watch of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately again the Department and John Kerry are again failing to protect Americans abroad as the plight of Saeed Adedini, an imprisoned American in Iran, goes unheeded. As nuclear negotiations with Iran are set to move forward, Saeed has been left behind in a dangerous third world prison. Saeed's imprisonment and treatment (including torture) are violations of human rights--and he is not the only one in this situation as several other Americans are also imprisoned.
            If the current negotiations with Iran (headed by Mr. Kerry) cannot include the release of one or two American prisoners then one must wonder just how effect those negotiations are. John Kerry believes he can negotiate the cessation of Iran’s illicit nuclear activities. If he cannot, or will not advocate for the release of at least one American what makes the world believe he can negotiate a nuclear treaty? What is easier to accomplish: the negotiation of the release of a few Americans, or the negotiation of the cessation and dismantlement of an entire secretive and illegal nuclear program?
            Conversely, if Iran continues to refuse Saeed’s release and humane treatment then this suggests there is little reason to trust that they will do something that demands more effort--as in the wholesale disassembly of their uranium centrifuges. Again, what is easier to do? Release a few political dissidents, or shut down an entire uranium enrichment program?
            This suggests that neither John Kerry nor the Iranians have any legitimacy at the negotiating table. It is likely Kerry either  will not or cannot accomplish the release of Saeed. He is either powerless to do so, or willfully weak on the issue. There will likely be no consequences for Iran’s illegal detention and torture of Saeed, yet Kerry would have the world believe that he bears the power to coerce a jihadist and terrorist sponsoring state to bend its nuclear will to the international community. Yet all the while Kerry has been part of an administration that is rolling back sanctions on Iran in exchange for nothing at all. In light of this and recent events in Syria, the idea of enforceable consequences is somewhat laughable.
            Likewise, Iran itself is also lacking in legitimacy with its human rights failures, and willful violations of Saeed’s human rights. Iran’s suppression of its own people and press, anti-Semitic rhetoric, Holocaust denial, and carte blanche funding of terrorism in Syria and Lebanon utterly shred any semblance of a notion that the nation would comply to a nuclear standard. There have been increasingly few consequences for their other sins. In the face of a weak and compromising administration, what have they to fear for their current sins?
Iran’s leadership already believes it is more powerful than the United States leadership, and has said as much. Given the recent method of “red lines without consequences” as embraced by the US, their bravado is somewhat warranted. As Saeed is still imprisoned and the uranium centrifuges keep spinning, the United States is woefully (and perhaps willfully) powerless to stop either evil from continuing on its merry way.