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Mordecai And Stef (Fanfiction)
It had been a few years now since Mordecai, Rigby and the other employees of The Park had returned to Earth after being blasted off into space. Along with the defeat of Anti-Pops and the noble sacrifice of his brother. Their friend, Pops submitted by Madaraoluv2 to regularshow [link] [comments]
Mordecai had left his job at the park then, going off to pursue his former passion of painting. Which he had no loss of inspiration for.
All the insane and irregular happenings in his life, ever since he and his pal Rigby first got hired at that park. To their adventures in the final frontier of space.
They all helped the blue jay to create the most interesting of pieces. Which in time got bought up by collectors and were shown in museums all around the world.
Anyway, one day, during an art show. Mordecai was sighing autographs for a few fans of his work.
When suddenly his arm bumped into someone else
The bird looked over, only to see a female bat girl with long brown hair, and a gothic style outfit. The two stared at eachother for what seemed like forever. As if in some form of unexplained trance.
"Excuse me," one of the fans said "Going to finish my autograph?"
"Oh, yeah," Mordecai said snapping back to reality
"Oops," the bat lady said. Who was also sighing autographs as well
"So, you're an artist to?" Mordecai asked the fellow artist
"Yeah," the bat said "My stuff's over there,"
She pointed to a few pieces not to far off
"Whoa, nice," Mordecai said
"Yeah," the bat said "My grandpa used to watch Benny Harris all the time. I loved the magic that guy could do with just a brush,"
"You use to watch him to?" Mordecai said "He was my inspiration to,"
"Hehe, small world," the bat said "By the way, I'm Stef,"
"Mordecai," the bird said "Say, after this show's done, you want to...I don't know, get some coffee? I know this great old shop I used to go to all the time. It's not to far from here,"
"Sure," Stef said "I like coffee,"
Stars filled the sky as day gave way to night
"Gosh I remember I used to come in here all the time back at my old job," Mordecai said sipping his drink "Feels like forever,"
"What did ya do?" Stef asked eating a pastry
Just then a voice came from the TV
"And now we go live to Margret Smith at the Florida Anime Convention,"
"Margret?" Mordecai said
"This is Margret Smith here," the red jay said in front of a large building "As you can see behind me fans from all over the world are here to catch the sneak peak of the remake Planet Chasers: Starlight Excellent set to debut here in America next month. Sir can you tell me how your feeling about this show?"
"I love watching it...I watch it all the time...I love watching it..." a zombie like man in a store clerk uniform said
"Okay..." Margret said "Back to you at the station,"
"Wow, she's doing stories all over the world now," Mordecai said
"You know her?" Stef said
"Ya, she used to work at this coffee shop with her friend." he said
Mordecai began to space out and flashback
"Man, when I worked at the park," Mordecai said
"The park?" Stef said "You mean the one not to far from here!? The one where a battle occurred during the Revolutionary War? The one that used to have the Crash Pit? The one that almost got sent to Russia? The one that went into space!?"
"Yeah, I mean..." Mordecai said
"Wow, that was you? Gosh, that's so cool," Stef said
"Ya, tons of crazy stuff happened back when me and friends worked there," Mordecai said "Helped to inspire my paintings truth be told,"
"Say, it's not far," Stef said "How bout a late night stroll through it? All this coffee and sugar is giving me a bit of a rush,"
"I haven't visited that place in forever," Mordecai said "Heh, be nice take a trip down memory lane,"
"Maybe you can tell me some stories about your crazy experiences?" Stef said
"Might help you think up a few painting to," Mordecai said
With that the bat and bird left the shop and headed to the park
Mordecai and Stef had just arrived at the park. The dome that once surrounded it had long since been removed from it after returning to earth.
The blue jay looked up at the sign that simply read "The Park." So many wild and crazy adventures had occurred here. Wonderful experiences, life threatening experiences.
"On second thought, maybe this was a bad idea," Mordecai said. Now remembering how he Rigby, and the pretty much everyone who used to work in the park were like magnets for the strange and bizarre.
"Oh come on," Stef said "It's just a park, plus there's a full moon out tonight, not to mention the park lights. We'll be fine,"
Mordecai thought it over. "Yeah, I mean it'll only be a quick walk. Besides, if we do run into anything, I'm a master of Death Kwon Do,"
The blue jay did a few quick karate poses, until...
"Oh, cramp, cramp," he said in pain
"Hehe," Stef chuckled "My hero. Now c'mon lets check this place out,"
Mordecai gulped. "Please," he thought "Let tonight just be regular,"
"Haha," Stef laughed "So, it was all just a guy from the video store?"
"Yeah," Mordecai said "Still can't believe he had to wear that car costume,"
"That Rigby friend of your sounds like a riot," Stef said
"Yeah, we used to get in...oh hey"
The duo were now at the house in the center of the park.
"My and Rigby's old home," Mordecai said
"Whew," Stef whistled "Nice place,"
"Yeah," Mordecai said
Just then a truck drove over and a large man with blond hair stepped out
"Oh ya," the man said "Guys night!"
Just then the front door to the house opened up and a living tree, porcupine, and familiar face stepped out
"Oh ya, you fellow guys...Whoa, Mordecai?" a certain husky, green skinned man said
"Muscle Man?" Mordecai said
"Who's that?" the tree person asked "And why'd he call you muscle man Mitch?"
"Young bro's," Mitch said "This here is my old pal Mordecai. One of the original guys,"
"Whoa!" the other three people said
"You still working here Mus...er Mitch?" Mordecai asked
"Eh, I help out if Benson needs a favor,. Mostly in the trucker business with my bro now. Need the extra cash for Starla and the kids," Mitch said
"Kids?" Mordecai said
"Yeah, Starla had quintuplets not to long ago," Mitch said
"Quintuplets? As in five kids?" Stef said "Wow, congratulations,"
"Yep, proud father of six now," Mitch said as he proceeded to take off his shirt and twirl it in the air "Whoooooo!"
"Say, why don't you join us guys?" The porcupine said
"Whoa," the tree said "We can't let him in, he's got a lady. That's like, a sacred law of guys night.
"It's why we couldn't invite Zelly," the blonde man said
"That zebra's all kinds of party," the porcupine said
"Please, no way she'd be able to complete the milk challenge," the tree said
"Neither did you," porcupine said
"It that a guys challenge?" the tree said
"I'll show you," the porcupine said
With that the three young guys went back into the house
"Oh no bro, and sis," Muscle man said "I better make sure this doesn't go south,"
"Yeah," Mordecai said "I remember when P..."
Mordecai stopped talking, then looked over at a nearby statue. Of their old friend. Mitch looked as well
"He was a true guy, bro," Mitch said putting his hand on his friends shoulder
"Yeah," Mordecai said
"Later," Mitch said going back into the house
Mordecai walked over to the statue, which was of Pops holding a butterfly net.
"Was he one of your friends?" Stef asked
"He sacrificed himself to save us, all of us," Mordecai said
"Really?" Stef said surprised "Oh my,"
The bat saw a tear run down the birds eye
"He was a great guy," Mordecai said
"I'm sorry," Stef said "I didn't know this park held bad memories for you. Maybe we just go,"
Just then a bright light whooshed through the sky, and a white car suddenly landed near the house
"What the?" Stef said surprised
Just then a yeti, glowing man with stars for eyes, a few giant babies, and a green man with a robot arm came out of the car
"Thank you again for defeating Klorgbane the Destroyer Skips," One of the babies said
"I just hope he doesn't fly near that wormhole again," Skips said "He came back way earlier than he should have,"
"Good thing you called me for backup," Techmo said "That's one tough baby,"
"Indeed, very not cool," Gary said
"Uh Stef," Mordecai said a bit awkwardly "These are some of my friends,"
"Hey Mordecai," Skips said now noticing his friend. "Long time no see. Say who's the lady?"
"What?" Mordecai said looking at the bat girl "No, it's not...She's just an artist I met earlier today. We were just having a friendly..."
"Ugh," Skips said rolling his eyes "All this time and you're still pulling a Mordecai,"
"Hey everyone, look," One of the babies said "It appears to be guys night,"
"Guys night is indeed very cool," Gary said "I say we partake in it,"
"Totally," Techmo said "We could use a celebration after beating Klorgbane,"
With that Skip's friends went into the house
Skips looked at his friends, then back to Mordecai and Stef.
"I apologize for any weirdness my friends and I caused," he said "Seriously though Mordo, you got only one life. Don't let it be full of CJ's and Margret's,"
"Hey it's not..."
Skips was already in the house by now
He looked back at Stef, then sighed and walked away
"Mordecai," Stef said
Mordecai now sat at one of the tables at the snack bar
"Mordecai," Stef said
"I'm sorry Stef," Mordecai began "My life has been like this for a long time. Ever since me and my buddy Rigby got out of high school. I've been thrown into all kinds of crazy adventures. Everything from battling video game bosses that come to life, to getting sent to strange and bizarre worlds. I was in space for goodness sake!"
"Mordecai I..." Stef began
"I understand if you want to leave. Wonder if Sad Sax Guy will be here to take me to Dumptown USA again,"
Stef sat down in a chair at the table the blue jay was at.
"Is all that true?" Stef asked
"Every word, and that's not even the half of..."
"BANG!" the sound of a gunshot filled the air. Hitting the sign that above the snack bar
"Darn it! Missed!" a robotic voice said
The bat and bird looked over to see a figure in a trench coat and backwards cap
"Oh, so you got another girl eh?" The mysterious figure said "She going to school to?"
"No way," Mordecai said figuring out who the attacker was
The mystery man removed his coat to reveal the bear leader of the The Capricola Gang. The robot bear now a patchwork body of himself and his cohorts. He had large body of his fellow bear robot. One of the female duck robots arms. Also one of his legs had no skin on it. Revealing the metal monster he was
"I saw you blow up! Twice!" Mordecai said
"It'll take more than firepower to keep the Capricola Gang down!" the robot bear said "I've waited years to get my metal paws on you and your friends! Guess it's my lucky day for seeing you and this girl entering the park earlier,"
"Stef get down!" Mordecai said flipping the table over as the bear fired off more rounds
"No cops or chefs to save you this time!" the robot bear laughed
"Okay," Mordecai said "I'll draw out his fire and you make a break for the house. Get Skips and..."
Mordecai then saw Stef's eyes glow red. Followed by bat wings sprouting out of her back
"What the?!" Mordecai said
"I'm not all that regular either Mordecai," she said going out from behind the table
"Huh?" the bear said firing off some rounds
Stef kept walking toward the machine. Unfazed by the bullets
"YOU PICKED THE WRONG NIGHT TO MESS WITH A DAYWALKER!" Stef the half breed vampire bat said grabbing the gun and crushing it in her hand
"AH!" the bear cried running off.
Stef used her wings to swoop over and scoop him up into the sky. Followed by delivering the mother of all pile drivers to the robot. Who exploded to bits upon the impact
"STEF!" Mordecai cried
Only to then see the bat walk out from the fire, her body regenerating its damaged parts from the blast
"Whoa..." Mordecai said
"Don't worry, I don't bite," Stef said
Over the next few weeks Mordecai and Stef were nearly inseparable. Almost every night they'd get together and paint, or just go out and have fun.
Mordecai even took her to the old camping spot where he and his friends got attacked by the deer man creature
"He took a lantern to the face?" Stef said. She and the blue jay were out at the camping spot now, roasting hotdogs (made with real ingredients XD) as they had little fire going
"Yeah, he was one tough buck," Mordecai said
"Gosh you tell the most amazing stories. You should have gone into writing," Stef said
"Oh come on," Mordecai said "I mean, me and old pals used to tell ghost stories every Halloween back in the day, but I'm no author. Besides, I'd never have met such a cool vampire bat like you,"
"Oh you," Stef said giving Mordecai a friendly punch
"Death Block," Mordecai said jokingly
"Oh no, please forgive me sensei," Stef said bowing "I should know better than to challenge the master,"
They both laughed, then proceed to snuggle close and look up at the stars.
"Isn't it beautiful?" Stef said
"It's a whole lot of things," Mordecai said "The worlds I've seen out there, it's mind blowing. Also a bit weird,"
"Say," Stef said "Since you were part of that whole space park dome program thing. Doesn't that technically make you an astronaut?"
"I suppose, why?" Mordecai asked
"Doesn't that Cheezers restaurant give out discounts or something for those kind of people?" Stef asked
"Oh ya," Mordecai said "Gosh I haven't been there in ages,"
"We should go there sometime. Heard they got this lamb meatball sub with goat cheese on it. It's a limited time item," Stef said
"Whoa really!? I love meatball subs!" Mordecai said
"Maybe we can swing by there tomorrow morning on the way back to the city?" Stef said
"Meatball! Meatball! I love them more than B-ball! Lamb cheese if you please. Hey don't sneeze! Oh man, make another. I don't to catch a disease," Mordecai sang
"Whoa," Stef said surprised "Didn't know you could bust a rhyme,"
"Yeah," Mordecai said "Rigby and I used to rap like that all the time," I think he moved in with his girlfriend Eileen. You'd like her, real interesting girl,"
"More interesting than you?" Stef asked "Hehe, she's definitely up there,"
After a bit more chatting, the duo finishing their hotdogs, then got their sleeping bags and went to bed under the stars
The next day the bat and bird drove back to the city and were now at Cheezers
"You're two lamb meatball subs with goat cheese will be ready in sec," the waitress said "Let me show you to your table,"
Yet as they were walking to the table, Mordecai saw a certain someone he knew all to well
"Hey, Mordecai, long time no see," Rigby said
The raccoon was sitting at a table with Eileen and a pair of young raccoon looking daughters
"Whoa, Rigby," Mordecai said happy to see his friend
"This is Rigby?" Stef said
"Yep, this is my long bro," Mordecai said
"You know it," Rigby said
"OHHHHHH!" the pair of buds cheered
"Huh?" Stef said
"It's something we do, hehe," Mordecai explained
"Excuse me," the waitress said "Your table is..."
"They can share ours," Eileen said "Our kids are in highchairs, I'll just move over to Rigby's side
"Whatever," the waitress said going back to her podium
Thus the bird and bat sat with the raccoon and mole.
(The wiki says she's a mole. I always thought platypus, or beaver. I mean the tail fits, am I right? Whatever, back to the story)
"Awww," Stef said seeing their kids "So cute,"
"Whoa man, you're a dad," Mordecai said still a bit surprised
"Awww yeah," Rigby said
"Rigby passed out for over an hour after I showed him the positive pregnancy test," Eileen chuckled
"Dude, smooth," Mordecai joked
"Stop talking!" Rigby yelled
Which caused the kids to cry
"Rigby! You know that scares our daughters!" Eileen said
"I can't have my daughters growing up thinking I'm a wimp, what if the get the good genes like my bro Don? They'll be huge!"
"Ugh," Eileen said "Just let me get the stroller,"
"I can fix this," Stef said. The bat girl looked at the little babies. Her eyes began to glow red
"You will calm down and enjoy your meal," she said in a hypnotic tone
Just then the daughters did so
"Whoa," Rigby said
"What did you do?" Eileen asked
"My dad was a vampire bat, my mom was a fruit bat," Stef said
"Wait, so like a vampire vampire?" Eileen asked
"But we went to see him last week," Mordecai said "In the daytime,"
"Sun block," Stef explained
"Oh, I thought he was like a lifeguard or something," Mordecai said, as he remembered seeing a whole cabinet filled with sunblock at her parents home.
"So, still painting bro?" Rigby asked
"Yeah," Mordecai said "Actually met Stef here at a recent art show. She paints to,"
"Whoa cool," Eileen said
"Speaking of cool things," Stef said "Mordecai here has told me some crazy stories about the adventures you guys have had. Any truth to them?"
"He didn't tell you about what happened when I played punchies with Skips did he?" Rigby asked, curling his tail to cover his abnormal butt cheek.
"No what did happen?" Stef asked
"I won," Rigby quickly answered "Yeah, totally won. Didn't suffer some form of embarrassing defeat. Right Mordecai."
The blue jay saw the look of "Don't embarrass me man" in Rigby's eyes
"Yeah," Mordecai said "It was incredible. But not as incredible as when he and I ate a giant omelet to win a trucker hat,"
"What?" Stef said "This I gotta hear,"
About a half hour later Eileen and Rigby left for home
"Oh! aren't girls suppose to be the less nasty gender?" Rigby said holding his nose
The more raccoon baby daughter laughed happily, her diaper loaded
"I can't believe you forgot to pack diapers," Eileen said "For that this ones yours to change when we get home,"
Their poo filled daughter farted just then
"Ugh," Rigby grunted
"Phew," Mordecai said stepping out of Cheezers "Fresh air,"
"That girl of their's must be lactose intolerant," Stef said
"Was nice you to offer to babysit for them this weekend," Mordecai said
"Yeah," Stef said "I need the money for more art supplies,"
"Say, how bout if I join you?" Mordecai said
"You ever babysat?" Stef asked
"I watched over the child of Death. Twice," Mordecai said
"Wow, talk about being overqualified," Stef said
The weekend was here now, Mordecai and Stef knocked on the door to Eileen and Rigby's home
"Wow you're right on time," Eileen said welcoming them "So we'll only be gone for about two to three hours. Just going out for dinner and a movie,"
"Aw yeah," Rigby said "Zombie Dinner Party 3: The Final Course,"
"Sucks we had to watch the 2nd one on Blue Ray," Mordecai said "Though it still had great quality I guess,"
"Hey, a lot happened in the three years we were out in space," Rigby said
"Yeah," Mordecai said
After Eileen explained all the normal stuff parents tell baby sitters. The raccoon and mole went out for a night of enjoyment
"Awww who's a cute little baby?" Stef said bouncing one of the daughters on her leg. The twin Stef had resembled more of Eileen, lighter skin and a tail like her mom, though she had Rigby's nose. The other twin was practically a mini-Rigby, thought female. Both had orange hair
"Heh, you're pretty good with kids," Mordecai said giving the more raccoon looking infant a bottle
"I used to work at a gym," Stef said "It had a daycare area for people to bring their kids while they worked out,"
"Bet it was a breeze with your vampire powers," Mordecai said
"Not really, I was just developing them at the time," Stef said
"No kidding?" Mordecai said
"Ya, I remember this one time back in high school. When I was on the girls basketball team. This one game I was going running to the hoop, but then my wings just popped out. Long story short I made the greatest slam dunk in my schools history. Though it didn't count cause flying was against the rules." Stef said
"Whoa, I'll need to call the Basketball god if I ever shoot hoops with you hehe," Mordecai said
"Well if he can give you flight I'd say that's a..."
"WHAAAAA!" the raccoon baby cried. Which in turn made her sister cry
"What's wrong?" Morecai said picking up the crying raccoon
"Must just have gas, pat her bat," Stef said
Mordecai did so, and eventually
"BURP!" the little infant raccoon said
"Definitely Rigby's daughter," Mordecai said
Stef used her powers to calm down the other one
A short while later, both daughters were fed and fast asleep in their crib
"Well that was a breeze," Stef said
"At least neither of them set a fire or had to get hit on the head," Mordecai said
"Huh?" Sasha said "Death's son was a literal demon baby," Mordecai said
Stef looked at the clock "Wow, Rigby and Eileen won't be back for an hour or so still,"
"Hey," Mordecai said looking down at Rigby's game console, which had a few games nearby "He's got Double Karate Dudes. Wow I haven't played that game in ages,"
"Isn't that the game with that Hammer boss guy? Nobody beats The Hammer," Stef said
"You just got to hit him with furniture," Mordecai said "Say want to play?"
"Just don't use that Maximum glove," Stef said "I'd don't want to want to become a freaky muscular fusion like you did with Rigby,"
"It was a one time thing, plus it sucks as a real controller anyway," Mordecai said
Thus they booted up the game and proceeded to lay the digital smack down one some virtual bad guys
"This is fun," Stef said as she smashed an enemy with a trash can
"Oh watch out," Mordecai said as he made his player do a spinning kick attack to stop an enemy that was sneaking behind Stef's character, with a bottle.
"Nice save," Stef said
"Hey, Rigby and I hold the universe record in Broken Bones. I got the skills,"
"You just never cease to amaze me Mordecai," Stef said
"You're pretty cool to Stef," Mordecai said "I mean you destroyed a crazy robot bear,"
"Hehe, yeah," Stef said
Just then the bird and bat looked at each other, like they had when the first met at the art show
Only this time, they kissed. A passionate kiss.
Not even the sound of the game over screen could break them apart
"I love you," they said in unison
Mordecai sat at a table in Wing Kingdom, this old restaurant was host to many fond memories in the past. It was where Rigby made the world's greatest bank shot, where Benson took his team after winning a big dodge ball match, where Mitch proposed to Starla, it even helped Benson in winning a chili contest once.
And now, Mordecai would get his own special memory here. The blue jay looked down at the backpack he'd brought with him, letting out a sigh.
It wasn't long until Stef showed up at Wing Kingdom
"Stef," Mordecai said calling her over. He already had a plate of wings on the table for her
"Hi Mordecai," Stef said "I got your call. So what's this big painting idea you had in mind?"
"Oh, yeah. The painting," Mordecai said nervously. This was perhaps the most stressed the bird had even been. He almost even asked Benson if he could borrow Pop's car to go to the Himalayan Mountains, and ring the special stress relieving bell Skips once had. Though fighting an evil version of himself, plus potentially dying would really ruin what he wanted to do right now with Stef.
"So I have big this idea for a piece," he said "But the thing is, I can't do it alone,"
"So you want us to work together on it," Stef said "That could be fun. What's the picture going to be of anyway?"
"I brought a rough draft of it," Mordecai said going into the backpack, and pulling out a roll of paper. Which he gave to the bat
Stef opened it, then gasped
The picture was of herself and Mordecai, dressed in wedding clothes. Below them were the words "Will you Marry me?"
The bat looked up at the blue jay, who had gotten out of his seat and was holding a ring in his hand. He got down on one knee
"Stef, this time I've had with you has..."
Mordecai didn't get to finish his speech as the bat girl picked him up and hugged him
"Vampire...strength...squeezing..." Mordecai said
"Oh," Stef said seeing she had transformed into her vampire bat setf again. "Sorry, I was just so excited,"
"I take it that was a yes?" Mordecai said
The bat outstretched her hand for Mordecai to put the ring on
A short time later, all there friends and family were at the Parkside Lux, the same place where Muscle Man and Starla had gotten married years before
The only difference was that there weren't any fryers this time. Benson had banned them, for what happened to his car last time. Getting crushed by a turducken and all.
Everything was going smoothly, until the "If anyone knows any reason why these two should not be wed. Speak now or forever hold your peace,"
When suddenly a certain green vending machine burst through the doors
"Hey Benson," Gene the East Pines Park Manager said "Looks like you forgot what day it is,"
"Huh?" Benson said
"Hey Gene," Mordecai said "Do you mind, we're in the middle of a wedding?"
"Oh my," Gene said "Well I guess I'm crashing it!"
Just then a few East pine employees smashed through the windows, armed with tomato guns and whoopee cushions
"Muwhahaha!" Gena laughed "All this and I just took the statue of Curtis Montgomery again! Plus Pops! To bad Muscle Man too busy with all his kids now eh Benson? This is the ultimate prank!"
However Gene didn't get to gloat much longer, as a purple aura began to flow out of Stef.
"You..." the half vampire bat said "RUINED MY WEDDING!"
To say Stef was bridezilla at this point was an understatement.
This time she didn't just grow wings when she transformed, she sprouted a pair of long, pointy bones from her back. Plus she grew to be ten foot tall
"It was just a prank!" Gene cried
Yet Stef would have none of it, as she used her purple energy to blast Gena and his employees out of the Parkside Lux.
"SO YOU LIKE PRANKS HUH!?" She said coming out of the building "WELL HOW'S THIS FOR A PRANK!?"
The vampire bat used her powers to give everyone of Gene's employees the worst wedgies ever.
Followed by making all the snacks inside Gene, the living vending machine, fly out of him. Which Stef proceeded to eat
"No!" Gene cried "You have to pay for those!"
In the end, Gene promised not to prank anyone at the park, or steal it's statues ever again. Along with getting a trip to the hospital for he and his employees
The vending machine needed an emergency snack transplant, and his employees underwear had to be surgically removed from their backsides
"Well..." Mordecai said "This will definitely be a wedding I won't forget,"
"Look out when it's that time of the month for her man," Rigby advised him
Mordecai and Stef's life together was amazing (minus "that time of the month" for Stef. Rigby was right XD) along with their paintings. Having combined their skills and teachings only helped the artistic duo reach new highs in the art community.
Along with great pay from collectors as well. They traveled the world, having their art displayed in museums everywhere
In the end they managed to buy a nice home together back in the city. Mordecai and Stef really liked the home town city. Especially because it was a wealth of inspiration for them and their paintings
Over the years things managed to get even better for the couple.
"Say Mordecai," Stef said one night
The blue jay was playing some old school games in the living room
"Yes Honey?" the bird said
"Could you pause that for a second? I really want your opinion on this piece I've been making," the bat said
"Sure," Morecai said pausing it and following her to their gallery room
"It's over there," Stef said smiling and pointing to an easel that was turned around. So neither of them could see the pic
Mordecai walked over to it, only to gasp at what it was.
"Yes I am," she said rubbing her belly
Mordecai looked back at the painting, it was a picture of a pregnancy test. Which was positive
The blue jay passed out from shock just then
Anyway, nine months later they brought a beautiful blue bat bird into the world. She looked a lot like Mordecai, except for having bat ears. Followed by a pair of twins the following year. One boy, one girl. Neither parent were really freaked out though by the appearance of their kids. After all they lived in a world with all matter of unusual creatures and normal inanimate objects had life.
They kept in touch with the other former members of the park. Stef and Eileen even became good friends over time. The little mole was an interesting girl after all.
Plus most of Mordecai's old friends had children now as well, except Benson and Skips.
And they all lived happily ever after
The Institute Director - Chapters One through Six (Pages 1 - 30)
Chapter One submitted by DukeDKraft to TheInstituteDirector [link] [comments]
Tuesday, July 16th, 2019
In a warehouse parking lot near Walter Reed Medical Center, the Mormon institute director fumbled with the cellophaned pack, retrieving and lighting his first cigarette in thirty-eight years. He barely inhaled as he smoked it through, surprised how familiar it was to his senses. The ash glowed orange and the smoke spun his head as it wafted out the car’s open windows. He looked at his hands as he lit his second, wondering if the small tremors were from the fresh nicotine, the high stakes of the day or another dose of guilt settling into his bones.
Ben Samuels remembered he’d scarcely heard his alarm go off that morning, as he’d been up and dressed. His wife had hit snooze and returned to her sleep. She didn’t think to check on him, nor make an effort to rise. Would Marge have done different had she known what was happening? Maybe, maybe not -- she’d become so distant over the past months.
He stared down at his cigarette.
I bet she’d notice this.
That morning alarm rang as Ben stood with a vacant gaze out his kitchen window, oatmeal bubbling on the stove. Dawn’s light gathered across the plain backyard, the sky clear and the grass begging a mow -- the start of a hot July day in Morgantown, West Virginia. Oats done, he grabbed milk from the fridge and made his way to the table, wholly uninterested in the meal.
He pushed aside his old high school yearbook and opened his laptop, commencing a read-through of his regular websites as he ate -- the Mormon Newsroom, USA Today, Consumer Reports and Amazon, the last to check on a backordered hedge trimmer blade. Only then did he reluctantly click onto the front page of the local paper. He finished his breakfast as he re-read the article detailing John Southland’s bike accident. Though it failed to identify him by his correct name, Ben knew it was his old college roommate under the police blanket in the photos.
He sighed and picked up his yearbook for the third time since learning of John’s death, or John’s murder or whatever it had been. Rogers High School, Spokane, Washington. Class of 1979. Page forty-four, Samuels before Southland, both their senior pictures on the same tuxedoed page. He ran his finger along a faded ballpoint line drawn circuitous between the two of them, “Race On!” written in the margin. Forty years and now a funeral instead of a class reunion, not that John would have attended anyway.
Should he call the authorities? Wake up Marge and tell her everything? His main thought was to do nothing. The paper showed the situation in-hand and it was really none of his business. But Ben couldn’t shake the dread that had gripped him during John’s surprise visit the week before.
He looked around his quiet kitchen half-expecting a calamity to break out. Nothing out of order besides the squeak of the air conditioner, he took a bright yellow USB thumb drive from his pocket and inserted it into his computer. He keyed down and opened the lone video file, still amazed at John’s resolve. There it was -- a silent and grainy footage, a prisoner restrained and bleeding at the end of a penitentiary hallway. Two men exiting the frame, the bald one halfway out and unrecognizable, the other tall and in view. The tall man turning back. Ben winced as the man pulled out what must have been a syringe full of something evil and plunged it into the prisoner’s neck. The prisoner struggled, then slumped at his feet. Ben scooted his chair close and watched again -- starting, stopping, reversing and witnessing once more. It was the most horrible thing he’d ever seen. But had John been correct?
He looked up at Marge’s knick-knacks on the plaster wall. Staring back was a kitschy cross-stitch their oldest daughter had finished fifteen years prior. It read ‘Just Do It,’ the famous quote from both the Mormon prophet Spencer Kimball and a certain Oregon shoe company.
John Southland had been so convinced and so desperate for help. Ben had heard him out in his institute office but done nothing. Now he was dead, like he’d predicted, and Ben had his evidence.
Just Do It.
He turned and rummaged through a worn-out credenza drawer, finding a red envelope. He grabbed a half-sheet of paper, searched for a location on his web browser, wrote his note and sealed it up. A final glance at the cross-stitch and the decision was made. Ben quietly put his dishes in the sink and hurried to his car, an uneasy three-hour drive to Washington, DC ahead of him.
Two Weeks Prior
The only thing interesting about the old split-level colonial atop North Tremont Avenue was its view toward Greensburg’s historic beaux-arts courthouse. The county kept it lit at night and John Southland had come to appreciate its ostentatious dome. He gazed at it most evenings with cold beer in hand, sitting on the concrete steps outside the postwar brick and clapboard home.
The panorama was between telephone wires and across a wide working-class valley, the house on the wrong side of the tracks and long-ago apportioned into three separate apartments to maximize revenue. John had been given the walkup on the main floor -- a creaky sitting room in front of a Formica kitchen with two worn-out bedrooms down a hall. Beneath him was a small basement unit, the third apartment accessed from the blacktop alley around the back.
For most, it would be a dilapidated and bleak place to live. For John, it was a mansion. He reveled in the freedom and the space, twenty years of incarceration fresh in his rearview mirror. The small pleasure of a beer with a view seemed almost magical from day one.
He hadn’t met many neighbors yet. There’d been an occasional ‘Hello, I’m Jimmy Montano,’ but John had remained quiet, taking to heart his WITSEC Inspector’s advice to start slow with the introductions. He filled his plate instead with his new job and all the rules and regulations that came with being a parolee within the U.S. Marshals Service Witness Protection Program. The secret he held also made him careful, a ticking bomb tucked an inch below his veneer.
There’d been only one purchase beyond the necessities, an old Bianchi Celeste from a pawnshop owner who had little concept of its worth. They agreed on a hundred dollars and soon the mint green racer was performing like a European custom. John set out to regain his pre-prison cycling form, spending his evenings and off-days riding the hills of Pennsylvania’s Westmoreland County. He was careful to not cross the government line as WITSEC rules didn’t allow such excursions for at least six months.
His other pastime was more critical -- finding Ben Samuels. Early attempts had been fruitless. His old friend’s name was nowhere to be found on the Mormon Church’s voluminous website. John checked multiple times, waiting over a month before calling the 800 number in Salt Lake City, not wanting one shred of connection to the threat that beset him. Out of options, he used the counter phone at the downtown library after a final attempt searching the site.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, how may I help you?”
“I’m trying to get in touch with one of your employees. A man who works for your church.”
“No idea. Sorry.”
“Just a moment.”
The woman was quickly back on the line. “Yes, I found him. He works for the CES.”
“Church Educational System. I’ll transfer you.”
The phone clicked and another woman picked up the call. “CES, how may I help you?”
“Ben Samuels, please.”
“I’d like to speak with Ben Samuels.”
“…May I ask who you’re with?”
“No one, ma’am. I’m just trying to reach him.”
“He no longer works here, in our offices.”
“Can you transfer me to his location?”
“Please hold a moment.”
“I’m an old friend of his.”
“Yes sir. Please hold.”
The line switched and John found himself listening to what he recognized as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It was thirty seconds before someone came back on.
“This is Associate Director Oscar Trejo, may I ask who’s calling?”
The authority in the man’s voice made John want to hang up. “…James. James Montano. I’m trying to reach Ben Samuels.”
“I see. Well, I can tell you he’s no longer here.”
“Does he still work for your church?”
“For the time being. He’s out east, in West Virginia.”
John stood up straight. Ben was nearby. “Do you have a number?”
“I must ask, are you with the press?”
“The press? You mean like a reporter?”
“No, nothing like that. Just a friend.”
John held his breath. The administrator paused, then relented. “…OK, I’ll take you at your word. I’ll give you back to my secretary and she can provide the phone number to the Morgantown Institute.”
John didn’t wait, hanging up as the Tabernacle Choir started a new hymn. He walked back to his allotted computer terminal and keyed in “Mormon Institute, Morgantown West Virginia.” The screen refreshed and the location came up. It was no more than an hour away.
The proximity and the urgency of the story he needed to share made the trip too tempting, WITSEC rules be damned. He bummed a ride from a co-worker as soon as he could. They left early and were back in Greensburg by noon, John sullen and quiet on the way home.
He’d tried his best to convince Ben in his office, but it didn’t seem his former soigneur was going to help. It left John only one option. He called his WITSEC inspector and made an appointment to share what he knew. At least the video on the remaining USB thumb drive was in good condition. He’d become adept at hiding it, choosing a space under a loose floorboard the day he arrived.
He was anxious the night before the meeting. The last thing he wanted was to be hurled back into prison on some sort of technicality. He tossed and turned until settling into a deep sleep after 2am, oblivious to the quiet crunch of a C-rake lock pick and the turn of his front door knob.
John woke to the barrel of a Glock pistol shoved against his shoulder, the beam of a flashlight dancing across the bed.
John rolled over. The handgun and nine hundred lumens flashed in his eyes. “What’s going on?”
“Get dressed. You’re going for a ride.”
“What? Turn that light off.”
“Get up. That’s the last time I’m going to tell you.”
John scooted to the edge of the bed. “Who are you?”
“A friend or a nightmare. Your decision. Like I said, it’s time for a ride. Put on your bike gear.”
John’s head cleared. He stood and didn’t ask any more questions -- the intruder wasn’t playing a game. He went to the dresser and pulled on his lone pair of bike shorts, then picked up his socks and cycling shoes.
The man tossed him a T-shirt hanging from a chair. “Slow and steady. Head out the front door.”
A panel van waited outside. Its cargo door was open and a driver sat behind a tinted window. John’s Bianchi was already stowed in the back. He got in and sat beside it while the man with the gun jumped in after him and slid the door shut. The van pulled away from the curb, the Glock held steady toward John’s chest.
John didn’t understand. Why the bike? If they were going to kill him, they’d have shot him in bed. Did they know about the video?
“Where are we going?”
The man wagged his gun. “Shut up. Just sit there.”
Maybe it was something else? Someone he’d testified against returning to settle a score? A midnight visit from one of the cartels? There were too many enemies to keep straight and it would do no good to ask. He went quiet, focusing his eyes beyond his captor, out the back windows.
He could tell by the streetlights and the storefronts they were headed south on State Highway 119 over I-70 toward Uniontown, and that they turned east on Pechin Parkway after the county fairgrounds. Even in the dark it was easy to track the route. He’d ridden it several times over the six weeks he’d lived in Greensburg.
A mile further and the van came to a stop in front of a deserted cement plant. The driver got out and walked away. In the distance, John heard a chain rattle and a gate swing open. There was a whistle back toward the van.
The man with the gun turned on his flashlight and slid open the door. “Put on your shoes.”
John did as he was told and followed him outside.
“Your bike. You can ride home from here.”
A car’s headlights appeared around the bend as John stepped back to the van. The car slowed as it passed and the man lowered his gun. John thought to jump into the road, but it went by before he had the chance.
The man was undeterred. “Get your bike and ride.”
John pulled the Bianchi forward and onto the ground. He spun it around and climbed on. The man turned off his flashlight and stepped close, the scene illuminated only by the van’s taillights. John noticed his captor was at least four inches shorter than himself.
“One more thing.”
The man leaned in and thrust a five-inch tactical knife through John’s right side, even with his stomach. It penetrated his abdomen, slicing his liver, spleen and tearing through his intestines. John screamed and collapsed to his handlebars, the knife held hard inside him, the pain both sharp and dull. The man wrapped his other arm around John’s back and held him steady.
John gasped, his gut burning and blood starting to spill. “Why?” The man yanked the knife out and dropped it to the ground. He grabbed his gun and pressed it to the back of John’s skull. “Justice for the people you murdered. Now ride home. If you make it, you’ll live.”
John didn’t move, blood flowing down his side. He tried to speak but fluid pooled in his throat.
The man gave him a shove. “Ride!”
There was nothing left to do. John pushed off and clicked into his pedals, his right hand pressing his wound and tears streaming down his face. The Glock followed his every move.
Fifty yards, one hundred yards and forward. John was delirious and confused with only his God-given talent keeping him upright. He thought of Greensburg, his new home. The stone steps, the beer. His new job, his new life. There was no way he’d make it. A cry for help on the main road was his only hope. But there had to be separation. He had to get away. He ignored the wound and tried to stand from his saddle, pouring what little he had left into the bike.
He’d made it almost a half mile before he sensed headlights gaining on him, the whine of a powerful engine closing in. John tried to swerve, but the blood loss caused his reactions to slow. The empty cement truck hit him square at forty miles an hour, its barrel spinning as the undercarriage bounced over him like an animal in the roadway. John’s last thought was of his old college roommate, a final prayer sent skyward that Ben Samuels would do the right thing.
Tuesday, July 16th
The courier service delivered the red envelope to the front security desk of the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Building during the lunch hour. It was examined and time-stamped by the Mail Services Risk Assessment Team and hand-delivered to Susan Rivas, the United States Solicitor General’s Confidential Secretary. The unusual color caught her attention. She found it odd, a short note marked “For the immediate eyes of the United States Solicitor General only,” with no return address. Deciding it was warranted and straightening her skirt, Susan took it through the whitewood archway into the solicitor’s office.
She found Walter Peterson alone and busy, three hours into a session of summer prep for the upcoming autumn Supreme Court term. He’d finished the lunch she’d brought him from the executive dining room and there’d been no other interruptions since the morning’s staff meeting. He glanced up as she passed the flag array by the chesterfield sofas, coming forward to his desk. Handed the envelope, he emptied it and read the half-sheet scrap inside.
“I am an LDS Institute Director. I know what you are doing. Meet tonight at 10pm, 5300 West Cedar, Bethesda, Maryland.”
Susan stood silent, watching him turn it over and look back at the envelope. He found a similar result -- there was nothing indicating authorship outside shaky penmanship. He looked at her and again at the letter. “Who delivered this?”
“Mail Services brought it to my desk. Any idea what it’s about?”
“Anything you’d have me do?”
“…Nothing. I’ll check it through Chris later.”
“Are you sure? I could have him come over, maybe the FBI as well?”
“I’ll take care of it.”
Susan was used to the abruptness. She knew to be on her toes around the solicitor. “Alright. Anything else for me?”
Peterson re-read the short message and then laid it down. “Has SCOTUS gotten back about October’s schedule? Everyone was concerned this morning. The session is still three months away, but it’s normal to have a draft docket by now.”
Susan shook her head. The Supreme Court’s administrative officer had told her it would be several more days. Peterson grunted and adjusted his reading glasses. “What about the Penitentiary Commission? I’ve made a couple site visits as the attorney general requested. If I’m going again it needs to be soon, before we ramp to full speed for the fall.”
“I’ll check that for you. The calendar has a Commission meeting next week. You know, the AG isn’t expecting you to attend everything as you’re doing this ad hoc.”
“All hands on deck, Susan. Besides, it gets me out and around the country. Boots on the ground, so to speak.”
He nodded and returned to his files.
Susan had to hide a half-grin as she walked away. The idea of her venerable Mormon boss a ‘boots on the ground’ anything was farcical. Bald, obese and unfit for any activity requiring sturdy shoes, she’d never met a man more behind the desk, blue blood and patrician. A woman on her block was LDS and Susan knew her to be the sweetest neighbor around. She couldn’t imagine Peterson neighbor to anyone.
She glanced back from the doorway. Peterson had picked up the phone and was starting a call, the anonymous note in his hand. Susan turned to her workstation and watched the PBX screen. Deputy U.S. Marshal Chris Powers’ line went active five seconds later.
Ben found more time on his hands than he’d anticipated after watching the courier deliver his note. He drove north out of downtown to the small Bethesda warehouse he’d chosen online. Arriving, he found it unfenced and back from the main road, secluded with hills and heavy trees bordering two sides. He circled it and set the stage. Light pole placements were noted, as was the fact there were no exterior cameras in place. He marked a corner spot to park and patted himself on the back as he left. It seemed perfect.
He continued north on Old Georgetown Road through DC suburbia and past a large shopping area. His Honda Accord then merged east onto the Capital Beltway. He smiled as mecca quickly appeared on his left. Though half-hidden in the dense summer green, it stood elegant and soaring above the landscape. The Washington, DC LDS Temple, the single-most recognizable Mormon setting on the American east coast. He exited Georgia Avenue and was soon in the busy parking lot, the spired white building in front of him.
Ben felt no inclination to go inside. It was enough to be on the grounds, even in the summer heat. It brought the first bit of peace since his visit with John. He found a garden bench across from his car, walked over and sat down. Bowing his head, he offered a short prayer for guidance and help -- even a sign that he was on the right path.
That the solicitor general was also LDS and had probably sat on the same bench loomed large in his mind. Walter Peterson was one of the most famous Latter-day Saints in the world, Mormons looking to him with much the same esteem as the senior leaders of their church. A cult of personality existed, his name mentioned in the same breath with Hall of Fame LDS athletes, entertainers and politicians. Few Latter-day Saints were held in higher regard. A surprise appointment by an unconventional president three years prior, Peterson’s Senate confirmation had been can’t-miss television for Mormons across the country. His legal acumen and forceful confidence impressed everyone and left his church community beaming with pride.
Peterson being such a prominent member of his church had been the tipping point in Ben’s decision to confront him. As the good solicitor surely desired protection of his image and standing, Ben reasoned he’d be amenable to such a discussion. The hope was for a brother-to-brother recognition, some sort of ease-the-throttle-back, get everything on the table, save-face. Foolish? Yes. Dangerous? Maybe. He at least took comfort that Mormons were well-known for such admirable foolishness on occasion.
An older, Sunday-dressed couple turned toward him, smiling and holding hands as they walked. Ben shook his head and sighed. His own marriage was far from a mirror image. As Peterson had risen, he’d gone the other way. Purpose had eluded him since his demotion and transfer to West Virginia, his wife feeling the effects even more so. Though they’d both fought depression and a sense of futility in their new surrounds, Marge had isolated herself to the point their relationship had started to strain -- Ben’s ‘what can I do to help’ met too-often with a cold stare and the covers pulled tight.
The couple approached. Ben realized he had no tie on and probably looked out of place. He compensated by standing to greet them.
The woman smiled. “Such a beautiful day to be at the temple.”
She stopped and pointed to cars across the parking lot. “The different license plates are always so interesting.”
“Look at that row. People here today from Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Massachusetts. I love that. Summer vacation must have them on the road -- so nice they chose to come to the House of the Lord along their way.”
Ben played along, pointing at his car backed into its spot. “What about that one?”
The woman looked and then turned back, perplexed. “I have no idea, it doesn’t have a front plate.”
Ben smiled. “That’s mine. I live in West Virginia where front plates aren’t required.”
The woman laughed. “We’ll include you in our count anyway.”
Keen to beat the heat, the woman’s husband patted her arm and looked toward Ben. “You have a nice day.”
Ben stood staring at the cars as they walked off. It was interesting commentary, something to share with his students back at the institute in Morgantown. He thought of all the license plates he’d owned over the course of his life. Washington, Arizona, Florida, Texas, Utah and now West Virginia. He’d have a nice display for his garage had he kept them.
Then, an instant realization of a flaw. Ben looked down the walk at the elderly couple and back at his car. If Peterson had his plate checked, he’d discover who he was. Ben wasn’t ready for that. If John Southland had been correct, Peterson was a menace. The short-lived peace in his heart evaporated. He felt the entire impetuous idea unravel, the grand confrontation less noble by the second.
You’re going to get yourself killed.
He returned to his car with his shoulders low and exited the lot without another thought toward the temple. He headed west, toward the shopping centers on Old Georgetown Road, intent on lunch and little else.
June 1st, 1990
CES Area Director Oscar Trejo waited for his boss on the eighth floor of the LDS Church Office Building. He was off the clock and self-conscious minus a suit, visiting Salt Lake City on a vacation day to attend a family function. He hadn’t planned on the summons and was glad he at least had a white shirt and tie to wear.
Ushered into Associate Director Ronald Hayes’s large office by a secretary and left alone, Trejo found an oversized U.S. map propped on an easel beside the desk. Multi-colored stickpins were placed in college towns throughout the eastern United States. Trejo figured they were potential sites for the new Regional Select Institutes, knowing Church Educational System leadership had appointed Hayes to oversee the project. He was studying the map when the Associate Director entered and shut the door. Trejo pointed at the stick pins and spoke with his usual candor. “Are these what I think they are?”
Hayes smiled. “If by ‘these’ you mean potential Regional Select Institute sites, the answer is yes.”
“May I speak freely, sir?”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Trejo ran his index finger down the right side of the map. “I don’t like it.”
“What’s not to like?”
“These ‘RSI’s. I don’t like the concept or the philosophy. Are we really going to encourage these students to not come to Brigham Young University or institute programs in Utah, urging them instead to stay back east for college?”
“That’s the general idea, yes.”
Hayes scooted past Trejo and sat down at his desk. He opened the center drawer and retrieved a paper-clipped set of four index cards. Trejo continued as he moved to a chair opposite his boss. “Why would we do that? How is it better than bringing them out west? Many of the eastern programs have less than a hundred students.”
Hayes took a deep breath and looked across the desk. “How are you, Oscar?”
Trejo grinned, realizing he’d jumped ahead. “Fine, sir.”
“Wife and kids?”
“Everyone’s good. They’re all waiting for me at my in-laws’. We’re attending a high school graduation tonight.”
“My wife’s sister.”
“Wow. I know you’re the youngest of our Area Directors, but to have a sister-in-law graduating from high school is quite something. How old are you?”
“I’m thirty-eight, my wife’s thirty-three. She’s the oldest in her family, with eight brothers and sisters. This is the last of them.”
“Well, I hope you enjoy yourselves. When are you heading back to Arizona?”
“Tomorrow. The family will stay here a while, now that school’s out. How did you know I was even in Utah?”
“Simple. I called your office in Phoenix and found you were on the road. Your secretary gave me the number where you were staying.” “How can I help?”
“For starters, let me address your point about low enrollment at our eastern institutes. What about the students there now, Oscar? Don’t you think they would appreciate extra resources and more LDS kids joining them?”
Trejo ignored the logic. “It seems like we’re conducting an experiment which might hurt more than help in the long run.”
“The long run is why we’re doing this. The idea is to foster organic, regional growth. LDS students staying in their home areas to attend college, meeting others doing the same, marrying and settling where they’re from. Growing the church that way.”
“Sounds pie in the sky.”
Hayes shuffled his cards. “What about your Arizona Area? If I’m not mistaken, you have over five thousand Mormon students attending non-LDS colleges and their adjacent institutes down there. Why not shoot for those numbers elsewhere? Ignoring these sorts of things not only stalls the growth of our institutes outside the inter-mountain west, it very well hinders the growth of the church in those regions as well.
How many of these kids who come to Utah wind up going back to where they’re from after they graduate? And what happens to those areas of the church when they leave? Like a leaky faucet, a constant drip of strength exiting the very places that not only need them, but the spots these young folks call home. And where do they wind up? They either stay here, where we already have an overflowing strength, or land in a third place with no roots and a yearning to move yet again. No Oscar, I don’t see it like you seem to anymore. Fortifying institute programs to retain many of these students in their home areas is what we should be doing, and these RSI’s are just what the doctor ordered.”
Hayes doled out the index cards across his desk. Trejo sat forward and watched. College Station, Texas; Gainesville, Florida; Blacksburg, Virginia and East Lansing, Michigan. Texas A&M, the University of Florida, Virginia Tech and Michigan State -- already four of the largest institute programs east of the Rocky Mountains. Hayes looked up and continued. “These are the four we’ve decided to start with and the groundwork has already been laid. Marketing materials have been drafted and Church architects have visited the sites, submitting plans to renovate and expand each one. I now have to recommend additional staff, including full-fledged assistant directors at each location.”
Hayes picked up a card and got to his point. “Tell me about this fellow you have in Mesa, Ben Samuels.”
“Samuels? Great guy with a full head of steam.”
“So I’ve heard. He has a Master’s in Higher Education and was baptized in an institute font. If his interview goes well, I’m thinking of sending him here….”
Hayes handed Trejo the card in his hand. Trejo took it, reading it aloud. “Gainesville, Florida. The University of Florida.”
He turned serious. “Well, if you’re going to do this, I think Ben’s perfect. Amazing really. How did you hear about him?”
“He’s inquired about moving from our high school seminary programs to the collegiate institutes.”
Trejo smiled. “He’s an interesting case study. A convert who never attended high school seminary, now teaching it and doing quite well. He’s been in Mesa several years and seems content, but it wouldn’t surprise me if bigger things were ahead for Ben.”
“He grew up in Spokane, Washington, right?”
“I think so. He joined the church while attending Washington State University, in Pullman. He’s told me that. His wife introduced him to the missionaries, back when they were dating.”
“I look forward to meeting him.”
“I have a different idea for you. If you’re serious about this ‘homegrown’ business, why not assign someone who happens to be from Florida to be the new assistant director? Send that person home and leave Samuels in Arizona. We’d hate to lose him.”
Hayes put his elbows on his desk and leaned forward. “Excellent question, Oscar. It goes to my larger point. We’ve actually looked into that, at all four sites. Would you believe we don’t have a single qualified CES employee who hails from Texas, Florida, Virginia or Michigan? Think about that -- it’s a telling fact. Twenty or thirty years from now, we hope to find a different circumstance. Maybe you’ll be sitting in my chair by then. If you are, I hope you’ll find more options than I have today.”
Trejo wasn’t ready to quit. “I still don’t like it, sir. As a parent, I’ll do everything I can to get my kids to one of our church colleges and would only consider something like an RSI as a last resort. I wouldn’t even want them at the major Arizona universities attending the institute programs I oversee. I want them here in Utah, where we’re at our best.”
“I understand, and we’re not interested in weakening the church schools. This will be an additional, fortified resource to work in tandem with what we have here in the inter-mountain west. Let’s not forget, these institute programs already exist. Our goal is to strengthen them, create a few gems to shine bright and give the LDS students from these areas another solid option to consider.” “What about financial considerations? One of the great benefits of church colleges is the tithing-supported low cost. Certainly BYU is a cheaper option than the University of Florida.”
“We’re working on that as well. As part of the roll-out, LDS endowments and scholarships will be set up and encouraged at each RSI site. We’ll be asking the membership to consider donations. It’ll defray the cost differences and further enhance the visibility and viability of the programs.”
“Do you think you’ll get much in the way of contributions?”
“I’m confident we will. These programs might be small, but they’ve had their successes over the years. We’ll be reaching out to the alumni, as well as the general membership. I believe it will work, and work well.”
“Florida would be lucky to have someone like Ben Samuels. Why not send him to Washington, where he’s from? I’m sure he’d love that. I visited his classroom a couple months ago. He had a Washington State banner on his wall.”
Hayes reached over and retrieved the card from his area director. “No, it’s east of the Rockies where the interest lies. If these four programs are successful, we’ll expand from there. As you’ve said, it seems Ben will do well wherever he’s assigned. At least for now, it’s Florida that’s in the cards for him.”
Tuesday, July 16th
Ben was still smoking when the black SUV entered the parking lot and disappeared to the other side of the warehouse. Opening his door, he cursed himself for being so dramatic with the cigarettes. He’d smoked for three hours straight, more in remembrance of a life long passed than any desire to calm his nerves. He got out, stubbed his last one and threw the almost-empty pack in a nearby dumpster.
Enough of that.
He took a deep breath and headed the other way around, rehearsing what he would say.
I know what you did. I know what you are doing…
The SUV’s yellow fog lamps brightened his path as he turned the final corner, the vehicle fifty yards ahead. A man was standing outside the open driver’s door. He reached in and flipped on the high beams, assaulting Ben’s eyes with a blinding white.
“That’s far enough.”
Ben stopped and raised his hands halfway as the man came toward him. He was short and thin, quite the opposite from what Ben knew of Walter Peterson’s large build. The man’s suit, tie and confident gait identified him as a deputy or agent, a man with a badge and a gun. He approached, looked Ben over and then patted him down, spinning him around to double-check.
“What’s your name and what do you want with the Solicitor General?”
“I need to speak with him.”
“I need to see some ID.”
“I’d rather not disclose who I am. Is he with you?”
“Did you write that note?”
Ben started to answer but saw another man climb out of the SUV, shutting the door behind him. “Chris, it’s ok, send him over.” Chris forced a smile. “I guess you win. Follow me.”
Peterson’s thickset frame cast a wide shadow in the dim light. Tall and overweight to a fault without a hair on his head, he resembled a former athlete who’d let himself go, his glory years decades behind him. He was dressed to match his guard, but as they came to the passenger side of the SUV, Ben could tell his suit and tie were from a much better store -- the United States Solicitor General before him.
Ben hesitated then stepped close, an image of his dead friend appearing in his mind. Peterson wrinkled his nose and leaned back on his heels. “Who are you and what’s this cloak and dagger business about?”
Ben glanced at Chris, astonished he’d made it to the moment at hand. He turned and looked Peterson in the eye. “Never mind who I am. I’m here about James Montano.”
Peterson raised his eyebrows. “Who?”
“I’m sure you know the name.”
Peterson scraped his shoe across the asphalt. “The note you wrote this morning. You’re an institute director for the Church? Where?”
“Yes, I work for the Church out here. Telling you that was the only way I could get this meeting. But I’m not here to talk about me. I want to talk about James Montano.”
“Again, I don’t know anyone by that name. To be honest, this is quite strange. If you aren’t going to tell me more about you, this little waste of my time is over.”
Peterson turned and reached for his door. Ben gathered himself and brought forward his case. “I think you killed him…. And if you did, I know he’s not the only one.”
His fist on the handle, Peterson stared at the reflection in the window and seemed lost in thought. He then straightened and swung back, his demeanor cold, his voice that of a seasoned prosecutor. “First, would that be cigarettes I smell? Mormon institute director? I think not.”
Ben tried to reply but was cut off.
“Second, I have no idea what you’re talking about and it’s obvious you don’t know what you’re doing here. Third, though I haven’t had the privilege of an introduction, you seem to know who I am. I would think that might give you pause. I know nothing of a ‘James Montano.’ I suggest you slink back to your car and head home before you find yourself in serious trouble.”
Ben pressed as Chris stepped forward to intercede. “James ‘Jimmy’ Montano, AKA John Southland, witness protection case WS436C. Found dead in a ditch three days ago, south of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He came to me last week, told me everything and gave me proof.”
Peterson’s bald head cocked to the right, his eyes widening at the mention of John’s real name. He dropped his hand from the SUV’s door and started toward Ben, raising his chin like a prizefighter sizing up an opponent.
Ben caught his breath and stepped back. Chris grabbed his arm and shuffled him off, letting him go in front of the headlights.
“Stand still with your hands where I can see them. Stay like that until we leave.”
Awash in the light, Ben watched as Chris went back behind Peterson, who stood glaring his way. He opened the rear passenger door and tugged on the solicitor general’s coat.
“Come on boss, let’s go.”
Peterson sneered and shook his head, then turned and climbed back into the vehicle. Chris retreated to his driver’s seat and put the SUV into reverse. Ben stayed put, his nerves shot and mind racing, the taste of something much worse than cigarettes in his mouth.
Peterson pulled out his phone and sent a text to Neck, stationed nearby in a stand of hackberry trees.
He looked out the window and up the hill, catching a glimpse of his lanky security assistant lowering his sniper rifle. Peterson then turned toward the windshield and took stock of the so-called institute director. Just under six feet tall and waspy white, he had a pot belly, balding salt and pepper hair, cheap shoes, wire-framed glasses and a skittish demeanor. The typical build of a fellow Mormon in his mid-fifties. Though he resisted the thought, he had to admit -- every box was checked.
“Proof? What proof could he have?”
He ordered Chris to step on it and they were gone.
END OF EXCERPT....
[The Athletic] Rebooted: When Murdoch tried to buy Manchester United
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Biden Opposition Research compiled by the DNC part 1
New Yorker: Vice President Biden “Has Been A Strident Voice Of Skepticism About The Use Of American Force.” submitted by og_m4 to WayOfTheBern [link] [comments]
“Since entering the Administration, Biden has been a strident voice of skepticism about the use of American force. At times, that put him on the opposite side of debates from others in the Administration, including Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta, Obama’s first C.I.A. director. Biden opposed intervention in Libya (as did Defense Secretary Robert Gates), arguing that the fall of Muammar Qaddafi would result in chaos; Biden warned the President against the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
] New Yorker: Vice President Biden “Voted Against The Gulf War…Advocated NATO Air Strikes In The Balkans In 1993” And “Voted For The War” In Iraq in 2002.
“When he was in the Senate, Biden was a centrist Democrat who called on his party, at times, to back diplomacy with force. Though he voted against the Gulf War, in 1991, he advocated NATO air strikes in the Balkans in 1993 to stop the Serbian slaughter of Bosnians. In the run-up to the war in Iraq, in 2002, he pushed a resolution that would have allowed Bush to remove weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but not to remove Saddam Hussein. The resolution failed, and Biden voted for the war, a decision he regrets.” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
] Vice President Biden: “Bob Gates Has Been Wrong About Everything.”
“I asked what he made of Gates’s specific criticisms. He called Gates “a really decent guy” and then unloaded on him: ‘Bob Gates is a Republican, with a view of foreign policy that is, in many fundamental ways, different from mine. Bob Gates has been wrong about everything! Bob Gates is wrong about the advice he gave President Reagan about how to deal with Gorbachev! That he wasn’t real. Thank God the President didn’t listen to him. Bob Gates was wrong about the Balkans. Bob Gates was wrong about the bombing. Bob Gates was wrong about the Vietnam War, for Christ’s sake. You go back, and everything in the last forty years, there’s nothing that I can think of, major fundamental decisions relative to foreign policy, that I can think he’s been right about!’” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
CONTRAST WITH OTHER DEMOCRATS
CONTRAST WITH PRESIDENT OBAMA Foreign Policy Editor David Rothkopf: “Even When There Were Differences Of Opinion, Biden Was Seen As Being Loyal And Supportive Of The President.”
In a New Yorker profile of Vice President Biden, Rothkopf said: “While Biden has been a strong voice on foreign policy, it has never been asserted, as it was about Cheney, that he was trying to advance his own agenda. Even when there were differences of opinion, Biden was seen as being loyal and supportive of the President.” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
CONTRAST WITH SECRETARY CLINTON Wall Street Journal’s William Galston: Vice President Biden “Is Well-Positioned To Wage A Left-Leaning Campaign On Foreign Policy.”
“Mr. Biden is well-positioned to wage a left-leaning campaign on foreign policy as well as economic issues. Although he voted for the Iraq-war authorization in 2002, he argued vehemently against the Bush administration’s surge in 2007, proposing instead the quasi-partition of Iraq into autonomous Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite zones. As vice president, he argued just as hard against Gen. David Petraeus’s proposal (backed by then-Secretary of State Clinton) for a massive military surge and nation-building policy in Afghanistan.” [William Galston column, Wall Street Journal, 7/23/14
COMMENTS MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAN Wall Street Journal’s William Galston: Vice President Biden “Has Taken U.S. Military Action Against Iran Off The Table.”
“[Vice President Biden] has taken U.S. military action against Iran off the table, declaring that ‘war with Iran is not just a bad option. It would be a disaster.’” [William Galston column, Wall Street Journal, 7/23/14
CRITICISM OF IRAN POLICY New Yorker: Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates “Echoed A Conservative Talking Point Produced For The 2008 Presidential Campaign” To Attack Vice President Biden.
“In referring to Biden’s errors over ‘four decades,’ Gates echoed a conservative talking point produced for the 2008 Presidential campaign, when commentators sought to counter criticism of Sarah Palin’s inexperience in foreign affairs.” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
DEFENSE OF IRAN POLICY Washington Post Fact Checker: Bob Gates Claimed That Vice President Biden Supported The Fall Of The Shah Of Iran In 1979, But “No Evidence Can Be Found To Support This Statement."
“BOB GATES: ‘He said that when the Shah fell in Iran in 1979, that that was a step forward for progress toward human rights in Iran.’ FACT CHECKER: No evidence can be found to support this statement, at least in news clips at the time and copies of the congressional record that we examined. Our colleagues at PolitiFact, who had earlier this year examined Gates’ claims, located a reference to the statement in a 2008 opinion article published in The New York Post by Amir Taheri, an Iranian-born conservative writer; we also found a similar statement made by Taheri in 2008 Forbes column. He did not respond to e-mail queries to provide evidence for his claim, so at this point we have to rate this as doubtful.” [Fact Checker, Washington Post, 7/22/14
DEFENSE OF ISRAEL POLICY U.S. Ambassador To Israel Ron Dermer: Biden Presented “The Single Most Succinct Understanding Of Israeli Political Reality Of Any Other Statement That I’ve Heard.”
“On a visit in 2011, Biden quoted his father saying, ‘There’s no sense dying on a small cross’—to urge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a larger step toward peace in the Middle East. Ron Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., said, ‘We’re in Jerusalem, we’ve got a Catholic Vice-President, we’ve got a Jewish Prime Minister, and he’s telling him, ‘There’s no sense dying on a small cross.’ The Prime Minister starting laughing, and, I have to tell you, it is the single most succinct understanding of Israeli political reality of any other statement that I’ve heard.’” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
COMMENTS ON PUTIN New Yorker: Vice President Biden Said To Russian President Vladimir Putin, “I’m Looking Into Your Eyes, And I Don’t Think You Have A Soul.”
“‘As I turned, I was this close to him.’ Biden held his hand a few inches from his nose. ‘I said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.’’” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
RELATIONSHIP WITH ABADI Associated Press: Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi Assured Biden Of “His Intent To Quickly Form A New Government That is Inclusive Of All Segments Of Iraqi Society And…Address The Concerns Of All Of Iraq’s Communities.”
“Biden and al-Abadi discussed military action against Islamic State and the importance of forming a new government in the fight against the terror group that has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria. Abadi reassured Biden of his intent to quickly form a new government that is inclusive of all segments of Iraqi society and that he is prepared to take concrete steps to addresses the concerns of all of Iraq's communities.” [Associated Press, 8/25/14
RELATIONSHIP WITH MALIKI Vice President Biden In 2010: “I’ll Bet You My Vice Presidency Maliki Will Extend The [Status Of Armed Forces Agreement].”
Michael R. Gordon and retired Lieutenant General Bernard E. Trainor, in their book “The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama,” described a video conference in October, 2010, in which Biden predicted that Maliki would sign on to a Status of Forces Agreement to keep U.S. troops on the ground. “Maliki wants us to stick around because he does not see a future in Iraq otherwise,” Biden said, according to the account. “I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA.” [New Yorker, 8/12/14
] USA Today: Vice President Biden’s “Phone Calls To Foreign Leaders…Spiked” In 2014, As His Portfolio “Includes Iraq, Ukraine And—Increasingly—Turkey.”
In an article about phone calls from the White House to foreign leaders during crises, USA Today reported: “Records also show how some nations rise and fall in importance and the evolving division of labor between Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, whose phone calls to foreign leaders have also spiked this year. While Obama speaks most often with the leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, France and Russia, Biden's portfolio includes Iraq, Ukraine and — increasingly — Turkey.” [USA Today, 7/28/14
] President Obama “Has Largely Delegated [Iraq] Conversations To Biden,” Making Four Disclosed Calls To Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki Compared To Vice President Biden’s 64.
“[Duke professor and former national security staffer Peter] Feaver said Obama has ‘downgraded’ some key relationships, leaving them to Biden or the State Department. Bush had weekly video teleconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but Obama has largely delegated those conversations to Biden. The White House has disclosed four calls that Obama has made to Iraq during his presidency. Biden has made 64, partly because the vice president usually checks in with three different sectarian leaders in each round of calls: al-Maliki, Speaker of the Council of Representatives Salim al-Jabouri and Kurdish Regional President Masoud Barzani.” [USA Today, 7/28/14
CRITICISM FOR RELATIONSHIP WITH MALIKI New Yorker’s Evan Osnos: Biden “Embraced” Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki Despite Fears That Maliki “Was Alienating Sunnis And Stoking The Return Of Open Sectarian Conflict.”
In an article about Vice President Biden’s relationship with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Evan Osnos of the New Yorker
wrote: “Biden embraced the figure he decided was most likely to keep the country together, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, despite growing complaints from U.S. diplomats and advisers that Maliki was becoming a strongman who was alienating Sunnis and stoking the return of open sectarian conflict. Emma Sky, who was the chief political adviser to General Raymond Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told me, ‘The White House became impatient,’ and that Biden decided that the best route ‘was to support Maliki as Prime Minister—and pressure and persuade the others to agree to this.’” [New Yorker, 8/12/14
] New Yorker: Vice President Biden “Considered Maliki The Only Viable Option” In Iraq, But His “Confidence In Maliki Proved Misplaced.”
Despite growing concern among American diplomats and allies in the region that the Iraqi Prime Minister was an increasingly sectarian and despotic figure, Biden considered Maliki the only viable option, and was confident that he would allow a contingent of U.S. forces to stay…But Biden’s confidence in Maliki proved misplaced. In 2011, Maliki refused to ask his parliament for immunity for American troops, and the U.S. ended the effort to leave forces in Iraq. In December, Biden visited Baghdad to mark the American withdrawal. He called Obama and thanked him ‘for giving me the chance to end this goddam war.’” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
] New Yorker: “Some Have Criticized The Administration For Investing So Much In Maliki, Or For Not Pushing Harder To Leave A Force That Might Have…Checked Maliki’s Sectarian Project
.” “His certainty is not universally shared. Though few American commanders or diplomats lament the end of a gruelling U.S. occupation, some have criticized the Administration for investing so much in Maliki, or for not pushing harder to leave a force that might have preserved American influence and checked Maliki’s sectarian project. Biden once believed that a stable, representative government in Baghdad was ‘going to be one of the great achievements of this Administration,’ as he said on CNN in 2010. His optimism has waned.” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
FEDERALISM IN IRAQ
COMMENTS FROM VP BIDEN ON FEDERALISM IN IRAQ Vice President Biden: Iraq’s Security Depends “On Addressing The Alienation That Fuels Extremist Movements And Convincing Iraqis That Their Needs Can Be Met Through The Political Process Rather Than Through Violence.
” In an op-ed on Iraqi stability and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant appearing in the Washington Post, Vice President Joe Biden wrote: “There is no negotiating with ISIL. We have seen its appalling murders of U.S. journalist James Foley and countless other innocent people, its cruelty and its fanaticism. But even if there were no ISIL, Iraq’s survival would still depend on the ability of Iraqis to set aside their differences and unite in a common effort. Iraq’s security would still depend on addressing the alienation that fuels extremist movements and convincing Iraqis that their needs can be met through the political process rather than through violence.” [Joe Biden op-ed, Washington Post, 8/22/14
] Vice President Biden: The U.S. Would Offer Training And Assistance To Support The Establishment Of “Functioning Federalism” As The Governing Model For Iraq.
In an op-ed on Iraqi stability and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant appearing in the Washington Post, Vice President Joe Biden wrote: “Another approach that is emerging is a ‘functioning federalism’ under the Iraqi constitution, which would ensure equitable revenue-sharing for all provinces and establish locally rooted security structures, such as a national guard, to protect the population in cities and towns and deny space for ISIL while protecting Iraq’s territorial integrity. The United States would be prepared to offer training and other forms of assistance under our Strategic Framework Agreement to help such a model succeed.” [Joe Biden op-ed, Washington Post, 8/22/14
] Then-Senator Biden: The Best Way Forward In Iraq Would Be To “Maintain A United Iraq By Decentralizing It, Giving Each Ethno-Religious Group…Room To Run Its Own Affairs.”
In a 2006 op-ed for the New York Times with Leslie Gelb about the best way forward in Iraq, then-Senator Biden wrote: The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.” [Joe Biden op-ed, New York Times, 5/1/06
] Then-Senator Biden: Iraq Should “Establish Three Largely Autonomous Regions” Which “Would Each be Responsible For Their Own Domestic Laws, Administration, And Internal Security.”
In a 2006 op-ed for the New York Times with Leslie Gelb about the best way forward in Iraq, then-Senator Biden wrote: “The first [step] is to establish three largely autonomous regions with a viable central government in Baghdad. The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues. Baghdad would become a federal zone, while densely populated areas of mixed populations would receive both multisectarian and international police protection.” [Joe Biden op-ed, New York Times, 5/1/06
] Then-Senator Biden: The Iraqi “Constitution Must Be Amended To Guarantee Sunni Areas 20 Percent (Approximately Their Proportion Of The Population) Of All Revenues” From The Central Government.
In a 2006 op-ed for the New York Times with Leslie Gelb about the best way forward in Iraq, then-Senator Biden wrote: “The second element would be to entice the Sunnis into joining the federal system with an offer they couldn't refuse. To begin with, running their own region should be far preferable to the alternatives: being dominated by Kurds and Shiites in a central government or being the main victims of a civil war. But they also have to be given money to make their oil-poor region viable. The Constitution must be amended to guarantee Sunni areas 20 percent (approximately their proportion of the population) of all revenues. [Joe Biden op-ed, New York Times, 5/1/06
] Then-Senator Biden: The U.S. Should Increase American Aid To Iraq But Condition That Aid On “Protection Of The Rights Of Women And Ethno-Religious Minorities.”
In a 2006 op-ed for the New York Times with Leslie Gelb about the best way forward in Iraq, then-Senator Biden wrote: The third component would be to ensure the protection of the rights of women and ethno-religious minorities by increasing American aid to Iraq but tying it to respect for those rights. Such protections will be difficult, especially in the Shiite-controlled south, but Washington has to be clear that widespread violations will stop the cash flow. [Joe Biden op-ed, New York Times, 5/1/06
] Then-Senator Biden: “[A] Substantial Long-Term American Military Presence” In Iraq “Would Do Terrible Damage To Our Armed Forces, Break American And Iraqi Public Support For The Mission And Leave Iraqis Without Any Incentive To Shape Up.”
In a 2006 op-ed for the New York Times with Leslie Gelb about the best way forward in Iraq, then-Senator Biden wrote: Fourth, the president must direct the military to design a plan for withdrawing and redeploying our troops from Iraq by 2008 (while providing for a small but effective residual force to combat terrorists and keep the neighbors honest). We must avoid a precipitous withdrawal that would lead to a national meltdown , but we also can't have a substantial long-term American military presence. That would do terrible damage to our armed forces, break American and Iraqi public support for the mission and leave Iraqis without any incentive to shape up. [Joe Biden op-ed, New York Times, 5/1/06
] Then-Senator Biden: “Under An International Or United Nations Umbrella, We Should Convene A Regional Conference To Pledge Respect For Iraq's Borders And Its Federal System.”
In a 2006 op-ed for the New York Times with Leslie Gelb about the best way forward in Iraq, then-Senator Biden wrote: “Fifth, under an international or United Nations umbrella, we should convene a regional conference to pledge respect for Iraq's borders and its federal system. For all that Iraq's neighbors might gain by picking at its pieces, each faces the greater danger of a regional war. A "contact group" of major powers would be set up to lean on neighbors to comply with the deal.” [Joe Biden op-ed, New York Times, 5/1/06
CRITICISM FOR FEDERALISM COMMENTS FROM PUNDITS New Yorker: In 2006, Biden’s Plan For Partitioning Iraq Received “Almost All Negative” Attention, With Commentators Saying It Could Lead To “Disintegration” Or “Ethnic Cleansing.”
Referencing then-Senator Biden and former New York Times foreign affairs correspondent Leslie Gelb in 2006, the New Yorker reported: “They hatched an idea for a federal system incorporating three semi-autonomous regions, for Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, based partly on Biden’s experience with the division of Bosnia. They published the idea in an Op-Ed in the Times in May, 2006. ‘It got a lot of attention—almost all negative,’ Gelb recalled. Foreign-policy commentators said that it would lead Iraq to disintegration, or, worse, ethnic cleansing.” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
DEFENSE OF FEDERALISM COMMENTS FROM PUNDITS Al-Monitor On Then-Senator Biden’s 2006 Plan For Regional Autonomy In Iraq: “Today, The Point Iraq Has Reached And The Debate In Washington On Iraq Have Vindicated Biden.”
“Today, the point Iraq has reached and the debate in Washington on Iraq have vindicated Biden. Just as Biden said, the basic issue of Iraq is not terror organizations but the sectarian conflict and consequent social, political and economic questions that make the country a fertile ground for terror organizations. These are not questions that can be solved by American soldiers and solely by the United States, as Biden said. [Al-Monitor, 8/21/14
] Brookings Institution Expert Michael O’Hanlon On Biden’s Partition Plan: “It’s Not A Crazy Idea, It Never Was Crazy, And It May Still Be A Necessary Fallback.”
“‘I watched this with great interest to see how Joe would react,’ Gelb said. ‘Because, under that kind of pressure, with everybody telling you, ‘You’re wrong,’ politicians just run for the hills. He never did at all. Not one iota.’ (I asked Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign-policy expert at the Brookings Institution, his view of the proposed federal system. He said, ‘It’s not a crazy idea, it never was crazy, and it may still be a necessary fallback.’)” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
] Politico: Vice President Biden’s “Judgment On Iraq’s Capacity To Stay United Now Looks Almost Prescient.”
While Biden may have taken a beating repeatedly in recent years for some foreign policy calls he’s made, his judgment on Iraq’s capacity to stay united now looks almost prescient.” [Politico, 6/13/14
] HEADLINE: “Turns Out, Joe Biden Was Right About Dividing Iraq.”
[National Journal, 1/30/14
WITHDRAWAL FROM IRAQ
COMMENTS ON WITHDRAWL FROM IRAQ Vice President Biden: Because Iraqi Leaders Didn’t Resolve “How The Hell They’re Gonna Live Together…It Wouldn’t Have Mattered If We Stayed There.”
“[N]otwithstanding all of the hundreds of hours I and others spent with each of their leaders, they didn’t resolve a core problem of how the hell they’re gonna live together. And it wouldn’t have mattered if we stayed there.” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
ROLE IN SHAPING AFGHANISTAN POLICY President Obama: “On The Foreign-Policy Front, I Think Joe’s Biggest Influence Was In The Afghanistan Debate.”
[New Yorker, 7/28/14
PLAGIARISM New Yorker: Vice President Biden Has A “Record Of Exaggerations And Plagiarism” And “The Costs Of That Weakness Have Been Steep.”
Looking over the record of his exaggerations and plagiarism, I came to see them as the excesses of a man who wants every story to sing, even at the risk of embarrassment. The costs of that weakness have been steep, but Biden has only fitfully acknowledged them. When he announced his withdrawal from the Presidential race in 1987, he conceded his mistakes but also cast blame on ‘the environment of Presidential politics that makes it so difficult to let the American people measure the whole Joe Biden and not just misstatements that I have made.’” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
CLARENCE THOMAS NOMINATION HEARINGS
CRITICISM FROM LIBERALS New Yorker: “Biden Enraged Liberal Supporters” During Thomas Nomination Hearings By Shielding Thomas From Testimony Corroborating Sexual Harassment.
“In 1991, Biden ran the hearings on Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Biden enraged liberal supporters by not allowing the testimony of women who might have buttressed Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment. Though Biden ultimately voted against him, Thomas won by a narrow margin, fifty-two to forty-eight. Biden, who omitted the Thomas hearings from his memoir, told Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, for their book on the hearing, ‘Strange Justice,’ that he had acted in ‘fairness to Thomas, which in retrospect he didn’t deserve.’” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
SUPPORT FOR RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION
COMMENTS ON CONTRACEPTIVE MANDATE New Yorker: “Biden Objected To An Administration Plan To Require Catholic Hospitals And Other Institutions To Cover Contraceptives.”
“In 2011, Biden objected to an Administration plan to require Catholic hospitals and other institutions to cover contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act, saying that it would cost them working-class votes.” [New Yorker, 7/28/14
COMMENTS ON VOTER SUPRESSION Vice President Biden: “Moves To Limit The Right To Vote Are…Pure Politics, Masquerading As Attempts To Combat Corruption.”
"These moves to limit the right to vote are nothing more than pure politics, masquerading as attempts to combat corruption where there is none.” [AP, 7/23/14
] Vice President Biden:The Supreme Court Has Focused “On The Right Of Wealthy Individuals To Contribute Unlimited Sums Of Money In The Name Of Free Speech” Instead Of “Protecting The Right Of An Elderly Veteran…[To] Speak At The Ballot Box.”
“In the past few years, the Supreme Court decisions have seemed to focus more on the right of wealthy individuals to contribute unlimited sums of money in the name of free speech rather than on protecting the right of an elderly veteran to exercise his ultimate right speak through the ballot box.” [Speech, NAACP Convention, 7/23/14] Vice President Biden to NAACP: “This Is Not Your Father’s Republican Party.”
“And we had five decades, five decades of bipartisan action. Democrats, Republicans, governors, senators, congressman. Five decades of making it easier for Americans to vote. The 1965 Voting Rights Act; in 1971, the 26th Amendment expanding the voting rights of people 18-21. 1984, the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act, which guaranteed access to federal elections for the disabled. 1990, a joint effort led by Republicans to see to it that we expanded the act further to guarantee that all elections were available. 1993, the Voting Right Registration Act, referred to as the Motor Voter Act, which gave us the right to register when we had our automobiles inspected. 2002, the Help America Act, which passed 357-48 in the House and 92-2 in the Senate after the debacle in Florida. But those days appear to be over. This is not your father’s Republican Party.”
· Vice President Biden: “We Are In A Hailstorm Of New Attempts By States And Localities To Limit Ballot Access.”
“We are in a hailstorm of new attempts by states and localities to limit ballot access without the full protection of the law… Laws modeled after one in NC, which imposed a new photo ID requirement, shortened early voting, and eliminated same-day registration for early voting. Laws like the one in OH and WI, which shortened the early voting period and limited the time polls would be open, cutting evening hours and eliminating most weekend early voting. These were laws passed by Democrats and Republicans.” [Speech, NAACP Convention, 7/23/14]
EFFORTS TO DISENFRANCHISE AFRICAN AMERICANS HEADLINE: “How Joe Biden Is Trying To Bring Black Voters To The Polls.”
[National Journal, 7/23/14
] vice President Biden: “Seven Out Of 10 States With The Highest African American Turnout In 2008 Have Since Passed Laws To Restrict The Vote.”
Seven out of 10 states with the highest African American turnout in 2008 have since passed laws to restrict the vote; nine out of the 12 states with highest Hispanic populations in America have passed laws to restrict the vote. Thirteen states have introduced bills to make it harder to register to vote—the very issue that sparked Bloody Sunday in Selma 49 years ago. We crossed that bridge. We can’t go back. We cannot go back.” [Speech, NAACP Convention, 7/23/14]
· Vice President Biden: Fighting Back Against Voting Restrictions Is “About The Right Of The American People To Choose Who They Want To Be Their Leaders.”
It’s not about Barack and me—it’s about the people’s right to speak. Let me give you the example. President Obama and I won the state of Florida by 73,000 votes, and in Florida, we won the African American vote by a margin of 1,125,000. Here’s what that means—I want you to think about this so you don’t think I’m just reliving old fights of the past. That means that if only 6% of those African American voters in Florida who voted were prevented from casting their ballots because of changes in polling places, requirements for IDs, etc. If only 6% had not voted, we would have lost Florida. We would have lost Florida…The election could have been different in result than it was. Again, it’s not about Barack and me, it’s about the right of the American people to choose who they want to be their leaders.” [Speech, NAACP Convention, 7/23/14]
WEEKEND AND EARLY VOTING Vice President Biden To NAACP: Restrictions On Early Voting And Weekend Voting Mean That “You Can’t Vote After Church” And You May Need “To Travel 25 Miles To Vote On Election Day.”
“That means you can’t vote after church. That means women who take two buses to get to work in Cleveland have to take off time from work or choose between caring for her children and voting for her future. Grandmothers in Alabama, who came up under Jim Crow. Many of whom don’t have a car or a license, are being stripped of their vote unless they can make a 10 mile journey to a state ID office. Many of which are only open twice a week. Athens, GA is considering eliminating half of its polling places, replacing them with two early voting centers inside police stations. Baker Co, GA, which is predominantly African American and high poverty, is considering eliminating 4 of its 5 polling places, requiring voters to travel 25 miles to vote on election day.” [Speech, NAACP Convention, 7/23/14]
WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS
COMMENTS ON WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT Vice President Biden: “The Free Enterprise System” Will Help Us Develop “The Most Sophisticated Workforce In The World” But Federal And State Governments Can “Connect The Dots.”
In an article about Vice President Biden’s visit to Goodwin College in Connecticut to highlight workforce development programs, the Hartford Courant wrote: “‘We can, we can, we can have the most educated, the most sophisticated workforce in the world,’ Biden said. ‘The federal government's not going to do this, the state government's not going to do this. It's the free enterprise system. But what we can do is connect the dots.’” [Hartford Courant, 8/20/14
ROLE IN SHAPING PROGRAMS UNDER OBAMA HEADLINE: “Congress And Biden Aim For Job Training That Actually Leads To Jobs”
[National Public Radio, 7/23/14
] National Public Radio: President Obama Signed The Workforce Innovation And Opportunity Act, Which “Streamlines And Updates The Nation’s Job Training Programs.”
“Something pretty remarkable happened Tuesday afternoon in a small windowless auditorium next door to the White House. President Obama signed a new law: the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. It streamlines and updates the nation's job training programs and was 11 years overdue. The bill got overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.” [National Public Radio, 7/23/14
· National Public Radio: The Act Aims To “Better [Match] Training To Employer Needs” And “Encourages More Apprenticeships And On-The Job Training.”
“When an unemployed or dissatisfied worker seeks out job training through a government program, the hope is to get a new job in a field where workers are in demand. But the nation's workforce development system hasn't always succeeded in matching the training with the work. The act aims to fix that by better matching training to employer needs. It encourages more apprenticeships and on-the-job training. The measure of success will no longer be just how many people sign up for help, but also how many actually get jobs.” [National Public Radio, 7/23/14
] National Public Radio: Vice President Biden Spent Time “Traveling Around The Country” To Witness Training Programs, And “White House Officials Say Biden’s Work Gives The Administration A Head Start In Implementing The Act.”
At the same time Congress was working out the details of the bill, Vice President Joe Biden was traveling around the country, looking at what works and what doesn't. Back in March, he visited New Hampshire, where an innovative on-the-job training program has helped nearly 700 people get new jobs since 2010. There he stopped at XMA Corp., a small manufacturer that has hired about a half-dozen people so far using the program…‘So it really is connecting an individual with an opening and the skill required to fill that opening," [Biden] said. "It's that basic, but it's hundreds of thousands of jobs available.’ That's exactly what the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act aims to do, and White House officials say Biden's work gives the administration a head start in implementing the act.” [National Public Radio, 7/23/14
COMMENTS ON INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT
HIGHWAY SPENDING BILL Vice President Biden: Instead of Stopgap Funding Measures, “We Need A Fulsome Solution…To Highways And Highway Infrastructure.”
After explaining the historical importance of transportation funding in a YouTube video, Vice President Biden “offered a starkly different perspective of the transportation funding debates in Congress today. He said lawmakers needed to think about the impact of underinvestment in infrastructure before they settle for temporary stopgap measures. ‘Businesses go where they can increase productivity,’ Biden said. ‘Productivity relates with how rapidly they can get things to market, how cheaply they can get to market, and how often they can get to market. That's infrastructure.’ Biden said he hoped lawmakers would approve the temporary transportation funding bill, but then give serious consideration to the Obama's administration's four-year, $302 billion proposal. ‘I know the Congress is in the process of coming up with a stopgap measure and how they're able to get it down,’ he said. ‘But in the meantime, we think we need a fulsome solution, at least it relates to highways and highway infrastructure.’” [The Hill, 7/23/14
] Vice President Biden: “We Have To Invest In Infrastructure” To Attract More Businesses.
“We have to invest in infrastructure. Highways, airports, railroads, canals. Because businesses locate where they have easy access to get their materials to facilities, and where they can quickly and cheaply, in the fastest market, get their product to market. And they can’t do that without infrastructure.” [Speech, National Urban League, 7/24/14] Vice President Biden Touted An American Society Of Engineers Estimate That “Between Now And 2020, American Infrastructure Needs An Additional Estimate Of $3.6 Trillion.”
“The American Society of Engineers has done extensive studies. They said that between now and 2020, American infrastructure needs an additional investment of $3.6 trillion to meet our needs…and even if we do a portion of that, that means tens of thousands, millions of good paying jobs, jobs you can raise a family on, jobs you can live on.” [Speech, National Urban League, 7/24/14]
COMMENTS SUPPORTING THE GAS TAX The Hill: Vice President Biden “Ripped Congress For Passing Only A Short-Term Transportation Funding Extension, Saying, ‘Hell, Congress Can’t Even Decide On A Gas Tax To Keep The Highway System Going.’”
“Vice President Biden on Wednesday ripped Congress for passing only a short-term transportation funding extension, but in doing so muddled the administration's position on the issue. ‘Hell, Congress can’t even decide on a gas tax to keep the highway system going,’ Biden said in remarks criticizing the Congress's inability to write policy.” [The Hill, 8/6/14
CRITICISM FOR SUPPORT OF GAS TAX The Hill: Vice President Biden “Appeared To Criticize Congress For Not Agreeing To A New Gas Tax To Pay For The Funding” For America’s Highway System, But “The [Obama] Administration Actually Opposes Raising The Tax.”
“Biden's comments appeared to criticize Congress for not agreeing to a new gas tax to pay for the funding. The bill approved by Congress keeps the 18.4 cents-per-gallon rate that can't keep up anymore with highway spending. The administration actually opposes raising the tax, however. The Obama administration prefers to close corporate tax breaks to increase highway funding.” [The Hill, 8/6/14
top 25 albums of 2019
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Top 25 Albums of 2019
I have a very on-again-off-again relationship with noise, one that was very much tested on this Lightning Bolt album. Still, any hesitance I have for noise rock is accompanied by a deep love of hardcore headbangers, and Sonic Citadel more than delivers on that front. For every noisy mess like Van Halen 2049 there’s a track like Blow To The Head to ram me in the face with focused intensity, and for every seemingly aimless track like Don Henley In The Park there’s an Air Conditioning. Oh geeeeez, Air Conditioning. This is surely hyperbole, but I feel like I could listen to the main riffs on Air Conditioning for the rest of my life. That’s the good shit right there.
Favorite Tracks: Blow To The Head, USA Is A Psycho, Air Conditioning, Big Banger, Halloween 3
Least Favorite Track: Van Halen 2049
Tyr holds a unique space in the metal sphere for me, meshing the viking imagery of Amon Amarth with a war-ballad style better fitting a band like Turisas. Their singer in particular has a SUPER unique approach to vocals that evokes tribal imagery and the triumphant ballads of conquering warbands. That style is in full force on Hel, which sees the band putting out a few of my new favorite Tyr songs amidst a bunch of others that are varying levels of successful.
My biggest issue with Hel is that it feels quite a bit bloated in spots. Some songs feel a minute or two too long and drawn out, while others go in one ear and out the other and come off as filler. On tracks like Downhill Drunk the singer’s signature style just doesn’t land at all, messing up the vibe of the entire song and ruining it for me.
Still, these issues aren’t so numerous that they ruin the album, nor is the bloat an issue of much significance- it’s simply a 1:09 album that could have been closer to 50 or even 45 minutes with some time spent trimming fat here and there. It’s still easily one of the best metal releases of the year.
Favorite Tracks: All Heroes Fall, Garmr, Sunset Shore, Empire of the North, Fire & Flame
Least Favorite Track: Downhill Drunk
Fantastic background music for sure. While Bonobo has put out more focused pieces, as a collection of tracks mixed to blend seamlessly into each other, this is still a very pleasant and upbeat experience for its hour-and-a-quarter runtime. It’s very easy to just zone out while listening to this mix, which in this case works as a compliment as the music just kind of washes over you with steady beats and ambient transitions. Every song has some kind of musical hook to latch onto, which more than helps to catch a groove and follow the song through its next transition, swapping tracks sometimes before you even notice it. While some beats here and there don’t quite land like others (especially in the back half), there are enough great tracks across this lengthy mix to make it more than worth the time.
Favorite Tracks: Flicker, Jacquot (Waters of Praslin), Hidden Tropics, Maia, Cold Harbour, Ibrik, Sacred, By Your Side, Buzzard Walk
Least Favorite Track: Perpetrator
As far as down-to-earth rap goes, this is a really good album. Mellow beats and four skilled emcees that work well together. These guys have nerd cred too- listen to a couple songs and try to keep track of how many video game, comic book and pro wrestling references they drop, and watch as you rapidly lose track. Still, there’s something missing from these tracks, a memorability or charisma that, while present, isn’t present enough to make this album really special beyond just being a collection of good rap songs. Also, it’s not their fault but the Go ACH Go song has aged REALLY poorly.
Favorite Tracks: Blaow, Hit Me Now, Diamond Rhymin’, Kick It, Dinner Time, Don’t Stop
Least Favorite Track: Sword Play
Man what the FUCK?
This album is fucking weird. It’s like they took a bunch of j-rock girls, gave them a mountain of coke, and waited for them to start freaking out before holding a gun to their head to force them to record an album. This album is bouncy, it’s energetic, and it’s also absolutely out of its mind and wild to the point of total disconnection with conventional songwriting. One second these girls will be jamming along to some groovy bassline, hitting you with a surf-rocky vibe that’s easy to headbang to, and the next second they’re trying to murder their instruments with punk-rock fury as they scream in demented unison. And the craziest part is the entire thing WORKS.
Once you listen through it a couple times you start to adapt to the band’s warped style and get less shaken up by sudden transitions into insanity, which lets you really appreciate just how talented and synchronized this band really is. They’re playing the most frantic and violent shit in complete lockstep, which gets more and more impressive with every sudden jump and switch back to the land of the living. I don’t know how it happened, but they made me fall in love with this crazy, wild, pants-on-head demented fucking album.
Favorite Tracks: Legit every song, somehow. What? I think my favorite favorites are probably S’il vous plait, Love Is Short, Bad Luck, Don’t light my fire, and I’m tired of your repeating story, but like… what?
Least Favorite Tracks: What the hell is this album?
I just baaaarely started getting into djent this year, but I’m glad I did because it got me to try this album from a band who (to me) was a total unknown. As it turns out, this album is a fantastic mix of prog metal and metalcore (though I’m unfamiliar with the latter so I might be wrong there), and it shines in its creative and catchy riff structure and in the layers the band works into each of their songs. Very few tracks on this album feel one-note, and often progress between multiple phases across their runtime, leading the whole album to have this cohesive depth to it that makes almost every song that much more enjoyable. When they want to go hard they do it really well on tracks like Abandoned and Prototype, but when they decide to go for a cleaner mellow sound for the majority of a song, it leads to standout tracks like Ruins with extremely catchy melodies that have been stuck in my head basically all year and keep me coming back for more.
While it does falter a bit in the second half, this is overall a really solid album that I’d recommend to just about anyone who isn’t afraid of a bit of out-there riffing and some screamed vocals. If more djent measures up to Artificial Void, I’m sure to enjoy my time exploring this genre.
Favorite Tracks: Prototype, Artificial Void, Ruins, Fear, Abandoned, House of Waters, Down the Spine, Another Sky
Least Favorite Track: Avatar
Big thanks to GuyofEvil for turning me on to these guys. S&P are a creative and energetic jazz ensemble, and this album shows every bit of that creativity and energy. The upbeat tracks on this album are bouncy and fun, keeping a strong and consistent tempo so that the leading instrument for each song has space to really have some fun with their solo segments. The style of each song can vary, though, and scattered throughout the album are a number of very mellow, lowkey tracks, which are extremely pleasant in their own way. A few times they get a little too wild for my tastes (the trumpet solo on Tracking being the prime example of this), but more often than not I found myself captivated by either their smooth relaxing tracks or the frenetic energy of their faster tracks. Front to back just a really enjoyable jazz album.
Favorite Tracks: Blue Eyed Monster, The Light and The Shadowland, Shapeshifter, Wanna Be A Man, Out Of Control, In The Gloom of The Forest, Inside
Least Favorite Track: Tracking
I’ve been a P.O.S stan for about a decade now, ever since getting into Audition and Never Better back in high school. The whole Doomtree clique pumps out creative alternative rap on the regular, and this combination of P.O.S and Sims with Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak on production is no exception. Their mix of rap styles work well together over these surprisingly danceable beats, coming together for a brief but entertaining album that does its best to get stuck in your head. The biggest downside of this album, I’d say, is there’s no real standout here- everything sits at a consistently “pretty good” level, never really sucking but never breaking out into something truly fantastic.
Favorite Tracks: Vanilla ISIS, Ayeyayaya, Shadap You Face Pt. II, Young Bros, Chips
Least Favorite Track: Suburban Base
Not much needs to be said on this one. While I still prefer last year’s TA13OO for its fully-fleshed-out concept and huge sonic variety, ZUU is a great change of pace for Curry, going back to an old-school boom-bap Southern rap style and doing it really well. Every song on this album seems designed to sound at its very best when blasted from car speakers, and he leans well into this style, delivering BANGERS on BANGERS on BANGERS on this album.
Favorite Tracks: ZUU, RICKY, WISH, BIRDZ, YOO, SHAKE 88, P.A.T.
Least Favorite Track: SPEEDBOAT
Last year’s Veteran didn’t sit right with me, let’s start there. I like Peggy’s rapping style, all high energy with a fun mix of pop culture to pull from for references (and I especially appreciate all the wrestling references, too). In a way he kinda reminds me of a modern Ol’ Dirty Bastard, all energy and intensity but with less of a focus on dirt and more on being what almost amounts to a troll rapper. Like seriously, whether or not I liked his music, I’d appreciate the shit out of Peggy’s meme-savvy song titles any day.
My problem with Veteran that crops up on this album is Peggy’s experimental production style and unorthodox song structure, often breaking off into out-there tangents and side-noises that on Veteran took me out of the album entirely too much to enjoy it. On this album, however, it’s more of a back-and-forth, and more often than not the weirder segments are bookended by Peggy hitting a stride on a track where he matches his production perfectly, making for a fantastic song even if the more out-there parts don’t sit right with me. He also dips his toes more into mellow-but-glitchy production and a singsongy approach to hooks, both of which work pretty well for him. Cornballs, for me, is a much more enjoyable album than Veteran, because on Cornballs Peggy finds a pocket where his wild rapping style and his eclectic production style mesh perfectly without going completely off the reservation.
Favorite Tracks: Jesus Forgive Me I Am A Thot, Kenan Vs Kel, Beta Male Strategies, Grimy Waifu, PTSD, All My Heroes Are Cornballs, BBW, Thot Tactics, DOTS FREESTYLE REMIX, BUTTERMILK JESUS TYPE BEAT
Least Favorite Track: Lifes Hard, Here’s A Song About Sorrel
Ever since hearing Rapsody on TPAB a year or two ago, I wanted to see what her next big project would be like. Turns out, Rapsody has a ton to say, more than can be contained in one (very very good) guest verse on a Kendrick album.
It’s tough to fully describe Eve as an album, seeing as Rapsody’s every verse is about the struggles of and empowerment of black women, spurring them towards self-love and independence and giving them anthems for their own lives. Meanwhile, I’m a middle-class white dude with a pretty decent life and no real major struggles to overcome. So, uh, a lot of these themes don’t sit with me, as much as I appreciate them.
Still, from a purely musical standpoint, Eve is a great album. Rapsody comes in STRONG on just about every song, with socially and politically-charged verses delivered with absolute confidence that makes it really sound like she believes everything she’s saying and wants you to believe in it, too. The production is pretty good, often building a dramatic and intense atmosphere that further amplifies the impact of Rapsody’s words (although a couple songs like Cleo and Ibtihaj lean WAY too hard on their samples and influences for my taste).
As disconnected as I can feel from the topics Rapsody discovers, I can’t say much against how she delivers them. I’m glad she felt so strongly about these topics to make an album this focused on them, and I’m glad it turned out this great.
Favorite Tracks: Nina, Aaliyah, Serena, Iman, Sojourner
Least Favorite Track: Oprah
I’m a pretty big fan of CZARFACE generally, and for good reason. Inspectah Deck shines in these group projects, Esoteric has nerd bars and clever punchlines for the next 500 years already written down somewhere, and 7L’s production fits the two rappers perfectly with a unique mix of Wu-Tang-style mellow production that works well with battle bars and DOOM-style sample-heavy interludes and comic-book-inspired beats. Their recent collab album with DOOM grew on me over time, and as Ghostface is my favorite member of the Wu-Tang Clan, I was hype as fuck for this album.
Turns out, it was pretty good! I was consumed by hype at first, thinking it might be CZARFACE’s best project (it’s not, Every Hero Needs A Villain is still the best), but this is several steps above the lackluster Fistful of Peril and definitely a whole lot of fun in its own right. Nobody’s quite on their A game here, unfortunately, but their B game is still great and delivers a bunch of tracks that should be added to any rotation of brag rap. The biggest downside of this album is that very little really stands out in the way songs like Escape from Czarkham Asylum did or Bomb Thrown did. Ghostface is alright if not as present as the album title would make you think, Deck is alright but never really goes apeshit like he has in the past, Esoteric is generally pretty fantastic but doesn’t carry songs, and 7L’s beats are alright but sometimes a bit too mellow for the brag bars going over them. When it all clicks on tracks like Post Credits Scene it’s good shit, but it doesn’t click often enough to be a truly fantastic album like Every Hero Needs A Villain.
Still, there are no bad tracks at all on Czarface Meets Ghostface, and the consistently pretty good tracks lead to a pretty good album.
Favorite Tracks: Face Off, Iron Claw, Powers and Stuff, The King Heard Voices, (Post Credits Scene)
Least Favorite Track: Mongolian Beef
I had to come back to this one a couple times to decide what I really liked and didn’t like about this album. Honestly, there’s not a lot to dislike, though. Aesop Rock is in top form as he has been just about this whole decade, rapping with the buttery flows he’s developed that made me absolutely fall in love with Skelethon and The Impossible Kid. Standout tracks like Tuesday, Acid King and Churro show Aes’ knack for storytelling hasn’t faded at all, either. Tobacco’s production, throughout very mellow and almost chiptune in style without ever sounding much like a videogame soundtrack and accompanied by some really heavily processed but very interesting hooks, remains a super unique approach that I haven’t heard mirrored all year.
I guess my biggest problem with the album is that for how good Aesop’s rapping is and for how good Tobacco’s production is, I just don’t feel like the two work well together. Aes feels almost too dynamic for Tobacco’s lowkey production, and Tobacco’s beats feel too understated for Aesop’s very diverse and verbose rapping style. Moreover, no matter how well Aes can ride almost any beat, Tobacco’s really out-there hooks feel almost at odds with Aes’ very precise and calculated rapping. In this situation, the two excellent parts remain excellent, but their combination lacks the synergy to evolve 1+1 into something greater than 2.
Favorite Tracks: Corn Maze, Tuesday, Save Our Ship, Dog Years, Acid King, Churro
Least Favorite Track: Sword Box
Just about everything about Pusha T’s last album DAYTONA is also relevant here. Benny has a calculating approach to rapping mixed with an intensity that makes you hang on his words, and his coke raps, while nothing really new or exciting, are delivered with creativity and confidence that sells them despite their lack of novelty. Across the board, this brief album has few real flaws and lets Benny and his guests shine at what they do best (especially Black Thought, holy crap). As long as you’re not expecting some crazy experimental boundary pushing, this album definitely satisfies.
However, it’s not DAYTONA. While that album was my album of the year last year, Benny’s album isn’t quite up to the same caliber. Benny’s raps, while very competent and well put-together, lack Pusha’s charisma and fall slightly flatter as a result (especially when the two are directly comparable on 18 Wheeler). The production, while great at evoking this Tony-Montana-like drug lord vibe, can’t hope to compare to Kanye’s perfect production accompaniment on DAYTONA, which draws from a much more interesting group of influences. So while The Plugs I Met is definitely a nice little slice of coke rap and is by no means a bad album at all, I’ve still heard better and I know the potential that this album could live up to, but doesn’t.
Favorite Tracks: Crowns for Kings, Dirty Harry, 18 Wheeler
Least Favorite Track: Took The Money To The Plug’s House
For those unfamiliar with Gloryhammer, they’re an Anglo-Swiss power metal band that uses aggressively catchy power metal to tell aggressively cheesy sci-fi/fantasy tales of a made-up world not unlike our own, except for the million ways it’s not even close to our own. To perfectly illustrate this, the rest of this review will just be a synopsis of this album’s plot. If that won’t sell you, you probably won’t like this album.
Angus McFife XIII, descendant of the original Angus McFife and Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Fife, is no stranger to the cruel machinations of the space wizard Zargothrax. After Zargothrax was released from his frozen prison by chaos wizards in the distant future of 1992, Angus McFife teamed up with the Hollywood Hootsman (he’s the king of California), the Questlords of Inverness, and many more noble allies to defend the land of Dundee from Zargothrax’s nefarious grasp. At the climax of their epic battle, Zargothrax and Angus McFife XIII were cast into an interdimensional portal that catapulted them through time and space to an alternate reality. Quick to take advantage of this situation, Zargothrax defeated the original Angus McFife, corrupted the Knights of Crail to serve under his new empire, and has all but taken over the galaxy! With all of his allies gone and his Astral Hammer depowered, Angus McFife must embark on a new quest, making allies from enemies and facing foes that were once friends as he searches for a way to defeat the dark wizard at his absolute strongest. Only with an army at his side could our intrepid hero hope to overcome Zargothrax’s evil once more.
I made none of that up. This album fucking rules. Space 1992 is better, but this album is still super good.
Favorite Tracks: Masters of the Galaxy, Power of the Laser Dragon Fire, Legendary Enchanted Jetpack, Gloryhammer, Hootsforce, Battle for Eternity, The Fires of Ancient Cosmic Destiny
Least Favorite Track: Into the Terrorvortex of Kor-Virliath
Yo, where the hell did this come from? I would have completely slept on this album if I didn’t stumble on a DeadEndHipHop review of the record several weeks after its surprise release. Glad I did, too, because I really love Us and All The Beauty In This Whole Life, so I was gonna jump on this as soon as I found it.
Overall, I would say “this is more great Ali”, but it’s really not. Like, it’s more of the type of things Brother Ali discusses, and it’s more great Ali flows, but the dude deliberately went in a very different tonal direction this time around. Evidence’s production is part of it, washing away Ant’s warm and upbeat production in a wave of dusty, lo-fi, sample-heavy production that casts Ali’s verses in a whole new light, but Ali’s own delivery is different too. He’s more mellowed out here, more relaxed and less emphatic in his delivery across the board. It sounds less like he’s preaching (not that he ever came across as holier-than-thou or talking down to his audience, ‘cause he didn’t) and more like he’s having a conversation with the listener.
While this change of pace means the album lacks some of the grandiosity or the thematic focus of Ali’s past albums that I’ve loved, Secrets & Escapes is a fantastic exercise in change and another great addition to an already excellent veteran catalogue.
Favorite Tracks: Abu Enzo, Situated, Greatest That Never Lived, Father Figures, Secrets & Escapes, De La Kufi, Red Light Zone, They Shot Ricky
Least Favorite Track: Apple Tree Me
I got turned on to Alex Cameron probably a year and a half ago, and while I’m not big into pop, his style in particular latched its hooks into my brain, and since then Forced Witness has remained one of my favorite albums of all time. The nostalgic production on the album mixing synthetic beats and soulful saxophone riffs are layered and engaging while still mellow and relaxing, and Alex works beautifully with each track. His biggest skill has to be his songwriting, crafting unbelievably catchy melodies and vivid lyrics that often err on the side of hilarity, effortlessly bouncing from lines like “In a neon boneyard, raised from the dead / We’ll bet on forever but we both know the spread” to “Me and Roy, we got a pretty mean posse / With the down-syndrome Jew from the real estate crew”. Forced Witness is hilarious without being a comedy album, it’s nostalgic without being a complete ripoff, and it’s endlessly replayable.
Miami Memory is… not Forced Witness 2. This bummed me out at first, given how much I loved that album, but that turned out to not be a bad thing, and Miami Memory in fact grew on me with repeat listens in its own way. It’s still every bit as catchy, with singable choruses like “I’m your STEP-DAAAAAAD!”, but other details about Miami Memory show that Alex has gone in a different direction this time, which has borne new fruit entirely. The production on this album is more varied than Forced Witness, using strong digital influences on tracks like Stepdad and Miami Memory but switching entirely to heartland rock ballads on tracks like Bad For The Boys and Far From Born Again, and it’s a sonic diversity that makes each song stand out in its own unique way. The hilarious lyrics are for the most part gone, excepting specific moments like the bitter chorus on Divorce and the line on End Is Nigh that goes “There’s a guy who thinks I’m fuckin’ his girlfriend, he says he’s gonna make me cry / But I couldn’t get it up if I wanted to, man, yeah, and I already wanna die”.
Like I said, I came in expecting a sequel to Forced Witness, and while I didn’t get that, I got a new direction from Alex Cameron that’s every bit as memorable and explores new avenues that he fits into very well. While I prefer his last album even now, Miami Memory is a fantastic album in its own way.
Favorite Tracks: Stepdad, Miami Memory, Far From Born Again, Bad For The Boys, PC With Me, Divorce
Least Favorite Track: Too Far
Bruh, Cordae put out a better Chance album than Chance.
Seriously, though. Out of the entire XXL Freshman class for this year, YBN Cordae stood out the most, and this album helps explain why. The Lost Boy is for the most part a laid-back album where Cordae skillfully raps about his life and the relationships he’s had and finds himself in. The production is mellow and often has a little bit of soul or RnB flavoring sprinkled into it, and Cordae rides these beats very nicely. As a rapper he’s not usually much of a standout, but he never really disappoints with an abominably bad bar or a trash flow, and when he really wants to flex he can be very impressive on the mic. Outside of a few tracks that just didn’t sit well with me personally, this is a solid hip-hop album and a great debut record for Cordae.
Favorite Tracks: Bad Idea, Thanksgiving, RNP, Thousand Words, Been Around, Nightmares Are Real
Least Favorite Track: Broke as Fuck
So I have a limited experience with Opeth- I’ve heard Ghost Reveries and I know they started out in metal then transitioned fully into prog rock, and that’s about it. I also have a limited experience with prog, based mainly around albums my dad (a huge prog head) has had me try, including In The Court of the Crimson King, Brain Salad Surgery, and Days of Future Passed. So I’m kind of familiar with this style of music, but it and Opeth are very much not in my wheelhouse. All that is to say that after listening to In Cauda Venenum over and over, I really want to get into more classic prog rock now.
Opeth’s new album is best described as “cinematic” or “theatrical”, not necessarily in theme, but in style. The dynamic range on this album is fantastic, weaving mellow but melodic segments with bold, bombastic explosions of rock with near effortless ease. Though Opeth has become a prog band fully, I can still feel a little of the metal clinging to the band’s DNA, mainly in the way they feel completely fearless in exploring huge blasting walls of sound, especially on songs like Dignity and Universal Truth. Coming from metal the instrumental work is all top notch as well, and the lead singer’s voice, while not mind blowing in any real way, fits the instrumental work to a T and complements the overall sound super well.
I didn’t quite love this album at first, but it’s growing on me with each new listen. In Cauda Venenum is huge, it’s harrowing, it’s exciting, but at the same time it isn’t afraid to be gentle and delicate, often in the same song. That balance gives it a wonderfully creative duality, and makes just about every song a standout experience.
Favorite Tracks: Dignity, Heart In Hand, Universal Truth, The Garroter, Continuum
Least Favorite Track: Charlatan
Okay look, Sabaton’s music has a good number of flaws, and this album is no exception. Many songs feel underwritten, given only the barest verses seemingly so that they’re not making a song entirely out of choruses, and as is the case with 82nd All The Way, their abridged retelling of history through music is often woefully incomplete. They virtually never deviate from their main aesthetic outside of very slight additional flavors, leading to songs like Attack of the Dead Men which don’t get the tone shift they could really use. Perhaps most damning of all, Sabaton’s music by and large feels extremely formulaic and samey, with similar musical phrases and melodies very often finding themselves reused or slightly tweaked between songs. The examples are everywhere: the very similar verse structure between Ghost in the Trenches and No Bullets Fly, literally almost the exact same verse melody on Red Baron and Night Witches, the constant reliance on “verse bridge chorus verse bridge chorus interlude solo chorus chorus” for almost every song’s structure, I could go on and on. And all of this SHOULD lead me to dislike this album. That said…
GOD, THIS ALBUM FUCKING RULES! IT’S SO EXPLOSIVE, SO TRIUMPHANT, IT MAKES ME WANT TO TEAR MY SHIRT OFF AND CLIMB THE NEAREST MOUNTAIN SO I CAN BELLOW THE LYRICS OF EVERY CHORUS TO THE MEWLING WEAKLINGS BELOW! Sabaton are power metal down to the bone marrow, and what they lack in intricate songwriting and stylistic versatility they more than make up for in thunderous energy and an enthusiastic overindulgence in the power and fury of power metal. While their songs are lacking a lot of the noodly speed you’d get from something like a Dragonforce album, every Sabaton song hits like a tank shell in part through the raw force of the instrumental backing but also through Joakim Broden’s charismatic voice that sounds like the echoing decrees of a metal-as-fuck Swedish god. EVERY SINGLE CHORUS IS FIRE! EVERY SINGLE RIFF IS A FUCKING BANGER!
Sabaton has a lot of flaws, yes, but they know what they’re good at and play to their strengths. The Great War isn’t the most creative or the most versatile album on this list, but goddamn if it isn’t one of the most exciting and adrenaline-pumping albums on this list by a mile.
Favorite Tracks: Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 82nd All The Way, The Red Baron, Ghost In The Trenches, Fields Of Verdun
Least Favorite Track: Attack of the Dead Men
I could probably count on one hand how many UK rappers I’d heard before 2019, but between Little Simz and Slowthai (who didn’t make this list but still put out a really solid album this year that I won’t be surprised at all to see on others’ lists), I’ve got a growing interest in the genre as long as the quality bar stays this high.
I don’t have a lot to say on this album given that I’m so unfamiliar with the genre, but man, Little Simz is a fucking excellent rapper. On Venom especially, she flexes a flow I wasn’t expecting at all, weaving buttery lines together in a catchy pace that easily gets my head bobbing. Other tracks like Selfish and Wounds showcase Simz’ flows but in a way that takes advantage of well-built, contemporary beats and catchy sampled or sung choruses that show her broader appeal as an artist beyond just being “a great rapper”.
Simz covers a good number of topics and delves deep into her personal life on this album, and between the killer flows and strong production, I’m definitely keeping an eye on her going forward.
Favorite Tracks: Selfish, Wounds, Venom, 101 FM, Pressure
Least Favorite Track: Therapy
I’m not a gigantic Tyler fan, though since this album dropped I’ve relistened to Flower Boy and gained a new appreciation for it as a result. Still, IGOR is an almost undeniable album, breaking so many conventions of both hip-hop and RnB in ways that showcase both Tyler’s creativity and raw talent on the mic and on the beat. On first listen it sounds jank and unrefined and honestly feels like it shouldn’t work- Tyler’s pitch-shifted vocals are warbly and off, each beat just kind of feels like something’s wrong with it, and the combination is like nothing else. However, instead of collapsing under the weight of these miniature flaws adding up, Tyler manages the impossible and turns these flaws into quirks, making every imperfection into an endearing trait of the songwriting and execution. In the end, the strained falsetto chorus on Earfquake sticks in my head a whole hell of a lot more than most well-sung pop choruses this year. The culprit here is Tyler’s mastery of songwriting, knowing exactly how to craft a beat to accomplish what he wants as well as knowing exactly how to use his creations to their fullest with the vocals and rap verses he adds on top.
Front to back, this album is multilayered, it’s ever-evolving, it’s endlessly fascinating, and it sets the bar ever higher not just for Tyler, but for any of his peers who want to delve into this category of rap-RnB mashups. I’m definitely keeping an eye on whatever Tyler creates next.
Favorite Tracks: IGOR’S THEME, I THINK, RUNNING OUT OF TIME, A BOY IS A GUN, WHAT’S GOOD, ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?
Least Favorite Track: NEW MAGIC WAND
I actually posted on the Polkadot Stingray subreddit a few months ago talking about why I love this album so much, and why it was my #1 album for about six months until King Gizzard showed up to dethrone it. Here’s the link.
To be clear, Uchoten didn’t get dropped two spots because the album soured on me or because I found any glaring flaws. It’s still every bit the summery ball of happy vibes that I absolutely adore it for, and I keep coming back to it every once in a while to brighten my spirits. The albums above it are just that good. My only real gripe is that a few of the songs are just alright and that the song 7 has a weird chorus that I’m just not a fan of.
Favorite Tracks: Ichidaiji, Denkousekka, Drama (track 3), City Life (track 5), Rhythmy (track 6), Love Call (track 8), Secret (track 11)
Least Favorite Track: 7 (track 9 lol)
Ever since getting into Clipping a couple years back (the moment I started Splendor & Misery and heard Daveed’s flow on The Breach, I was all in on this group), I’ve been eagerly awaiting the next album. Face was an EP masquerading as an album and that was a bummer, but Clipping came back with There Existed An Addiction To Blood, timed perfectly for the spookiest season of the year, and holy fuck, they delivered. Addiction to Blood is a gut-wrenchingly violent, disturbing album that evokes an urgent need to escape, but beneath its grindhouse horror aesthetic, the album is a technical masterpiece, with brilliant production throughout underscoring Daveed’s absolutely stellar rapping.
I could gush about this album literally for hours. There’s so much perfect about it- the tense piano on Nothing is Safe, the foreboding atmosphere of He Dead, the crushing intensity of Club Down (HOLY FUCK CLUB DOWN IS SO INTENSE), how fucked up it is that the catchiest song on the album (The Show) is about a live show that makes the torture scene from Law Abiding Citizen sound lowkey, the FUCKING AMBIENT CARS PASSING BY CONTRIBUTING TO THE BEAT ON RUN FOR YOUR LIFE OH MY GOD IT’S BRILLIANT, just everything about Blood of the Fang, the insane pace changes on Story 7 sucking you in, holy shit, this album is a masterpiece.
Addiction to Blood lives and breathes its horrorcore aesthetic too, never settling for a basic hip-hop beat and violent lyrics like the old-school horrorcore staples did. Similarly to the Daughters album last year, Clipping’s new album reeks of panic, unease, and an overwhelming desire to escape. You’re being hunted. You’re not safe. Run. GET OUT. Where Daughters’ album was an intense psychological thriller, though, Addiction to Blood comes off as a campy gorefest, reveling in the buckets and buckets of blood and viscera it showers over every song like it’s trying to audition to be a Mortal Kombat soundtrack.
The album is so technically solid, so expertly produced, and Daveed’s raps are so across-the-board phenomenal, that I honestly only have minor nitpicks at best for criticism against the album. The Prophecy interlude is boring, La Chat’s verse is a liiiiittle awkward but I’m cool with it, Daveed’s flow on All In Your Head is too bare-bones for me, and La Mala Ordina, despite its fantastic beat and Daveed’s downright evil lyrics about the difference between hip-hop gangstas and the gangsters of the real world, has two major flaws that threaten to ruin the song for me.
One, the straight minute of noise at the end of the song is just… nah, no thanks. It would be tolerable if it was maybe thirty seconds or twenty seconds, but at its length it’s just a sign for me to skip the rest of the song once Daveed’s lyrics are incomprehensible. Two, Elcamino’s verse coming in second on the album is the weakest rapping I’ve heard almost all year and I’m kind of surprised nobody brings it up. Like yeah, it fits the vibe of the song as he’s this random coke rapper gangsta with a romanticized view of a cutthroat industry that will chew him up and spit him out, but come on. Dude rhymes “wagon” with “status” and then spends the rest of his verse with a lethargic, weak flow that emphasizes exactly how run-of-the-mill and boring his dumbed-down lyrics are. This verse fucking sucks, dude. Full stop.
Rest of the album is perfect though.
Favorite Tracks: Nothing Is Safe, He Dead, Club Down, Run For Your Life, The Show, Blood of the Fang, Story 7
Least Favorite Track: La Mala Ordina
How? How the hell did these guys make an album this good? King Gizzard went from bluesy folk this year to suddenly unleashing a classic thrash behemoth of an album and I couldn’t be more pleased with it. Every single fucking song on this album is an absolute banger, with singable choruses and vivid imagery supporting a grim and apocalyptic story running throughout. Outside of the chuggy grinder Superbug (which more than grew on me over time), every song is either high-octane classic thrash metal or a headbanging stoner rock anthem and everything GOES SO FUCKING HARD. How the FUCK does this album GO SO FUCKING HARD?
The guitar riffs are almost universally catchy and sprinkled with these Megadethy showoff licks that showcase exactly how talented these Aussie boys really are, the drum beats are these machinegun affairs that don’t measure up to the blast beat intensity of more hardcore metal but are no less exhilarating for it, and the vocals, holy shit the vocals. My dude on the vocals (I’m awful with names) has these throaty growls that perfectly match the grimy, visceral tone of the instruments, and they’re extremely fun to imitate despite the throat pain that follows. PERI-PERIHELIOOOOOON!
But the most impressive part has to be that this is the band’s fifteenth album and their first foray into this genre, the second closest album being the garage rock banger Nonagon Infinity which I loved in the past. I’ve listened to a surprising number of new classic thrash albums this year (did you know there’s apparently a New Wave Of Traditional Thrash Metal?) and Infest The Rat’s Nest blows every single one of them out of the water. It’s not even close, and the same can be said for the vast majority of albums this year.
Favorite tracks: All of them, but the best of the best are Mars for the Rich, Perihelion, Organ Farmer, and Venusian 2.
Least favorite track: Self-Immolate, but that song still fucking slaps.
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