Volbeat Deserving Of “Next Big Thing” Status; Amaranthe Presents Unique Sound

One of the things I enjoy in my well-rounded life is some great music. There are things that I come across that I simply cannot stand (such as Taylor Swift’s caterwauling…seriously, can someone give the girl a gift certificate to buy a voice?), but when I come across something I find great, I like to tell people about it. As my general preference is for harder edged rock, it will often go in that direction (but not always…).

Of late, there are several bands that I am very high on. Previously I told you about Halestorm and, if you want to get on that train, they should have a new album out towards the end of the year (meanwhile, jump on their ReAniMate 3.0 covers album). Here’s two more that you should be considering: one is a major opener for one of the biggest tours of the summer and the other presenting a different sound, if you will, in the hard rock genre. As always, I don’t claim to be on the band first, but I do think they’ve got some legs to them for the future!

Volbeat

Volbeat is a band out of Denmark that has been a 16-year “overnight success.” Despite having great success in Europe with their mixture of rockabilly, hard rock, and punk – surprisingly, the band rarely embraces a hard-core metal or thrash sound – Volbeat was unable to penetrate the U. S. market to any great extent. That changed with their latest release, Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie, which debuted in the Billboard Magazine‘s Top Five Albums the week of its release last year. As we speak, Volbeat is joined by Avenged Sevenfold (on some stops) as the warmup acts for the massive Metallica “WorldWired” tour that is hitting stadiums in the U. S. and worldwide.

That they all are considered hard rock acts (Metallica delves into thrash metal and A7X crushes their more metalcore sound) demonstrates the diversity of the hard rock arena. Volbeat, as stated before, aren’t your typical metalheads, incorporating sounds from across the spectrum into their particular brew. On earlier efforts, Volbeat’s sound was more inspired by country music such as Johnny Cash (their effort previous to this, Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies, had a theme to it that gave you impressions of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western). With Seal the Deal, however, Volbeat has a sound more reminiscent of The Offspring than anything else.

The first song on the album, “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown,” was a very strong effort that just didn’t seem to click with U. S. audiences when it was released as a single. It wasn’t until the eponymous title track was released that some success occurred for singer Michael Poulsen, guitarist Rob Caggiano and bassist Kaspar Boye Larsen. “Seal the Deal” was a powerful piece of music that rumbled from the speakers, with the guitars provided by Caggiano being particularly notable. Since then, hard rock radio has been all over “Black Rose,” which may outdo “Seal the Deal” in popularity.

Surprisingly, Volbeat can sound almost melodic with the music they create. Do not be fooled, however, they do have an edginess to their lyrics that can be surprising and, in some songs, imagery of Hell and the Devil are implied. There are tunes about darkness, redemption and “selling the soul” that some might not like. That would be their misfortune, because most of the songs have a finish where, if the protagonist doesn’t emerge on top, they are at least fighting towards the future.

Along with the songs mentioned above, there are a couple other efforts that are noteworthy on Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie. “The Gates of Babylon” is a very good track from the album, but it is a cover song on the album that is even more surprising because of its quality. Taken from the Georgia Satellites (an 80s outfit that is highly underrated), “Battleship Chains” demonstrates that Volbeat takes their inspiration from a wide assortment of musical genres. The future is going to be fantastic for this band and, with the next couple of years, I can easily see them becoming a huge part of the music scene in the U. S.

Another great foreign act that has been chipping away at the walls in the U. S. (the metaphorical ones, not the ones some idiot wants to put up) is Sweden’s Amaranthe. Another one of those multi-year “overnight sensations,” the band actually started in 2008 and has been pretty much non-stop touring and recording since then. They had a bit of success in 2013 with the song “Drop Dead Cynical” from their Massive Addictive album, but they have found their stride with their latest release, Maximalism.

Pinning Amaranthe down to a “sound” is roughly like trying to give a cougar a bubble bath in a thimble. First off, the band encompasses some elements of EDM but loves to roll out a metal guitar assault to go over the hypnotic background. They can sometimes veer into the realm of “pop” music, which may offend some of those who are more hardcore, but they always seem to be able to bring it back to a more “hard rock” sound when necessary. That may be because of the triumvirate of vocalists that Amaranthe employs.

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That’s right…three vocalists. First there is Elize Ryd, who gives an ethereal quality to some songs when she’s not rocking out with an unbelievable voice. Ryd gives credibility to the Amaranthe sound whether they are in their more experimental modes or they are driving the guitars down your throat. A nice meshing with Ryd WAS Joacim “Jake E.” Lundberg, who had a voice that harmonized nicely with Ryd as they performed the “clean” vocals (Lundberg, after the release of Maximalism, left the band and was replaced by Nils Molin).

There’s a reason I say “clean” vocals. The third vocal effort on the album is Henrik Englund, who provides the “death growl (a guttural vocal styling where it sounds like the beasts from Hell are emerging from your speakers)” or the “unclean” vocals on the record. While it may sound like it is a complete mess, Amaranthe has been able to put together songs that perfectly accentuate the stylings of each of their singers and, likewise, the other members of the band (Olof Morck on guitars and keyboards, Johan Andreassen on bass and Morten Lowe on drums).

Of particular excellence is “Boomerang,” an effort that would have been perfect on pop radio had it not been for the crushing guitars and Englund’s growling of his lyrics. A song about how someone tries to put another person down – but the person keeps coming back “like a boomerang” – it is an outstanding tune that epitomizes Amaranthe very well. Two other songs, “That Song” and “21” are also excellent, but most surprising is a ballad that demonstrates the abilities of the band quite well.

Supersonic” is a tune that Englund takes a break from and let’s Ryd and Lundberg exercise their vocal abilities on. Yes, it is a ballad – and everyone usually HATES a metal ballad – but it works for Amaranthe because of the dual vocals (not a duet – each vocalist has a lyrical segment written for them). Using some orchestral instrumentation along with the band’s musicians, it may give some a comparison to Amy Lee and Evanescence, but “Supersonic” soars in its own right and serves as an excellent “palate cleanser” for an outstanding record.

You may not have heard of them yet, but they’ve got the potential – especially with Ryd’s photogenic qualities and the power of the band – to be a breakout act, possibly even on the pop charts (bands always appreciate crossover success, not to mention their record companies). They’ll have to get control of some of their personnel issues – not only from Lundberg’s departure last year, but Englund replaced original “unclean” vocalist Andreas Solveström in 2013 – to fully realize their potential, but if they can record more albums like Maximalism, it will push Amaranthe into the stratosphere of the hard rock/metal world.

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A Fine Line Between Disliking and Dismembering: Kathy Griffin Was Wrong

Recently it has become nearly impossible to pool the regurgitation that has emerged from The Resident’s efforts in Washington D. C. The constant cesspool of filth that is spewed by him and his Confederacy of Dunces leaves many breathless in trying to keep up. Just as soon as one fuckup seems to be reaching its apex – let alone its conclusion – they seem to fire off another shit storm just to make sure that their idiocy stays in the public eye.

What can be even more of an embarrassment is the actions of those that support The Resident. The recent murder of two Good Samaritans in Portland by a white supremacist who seemed to be reciting The Resident’s campaign platform while being arraigned for the murders is simply the latest in what is a vitriolic campaign of hate from the GOP. The Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado in 2015…a figure looking like President Barack Obama hanging from an interstate overpass in 2014…multiple instances of Obama being burned in effigy…calling former First Lady Michelle Obama an “ape” or that she is transgender…these are but a few of the examples of the vile lengths that the GOP has gone in depicting the 44th President of the States of America and his family.

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For the most part, progressives have stayed away from some of these statements…that was until yesterday and “comedian” (my emphasis…I’ve personally never liked her work) Kathy Griffin’s desire to make her voice heard.

Griffin, who has been able to parlay her supposed “D-List” status into a moneymaking endeavor (she even had a show on cable television called My Life on the D-List that followed her every move), tries to come off as an “edgy” comic that is “pushing the boundaries,” something that is difficult to do when you host New Year’s Eve with Anderson Cooper on CNN (about the most “unedgy” thing you can do). Now, when I think of this type of comedy, I am more in the lines of the work of the late George Carlin or even Sam Kinison, two men who rode the edge in search of the joke (and always hit the mark with their efforts). So what Griffin did yesterday is not only “not funny,” it puts her in the same closet as those vermin who dip to the depths that some on the right do.

We won’t justify Griffin’s actions with a photo here, but I will attempt to explain it. In an unflinching shot, Griffin – with absolutely no inkling of “making a joke,” smiling or otherwise trying to show a comedic aspect of her action – holds up a mask that is intended to be the head of The Resident. The mask is smeared in red “blood” as Griffin holds the head by the hair in her hand, as if she has decapitated The Resident herself and is presenting the prize to the people.

Kathy Griffin arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles

In some circles, this would be promoted as a “performance art” or a “artistic statement,” but if Griffin meant it in this manner, she grotesquely missed the mark. Outrage from not only conservatives but also from those that Griffin thought she was representing – those left of center – came from all corners of the globe, sending a scurrying Griffin to Twitter to apologize for her actions. In a video Griffin stated, “I sincerely apologize. I am just now seeing the reaction of these images. I’m a comic. I crossed the line. I move the line, then I cross it. I went way too far. The image is too disturbing. I understand how it offends people. It wasn’t funny. I get it.”

First – some people have made this argument and couldn’t be further from the truth – this in NO WAY represents the thoughts of many who disagree with The Resident. While you can have philosophical, political, and methodical differences with a person or politician, it should NEVER approach the realm of even advocating for the death of another person. I can dislike you with the intensity of 1000 suns, but that doesn’t give me the right to suggest that your death solves the situation.

Second, this reinforces in the minds of the right that they are being “persecuted,” something that energizes their stance. Griffin’s supposed “comedic statement” gives those on the right a hook to hang their “martyrdom” on, that they are the ones being disrespected or threatened with various methods of execution from an angry horde of progressives (besides the fact it is often the conservatives screaming to “bring the torches”). It fuels their fires of hatred…by having that same fuel used against them, a twisted bit of psychology if ever there were one.

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It is certainly a fine line between comedy and tragedy, such as the old woman who slips on a banana peel and falls. Many might find that funny, but wouldn’t find it as hilarious if that same old woman broke her neck and died after slipping on the same banana peel. You can attempt to do edgy, even controversial, comedy, but there’s a line between pointing out the absurdities of life and/or politics and moving into the arena of advocating for the physical intimidation or, even worse, death of someone you don’t agree with.

Many on the right often overstep this boundary. The left used to be able to keep their heads above the water on this instance and refuse the temptation of such absurdities, but the current administration seems to have brought the disease created by conservatives to the progressive side. It is something that cannot be allowed to continue.

You can disagree – loudly and vehemently. You can advocate for their imprisonment – including a special island where they can rot. You can question their humanity – because many of their works are from an evil demon rather than any person with a shred of concern for their fellow man. You CANNOT, however, incite physical violence or advocate for your opponent’s death. There are some lines we must maintain as an intelligent species, otherwise we are but animals who simply have advanced linguistics and tools.

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Griffin’s apology is hopefully heartfelt. She’s not going to escape the ramifications of what she’s done – say goodbye to that cushy New Year’s Eve spot on CNN with Cooper and probably a slew of stand-up gigs for the near future, not to mention sponsorship deals – and that is the way it should be. Free speech is a beautiful thing, but there are also consequences when that “beautiful thing” is exercised in a manner not acceptable to the common man.

Protests Only Work When It Hurts…

It’s funny the things that will come up when you’re in the process of moving. During me and my wife’s latest move from the foothills of North Carolina to the Gulf Coast of Florida, I happened across probably one of the more disappointing moments from this year (at least until possibly the election in November)…

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Now, the seats weren’t fantastic – in fact, they were at the other end of the arena from where the stage was situated. But they were square on with the stage and would have offered a great opportunity to see much of the crowd enjoying the show from Bruce, one of the legendary performers in rock history (I could tell stories about seeing him in 1980 for a six-plus hour show, but we’ll save that for another time). My wife and I were eagerly anticipating the show as it had been many years since either of us had been able to see “The Boss” in action.

Then the North Carolina General Assembly and asswipe Governor Pat McCrory got their panties in a bunch.

In February, the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance extending protections to the lesbian/bisexual/gay/transgender (LGBT) community. A part of this ordinance – and the issue that sparked the most controversy – was the provision for allowing people to use the restroom of their gender identity, rather than that of whichever sex they were born. In essence, the ordinance allowed those who were in the process of shifting from one sex to another to use the restroom of that other sex (male transgendered individuals could use female restrooms and vice versa).

The response by McCrory and the GOP-dominated North Carolina legislature (which has been gerrymandered to make it virtually impossible for a balanced legislature to occur – witness the THREE TIMES that the federal government has called the state’s legislative districts unconstitutional) was immediate. Convening a special session of the General Assembly (one outside the normal working times of the legislative body), McCrory and his henchmen pushed through HB2, a bill that was so overreaching in its aim it was destined for the “unconstitutional” bin almost from the start.

Not only did that bill immediately set that “all people” had to use the restroom of the birth sex, but it also removed the right for minorities and the LGBT community to sue through the state court system for discrimination. It included a provision that prevented individual cities from enacting their own laws that differentiated from state statutes. With many Democratic representatives protesting by leaving the voting floor, the statute passed through the General Assembly with only about 12 HOURS of overall discussion.

This was the end of March and, within days, the impact was felt. Several local productions in theaters around the Tar Heel State reported that the rights holders to significant stage productions (plays) were pulling their approval for performance over the bill. The streaming provider Hulu pulled the production of a program they had set for airing out of North Carolina over the bill and PayPal suspended expansion of its operations center in the state. This was but the tip of the iceberg, however.

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Many entertainment artists have also pulled out of shows that they were scheduled to perform, including “The Boss,” Pearl Jam, Boston, Bryan Adams, Ani DiFranco, Ringo Starr, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato and Cirque du Soleil. The real thunder came down, however, over the past couple of months, first with the National Basketball Association’s removal of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte. Then, just yesterday, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) removed SEVEN championship games or playoff sites from the state, citing the law as the reason. All totaled, the loss of business regarding all of these repercussions could total to as much as half a billion dollars by the year anniversary of HB2’s passage, with the NBA All-Star Game accounting for about $100 million of that total, and could even impact future business in the state.

The reason this came back to me was not only a result of the move. Finding that ticket stub for an unused concert was simply the catalyst for a reply to model Kate Upton’s Twitter hissy fit over athletes not standing for the National Anthem. Of course, over the weekend was the opening weekend of the National Football League season (and the 15th anniversary of 9/11, just coincidentally) and, following in the footsteps of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s continuing protest against inequality in the United States, some players either did not stand for, knelt in protest or displayed the “Black Power” salute as the National Anthem played. This bunched Upton’s panties, who stated, “This is unacceptable. You should be proud to be an American. Especially on 9/11 when we should support each other.”

The continued attention being drawn to what has now become a movement (hey, if a subject catches the nation’s attention for more than two years – yes, it’s been that long since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, widely considered the spur – it is a movement) is only done when a protest has an impact. Kaepernick has been vocal in the past regarding the issues of black people in the United States and their treatment at the hands of law enforcement, but no one was paying any attention to what he was saying. It wasn’t until his act of defiance of not standing for the National Anthem – and attention was drawn to the fact that he was doing it – that there became a national conversation (admittedly sometimes not about what Kaepernick wanted to talk about, as with Upton’s attempt at using her First Amendment rights by silencing Kaepernick’s, but still there was discussion).

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For a protest to have an impact, there are a couple of things that it should have. It has to have some financial teeth, some fiscal bite, that pushes some to reconsider their positions (it also has to have a side that understands those fiscal implications – apparently North Carolina Republicans are morons if they issue this response). Along with that, it should have some emotional impact on people. There were plenty that were upset over Springsteen’s decision to not perform in North Carolina, just as there are more than likely many upset that Demi Lovato didn’t come to North Carolina or that LeBron James won’t be making an appearance during the NBA All-Star Game in the state. A protest only works when it hurts, either physically or emotionally. That is what makes a protest enact the change that comes about (eventually) with issues.

I’m putting those unused Bruce Springsteen tickets back in the desk as a reminder to myself for a couple of reasons. One, something has to be lost (in some cases) for a protest to have its desired effect, and Two, there is the ability to protest at all levels, from the richest of us all to the poorest. It will be some time before the protests of the actions in North Carolina and the national discussion of inequality are adequately addressed, but hopefully it is sooner than later.

Freedom of Speech Only Goes So Far…

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Earlier this week, former Boston Red Sox pitcher and ESPN baseball commentator Curt Schilling offered up on his Facebook account an anti-transgender meme that has been making its rounds on the internet. In this particular meme (I’ll refrain from putting it on here because…UGH!), a rather unattractive man is wearing female clothing with the quotation beside him, “LET HIM IN! To the restroom with your daughter or else you’re a narrow minded, judgmental, unloving, racist bigot who needs to die!!!” Schilling shared the meme and, after a moment’s thought, deleted it, but not until after some people had screen-captured what he’d done.

To take it a step further, Schilling then stepped to his personal blog and tossed more gasoline on the raging fire. To give him credit, Schilling didn’t shy away from his personal beliefs (“There are things I have deeply held beliefs in, things that are core to who I am, things I am passionate about…whether you like that…or not is completely up to you.”), but he also had to know what was coming (more on this in a moment). That “other shoe” that Schilling might have been expecting came on Wednesday night when his employer, ESPN, terminated his contract, stating simply “ESPN is an inclusive company. Curt Schilling has been advised that his conduct was unacceptable and his employment with ESPN has been terminated.”

This wasn’t the first time that Schilling had stepped down this path. He was suspended after first Tweeting a meme that compared Muslims to the 1930s Nazis and, once ESPN kicked him off the broadcasts of the Little League World Series, followed up with a defensive post to another blogger that cost him the remainder of the Major League Baseball season (despite the factor that the post also defended the person who replaced him, former U. S. Olympic softball star Jessica Mendoza, against comments the blogger made). And this doesn’t count what other memes that Schilling shared over his Facebook feed.

Opinion over what Schilling has shared over his social media – this week and previously – takes an interesting course, one that requires some thought before making a statement. Plenty of people believe that Schilling was simply “saying what a lot of us are thinking. Apparently you can’t have an opinion at ESPN if that opinion isn’t a liberal opinion.” Others believe that Schilling will be quite happy on the unemployment line (probably not; Schilling’s video game company, 38 Studios, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012 and Schilling has sold off personal memorabilia to cover his expenses), saying, “Who would want to work for a company that would punish you for telling the truth?”

There are those that take the other side. “Schilling’s freedom to say what he wants hasn’t been denied; the government has not punished Schilling for what he said,” one person stated. “ESPN, however, has the right terminate his employment.”

That is the key point that many are missing with this situation. Schilling has all the “freedom of speech” rights in the world. The government cannot come after him and tell him “you can’t say that, Mr. Schilling, otherwise we will have to put you in jail.” It is one of the tenets of the First Amendment that allows everyone the right to speak out about…well, whatever they feel are the injustices of the world.

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What many seem to forget, however, is that with the freedom of speech also comes the consequences of that freedom. For example, it is allowable to be able to burn the U. S. flag in protest (and to dispose of it, but that’s another story), encoded by the U. S. Supreme Court decision Texas v. Johnson (1989). While you can go ahead and burn the flag, you also have to accept the consequences of what might happen if you do that; in some cases, there may be a major league ass-kicking that comes along with it…not condoning physical violence, but it is a potential consequence. In Schilling’s case, he perfectly has the right to freedom of speech, what he forgot was the consequences part.

ESPN is a part of the massive Disney empire, which is the target of boycotts by one organization or another probably several times a day, 365 days per year. They try to minimize those issues by offending as few people as possible with the multitude of entertainment options that they provide (this is probably why they chuck the Disney girls who come up through their shows out before they go wild…look at the recent arrests of Debby Ryan and Kelli Berglund and let’s not even get into Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears). Thus, when someone continually chafes their audiences through poking the proverbial bear with their social media actions (as Schilling has done here and in the past), there comes a point when ESPN can decide enough is enough and remove the problem by dismissing the person.

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It isn’t the first time that ESPN has done something along these lines. After a profanity-laced tirade at a roast for Mike and Mike hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic in which she went off on Golic’s alma mater Notre Dame by saying “Fuck Notre Dame, fuck Touchdown Jesus…and fuck Jesus,” former ESPN anchor Dana Jacobson was suspended for a week from the ESPN airwaves after irritating the Catholic League. Commentator Stephen A. Smith was suspended for his comments on domestic violence and SportsNation host Max Kellerman earned a suspension for his comments on the same matter. These barely even broach the suspensions and/or firings that have been handed out by ESPN in its history for “freedom of speech” violations.

Freedom of speech is a guaranteed right under the U. S. Constitution, but it is only guaranteed when you are speaking about the government. You can criticize the President, Congress, our military actions (or lack thereof), our political directions and decisions or an array of other things and there isn’t a thing that the government can do about it. They cannot come to the street corner where you might be ranting about these things, they cannot censor what you write on the subject and they certainly cannot arrest you for what you’ve said (within reason, of course…advocating for armed treason is one of those areas that they might have actionable cause).

When it comes into the private arena, however, the game completely changes. A company can (and does) look into your personal background, your social media (some companies nowadays ask for your social media names, at the minimum; state and federal legislatures are trying to prevent this) and monitor for where their employees might discuss the company. If this is a surprise to you, I’ve got a story that will emphasize the point for you from more than 15 years ago.

While working in the public sector, I worked with a gentleman who went into an online chatroom and discussed the company we worked for at great length. Needless to say, he wasn’t exactly glowing in what he said about our company as he detailed out what he felt were problems that the organization had. Although he thought he had an online ‘handle’ (screenname) that would prevent him from being identified (they could trace ISP addresses, even back then), the company found out who it was and terminated him immediately, despite his protests of “freedom of speech” (this is an old refrain).

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How many of us would be willing to lay our social media accounts in front of our employer and let them have a look at what we think and say? How many of us would be able to pass the scrutiny of such an examination that our employer wouldn’t have to dismiss us out of protection of their organization? I’ll be the first to say I’m probably not perfect as to some of what I’ve written on social media; I wonder how many people who read this can be that honest.

So it isn’t the factor that Schilling’s freedom of speech is being violated. It is a factor that Schilling didn’t consider the consequences of what his freedom of speech might bring onto the company he represents. For those who contend that a “liberal company” is “silencing” a “conservative” thought, it isn’t that at all; it is a business looking to protect its bottom line by eliminating a loose cannon that could cost it money, plain and simple.

“Cutting the Cord” If Only for A Day

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I thought it would be an interesting experiment. I’ve read quite a bit lately about people who have been ditching their cable or satellite companies – “cutting the cord” as it is called – and just going with what can be found on their computer or other streaming services. For the last couple of years, I’ve owned a Roku 3 (a great Christmas gift from my lovely wife) and use it quite frequently, especially during the baseball season. As an experiment, I thought I would give it a day’s trial, just to see if I could “cut the cord” for a simple 24-hour period. You might be surprised about a couple of things that occurred.

It is something that is happening more than you think across the United States and around the world. Estimates are that as many as 10% of U. S. homes are disconnected from traditional cable or satellite service. A 2014 survey by Mike Vorhaus of Frank N. Magid Associates for a trade conference estimated that 59% of U. S. households paid for a subscription video-on-demand (VOD) service and Netflix was 43% of that group. Finally, that same survey from Vorhaus noted that, among 18-34 year olds, television as the primary medium for entertainment was down to only 21%. Two years later, imagine where those numbers are…

My experiment, however, didn’t get off to a great start. First of all, getting up in the morning and turning on the television was distinctly out. As I prepared my son’s lunch for school, I absentmindedly hit the television in the kitchen for CNN. Just as quickly, I shut it off as I reminded myself what today’s experiment was to be about. After I returned home, it was fortunate that I had some work to do and a doctor’s appointment because I wasn’t concerned about what was either on the television or what I was missing from the news. This was good and bad, in my opinion.

Being able to get your work done – especially for someone like myself who works from home – takes a great deal of discipline. Sure, part of the reason we do it is for the flexibility of the situation (my wife and I also save a great deal on child care), but to be able to look at what you have to complete from a work status and be able to achieve those goals while sitting in your abode is something that all people enjoy. The down side is that, yes, we do work from home so we can have a few extra niceties, such as the television on in the background; I especially like CNN because it isn’t something that you have to concentrate heavily on and, in the cases of “BREAKING NEWS,” it allows you to keep on top of what’s going on in the world.

After the doctor’s appointment, I tried to use one of the new features from CNN, CNNGo, which brings their live broadcast to your computer screen. As I halfway listened to the news that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was “absolutely, positively NOT” going to be the GOP’s savior at their convention in Cleveland (sure, Paul…just like you “DIDN’T WANT” the Speakership), it suddenly cut off and I brought up the window. Sure enough, I reached a situation that many do when they try to break away from their cable service.

To be able to access CNNGo (and, as I was to find out later with my son, to be able to access Disney Junior), you had to have an active cable service account. While CNNGo asked for several of the prominent carriers in the business – names such as Charter, Xfinity, DISH Network and others – they didn’t come up with mine:  Time Warner Cable. As such, I couldn’t WATCH CNNGo on my computer – and my son could not watch Disney Junior through the Roku 3 later in the day – because the companies cannot come to a financial agreement so that CNNGo or Disney Junior can be offered on the computer or Roku (you can, however, access them through the Time Warner app that is available through the Roku…figure that one out). This is one of the reasons that pisses off many with the whole “cutting the cord” thing; in reality, you’re not cutting the cord because, at the minimum, you have to at least have minimal cable service to be allowed access to certain channels, whether it is on the computer or through such a streaming device as a Roku.

Roku4After this revelation, the next problem arose as to the “break away” from the cable company. I sat back and watched, through Poker Central, some of the action from the Global Poker League on the Roku 3 during the afternoon and got a bit restless. Taking a look around, there were very few free streaming channels that you could find to actually watch any type of substantive programming (PBS is good for this and free, but fun isn’t the first thing you think of with PBS). To be able to have any selection to be able to choose from, you had to have access to something like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu Plus, each of which charge a monthly fee for access.

These three are the “power brokers” in the new streaming world (“streaming” being whether you watch on your cellphone, your computer or through a device like the Roku) and could have a seismic impact on the shape of the television world in the future. They have already had an impact on programming, beginning to offer their own scripted television shows that have garnered critical acclaim (at the expense of the traditional television networks). But would people actually move to a piecemeal system like this over the traditional cable system?

Some studies suggest that the bundled channel system that cable companies use actually save customers money rather than cost them more, and there’s some evidence to suggest that they may be right. If your cable company offers a basic cable package for $20 per month (and that’s about as base as it gets in many areas, pretty much offering the local channels and a few other stations like the Weather Channel, CNN, ESPN and others), that is normally what people will watch; where people get irritated is when they have 300 channels and nothing is on. With the streaming outlets, you pay somewhere along the lines of $9 a month for Netflix or Hulu (Amazon Prime is $99 per year), but you might have to pay $4.99 for this station to get access over your streaming device and another $4.99 to access another station…it begins to mount up if you have several access points.

Then there is the factor of live sports. Pretty much every sports league has some sort of live package where you can watch every game from the league (except the National Football League; at this time, the NFL Sunday Ticket package is still the domain of DirecTV, although you can pay to be able to watch, on a tape-delayed basis, the NFL games the next day). These packages can range in cost up to $129…if you put that together for baseball, basketball, hockey and hell, let’s say the NFL comes around and does it too, it’s over $500 per year. That’s not counting any NCAA collegiate games, NASCAR, Formula 1, Indy Car, Major League Soccer, Premier League…you might be getting my point by now.

ESPN Plaza - Bristol CT

Then there’s the monolith known as ESPN. Losing money left and right nowadays (as much due to the competition from outlets like Fox Sports, the CBS Sports Network, the NBC Sports Network and insane fees to the sports leagues for broadcasting rights), ESPN has been considering taking the route of Netflix into an “a la carte” service. According to a 2015 article from The Motley Fool, 40% of people would be willing to pay $10 per month for a “Netflix” version of ESPN. The problem is, the Fool states, that ESPN would need at least $15 per month from subscribers AT THIS TIME to maintain its current standard of performance revenues. This isn’t even looking into the future, when the marketplace is further crowded and the bidding wars for rights fees for athletic events gets even more bloodthirsty.

By the time the Yankees game against the Toronto Blue Jays ended tonight on the Roku, it was time to end the “cut the cord” experiment. I had proved I could do it – there’s enough out there and there is the capability to still watch what the television networks provide, if you’re willing to wait in some cases – for at least a day, but any longer might be a stretch. Perhaps in a few years, when the streaming networks have become more like the cable companies and are actually offering “channel packages” and the cable companies have gone truly “a la carte” to allow their customers to choose ONLY the channels they want, then it would be good to try it again. Right now, I’ll dance between the two worlds quite happily – and enjoy them both immensely.

And The Chickens Come Home to Roost…

RaceWhiteHouse

Currently on the cable news channel CNN (and why it’s on there I have no clue, except for the factor that news channels are “entertainment” channels nowadays) is a six-part documentary series (ah, THAT’S how they play it off as “news”) delving into the history of the campaigns for the Presidency of the United States. Race for The White House, narrated and produced by House of Cards actor Kevin Spacey, looks back at six campaigns from the jaded history of the country and the lengths (some would say depths) that people would go to ensure that their candidate was ensconced in the White House. Last week’s episode dealt with the 1960 Presidential election between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon (I already knew the story and thusly bypassed it) and this week’s episode – unless its preempted for “Breaking News” (“Hey, someone found a piece of that Malaysian plane that’s been missing for two years!”) – will look at the 1860 fight between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.

To say that the 2016 Presidential campaign has been unique and may someday be a part of the 75th anniversary of Race for the White House on the Interstellar News Network (INN) would be an understatement. For the most part, however, it isn’t two parties or candidates going after each other that have made this a campaign that has either been memorable or an embarrassment, depending on viewpoint. It is one person whose repeated usage of inflammatory rhetoric has, indeed, drawn an audience of knuckle-draggers out of the woodwork that have repeatedly attacked even the slightest hint of protest at his campaign rallies. Now, however, the chickens are coming home to roost.

TrumpThirdParty

Of course, we are talking about Donald Drumpf, who has led the charge for the Republican Party after eight years of heated, borderline racist rhetoric of their own that castigated the twice elected President Barack Obama. It started for Drumpf with the 2012 election when he drove the “birther” movement (even after it had calmed down in most Republican circles) and Trump himself fanned the flames higher. “You won’t believe the information my investigators have found,” the Orangutan Mutant crowed in news conferences – that was before Obama stood up, showed a full birth certificate showing his place of birth to be Hawaii and basically told Drumpf to put up or shut up (note:  Drumpf shut up).

When Drumpf announced his run for President in 2016, he simply continued the divisive, racist, xenophobic and misogynist rhetoric that he has parroted since he entertained thoughts of running for the office in the late 1990s. No matter the nationality or region – Mexican, Syrian, South American, Asian – nor the ethnicity or religion, Drumpf has cursed them all, pumping his StormTrumpers with an Aryan vision of “making America great again.” Then, when things got violent, Drumpf simply ratcheted the verbosity and tension even more.

Since that day in June 2015, Drumpf has continually encouraged his rallygoers to verbally and physically attack those in the crowd that would even think to disagree with him. In February, Drumpf literally said if someone at one of his rallies saw someone even giving the slightest appearance of trying to disrupt his speech to “knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. OK, just knock the hell – I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise.”

So what do you think happened?

On March 8, a member of the Drumpf crowd DRESSED IN HIS KOREAN WAR VETERANS ASSOCIATION GARB pushed and threatened a black protestor in Louisville, KY, forcing the WOMAN from the rally for apparently protesting too much (there is no video of what she did). The man, Al Bamberger, has since repeatedly apologized to his Veterans’ Chapter and his family, but basically has handed out a big “fuck you” to the woman whom he assaulted. So has Drumpf, who encouraged the actions from the stage (as he has virtually every one of the altercations at his rallies).

Another Drumpf rally on March 10 got even worse. As Cumberland County Sherriff’s Department officers escorted two men from the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, racial epitaphs reportedly were hurled by the crowd towards both black men. Then another man, John McGraw, stepped up and sucker-punched one of the men as he walked by. Instead of apprehending McGraw for the assault, Cumberland County officers tackled the punched man and quickly got him and his partner out of the Coliseum. It wasn’t until the next day – and after the tabloid show Inside Edition interviewed McGraw with him saying “Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him…he might be with a terrorist organization” – that the Cumberland authorities got around to arresting McGraw for assault (an investigation is ongoing by the Sheriff’s Department as to why they didn’t act at that time).

Then there’s Drumpf’s treatment of the press. Breitbart.com reporter Michelle Fields – and Breitbart is a conservative-leaning website that has been VERY closely associated with promoting the Drumpf campaign – was allegedly accosted by Drumpf campaign manager Corey Lewandowski while the campaign was in Florida on Friday. Fields filed charges of assault against Lewandowski and displayed bruising on her arm where she said she was “forcefully grabbed” by Lewandowski, who doesn’t say he didn’t do it but calls Fields “delusional” and the campaign says is “entirely false.” There is video, however, of Lewandowski being within close proximity to Fields while Drumpf is departing a press engagement and, at a point, her body jerking back violently, giving credence to her side of the story. The investigation is ongoing.

And this all has gone on while the Orangutan Mutant continues to up the ante, increase the bile in every speech and ratchet up the rhetoric to histrionic proportions. But what happens when the odds are evened up and it isn’t a screaming horde of a few hundred people against one or two? Drumpf and his supporters scream like little weaklings with their panties in a bunch and say that their rights are being violated!

On Friday, Drumpf scheduled two rallies, one in St. Louis and the other in Chicago, and everything short of street warfare broke out. Outside of the St. Louis rally, protestors from both sides clashed and, in what has become a usual occurrence inside a Drumpf rally, the speeches were interrupted on more than a dozen occasions. That just served as the appetizer for Chicago, where the crowd was evenly split and, this time, Drumpf’s campaign decided not to hold the rally out of “security concerns.”

Now these protesters were apparently organized by the Black Lives Matters and MoveOn.org groups, but that isn’t a point worth arguing. When it came time for Drumpf to actually have to face off against those whom his supporters have targeted for attacks time and time again, they decided to back off. Drumpf himself then whined about his “First Amendment” rights and how he had a right to hold his rallies.

First-Amendment

Let’s get something straight here. Yes, everyone has a First Amendment right to say whatever the hell they want to say (and that the First Amendment is there to prevent the GOVERNMENT from infringing on that right). In utilizing that First Amendment right, you also have to accept the ramifications of what comes from that exercise. If your rhetoric is constantly demeaning of – well, virtually everyone – then you have to expect that you are going to get some backlash at some point from the targets of your vitriol.

Those protesters have the same right to be heard. Now there may be a question as to the usage of violence (and that is one that can be asked on both sides), but there should be no question that protesters can call out the Orangutan Mutant and his slobbering horde for their idiocy. That First Amendment thing? It works both ways.

What doesn’t work is to try and act like you haven’t done anything to aggravate the situation. For most of Friday evening and into Saturday (a Cincinnati Drumpf rally was also canceled due to “security concerns” while another in Dayton saw the Secret Service perform their duties admirably when a potential threat rushed the stage, surrounding Drumpf in a protective cocoon), Drumpf tried to say that he hasn’t said anything onstage to encourage his supporters to take the actions that have occurred, that there is nothing he regrets having said, that he is completely innocent regarding the “issues.”

To that, everyone – whether you agree with the Orangutan Mutant or don’t – has to raise up and loudly say “BULLSHIT!” Drumpf is the one that has turned the 2016 Presidential campaign into the shitshow that it has become, that has tossed it into the racial commode and continues to stir the malodorous pot. There’s an ever-so-slim chance that someone might get to Drumpf and see if he can walk it back a bit…if not, then I fear it’s going to get worse, perhaps to the point of dead bodies worse, rather than improve.

Why I Didn’t Watch President Obama’s Town Hall on Gun Control

Obama takes part in a live town hall on reducing gun violence on CNN in Virginia

Thursday night, I got my sick wife (who has been battling the King of all Colds for the past week) and our son cuddled up in bed together, watching cartoons, before they headed off to Slumberland. I headed back downstairs, looking to peruse the 200-plus channels that Time Warner Cable happens to throw at me at any given moment. It was at that time that I realized that there was something on that I should have been watching but I had utterly no interest in wasting two hours of my solo viewing time on.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama issued Executive Orders – actions that a sitting President can take, without the input of Congress, to clarify and/or adjust how his administration either adjudicates laws or applies them to the citizenry of the United States – to stiffen some of the background checks that are applied when people look to buy guns in this country. As a result of several mass shootings that have occurred across the nation and the continuing inaction by a Congress that, if a vote was to be held on legislation that all days should end in “y” couldn’t pass said legislation, Obama stepped up and announced reasonable changes that could be implemented without infringing on anyone’s right to own weapons. After making these announcements, you’d have thought Obama had pissed on the U. S. flag and run it through the colon of a water buffalo.

Conservatives immediately decried Obama’s actions as an “attack on the 2d Amendment,” “a very threat to freedom-loving Americans,” or “a way to take your guns away from you.” This paranoia was ratcheted up by virtually every conservative hack in print, televised and internet media. Even the Presidential campaigns got into the action, with Senator Ted Cruz literally running a campaign ad saying “Obama is coming for your guns,” with a picture of Obama with a military helmet on and the Cruz campaign asking for campaign contributions.

The problem with this is nowhere in Obama’s statements were any measures to take any weapons away from any owners. There weren’t any laws to prohibit any weapons from being owned, bought or sold. About the most aggressive and invasive action was a movement to increase the passing of information regarding mental health issues between departments to ensure that those with mental health problems wouldn’t be passing the increased background checks to be able to purchase weapons.

Executive Orders have been used by sitting Presidents of the United States since the inception of the United States of America. Believe it or not, even George Washington used Executive Orders to push across things that otherwise wouldn’t have made it past a reluctant Congress (because, logically, if Congress could pass laws for the President supporting his position, he wouldn’t have to resort to Executive Orders). Other things that were Executive Orders include the Emancipation Proclamation, the New Deal and the order to desegregate schools in the South and the Armed Forces. Unfortunately, there are some negatives that also fall under this umbrella, including the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the usage of force against Native Americans in taking their tribal lands from them.

Not surprisingly, the announcement by the Obama Administration of these new Executive Orders came a few days before the broadcast on CNN on Thursday night. CNN went to great lengths to say that they were the creators of the Town Hall, not President Obama, and also went to great lengths to state that representatives from the National Rifle Association (NRA) were invited (and declined) to participate in the program. The audience was made up of those whose lives had been impacted by gun violence and by those who believe in the sanctity of the 2d Amendment and the right to gun ownership.

So what did I do when I passed by this program on the tube last night? Continued on to watch a college basketball game between two teams I didn’t even give a shit about.

I kind of knew how the entire two-hour “discussion” would go just from watching the general shitstorm that had raged across social media when Obama initially made his announcement of his Executive Orders (by the way, you know how many Obama has used as he enters his final year? 226. Know how many his predecessor, George H. W. Bush, used? 291. How about Saint Reagan? 381. The first Bush was pretty good with only 166, but he only served four years). I didn’t really want to watch a replay of that same thing spread out over two hours on television. Still, I couldn’t help but occasionally, during timeouts in whatever game I was watching (think there was a Scottish soccer game on at some point), drop back over to CNN to see just what was going on.

Imagine if you will a room full of people who were simply there for the factor of hate-watching each other. An Arizona sheriff who is running to join the U. S. Congress (for some reason) challenged the President that his actions wouldn’t have changed anything that happened with recent mass shootings; President Obama responded by saying just because something happens doesn’t mean the response is to “do nothing.” Another woman, the widow of the late U. S. military sniper Chris Kyle, berated the President for “trying to take guns away from people” and giving “false hope.” Obama responded by speaking past her to the NRA and why they weren’t there to discuss the issue. All in all, it was a two-hour circle jerk that left no one satisfied, with both sides talking past each other instead of TO each other.

It was even worse following the discussion when the pundits became a part of the show. A former New York City cop who spoke out of both sides of his mouth joined some of the liberal CNN political commentators (Van Jones, Gloria Borger) and some conservative voices (Hugh Hewitt, S. E. Cupp) to basically yell over each other and Jake Tapper for an hour, reaching no new discussion points, basically reasserting that no one actually wants to discuss the issue but rivet their heels to the ground and not yield an inch one way or the other.

Therein lies one of the problems with the situation regarding guns in our society. There are those that take the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights – two of the greatest documents for governmental leadership in the history of mankind – as if they are God-given documents that can never be challenged nor changed. The Founding Fathers gave their descendants a way – yes, difficult, but for a reason…so that it wasn’t overused – to make changes when deemed necessary. They also encouraged their descendants to make those changes as time passed.

This is why a black person isn’t still considered 3/5ths a person anymore; this is why there is liquor to drink (after a previous effort to banish such activity) and that women can have the right to vote. This is why 18 year olds who can die on the battlefields of war have the ability to vote in this country. The 1st Amendment isn’t sacred – there are limitations on how far you can go with your speech and activities – and the 4th and 5th Amendment face constant modification. The 2d Amendment shouldn’t be considered sacred, either. It should have to adjust with the times and, yes, with the will of the people, who currently believe there should be more stringent control on guns (albeit not sure how to go about that) and, by a wide margin, more extensive background checks.

So what was the reaction of people following the show on CNN last night? After SportsCenter went off the air and “College Basketball Tonight” was coming on, I jumped on Facebook to check and see if there was a raging flame war between the pro- and anti-gun advocates. I nearly woke the crickets that were there regarding the subject.

With that said, this is a critical issue to try to gain a handle on (we are never going to eradicate it, we can simply only hope to lessen the impact of the next situation). Until all parties can come together and lay aside the radicalism of their political actions (NRA, are you listening?) or we can elect a Congress that isn’t beholden to one industry (not likely either), then discussions such as what CNN aired with President Obama last night will be a waste of time. When the next one comes on, you’ll probably find me watching the Swedish curling team…there’s some drama as to the outcome with that event, at least.