Days of the Future Past

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Times change. Or, constant change is here to stay. I get that. There's yet another confluence of subjects I've posted about that surfaced while surfing the (free) digital news.

At the end of each year, a number of co-workers and others who I don't know funnel our "Top 20" lists for CDs to a person who hides behind the moniker of "The Commish." He redistributes the list, with commentary, which we all enjoy in the search for those nuggets of musical genius that we may have somehow overlooked during the year. All three of you who read this blog know I'm always looking for new (good) music. It's a quest of sorts.

Dcveloping this confluence through another blogged topic, briefly, I rarely read a physical newspaper. If I'm at a motel, and I get a "free" USA Today stuffed under my door, I'll read it. Otherwise... Well, on Christmas day, we had to stop at four places to buy the advertisements for the "Day After." That issue seems to be quite popular! Yet, I'm a poor example to my family, I know. I threw away the remainder of the paper, unread by any of us, two days later. And the last time I bought a paper? Yep, Thanksgiving. For the "Day After" advertisements... (Not that I would actually read them...They're for my wife!)

The local newspaper recently announced that they're reducing distribution in a large number of counties surrounding the Atlanta area. That makes sense cutting operational expenses if demand isn't there. Everyone is doing that, it seems. Presumably, with a lesser circulation, advertisers will pay less for their placements, meaning even less money to fund those human endeavors that result in the things written within.

Journalism does not appear to be a financially rewarding field of study for the 21st century.

Now, back to music. I've previously decried the digital download card that can be purchased at Best Buy. I enjoy owning the physical product, but... times change. I've loaded much of my music vault into my I-pod. I have many gigabytes to spare. And the entirety of it occupies the space of my wallet. Amazing.

In terms of going "green," I suppose I should reflect upon the societal impact of owning a compact disk. You heard right.
  • Plastic casing, security wrapping, and the disc. Petroleum products = global warming = America's obligation to air-condition the world. Oops, off topic!
  • Felled forests for inserts and packaging.
  • Ink manufacturing. That's got to be bad for the water table in whatever part of the world inks are allowed to be manufactured.
  • The energy consumed in manufacturing all of the above.
  • The selfish waste of gasoline from hauling all the supplies to the manufacturer and subsequently the CDs to the warehouses, to the retailers, and ultimately to my trusty CD rack.
In consideration of the above, I have much to be ashamed of and am unfit for public office due to my frequent abuses of world resources for my own personal enjoyment.

It's much more politically correct to be a drone and just download music from I-Tunes.

The problem with that is finding music that I would want to download. I already have all the "old" stuff I want. Radio stations are largely lobotomized in their airplay rotations. Where must one go to find something new?

Well, aside from the sampler CD in Paste Magazine, the internet, of course. The problem with Amazon and I-Tunes, however, is that I can only hear a 30 second snippet of music. That hardly leads to an informed buying decision. Soooo, I also subscribe to Napster. They don't have the rights to all of the music publishers, but they have a very good selection, and I can hear songs in their entirety.

Unfortunately, Napster file formats are not compatible with an I-pod. And here we come back to that "possession" hang-up of mine. I want stuff where I can find it at whatever time I want it. It's all about me...

Well, apparently, that personal requirement does not require ownership. Here is an interesting article regarding the future of I-pods that led to today's ramble.

The "cloud" is certainly a blend of my experience and needs: Instant access to whatever music I want and portability. I already buy music and pay a subscription, so I'd be able to cut out the actual purchasing. That's good for me! Granted, I'll still need some cleverly designed multi-media device in order to hear the music, assuming that that brain implants (any volunteers for Microsoft U.B.Smart version 1.0?) arrive a tad too late for my generation.

Perhaps a career in music is another antiquated idea for the 21st century. Like the journalists with fewer people willing to pay for their writing, we're not too far from musicians creating work that no one actually buys. Granted, there will be residuals from the "licensing fees." That and $4 will get them a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Overall, I think the early part of the 21st century will be an interesting time of change specific to business models. Some, like the automakers, have to change from top to bottom. But profiting from material that is, in essence, digital will prove to be very difficult, not even factoring in the hacking and trading of digital content. The only example that comes to mind of an industry that is trying is the book industry. Digital books have apparently avoided the growing cultural expectation of having anything downloadable be available for free. Lesson: If you want to author something, write a book.

But for music and the news, well... History repeats itself, and about everything non-classical is based on the blues. So, yesteryear's business models clearly support our enjoyment of yesteryear's products for years to come. It's just the quest to experience something new that may suffer.

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Rhea's - Best Burgers in Town!

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'Tis Christmas Eve, which means that it's truly getting down to the last minutes of Christmas shopping. Translated: The weight of the obligation to provide a gift for mom finally persuades my son, Brian, to leave the enthralling World of Warcraft and his basement command center for a day... out... there...

That's right, kid. My car. My rules. Let's ride.

After getting the things that needed getting, we arrived at a hunger pang. First, please note. My son hates eating out. There was a time when El Jinete persuaded him that the time spent at the restaurant was worthwhile, but once he realized that they also had take out, not even Mexican food will persuade him from gaming central.

I'm considerate enough to offer an option. "What do you want? Burger or BBQ?"

"Burger."

Good... right where I want him.

And, so it happens that we arrive at Rhea's, a 20 something year tradition in Roswell.

Rhea's is built into a corner of an old service station. It has maybe 10 bar stools and three 6-seat tables, with the grill visible from the counter. It's concrete block walls are a nice shade of "faded, somewhat stained" white, and whatever atmosphere that might be considered desirable is added by the scarcity of space and its triangular shape.


For those that haven't ventured here, you might worry that the sign that reads "If you don't like my food, there's the door" would suggest limited consumer input. Not so. You tell Jimmy how you want it, that's what you'll get.

Aside from its odd triangular shape, the restaurant also leans to the right, as witnessed by the bumper stickers on the cooler.



Yes, the radio on top is operational, and, in fact, was operating, adding seasonal music to the ambience. After all was said and done, my son re-learned that not all burgers must come from a bag, as his double cheeseburger (plain with ketchup) served on toasted bread arrived hot off the grill with fries on a paper plate. Would he dare try something so astonishgly new?



So, when all was said and done, Brian did have a final say on the experience, no doubt clouded by his angst to return to his bunker. "Dad, that was so ghetto."

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The Shack - William P. Young

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A friend loaned me a book that is a bestseller amongst Christian bookstores. I am no stranger to books, as it happens. But I’ve been spoiled in recent memory by audio books, which I typically check out of the library on a “whatever is there” basis. It turns out that all those books I did reports on in High School (but never read) were pretty good! It happens that I really enjoy reading, I just don’t like making time for it. So, I average perhaps 2-3 books per year, typically fiction or occasionally biography.

Over the years, I’ve read a number of Christian books. I’m sure something good came from most, but when it comes to spiritual instruction, I much prefer recorded (audio) works. So, this was unusual, but timely in a way to redirect my thinking towards things that matter. Admittedly, I spend too much time thinking about things that don’t. Amused to life, right?

The book in question is titled, “The Shack,” by William P. Young. In short, it
 tells the story of a man who has suffered a great hurt in his life, which as a result interferes with his relationship with his family and God.

This can loosely be translated to one of the main objections to those who do not believe in a god, or specifically the Christian God: Why would a loving God allow evil and suffering in the world?

Fair enough question. The book gives some thought provoking material. Certainly, a success is that it answers the posed question pretty well, within what most would define as clear biblical teaching. There are likely other books that answer the question better, or within a fuller explanation of Christian doctrine.

But this is a story, not an academic thesis. Jesus taught in parables, so who am I to argue?

Well, not everyone is Jesus. In 1992, I was out of town on a business trip over multiple nights, and I wanted something to read. A major display case had a book that I picked up out of curiosity, expecting to quickly read the back cover and put down before moving on to the fiction section. Instead, I bought the book.

It was called “Embraced by the Light,” by Betty Eadie. It told her personal story of an “after death” experience that gave a very clear picture of things to come after one, well, you know, dies. Light at the end of the tunnel kind of thing. It was a fascinating read, one that respawned “thoughts” towards the eternal and a certain measure of hope. It also was replete with feel good moments that became, ironically, irritating because they just didn’t sound “right.” That was unsuspected as I grew up in church but rarely listened.

The Christian Research Journal and other sources provided information that contradicted the book, and, if one is to be a Christian (and I wasn’t one yet), one must choose. Which is more trustworthy? The Bible? Or a story from someone who died but didn’t? I know there are other possible choices, but there really weren’t for me. That book, as flawed as it was, started a process of serious inquisition as to the Bible and its trustworthiness as a revelation from God. It took a year before I could make a decision. The point is that most ideas are worth a listen, as long as one has the energy and desire for an honest, open inquiry before accepting, amending, or rejecting them.

Skip forward.

"The Shack" has a number of things that were worth contemplation. One interesting line of “Father” God to the protagonist, Mack, is “Freedom is trust and obedience within a relationship of love.” I still have to think about what that means in terms of man's autonomy or free will, but a side thought is that I’d prefer substituting “security” for “freedom.” Post 9/11, those two words seem to have developed an affinity for each other that previously were more understood than appreciated.

The major emphasis of the three God characters is a message of “living life loved.” The characters share that love, purportedly perfectly. It’s another good thought upon which to dwell, understanding the difference it makes in one’s life knowing that he or she is loved.

There are others: "He (Jesus) came to show people who I (the Father) am, and most people only believe that about him. They still play us like good cop/bad cop most of the time, especially the religious folk. When they want people to do what they think is right, they need a stern God. When they need forgiveness, they run to Jesus.”

My understanding of theology says that’s not true, but, in my experience I recognize it as being so. Another interesting passage, God speaking to Mack:“Just because you make horrendous and destructive choices does not mean you deserve less respect for what you inherently are - the pinnacle of my Creation and the center of my affection.”

In essence, this speaks to the person who either feels unworthy of God’s love or beats themselves up from guilt. It lifts one up a bit from the muck that we seem to prefer.  It's also a reminder to refrain from judging and be gracious wherever possible.

It can get a bit heady at times: "Paradigms power perception and perceptions power emotions. Most emotions are responses to perception - what you think is true about a given situation. If your perception is false, then your emotional response to it will be false too. So check your perceptions, and beyond that check the truthfulness of your paradigms - what you believe. Just because you believe something firmly doesn't make it true.”

The last sentence makes a lot of sense, but you have to track the logic backwards through the paragraph to get a better understanding. 

And, finally (again, God speaking): "Mack, you and I are friends, there is an expectancy that exists within that relationship. When we see each other or are apart, there is expectancy of being together, of laughing and talking. That expectancy has no concrete definition; it is alive and dynamic and everything that emerges from our being together is a unique gift shared by no one else. But what happens when I change that 'expectancy' to an 'expectation' - spoken or unspoken? Suddenly, law has entered into our relationship. You are now expected to perform in a way that meets my expectations. Our living friendship rapidly deteriorates into a dead thing with rules and requirements." That one has much to dwell upon, in that the Law could never be perfectly met, believers invariably fall short of expectations. In relationships with anyone, failed expectations typically pose barriers to communication. Translated: When we goof up and hurt those we love, even God, we tend to run away. We shouldn’t.

Well, that pretty well sums up what I found worthwhile about “The Shack.” Otherwise, the writing style is average at best, and there are many flaws in the theology presented in context of what is considered orthodox Christianity.

Four of what I consider major flaws include:

1. The Trinity. After all these years, there are some things I still don’t fully comprehend. The Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) is one of them. I haven’t figured out how the three can be One, and also communicate with each other. I don't think we have an example in earthly terms to point towards for comparison. At the same time, it's clear that scripture reveals that this is so. I'm pretty clear on what the Trinity is not. One God, three persons does not equal three Gods. The author of “The Shack” splits God into three fairly plain-spoken Gods to make The Trinity more understandable in how we relate to each (I'm being charitable). Or, in my view, he espouses that there really are three Gods who are very closely related. Dangerous ground to tread, even with artistic license.

2. An all-but-stated understanding that all roads lead to heaven. People tend to make fun of “Jesus Saves.” But it’s what he came to do, and the question must be asked, from what? No, I’m not Baptist. But H.E. double-hockeysticks is clearly indicated in scripture regardless of denominational bias. Did he save all? No. Jesus was very clear salvation was for “those who believe.”

3. The marginalization of the attributes of God. Yes, the “God is Love” characterizations are very easily digestible to a public who just want that aspect. And God is love. But one cannot ignore his righteousness, justice, holiness, and other attributes. These didn’t suddenly become irrelevant at the close of the Old Testament. Expecting to encounter God cooking breakfast for you, as depicted in the story, strips all reverence from the One to whom it is due.

4. Truth or fiction? Much could be forgiven if the story were presented within a proper context. A quote from a Christian singer on the back cover indicates this is great fiction. But from the introduction on, the author does nothing to suggest that this is anything other than an enhanced version of the truthful experience of a close friend. That introduction matters when one reads the book. Go to the author’s website FAQs, and, oh, yes, it’s fiction. That is not exactly the best method for disclosure, and the author’s introduction to the book would rank Mack’s experience as a special instrument of revelation worthy of becoming the 67th book of the Bible. Not.

Sadly, despite some thoughtful content and even considering the desirability of explaining difficult concepts in plainer terms, “The Shack” is a book to be avoided, by Christians and particularly non-believers. It ultimately settles as being just another attempt to protect the good name of “God” by marginalizing the fullness of biblical revelation in favor of the God as the author would like Him to be.

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Christmas on the Air

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Christmas songs. You have to love them or... or what? Several local radio stations are midway through their month-long "holiday" programming. I happen to find this very relaxing and a pleasant respite from the rockin' electric guitars, sports talk, or political rhetoric otherwise available.

My preference is the older songs. Frank Sinatra. Bing Crosby. Perry Como. Brenda Lee. Burl Ives. Yesteryear's pop stars made some great music which I fondly remember because they were very much the soundtrack to the season in my younger years. And they still are.

Listening to Bing Crosby sing "White Christmas" is about as good as holiday music gets. The tune is familiar, the words are pronunciated ever so clearly, and the vocal chords resonate throughout amidst an arrangement that is beautifully matched to the lyrics. The current generation may not appreciate it, but they can't say it's bad.

Intermixed with the golden oldies are the efforts of more recent artists. A few are excellent, many are tolerable, and some are awful. For the sheer abundance of them, it seems that every artist with at least one album under their belt or a top 10 hit becomes obligated to release holiday music. I'm sure it's an easy thing to do to keep a "name" in front of the public between albums. But it also makes me wonder how many hope to achieve a lasting place next to Bing or Frank within a cultural tradition that carries many years forward.

Compared with Bing, many current artists lose sight (or an ear...) of the mood of many holiday songs. I won't name names (Mariah Carey. Oops!), but holiday songs often seem to become ego trips for those who want to expand on the original to showcase their talent, such as turning one or two syllable words into breathy 5-10 syllable expressions of..."I did it because I can," melody be damned.

I enjoy Christmas music. This includes the seasonal, wintry, good cheer of the songs I regard as holiday music, as well as music which speaks specifically to Christian beliefs - the reason for the season, as it were, as opposed to a year ending holiday.

Often, it's surprising to read the lyrical riches in Christmas songs. The tune or chorus is so familiar, that the rest goes unnoticed. Songs like "Joy to the World," "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" are good examples of the the theology contained in what were hymns before the era of Christmas music overload.

Put these songs to a nice piano, or woodwinds... yeah, I like that. Give it to a choir and...

Hate.

It's such a strong word, and even within an "everything goes" society, it's probably the one thing which is not tolerated. But, dislike is such an inadequate word when one really, really uber-dislikes something.

I hate choir music. This particular type of hate does not lead to an adrenaline rush or certainty of fistacuffs.  Indeed not.  The eyelids begin to drop, the mind wanders far away, and a church pew seems a not so far of a distant cousin to a Sleep Number bed, pillows and blankets included. See? I just yawned thinking about it.

To be fair, maybe I don't hate choir music itself. Maybe I just hate the dread that comes with knowing that the appointed hour of having to listen is coming, the "dressing up" beforehand, the travel involved, the impropriety of using ear plugs, the... you get the picture. 

Or, maybe I just hate the goosebumps when it's done right. Yesterday we went to the annual Christmas concert at Roswell United Methodist Church. It has a 120 person choir, accompanied by the BIG organ pipes that belong in BIG sanctuary. I would love to hear them play "Phantom of the Opera" or even Scooby Do, but I digress. It's not the organ I hate, after all.

I think often that the best music, regardless of category, is that which elicits an emotional response, whether its the blues, happy pop, or raging against the machine. So it's a bit conflicting. I hate choir music, but there are times when they do it just right, where the vocal expression matches the majesty of the lyrics and the spirit of worship that should accompany a truly Christian, Christmas song. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and "Angels We Have Heard on High" were finer examples of that at this year's concert.

Not included this year was "O Holy Night," a song well suited to choirs. For much of the music, it retains a measure of familiarity that pulls one along, then surprises with each listen as it reaches for the heights of music and worship.

Sadly, it's also one of the songs most often mistreated by popular artists who, in other genres, so often get it right.  

For those that may think I'm way too serious about this stuff, here's one of my favorites:


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Common Sense Economics

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Fred Thompson is a remarkable person in front of a camera.  It's too bad he was too lazy to run an effective TV campaign.  That doesn't mean he can't make good points.

 

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Firemen - Electric Arguments

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This is the third "Firemen" release, an experimental project of Paul McCartney and producer Youth.  Ten years after their last release, this one, fortunately, includes vocals, the others focusing solely on electronic sounds.

Fair or not, there's always a certain pining for McCartney's past, something as poignant as"Eleanor Rigby" or as melodically perfect as "Here, There, and Everywhere."  He's had a harder time over the last thirty years finding pop perfection, as evidenced by his last #1 single, in 1980, the underwhelming "Coming Up."  He may not be storming the charts, but he's continued to offer some wheat amongst the chaff in the years since.

A major difficulty for McCartney is the immediate subjective comparison to things past, namely the The Beatles' gold standard.  Invariably, the vast majority of his solo releases fall short.  There have been some great songs, and some good albums, but too often he leans to the whimsical side of songwriting, or, worse, lyrics that fit the meter but amount to nonsense... "one, two, three, four, five, let's go for a drive."  This isn't something limited to his solo career.  Some songs, like "Why Don't We Do it In the Road," get a pass because of their placement in the Beatles' catalog, such as that song's role in an eclectic mix that makes up the majesty of the Beatles "White Album."  Had the same song been placed on a solo release, it would seal the prosecutor's case that McCartney is worthless without Lennon, or, at a minimum, that he needs someone to hold him accountable to a higher standard.

McCartney, it seems, realizes that as well.  He has teamed with numerous others over his career, more recently including Elvis Costello and Steve Miller.  Perhaps that where Youth (the producer) steps in on this release.

Lost in the perceptions of "McCartney" are his fairly frequent experimental leanings, meaning songs that are not expected to be radio friendly.  Sometimes, this is hidden in things that work well, such as the strange chord progressions of "Paperback Writer," but amidst his solo work, these pursuits are more often seen as clear evidence of being past his prime.  Lost in the critique are often some very beautiful, or, at a minimum, intriguing ideas.  Winners include charming oddities such as "Dear Friend" and  "Monkberry Moon Delight."  More notable losers include "Loup (1st Indian on the Moon)" and "Pretty Litle Head."  At least he tries.

There's also the rocking McCartney, who likes loud, screaming lead guitars, as heard in "Helter Skelter," "She's So Heavy," "Soily," "Letting Go," or "Junior's Farm."  Even in his elder years, he occasionally "rocks out."

"Electric Arguments" includes elements of all three: pop, rock, and experimentation.  As these are fairly common for him, it's curious that McCartney hides under the Firemen label.   Given that McCartney has played all the instruments on two albums previously, calling this "McCartney III"  would make sense.  

In any case, it starts off rocking, an unexpected change of pace for someone who last time out seemed to be making an effort to reclaim some critical validation on the popular front, not to mention his age.  The surprises keep coming, including a surprisingly energetic radio-ready "Sing the Changes," the venturesome "Traveling Light," "Highway" - a rocker that ranks amongst his best, the breezy "Sun is Shining," and the optimistic "Dance Til We're High" before yielding to the trippy experimentation of "Lovers in a Dream" and "Don't Stop Running."  

This CD isn't for everyone, depending on their expectations.  My ears say foregoing the McCartney label on the cover has allowed a sense of freedom from the weight of expectation and more than that, a genuine measure of fun that can be heard in the music.  The CD has a good variety of styles, the songs accommodate his reduced vocal range, and it's an engaging listen throughout.  In that view, McCartney may no longer be a relevant force in the musical business, but it reaffirms that he remains a credible artist long past most of his generation.

Suggested Tracks:  "Highway," "Sing the Changes," "Travelling Light"
Rating: 4 Stars






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To the Victor Belongs the... Bragging Rights

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Gosh, Did I mention somewhere Clemson's rousing 31-14 trashing of the South Carolina Gamecocks?  Just making certain.

In any case, this is just too much fun, even for so easy a target.


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The Axeman Cometh

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I was very tempted to write a "I'm thankful for..." post on Thanksgiving. But, hey, the turkey wasn't the only thing that was stuffed, and a nap got the better of me. We move on to doing our part of in making Black Friday black, and, naturally, Saturday becomes consumed with Clemson's dominating 31-14 football win over perennially hapless USC (not the good school, rather the University of South Carolina). In short, I really haven't been in the mood to write. There are other amusements, after all. What to write?

At least one more CD review awaits another listen or two...
Politics? Done that. I'll wait for the sequel.
Radical Islamic Fundamentalism? That one's bubbling upwards, certainly.
Other religious topics? In due course.
General Diary entry? Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head... No.

But, when one is not in the mood to be particularly thoughtful, there's usually low hanging fruit to pick and be done with.

Thanksgiving would be one of those. We had 17 gathered at the in-laws. Per tradition, the food was as good as the Pro football games were bad. The nap? Exceptional. A day to pause and be thankful, uncorrupted by consumerism? Yes, it's my favorite holiday.

I'll forego the many things for which I'm thankful, but I will tie the rest of this post to a cousin of the cutting instrument used to slice such scrumpious meat.

That would be the axe. A simple machine, basically a wedge on the end of a handle, offering leverage for efficient cutting.

What in the world am I getting at? Well, one might do useful things with it like cut wood. A headsman might use it for a darker purpose. Medevial warriors might use it for hacking foes.



Bear with me. Years ago, I wore Old Spice a couple of times, for a 9th grade dance or something, and I have no issues with those who favor colognes. They're not for me.
The other vogue fasions at the time were leather Nike shoes (there was only the choice of white canvas
or white leather with the dominating Swoosh), Levi's jeans, and Members Only jackets. I had none of the above, but at least with my little white bottle of the good stuff I had
my one day in the sun, or, evening in the dark as it was. Old Spice... a nice, if unsophisticated, statement to those of the opposite gender.

One would think things get better over time. Fast forward some years, and I pick up my son's best friend at his house. Suddenly, my car becomes a toxic confined space. No, it's not ol' reliable Old Spice. This is something newer, and it's noxious threat is immediate, making one wonder how to lower the windows on a cold day and remain politically correct. The Department of Alcohol, Tobacoo, and Firearms should consider a licensing process for using this particular "cologne" (*cough cough*). It's threat to the public is very similar to ATF's titular responsibilities, in terms of irresponsible access and the potential damage to both users and the public at large. Not to mention my car! I mean, really. Any ol' kid can just go buy this stuff. And when you put it in the hands of a male 9th grader, one shouldn't be surprised that in the teen world, when it comes to making your presence known, you obviously want to use the entire supply.

This wasn't a CSI-worthy mystery to be analyzed and identified. This particular weapon of mass destruction has been on the grocery shelves at least several years.

Axe.

No handle. No wedge. No sharp edge. Just pure blunt force.

Please take note of the rather innocent looking packaging. Don't bring even the slightest amount into your home. If it's already there, secure it safely with the rat poison for the protection of those you hold dear.


I must presume that like this odor du jour is as effective in its utility with teenage girls as its namesakes are for more workmanlike tasks. As I have a teenager daughter, this scares me, in that she could possibly fall victim to its power, that she make actually like some bestial teen who thinks it'll attract her, and, of course, that I may have failed miserably as a parent.

Lock your doors! Charge your muskets! Move the women and children to safety! And if an Axeman cometh, be very, very afraid.

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Long May You Run

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Regrettably, I pay my bills and won't be favored with a government bailout. I admit this is rather disappointing. After all, much of my expenses are for my kids. Why not add it to their tab?

I've posted my share of political observations, and so I'll avoid the political entanglements as best I can. To the point: the inevitable bailout of Ford, GM, and Chrysler. The interesting provision that is talked about on Capital Hill is that the Big Three must first show what changes they will make to ensure that it's not just bonuses and pensions that are fattened by "government money," but an improved business model. Well, what would that look like?

1. Bust the Union. That's the unspoken requirement that first comes to mind, is it not? First, I'm a capitalist. I'm all for people making as much money as they can. "As much as they can" is further clarified as "as much as someone is willing to pay." The amount that someone is willing to pay I'd say has to meet two tests:

1) There is sufficient income to pay each wage earner.
2) The benefit to the wage provider exceeds the costs of the wages paid, namely a profit.

Wage providers can pay as little as they like. Prospective employees are free to choose if the wage is sufficient for the work required. Providers can also pay as much as they like, far in excess of what others may earn for similar work. That's their choice.

The classroom example is the wage disparity between professional athletes and school teachers, a particularly sensitive subject regarding their relative worth to society. In short, high performance athletes are very few, and significant funding is available because fans are willing to pay for the entertainment. By contrast, teachers are... aplenty. Granted, good ones are rarer. But, to pay this far greater number of teachers a significant wage is cost prohibitive. As it is for the vast majority of other professions.

So, the obvious. Automakers with plants in "employment at will" states make larger profits because the wages paid are appropriate for the skills required (of which ample people are capable), though still a quite respectable wage. The Big Three, despite tiered suppliers that are frequently non-union, overpay for the value of the labor provided, and... a sufficient number of auto buyers believe that their products suffer by comparison to imported brands, resulting in lack of sufficient income. The two tests above are not met, and they come begging to the taxpayers.

2. Better products. Clearly, they need to improve, mainly in reliability, and secondly in appeal. After all, European imports may be sought after by those that can afford them, but most European brands suffer similar reliability issues, plus they cost more to repair. I don't think anyone would concede that American ingenuity and engineering offers a disadvantage to foreign competition. We just have yet to prove it and build a reputation that holds across a particular brand's makes and models. I doubt any Congressperson will demand any improvement in this area.

But here's how to score some political points. Desirable products is certainly a factor. I'm not the most environmentally "green" person, but I'm coming to terms with my own wastefulness, and can see benefits in doing what we can to help the trash pile. I mean, the earth.

Neil Young once wrote a fine song in appreciation of his car, called "Long May You Run." In general, I think Americans want a car large enough to haul more than themselves and a cupholder, and, apparently, Neil feels the same. (<--- it's an interesting article). The southern man may need him around, anyhow, after all. (A few of you will get the reference). American ingenuity is certainly fueled by "where there's a will, there's a way," or "necessity is the mother of invention." Your choice. That said, I expect the automakers to propose nothing of consequence, but rather point to unfair trade practices, the onerous costs of regulation, and Congressional demands for increased fuel efficiency as leading causes of their blight. Same old story, only this time they want cash. 3. Better distribution. Several years ago, I read a book called The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement. (It's actually an easy read and not as h0-hum as the cover suggests). Without being tedious, the story walked through the production process of a manufacturing plant and largely examined the inefficiencies (and resulting costs) of materials that were on hold, waiting for the next available production step. Bear with me.

When it comes to about everything, Americans as a society are basically like 2 year olds in that "I want it... NOW!" Hence the billions of credit card debt and defaulted home loans. When we go shopping, for anything, we want it... now. I don't know that we're built to find virtue in patience.

Having worked my way through 1 Ford Tempo, 3 Dodge Spirits, 1 Pontiac Grand Am, 2 Dodge Stratus, and 1 Chevrolet Malibu as company cars over the years, it's evident that American employers support American automakers. The process of getting a company car involves filling out an order form for choice of colors and waiting for the car to be delivered to a local dealership. It takes about 8 weeks. At any given time, I could check on the status of "my" car online to see how it was coming along. Basically, it had my name on it from birth.

When I finally was no longer able to qualify for a company car, I bought a Nissan (which can rightly be assumed to be a comment on my satisfaction with those driven previously). The sales lot had hundreds of cars and trucks, and I got it...now! (Well, okay, then...).

A quick Google search indicates that for each of the major automakers (foreign and domestic), there are 7-8 dealerships in the metro Atlanta area. Let's assume there are 200 new cars on each lot, each valued at $25,000, and 8 dealerships. That's $40M of inventory, just in the Atlanta market, per auto brand. Multiply $5M (value on one lot) by 50%? for the automakers costs, and multiply again by the number of dealerships in the country. It adds up. Then consider the amount of financing required for material costs, tiered suppliers, labor, shipping, etc. for product that is unsold and sitting on lots.

Wouldn't it make more sense to have a sampling of vehicles on each lot? I know... dealers would protest that it would reduce sales - no whimsical buyers, more time to reconsider the debt obligations and back out... But really, why not test drive a vehicle, then order the one you like the way you want it as a standard industry practice? "Made to order" is perfectly suited to "just in time" manufacturing processes used by many industries that minimize capital outlays by avoiding standing inventories.

This isn't exactly new for consumer products. Buy Ethan Allen furniture (assuming you can afford it), and you wait until it is manufactured and delivered.

The Big Three... a key American industry... hundreds of thousands of jobs... I get it. As one commentator put it, "if the union believes so strongly their wages are not the issue, have them invest their pension funds in the automakers." Like my old Malibu, it's a non-starter.

We'll see what the Big Three try to sell Congress that warrants billions of dollars they haven't earned. But it's interesting to follow the logic another step or three.

Given the inconveniences of the recent gas shortage in the south, no one really wants to think what a real energy deficit would mean to our way of life. But looking down the figurative road a ways... when energy costs rise to the point where it's not economically feasible for consumers to shop by going from store to store to store, one has to wonder how well the amazon.com approach (for example) might work towards all consumer products. The efficiencies gained by ordering all sorts of products and having them delivered on a scheduled basis to a nearby, central location, such as your house, may someday be a necessity rather than an option.

In a bleaker vision of the future, perhaps the dream jobs of many kindergarten kids will to be a truck driver, or a plumber, or another tradesman that is one of an allotted number of occupations permitted to drive the open roads.

Sing us out of here, Neil!

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Fleet Foxes

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Entering 2009, I was eagerly anticipating My Morning Jacket's follow-up to Z, their 2005 guitar driven rock adventure featuring Jim James' reverb-treated vocals. That CD, appropriately entitled "My Evil Urges," gave into their not-so-good inclinations. Most bands want to grow artisticly, but they do so without abandoning their strengths.

Alas. Fortunately, good ideas don't go unnoticed and evolve in the hands of others. The Beatles' Sgt Pepper was an evolution of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds; Coldplay borrowed the cash cow of U2's signature sound for their own ends... and so it goes.

MMJ's work also has its admirers. In October, 2007, Band of Horses released Cease to Begin, very much a successful idea grab from Z (though commiting a major rip-off by releasing a CD with only a smidgen more than 30 minutes of music).

And finally, we arrive at Fleet Foxes' self-titled release. Whereas My Morning Jacket took their strengths and traded them for uninspired posturings, Fleet Foxes took the vocal reverb idea and pushed it to a new end.

I can't say that this CD struck me with anything like "awe," or even a "wow," the first listen. Like Radiohead's Kid A or The Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin, it took repeated listens to figure out what exactly this is. And if I liked it. Listening to their concert on the NPR podcast helped get a better feel for their music, but for some months afterward, I wasn't sure I really needed this CD.

It's haunting.

If there's one thing I've learned from other CDs that continue to creep into mind periodically, I need to quit arguing with myself and just go get the blasted thing.

So I did. And I'm quite happy with it. I've read other reviews of this CD, and none of them quite sums this up, though certainly you might get a better take on it elsewhere.

First and foremost, there's an emphasis here on harmonies. This isn't to say that Lennon-McCartney dropped them a top-20 tune with a ready-for-radio hook. Fleet Foxes has a different sound and different song structure. Perhaps if rock and gospel were mixed during the Reconstructionist South... Well, no. This band hails from Seattle, WA.

Haunting remains the best description of this this CD. It's not littered with poltergeists or other mentions of the netherworld. It's more a feeling that comes from the whole of the work.

Back to those harmonies. The vocal stylings are the main emphasis. They go places other bands have not seen fit to go, and if they've been traveled before, it seems likely that it was long ago. Add the echoing reverb of the vocals and maybe, just maybe, it brings chills to the skin.

The lyrics themselves are poetic. They're not specifically negative, nor are they positive. The lyrics are not perfectly clear, but they tend to include a sadness on the observations made. This is not to say that the music is in any way depressing. Juxtaposed with the enthusiasm of the vocals and instrumentation, there's plenty of foot tapping opportunities.

In short, this CD stands apart from anything else on my CD rack. Or in the I-pod. It's certainly not for everyone, but if you prefer artists who detour commercial expectations to chart their own path, this might be for you.

Youtube videos are included below.

Recommended songs: "Quiet Houses," "He Doesn't Know Why," "Ragged Wood," "Blue Ridge Mountains," "Your Protector"

Rating: 5 Stars

He Doesn't Know Why



Blue Ridge Mountains:



Your Protector

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The Depths to Which Scientists go...

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... to find something that isn't known to exist. First, let's start with Dark Matter (<-- click here) for a primer on what? huh? *scratches head.* I particularly like the description: "It has been noted that the names "dark matter" and "dark energy" serve mainly as expressions of human ignorance." Well, if that's all it is, may I simply direct you to your politician of choice.

Sorry, I fell for the easy target.

Had I heard of Dark Matter before (or, recalled it - it sounds vaguely familiar), I might have named this Blog after it. But to be fair, not to politicians but rather to our use of diction, let's not be judgmental from "ignorance." From dictionary.com:

Ignorance: the state or fact of being ignorant; lack of knowledge, learning, information, etc.

To be ignorant is not to be stupid, but rather to not be informed. Well, information is good, but pictures are even better! Hmm. The first image offered in a Google search for the illustrious "dark matter:"


Well, heck yeah! Cool stuff! Ah, but there's the accompanying footnote: "Figure 1: The distribution of dark matter obtained from a large numerical simulation."

Well, thank you for that, a numerical simulation of hypothetical, invisible (but dark) matter. Well, okay! It's still cool looking.

Back to the moral of our story. That would be the (literal, as it turns out) depths to which scientists will go to support a hypothesis, as presented in the "Wall Street Journal." <--- yep, click there. Let's see...YEARS beneath the surface, searching for evidence of things not known to exist using means of detection not known to work for... real money? Kids, this is why you get your Ph.D. It's a bit more schoolwork, but look at the rewards! You must use the little grey cells before you move on to Dark Matter. Okay, sure, I'm making light of the Dark Matter, but I'm not done yet. How can one ignore "Wimps?" Well, given the rather outstanding mathematical depiction of nothingness, I can't help but venture back to the image warehouse at Google for some help in this area! My expectation, as yours, no doubt, was that I would immediately find something akin to this:
Eh, an unfortunate candid photo, to be sure. But not so, gentle reader! Instead, the first image is this:


Pretty. Weekly Interactive Massive Particles. Once again, footnoted information:
  • The WIMPS have a spherically symmetric distribution centered on the center of the galaxy.
  • They are evenly spread out, not clumped.
  • They provide much of the gravitational force that holds the visible part of the galaxy together.
I'm sure we'll hear more about this. The postulations are thought provoking, the need (though an unfortunate acronym) is evident, and the efforts underway are... well, you have to start somewhere.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not making light (antonym to dark not intended) of scientific pursuits in this field. At the same time, I have to allow that the convergence of the scientific and theological remains quite possible here. Chance seems such a wimpy player in all of this. It may not, after all is said and done, be the devil in the details, but God.

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Lucinda Williams - Little Honey

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Concurrent with her current tour, Lucinda Williams has released "Little Honey." This is a curious choice of title. It could refer to a person of diminutive proportions fondly referred to as "Honey." It might just mean that she has little honey left in her bear package. Or, perhaps it refers to her current love, who she sings of not as a honey bear, but a little "honey bee." However cute and endearing that may be, her past suggests that this is but another temporary sidestep on her road to disappointment. "Lotta Honey," after all, seemingly will never apply to Ms. Williams' love life.

And for me, that's okay. Her gift is wrapping her experiences in song, and when she hurts, she writes better. Here, we have what seems to be a much more positive album than all of her previous. We start off with "Real Love," an okay rocker with a refrain of "I've found the love I've been looking for, a real love, a real love..." Regrettably, that song was written about her previous stop at love's door. "Tears of Joy" better captures her sense of new found love, as she pulls out the, er, difficulties of her past in contrast to the new hope that she now has. It's well written, but... there remains a sadness in the tune. And "Knowing" sounds like a song that wants to sound happy but just can't step up to uncharted space. "If Wishes Were Horses," she'd have a farm. And so would every other young girl.

And so it goes. Overall, this CD is okay. Lucinda knows how to work blues scales and instrumentally find something "good." But still, there's a lot of retread here. There's the obligatory "adult" themed song - "Honey Bee," there's the annoying song - "Jailhouse Blues" (good for 1-2 listens, but then a misfit on repeated listens), and songs that pretty much sound the same as songs she's done as well or better in the past. "Circles and X's" is itself an old idea that she recently completed, and several others closely follow the minimal strum-and-sing formula of many songs past. This can be quite good - "Well, Well, Well" or it can be ho-hum - "Rarity" - within which is the CD title reference. The reading fares better than the listening, however.

Still, there is much here to like, and although a cover of AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top" seems a disjointed afterthought, it's is a good way to depart this CD. There's an enthusiasm that she fails to capture in her own songs, and it's played with a Keith Richards/ Ron Wood aggressiveness.

Suggested Songs: "Well, Well, Well", "Jailhouse Blues" (one listen), and "It's a Long Way to the Top".

Note to the unacquainted: Lucinda has a Southern "hick" accent, which should not be confused as a twang, a drawl, or other inflection coming from the studios in Nashville. She doesn't attempt to hide her accent, and if you hear one of her songs, it's more likely another artist covering it. Example: "Passionate Kisses" by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

For those who do I-tunes or similar source, my favorite Lucinda song is "Side of the Road," which takes an observation and pairs it with appropriate instrumentation as well as any.

Rating: 3 Stars

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Bombadil - A buzz A buzz

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Occasionally, I just fall into the trap of being bored while searching the CD bins at a CD Store. Preferably, this would be at a very eclectic shop with new and used CDs, but, in "Bigger is Better" USA, it's usually Best Buy. It's not exactly the place where one expects to make a great "find," but they sometimes surprise.

It's been said that "you can't judge a book by it's cover," but I don't know that I agree. First impressions do matter, after all. Same for CDs. I bought Steve Winwood's "Arc of a Diver" and Steely Dan's "Gaucho" on gut reactions to the album artwork. Those worked out well. I'm sure there have been others in the 25+ years since, but, uh, I can't remember any...

In any case, this time around, I came across an artsy CD cover with an unusual band name. The name of the group, as is obvious from the title of this post, is Bombadil, and the package indicated it was alt/indie music, from a label in North Carolina. The State makes it a point of curiosity, as I tend to be interested in southern bands. The alt/indie indication was more important, because, regardless of art or title, I'm certainly not buying death metal, rap, or Brittney pop.

Oh, it was also cheap.

Those that read JRR Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings" may recall Tom Bombadil, a character who didn't make it to the version. He was a very odd character, somewhat out of place even in the menagerie of the LOTR cast.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a CD review! With a core of electric and acoustic guitars, bass, piano and drums, the band adds flourishes that suggest access to either a music store or a high school marching band locker area. Where else would a (presumably bare budget) band find a harmonica, xylophone, organ, synth, saxophone, trumpet, viola, charango, glockenspiel, accordion, recorder and zampona?

Okay, this isn't music for everyone, particularly those that stick to a Top 40 diet or for whom Neil Young is the outer limits or musical radicalism. Think... eclectic. Charmingly odd. Add a twist of the bizarre and a slice of the unexpected.

The first song, "Trip Out West," begins things innocently enough. It's a piano based, quiet but tuneful song. The singer has a nice enough voice.

Song two: "Julian of Norwich" launches into a military march of sorts, which is certainly a contrast to who she was.

And so it goes. To be fair, I don't like every song on here. "Johnny" has a beautiful tune, but cutting lyrics of the literal kind. But there is plenty to like, and it's certainly a departure from my musical mainstream (sadly, perhaps best described as "aging songwriters").

The videos that follow are a couple of the better songs - at least of the ones available on YouTube.

"Three Saddest Words"



"Smile When You Kiss"



Sometimes, lyrics also give a sense of things:

From "Cavaliers Har Hum":

"We are calling cavaliers to arms
We shall fight like a lion with a sword in its side
We shall rush to defend at the sound of the alarms
We shall vanquish our foes with justice of the brave
Cavaliers, sing out in glory, har hum
Cavaliers, it's the same old story, har hum"

Did I mention eclectic? Anyway, as long as the music is listenable, I'm always interested in artists who make music they want to make it, as opposed to meeting others' expectations. That's certainly the case here, and I'm looking forward to seeing how they progress.

Suggested Songs: "Three Saddest Words," "Smile When You Kiss," "Cavaliers Har Hum"

Rating: 3 Stars




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I Used to be a Republican

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This doesn't mean that I've become a Democrat, or a Libertarian, or whatever else is out there. My values haven't changed, nor should they for anyone who believes what they believe. But, if it isn't obvious from the tone of previous political posts, I've become disillusioned with politicians in general. There is no one who is ahead of his or her time; they are incapable of working in advance of a problem, preferring to point fingers after the horse has left the barn. Congressional leadership more closely resembles playground bullying than anything mature. And I'm still awaiting for a charismatic Steven Forbes or a sane Ross Perot to step up from outside the political machinery to save our collective days. When it comes to politicians, it seems everyone who can do better, does so elsewhere.

Part of this dissatisfaction lies within the nature of the bicameral system itself. Party politics seems to result in compromises of the lowest common denominator, typically at a price to the taxpayer. Success in politics seems to be measured by what best enables a political party to gain or maintain power for power's sake rather than accomplishing anything in particular for constituents.

I don't closely follow how a person moves from public service at the local level to national positions. But it seems being a politician tends to either bring out the worst in well-intentioned people or it just attracts the worst people.

A particular example comes to mind. I lived in Birmingham, AL for about five years. To support the local arts community, voters approved a special tax on various activities to be dedicated to furthering the arts in its many forms. The issues with funding the local symphony was a major continuing embarrassment for the city, and unless one is strictly against taxation, the need was apparent and the method seemed a fair one.

After it was passed, the City Council immediately diverted the existing funding already designated to the arts to other purposes, leaving the "arts tax" as the sole funding mechanism. Classic bait and switch. Outrage? Maybe one editorial. Accountability? None.

On the national stage, there seems even less accountability. The power of the vote itself represents a means for change, but given the power of incumbent funding, change is difficult. The Republican "sweep" in 1994 or the pending Democrat surge may indicate otherwise, but changeovers in Party control have more to do with discontent with either the President and/or Party in power rather than with a particular public servant.

Good ideas in politics are fairly rare. My favorite is the Republican's "Contract For America" for the 1994 elections. The action items themselves are not the point here, but the concept itself. The Contract listed 10 items to accomplish within the first 100 days of Congress and nationalized a campaign platform for Republicans everywhere. In a business sense, it provided clear performance expectations and a standard by which to judge them. What happens, or what doesn't happen, beyond the initial 100 days is not the point (unless it was followed by #11-#20), but regardless of how unpopular Newt Gingrich became, it's surprising that neither Party adopted this very effective means of communicating their priorities to voters. I guess they're either out of ideas or afraid someone will hold them accountable.

So, with one week remaining of the attack ads, campaign litter, daily polling data, and bumper stickers, I'm very much looking forward to getting beyond this ritual of futility and enjoying whatever amusements befall me.

I suppose I can sum my feelings thusly: If you put your faith in politicians, you'll always be disappointed. But, I don't see any other countries in which I'd prefer to live, so here's my suggestion for any political operatives out there who scour obscure and irrelevant blogs.

Reese's proposed Contract for America:

#1 Constitutional Justification. All legislation entered for consideration will be reviewed for Constitutional authority. Let's not wait for the court system to weigh in, please. Nationalizing airport security personnel? Buying shares in private corporations? Set standards, enforce them, and step out of the way.

#2 Honesty in Spending. The term "government funding" (and all equivalents thereof) will be prohibited. This includes interviews, memos, budgets, proposals or any other communication. The term which should be used is "taxpayer funds" or other reference clearly discernible to mean the same thing. There is no such thing as government money; let's not pretend that taxpayers don't pay for it.

#3 Separation of legislation and spending Bills. Don't hide behind reams of paper for that pet project. Let's make ourselves transparent. Don't force a President to approve stupid things in order to get the important things done.

#4 Financial honesty. Enough of the Social Security lock box. We know we're spending far more than we take in, so let's be honest and add Social Security (and any other off-budget tricks) to the general budget so we can clearly see just how far in a hole we are. We understand that this would just make it harder to justify additional spending.

#5 Necessity for Spending. Any proposed new expense should be accompanied by an explanation of why it is appropriate that the expense be shared by all taxpayers across this great nation. Is it a national interest? Or a local one? But we're not done yet.

The American public is taking a lot of grief for not living within their means. Congress? Just another day in the office. Given that entitlements, Defense, and core operations/obligations consume the Federal budget, the justification for each spending decision should also include why the expense is so important that it requires borrowing to pay for it. Good luck with that one.

#6 Line Item Veto. Let's have Congress go ahead and make it Law. Then the Supreme Court can have a law to judge it by, rather than an unsupported Executive action.

#7 Term Limits. To pretend that "public servants" should have a separate career and donate their time, for a short period, to the governance of this Country is no longer realistic, sadly. To impose a limit of two terms on Congress would largely transfer the power of knowledge and experience to the hordes of aides and special interests who hang around far longer and who would become the true power brokers. Still, we don't need career politicians. 3 terms max, whether House or Senate, or maximum 18 years should someone try doing both to double their permitted time.

#8 No special benefits. Retirement plans, health plans, etc. should all be procured on the open market and similar to those provided by Fortune 100 companies. And the benefits should conclude at the end of their service, just like for us regular folk.

#9 Accounting. We're so far in debt, a little more won't hurt. (This will meet the necessity requirement stated earlier). Let's hire one or more of our fine national accounting firms to investigate the labyrinth of government finances to tell us three things:

a) All the money coming in is accurately counted and accounted for.
b) All expenses are accurately counted and accounted for.
c) Both of the above remain authorized by active Congressional approval. "Oh, I thought we stopped spending on that years ago!" kind of thing...

Does anyone trust that there is a Quicken or Quickbooks program that actually keeps a running total? I think not.

#10 Fairtax.org. This doesn't change spending one iota, but deserves a fair hearing for a revolutionary change for America as the preferred place of doing business in the world. Congress should be brave enough to at least take a serious look beyond the political posturing and other avoidance mechanisms.

I suppose a Contract for America should be limited at ten items. Heck and I didn't even get to the "third rail" of Social Security or a Balanced Budget Amendment. No politician is stupid enough to mess with those. Until, like most everything else, there's no choice left but to deal with it.

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Celebrity Campaigns, Pt. 2

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Well, the Prez Prediction was intended to be my last political post in a sequential theme, but... I can't help myself. I've certainly been collecting a list of other things that have been on my mind. But, for now... I must exorcise the demons that the season has thrust upon me.

This (regrettably, in a way) is an easy target. I grew up watching TBS, Ch 17, usually when I came home from school: "Gilligan's Island," "Andy Griffith Show," "Scooby Do," etc. made for a great afternoon if I wasn't told to "Go outside and play!" The Andy Griffith show was not one of my favorites, but I'd watch fairly frequently; perhaps it fell between better shows. I remember that the guy who whistled the theme tune (Earle Hagen, a quick internet search reveals) visited my school, and for several days my neighborhood buddies and I spent some time trying to whistle the theme as expertly as he did. Not even close.

Later in life, I'd watch "Happy Days" and "Matlock" as they originally aired and go to the theater to see "Splash," "Cocoon," and "Apollo 13," among others. Each of these include either Ron Howard or Andy Griffith either acting or directing.

So, it's only natural that I would have a measure of curiosity about a political activism video featuring these "characters" who have amused my life over the years. On top of that, throw in Arthur Fonzarelli for free.


Condensed message: "Vote Change!" If anything, one might suspect that W is running for re-election instead of McCain, who as often has been meddlesome to Bush as a supporter of his policies. Regardless of your political views, this video just reemphasizes my recent Celebrity Campaign post. Henry Fonda, he's not.

Let's see now... Because Ron Howard made the supreme sacrifice of shaving his beard and donning a hairpiece (or two), and, possibly, with the response of tugged heartstrings for fictional characters long past, I should vote with Opie (and Richie) for his candidate of choice.

Howard, Winkler, and Griffith are using their celebrity and media opportunities to get involved for a better tomorrow. I get it, and I respect it...

...to a point. But, given the weight of responsibility he feels to personally get involved, is too much to ask for, oh, I don't know... substance? Perhaps he could speak to which particular failed policies he has in mind, why we should consider them failed, who is actually responsible for these failures, and how the proposals of any given candidate are indeed solutions that are worthy of support.

Again, it's great to be involved, but... does anyone actually pay attention to this stuff? Is America better off if our elected representatives are voted in based on the influence of the gravitas depicted here? Or is Howard assuming that it's so incredibly obvious which is the superior candidate that any examination of the issues is not needed? (In which case, there is no point to his video. This would be a great condescension on his part; I prefer to think better of him). Or, is this subconsciously a play for a wink and a pat on the back by his buddies at the club?

Shallow, elitist, or self-serving... Well, Op, here's a big *hug* for ya.

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Presidential Prediction!

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Okay, political rants are over. Finally, the long anticipated (not!) prediction of who will be our nation's 44th President!

The way I see it... if you're conservative, you vote Republican. If you're liberal, you vote Democrat. If you want to throw away your vote, regardless of how well-intentioned, you can vote Libertarian, Independent, or Other.

That leaves what are called "uncommitted" voters. I'm not sure what that means, exactly. They're said to be "in the middle," but whether that means in the middle from a values standpoint or in the middle of watching a football game is unclear. There are a lot of possibilities within that group.

1) The Ignorant - they just don't know what matters to them, so they vote with the leader of the latest poll. "Yeah, man, I've always picked the winner!"
2) The greedy - who wait and see who promises the most freebies. "I got mine from Bill!"
3) The clueless - who register to vote, and, darn! Voting would interfere with my Soaps.
4) The fair-minded - those that want to hear what the candidates say, prioritizing their own thoughts and needs against the values of those running for office, while also weighing the National and International implications of each candidate.

Sure I'm cynical, but I'm also honest enough to realize there are probably other groups. But I'm fairly certain most of the uncommitted fall into Category 4. I'm also fairly certain that the fair-minded don't actually watch debates, though they'll listen 15-30 seconds on the radio for the sound bites.

So how, then, does this fairly sizable group actually determine who should receive their vote? It's an important question, because they ultimately determine the election results - the Dems and Reps canceling each other out.

My grand(!) theory is that "the uncommitted" vote for the person they would most like to have over for dinner. Now, to refine that highly complex reasoning to the lowest common denominator, I need to be clear. This isn't a "Sunday best" attire dinner. Nosirree, that would be quite awkward.



You can't relax and have a good time in a straight backed seat while being careful not to let your sleeves dip into the sorbet. Instead, let's go with the Barbeque concept:


We're talking a smoky, outdoor get together with paper plates, potato salad, baked beans, and a nice cool one (or two)... where you can really sit down and talk. Got it?

Let's see how this works against recent elections. Who do you want to invite over?


The Communicator vs. the Peanut. Jimmy Carter may be one of the better ex-Presidents, but most will go (and did) for Hollywood.

Do I even have to post a picture of Reagan and Walter Mondale? Who? Reagan in a no-brainer.

The same should be said for the following election...


... but I can't resist Dukakis in the tank. Voters did. This wasn't necessarily an indication of wanting Bush to share a brew in the backyard as much as keeping Dukakis far from it.

Now, all evidence to this point to the contrary, this "election modeling tool" does not favor one political party's candidate over the other's. Case in point:

You gotta have music at the bar-be-que! Dan Qualye aside, Bush didn't stand a chance. And Bill will drink a beer, too.

Which brings us to Saxman vs. Bob Dole. Sorry, Bob. You're not invited. And I don't need a picture to emphasize the point.

Now, for our next contestants:

This is a tough one. It might be said that neither is invited to your party, or that both are. It was close. But, given that this election was held before "the man who invented the internet" developed a personality, the ranch man from Texas wins out. It's a Barbeque, remember?

Many, of course, ask how in the world could the U.S. vote for W as President. Don't we have anything better to choose from? Then they're doubly astounded that we did it twice. Remember the working theory here:


Senator Kerry, thank you for your time. Now please return to your formal dining room; you're not welcome here, you faker.

I think we've practiced enough. We now come to the current test subjects:


This one is a pretty tough case, actually. McCain has all the war stories, which are welcome fare at a cook-out. But then, we have to ask ourselves what we favor in a 21st century backyard party. President Bush's vocabulary of one syllable words has worn the party thin, and Senator Obama is Mr. Smoothie. In deference to the needs of our guests at the party, perhaps we can miss out on McCain's tired old stories. Obama just sounds so good!

I never suggested this theory reflected the highest aspirations of our electoral process. Sorry, but our party needs some life, so let's throw him the invite and our deliberating is (just that quickly) done! Ladies and Gentlemen, your 44th President of the United States!


I did say it would be a smoky party.

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Celebrity Campaigns

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I have a DVD of the inaugural gala for John F. Kennedy, hosted by Frank Sinatra, with appearances by Sidney Poitier, Ethel Merman, Bette Davis, Leonard Bernstein and others. It includes some great music, but the striking aspect of it (other than the non-HDTV black and white picture - hey, I'm spoiled!) is the general reverence held for the Office of the President. There are a few partisan jabs, of course, but it's certainly a celebratory but respectful affair.

And no wonder. As much credit as Bill Clinton received for connecting with an audience ("I feel your pain"), it seems a rare thing to hear a candidate speak, to all appearances, from the heart. Presenting, candidate John F. Kennedy:



The rather clueless insertions of Nixon are made for good effect, but overall, I'd say Kennedy qualified as a Statesmen of first rank, regardless of his other foibles. Campaigns of substance seem to be lacking the last 20ish years, and if we haven't settled into a steady diet of poll-tested sound bites with media spin, it seems that is all that we can get. Thank you, President Kennedy, for a reminder of the way things used to (and ought to) be.

An interesting website is "The Living Room Candidate," from which this video originated, which hosts videos of prior media ads and debates for candidates going back to Ike vs. Stevenson. At a minimum, it's entertaining.

Celebrities, too, it seems, have always had their hands into politics and occupy a portion of the campaign landscape. As a music lover, there's no end to musical artists (Springsteen, Neil Young, Wayne Coyne, John Lennon, ad infinitum) who get out to "Rock the Vote."

I wonder if they feel a certain measure of guilt regarding their fame and wealth, and therefore seek to contribute back to society in some way. In the case of actors, perhaps they search for recognition for their own thoughts rather than as interpreters of others'. But for better or worse, at least they try. Everyone should care.

But some intentions go awry. Actors such as Alec Baldwin miss as often as they hit when ad-libbing, an example being his promise to flee the country should W win the election. W won. Alec stayed, and found himself a nice sit-com to star in to keep his celebrity star shining brightly. Barbra Streisand, Robert Altman, and Eddie Vetter also decided that the U.S. is a desirable place to live, ultimately, despite their threats to leave.

Seriously, is a fan of a particular celebrity, author, or artist supposed to change their own vote because their hero(ine) threatens to leave the country if they don't get their way? That expectation seems rather unlikely, but then, it was never an honest intention to begin with. I would suspect that voters swayed by such would find their convictions mightily tested by, oh, the 21 flavors at Baskin Robbins', which is really much more pleasant diversion than standing in a line and finding out they forgot to register. Again.

I'm sure that partisanship was every bit as strong in 1960 as it is today. Thinking people pay attention to politics and are aware of their own values and beliefs. After a measure of diligence and consideration, they tend to select a "representative" that shares their outlook.

Without a doubt, celebrity endorsements are pop culture fodder. But with the current generation of Alec Baldwins in mind, yesteryear's actors also seemed more Statesman-like in their endorsements.



Nice job, Henry. We miss you.

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Charity and Theft

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We have an interesting fundraiser underway at work. In a competition between the staff on each floor of my six story building, employees are encouraged to deposit pennies in containers on each floor. Everyone has pennies sitting around, right? To make it interesting, employees can also add "silver" coins into the bins on the other floors, the value of which subtract from others' totals. There's also gift baskets being auctioned, raffles, and other events which provide clear evidence that United Way giving season has arrived.

America is known as a nation of great charity. Whether crises are home or abroad, Americans give when others hurt. Given that, despite the current economic woes, we have been blessed as a society economically, there is a certain "oughtness" that follows that we should choose to help those who are less fortunate. I suspect, in people's hearts, they would like to give even more.

Charity can be defined as (from dictonary.com):

1. generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless.
2. something given to a person in need.

The key point implied is that the one acting charitably does so willingly, without coercion.

The opposite of charity would seem to be theft. The evening news quickly reminds us that theft is also prevalent in America, whether it be from someone's home or corporate "opportunism" by those with the keys to the vault.

Let's look at the definition of theft (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary):

1. (Law) The act of stealing; specifically, the felonious taking and removing of personal property, with an intent to deprive the rightful owner of the same; larceny.

Rephrased, theft is the unlawful taking of one person's property for the benefit of another.

We now bring our attention to the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Note, it does not read "provide the general welfare." Yet, taking a look at "entitlement spending" and other transfers of wealth within our tax system, that is exactly what the U.S. taxpaper (or, factually, those who hold U.S. debt) does. As the United Way, churches, and other charitable organizations struggle to gather funds for charitable purposes, I wonder how much people feel the equivalent of "I already gave at the office" via their income tax withholding when asked to give elsewhere.

The Constitutionality of taxes may be debated, but people understand that funds are necessary for the government to operate. How the money is spent, however, would seem to influence the rightness of taxation. Should the government be the principle agent of charity? It certainly seems to cross the line into theft when taxes are used to take the property of one person, and then give that to another person for their own use. Not only does this reduce capital for private charities, but it also marginalizes the work that they do. After all, politicians are more than happy to spend on anything that brings a vote.

It seems that, societally, we're more comfortable with the government handing out goodies than we are trusting individuals to give. This is a gradual transition as people view it government's responsibility to help those in need rather than an optional voluntary action. In short, socialism seems preferred over faith in individuals or groups of individuals to do the right thing. It's taken a very short time for this thinking to evolve.

A couple of interesting quotes from years gone by:

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents." - James Madison criticizing an attempt to grant public monies for charitable means, 1794

"As a matter of fact and law, the governing rights of the States are all of those which have not been surrendered to the National Government by the Constitution or its amendments. Wisely or unwisely, people know that under the Eighteenth Amendment Congress has been given the right to legislate on this particular subject1, but this is not the case in the matter of a great number of other vital problems of government, such as the conduct of public utilities, of banks, of insurance, of business, of agriculture, of education, of social welfare and of a dozen other important features. In these, Washington must not be encouraged to interfere." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1930

1 Note: FDR refers to Prohibition of Alcohol, which in 1930 was a legal power of Congress granted by now cancelled Amendment 18 and enacted by the Volstead Act. Speech transcribed in the New York Times, March 3, 1930.

Two years later, Roosevelt would reverse himself and launch the New Deal.

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