Archive for November, 2010

Plastic bag ban melts under heat

By Christina Edwards

September 7, 2010

With landfills packed and overflowing with trash, plus an additional oil rig explosion last week that contributed to the environmental turmoil in the gulf, environmental issues have become priority legislation for many jurisdictions, despite economic hard times. In October 2009, North Carolina joined several other states in passing legislation to require the recycling of plastic bottles.

California has been at the forefront of the growing trend of legislation and governmental encouragement and incentives for recycling efforts. The California Bottle Bill, which makes use of the state’s existing private and public recycling resources, places a monetary value on recyclables, which has resulted in high rates of recycling. Local jurisdictions have varying levels of additional environmental laws: San Francisco has enacted a mandatory recycling and composting ordinance. And up until last week, California was very close to being the first state to pass a ban on single-use plastic bags. California Senate struck down the bill on Tuesday, Aug. 31.

The bill was passed by the California Assembly in June and drew praise from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The state has a history of enacting similar laws at a local level: San Francisco was the first city in the country to pass a ban on plastic bags in 2007. And the idea is starting to take off and gather support in other areas: North Carolina banned single-use plastic bags in the Outer Banks, and Washington, D.C. began requiring grocery stores to charge for plastic bag use. Similar legislation to the proposed bill in California is under review in United States unincorporated territory American Samoa. Other countries, including Ireland, South Africa and Bangladesh, have similar laws.

The problem with the proposed legislation, and similar legislation in higher level jurisdictions, may not really have anything to do with plastic bags. Reactions and commentary over California’s situation suggest the law has implications that go beyond the environment and reach into concern over what can and should be regulated by the government.

Fox News Channel contributor and conservative columnist Michelle Malkin wrote on her blog after the ban failed to pass Senate: “Finally, California shows some sense. Lawmakers trashed an onerous, ill-timed, empty-gesture plastic bag ban pushed by radical greens this week.”

Readers commenting on a Huffington Post article about the ban who disagreed with the legislation expressed concern over the proposition of environmental laws over other governmental concerns. One commenter dismissed the bill as “just another special interest mandate.”

Similarly, supporters of the ban have expressed concern for legislators being swayed by the monetary effects on plastic bag manufacturers.

Much of the contention over this issue isn’t about plastic bags. I’m sure not everyone— or really, most people— opposing the ban are completely dismissive of all environmental issues. And perhaps not everyone in support of the ban remembers to place every plastic soda bottle in the recycling bin.

The controversy surrounding this legislation highlights a major problem in U.S. politics right now: there is a heavy us-versus-them divide, a need to align ourselves and distinguish what we aren’t. Sometimes, this overshadows the actual issues.

And that’s just one more thing this country can’t afford.

Originally written for Elon University’s The Pendulum

Categories: News: Editorial

Lady Gaga releases a mature ‘Monster’ of a sophomore album

By Christina Edwards

December 2, 2009

A year following the release of her debut album “The Fame,” singer Lady Gaga’s own fame has skyrocketed to staggering heights. With four No. 1 singles under her glittery belt, over four million albums sold worldwide and her picture printed in numerous celebrity hit-or-miss fashion blogs, Gaga continues her streak of avant-garde domination with her sophomore effort, “The Fame Monster,” released Nov. 23.

While it was originally packaged as a re-release of her first album, Gaga and Interscope records have released the eight bonus tracks as an album of their own.

“The Fame Monster” picks up where “The Fame” left off. Both musically and in content, Gaga has moved on from discussing fame, money and their perils and onto an earnest and often startling portrayal of her eight fears — including the fear of love, the fear of death and the fear of loneliness.

While the content has moved forward and, in several cases, into a more mature, thoughtful space, “The Fame Monster” is still at heart an electro-pop dance album. Gaga has taken the catchy, club-destined beats of her debut and pushed them a step further, becoming more ambitious with production and more creative with her experimentation.

The result is a mass of hits, with a few scattered misses that are still admirable attempts.

One of the highlights of the album is “Monster,” a darker turn of the club beats that gave her success with “LoveGame” and “Pokerface.” The song opens with a breathy, spoken “don’t call me Gaga,” setting the horror-film-meets-underground-club feel. She goes on to sing about the monster who ate her heart, throwing in a cheeky reference to her carefree first single “Just Dance.” The result perfectly straddles the line between potential radio hit and solid artistic experimentation.

“Telephone,” her collaboration with Beyonce, feels almost destined for top-40 success, a result of the combined unstoppable star power and danceable backbeat. The song veers toward overproduction in spots, but the sassy punch of the lyrics takes the attitude of “Single Ladies” one step further and makes up for it.

The album also features several more esoteric attempts that may never see wide radio play, but certainly add to her credibility as an artist. “Speechless,” written to convince her father to have open-heart surgery, is a poignant piano-driven ballad with some of the album’s most heavy-hitting, raw lyrics.

As she wails “I’ll never talk again/oh boy, you’ve left me speechless,” the listener finally gets to see the crack in her shiny veneer. The dark, brash lyrics of “Teeth” are almost scary as they hit hard, but are easily some of her most bold artistic ventures yet.

There are weak spots, of course. Lead single “Bad Romance” feels predictable and uninspired at spots, recalling dance beats of the 80s a little too familiarly.  “Dance in the Dark” is slightly overproduced with too much going on, while still managing to drag the beat. Both tracks feel like a Madonna update, but the update part seems to have been forgotten.

Gaga is one of the most exciting artists on the current pop scene. She’s not afraid to dabble in disco and techno and attempts to make it heartfelt or hard-hitting. At times, she falls flat on her face in the process, but the brilliance of the hits far outweigh the missteps.

Overall, “The Fame Monster” is more than worthy of a listen, and if Gaga can continue to progress in later musical forays the way she has here, make sure to keep an eye out for a fast-rising star.

Originally written for the Pendulum

Categories: A&E: Editorial/Review

Robbie Williams’ new release is an atypical pop album

By Christina Edwards

November 18, 2009

In a world where top- 40 radio hits have people conditioned to recognize pop music as mindless, albeit occasionally fun, variations upon a theme, British pop star Robbie Williams’ latest offering, “Reality Killed the Video Star,” might come as a shock to the system.

Despite being a former member of British 90s boy band Take That (he left the group in 1995 to launch his solo career), his work in the last 15 years has shown a sense of ingenuity and a penchant for constant reinvention rarely found anymore on the major labels. “Reality Killed the Video Star,” which is his eighth solo album, is no exception to this rule.

Williams has yet to gain an incredibly strong notoriety in the United States but is probably best known for his 1999 single “Angels,” still clearly has something to say and a point of view to express, even after being in the industry for nearly two decades. This album features Williams’ signature insightful irreverence for the mainstream point of view and an impressively cohesive smorgasbord of musical influences and allusions.

The album opens with “Morning Sun” and closes with a reprise of the song, a full-circle move that nicely pulls the whole thing together. The song, a lyrical reference and tribute to Michael Jackson, is a somber and jarring take on the reality of loneliness in fame: “You always wanted more than life/ But now you don’t have the appetite/ In a message to the troubadour/ The world don’t love you anymore.” The lyrics are in a pleasant juxtaposition to the soaring, bright orchestrations.

Williams continues to mix and modernize genres throughout the album, creating an eclectic collection of perspectives. The track “You Know Me” is layered with an old-school, Frankie Valli nostalgic sound and mixed with a much fuller orchestration coming out of the chorus. The lyrics mix a 50s heartthrob simplicity with occasional literary genius as he throws in a refreshing bout of alliteration.

Williams goes on to tackle the dance beats in the vaguely dark “Last Days of Disco,” overlaying a stereotypical disco sound with modern electro beat in what becomes surprising aural ear candy.
Williams proves his versatility, as that track doesn’t seem at all out of place on the same album as the drum-heavy, catchy rock beat of “Do You Mind?” The repetitive, forward-moving melody is enough to earn the song multiple plays, but coupled with the opening tongue-in-cheek “this is a song about metaphors,” it easily transitions from fun to borderline intuitive genius.

The lyrics hit hard and pack a punch throughout the album. A pop album may be slightly better served with a side of mindless fun, but this is already so far from a typical pop album it’s more than forgivable. The album is so littered with lyrical gems it’s hard to pick a standout, but Williams manages to be insightful without being overwhelming or cryptically trying too hard.

Williams manages to capture his wide-ranging perspective in a nutshell in “Difficult for Weirdos” — “I like it different/I like it strange/In my own way/I haven’t changed.”

Each song is worth listening to as its own complete, inspired entity. There’s not a hint of filler or repetition to be found. With “Reality Killed the Video Star,” Williams has managed to create something that entertains with the capability of making the listener feel something, while retaining his unique point of view and musically taking himself — and the listener — somewhere new.

Originally written for The Pendulum

Categories: A&E: Editorial/Review

Obama’s cabinet ripe with familiar faces; support shows a restrained approach to change

By Christina Edwards

January 21, 2009

Without a doubt, the political candidates of this past election season are some of the most carefully scrutinized people in the U.S. From practically the second President Barack Obama was announced as President-elect, scrutiny and criticism shifted to include questions about Obama’s potential cabinet.

As those skeptical about the quantity and quality of his political experience shrouded Obama’s campaign in criticism, the cabinet nominations were the first chance for the then president-elect to prove himself and gain the trust of the rest of the country after a testy and unexpectedly long campaign process.

For many, the cabinet nominations set the tone and impression of the beginning of the presidential term. So what do the picks say about the 44 presidency?

In short, they project a lot of caution, a dash of safety-oriented doubt and a sprinkle of self-assertion.

One of Obama’s earliest staff picks was Rahm Emanuel for White House Chief of Staff. Emanuel has the experience that Obama is hoping to assert in response to questions of his own experience. He served as a top advisor to President Clinton and is a veteran Congressional leader. But this same top-level experience comes with a catch; he’s a “Clintonite.” Does Obama have the political expertise and knowledge necessary to create his own team?

And what about all of this change we’ve been talking about? Emanuel’s experience may show good judgment, but may also be a double-edged sword.

Adding to the lineup of politicians we’ve seen before is Obama’s secretary of state nominee. The nomination of Hillary Clinton was possibly the most publically scrutinized of the process. While Clinton has significant and extensive experience in world travel and diplomacy, she is, of course, part of the old school of politicians so much of the country is eager to get away from, particularly in the form of her husband’s lingering presence.

And of course, Clinton’s rather volatile campaign against Obama in the Democratic primaries raises additional concerns. The two, who are probably the most prominent example of “frenemies” in current U.S. politics, have traded enough barbs to raise well-founded skepticism on their ability to work concurrently. A partnership between the two could be incredibly well-run and an effective linking of vision and expertise; yet, there’s always the lingering chance that the old prejudices and unsettling politics of the past could lead more toward the path of disaster.

While many of Obama’s cabinet picks may suggest a tendency to stay the same rather than the promised change, others in top positions draw from his circle of Chicagoan political contacts, which suggest an assertion of his own style.

He is certainly treading with an appropriate or even precautionary level of carefulness: His vetting process has shown to be incredibly rigorous. Gov. Bill Richardson has withdrawn his name for commerce secretary in the midst of the vetting process. Even in the case of Timothy Geithner’s taxes, things are out in the open.

Obama’s cabinet is promising, but with reservation. There’s a lot of solid experience and potential. But it remains to be seen what will come when that solid experience and caution meets the promise of change.

Written originally for Elon University’s The Pendulum

Categories: News: Editorial

Spreading the ‘Glee’ offscreen

By Christina Edwards

November 11, 2009

“Glee” is taking over the entertainment world like “High School Musical” on steroids.

Fox’s breakout comedy of the fall season had massive promotion last spring, building up to impressively huge viewership numbers and critical acclaim practically across the board for the premiere of the pilot last May. The hype managed to last through a summer of no new material.

While the ratings continued to hold strong and steady and the battalion of new young stars conquered the rabid press at Comic Con, the little show that could braved a relatively new frontier for television: iTunes and the general music world at large.

Within a day of each new episode airing, at least one newly released cover track from the show has managed to break the top-10 singles on iTunes. On Nov. 3, “Glee – The Music, Volume 1” was released as a compilation of these songs. In addition, several tracks that have yet to premiere on the show made it on the album.

Generally, the tracks on the album manage to capture the same quirky, fun irreverence that has arguably made the show a giant success. “Glee” doesn’t take itself seriously with its earnestly over-the-top punch lines, and that same sensibility extends to the music, particularly in instances such as the cover of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It,” where wheelchair-bound, suspenders-wearing Artie (Kevin McHale) cheerfully declares, “This is a dance for all the sexy people.”

But while many of the tracks aren’t meant to be taken seriously, there is some serious talent and musical innovation displayed in these covers.
The show mainly focuses on glee club leads Finn (Cory Monteith) and Rachel (Lea Michele), giving them the majority of the solos. While Michele is more than a few steps up from Disney ingénue Vanessa Hudgens in the singing department, and Monteith’s version of “It’s My Life” has garnered multiple plays on this listener’s iPod, the album gives the rest of the mega-talented cast a chance to shine.

Amber Reilly, who plays Mercedes, shows off a boatload of fierce attitude and vocal chops as she belts out Jazmine Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows” and Jill Scott’s “Hate On Me.”  McHale’s vocals on Usher’s “Confessions Part II” is one of the biggest pleasant surprises in a show full of pleasant surprises. Both McHale and Reilly also get larger parts in the extended tracks of “Somebody to Love” and “Halo/Walking on Sunshine,” splitting the parts Monteith and Michele took on the show.

The mash-up tracks, “Halo/Walking on Sunshine” and “It’s My Life/Confessions,” are a strong showing of innovation and are actually mash-up pairings that lyrically make sense.  The show’s breakout hit cover of the Journey classic “Don’t Stop Believing” is a fun homage to show choirs everywhere.

There are a few misses, though. While it’s nice to finally get to hear more than a few bars out of the talented Chris Colfer, who plays Kurt, the slowed-down rearrangement of “Wicked” showstopper “Defying Gravity,” shared in a duet with Michele, doesn’t provide much of a glory moment and lacks the epic impact of the original arrangement.

Overall, this album is incredibly reflective of the show — fun and silly, with a good quality that comes out of nowhere to surprise you. It’s a recommended addition to the guilty pleasure playlists of iPods everywhere.

Originally written for Elon University’s The Pendulum

Categories: A&E: Editorial/Review