Hey Tea Partier’s, Somalia welcomes you!

Is the government always intervening in your state’s business?  Are you looking to escape those pesky federal rules and regulations? Then head to the sunny beaches of Somalia!

Originally posted on Africa is a Country, by Sean Jacobs.

Comedians, making a “PSA (Public Service Announcement) aimed at Tea Party members in the United States, get some cheap laughs out of Somalia’s predicament.

H/T: Texas in Africa


Where Lady Gaga and Bon Iver Collide

What do Lady Gaga and Bon Iver have in common?  Well, um, give me a minute…

Okay, they’re both musicians, have released albums in the last month or so, and are both very talented in very different aspects.  And both of them apparently enjoy a nice saxophone solo.

The two artists are on completely opposite ends of the genre spectrum; one wears dresses made of meat, rides into the Grammy’s in a giant silicone egg, and writes lyrics that express her views on immigration reform and LGBT issues, while the other records his albums in a converted swimming pool attached to a veterinarians office in Wisconsin, wears plaid button-ups, polo’s and khaki pants, and surprises his fans by popping up on a Kanye West track.  But on both of their new albums, one can hear striking similarities in heavy saxophone solos and synthetic keyboard instrumentals that would play nicely on a mixed tape between Phil Collins’ “One More Night” and Madonna’s “Open Your Heart.”

Lady Gaga’s Born This Way features several 80’s inspired tomes; the track titled “Black Jesus + Amen Fashion” calls to mind Madonna’s interpretation of the black saint in “Like a Virgin,” while its instrumentals might encourage a cameo by Paula Abdul’s MC Skat Kat.  The single “The Edge of Glory,” features a fantastic saxophone solo by the late Clarence Clemons of the E-Street Band.  The video, which you can watch below, is simple by Lady Gaga’s standards, and seems to be inspired by basically every Michael Jackson video made in the 1980’s.

Bon Iver’s self-titled sophomore album is considerably more complex than Born This Way.  The alt-indie group led by Justin Vernon has touches of 80’s noir, blended with the strong folksy sounds we’re accustomed to hearing from the band.  In a surprising mix, Vernon fuses the decidedly 80’s sounds of the keyboard, electric guitar and saxophone with the twang of a country-esque slow jam on the albums closing song “Beth/Rest.”  You can watch the official video for Bon Iver’s first single “Calgary” below.

So this is 2011, what’s with the flashback?

1980’s music rode heavily on the revolution of the industry with the premiere  MTV; heavily digitized and highly visual, the most successful artists of the era left their mark by making loud statements and challenging the mainstream (See: “Like a Virgin”).

Collectively, the US spent much of the 1980’s recovering from a global recession, conservatives idealized American Exceptualism and President Ronald Reagan, technology was rapidly evolving with the creation of portable devices such as the mobile phones and the Sony Walkman, there was ongoing war in Iraq and the US military bombed Libya.

Pop culture is often at its best when it accurately reflects reality, so it’s no surprise that our music, like our history, is repeating itself.  Additionally, many of those who make up pop musics core demographic were born in the 1980’s — like myself — and while obviously well aware of Madonna and Phil Collins, our experience of the decade is limited to second-hand knowledge.  This 80’s sound, the political outcry, the visual/metaphorical messages people once saw only when they tuned into MTV are now disseminated rapidly through the internet.

To many engaged listeners this music isn’t a revival, but revolutionary.


A New Hope That The Empire Strikes Back at the Jedi’s Return to the Dark Side

As we approach the possible sequel to Barack Obama’s New Hope the Empire is surely striking back. Personally, as a fervent Obama supporter in 2008 (I made calls to New Hampshire, Florida, and Pennsylvania) I’m happy that should he be reelected there won’t be a trilogy. There doesn’t need to be. Like Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi, Obama is being tempted and seduced by the dark side. Gitmo is still open; Afghanistan has drained the wealth of our nation, debilitating its ability to weather the global financial storm, while thousands of young Americans and Afghani civilians have died. Furthermore, an assault on the middle class in the form of debt championed by corporate welfare in the Senate and the White House has gone unfettered by our president. The empire has indeed co-opted this promising young padawan.

I’m not a fan of Lucas’s prequels to his masterful and visionary Star Wars Trilogy and I especially hated Episode 1: The Phantom Acting Ability. However, Lucas’s take on the process of political decay that befalls all republics has been spot on. In The Phantom Menace (the real title) it is a permanent bureaucracy in conjunction with a monopolistic business class that has true control while representatives squabble over inane policies and our kept in the dark on military and regulatory action. This bureaucracy knows no party affiliation or check on its power and through a combination of fear tactics, media malpractice (business class), and money has allowed for a reversal of civil rights of all Americans.

It’s on the back of these events that the Tea Party has successfully funneled white anger against the system only to reinforce the system. Senator Palpatine used fear of this bureaucracy to force of vote of confidence in the chancellor and take control for himself. The current rising star of the republican presidential field, Michele Bachmann, has stated in a Wall Street Journal interview that her favorite philosophical author is Ludwig Von Mises, the economist known for such writings as Socialism, Omnipotent Government: The Rise of Total State and Total War, and surprise surprise, Bureaucracy. 

The Tea Party continues to push back against this bureaucracy but through an unbalanced approach, blowing away sensible regulation of what pollutants go into our water and food while supporting tax credits for industries, deregulation of the financial system and the Sherman Anti-trust policies, and the reauthorization of the patriot act, all programs that have successfully crowded out the free market from American business.

The Tea Party should be careful not to make the mistake of propping up a messiah figure forth right that only serves to indulge their nativist attitudes while allowing the same monopolistic and bureaucratic policies to continue.

We must remember that the problems facing America are not the sole creation of big business as the left would preach or big government as the right preaches, but a collusion of both. This collusion of classes –political and financial– in the protection of a noble class in Washington must be stopped but not at the expense of creating a strong executive with wide powers over the state’s monopoly over violence. There are indeed admirable qualities that Ms. Bachmann possesses outside the hyperbolic religious fervor she espouses in Taliban-like rhetoric.

Many societies have stood on the doorstep of totalitarianism before a charismatic leader, Rome before Caesar, Germany before Hitler, and the intergalactic senate before Darth Sidious’s alter ego Senator Palpatine. I’ve never recommended the Star War prequels to anyone before, but to my Tea Party brothers and sisters I suggest a movie marathon… I’ll bring the popcorn.


The Book of Mormon or Mein Kampf

The following is a post written by Sphere of Influence’s newest contributor Jonathan Smith, who has been so kind as to take time during his vacation — where WordPress is being rather stingy with its access — to share his thoughts on The Book of Mormon and the GOP-er’s who follow the religion.

The Book of Mormon or Mein Kampf
By Jonathan W. Smith

I’m not one to watch award ceremonies, least of all the Tony’s. This year however, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s The Book of Mormon and it’s 14 nominations intrigued me enough to occasionally tune in during commercial breaks of the Bones marathon I was watching. As a fan of South Park I was already familiar with Parker and Stone’s (creators of South Park) take on Mormonism as a religion. An episode from season 7 titled “All about Mormons”, takes the position that though the religion is based on some pretty wild and idiotic theories (what religion isn’t?) those practicing the faith now are generally good, kind hearted people who love their family and are dedicated to the general welfare of their fellow man regardless of faith.

I have not had the pleasure of personally knowing any Mormons but the above description describes the Mormons in The Book of Mormon, HBO’s Big Love, and the most high profile Mormons in America, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. As a committed agnostic myself I never really think about the religion of the candidates running for high office. As noted before, all religions have unsubstantiated beliefs. The idea of thetons is just as preposterous as drinking the blood of Christ and eating his body. If making cannibalism a regular part of my diet is a prerequisite for being saved I think I’ll wait for the next Rabbi claiming to be the son of God. Hopefully he’d let me substitute his body for Chinese food.

However, the title song in The Book of Mormon, has a line in which the lead character explains that the Mormon church considered black people to be undeserving of God’s love until 1978 because of their, our, decision to side with Lucifer before being born. As punishment, God made our skin black. By this logic, great civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela lack the necessary qualities to enter into God’s kingdom. While other religions, particularly in the Christian faith, have had a legacy of racism they have for the most part apologized for their past. Not Mormons, in 1978 God decided to inform the Mormon prophet that blacks had repaid their debt and could become full pledge Mormons. The legacy of racism was deserved.

Both Mormons currently running for the republican nomination grew up in a church environment where from a young age they were taught that blacks were evil and soulless. I don’t know how these ideas inform their actions now (Jon Huntsman was President Obama’s ambassador to China) but I have yet to hear Mitt Romney talk about civil rights or how multiculturalism has added to American Exceptionalism. The only video I’ve ever seen of Romney, the front runner, talking to a group of African Americans was in Florida when he took a picture with a group of young black girls and started to sing “Who let the dogs out”.

In a country that is still reeling from a racist past but building upon a new growing black middle and upper class I don’t think the best way forward is vote for a man who equates African Americans with the devil or Disney stereotypes. Until both adequately answer how this backward and racist belief on the origins of black people has informed them on civil rights, I’m just a bigot who will never vote for a Mormon.


Jon Stewart steps down?

After being “too lazy to write jokes after 5” on Monday evening, Jon Stewart went easy on his friend Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) on The Daily Show, following the congressman’s confirmation that it was in fact his (insert penis euphemism here) in a photograph posted on Twitter last week.  The Comedy Central host chose instead to lay into John Edwards most recent legal troubles as it was originally scripted prior to Rep. Weiner’s press conference.  Some in the media had criticized the faux-news host’s choice, citing Stewart’s friendship with Rep. Weiner for his laxness on the story, despite the show’s thorough coverage of the scandal last week, which included the congressman’s penis squashing Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign announcement and an R. Kelly impersonator suggesting the Rep. photograph his junk in soy sauce.

Stewart returned full force Tuesday evening with a press conference “live” from a Motel 6 in Hackensack, NJ, where he apologized to his staff, his “beautiful and exotic family,” and to the intern who had to count the number of cock jokes, for his choices and announced that he would be stepping down as host of The Daily Show.  Over the course of the nearly six minute bit, Stewart gargled water, poured himself a Cosmo — “a drink popularized by the HBO series ‘Sex and the City'” —  revealing that he considers himself a “Samantha,” blended a strawberry margarita, cut his hand on a broken glass (for which he later received stitches for), and got reamed out by his faux-successor John Oliver while trying to hide the fact that blood was dripping down his arm.  You can watch the clip below: