Monday, March 30, 2009

Make Taxes More Fair

When we hear how the gov't is taxing the rich too much, I think it's important to look at these figures, too:

Like Rush Limbaugh saying: "The top 1% is paying nearly ten times the federal income taxes than the bottom 50%!" This is true. But AFTER TAXES, the top 1% keeps 20% of the nation's income, while the bottom half of earners retain just 14%.

Or the argument that low-income people don't pay taxes. Based on recent data from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office and the Internal Revenue Service, the total of all state and local taxes, social security taxes, and excise taxes (gasoline, alcohol, tobacco) consumes 21% of the annual incomes of the poorest half of America. For the richest 1% of Americans, the same taxes consume 7% of their incomes.

Or the aversion to 'redistributing' income, because that's a form of socialism. From 1980 to 2006 the richest 1% nearly tripled their after-tax percentage of our nation's income, while the bottom 90% of America has seen their share drop over 20%. Either the wealthy started working 3 times harder or we've experienced a massive redistribution of income toward the rich.

It's time for the fair tax, a tax on consumption rather than earnings. And simplification is paramount... this system is breaking under its own weight.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Speed Dialing with no signal at all

U2's new tour, the U2360 Tour, has been announced....and they're starting in Europe. Check out the cool 360 concert and album preview. And be sure to look at that uncool logo down there on the bottom left, right under the "presented by". Wha? Bono Has A Blackberry? Even Slate is perplexed, on the RIM/Blackberry side of things.

Didn't U2 endorse Apple/iPod/iTunes/iPhone? Isn't that Bono's mug on the icon? Will it remain in Version 3?
I feel for Steve Jobs....first the TIME cover with Bill Gates, and now this. It's almost like the Bono is sticking it to him while he's down.

What most people (including the Slate reporter) don't realize is that, and I quote myself from the @U2 Forum here:
"Bono (rest of U2?) are invested in Elevation Partners, a company that has pumped a lot of money (hundreds of millions?) into Palm, a direct competitor of RIM/Blackberry and iPhone. So yeah, it is a lot different than some random company, it's the direct competition of two other products they are affiliated with... odd huh?

I think U2 love electronic gadgets so much... maybe they're doing all this just to get the latest technology. Geeks. Wink Me, too. I like Palm."
This discussion led to funny statements like this gem from Mr. Bonorfied:
"I bet you like Palm Wink I guess U2 figure they've got the market covered because if you're not getting RIM'med you're getting Palm'ed."
Then andyt nailed the name for the new Blackberry-sponsored U2 Tour:
"Perhaps the '360 DEGREE RIM TOUR'"
That's got a great ring to it. Thanks folks, I'll be here all week, but seriously...

Palm's got a new smartphone coming out this summer, the Pre, and it's supposed to be the shimmy shing shing. Why didn't U2 use their considerable leverage to work with Palm? I find it odd...

So, U2 had a "business arrangement" with Apple: "sell our Tunes and we'll do your commercial".

Later, Bono/U2 invest in Elevation Partners (named for the U2 song), who start backing Palm through debt for years to get the company to its savior, the Pre.

Just as the Pre is about to be released, U2 announce their tour is being presented by... a 3rd smartphone company, RIM/Blackberry. I still can't wrap my head around it.

As a U2 fan, I don't like seeing them tied to products. As a Palm fan, this is a slap to the face! All that to say, I hope they find a way to do something cool with all the technology. Geeks!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Desmod Tutu's Wonderful Idea

One of my favorite folks, the Bishop Desmond Tutu has a challenge for Barack Obama:

"(Bishop Tutu) said it would be “wonderful if [Mr. Obama] would apologize for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on behalf of the American people.”"

George W. is really the President responsible for the invasion, but Obama is "the man" now, and there's reason to believe that good folks around the world are ready for a new U.S. And we are ready for a new Us:

"When individuals forgive each other, she (a clinical psychologist, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela of South Africa) said, a “transcendence of the heart begins with a recognition that gross human rights violations were committed.” This is done by telling—and listening—to stories about what happened to individuals in a particular incident.

An “empathetic repair” takes place where both perpetrator and victim are able to encounter each other’s humanity because each person has exposed him or herself “to the naked face of evil” that is within him/her.

What is most interesting in this dynamic is that through forgiveness, the perpetrator has a vehicle for expressing remorse and suddenly finds he has an opening to his conscience that he silenced long ago in order to do evil deeds. In effect, he dehumanized himself while trying to dehumanize another! By asking forgiveness, he re-engages himself with those he wronged and thus “re-captures” his lost humanity."
The year+ we have left in Iraq would be well spent doing things like this with the Iraqi people. They deserve it, and so do we.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

U2: No Line on the Horizon Review by watts4u2

It hit the bitstream before you could buy it, and I took full advantage. I've been listening to "No Line on the Horizon" for a couple of weeks and it has taken me that long to get a handle on it.

Here's what you need to know before I start the song-by-song section. I've been a fan since War, and nothing they've ever released has immediately made me completely happy. Since The Unforgettable Fire, I've been saying that U2 need to find someone other than Eno/Lanois for production. Those guys just implant themselves on the music too much, I can hear them. "No Line" is no different in this regard... Eno/Lanois are more up front in the mix than ever before, and it's not just The Edge doing the background vocals. Much of the time the vocals are not really that far in the background, and sometimes they even make up the bulk of the song.

I think they've learned all they need to know from Eno/Lanois. I'm waiting for the stripped down album, 4 guys in the "loud room", and no additional overdubs/weird soundscapes that have come to define U2's sound. Someday...

All that said, I am a huge U2 fan... I believe! This album has at least two songs that are all-time golden nuggets, and it holds up altogether as an album better than recent efforts. For good and bad, you can tell they took their time with this puppy.

The album is getting some great reviews (5 stars from Rolling Stone, for instance), and some poor ones (Time?....they also call "Wild Honey" a hit). Some folks have just given up on U2.... you know, the folks who can't like something once it becomes popular? Some bloggers, when mentioning what albums came out on March 3rd, didn't even mention the new U2 CD, or put them in the Top 10 list of Best Albums of '09 SO FAR. Only two months in.... shush now!

So here's my personal take on the "Line", song by song:

No Line on the Horizon: I heard the b-side version first, so this slowed-down, soundscaped, Eno-wierdened version left me flat, especially toward the end with the too-sweet chimes. Great line: "Time is irrelevant, not linear/Then she put her tongue in my ear". Bono is oh-so-Bono with his "Whoa-o-o-o-ho", a good example of his willingness to throw himself into a song without fear of being uncool. It works here. The b-side version has a much more raw, live in the studio feel, and I prefer it by a mile.

Magnificent: A big song. The 10CC-like counter melody annoys me. Has some good moments with Edge/Larry, but doesn't really hit the mark for me. I didn't like "With or Without You" at first, either. The live version is better.

Moment of Surrender: Wow, that's a lot of sing-along. This song reminds me of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (read: somewhat boring). The verses and chorus go on forever. Game-saving guitar solo by the Edge sounds like he lifted it from a song off "Layla" called "I Am Yours". Not sure if that's Duane Allman or Eric Clapton, but that's good company. Wish the rest of the song was up to that level...

Unknown Caller: Beautiful long intro, then Danny (somebody tell me I'm wrong here) sings "Sunshine, Sunshine", ah this is a good place. The Eno Chorus here is one of the bright spots on here from me, the computer-like commands are fresh and remind me of Ernie Maresca's "Shout, Shout (Knock Yourself Out)". As much as I rag on Eno/Lanois, this gem is a diamond. The real mind-blower is the ending....a Beatles-like synth/horn thing followed by the Edge's Greatest Guitar Solo Ever. That's right. Is that Styx? Naaaaah

I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight: I call this the Abba song. This will be a single, it's not as bad as the title suggests, I'd like to hear Elvis or Bob Marley sing it, especially the chorus "it's not a hill, it's a mountain...."

Get On Your Boots: Space-age rocker melds Vertigo with Discotheque in a disjointed manner. Interesting, long, slow chorus and abbreviated guitar solo are at odds with the fast pace. They overworked this one (who? U2? overwork a song???), but it does have an undeniably great riff.

Stand-Up Comedy: I had seen this compared to Zeppelin, and that was way off the mark. This song tries to be funky, and Bono is oh-so-Bono in the verses, the chorus belongs to David Bowie....background vocals are great. It has good moments, but I don't love it even though it's a rocker. Odd song may grow on me and should be much better live without all the trappings of the studio and years to work on it.

Fez - Being Born: Eh, long, boring Eno intro kicks in to a completely different sound/song. Once again, Bono's "verses" detract from the song, but the "Oh-aaaaaaaaaho" parts sound great. Incomplete/missed opportunity. Tried to make it weird and lost the song in there...

White As Snow: A slow reminder of "Peace on Earth", the melody is nice enough, but this kind of U2 is not why I fell for the band. Some folks love this side of U2, and it has it's place.

Breathe: The second "Great" song on "No Line", I think Eno called this the most U2-ey song ever, and if he did, he's on the mark. I really like Bono's fast-paced delivery of the verses, it all seems so natural, with the band in full-soaring mode. Sounds great live. Folks, we have a winner!!

Cedars of Lebanon: Another slow one, Bono so serious and self-aware. Not uplifting at all, in fact the album ends with the notion that your enemies "are gonna last with you longer than your friends." How comforting!

So how does it stack up against past efforts? It's too early to tell, but it seems to me that this record was well-manufactured, I'm still hearing new sounds and feeling my way, much like the best of U2's records.... they take more than a listen or two or even few to get under your skin. 3-4 songs that I really dig on any album is doing pretty good by me. I'm used to not getting exactly what I want from U2, and I'm sure that's part of what still makes them interesting today. I can look back at all the U2 records and pick out 3-4 standouts that I like best, and other fans will pick a different set. It's all good.

"No Line" is more challenging than the last two records which went down easier. Hopefully that means it will endure the test of time. Undoubtedly, I will find more satisfaction in rougher b-sides like the stuff off the Digital Box set from the past two albums. Oh, and the live music... yeah, they're knocking "Breathe" out of the park.

"Unknown Caller" and "Breathe" I can latch onto as Great U2 Songs. They both induced spine chilling reactions on multiple listens. For a fan who prefers the stripped down and raw U2, I'm surprised how much I like this record, 'cause it is anything but stripped down. It's filled up.