The Nation’s Pulse

The Nation's Pulse

What a Waste It Is to Prevent Waste

By 10.17.14

Ballot questions empower voters to speak the most glorious word in the English language: No.

It’s efficient. Using just two letters it nevertheless possesses more power than any four-letter word. It’s easy to remember with its components falling sequentially in the alphabet. It’s direct. There’s no “on the other hand” or “maybe” ambiguity in “no.”

“No means no,” public-service announcements thankfully remind fraternity brothers and roofie-wielding last-call vultures. The catchphrase merits repeating on political adverts.

Denizens of Massachusetts, displeased with the state legislature repeatedly balking at expanding the bottle bill to apply to flimsy water containers, have taken their campaign directly to the people. Question 2 seeks to compel consumers to pay an extra tax when purchasing a Gatorade, Snapple, or other non-carbonated beverage not currently requiring a deposit charge. The state now charges a nickel. The initiative directs increases automatically tied to inflation.

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Marijuana Madness in My Earpiece

By 10.8.14

On the evening of September 21, I was sitting in the green room of KTVA, Anchorage, Alaska’s local CBS affiliate, awaiting my turn to discuss the Alaska gubernatorial race live with news anchor Alexis Fernandez on the Ten O’Clock newscast. It was then that my earpiece picked up the shocking conclusion to the report on the Alaska Cannabis Club by the now-infamous Charlo Green. She revealed that she was the owner of the pro-marijuana legalization club that she was covering, and followed that revelation by speedily resolving the obvious conflict of interest: “F--- it, I quit,” she helpfully announced on live air, and then walked off the set.

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Welcome Back, John Sebastian

By 9.22.14

Every once in a while I am willing to go the extra mile to see a performer in concert.

In the case of John Sebastian, I went about 40 miles north. That is the approximate distance between Boston and Gloucester, Massachusetts where the former Lovin’ Spoonful lead singer performed earlier this month at the Gloucester Unitarian Universalist Church, the oldest church in Gloucester. The Unitarian Universalists are more socialist than Christian, but they sure know how to book a musical act.

Although I have been to Gloucester twice before, I somehow departed the train at West Gloucester rather than Gloucester. Fortunately, I flagged down a letter carrier from the U.S. Postal Service who was kind enough to supply me with a phone number for a cab. Say what you will about USPS. In this case, they delivered.

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Songs of Innocence Lost

By 9.12.14

U2 released its thirteenth studio album, Songs of Innocence, earlier this week for free via iTunes.

The if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em approach appears as a belated acknowledgment that fans will take that not given. In late August, weekly album sales dropped below 4 million — a first and a worst since SoundScan began tracking numbers in 1991.

Just as radio once served as a for-free mechanism to promote the money-making LP, actual albums now represent a promotional vehicle for monetized ventures such as concert tours, advertisements, and back-catalogue sales. Seventy-five-years ago, records displayed “Not Licensed for Radio Broadcast” labels, the FCC granted airwave rights on the condition that stations initially avoid playing recorded music, and ASCAP boycotted radio once the feds relaxed restrictions. Music has been here before.

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Andrew Tahmooressi’s Imprisonment Is Something We Should Be Ashamed Of

By 9.8.14

What to make of the peculiar situation unfolding just across the border in Tijuana, where U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi languishes in solitary confinement for the crime of mistakenly crossing the border with his personal weapons in his truck on March 31?

Nothing to inspire confidence, for certain. In fact, Tahmooressi’s ordeal might just confirm many of our worst fears about the Obama administration.

The Tahmooressi story sounds more like a schlocky Hollywood script than a real-life tale. Its protagonist is a decorated Marine veteran of two tours of duty in Afghanistan, honorably discharged in 2012 and diagnosed with a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); he was moving to the San Diego area specifically for treatment of his PTSD. And Tahmooressi’s ordeal is mind-bogglingly unjust; he mistakenly crossed the border from San Ysidro, California, into Mexico because he missed an interstate exit that would have taken him to dinner with friends. Instead, the twenty-five-year old war hero wound up at a Mexican border station driving a pickup truck full of his possessions, which included two rifles and a pistol, plus ammunition.

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I, Robot

By 9.5.14

Google pursues a chip that promises to make machines more like humans. It’s about time they atoned for making humans more like machines.

Google’s most annoying legacy is the search-engine expert, the know-nothing know-it-all, often encountered in online message boards and article comments sections, who types and clicks his way to facts but never wisdom. In an earlier incarnations, the Google Expert boasted a library of dog-eared Cliffs Notes sharing shelf space aside books with uncut pages. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations acted as his speechwriter. Now Wikipedia Brown offers decontextualized bits of information, just like Google does.  

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Jesse Jackson and the Renewed Fight to Racialize America

By 8.26.14

What if James Foley, the journalist kidnapped and murdered by ISIS — had been black? Would he have still been killed?

If Juan Williams, a black man, were on a Fox News Sunday panel with the white Bob Woodward, Laura Ingraham and Karl Rove, all discussing the events in Ferguson, would the panel still be a “white panel”?

Was 9/11, which killed hundreds of blacks and Latinos, a racist attack?

We’ll never know the answer to the first question — although we know for a fact that the Rev. Jesse Jackson got headlines and television coverage aplenty years back by securing (along with the then-unknown Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Louis Farrakhan) the 1984 release of a captured Navy pilot in Syria who was black. 

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Jeff Buckley: The Eternal Life of Grace

By 8.25.14

On August 23, 1994, Columbia Records would release Gracethe debut album of Jeff Buckley.

It would prove to be his only fully completed album.

On May 29, 1997, while in the midst of recording his follow up album in Memphis, Buckley disappeared after taking a spontaneous swim fully clothed in the Wolf River. His body was found nearly a week later. An autopsy revealed no drugs and only a nominal amount of alcohol in his system. Buckley was 30 years old.

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Quick Fixes and Lasting Grief

By 8.21.14

By the dawn’s early light, as they say, there’s the too frequent news in the morning about those who didn’t make it through the perilous night.

Drug overdose deaths, for example, in Allegheny County (a county containing Pittsburgh and surrounding suburbs and rural areas in southwestern Pennsylvania) are approaching 300 a year. Pretty soon, 1-a-day, like the vitamins.

In addition, the morning news about the previous night’s murders, the pointless killings in the predictable parts of the city and disproportionately linked to drugs, brings few surprises.

In “True Crime: Ferguson vs. Pittsburgh,” former Pittsburgh Tribune columnist Bill Steigerwald writes that Ferguson, Missouri, “roughly 65 percent black” and in the daily news with unremitting protests and looting following the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer, has a lower murder rate, rape rate, and robbery rate than Pittsburgh, “about 25 percent black.”

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Drugs Are Bad, Mkay?

By 8.15.14

“Drugs are bad, mkay?” explains South Park’s Mr. Mackey. Like Nancy Reagan, Joe Friday, and other tellers of this simple truth, Mr. Mackey plays the punchline. But a teller of simple truths isn’t a simpleton but rather someone blessed with the ability to cut through sophistry.

When I was very young, a man in a dress asked me if I rejected the glamour of evil. I remained circumspectly silent. Two adult relatives, assuming my virtue from my visage, answered “yes” for me.

Drugs strike as the epitome of this peculiar phrase uttered by that peculiarly draped man. The chemicals prove so seductive that they make the hideous attractive. Snorting lines probably seemed glamourous to Robin Williams in his twenties. But what’s less glamourous than a sixtysomething-year-old man hanging from his own belt?

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