Friday, February 29, 2008

The Original Texas Guitar Hero

Before there was Stevie Ray Vaughan, there was Johnny Winter, the original Texas guitar hero. Sometime in 1972, I went to a garage sale down the street from my parents' house. I had gotten word that the neighbors who lived there were selling some records their kids had left at home after moving out. And so, for 25 cents, I got the first album by a guy I'd heard of but never heard. Honestly, my 17-year old ears had trouble grappling with the rawness of Johnny Winter. I knew Winter was a terrific guitarist because a guitar-playing friend of mine had told me so. But I'd never heard a serious blues album before -- I lived in Kingsville, Texas -- and Winter's approach was a lot different than Simon and Garfunkel, the Moody Blues, and Black Sabbath. I can hear now what I couldn't hear then: That his playing came from within, from lived experience rather than detached observation or showmanship. In any case, something about the record kept calling me back, especially the rough acoustic blues of "Dallas" (listen to it here).

"Dallas" threw me for a loop. The throaty, rasping vocal was all wrong and yet it came out all right. The blunt, violent lyrics had nothing to do with my life or the way I wanted my life to be. But they bespoke a swaggering independence and readiness to stand up for oneself that anybody wanted. And the confrontational guitar playing -- nothing like the smooth filigrees of Carlos Santana that I loved and still love -- glued together a 2:45 paean to male youth, vitality, and nerve unlike the sensitive, "meaningful" lyrics of James Taylor. I'd never heard anything like "Dallas," and it scared me a bit that it resonated so personally.

Thirty-six years later, I hear "Dallas" and understand that Johnny Winter wanted to write a Robert Johnson song. Now I can hear a 25-year old white guitarist with an atypical knowledge of and respect for blues history. I can also hear a young performer brimming with so much confidence that he didn't want to merely cover the master's work, he wanted to recreate it in his own image. The ultimate brilliance of "Dallas" is that Johnny Winter succeeded in doing just that.

So why did it take me so long to see the guy perform? I dunno. But for whatever reason, it took until last night at Seattle's Showbox, where PK, my friend Mark W., and I took in a tightly packed and exceptionally played 75-minute set by Winter, accompanied for the most part by a bassist and drummer. Time has not been kind to Johnny Winter. The ravages of a devastating mid-70's heroin addiction have left him hunched over and unable to stand while performing. (PK remarked that, in photos, Winter looks like a "human syringe.") His voice, while it can carry a tune, no longer rumbles from the back of a throat that must be raw by now. But that guitar playing...

Whatever disappeared with youth is more than made up for by experience. Performing is still a labor of love for the man, and through his guitar he channeled 50 years of playing the blues. He knows the genre and his instrument like the back of his hand and he plays them like what they are: The true love of his life. One perfectly developed solo after another spilled forth, and although he favored mid-tempo numbers, it was the slow blues like "Red House" that shined brightest. For "Red House," he strung a series of six solos together, one progressing naturally to the next and each impossibly improving on the one before it. It was as pure a display of sheer virtuosity as I've seen. Mark turned to me to say that "We're in the presence of the gods." No argument from me.

Winter reached back to the beginnings of his estimable career and delivered fresh renditions of old songs. He played new stuff and it sounded great. I never heard a superfluous of self-indulgent note. His tone has softened: He's largely abandoned his stinging, air-puncturing style for a slurred, warmer approach that seems better suited to middle age while conceding nothing to it. For the encore, he played slide for the first time and finished up with a blistering version of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," a song he perfected back when Nixon was president. As Johnny Winter has had occasion to remind us through the years, he's still alive and well.

3 times:
250-meter row
10 squats
10 push-ups

3 times:
.5 miles on stationary bike
12 push presses with 20 lb. dumbbells

1000 meter row

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"We acted robustly"

Once upon a time, an uncooperative man named Larry predicted that a war would cost as much as $200 million. Nonsense, said manly, robust Donald, the war will cost $50-$60 million tops, depending on the breaks. And other countries will pay for it anyway. And the war killed an evil dictator and liberated a nation to live in freedom and peace and with gratitude toward Donald and his friends. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Remember those days? The Iraq war lost its fairy tale luster long ago. Now, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Beam have produced a study detailing the true costs of this endless snuff film. (Thanks to Stone Soup Musings for calling my attention to this.) Not only are we flushing $12.5 billion a month right down the toilet, Stiglitz and Beam estimate that the final cost of the war will exceed $3 trillion dollars. (In other words, Donald was off by 6,000 per cent.) This means that:
  • The Iraq war will cost more than any war in our country's history except World War II;
  • World War II cost about $1,000 per troop in 2007 dollars. The Iraq war costs $4,000 per troop;
  • When it comes to casualties, the Defense Department keeps two sets of books. The second set, available only via the Freedom of Information Act, shows that the actual number of casualties in Iraq may be as much as double the official list.
Now, people will argue that the expense is ultimately irrelevant: That 9/11 and national security justifies it (ignoring the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.) They'll point out that the United States didn't prevail in World War II by not spending what it took to win. Even so, this leaves more than a few questions unanswered. Why did the Administration feel compelled to lowball the American people regarding the cost of the war? Why are the costs still off budget? (Congress appropriates money for the war separately from omnibus budget legislation.) Why have taxes not been raised to pay for the war? How will the costs of the war ultimately be extracted from the American economy, as they surely will?

In World War II, there was a strategy to win. In World War II, the country mobilized to fight by raising taxes, selling war bonds, enacting conservation measures, and instituting a military draft that ensured shared sacrifice. Today, we buy SUVs while military families bleed and break under stress. The United States emerged from World War II as the most powerful nation in the world and with a shining international reputation. The war in Iraq has isolated us internationally and polarized us at home. And, sadly, the bill hasn't come due yet. The stark truth remains that the Bush Administration sold the public a short, easy war on the cheap and delivered a protracted, bloody conflict of gargantuan expense. And conservatives wonder why Bush's approval stays at 30%.

Not that I'm for a border fence, but this is typical of the Bush Administration: Take a project of dubious merit (and with little chance for success), rush it, and waste billions of dollars while enriching a defense contractor. 

This Just In: President Bush claims that the economy is not, I repeat not headed for a recession. Asserting he has already "acted robustly" (presumably he means the tax rebate) to forestall a recession, he dismisses the need for further stimulus. Given that he's at odds with most economists -- some believe that a recession has already started -- The Question again comes up: What planet is he living on? 

By the way, he looks terrible -- not at all robust. Maybe it's finally dawning on him what a complete failure his administration has been. Sure. And maybe the tobacco companies will admit that cigarettes cause cancer, too.

Correction: A friend notes that Don Mattingly's nickname is "Donnie Baseball," not "Donnie Ballgame." Even so, where do you think the idea came from?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Clipper and The Kid

Is this a wonderful picture or what? Besides being two of the greatest players ever, Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio had two of the greatest nicknames ever: The Splendid Splinter and The Yankee Clipper. And Yankees fans? I hate to break the news to you, but the Splinter was Teddy Ballgame a long time before Don Mattingly was Donnie Ballgame. Anyway, with Ted and Joe, you're looking at two of the sweetest swings ever, here and here. And here's the last at bat of Ted's brilliant career. The guy knew how to make an exit. (Note the empty seats, an unknown sight for today's Red Sox fan: The last 388 games in Fenway Park have been sellouts.)

We're also interested in entrances at this blog, so I'm proud to offer the first video of The Revelators, winners of Seattle University's Epic Rock Contest. That's P.K. on drums; he also wrote the first and last songs. The video is in HD, so it takes a little while to load.

Last night, Senators Clinton and Obama debated for the final time before next Tuesday's primaries. By now, Clinton has an awfully steep hill to climb, and she has to do it while walking a tightrope. She tried mightily last night and once again showed off her command of policy. Her problem now is that voters aren't buying what she's selling, and she's understandably reluctant to go negative. Obama simply refused to rise to the bait that she and Tim Russert laid out; in fact, he tended to come off well in these instances by falling back on his his equable temperament. (This will come in handy against John "Mount" McCain.)

Early on, this exchange may have hurt Clinton:

MR. WILLIAMS: Senator, as you two --

SEN. CLINTON: You know, Brian -- Brian, wait a minute. I've got -- this is too important.

You know, Senator Obama has a mandate. He would enforce the mandate by requiring parents to buy insurance for their children.

SEN. OBAMA: This is true.

SEN. CLINTON: That is the case.

If you have a mandate, it has to be enforceable. So there's no difference here.

SEN. OBAMA: No, there is a difference.

SEN. CLINTON: It's just that I know that parents who get sick have terrible consequences for their children. So you can insure the children, and then you've got the bread-winner who can't afford health insurance or doesn't have it for him or herself.

And in fact, it would be as though Franklin Roosevelt said let's make Social Security voluntary -- that's -- you know, that's -- let's let everybody get in it if they can afford it -- or if President Johnson said let's make Medicare voluntary.

SEN. OBAMA: Well, let me --

SEN. CLINTON: What we have said is that at the point of employment, at the point of contact with various government agencies, we would have people signed up. It's like when you get a 401(k), it's your employer. The employer automatically enrolls you. You would be enrolled.

The content of the argument aside, every boyfriend or husband who thinks he can't get a word in edgewise reacted negatively to this exchange. I point this out only to observe that the male-female dynamics at work exacerbate Senator Clinton's difficulties. She has to make her case, she has to be heard. But she also has to be just about impossibly subtle at the same time or she awakes male fears and prejudices. Were the shoe on the other foot -- with Obama attempting to come from behind -- race dynamics would be more in play. He would need to be heard without stirring latent (and not so latent) bigotry about aggressive blacks. Certainly, white male candidates don't have to factor these things into their calculations. We may have come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.

Speaking of blustery white males, last night Tim Russert wore proudly his crown as King of Stupid Questions and Ridiculous Hypotheticals:

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, if the Iraqis said I'm sorry, we're not happy with this arrangement; if you're not going to stay in total and defend us, get out completely; they are a sovereign nation, you would listen?

[Then comes the following exchange, which must have sorely Clinton's patience, not to mention her laugh reflex.]

SEN. CLINTON: You know, Tim, you ask a lot of hypotheticals. And I believe that what's --

MR. RUSSERT: But this is reality.

[Later on:]
RUSSERT: He's [Russian president Dmitri Medvedev] 42 years old, he's a former law professor. He is Mr. Putin's campaign manager. He is going to be the new president of Russia. And if he says to the Russian troops, you know what, why don't you go help Serbia retake Kosovo, what does President Obama do?

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Obama, one of the things in a campaign is that you have to react to unexpected developments. [I'm expecting some newsworthy revelation like "Raul Castro has resigned" or "Dick Cheney shot another one of his best friends." Instead, we're treated to the following stupid question:] On Sunday, the headline in your hometown paper, Chicago Tribune: "Louis Farrakhan Backs Obama for President at Nation of Islam Convention in Chicago." Do you accept the support of Louis Farrakhan? [Russert then wastes several minutes on a political figure as marginal as Ralph Nader or Fred Thompson.]

Yeesh. How do these guys get their jobs?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Barack, Hillary, Scott, and Woody

In Texas, voting begins a month prior to election day, and the state posts results as they become available. Texas political observer Rick Casey has mulled over the initial numbers and predicts an Obama victory next Tuesday. He notes that turnout will be high everywhere, but that the early returns indicate a fantastically high turnout the in the Obama strongholds of East Texas and Travis County. Obama isn't conceding the Latino vote without a fight, either, as this video shows. Note that he follows through on appealing to young voters: You can download an mp3 of a reggaeton campaign song.

Nationally, Democrats continue their migration to the Illinois senator. This New York Times  article breaks down the latest numbers, which show Obama leading Clinton in every constituency except white women. And even there, he's made noticeable inroads. Although she continues to hang on in Ohio, with her Texas hopes fading, you have to wonder how much time she has left. Although I've learned never to count out a Clinton, there's more than a good chance that the race for Democratic party presidential nomination will be down to one candidate by a week from tomorrow. 

Clinton and Obama debate tonight on MSNBC at 6pm Eastern time. Howard Fineman thinks it's the beginning of the end.

I've read The Great Gatsby a half dozen times. And these kids make me want to read it again. As a word smith, I'll take Fitzgerald over any 20th Century novelist. Gatsby contains arguably the most lyrical prose in any American novel: "...the silver pepper of the stars..." and "the full bellows of the earth..." appear in the same paragraph. (I'd be happy to write something like either once in my life.) Its treatment of the themes of aspiration and class and the careless destruction wrought by money resonate through the years. But I've never considered the book from the perspective of a young immigrant -- I never even thought to. Now, I'd like to see the green light as they see it.

This arrived in yesterday's mail. It's the only known recording of a live Woody Guthrie performance. Under the TLC of the Woody Guthrie Foundation, the recording has been cleaned up and prepared for general listening. The package includes a 72-page book of photographs, reminiscences, a transcripts of the recording, and an explanation of the restoration process. A must for fans of folk and/or political music.

Monday, February 25, 2008

'Way Down In New Orleans

The CD orders inspired by WWOZ New Orleans have all arrived and been heard. No disappointments, either, which means I'll investigate into other recommendations.

The Cosimo Matassa Story (Proper Records Properbox 129). Cosimo Matassa produced New Orleans musicians of all stripes for nearly forty years. These four CDs (for $26!) concentrate on the Fifties, which to go by the music here was the golden era for his studios. While the nascent sides by Little Richard and Fats Domino are as great as you'd expect, it's the regional acts like the Sha-Weez, Shirley and Lee, James Wayne, and Little Bo that bore beneath the surface of America's deepest and widest musical tradition.

They Call Us Wild, The Wild Magnolias (Sunnyside SSC 3068). One of New Orleans most well-known Mardi Gras Indian tribes, the Wild Magnolias teamed up in the mid-Seventies with Snooks Eaglin and other Crescent City blues and soul musicians to deliver two terrific funk-dance records. These capture the Mardi Gras spirit at its most joyous, and were deservedly rereleased last year. And the set includes a 68-page digital book explaining the New Orleans Indian tradition in words and pictures. Great music, great jams, great fun. Listen to it and try to keep your feet still. It ain't gonna happen.

Lonely Lonely Nights, James "The Sleeping Giant" Winfield (Southland SCD-38). The 64-year old Winfield has been singing and playing off and on around New Orleans for decades while earning a living doing auto body and fender work. An obscure '60's single aside, he hasn't recorded until now, although hearing the results you have to wonder why. This is old school New Orleans R&B shepherded along by The Sleeping Giant's gray satin voice and relaxed manner. Displaced by Hurricane Katrina, it took him two years to record these ten songs. There's a lifetime of experience packed in here, experience that says that despite it all, he can't complain. Great picture of his granddaughters, too.

On The Verge, Adonis Rose (Criss Cross Jazz 1294)
Love Dance, Victor Goines (Criss Cross Jazz 1291)
The kind of jazz you listen to on that glorious spring day when you first open all the windows in the house. Drummer Rose heads a sextet that romps and prowls its way through eight original tunes. And while trumpeter extraordinaire Nicholas Payton lends his name and considerable chops to the proceedings, Rose's Berklee School colleague Aaron Goldberg and Warren Wolf on piano and vibes are the revelations here. Meanwhile, Juilliard Director of Jazz Studies Goines leads a quartet through a combination of standards and originals. Goines is terrific on the sax -- the CD is in some ways a homage to Sonny Rollins -- but it's his clarinet that gives Love Dance that old New Orleans vibe.

Note: Also displaced by Katrina, Adonis Rose relocated to Ft. Worth and formed the Ft. Worth Jazz Orchestra, a nonprofit organization "committed to the preservation, teaching, and performance of America's art form, Jazz." Besides performing big jazz band classics, the orchestra plays original compositions, provides a camp for young musicians, and compiles the oral history of local jazz musicians.

Citizen K. Read: A Storm of Swords, George R. R. Martin

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Well, right after commenting about the dearth of memorable 2007 films, we saw one last night: Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical account of growing up Irani during a tumultuous period in her country's history. Taken from the excellent two-volume graphic autobiography of the same name, Persepolis starts with the young Marjane, the child of a liberal, secular family who barely comprehends the Islamic revolution. She meets dissident relatives who, freed from the shah's prisons, find worse fates at the hands of an increasingly repressive theocracy. When, hoping to take advantage of its instability, Iraq invades Iran, religious leaders respond with even heavier crackdowns. Marjane's outspokenness forces her parents to send her to Vienna, where she finds Western personal freedoms tempered by the alienation of the exile. Eventually, she returns to her loving family in Teheran and the counsel of her grandmother (wonderfully conveyed by the voice of 90-year old Danielle Darrieux). Marjane attends college and marries, but finds that she is a stranger in her homeland as well. Her marriage failing, she departs Iran for good.

Despite the complexity and foreignness of its subject, Persepolis moves along briskly and with clarity.  Its universal portrayal of a young woman groping for her identity shows itself best in small acts of rebellion: A scarf displaying more forehead than allowed, a tightly draped burka, secret parties with homemade wine, the removal of head scarves with the same joy that an American man might take off his shoes and socks after a long day at the office. Based on Satrapi's original drawings, the Persepolis takes full advantage of the freedoms animation and film (most memorably when an Iraqi missile rockets into a neighboring building) while never seeming cartoony. Excellent and not to be missed. In French, with subtitles.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Kids Are All Right

Breaking news: P.K. called this morning to tell me that he and Steve won last night's Seattle University Battle of the Bands. They went with the basic White Stripes lineup of Steve on guitar and PK on drums. They played three original songs. He reports that the competition was tough this year, and they feel pretty good about winning. The performance was filmed, so stay tuned for a link!

Last night, Nelson and Reilly joined us for dinner. We had a great time together. It's nice chatting with Nelson while T. and Reilly cook. And, man, can they cook! Don't miss Premium T.'s recipe for blueberry pound cake.

Yesterday, I wrote that Steve Erickson's Zeroville was my favorite novel of last year. Actually, it was my second favorite. If you haven't read Fortunate Son, Walter Mosley's inspiring parable about race and family, don't miss it. It's a beautiful book with unforgettable characters: Lucky's persistent faith in his people and his brother despite all odds is one of the most moving depictions of the possibilities of humanity that I've ever read.

Last year was an especially dismal year for movies. Tomorrow night at the Academy Awards, one of five films will win the dubious honor of Best Picture of 2007. For what it's worth, here are my evaluations:

Atonement: Strong performances from Keira Knightley and James McAvoy buoy a film that struggles under the weight of its themes. My complete review here.

Juno: Enjoyable and funny throughout, with a three-point landing to boot. Ellen Page shines as the pregnant, skeptical 16-year old. But it wasn't even my favorite indie movie of the year. (I liked Once.)

Michael Clayton: Solid, well-made 3-star thriller that casts a pale eye on lawyers and the corporate legal establishment. Well-handled, but nothing new.

No Country For Old Men: The full Coen Brothers' treatment loved by many but not by me. An incomprehensible conclusion and barely concealed racism render this a pointless stylistic exercise. My complete review here.

There Will Be Blood: Blood gets a lot of points for its ambition and the vitality and originality of its high points. Ultimately, the parts are greater than the whole, though. My complete review here.

The best movie I saw this year was Eastern Promises. It's disappointing that The Namesake, an overlooked film about Indian immigrants and their Americanized children, received little notice from the Academy (especially Irrfan Khan's wonderful performance as the family patriarch). Since I can't vote for either of these, I'll pick There Will Be Blood, strictly on the basis of ignoring its weakness while considering its strengths. 

P.S. I woke up this morning at 6:00 and went back to bed at 8:00. I put on a Gnarly Nose (I favor the Durante model) and waited for T. (who was still asleep) to notice. It was worth the wait.

Friday, February 22, 2008


If you watched the Clinton-Obama debate last night, you saw Hillary Clinton's graceful and gracious closing. If not, it's here, at the 7:oo mark. There's a great deal of debate and spin as to whether or not she in effect conceded the battle last night. I heard it as a message to her supporters and to all Democrats that her opponent has been a worthy adversary behind whom she will close ranks should it come to that.

Joyce Marcel explains here why she supports Obama despite the sexist muck that Clinton has always had to wade through. Even so, Marcel points out that Clinton has been her own worst enemy in critical ways, starting with her decision to staff her campaign with long-time party power brokers. Marcel draws an interesting parallel between Obama's success and Howard Dean's 50-state strategy. 

She also mentions a recent screed by Robin Morgan, whose 1970 "Goodbye To All That" is one of the seminal documents of modern feminism. Morgan revisited the same themes in a January 2008 sequel. Sadly, "Goodbye to All That (#2)" is a bitter yowl that ignores Clinton's limitations and that in effect tells an African-American man that he should wait his turn. Morgan makes Clinton out as a powerful woman who is nonetheless entrapped by the vicious coils of sexism. She makes some fair points, but it's impossible to imagine Clinton seeing herself as a victim to the degree that Morgan does. After all, Clinton is a United States Senator with vast support and a powerful organization.

BTW, the actual first Good-bye To All That was Robert Graves' classic memoir of his very British upbringing and service in the savagery of  World War I trench warfare. The book has an interesting history, here

Coach Gibbons day! Three sets of--

200-meter run
21 thrusters (45-lb bar)
21 sit ups

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Catholics Clash in Columbus

"You're born Irish first, and then you're baptized Catholic." So says Mark Dempsey, defiant president of the Columbus (Ohio) Shamrock Club. Ignoring protests from the local bishop, the clubs plans to put on its annual St. Patrick's Day Parade on St. Patrick's Day. It seems that for the first time since 1940, the good saint's day falls during Holy Week, meaning that mass cannot be celebrated in his honor on March 17. With no actual liturgical authority to back them up, some bishops have pressured municipalities into rescheduling parades so that they don't fall during Holy Week. This is the kind of power-tripping over trivialities that helped make a lot of us ex-Catholics. Mercifully, Catholics won't face this painful dilemma again until 2160.

The Nation's Charles Taylor of  reviews  Zeroville (Steve Erickson), my favorite novel of 2007.

Who'd a thunk it? It turns out that the 16-year old kid living down the street is a crack-smoking, counterfeiting, terrorist murderer. He's probably an arms dealer in the bargain. At least that's what the bad news bores at the RIAA claim.

Nuts and Bolts: I've made some changes to the blog layout in the interest of making it easier to find web galleries and sites that may of interest to my readers:

The Places I've Been, The Things I've Seen: Web galleries of personal photos of family and travel.

Killian Heard: Music and musicians that I've reviewed or referred to.

Iraq: Expert commentary on the Iraq war.

For A Good Time, Click Here: Blogs and web sites I especially enjoy.

Artists & Writers: Blogs and web sites of artists and writers of my acquaintance.

Also, soon I will change the name of the blog to Citizen K. The web address (URL) will remain the same.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hit by a truck

In what must a painful blow to the Clinton campaign, the Teamsters' Union has endorsed Barack Obama for president. Not only will this lend Obama the Teamsters considerable organizational muscle to the Ohio (60,000 members) and Pennsylvania (80,000 members) primaries, it sends a clear signal that the Teamsters' leadership believes that nomination contest has been decided. Certainly, the endorsement adds extra sheen to Obama's luster of invincibility.

Looking back, the Clinton decision to go negative in South Carolina was nearly as big a blunder as Mitt Romney spending $42 million of his own money to run for president (that's $167,000 per delegate, in case you're wondering). It pushed wavering African-American voters into the Obama column and turned off thousands of other voters who were undecided or leaning to Clinton. Arguably, she has not recovered from the ferocious blowback.

President Bush and John McCain assure us that the surge is working, but a lot of people disagree, plenty of them in the military:

"From the Washington beltway, Iraq looks more ‘stable’ because American generals are using cash to temporarily manipulate local tribal interests, but when the Sunni Arab tribes coalesce to fight for control of Iraq, the fa├žade of progress will collapse and the violence will be worse than before."
-Col. Douglas MacGregor (ret.), Jan. 8, 2008

"The surge has sucked all of the flexibility out of the system... And we need to find a way of getting back into balance."
-Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, Jan. 17, 2008

"With the recent lowering of violence in Iraq, we assume that counterinsurgency doctrine applied by competent military outfits has reduced and almost removed the enemy from the equation in Baghdad. It is very possible, however, that the enemy has removed himself temporarily and is waiting for the opportunity to renew the fight when he feels ready."
-Col. Gian P. Gentile, Jan. 2008

There's more here.

Yale research scholar Immanuel Wallerstein argues that the best thing America can do for itself and for Iraq is to "walk away"... Joel Connelly points out that the MSM cozies up to McCain, and argues that they have a responsibility to regard him more objectively. Any bets as to whether this will happen?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why is Hillary Clinton in such trouble?

Yesterday's Boston Globe carried this odd piece concerning the frustrations feminists feel over Hillary Clinton's struggling campaign. Many feminists believe that, despite an impressive resume, a "...female candidate with a hyper-substantive career is now threatened with losing the nomination to a man who charismatic style and rhetoric are trumping her decades of experience." They argue that Clinton faces a diabolical Catch-22 "because she never would have been able to reach the final stages of the nomination process unless she had spent her life emphasizing her professional record over stylistic abilities."

The flaw here is that the perception Clinton's supporters have of her diverges from that of other Democrats:
  • Voters don't necessarily see Clinton's career as "hyper-substantive." She would likely not be either senator or formidable candidate were her name Hillary Rodham: She acquired her current status by virtue of being First Lady. Moreover, her chief initiative as First Lady -- the attempt at universal health care -- was a failure in large part because of her errors;
  • Clinton left the White House a controversial figure. Her unfavorable rating has hovered at 40% or above since 2000, at least in part because she never shook the perception of being a key behind-the-scenes figure in the Travelgate affair;
  • As recent as January, her rational for running was unclear.  I watched a complete debate in mid-January. She impressed with her command of the facts, but never really said why she wanted to be president or where she wanted to take the country.
  • The decision to go negative against Barack Obama in South Carolina and in effect play the race card boomeranged on her, and left many undecided Democrats and previous supporters with a bad taste in their mouths;
  • She voted in favor of the 2002 Iraq War Resolution, which authorized the use of military force against Iraq. Moreover, she opposed the Levin Amendment, which among other things would have required a separate Congressional vote to approve a unilateral invasion of Iraq. As she has never repudiated these votes, they have caused her no end of grief with the Democratic party base, which  vehemently opposed the war from the onset. It didn't help that her votes appeared to be ones of political expedience and not conscience and conviction.
Many of these obstacles -- arguably self-constructed -- were in place before Barack Obama came along, and created a vulnerability independent of gender. The last especially left her susceptible to a candidate presenting a creditable and desirable alternative. Moreover, the negative attacks in South Carolina reflected poor decision-making that, compounded with the bad judgment shown by her vote on the war resolution, called her competence into question. Again, this was a self-inflicted wound. 

Clinton has many strengths and would make a fine president, but she's not the sterling picture of expertise that she presents herself as. How can anyone complain if Democratic party voters have figured that out?

Fidel Castro resigns

Fidel Castro has resigned as Cuba's president; his brother Raul takes his place. The wire story is here, and the full text of his letter of resignation is here. Go here for one account of his remarkable life and career. Castro's tenure lasted through some or all of the U.S. presidencies of these men, a few whom attempted to have him assassinated:

Dwight Eisenhower
John Kennedy
Lyndon Johnson
Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
Ronald Reagan
George H. W. Bush
Bill Clinton
George W. Bush

That's nearly a fourth of all American presidents. 

The "winner" of the 2000 U.S. presidential election responded to the news with this gem:

"Eventually, this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections -- and I mean free, and I mean fair -- not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as true democracy."

I'm no expert on Cuba-America relations, but it seems to me that the exile community has been biting off its nose to spite its face for decades, the teeth in question being their fanatical hatred of Castro. Who would benefited most from early normalized relations with Cuba? Could it just possibly the ones who knew the island and had connections there? Is it possible that continual exposure to the benefits of democratic capitalism could have had affected Cuba more positively than invasions and assassination attempts? Just asking... 

Monday, February 18, 2008

The carnality of food

As I wrote, the Valentine's Day dinner at Cafe Juanita was amazing. What I didn't write about was the carnality of the experience. That food can be sensual and erotic is practically a cliche. But Cafe Juanita... They served a Roman orgy of a meal, a lover's paradise of a banquet, a repast of gender emblems.
Take the citrus salad with hearts of palm. A half avocado sliced lengthwise reclines beneath ovarian grapefruit and blood orange, topped with a frisee of hearts of palm and thin-sliced marinated red onion. The local spot prawns served in their carapaces, which sequester a cornucopia of roe spilling out when the shell is pulled away. The raviolo, a deceptive disk that explodes with a fireworks of hidden flavors when bitten into. The steak covered with a layer foie gras that goes down like meat butter. All of which set up the dessert -- a chocolate souffle than one opens carefully and spills vanilla creme into. Get the picture?

Amy Denio writes from Ireland: "On the way out of the cemetery [of Ballintubber Abbey near Westport), I noticed a grave of a man who had died at age 50 about 5 years ago, and at the bottom it was written 'there are so many songs to sing' with RIP right below that, and ‘always loved’ at the bottom, which I found incredibly sad. At first I thought 'that's what I want on my gravestone...' But seeing that triggered some wierd deep sadness about a musician dying young, I could almost see the fellow singing joyously, friends all around. In fact, as I started driving away, I found myself racked with sobs. It really touched a nerve, seeing ‘there are so many songs to sing’ on a gravestone. I’m almost finished writing a song with that title. It was a very strong experience."

Now, you can listen to the song, "Ballintubber Abbey," here. It's a beauty, and I bet you can hear it in the pubs of Mayo before long.

Speaking of beautiful music, is there a prettier American song than "Shenandoah"? Listen to Englishman Richard Thompson's stunning version here.

The Seattle P-I has this troubling story about the rape of a Kirkland servicewoman while in the Army. Veteran's Administration statistics show that 19% of their female patients were diagnosed as victims of military sexual trauma. (And we all know that the numbers are greater than that because many rape victims choose not to seek treatment or report it at all.) While this has been an ongoing problem in the military, one wonders whether the lowering of recruiting standards has exacerbated it.

Call me a charter member of the I Detest Joe Lieberman Club. I haven't liked Holy Joe since 1998 when he lectured Bill Clinton from the Senate floor. Now he's cavorting with John McCain even though he promised the voters of Connecticut that he'd support the party nominee in 2008. A great reason in and of itself to pick up a half dozen Senate seats would be to kick that s------------- out of the caucus. (I don't use profanities in this blog, but if there was ever an exception to the rule...)

Meanwhile, don't miss this inspirational video of his playmate.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


On the surface, Atonement is conventional film about a couple torn apart by class differences and the wrong-headed suppositions of a  spoiled prepubescent girl; Briony Tallis' (Saoirse Ronan) want of sexual maturity causes her first to misinterpret and then willfully lie about moments she witnesses or imagines she witnesses. With the help of strong performances by James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, respectively as the chauffer's son Robbie Turner and heiress Celia Tallis, director Joe Wright handles the shifting perspectives and timeline of the first part of the film skillfully, as well as  a later surreal sequence centered around the 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk by the British Expeditionary Force.

But Atonement's deeper themes are of redemption and forgiveness wrapped up in a slippery version of reality. These in turn give rise to questions about the relationship of fiction to truth and the limitations of art. It's an onerous burden for straight-ahead movie making; one wonders what a young Ken Russell or Lindsay Anderson might have made of the material. Certainly, either would have exposed the character of Briony Tallis for the horror she is. Instead, she's regarded ambivalently and -- as portrayed by the saintly Vanessa Redgrave -- nearly sympathetically. (Judi Dench delivering the exact same lines would leave departing audiences damning Briony to perdition and worse.)

American Splendor, a hugely different film, treated similar themes about art and reality with agility and wit. Unlike Atonement, though, that film was not locked into a progressively crude structure that inhibited playfulness and exploration for the sake of exploration. (The Ian McEwan novel ran into the same problems, and I finished it feeling cheated.) Meditations on fiction and truth demand a free, open treatment that both the material and Wright's direction preclude.

The evils of class and privilege surface in the first part of the film. But we're a long way from the heyday of Lindsay Anderson: Since then, Merchant-Ivory period-piece production standards have perpetuated upper class British life as a Princess Di fantasy regardless of intent. An Irish audience might roll its collective eyes at the Tallis' home life, but an American audience interposes itself between the script and the cinematography to sigh with wonder about how splendid and lovely it must have all been.  (I watched the entitled family of five traipsing around its massive estate and thought to myself, "No wonder people were Communists." In Anderson's savage hands, more people would have wondered that, too, but we would all have been in an art house and not a multiplex. Entirely another blog entry, that.)

None of this is to ignore Atonement's strong suits. Keira Knightley is so good that you wonder why she wastes her talent on Pirates of the Caribbean I, II, and III (duh: They pay). It's her first adult role and she shines breaking class taboos and rejecting her family. James McAvoy's scene in which he finally confronts Briony brings home his suffering at the hands of the Tallis family with dignity and conviction. The evacuation of Dunkirk as experienced from the perspective of a few soldiers stands out as the one part of the film that takes chances. These chances pay off, too, which is a pity in a way because you wonder how much more a film Atonement might have been had it taken more risks. In the end, though, it's a movie in the hands of technician when it needed to come from the heart of an artist.

The Wild Swans at Coole

My favorite poem:

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones 5
Are nine and fifty swans.

The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount 10
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight, 15
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold, 20
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away? 30

-W. B. Yeats, 1919

Friday, February 15, 2008

The sound of the leaves, the cry of the river...

Last night's Valentine's dinner at Cafe Juanita was, hmmm... Exquisite? Edenic? Exalted? Erotic? You get the idea. Suffice to say that the execution of the menu was as flawless as the menu was inspired. For Valentine's Day, C Juan offered this tasting menu:

Local Spot Prawns, Butter Poached with Prawn Bodetto and Kaffir Lime Leaf

Rising C Ranch Citrus with Avocado and Hearts of Palm

Raviolo of Sky Valley Pastured Egg and Celeriac with Parmegiano Reggiano

Wagyu Tenderloin with Foie Gras Sauce

Praius Chocolate Souffle with Vanilla Crema and Candied Citrus


Carmelized Meyer Lemon Tart with Blood Orange Marmallata and Creme Fraiche

Plus, an optional and superbly chosen wine flight culminating in a Vin Santo paired with the Chocolate Souffle. The Italian Chardonnay paired with the citrus salad just about revised my disenchanted perspective on Chardonnays. (They inevitably taste as if they've been kept in oak for the better part of century. Not this one, though.) More about this meal and the nature of food and cooking tomorrow.

Quote of the Day: 
"The mountains were tumbled about, in a thousand fantastic ways."
-William Makepeace Thackeray, writing of Connemara in 1842

You can see what he meant here. And if you haven't read Vanity Fair, what are you waiting for?

Ever since Foxessa put me on to WWOZ last week, I've been investigating their DJ's recommendations of the top New Orleans' CDs of 2007. I've got some stuff on order that should start trickling in next week. Stay tuned!

He's red and she's blue. Diane Mapes explains the pitfalls of dating someone who is your political opposite. Hey, we knew all along that liberal girls were more fun.

It's Friday, so it's also Coach Gibbons day. Today's routine:

1000 meter row
Five sets of:
15 dumbbell dead lifts (two dumbbells @ 35 pounds each)

15 kettlebell swings (35 pounds)

100 feet of lunges
Three sets of:
Row sprints designed to maximize power generated. Four strokes to build power, then five, six, and seven strokes at at least 200 watts.

I'll leave you with the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen's "Valentine's Day." It's a beauty.

Killian Heard: Sound Grammar, Ornette Coleman. 78 years old and the guy hasn't lost a thing, either as a composer or as a musician.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

End Game?

Another impressive Tuesday for Barack Obama; he took a small but clear lead in the delegate count while showing signs of cutting into Clinton's base. Clinton's back is to the wall: Obama will likely win the February 19 Wisconsin primary, which means she'll have to win convincingly in Ohio and Texas to keep her superdelegates from bolting. I'm not sure she has to win as big as the pundits are saying -- why would anyone withdraw after winning any kind of victory?  -- but narrow wins leave her vulnerable to a fast fade.

McCain's general election problems against Obama are obvious. Look at the two pictures above: One of a youthful, gifted politician reaching out to enthusiastic young people, the other of a near comatose septuagenarian senator celebrating with an octagenarian senator (John Warner of Virginia) and Florida governor Charlie Crist. If this election is about change, who of the two is more likely to deliver it?

In 1968, the Wisconsin primary played a key role in unseating a sitting president. After narrowly beating Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, Lyndon Johnson foresaw defeat in the upcoming Wisconsin primary and decided not to pursue a second term. Read about it here, and even if you don't, be sure to scroll down to the pictures. Johnson's address to the nation announcing his decision not to pursue another term is here (scroll down to the March 31, 1968 speech).

Monday evening, T. and I went to a fundraiser for Darcy Burner, Democratic congressional candidate in Washington's 8th District. Two-term incumbent Dave Reichert, described by conservative pundit Robert Novak as "a former sheriff of King County, Wash., who has not distinguished himself during three years in Congress," is a walking, barely breathing definition of the term "empty suit." (Check out this video, in which he has no answer to...well, you have to see it to believe it.) Burner, on the other hand, is knowledgeable, passionate, and energetic. She's raised more money than Reichert, will outwork him, and stands poised to knock him off his perch.

Now is the time for your tears: We're so desperate for troops that we're pulling Iraq veterans out of psychiatric care and sending them back to Baghdad. Read it and weep.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

This and That

Today, Barack Obama expects to win the so-called Potomac Primaries in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. There's some thought that an unstoppable tsunami is cresting, and even Clinton supporters say privately that she must win big in Ohio and Texas to remain in the race. I'm less certain of the tsunami theory. As of now, Obama's campaign reminds me of the football team that puts together some impressive wins early in the season, struggles for a couple of games, then hits its stride and mows down the weak middle part of its schedule. Tough late season road games loom, though, and stand as the true test of the team's mettle. Ohio and Texas have, respectfully, large concentrations of blue-collar workers and Latinos, key parts of the Clinton constituency that Obama has appealed to with limited success.

The Justice Department has the time and resources to investigate Roger Clemens, but won't make the effort to determine whether or not waterboarding is torture...In yesterday's review of There Will Be Blood, I neglected one of the film's most compelling aspects: Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's evocative score. It's a string-fed melange of crescendos and delicate violins emerging from an atonal primordial ooze of cellos and basses. Original and compelling...Early polling shows Obama leading McCain and Clinton tied with him, but let's face it: At this point, it's meaningless. Too much can happen between now and next summer, and no candidate has had a chance to introduce himself or herself to the electorate at large...The players are coming! The players are coming!

Monday, February 11, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Yesterday, T. and I saw There Will Be Blood. It's a beautifully -- at times brilliantly -- made film about the inevitably corruptive power of oil on community, religion, and family. One exquisite set piece follows another, unfolding the life of its protagonist -- oil man Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) -- in episodic fashion against the backdrop of the early days of the oil business. In Blood, it's a business that -- whatever prosperity it might bring -- ultimately dirties everything it contacts. The film's strongest images are of black smoke discoloring a clear sky and the constant filth enveloping the oil workers. We watch one character literally forced to dirty his soul by rolling in oil.

The film opens with a long, nearly silent montage of Plainview's early struggles as a silver miner and oil man. As his luck improves, Plainview carries the gospel of oil to small communities, making deals with the landowners to extract oil from their property. Eventually, he gets word of oil-rich land on a ranch in California and -- posing as a hunter -- checks it out with his son. Along with the land, he acquires a lifelong rivalry with the young preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). As the hyper-competitive, misanthropic Plainview's fortune grows, his personal relationships deteriorate, culminating in an estrangement from his deaf son. 

As Plainview, Daniel Day-Lewis acts all over the place. He carries Plainview's stance, facial expression, vocal timbre and tone, and physical movement to their finest, most minute nuance. And there's the rub: We watch Day-Lewis open his considerable bag of acting tricks, put them all on display, and in the end reveal very little about Plainview's character. His highly mannered performance is more an acting clinic than the revelation of the the benighted soul of a corrupt man. It works at times, such as when Plainview is reunited with his son. Does he love the boy, as he says? Or is it another act? The talent and effort that goes into the portrayal may well garner Day-Lewis his second Academy Award. More power to him.

We know that Plainview's soul is benighted because the screenplay tells us that it is, leaving Day-Lewis free to wear a mask and shuffle about and speak like John Huston in Chinatown. (Now there's a great movie about corruption.) Which brings up the second big problem with the film: It's as short on narrative as it is on character development. The episodic framework becomes herky-jerky in practice, and can leave the viewer wondering wha' hoppen. When Eli admits to being a fraud, it comes out of nowhere. I suppose that we know he's a fraud because movie evangelists always are, but until his confession there's nothing to indicate that Eli knows he is. It's as if you've been handed a 10-chapter novel with only chapters 2, 4, 5, 7, and 10 included. (This helps explain why the first half of Blood is so much stronger than the second half.) 

In the end, Blood suffers from too much skill and talent at the service of an uncertain script. Some passages are perfectly modulated, others underplayed to a fault, and still others completely over the top. The ending is not explained by prior events, but Anderson wants us to witness a final confrontation between capitalism and religion and he's going to show it to us come hell or high water. His conclusions are not without merit, but they come without being earned. 

Blood is the most maddening film you're likely to see this year. Much of it will leave you unmoved or scratching your head. On the other hand, what's good is so good that you don't want to miss it. And though I can't help thinking that Blood could have been great, I must admit that Anderson and Day-Lewis attempt a hell of shot even if it did misfire.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Dispatch from Carrowholly

Avant-garde composer and musician Amy Dinio is spending February at my house in Carrowholly on the west coast of Ireland. Amy writes:

"Today's exciting adventure: This morning I went squelching off in the mud flats at low tide (in high winds) with Pat [a neighbor], to his family's tiny sheep-dotted island, a ways out towards the Atlantic. They’d moved to the mainland when he was 4, but the house is still there [see photo]. Took a picture through the weather-streaked window, looked like something seen through the mists of time. He & his son were repairing fences, because it seems the sheep sometimes long for the mainland, and set out, only to be swept out to sea when the tide comes in. As you probably know, the current's very strong. He said he watched a pregnant ewe paddling away in the icy water for more than an hour yesterday. Luckily she finally made it to land, and laid down for the rest of the day. The first lamb was born the other day, cute as a button. Many more to come.

"Explored the minutiae of the key of A major at McHale’s pub last night, playing with Pat & Mick. Very merry company. There was a picture of Ginger on the wall, 3-time Irish national heavyweight champion, undefeated, drinking his second Guinness with his friend Liam, in the year 1960. Ginger was a fighting cock with his head deep in the glass....

"Yesterday dawned clear-ish and calm, so I took (some of) your advice & visited the Burrishoole Abbey, a truly lovely place, and very nice indeed to have it all to myself. Then onward at 100kph (insane speed limits on these narrow roads!) towards Achill Island. I’d followed a sign saying “Spanish Armada”, and found myself following the Atlantic Route around the peninsula from Mallaranny (Mhala Raithni), passing Gubbain Point, Dooghbeg, Gubacarrigan, Bolinglanna and Glassilaun (love those names!). Everyone waved, and I waved back. And sheep everywhere - I can't tell if their expressions are wise or empty... Their wool is long this time of year, & in that area is spray painted pink & purple & blue, all on the same creature, very punk rock. As you've probably noticed, they pay no heed to automobiles, even while sitting in the road (very punk rock!)

"Then, crossing the Gob an Choire (Achill Sound) on that tiny bridge (now under construction), I wandered around Achill while the weather improved by the minute until it was blazing sunlight once again, the big hills on the island wearing fancy wide cloud hats. I followed my whim & first did a big loop around the south end of the island, coming across some of the most stunning views I’ve seen in ages, high cliffs, crashing Atlantic waves, and no one except for the nonchalant multi-coloured sheep in sight. I hadn't written down how to get to the cell tower, so found myself at the gorgeous beach below it instead, a lovely waterfall, glorious sunlight, and something like a Gaelic crop circle made of stone in the grass. I can't wait to share photos!

"slean leat (goodbye - I just remembered it, after 30 years!)"

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Just back from my district caucus. Someone announced attendance of 583, but it had to be closer to 1000. There were 20 precincts represented. Mine, which seemed no larger or smaller than most, had 54 people. A friend's had something like 74. No parking and lines out the door. I remember the '96 caucus have a total of about 20 people. Some precincts weren't even represented. My precinct went 34-20 for Obama. T.'s went 70-2 for Obama. A friend texted me that hers looked like 4-1 for him. He's going to roll in Western Washington. He's actually organized in Eastern Washington, so I expect him to do well there.

The caucus process is confusing and arcane. It's hard for some people to commit an afternoon. The causcus is also full of energy and humanity, and in many ways shows the democratic process at its best. Neighbors meet and debate and choose representatives from among themselves. As one man at his first caucus told me, the caucus is so much more personal than voting. Nice story about a first-timer's experience here; don't miss the slide show.

The involvement and excitement of young people is inspiring. Two of my precincts five delegates (three Obama and two Clinton) are college students. I've known both of them since grade school. T.'s son decided to go at the last minute and became a delegate. It's wonderful to be a part of the process and just as wonderful to see young people -- the future, after all --become invested in said process. I've been going to caucuses in Texas and Washington since I was 18; I always come away feeling great about this country.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Best Laid Plan

The plan was to look at a house in Seward Park, then drive over to the Obama rally at Seattle Center. T and I looked at the house all right, but the traffic into Seattle Center was impenetrable -- and we tried from a variety of directions. Traffic at the Mercer exit off northbound I-5 backed up at least a mile. Southbound 5 was no better. We tried various surface street approaches to no avail. We eventually gave up and had lunch in Pioneer Square. I did pick up some interesting stuff at Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers, plus we checked out Seiko Tachibana's impressive prints at Davidson Gallery.

But I digress. Early reports of the Obama rally had 17,000-seat Key Arena filled with enthusiastic supporters, with thousands more outside. By contrast, Hillary Clinton attracted 5,000 to a waterfront rally with hundreds turned away. It's worth noting that the Obama event happened during working hours, while Clinton's was after work. I don't know what all that means for tomorrow's caucuses, but Obama has done very well in caucus states.

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall reports on the latest bit of Bush Administration chicanery. In short, the Mukasey-led Justice Department declines to investigate the legality of waterboarding or warrantless wiretapping because, well, the Gonzales-led Justice Department said they were o.k. Gonzales, of course, eventually resigned because of his role in the NSA domestic eavesdropping plan razed his credibility in and out of the Justice Department to a level lower than the Seattle Underground Tour.

This business of unfettered executive power is arguably the most dangerous aspect of the disastrous Bush-Cheney legacy, and yet it's the least reported on. Presidents regardless of their party are loath to cede authority. Besides ignoring the will of Congress via its unprecedented use of signing statements, the Administration has attempted -- with great success -- to politicize the judicial branch and federal justice system to the extent of making them offshoots of the Republican party. An independent judiciary and Justice Department are vital to the functioning of a healthy democracy. It won't do the country any good if President Obama or Clinton regards them the same way as President Bush has.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Whither the Republicans?

For the Republicans, Super Tuesday represented less a victory by John McCain than the tipping point of a long process of elimination. From the beginning, the Republicans presented a deeply flawed field, with most of the candidates having some degree of unacceptability to one part or another of the Republican base. The one candidate whose politics came closest to jiving -- actor and former senator Fred Thompson -- showed no interest in actually working for the nomination and departed quietly. 

Meanwhile, America's mayor -- Rudy Giuliani -- started out with so many strikes against him that it's hard to believe that he actually thought the Republicans would nominate an acidic thrice-married Catholic supporter of gay rights who happened to be estranged from his children. Once questions were raised about his performance on and after 9/11, he was doomed no matter how vehemently he supported the war or how ominously he raised the specter of terrorism.

If Super Tuesday represented anything, it was the disintegration of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's campaign. Handsome, experienced, and well-funded, Romney emerged as a early media darling. His main problem -- one he never overcame -- was an apparent absence of any convictions whatsoever. After claiming that some sort of road-to-Damascus conversion that led him to renounce his previous support for gay and abortion rights, Romney pandered directly to the religious right with a groveling speech at the George Bush Presidential Library. None of it took, and Romney has failed over and again to win on the road. His primary victories occurred in Massachusetts, his home state of Michigan and its border state of Minnesota, and states with a significant Mormon population (Utah and states bordering Utah). What Franklin Roosevelt called the economic royalists of the party would no doubt love to elect Mitt Romney president, but flip-flopping and pandering doomed him with the rank-and-file.

That left John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Huckabee, the appealing Christian conservative Arkansas governor and anathema to the economic royalists, found no traction outside of his base and has thus been unable to win outside of the south. That pretty much left McCain who, despite his heresies on taxes and torture, at least attracted enough independent voters to carry him to repeated primary victories. 

However, the hard right of the party despises McCain. (See what Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and James Dobson have to say here, here, and here. Coulter goes so far as to say she'd campaign for Hillary Clinton if the Republicans nominate McCain. Unanswered is the question of whether Hillary would want her help.). A nominee needs independent votes to win elections, but healso need the committed activism of the party base. The 71-year old McCain did not poll well among the majority of self-described conservatives on Tuesday; it's easy to see that there is a great deal of mistrust there. (And misperception: A Republican friend wrote me that his nomination should make me happy because it meant that a liberal would be elected president no matter what. Beats me how a fundamentally boilerplate Republican -- we're winning in Iraq, the health care crisis is best handled by the market, free trade is good, etc. -- is a liberal, but then I'm not a hard right conservative.) 

Let them fight among themselves over who is an acceptable troglodyte. And bring 'em on!

Breaking News: Barack Obama speaks at Key Arena tomorrow morning. Doors open at 11 a.m. For more information, go here.

Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday has come and gone. While the Conventional Wisdom has it that the Democrats decided nothing, I personally would rather be -- marginally, I admit -- in Barack Obama's shoes this morning than Hillary Clinton's. As for the Republicans, John McCain took a decisive lead on Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, but nonetheless ended the day with ominous question marks for the future.

For Hillary Clinton, every day that passes with Barack Obama in the race as a strong candidate is a bad day. A year ago, her campaign assumed that yesterday would be a knockout blow setting her up for a triumphal parade through the remaining primaries and caucuses, culminating in a coronation convention. She figured to be loaded with unspent cash and backed by a party that had been unified behind her for months. Now she's locked in battle with well-funded, well-organized, incredibly charismatic candidate whose campaign thrives on continued exposure. Think of it as the best-of-seven World Series. Clinton is the team whose best shot is to win in four or five games; Obama is the team that benefits the longer the series goes on. 

Some maintain that the Clinton-Obama contest may split the Democratic party. The argument is that the strength of each emerges from contending coalitions: African-Americans, students, men, and college graduates for Obama; women, Latinos, seniors, and blue-collar workers for Clinton. Nonetheless, there's no reason to think that these coalitions can't unite behind one candidate, especially in a year when there is so much enthusiasm within the party. Much depends on the tone of the campaign, but consider that her early stab at going negative reflected poorly on Clinton and drove undecided voters into the Obama camp.

As for me, I'm supporting Obama at Saturday's Washington state caucuses. On some issues, such as health care access, I'm closer to Clinton than Obama. In the end, though, I can't get past Clinton's vote to give Bush war-making authority in Iraq or her refusal to repudiate the vote. (She blames Bush for abusing his authority -- the subject of another entry). I'm supporting the intelligent, inspiring candidate who appeals to the hopes and aspirations (check out this video) of all of us, to the better angels of our nature. But you know what? I'm proud to be for either.