Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Great Deluge

I'm reading Douglas Brinkley's The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Gulf Coast, which is surely the authoritative account Hurricane Katrina, the events leading up to it, and its immediate aftermath. In no uncertain terms, Brinkley condemns the leadership of NOLA mayor Ray Nagin and, to a lesser extent, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco. Nagin was dilatory in declaring a mandatory evacuation of the city, apparently fearing hotel lawsuits should an unnecessary evacuation cause them financial hardship. As a result, many New Orleanians delayed their departure. Fatally, once Nagin announced a mandatory evacuation, the city failed to provide promised buses for the poor neighborhoods that needed them.

While a few New Orleanians stayed behind of stubbornness or ignorance or a spirit of adventure or even a sense of civic duty, most of those who stayed were poor and/or infirm. They did not own cars. They did not own televisions, the primary source of information about Katrina. They certainly did not have internet access. And in the end, city leaders left them to fend for themselves.

Nagin also ignored the findings of the Hurricane Pam simulation. Conducted by FEMA in 2004 and based on computer models developed at Louisiana State University, the simulation predicted with chilling accuracy the impact of a Category 3 hurricane on the city of New Orleans. In fairness to City Hall, New Orleans was a poor and broken city. It's hard to hold Nagin completely responsible for events that lay in the futures when he faced impossible day-to-day issues. Nonetheless, Hurricane Pam was one of a number of predictors that, Cassandra-like, city, state, and federal politicians ignored to the Gulf Coast's peril and destruction.

Real estate development and the relentless construction of ship canals led to the dredging and erosion of Lousiana's wetlands; the shrinking coastline reduced a vital natural shield against hurricane storm surges. Hurricanes gather strength over water, and the warmer the water the more strength they gather. Thus, the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico serve as an incubator, allowing storms that form in the Atlantic to become even stronger. Hurricane winds circulating in a counterclockwise direction suck water up into the vortex of the storm. When it moves over land, a hurricane loses force and releases the pent up water into what is called a storm surge. The more powerful the hurricane, the more extreme the surge.

Where they exist, wetlands play a vital role in absorbing the impact of a surge. The decline of coastal wetlands allowed Katrina to maintain strength until it moved inland over New Orleans and the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coast. In New Orleans, the flooding caused by the surge overwhelmed the system of levees that the Army Corps of Engineers had guaranteed could withstand a Category 3 hurricane. (Katrina was a Category 3 storm when it hit the mainland.) Eventually, Katrina floods breached New Orleans levees in 53 places, causing the widespread death and destruction familiar to us all. So, while Katrina itself was a force of nature, the combined forces of development, shipping interests, and poor leadership combined to turn it into what was in fact a man-made catastrophe...

NOLA Happenings: For starters, this is the last weekend of Jazz Festival...If the crowds are too much for you, you can always head over to the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival...The civic minded among us won't want to miss the Audubon Zoo-to-Do tomorrow night...And who doesn't love a genuine 3 Ring Circus?...

Effortless beauty...

You thought Michelle Bachmann was bad? North Carolina Republican Virginia Foxx claimed on the House floor that Matthew Shepard was murdered during the commission of a robbery and that the argument that he was the victim of a hate crime is a hoax. And she said this with Shepard's mother in attendance. Watch it and weep:



Having said this, you don't want to miss Bachmann's complete mangling of history here:



Republican president Herbert Hoover signed the Smoot-Hawley (not "Hoot-Smalley") Act into law in 1930, almost three years before Franklin Roosevelt became president. Not only that, the American people "suffering" under Roosevelt's policies re-elected him three times...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The First Hundred Days...Who Cares?

Citizen K. will not participate in the ludicrous efforts to grade President Obama's first 100 days in office because he thinks such stuff is pointlessly arbitrary. The lone observation he will make is that the president has been effective in communicating to the public that our problems run too deep to be resolved during an arbitrary period of time...

Dan Balz of the Washington Post wonders whether Arlen Specter's defection will motivate Republican's to the honest introspection necessary to revive the party:
Specter's decision provides further evidence that the party is continuing to contract, especially outside the South. Northeastern Republicans have gone from an endangered species to nearly extinct. Obama's victory in Pennsylvania in November was due in part to a sizeable shift in party registration toward the Democrats. Republicans have lost ground in the Rocky Mountains and the Midwest in the past two elections. That is no way to build a national party.
Balz' observation is correct, if beside the point. His analysis casts the dying breed of big tent Republicans against those who see themselves as true conservatives and view Specter's departure as good riddance to bad rubbish. But the real issue is the dynamic underlying this looming civil war: The Republican party is in the grip of a coterie of whiny anti-intellectuals who blame their predicament on the lies of unscrupulous liberals as amplified by a compliant and biased mainstream media. This precludes introspection of any kind...

Just A Song: The Heptones' great reggae hit, "Book of Rules"...

Abita, I just drank a beer named Abita...I have it on trusted authority that the products of Abita, a new New Orleans microbrewery, are outstanding...

I recently discovered an excellent blog called Just my little piece of the world. It's author writes passionately and persuasively about torture and has an eagle eye for conservative hypocrisy. Check it out...

An Officer's Obligation: Say No To Torture. (Thanks to Just my little piece of the world for this link.)...

Jacoby Ellsbury's daring steal of home Sunday night prompted this look back on the practice by USA Today...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tony Fitzpatrick and a Stew Called New Orleans

"Marigny Girl," by collagist and printmaker extraordinaire Tony Fitzpatrick, graces the cover of Stew Called New Orleans, the fine new CD from Paul Sanchez and John Boutte. The pair knocked out the CD in a single session. Stew glows with a relaxed confidence, starting from the very beginning with Boutte's sterling reading of Paul Simon's "American Tune." Boutte and Sanchez trade vocals throughout, augmented greatly by Leroy Jones prowling trumpet and an occasional solo from guitarist Todd Duke. But what really makes this CD shine is not so much the material -- excellent though it may be -- as the obvious friendship and affection between the two men bulwarked by arrangements built around Sanchez' rhythm guitar. Individual CDs from both made my end-of-year Best Of list, and I can't imagine that Stew will be any different...

You can listen to tracks from Stew Called New Orleans at the Lousiana Music Factory here...

"Marigny Girl" is part of a exhibition called Chapel Of Moths: A New Orleans Project, assembled by Fitzpatrick for last years biennial Prospect.1 New Orleans. You can view the exhibit here...

Fitzpatrick has been designing Steve Earle's CD covers for nearly fifteen years:



Washington Square Serenade (2007)




The Revolution Starts...Now (2004)




Just An American Boy (2003)


Jerusalem (2002)



Sidetracks (2002)




Transcendental Blues (2000)




The Mountain (1999)




El Corazon (1997)




I Feel All Right (1996)


So Arlen Specter is now a Democrat. I've always been lukewarm toward party switchers because the act usually has more to do with self-preservation than principle. Specter is no different: The 79-year old faced a stiff primary challenge from his right. More than anything -- and way ahead of principle and party loyalty -- these guys want to be United States senators. Specter has already said that he will continue to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), I hope he doesn't get a free ride in the Democratic primary of heavily unionized Pennsylvania...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Jacoby!

In case you missed it, here's Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home last night against the Yankees:



For those of you who don't know of Jacoby, he hails from the Pacific Northwest (Madras, OR), played college ball at Oregon State, and is the only Native-American major league baseball player. As you can tell, he can be electrifying...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

















As always, click to enlarge. For more Mike Keefe, Tom Tomorrow, Tom Toles, Pat Oliphant, Doonesbury. Ben Sargent, Mother Goose & Grimm, and Tony Auth, go here, here, here, here, here, here, and here...

Just A Song: Austin singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves "Drinkin' Days" are over, but he's still trouble bound...

Sean, what are you waiting for? This is your chance to support the troops and show that water boarding isn't torture. Don't let us down. Sign the petition demanding that Sean Hannity put his money where his mouth is here...

Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney says that art helps people through troubled economic times...


Ever wonder what would happen if a bull got loose in your neighborhood grocery store? The people of Ballinrobe, County Mayo now know....

Brothels, Depravity, and Abandoned Women: Illegal Sex in Antebellum New Orleans...

Sunday Gospel Time: Leonard Cohen sings "Hallelujah" last June before an appreciative Dublin audience:

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Weekly Address: Student Loans



Here's a good idea: Waterboard Sean Hannity. The sickening part is that he thinks of it as a big joke. Lawrence O'Donnell has the right of it, though: Hannity is a coward...

Dick Cheney remains proud that the United States became a nation that tortured...

We can't stop them from saying "no," but why not bypass the Republicans on health care? They've shown repeatedly that the more critical the issue, the less they have to offer...

Rushbo Stupidism of the Week: Someone named Mark Davis filled in for Rushbo yesterday and contributed this unbelievably dense and incredibly offensive gem to the national discourse:
All right, having -- having put the character type, the species of human that is the tea party organizer/tea party attendee under the microscope to see, it's funny because you can't generalize. At the tea party in Dallas that I was proud to emcee, there were people of all sizes, shapes, stripes, economic levels, and, yes, races. I mean, did they tend to be pretty white? Yeah. Hang on, maybe talk shows of the future will deal not with the question of, you know, "What is it we're doing that repels black people?" but "Why aren't black people more attracted by liberty?" There's your question.

Bob Bea, a civil engineer with the University of California at Berkeley, said Katrina's flooding would have been minimal if the 76-mile Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet had not been built or if the Army Corps of Engineers had maintained it properly.

"This was not a natural disaster, this was a manmade disaster," said Bea, who specializes in studying engineering disasters and risk management and who, by his own account, has spent about 10,000 hours studying the levee failures during Katrina.

The art of invective: It takes real talent to do invective right, and I'm not talking about the philistine bloviations of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk. Michael Taibbi shows how to employ a creative vocabulary to devastating effect to the First Line above...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Leonard Cohen

In "Anthem," one of his best songs, Leonard Cohen sings that "there is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." Be that as it may, it was hard to discern any cracks in last night's performance at Seattle's WAMU Theatre. There was, however, plenty of light.

The 73-year Cohen literally bounded onto the stage shortly after 8 p.m. and commenced a three-hour show with "Dance Me To The End Of Love." When he sang "Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long," he made promise to the audience that he kept in spades. The word "audience," though, implies a distance between performer and spectator that Cohen spanned with ease: By the end of the evening, we were participants in an event that summoned forth a state of grace and conferred it on all there.

The six-piece band along with singers Sharon Robinson (also Cohen's collaborator on several songs) and the Webb Sisters constantly astonished with their talent, precision, and commitment to the material. Javier Mas' oud and 12-string playing stood out, as did the harmonies of Robinson and Charlie and Hattie Webb, but the entire band created to a flowing melange of nearly unclassifiable sound. While the singers contributed soulful underpinnings to Mas' Spanish-folk-classical inflections, the woodwinds (including a bassoon!) of Dino Soldo, Roscoe Beck's bass, Bob Metzger's guitar, and Rafael Bernardo Gayol's drums laid down a jazzy groove. Meanwhile, Neil Larson's keyboards veered between soul and jazz as needed. And in front of it all, Leonard Cohen sang his timeless lyrics of love and fear, faith and doubt, hope and despair. In "Tower of Song," he pokes fun at his "golden voice," but that voice is perfect for his words and these arrangements. For an idea of last night's proceedings, here's an audience video of "Everybody Knows," filmed less than a week ago:


Everyone there will have their own favorite moments. In the first set, I especially enjoyed his passionate reading of "Bird On A Wire," his magnanimous tribute to Hank Williams in the first verse of "Tower Of Song," and the full-band treatment of "Anthem." For me, though, the best moment of that set was "Chelsea Hotel," Cohen's account of an amorous encounter with Janis Joplin. By turns witty and wistful, by the end of the song, he seemed to be appealing directly to Janis' lost spirit.

He rolled out welcome surprises in the second set, including a recitation of "A Thousand Kisses Deep," and an aggressive version of "The Partisan," his great song of resistance. "Hallelujah" brought the house to a standing ovation, as did the closing "Take This Waltz," his version of a Federico Garcia Lorca poem. And of course he squeezed in "Suzanne" and "So Long, Marianne" as well.

Patrons who skipped the extended encore missed an especially moving "Sisters of Mercy" and an aching version of "If It Be Your Will," in when Cohen recited the opening verse then turned the song over to the gorgeous harmonies of the Webb Sisters, who accompanied themselves on guitar and harp. Cohen, as he did all evening whenever one of the band members took the spotlight, graciously stood aside and removed his hat as they sang.

He closed with the delightfully ironic "I Tried To Leave You":
Goodnight, my darling, I hope you're satisfied,
the bed is kind of narrow, but my arms are open wide.
And here's a man still working for your smile.
Finally, the band and crew joined together on stage for a lovely rendition of "Whither thou goest." All evening long, Leonard Cohen had worked for our smile and got and given so much more...

SET LIST

First Set
Dance Me to the End of Love
The Future
Ain't No Cure for Love
Bird on the Wire
Everybody Knows
In My Secret Life
Who By Fire
Chelsea Hotel
Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye
Anthem

Second Set
Tower of Song
Suzanne
The Gypsy’s Wife
The Partisan
Boogie Street
Hallelujah
I’m Your Man
A Thousand Kisses Deep (recitation)
Take This Waltz

Encores
So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhattan
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will
Democracy
Lullaby
Closing Time
I Tried to Leave You
Whither Thou Goest


How JazzFest is resurrecting NOLA: This story is so inspiring that it gave me both chills and hope for the human race...


Cardinal encantation: Another great bird picture from New Orleans Daily Photo...

Friday's Choice: Leonard Cohen's 1988 rendition of "Take This Waltz," with his introduction explaining his discovery of Garcia Lorca's poetry:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tonight Will Be Fine

Tonight, Premium T. and I are meeting up with my #2 son and his fiancee for dinner followed by Leonard Cohen. I've seen LC once, back when, as he puts it on his new live album, he "was a crazy kid of 60." That show was memorable and this one promises to be. More tomorrow...

It's here! The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival starts tomorrow! Be sure to stay in town long enough for the eighth annual Ponderosa Stomp, "celebrating the unsung heroes of American music." And, it's still not too late to enjoy the Dewey Balfa Cajun and Creole Heritage Week in Evangeline Parish. Or the Festivale International de Louisiane. And then of course there's Chaz Fest. Is NOLA a great town or what?...

Just A Song: Merle Haggard and "Okie From Muskogee": One of the essential songs of the 1960's, "Okie" was widely misunderstood by both fans and detractors. Citizen K. explains why...

Renegade Eye reports on a Cuban conference about socialism and freedom of expression...


Ima Wizer explains how rid oneself of that mortal enemy of decent folk everywhere, and I don't mean Rush Limbaugh. I speak, of course, of the insidious pygmy goat...

Ken Armstrong thinks there's a chance that he's part dog...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Public Interest

It was the spring of 1979. My father found the car, a 1971 Plymouth Satellite that became known as the "Satellite of Love." A former Schlumberger field car, it was well-kept and cost $900. I had saved the money and could have paid in cash, but being a recent college graduate I wanted to establish credit. So, I made an appointment with a loan officer at my bank so that I could borrow the money to pay for the it.

When the loan officer explained to me that I needed collateral in order to take out at loan, I responded that I already had the money in the bank and that I simply wanted to establish that I could take out a loan and pay it off. So, the bank happily loaned me the $900 at a marginal interest rate, complete with a plan to pay them off in a year via an automatic withdrawal from my savings account. Cashiers check in hand, my soon-to-be fiancee drove me from San Antonio to Kingsville where I picked up the car and she met my parents. The automatic withdrawals commenced, and a year later both the car and a good credit rating were mine.

That's how it worked back then. Today, lending institutions want borrowers to do anything but pay off their loans, thanks to a 1978 the Supreme Court decision Marquette National Bank v. Omaha Service Corp. This cursed moment in American history in essence overrode usury laws by holding that state anti-usury laws did not apply to nationally chartered chartered banks. Thus, a bank chartered in Nebraska could operated branches in Illinois free from the inconvenience of obeying Illinois anti-usury legislations.

Marquette set the stage for banks to charge today's usurious loan rates of 25-30%, for credit card companies to do the same, and for both to ladle on arcane and often undefined loan fees. It also broke ground for the scourge of predatory payday loans, on which primarily poor people and military service families find themselves taking in short-term loans that they can't pay off because because interest penalties swiftly accrue to 100%, 2oo%, even 700%. Thomas Geoghegan and Daniel Brook spell this out in the April edition of Harper's, in their essays "Infinite Debt" and "Usury Country." The articles are available on-line for a fee, so I urge you to purchase the edition at your local news stand, as the two articles make for essential reading.

Between the two of them, Geoghegan and Brook explain how lenders now have no incentive whatsoever for borrowers to pay off loans, as the interest are so high that lenders want to collect them indefinitely. In the process, banks and credit companies have overseen a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class on down to the financial sector, created a nation of individual debtors, contributed to the decay of the manufacturing sector, and even forged the impetus for their own destruction.

Geoghegan explains what happens "...when an advanced industrial economy tries to function with no cap at all on interest rates:"
...the financial sector bloats up. With no law capping interest, the evil is not only that the banks prey on the poor (they have always done so) but that capital gushes out of manufacturing and into banking. When banks get 25 percent to 30 percent on credit cards, and 500 or more percent on payday loans, capital flees from honest pursuits, like auto manufacturing. Sure, GM is awful. Sure, it doesn't innovate. But the people who could have saved GM and Ford went off to work at AIG, or Merrill Lynch, or even Goldman Sachs. All of this used to be so obvious as to not merit comment. What is history, really, but a turf war between manufacturing, labor, and the banks? In the United States, we shrank manufacturing. We got rid of labor. Now it's just the banks. (Geoghegan, Harper's, April 2009, p. 32)
And the irony is that banks didn't keep their ill-gotten gains. With interest rates -- and therefore profitability -- so high, they kept making and investing in bad loans until the whole house of cards tumbled about them. At which point they turned to the very taxpayers they had been screwing for a bailout.

But aren't household incomes higher than ever? Sure, but so are expenses. Incomes are higher because both parents work, which means daycare, two cars and all of the expenses from gas to maintenance to insurance that come with them, more eating out, and so on. As for single-parent homes, well, who do you think takes out the payday loans?...

President Obama now appears open to an independent commission that would investigate the Bush Administration's legalization of torture. Harper's reports that at least some of the impetus may be a result of good old-fashioned infighting between the Department of Justice and White House political advisors. Unlike anything that ever happened in the Bush Administration, the political people may have lost out. However it happens, too many nauseating stories like this one have made it clear that the approval and practice of torture by Americans and American agencies must be investigated. And if former high-ranking people go to jail, well, somehow we'll survive...

We haven't heard from the Colton Kitchen Project for a while, but they're still forging ahead, despite structural problems like this: "Our public schools don't have kitchens, they have reheating stations..."

Wow! "Beeping birds" indeed! The caption doesn't do this photo justice...

Monday, April 20, 2009

He's Back!

video

What a whirlwind trip! Friday, Bill came in from Boston and we went -- along with his friend Greg -- to games at the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, which replaces Shea Stadium as the Mets' home. Saturday, we saw West Side Story, took the subway to the East Village for a couple of beers at McSorley's, then had dinner at Impanema in Little Brasil.

The new Yankee Stadium is nice, but rather chilly. From what I saw, most of the $1 billion of taxpayer money that went into building it must have gone into the luxury suites and the field box area. Yankee fans are entitled -- they seemed to expect the umpires to cheat in the Yankees' favor, and didn't hesitate to boo when they did not. Also, the place may be a launching pad for left-handed power: The Yanks clubbed five home runs to the Indians' one, all to right field and all but one to left-handed batters. One game does not a statistical trend make, but both teams hit an awful lot of homers in the series.

The new Yankee Stadium:






After the game, we took the subway back to Manhattan long enough to down a couple of slices of pizza ($2.75 for two slices and a drink), then back on the subway to Queens and Citi Field, which was considerably more fun than Yankee Stadium. The location -- I admit -- was not promising: Citi Field lies next to Shea's former address in the middle the 1964 World's Faitr grounds, currently a metropolis of auto graveyards and muffler shops.

But, the entry through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, with flat screen TV's broadcasting highlights from Robinson's career and the floor with Robinson quotes inlaid on it, seemed to inspire just about everyone passing through. Moreover, Mets fans -- and I hate to admit this -- are terrific. Not only was there much good-natured give-and-take with the few Brewers' fans in our area, they even worked up a credible "Yankees Suck" chant! The other highlight of the game was Gary Sheffield's 500th career home run, which by pure luck I happened to get a picture of.

Citi Field, including Garry Sheffield's 500th homer:





And that was just Friday. Saturday afternoon, we grabbed a sandwhich and sat on a bench in Times' Square right across from the theatre playing West Side Story. (See video above. The statue looking out over the Great White Way is of George M. Cohan.)

West Side Story -- directed by Arthur Laurents, the 91-year old author of the book (the non-musical part of the play) -- was wonderful, especially the dancing. I can't say enough about Matt Cavenaugh's (Tony) tenor or the vitality of Karen Olivo's Anita. Moreover, this version was bilingual, with very effective Spanish-language renditions of "I Feel Pretty" and "A Boy Like That/Have A Love" and a boy soprano singing "Someday." "Quintet" was especially well-produced, and remains one of the most memorable moments in all of musical theatre. Here's the version from the 1961 film:



Having some time before dinner, we took the subway to McSorley's Old Ale House (est. 1854 -- "We were here before you were born") in the East Village. A classic Irish tavern, McSorley's serves its own brew in small mugs that you toss down two at a time. McSorley's Old Ale House:



Then it was back to Midtown's Little Brasil for dinner at Ipanema, a Brasilian-Portuguese restaurant. In Manhattan, it's as difficult to walk a block without finding a decent place to eat as it is to traverse the same territory without hearing a siren or a honking horn. Ipanema definitely qualifies as a decent place to eat. I started off with the Brasilian version of a margarita, made with a Brasilian rum. From there, it was on the fried Portuguese sausage and a pot of Feijoada Completa, a black bean and pork stew described as the Brasilian national dish. Collards, rice, orange slices, and a ground root accompany feijoada, and you mix them together as you eat. If all the food there is like this, I could see living in Brasil...


New York isn't the only great city in the country: Check out the faces of New Orleans here...

The First Lines are from Yeats' "The Wild Swans At Coole," a particular favorite of mine. Read the entire poem here...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Teabags



Has anyone else noticed that "teabag" rhymes with "fleabag"? Just sayin' is all.

I thought I'd do my patriotic duty today and at least drive by a couple of Teabag Parties. It took some doing to find them. The official Republican party web site wasn't much help, but after some digging and googling I found the Official Tax Day Tea Party web site. It claimed to provide locations and directions, so I checked out the opportunities on the Eastside of Seattle. The first turned out to be at an apartment complex, so I skipped that. The second try advised me that "We were not able to locate the address," but did provide a couple of possible intersections, albeit with an incorrect zip code.

An errand took me near the one of the intersections, so I went there first. A lonely American flag marked the spot, but I didn't see any partying. I turned up a driveway and found 8-10 people huddled around an ice cream stand. At the foot of the driveway, a couple of guys were taking names. For all I know, they were writing down the license plate numbers of suspicious cars like mine, which still has its Obama/Biden and Save NOLA bumper stickers.


The next intersection I went to -- at Avondale and Union Hill -- turned out to be where the action was. Around 30-50 protesters occupied all four corners waving signs like the one that said "Keep Government Out Of The Free Market." Um, didn't we try that once? Didn't that get us where we are today? Well, I suppose that high principle can't stoop to answer such prosaic questions.


Now, 30-50 conservatives -- none of whom dressed as an Indian, possibly out of sensitivity to the numerous Western Washington tribes -- may or may not sound like a lot, but in fact it's pretty lame turnout. Once the bastion of Western Washington Republicans, Seattle's Eastside now trends inexorably blue. The party goers commandeered one of the busiest intersections in the Puget Sound: Thousands of cars pass through it every day; few of the drivers will find a place to park so that they can join the Teabag Party. Twenty years ago, the demonstrators may well have clogged the intersection...

While looking for Teabag Party locations, I stumbled upon this gem: georgewbushstore.com. It has everything from "Thank You, President Bush" bumper stickers (I haven't seen one yet) to a limited edition commemorative cigar (not Cuban, I assume). I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there hasn't been a run on this merchandise...

Susannah Powers: The art of convenience...

Citizen K. is off to NYC today. On Friday, my son and I are going to a Yankees game in the afternoon and a Mets game at night. Saturday, we have tix for West Side Story.


Fighting Javelinas everywhere say "Give us back our good name!". Here, the Texas A & I Fighting Javelinas marching band plays the best fight song ever, "Jalisco":


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Potpourri

Paul Krugman writes that all the teabag parties prove is that the Republicans haven't changed one bit...



Hey, man -- don't you know who I am? I'm a United States senator who consorts with some of the most expensive prostitutes in Washington, D. C. So drop everything, ignore security regulation, and let me on that damn plane...

Brussels in bloom (the city, not the sprouts)...

It would be easy to say that on Gulf Coast Highway, Eric Lindell sounds like Louisiana's answer to Delbert McClinton. Except that there's plenty of Felix Cavaliere there, too, not to mention the ghost of Doug Sahm on Lindell's cover of Willie and Waylon's "I Can Get Off On You." Listening to Lindell's blue-eyed R&B makes me yearn for summer more than usual...Speaking of the late great Mr. Sahm, The Krayolas channel Sir Douglas at top of his game in Long Leaf Pine (No Smack Gum). Improbably, Long Leaf Pine surpasses last year's La Conquistadora via terrific horn charts that show off San Antonio's rich musical heritage by blending R & B with the mariachi sounds of South Texas. The tragedy recounted in "Corrido Twelve Heads In A Bag" notwithstanding, Gulf Coast Highway and Long Leaf Pine make for some of the best driving and cruising music in years...

"I'm the grandmother of the kid who killed those cops." Sylvia From Over The Hill writes more about the gun culture that curses our country here...

Michele Bachman must make the people of Minnesota's Sixth District so proud. It isn't easy to make Dave Reichert look like John Locke, but she has pulled it off...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Daring Sea Rescue Unhinges Rushbo

(Painting by Ima Wizer)

While the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates induced a sigh of relief from hundreds of millions of Americans, one man became positively unhinged over what he called "puking reporting by the drive-by media." During the first hour of his show, Rush Limbaugh raved incoherently about President Obama's role in the rescue, hitting his stride with an idea for a movie called President Obama Turns On Somali Counterparts:
I have an idea -- preliminary idea here on the movie that will be made by Hollywood that will immortalize this brilliant episode in American foreign policy led by President Obama. [Note: One can only imagine the snarling cynicism and sarcasm that accompanied this remark.] I don't -- we don't have a working title of this movie. I've been thinking about President Obama Turns On Somali Counterparts. The merchant marine organizers, the Somali version of ACORN, and yet President Obama rose to the occasion and saw to it that the Somali merchant marine organizers would not get away with the same tactics that the domestic American organizers get away with.
Rushbo hit the ground running to start of the second hour of his show, resigned to the fact that the rescue of Captain Phillips would almost certainly drive up Obama's approval rating. Rushbo darkly predicted that Obama would use the rescue to justify a domestic agenda hell-bent on crippling capitalism, robbing Americans of their individual liberties, and generally ending life as we know it. He even offered proof in the form of this statement from President Obama:
Now, as we work to ensure America's safety out on the seas, I want to discuss what we're doing to restore economic security here at home -- to revitalize our nation's infrastructure and create good jobs across America.
Thank God for Rush Limbaugh: Without him, we might have gone about our day completely ignorant of the Stalinist subtext in this remark. As it is, we can oppose rebuilding our infrastructure and the creation of jobs knowing that our opposition serves a higher purpose: The preservation of truth, justice, and the American Way. (BTW, has anyone ever noticed that this phrase implies that truth and justice are not part of the American Way?)

By the time Rushbo lurched into the final hour of today's program, even the dittoheads had become confused. Was Rush -- he of the "big juicy brain" -- being sarcastic in his praise of Obama or did he mean it? And, when you get right down to it, what was wrong with rescuing Captain Phillips? Well, for one thing, the rescue of a single American meant that Obama had "flipped the bird" to the international community because he hadn't taken their input into account. When Rushbo decided that response of the international community to anything was worth considering remains an open question. Equally open is why this particular incident merited the setting aside of American Exceptionalism, a concept to which Rush is deeply devoted.

The undeniable highlight (if you want to call it that) came when Rushbo compared the Somali pirates to Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean before offering this unique perspective:
Now, these pirates are kind of disappointing me. The Somali merchant marine organizers actually sound like they're entitled. Their feelings are hurt. They think they're entitled to these ransoms that are being paid, and I get the impression listening to them that they expect to be told, "Good job, pirate. Good job." They're acting -- they're acting offended as hell here that our captain was rescued by our president, ordered by the Navy SEALs to rescue, and they didn't get the ransom as though they're entitled to it. These people have an entitlement mentality. I could have sworn that they are originally Americans who maybe fled. Maybe they were illegal immigrants or something who got here, come here with an entitlement mentality, didn't like it, fled the scene because Republicans drove them out of the country in the last election, so they went over to Somalia and started pirating things. Because they have the attitude of entitlement just like a lot of American citizens do.
There you have it: Somali pirates = American citizens. This begs the question of why, then, Captain Phillips needed to be rescued at all if were being held by like-minded compatriots. With any luck, Rushbo will address that tomorrow...



R. I. P., Mark Fidrych. Bird, we hardly knew ye. More here and here...


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Eostre Sunday Funnies & Arts

Happy Eostre!










As always, click to enlarge. For more Doonesbury, Pat Oliphant, Mother Goose & Grimm, Tom Toles, Zippy the Pinhead, Tony Auth, and Tom Tomorrow, go here, here, here, here, here, here, and here...

Just A Song: Luka Bloom's "Diamond Mountain":
Unlike emigres from most other European countries, the Irish viewed leaving their homes as a form of exile, even amidst the starvation and disease of the Famine. In "Diamond Mountain" -- one of his best songs -- the Irish singer/songwriter Luka Bloom captures this sense of dislocation...

Opening Day at Fenway Park, Boston:



Ima Wizer reveals the Big Fat Idiot in all his malevolence and deceit:


Citizen K. can't wait to hear what the BFI makes of the rescue of the ship captain from the Somali pirates: Rushbo was on Obama's case about he so hilariously called "merchant marine organizers" all last week...


Susanna Powers' close-up of Resurrection Ferns has an abstract quality...


New Orleans (1947). D: Arthur Lubin. Arturo de Cordova, Dorothy Patrick, Richard Hagerman, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Woody Herman. By any definition a low-budget B movie with C-list Hollywood talent, New Orleans is nonetheless worth watching for the brilliant jazz performances of Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday and for its tentative (and possibly subversive) treatment of race and art. Set against the backstory of the closing of Storyville, New Orleans tells the story of gambler Nick Duquesne (Cordova) and the WASP-ish Miralee Smith (Patrick), a classical music singer who falls in love with Nick and with jazz, both to her mother's (Irene Rich) consternation.

The direction of the film plods until Armstrong and Holiday appear, at which point it perks up considerably. Holiday's performances of "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans" and "Farewell to Storyville" are luminescent. There's an extraordinary sequence during which Armstrong introduces his band while prowling and slithering among them, the camera following and looking over his back the entire time.

At the same time, the film remains mired in 1940's attitudes toward race and music. Certainly, one must applaud it for Armstrong's and Holiday's performances and interesting scenes like the one in which Holiday takes Patrick slumming in Storyville. But jazz is finally acceptable only when Patrick, the white Woody Herman, and a classical musical orchestra perform "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans" in a Carnegie Hall knockoff. It's only then that Miralee's mother relents in her opposition to the romance with Duquesne the gambler turned jazz promoter. Jazz has become safe, acceptable to the middle- and upper-classes, perhaps even reinforcing their staidness.

Much of this rises not from any particular ideology on the film's part, but from the producer's interpretation of what the film needed to present in order to make money. The film's presentation of Armstong's and Holiday's material is so superior that it's possible that the actual message is more subversive: We're giving you this white bread because we have to, but make no mistake about where the nutrition is. Thus, it's to New Orleans' credit that it provides plenty of actual jazz even while bowing to the pressures of profit. It's said that no one can serve God and Mammon, but New Orleans makes a worthy attempt...

The credits and opening scene of the film telegraph its dilemma. A chorale group sings "Do You Know What It Means" over the opening credits. Upon their completion, the camera immediately cuts to a Storyville afternoon graced by Armstrong's "West End Blues":




Sunday Gospel Brunch: It's not exactly gospel, but this performance of "Stand By Me" assembled by Playing For Change sure has the feeling: