Sunday, August 31, 2008

When The Levees Broke

As Hurricane Gustav bears down on the Gulf Coast, take 10:51 to view the video below, which dispels certain myths about Hurricane Katrina:
  1. Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster. As the video points out, Katrina was an engineering disaster.
  2. New Orleans is in the wrong place. New Orleans lies 125 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and -- until they were dredged -- protected by a vast screen of wetlands.
  3. New Orleans is below sea level. While some parts of the city are below sea level, so are parts of many other cities and countries, including New York, London, and 24% of Holland. 
  4. Because of New Orleans' unique geography, this can't happen anywhere else. In fact, many municipalities depend on functioning levees. For example, Sacramento is at particular risk.
  5. Authorities are aware of the problems and working to fix them. The Army Corps of Engineers has done nothing to change its mode of operation.
For more, see

Sarah Palin: Tough on polar bears, tough on wolves, tough on the environment, tough on Darwin, tough on science. But if you've committed incest or rape, don't worry: Your child is safe...

McCain's choice offends Gail Collins of The New York Times, although she hasn't lost her sense of humor: "McCain does not believe in pandering to identity politics. He was looking for someone who was well prepared to fight against international Islamic extremism, the transcendent issue of our time. And in the end he decided that in good conscience, he was not going to settle for anyone who had not been commander of a state national guard for at least a year and a half. He put down his foot!..."

The International Herald Tribune features a summary of both candidates' positions on a number of issues...

Don't Gel Too Soon urges Clinton supporters to back Obama and recalls the consequences of sitting out a critical election...

Don't miss the weekly summary of election issues on As Time Goes By...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

When The Levee Breaks

Lest we forget.

Friday's Choice on Saturday:
Led Zeppelin performs "When The Levee Breaks" behind a montage of Katrina videos and photographs:

R&B singer Howard Tate does the same with "Louisiana 1927:"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Speech

I thought the speech was terrific. I haven't heard anything like it since Ted Kennedy's convention address in 1980, and I've never heard an acceptance speech this effective. Apparently, Obama has spent the last six weeks playing political rope-a-dope, inviting McCain to show what he has so that it can be turned against him.

  • The ringing, defiant cry of "Enough!"
  • The early shot at the lack of judgement shown by McCain in voting in accordance with Bush 90% of the time
  • Jumping on Phil Gramm's "nation of whiners" remark by rallying to people like laid-off autoworkers who show up until their last day to make safety brakes 
  • Ownership "means you're on your own"
But this was just the fun stuff. What resonated most was the carefully constructed discourse on the roles and responsibilities of individuals and government and their interrelation to each other. Obama depicted a society of individuals doing their part while being let down at every turn by a Republican administration that has responded poorly -- if at all -- to virtually every challenge facing the country. Obama argued convincingly that choosing John McCain is choosing more of the same -- an out-of-touch president who simply doesn't get the importance of investing in clean air, repairing the country's infrastructure, achieving energy independence, and creating jobs. He deftly wove his personal story into the mix, showing himself as a typical American made good and who wants to give back.

I also liked the idea of taking the attack to McCain by linking the question of experience with the issue of temperament. McCain's temper is legendary -- his wife has sure seen it -- and Obama has just about forced McCain to either abandon the experience argument or to make it on Obama's terms.

Also strong was Obama's caution that the Republicans -- with little to actually run on -- will try mightily to make this critical election about small things. Another deft rhetorical strategy, this time taking on the "different than us" demagoguery. He pledged not to attack McCain's foreign policy proposals as politically motivated and dared McCain to treat his with the same respect. He drove home the point with the emphatic  "I've got news for you John McCain: We all put our country first."

All in all, Obama gave a forceful, bravura performance that laid out a stark choice between one candidate and party eager and ready to take on the challenges of the future against opponents who are out of touch reality...

TV ratings beat out the Oscars and the "American Idol" finale. There were nearly double the number of viewers than watched John Kerry's acceptance speech. People want to know who this man is and they want to vote for him...

More great pictures here...

What the? McCain's bizarre choice of Arizona governor Sarah Palin is beyond weird. For one thing, it's a mockery of his own argument that Obama lacks the experience to be president. In Palin's case, we're talking about someone whose resume is so thin that it includes her PTA membership. Aside from her two years governing Alaska, she was mayor and "city" councilwoman in Wasilla (pop. 8471). Plus, can he seriously believe that the sight of a 44-year old woman next to a 72-year old man will rally women voters to his side? The R's desperately spin this as a bold gamble, but to me it's more evidence of McCain's poor judgement...

Back Home

I'm back from a couple of days in Austin, where I visited friends and attended Danny Young's memorial service.  The downtown church filled with the friends of a life more than well-spent. A couple of Danny's favorite songs (Dylan's "When The Deal Goes Down" and Ernest Tubb's "Waltz Across Texas") opened and closed the service, which also included singings of "Danny Boy" and "I'll Fly Away." Neighbors, colleagues, ministers, and his grand children read moving tributes, and we all sang "Amazing Grace." Readings included two of Danny's favorites, Matthew 25: 34-40 and Matthew 5: 14-16. If anything could sum up the man, it's these: The light of the world giving to the least of his brothers with a huge smile and a bear hug. The reception at Antone's overflowed, exceeding fire marshall limits. Today, Michael Corcoran of the Austin American-Statesman selected lines and phrases from the on-line tributes and reminiscences and assembled this poem...

Not only did I reunite with old friends, I met a new one: PWALLY (a.k.a. Hrrmph!) met Cafe Nita Lou and I for lunch. We had a great time. It's terrific to think of this skein of blog friendships being formed and forged...

Otherwise, I ate at some good old Austin restaurants -- Guero's, Artz Rib House, and Threadgill's (meat loaf, spinach casserole, yam fries, and pecan pie for lunch) -- and picked up Fonda San Miguel's beautiful new cookbook for Premium T....

I will try to blog during the speech tonight. So far, it's been a good convention. Hillary Clinton really came through. Her recital of the people she's met on the campaign followed by the challenge to her supporters -- "Were you voting for me or for them?" -- has been the rhetorical highlight of the convention. Plus, her "keep it going" mantra was a diplomatic and effective way of delivering the "move on" message. For all of the talk about tensions on the floor and Hillary's most dedicated supporters voting for McCain, neither are actually much in evidence...

Let's face it, this is the real problem facing not only Obama, but the whole country: "Race is a tool that is used to divide working people." It has been since the cursed introduction of slavery to American shores, and there's no reason to think it will stop now...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Funnies & So Much More

Joe Biden has never been my favorite Democrat -- like many of us, he talks too much, plus he blew the Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito hearings -- but nonetheless I think he'll make a good candidate for vice-president and a good veep. He has more stature than any available person in either party, he relish campaigning in the national spotlight, he's intelligent, and his presence addresses the perception of a so-called (and greatly overrated) experience gap between Obama and McCain...

Last night, Premium T. and I saw the Monsters of the Accordion (including our friend Amy Denio) at Fremont Abbey. Calling the place an "abbey" is a more than a little bit of a stretch, although T. was correct in pointing out that the floor felt like stone. Amy dedicated her song "Ballintubber Abbey" to us; she wrote it while staying at Carrowholly last winter. You can hear it here. After, we had dinner at Brad's Swingside Cafe, where Brad's wife, the County Mayo-born artist Helen O'Toole, stopped by our table for a chat. Brad's is one of those places where you feel like you're eating at someone's home. A home, that is, with an extensive wine list and medallions of organic lamb and venison fricasee for dinner...

Don't miss Sunday Election Issues at As Time Goes By. It provides links to elder blogger perspectives on the election, including this fascinating view from Germany. For example: "...the press would like to say that people came to hear Obama speak because they think he is a rock star. It just is not so. They are curious about his so-called rock star status, but they travelled from far and wide to hear him speak about history, politics, and his vision for America. Is it so hard to believe that hundreds of thousands of people are interested in such matters?" Maybe not in Germany...

Here's my idea of an abbey...

John McCain shows off his knowledge of technology and film history here...

Don't miss Bottle Shock, a delightful indie film about the events leading up to a 1976 blind wine tasting in which upstart California wines beat out established French vineyards. It's nothing that sports movies haven't been doing for years, but the wine country milieu adds a little extra something for the palate...

Good ol' Dick Cheney: Anything to help a pal...

Leonard Pitts writes movingly of the film Katrina's Children. It won't be coming to a theatre near you, but you can get it here. "We forget that children are in the room...We push our agendas and assign our blame and impose our narratives and forget that they are right there, taking it in. Yet, if some of them were failed by schools, community and family, all were failed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the mayor, the governor, the emergency-management director, and the president. And don't think they don't know"...

Rick Warren didn't understand his own question, writes Paul Krugman, who then explains the difference between Bill Gates rich, super rich, rich, and the middle class. He also points out that the Obama tax plan retains the middle class provisions of the Bush tax cuts...

Anna Quindlen explains who is really playing the "race card," although she finds "Caucasian card" to be a more apt descriptor. "The McCain forces have accused the Democrats of injecting race into the campaign. That's silly. The man [Obama] is black. His candidacy is indivisible from that fact, given the history and pathology of this country. When Obama said he did not look like the guys on our currency and that his opponents were likely to portray him as the Other, he was stating the obvious."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Don't Make It Bad

Friday's Choice: Seven minutes of greatness: The Beatles sing "Hey Jude."

I remember seeing this on The Smothers Brothers (back in 1967) like it was yesterday. I can honestly say that here are seven minutes of television changed my life. If you're of a certain age and can watch the shots of John and George singing together without a lump catching in your throat then you must be visiting from another universe.

And now for the B-side! Dig George's burnt-orange mock turtleneck. Hook 'em, George!

Thanks, Mouse!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Mayor Of South Austin

We all know or know of Hillary Clinton women supporters saying that they won't vote for Barack Obama under any circumstances. Never mind that John McCain wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, never mind that he called his wife an obscene name in public, never mind that he left his crippled first wife to marry a wealthy younger woman. McCain didn't do the unforgivable, namely derailing the Hillary juggernaut. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick calls these women "Hillary Harridans," and argues that they hold feminism up to ridicule...

Clinton diehard have formed the unfortunately named PUMA (as in cougar) pac...

"Let's see, I think it' wouldn't be right...four, seven maybe...I'll have to get back to you on this one." Man-of-the-people John McCain doesn't know exactly how many homes he has...

Supporting the troops can get you fired. Just another example of the gaping chasm between reality and an empty slogan...

Wish I Were There Dept: The James Burton International Guitar Festival starts tomorrow in Shreveport. You may not know the name of James Burton, but chances are that you've heard him. In a career dating back to the Fifties, he's played for Elvis (Presley and Costello), the Everly Brothers, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ricky Nelson, Emmylou Harris, John Denver, and even The Monkees. Among others, that is...

R. I. P., Danny Young. Every now and then, fortune graces the world with someone whose existence makes it a better place, who makes every life he touches the better for it. I've been proud to count Danny Young among my friends since since I went to work for him 34 years ago. (Three of my four brothers followed.)  "The Mayor Of South Austin" died yesterday at age 67, leaving a lifetime of good will behind. Danny was a restauranteur, a community activist, a musician, a tireless booster of South Austin and Austin music, and terrific friend. A few years ago, he helped T.'s son with a school project simply because I asked him to. His restaurant had a picture of my then one-year old son poking his head through the door from the day it opened until the day Danny retired. He was always glad to see you. Read more about the life of this wonderful human being here and here. And don't miss Danny playing rub board for the Cornell Hurd Band, shown here performing in the parking lot of Texicalli Grille, Danny's restaurant and the hub of South Austin:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Immigrant Song

You know what chaps me? Illegal immigrants, that's what. Not only do they sponge off of us taxpaying Americans, now they're winning gold medals that are rightfully ours. Sure, the kid was actually born here, but that's a loophole in the Constitution that right thinkers (and I do mean right) know should be closed. 

Seriously, here you have a kid so grateful for his opportunity in this country that he literally wraps himself in the flag despite. Henry Cejudo's mother works her fingers to the bone doing the kinds of jobs no one else will do to keep her family together. The family is so poor that Henry had never slept in a bed until he went to the Olympic Training Center. And yet the right would deport his mother in a second and denies her the small dignity of a driver's license. (Incidentally, wouldn't we all be safer if illegal immigrants could get licenses?)...

Joseph O'Connor, brother of Sinead and an outstanding novelist in his own right, remembers Ronnie Drew...

The Reuters-Zogby poll gives McCain a five-point lead over Obama. Before we sink into gloom and doom, let's remember that no other poll has McCain ahead. Also, this period is sort of like spring training: The regular season doesn't start until after the conventions. Any results either way have limited meaning. Author and Political Science professor Tom Holbrook explains why here...

In the R-Z poll, people give McCain the edge in handling the economy. I realize that people are looking for a reason to vote against Obama, but voting to extend the economic policies of the last eight years is a mighty slender reed...

Woo Hoo! Dept: Rachel Maddow gets her own show on MSNBC!...

I am sociologically curious to see how people respond to the Democratic convention. By any normal measure, I have no doubt that it will be well-staged and managed. However, the very sight of a young, charismatic African-American politician will scare some people. Hopefully, not enough to make a difference...

My niece in action:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Katrina Fatigue

Foxessa takes advantage of a New York Times article about post-Katrina documentaries to discuss the phenomena of "Katrina fatigue." I'm reminded of having to read Kierkegaard in a philosophy class. Old Soren is tough sledding to say the least, and the class was restive. The professor asked how many of us thought that Kierkegaard was unimportant and would just as soon move on to something else. Almost everyone in the class raised his or her hand. The professor sat back, crossed his arms, and told that Kierkegaard was important and that he was going to talk about Kierkegaard until we agreed.

Well, damn it, Katrina is important. You can bet that every one of our fellow Americans who lived through it are more fatigued than the rest of us are, but they can't escape it. It may seem odd that a blogger in the Pacific Northwest who has never lived in New Orleans keeps ragging on it. Hell, sometimes it seems odd to me. But what happened in New Orleans has meaning to us all, as does what continues to happen and not happen. 

Katrina represents a complete and abject failure of the decades-long federal policy of paying for a defense establishment at the expense of our own crumbling infrastructure

Katrina represents a complete and abject failure of the philosophy of letting the states handle everything so that wealthy conservatives can give themselves a tax rebate. 

Katrina represents the complete and abject failure of the Army Corps of Engineers, entrusted with damn and levee maintenance all over the country.

Katrina represents a complete and abject failure of the notion that this country is above the problems of class. 

Katrina represents a complete and abject failure of the claim that we have moved beyond the problems of race. 

Above all, Katrina represents a complete and abject failure of the operative definition of freedom in this country, which has devolved to the concept that freedom means acquiring as much as you can and doing whatever you want to with it while avoiding any responsibility for the common welfare.

Katrina also represents an institutional disdain for the history of our country. New Orleans is fantastically important in that regard. a point that one rarely sees mentioned in any article about Katrina. New Orleans is one of the oldest cities in America, filled with architectural treasures. The music you listen to and the recipes you consume likely have roots in New Orleans. It's a part of us whether we know it or not.

Katrina could represent a triumph of local, state, and federal coordination and action. 

Katrina could represent a triumph of leadership.

Katrina could represent a triumph of community, the community of Americans unwilling to permit the loss of a great city.

It's a long way from representing any of those things and it likely never will. It definitely won't happen if we cave into Katrina fatigue and still our voices...

There is some good news...

The Lost Shall Be Found Dept: When you've written as much as Bob Dylan has, you can be expected to forget about a poem or two or three...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Review: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Dir: Woody Allen. Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johnansson, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz.

Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) have the time and money to spend the summer in Barcelona, especially since they can stay with rich friends. Vicky is prim, proper, and knows what she wants: Boring old Doug who's already making a mint. Beautiful Cristina is a free spirit who only knows what she doesn't want. They like Barcelona because it was the home of Gaudi and Miro. Plus, they get to go to really hip gallery openings with their wealthy friends.

One day, they take sexy Spanish painter Javier Bardem up on his offer to fly to another town to look at a sculpture. He wants to sleep with both of them at the same time. Why not? Cristina thinks. Why? Vicky thinks. Cristina takes him up on it, but her ulcer acts up at a crucial moments and she vomits all over the bed. Oh well. At least Vicky is there to keep Javier company. He seduces her with his knowledge of Catalan and his appreciation of her appreciation of the flamenco guitar. She sleeps with him. 

This is a problem because now, Doug may not be enough. Plus, as Javier explains later, he and Cristina are better suited for each other anyway. Surely Vicky can see that. Anyway, Vicky loves Doug.  But he may not be enough. But she loves him. But he may not be enough. But she loves him. But he may not be enough. Worse, he doesn't appreciate the flamenco guitar or his incredible good fortune to be engaged to someone who does appreciate it. So, she's less than enthused when he comes to Barcelona to marry her. What's a girl to do? Go through with it.

Meanwhile, Cristina -- who consists entirely of long legs and thick lips -- picnics happily with Javier. She takes up photography. She admires his painting. All is bliss until Penelope Cruz, Javier's loony ex-wife, shows up. She doesn't trust Cristina but she likes listening to Cristina and Javier make love. Eventually, the pair -- Cristina and Penelope -- bond over Cristina's artistic commitment to photography and take a liking to each other. Penelope teaches Cristina much about photography. The two of them make out in the dark room. Doug is shocked but titillated. Vicky is really, really tired of the categorical imperative.

Vicky walks in on her rich friend making out with her husband's business partner. (Barcelona is apparently Europe's version of the back seat of a car.) It turns out that the rich friend loves her husband but isn't in love with him, the lifestyle of the rich and famous being grossly inadequate and all. She doesn't want Vicky to repeat her mistake. She goads Vicky into meeting Javier, who would like to nail Vicky one last time before she and Doug return to New York. I wouldn't come between a man and his wife, Javier explains as he tries to come between Vicky and Doug. Vicky frets. You know you want to, says Javier. Vicky frets some more. (By this point in the movie, Rebecca Hall has gotten really good at fretting.) She can't go through with it.

Cristina by now is tired of it all (as are we). All she knows is that she wants a love that is "counterintuitive," and a threesome with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz isn't that. Otherwise, she still doesn't know what she wants, but does know that picnics with Javier and make-out sessions with Penelope are what she doesn't want. Everyone goes back to New York to get on with their lives.

Once upon a time, Woody Allen made funny, provocative romantic comedies that affectionately satirized the intelligentsia. It's hard to figure out what he has in mind with Vicky Cristina Barcelona. He raises plenty of points about art and love and seems to want to go somewhere with them, but the movie has the content of a caffeine-free diet Coke. VCB crossbreeds Interiors with A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (which had little comedy and less sex) and produces the weakest and most pretentious elements of both. Plus, it's dull. 

Watch Manhattan instead: It covers much of the same ground with a better cast, a better script, and an unmatched feel for location. It doesn't have Scarlett and Penelope making out in a dark room, but you can't have everything. We only see a few seconds of that anyway...

Is this some kind of joke? (And stop the presses: Street vendors in New York sell pirated goods. I'm calling off my trip)...

Eight Republican senators have decided to skip their party's convention and two more are on their way...

Here's a good analysis of the diplomacy (or lack thereof) leading up to the Russian invasion of Georgia. A quibble over this line, though: "It is also the story of how both Democrats and Republicans have misread Russia’s determination to dominate its traditional sphere of influence." If you read the story, Democrats hardly deserve equal billing. (For that matter, neither do the Republicans.) The story deals with how an Administration that happens to be Republican misunderstood and inadvertently exacerbated an already delicate situation. But party politics play no actual role. This is yet another example of the MSM bending over backwards to provide "balance" where there is none...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Funnies

Not only does this guy bat 1.000, he hits a home run almost every time:

As always, click to enlarge. For more, see

Ever wonder who invented snaps for the western shirt. It was a man named Jack Weil, and he passed away Wednesday at the ripe young age of 107. He was still chief executive of his company and up until the end had "a medicinal shot of Jack Daniels twice a week."

Polly Jackson has a new blog at Hrrmph! Expect to see a great deal of Polly's barbed (or, in this case, barb-able) political art as well as commentaries from her favorite blogs...

In The View From Over The Hill, Sylvia reminisces about growing up in Monahans, Texas during World War II. Let's hope they all made it back...

Time Goes By offers it weekly Sunday Election Issues menu here...

Editilla reminisces fondly in his inimitable way about President Bush's post-Katrina visit to New Orleans (scroll down)...

Ladies, is your marriage in trouble? Maybe that's because you smelled the wrong sweaty t-shirt at the wrong time... moves North Carolina from tossup to "Leaning Republican." Their electoral tally as of today (270 needed to win):

Obama: 287
McCain: 169
Tossup: 85

Saturday, August 16, 2008

R.I.P., Ronnie Drew

The great Irish folk singer Ronnie Drew passed away today after a long illness. Drew was 73. He helped found The Dubliners in 1962 and, except for a seven-year hiatus in the Seventies, stayed with them until 1995, when he left to pursue a solo career. Drew's gruff, slightly flat baritone seemed an unlikely match with the pristine perfection expected of Irish singers, but his interpretations of traditional and modern Irish songs evoked the grittiness of the Dublin streets in a way that catapulted him to international fame. Here, he sings about Dublin in "The Rare Old Times" before strolling across the Ha'penny Bridge to converse with a produce seller:

No hidebound traditionalist, Drew and the rest of The Dubliners joined The Pogues for a memorable rendition of "The Irish Rover":

Drew's solo career was especially noteworthy for his collaboration with trad singer Eleanor Shanley, spectacularly so on the live CD A Couple More YearsHere, they duet on Bob Dylan's "Boots Of Spanish Leather":

Drew's Myspace profile is here, and you can read more about his life and career here. In the meantime, let's raise a parting glass to the great Ronnie Drew:

Friday, August 15, 2008

I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes

I am getting too old.

Last night, a friend and I met for sushi before going over to a club to hear New Orleans keyboardist Robert Walter and his trio. The ad in the paper had the opening act coming on at 8:00, so I figured that Waller would be on by 9:30 at the latest and that we could listen to him until 10:30 or 11. Only when we arrived, we discovered that he wasn't coming on until 10:30. On a weeknight. What can I say? It added up to too late of a night and we bailed. The macchiata and cupcake at Cafe Laddro was good, but neither made me feel any younger. Sigh...

"The bulwark against tyranny is dissent," writes Amy Goodwin. And both political parties appear intent on suppressing dissent at their conventions...

Bonnie Erbe writes that Bush Administration intends to sacrifice the environment to the false gods of commerce right until the end...

Green meanie Seattle's plan to tax grocery bags at point-of-purchase has come under fire from the American Chemistry Council and the Washington Food Industry. In Ireland, the grocery stores sell bags and leave used produce and liquor boxes out for customers to use. ATM machines include a message asking that you help the cause of waste reduction by not taking a paper receipt. Why is doing what other countries do as a matter of course treated as lifestyle imposition here?...

For those of you who think that Citizen K. has no affinity for the visual arts, Skull-A-Day has proof that you're wrong. Scroll down to the puddles...

Can't get a date? Maybe you need to go green...

Friday's Choice:
The Blues Project (1965-67) was a short-lived but influential band remembered primarily because it was an early vehicle for Al Kooper. The Blues Project had a gift for combining pop hooks with psychedelia and often took such then unorthodox steps as adding a flute to their arrangements. Here, they perform their signature song, "I Can't Keep From Crying":

Thursday, August 14, 2008

For Those Of You Keeping Score... synthesizes the major presidential polls into a single trend line. They also go state-by-state to track a projected electoral vote count. If that weren't enough, true political junkies can follow senate and gubernatorial races there as well. The site also provides analyses of various aspects of polling and results. For example, Margie Omero explains why Barack Obama's current lead among women is within expectations and not "lackluster," as some pundits would have it.

Of particular interest is the state-by-state breakdown, as this is how we choose the president. On Pollster, a state falls into one of five categories:

Strongly Democratic
Leaning Democratic
Strongly Republican
Leaning Republican

Accordingly, they distribute electoral votes as follows (strongly Democratic and Republic in parentheses):

Obama: 284 (224)
McCain: 154 (122)
Toss-Up: 100

If you allocate the toss-up states according to the most recent polling data from that state, the count is:

Obama: 312
McCain: 226

Does this mean that Obama has the election sewed up? By no means. For example, as much disarray as the Alaskan Republican party is in, I'll believe that he can win Alaska when he actually wins it, and not a second before. Ditto with Ohio, although I think Obama's chances there are good enough that it belongs in the leaning Democratic tally. For another, the polls in some of the states are more recent than polls in others.

As for Citizen K.'s assessment, I believe that Obama goes into the convention with a similar base to Al Gore's and John Kerry's. However, McCain heads into his convention with a weakened base: States like Virginia, North Carolina, and Alaska should not be in the toss-up column, nor should Ohio be leaning Democratic. Given this situation, it's virtually a guarantee that McCain will make try to make this election about Obama's "exoticness" and supposed unreadiness. In other words, he's not only a child, he's not one of us, and all while waving the flag and declaring John McCain to be an independent straight talker. Expect the racial code words to be as thick as termites in a rotting house and for the Republicans to accuse Obama of "playing the race card."

Really, they have nothing else to offer. The outcome will hinge on the Republican ability to play on white resentment -- something they are historically very good at -- against an extremely charismatic candidate and a political environment that does not favor them. The Republicans will fight tooth-and-nail for Ohio; the campaign there could well be one of the nastiest in memory. 

Keeping in mind that I live in a solidly Democratic state, my feeling at this juncture is that the Republicans won't succeed -- that they're appealing to a powerful but shrinking strata of American politics and that the Republican party has performed so poorly in the last eight years that people don't trust them to keep running the show. Moreover, Barack Obama is a very skilled politician who will have a few tricks of his own, one of which will be to define McCain as part of the problem.

Overall, you can look for high flying rhetoric from the principles coupled with low blow from the surrogates, with the Republicans leading the way on that score...

Don't miss NOLA radfem's blog from August 13. "They" Aren't Supposed to Live in the WHITE House, Right? begins with a childhood encounter with Louisiana Congresswoman Lindy Boggs (the mother of Cokie Roberts) then segues into an account of radfem's family history as slave holders. Bolstered by photographs recent and old, the soul-searching entry is fascinating, compelling, and honest.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Stupid Season

Is there anything more inane than this week's mini-flap over Obama's vacation to Hawaii? I mean, Hawaii is his home state, it is the home of his 85-year old grandmother whom he hasn't since 2006, and it is state. Even Cokie Roberts admits that much:

Myrtle Beach? Myrtle Beach is in South Carolina, where the Confederate flag still on the the state capitol. Foreign and exotic? Hawaii is so foreign and exotic that 8 million Americans visit every year (source: Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism). I won't even get into the idiocy of Cokie Roberts telling the man who beat the Clintons how to run his campaign.

Here's a thought: If things are slow, why not talk about stuff that matters? Cokie, I realize that you don't have to worry about things like health care, your mortgage, or energy independence, but a great many people do and might appreciate some serious, thoughtful commentary on these subjects. I realize that that would mean educating yourself and not spouting off, but -- hey -- try it. You might even find some pride and self-respect...

Ever wonder how John McCain spends his down time? How about throwing a barbecue for the press on his ranch? This would be the ranch where he owns "several cabins" including one with Navaho rugs "worth a lot of money" (his words). I wonder if Cokie Roberts was there...

Paul Krugman of The New York Times is one pundit who manages to spend his time usefully. Here, he explains that not only is national health care necessary and affordable, it will be popular...

Did I say that Obama is from Hawaii? Turns out that he's Irish:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The "C" Word

I'm a little hesitant to post this video. It concerns a word that I don't use and that I regard as one of the two most offensive epithets in the English language. On the other hand, the video gets at an important point: The MSM hasn't given this any attention out of pure squeamishness, while at the same time they saturated the air with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In fact, were it not for the internet, very few people would know about this incident. As things stand, though, McCain has never denied this incident, so there's little doubt that it took place. It says a lot more about his character and temperament than sitting in a church says about Obama's.

So, don't watch this video if use of this word offends you. is funny and he did say the word.

The Guardian's Leslie Savan explains just what this incident does say about McCain while castigating Clinton supporters who would even consider voting for him...

Here's a worthwhile project: "The Orwell Prize, Britain’s pre-eminent prize for political writing, is publishing George Orwell’s diaries as a blog. From 9th August 2008, Orwell’s domestic and political diaries (from 9th August 1938 until October 1942) will be posted in real-time, exactly 70 years after the entries were written." More here...

Whatever would we do without the great Ben Sargent?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hyppolite Charles And The Early Days Of Jazz

"Now, music was different in New Orleans because they taught you to play your instrument just like a good songster. You had to get out what was inside you."
-Hyppolite Charles, in an interview 1957

Premium T. spent yesterday afternoon going through boxes in her other house. She brought home a gem, a 1963 revision of a book originally published in 1958 called Jazz New Orleans (1885-1963): A Index to the Negro Musicians of New Orleans (Samuel B. Charters). For me, obscure reference books are among life's pleasures and this one is a real treasure. Divided by era, each part contains an introduction, brief biographies of the important musicians of that time, a summary of the brass bands and orchestral groups, and addenda. The eras are 1885-1889, 1899-1919, 1919-1931, and 1931 onward. Here's the complete table of contents:

The Downtown Musicians
The Uptown Musicians
The Brass Band and Orchestral Groups

Biographies of the Musicians
The Brass Band and Orchestral Groups

Biographies of the Musicians
The Brass Band and Orchestral Groups

Biographies of the Musicians
The Brass Band and Orchestral Groups

Discographical Appendix
Introduction: First Period
Discography: First Period
Some Recent Revival Revordings

An Appendix: Some New Source Material On The Beginnings of Jazz in New Orleans

Index To Names Of Musicians
Index To Names Of Bands
Index Halls, Cabarets, Theatres, etc. In New Orleans
Index Of Tune Titles
Index To Addenda Sections

Jazz New Orleans also includes a small but wonderful photo section, primarily of bands and venues, as well as an 1895 map of "The Delta Country."

Who was Hyppolite Charles?  He was a cornet player from St. Martinville, Louisiana, born April 18, 1891 (Patriots' Day in New England, April 18 being the anniversary of Paul Revere's Ride). Charters has this to say about Hyppolite's formative years:

"Charles' father was a school teacher, and he encouraged Hyppolite to study music. When he learned that Hyppolite was playing in saloons in the neighborhood he punished him and sent him to New Orleans to study with competent teachers. Hyppolite came to New Orleans in 1908, when he was 17, and began studying with Eugene Moret, the brother of George Moret, leader of the Excelsior Brass Band. Eugene was passing for white, and played with most of the white bands in the city. Within a year Hyppolite was good enough to work for [Manuel] Perez at a little dance hall at Dauphine and Elysian Fields where Perez was working three nights a week."

Now, can you imagine being 17 and -- as part of your punishment -- being sent to 1908 New Orleans on a subsidized trip to learn the cornet? I'm trying, and all I can say is that Old Man Charles had some exceptionally advanced notions of parenting. Anyway, the second paragraph includes an anecdote that illustrates just how much Hyppolite had matured as a musician:

"[By 1911,] Hyppolite had begun playing parades with the Excelsior Jazz Band, but he was playing a parade in the Quarter and stumbled over a rock at the corner of Esplanade and Decatur, cutting his lip. After this, he wouldn't play a parade with a band that read music. He played with the tuxedo brass band so he could watch where he was going."

The final paragraph of the entry concludes with an account of Charles' life after jazz:

"In August, 1925, after a Sunday afternoon tea dance, Hyppolite collapsed with a ruptured spleen. He was in bed over a year, and was not allowed to play again. He sold life insurance in New Orleans until 1940, when he turned his accounts over to Peter Bocage and returned to St. Martinville to take over a grocery store that his father had been running. He has done well in business and is living quietly outside of St. Martinville."

In three paragraphs of unexceptional prose sharpened by an eagle eye for the precisely right detail, Charters conveys a deep love and respect for the milieu and the people. He's able to land the wondering reader alongside Hyppolite Charles in the most important and fertile period of American music, a time of passing for white, of early jazz parades, and of a boy musician methodically building his skills and gaining the respect of his peers to the point that he could turn down work. By the end of the entry, I could imagine Charles quietly tending his store, a respected member of a small community entertaining his customers with tales of Uptown and Downtown at a time when they were jazz' Babylon...

R.I.P., Isaac Hayes...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dazed And Confused? Lying Or Confused? We Report, You Decide

While stuff like this is all in good, clean fun, this isn't:

It's hard to know what to make of something like this. The supposed foreign policy expert on Iraq, the guy who knows how to win wars, appears here to be so wedded to the surge that he has experienced a Bush-like disconnect from the facts. And yet McCain claims that his presidency won't be a Bush third term. From here, it looks like it would be in the most frightening way: Not simply a continuation of the Administration's policies, but an extension of its denial of reality...

Not to be pusillanimous or anything, but I've always liked the semicolon...

The difficulty of voting is as certain as death and taxes. The New York Times explains why and what one group is doing about it...

A comparison of Obama's and McCain's approach to mental health care coverage here...

Click on the Election Issues link above for more...

Ever wonder why "pound" is abbreviated as "lb."? Now you know.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Meet Me In The Bottom

No, it's not a Republican campaign slogan! Howlin' Wolf was born with the God-given ability to make make every syllable he sang sound like sex. He didn't shy away from this awesome gift, either, augmenting it with a bullish and commanding physicality. Don't miss the videos below and especially don't miss the reprise...

Exchange with a 17-year old girl at my gym:

"Is that a Deadhead t-shirt?"

"Why, yes, it is."

"That's cool. My uncle used to follow them around."

Yeah, kids are funny...

"A dining experience as impeccable as the food": Not for nothing, but Premium T. and I were married here last December...

Headline of the week: Britney won't play killer lesbian stripper. A relief in so many ways...

Compassionate Conservative Dept.: Bush  Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency. Featuring a report from Kansas, "one of the fifty states in the direct path of his presidency"...

"The Eddie Haskell of politics": Amy Silverman of the Phoenix  New Times writes about her long history of covering John McCain, including his slimy bushwhacking of newly appointed Arizona governor Rose Mofford, the back story to the exposure of Cindy McCain embezzling from a family charity to support her prescription drug addiction, and McCain's falling out with Barry Goldwater. Lengthy, but don't miss it...

Those Canadians are a very dangerous people: "When we buy foreign oil, we enrich some of our worst enemies." --John McCain, June 25, 2008. The United States imports more oil from Canada than any other nation, followed by Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Nigeria...

Friday's Choice: What you gonna do when your woman walks away? Howlin' Wolf sez "Meet Me In The Bottom".

When was the last time you saw someone do this to a guitar:

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Party's Over (Turn Out The Lights)

Has Barack Obama become drill happy? MSM headline writers seem to think so: "Obama, In New Stand, Proposes Use Of Oil Reserve" claims the New York Times; "Obama Urges Opening Up Oil Reserves: Policy Shift Is His Second In A Week On Energy Issue" sez the Washington Post. The content of the Times is more nuanced than the headline, but an actual reading of both stories make it clear that what Obama proposes is something less than a "stand" and by no means a "shift." The Illinois senator wants to replace light oil in the strategic reserve with heavy oil. What neither paper bothers to do is to explain what that means and whether the proposal amounts to much. (I certainly don't know.) John McCain, meanwhile, wants to "drill here and drill now." (It's unclear if by "here" McCain means directly beneath wherever he happens to be standing.)

The general tenor of the press is that Obama has abandoned principle to keep in step with a public that suddenly supports offshore drilling, plundering the strategic reserve, and prostituting mothers in order to bring gas prices down. The parallel assumption is that -- as a Republican -- McCain supports all of that anyway and so is somehow more genuine. 

In one of those bend-over-backwards-to-place-a-pox-on-houses columns, Ruth Marcus credits McCain with an energy policy "in the ballpark of reasonable" that he plays down while pandering to the drill-now crowd. At the same time, she compliments Obama only for opposing a gas tax holiday before excoriating him for his proposal to tap into the strategic reserve. This has the effect of equating "drill now" with a moderate recommendation that is part of an overall policy which in Obama's case she doesn't review at all. Moreover, she gets Obama's position wrong, as he wants to replace one type of oil in the strategic reserve with another. Unfortunately, a reader wouldn't get either point from reading this column, ironically headlined in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as "Too much misleading on energy sources."

What are the Obama and McCain energy policies, anyway? Their respective websites outline both approaches (Obama's -- which includes the complete video of his energy policy speech earlier this week -- here and McCain's here and here). Interestingly, Obama integrates his statements on energy and the environment while McCain keeps them separate. This is a subtle but crucial distinction: Unintegrated energy and environmental policies will tend to work in opposition to each other, especially so under Republican leadership. When their presidential candidate squawks "drill now" like a mantra, you can be forgiven for thinking that McCain will inevitably continue the Bush/Cheney policy. This policy in the end puts our armed services at the disposal of energy interests to no benefit other than maximizing short-term profits. (And people think a windfall profits tax is un-American!)

McCain's web site says a great deal about what "should" happen and about what John McCain "believes" and "will promote" and "will ensure." There are gimmicks like a proposed $300 million prize For the "development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars." (He doesn't say who will pony up the 300 mil.) He endorses energy industry favorites clean coal, alcohol-based fuels, and nuclear power while paying lip service to solar, hydro, and wind-based energy while remaining silent on mass transit. And of course he opposes "isolationist" tariffs and a windfall profits tax.

His emphasis on nuclear power -- he wants to build 45 new plants -- is problematic to the point being chimerical. He can argue until he's blue in the face about the safety and utility of nuclear power and he might even convince a lot of people. But where is he going to find 45 communities that will accept a nuclear power plant within a hundred miles of its back yards? I'm reminded of a quip in Fiddler On The Roof: May God bless and keep the tsar...far away from us!

In contrast, Obama adopts much crisper language laying out short- and long-term policy goals of immediate relief for families, elimination of the need for Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil with ten years, creating green jobs and a greener economy, and reducing greenhouse emissions by 80% by 2050. (McCain, incidentally proposes reducing them by 66%.) Incidentally, Obama does not support offshore drilling. He said that he could accept it as a necessary compromise to pass a comprehensive energy policy. By contrast, offshore drilling has become McCain's policy.

(Obama does commit the bureaucratic sin of using "implement" as a verb. Scroll down here to read that great Texan Maury Maverick, Jr.'s take on that.)

Beyond this is the question of credibility. Obama clearly articulates an activist policy for the federal government and he represents a party with a long commitment to a federal role in policy making of any sort. By contrast, after 24 years in the Senate, McCain has not forged a reputation for expertise in energy policy while representing a party that has allied itself directly and overtly with the oil and energy extraction industries. I haven't heard him renounce any of that, and when a louse like Phil Gramm has his ear, he's unlikely to in the future.  Instead, he puts great faith in the false idol of the free market, a god whose efficiency and benefits are as overstated as its considerable deficiencies are ignored. 

Energy independence is without question the single biggest national security issue facing our country. Neither candidate can say it without committing political suicide, but I will: The party's over. Five per cent of the world's population cannot continue to consume 25% per cent of the world's oil when it possesses only 1.6% of the world's proven oil reserves. The rapid expansion of the Chinese and Indian economies -- which represent over a third of the world's population -- are rapidly bringing this to a head. We can follow the "drill now" path and remained snared in the tar pit of Middle Eastern politics and religious cleavage or we can take control of our own destiny and do our part to clean up the world. No one says it will be easy. But just as dancing means paying the piper, throwing a party means cleaning up the mess after. And you can't party forever: Inevitably, you have to cut back on the drinking.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Inna De Yard

The complete discography of Jamaican guitarist Earl "Chinna" Smith runs into the hundreds. Along with Ernest Ranglin, he is the reggae session guitarist. His name lends an album instant credibility, so it's no wonder that he's not short of work. A few years back, Smith initiated the Inna De Yard series, an unplugged approach pairing him with various reggae acts. The releases are first takes with Smith on acoustic guitar, Kiddus I and Jah Soul playing nyabinghi percussion, and his collaborating act on vocals. My brother Bob alerted me to the Inna De Yard release featuring The Mighty Diamonds. Bob's reggae recommendations are money in the bank, so I downloaded this release with no trepidation whatsoever.

The Mighty Diamonds are the Jamaican version of The Temptations or The Four Tops. Not only are their harmonies are stunning, they edge nearly as close to American soul at Toots Hibbert. I was lucky enough to see them a few years back -- okay, many years back -- at Austin's late and deservedly lamented Liberty Lunch. They not only hit every note effortlessly, they did it in the context of synchronized dance moves. The unplugged format highlights their vocal style perfectly -- in fact, after listening to Inna De Yard, I wouldn't mind hearing an a capella release.

They start off with the great "Country Living" and proceed through nine more numbers from their catalog. "Have Mercy" is stunningly beautiful. Like Leonard Cohen's "If It Be Your Will," it evokes a common spirituality that anyone can identify with, regardless of whether you're a believer or not. Smith's pensive guitar and the insistent drumming team with ethereal harmonies to give "Go Seek Your Rights" a regal momentum that left me stunned. The other seven tracks impart a similar back yard ambience that makes you feel as if you're there with them. Highly recommended...

The August 2007 U. S. Census Bureau report Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2006 reveals the following:
  • Although the median real income rose from 2005, it remains below its 1999 peak;
  • The female-to-male earnings ratio is 77%;
  • After a steady decline in the Nineties, the poverty rate is 12.3% (that's 36.5 million flesh-and-blood people);
  • The poverty rate in the United States was over 20% in 1960. Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs helped cut it in half -- the steepest decline of any decade since;
  • Poverty among the lazy, dependent poor is greatest among those under 18: A whopping 17.4% of our children live in penury;
  • 47 million Americans do not have health insurance, the greatest number ever. The 15.8% uninsured rate is also the highest ever. So much for the power of the free market.
Any guesses as to what news another year of the Bush economy will bring?  Any guesses as to where the policies of John "I don't 'really understand economics'" McCain would lead? This much is certain: If Phil Gramm runs the show for him, it will be a mighty cold time for the elderly...

BTW, as difficult as distinction as this is to attain, has there been a more cynically hypocritical politician than Phil Gramm? Despite being born into a military family, educated on ROTC scholarships, teaching at a public university, and drawing a salary as an elected official in exchange for years of slavishly carrying water for corporate interests, Gramm's name is synonymous with ruthless cuts in federal spending and social services. (It's also synonymous with deregulating the mortgage business, which has worked out so well for all concerned.) Of course, one could argue that once Gramm finished gorging himself he had personally sucked the public teat dry anyway. Well, I'm probably being unfair to the man of whom Molly Ivins wrote "Even his friends don't like him." After, he did make invest in the lucrative private sector world of pornographic films. I'd make a snide comment about the Republican commitment to family values here if the animal rights part of me didn't object so strongly to shooting fish in a barrel...

The peerless harmonies of  The Mighty Diamonds:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Western Europeans pay around $8 a gallon for gas. They pay higher taxes than we do. And yet, they enjoy a standard of living comparable to or better than ours and receive social services like comprehensive health care. How can this be? Well, for one thing, European economies aren't saddled with the crippling burden of a massive defense establishment. No one has made this point with more eloquence than newly elected President Dwight Eisenhower did back in 1953:

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?

The full text of the speech, which was broadcast on radio and television, is here. In the speech, given at the April 16, 1953 meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Eisenhower laid out a set five guiding principles for the United States as it engaged in the post-war world. We would all be better off had the Bush Administration taken particular heed of the second and fourth precepts (italics mine):

"First: No people on earth can be held, as a people, to be enemy, for all humanity shares the common hunger for peace and fellowship and justice.

"Second: No nation's security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow-nations.

"Third: Any nation's right to form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.

"Fourth: Any nation's attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.

"And fifth: A nation's hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations."

In 1953, President Eisenhower could expound these principles confident that he spoke for the great majority of Americans regardless of their party affiliation. In 2008 after 20 years of the scorched-earth politics of Lee Atwater, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove, the president can't assume that. In fact, the president -- whoever he or she may be -- cannot speak of any widely held American ideals. We've been turned against each other by the interjection of wedge issues not only in our politics but in our daily lives. One of our close family friends growing up was a rock-ribbed Republican. It's sad to think that that can't happen today, but it likely couldn't.

The president we have now, of course, doesn't want or care to make such a speech, and he couldn't do it with any credibility anyway. He'd rather impugn the patriotism of millions of Americans who belong to a different political party than risk his delusional self-image as a warfighter pilot landing on a carrier after a hazardous mission. Historians will spend decades delving into the stunted psyche of George Bush and the dark paranoia of Dick Cheney. The twisted combination moral certitude, the need to exceed a parent's accomplishments, the fear and ignorance of the outer world, the pathologies of power and greed have a hideous and irresistible fascination that will transfix researchers and be the cause of endless debate. Today, we're sure paying a price for all of this...

Pulitizer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind writes in a new book that the White House knew before the invasion the Iraq had no WMDs. Moreover, Suskind's on-the-record investigation reveals that Bush personally ordered the CIA to create a false document linking Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. The White House calls Suskind's assertions both "absurd" and "gutter journalism," absurdity and the gutter admittedly being two things that it has more than a passing familiarity with. Which illustrates two things about the Bush Administration: 
  1. It's knee-jerk mendacity has become so transparent that people (the ever-gullible MSM excepted) routinely assume it lies; and
  2. It doesn't care whether people think it lies or not. The strategy of constant, brazen dissembling has a numbing affect after a while, so it says whatever suits it and reality be damned.
167 days and counting...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Stick With Jesus

Premium T. and I went to Portland this weekend and caught New Orleans' own Big Sam's Funky Nation at the Roseland Grill. Big Sam travels light, so we got a stripped-down version of the Nation, featuring drums, bass, guitar, organ, and Big Sam on trombone, vocals, moves, and exhortations. If the video below is any indicator, Louisianans get all this plus sax, trumpet, and a couple of percussionists, but no matter: Big Sam had everyone in Roseland on their feet boogie-ing for his hour-long set. 

This included the seventy-something couple next to us. She must have dropped a hit of Ecstasy, as she was not only one of the more uninhibited dancers, she plopped herself down on his lap for a make-out session. At that point, he got up and began to dance himself. See Big Sam by all means, but be prepared for anything!..

T-shirt slogan of the day: The King And I/Stick With Jesus...

No trip to Portland is complete without a pilgrimage to Powell's, but it was on the four-block walk there that we stumbled across a bibliophile's dream: Reading Frenzy, which describes itself as "an independent press emporium." Reading Frenzy is the polar opposite of Powell's acres o' books. It's a small storefront with inventory in the low three figures, all from independent presses or self-published. While Reading Frenzy's strong suit is graphic novels, it offered a nice selection of local poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and some interesting art books. 

It was the latter that led me to the rediscovery of Jim Flora. Chances are that if are of a certain age -- such as mine -- you know Flora's work without knowing his name. You've seen it on record albums that belonged to your parents or the parents of your friends. You saw it on book covers or in magazines like Parade and Fortune. Flora's whimsical adaptation of Picasso took on a life of its own and today is the very image of the retro aesthetic. Fantagraphics Books of Seattle has now published two excellent retrospectives of Flora's work, The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora and The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora. Together, they comprise a fascinating and fun look at Flora's commercial and fine art...

Elizabeth Colbert explores the crooked paths now taken by John McCain's so-called "Straight Talk Express." She also points out a couple of unpleasant truths: That offshore drilling won't do much to alleviate gas prices and that for the purposes of both energy independence and an appropriate American response to global warming, gas prices aren't high enough. Her basis is a simple mathematical reality that Americans have a great deal of trouble accepting, much less confronting and acting upon it: That 5% of the world's population (us) accounts for 25% of the world's oil consumption. In this light, drilling offshore in the interests of energy independence makes about as much sense as building roads to reduce traffic. The plain fact is that we have to use less oil, not more...

Even oilman T. Boone Pickens has gotten on the alternative energy bandwagon (wind farming, in this case). I'm naturally skeptical of T. Boone Pickens evangelizing anything that isn't good for T. Boone Pickens, but on the other hand we're kidding ourselves if we think these things can come to market in a meaningful way without someone making a bundle on them. Premium T. and I saw wind farms at work last month while driving across Donegal. They're not the best thing that's ever happened to the beauty of Donegal's landscape, but on the other hand, we couldn't help but think of the potential economic benefits to one of Ireland's less well-off counties. And if there's one thing Donegal has aplenty, it's wind...

Yesterday, we had breakfast at the condo of some Portland friends. They live in a development that gets much of its energy from other buildings in the area. For example, the air conditioning is powered by the excess cooling generated by the refrigeration units at the nearby Whole Foods...

Big Sam's Funky Nation Voodoo Festival:

Friday, August 1, 2008

This Darkness Got To Give

So, it started to rain last night just as we set out for St. Edward's State Park. So, no Red Stick Ramblers. Our best laid plans having ganged aglae, we repaired to Kirkland's Cactus! restaurant and sat under the eaves sipping Patron tequila and eating ceviche and chorizo tamales. Not a bad consolation prize at that. Less traffic, too...

I'm sitting here listening to "Katrina" -- Dr. Michael White's brilliant jazz dirge -- and pondering the McCain campaign's accusation that Barack Obama introduced race into the campaign with a "negative, abhorrent, nasty, vicious comment." (Obama said Republicans would try to scare voters by questioning his patriotism and "funny name" and by pointing out he doesn't "look like those other presidents on those dollar bills.") 

Now, race has been an issue one way or another in every American presidential campaign since the Constitution artificially boosted southern political power by counting slaves as three-fifths of a person at the same time that it disenfranchised them. Exploiting white resentment toward blacks has been a central tenet of Republican national ambitions since 1968, a strategy that they've honed and refined ever since. As recently as 2000, the presidential election came down to a choice between between two members of the southern aristocracy (even if one was a bit of a carpetbagger). 

The MSM has taken McCain's part by reporting the matter narrowly, as if it were a matter of McCain personally raising the issue of race in the first place. The Republicans have become adept at using surrogates -- witness the Willie Horton and Swift Boat campaigns -- to do their dirty work for them, but the MSM doesn't bother to examine this. Instead, pundits focus almost gleefully on the possibility of McCain successfully appealing to white resentment. 

The very fact that white resentment is there to be exploited proves the enduring power of racial demagoguery in this country. After all, affirmative action and welfare -- the two lynchpins of white resentment -- have largely been gutted. And yet the resentment abides. In his fine book Grant and Twain: The Story of an American Friendship, Mark Perry points out that both men abhorred racism at the same time that they couldn't see it in themselves. When a man doesn't see himself as caught up in a problem, he can resent the idea that it exists or that he has any responsibility for addressing it. In the convoluted psychology of white resentment, some whites will see voting against Obama because he is black as a blow for racial equality. That's what the McCain campaign wants to tap into with its overheated rhetoric. We can only hope that they are preaching to a small enough choir. Otherwise, Dr. White's dirge is for all of us...

Friday's Choice:
The Grateful Dead perform "New Speedway Boogie" to an appreciative audience: