Friday, December 18, 2015

Favorite Albums of 2015

1. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love
My professional career is based on the assertion that not only can we write about things normally considered to exist outside the logic of words (the body, dance), but that we must. So it's hard for me to admit that I just can't talk about what Sleater-Kinney mean to me. The way the kids in this video look like they feel as they dance along to animated versions of Carrie, Corin, and Janet begins to touch the surface of my feelings for this band. I just couldn't be happier that they are back.

2. José González - Vestiges & Claws
There's something about José González's sound--the timbre of his voice? the keys he favors?--with which I deeply resonate. I listened to this album over and over again when it first came out as I was spending a rainy week in Portland. The atmosphere of his songs and the climate seemed a perfect match, and the album transports me still.

3. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
I have to admit that I wasn't blown away by Alabama Shakes' first album, Boys & Girls. I thought it was a solid offering, and that Brittany Howard's voice was strong, but it just didn't stand out to me musically. Their second album, however, really struck me as a band coming into its own and claiming their unique sound. I particularly love the way Howard morphs her voice from one song to another and even within a song.

And speaking of Brittany Howard, the release of Thunderbitch - Thunderbitch came as a surprise to everyone. Total unapologetic summer fun.

4. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
In dance there's the idea that repeating something prosaic over and over and over again can imbue the movement with a profundity it might not otherwise have. I find the same quality in Courtney Barnett's songs. One minute you're listening to her singing about a mundane moment in her day, or a thought you yourself have had, and then suddenly you're caught off guard by the deep insight of her observational style.

5. Buffy Sainte-Marie - Power in the Blood
When I was young, Buffy Sainte-Marie's Fire and Fleet and Candlelight was on regular rotation when I had control of the record player (which in retrospect seems like all the time). I admit I hadn't followed her over the years, but when I heard this album I was drawn back in to the power of her voice and her message, which far from fading over the years have only gathered strength.

6. Rhiannon Giddens - Tomorrow is My Turn
That voice! I have to admit I'd never heard Rhiannon Giddens or Carolina Chocolate Drops until I watched that documentary, Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis. I was captivated by her, and this, her debut solo album.

7. Childbirth - Women's Rights
Anytime you combine feminism and snark, I'm there. Add in dance-able tunes and laugh-out-loud lyrics and it's irresistible.

Childbirth is actually a "supergroup" of Seattle alt-rocking women, including Chastity Belt's Julia Shapiro.  Chastity Belt also had a noteworthy 2015 album, Time to Go Home. I will never forget seeing the band in the basement of J&J's Pizza at 35 Denton, and alternating between enjoying the music and worrying that we were all going to be crushed when that low, low ceiling fell in.

The next three bands make me feel like I'm back in the early 90s before the Lilith Fair-ization of music made by women, when the songs and sound could still be fierce and complex and fun.
8. Speedy Ortiz - Foil Deer
I caught Speedy Ortiz at Solid Sound this summer. Bonus: Speedy Ortiz are from Western Mass and "Puffer" references Puffer's Pond, one of my favorite Massachusetts swimming holes.

9. Palehound - Dry Food
I admit I don't know much about Boston-based Palehound, just that I kept being drawn to their sound, which at once seems familiar and surprising. (And ok, the album title makes me think of cats.)

10. Bully - Feels Like
I like the combination of strength and vulnerabilty in Bully's sound and lyrics. Triva: Singer Alicia Bognanno once interned for Steve Albini.

Bonus: Eagles of Death Metal - Zipper Down
I don't want to like this album. It's just so catchy! And I know how bad it looks coming after all the amazing powerful women I've talked above above. Maybe that's what they mean by "Complexity"?

*I have to give credit where credit is due. I learn about a lot of new music, especially all the amazing young women on this list, from NPR's Katie Presley

Favorite Songs of 2015

I spend most of my new music listening time focused on albums. I don't do much radio listening any more, so I'm less likely to encounter songs as singles. But occasionally a song or two breaks its way into my consciousness, standing on its own as a lyrical or melodic statement, leaving a visceral experience in its wake.

This year three very different songs worked their way into my ears and life.

Janelle Monae and Wondaland - "Hell You Talmbout"
This sonic litany of African Americans murdered by police in the United States is at once a powerful expression of rage, an urgent call to action, and an insistence upon remembering each individual life.

Rhett Miller - Most in the Summertime
I actually heard this song on the radio driving around on a summer day (though I probably didn't have the windows rolled down - Texas summers are just too hot!). This song perfectly evokes the feeling of skin warmed from the summer sun and new love.

Shovels & Rope - Patience
Let me just start by establishing two things: 1) I love a cover song that makes you discover something new about the original and 2) I never liked GnR's "Patience. Or to be more specific, I never gave it much thought. To have hated it, I would have had to actually listen to it. I find this cover by Shovels & Rope delightful precisely because it made me stop and listen.

List of my favorite albums of 2015 coming soon!

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Humanly Reasonable

Public Comments to the Denton City Council, August 4, 2015

Our air and water.
Our health and safety.
Our Denton.

This simple slogan was at the heart of our campaign to ban fracking in Denton. Our priorities were—and remain—to make Denton a healthy and sustainable city for all of our residents to live and grow. In other words, we declared that we want Denton to be a place guided by HUMANLY reasonable standards. The majority of Denton voters agreed last November that fracking within the city limits is incompatible with this goal.

When HB40 nullified our ban and told us that we had to make decisions based on what is commercially reasonable, they stole from us our best means of protecting the health and safety of all people in Denton. 

In effect this leaves our Gas Well Ordinance as the last line of defense of
Our air and water.
Our health and safety.
Our Denton.

This is in fact what is at stake here tonight: nothing less than the question if Denton will insist upon being humanly reasonable, or merely commercially so. 

I believe that what you on the City Council are here to do is represent and serve the people of Denton, and to do everything in your power to protect the wellbeing of ALL of Denton’s residents, not only the interests of industry or developers or property owners. I’m concerned, however, that the current proposal leaves the people of Denton in a worse position than we were in in 2013.

I join the chorus of other Denton residents calling for no reduction in setbacks from 2013 levels, not even in industrial zones. The City Council owes it to us, your constituents who voted overwhelmingly to ban fracking, to protect as much of the city as possible under HB40. Our 1200 foot setbacks are still less than Dallas and Flower Mound’s 1500 foot setbacks, which had a record of being commercially reasonable, even before that term set the new standard. I also want to reiterate the call for reverse setbacks to not be lower than production site setbacks. How can something that is unsafe at less than 1200 feet suddenly be safe at a distance of 250 feet, just because a developer wants to build there? Again, we must be guided by the principle of what is humanly reasonable, not just what is commercially possible. 

Along these lines, I also ask that the Notice of Activities section of the current proposal be improved so that all residents, and not just surface property owners, be notified prior to Operators filing applications for approval of a Gas Well Development Site Plan. 52.3% of all occupied housing units in Denton are renter occupied. Notifying property owners is not sufficient to inform and protect ALL Denton residents. 

And finally, I echo calls for simple and effective means to monitor the impact “commercially reasonable” fracking has on the air, water, health, and safety of Denton residents:
  • Baseline air and water testing paid for by industry, pre- and post-fracking,
  • A ban on open surface pits within city limits, and 
  • Air quality monitors for our communities; we must be able to confirm that Operators are conducting business within existing state and federal laws.
These are all simple but powerful amendments the City Council can make to the proposed Ordinance to ensure that Denton is a reasonable place for humans, not just commercial interests.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

#DefendtheBan: Comments presented to the Denton City Council 6/16/15

I am here to urge the City Council to respond to TXOGA's filing for a summary judgment in their lawsuit by filing a motion to dismiss. I know this is not popular advice; many people believe this avenue may open our ban up to being ruled unconstitutional by a judge. This is a risk many people are unwilling to take. I, however, want to use my short time today to talk about why we NEED to take the risk.

In the book Success Without Victory: Lost Legal Battles and the Long Road to Justice in America, civil rights lawyer Jules Lobel admits that in a utilitarian view of the law, “To succeed means to win concrete results, to change the legal rules, to win damages for your client, or to obtain a court injunction” (3). I believe this is the kind of reasonable, win-based strategy that the city has been urged to take. But Lobel cautions against such a narrow definition of success, particularly when a short-term legal “win” may come at the expense of longer-term political gain. Lobel points out that “Virtually hopeless test cases brought to challenge unjust policies is a recurring thread in the tapestry of American law” (6). And he persuasively argues that “we should view success as the living out of values, persistence in the face of great odds, and the strength to stand up for principle even when defeat seems inevitable” (267).

I believe that we the people of Denton are in a position where we cannot respond to TXOGA and the Texas legislature with reasonable measures. We all know that we are in an unreasonable situation where oil and gas interests effectively govern our state. Where “commercially reasonable” practices are allowed to trump our ability to make choices about our health and safety. We have no hope of stopping fracking in Denton, let alone in the state of Texas, if we agree to continue our fight on their terms.

If by filing a motion to dismiss, we expose the way our whole political system in Texas, including the judiciary, is in the pocket of oil and gas, then all the better. Remember, while our ban passed through a democratic process, so did HB40. It’s just that the legislature and their friends in the industry are telling us that their democracy holds more weight than ours does. TXOGA wants to shove this point home by forcing us to repeal a ban that is already in fact unenforceable. We can’t give in to how they want to play the game. We need to reach for true success, a Denton without fracking, and if we need to lose in the short term, then I say so be it. As we’ve been singing out in front of the the Vantage site for the past few weeks, “Ain’t no frackers gonna break us/Denton love is much too strong.”


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