Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 100 Songs of 2011- #20-1

2011 was an interesting year for music. Great sounds were thankfully everywhere- but songs, as opposed to albums, became suddenly more memorable. While there is no doubt that 2011 was an exciting time for full-length releases, more and more artists seemed to be embracing the idea of the single and crafting an album around it. Due to this apparent evolution, I will be counting down my top 100 songs of 2011. The rules are simple- obviously the track must have first been released in this current year. Also, no one album can have more than three songs make an appearance. Also, keep in mind, this list is subjective- I have not yet had the opportunity to listen to some of this year's more popular releases.The new Jay-Z/Kanye West collaboration, Watch the Throne will not be making an appearance. Adele's 21 and Drake's Take Care were not taken into account either.
Note: I recently have listened to PJ Harvey's Let England Shake in it's entirety several times. At least two of those songs would have found a very high place on this list if I had heard them sooner. The album itself is incredible- ideally, it would easily have been in my top 5 of the year.




20- TV on the Radio- "Second Song"- Nine Types of Light



19- Cults- "Go Outside"- Cults
Cults - Go Outside by underhisempire2

18- Zola Jesus- "Vessel"- Conatus
Zola Jesus - Vessel by souterraintransmissions

17- Lykke Li- "Sadness is a Blessing"- Wounded Rhymes
Lykke Li - Sadness Is a Blessing by a.vourloumis

16- Other Lives- "For 12"- Tamer Animals
For 12 by Other Lives

15- Bon Iver- "Holocene"- Bon Iver
Holocene by boniver

14- Battles- "Futura"- Gloss Drop
Battles — Futura by m4spam

13- Foster the People- "Pumped Up Kicks"- Torches
Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People

12- Radiohead- "Bloom"- The King of Limbs


11- tUnE-yArDs- "Bizness"- who kill
BIZNESS Tune Yards by CristinaBlack

10- Panda Bear- "Last Night at the Jetty"- Tomboy
Panda Bear - Last Night At The Jetty by bigasslens

9- Girls- "Vomit"- Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Girls - Vomit by artsandcraftsmx

8- St. Vincent- "Cruel"- Strange Mercy


7- Lana Del Rey- "Video Games"


6- Atlas Sound- "Terra Incognita"- Parallax
Atlas Sound - Terra Incognita by rslblog.com

5- Washed Out- "Amor Fati"- Within and Without
Washed Out - Amor Fati by DominoRecordCo

4- Cults- "Abducted"- Cults
Cults - Abducted by cultscultscults

3- Fleet Foxes- "Helplessness Blues"- Helplessness Blues
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues by MMMusic

2- Radiohead- "Lotus Flower"- The King of Limbs


1- M83- "Midnight City"- Hurry Up, We're Dreaming


- Fr. Jones

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Top 100 Songs of 2011- #40-21



2011 was an interesting year for music. Great sounds were thankfully everywhere- but songs, as opposed to albums, became suddenly more memorable. While there is no doubt that 2011 was an exciting time for full-length releases, more and more artists seemed to be embracing the idea of the single and crafting an album around it. Due to this apparent evolution, I will be counting down my top 100 songs of 2011. The rules are simple- obviously the track must have first been released in this current year. Also, no one album can have more than three songs make an appearance. Also, keep in mind, this list is subjective. As one person, there are several albums that I have not yet had the opportunity to hear- including a few of the more popular releases. I missed out on Adele's 21, Drake's Take Care, and Jay-Z/Kanye West's Watch the Throne(although I did finally pop this one in last night- wow!)-records which have been perennially favorites on many year-end lists.

40- The Antlers- "Rolled Together"- Burst Apart



39- St. Vincent- "Surgeon"- Strange Mercy


38- Toro Y Moi- "How I Know"- Underneath the Pine
Toro Y Moi How I Know by stellarola

37- Lykke Li- "I Follow Rivers"- Wounded Rhymes
Lykke Li - I Follow Rivers by LykkeLi

36- EMA- "California"- Past Life, Martyred Saints
EMA: California by -gaga

35- Panda Bear- "You Can Count on Me"- Tomboy
Panda Bear - You Can Count On Me by ThatEricAlper

34- Girls- "My Ma"- Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Girls - My Ma by artsandcraftsmx

33- Explosions in the Sky- "Be Comfortable, Creature"- Take Care, Take Care, Take Care


32- Fleet Foxes- "The Shrine/An Argument"- Helplessness Blues


31- Dum Dum Girls- "Bedroom Eyes"- Only In Dreams
Dum Dum Girls - Bedroom Eyes by subpop

30- Atlas Sound- "The Shakes"- Parallax


29- James Blake- "The Wilhelm Scream"- James Blake


28- Fever Ray- "The Wolf"- Red Riding Hood OST
The Wolf by Fever Ray

27- Battles- "Ice Cream"- Gloss Drop
Ice Cream (Featuring Matias Aguayo) by BATTLES

26- M83- "Steve McQueen"- Hurry Up, We're Dreaming


25- Neon Indian- "Hex Girlfriend"- Era Extrana


24- Youth Lagoon- "Afternoon"- The Year of Hibernation


23- Washed Out- "Far Away"- Within and Without
Washed Out - Far Away by haibee_mirage

22- Austra- "The Beat and the Pulse"- Feel it Break
Austra - Beat and the Pulse by earwormdaily

21- St. Vincent- "Chloe in the Afternoon"- Strange Mercy



- Fr. Jones

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Top 100 Songs of 2011- #100-41

2011 was an interesting year for music. Great sounds were thankfully everywhere- but songs, as opposed to albums, became suddenly more memorable. While there is no doubt that 2011 was an exciting time for full-length releases, more and more artists seemed to be embracing the idea of the single and crafting an album around it. Due to this apparent evolution, I will be counting down my top 100 songs of 2011. The rules are simple- obviously the track must have first been released in this current year. Also, no one album can have more than three songs make an appearance. Also, keep in mind, this list is subjective.  As one person, there are several albums that I have not yet had the opportunity to hear- including a few of the more popular releases. I missed out on Adele's 21, Drake's Take Care, and Jay-Z/Kanye West's Watch the Throne (although I did finally pop this one in last night- wow!)-records which have been perennially favorites on many year-end lists.

Anyway, on we go.

 

100. Red Hot Chili Peppers- "Brendan’s Death Song"- I'm With You



99. Pictureplane- "Post Physical"- Thee Physical
Post Physical by PICTUREPLANE

98. Twin Shadow- "Tyrant Shadow"- Forget


97. Moby- "Be the One"- Destroyed
Be The One by thelittleidiot

96. Braids- "Plath Heart"- Native Speaker
Braids - Plath Heart by snipelondon

95. Team Me- "Weathervanes and Chemicals"- Team Me EP
Team Me - Weathervanes And Chemicals by MathiasMathias

94. Balam Acab- "Oh, My"- Wander/Wonder
Oh, Why by BALAM ACAB

93. Nicolas Jaar- "Space is Only Noise If You Can See"- Space is Only Noise 
Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise If You Can See by La Boite à Moustache

92. SBTRKT- "Golddigger"- SBTRKT
SBTRKT - Golddigger by sbtrkt

91. TV on the Radio- "No Future Shock"- Nine Types of Light


90. The Field- "Looping State of Mind"- Looping State of Mind
Looping State Of Mind - The Field by Juan Antonio Zertuche

89. Twin Sister- "Saturday Sunday"- In Heaven
Twin Sister - Saturday Sunday (Live @ WNYU) by lizpelly

88. Austra- "Darken Her Horse"- Feel it Break
Darken Her Horse by Austra by goincase

87. Best Coast- "Boyfriend"- Crazy For You
Best Coast: Boyfriend by -gaga

86. Grooms- "Prom"- Prom
Grooms 'Prom' by kaninerecords

85. Wild Beasts- "Bed of Nails"- Smother
Wild Beasts - Bed of Nails by forerunner

84. Zomby featuring Panda Bear- "Things Fall Apart"- Dedication
Zomby - Things Fall Apart [ft. Panda Bear] by Pretty Much Amazing

83. Modeselektor featuring Thom Yorke- "Shipwreck"- Monkeytown
02. Shipwreck With Thom Yorke - Modeselektor by Republic of Music

82. Ford and Lopatin- "I Surrender"- Channel Pressure
11 - I Surrender (feat. Autre Ne Veut) by Ford & Lopatin

81. Biosphere- "Genkai-1"- N-Plants
Biosphere - genkai-1 by diesi7

80. Dirty Beaches- "A Hundred Highways"- Badlands Dirty Beaches - A Hundred Highways by valterbarreira


79. Digitalism- "Just Gazin"- I Love You, Dude





78. Little Dragon- "Ritual Union"- Ritual Union Ritual Union by Little Dragon



77. Real Estate- "Green Aisles"- Days Real Estate - Green Aisles by DominoRecordCo



76. Bon Iver- "Perth"- Bon Iver Real Estate - Green Aisles by DominoRecordCo


75. Battles- "Sundome- Featuring Yamantaka Eye"- Gloss Drop



74. TV on the Radio- "Repetition"- Nine Types of Light





73. Toro Y Moi- "New Beat"- Underneath the Pine Toro Y Moi - New Beat by thesubs-blog




72. Grimes- "Vanessa"- Darkbloom Grimes - Vanessa by crypticvalentine




71- Noel Gallagher- "Everybody on the Run"- Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds- Noel Gallagher - Everybody on the run by Mike Gallagher Hdz


70- Phantogram- "Don’t Move"- Nightlife Phantogram - Don´t Move by homoheadphonico


69- Burial- "Street Halo"- Street Halo


68- Fleet Foxes- "Lorelai"- Helplessness Blues Fleet Foxes - Lorelai by Republic of Music


67- Cut Copy- "Sun God"- Zonoscope Cut Copy - Sun God by modularpeople


66- Wild Beasts- "Reach a Bit Further"- Smother Wild Beasts / Reach A Bit Further by Constellations Festival


65- Arctic Monkeys- "Don’t Sit Down 'Caused I've Moved Your Chair"- Suck It and See Arctic Monkeys - Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair by theinsound


64- Foster the People- "Helena Beat"- Torches


63- The Antlers- "Parentheses"- Burst Apart The Antlers - Parentheses by Frenchkiss


62- Atlas Sound- "My Angel is Broken"- Parallax Atlas Sound - My Angel Is Broken by Surfing on Steam


61- Com Truise- "VHS Sex"- Galactic Melt Com Truise - VHS Sex by Surfing on Steam



60- Twin Shadow- "I Can’t Wait"- Forget
Twin Shadow - I Can't Wait by Juan Guitaro

59- Zola Jesus- "Seekir"- Conatus
Seekir by ZolaJesus

58- Pictureplane- "Real is a Feeling"- Post Physical
Real is a Feeling by PICTUREPLANE

57- Arrange- "When’d You Find Me"- Plantation
Arrange - When'd You Find Me by dangervillage

56- Elbow- "The Birds"- Build a Rocket Boys!
ELBOW 'The Birds' from album 'Build a Rocket Boys!' by KidTwist

55- The Weeknd- "The Morning"- House of Balloons
The Weeknd - The Morning by The_Weeknd

54- Active Child- "Hanging On"- You Are All I See Active Child: 'Hanging On' by Ragged Words

53- tUnE-yArDs- "Powa"- who kill
Powa - Tune Yards by CaballeroDeMartin

52- Modeselektor- "German Clap"- Monkeytown

51- Neon Indian- "Polish Girl"- Era Extrana

Neon Indian - Polish Girl by deejlr

 

50- Purity Ring- "Belispeak"- Split 7"

Belispeak by PURITY RING

49- Washed Out- "Echoes"- Within and Without
Washed Out - Echoes by ListenBeforeYouBuy

48- Other Lives- "Desert"- Tamer Animals
Desert by Other Lives

47- Reptar- "Stuck in My Id"- Oblangle Fizz Y'all
Reptar - Stuck in my Id by j.co413

46- The Antlers- "Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out"- Burst Apart
The Antlers - Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out by mjvisme

45- Grimes- "Sagrad"- Halfaxa
Grimes - Sagrad by my.monkey

44- The Strokes- "Under Cover of Darkness"- Angles
The Strokes - Under Cover Of Darkness by d_antec

43- M83- "Year One, Year UFO"- Hurry Up, We're Dreaming


42- Zomby- "Natalia’s Song"- Dedication
Zomby - Natalia's Song by marsbars

41- Radiohead- "Separator"- The King of Limbs

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Roomdance track, "Silver Mine" Available for Free Download



Columbia's very own Roomdance is offering a new track as a free download for a limited time via Post-Echo (www.Post-Echo.com).  Make sure to get on it while you still can. After all, everyone knows that nothing says holiday spirit quite like the sinister ambience of Roomdance.  
 
"Silver Mine" combines the sedating paranoia found on the Vulpine Creep EP, with more melodic elements.  Waves of shimmering synths form an experience that is euphoric, unsettling, and undeniably Roomdance.  Stream "Silver Mine" below. 

Post-Echo: The Audio/Visual Experiment LIVE with Roomdance/Forces of a Street



On 12/3/2011, Art Bar hosted Post-Echo: The Audio/Visual Experiment featuring live performances from Roomdance, Forces of a Street, Cassangles, as well as visual contributions from local artists- Jason Stroud, Joel Floyd, Jessica Diaz, and Johnny Timmons. It was indeed an experience to be remembered. If you missed out, here's some footage of the event.  For further coverage of the artists involved with this event, visit www.Post-Echo.com .





 

New Single from Forces of a Street- "Scope"



Columbia's very own Forces of a Street release the first single from their upcoming, full-length LP, Pro Icarus- via Post-Echo (www.Post-Echo.com). Have a listen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011 was an interesting year for music. Great sounds were thankfully everywhere- but songs, as opposed to albums, became suddenly more memorable. While there is no doubt that 2011 was an exciting time for full-length releases, more and more artists seemed to be embracing the idea of the single and crafting an album around it. Due to this apparent evolution, I will be counting down my top 100 songs of 2011. The rules are simple- obviously the track must have first been released in this current year. Also, no one album can have more than three songs make an appearance. Also, keep in mind, this list is subjective- I have not yet had the opportunity to listen to some of this year's more popular releases.The new Jay-Z/Kanye West collaboration, Watch the Throne will not be making an appearance. Adele's 21 and Drake's Take Care were not taken into account either.

Anyway, on we go.




100. Red Hot Chili Peppers- "Brendan's Death Song"- I'm With You




99. Pictureplane- "Post Physical"- Thee Physical



98. Twin Shadow- "Tyrant Shadow"- Forget
97. Moby- "Be the One"- Destroyed




96. Braids- "Plath Heart"- Native Speaker



95. Team Me- "Weathervanes and Chemicals"- Team Me




94. Balam Acab- "Oh, Why"- Wander/Wonder



93. Nicolas Jaar- "Space Is Only Noise If You Can See"- Space is Only Noise


92. SBTRKT- "Pharoahs"- SBTRKT


91. TV on the Radio- "No Future Shock"- Nine Types of Light



90. The Field- "Looping State of Mind"- Looping State of Mind




89. Twin Sister- "Saturday Sunday"- In Heaven


http://soundcloud.com/lizpelly/twin-sister-saturday-sunday-live-wnyu by lizpelly


88. Austra- "Darken Her Horse"- Feel It Break


Darken Her Horse by Austra by goincase

87. Best Coast- "Girlfriend"- Crazy For You


86. Grooms- "Prom"- Prom



85. Wild Beasts- "Bed of Nails"- Smother


Wild Beasts - Bed of Nails by forerunner


84. Zomby- "Things Fall Apart"- Dedication


83. Modeselektor feat. Thom Yorke- "Shipwreck"- Monkeytown



82. Ford and Lopatin- "I Surrender- Channel Pressure



81. Biosphere- "Genkai-1"- N-Plants


 

- Fr. Jones

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seasons of Change

[caption id="attachment_4231" align="alignleft" width="147" caption="By Harvey Elwood Jr."][/caption]

Every so often as segments of human-kind become less and less selfish, movements emerge that change and inspire thousands and then millions, towards the understanding that by working together change is possible, necessary, needed and even possible.



So as we continue to visit and communicate with family, friends and neighbors near and far during this wonderful season of holiday, we are reminded that the history of faith is founded on the idea of unselfish kindness, love and the importance of mankind working through our problems and moving forward to find and serve our better selves.



During recent time’s two significant and emerging movements - the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have captured our attention and imagination, just as major change continues to takes place around the world. Governments not willing to change are now challenged by people “no longer taken in by petty artificial distractions” - willing to take their fight for job’s, justice and equality to the streets.



One movement has already changed the political landscape, while the other continues to define itself working to remove big bank corporate money and foreign multi-national interest out of politics and government.



These groups are people for the most part that are hurting and tired of the status quo, which seems frozen in its ability to fix the numerous problems we face as a nation.



With all the big money, bribes, hidden political investments and ramped corruption, it’s hard to know who’s really behind all the ineptitude - “but at least the American people are starting to pay attention”



But in a state that ranks 45th at the bottom of this country, in education, public health, poverty, and families most in need, it’s no wonder that most Carolinians have not joined either movement in force. It maybe we just don’t know who to blame for problems that seem irreversible.  “But one thing for sure, we’ve stopped blaming each other and that’s a good thing”



The time spent by politicians with lobbyist, media consultants, private corporation sponsored lunches, dinners, trips and getting the rest of us to hate one another, would be better time spent forming real task forces that fix the problems the American people hired them for.



As we mark the 2012th anniversary of the birth of Christ, perhaps now would be a good time to reflect on what many understand as the mission of his life, as explained in the gospels, regarding our national condition, how we treat, respect and look out for all our neighbors and how His life of activism and involvement changed to course of the world and our thinking.



And so as we continue to share in this season of giving, having just awoken from a long sleep of non - active involvement; just maybe we’ll begin and in many cases continue to wake each day and ask ourselves how much better we make the world for ourselves and those we might happen to meet along the way, as an unselfish personal assignment of service to others that is truly Christ-like.



■ Harvey Elwood, Jr. of Orangeburg, - is a Semi-retired educator and host of “New Perspectives” a weekly public affairs and information show aired on WSSB 90.3FM. 


Feds Link Water Contamination to Fracking for the First Time

by Abrahm Lustgarten and Nicholas Kusnetz, ProPublica

In a first, federal environment officials today scientifically linked underground water pollution with hydraulic fracturing, concluding that contaminants found in central Wyoming were likely caused by the gas drilling process.


The findings by the Environmental Protection Agency come partway through a separate national study by the agency to determine whether fracking presents a risk to water resources.


In the 121-page draft report released today, EPA officials said that the contamination near the town of Pavillion, Wyo., had most likely seeped up from gas wells and contained at least 10 compounds [1] known to be used in frack fluids.


“The presence of synthetic compounds such as glycol ethers … and the assortment of other organic components is explained as the result of direct mixing of hydraulic fracturing fluids with ground water in the Pavillion gas field,” the draft report states. “Alternative explanations were carefully considered.”


The agency’s findings could be a turning point in the heated national debate about whether contamination from fracking is happening, and are likely to shape how the country regulates and develops natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale and across the Eastern Appalachian states.


Some of the findings in the report also directly contradict longstanding arguments by the drilling industry for why the fracking process is safe: that hydrologic pressure would naturally force fluids down, not up; that deep geologic layers provide a watertight barrier preventing the movement of chemicals towards the surface; and that the problems with the cement and steel barriers around gas wells aren’t connected to fracking.


Environmental advocates greeted today’s report with a sense of vindication and seized the opportunity to argue for stronger federal regulation of fracking.


“No one can accurately say that there is ‘no risk’ where fracking is concerned,” wrote Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, on her blog. “This draft report makes obvious that there are many factors at play, any one of which can go wrong. Much stronger rules are needed to ensure that well construction standards are stronger and reduce threats to drinking water.”


A spokesman for EnCana, the gas company that owns the Pavillion wells, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In an email exchange after the EPA released preliminary water test data two weeks ago [2], the spokesman, Doug Hock, denied that the company’s actions were to blame for the pollution and suggested it was naturally caused.


“Nothing EPA presented suggests anything has changed since August of last year– the science remains inconclusive in terms of data, impact, and source,” Hock wrote. “It is also important to recognize the importance of hydrology and geology with regard to the sampling results in the Pavillion Field. The field consists of gas-bearing zones in the near subsurface, poor general water quality parameters and discontinuous water-bearing zones.”


The EPA’s findings immediately triggered what is sure to become a heated political debate as members of Congress consider afresh proposals to regulate fracking. After a phone call with EPA chief Lisa Jackson this morning, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., told a Senate panel that he found the agency’s report on the Pavillion-area contamination “offensive.” Inhofe’s office had challenged the EPA’s investigation in Wyoming last year, accusing the agency of bias.


Residents began complaining of fouled water near Pavillion in the mid-1990s, and the problems appeared to get worse around 2004. Several residents complained that their well water turned brown shortly after gas wells were fracked nearby [3], and, for a time, gas companies operating in the area supplied replacement drinking water to residents.


Beginning in 2008, the EPA took water samples from resident’s drinking water wells, finding hydrocarbons and traces of contaminants that seemed like they could be related to fracking [4]. In 2010, another round of sampling confirmed the contamination, and the EPA, along with federal health officials, cautioned residents not to drink their water and to ventilate their homes [5] when they bathed because the methane in the water could cause an explosion.


To confirm their findings, EPA investigators drilled two water monitoring wells to 1,000 feet. The agency released data from these test wells in November that confirmed high levels of carcinogenic chemicals [2] such as benzene, and a chemical compound called 2 Butoxyethanol, which is known to be used in fracking.


Still, the EPA had not drawn conclusions based on the tests and took pains to separate its groundwater investigation in Wyoming from the national controversy around hydraulic fracturing. Agriculture, drilling, and old pollution from waste pits left by the oil and gas industry were all considered possible causes of the contamination.


In the report released today, the EPA said that pollution from 33 abandoned oil and gas waste pits – which are the subject of a separate cleanup program – are indeed responsible for some degree of shallow groundwater pollution in the area. Those pits may be the source of contamination affecting at least 42 private water wells in Pavillion. But the pits could not be blamed for contamination detected in the water monitoring wells 1,000 feet underground.


That contamination, the agency concluded, had to have been caused by fracking.


The EPA’s findings in Wyoming are specific to the region’s geology; the Pavillion-area gas wells were fracked at shallower depths than many of the wells in the Marcellus shale and elsewhere.


Investigators tested the cement and casing of the gas wells and found what they described as “sporadic bonding” of the cement in areas immediately above where fracking took place. The cement barrier meant to protect the well bore and isolate the chemicals in their intended zone had been weakened and separated from the well, the EPA concluded.


The report also found that hydrologic pressure in the Pavillion area had pushed fluids from deeper geologic layers towards the surface. Those layers were not sufficient to provide a reliable barrier to contaminants moving upward, the report says.


Throughout its investigation in Wyoming, The EPA was hamstrung by a lack of disclosure about exactly what chemicals had been used to frack the wells near Pavillion. EnCana declined to give federal officials a detailed breakdown of every compound used underground. The agency relied instead on more general information supplied by the company to protect workers’ health.


Hock would not say whether EnCana had used 2 BE, one of the first chemicals identified in Pavillion and known to be used in fracking, at its wells in Pavillion. But he was dismissive of its importance in the EPA’s findings. “There was a single detection of 2-BE among all the samples collected in the deep monitoring wells. It was found in one sample by only one of three labs,” he wrote in his reply to ProPublica two weeks ago. “Inconsistency in detection and non-repeatability shouldn't be construed as fact.”


The EPA’s draft report will undergo a public review and peer review process, and is expected to be finalized by spring.




Our Reading Guide on Congressional Dysfunction

by Lois Beckett, ProPublica

Congress’ approval rating is abysmal [1], and the failure of the congressional “super committee [2]” to find a compromise on reducing the national debt has set off a new round of recriminations.

One senator on the super committee, Democrat Max Baucus of Montana, told The Washington Post [3], “We’re at a time in American history where everybody's afraid — afraid of losing their job — to move toward the center. A deadline is insufficient. You’ve got to have people who are willing to move.”

Decrying partisanship is almost as old as the republic itself. But longtime observers say Congress has actually taken a turn for the worse [4] — with more gridlock, more grandstanding, less compromise to get things done.

Old rules are being used in newly aggressive, partisan ways [5], and routine Congressional activities have become politicized — most notably, the vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling [6]. Once a nonissue, it brought the nation to the brink of default.

As former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards points out, “Leaders of both chambers have embraced the strategy of precluding minority amendments [7], out of fear that even members of the majority party might vote for them.” This means, Edwards argues, that “to be in the minority is essentially to be made a nonfactor in the legislative process.”

The use of filibusters to block votes in the Senate used to be a last-ditch tactic [8], but in 2010, Republicans were filibustering even routine Democratic initiatives, effectively paralyzing the Senate [9]. Democrats had previously ramped up [9] the use of filibusters to oppose George W. Bush’s agenda, but Republicans “appeared to be taking the filibuster to a new level,” McClatchy Newspapers reported, even filibustering “15 nominees to mid-level jobs that formerly got routine approval.” Here is a helpful bar graph [9] from McClatchy showing the trend. (Efforts to overhaul the filibuster [10] earlier this year failed.)

The confirmation process of many of President Obama’s nominees [11] has also lagged, creating gaps in the Treasury and Federal Reserve [12], leaving regulatory agencies without leaders [11]. It has also resulted in prolonged judicial vacancies [13], which has sparked criticism from Chief Justice John G. Roberts [14], who said the delays are impairing the judicial system.

How exactly did it get so bad? Here’s our reading guide to a few smart, in-depth explanations of how Congress became so dysfunctional.

There’s a bigger partisan divide between voters — and members of Congress

Norman Ornstein’s Foreign Policy article — “Worst. Congress. Ever.” [15] — provides a helpful overview of what’s the matter, from a man who’s been a Congressional expert for decades. (Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann co-wrote a 2006 book, "The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track." [16])

Ornstein explains that the nation's partisan makeup has changed dramatically since the late 1960s, when the country was less divided between red and blue states. Conservative Democrats from the South and liberal Republicans from the North regularly crossed party lines on different policy issues [17].

Since then, both parties have consolidated geographically — and become more homogenous and more partisan.

Looking at Congressional voting records in 2010, the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein found that the most left-leaning Republican senator still voted more to the right than the most conservative Democrat [18]. The House, too, had an unprecedented level of polarization, with most politicians voting in lockstep with their parties.

This makes life easier for party leaders, Republican Trent Lott, the former Senate majority leader from Mississippi, said, but “in terms of getting things done for the country, that’s not the case.” (Brownstein is the author of a helpful book on polarization, "The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America." [19])

And the partisan divide isn’t just in Congress. As Bill Bishop documented in his book "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart," [20] voters are likelier to live in politically homogenous counties. “In 1976, only about a quarter of America's voters lived in a county a presidential candidate won by a landslide margin. By 2004, it was nearly half,” Bishop found.

Members of Congress are raising money instead of building working relationships in D.C.

In the Boston Review’s "Fixing Congress" [21] issue, Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee (recently named the House’s “last moderate [22]” by New York Times columnist Joe Nocera) wrote a detailed chronology of how fundraising has changed Congress [23].

In the 1980s, Cooper argues, most members of Congress lived in Washington with their families and socialized with each other across party lines. Hotly contested campaigns cost only a few hundred thousand dollars, and political parties did not expect that politicians would make donations to their colleagues.

Cooper blames former House Majority Leader and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich for changing this restrained culture.

“Gingrich ordered freshman Republicans not to move their families to Washington, D.C., because he thought they needed to campaign full-time at home,” Cooper wrote. “Soon everyone belonged to the Tuesday–Thursday Club. Members became strangers, the easier for them to fight.”

Cooper isn’t the only one to emphasize Gingrich’s role. Edwards, the former Congressman, told the Associated Press [24] that Gingrich “greatly increased the party-versus-party polarization.” According to Edwards, Gingrich pushed his fellow Republicans to focus less on actually making laws and more on being “a champion of the Republican cause, constantly at war, defeating Democrats."

Cooper notes that campaigns now cost millions of dollars, and that members of Congress are expected to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in party dues, as well as to make large donations to other candidates in their party.

George Packer’s New Yorker story on Senate dysfunction [25] — perhaps the most vivid and comprehensive take on this issue — also elaborates on the impact that fundraising pressure has on senators.

“Of any free time you have, I would say 50 percent, maybe even more,” is spent on fundraising, one senator told Packer. “It sucks up time that a senator ought to be spending getting to know other senators, working on issues,” another said.

Congress’ culture is also more combative because it’s more competitive

In his Boston Review article, “Ending the Permanent Campaign,” Ornstein notes that this hyper-focus on fundraising and campaigning is related to the new competitiveness of Congress [26]. Democrats had a “stranglehold” on the House of Representatives for four decades. After Republicans seized control of the House in 1994, each election “now provides a plausible scenario for a power shift.” Campaigning has grown in importance because the stakes are higher.

Writing in response to Cooper in the Boston Review, [27] Dana Houle, the former chief of staff to former Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes, argued that comparing Congress today with Congress in the 1980s, as Cooper does, isn’t quite fair. It was because a single party reliably dominated the House that Congress members could “spend more time in Washington, D.C., focus on legislating, and build relationships with fellow members. Serving in Congress is easier and probably more rewarding when one does not face a strong possibility of defeat in every election.”

24/7 media scrutiny of Congressional drama has intensified while local news coverage has declined

Packer’s New Yorker article on the Senate [28] also highlighted how good, old C-SPAN may have made things worse. “After C-SPAN went on the air, in 1979, the cozy atmosphere that encouraged both deliberation and back-room deals began to yield to transparency and, with it, posturing,” Packer wrote.

(One 2003 study, looking at the years 1959-98, found that the presence of television cameras on the legislative floor [29] correlated with an increase in Senate filibusters.)

Financial shakeups in the media business, including the decline and even bankruptcy of regional newspapers, also have changed political coverage. In 2010, while he was still in office, former Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut told Packer, “I used to have 11 Connecticut newspaper reporters who covered me on a daily basis. I don’t have one today, and haven’t had one in a number of years. Instead, D.C. publications only see me through the prism of conflict.”

Dysfunction’s potential silver lining

Of course, a stalled Congress might not be such a bad thing, depending on your perspective. William J. Bennett argues [30] that gridlock is a side effect of an ideological divide on policy issues. “We are in the midst of a serious philosophical battle over the future of this country — a battle between a small, limited government system and a big government entitlement state,” Bennett wrote as part of a CNN series called “Why is our government so broken?" He concluded: “Don't mistake broken government for the growing pains of a democratic republic.”