So what was this rally about, anyway?

Crowd at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

So as the glut of photos that landed in my Flickr stream might indicate, I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on Saturday. Reading the post-rally coverage since has been sometimes amusing, and sometimes infuriating.

The trouble is, no one really (still) can put their finger on exactly what the rally was about, except maybe the people who were there. We weren't looking for any political stance (in fact, a political stance, or, even worse, encouragement to vote for any one party, would have ruined it). We weren't looking for any stance on anything, actually. The Daily Show isn't about stances, it's about pointing out ridiculousness, and making you laugh. No one should have expected the rally to be any different.

I remember the vibe from inauguration, and the rally did not have that vibe. When Barack Obama came in to office, he did so with a promise of change, and the promise of "Yes We Can!" Well, like it or not, we've seen change, and we've had to accept the reality that huge problems cannot be solved in two years. But I think the thing that most deflated us was that we never really saw the "We."

Sure, there were opportunities to knock on doors, and make phone calls. But there was also the growing realization that doing so was just going to elect the same old people to the same old political system. Regardless of whatever happens tomorrow, we have a Congress run by polar opposites, who run around opposing each other, and would rather be jerks and not get anything done than compromise.

Stewart had it right when he pointed out that everybody else compromises all the time. We compromise in our jobs, in our relationships, in our lives. That's how we get things done — we are sane, and we are reasonable. But that's not how Congress operates, and I think it's the source of everything from the Tea Party to deflated Democrats.

So what this rally was about, at least for me, was admitting that things are screwed up, and we don't know how to solve them, and when you feel the sense of desparation that comes from that, it's nice to have a laugh or 56. And if there's one thing Jon Stewart does — in the rally, and on his show — it's pointing out when media personalities and elected officials are being ridiculous. Although he does it for the purpose of a punchline, he holds their feet to the fire more than the mainstream media. And that's why more and more people get their news from The Daily Show.

If Stewart attacked anyone, it wasn't the right, or the left — it was the media, and they deserve it. And generally, the media response seems to have been "Wait. What? Us? Uhhhhh.....THIS RALLY WAS A FAILURE!" Try to be a little less transparent, guys, really.

David Carr of the New York Times wrote:

"Media bias and hyperbole seem like pretty small targets when unemployment is near 10 percent, vast amounts of unregulated cash are being spent in the election’s closing days, and no American governing institution — not the Senate, not the House of Representatives, not even the Supreme Court — seems to be above petty partisan bickering. Mr. Stewart couldn’t really go there and instead suggested it was those guys over there in the press tent who had the blood of democracy on their hands."

Well, David Carr, like it or not, Jon Stewart is still a host for a show on the Comedy Channel, whereas you are a columnist for the newspaper of record. It's not actually his job to "go there." It's YOURS.

Because it's not just the "24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator" that's the problem. It's journalists who don't even deserve the term, and not just the cable ones.

You — the real news journalists, not the comedy news ones — were supposed to be the "fourth estate," the one that pointed out when the other three were failing. You used to be watchdogs, and now you're more like poodles, yipping at Jon Stewart.

So, for me, going to the rally was acknowledging that things are broken, in politics, and in the media, and the "We" of "Yes We Can!" don't know how to help fix them. It was a chance to go be out with 200,000 or so other people who — I think — feel the same way, and commiserate and laugh with them.

Now I just wish we could figure out where to take that energy, that silent majority understanding that we need to compromise to get this country moving in the right direction. Sanity Party, anyone?


Underworld concert number 3: "We're old, but we're here"

Giant Karl Hyde shadow.

Back in my mid-20s, my hands-down number one musical goal was to see Underworld live. I'd seen video of their concerts, and the idea of a non-stop dance party to all of my favorite electronic songs was enormously appealing. I'll admit, I even thought about going to see them in Europe if they never made it back to the U.S. on tour, because there for awhile, they were pretty quiet on album output, and played only a few select European dates.

Then they released "Oblivion With Bells," and played a few dates in the United States, including one in New York at Central Park. Underworld a mere train ride away? My friend Melvin and I jumped at the chance to see them, and it was an amazing concert — one of the most memorable nights of my life. And then surprisingly, they came around again the year after, to play Virgin Fest in Baltimore. So Melvin and I went again, to watch them play an incredible set in a terrible venue (Virgin Fest called it the "Dance Tent", but it should have been the "Dust Tent").

I went a year with no Underworld concerts, but then this year, wonder of wonders, they played at the 9:30 Club here in D.C. Well, after all that trekking to see them, there's no way I was going to pass on it when they were a Metro ride away. So, you guessed it, Melvin and I (and let me just note, I am exceedingly lucky to have a friend who loves Underworld concerts as much as me) went to see them again last night. Now a full four years after our first Underworld concert, we were remarking on passing 30 and getting old before the concert. In my case, I've been battling a problem with my foot since February, and, well, let's just say there aren't a lot of bands that could get me out to a concert on a Monday night these days. In fact, there might only be one.

But hey, we did come out on a Monday night, and so our mantra became "we're old, but we're here." We were out with the rest of the trending-older crowd — the median age was looking pretty thirty-something — to dance nonstop for a couple of hours to the group that literally redefined electronic music in the 1990s. And yes, foot or not, I danced (although I will admit to wearing my New Balances); the latest theory on my foot is that there's nothing structurally wrong with it, so I decided to put that theory to the test.

This was the sort of crowd that pulled their glow sticks out of retirement.

But enough about me. What about Underworld? Well, going back to the whole age thing, these guys — who are at least 20 years older than me — put out two almost entirely nonstop hours of high-energy music. It may actually have been the most intense Underworld concert I've been to, and that's saying a lot.

They started things out with Downpipe, then into Always Loved a Film, one of the better songs off of their new album, "Barking." I'll admit that I'm not loving "Barking" as much as their previous albums; it's pretty poppy and accessible, almost too much so. I think now that I've heard some of the songs, though, I might come back to it and give it another try. It's never going to be a "Second Toughest in the Infants" (the greatest electronic album, ever), but then, maybe I shouldn't expect a group to be able to replicate that level of genius again. The video screen — an Underworld requisite — came up during Film and was used periodically throughout the night, showing videos that were arty, occasionally strange, and, as always, key to the experience. The lighted tubes from the last two shows were gone, however (or they just didn't fit on the 9:30 Club stage).

Then they were on to more familiar territory with the lovely one-two punch of Dark Train, complete with the requisite flashing lights accompanying the synth chords at the song's climax, and then Two Months Off. Two Months Off is the song that gives me hope for the new Underworld album, because I didn't really get it when it was on the album. It was okay, sure, but it always felt kind of odd and stilted. Live, though, it loses all those harsh edges and comes out huge, hopeful, and immensely dance-able. I have a feeling that somewhere on "Barking" there's another song like it, one that will continue to morph live until they've turned it into one of the big Underworld dance anthems everyone's always waiting for at their concerts.

However, I don't think You Do Scribble, the next song, is going to be that song. It's one that's already been developing over the years (they actually played it in Baltimore and I think I liked it better then) and somehow turned into a poppy breakbeat thing that just doesn't entirely do it for me. That's the weird thing about Underworld. They've got these songs that, live, just hit you in the gut and compel you to dance. There's nothing identifiably wrong with Scribble, but it just doesn't have that gut punch. Bird 1 was next, one of the slower songs they did, and probably the one I could have most swapped out for something else (Rowla, you were missed).

Then again, it was a handy breather for my old self, and I needed that breather when it was time for Rez/Cowgirl. There weren't any slippery-awesome transitions to it this time, just standard Rez/Cowgirl, which is still always, always, always outstanding — that moment when the bleeps and blips really kick in and the crowd just goes nuts is always one of my favorites.

Rick Smith does (heavily processed, but still!) backing vocals!

They went back to new material in their next two songs, but it was stronger stuff (two candidates, perhaps, for the new Two Months Off). Between Stars was nice and crisp, and Diamond Jigsaw was a real surprise, with Karl Hyde strapping on a guitar that was core to the song, instead of a little extra texture. And indeed, it does have that same sort of big, happy feeling that Two Months Off does.

At about this point, I was feeling like Underworld might have played a few too many new songs, and that was going to cheat me out of some of the big, barnstorming electronica anthems they're known for. Um, no. Instead, they just played a longer set. And that is why I love them.

King of Snake kind of snuck in, without any of Shudder, so it was a slowly dawning realization that they were going to do it, and it was an excellent one. I was kind of disappointed in the transitions this time around — there weren't as many of those brilliant little moments as they slid from one song into another. But it seemed like they were working on something else this time, equally brilliant and interesting, and that was reinventing songs like King of Snake. Yes, the gigantic I Feel Love, four-on-the-floor beat was still holding up the bottom, but the piano was gone, replaced with new bleeps and blips, and it made the song every bit as dance-able as it's always been, but newly intruiging.

Karl Hyde has impossible amounts of energy.

And then, of course, Underworld might try a set in Europe without Born Slippy .NUXX, but there's to be none of that in the U.S. People might tend toward mutiny if they never got to shout "Lager! Lager! Lager!." So it was next, without the sneaky little bit of the original Born Slippy kicking it off this time, just a booming beat and some dissonant wailing synth that built and built and built until it was identifiable, and increasing amounts of the crowd lost it. What do you say about Born Slippy? It's the ultimate gut-punch song, something you can play and never fail to get a crowd going, and saving it for the end left us all primed and ready for it.

They closed with Born Slippy, and left the stage for two or three minutes, max, (granted, the crowd was screaming and clapping for the entirety of that time) before coming back out for an encore. I was primed for disappointment at this point, because the last two times I've seen them live, they closed with Jumbo, which is one of my least favorite Underworld songs. Oh, but this time, they came in with that distinctive opening to Dirty Epic and I screamed at the top of my lungs. Truly. Something snapped loose in my throat when I did it, and today I sound like I gargled with razor blades.

Dirty Epic is one of my all-time favorite Underworld songs; not a dance song, but one that shows their range, their ability to create these amazing, atmospheric electronic songs. Every time I listen to it, my brain creates its own little Underworld video screen, filled with dark rain-soaked brick alleys and old houses with faded wallpaper and London Tube platforms late at night. It's beautifully evocative. And maybe it doesn't translate all of that live, sped up smidge so that some of the crowd was swaying, and some people were out and out trying to dance. But so nice to stand there and close my eyes and sway and sing those strange and brilliant lyrics.

Moaner: Crazy intense.

Both of the previous times I'd seen them, Underworld did a one-song encore. But this time they weren't done, and they pulled out a wicked transition to redeem themselves in the transition department and close out the night — hinting, hinting, hinting, and then, finally, Moaner. Rez/Cowgirl might be a thing of beauty, and Born Slippy might be the electronica anthem of all time, but NOTHING is more intense live than Moaner. They come in with that big booming undertone and the high, frantic synth, and then top that all off with the increasingly desperate vocals, plenty of smoke and impossibly fast strobe lights, and everybody can't help but leave it all on the floor.

And we did, capping off a two-hour set, watching our hands stutter above our heads in the lights. Dancing because this was it and it was crazy and our guts compelled us to, no matter how old we were.


My 10 favorite Lush products

So this is a blog post that I've been meaning to write for awhile, because, well, over the past year I have converted into pretty much a total Lush fangirl. My bathroom counter looks like a mini Lush store these days, because I love their products — they're effective, use mostly natural ingredients and only the bare minimum of preservatives, and they're environmentally friendly. A win all-around.

And after doing something very very bad to my skin last night (slathering it with zombie makeup, if you must know), I went for #1 on the list to save it, and remembered I'd been meaning to write this post. So here it is — my 10 favorite Lush products:

10. Vanilla in the Mist Soap — before I got a sample of this soap to try, my favorite soap might have been a tie between Honey I Washed the Kids and Sexy Peel. But this soap smells ridiculously good, and it's super moisturizing. Lush always aces their vanilla scents and this is a perfect example. It smells so good it's tempting to make a little snack of it in the shower.

9. American Cream Conditioner — Aside from Aveda's eye cream, which I do still use, the last major holdout of other cosmetics brands in my bathroom had been Aveda's Color Revival Conditioner. I started noticing, though, that it just wasn't doing as well as it used to — my hair was starting to get that weird smell it does when the ends are drying out. I'd tried some Lush conditioners before but not American Cream; as soon as I smelled this stuff and saw how heavily a little bit conditioned my hair, I was sold. Unfortunately I have a lot of Aveda left to use up!

8. Saving Face — I found out about Lush's face serums when I was at one of their spas in the UK. These were developed for their spa facials, but they also started selling them in the stores. For someone like me, who has fairly oily skin, this is a kind of scary product to use at first. It's a solid, and you rub it between your palms until it heats up enough to transfer some onto your hands. Then you rub it on your face. And it feels a little greasy. But it turns out, it's good grease, and instead of making me break out, it just made my skin feel much softer in the morning. I use this almost every night now, and I think it's preventing the spread of those post-30 wrinkles that were starting to develop. Also, props to Lush for taking something I would never have thought could be made into a solid, and actually achieving making it a solid, keeping more plastic bottles out of landfills.

7. Dark Angels Cleanser — This is actually not the face cleanser I use most frequently from Lush (Fresh Farmacy is my every morning cleanser, used with my Clarisonic), but it is ridiculously good stuff. It's a favorite because its charcoal soaks up oil like crazy, and it's super-exfoliating. I like to leave it on for a few minutes like a quick mask, then scrub it in before I rinse. I don't use it every day because this. stuff. is. messy. It's all-black, and I have a white sink. Yuck. Like the other two Lush cleansers I use most frequently (the afforementioned Fresh Farmacy and Coalface), it's a solid. Even more plastic bottles eliminated AND they don't have to go in my quart bag when I fly.

6. Big Blue Bath Bomb — I wanted a bath bomb on the list, but this one is sort of a representative of all the bath bombs (and innovative bubble bars, too, for that matter) Lush carries. It is one that I keep going back to, though, for its smells-of-the-sea scent, even though it leaves the tub filled with seaweed, which is not fun to clean up. Like all of the bath bombs, this one is really moisturizing, and makes you want to keep smelling your skin after a bath. Although when I go to Lush, I'm usually there for more practical products like the ones earlier on this list, it's tough to resist going over to the display of bath bombs, looking like an array of little ice cream scoops, and picking one or two out.

5. Volcano Foot Mask — I've been having a problem with swelling, pain, and stiffness in one of my feet since the beginning of this year, and Volcano has been a frequent treatment. It's a foot mask that warms (like, really, really warms — it's kind of freaky) after you put it on, which feels really good for problem feet. It also deodorizes and softens. I accidentally proved how much it was softening, because I was applying it frequently to the bad foot, and sort of forgot about the other one. One day I looked down and realized how soft and exfoliated the skin on Bad Foot was, and how dry and scaly Good Foot was looking. Sorry about that, Good Foot.

4. King of Skin — Yet another excellent solid product. This one is a butter bar that basically works like conditioner for your skin. You swipe it on while your skin is wet, then rinse. King of Skin isn't as exfoliating as some of the other butter bars, but it smells lovely, and it's my favorite. I used to get a lot of irritation when I'd shave my legs, but once I started using King of Skin after, irritation GONE. The only thing I don't like about it is that they changed the shape from a square that fit nicely into their body butter tins (these suckers need to be kept in a tin, or they'll melt all over your shower), to one that's perhaps more ergonomically comfortable, but does not fit in the tin. New King-of-Skin shaped tin, please, Lush? And while you're at it, one sized for the face serums?

3. Squeaky Green Shampoo — This was one of my earliest Lush conversions. Confession: I prescribed for many years to the Procter & Gamble-induced notion that I had dandruff. I mean, I had all the, uh, signs of it, so of course I had dandruff, right? Wrong. I tried out Lush's shampoo bars, and after I finally completely converted over to them, the "dandruff" went away. Now, while Squeaky Green does contain some ingredients that are good for dandruff, I'm pretty sure that what I actually had was an irritated scalp from all the chemical crap P&G puts in its shampoos and conditioners. The shampoo bars (I use a rotation of Squeaky Green and either Ultimate Shine or Seanik) work better than bottled shampoo, and as a side bonus I'm no longer using any plastic shampoo bottles. Or having to include shampoo in my quart bag when I fly. And I get a ton of washes out of each shampoo bar, so they're even more cost effective than the P&G stuff. Win, win, win, win.

2. Lemony Flutter — I use this as a gateway drug to get other people hooked on Lush, so it's one I give as a gift a lot. You know when your cuticles are starting to look a little ragged, and you're sure it's only going to get worse now that they've started to go? Lemony Flutter turns that around, like, immediately. A little douse and they're back to looking healthy. In the winter, sometimes I use it on my entire hands, because mine tend to dry out a ton and even used to crack and bleed (not anymore, in the post-Lemony Flutter era). It's super-moisturizing and smells delicious, and one pot lasts forever. I like to keep two, though — one for work and one for home.

1. Catastrophe Cosmetic — As soon as the zombie makeup came off my face, I knew what it needed. A quick dose of Catastrophe Cosmetic, which, I'm fairly sure, is made of rainbows and magic. I have acne-prone skin; I believe the politer British term is that I "get spots". Whatever you want to call it, I struggled for years and used nasty chemical product after nasty chemical product on my face. It's only been since I switched to Lush products that I've gotten things under control, and even after that, it took me awhile to realize that this was the cornerstone. I don't know what's in there working the magic, but what I do know is that I see INSTANT improvement as soon as I wash it off. It's amazing stuff. Usually now, if I "get spots," it's because it's my own fault I've gone too long between Catastrophe Cosmetic applications (every other night is ideal). Usually, I smear some of the facial serum on underneath before I apply (it's supposed to help the mask penetrate the skin more), and then don't quite wash the mask off all the way, so my skin's still a little chalky when I go to bed, that way it keeps using its magic powers all night. Added bonus: Lush has a program where if you bring back five black pots to the store so they can recycle them, you get a free face mask. So I often get this for free! Note that in the US you have to buy this one in the store, and it needs to stay refrigerated.