Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Video of the Week: "Hold Me" (Fleetwood Mac)

This week's video is 1982's "Hold Me" by Fleetwood Mac, a group whose history rivals that of any soap opera. Formed by drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, the group has been through many lineup changes but is best known for its "classic" configuration that also includes keyboardist Christine McVie, guitarist Lindsay Buckingham, and vocalist Stevie Nicks. During the recording sessions for this lineup's second album, 1977's Rumours, Christine and John were in the process of ending their marriage, in large part because of his alcohol abuse, Buckingham and Nicks were ending their relationship, and Nicks and Fleetwood had an affair also. While much of the group's tempestuous dynamic is reflected in their fantastic songwriting, the fact that they managed to produce so much great music is a testament to just how good and dedicated they were. It helped that Fleetwood and John McVie formed an incredibly tight rhythm section for the band, Buckingham was one of the most inventive and talented guitarists of the century, and he joined Nicks and Christine McVie as extraordinary songwriters whose voices made for a distinctive blend despite the three of them having totally different singing styles.

 This song was included on the album Mirage, which may explain the video's surreal desert imagery. The video is also influenced by Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte. The numerous mirrors in the video might suggest the fractured nature of the group's relationships, but they may also just be there to look cool, which was a major element of visual style in many music videos from the early 1980s.

 The song was written by Christine McVie and Robbie Patton, who opened for FM on tour. McVie shares lead vocal duties with Buckingham, with Nicks joining on the chorus. Meanwhile, Fleetwood and John McVie engage in an archeological dig which seems to end in the enviable discovery of a lot of guitars, though I doubt all that sand is good for them. Reportedly the video shoot was an ordeal for the band members and the crew, partly because of the heat of the desert and partly because various members of the band did not want to be around each other, which is understandable given the drama between all the personnel. And yet, out of all that comes a fun video and a very catchy song.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bad Idea: Ending Tax Exemptions For Churches

Most of that $71 B came from this one congregation.
 So today I came across something as I was scouring the web, and it was not a happy sight.

This graphic proclaims that churches (and, I presume, synagogues, temples, mosques, and whatever else you may call a house of worship) are getting a free ride. All that money, contributed freely by the members, going somewhere other than the government. Of course, this is surely not intended to show a hostile attitude toward religious people, not an indication of distrust toward places of worship, just a desire to have everyone pay their fair share.

Right? Well, wrong. Dead wrong.

 Why do I think this is a bad idea? Because, as with many of the pictures with pity captions and clever graphics that you find online, it is deceptive. There are some things that you are not being told, and are not being encouraged to consider. Ending tax exemption for churches (and, by extension, every other place of worship) would have far-reaching consequences that even the creator of this image probably hasn't considered.

 One thing that supporters of this idea have missed is that churches do not get exemption just for being churches. The reason they are not taxed is because they are non-profit organizations. Like other organizations that are considered not-for-profit, they must complete paperwork to the effect that their primary purpose is not engaging in commerce. Non-profits perform charitable services; services that quite likely might not be done should their income be reduced by payments to the government. The federal government has long recognized the value of encouraging people to contribute to charitable services (churches or otherwise) which is why contributions to them can also be deducted from individual income tax payments. (Implicit in this argument is an understanding that a person's income belongs to that person to do with as he or she chooses; there is no compulsion to contribute to charitable non-profits, but the system is designed not to discourage people from doing so.) And of course, churches and other non-profits often benefit people who are not members of the congregation and may not even be sympathetic to its beliefs and goals.

 Now, here's where it gets interesting: there is something in the US that we refer to as the First Amendment. It states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." (emphasis mine) What that means is that no federal law can be designed specifically to target a religious institution, whether it is positive or negative for that religious institution. The rules that exempt churches from paying federal taxes are not a form of "special treatment" for churches; they are simply addressed to numerous institutions that include churches. If churches are to be required to pay taxes, then every non-profit institution must pay federal taxes. Every tax incentive that benefits every non-profit organization must be eliminated. Now, if you think that doing so, regardless of the nature of the non-profits affected, is a good idea, then that makes this a different discussion. However, I doubt that this is what the creator of this graphic had in mind. I have a suspicion that whoever made this had an animus toward organized religion, and would be shocked to find out that all sorts of secular organizations, many of them beneficial to the community, would suddenly find themselves deprived of potential millions of dollars, because they now must pay taxes on what they collect, and because contributions will eventually go down once the tax benefits of giving have vanished.

 Also, I have to mention that the government still gets a little tax money from churches and other non-profits, because some of that money goes to pay salaries for clergy, preachers, secretaries, etc. The people who make a living working for these organizations must still pay tax on their own income, just as they would for a "regular" job. (I confirmed this with my dad, who used to be a preacher and thus can be considered a subject matter expert.) And keep in mind that for the majority of religious people in this country, it is absolutely essential that they pay whatever taxes the government requires of them. Likewise, they use the funds they collect to pay for utilities, plumbing services, construction, supplies, and all the other things that allow them to function. The people who are paid for providing these services pay income tax on their earnings. Let's also note that this exemption does not apply to religiously-affiliated business, such as bookstores, which are considered for-profit, because their primary goal is commerce rather than charity or teaching.

 I'd like to think that I'm open-minded, and despite my biases I do my best to present ideas that might be controversial or incendiary in a fair and even-handed manner. But this is a terrible idea, short-sighted and narrow in its focus. In their zeal to punish churches for, well, being churches, they would risk crippling any and all institutions that serve a charitable purpose. No matter how noble the intent (not that I think the intent is noble anyway), the outcome would be nothing short of evil.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Video of the Week: "Somebody That I Used To Know" (Gotye feat. Kimbra)

Today, I'm beginning a new feature on The Freedom Trombone blog, the Video of the Week. I was just starting school when MTV came on the air and music videos became popular, so I've long been fascinated by the medium. For a time last year, I posted videos on my Facebook page with trivia and commentary and I've decided to carry that idea over to this blog. In fact, I will be posting some of those in the future, but today I'll start with "Somebody That I Used To Know," which was the most-played song on the radio in the United States in 2012 and just last night won Grammy awards for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Record of the Year. (And just in case there is any confusion, Record of the Year is awarded for the quality of the recorded performance; Song of the Year is awarded to the songwriter(s).) This song was written and produced by Wally de Backer, who was born in Belgium but has lived most of his life in Australia. He took the stage name Gotye as a re-spelling of Gauthier, the French form of his given name Walter. The song and its video have been the subject of relentless parodies, covers, and tributes, and it has become a major cultural touchstone of the past year, along with that other viral foreign video that will probably not be the subject of one of these commentaries...at least for a very long while.

 I guess it is a bit ironic to have this video posted on the week of Valentine's Day, especially since I am not personally dealing with a break-up at the moment. But a lot of people, myself included, can identify with the song's story, a couple dealing with a post-romance relationship: they both knew that the romance was doomed, but he wants to continue being platonic friends while she wants nothing to do with him.

 The music is an odd conglomeration of a brief sampled guitar lick by Luiz Bonfa along with a distinctive repeated figure played on a xylophone. Feeling that the song lacked drama after the first two verses and chorus, Gotye searched for a female singer to tell the other side of the break-up story. He ended up with New Zealand pop singer Kimbra, and the pairing catapulted them both to international fame. (Humorously, Gotye initially tried recording the song with his actual girlfriend, but decided that their romantic feelings did not match the emotional content of the song.) 

 The video, directed by Natasha Pincus, is notable for its use of abstract imagery, with the random geometric shapes symbolizing the fractured nature of the relationship. Reportedly, it took nearly a full day of work to execute the stop-motion photography that is used to blend Gotye into the painting (and remove Kimbra from it). I presume that her "removal" is really just her being painted but shown in reverse. The style of the artwork is inspired by his father's artwork, but the actual painting was done by Australian artist and skin illustrator Emma Hack. For a great cover version that has also received a lot of attention, click here to see Canadian group Walk off the Earth perform the song on a single guitar.