The Problem With Experts

My friend Trey recently gave me a book to read in the back of the van.  The following passage seemed correct to me in its diagnosis of a modern problem:

There is in orthodox thinking a great dependence on experts.  Because modern technological society has produced a breed of experts who understand technical matters that bewilder the rest of us, we think that in matters of social conflict, which require moral judgments, we must also turn to experts.  

There are two false assumptions about experts.  One is that they see more clearly and think more intelligently than ordinary citizens.  Sometimes they do, sometimes not.  The other assumption is that these experts have the same interests as ordinary citizens, want the same things, hold the same values, and, therefore, can be trusted to make decisions for all of us.  

To depend on great thinkers, authorities, and experts is, it seems to me, a violation of the spirit of democracy.  Democracy rests on the idea that, except for technical details for which experts may be useful, the important decisions of society are within the capability of ordinary citizens.  Not only can ordinary people make decisions about these issues, but they ought to, because citizens understand their own interests more clearly than experts.  

Now the only thing I want to add to this is that for democracy to function properly, it also depends on citizens being well informed.  Citizens are capable of educating themselves, but they must want to.  It is important that a certain percentage of citizens read, pay attention to national and world events, and I also think, in such an interconnected world, travel if not in other countries, than at least in their own.  It should be important in a society that citizens understand that they have an important role in events and take that burden seriously.  One of the problems in the U.S. is that there are not enough people that understand that a democracy, for it to work properly, needs people to be involved at more than just a superficial level.

The writer of the above passage is Howard Zinn.  It is from his book Passionate Declarations.  While I usually would not wait to the end of a blog to name a source, I know that there are many that view Zinn as an unreasonable lefty, and I wanted the idea to live on its own terms for a moment.  (I personally think Zinn has a lot to offer people of all political stripes.  Because he is someone that speaks truth to power, there are those that want to label and discredit him.)

I have posted this video and song before, but I think that the Laurie Anderson song Only an Expert deals brilliantly with this same topic.

P.S.  I apologize to those of you that subscribe to this blog for sending an incomplete version of this post to your emails.  It simply was the cause of human error on my part.  I fucked up!  


Why Shouldn’t I Love Cyndi Lauper?

I have listened to more Cyndi Lauper than probably any straight male should admit to.  But alas, I love her so.  She has a voice that could carry through the din of a Biblical storm.  Blessed with a four octave range, she makes you think she can sing anything.

There are certain kinds of songs of hers that I prefer.  I like when she has a great melody and sings either one of her rock/pop confections or one of her stirringly sad ballads.  I have no use for her blues renderings, her take on classical pop tunes, or some of the stranger numbers in her career.  Her recording career is no doubt dodgy and the great is heavily weighted towards her first three records.

That’s not to say that she hasn’t made great music in recent years.  The song Shine off her Shine-Ep is fantastic.  There are several songs that I love off her dance pop album Bring Ya to the Brink.  Although she can sing anything, several albums just feel like marketing attempts, even if the intentions behind their creation probably ring true.  It’s not her voice that brings them down, which is always exceptional, but the production is often too adult contemporary and the song choices uninspired.

She is one of those artists I wish could find a producer for, who would help her find the right material and treatment for her unique and tremendous talents.  But there is absolutely no doubt that she is a tremendous talent.  Listen to her voice at the end of Money Changes Everything.  She is hitting notes that other singers could only dream of.

A great deal of her music is pop music, but it is pop music of the greatest kind.  It is the kind of stuff infused with emotion.  I have a soft spot for female sung pop music dating back to the 60’s girl groups.  Lauper often carries on that tradition.  Her songs of joy make you want to dance around the living room.  Her ballads often can’t help but connect.  No one should cover her classic hits.  Any attempts pail in comparison to the originals.

I once found myself listening to Girls Just Want to Have Fun with the young girl (She is now a teenager and I don’t want to put her name here for fear of embarrassing her!) that I helped raise.  It was like one of those scenes in a chick flick where the characters play guitar with mops and bounce around their home.  That song is just ecstatic joy.  I have always wanted to take the stage to that song to play with an audiences expectations.  The idea always makes me smile.  Maybe someday I will.

I don’t believe in guilty pleasures.  There are only things you like and things you don’t.  I have always loved Lauper.  If it ruins my credibility on other matters, then so be it.  Watch the above video of I Drove All Night, a song originally written for Roy Orbison, and pay attention to when she hits the big vocal part while laying down.  If you tell me she can’t sing, I’ll tell you you are fucking crazy!

Songs From My Favorite Albums Of 2014

Yesterday I posted my favorite albums of 20014.  Today I thought that I would post a video from each one so that you can get a taste for these records.  I am officially including my idiotic omission of Leonard Cohen into the list, so we’ll just make it 11 like Spinal Tap!  I want to mention that I believe these are the best albums, not necessarily the most groundbreaking.  There is nothing avant-garde on the list.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to that kind of stuff, but that kind of stuff is often appreciated on a more intellectual level, than it is truly loved.  I’ve been checking out Sunn 0))) lately, an experimental, doom/drone metal band, and they seem to be doing really great and interesting stuff, but it isn’t the kind of stuff you can just plop on your stereo at any time.  I really believe that the albums I picked for this list are records that are front to back great records in that they can be listened to in their full capacity at almost anytime, and you will always get something out of them.  This is music for the heart, mind, and spirit.  This is shit that you can soldier on through the darkest of days with, whether that comes from a revolutionary lyrical sensibility or from a spirit lifting melody.  Anyway, let’s get started.  I just picked one song, obviously, that I liked from each record.  I thought about putting up the best video for each, but then I just decided that I would always stick to the recorded studio version.  If you want to see the explanation behind each record go here:

My Favorite Records of 2014

Leonard Cohen – Almost Like the Blues from Popular Problems

Bruce Springsteen – The Wall from High Hopes

Chuck D – Give We the Pride ft. Mavis Staples from The Black in Man

Bryan Ferry – Johnny and Mary from Avonmore

U2 – Iris from Songs of Innocence

Sinead O’Connor – Take Me to Church from I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss

Marah – A Melody of Rain from Marah Presents: Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania 

Weezer – Ain’t Got Nobody from Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Marianne Faithfull – Sparrows Will Sing from Give My Love to London

Jackson Browne – Walls and Doors from Standing in the Breach

Morrissey – I’m Not a Man from World Peace is None of Your Business

First We Take Manhattan

In case you didn’t know there is an election going on this week.  Time to stand up and be counted.  I’m not naive enough to think that voting alone can change the system.  However, I think that it is an important part of living in a democracy.  The options in front of us at times might not be great, but if you can’t see the difference between certain candidates, than you are blind.  Voting is only one step to making the world better, but it is a step that needs to be taken.  Don’t let the cynics keep you from voting this week.  First we take Manhattan and then we take Berlin!

Deeper Water Live

Yesterday I reviewed the newest Public Image Ltd. album, This is Pil (2012).  This is Public Image Ltd. performing Deeper Water, from that album, live.  Other than that little sequenced part in the background, which is on record as well, the four of them are able to duplicate their studio recording completely live.  I have read that they will be working on a brand new album starting this year.  Lets hope that the rumor holds true.  I love Lu Edmonds guitar playing.  John Lydon is still in fine voice at almost 60.  Public Image Ltd. isn’t for everyone, but for those of you willing to take the journey, they are one of the true originals.

If you scroll down you will see the very first PIL single, Public Image, down below.  It came out a little over 36 years ago!  

Pet Cemetery Video

I’ve got to jet out to a rehearsal.  In the meantime, in honor of Halloween approaching, here is the Ramones video for Pet Cemetery.  I learned how to play guitar by playing along to Ramones records.  This movie used to also scare the bejesus out of me as a kid.  Alas, now I would gladly dance with the awoken dead of Pet Cemetery if it came between that and seeing Ted Cruz’s face one more time.

Public Image Video

Off to see the canvassing wizard.  I have been reading a lot about John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) recently, including his two books.  I have also been listening to a great deal of Public Image Limited, which is his band after The Sex Pistols.  This is their groundbreaking first single Public Image.  This song was quite influential in the world of post punk.  Listen to the guitar and how similar it is to early U2 for instance.  Extra points for bassist Jah Wobble playing from a chair!