Monthly Archives: January 2008

Cool Music

Amen, Brother: A Youtube Documentary

It’s been around for a while, but this documentary does a good job of explaining the origin of the ‘Amen Break’, an oft-sampled drum loop. You’ll recognize the break as soon as you hear it. Check it out:

Politics

The Demise of the Reagan Coalition?

John McCain’s emergence as the front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination has some pundits wondering whether the vaunted Reagan coalition has collapsed. McCain – a maverick senator unafraid to confront the Republican establishment on any number of issues, including campaign finance reform, tax cuts and, somewhat ironically, the war in Iraq – has been accused of driving wedges between the “three legs” of the Reagan alliance: economic, social and national security conservatives.

McCain is particularly unpopular (for a Republican) among social conservatives and evangelical Christians, a constituency with which he has had a long and tumultuous relationship. For example, during his 2000 presidential campaign McCain “singled out … evangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as “corrupting influences on religion and politics” and said parts of the religious right were divisive and even un-American.”

During his current White House run McCain has tried a different approach. Perhaps more appreciative of its political clout, McCain has tried to court the religious right by touting his conservative credentials (his voting record, by most standards, is similar to Rick Santorum’s) and by making promises to appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court.  Unfortunately, these efforts have been largely fruitless. In Tuesday’s Florida primary McCain placed third among evangelicals, getting only 28% of their vote.

Several Christian leaders have emphasized that a McCain candidacy would result in either a dramatic drop in voter participation among evangelicals or a realignment of evangelicals behind a third party candidate, a nightmare scenario for a Republican Party struggling in the polls. As James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, noted last January, “[s]peaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances.”

Commentators have characterized this issue in dramatic strokes as an existential battle for the ideological soul of the American right. Rush Limbaugh, for example, declared recently that McCain “is not the choice of conservatives, as opposed to the choice of the Republican establishment — and that distinction is key … the Republican establishment, which has long sought to rid the party of conservative influence since Reagan, is feeling a victory today [following the Florida primary] as well as our friends in the media. But both are just far-fetched and wrong … and so, just as I predicted, the base has fractured.”

Roger Simon of Politico.com, during an appearance on Face the Nation on January 20th, made a similar argument: “the old Ronald Reagan coalition of fiscal conservatives, foreign policy conservatives, and social conservatives has shattered.”

Unfortunately, these sorts of comments are typical of the mainstream media: they obscure and simplify what is in fact an extremely nuanced and complex issue. Indeed, suggesting that McCain would somehow expunge the legacy of Reagan-era conservatism from the Republican Party and in so doing rend the GOP apart is to assume a unified Reagan coalition existed at all, or, if it did, that it has remained a cohesive political entity since the fortieth president left the Oval Office nearly two decades ago. As it turns out, this isn’t necessarily the case.

A simple Google search reveals that angst about the future of the Reagan coalition surfaced as early as August, 1988, in an article by Robert Novak published in National Review. In it, Novak describes a “panic among Republicans and conservatives, who see disaster looming in the first presidential election after Reagan.” Novak also wonders if “[Reagan] is just another Eisenhower, warmly avuncular but lacking a legacy to steer the American Right away from oblivion?” Although ultimately optimistic about Reagan’s legacy, Novak’s commentary nevertheless reveals a less than unified Republican party.

Similar doubts emerged following the election of Bill Clinton in 1992. In fact, so demoralizing was the Democratic victory that some pundits were, according to Professor Rozell of George Mason University, “certain that the conservative movement was dead.” Only the momentous success of the Republican Revolution restored faith among Republicans in their potential to dominate American electoral politics.

More recently, on the eve of the 2006 Congressional elections when it was apparent Democrats would elect a majority to the House and likely the Senate, blogger Taegan Goddard blamed President Bush for destroying the Reagan Coalition: “It took thirty years to build the Reagan coalition. It has taken George W. Bush just two years to destroy it. Polls taken by Reuters/Zogby International on the eve of the 2006 midterm elections confirm this analysis.”

Apparently, the Republican Party suffers from an almost debilitating sense of self doubt whenever it is confronted by the possibility of failure. This is perhaps a by-product of its tremendous success over the last two and a half decades. Or, it could be symptomatic of the challenges facing any big tent political party. After all, trying to co-ordinate a diverse group of political actors each with their own, often competing, goals – certainly an apt description of the Reagan coalition – can be a difficult task (the Canadian Progressive Conservative Party discovered this first hand in the early 1990s).

For this reason, to suggest that McCain’s spat with the religious right is tantamount to the end of the Reagan coalition is to repeat a refrain that has been sung at every important juncture in the history of the modern Republican Party. Although a McCain candidacy may lead to an important realignment within the party, it will certainly not shatter it.

I suspect that come election time should evangelical Christians be asked to choose between John McCain and any Democratic candidate they will be more than willing to vote for the Arizona senator. If not, the shock of both a Democratic presidency and a Democratic Congress will surely rejuvenate the GOP and make reconciliation more palatable.

Politics

Do endorsements really matter?

Endorsements in the Presidential Primaries

or How the Kennedys are their own primary

These days you can’t throw a harpoon without hitting a story about how someone is endorsing one or the other of the presidential candidates. Everyone seems to be getting in on this deal. Starting way back when people were guffawing about how good old Chuck Norris endorsed Mike Huckabee, and witnessed a barrage of endorsements from every direction. Stallone endorsed the Huckster’s rival, John McCain. Hulk Hogan has recently chimed in support of Obama too. Before you knew it, everyone wanted to get in on this: from Oprah stumping for Barack Obama, to all kinds of ridiculous celebrities chiming in. I can’t see how it’d make that much of a difference, because I don’t think many people want to take their political advice from someone who kicks people in the face for a living. But then again, I could be wrong, since Norris seems to have given Huckabee the bump to win in Iowa.

Still, how much can an endorsement really matter, if it’s not from a political celebrity? Oprah does have the reach, with her millions-of-suburban-women audience, which could really help Obama. Clinton was polling strongly among women, so anything that takes some of that away can’t hurt. But then again, what about backlash? The fact that the woman-powered Oprah didn’t endorse the first female presidential candidate has definitely upset some people, and may result in some serious determination among the Clintonites.

This isn’t to say that celebrities don’t have a storied history in politics. Regan was a film star, after all. And he’s had more press during this election than half the other candidates (despite the fact that he’s not running, or alive.) I mean, let’s face it. Besides the occasional joke about Kucinich, and the internet’s fixation with Ron Paul, if you weren’t one of the top 4 Republican candidates, or Top 3 democrats, you pretty much didn’t count. People were invoking Regan’s name left and right (pun intended). And let’s not forget good old Arnold in California. Another film star-turned-politician who has enjoyed enormous popularity.

But if you aren’t one of these people, why would your endorsement matter? If you remember from the 2004 election, Bruce Springsteen wasn’t enough to save John Kerry‘s campaign. So why all the fuss?

Okay, so for a second let’s ignore the movie and music celebs. What about respected authors and nobel laureates? Will they swing the vote? We can ask the Democrats. Toni Morrison, a nobel prize winner, has come out and endorsed Obama. Maya Angelou, on the other hand, went ahead and endorsed Hillary Clinton. You would think that this has to have some effect on some segment of American society. But the effect has yet to be felt. The Salon article linked above provides a pretty interest take on the situation.

The two writers do match their chosen candidates, then. Angelou, with a well-known and colorful life story featuring odds overcome and the triumph of the human spirit, has been embraced as an icon of middlebrow empowerment. With her, you know exactly what you’re getting because you’ve gotten it so many times before, and yet you can congratulate yourself for (mildly) bucking the system. Electing Clinton would make history, but it also promises to bring a familiar presence back to the White House.

Like Obama, with his Harvard degree and pristine, international sleekness, [Morrison] seems too good and too smart for us, the sort of American appreciated by foreigners with obscurely discriminating standards. The electorate famously prefers guys they can imagine dropping by for a barbecue over intimidating intellectuals, but that insecurity has been biting us in the ass for the past eight years.

Step right up and claim your Kennedy. We’ve got plenty to go around.

I think the best part of the election so far has to be the Kennedys. In terms of the Democratic Party, they’re pretty much the royal family. It’s hard to find a family with more clout with the party and it’s members. Maybe it’s because so many of them are so involved in politics, but their endorsements may really have the chance to swing the Democratic primary for Obama or Clinton.

It seems like they have divided pretty evenly into two camps. But the way it has broken down is fascinating, full of seemingly innocent moves and hidden motivations. On the one side, in the Obama camp, we have Sen. Ted Kennedy, currently the second longest serving US Senator, his son Patrick (A US Congressman), and his niece Caroline. If her name doesn’t sound familiar, don’t worry. While she is accomplished in her own right, the fact that she is the daughter of President JFK may carry more weight. Especially because Obama’s camp loves to compare him to JFK. This really can’t hurt his campaign, despite the controversy that has dogged Teddy Kennedy in the past.

Not to be outdone, the rest of the Kennedy clan has sprung into action. Three of RFK’s kids have come out to back Clinton. They seem to focus on the very things their father ran against, the idea of trusting the establishment versus trusting an untested idealist. And they use very un-Kennedyesque language:

The loftiest poetry will not solve these issues. We need a president willing to engage in a fistfight to safeguard and restore our national virtues.

So what could force a dynasty like the Kennedy’s to split so evenly? On one side we have the daughter of a former President, and on the other we have the children of a Former-almost-President. Well there are some pretty pessimistic theories floating around. Instead of the regular talk of people being motivated by the need to participate in public discourse, we have accusations of selfish motives. People say that Teddy endorsed Obama because Clinton had given LBJ credit for fathering the civil rights movement, instead of crediting JFK . Apparently, this is also a reaction for the negative tone the primary took in South Carolina. Political rockstar Bill Clinton, whose obligatory endorsement for his wife has given her a pretty big boost, may have done some harm by taking the offensive and going after Obama. So Kennedy pushed back, and punished the Clinton’s by endorsing their rival.

And RFK’s kids? Surely they can’t be politically motivated! But yet, people are aiming to dismiss his support for Clinton as purely a political move. If she wins and becomes President, she’d have to resign her seat as a Senator. And who’s nicely placed to take over a seat that was once occupied by his father? RFK Jr. Personally, I think that sounds a bit far fetched, but in this day and age it’s quite hard to tell.

Oh but the story does not stop here. Even the Republicans aren’t safe from the Kennedy touch. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is extremely influential in California, happens to be married to a Kennedy-member, Maria Shriver. And his recent choice to endorse John McCain could be the last little bit necessary to get McCain to triumph over Romney. If McCain wins California, which is likely with the Governator on board, that is a huge step on the way to the presidential race.

And Edwards? Or Giuliani?

The former competition plays a really unique role in this election as well. On both sides, the race is pretty close. We have a Romney-McCain showdown, and an Obama-Clinton duel. So, the third/fourth/fifth/nth candidates who drop out of the race, their support may just make the difference. I’d say even more so on the Democrat side. Edwards has polled pretty well, and his stance as a defender of the poor and of labour may resound with the Democrats. So whoever way he chooses may well secure the nomination. It’s a tricky thing, because Edwards is a really strong candidate for a running mate, and he probably doesn’t want to risk alienating either of his potential tickets to the White House. Obama clearly wants the endorsement, and hasn’t really been shy about saying so.

Giuliani’s endorsement of McCain may not really have that big of an influence, but even if it helps McCain secure the delegates from New York, it can’t hurt.  Still, his poor showings so far seem to suggest he may not be that much of a help, after all.

So do endorsements matter?

The answer, in short, is yes.  Endorsements matter a heck of a lot in the 2008 Presidential Election.  I don’t really think people care what Hulk Hogan has to say, and thankfully everyone has ignored Roseanne Barr’s foray into politics, but we shouldn’t discount everyone else just yet.  The Kennedy primary should be closely watched, because it’s as likely as not that the Democrats may have to spend more time campaigning there then they would in some of the smaller states.

And keep your eye on Edwards.  Out of anyone here, I think he holds the fate of the election in his hands (or rather, in his delegates).

-A

Music

Freshly Served Beats

See below for some of my current favourites. Ranging from jazzy funk to underground dopeness, these tracks are courtesy of several of the nicest music blogs on the ‘net:

Little Hooks with Ray Nato and the Kings – Give the Drummer Some More

A jazzy, early ’70s jam. Check out the organ solo at 2:20. From Oliver Wang via Captain’s Crate.

DJ Spinna featuring Phonte – Dillagence (One 4 Jay)

“Likely part of the whole homage wave of cuts that started coming out after Dilla passed, this was releases as a 45 by Spinna and made it on the Mick Boogie & Busta Rhymes DILLAGENCE mixtape (though that version has Busta running his mouth on the cut). This is pretty crazy actually. It features Phonte from Little Brother doing his best Dwele impression. He runs through a mess of “classic” Slum Village and Dilla lines. Spinna is the dude…” From All Up In Your Earhole.

Quelle – Untitled

“… watch out for this dude, Quelle. yes, from Detroit, no he doesn’t sound like whatever you’re thinking.” From Classic Drug References. (EDIT: I think the sample in this track is also used in Freeway’s “What We Do“)

And, for all your Dilla fans, check out this amazing tribute from the Brasilintime premier:

Politics

Black-Focused Schools

Black-Focused School to open in Toronto

Right away, this is probably one of the most controversial topics that has hit the Canadian school system in decades.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this situation (and/or don’t feel like clicking the links above) here’s a quick summary.

The Toronto District School Board voted 11-9 to allow the creation of a “Black-Focused” alternative school somewhere in Toronto. That means, sometime in September 2009, a school in Toronto will open up with a black-focused curriculum, black instructors, and will be aimed primarily at Canadians of Caribbean descent, who apparently have almost twice the dropout rate of Canadians of European descent (40% vs. 23%).

It’s pretty divisive, even amongst the black community. I know there are lots of problems with grouping an ethnic group together in that way, but bear with me. Ostensibly, this program was meant to prevent the kind of violence that’s been building up in Canadian (specifically Torontonian) schools. According to supporters of the proposal, racial tension between students has led to all kinds of trouble. The idea is that a black-focused school would empower these students and put them on a positive path.

This really polarized the community, too. The mother of a recent victim of this exact type of violence has spoken out against the idea, claiming that

“Black school is segregation,” Ms. Small said. “It’s not right.”

Yet, the woman who originally proposed this idea to the school board took the exact opposite view

“It’s not about segregation, it’s about self-determination,” said Ms. Wilson, who first proposed the idea to the school board.

Obviously this isn’t a situation where someone is clearly right and clearly wrong. I think it’s safe to say that no one would argue that this proposal came from the best of intentions. The community is concerned about what they see as the failure of the school system, and the danger these at-risk teens face. But yet, there is serious opposition to the proposal, which may yet doom it.

The school board will find it difficult to get the project off the ground without provincial help, said trustee Josh Matlow, who opposed the plan.

The board, which is projecting a $41-million deficit, simply doesn’t have the cash to support the plan, despite assurances from chairman John Campbell that officials will “find” the money in its already stretched budget, he said.

Source

The Ontario provincial government has weighed in on the matter and has flat out stated that they will not fund this school. This could have a pretty profound impact, because the TDSB is pretty underfunded as it is. What’s interesting is that some of the justification for this decision comes from the last Ontario election where the public lashed out at the idea of funding private religious schools from the public purse. This gets cited as one of the main reasons the Conservatives lost the last election.

If this goes ahead, I sincerely hope that it is successful. Clearly something does need to change, because the current system seems to be failing. But the question is, is this the best course of action? What happens if other ethnic groups or identity groups want to set up their own alternative schools and ask for funding? Does this make things better, or does it just divert money away from the rest of the public schools?

One thing is for sure. It’s extremely important to find a way to engage at risk students of all races. If this is the best way to do it, then I’m all for it. The good thing is that the school board seems to have thought ahead a little bit. It will be a three year trial program, and they’re taking the time to gauge community interest to find out what grade levels to focus on. If they do go ahead with this, it’s vital that they plan every step carefully.

Either way, I’m pretty sure there are a lot of other places watching this situation carefully.

Politics

Playing the Political Markets

I recently discovered how much fun futures markets can be. If you’re a political junkie, buying and selling political futures is a great way to stay informed (especially during primary season), make a little money (unless you’d rather take the safer route and play with fake money) and, in a small way, participate in the political process itself.The two prediction markets I use are Intrade and Hubdub.

Intrade

http://www.intrade.com

By far the more sophisiticated of the two markets, Intrade allows users to buy and sell contracts on a wide variety of political and economic events.

Contracts are generated by the site, and users buy and sell them from one another. Contracts trade on a scale between 0 and 100. The price of a contract reflects the probability of that event occuring according to Intrade users. Contracts that ‘come true’ automatically rise to 100 points while those that do not fall to 0. Each successful contract pays $10. Failed contracts are worth nothing.

If you’re not down with playing for real cash you can also opt out and play with practice dollars.

Intrade sounds complicated, but it’s a lot of fun. I’d definitely recommend it for people who are keeping close tabs on the American primaries.

Hubdub

http://www.hubdub.com/

Much more laidback than Intrade, Hubdub is a new market that has been described as Digg with betting.

Users buy and sell contracts created by other users. Each contract also includes relevant news articles and users vote on which articles are more relevant than others (thus the Digg reference).

Unfortunately, the fact that users are able to create their own contracts means some of them are a little ridiculous (e.g. ‘Will Jesus return to Earth before the end of 2008?’ – which is currently trading at 99% ‘No’).

On the other hand, it’s much easier to use than Intrade. Instead of buying and selling contracts from other users, betting on a Hubdub contract requires only two mouse clicks – the first to select your choice (e.g. on the contract ‘Who will be the Democratic presidential nominee?’ you are asked to choose between Clinton, Barack and Other) and the second to reflect how confident you are it will happen – ‘definitely,’ ‘probably’ or ‘maybe.’ All Hubdub trades are conducted with fake Hubdub dollars, or Hubdub bucks or whatever.

There are plenty of other markets out there, each with their own slightly different method for betting on the future.

I’m just hoping Barack wins the Democratic presidential nomination. If not, I’ll be out like 3,000 fake dollars.

word

Music

Adventures in the Emerald City

lupe

Three weekends ago I headed down to Seattle to catch Lupe Fiasco perform live at the Showbox.

If you ever get a chance to see this dude perform in person, I highly recommend doing so. He is unreal live, partly because he’s one of the few hip-hop acts I’ve seen who sounds better with a live band than he would rapping over DATs or along with a DJ.

The show in Seattle started fairly early. Our crew got there even earlier (at around seven or eight) so we had to put up with the opening act, some band called Optimus. They seemed like good musicians and some of their songs had a nice reggae vibe, but overall the crowd wasn’t really feeling their tracks.

After another hour or so Lupe took the stage and the crowd went nuts. He began by talking to the audience as though we were old friends who had known each other since childhood. As he described how we had first met the band launched into ‘Feel Good Inc.,’ and everybody went beserk.

As his set went on Lupe continued with the story-telling between songs, effectively uniting his performance into a single narrative about his relationship with the crowd. It definitely added to the show since you could tell what song he was about to perform from the description ahead of it. When he started talking about skateboarding people knew ‘Kick Push‘ was next and starting jumping around like fools.

The show also featured Matt Santos, the dude who sings on much of The Cool. Having him on stage during ‘Superstar‘ was dope since so much of that track relies on its hook. As the last song in their set, Lupe and Santos dragged out its refrain as long as they could, which apparently was fine with the crowd who were singing along and jumping around like little kids on candy and crack.

This was definitely one of the best shows I’ve been to. The crowd was hype, Lupe was obviously having a good time and the music was amazing. If 4080Records had a rating system this show would be up there for sure.

-boo

Cool Music

That’s Professor Def to you

I managed to catch Mos Def playing in Ann Arbor the other night. His show was on MLK Day and was dedicated to the memory of J Dilla, the slain Detroit producer.

I’ve got to say it was a really interesting style of show. For those of you who’ve ever been to the Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan, you know it’s not exactly the traditional hip hop spot. Plush, upholstered, assigned seating is not the way I normally catch these shows, but it did lend a kind of legitimacy to Mos’ performance. Middle aged men in blazers and turtlenecks were sitting next to 16 year old hoodlums in hats and hoodies, and yet there was no sign of tension. That’s the real magic of Mos. He can manage to bring together one of the most diverse groups I’ve ever seen at a show, and unite them all.

Mos, debuting a band he called “Watermelon”, was unbelievable. It was originally billed as Mos Def and the Mos Def Big Band, but apparently not all of the Big Band came along. Instead, this is yet another of Mos’ side projects (Similar to Black Jack Johnson, the band he used on The New Danger). They were phenomenal as a live band. All of them were very talented musicians, and really made art out of playing J Dilla beats live. Mos, of course, was impeccable. The whole show had a very jazzy air to it, and it seemed that half of the time Mos was just doing whatever he felt like, improving a little to the beats.

Obviously the crowd was going crazy when Mos finally did Ms Fat Booty, but I think that the people were even more impressed and surprised when they heard Mos covering other songs. It was not at all what I expected, to hear this live jazzy beat and hear Mos cover Pharcyde or Eric B & Rakim. But he did a fantastic job, of course.

Still, the biggest surprise must have come at the end of the show. The crowd was on their feet, swaying, dancing, and completely wrapped up in the music. Enough yelling and cheering managed to get Mos and the band back out for an incredibly high-energy encore, which was just amazing. The music stopped. An official from the University walked on stage. He began his speech simply enough, talking about how great it was to see everyone coming out to honour Dr. King. How great the performance was. How great the whole day had been. He smiled, this incredibly large smile. As if he knew he was about to do something great. We all knew an award was coming, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be this. He took a deep breath, and announced that they were giving Mos Def an honorary visiting professorship! That’s right. That’s Professor Def to you!

mos-def-and-the-big-band.jpg