Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

Bill O'Reilly Flaming Asshole Voodoo Doll

As always, click to enlarge. For more Polly Jackson (a.k.a, Ima Wizer), Pat Oliphant, Tom Tomorrow, Tony Auth, Boondocks, Tom Toles, and Zippy the Pinghead, go here, here, here, here, here, and here...

Duplicity. D: Tony Gilroy. Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti. Industrial espionage as an attempted hybrid of John Le Carre and Ben Hecht. One-time spies and current lovers Owen and Roberts scheme to steal a secret cosmetic formula out from under the noses of rival CEOs Wilkinson and Giamatti. Despite Roberts' (who can do this kind of thing in her sleep) game effort and Giamatti's hilarious show-stealing performance, the film founders on a flat script that begs for better repartee. Moreover, the chemistry between a washed-out looking Owen and Roberts is off: She needs someone to run with, and he's a plodder to her thoroughbred. Plus, the twist at the end lacks credibility. On the other hand, the plot is appropriately complex, enough so to hold one's interest on a chilly, rainy Seattle afternoon. Overall, a nifty idea that could have and should have been better...

Single Men Social Aid and Pleasure Club second line parade today...

Sunday Gospel Time: Jesse Lee Brooks sings "Go Down, Moses" in the 1941 film Sullivan's Travels:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Weekly Address

President Obama details the federal response to the flooding in the Dakotas and Minnesota, praises the volunteer response, and highlights the efficacy of community action:
In the Fargodome, thousands of people gathered not to watch a football game or a rodeo, but to fill sandbags. Volunteers filled 2.5 million of them in just five days, working against the clock, day and night, with tired arms and aching backs. Others braved freezing temperatures, gusting winds, and falling snow to build levees along the river’s banks to help protect against waters that have exceeded record levels...

Freret jet...

Congratulations and a bouquet of husbandly pride to Premium T., whose poem "After School Alto" has been accepted for publication by Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women...

"F*** the average viewer:" David Simon discusses The Wire with Oliver Burkeman of The Guardian:
"You are sitting in the deconstruction of the American Dream," he says, indicating Baltimore. "Which is to say there was a fundamental myth that if you were willing to work hard, support your family, stay away from shit that ain't good for you, you'd do all right. You didn't have to be the smartest guy in the room. The dream wasn't that everyone could get rich. It was that everyone gets to make a living and see the game on Saturday, and maybe, with the help of a government loan or two, your kid'll go to college."
The heartbreaking fourth season of The Wire is the best television Citizen K. has ever seen...

Molly the Dog has reason number 2,667,385,791 why we need universal health care. Not to mention reason number 734,112,904,733 why health insurance companies suck...

Here's the famous wake scene from the third season of The Wire:

Friday, March 27, 2009

Don't Let Her Steal Your Heart Away

A reporter and photographer sign up for the 4-day, 52-mile Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program’s Paddle Bayou Lafourche canoe trip. You can track their progress here and here...

Nate Silver has the real Republican road to recovery here. RFB, they want to eliminate Idaho...

When the fetid stench of horse manure rose from the Seattle Times editorial page, I knew immediately to check George Will's column as the source. Sure enough, there he was, waxing indignant about workers' rights:
A leading Democrat trying to abolish the right of workers to secret ballots in unionization elections is California's Rep. George Miller who, with 15 other Democrats, in 2001 admonished Mexico: "The secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose." Last year, Mexico's highest court unanimously affirmed for Mexicans the right that Democrats want to strip from Americans.
Now, George Will standing up for the rights of labor has about much credibility as Josef Stalin arguing for an open society. Will refers, of course, to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would facilitate the organizing of unions by loosening the restrictions on a process known as card checking. I wrote about EFCA at length here, so I'll keep my points brief:
  1. No one is talking about getting rid of the secret ballot;
  2. EFCA does not violate anyone's rights: The Supreme Court has upheld card checking as constitutional;
  3. Workers have a right to organize that has been violated by open displays of intimidation by employers.
Another typical example of conservative intellectual dishonesty: Will's real agenda is that he opposes making it easier for workers to organize, but of course he can't come out and say that. So, he cloaks in a feigned concern for "rights"... 

Friday's Choice: The Rolling Stones perform "Carol," my favorite cover of my favorite Chuck Berry song (the video starts about 25 seconds in):

Here's Chuck:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Facebook Is Fun

Suburban car.

Not that it's a substitute for the actual writing I get to do on my blog, but I have been having fun making Top 5 lists on Facebook. Here are some of them:

Five Books I Love
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Personal Memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

Five Albums I'm Listening To Right Now
[asha], Asa
Day After Tomorrow, Joan Baez
Liejacker, Thea Gilmore
Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, Indigo Girls
Sugarbird, Paul Reddick

Five Contemporary Novels That Blew Me Away
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
Liars and Saints, Maile Meloy
Inishowen, Joseph O'Connor
Yellow Jack, Josh Russell
On Beauty, Zadie Smith

What are some of your Top Five lists?...

R. I. P., Uriel Jones. Here he is drumming with Chaka Khan the Funk Brothers, his Motown session mates...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Private-Public Investment Program

In last Sunday's Wall Street Journal, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner published a densely worded op-ed piece explaining the next step in the Obama Administration's solution to the economic crisis. Arguing that " crisis like this has a simple or single cause, but as a nation we borrowed too much and let our financial system take on irresponsible levels of risk," Geithner first reviewed the steps taken to date:
  • "...a broad program to stabilize the housing market by encouraging lower mortgage rates and making it easier for millions to refinance and avoid foreclosure;"
  • "...a new capital program to provide banks with a safeguard against a deeper recession;"
  • "...a major new lending program with the Federal Reserve targeted at the securitization markets critical for consumer and small business lending;"
  • "additional actions to support lending to small businesses by directly purchasing securities backed by Small Business Administration loans."
Geithner claimed that these programs have reduced mortgage interest rates and lead to a needed increase in refinancing. He then went on to announce the creation of a Public-Private Investment program Public-Private Investment Program "...that will set up funds to provide a market for the legacy loans and securities that currently burden the financial system." ("Legacy loans" is French for the overinvestment in the housing bubble that brought the economy to its knees.)

As Geithner explains it, "the funds established under this program will have three essential design features:"
  1. "They will use government resources in the form of capital from the Treasury, and financing from the FDIC and Federal Reserve, to mobilize capital from private investors;"
  2.  "The Public-Private Investment Program will ensure that private-sector participants share the risks alongside the taxpayer, and that the taxpayer shares in the profits from these investments. These funds will be open to investors of all types, such as pension funds, so that a broad range of Americans can participate.
  3. "Private-sector purchasers will establish the value of the loans and securities purchased under the program, which will protect the government from overpaying for these assets."
Fundamentally, Geithner assumes that the "legacy assets" are undervalued and the private sector needs only a boost from the government to get things moving in the right direction. In this scenario, the economic fundamentals are in fact sound.

Paul Krugman disagrees strenuously: "This is more than disappointing. In fact, it fills me with a sense of despair." Krugman stresses that the economy is not fundamentally sound and that the crisis does have a single cause: The working assumption by banks and lending institutions that the housing bubble had no end.  He argues that there is historically a way out:
It goes like this: the government secures confidence in the system by guaranteeing many (though not necessarily all) bank debts. At the same time, it takes temporary control of truly insolvent banks, in order to clean up their books.
Moreover, Krugman does not share Geithner's view that the plan does not risk taxpayer investment: 
But the Geithner scheme would offer a one-way bet: if asset values go up, the investors profit, but if they go down, the investors can walk away from their debt. So this isn’t really about letting markets work. It’s just an indirect, disguised way to subsidize purchases of bad assets.
In other words, it's the same old song of privatize the gain and socialize the risk. And the risk is that Geithner calls "legacy assets" and Krugman calls "toxic assets" have a significantly higher value than they do now. Because so many of them are tied up in the housing bubble, Krugman does not think it possible that the value of most of them is significantly different than it is right now.

Krugman fears that, by relying on "financial hocus pocus" doomed to failure, the Obama Administration will lose its credibility with Congress and the American people, and that it will be "...unlikely that he’ll be able to persuade Congress to come up with more funds to do what he should have done in the first place."

Meanwhile, Newsweek's Michael Hirsch thinks that Geithner may be on to something:
Over the last three weeks the markets have pulled back from the precipice. As Geithner and the Obama administration have laid out most of their plans, we have gone from a desperate and pervasive fear that bank stocks might drop out of sight altogether—leading to a depression after all—to a steady rebound in financial securities. Whereas a month ago there was a real danger the major banks would all collapse at once and become government wards, today even the massively mismanaged Citigroup is no longer a pathetic penny stock (it's soared to the $3 range).
Maybe. But Hirsch's expertise is in foreign policy, not economics. Even he recognizes that "Geithner is working on the theory that the financial system is still functional and solvent," an assumption that is not readily apparent to the millions of Americans who have lost their homes and jobs (or who fear the loss of them) and who have watched helplessly as their retirement nest-eggs dwindled. These people and others may wonder why the Administration believes that it can successfully partner with bankers who have demonstrated that they cannot bank and big investors who have proven that they cannot invest. Maybe things will be different with the government watching over them, but it's hard to see why these people would enter into a public-private partnership that does not get them out from under their toxic assets by transferring the risk to the public sector (i.e., us).

Stocks have rallied before and fallen after, so I don't see the point in reading too much into the current rally. Why taxpayers should bail out this institutions without getting seats on the boards is beyond me. However, Obama looked and sounded confident and assured during his prime time press conference last night, so maybe he feels as if a corner of sorts has been turned. Krugman's point about the housing bubble nags at me, though...

For those who enjoyed Monday's Santana video, check out this show stopping 1973 rendition of "Toussaint L'Overture." (Thanks, Bob!)...

Of cardinals and crows...

The Brickyard reports that former  Alaska state senator and mid-level Obama appointee Kim Elton actually received a larger per diem than Sarah Palin:
I have a source in Alaska who did some digging through the “Alaska Legislature 2008 Salary and Business Expense Report” – put out by the state’s Legislative Affairs Agency - and it’s truly amazing what was going on. According to my source, Elton charged the state a grand total of $20,681.25 in per diem for the year 2008 – several thousand dollars more than Gov. Palin. That comes out to $122.25 per day through the normal legislative session between January 15 and April 15. Then he charged $160.50 per day for two of the year’s four special sessions (30 days each). So, just on these facts alone, the man is far more “guilty” than the Governor when it comes to per diem.
The problem with the allegation, as a number of comments point out, is that all Alaskan legislators take a per diem as part of their compensation because their salaries are so low, and that as a Juneau representative, Elton actually took less because he already resided in the state capitol. The comments applauding the "scoop" quickly turn into the usual low comedy of rationalization and defensiveness, then somehow transition into attacks on Obama. Anyway, reading through the mental contortions and gyrations makes for good clean fun...


Monday, March 23, 2009

The Bloody Sock Calls It Quits

Curt Schilling announced his retirement from baseball today. Schilling was an outstanding pitcher who had some great seasons and out-of-this-world postseasons. His victory in the Bloody Sock Game of the 2004 American League Championship Series became one of baseball's iconic moments -- for Red Sox fans one on a par with Babe Ruth's Called Shot. For it was the magical 2004 season in which the Red Sox exorcised the demons the demons of history once and for all: They came back from an 0-3 deficit to defeat the hated Yankees in the ALCS, then swept the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series in 86 years. And they couldn't have done it without Schilling, who went 21-6 that season before winning the Bloody Sock game and game 2 of the World Series.

Is Curt Schilling a Hall of Famer? His lifetime statistics (216-146, 3.46 ERA) say no, but his postseason record (11-2, 2.23 ERA, three World Series rings, one bloody sock) argues for consideration. What no one can doubt is his commitment to the game and drive to win. Indeed, he wrote today on his blog of his wish that that be his legacy:
The only thing I hope I did was never put in question my love for the game, or my passion to be counted on when it mattered most. I did everything I could to win every time I was handed the ball.
Sleep soundly, Curt: You have no worries on that score...

Don't miss the Boston Globe's gallery of Schilling's years with the Red Sox...

Life In New Orleans: Play squiggles...

What's a blog if you can't write about whatever comes to mind? The gym's sound system today played Santana's hit "Smooth." I thought back to my high school days in South Texas and about how Santana was the top band then, the favorite of both Anglo and Latino kids. They were one of the few things that brought us together. The 1999 release of Supernatural exposed Santana to a new generation of fans: I distinctly remember the smile that crossed my face when I heard "Smooth" booming from a car driven by a teenager. I can't think of any other band that crossed over racial and generational lines, and it's a tribute to Carlos Santana's great humanity as well as his musical brilliance that he accomplished both. Here's Santana with a 1971 performance of "Toussaint L'Overture," which originally appeared on Santana III:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

As always, click to enlarge. For more New Yorker, Tom Tomorrow, David Horsey, Tom Toles, Tony Auth, and Zippy the Pinhead, go herehere, here, here, here, and here...

Hype & Glory: Rock and Rap Confidential issue #225 has published my review of Hank Williams: The Unreleased Recordings. The review appeared here in Citizen K. Receive a free subscription to RRC by writing to

Cowtown Pattie writes about Texas music on Time Goes By. The great thing about Texas music is that someone else could introduce the topic with completely different selections that would be every bit as valid...

Let Freedom Sing: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement, Various Artists. Three CDs of indispensable gospel, folk, blues, R&B, soul, rap, and world music. The first CD concentrates on the gospel, folk, and country blues that first helped bring the movement to a wider audience. The next two branch out to the great songs that brought a sense of purpose to popular music and that provided an avenue for the expression of black pride and accomplishment. A coda of contemporary sides expresses gratitude to the movement martyrs and heroes, then looks ahead to the work left to be done. The classics -- "Strange Fruit," "Blowin' in the Wind," "We Shall Overcome, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T," "We Are the People Who Are Darker Than Blue"---- give context for lesser known work by forgotten performers like J. B. Lenoir, George Perkins, Ray Scott, and Bob & Marcia in the same sense that the leaders of the movement couldn't have done it without the volunteers who risked their lives every day. Necessary not as a historical document -- although it certainly is that -- but as proof of the power of popular music to animate a righteous cause and of the power of a righteous cause to inspire great music...

A lawsuit blaming the Army Corps of Engineers for flooding from Hurricane Katrina can proceed to trial, a judge ruled Friday in a case seen as a likely last recourse for storm victims seeking compensation from the federal government for alleged negligence by the agency...
It Could Happen to You: The Louisiana Family Forum wants to carve up Congressional districts. And, yes, the LFF is an affiliate of the diabolical Focus on the Family...

Sunday Gospel Time: Bessie Jones and children from the Downtown Community School sing "I'm Gonna Lay Down My Life For My Lord."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Weekly Address

"These investments are not a wish list of priorities that I picked out of thin air – they are a central part of a comprehensive strategy to grow this economy by attacking the very problems that have dragged it down for too long: the high cost of health care and our dependence on oil; our education deficit and our fiscal deficit..."

Earlier this week, House Republican leader claimed that there had been no deregulation of the banking and finance business:

Liberals have rushed to accuse Boehner of lying, but I'm not so sure. I suspect that he's so rigid and doctrinaire that he actually believes what he's saying. This perspective opens up a potentially productive line of attack for Democrats: On the few occasions when Republicans don't lie, the truth is even worse. Adlai Stevenson put it best back in the Fifties: If the Republicans will stop telling lies about us (Democrats), we'll stop telling the truth about them. (For more on Stevenson -- one of the great figures of the 1950's -- go here.)...

Yesterday, I treated myself to this video--

--and this morning I'm on a Bob Dylan jag, starting with Nashville Skyline and moving on to Freewheeling. I have a feeling that Bringing It All Back Home will be next...

Town and Country: Foxessa reports from New Orleans. Great pictures...Speaking of which, don't miss these old coots...Click here, scroll down, and enjoy...

R. I. P., Eddie Bo. Here he is at an in-store appearance at the Louisiana Music Factory:

Here, he performs "Mother-in-Law" with Lillian Boutte on vocals.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Shortly after I began working at the Very Large Software Company, I met a dynamic program manager named Trish Millines Dziko. She went on to become the Senior Diversity Administrator for the company, and left in the late nineties to form the Technology Access Foundation,  which has the mission of "preparing underserved children of color for higher education and professional success by providing a rigorous and relevant K-12 curriculum." TAF offers everything from afterschool programs in robotics to administration of an entire school, the TAF Academy in Federal Way (WA).

Last month, I finally got around to serving as a volunteer for the afterschool TechStart program at Mount View Elementary in the Highline school district southwest of Seattle. Tech Start  
is a free, yearlong after-school program for students in kindergarten through 8th grade. The focus of TechStart is providing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) enrichment to underserved children of color through project-based learning and advanced technology tools.
I work with a group of kids in 4th-6th grade working with Lego Mindstorms products to buikd robots that mimic animal behavior.

Both parents and teachers tell me that Mount View Elementary is a wonderful school, and it certainly looks it. Think of every negative stereotype you have of an inner city school, then take your mind 180 degrees in the opposite direction. The school is well-kept, clearly a place that its administration, teachers, parents, and students care about. I'm not sure what I was expecting on my first day, but it wasn't this.

As for the kids in the TAF program, they are a World War II Hollywood movie caster's dream: Somali, African-American, Latino, Jewish, and Japanese-American. Invariably in a good humor, the most difficult thing about them to manage is their ebullience. They take great interest in each others' projects. One of the older girls, a Somali, is always ready to help. At yesterday's open house, she volunteered to read the paper from the project of the very shy Japanese-American boy whose partner had not shown. The point I'm making here is that these kids are oblivious to race. I suppose that will change, but right now just being around this makes me feel great about what lies ahead for this country...

A new First Lines today, replacing the opening sentences of Joseph Heller's Catch-22...

Amy Goodman argues that bailout money should go to the people who need it most...

Spring has sprung in Lakewood...

Friday's Choice: Roy Smeck, The Wizard of the Strings, displays his virtuosity on the guitar, lap steel guitar, banjo, and ukulele. Robert Frost's Banjo has more about this amazing musician here. In the meantime:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wounded Veterans to Pay for Health Care?

House and Senate Democrats have moved to eliminate a budget proposal that would require combat veterans to use third-party health insurance firms to pay for combat-related injuries, calling it "deeply troubling" and "the responsibility of the U.S. government through the Department of Veterans Affairs -- period." For its part, the Obama Administration does not appear committed to this proposal and already has a meeting scheduled with veterans' groups to discuss this and the overall VA budget.

Jon Soltz, executive director of VoteVets, spoke with Huffington Post about the proposal:
We don't know if this is going to be the proposal, or if it is a serious consideration or not. So, it's premature to go to the White House with pitchforks at this point. That having been said, if it is proposed, we would be opposed, and can't imagine any veterans group that would be for it. There's no appetite for it on the Hill, either. There are ways to eliminate waste at every level of government, though, including the VA. I think we'd all like to sit down with the administration and find areas of the VA budget that are redundant or wasteful, to make sure every dollar spent there is necessary.
It's pretty clear that this idea is a non-starter, as it should be. What's interesting is the hysterical response of the right-blogosphere ("Obama screws military!", "Radical Socialism!", "this makes me sick to my stomach"), which you can sample here, here, and here. Also of interest  is the official Fox News account.

First of all, Fox buries and no one else mentions that the Obama budget proposes a 10% increase in VA funding, an increase badly needed after eight years of Bush budget cuts and dereliction of duty. Moreover, they're all acting as if this were a done deal on the scale of the neglect at Walter Reed Hospital instead of a trial balloon intended as a means of paying for the overall increase. 

But what really surprises me is the emotional extent of the opposition. After all, wouldn't privately insured benefits payments simply allow injured veterans to take advantage of the wonderful world of free choice? It's an article of faith among conservatives that the United States has the world's best health care system, never mind the 50,000,000 uninsured and 60,000,000 underinsured. Why oppose a proposal that will allow veterans to participate in it instead of being subject to government-run health care, which by definition is evil, incompetent, and inefficient? 

It seems to me that conservatives can't have it both ways, much as they may want to. If privately insured payment of benefits isn't acceptable for combat veterans, why should it be acceptable to anyone else?

Despite the headlines, no one says that wounded veterans will actually have to pay for their health care. I worked for a company that self-insured its employees but administered provider payments through a private insurer. I rarely paid any money out of pocket and never had a problem with provider payments being withheld. If I did have a problem or question, I dealt with my company's Human Resources department and not the insurer. Problems were rare because the company had a commitment to broad coverage.

Which for wounded veterans I would think is really the issue: What is the government commitment to coverage of treatment of combat wounds and combat-related disabilities? If an individual veteran has problem or question, will the VA resolve it? During the Bush years, the VA earned a poor reputation for providing and paying for the immense psychological damage experienced by Iraq war veterans, wounded or otherwise. (Bush cuts in the VA budget didn't make their job any easier.) It's instructive that veterans' groups would nonetheless still rather go through the VA rather than have anything to do with the private sector. Which raises the questions again: If private health insurance is bad for veterans, why is it good for the rest of the American citizenry? If government-run health care is the gold standard for veterans, why isn't it for everyone else?...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

The Ten Best Irish Pubs in New England...

Five Irish novels not by James Joyce or Edna O'Brien that everyone should read:

The Secret Scriptures, Sebastian Barry

How Many Miles To Babylon?, Jennifer Johnston

Inishowen, Joseph O'Connor

Strumpet City, James Plunkett

The Story Of Lucy Gault, William Trevor

ZenYenta reminds us that on St. Patrick's Day, everyone is Irish...

...including in Lakewood, Ohio, Mouse reminds us...

Helen Wheels regales  regales us with Irish and Catholic humor...

In words and pictures, Premium T. tells the story of her Irish roots...

The Chieftains join a session at Matt Molloy's Pub in Westport, County Mayo:

Another session at Matt Molloy's. I believe that is him playing flute:

Monday, March 16, 2009

The So-Called Liberal Media Strikes Again

This Washington Post article about the recent elections in El Salvador makes it seem like Mauricio Funes is a Marxist demagogue cheered to victory by crowds waving signs that said "Yanqui Go Home":
Leftist Declares Victory In El Salvador Election

By William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 16, 2009; A11

MIAMI, March 16 -- Mauricio Funes, a former TV newsman who was recruited to run for president, declared himself the winner of El Salvador's presidential contest Sunday night, bringing into power a leftist party built by former guerrillas and ending two decades of conservative rule.

Funes, a dynamic speaker and political outsider who compares himself to President Obama and pledged to be an agent of change in the small Central American nation, was leading the polls late Sunday night with 51.2 percent of the vote and more than 90 percent of the ballots counted. Turnout was high and election day was mostly calm.

If the lead holds, Funes and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) will take control of a nation struggling with an economic crisis and a murder rate that is among the highest in the world. The country has also suffered through 12 years of civil war, which left more than 70,000 people dead.

Funes's opponent, former National Police chief Rodrigo Ávila, who represented the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), was trailing with 48.7 percent of the vote. Ávila conceded defeat, telling supporters, "We will be a constructive opposition."

During a rough campaign season, Ávila insisted that a win for Funes and the FMLN would transform El Salvador into a hard-left satellite state of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Ávila further warned that Funes would turn El Salvador away from the United States. The two countries have traditionally shared close relations. More than 2 million El Salvadorans live in the United States, and thousands traveled home to vote in the elections.

Funes promised to create a broad government composed of FMLN members and outsiders like himself. He said he sought a close working relationship with the United States and vowed to champion the cause of El Salvador's poor. "This is the happiest night of my life, and I want it to be the night of El Salvador's greatest hope," he said. "I want to thank all the people who voted for me and chose that path of hope and change.

Now, let's change a few words here and add a few there:
Progressive Declares Victory In El Salvador Election

MIAMI, March 16 -- Mauricio Funes, a former TV newsman who was recruited to run for president, declared himself the winner of El Salvador's presidential contest Sunday night, bringing into power a progressive party built by former guerrillas and ending two decades of ultraconservative rule.

Funes, a dynamic speaker and nominee of the majority FMLN party who compares himself to President Obama and pledged to be an agent of change in the small Central American nation, was leading the polls late Sunday night with 51.2 percent of the vote and more than 90 percent of the ballots counted. Turnout was high and election day was mostly calm.

If the lead holds, Funes and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) -- which already controls a majority of the El Salvadoran legislature -- will take control of a nation struggling with an economic crisis and a murder rate that is among the highest in the world. The country has also suffered through 12 years of civil war during which the party representing the death squads of the Eighties received U. S. aid and political support, which left more than 70,000 people dead.

Funes's opponent, rightist former National Police chief Rodrigo Ávila, who represented the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), was trailing with 48.7 percent of the vote. Ávila conceded defeat, telling supporters, "We will be a constructive opposition."

During a rough campaign season, the ultraconservative Ávila insisted that a win for Funes and the FMLN would transform El Salvador into a hard-left satellite state of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Ávila further warned that Funes would turn El Salvador away from the United States. The two countries have traditionally shared close relations. More than 2 million El Salvadorans live in the United States, and thousands traveled home to vote in the elections.

Funes promised to create a broad government composed of FMLN members and progressives like himself. He said he sought a close working relationship with the United States and vowed to champion the cause of El Salvador's poor. "This is the happiest night of my life, and I want it to be the night of El Salvador's greatest hope," he said. "I want to thank all the people who voted for me and chose that path of hope and change."
Now read this and decide for yourself which version is more accurate. Here's the lede:
A desire for change isn't a sentiment unique to voters in the United States, and it's not something that our country should fear when embraced by our Southern neighbors. El Salvador, a country that will hold presidential elections on March 15, is a case in point. It's a place where a single party has been in power for two decades. It has long been mired in poverty, crime, and corruption. And its own Cheneys and Rumsfelds remain in power. A victory by the progressive frontrunner in the electoral contest -- the first Latin American presidential elections since President Barack Obama's inauguration -- would give the new White House an opportunity to reject fear-mongering about the rise of left-leaning governments in Latin America and instead praise the regional wave of democratic transformation.
The full story, written by Mark Engler of, details both the origins of a U.S.-supported right wing party (ARENA) with roots in the Salvadoran death squads of the Eighties as well as the rise grass-roots progressive movement (FMLN) that now hold a majority of the El Salvador legislature. And yet the so-called liberal media insists on portraying FMLN as an extreme leftist group beholden to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, while the right-wing ARENA party comes across as upholders of law and order despite the high crime rate in El Salvador. Go figure...

Sugar Bird
, Paul Reddick. Canadian Reddick comes from a distinguished national singer-songwriter tradition that boasts Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young. What distinguishes Reddick from them and everyone else is that he writes blues songs, an art form that has just about disappeared, as today's blues performers focus primarily on guitar virtuosity. With verses like this-

Sometime when you look at me
All my troubles cease to be
You are lovely, you are fine
You've got the devilment on your mind

Oh so fine, a heart so pure
You're alluringly demure
You're the fruit upon the vine
You've got the devilment on your mind

--Reddick draws inspiration from the lyric and melodic excellence of Robert Johnson.  On Sugar Bird, Reddick commands a variety of blues styles with such aplomb that that it seems perfectly natural and right for the rollicking "It's Later Than You Think" to succeed the aching "John Lennon In New Orleans." Any Reddick CD is worth having, and Sugar Bird is a great place to start. Highly recommended...

Paul Reddick sings "Villanelle" at the Crossroads Cafe in Antwerp, Belgium:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

As always, click to enlarge. For more Ben Sargent, Tom Toles, Tom the Dancing Bug, Tony Auth, Zippy the Pinhead, Pat Oliphant, and Tom Tomorrow, go here, here, here, here, here, here, and here...

Offbeat interviews Bo Dollis, a pivotal figure in the history of the Mardi Gras Indians:
The mystical power of the word at the heart of Mardi Gras Indian ritual resided in Dollis, whose preacher’s powers made him stand out after he joined the Wild Magnolias. Though he was a relative newcomer, Dollis quickly rose from Flag Boy to Big Chief in 1964 largely because of his singing ability. As Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias, Dollis helped refashion the nature and practices of Mardi Gras Indian culture and protocol through the 1960s, preserving the traditional ritual texts but changing the nature of the competition between tribes and bringing the Indians to a wider audience. Bo Dollis was part of a new breed of Mardi Gras Indians that eschewed violence and sublimated the competition between gangs into a contest of costumes, the prettier and more elaborate the better.

Mardi Gras Indian culture made a dramatic breakthrough to the outside world in 1970 when Dollis and his childhood friend Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles organized a Mardi Gras Indian second line as part of the inaugural New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which took place across the street from the French Quarter in Congo Square. New Orleans had just emerged from the social restrictions of segregation. It was a truly historic moment for a city scarred by the American original sin of slavery to have an African American secret society lead an integrated public parade to a spot where their ancestors had been sold as chattel. The voice of Bo Dollis called the way into the Promised Land...

The Found Poetry of Postcards: Sarah Boxer's slide show essay on recent installations of the postcard collections of Walker Evans and Zoe Leonard...

Premium T. and I watched Gone With The Wind last night. Yes, the second part drags in the middle, neither Clark Gable nor Leslie Howard would stoop to using southern accents, and the racism is palpable. But Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland do the heavy acting lifting anyway, and the movie set a new standard for storytelling and filmmaking.  Leigh was all of 24 when she portrayed Scarlett O'Hara in what gets my vote for Best Performance by an Actress in a 20th Century Picture. I counted once, and she's in all but five scenes of the 3:42 film -- an astonishing effort, especially considering that she is superb throughout. Leigh essays Scarlett's underlying character so compellingly that the character remains consistent from a flighty belle of the ball to a flinty businesswoman who finally acknowledges her beating heart. Here is her great "I'll never be hungry again" scene from just before intermission:

Jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard, whose album A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina), chronicled the psychological destruction of Hurricane Katrina, is recording his new album at New Orlean's Patrick F. Taylor Library. Here's a an excerpt from the "Funeral Dirge" portion of the requiem, performed with the Louisiana Philharmonic at last year's Jazz Festival:

Food, inglorious food...

Leonard Pitts writes that no one should be surprised that we are losing our religion:
And people of faith should ask themselves:

What is the cumulative effect upon outside observers of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker living like lords on the largesse of the poor, multiplied by Jimmy Swaggart's pornography addiction, plus Eric Rudolph bombing Olympians and gays in the name of God, plus Muslims hijacking airplanes in the name of God, multiplied by the church that kicked out some members because they voted Democrat, divided by people caterwauling on courthouse steps as a rock bearing the Ten Commandments was removed, multiplied by the square root of Catholic priests preying on little boys while the church looked on and did nothing, multiplied by Muslims rioting over cartoons, plus the ongoing demonization of gay men and lesbians, divided by all those "traditional values" coalitions and "family values" councils that try to bully public schools into becoming worship houses, with morning prayers and science lessons from the book of Genesis? Then subtract selflessness, service, sacrifice, holiness and hope.

Do the math, and I bet you'll draw the same conclusion the researchers did...

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Ben Sargent, whose work is a regular feature of Citizen K.'s Sunday Funnies, has accepted an early retirement buyout from the Austin American-Statesmen.  For the time being, he plans to develop one cartoon a week, some of which will no doubt appear here...

Sunday Gospel Hour: Orville Noble sings "I Don't Know What You Came To Do" at the homegoing service for his mother, Rev. Vera Bell. Rev. Aubrey Ghent accompanies him on sacred steel guitar. If all churches were like this, Leonard Pitts might not have had anything to write about today...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Weekly Address: Protecting Americans from Unsafe Food and Drugs

In the end, food safety is something I take seriously, not just as your President, but as a parent. When I heard peanut products were being contaminated earlier this year, I immediately thought of my 7-year old daughter, Sasha, who has peanut butter sandwiches for lunch probably three times a week. No parent should have to worry that their child is going to get sick from their lunch. Just as no family should have to worry that the medicines they buy will cause them harm. Protecting the safety of our food and drugs is one of the most fundamental responsibilities government has, and, with the outstanding team I am announcing today, it is a responsibility that I intend to uphold in the months and years to come...

Iowa Republican senator Charles Grassley's predictable response is here. Guess what? Taxes are bad...

Is Anybody Listening?  The students of Village Academy High School in Pomona, CA, talk about how the recession has affected them and their families. More here...

Here's another one that will break your heart: Foreclosure of private planes in on the rise. (Thanks to Kathy at Stone Soup Musings for this one.)

What does recovery look like? Here's a glimpse...

It's not just the economy that's melting down: Eric Alterman and Danielle Ivory write that conservatives have joined in...

St. Joseph altars are a New Orleans tradition. Read about them here and see detailed photos of one here...

(Altar by Sharon Keating)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Peaceful World

Surprise, surprise! There are parades and parties in New Orleans this weekend! Both the Irish Channel St. Patrick's Day Club and the Italian-American Marching Club have parades tomorrow, respectively celebrating St. Patrick's Day and St. Joseph's Day. Sunday, head over to A. L. Davis Park for the beginning of Super Sunday Gathering of the Mardi Gras Indian Tribes procession...

The Nation reminds Barack Obama that he owes a debt to New Orleans:
A yearning to soothe this national shame and heal the gaping racial wound that was reopened by Katrina is partly responsible for America's enthusiastic embrace of Barack Obama. American willingness to confront racial injustice dissipated as quickly as Bush's promises to rebuild the city, but Katrina had awakened a deep desire to prove that America is not a nation marred by racism. Barack Obama's personal narrative of interracial understanding and ascension from the working class to the White House was a balm for America's aching racial scar. Though he was a relative newcomer to national politics, his biography and political commitments to racial healing were appealing to a country still reeling in the aftermath of Katrina. Obama did not need to directly propose race-based policies; he could embody American hopes for racial healing in his very person.

Passage of HR 4048, the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, makes for a great place to start...

Overheard at the gym this morning: "Should I just grab my...ah--" We were headed in opposite directions, so I'll never know what she should have grabbed. Feel free to fill in the blank...

Wayback Machine: To the extent that there was a New York sound, its genesis lay in the Italian neighborhoods of the Bronx and Newark that produced the likes of Frankie Valli, Dion, and Felix Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati and Dino Vanelli of the Young Rascals. These performers absorbed the doo-wop and soul sounds emanating from Philadelphia, adding their own pop twists to form a unique brand of white soul. Dion still makes compelling music today, and the Young Rascals became one of the top bands of the Sixties.

Cavaliere, Brigati, and Vanelli teamed with Canadian Gene Cornish to form the Young Rascals (later simply The Rascals). From 1965 to 1968, the Young Rascals released an impressive discography of singles, including "A Beautiful Morning," "Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore," "Good Lovin'," "Groovin," "How Can I Be Sure," and "Mustang Sally." These were classic singles boasting an excellent grasp of rock and soul stylings driven primarily by Cavaliere's stirring baritone and trademark organ. Collectively, they formed both the perfect soundtrack for the Summer of Love in 1967 and equally effective antidotes to the upheavals of 1968 and 1969. 

Peaceful World, the Rascals' swan song, was a creative blend of gospel, soul, and jazz that never found an audience. It's a shame, because Peaceful World is a fine, sophisticated album populated with excellent musicians. The languid title track instrumental, which offers nearly 22 minutes of dreamy psychedelic jazz fusion, holds up surprisingly well. "Bit of Heaven" and "Love Me" hearken back to the Rascals soulful past while "Little Dove" (with one of the only harp solos in rock) and "Icy Water" exhibit the lovely, exploratory potential of blue-eyed soul. All in all, Peaceful World is one of the great unknown albums of the 1970's.

But the place to discover the Rascals remains their 1968 anthology Time Peace: The Rascals Greatest Hits. calls it "arguably the greatest greatest hits album of the Sixties" and it's hard to disagree. Every song that defined them one of the great white soul bands ever is there, and Time Space remains compulsively listenable more than forty years after its release. To delve deeper, check out the 1992 release Anthology (1965-1972), which offers everything on Time Peace as well as a serious excavation of top album tracks that were never released as singles. Finally, anyone wanting to go all in can hunt down the exhaustive The Rascals All I Really Need: The Atlantic Recordings (1965-1971). At five CDs, All I Really Need may at first blush seem like an awful lot of the Rascals, but it turns out that this collection is not only as listenable as Time Peace, it reveals the Rascals as an endlessly probing band that released some of the finest and most far-reaching music of the Sixties. 

Caveat: Since Peaceful World was recorded for Columbia, it does not appear on All I Need.

 Friday's Choice: In honor of St. Joseph's Day, here are the Young Rascals performing their great single, "Good Lovin'." And dig those go-go dancers!