Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

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

Get your NFL free agent tracker here...

Occupied Territory Funk has a terrific Miles Davis video here. It's an abstract soundscape that reflects the  music in visual pulses and and impressions...

The New York Times obituary for Antoinette K-Doe is here. She believed in her spouse and in her community -- and acted on her trust -- in ways that few people have...

Keith Speara writes that her funeral was appropriately musical and flamboyant:
Deacon John Moore, alone with an acoustic guitar, belted "One More River to Cross." Gospel vocalist Jo "Cool" Davis stood on his artificial leg and wailed an uptempo spiritual; the church band, featuring James Andrews on trumpet, joined in as the congregation rose and clapped in time.

Porgy Jones serenaded the casket with a delicate flugelhorn solo. Congregants sang "We Shall Not Be Moved" as they filed past Mrs. K-Doe one last time.

In the lead [of the funeral procession] was an antique-style, glass-walled hearse carriage pulled by two white mules. Once Mrs. K-Doe's coffin was stowed inside, the marchers strutted past onlookers crowding the narrow strip of Ursulines neutral ground. Rain threatened, but held off.

A mule named Christmas pulled a passenger carriage, the sort that normally hauls tourists around the French Quarter. Riding in the front row, wearing his permanent smile, was the mannequin of Ernie K-Doe. A human attendant held the mannequin's top hat in place through a tight U-turn at North Prieur.

Sometimes the most trivial and mundane things take on a life of their own. Take the simple water meter cover in New Orleans. Of late, it has appeared on shirts, jewelry, photos and more. Taking on "the part represents the whole", it has developed an aura of its own. It represents in peoples' mind a symbol of the New Orleans they always knew. A New Orleans from more carefree times.
Big Railroad Blues Dept: Ronni Bennett writes about railroad songs here on As Time Goes By. One of my favorite train songs is "Big Railroad Blues" as covered by the Grateful Dead. It's here, about 2:25 into the video...

Beats me why these guys are called the Moron Brothers. It seems to me that they have it made...

Yesterday afternoon, T. and I saw The Class, the 2008 Best Foreign Picture nominee from France. Although fictional, the film is shot and produced in a cinema verite style that places the viewer in the classroom. We are also present at parent-teacher conferences, in the teacher's lounge (yes, they smoke in there), and at student evaluation conferences. The Class follows teacher Francois Marin (played by Francois Begaudeau, who wrote the autobiographical novel on which the film is based) and the students of his inner city middle school literature class through a complete school year. They achieve enough triumphs that we suffer their failures that much more acutely. 

Throughout the film, M. Marin perseveres in his efforts to convey the concept of the meaning of words to his students. Though some often respond with the frustrating literalness of middle school students, others slowly take his point. Thus it is the height of irony when he loses a student -- one that Marin defended in private while often clashing with in class -- when he misunderstands how loaded a certain slang word is and cannot get the class to accept his literal use of the word. The film ends when the school year ends, with students cheering on teachers as they play soccer, a reminder that the student-teacher relationship is ever symbiotic and antagonistic. Highly recommended.

Discovery Channel: Jessie Lee Miller. This Austin-based cowgirl chanteuse successfully blends torch singing, western swing, jazz, and countrypolitan into a unique confection that epitomizes Texas music. That is, while Miller's approach is neither fish nor fowl, it is an unconventional alchemy perfectly reflecting a musical tradition that borrows from other traditions without qualm and somehow forges its own larger-than-life identity.

Miller has released two CDs, both good if abbreviated. Now You're Gonna Be Loved (2006) is straightforward swing-jazz characterized by Miller's sultry voice backed by a swinging band. Adept, economic instrumental breaks punctuate the vocals as Miller and her band course through thirteen ballads and honky tonkers. An acoustic rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" provides a nice finishing touch. 

Waiting (2007) introduces elements of countrypolitan, with the occasional Nashville-style strings nicely augmented by a New Orleans clarinet. This set is jazzier, further flung in its influences, and definitely more ambitious. The opening torch ballad, "People Fall In Love Like That," with its clarinet intro, jazz piano solo, and sultry vocals sets the tone nicely for the remainder of the CD. Nonetheless, one of the most charming aspects of Waiting is that Miller never forgets her origins: Miller romps through "Good Lookin' No Good," the very next song, accompanied by a steel guitar, and honky tonk piano, and a blues guitar solo that comes out of nowhere. Then comes the mid-tempo "Always October" followed by the lounge blues of "Runaround." Miller continues to mix her pitches deftly (including Latin version of Marilyn Monroe's "Loved By You"!) and holds the CD together with her relaxed yet seductive voice. It's always encouraging when an artist follows up a promising debut with an even stronger second effort, and, with Waiting, Jessie Lee Miller has accomplished just that.

Here is she is singing "Pennies On The Railroad Track" from her first CD:

Weekly Address

President Obama ends a breathless week in which he presented his first budget, announced a plan to end the occupation of Iraq, attended a Washington Wizards NBA game, and honored Stevie Wonder at a White House concert. In his weekly address, Obama summarized his budget plan along with his determination to forge change:
The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long, but I don’t. I work for the American people. I didn’t come here to do the same thing we’ve been doing or to take small steps forward, I came to provide the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November. That is the change this budget starts to make, and that is the change I’ll be fighting for in the weeks ahead – change that will grow our economy, expand our middle-class, and keep the American Dream alive for all those men and women who have believed in this journey from the day it began. 
Complete text hereand video here...

The president and friend courtside a the Wizards-Bulls game:

President Obama greets Stevie Wonder in the White House East Room. Stevie received the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

Just one of the many reasons why Stevie more than merits this recognition:

Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama announces end of Iraq occupation

Today, President Obama announced his plan for ending combat operations in Iraq by the end of August 2010 and to withdraw all American troops by the end of 2011:
"Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."
Near the close of the speech (complete text here), Obama reflected on the lessons learned from the Iraq misadventure:
There are many lessons to be learned from what we’ve experienced. We have learned that America must go to war with clearly defined goals, which is why I’ve ordered a review of our policy in Afghanistan. We have learned that we must always weigh the costs of action, and communicate those costs candidly to the American people, which is why I’ve put Iraq and Afghanistan into my budget. We have learned that in the 21st century, we must use all elements of American power to achieve our objectives, which is why I am committed to building our civilian national security capacity so that the burden is not continually pushed on to our military. We have learned that our political leaders must pursue the broad and bipartisan support that our national security policies depend upon, which is why I will consult with Congress and in carrying out my plans. And we have learned the importance of working closely with friends and allies, which is why we are launching a new era of engagement in the world.
Do I want this to happen sooner? Yes. Am I happy about the 50,000-man residual force expected to remain in Iraq from September 1, 2010 until the formal end of the occupation? No. But I'm overjoyed that we have a leader with a plan to get completely out of Iraq with no permanent presence there. He has at least put forth the correct strategy, which is how we exit by a specific time as opposed to how do we pursue a undefined notion of victory for an open-ended period of time...

The great Helen Thomas has the right of it: Why shouldn't Obama aim high?...

The MSM is shocked -- shocked -- that Obama is doing what he said he'd do. I've said it before and I'll say it again: If you listened to the MSM on the topic, in this country, the only things worse than being a victim of class warfare are talking about it and doing something about it. To all of you TV reporters and everyone else making over $250,000 a year, look at it this way: For ten years, you received a completely unjustifiable tax rebate that in some cases added up to $250,000. Now, the rebate has run out and you get to do your part like everyone else...

Ever with his finger on the pulse of reality, Pope Benedict informs Nancy Pelosi that Catholic politicians cannot  support abortion rights...

Obama's budget calls for restoring Gulf Coast wetlands:
Without offering specifics, President Barack Obama's first budget calls for continued financing to restore Louisiana wetlands, including a study to identify "the best ways to restore wetlands" destroyed or damaged by the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet.

Environmentalists contend that MR-GO killed thousands of acres of cypress wetlands and marsh, vital to helping the area absorb the pounding of hurricanes.

Eliot Kamenitz/The Times-Picayune

Friday's Choice:
Chris Isaak covers the Neil Diamond classic "Solitary Man" (1993):

And here's the man himself in 1971:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Alternate Takes

Mr. Lucky, Chris Isaak's first album of new material in seven year, is available at enough price points and configurations to confound a supercomputer. The distribution strategy appears to be one of making separate deals with individual outlets and then letting them handle to promotion and fallout. I've sorted through some -- and I emphasize some as opposed to all -- of the options simply to illustrate the bewildering array facing consumers. 

Let's start with the baseline CD, with no discount and no bonus tracks. In other words, what you would pay in a randomly chosen CD store not offering a discount for a newly released CD:

14 songs
Price before tax: $18.99
Price per song: $1.39

Now consider some of the alternatives:

2 bonus tracks
alternate cover
6" x 6" lithograph of cover
Price including shipping estimate: $24.96
Price per song: $1.56

From Borders:
Baseline CD, discounted
Price: $15.99
Price per song: $1.14

From Walmart:
Baseline CD, discounted
Price: $11.88
Price per song:  $0.85
Note: According to Walmart's web site, Mr. Lucky is not available for order on-line and is in stock only at selected stores.

Configuration #1
Baseline release
Price including shipping: $12.97
Price per song: $0.93

Configuration #2
Download baseline CD
Price: $10.49
Price per song: $0.75

Configuration #3
Download baseline CD plus three bonus tracks
Price: $12.99
Price per song: $0.76

Other Amazon Options:
Baseline CD
Price: $12.23-$27.89 (import)
Price per song: $0.87-$1.99
Note: Imports often have 1-2 songs not on the standard U. S. version, so the high end price per may be a few cents lower.

From iTunes:
Configuration #1
Download baseline CD
Price: $10.99
Price per song: $0.75

Configuration #2
Download baseline CD plus four bonus tracks
Price: $13.99
Price per song: $0.78

Unless you badly want the lithograph and alternate cover, I don't know why you would do otherwise than download from or iTunes. If you don't have an mp3 player, you'll want to track down the most discounted price at the most convenient location, factoring in any qualms you may have about buying from Walmart. 

Now, think about this pricing and distribution model in terms of health insurance. This is essentially the approach conservatives recommend to seniors for purchasing health insurance, but with infinitely higher stakes, ever more puzzling options, and finer fine print. Just how is this more preferable to Medicare? Inquiring minds want to know...

From Offbeat: Funeral plans for Snooks Eaglin have been announced. There will be a visitation for him at the Howlin' Wolf Friday (tomorrow) from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., a service from 10 to noon with music by Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and Deacon John, then a second line with the Hot 8 Brass Band and the Senior Division of Young Men's Olympia Brass Band. After that, there will be a repast, and Eaglin will be buried at Providence Park Cemetery (8200 Airline Dr. in Metairie)...

Quote of the Day: 
"It's much better to give someone roses before they go, baby." 
-Antoinette K-Doe

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama Homers; Republicans Strike Out. Again.

Last night, President Obama hit the ball out of the park with the seeming effortlessness of a Ken Griffey, Jr. home run swing. In ringing, confident tones, he called on the Congress and the American people to regard the economic crisis as an opportunity to get things done, to recognize and fix the problems created and left in place by the Bush Administration, and to create a better future by ending decades of political procrastination and tackling the issues of health care access and energy independence. Obama gave a sweeping, epic performance that once again displayed his remarkable connection with the American people: CNN's instapoll showed that 92% of people who watched Obama at least somewhat approved of the speech (68% strongly approved).

Throughout, Obama linked individual accountability -- from teenagers to bank executives -- as a critical to national recovery. In this way, he involved all Americans in the success of his enterprise in a way Bush never did. At the same time, he successfully co-opted what is left of the tattered Republican mantra of personal responsibility, extending it from would-be dropouts to the conservative constituency of bankers and executives. By the time Obama finished, the message to the Republican party was clear: We the people are taking the country in a new direction. You are welcome to join us -- and he offered the Hatch-Kennedy bill promoting volunteerism as a means of getting on board -- and if you don't, that's your problem. It was a bravura performance, one that actually left T. and I clapping...

The MSM and the punditocracy has been moaning all week that Obama was not being "positive" enough about the economy. As he has many times before, Obama showed how far ahead he is of them and standard political analysis. At no time during the speech did he paint the economic challenge facing the country as anything but extreme. He was positive about the ability of his administration and the American people to meet the challenge. IMHO, that's the kind of optimism voters respond to. Claiming that things look good when they plainly do not appears out of touch because it is...

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's broadly panned response to Obama exemplifies the Republican political dilemma. First of all, the 37-year old came across as callow, glib, and insubstantial; if this is the best of the Republican bunch, then they have a mighty thin bench. But even more telling were two failed attempts at humor, the first of which taunted Democrats for including funds for volcano monitoring in the stimulus bill. As Thom Hartman pointed out on Air America this morning, the bill indeed includes money that allows the United States Geological Survey to upgrade and maintain equipment left to rot by the Bush Administration. Among many other things allowed by the bill, the USGS can upgrade equipment used to monitor volcano activity.

But here's the thing: Those of us who live in the shadow of a volcano want the USGS to have modern, functioning equipment. We don't think of it as pork; we think of it as essential. To us, Jindal's jibe came across as a typically divisive Republican remark aimed at blue states intent on wasting the hard-earned tax dollars of red states. This kind of politics went down to defeat last November, and it's telling that the Republicans can't articulate an alternative.

Then there was the bizarre lesson Jindal drew from the Bush Administration's botched response to Hurricane Katrina, namely, that the federal government cannot be counted on to deliver on anything at all. Now, one might suppose that the actual lessons lay elsewhere: That Republicans can't be counted on to respond successfully to a crisis requiring massive federal intervention, and that the government's ability to respond to crisis must be continuously monitored and maintained. Oh, and that the head of FEMA probably ought to be someone with experience in disaster response and not a political flunkie with a background in horse breeding. Just saying, is all.

And there's another level to consider as well. Many political analysts have concluded that the Republicans lost the 2008 election in September 2005, when the Bush Administration responded so poorly to Katrina. And yet here's the governor of the state most harmed by the Katrina fallout using this catastrophe as fodder for a lame attempt at a right-wing joke. How out of touch can you get?

The Republican party is in trouble, and the full dilemma of their self-made predicament is not well understood, most of all by them. There has been no shortage of helpful statements of the obvious -- I could tell them that they are short on cash and need to attract minority and younger voters while moving to the center. For that matter, so could my grandmother, who died in 1979. But how do they get there when their base regards Arlen Spector as a flaming liberal? Or when a majority of the electorate regards them as both out of touch and incompetent? And when their every action confirms that they in fact are out of touch and incompetent? (How many people who saw Bobby Jindal last night would be comfortable with him running the country? One, two, three...that looks to be about it.)

Last month, for Oklahoma congressman and original Heritage Foundation fellow Mickey Edwards -- who represents the shrinking Republican intelligentsia as well as anyone -- penned a self-serving op-ed piece in which he cloaked himself and those like him in the mantel of Ronald Reagan and then washed his hands of the hard-right base of the Republican party. The party, he wrote accurately if hypocritically, 
that is in such disrepute today is not the party of Reagan. It is the party of Rush Limbaugh, of Ann Coulter, of Newt Gingrich, of George W. Bush, of Karl Rove. It is not a conservative party, it is a party built on the blind and narrow pursuit of power.
In other words, "Don't blame me. It isn't my fault." And wouldn't it be pretty to think so. 

Except that Edwards and Reagan and the rest of the Heritage Foundation ilk are culpable. After all, it was Reagan who began the practice of bringing ideologues into the executive branch. It was Reagan who encouraged ridicule of the opposition. It was Reagan who opened the GOP to the Christian right, encouraging the assumption that these people could always be controlled. It was in the Reagan Justice Dept that the careers of John Roberts and Samuel Alito took off.

The GOP of today did not spring out of whole cloth. Its genesis lies in the tactics of Lee Atwater and Newt Gingrich, and it first expressed itself in a major way with 1995 government shutdown and the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton. I don't recall the Heritage Foundation jumping up and down to oppose either.

Its supposed noble heritage of classic European liberalism notwithstanding (Edwards actually claims this), the GOP's ugly secret is that it has been a haven for yahoos and know-nothings since the days of Joe McCarthy. (BTW, The Coldest Winter, David Halberstam's excellent book about the Korean War, successfully captures this period in GOP history.) This crew has finally taken over, ruined their party, and left the likes of Mickey Edwards wringing their hands from the ivory towers of Harvard while Rush Limbaugh cheers for Obama to fail.

Which brings me to the final horrid Republican miscalculation: They've gone all in hoping for the failure of a president that the country wants and needs to succeed. This is too much for even a mossbacked, theocratic stegosaurus like Pat Robertson, who pointed out the obvious:
That was a terrible thing to say. I mean, he's the president of all the country. If he succeeds, the country succeeds. And if he doesn't, it hurts us all. Anybody who would pull against our president is not exactly thinking rationally.
This is what the Republican party has come to: Pat Robertson is the voice of reason...

A film is in the works about the last days of Hank Williams. IMHO, the indie approach gives it a better shot at honesty and empathy than a full-blown Hollywood treatment...

More on Bobby Jindal's brutal performance here. My personal fave:
Fortunately he has a lot of time to improve his delivery. In the year 2040 he will still be younger than McCain was in 2008.
NOLAmotion remembers Antoinette K-Doe...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Les Bon Temps Roulez!

Color  film footage from Mardi Gras in 1941, less than ten months before the United States entry into World War II:

Mardi Gras Indians, in their fantastical handmade costumes, parade Uptown:

Two chiefs face off in an elaborately choreographed confrontation:

Foxessa knows more about the Indians and their rituals than anyone I know. I'm hoping that she'll grace this entry with a comment about them...

Happy Mardi Gras, Premium T.-style...

Today's parade schedule here...

R. I. P., Antoinette K-Doe...

R. I. P., Paul Skelton, Austin guitarist extraordinaire. I had the pleasure of conversing with Paul at length one lazy South Austin afternoon. Like most musicians, he had a day job; in his case, designing and making custom guitars. He told me that for a true guitarist, it was all in the hands, and that the best didn't need anything better than a $35-dollar mass produced model. Here he is playing with Jessie Lee Miller:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

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

The White House: Criminal Intent...

Canadian: (Proper noun). A unarmed American with health insurance...

Shaq sighting and twittering here...

Black Delta Religion: Check out this amazing footage of services at an African-American church in the Mississippi Delta. Shot in the mid-Sixties, the film shows a woman possessed by the Holy Spirit and includes a baptism and -- near the end -- a terrific performance by a male gospel quartet. Thanks to Cowtown Patty over at Texas Trifles for passing this along...

Friday night, we saw Richie Havens at the Kirkland Performance Center. Incredibly, Havens doesn't sound a whole different than he did 40 years ago: His voice remains deeply resonant and he continues to strum his guitar aggressively. Havens remains among the most gifted interpreters of Bob Dylan: He opened the show with a fiery take on "All Along the Watchtower," and the highlight of the evening's performance was the medley of "Maggie's Farm" and The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again." The performance also included Haven's best new songs, such as the lovely and elegiac "Say It Isn't So" and "We All Know Now" -- both from his fine new album Nobody Left To Crown. If the evening had a drawback, it was the between-song patter, which meandered and was often pointless. (Although Havens scored when he pointed out the oddity of Superman's credo of "truth, justice and...AND?...the American way." Think about it.) But all in all, a fine evening's work by a Sixties legend who continues to persevere along the road to peace and freedom...

Don't miss Clare McLean's photo here of a yellow-rumped warbler in flight. Breathtaking...

The gang at Renegade Eye discusses and debates the Academy Awards...

Mardi Gras Sunday parades, featuring the Krewe of Okeanos, the Krewe of Midcity, the Krewe of Thoth, the Krewe of Bacchus, the Corps de Napoleon, Grand Isle Independent (Grand Isle), Krewe of Tchefuncte (Madisonville), Terreanians (Houma), Krewe of TUT (Houma), and the Krewe of Montegut (Montegut)...

Over at Time Goes By, Ronnie Bennett's memory of a Greenwhich Village neighbor's love of Johnny Mercer becomes an assessment of the great man's career...

Sunday Gospel Time: Sister Rostta Tharpe performs "Didn't It Rain":

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Weekly Address

The (yawn) Republican response by Michigan representative Dave Camp is here...

Nate Silver explains why the White House calls down right wing pundits and correspondents by name:
the White House is clearly comfortable going after individuals as props, as foils, for its own arguments. It's aligned with the brand of Obama as problem-solver-in-chief, calling out specific instances and individuals to say, hey look, see what I mean about a petty political culture? By keeping examples fresh, the White House is betting that Americans will side with it, and marginalize the "people who rant on cable television" ...

Newsweek's Eleanor Clift thinks that that GOP strategy of saying "no" is a sure loser politically...

Today's parade schedule features the Krewe of Isis, the Krewe of Tucks, the Krewe of Endymion, the Krewe of NOMTOC, the Krewe of Bush (Bush), the Krewe of Salt Bayou (Slidell), and the Krewe of Mardi Gras (Houma):

Ranking the Red Sox: No surprise here: We need a healthy Big Papi...

Obama extends Gulf Coast hurricane recovery office...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Masters At Work

Yesterday, I wrote about Roman Polanski's masterpiece, Chinatown. Watch this masterful scene shot in a single take. The camera pans, zooms, and draws back unobtrusively, allowing the movement of the actors (Jack Nicholson and John Huston) to magnetically pull the camera along with them. Polanski heightens the menace of Huston's character by keeping in him the center or leaning into the center while Nicholson comments from the left and looks up at Huston. By positioning the actors as unit slightly off center, he induces a gnawing sense of dislocation in the viewer.

As the scene builds, we become engrossed by Huston's deliberate speech and sinister manner. The subdued peripheral lighting helps illuminate Huston's already bright white shirt; the shirt becomes a means of ensuring that our concentration is complete when he utters the chilling words that "...most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they're capable of...anything." The line, of course, is completely at odds the purity of the color white, unnerving the viewer even more. This is superb filmmaking by a major artist at the height of his powers...

Tonight's Mardi Gras parade schedule (with links to fab pix) here...

Friday's Choice: Big Sam's Funky Nation rocks out Voodoo Fest:

What Has Happened To The Movies?

Last night, I watched Chinatown for at least the tenth time. Brilliantly directed by Roman Polanski, the film's scrubbed and gleaming sheen remains at continual odds throughout to the depravity and corruption it exposes. As Jack Nicholson's Jake Gittes moves towards Chinatown's heart of darkness, Polanski seems to hold shots longer and longer, lingering over a 1930's Los Angeles with a look that completely belies its reality. It's as if he's making a comment on the movie business itself.

Nicholson, meanwhile, is at his best. By that, I don't mean that he acts over the top and chews scenery; the expectations provoked by One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest were still a year away. Instead, he's low-keyed and determined, portraying a man who uncovers an evil worse than anything conceived by his own cynicism. Although his best efforts go awry, the triumph of evil has the ironic effect of compelling Gittes to experience his humanity at its most vulnerable. The ambiguity surrounding this morally uncomfortable affirmation is wrapped up in the film's great closing line: "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown." In other words, Chinatown is that place where the demons of our nature prevail, the place we ultimately must find some accommodation with because we can't defeat it. 

1974 was a great year for movies. Check out the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture:

The Conversation
The Godfather, Part II
Towering Inferno

With the exception of the last, all are significant films and two (Chinatown and Oscar winner The Godfather, Part II) are masterpieces. The Best Director nominees that year were hardly a shabby lot, either: John Cassavetes, Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola, Bob Fosse, Polanski, and Francois Truffaut.

So what happened between then and now? The 2008 field is as weak a field as I can remember Not a single one of the films is worth watching a second time, never mind the double digit viewings that Chinatown and The Godfather, Part II merit. Moreover, by 1974, every one of the above directors was established as a a significant artist. Today, we have Ron Howard, who epitomizes the journeyman careers of his competition.

Once upon a time, moviegoers would flock to the theaters to see great filmmaking. 1974 proves that. What happened? Are films unfairly dumbed down for an audience that actually wants better, or have standards dropped?...

Of parasites and people: A fascinating review of research investigating the impact of parasites on human behavior... 

Roy's World explores the connection between Christianity and socialism, explains the difference between socialism and the welfare state, and dispels the ridiculous notion that Barack Obama is a socialist (would that he were): 
The accusation that President Obama is leading America to anti-Christian socialism looks to be a false one. Nothing about the President's proposed programs is the least bit "socialist" - there is no proposed takeover of business, private property, and the markets by the government in his programs. What the President does propose is in line with the concept of the welfare state, which is something entirely different from socialism and can, and in fact mostly does, exist in a capitalist, market economy, and which has already existed in this country since the mid 1800s. And as to the statement that socialism is the evil opposite of Christianity, the quotes above from Christian scripture tell the complete opposite story; Christianity and the socialist ideal have much in common.

Stone Soup Musings points out that Republicans "...not only voted against creating jobs when they voted no on the stimulus plan, they also voted against one of the biggest tax cuts in history"...

O.K., I thought that my congressman (Dave Reichert) was a lightweight. But Minnesota's Michelle Bachman's presence in the House of Representatives is an insult to dimwits. Listen to this nonsense and see how long it takes for your jaw to drop. Believe me, it won't be long...

Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans airs this month on PBS. Check your local listings...

Republican governors bite off their constituent's noses to spite Obama's face...

He may not be much of a husband, but Elliott Spitzer's ideas of how to handle the matter of executive compensation make sense:
If we are to stop outrageous pay, the objective should not be to match the foolishness of the Bush ideological embrace of wild-eyed libertarianism masquerading as capitalism with an equally foolish "government knows best" approach that ignores the market. We must create a genuine market for CEO services, generating meaningful competition and socially acceptable results.

R. I. P., Snooks Eaglin...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Conservatives love to pick at spending legislation, uncovering fiscally irrelevant pork and casting it as a typical example of liberal profligacy. Well, there's an expenditure of taxpayer dollars that not only wastes money, it's offensive. And conservatives love it. I'm talking about the "Warrior" video forced on moviegoers before every film:

According to this piece of arrant propaganda, joining the National Guard means that you are
  • a rock star
  • a NASCAR racer
  • a social worker winning the hearts and minds of grateful street arabs
  • a fireman (will the right wing never stop exploiting the 9/11 dead?)
  • a star in your very own war movie in which no one is killed or maimed by an IED
You are definitely not
  • killed or maimed by an IED
  • hated as an occupier by the local population
  • shooting civilians
  • inadequately trained for police work
  • poorly armored
  • losing a civilian job to serve as a cats-paw for discredited neocon ideologues
BTW, Kid Rock -- you're 37 and the maximum for enlisting in the Army or Army Reserves is 42. If this is so heroic and such a great thing, why don't you sign up?...

GOP congressman may not like the recovery package, but their governors sure do...

Buckle up: Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman says that the economy is in for a long, hard ride...

The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology has canceled its scheduled convention in New Orleans because of the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act, which permits public schools to teach alternatives to evolution:
The SCIB leadership could not support New Orleans as our meeting venue because of the official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution in science curriculum...

R.I.P., Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni, a.k.a Louie Bellson. Here's to the man Duke Ellington called "the world's greatest drummer":

Monday, February 16, 2009

Live From New Orleans, New York, and Los Angeles

Walking Through Heaven's Gate, Glen David Andrews. Incredible set of New Orleans gospel recorded live at the Zion Hill Baptist Church in the Treme neighborhood. Andrews, the Zion Hill choir, and the NOLA musicians comprising the band breath such life into chestnuts "Down By The Riverside," "Jesus On The Mainline," "Down By The Riverside," "I'll Fly Away," and "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" that you'll think you're hearing them for the first time. Andrews, a belter if there ever was one, and his followers deliver these standards with enough joy and inspiration to make Madeleine Murray O'Hair reconsider atheism: If church was always like this, I'd go all the time. Featuring a new song written by Andrews and Paul Sanchez, as well as a brilliant rendition of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" by Andrews and John Boutte. Available from the Louisiana Music Factory.

Live at the Hammerstein Ballroom, Dumpstaphunk. Sizzling live set by Ivan Neville's funk band gets you off your feet and dancing from the first notes right through their hard-driving cover of "Sympathy for the Devil" with guest guitarist Warren Haynes. Some of these cuts are so new that they don't have names yet. Keyboardist Neville (son of Aaron) leads a crack quintet that includes nephew Ian (son of Art) on guitar. These guys may be New Orleans musical royalty, but there's nothing staid or snobby about their approach to funk. At one point, Ivan introduces what he calls the Dumpstaphunk version of a ballad. Take my word for it: No one was slow dancing. Available as a download from

Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl, Van Morrison. In November 1968, Van Morrison released Astral Weeks, an introspective, impressionistic recording unlike anything before it or since. Revered by critics, the enigmatic recording regularly rates high on lists of top recordings ever. But aside from "Cypress Avenue," Morrison rarely performed the material from Astral Weeks, in part because his record company at the time had been uninterested in promoting it. Last November, Morrison for the first time performed the entire suite, along with epic versions of "Listen to the Lion" and "Common One." Although the results have been well-received, critics have held back from calling this recording superior to the original release.

To these ears, the new recording offers benefits not present on the 1968 version. To be sure, an album as artistically significant as Astral Weeks can only be original once. Moreover, the '68 version benefited immensely from the contributions of jazz musicians Richard Davis and Connie Kay; they provided a lightness and etherealness rare in rock recordings. But the new version gains greatly from the directness of a live performance. Moreover, the arrangements are superb, especially the segments in which the flamenco-style guitar interacts with violin and flute. The interplay between Morrison and the band is superb: It's plain that all knew they had something special going. Moreover, Van is in top form, scatting and improvising vocals and exhorting the band onward. If you have the original release, Live at the Hollywood Bowl is a terrific companion piece. If you don't have the original, this reimagining is a perfect introduction...

Wayback Machine. In 1974, Van Morrison capped the first phase of his illustrious career with It's Too Late To Stop Now, a fine live album that combined R&B covers with highlights from his first six albums, often improving on the original versions. The string section gathered to play behind his live band enhanced the arrangements rather than making them stodgy, and Morrison reached new interpretative heights on "Listen to the Lion" (the best recorded version of this song), "Caravan," "Wild Children," and "Into the Mystic." Still arguably the best introduction to Morrison, and excellent from start to finish...

The C-Span list of presidential rankings. I'll save you the suspense: Bush is 36th, ahead of such luminaries as Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding, William Henry Harrison (who was in office a month before he died of pneumonia contraacted during his inauguration), Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, and James Buchanan. Bush ranks lowest among presidents who served two terms.

All things considered, I'm suspicious of the criteria. For one thing, why is John Kennedy so high? He served less than three years, was timid on Civil Rights -- the signature domestic issue of his time -- and accelerated America's drift into Vietnam. In terms of accomplishing what he set out to do, I understand Reagan's high ranking. In that light, he could be higher. But whether or not his presidency was good for the country is another matter entirely, especially as his hands-off business philosophy now stands discredited...

George Will's war on science...

Buy American? Not if the U. S. Chamber of Commerce has anything to say about...

The atheist-gospel war for my immortal New Orleans soul continues. I read this (Secular humanists establish a beachhead New Orleans) but then I see this:

You get my dilemma...


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

As always, click to enlarge. For more Doonesbury, Tom Toles, Ben Sargeant, and Zippy the Pinhead, go here, here, here, and here...
Happy Birthday, Editilla!...

Last night, Premium T. and I celebrated Valentine's Day at Cafe Juanita, where we got married. Here's the menu:

First Course
Maine Lobster with Green Apple Sorbetto and Lobter Butter Powder
Chiavennasca '07 Pietro Nera, La Novella

Second Course
Raviolo of Dog Mountain* Duck Egg and Full Circle Farms Sunchokes with Smoked Sea Salt
Barbera d'Alba '07 Bricco del Tempo

Third Course
Filet of John Dory with Winter Citrus
Rosso di Montalcino '05 Agostina Pieri

Fourth Course**
Loin of Veal and Crisp Sweetbreads with Brussels Sprouts, Truffled Potato Crema, Porcini Sauce and Pickled Quince
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo '04 Masciarelli, Marina Cvetic

Pralus Chocolate Souffle
Porto '01 Dow's LBV

* A local organic farm
** I substituted Wagyu steak

The heck with Abraham Lincoln -- what about Rutherford B. Hayes? Now there was a real president...

So a big Texan stops at a local restaurant following a day roaming around Mexico. While sipping tequila, he notices a sizzling, delicious-looking platter being served at the next table. Not only did it look good, the smell was wonderful. So he asks the waiter, "What is that you just served?"

"Ah senor," the waiter replies, "you have excellent taste! Those are called Cojones de Toro: bull testicles from the bull fight this morning. A delicacy!"

The Texan hears that and says, "By God, bring me an order."

"I am so sorry senor," the waiter apologizes. "There is only one serving per day because there is only one bull fight each morning. If you come early and place your order, we will be sure to save you this delicacy."

The next morning, the Texan returns and places his order. Sure enough, that evening he is served the one and only special delicacy of the day. After a few bites, inspecting his platter, he called to the waiter and said, "These are fantastico, but they are a hell of a lot smaller than the ones I saw you serve yesterday."

The waiter shrugged and replied, "Si, Senor. Sometimes the the bull wins."

Speaking in Tongues: Novelist Zadie Smith (White Teeth, On Beauty) explores the links between George Bernard Shaw, Cary Grant, John and William Shakespeare, Lord Halifax, herself, Frank O'Hara, and L'il Wayne to Barack Obama in this tour de force:
It's my audacious hope that a man born and raised between opposing dogmas, between cultures, between voices, could not help but be aware of the extreme contingency of culture. I further audaciously hope that such a man will not mistake the happy accident of his own cultural sensibilities for a set of natural laws, suitable for general application. I even hope that he will find himself in agreement with George Bernard Shaw when he declared, "Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it." But that may be an audacious hope too far. We'll see if Obama's lifelong vocal flexibility will enable him to say proudly with one voice "I love my country" while saying with another voice "It is a country, like other countries." I hope so. He seems just the man to demonstrate that between those two voices there exists no contradiction and no equivocation but rather a proper and decent human harmony.

Citizen K. has begun following angels and people / life in New Orleans, a photographic witness of everyday happenings in the Crescent City...

Anthony Suau wins the World Press Photo of the Year Award for 2008...

Molly the Dog looks out at a dingy waiting room filled with discouraged people:
They look sad and tired. Most have been waiting there for hours. Some of them have appointments and some don't. For a few moments I think I'm working in a clinic in a third world country. Then I remember I'm looking at the poor in a major US city.

Sunday Gospel Hour: Aretha Franklin leads the Georgetown University choir in "Battle Hymn of the Republic":

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Weekly Address: "We will prove equal to this task"

The Republicans haven't posted their response (from Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal) yet, so here's a link to last week's tepid effort by new RNC chairman Michael Steele...

Parades and more parades by the Krewe of Ponchartrain, the Mystic Krewe of Shangri-La, the Knights of Sparta, the Krewe of Pegasus, the Krewe of Caesar, the Krewe of Choctaw, the Mystic Knights of Adonis, Push Mow (Abita Springs), the Mystic Krewe of Olympia (Covington), the Krewe of Tee Caillou (Chauvin), and the Krewe of Aquarius (Houma)...

As if provoking a constitutional crisis over nothing weren't enough, puritanical zealot Ken Starr is now spearheading an effort to forcibly divorce over 18,000 legally married Californians. Read more about the efforts of a man whose politics are to the right of the Salem witch trial judges and how to stop him here...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Let The Parades Begin!

If you didn't know it already, you know it now: DON'T MESS WITH OLD BROADS!...

Robert Frost's Banjo drove all over Idaho without his glasses. Luckily, he still had his ears and some great tunes...

Friday's Choice: What better way to kick off a weekend of NOLA parades than with Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk leading the way (and as for all that negative stuff, "Put It In The Dumpsta"!):