Friday, July 31, 2009

Someone Explain This To Me...

So the president has apparently been travelling around the country these last few days in order to drum up support for his big health care reform initiative. Yesterday I saw this piece on the Awl about how in some towns (they specifically reference Tuesday's visit to Raleigh, NC and Wednesday's visit to Bristol, VA -- a town on the Tennessee border) he's been met with protesters. Now, it doesn't really look like a shit-ton of people, but still there are clearly working-class Americans out there protesting health care reform. I mean unless the health insurance companies got together and paid a bunch of unemployed people $50 bucks to stand out there with signs and boo.

What I really want to ask these health care opponents is

(a) when it comes to health insurance are you (i) uninsured, (ii) underinsured, or (iii) stuck with an insurance company you HATE?


(b) do you make under, say, $200,000 a year? (Earlier this month the Health and Human Services Secretary actually said that the House bill was contemplating a surtax on Americans earning over $350,000 in order to pay for the new plan.)

because if you answered "yes" to both those questions you would stand to benefit from the proposed health care reform without having to pay anything more in taxes.

Whatever happened to supporting your own self interests?! Isn't that what Ayn Rand preached in that Atlas Shrugged book that conservatives all supposedly love? (I don't know, I didn't read that shit.)

OK, the details of how the new plan is going to work and how it will be paid for are far from simple, and -- yes -- government programs have a history of fucking things up. But, come on now, could the government really do a worse job with health care than the fucking insurance companies that are basically in charge now?? There are some legitimate concerns such as the burden on businesses and the danger of inflating the deficit, but I am certain that Congress is keeping an eye on these issues (and I don't give Congress a lot of credit).

I can understand being against healthcare reform if you are an insurance company executive or maybe if you're some rich bastard who already has all the health insurance you could ask for (maybe a private jet to fly you to South America for impromptu elective surgery... sorry, where was I?). But if you're the average American who is getting screwed under the current system (and aren't we all getting screwed?) why would you be opposed to reform?

I say shut up, stop protesting, and quietly hope a public healthcare option will be part of the final bill that gets signed into law. It will be a major accomplishment if Obama can pull it off, and if it doesn't happen I will be very angry at the Democrats in Congress.

Photo of protesters in AUSTIN, TEXAS found on

Summer Jams

The "Song of the Summer" is a concept as ethereal as it is ephemeral. In theory, it is the one tune that different stripes of people all over are jamming out to that summer, which somehow encapsulates the zeitgeist of the time and, in the future, will conjure up memories of whatever it was you were doing during those steamy months. There are disbelievers out there who will deny that the Song of the Summer actually exists or who will perhaps argue that, in the past there may have been such a thing, but the Song of the Summer as an institution is now dead due to the fragmentation of musical tastes, the general crappiness of the music being churned out these days, etc.

My personal experience with the Song of the Summer has been fairly limited I guess. But I can remember a few occasions when, probably in August, I've been in a club somewhere (I go to clubs?! Sure....) and a song came on. Maybe the song had become ubiquitous to the point where it bordered on annoying. Or maybe I had somehow managed to only hear it a couple of times up until then, and on those occasions although it had barely registered for me I was at the same time slightly intrigued. So anyway, now it's August and I'm in that hypothetical club and I'm like "it's that song again" and even if I'd thought I was bored with it I suddenly realize that I am in the presence of the Song of the Summer and so I get swept up in the moment and really enjoy it.

Of course, I can't actually name any of these songs now. I want to say that "Paper Planes" by MIA was the song of a couple of summers ago (or was that last summer? I think it depends on who you're talking to), and I also want to say that "SOS" by Rihanna or maybe "Shut up and Drive" – one of those – was once the Song of the Summer. Or is it just that I really like Rihanna? Whatever, mine is a personal relationship to the Song of the Summer.

So what is all this a lead up to me announcing what the Song of this particular Summer is? Hell no; I'm so out of the popular music loop it's not even funny. But, there are a couple of songs that came to my attention lately which I've been enjoying and which I wanted to share. Before I do so however I should probably repeat that I am NOT claiming that either of these are serious contenders for SotS.

First up is this song "Make Her Say" by Kid Cudi (whose producer is Kanye West) and featuring Kanye and Common. The hook is very catchy and the video has lots of pretty colors. Word is maybe still out for me on whether this kid can really rap (Kanye and Common's parts are way better), but I still like the song. Watch the video but BE WARNED that (a) its subject matter is somewhat vulgar and (b) Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" is heavily sampled. Somehow though Lady Gaga comes off sounding all angelic on this track -- kind of like a Regina Spektor type.

If you didn't like that, song #2 is totally different. It's called "Prepare Your Coffin" and its an instrumental track by a "post rock" band called Tortoise (off their new album Beacons of Ancestorship). I can't stop listening to it, and it's video is just as artistic and stylish. BE WARNED that this definitely falls into the category of "white people music," also the first 15 seconds might sound a little hard and dark but don't let that (or the song title) scare you off. It's really good, I swear.

One final thought on the Song of the Summer: how come none of the other seasons get their own song?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bam Bam

I'm sad to say that the summer is already more than half over. Yuck! So, anyway, what have I been up to thus far?

Well, the highlight of my summer thus far would have to be the week long trip to Jamaica I took along with my "sister-from-another-mother" (i.e. Ada) and some other members of her Houston crew at the end of June/beginning of July. We stayed in Negril, which is a resort town on the island's more relaxed, less developed west end. We found a good deal for staying at the Grand Pineapple, an all-inclusive resort located right on the beach and within walking distance of nightlife spots.

Adjusting to Island Time was not a problem: most of our days were spent on the beach (fun fact: I am apparently incapable of lying out in the sun now without peeling), drinking (Red Stripe and assorted fruity rum drinks), and venturing out to live music venues at night (quote Ada "Don't be surprised if it's reggae!"). Our big innovation, which someone dubbed the Blue Bar, was to combine our top two activities by wading into the ocean with our drinks and sipping them while congregating around a beach float. We didn't get our arses in gear to go scuba diving until like 4 PM on our last day there, but on the plus side the diving was good and I think a couple of scuba sceptics might have been converted.

Other than that, our biggest excursion was the day trip we made to Mayfield Falls. The ride there through the lush, green mountains of the island's interior was an experience in itself (especially after our driver stopped off at a rasta shack on the side of the road – painted red, gold and green with a lion of zion). I remember we passed a lot of cute little girls and boys in school uniforms. I also noticed that the village mentality pervaded in the Jamaican countryside: when people pass someone they always acknowledge each other (some of the greetings I heard included "Respek" and "Rasta!"). Drivers even give a friendly honk when they pass people on the roadside.

So anyway, hiking up the falls was very cool. I was surprised how the water was crystal clear. At one point, our guide up the falls got us to swim below these rapids and through this little passage under the rocks. We were dubious at first when he told us that once you get to the bottom you'll be able to see the tunnel and the light at the other end you're supposed to be swimming towards, but sure enough...

I guess after this the guide got the impression that I was fearless or something because shortly after that he was all "follow me" and said something vague about "natural jumping." I followed him to this tree overlooking the water. There were rungs and notches to climb up, but it was still a little tricky especially as your footwear is by this point all wet and muddy. Then we got to this precariously narrow wooden platform maybe 15' up the tree and he was like "Ok, now turn around and jump." I was like "Whaa?" (In retrospect, I think I was expecting a rope jump or something).

So I was like "no way" and had to climb back down, which was 10x harder than climbing up or jumping. Plus I was shaken (and I had made the bad choice that day of wearing these swimming trunks that constantly slip down my arse). So I wussed out, but then after I saw the guide and Zach jump, I was like "Oh, I think I can do that." You see, all I needed was to see how it was done! So I climbed back up and after hestitating for awhile (it's mostly scary because you start off on the platform with your arms wrapped around the tree – afraid you are going to slip and fall and crack your head open – and then you have to make a quick 180-degree turn and jump into the water). But, on the plus side, it was one of those easy jumps where there's no wrong way to leap into the water (i.e. there's water directly below you, and you don't need to worry about clearing any rocks or anything).

And thus begun my love affair with jumping into water from a height. Later in the trip, Zach rented a bungalow at this hotel in the cliffs for Ada's birthday (Note: if you want a bit more luxury than an all-inclusive resort, perhaps a romantic couple's vacation in Negril, there are some nice places to stay in the cliffs overlooking the ocean. The place we were at was called Catcha Falling Star and it had a very chill, friendly staff plus a nice restaurant and a bar where you could open a tab for the day with your credit card). We had a great time: drinking Red Stripe, snorkeling in the slightly choppy waters below, dancing around in a sunshower outside the bungalow.

Plus there was cliff diving! I jumped off of what seemed to be the most imposing and dangerous looking ledge in our general vicinity (for some reason deciding to do this when almost no one was there to witness it). This was definitely higher than the tree platform and also there were rocks below that you could potentially kill yourself on so you needed to like take a big step off the cliff.

Here's the photographic evidence: a shot snapped by new friend Beth. It was taken from kind of far away but you can tell it is me by how my arms are all spazzy midair. Also, those are the friggin' swimtrunks that won't stay up! That other guy in the photo had jumped off the ledge a few minutes earlier, and he gave me some pointers before my leap. Oh, and I landed arse first which smarted somewhat.

I think the reasons I felt obliged to do these jumps were threefold: (a) I was on vacation and in Jamaica and when was I going to get another opportunity to do this?, (b) I may have felt like I had something to prove to Ada and Zach after my TOTALLY JUSTIFIED motorbike-related freakout on a muddy mountain trail on Koh Phangan (let me know if you would like to see a future blog post on this), and (c) I think I felt like I needed to conquer this type of fear if I ever want to be a serious competitor on Ninja Warrior (this will definitely be the subject of a future post).

So yeah, in conclusion, Jamaica rocked. Sorry about the blogging hiatus, but look I'm back now.