Saturday, June 03, 2023

Iraq -- Chelsea, Taylor and more

Armando Tinoco (DEADLINE) reports:

Taylor Swift is touring the U.S. with the Eras Tour and in her latest stop in Chicago delivered a speech in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

“They are loving who they want to love, they are identifying how they identify, and allies who get to support them in and celebrate them in that,” the singer-songwriter said. “This is a safe space for you. This is a celebratory space for you. And one of the things that makes me feel so prideful is getting to be with you, and watching you interact with each other, and being so loving, and so thoughtful, and so caring.”  

Charna Flam (VARIETY) adds


While Swift celebrated the community, she reminded the concert-goers, “We can’t talk about pride without talking about pain.”

“Right now and in recent years, there have been so many harmful pieces of legislation that have put people in the LGBTQ and queer community at risk. It’s painful for everyone. Every ally, every loved one, every person in these communities,” said Swift.

Swift reminded the arena that these issues motivate her to stay vocal during election cycles. “That’s why I’m always posting, ‘This is when the midterms are’ and ‘This is when these important key primaries are.'” Swift then proposed her fans ask candidates, “‘Are they advocates? Are they allies? Are they protectors of equality? Do I want to vote for them?'” before heading to the ballot box. 

Good for Taylor.  We all need to be standing up and we all need to be making clear that these attacks on the LGBTQ+ community are unacceptable.   There is a war going on.  Don't let any idiot tell you otherwise and don't let any liar convince you it doesn't matter.  Dr Warren J Blumeenfeld (LGBTQ NATION) notes:

Under the guise of “freedom” to determine their children’s “education,” we are seeing parents, legislators, governors, and school administrators attempting to place severe limits on the teaching of our nation’s past and the legacies of this history upon the lives of people and institutions today.

Republican legislators throughout the U.S. have enacted new laws and policies intended to define the narrow parameters of what and how students will discuss our country’s past and our present.

As Santayana reminds us: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

We now have an opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the past by speaking out against the racism and cultural genocide that surrounds us.

Let's note whistle-blower Chelsea Manning as we turn to Iraq. Monday April 5th, WIKILEAKS released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7th, the US military announced that they had arrested Chelsea Manning and she stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to [her] personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." Manning had been convicted in the public square despite the fact that she's been convicted in no state and has made no public statements -- despite any claims otherwise, she had made no public statements. Manning was now at Quantico in Virginia, under military lock and key and still not allowed to speak to the press. Paul Courson (CNN) noted [Chelsea] is a suspect and, "He has not admitted guilt in either incident, his supporters say."  She was attacked repeatedly and then convicted and then pardoned.  Alonso Matinez (EL PAIS) notes today:

In an interview with the Financial Times, Manning revealed that she rarely faces hecklers regarding the intelligence leaks, but occasionally experiences attacks related to her transgender identity. She expressed her resilience, stating that she has become accustomed to such criticism and that it no longer greatly affects her.

Meanwhile, Sara Manisera and Daniela Sala (GUARDIAN) report:

Western oil companies are exacerbating water shortages and causing pollution in Iraq as they race to profit from rising oil prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Water scarcity has already displaced thousands and increased instability, according to international experts, while Iraq is now considered the fifth most vulnerable country to the climate crisis by the UN. In the oil-rich but extremely dry south, wetlands that used to feed entire communities are now muddy canals.

Mahdi Mutir, 57, worked as a fisher his entire life. For years, Mutir and his wife woke at dusk, sailing along a thick network of canals in Al Khora, a few kilometres north of Basra. The harvest was meagre but enough to provide food for the family of seven.

That changed last year. Now, at the height of the rainy season, Mutir’s boat lies stranded in the mud.

“It is the water station the Italian company built: they need water for their oilfields,” Mutir said, pointing at the black smoke rising from the Zubayr oilfield on the horizon.

To help extract oil, companies pump large quantities of water into the ground. For each barrel of oil, many of which are later exported to Europe, up to three barrels of water are pumped into the ground. And as Iraq’s oil exports rise, its water has dramatically fallen.

The whole world is facing drastic climate change but climate models suggest that Iraq will be among the worst effected.  Back in March, Amr Salem (IRAQI NEWS) reported:

The United Nations stressed that Iraq is suffering from a real water crisis, calling for collective action to find solutions to this crisis, the Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported.
The statement was made on Sunday by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, during her participation in Iraq Climate Conference held in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
“There is an urgent need to find solutions to the water crisis in Iraq,” Plasschaert stated.

Urgent and it only gets more urgent each day.  Already problems are evident.  January 10th, Yale's School of Environment published Wil Crisp's article which opened:

Three years ago, the vast marshlands of southern Iraq’s Dhi Qar province were flourishing. Fishermen glided in punts across swathes of still water between vast reed beds, while buffalo bathed amid green vegetation. But today those wetlands, part of the vast Mesopotamian Marshes, have shriveled to narrow channels of polluted water bordered by cracked and salty earth. Hundreds of desiccated fish dot stream banks, along with the carcasses of water buffalo poisoned by saline water. Drought has parched tens of thousands of hectares of fields and orchards, and villages are emptying as farmers abandon their land.

For their biodiversity and cultural significance, the United Nations in 2016 named the Mesopotamian Marshes — which historically stretched between 15,000 and 20,000 square kilometers in the floodplain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers — a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The marshes comprised one of the world’s largest inland delta systems, a startling oasis in an extremely hot and arid environment, home to 22 species of globally endangered species and 66 at-risk bird species.

But now this ecosystem — which includes alluvial salt marshes, swamps, and freshwater lakes — is collapsing due to a combination of factors meteorological, hydrological, and political. Rivers are rapidly shrinking, and agricultural soil that once grew bounties of barley and wheat, pomegranates, and dates is blowing away. The environmental disaster is harming wildlife and driving tens of thousands of Marsh Arabs, who have occupied this area for 5,000 years, to seek livelihoods elsewhere.

Experts warn that unless radical action is taken to ensure the region receives adequate water — and better manages what remains — southern Iraq’s marshlands will disappear, with sweeping consequences for the entire nation as farmers and pastoralists abandon their land for already crowded urban areas and loss of production leads to rising food prices.

The Mesopotamian marshlands are often referred to as the cradle of civilization, as anthropologists believe that this is where humankind, some 12,000 years ago, started its wide-scale transition from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement. Encompassing four separate marshes, the region has historically been home to a unique range of fish and birdlife, serving as winter habitat for migratory birds and sustaining a productive shrimp and finfish fishery. 

AP has observed, "Climate change for years has compounded the woes of the troubled country. Droughts and increased water salinity have destroyed crops, animals and farms and dried up entire bodies of water. Hospitals have faced waves of patients with respiratory illnesses caused by rampant sandstorms. Climate change has also played a role in Iraq’s ongoing struggle to combat cholera."  And now action? Or what might pass for it.   Khalid Al Ansary (BLOOMBERG NEWS) reported:

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani on Sunday kicked off an initiative to plant 5 million trees and palms across the country in an attempt to alleviate some of the deleterious impacts of climate change, a statement from his office said.

Iraq has suffered years of drought, and more than 7 million people have been effected or lost their incomes from agriculture and fishing, Al-Sudani’s office said. The war-torn, oil rich country has experienced higher temperatures, persistent drought, an increase in dust storms and a crop area cut by half, all impacts of extreme weather caused by climate change.

Real action would be addressing the use of water by the oil industry -- water that's not going to the people.  


One Iraqi is in Las Vegas and is global news.


Emma Bowman (US TIMES POST) reports:

Iraq’s Amir Albazi clinched a massive UFC flyweight victory when he narrowly defeated former title challenger Kai Kara-France via split decision at UFC Fight Night on Saturday.

Albazi (17-1) defeated Kara-France (24-11) in five rounds of competition at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas. Two judges gave the fight a 48-47 for Albazi, while a third gave the fight a 48-47 for Kara-France. It’s the biggest win of Albazi’s UFC career. He was 7th ahead of the 125lb fight while Kara-France was 3rd.

Immediately after the results were read, Albazi claimed the winner of a flyweight title fight between champion Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja on July 8th.

“There’s no name,” Albazi said of what he wants next. “The only thing I want is to get the title. Nothing else matters.” [UFC 294 in] Abu Dhabi on October 21st. I know they are going to Abu Dhabi. Whoever wins this [title fight on July 8]I want to be next.”

Kat's "Kat's Korner: Simply Red's just marking TIME" and "Kat's Korner: Summer means Miley and The Jonas Brothers" went up today and the following sites updated:

Kat's Korner: Summer means Miley and The Jonas Brothers

Kat:  It's summer.  Really it is.  If you're a kid, it never really lines up by the calendar.  And, even if you're an adult, you know that -- unless you're too old to remember.  School winding down in May means/meant eager hopes and plans for 'the summer' a period of time that lasts until school starts back up.  And summer is a time for bangers and ballads.  Which is why Kyle Mingoue's new "Padam Padam" is already climbing the charts around the world (Australia, the US, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom . . .).  

Two albums already out should make up the main fabric of 2023 summer living and loving: Miley Cyrus' ENDLESS SUMMER VACATION and The Jonas Brothers' THE ALBUM.

The boy group is made up of three decreasingly hairy brothers: Kevin, Joe and Nick Jonas who started out a DISNEY product and got nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist for their third studio album.  (Take it up with the Grammys, the previous sentence is factually correct.)  They lost to Adele, recorded one more studio album and then split.

And that would be okay, they were pretty pin ups who had their day.  Now  they went solo.  Nick had the big solo career but what they all worked on separately ending up going into the new sound they finally regrouped with for 2019's best seller HAPPINESS BEGINS which featured the number one hit "Sucker."  The non-album single "What a Man Gotta Do" gave them another hit (number 16 on BILLBOARD's Hot 100 and number 14 on BILLBOARD's Top 40 Pop).  Now we have THE ALBUM with 12 tracks including the current charting single "Waffle House" which some wags are downgrading insisting it's a song "written by committee" (the three bothers plus Jon Bellion, Ido Zmishlany, Daniel Tashian, Pete Nappi, TenRoc,  Johnny Simpson and Aldae).  That's a lot of writers to rewrite the concept of "Bacon" -- Nick's top 40 hit from 2016's LAST YEAR WAS COMPLICATED -- and suggest that songwriting credits are being handed out like Flintstones chewables.  

"Montana Sky" is my pick for best song on the album.  

It's gorgeous.  It also makes me really believe that these aren't earned songwriting credits.  If ten people -- including all three brothers -- wrote this song how did no one catch that "Montana Sky" is a phrase that never appears in the song?  It's "Montana skies" over and over in the chorus.

Instead of going with that song, they released the non-hit "Wings."  I say non-hit because, while anything can happen, it was released in February and never charted in the US (it almost made the top twenty in New Zealand).  "Wings" really the weakest recording on the album.

But there are more than enough possible hits on the album.

"Americana" is one.

"Celebrate" would be another.

And "Vacation Eyes" which could be nice slower hit and could be just the theme song for those high school summer romances. 

And I just feel "Summer Baby" perfectly captures August on the beach, when the tan's set in and you know both your favorite spot to lay out and the time you have to arrive by to get the spot.

That said, I find everything memorable and worth listening to (with the exception of "Wings").  

It's a summer soundtrack.  As is Miley's ENDLESS SUMMER VACATION.  

Her album's already a hit and has already delivered the huge number one single "Flowers."

A great song that exposed a lot -- especially in a meme started by Carrie Underwood's more rough-living fans.  The meme went that Miley just tells you to buy yourself flowers while Carrie told her posse of rough 'uns to slash the man's tires.

Yeah, Carrie did do that.  Yeah, she flashed her toxic masculinity in "Before He Cheats."  She flashed it, America was shocked and then they were just disgusted.

Miranda Lambert could have done that song with a sly wink, put it over as a joke.  But Carrie -- like many a simple-minded songstress -- only has one mode: Achingly Determined.  It was enough to make the song a hit but it was too much to help her career.  And now more and more people just don't like her.  She tries to put out a new song and you've got a lot of people remembering her as the manly and violent Carrie who would slash a guy's tires.  

That's destructive and people don't find that funny when they're thinking about their own tires or their boyfriend's tires or their son's tires or . . .

Yeah, she thought going manly was going to save that career that was a dumpster fire -- her 'acting' in  THE SOUND OF MUSIC for NBC being just one example of a dumpster fire.  A few years later, Tyler Farr released a song about his cheating lover:

I'm gonna aim my headlights into your bedroom windows 
Throw empty beer cans at both of your shadows 
I didn't come here to start a fight, but I'm up for anything tonight 
You know you broke the wrong heart baby, and drove me redneck crazy

The worst he was doing was throwing beer cans and flashing headlights.  But big bad ass Carrie's going pound her chest, grab her crotch and show everyone just how much butch she's packing.  The more the song got played, the more people started noticing, the guy she's singing about didn't cheat on her.  He may just be being nice to some lady who doesn't know how to shoot pool.  He might have wanted more -- he might not have --  but he didn't pursue it.  No, Carrie had already keyed his car, smashed both headlights and punctured all four tires.  

It's that kind of song that led to all the jokes about Carrie having a penis and to her sales cratering -- you have to go four albums back to find a platinum one.  The so-called crossover artist hasn't had a solo top forty pop hit since 2014 which means her last 14 solo singles failed to even make the top forty.  It's as though she's Dottie West and it's 1985 -- when the hit making had long ceased.   Although, to West's credit, she really could sing -- and that's more than just hitting notes -- and she left behind an honest to God legacy.  

The memes are right, Carrie's not Miley Cyrus and Miley's not her.

Miley's far too gifted and far too smart to end up like Carrie.

And that's how we end up with ENDLESS SUMMER VACATION which really is close to perfection and may be the best album of 2023.  "Island" is a song you just want to hear while you're laying out in the sun with your eyes closed, letting the music wash over you.  "Muddy" won't make the radio -- not with those lyrics -- but it's my favorite song on the album.  "Wonder Woman" could have been sung as an anthem but Miley took a sadder, live-in take on it that makes the song more moving.  

I also recommend "You."

But, then again, I recommend the whole album.

I didn't get Miley at first.  I didn't get Miley when she was Miley Ray Cyrus -- or when she was Hannah Montana.  Honestly, it took Eli Lieb doing his cover of "Wrecking Ball" to make me really hear the song.  (Here for Eli Lieb's YOUTUBE video channel and I see his cover of "Wrecking Ball" has nine million streams.)  The new album has one song after another that grabs me.

Miley and The Jonas Brothers are set to own the summer.  Check out ENDLESS SUMMER VACATION and THE ALBUM to see why.


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Kat's Korner: Simply Red's just marking TIME

Kat: 36 years ago.  That's about how long ago it was. April 19, 1987, if you need a specific date.  There was Tom, that cute high school boy.  In mechanic shop.  Lot of people found him cute.  The next week, a teacher would have the hots for him.  The week prior he was still torn up about his dad, Tom Sr., dying a few years prior.  He was sensitive like that.  And Sunday nights were all about wondering what Tom would do next?

It was Johnny Depp's world and we were just along for the ride and could be cut out at any minute -- all of us, even Simply Red.  

"America, What A Town" aired April 19, 1997.  The broadcast featured not one but three Simply Red songs.  If you watch it now, you don't hear the songs, they've been replaced with generic crap so I guess they didn't have the rights to use the songs in syndication and streaming.  Click here for a clip of the episode with Simply Red's "The Right Thing" starting at the 20 second mark and then click here for the full episode at FILM RISE without Simply Red's songs. 21 JUMP STREET was a new show on FOX and, in addition to featuring the songs of Simply Red in that episode, the group's hit "Holding Back The Years" was also being used in TV spots focusing on Johnny's cute face to promote the new show.

All these years later, does anyone remember Simply Red?

I do. 

Here in the US, they had a string of top forty hits: "Money's Too Tight (To Mention)," "Holding Back The Years" (a number on pop hit in the US), "The Right Thing," their cover of "If You Don't Know Me By Now" (another US number one) and "Something Got Me Started."  Starting in 2003, they'd notch up six US adult contemporary hits before breaking up in 2010.  So 11 hit singles in the US. Over in England, they'd have 31 top forty hits -- only one number one, though ("Fairground").  They were from England, a British soul group.  In the UK, they haven't had a hit since 2007.  A lot of people tie their inability to connect with fans into the band leader's very vocal cheering on of the Iraq War.  Simply Red has now had 13 singles that have failed to chart in their home country.  That includes three from the album that came out last week, TIME.

There's said to be a lot riding on their performance tomorrow night at The Festival de Nimes in France -- where TIME has failed to chart.  (It has made the album charts in the UK and in Germany).


What is TIME?  12 tracks.  

Listening to it, I immediately think of Barbra Streisand's WALLS -- easily the worst album she ever recorded and, sadly, the last studio album she might ever record -- the voice has thickened -- not just in the upper range but also in the chest register.

So avoid it because it's like WALLS?

No.  That's not what I'm saying.  TIME is musical, it's very musical.  It also tries to tackle some issues, like WALLS did, only Mick Hucknall, singer, band leader and songwriter (solo on every one of the 12 tracks) actually comes up with songs that, had they been on WALLS, would have saved Barbra Streisand a lot of embarrassment.

"Hey Mister" absolutely would have been an improvement.  The same with my personal favorite "Butterflies."

Mick has always had songwriting talent.  Barbra's talent and judgement is questionable.  She fled pop music to go back to being an 'old lady' doing old songs and then she thinks the pop world's going to welcome her back.  No?  She destroyed her own career with THE BROADWAY ALBUM and all that followed.  Most of it was sap and nonsense and she may have returned to 'The Songbook' but she brought her disco phrasing and her contemporary pop phrasing with her so, in the mid 80s through 90s, this was not the talent she showed -- sported! -- on THE SECOND BARBRA STREISAND ALBUM, it was instead really bad performances of show tunes.  

In the 70s,  she'd finally -- thanks to Richard Perry, Laura Nyro and a host of others -- found pop success.  She ruled the pop charts.  As the eighties kicked off, she dismissed the notion that she'd go back to singing show tunes in public statements.  But she did GUILTY -- her best selling album of all time -- and then when her next studio album came out, EMOTION, it didn't do as well (though it did sell a million copies in the US) so she went running back to show tunes.  

A person with good judgment would have said, "Hmm?  Maybe I bilked too many people out of hard earned money with the garbage that was MEMORIES and I needed to work to win them back over?"  Because she did bilk them out of their money.  She followed 1980's GUILTY with 1981's MEMORIES that sold five million copies in the US but was nothing but two new recordings and past filler, tracks that had pretty much all already shown up on 1978's BARBRA STREISAND'S GREATEST HITS VOLUME II.  And she'd bilked them in another way.  While Tom Petty spent the late seventies arguing for lower lp prices, Barbra's lps were just costing more each release.  She led the way in price hikes on albums.  

In 1987, while Barba was fleeing pop music in disgrace, Diana Ross recorded "Shine" on her album RED HOT RHYTHM AND BLUES -- a song written by Mick Hucknall.  It was a great song and she did a wonderful job on it.  

For all the applause from critics, THE BROADWAY ALBUM never managed to outsell GUILTY (Barry Gibb wrote some great songs for that album).  And what happened next was exactly what Clive Davis had told her would happen -- was happening -- back as the seventies started, her album buying audience would get smaller and smaller if she didn't update her sound.  Following her return to Broadway, her multi-platinum album sales fell to platinum and then to gold.  And this was at the height of her vocal power.  And then to non-existent unless she did a gimmick like PARTNERS -- where the faded singing voice resorted to a lot of talking instead of singing and paired herself with Billy Joel, Lionel Richie and a lot of other men including the dead for decades late Elvis Presley.  The gimmick worked.  Once.  She tried to pull it a second time -- with film stars -- and it didn't even go gold.  

Her retreat was the stupidest thing in the world and returning to the genre she started in only demonstrated that she really couldn't go back -- no matter how many lying critics tried to praise garbage like HIGHER GROUND and BACK TO BROADWAY.

 She was a force to be reckoned with as she tackled The American Songbook in the 60s and then she became a force in the contemporary pop genre from 1971 to the early eighties.  And then she made herself nothing.

Which brings us back to Simply Red.  TIME is nothing special.  It's a tuneful album.  I could listen to each track again.  But I won't because it's just sort of dull.  Mick trying to reclaim his past without ever grasping what made him and the band so great to begin with.  

"Holding Back The Years" and "If You Don't Know Me By Now."  Blue eyed soul tearing up ballads.

Mick can't really write that anymore.  Okay.  That doesn't mean he can't cover other artists.  He wrote "Holding Back The Years" but "If You Don't Know Me By Now" was written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and Teddy Pendergrass' vocals on it (fronting Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes) made it a hit 17 years before Simply Red ever recorded it.

So if he can't write it, he can interpret it.  Take any ballad off any of the first three solo albums by George Michael, for instance.  Hell, take any track -- even a fast song but slow it down -- from those first three albums and you've got a real shot at a hit song.

I don't hear a hit song on TIME.  I hear some nice music.  Reminds me of a lot of people who never stood out.  They released nice albums but they didn't have the spark.  Carole Bayer Sager, for example.  She writes great songs.  But those seventies albums?  And even 1981's SOMETIMES LATE AT NIGHT?  They had no spark and no life.  The songs on them were great.  Later on, Diana Ross did a great "Come In For The Rain" cover, Michael Jackson brought real life into "It's The Falling In Love," Rita Coolidge nailed "I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love," and both Joyce Kennedy and Chaka Khan did defining work on their covers of "Stronger Than Before."  But as presented on Carole's own albums?

She had a distinct voice and could have been a huge hit maker as a singer.  (She is a hit maker as a songwriter.)  The albums, however, always sounded like a generic piano bar recording.  You weren't going to boo and you'd gladly have the sound as background noise, but it was nothing you would ever pay money for.

And that's pretty much what TIME is.


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