Wednesday, December 30, 2009

No, That's Not the Point, Ms. Bullock

Last night, still not quite taking advantage of our new cable situation, inertia struck, and, after watching Better Off Ted, my wife and I found ourselves watching 20/20, "The Blind Side: The Real Story Behind the Movie". This Sandra Bullock vehicle (which has already garnered her a Golden Globe nomination) about a well-to-do white family adopting a black ghetto youth to go on to academic and football success is the feel-good movie of the year, already grossing over $150 million. And one can feel-gooder about it because the ghetto youth the movie's based on, Michael Oher, is now a starting offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens and the "mother," Leigh Anne Toughy, is all-too-sassy, all-too-Southern, and all-too-real.

The 20/20 special was as milquetoast and sentimental as a fluff piece can be--made all the better because the actor who portrayed Oher, Quinton Aaron, is also a hardscrabble ghetto youth made good by starring in the film. Aside from being the perfect fodder for some tried-and-true Mandingo jokes from yours truly, what struck me last night was Sandra Bullock's response to a question posed by reporter, Deborah Roberts.

As with all things interracial and successful in this Age of Obama, there has been a backlash against The Blind Side that falls (surprise! surprise!) along racial lines. Apparently, many folks (myself included) have no desire to see the film because it's yet another stereotypical portrayal of good-hearted white folks helping the hapless Negro to realize the success s/he never could've realized her/himself.

Bullock, with appropriate Golden Globe gravitas furrowed her preternaturally wrinkle-less brow and popped off pretentious, saying something along the lines that if money can't cross racial, religious, and/or cultural lines to help others, what was the point of having money?

Roberts let this slide (this was a puff piece, after all), but Ms. Bullock clearly (intentionally?) missed the point here. It's not that white people shouldn't help black people or blacks help whites or anybody shouldn't help anybody else for fear of trampling across whatever schisms divide this country. They all should, of course. They all do. Every day. And bully for them!

But those other stories are ones we hardly, if, ever see. The Other almost never saves white people--unless it's as some vehicle towards spiritual enlightenment which will enable the white man to turn around and save some colored ass (Dances with Wolves, Samurai, and now Avatar). Precious is only one of a handful of movies (Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Alikah and the Bee) where the Others help each other. And The Pursuit of Happyness is the only movie in recent memory where the Other actually helps himself to succeed.

Instead, since the days of Conrack, we have been fed a steady diet of good-hearted white folks (I call them "White Messiahs") going in and rescuing those poor darkies from their circumstances, their poverty, and, one can only assume, from their very selves. Hollywood will bend, twist, and make up the facts (Mississippi Burning) to fit this alabaster altruistic narrative (Oher himself has objected to the way that The Blind Side has portrayed his biological family and hates that the movie claims that the Touhys actually taught him how to play football) while often ignoring or glossing over whatever role white privilege may have played to put these Others in the dire straits they find themselves in. Yes, somehow, mystically find themselves oppressed, but don't worry, the White Man will save them!

We've already seen the teacher and the warrior fulfill these roles ad nauseum. This latest spate of sports films (starting with Hurricane and continuing with The Express and, yes, The Blind Side) is just the latest incarnation of our White Messiah made celluloid.

My own problem with these movies is that, though they come from a much different, much more liberal place, they still spread the message of white supremacy. No, The Blind Side is not Birth of a Nation, with the Klan riding in to save the day. However, this flick and those like it oddly mimic the notorious Dred Scott decision which stated that blacks "have no rights which white men are bound to respect." But instead, they say that blacks and other Others have "no achievement attained not given to them by the white man"; that any gains by an Other could not have been reached by her/his own initiative and skill, but given to them by kind-hearted white folks who pulled them out of their own mystically-disadvantaged mire; that those gains are somehow tainted, most definitely not earned (as white folks' most definitely are), and, therefore, are no achievements at all or at least no achievements "which white men are bound to respect."

It is a common sentiment, idea, stereotype, myth that has pervaded white culture since the Civil Rights movement, casting a haze of doubt on all Black achievement outside of the accepted arenas of sports and entertainment. As an example, there's probably not a single black alumnus of a prestigious university who has not heard accusations of affirmative action at some point in their academic career--though affirmative action actually doesn't exist at the lion's share of those institutions. Professional blacks have probably heard that same sentiment or seriously suspect it exists in their own workplaces.

After all, didn't Rush Limbaugh say that Obama "probably didn't get out of Harvard without affirmative action" (though how one graduates with the help of AA is beyond me)? And wasn't this the same myth exploited by Geraldine Ferraro when she claimed that the black then-senator wouldn't have been competing for the Presidency if he hadn't been black, completely ignoring the facts that there'd never been a black President, that Obama's was truly a rags-to-riches story, and that Hillary Clinton wouldn't have been a Senator, let alone a Presidential candidate, if her husband hadn't been President?

Yet this myth persists, constantly besmirching any gains attained by this country's "Others," and movies like The Blind Side perpetuate this myth. That's the point, Ms. Bullock. That is why folks like me complain about such movies, why we look suspiciously at such movies, at why Hollywood continues to make such movies, and why we're always suspicious as to why white America continues to eat these films up with such self-congratulatory weepiness. And that is why folks like me refuse to see movies like The Blind Side and won't be in the least bit happy when you win your Golden Globe and Oscar for starring in it.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Congratulations, Not That Oakland!!!

Well, we don't really want to talk about my fantasy football team this year. For the first year in my fantasy existence, I decided to forego research and just go with my gut for the draft. How something so big could've been so wrong is still beyond me.

That aside, I offer my heartfelt congratulations to the 2009 champion of the V.J.J. Walker fantasy league, Not That Oakland, who rode the backs of Ryan Grant, Jamaal Charles, and a stifling 49ers' defensive performance to beat Too Tuff, 92-73.

Congrats!!! And way to go, Too Tuff and Washington Express, for dominating the entire season, and Mark's Marauders, who started the season something like 0-5 to ultimately take third place.

See ya next year, yall.

Monday, December 28, 2009

40Madnizz Begins Today!!!

At 1:05pm on May 1, 2010, "acclaimed" author and all-around misanthrope, Bill Campbell, will turn 40 years of age. Instead of meandering in the miasma of WoeIsMe, Mr. Campbell has decided to lose his godforsaken mind!

To celebrate his 40th year on this lovely planet of ours, old books will find electronic formats; new books will be published; tours will be conducted; interviews given; a new internet radio station will molest your ears; novels will be written; new jobs started; diets will be undertaken and quickly abandoned; gyms will be joined and assiduously avoided!

There's no telling where 40Madnizz will take us! Peru? Pittsburgh? Peoria? Your local pub?!

Could there be an audio book in the wings? Is there an accompanying comic strip? Will the blog continue?

Well, yeah. That's an easy one. But what else?

Will 40Madnizz come to your town? A town near you? Can 40Madnizz, like Paisley Park, be found in your heart? Or is it floating somewhere within the smoke blowing out of the author's hindquarters?

Well, join the 40Madnizz fan site on Facebook to find out, be kept informed, and, hopefully, be amused.

Be talking to you soon!


Sunday, December 27, 2009

One Sweed-Ass Game!

I had no idea that the Steelers had cut last year's second-round bust, Limas "Lame-Ass" Sweed and that the Baltimore Ravens picked him up and figured out a way to clone His Royal Sweedness 21 times and have them all play the entire game. And yet, there I was--just hours ago--watching the Sweedest game of the season.

I mean, damn! Ravens! Yall had it in the bag. You could've clinched your own playoff spot and knock the Steelers out of the hunt. Yet, you spread your Sweedness all over the Sweedin' field and Sweeded yourselves into a precarious playoff position while giving your arch-rivals hope for another day!

I mean, 11 penalties for 113 yards?!!! Two of which negated not "sure" touchdowns, but actual touchdowns?!!!

Even you'll have to admit that you deserve to lose after such a performance. Oh yeah. I forgot. Right. The refs threw the game.

Well, we know who didn't catch the game...

Yep. Your boy Derrick Mason pulled the Sweed of all plays by dropping a nice floating pass while he was wide-open in the end zone, letting the ball bounce off his face mask instead of landing in his hands. I heard our boy, Limas, cried on the sidelines with pride in his eyes.

Now, I gotta confess, after the Steelers plummeted from 6-2 to 6-6, I'd completely given up hope for this year. I figured, a Super Bowl champ who loses to KC, Oakland, and Cleveland didn't deserve to be in the playoffs. But after last week's miracle against Green Bay ...

and your complete Sweed-up today, B'more, I'm starting to like our chances.

Now, if only the Eagles would stop Sweedin' around and beat these stupid Broncos!!!

This post dedicated to M.C. and M.D.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Grizzly Bear

Here, I couldn't get this damned song outta my head and now the video's stuck there, too. Hope you enjoy.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Daddy Custody: Another Loss for Feminism?

Mrs. Unknown considers me a feminist, and, aside from my damn-near ritualistic objectification of women, I'd tend to agree. For the vast majority of my adult life, you could find me Feminism's amen corner, agreeing vociferously with whatever the womyn said. However, I'm starting to wonder if I'm growing more and more conservative with age because I find myself growing less and less in agreement with more things feminists have to say. A wonderful case in point would be last month's feature on Michel Martin's Tell Me More when she had a panel of feminists talking about the rise in fathers' winning custody of their children in divorce settlements.

Basically, with women's gains in the workplace, garnering promotions and subsequent financial remuneration, they are more steadily becoming their families' breadwinners and their men are taking on more child-rearing responsibilities, some even becoming their children's primary caregiver. As a result, when such families go to divorce court, a growing number of these men are winning primary custody of their children.

Though light-years away from divorce myself, I did take an especial interest in the feature. As many of you who have read the ongoing Poohbutt Chronicles know, for some time I was a "stay-at-home-ish" dad. We felt it important that Pooh be home for her first year of life, and, if we could swing it, one of us would stay home with her. It was something I desperately wanted to give my wife, providing for her to stay home, but since I'm still a bum and unknown writer (see the title to this blog), it just wasn't possible. Mrs. Unknown is the breadwinner here. But, since my job is incredibly flexible (if not at all profitable), I stayed home with the kid for 12 hours a day and then worked a few hours at night, then on Saturdays, and the occasional Sunday. It was exhausting but well worth it. Those 16 months Pooh and I stayed together were the greatest gift any man can ask for. I hope one day to possibly be able to return the favor.

So, listening to Tell Me More that day, I was encouraged to hear there were more men like me shedding old gender stereotypes and stepping up to raise their kids. I was also encouraged to hear that the courts were gradually willing to accept that men could indeed fulfill that role--despite the consistently reinforced media message that we are complete, incompetent, bumbling idiots in that arena.

Of course, the women on Tell Me More were in exact opposition to my cheery Mr. Mom viewpoint. They saw these recent court decisions as a punishment against working mothers. They said that, despite feminism's gains, the court still viewed a woman's proper place to be the home. Therefore, if a women had the cojones to work outside the home while having children needing to be raised and have the temerity to earn more than their hubbies, judges were going to castrate these harpies by giving their kids away to their former men. They viewed this new child-custody trend as yet another defeat for feminism.

I don't know if I'm just being a contrarian here, but I actually view it as feminism's victory.

Despite the myths that we've been raised with, it's not as though women did not work outside the home before the '60s/'70s' iteration of the feminist movement. It's just that it was assumed that middle-class women would return home after they got married. Those who didn't were just assumed to be helping their husbands make ends meet. Therefore, women were stuck wading in secretarial pools and other "pink collar" jobs. It was assumed that they either did not possess the ambition, qualifications, and/or character to move up the corporate ladder.

The feminist movement did away with such stereotypes. There is still work to be done. Glass ceilings do still exist, but female doctors, lawyers, and executives are no longer people who raise eyebrows.

Feminism has gradually changed the workplace--though not as rapidly as we would like here in the States. There's still a lot of work to be done with maternity and family leave and childcare. Oh, to be Europe! But it has changed it so much that even men are asking for such things from their employers.

Some men are even asking it of themselves in the home. Though American women are still tasked with most household duties, it is changing for the better. According to a study published last year by the Council on Contemporary Families: "The average woman – employed full or part time – with children is doing two hours less housework per week than in 1965." So, there is a struggle for gender equity going on within the American home. So much so, there are even men willing to stay at home to take on primary caregiving responsibilities.

The fact that the courts are acknowledging these changes and granting men custody is not a sign of defeat for feminism, it is actually the fruits of feminism's victory. While I believe that gender roles have never been static, I think gender role stereotypes generally have been. Women were always supposed to stay home and tend to the house and children while the men always went out there and earned for their families. So, while feminists were out there tearing down the assumptions for the former, they created and encouraged the dismantling of the former.

This is not a zero-sum game, where feminists' victories created men's own defeat. In fact, I think both sexes have gained immeasurably by feminism's gains. In other words, the striving for equality can eventually bring about said equality. It does not confer equality while retaining certain privileges--making one side "more equal" than the other. If a woman is no longer assumed to be inferior in the workplace, it can also mean that she will no longer be assumed to be the superior mistress of the homefront. If a woman can be a CEO, why can't a man cook the meals, change the diapers, and provide "Daddy kisses" to magically heal all booboos?

One panelist complained that judges didn't understand that "a Mommy never stops being a Mommy." What she failed to understand is that a caring father never stops "being a Daddy," either. I know I sure as hell don't.

The main point of this argument, which one panelist pointed out, is that divorce simply is not fair. People are always punished for terminating the marriage contract. It's not fair to the father. It's not fair to the mother. It's not fair to the breadwinner nor the primary caregiver. Each side will have legitimate gripes before, during, and after any divorce settlement. But, most importantly, it is not fair to the children--who never, ever had any say in their parents' getting married nor procreating nor splitting up and forcing them to divide their homes, loyalties, and lives between their feuding parents.

Therefore, the paramount issue in any custody battle is not whether the working mother or stay-at-home father (or vice versa or whatever mutation each side happens to take) are being punished here because no matter how you slice it (absent of abuse, of course) the children are the ones who are ultimately punished here. The primary issue is in whose home will their lives find the most benefit. So, in all honesty, I find it an encouraging sign that our courts are more carefully weighing each family's individual circumstance as opposed to simply relying on steadily "outmoding" gender stereotypes to determine where a child will be happiest.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Time to Hang 'Em Up, Ben

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's career ended on June 12, 2006. That was the day "the youngest quarterback to lead a team to the Super Bowl championship," full of youth, hubris, and foolishness five months after said Super Bowl championship rode his motorcycle, helmet-less, into an oncoming vehicle, busting up his knee, breaking his jaw and nose and, way too apparently (even soon after the accident), busting up his noggin pretty good.

I know it sounds pretty ridiculous to say that a quarterback who has thrown for over 13,000 yards, 86 touchdowns, and 60 interceptions and has led his team to yet another Super Bowl victory since that incident ended his career three and a half years ago. And yet ...

No, wait. Strike that. What was really ridiculous was the day that really ended Roethlisberger's career: August 11, 2006. That was the day that Steeler head coach, Bill Cowher, knowing full well that Big Ben had suffered a serious head injury, declared Roethlisberger would start the first pre-season game: "He will play for a short period of time, and I will leave it at that. Everyone else will play a series or two."

Ben promptly sprained a thumb ligament on his throwing hand in that game. So, he had the busted-up knee, jaw, and nose, the messed-up thumb, and, oh yeah! the concussion!

He was still scheduled to start the 2006-07 season opener until he was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. He actually missed the season opener (Charlie Batch started in his place) but was back for the second game--just two weeks after doctors cut into his stomach. He was 17 of 32 passing for 141 yards while throwing two interceptions and was sacked twice--a story we rarely heard his first two seasons before his accident but one we've heard damned near every game since the accident.

So, if you're still keeping count, before Ben even started that season he had the busted-up knee, jaw, nose, and thumb; the abdominal surgery (which I've heard takes something like six months to recover from); and, oh yeah! the motherfucking concussion!!!

For us fans it was a frustrating experience, as the Steelers stumbled onto an 8-8 record and completely missed the playoffs. The "experts" and pundits blamed lack of intensity on Pittsburgh's lackluster performance. Personally, I blamed that motorcycle accident and, most importantly, Bill Cowher.

Without getting too much into it, I've seen a bit of what a serious head injury can do to a person. How it can diminish them. Turn a very intelligent person into someone who can barely retain the strains of a conversation--let alone a job. How a usually mild-mannered person can turn into a tempest of emotion with violent, depressive mood swings.

I also talked to my mother-in-law, who's a doctor in nursing, about the Roethlisberger accident. She'd told me that someone with that serious of a head injury would not be allowed to be very active for an entire year after the incident--let alone play football!!!--because having a concussion makes one more susceptible to getting more concussions. Head injuries generally take a year to heal, and it is really hard to detect the extent of damage the brain has received until months after the incident.

In other words, there was absolutely no way that Big Ben should've been playing that season. No medical professional (outside of the sports industry) would've allowed him to jog on a treadmill (to say nothing of playing football) for months after his head went through that windshield. It was simply too dangerous for him to be on the field. They were risking further damage to the man's brain and, for all they knew, his life.

And the infuriating thing is, they had to have known. Yet, they kept Ben out there.

On October 26, in a game against the Atlanta Falcons, Roethlisberger was carted off the field with yet another concussion. The Steelers were 2-4 after that game. And yet, the next week, with two concussions in four months, he played against the Oakland Raiders.

He played one of the worst games of his life against one of the worst teams in the league--fumbling the ball once and throwing four interceptions. Something was obviously wrong. And, though I was well aware of the supermachismo that rules football, I was still furious. Roethlisberger shouldn't have been out there, and, if I knew it and my mother-in-law knew it, then Bill Cowher had to know it, too. After that Oakland loss, the Steelers were 2-5--their season effectively over. There was absolutely no reason to have Ben continue the season.

But his determination to start Ben seemed personal. There were times in Cowher's reign when things seemed to get personal with him. Like his benching Kordell Stewart just three games after he led the Steelers to the AFC Championship game--though the two losses were to the far superior New England Patriots (Super Bowl champs) and the Oakland Raiders. Then the millions the Steelers were paying to have a healthy Duce Staley sit on the sidelines.

It seemed like he was punishing Roethlisberger for being stupid enough to ride a motorcycle without a helmet. He probably didn't want the boy to ride a motorcycle period, and he was going to show Roethlisberger the error of his ways. It didn't matter what happened to the Steelers' season--which was ruined by this decision. Nor did it matter how dinged up the boy got--he ... would ... learn.

But I think what we're all learning is that Cowher's decision has probably prematurely ended Roethlisberger's career. 'Cause one of the many things that last Thursday's game against Cleveland showed me is that, once again, something ain't right with Big Ben. After coming back way too soon from yet another concussion, he just didn't look himself or particularly aware of what was going on around him as he was sacked eight times against one of the worst defenses in the league.

I know that the NFL is now playing lip service to taking concussions seriously. If that were really true, I don't know how they let Roethlisberger play another down after his latest concussion suffered during the Kansas City game. As I've stated, having one concussion makes you more susceptible to receiving others. Since Ben's accident three and a half years ago, he's had four head concussions and one spinal cord concussion (whatever that is).

Now that the league has been forced to acknowledge that these head injuries can lead to a shortened life of depression, suicide, and tragically violent outbursts, it's time that they acknowledge that four concussions is simply too much for one person to suffer, to acknowledge that they have more than likely caused irreparable damage, and that it is football that caused it.

Personally, I wish Bill Cowher would get on the air and explain why he did it. Why, on August 11, 2006, he decided that a seriously injured Ben Roethlisberger was going to be his starting quarterback. Was it machismo, some form of punishment, actual ignorance, or was it the short-term costs of having your million-dollar starting QB out a season that drove his decision to shorten Ben Roethlisberger's career and possibly his life?

Because the former is most definitely shortened. The League may not be as serious as they're acting right now. However, folks are becoming more and more aware of the damage that concussions do. And we can be fairly certain that Big Ben, "one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league," will continue to suffer them. And there will come a point--probably not next season but probably the season after that--when he'll have suffered so many concussions that there will be a public outcry (though, apparently Hines Ward will be calling him a "pussy") for him to hang up the cleats.

I hate to say it--because I love the way the man plays and I love the way he keeps winning Super Bowls for us--but I think that time is now. He is not only one blow to the head away from ending his career--but possibly, just possibly, one away from ever possibly having a normal life again.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Health Care Quote of the Day

Sen. Joe Lieberman tells the New York Times why he's suddenly decided to torpedo the Medicare buy-in he's supported for at least the last nine years and as recently as three months ago.

Apparently, the liberals liked the idea too much.

“Congressman Weiner [D-NY--and huge champion of the public option] made a comment that Medicare-buy in is better than a public option, it’s the beginning of a road to single-payer. Jacob Hacker, who’s a Yale professor who is actually the man who created the public option, said, ‘This is a dream. This is better than a public option. This is a giant step.’”

Way to go, Joe! I guess you're living the dream ... of every right-wing nutjob who's ever wanted to destroy anything resembling a progressive agenda. I guess that's what it means to be an "independent." Good luck getting that GOP nomination in '12.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"No Friends Here"

Children like routine, repetition, consistency. Children do not like change.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard that. How many times I've told it to myself.

It's that mantra that has provided the only negative part to this whole new move. What will this massive change--the new house, the new routines, the new daycare--mean to Poohbutt? It's funny. I mean, the girl's two. It's not like she's going to remember any of this. I realize that, always have, and yet, it hasn't stopped the guilt from creeping in.

Well this morning, it washed over me like a great flood. I was dropping her off at her new daycare. Yall know I didn't handle the first daycare situation all that well. Well, Pooh had her issues as well. In fact, she pretty much kept to herself for the first five months she was there. The teachers would constantly tell me how well-behaved and how quiet Pooh was there. Eventually, they confessed that she hardly ever spoke to any of the other children or the teachers and really just spent the days playing by herself.

Something magical happened when she turned two. She became an extrovert and became quite popular with the other kids. Every time she entered the school, everybody would be like, "Good morning, Poohbutt." And when she left, it was "Good night, Poohbutt."

She'd enthusiastically wave and say goodbye, and then proceed to babble for the next half hour as I drove us home.

You can see why I was apprehensive in changing daycares. But I did. We didn't have much of a choice.

It's been a little over a week now. As you may have predicted, the teachers are telling me how well-behaved and quiet my girl is. So, I know what that means. They're also saying how well-adjusted she's been.

Well, maybe at school. But, at home, she's going through some changes: mean-mugging and throwing all kinds of fits. But that's to be expected. Her world has changed quite a bit these last 8 days. But these drastic differences between her reported conduct at school and her definite outbursts at home make you wonder what's going on in that little mind of hers and what's going on with her at the new day care.

I pulled up to the daycare, threw the gearshift into neutral and applied the parking brake. I turned, and chirped, "Here we are, Pooh, at your new school."

She had this vacant look on her face and whined ...

"No friends here, Daddy."

God. I thought I was gonna cry right then and there.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Top 10 CDs of 2009

Well, it's been a long time since I've been a music critic listening to hundreds upon hundreds of the 100,000 albums that reportedly come out each year. I was about as "in the know" as one could be--and yet totally clueless about the vast majority of music coming out. In fact, it used to be funny when I'd tell people I was a music critic and they'd be utterly shocked when I'd never heard of their favorite artist du jour. Telling them that there were something like 100,000 CDs that came out that year was no excuse. I'm guessing it wasn't. But there's just too much stuff out there to be up on most of it, and I felt totally secure in my ignorance.

Well, no longer being a music critic, I'm even more ignoranter now. But I still like my music. I don't really try all that hard to keep up with what's going on, but I do happen upon stuff that I really enjoy. I thought, since I haven't blogged in awhile, I'd share my ten favorite discs of the year. I liked a bunch of stuff this year and actually feel bad about a bunch of the stuff that I didn't include.

Please don't treat this as an authoritative list (after all, I don't know shit). Just think of it as a helpful Christmas guide for that know-it-all smart-ass music fiend who always scoffs at what you give them for Christmas (we are soooo ungrateful).

1. Mos Def - The Ecstatic

Yeah, yeah. I know. Mos was soooo last millennium. I get a lot of crap at work for still liking the Defster, but I can't help it. I think he's actually striving towards genius, and I gotta respect it. Black Star and Black on Both Sides are hip-hop classics, and I think The New Danger should be. True Magic was true crap, but I think Black Dante really redeemed himself with The Ecstatic--even though, there are moments where it sounds like a Stones Throw compilation. Madlib got lazy on this one and just used a beat from one of his Beat Konducta tracks. But still ... Madlib, Oh No, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Chad Hugo from N.E.R.D. teamed up to produce one hell of an album. Now, dear co-workers, ridicule away!

2. Blakroc - Blakroc

The '90s had The Heavy Rhyme Experience, and the 2Gs will (just barely) have this album--where a great band teamed up with some of the best rappers around to give us one of the best musical experiences a hip-hop head can have. Confession: I was never much of a fan of The Brand New Heavies nor The Heavy Rhyme Experience. However, I am a fan of the Black Keys, and I do love this disc. They've got Luda, ODB, Q-Tip, Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, Nicole Wray (who can sing her ass off), Rza, Raekwon, Jim Jones, and NOE (who sounds a little too Jay-Z for me. But M.O.P.'s Billy Danze is the one who really stands out here. His ubertestosterone vocals mesh perfectly with the BKs' dirty rock stylee. Blakroc is the best mix of rock and rap since Rage gave up their battle against the Machine.

3. Passion Pit - Manners

Yeah. I wrote about these guys before. And what I wrote about them before still stands:

"I don't know exactly how to describe them. Maybe something like--2Gs electro-rockers with a taste for late '80s dance music and a dash of the Beach Boys. Something along those lines. Maybe."

Let me just add that they are catchy as hell. Just listen to "The Reeling" to see what I'm talking about. I just can't stop returning to that song and this album--no matter how hard I try. I think I'll be listening to this one for years to come.

4. The Heavy - The House That Dirt Built

I'm a bit of a The Heavy fan. Actually, I try screaming their praises every chance I get. You don't hear me, dough. Not that I blame you. I've been trying to ignore myself for years. Anyway, I used to describe their first album, Great Vengeance and Furious Fire, like: "Well, imagine if Lenny Kravitz didn't suck." That album had more of a dirty, retro funk--like Poets of Rhythm, Sugarman Three, and Sharon Jones--feel than this one does. This is more of a hard-rocker. I still love it, though. I hate it when artists give me the exact same thing on their sophomore efforts.

5. Shafiq Husayn - En' A-Free-Ka

Now, if my scuttlebutt is correct, Sa-Ra (of which, Shafiq is a part) felt shackled by Babygrande on their debut release, The Hollywood Recordings. They celebrated their release from the major label with a 23-song release on one of my favorite indy labels, Ubiquity. That album, Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love is a sound to behold. There aren't too many creative forces in R&B these days trying to make lasting music, and I applaud Sa-Ra's efforts. However, I'm from the LP era. Give me your best 9-10 songs and leave me begging for more. After listening to Nuke Eve a few times, I'm left begging for Gatorade to replenish my electrolytes and an extra cranium to help me digest it all.

I enjoy Shafiq's solo En' A-Free-Ka much more. Yeah. It's 17 songs long, but it doesn't feel as exhaustive. Also, I feel like I know where Sa-Ra's coming from a bit more easily--like they're on a Sly-and-the-Family-Clinton-Prince-3000 train that I've been on before. Shafiq feels a bit more unique. If you're of the Mary J. Blige school of R&B, I don't think you'll enjoy this much. But if you can handle Badu, you'll definitely want to check Shafiq--and Sa-Ra--out.

6. Major Lazer - Guns Don't Kill People ... Lazers Do

I love Diplo and his music so much, I even dedicated an entry in My Booty Novel to a Diplo set I went to. Major Lazer is the brainchild of Diplo and Switch. Oh, wait. According to Amazon, Major Lazer is ...

"a Jamaican commando who lost his arm in the secret Zombie War of 1984. The US military rescued him and repurposed experimental lazers as prosthetic limbs. Since then Major Lazer has been a hired renegade soldier for a rogue government operating in secrecy underneath the watch of M5 and the CIA. His cover is that of a dancehall night club owner from Trinidad and he enlisted the help of long-time allies and uber-producers, Diplo and Switch, to produce his first LP. His true mission is to protect the world from the dark forces of evil that live just under the surface of a civilized society. He fights vampires and various monsters, parties hard, and has a rocket powered skateboard."

Yes, these white boys are crazy. And so is their music. Guns Don't Kill People ... is a futuristic dancehall madhouse where Baltimore, Rio, and Kingston collide in Diplo and Switch's hands to give you a maddening dance adventure you ain't never heard before. Amanda Blank and Santogold make appearances, of course, along with a bunch of dancehall wizards to provide one magical experience.

7. Diamond District - In the Ruff

I think half of my co-workers are somehow involved in the DC hip-hop scene. As a result, I've been exposed to what my adopted town has to offer, and I gotta tell ya, I like it. For those who keep clamoring that hip-hop is dead, come to DC to have the life breathed back into your hopes. Oddisee is our local super-producer. He's got those hyperbolic drums much like Black Milk, and, like Tronic, every track jumps out at you, smacks you in the face, and steals your wallet. Rapper XO is pretty cool. And I'm a big fan of yU, whose Before Taxes was bound to make this list, but I wasn't sure if it came out in '09 or '08. Cop that, too, if you can find it.

8. The Dead Weather - Horehound

Jack White is one of the reasons I actually started listening to rock again after 20+ years of hating the stuff. Oh yes, I can listen to the White Stripes all day long. I even like his other side project, The Raconteurs. But this ... this I fell in love with. I can't get enough of lead singer Alison Mosshart's voice (I guess I'll have to check her out in The Kills). The two together--with an all-star band of musicians from groups I've never listened to--have created something so rough, so rugged, so raw, I find myself huddled in the corner of the shower, scrubbing my black ass pink under the scalding-hot water, until I somehow feel clean again. Oh yes, you can call it love.

9. Tegan & Sara - Sainthood

I generally like my music pretty rough around the edges. Hostility and aggression are also admirable qualities. I've gotta tell you, I'm surprised these sisters are on this list myself. I'm chalking up to a Celebration of My Inner White Girl. All I can say is that Tegan and Sara's power pop is so infectious that, by the second time I listened to Sainthood, I was already singing along. And whenever I need a feelgood moment, this is the disc I turn to.

10. Doom - Born Like This

There was a time, not too long ago, when MF Doom would've dominated any Top 10 list I could come up with. Viktor Vaughn, King Geedorah, Madvillainy, DangerDoom. The man's genius seemed to know no bounds. Even without the MF (I hear he got sued over it--which I guess means that Grimm is the only MF left in hip-hop), Doom is still one of my favorite MCs. He didn't blow my mind on this one, but Born Like This still deserves to be on any Best of list for 2009.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Obama Afghanistan Plan Song of the Day

Speculation has run rampant around the globe in anticipation of President Barack Obama's planned speech tonight detailing his "new" plan for Afghanistan. With Britain's PM Gordon Brown already announcing his intentions to send more British troops to the country, it is all but a foregone conclusion that President Obama is going to follow General McChrystal's plan for an increase of American troops for the region. The question is no longer (nor never really was) whether Obama was going to follow McChrystal's wishes for increased involvement, but to what degree the increase will take. For an in-depth analysis of the war in Afghanistan and President Obama's plans for that war, we go to Tome special correspondent, Pete Seeger, to read between the lines and offer his own special analysis of the situation. Pete?