Monday, March 31, 2008

Have A Heart, Somebody

The Associated Press reports this morning that Vytorin, a cholesterol-reducing drug made and marketed jointly by Merck and Schering-Plough, has little effect in improving heart disease. According to the article, the "study was watched closely because Zetia and Vytorin have racked up $5 billion in sales despite limited proof of benefit. [Italics mine.] Two congressional panels launched inquiries into why it took drugmakers nearly two years after the study's completion to release results." The article also reports that the "New England Journal of Medicine also published a report showing that Vytorin and Zetia's use soared in the United States amid a $200 million marketing blitz. In Canada, where advertising drugs to consumers is not allowed, sales were four times lower."

This last point raises more questions than it answers. As Canada's population is one-tenth that of ours, one might well ask why sales there were so relatively high. Clearly, something stealthy and insidious is going on, something that merits a full-fledged journalistic inquiry from somewhere. Among the questions that need answering:
  • What conditions allow $5 billion dollars of sales of a drug with limited proof of benefit?
  • What is the full extent of the Merck/Schering-Plough marketing strategy?
  • How are doctors complicit?
  • To what extent to state and federal regulations permit this? (Too often, the real scandal is what's legal.)
  • How could the government have legally interposed itself and why didn't it, or why didn't whatever efforts it took have more impact?
  • What other Vytorins and Zetias are out there?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing over 1,200 Americans every day. Think of it this way: Every 2.5 days, heart disease kills as many of us as died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. This is a serious matter deserving of a sturdier inquiry than "Gee, how did they get away with dragging their feet on releasing the results of the study." Don't get me wrong: That's a great question, but it's only the first of what should be many. This is a great example of where the press must assume some public responsibility, because you can bet that no one else will...

One sad day, 87-year old Helen Thomas will no longer be with us. Until then, may she write many more columns as good as this one, which wonders why the people of the United States have no say in whether we continue the blundering in Iraq...

David Horsey, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, writes a nuanced and thoughtful blog entry about Bruce Springsteen and Friday night's show here. A whole bunch of stupid comments follow, as well as at least one nuanced and thoughtful defense...

Remember the back page fold-ins in MAD magazine? Then you won't want to miss this opportunity to revisit them. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Still Amazing After All These Years

Last night, we caught the Bruce Springsteen Show at Seattle's Key Arena. Simply put, he remains the once and future Boss. More than anything, a Springsteen performance at its best is a sacramental rite in which he confers the blessings of rock and roll on the true faithful. In that respect Saturday's show was quintessential Springsteen: From the opening strains of Jimmy Cliff's "Trapped" to the closing encore of the Pogues-like "American Land" he rocked, pled, seduced, and communed with us, drawing on the fervency of his fans to fuel each song.

Unlike just about any other rock act, Springsteen demands the involvement of his audience as a condition for a great show. And last night, he got it. Women swooned and girls clutched at his ankles. Men raised their fists in solidarity. Everyone danced and sang. At 58, Springsteen remains a marvel of athleticism, energy, drive, and involvement. He exacts at least the last three from the crowd, transforming the base metals of the individual into an alchemy of joy and community. As the man said, it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.

I went to the show unsure of what to expect. Magic, his new CD, did not especially impress me. However, loosed from the shackles of Brendan O'Brien's production, the new material meshed seamlessly with old favorites and rarities. "Magic" became a poignant folk song supported by Springsteen's acoustic guitar and Soozie Tyrell's violin. "Last To Die" received the passion it deserves. The anthemic qualities of "Radio Nowhere" shone.

Springsteen also demonstrated his ability to recast old songs. After the Boss introduced "Reason To Believe" with a dissonant harmonica solo, Little Steven Van Zandt joined in with a John Lee Hooker boogie rhythm, and Springsteen finished off with a weirdly distorted vocal. In the process, this somber number from Nebraska became an anthem of defiance. Moreover, he infused old warhorses like "Rosalita" and "Born To Run" with unexpected freshness. (At one point during BTR, he held out his guitar so that the fans by the stage could strum it.)

The E Street Band seemed much more integrated into the show than in past tours. Springsteen, Van Zandt, and Nils Lofgren traded leads, dueled and duetted. Clarence Clemons stepped forth for more sax solos than I've seen in a while. Tyrell's violin served as a featured instrument rather than part of the mix. Backing them all, of course, was the brilliant rhythm section of Max Weinberg, Garry W. Tallent, Roy Bittan, and new member Charlie Giordano.

I've been going to Bruce Springsteen concerts since 1975. For ten years, his audience grew, reaching its peak in 1985 when the mondo Born In The USA tour packed stadiums around the world. His audience has aged with him, although there was no shortage last night of parents and children, and at least one instance of what looked like a grandfather and grandson. Springsteen's music at time has shown a great and unprecedented artistic maturity. He has wedded the personal to the political like no one ever has. He's also made some questionable moves. But always, he gives you reason to believe.

Set List:
Trapped
Radio Nowhere
No Surrender
Lonesome Day
Gypsy Biker
Magic
Reason to Believe
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Because the Night
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
The Promised Land
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Your Own Worst Enemy
Point Blank
Devil's Arcade
The Rising
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
Badlands
* * *
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Rosalita
Born to Run
American Land

Backstreets.com review here. Photos courtesy Backstreets.com.

Seattle Times review here, along with a link to photos.

Finally, for the last word from me on Bruce Springsteen, here's an essay I wrote upon the release of Magic.



"American Land," 10/7/07

Sunday Funnies

Click on the image for a large version. For more, see www.tomthedancingbug.com

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Irrational "Hatred" of George Bush

Conservative blogs and columnists often refer to the "left's" irrational hatred of President Bush. (The "left" being anyone who reads The New York Times.) The left, according to these writers, actually want America to fail in Iraq so that Bush won't succeed, regardless of what that implies for American servicemen and women. (The left's supposed abhorrence of the United States military makes this especially palatable.) I've actually read such things. 

I had set all of this aside as one of those mysteries of the conservative mind that I would never grasp. I mean, plainly the idea that I or anyone else would hope for death and dismemberment of anyone in order to spite George Bush is outlandish, but they regard it as typical liberal degeneracy. However, my recent prowling of conservative blogs raised this matter again to the point that I'm starting to understand where they are coming from (a scary prospect, I admit).

The ironic or hypocritical or just plain odd aspect of all this is that the right does have what many of us perceive as an irrational hatred of Bill Clinton. So why should they get their drawers in a knot if we detest George Bush? Sauce for the goose, correct? But the labyrinthine ways of the conservative mentality doesn't see it that way. And there is a certain weird logic to their thinking as I've come to understand it.

The right saw Bill Clinton as a lying, draft-dodging, adulterous Democrat who usurped the throne of Ronald Reagan and commenced the dismantling of the shining city on the hill. They found him morally unworthy to be president, particularly commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Clinton was so unworthy that no tactic with the goal of bringing him down was off limits. In fact, not only was no tactic unjustified, the threat to the country and the military was so acute as to demand extreme rhetoric and action. Their frustration and hatred grew with Clinton's popularity; it culminated when they could not convince the rest of the country that impeachment and removal from office was a necessary and justifiable consequence of his personal shortcomings.

Since their hatred of Clinton was personal, they assume that liberals (a) must hate George Bush and (b) that it must be personal. As they did not with Bill Clinton, conservatives perceive George Bush as a good and decent man who wants to do the right thing. (I can quarrel with that, but the point is their perception, not mine.) Ergo liberal hatred of Bush is not only personal and extreme, it is -- unlike their hatred of Clinton -- irrational. That I don't care what George Bush does when the lights are low never figures into the calculus.

There was a time when I could say that while I had no personal feelings toward George Bush one way or another, I did hate what he was doing to the country. I drew a disctinction between despising Bush personally and despising his policies. However, Bush and the right's own actions have created a climate of personal animosity between Americans based largely on their perception of him. It was George Bush, after all, who made support of his Iraq policy synonymous with "supporting the troops": If you didn't support the war, you didn't support the troops, and what kind of person did that make you? It was conservatives who equated opposition to the war with cut-and-run cravenness, thus accusing millions of Americans of moral cowardice. Who wouldn't take that personally and resent it?

So, yes, I admit it: I have come to detest George Bush personally. He used 9/11 as a means to consolidate and exercise power and to impugn the patriotism of millions of Americans. He identified our country and therefore me as an American with words like "torture" and "rendition." His performance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina amounts to dereliction of duty. His contempt for public opinion, which he masks by claiming to do what he thinks -- what he knows -- is right for America, provokes public contempt for him. As for rooting for Bush to fail, well, he's done that on his own without any help from me.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Stuff White People Like

This morning's Seattle P-I alerted me to a hilarious web site called Stuff White People Like, which is "devoted to stuff white people like." Each entry explains something that white people like and why. Examples include shorts, difficult breakups, t-shirts, Apple products, and "The Idea of Soccer." The list to date is here. Just off the top of my head, I'd add the following:
  • Bumper stickers
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • The Grateful Dead
  • Oldies stations
  • Prairie Home Companion
  • Sweaters (allowing for the Bill Cosby Exception)
  • Designer whey protein fuel
  • years of therapy
Your thoughts?

I found out this week that my Friday workout regimen stems from a cult in which uncontrollable vomiting is a badge of honor and death from working out is the first step on the path to canonization. The New York Times has the story.


1000 meter row

(15 times, every minute on the minute. Simple yet diabolic.)

1000 meter row

In theory, I finished the squats and push-presses in 15 minutes; in practice, I needed a break whenever my inner thighs turned to jelly. So, the actual routine was 6 sets-break-4 sets-break-3 sets-break-2 sets-near death experience.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wake Up The Echo Chamber

Yesterday, I went over to Victor's in Redmond to meet a friend for a cup of coffee. Arriving first, I chose a table on which the previous occupants had thoughtfully left a religious tract. In the tract ("Big Daddy?"), a Christian student single-handedly disproves Darwin's Theory of Evolution in 20 small comic book pages. The arrogant professor, retreating in ignominious defeat, leaves the university because he "can't teach it any longer." If you don't believe me, read it for yourself here. (Never let it be said that I don't let the opposition speak for itself.

Intrigued, I visited the web site of Chick Publications, publisher of the tract. A banner of happy faces from multiple ethnic groups greeted me. Scrolling down quickly gave me the opportunity to purchase The Enchanter, an "incredible history of Mormonism" revealing the "history that Mormon recruiters don't want to tell you." (Mitt Romney, these are the boots you licked in Houston.) Scrolling down further, I discovered the availability of other tracts neatly organized by religion, so that you can easily choose your own personal hobby horse of bigotry and ignorance. These include Catholicism (natch), Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, Masonry, and -- since by Chick's lights it is a religion -- evolution. (Curiously, there were no anti-Semitic tracts: Who made them the chosen people?) I also learned that the earth is some 4,400 years old and that dinosaurs still walk the earth. (It's a little vague on where, although Pensacola, Florida and "Lock" Ness appear to be likely spots.)

Meanwhile, in an astonishingly blindered, Fidel Castro-like ramble, a blogger who calls herself The Anchoress explains why George Bush is a great president with personal qualities so admirable that one might confuse him with Francis of Assisi. Iraq? What Iraq? And as for Hurricane Katrina, he warned New Orleanians to evacuate their beloved city. The presidential buck ended there. You'll be surprised to hear that The Anchoress doesn't mention torture, rendition, signing statements, the unitary executive "theory," outing a CIA agent, the ballooning deficit, the ever-growing income gap, Halliburton, Blackwater, the mortgage crisis, or the recession. She is a baseball fan, though, so we have some common ground.

As for the new Gnarls Barkley CD, I give The Odd Couple two thumbs up. Lovely ballads like "Who's Gonna Save My Soul" complement up tempo numbers anchored by rock drumming that someone had the genius to think of including. I have a feeling that this one will make my top 10 list in December.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

V-I-C-T-O-R-Y

Watch this. You owe it to the Winter Soldiers and to the people they killed...

George Bush is a pathetic fantasist as well as a dangerous and incompetent leader. Were he but younger and unemployed, he says, he'd work in Afghanistan to help the "young democracy" there succeed. Why? Because it would be "fantastic" and "romantic." Whatever is happening in Afghanistan, it is by most accounts not succeeding and it's certainly not romantic. Personally, I've never heard of an evolving democracy that depended on the heroin trade for 33% of its Gross National Product. And, uh, George? When you were young and unemployed you had a chance to serve in romantic Vietnam and passed on it...

Fred Kaplan explains that Bush's delusions so convolute the definition of "success" in Iraq that nobody knows what it means. As naive and far-fetched as it seems, the original idea was to oust Saddam Hussein and install a democracy in Iraq that would quickly inspire the other Arab nations in the Middle East to do the same. Bush himself lowered expectations two years later, when he said that victory in Iraq would come "when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe-haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation."

(Note the implication of this last assertion: Not only was there no safe haven in Iraq for terrorists prior to 2003, by his own words Bush created one when he invaded. Now to achieve peace, American soldiers must die to undo Bush's own monstrosity.)

Today, all of a sudden, a victory will lay "the foundations for peace for generations to come," a goal that -- if anything -- is more distant than before the war. It's certainly nothing that Barack Obama or even John McCain will sign up for. And, as Kaplan points out, we are no closer to "victory" as defined by the Administration than we were in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, or 2007. No wonder John McCain thought that it might take a hundred years...

While perusing the internet to see if anyone besides BeauSoleil had recorded the Cajun waltz "Plus Tu Tourne," I stumbled across and downloaded a real beauty: Adieu, False Heart, by Linda Ronstadt and the Cajun traditional singer Ann Savoy (2006). Absolutely gorgeous, and I can't describe it any better than MusiciansNews.com does here...I wonder if Gnarls Barkley's new CD (The Odd Couple) is as good as Joan Ackerman of the Boston Globe says it is. I'll let you know tomorrow...

Daniel Gross reminds us that FDR's New Deal still works for us despite the right's fervent efforts to dismantle it. In fact, without it, the mortgage would even worse.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Opening Day


Here's to the two best smiles in the major leagues! Of course, if you were Manny Ramirez or Ken Griffey, Jr., you'd be smiling, too...

The Red Sox and A's played the earliest opening day in major league history this morning, with the Sox prevailing 6-5 in 10 innings. Manny drove in four runs and rookie Brandon Moss tied the game in the ninth with a one-out homer. If Manny is feeling it from the get-go, look out world. A big reason why the Red Sox enter the season as favorites to repeat is because they won it all last year despite Manny having and off year while David Ortiz struggled in the early going. 

My quickie evaluation of the Sox and their main competition:

Boston Red Sox: The best balanced team in the American League and therefore major league baseball. An outstanding bullpen supports a strong rotation headed by bona fide ace Josh Beckett. Big If: They're depending on LHP John Lester to finally realize his promise after beating lymphoma and on the continued development of rookie RHP Clay Bucholz.

Cleveland Indians: These guys are good, giving the Red Sox all they could handle in the ALCS. C. C. Sabbathia and Fausto Carmona are the best 1-2 starters in the league. The lineup is solid, although it's short on guys who really scare you. Big If: Is the bottom of the rotation good enough to pick Sabbathia and Carmona?

Detroit Tigers: The acquisition of Miguel Cabrera gives them a fearsome lineup that should lead the league runs scored. The rotation is good but nothing special, and the bullpen is a question mark. Big If: Can Dontrelle Willis turn around his declining numbers now that he is with a new team and will have all the offensive support he can use?

Los Angeles Angels: They won their division last year, so you have to respect them. The additions of Jon Garland and Torii Hunter will help, but I just don't see them as being in a class with the above three teams. Big If: Is Hunter good enough to protect Vladimir Guerrero?

New York Yankees: The Yanks still have plenty of guys who can produce, but overall this is an aging lineup with holes. The Indians exposed them in last year's playoffs as a team good enough to run up its record by beating up on weak opponents, but not good enough to take on a talented team in a post-season series. Big If: Can young pitchers Phillip Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain all come through?

Toronto Blue Jays: Once again, a popular pick to disrupt Red Sox-Yankee dominance in the AL East. They are very good up the middle, and it will be interesting to see if Scott Rolen can revive his career in Toronto. He's 32, meaning that history says he won't. Rolen was awfully good in his prime, though. Big If: Are A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan really healthy? They have to be for Toronto to contend.

What Did He Say? "Akinori Iwamura (Tampa Bay) may have the biggest thighs of any second baseman in modern day, but he has looked like a very adequate defender at the position."
Peter Gammons, ESPN

The Five Best Baseball Novels:
You Know Me Al, Ring Lardner
The Natural, Bernard Malamud

With honorable mention to Hoopla (Harry Stein) and Toot-Toot-Tootsie Good-bye (Ron Powers).

Three Nonfiction Books You Must Read To Understand The Game As It Is Today:

The Three Most Important Figures In The History Of Baseball:

See you at the ballpark!


Monday, March 24, 2008

Hill Country Blues

If there is a particular time of year when I miss Texas, it's at the beginning of spring when the Indian paintbrushes, the black-eyed Susans, and -- above all -- the bluebonnets make their resplendent entrance to the declivities of the Hill Country. The last blue norther having come and gone, families emerge from the shelter of their homes clutching cameras and little ones, bound to find the perfect patch in which to take pictures of their children either romping among the flowers or contemplating them peacefully. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Every spring, I'd drive home from work south down Austin's Mopac to the Barton Springs Road exit. I looked forward to the wall of bluebonnets populating the hillside just off the exit. Even knowing they were there, I'd do a couple of double-takes every year, thinking they were a sapphire pool of water. A psychiatrist once told me that something in our neural pathways and brain chemistry causes humans to respond favorably to the color blue. That's why we like clear days and why seasonal affective disorder is so prevalent in the Pacific Northwest. That's why for the first month of spring, it's hard for any of us who have been there to imagine that there is a prettier place than the Texas Hill Country.

For more, check out photographer Gary Regner's web site here.

We had a wonderful Easter dinner yesterday (menu here). Premium T. remains amazed by the gustatory capacities of college boys. This is hard to understand, as she has two of her own, neither of whom has a reputation for turning down seconds.

The Nation has a terrific chart that simply and graphically puts across the costs of the war. The chart isolates the costs to the city of Cleveland, and then shows what Cleveland could have bought with its share. This includes almost 50,000 homes with renewable electricity, almost 25,000 children with health care, 5400 college scholarships, and 1000 policeman. Oh, BTW, the average annual income of CEOs at the top thirty military contractors is $9,000,000 and change.

In the same issue, Victor Navasky and Christopher Cerf treat us to excerpts from their upcoming book quoting experts who were wrong about the war. A couple of the choicer tidbits:

"It is unimaginable that the United States will have to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars and highly unlikely that we would have to contribute even tens of billions of dollars."
Kenneth Pollack, former National Security Council director for Persian Gulf affairs, September 2002

"The costs of any intervention would be very small."
Glenn Hubbard, White House economic advisor, October 4, 2002

"When it comes to reconstruction, before we turn to the American taxpayer, we will turn first to the resources of the Iraqi government and the international community."
Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, March 27, 2o03

Saturday, March 22, 2008

So?


In an interview with ABC's Martha Raddatz, Vice President Cheney brandished his usual contempt for public opinion:

CHENEY: On the security front, I think there’s a general consensus that we’ve made major progress, that the surge has worked. That’s been a major success.

RADDATZ: Two-third of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.

CHENEY: So? [Sneers.]

RADDATZ So? You don’t care what the American people think?

CHENEY: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.

Watch it here.

This got me thinking: Suppose the interview had continued along the same lines:

RADDATZ: Actually, sir, the polls aren't fluctuating. The American people turned against the Iraq war years ago.

CHENEY: So? [Sneers.]

RADDATZ: Some might say that a democracy fighting a war that its people don't support is in trouble -- that it has lost its way.

CHENEY: So? [Sneers.]

RADDATZ: That doesn't concern you?

CHENEY: No. Sometimes you have to sacrifice democracy in order to protect it. [Sneers and winks.]

RADDATZ: Historians already speculate that the Bush Administration will be considered a failure and quite possibly the worst in history along with the Buchanan and Harding presidencies.

CHENEY: Historians? Who cares? [Sneers.]

RADDATZ: Historians aside, sir, public disapproval of the Bush Administration is unprecedented.

CHENEY: So? [Sneers.]

RADDATZ: Sir, people consider the failures and incompetence in Iraq, the failures and incompetence in addressing the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, the mortgage crisis, and the declining economy, and...

CHENEY: Iraq has been, I think, a success by any definition. We're making great progress there. Not only that, Iraq has offered tremendous growth for great American firms like Blackwater and Halliburton. [Sneers.]

RADDATZ: Sir?

CHENEY: And, we've lowered taxes for millions of deserving Americans. [Sneers and winks.]

RADDATZ: Sir, many say that those Americans are not deserving -- that the Republican tax policy is a matter of making the rich richer at the expense of the middle class.

CHENEY: So? This is our due. [Sneers and snarls.]

RADDATZ: Getting back to Halliburton, it's actually not an American company.

CHENEY: Martha?

RADDATZ: Sir?

CHENEY: Go f*** yourself. [Sneers and winks.]

DISCLAIMER: Most of this interview is fictional. It could never happen like this.

Friday, March 21, 2008

It's Repulsive And Insulting, All Right

"I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are--were recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade on the Monday that the Katrina came, and the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other Gay Pride parades. So I believe that the judgment of God is a very real thing."

"This [Catholicism] is the Great Whore of Revelation 17. This is the ant-Christ system. This is the apostate system...This false religious system is going to be devoured by the anti-Christ."

“It was the disobedience and rebellion of the Jews, God’s chosen people, to their covenantal responsibility to serve only the one true God, Jehovah, that gave rise to the opposition and persecution that they experienced beginning in Canaan and continuing to this very day. …

"How utterly repulsive, insulting, and heartbreaking to God for His chosen people to credit idols with bringing blessings He had showered upon the chosen people. Their own rebellion had birthed the seed of anti-Semitism that would arise and bring destruction to them for centuries to come … it rises from the judgment of God upon his rebellious chosen people.”

--Televangelist pastor John Hagee


"I was pleased to have the endorsement of pastor John Hagee."

"All I can tell you is I'm very proud to have pastor Hagee's support."

--Senator John McCain

But it's okay: "His words were taken out of context" and Hagee is against "surrendering in Iraq."


Citizen K. read: Child 44, Tom Rob Smith

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Brooklyn, Of Ample Hills*

The trip has been great so far, despite a seven-gate change, nine-hour delay in my flight from New York to Boston. Brooklyn was delightful. On Foxessa's recommendation, I spent the afternoon prowling the precincts of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Even with little in bloom, it's a beauty, as is adjoining Prospect Park. For my money, they are more attractive than Central Park; I'd love to see both in the fall. 

Suffice to say that Macbeth was brilliant and Patrick Stewart even more so. I marvel at his diction -- not once did I have difficulty following Elizabethan syntax and rhythm. His performance paired with the Stalinist Russia setting built an atmosphere of terror and paranoia that culminated perfectly in the final scenes. Given the chance, I'd go again tonight, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. 

Anyway, what's a little plane delay when you find out that your son made the Dean's List?

Barack Obama's speech on race was masterful. As many commentators and editorials observed, it was the most direct and thorough discussion of the matter by a national figure since Lyndon Johnson. Obama successfully negotiated the mine field of white "resentment," showing sympathy while remaining steadfast in his assertion that the legacies of slavery and racism continue to curse African-Americans and the rest of us. He explained his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright in a way that should satisfy any reasonable person. I mean, how many times have I gritted my teeth through a Catholic priest's homily? 

Did it work? Dunno. Most surveys indicate that something like two-thirds of white Americans believe that racism is mostly in the heads of black Americans. It matters little that by every statistical measure, from cradle to grave African-Americans do not share the same quality of life as whites -- the attitude holds. I find it impossible to believe that a single speech -- no matter how well done -- can alter this to any degree. Racial attitudes run deep in the individual and are nearly impossible to change.

The other question, though, is will this distraction matter in the end?  It probably secures Pennsylvania for Hillary Clinton, but she was going to win that state anyway. In the end, though, it by itself is unlikely to change the dynamics of the Democratic race. Obama remains on track to be the party's nominee. Adam Nagourney of the New York Times explains why Hillary Clinton's chances grow slimmer by the day.

Though the Republicans will try to keep it alive, I can't see it mattering much in the fall. The Rev. Wright is Obama's pastor, not his running mate. Possibly it would have an impact in an election with less at stake, but the 2008 campaign will be about the recession, the war in Iraq, and the link between the two. That's difficult terrain for the Republican party.

On a more enoyable note, The Boston Phoenix announced the nominees for its annual music awards. Which means that yours truly can spend tomorrow tracking down and checking out local acts. Yahoo!

* Thanks, Walt!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Toil And Trouble

John Burns of The New York Times remembers his five years in Iraq here. Unsurprisingly, he's pessimistic about the future. His chastened tone resonates, although he bends over backwards to find a semblance of non-existent balance. He also badly misses the point when writing of "instances when American intentions were betrayed by its troops, with the abuse and torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib." I submitted this letter to the editor in response:

When, regarding the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, John Burns writes that "America's intentions were betrayed by its troops," he perpetuates the "bad apples" fallacy foisted on the public by the Bush Administration. Abu Ghraib was the inevitable end of high-level policies and attitudes articulated by Attorney General Gonzales when he termed the Geneva Convention "quaint," by Vice President Cheney when he asserted that the United States needed to work "the dark side," and by President Bush when he claimed that Geneva Convention proscriptions against outrages to human dignity were "vague." Certainly, the soldier-torturers of Abu Ghraib are responsible for their actions. But the betrayal of America began at the top and worked its way down.


Well, I'm off to Boston next week to visit Bill, with a stop in Brooklyn to see Patrick Stewart in Macbeth. Check out the video promo here, (don't miss it) and an affectionate Times profile of Stewart here. In it, he makes this memorable observation about acting Shakespeare:

“I have this theory that these roles, the really great roles — there are elements of them in all of us. And that is part of the greatness of this dramatist, that he taps into something which is entirely human. You feel him reaching out his hand and saying to you as an actor, ‘Come on, it’s easier than you think.’ ”

Poet and lover-of-crows Premium T. liked the close of the article even more. Let the hurly-burly begin!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

So Let Me Get This Straight...

...Barack Obama's pastor makes an ill-considered remark in the sanctity of his church, and Obama is called out in the public pulpit and made out to be somehow responsible for it. But, for the last 28 years, lunatic right-wing Christian ministers can spew anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-Arab, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-science, anti-human bile from their cable networks and talk shows; summon the wrath of their god (not mine) on the Muslim world; and call for the assassination of foreign leaders -- and the Republican presidents and politicians who consort with them not only get off scot free, they get away with branding the media as liberal. What a world...

Nonetheless, there are some inspiring people out there: The amazing true story of Melody Gardot and her worrisome heart. Her myspace page and web site are here and here...

The Boston Globe reports that President Bush has weakened the espionage oversight capabilities of an independent board established in 1976 by President Gerald Ford. Ford originally set up Intelligence Oversight Board to block stronger measures from a Congress intent on curbing the myriad abuses of the Nixon White House. But even Ford's sensible and relatively modest reforms -- such as allowing the Board to refer matters directly to the Justice Department for criminal investigation -- were too much for Dick Cheney: "A lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam...served to erode the authority, I think, the president needs to be effective, especially in a national security area."

So, let me get this straight: The problem with Watergate wasn't the Nixonian schemes and deceits aimed at undermining the Constitution to grow the power of the executive branch (and assuage the president's paranoia in the bargain), it was the reforms enacted to prevent this. In typical Cheney fashion, he doesn't bother to explain exactly how these reforms left the body politic worse off than Watergate, exactly what authority the president needs but doesn't have, and why he needs it. Just trust him on this one, o.k.?...

Fellow South Texans: Don't miss the latest in Starbucks' "Artist Choice" series, this one from Bob Dylan. Among the songs he's listening to "right now" is Flaco Jimenez' 1967 epic, "Victimas del Huracan Beulah." Available at any Starbucks...

D. Parvaz of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is the best op-ed columnist anyone outside of the Puget Sound area has never heard of. Every Saturday, she writes a column that combines the barbed sarcasm of Maureen Dowd with Bob Herbert's seriousness of purpose. Today, she reminds us that there's still a war going on...

New Citizen K. feature: Scroll down 'til you come to the source list for my Louisiana music playlist. I've included links to official web sites, fan web sites, and record labels. It will be up for a while, and I expect to add to it because Premium T. and I are going to this year's New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. And if you have recommendations, tell me and I'll check them out. (Also, please let me know if any of the links don't work)...


1000 meter row

Four round of
21 dead lifts (102 lbs)
21 box jumps (12" -- o.k., I'm not LeBron James)

Citizen K. Read: A Feast For Crows, George R. R. Martin

Thursday, March 13, 2008

An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton

Senator Clinton:
While I support Senator Obama, I have steadfastly defended your candidacy and told anyone who wanted to know (and more who didn't) that you would make a fine president and that I had no problem voting for you enthusiastically in November. When my son sent me Frank Rich's column calling you out for race baiting, I told him that Rich was over the top. But, Geraldine Ferraro's comment about Senator Obama has forced me to change my mind: Once again, your response to the provocative racial remarks by a surrogate has been tepid and unsatisfactory

There's an unsettling pattern here. A member of your campaign makes a pointed remark about race, which you disingenuously turn aside without really condemning it. (Compare this to Senator Obama's denunciation of Louis Farrakhan in a far less inflammatory context.) It's not the content of any particular incident that bothers me, it's the accumulation of them. Together, they take on the cloak of a vile, cheap tactic to isolate Senator Obama by appealing to racial fears and attitudes.

You and your supporters deny this, of course. As for me, I only know what I read:
  1. Your pollster Sergio Blendixen told The New Yorker that Hispanic voters did not tend to support black candidates. You defended this statement as a historical reality when in fact it is not, as Gregory Rodriguez pointed out. A politician as knowledgeable and experienced as you must have known this; Blendixen's comment (unchallenged by either The New Yorker or the MSM) now comes across as a coarse attempt to drive a wedge between the two constituencies.
  2. Billy Shaheen, your New Hampshire campaign chairman, raised Senator Obama's "drug use" as a young man, hinting darkly that Obama may have sold drugs. Despite this allegation having no basis whatsoever in fact, your campaign kept it alive for nearly a week. And although you obtained Shaheen's resignation, his raising of the matter appears to be part of a high-level campaign strategy.
  3. During the South Carolina primary, President Clinton belittled Senator Obama's campaign (and by extension, his supporters) as relying on the black vote and later dismissed the senator as "the black candidate."
  4. Matt Drudge claimed to have obtained the infamous picture of Senator Obama wearing Somali ceremonial dress from "Clinton staffers." Even considering the source -- especially considering the source -- your campaign's "denial" was insincere and defensive, and had plausible deniability written all over it. Your response to a question during the Texas debate did nothing to alter this impression.
  5. Most recently, of  course, you barely responded to Geraldine Ferraro's ridiculous assertion that Senator Obama occupies his current position as front-runner for the Democratic party presidential nomination because of his race.
It's ridiculous, Senator Clinton, because Senator Obama owes his position to a superior campaign plan, a superior rhetorical strategy, and because he is a superior politician. To what extent does his race play a role? I don't know and neither do you or Geraldine Ferraro. Racial dynamics are subtle and elusive, something two experienced and intelligent New York politicians surely recognize. That Ms. Ferraro reduced this to the kind of language that exploits the resentments of the so-called reverse discrimination, anti-affirmative crowd is worse than ridiculous: It's despicable. That you responded no more strongly than with a vague and smarmy reference to "regrettable" behavior by "supporters...on both sides" is equally despicable.

Senator, the discussion should be about the implications of Admiral Fallon's retirement, the mortgage crisis, health care, and the state of the economy. You should be working to keep the Iraq war on the front pages instead of helping to push it to the back.

The list above is long and depressing. If by some political miracle you become the party's nominee for president, I will vote for you in November. But I won't lift a finger to help and I won't contribute a cent. I won't even put a bumper sticker on my car. Not that you care, but I'm that disillusioned.

In the 1960's, Democrats surrendered the South and the presidency for the cause of civil rights. Our party faced a momentous decision and made the right choice. More than anything else, that's made me proud of my party and proud to be a Democrat. That you are willing to trash that legacy in the interest of your fading ambitions is cynical and pathetic. How did it come to this?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Web Of The Web

  1. Late in the 15th Century, the ooze and slime of the Spanish Inquisition popularized waterboarding as an enhanced interrogation technique.
  2. The United States Army introduces the "water cure" during the 1902 Filipino insurrection, thus leading to the first reform movement opposing this particular technique. "It is a terrible torture," writes one soldier.
  3. In 2005, ABC News reports that the CIA uses a "modern form" of water boarding on suspected terrorists.
  4. On March 8, 2008, President Bush announces that he has vetoed a bill proscribing the use of waterboarding.
  5. That same day, I blog about the veto.
  6. A comment by Scrumpy's Baker's gets me to thinking about the notion of American Exceptionalism.
  7. I read up on the topic of American Exceptionalism in Wikipedia.
  8. The article makes a reference to the French Revolution. I've never quite understood why historians view the impact of the American Revolution as a pistol shot compared to the atom bomb of the French Revolution. The Wikipedia article isn't much help, but it does refer me to Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution, developed jointly by George Mason University and the City University of New York. (The web site clears up the question, but that's another blog entry.)
  9. The web site includes an essay on Songs of the Revolution. I decide that I want to hear "La Marseillais," but the connection speed is too slow.
  10. I download a 1930's rendtion by the Spanish tenor Miguel Fleta ("The Lord High Keeper of the Seal of the Ancient Vocal Method.")
  11. I burn the download onto a CD and play it at max volume, which garners a bemused mention from Premium T.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Xalam


Recapturing The Banjo, Otis Taylor
Once upon a time, African slaves brought the xalam, a lute-like instrument, with them to the West Indies. From there, this instrument made its way to America sometime in the 17th Century and evolved into the banjo. Black Americans dominated banjo picking until minstrel shows appropriated it after the Civil War. By the turn of the century, the advent of blues and jazz triggered the migration of black musicians to the guitar and piano and away from the instrument that was increasingly seen as an avatar of racism. Now, bluesman Otis Taylor – who plays what he calls “trance blues” has gathered several colleagues to, in the words of the CD title, recapture the banjo. And recapture it they do with a set of traditional folk blues (plus a standout rendition of “Hey Joe”) and original compositions with titles such as “Ten Million Slaves” and “A Prophet’s Mission.” Luckily, Recapturing is no one’s thesis project. Instead, it has an intimate, front porch feel typified by a hospitable reading of Gus Cannon’s “Walk Right In” and the conversational “Bow-Legged Charlie.” Keb Mo's "The Way It Goes" closes the CD with a plaintive, fatalistic farewell. One of the top releases of 2008.


Warpaint, The Black Crowes
Hernando, The North Mississippi All Stars
Is Warpaint the album you’ve been waiting 30 years for the Rolling Stones to make? Slide guitarist Luther Dickinson gives Chris and Rich Robinson their Keith Richards, and they make the most of him: For the most part, Dickinson lays in wait behind Chris Robinson’s vocals, augmenting them while occasionally stepping forth with a blistering lead. Along the way, the Robinsons cherry-pick from the Stones with the same √©lan with which the Stones plundered the blues. A great mix of rockers, blues, ballads, and even a country weeper…Meanwhile, Dickinson’s own band, The North Mississippi All Stars, continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Foregoing the gaggle of guests that usually stud their albums, this time the All Stars stand on their own six feet. The result is a formidable extension of power trio rock in the tradition of Cream and ZZ Top. While Dickinson may not have the chops (yet, anyway) of fellow Southerners Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, he knows how to integrate his slide guitar into the band’s sound, playing with intent and style.


Traveling, Steve Poltz
A Canadian Catholic grows up in San Diego and lives to tell the story. Poltz laces his idiosyncratic world view with good humor, wistful tunes, and a wide range of commentary that encompasses everything from the war in Iraq to saving the seventh game of the World Series for the San Diego Padres. After opening the CD with a (somewhat) hopeful “I Think She Likes Me,” he warns that “the rains are fallin’ and nobody’s listening.” This sets the stage for big questions (“What Would Ghandi Do?”) and small memories, like the boyhood worry that becoming an American means not being a Catholic anymore. It’s admittedly a clich√©, but Steve Poltz’ Traveling is what you’d call “infectious.”


Block Ice and Propane, Erik Friedlander
Improvisations and compositions for solo cello inspired by summer-long trips in the Friedlander family camper, "...a thin-shelled box sitting on top of a 1966 Chevrolet pickup truck." Now, before you dismiss Block Ice and Propane as too NPR, believe me when I say that these are in fact beautiful and breathtaking improvisations and compositions that you’ll listen to again and again. So handsomely produced that you can hear Friendlander’s fingers and bow hitting the strings. Highly recommended.


Real Emotional Trash, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
An unabashed valentine to Sixties psychedelia, replete with quavery vocals and marvelous guitar workouts. The beat accelerates and decelerates; weird digressions appear and resolve themselves like a viscous fog suddenly clearing to reveal a gorgeous blue sky. Malkmus fronts a great band that treats the material thoughtfully, led by Malkmus’ stirring guitar and anchored by Janet Weiss’ (late of Slater-Kinney) drum kit. A must for guitar fans and unreconstructed hippies and neo-hippies who wonder why the hell no one makes music why they used to.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Tower Of Song

Charles Schulz famously wrote, "I love mankind. It's people I can't stand." As I grow older in a world of greed, war, genocide, torture, starvation, homelessness, and moral certitude, I find myself drawing the opposite conclusion: People are great; it's the world that sucks. Still, tremendous individual efforts and acts of courage, deep friendships and connections, familial and romantic love also characterize this same old world. I'm not much of a believer any more, but Jesus had it right: When the corruption and stench of Rome dominate the known world, meaning and redemption lie within the individual.

I find meaning in my family and friends, like my Irish friend Pat, shown here. Pat is a farmer, landscaper, and singer living here in the west of Ireland. He's the hardest working man I know. Two evenings a week -- on Friday and Sunday -- he and his friend Mick take their guitars and banjos to play gigs at McHale's and The Towers in Westport, Ireland. They sing traditional tunes, popular songs, and songs they happen to like. Patrons join in, and occasionally someone steps forth with a favorite of their own. Sunday night at The Towers is the best: At around 11:00, people drift in for one last pint, a few more songs, and a final hour of ease with their fellow man before the work week begins.

Songs have been my connection to the ineffable since I was a boy listening to my parents' Broadway musical soundtracks. Eventually, The Beatles and Dylan and Paul Simon beckoned, transporting me to a new galaxy of perception. In college, I turned to the likes of Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Leonard Cohen, and Bruce Springsteen. Today -- whether because of the Baby Boom or a special need to respond to the times -- there is a veritable Big Bang of wonderfully talented singer-songwriters. The best of them contribute in his or her own way to what Robert Hughes called the basic project of art: Individuals making some sense of the world and creating meaning by closing "the gap between everything that is you and not you."

Today's entry singles out some twenty contemporary songwriters whose work I've come to respect and admire. There are more men than women, but not for any reason other than I explore where the reviews and recommendations take me. The last two names on the list aren't contemporary, but the impact they had on a genre of music obscures their prodigious songwriting talents enough that I wanted to highlight them. Click on a name and you'll get their web site (which often includes free downloads and samples). Click on the recommended CD name to hear samples from it. Enjoy.





and


If there's anyone out there reading, add to the list via a comment. You can't hear too many good songs.



Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Dark Side

We don't torture. So says President Bush. Except when we do, and then we don't because, well, we don't torture. That's why it was so important for him to veto a bill banning water boarding, which -- far from being torture -- is "one of most valuable tools we have in the war on terror." (It's so valuable that even the CIA doesn't do it any more.) Besides being a tool, water boarding is a "specialized interrogation procedure" reserved for the most "hardened terrorists" and innocent Afghan taxi drivers. (The account below is largely taken from the web site for the Academy Award winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side.)

For just one example of the "proven track record" of water boarding, consider the case of suspected terrorist Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. After being wrapped in duct tape and stored in a plywood box "for his own protection," the FBI transported al-Libi to Cairo for questioning by experts in "'enhanced' interrogation techniques." After a water boarding session, al-Libi confessed that Iraq had trained Al-Qaeda in the manufacture of bombs and poison gas. Secretary of State Colin Powell used this incontrovertible information as proof positive when he informed the U.N. of the "sinister nexus" between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.

Al-Libi later recanted his "confession" as having been under duress, and the CIA confirmed its falsity. 

[Cartoon by the Austin American Statesman's great Ben Sargent. Subscribe to Sargent's work through www.mycomicspage.com.]

Friday, March 7, 2008

Spice Girls Friday

The must-read story of the week comes from the Boston Globe, here. It exposes the venality of Halliburton/Kellogg Brown and Root but detailing the lengths to which they've gone to avoid paying taxes on their Iraq war profiteering. Senators Carl Levin (D-Michigan), Barack Obama, an Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota) have introduced the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act to curb what is at the very least a moral disgrace. As Michael Kinsley is fond of writing, the scandal is what's legal. Long, but well-worth reading.

A Texas friend writes: Despite the ignorant call by the networks on Tuesday, it can now be announced Obama actually won a majority of the delegates in Texas. Hillary won the primary and took 65 delegates to Obama's 61, but in the caucus portion, which accounts for another 67 delegates, Obama won by a margin of at least 37-30. That would give him a win of 98-95 delegates. The Obama campaign is claiming it will be higher - maybe as high as 39-28 in the caucuses for a total 100-93 victory. The final will not be completely solid until the county conventions are over and a report is made to the state, but it will not shift enough to give Hillary the victory.

Babe Ruth hit 60 -- why not the Democrats?! It helps when one of the guys you're after is 84 and corrupt.

And finally...introducing Bubbles and Spastic Spice! That's my niece as "Bubbles." It's the first of a series, so stay tuned.

Coach Gibbons Friday--

1000 meter row

50 kettle bell swings (25 lb bell)

4 sets of:
14 box steps (20" box)
10 push-ups

50 kettle bell swings (25 lb bell)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Math

Although Hillary Clinton emerged from Tuesday's primaries with new energy if not actual momentum, it remains exceedingly difficult to see how she can catch Barack Obama in the delegate count that ultimately determines the party nominee. Newsweek's Jonathan Alter tried mightily to devise a scenario under which she wins, and couldn't do it. 

Using Slate's delegate counter and the most recent state-by-state poll numbers (where they exist), I calculate that the remaining 982 delegates apportioned by primary will break 496-486 for Obama. That would give him 1,688 primary and caucus delegates, leaving him 337 short. And, he already has pledges from 201 superdelegates, cutting the number needed to 136 (under my calculations). As the uncommitted superdelegates are extremely unlikely to vote counter to the will of the voters in their states, he would almost certainly get at least that many. (Today, 279 superdelegates are uncommitted.)

Now, that's using my methodology, which is hardly scientific: I based my numbers on current polls, which are bound to change. But, I gave Clinton the benefit of the doubt whenever I could, and always gave her most of the undecided voters. In any case, it's a reasonably educated guess about where things stand today.

The wild cards are, of course, the Michigan and Florida delegations, which right now won't be seated. (They scheduled primaries in violation of party rules, and as result lost their delegates.) Howard Dean wants a do-over, but says the national party won't pay for it. The Clinton campaign wants the faux primary results to count (she won both), but that's unlikely. On the other hand, it's unimaginable that those two states won't have convention delegates, so something will be worked out. Even factoring in Clinton wins (and that's an especially debatable proposition in Michigan), she has not to date won any primary by the kind margins required to surpass Obama. In fact, whatever happens with those two states, he would likely wind up needing less than 100 superdelegates.

All of which explains recent hints from the Clinton campaign that they'd be amenable to a Clinton-Obama ticket. However, there's no reason for Obama to sign up for that. He's ahead, after all. Moreover, recent national polls have him trouncing John McCain, running much more strongly in the general election than Clinton. Despite last Tuesday's setback, he remains in a commanding position. At some point, Clinton must pull off a couple of genuine upsets to change the dynamic. Otherwise, one of the most anticipated campaigns in recent memory will collapse, mostly done in by the weight of its own baggage.

This is a low blow, and stupid in the bargain...Obama is not only African-American, he's black Irish as well...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Electability

Last night's primaries and caucuses left the battle for the Democratic party presidential nomination unsettled. If you are a Clinton supporter, you feel good about her (finally) blunting Obama's momentum and about her winning two more big states. (Although Texas is in some ways a split decision, since while Clinton won narrowly at the polls, Obama again won the caucuses handily.) On the other hand, the delegate picture remains more or less unchanged, with her having to win the remaining contests by margins she has yet to demonstrate she can compile.

If you are an Obama supporter, you're likely to point out that your candidate cut deeply into what were once 20 point margins, and that he still holds a commanding lead of about 100 in the delegate count. The fact remains, however, that he missed a chance to exert strong pressure on Clinton to end her campaign. He now faces at least six more weeks of campaigning until the Pennsylvania primary, where Clinton holds a lead of from anywhere from 6 to 14 points. Moreover, demographically Pennsylvania is one of the oldest states in the country, which plays to Clinton's strength among voters aged 50 and over.

In my mind, picking a candidate on the basis of "electability" is a sucker's game: Anything can happen between now and the first Tuesday in November to change assumptions made today. However, it's going to become an item of discussion regardless of what I think. You can anticipate arguments from the Clinton and Obama camps along the following lines.

Clinton will argue that the electorate remains split into red and blue states. She will argue that no Democrat can be elected president without carrying the states John Kerry carried in 2004, plus Ohio. She will point out that she won primaries in the vital states of California, Michigan, New Jersey and New York, not to mention Ohio. Pennsylvania, because of its demographics, is hers to lose, and Kerry barely carried it in 2004. Because of the strength she's shown in the Midwest, she is the candidate who can hold the Kerry electoral base, add Ohio, and be elected president.

Obama will spin the debate in a different direction. The electorate is closer to purple than red and blue, he will posit, and this election offers a historic opportunity to Democrats if they can legitimately offer a change in the way we conduct politics. He'll remind us that John McCain is more Catholic than the pope when it comes to an Iraq war that the public has turned against; that with the country in or on the brink of recession, Republicans offer a candidate who admits that he "doesn't really understand economics;" and whose solution to the health care access crisis is to continue letting the market work its wondrous magic. This sets the stage for a Democrat to win big, and Obama is the candidate who has shown strength in states like Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, and Missouri -- states that Bush won narrowly or that Democrats didn't dare think of winning until he (Obama) demonstrated the possibilities.

What the electability debate comes down to is whose reading of the political landscape you agree with and whether you think America wants a new politics enough to elect an African-American president. I will say this: I don't think Hillary Clinton can overcome her disapproval ratings enough to win big, no matter how favorable the terrain. She's simply not a good enough campaigner. Obama has the better chance of a big win, but he must figure out a way to finesse the preparedness argument that Clinton successfully raised in Ohio. As for Obama's race, let's hope that the better angels prevail.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Downloading

Today, Jackson Browne releases Solo Acoustic, Vol. 2. This series features live performances from across his entire catalogue, unaccompanied except from himself on piano or guitar. The performances lend an intimacy to the songs; you feel as if he's singing only for you. For Jackson fans, they're no-brainers even if you haveho. If you aren't a fan but are interested, For Everyman and Late For The Sky are good places to start. If you're not a fan, Solo Acoustic won't convert you.

Browne introduces many of the songs with lengthy chats. If you're a fan, you'll appreciate the back stories of these songs. Some reviews, however, complain that the introductions detract from the CDs over repeated listenings because what you really want to hear is the music and not the oral history. On the surface, that's fair enough, except that it fails to account for the utility of iTunes or whatever whatever computerized means you have of downloading .mp3 files either from a CD or from a server. (Agreed, not everyone has access to iTunes. Yet.) It's a simple enough matter to download Solo Acoustic and then create a play list without the spoken word intros.

Which is just one of the things I like about iTunes. When I was in high school back in the early Seventies, a record album cost about $4. For your money, you got 36-38 minutes of music on a piece of vinyl easily subject to damage. Compare that to today, where I can download an album for $10 and usually get close to an hour of music.  It turns out that that's a relative bargain: Typically, it takes $21.35 in today's dollars to buy what would have cost $4.00 in 1970, but downloading an album costs $10. (There's a calculator driven by the Consumer Price Index here.) And that doesn't account for the additional music: I'd guess that the average release today last from 50-60 minutes.

Much to the dismay of Big Music, downloading has exerted tremendous  downward pressure on the price of music. Many people don't bother to pay at all, of course, and even those of us who do like its economy of space as well as of dollars. Software like iTunes allows us to manage our music in ways we could only dream of in the days of albums. At the least, creating a play list was a time-intensive matter of transferring music to a cassette tape one song at a time. Now, its a matter of choosing a command from a menu. 

Sure, there are drawbacks to downloading. I don't download classical music or jazz, two genres where the fidelity of CDs makes a difference to me. Downloads rarely come with digital booklets that -- among other things -- credit all of the musicians on an album. But all things considered -- the relative cheapness, the easy storage, the utility -- downloading is a boon to music consumers. It's only a matter of time before the fidelity catches up, anyway.

Get one while they last: Volvo made only 107 of these babies. What are you waiting for?...With Fidel Castro having resigned, will Congress move to lift the wildly successful trade embargo on Cuba?