Let The State Of The Union Ride Off Into The Sunset

I’m not going to lie I decided to watch hockey tonight and follow the State Of The Union on Twitter. Take that for what it’s worth, but despite the Blackhawks looking mediocre, I think it’s been a wise decision.

The State Of The Union must have been a really cool spectacle fifty years ago. Imagine it, the President of the United States getting up in front of the ENTIRE country and telling us what the status quo is and what he’s going to do. Families gathered in front of their television or radio sets and sat and listened! I can’t attest to this since I’m only 25 years old (cue the “you’re a millenial you know nothing get off my internet/lawn!” rhetoric) but from all accounts it was quite a rare phenomena to hear the President address the country.

It’s 2014 and I just searched “State Of The Union 2014 Rebuttal” and immediately 576,000 results came up. That is bullshit. This is the exact reason why the State Of The Union needs to retire. The GOP already had a rebuttal ready BEFORE THE SPEECH WAS MADE. It goes to show the state of the State Of The Union that the opposing party already has a response to the President’s words that haven’t even been made yet.

Everything is predictable. Credit it to the 24/7 news cycle, social media, the President’s frequent appearance and the subsequent coverage that ensues, but the State Of The Union needs to go. It’s become a watered down event that has lost it’s allure. It also doesn’t help that the country is more polarized now than ever. Regardless, the President’s speech will be hyper-analyzed for a few days and then everyone will forget about it because Justin Bieber will get another DUI or Richard Sherman will be awesome again and people will be scared of a strong Black athlete.

I think the State Of The Union needs to go. It’s cool to see all of our politicians in the same room and the political atmosphere of the broadcast is neat as well. This feel good aspect isn’t enough to overcome the fact that the President can make an appearance on the Today Show next week and say the exact same thing and illicit the exact same response. It’s becoming a never ending cycle and I really don’t see a point in highlighting one evening as the “MANDATE FROM OUR PRESIDENT!” Obama has always been a good speaker and it is a joy to watch him talk, but the fact is his speech will do nothing to change most peoples attitudes in the long run nor the operations of Congress.

It’s a cool thing to see the President address America in a very official setting, but the actual message of his words gets lost and does nothing beside reaffirm or go against peoples attitudes. The consistent coverage and analysis of the President’s and other politicians statements has made these individual appearances lose their allure. It’s a shame, but with the constant media coverage, not something that’s unexpected. Now Twitter on the other hand offers a positive experience in my opinion. More people are able to converse publicly about the event and when conversation happens, progress is made. Something to keep in mind for future State Of The Union Addresses.

Dealing with the Devil Himself: Maximum Security Prisons

There was an interesting article I read this morning via the Chicago Sun Times bringing forth a problem that is not necessarily new in the relationship politics and prisons share, but a rather new point of view that often gets pushed to the side. To simplify the issue, what’s at stake here is what role solitary confinement should play in maximum security prisons and how does the legal and societal systems determine the ethics in assigning someone to reside in these conditions (you can read the article here.)

America has a difficult enough time dealing with two-sided issues, this issue has so many prominent parameters that if we mapped it out on a pie chart it would look more clustered than Lake Shore Drive in the evening rush. One of the major problems in this scenario is that this isn’t your generic prison where a prisoner gets sent to solitary confinement for a few days because of misbehavior. This is a maximum security prison housing inmates whose crimes make Jerry Sandusky’s actions look mild. I won’t get into the details of their crimes because it will make your stomach sick with disgust but if you want to read about them follow the link I posted above.

The dilemma involved here is not the scope of the crimes committed by felons nor their actions while imprisoned, the multi-faceted problem here highlights a struggle between how we define basic human rights, economics, politics, and the role of isolating heinous criminals from society.

The Sun Times article aims to stir up feelings of empathy between the reader and the ex-inmate. It strikes one on an individual level and makes them imagine what it would be like to be removed from any social interaction in a confined area for 23 hours a day with nothing to do but re write every bible verse and converse with spiders. At the same time the article highlights potential mental disabilities that were caused by this extended period of confinement. These prisoners are not housed in solitary confinement for a few days, they are locked in there for years.

Surely my ACLU side here is gleaming with accusations of denial of human rights and essentially forced development of depression and other mental illnesses. Allow myself to disagree with myself. This is where the pie chart comes into play. I have no alternative solution, but how else do you deal with child rapists and murderers that extend their immoral and inhumane actions onto prison where they incite violence towards prison guards or rape prison psychologists? These people have committed actions that no matter how regretful they are for them, are still labeled as the lowest of the low.

I think the overarching question here is how do you deal with that? If there was a cut and dry answer this discussion wouldn’t be occurring. This isn’t taking into account that it costs the government an average of over $64,000 a year just to maintain these prisoners. If Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed shutdown of Tamms becomes a reality, the Sun Times article estimates that the state would be saving around $26 million per year.

See how this spider web keeps getting more tangled by the minute? It really is a sticky scenario that I have a hard time taking any firm stance on. One State Senator was quoted as saying that people don’t end up at Tamms unless their actions justify it. This isn’t the Cook County jail where you’ll end up for holding up a 7-11. This is an institution where the “worst of the worst” end up. Institutions like this must exist, however the manner in which they detain these types of individuals must be questioned.

These inmates are clearly not suited to be anywhere near society let alone an over populated prison. Is locking them up by themselves for 23 hours a day the solution though? I don’t think so and although I have not seen evidence that backs up the claim extended periods of isolation cause mental disturbances, on the surface it appears as some validity exists towards this argument. It is going to cost the state a pretty penny to maintain prisoners regardless of whether they are in a maximum security prison or in the Cook County Penitentiary. As a tax payer, I would feel much safer if I knew my money was going towards keeping the “worst of the worst” as far removed from society as possible. If the state wants to save money, then stop locking up individuals for petty crimes that are not harming society. I would feel much more secure if I knew a serial killer was locked up with no feasible way to even give them the chance of being near my city than a guy who was caught with a few grams of pot on his way home.

There has to be a more efficient mechanism for dealing with this problem and identifying it is the first step. I don’t know if one types of inmates locked up for long periods in solitary confinement will exactly benefit from that time and come out a better person. If there are extensive problems accosted to these inmates from this time, the way the penal system deals with them needs to be assessed. At the same time, it needs to be done so in a manner that will ensure they will never pose a threat to anyone whether they be another inmate or a prison official.

Quite a sticky situation huh?

Train Blogging: Life on the Rails

A CTA Car, Where Dreams Happen

I have to clear two things up before getting into the magic of riding the L train. First of all I’m not writing this on the train so loyal followers of my Train Blogging series will see a more polished and clean cut article. Second of all, I blog a lot about public transportation. To get a better feel of where my attitudes lie regarding public transportation guidelines read this post.

Today’s installment of the Tran Blogging series surrounds the thought-processes that go through my mind while riding the train and what I perceive (just or unjust) to be going through the minds of my fellow passengers. In the recent weeks I have been reading a fantastic biography of Albert Einstein written by the famous Walter Isaacson. Einstein himself has a life interesting enough to fulfill the next month’s worth of blog posts. The book is also part of the reason why I have not made a Train Blogging post in quite some time.

Oddly enough I find the rickety clanking noise of the train to be the most comforting environment to read in. While reading the Einstein book I find it humorous that I am able to completely tune out the outside world and become completely encapsulated with this book. I have to give Isaacson much credit for that because his writing style is so clear and imaginative that it is difficult to put the book down. This also speaks on greater volumes about what the period of riding the CTA represents in my day.

My time spent on the train is a period where I’m left alone with my thoughts. This is really one of the only period of time during the day that I can experience this. I don’t want to give off the misconception that I am completely entailed in work and activity the entire day, but as I’m sure you can agree with there aren’t many moments during the day when you can just sit back and think. Reading the Einstein book is definitely intellectually stimulating and I find myself setting the book down at times to try and comprehend what his thought process is like (disclaimer: this is often a useless tactic as trying to understand Einstein’s thought process let alone is physics is seemingly a full time occupation). Point being though that Einstein’s theories and lifestyle often inspires my own thoughts and perceptions regarding different facets of life and the life that he lived.

Even if I spend the train ride listening to music or staring out into the city as we pass through different neighborhoods, I find myself encompassed in thoughts of reflection of the days work, a current issue, philosophy, or why the lady in the black pea coat sitting across from me looks so grumpy. Maybe it’s just her natural facial expression and I am being completely misguided, but that’s the beauty of the CTA. It really stimulates your imagination looking at other passengers on the train and trying to figure out what’s going on with them. Like I said earlier, whether just or unjust it is fun to imagine why someone looks grumpy while the person next to them has a jubilant smile on their face.

While there are many times I get frustrated at the CTA (again read this post to find out why) but I do have to give it credit. It is one of the only times during the day where you can tune the outside world out. I think that’s a healthy thing. It gives you time to recuperate and digest your thoughts. In this world we live in where everything is instant and can be published without much review, it’s good to be able to sit back and take life in. Call it a throwback, but it seems we as a society don’t take much time to sit back and digest information or what’s going on around us. Maybe that’s why some people on the Purple Line Express in the morning look so rushed and frazzled.

Train Blogging: Meeting People at Concerts

This past Saturday found my good buddy Jared and I at the Aragon Ballroom dancing our asses off to the Chicago prog-rock/funk/whatever you want to call them kings Umphrey’s McGee.  I could write this entire blog on how dirty Umphrey’s made the Aragon get, but instead I want to focus on one aspect of concert-going that I think can apply to pretty much any type of show you attend.

I’ve never seen any other gathering of people that produces the ease of conversing with a complete stranger than at a concert. I’ve been to a countless number of shows by myself and found people to talk to whether or not the music is playing. 

Even attending shows stone cold sober, it isn’t that difficult to pick up a conversation with the person next to you.  So what gives? When people are gathered together in the library you seldom hear, “hey bro that Ernest Hemingway novel is sick wait till you see what the old man does when he’s stuck out in the middle of the sea.” And at other mass gatherings like Occupy Wall Street rallies or Tea Party shindigs people are too pissed off to talk to complete strangers unless it’s yelling at them that it’s Obama’s agenda to destroy the very fabric of America.

First of all everyone attending a show is always in a good mood. Even when I saw the biggest dude’s pounding bottles of Captain Morgan like it was gatorade at Rage Against the Machine, they looked happy on the inside.

Hipster concerts are no exception either. Even though they will stand still, look at the floor, and act like they are too cool to be there, they secretly live for moments like that. Plus, you can always find a depressed looking Hipster at a show and talk about how great the band was before they sold out and started playing coffee houses instead of tea houses.

Still it really is a spectacle to experience. Try going to a show by yourself and you will instantly be able to find at least 5 other people that are there on their own as well. The easiest way to approach someone at a show is obviously talking about the band that’s playing. Even if you don’t have any knowledge about the show you’re attending, you can bond with someone over people watching at shows.

For those that have yet to attend a music festival (and I mean a real music festival not Lollapalooza) there’s a term to describe people that you only see at these events. Their called “festy kids” and they usually have long unwashed hair with a flat billed baseball hat, a backpack, and some crazy shirt on that you would never see anyone wear outside of a concert/college party.

I guarantee you pointing out the various outfits you see will have you wrapped up in conversation in mere minutes.  Chances are that you’ve already seen a good 30% of the people you’re discussing at other shows also.

Of course the exception to all this is a skrillex show. You can’t talk to people at his shows. Try having a conversation with your mother while a blender is going and an overstuffed laundry machine is violently shaking and you’ll understand why.

Top 5 Songs to Heat Up the Winter Months

In 2009 ABC published an article detailing the different tendencies in the conception of human beings (check it out here). Citing a federal study, August and September are the busiest months for child birth. Assuming that most of these births follow the natural 9 month pregnancy cycle, we can draw one conclusion. Now up until the end of January is when people are most likely to get it on and bring junior into the world. I have several different theories why this is. First, during the winter time people can’t stand to be outside for long periods of time so any outdoor activity you partake in is likely to be short. Compared to the summer, we spend much more time inside. Let’s be honest, you can only play Mario Strikers on Wii for so long before you get an urge to get freaky, especially when Wario keeps pulling cheap shots knocking you out of the Striker Cup.

Seeing that people are going to be spending more time inside of a private environment during the winter months, it would only make sense that they don’t have anything better to do than recreate their favorite Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet scene from Titanic. If you and your mate are in need of a little kick start or something to set the mood, here are 5 songs that should do the trick. DISCLAIMER while I cannot guarantee listening to these tunes will get you some action, it will work much better than offering to play “Master of Puppets” before getting down.

1. Frank Zappa – Dirty Love

Like spreading butter over some warm French Toast this song hits the spot. Interpret what dirty love is however you want but if this song doesn’t make your drawers drop, move on to the next one and they’ll be down to your ankles in no time.

2. Buena Vista Social Club – Chan Chan

Slow down and keep it silky smooth with this track from the Cuban outfit. I have no idea what they’re saying in this song but the slow rhythms and melodies in this song make me think the group knew exactly what it was doing when they wrote this song. The perfect track to set the mood before putting on the next song to get down to business.

3. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)

Jimi you’ve done it again. Making you want to scream from a mountain top that you are a Golden God, this track keeps building and building until finally climaxing in a glorious arpeggiated outburst of epic melody that is then followed by a slow grooving comedown allowing you to catch your breath after the intensity of the moment passes.

4. Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

No words, no problem. Eddie Hazel’s guitar is straight up sex in itself. In fact I’m surprised this track hasn’t been used in an adult film. At 10 minutes long this is the perfect cut to raise the mercury level in your household’s thermometer.

5. Medeski Martin and Wood – Pappy Check

As Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords Said, “2 minutes in heaven is better than 1 minute in heaven. And 2 minutes with me is all your going to need because it’s so intense.” Coming in a little under 3 minutes this track is perfect for lying in bed with a cigarette post-coitus. This song may rival Zappa’s in terms of how dirty it is, this should be pulled out (no pun intended) as your closer coming in to seal the deal.

5 songs that will kill any mood you’ve set forth after these tracks (NEVER PLAY THESE AFTER PARTAKING!). Any Skrillex song, Foster the People – Pumped Up Kicks, The Clash – I Fought the Law, Lil Wayne – Fireman, any Skrillex song, Enya – Orinoco Flow. Did I mention Skrillex?