Author: Seth Ellingson

Music on Trial: May 1, 2015

In many ways, the music industry acts as a microcosm of society. For example, the widening gap between the rich and poor in America is seen also in the widening of income distribution in the music industry. With the rise of illegal downloading, revenues for musicians now come from concerts. Yet, big name artists are capturing more revenues from ticket sales just as the top one percent of Americans are capturing more wealth.

Fortunately, not all shifts in the music industry mean bad news. In fact, some shifts reflect greater acceptance. One genre in particular is poised for a gradual shift of greater inclusion: rock and roll.

Rock music, for the most part, has been a male-dominated industry. When people think of rock music, old names like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd come to mind – classic all-male bands. Even though newer bands such as The White Stripes and The Black Keys, and indie rock bands such as Radiohead break away some distance from the tradition, they still cling to the old formula of white men playing rock music. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Some genres such as punk rock were built by strong, female voices. Old names like Pat Benatar and new names like Sleater Kinney and Savages come to mind. Yet, by and large, rock music remains a male dominated genre.

However, this decade and the ones following it will belong to women in rock. We are already seeing more female-fronted bands take the spotlight. They give voice to an experience that was, at first, largely silent in rock music. This shift comes from the fact that as older generations age, they take their perceptions and tastes with them. On the other hand, our generation brings with it a greater appreciation for more varied voices.

This change means that we will see more female rock artists because we want something different; we want to see someone besides white men on stage rocking out, because that’s been done before, time and time again. Besides, the rising female artists in rock music, well, rock. They change the genre and push its boundaries with their new, fresh approaches to rock music. Their lyrics make us think about life in ways we may not have noticed. Their approach to rock gives us hope and helps us define our generation. Their music speaks to us, and we won’t stop listening anytime soon.

This shift will consist of not only more all-female bands but also multi-gendered bands. Soon we’ll even start to see male-led bands backed by all-female musicians. More importantly, this shift reflects a greater shift among our generation overall. Our generation will be one of greater inclusivity, built on the pillars of equality by giving voice to those who traditionally have had none. Here are some rising female rock bands that you need to listen to right now:

Makthaverskan

Swedish for “strong woman,” this Scandinavian band pulls out riffs reminiscent of 1980s British rock. The lead singer belts out powerful lines in a voice that is comparable to a force a nature. The band’s lyrics serve as a big middle finger to strong, domineering men who take advantage of women.

Songs: “No Mercy,” “Asleep,” “Witness.”

Sheer Mag

Not only does this hard-rocking Pennsylvanian band remind one of AC/DC, but the lead singer also breaks down the perceived conventions of female beauty. We should no longer expect female musicians to be of stunning proportions that are unrealistic at best. Instead, they should be human. She rocks her look and has one of the most unique rock music voices in the industry today.

Songs: “Hard Lovin,” “Fan the Flames.”

Cherry Glazerr

This Californian lo-fi garage rock band takes notes from St. Vincent in its aesthetics, but relinquishes nothing in its delivery. The lead singer’s voice ranges from calming and beautiful to wretched and ripped with emotion. Released when the band members were still in high school, the group’s first album explores the stereotypes of teenage girls and breaks down each one, one chord at a time.

Songs: “Had 10 Dollaz,” “White’s Not My Color This Evening,” “Trick or Treat Dancefloor.”

ellingss@stolaf.edu

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Ukraine conflict dismal at best

Ukraine is losing the war. Read it on BBC or CNN and you will see Ukrainian troops withdrawing from Debaltseve. While accurate, those stories mask the real situation on the ground. To combat this surge of separatist forces, the U.S. is weighing whether to arm Ukraine or not. Such a notion is idealistic at best and will not solve Ukraine’s current problems, will fail to make Ukraine’s armed forces effective and will not bring peace to the situation in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s troop numbers are dwindling, and their best troops got caught up in the meat grinder that became the Donetsk airport. Each recruitment drive yields lower troop numbers. The last drive picked up a five percent success rate. While Ukraine reinstated conscription last May, the military recently began drafting women to fill its ranks.

On top of this lack of troops, Ukraine can hardly keep its head above water economically. The Ukrainian economy has not reported real growth since the fall of the Soviet Union. However, whatever economic potential did exist in Ukraine continues to erode. GDP for Ukraine shrank last year by five percent, with next year’s predictions posed at an eight percent loss.

In order to secure loans from the International Monetary Fund IMF, which is now a prerequisite to having a semi-functional Ukrainian government, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk proposed cutting the national budget by 10 percent. These cuts take out hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs, cut gas and electricity subsidies, hack pension checks and increase taxes. In addition, the proposal cuts out the few goods things to hold over from the Soviet Union: free health care and education. Yatsenyuk’s plan begins with the privatization of education and health care, students experiencing tuition payments for the first time in history and the pharmaceutical market shedding all regulation control. After the proposal passed, a new wave of protests swept through the streets of Kiev to stop the country from ignoring its populace.

Ukrainians now flee in massive numbers. Even the former Maiden protesters are leaving. Ukrainian refugees in Russia now number around 700,000. Many of those refugees turn to separatist forces, not as much for ideological reasons but as a means to survive. Many refugees flock to the $500 monthly salary for fighting with the separatists, a sizeable sum in Eastern Europe. To stop faltering numbers, Ukraine authorized the shooting of deserters and retreaters on site.

Now, separatist forces are closing in around Mariupol, a coastal city in the east where the elite Azov battalion is stationed. A new wave of social protests is gaining steam against the harsh austerity measures. Ukrainians are fleeing their homeland for better lives. Yet, the U.S. believes that equipping a military that can’t keep its troops supplied or in the field will beat back separatists.

Any armament campaign would give Russia a clear reason to intervene in Ukraine. No matter how well-equipped or trained Ukraine forces are after American assistance, Russian forces could enter Kiev in a matter of weeks. One must only look at the 2008 Georgian conflict, during which the U.S. supplied and trained a Georgian army that lasted three days against the Russians. The U.S. needs to understand that provocation will only cause the situation to spiral out of control. Weapons won’t solve the gutting of pensions or Ukrainians’ dissatisfaction with the right-wing government in Kiev. Weapons won’t keep soldiers in the field or keep them from switching sides for better pay. The only thing more weapons will do is cause more death and destruction in Ukraine.

Seth Ellingson ’15 ellingss@stolaf.edu is from Powder Springs, Ga. He majors in history and Russian.

Graphic Credit: ETHAN BOOTE/MANITOU MESSENGER

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NYC sick leave legislation provides admirable model

As college students, when we get sick we have the ability to stay home from classes with little penalty. Yet, for most of the American workforce, that is not the case. However, New York City is making headway with a new law that requires paid sick leave. To be honest, it’s about time.

The new law comes in conjunction with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to stem income inequality in New York City. Along with universal Pre-K and higher taxes on the wealthy, paid sick leave for workers represents just one facet of the growing progressive policies being discussed across the nation.

The law specifies that companies with five or more employees must provide paid sick leave to workers. On top of that, the law also allows employees to take leave to tend to family members who are sick, a boon for single mothers. As a result, 1.2 million workers in NYC will be covered under the law.

This law provides relief for customers and employers as well as employees. Before the law’s passage, employees either had to tough out the flu and come into work or lose a hefty portion of their paycheck. Now, you don’t have to worry about the guy who makes your sandwich getting you sick, at least in NYC. Furthermore, employers may not be fretting over the cost of the law because it only covers employees of longer than three months.

While this law is good news for the Big Apple, the federal government should take note of its effect. Something like this law should be applied across the nation. Although paid sick leave may not be as effective as a boost to the minimum wage, it does give the nation a little taste of what progressive policies can do. Besides, we all use the many service industries that the law impacts, and it would be nice to know that the sauce on our burgers is not contaminated by sneezes from the flu-stricken worker who made it.

This law should function as a stepping stone for greater initiatives such as minimum wage increases. Once the American people can swallow paid sick leave, it is only a matter of time until they push for something bigger.

As Congress continues to drag its feet on raising the minimum wage, smaller initiatives like paid sick leave in NYC are making progress. If the U.S. is the richest country in the world, it should be able to cover its citizens when they feel their worst. It’s common sense: You don’t want someone with a cold handling your lunch. The entire idea behind reformist initiatives such as paid sick leave is to use the government to solve large issues like economic inequality.

Small initiatives like these underscore the reformist nature of policies today. Coming out of the great recession into an economy of stagnation and income inequality, we are looking for solutions. Instead of turning to something radical like a revolution, we reform ourselves. Reforms start with paid sick leave, but they shouldn’t end there. Issues like this should not be conservative or liberal, they should be common sense.

Seth Ellingson ’15 ellingss@stolaf.edu is from Powder Springs, Ga. He majors in political science and Russian.

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Ukraine conflict stems from cultural divisions

We’ve seen the images of Molotov cocktails, makeshift defenses and brutal struggles between protesters and riot police in Kiev’s Independence Square. At the same time, we hear American and European officials calling for Russia to leave Crimea and give democracy a chance in Ukraine. However, Ukraine does not just need more democracy; it needs to revamp the idea of sovereignty to include the various groups within its borders.

Ukraine’s president was ousted after several months of vicious protests. Russian troops have locked down the Crimean peninsula, and Crimea is moving to secede from Ukraine to join Russia. Western spectators have lampooned Russia for its aggressive stance against what appears to be Ukrainian democracy. However, while Russia has overstepped its boundaries and violated international law, Ukraine has not been an exemplary nation either. “Democracy” in the abstract will not fix or prevent another upheaval in Ukraine.

Ukraine is a divided country. The eastern and southern regions of the country speak Russian and lean more towards the Russian sphere of influence, while the western region including the capital, Kiev leans more in the direction of the European sphere of influence. Despite these entrenched contrasts, Ukraine is a unitary state, meaning that the laws passed in Kiev hold near-absolute power. This one-size-fits-all approach may work in the various republics throughout Europe that do not have such a culturally varied population, but it does not suit Ukraine’s needs.

When a schism does occur, as it did with the E.U. negotiations, the minority group takes to the street to make its voice heard. The opposition’s job is to take criticisms of the majority and create an effective political language. Ukraine needs to reform its constitution to curb the powers of the president. As it stands, even if an effective opposition exists in Ukraine, it does not have sufficient power to stop the president from making rash decisions.

Ukraine should reform its constitution to not only curb the powers of the president but also to impose a federal-style state. After former president Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine, the new coalition in Kiev put forward a law to ban use of the Russian language for official purposes throughout Ukraine. Considering that Russian is the native language for a third of the country, such discriminatory practices highlight the kind of laws both sides have proposed to advance their agendas. In reality, no single group should have absolute power in Ukraine, but rather a slow and deliberate process should delegate power between opposing factions.

Crimea, which already holds autonomous status within Ukraine, is a different story. Russia has deployed troops to the Russian-speaking area in defense of ethnic Russians. It’s easy to see that this is problematic. Then again, Russia has a more justified case to be in Crimea then the U.S. had to be in Iraq.

Russian president Vladimir Putin fears that the new government in Kiev could close the doors on the naval base. Accordingly, Putin has followed the logic that a good offense is the best defense. He intends to blockade Ukrainian troops until Crimea holds its referendum to secede. However, it seems unlikely that once Crimea votes for independence it will actually be taken in by Russia. Rather, it will probably float in a sort of Black Sea limbo with greater autonomy than it now has.

The situation in Ukraine is messy to say the least. However, both sides are in the wrong here, not because of their beliefs, but because the restrictive political system in Ukraine has opened up the streets as the only real place where voices will be heard. The divided ethnic groups in Ukraine should come together in order to establish a federal-style government and depose the demagogues who play roulette with their country’s future. A slow and deliberate approach to government in Ukraine would allow the minority groups in Ukraine to hold greater power, thus preventing another occupation of Independence Square.

Seth Ellingson ’15 ellingsons@stolaf.edu is from Powder Springs, Ga. He majors in political science and Russian.

Graphic Credit: ALLI LIVINGSTON/MANITOU MESSENGER

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Athletes burn out too young in elite sports

With the winter Olympics finally over, our minds are fresh with images of disappointed figure skaters, subpar opening and closing ceremonies and those privileged few with medals around their necks. We usually think of those athletes as hard workers who are living the dream. They become concrete examples of where you can go with a little determination and diligence. However, life as a professional athlete, especially an Olympic athlete, is never easy.

Figure skaters in particular are in a catch-22 with their careers. In order to become successful in the skating world, one must invest an absurd amount of time, money and energy. Once they are ready to become professionals, figure skaters often find it hard to make a career from their passion.

Along the way, figure skaters have to deal with inhuman amounts of stress relating to competition and even body image. Figure skaters peak around age 14, when the body begins to fully develop and growth spurts destroy the ideal figure skater image. The end result is often vicious. Ex-figure skaters can find themselves bankrupt and unsure where to turn for solutions.

For example, in 1998 figure skater Nicole Bobek brought home the gold medal from the winter Olympics in Japan. She was easily one of the best figure skaters in the U.S. A few years ago, Bobek was arrested for her involvement in a meth distribution ring. Her face in the mug shot, scarred by meth use, looked nothing like the young blonde with whom Americans fell in love during the height of her fame.

Figure skaters are not the only athletes to suffer from high-stress competition and burnout. Recently, five-time gold medal swimmer Ian Thorpe was arrested for attempting to break into a van while intoxicated on prescription painkillers and antidepressants. This instance reflects how stressful the sports world can be. Stress can plague top athletes not only while they are competing, but even after they retire.

We tend to glorify the “live fast, die young” lifestyles of these athletes, but we should rethink how we perceive them. We must change, lest our society become littered with spent, Lindsay Lohan-like, has-been athletes. However, refitting these people like puzzle pieces into society represents a daunting task.

Most Olympic athletes have trained their entire lives for a small niche. If their bodies give out or if the door of opportunity closes, they could find themselves lost. While sports like figure skating ruin lives, we cannot resist making them glamorous events. A more practical solution would be to address the problem from the bottom up.

We don’t have a problem with glorifying these sports; we have a problem with silencing the criticism of these sports. Instead of trying to reduce our enthusiasm for some sports, we should be more aware of the destructive nature they can have on their participants. The stories of failed athletes should be broadcast in the media through movies, books and other media, not to deter young athletes from their dreams, but to inform them of reality.

It sounds pessimistic to bring up these negative consequences, but it is also heartbreaking to read about the end result of the hundreds of figure skaters who quit high school to go to the Olympics when only a handful will actually make it that far. On top of that, only a select few of that handful make enough money from figure skating to earn a living. Reality must replace romanticism.

Seth Ellingson ’15 ellingss@stolaf.edu is from Powder Springs, Ga. He majors in political science and Russian.

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Oles win nine straight, claim first round bye