Dec 10, 2006

Change the tax, change the land-use

Here's a thought: Let's change our Washington State tax system. The way it is now, we pay 8.8 or 8.9 percent sales tax. That's much too regressive a tax. Better: A state income tax. You know, Bill Gates' father thinks we need a state income tax. Aside from the fact that it's way regressive, a sales tax leads to many other unintended consequences. Did you know that for many cities, the sales tax is a good 50 percent or more of their operating income? So, this encourages cities to create elaborate ecomonic development departments whose main goal is to attract business. What's wrong with that, you ask? Here's what: the largest businesses bring in the most sales tax. But not just any type of business. The classifcation that brings in the most sales tax to cities? Auto dealerships and big box retail. So what happens? Cities encourage auto dealers to come to their towns, creating these huge parking-lot businesses that sprawl forever. And they bring in these huge warehouse-sized block buildings that house the Depot businesses like Costco, Home Depot, Office Depot, etc. So how does the customer get to these businesses? By car or SUV, of course! That creates more CONGESTION. And where do the employees of those businesses live? Close by? Usually, they're commuting 'cause they can't afford to live close by since they're only making $8.50/hour. Instead, what we should be doing is encouraging better paying jobs, cleaner industries, and live-work arrangements with a higher density focus in urban areas. This way, changing the taxing structure encourages better land-use planning decision-making, which leads to cleaner, less congested cities.

Nov 27, 2006

This hit a little too close to home...

I Was Placed On This Earth To Put Off Doing Something Extraordinary

The Onion

I Was Placed On This Earth To Put Off Doing Something Extraordinary

Ever since I was born three weeks overdue, it was clear that there was something different about me. However, it wasn't until I postponed going...

How come nobody's sampled 'My Sweet Lord?'

Let me see if I understand how this works. You're a famous rock musician who launches a solo career. You write a song called 'My Sweet Lord' and you get your butt sued for copyright infringement. Yet, today, a guy (or gal) can mix and sample the heck out of any number of past hits without any threat of legal action? Hmmm.
I just heard a song that sampled Yaz's "Move up" from about 1980. The entire song used Yaz's song as a backing, and the producers simply laid down new vocal tracks around that backing. Now, please tell me, how is that different from writing a song that sounds a little bit like a former hit song?

Nov 25, 2006

Second Coming of Charlie Chaplin

Technorati Profile

Sasha Baron Cohen was a big star before "Borat."
Now he's a mega-star.
It's easy to see why. The guy's funny and bold. In an era when satire's been reduced to TV sketch comedy — and rarely at that — Cohen's in-your-face approach offers a wake up call as to what real satire can be.
Yet what Cohen has done, first with his "Da Ali G Show" and now with a feature film, is reveal himself as the true heir to Chaplin.
Sure, Borat's 90-minutes may be a stretch, even for Cohen fans. And its focus on toilet humor likely puts off a large segment of refined cinemaphiles. But at a deeper level, Cohen's pulled off what I believe is the boldest, most audacious satire since Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" hit the screens.
Is it fair to compare the two?
I struggled with that at first. Chaplin's always been a hero for me. Here was a guy who, as a Jew in post WWI Britain, created one of the most endearing, memorable characters in film history: the tramp. In the tramp, Chaplin gifted the world with a vehicle through which mankind's foibles could be revealed. Through the tramp, Chaplin showed us the alienating effects of Modern Times. Chaplin was that special being, the high-level, old-soul trickster (note to reader: see Robin Williams, Stan Laurel and Jim Carrey.)
Is Cohen such a special being?
I'm not sure. But where Chaplin's Tramp was a sublime creation, a subtly self-effacing open book, Cohen's Ali G and, especially, Borat, are in-your-face. Such is the reality of modern times, that satire requires noise to be effective.
Chaplin's brilliance was his ability to create art that could be interpreted on multiple levels. Children could appreciate his movies without getting the satire. Of course, slapstick allows for that.
It takes great intelligence to create great art. It takes brilliance to create great satire. Cohen, who immerses himself in his characters to such a degree it may be dangerous to his heath, is not yet a filmaker and his work isn't as sublime as Chaplin's was. He does, however, share one trait: the brilliance of great satirists.

Nov 18, 2006

Of Beatles and man

Back in college, I read an interview with Paul McCartney. In it, he was asked to reminisce on the early years with the Fab Four. He told the interviewer that going back to those days was like "remembering your childhood summers," and not very easy, at that.
I've been thinking about The Beatles lately, about how much of an impact they've had on my life and the world. And I realize that what McCartney said to that interviewer back in 1981 resonated with me, perhaps with most of my generation, because it wasn't just true for Paul, it was true for many of us.
I believe the Beatles were part of a phenomenon that came about as a direct result of the times and cosmic timing that I often think has the signature of spirit overlaying it.
That Paul, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were talented is clear. Each of the lads went on to more or less stellar solo music careers, leaving us with even longer playlists to enjoy. Yet, there was a synergy to the Beatles, to Beatleness. If each Beatle was part of a larger organism, then that organism was less complete with parts missing.
In my life, Beatles music has been a touchstone of sorts. It has been a salve during rough times and a window to my childhood, when I often dreamed, fancifully, about my future life. I can't hear the number "I Saw Her Standing There" without being transported back to the summer of 1968, to a small hotel in Cuautla, Mexico and the outdoor swimming pool where a jukebox blared that song I'd first heard two years prior.
I took to the Beatles at age 6. It was September, 1966. We were a young family. Dad and mom (and I) had moved to Portland, Oregon from Mexico City five years earlier. But mom wasn't well, so a Mexican girl moved in to take care of the kids while dad worked. She had a Beatles 45 with "I Saw Her Standing There" on the "A" side. There was something revelatory about the music, even to me, a sub-sized 6-year-old. I'd seen the boys on Ed Sullivan and thought they were cool but I also thought the same thing about The Beach Boys when I saw them on TV. Was it just the music or was there something else going on?
When I was 7, dad came home with a copy of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and that act connected me more deeply with my father, who always seemed to be a little ahead of his time.
From that point on, I began collecting Beatles albums. I hunted for 45s. I watched Beatles cartoons. From 1971 to 1975, my friend Lennox Hannan and I must have spent countless hours playing Beatles songs over and over again, examining all the production details and marveling at how lucky the band had been to encounter a guy like producer George Martin. Why'd they do this? How'd they do that?
I remember staring at the cover and backside of Pepper, imagining the Fabs as members of a royal court, as The Knights of the Round Table, as the Three Muskateers—plus D'Artagnon. I'd ponder the "Paul is dead" scenario over and over, staring at Pepper for clues, listening to John singing "I am the Walrus" for the umpteenth time to hear the "I bury Paul."
I'd leaf through the Magical Mystery Tour album's glossy insert imagining—being transported to—another world, a sort of alternate universe of magic buses, incense, and brightly colored, indigo worlds populated by fools on hills, lonely hearts and befuddled submarine commanders.
Was it just marketing? Was I simply an early sucker in what has become mass marketed musical muscle? Perhaps, but I seriously doubt it.
With the Beatles, I always had the sense they, like me, were unique. They, as was I, were bolder, more original, more creative, better looking and less pretentious than, say, The Monkees. As I moved through adolescence, my memories of those early years were potent forces as a touchstone. No pain was too great, no sorrow so severe, that a good dose of Revolver or Rubber Soul would not solve (or, as the case may be, a good dose of Pink Floyd.) And let's not forget Abbey Road or The White Album. I can remember a trip to Spain with dad in 1974. It was, perhaps, my darkest childhood hour, coming on the heels of a nasty divorce. But I'll never forget Revolution #9 playing over and over again in my head as I watched the rainy plains pass by from my seat aboard those Talgo trains: "Numba nine, numba nine, numba nine."
I've always loved The Rolling Stones, The Who, Kinks, etc., the landmark 60s and 70s-era bands. It's hard to argue with the Stones' informal coronation as Greatest Rock Band in the World, a title they seem to live up to, even after 46 years. When a family friend in 1972 gave me the Stones' Sticky Fingers, I was ecstatic. And I have no quarrel with anyone who proclaims U-2 to be the Biggest Band in the world today, or as the English say, the most massive. Bono's earned his nuts.
Yet, it's difficult for me to compare The Beatles to anything else because they were unique. No other popular band had achieved the depth and breadth, the eclectic mix of musical styles The Beatles had in their decade-long run. If the 60s represented the greatest social transformation in my memory, then The Beatles matched that transformation individually and as organism.
Each part of that organism had a significant role to play in the spirit of the times, the zeitgeist, that made the 60s the 60s.
Though it's probably an over-simplification as metaphor, it is, to a certain degree, apt to say that Paul expressed the heart, John the mind, George the soul, Ringo the body. The whole represented far more than the sum of its parts.
I was a 21-year-old college junior in December 1980 when Lennon was killed and I remember the day as if it were yesterday. At the time, I was a staff writer for the Oregon Daily Emerald, the University of Oregon's daily student paper. Passing through the newsroom that day, I overheard a female production staffer remark, "that's the last nail in the coffin of the '60s," likely a reference to Lennon and the Reagan revolution that was imminent. For me, it was a reminder that it was time to move on from those childhood summers.

Nov 5, 2006

Paranoia Redux

Change is brewing, can you feel it?
The old, tired planetary systems that have ruled by force for millenia are self-destructing, even as they attempt murder-suicide.
Paranoid patriarchy, that old standby, is giving way to the universal feminine.
Sometimes, it doesn't look so good. Sometimes, it feels like things keep getting worse.
Look behind the curtain, Toto.
Intransigence is giving way to surrender.
New children are entering and spiritual "sleeper cells" among us, they, too, are awakening.
It's not going to be easy. But then, again, no one said it would be.
The key is to remain centered and to move in love, not fear.
Only by joining together in love will we move forward into the new world.