Mull of Kintyre

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Way back in 1978, I got a stereo for my birthday.  It wasn't fancy, but it played albums, 8-tracks (about to leave the marketplace), and cassettes (entering...).  The first four "records" I bought with my money were The Beach Boys' "Endless Summer," Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours," "The Best of Earth, Wind, & Fire," and "Wings Greatest Hits," the Wings_Greatestfirst two on 8-track and the latter two on vinyl. Not a bad way to begin a collection...

My sister influenced my fondness of the Beatles, so the Wings album made sense, even though, by title, I wasn't familiar with the songs.  It became a mainstay long after I had more listening options, but ultimately fell away as the funds became available to get McCartney's solo/Wings releases.  The album has a good mix of singles that received airplay, but there was always one oddity that stood out, "The Mull of Kintyre."

A snippet of the lyrics is as follows:

Sweep through the heather like deer in the glen
Carry me back to the days I knew then
Nights when we sang like a heavenly choir
Of the life and the times of the Mull of Kintyre
Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre

Add some bagpipes and enthusiasm, and it's obviously a heartfelt song for a special place.  Having listened many times to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards "Amazing Grace,"  (thanks to a 1st or 2nd grade teacher who played it in class... hey, it caught my ear) I didn't mind the bagpipes at all.  They were just unexpected after the rocking "Hi Hi Hi" or the slick pop of "Silly Love Songs."

I recall looking at a National Geographic map trying to locate the Mull of Kintyre - accurately predicting Scotland solely due to the bagpipes.  Mull of Kintyre... kintyre mapsounded like a cove, a small bay, maybe some docks, seagulls and whatnot.  No luck. (It's the small house symbol at the lower left).

Maybe "mull" was an island?  Again, no such luck.  The word "mull" was not in my Americanized dictionary and ultimately came to rest in the category of "forgotten unsolved mysteries."

Until yesterday when, not wanting to think of a  particular CD to which to listen, I grabbed ol' faithful and cranked the volume a bit.  Whoa... there's that song again.

The iPhone has made me keenly aware of how easy it is to find out an answer to anything with Google at one's fingertips.  Maybe its portability is factor as a means to find an answer when the question arises.  How easily I forget the PC sitting right in front of me.  "Mull of Kintyre," your time has come.

From Wikipedia, a "Mull" refers to a land formation bare of trees, such as a rounded hill or promontory.

 mullofkintyre

It's not as... visually stimulating or charming as I might of imagined (note to self: remove from future vacation destination list) 

Anyway, I kept reading.  There was a castle (good), of which not a stone remains (bad), that was significant in clan histories (good), until in 1647 it was besieged by the English (bad)( if you're Scottish), fell due to the now clichéd shortcoming of an undefended fresh water supply (bad again), and ended in a massacre (really, really bad).  The 300 or so MacDougalls, MacAlisters, and MacDonalds surrendered expecting to be treated as prisoners of war, but after being held for 5 days, it is said, the Presbyterian minister accompanying the English officers persuaded them to kill all the prisoners.  No Christian burials were provided, and the remains were eventually buried together.  History.  It happens everywhere.

I assume Paul McCartney and crew were staying somewhere with more secure plumbing, and obviously this sordid tale didn't figure into what he (or co-writer Denny Laine) were thinking about when they wrote the song, but it's darned interesting to see where a simple inquiry ends up.

mull of kintyre lighthouse

The "scenic" Mull of Kintyre does include a lighthouse, now unmanned, and has a couple of caretaker homes which are available for rent, as well as others in the area

Fishermans Cottage

Released just before Christmas,mull of kintyre single cover "Mull of Kintyre" was the first single in Britain to sell over 2 million copies, exceeding the record set by "She Loves You" all those years before.  Obviously, it wasn't a hit in the US, but it still qualifies as a "greatest hit." I might add that "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime" is hardly as worthy a gesture for our ears, but I digress.

For the curious:

Well, the above may not have been filmed at the Mull of Kintyre proper... But I'm not sure if there's a suitable flat spot for filming.  In any case, the video below would not have been featured in "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," McCartney's travels notwithstanding.

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Breast Cancer - Experts Needed

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If I were more timely on writing, I would have railed against the news on Monday that the US Preventative Services Task Force recommended that women should delay breast cancer screening until 50 years of age, rather than 40, and, astonishingly, that they should not be taught self-exam methods.  This news plays nicely into public fears (and my own) of government rationing of health care services, as this is a government appointed group that does have influence over policy decisions.  Rightfully, the public and a number of congresswomen took exception to this, and their recommendations would seem unlikely to have any impact on policy for now.

Today, Dr. Timothy Wilt, a member of the panel, indicated today that “cost is not considered at all.  This is about providing high-quality health care for the individual [and] providing the information they need to know to make an informed decision.”  Hogwash. 

Their recommendations clearly indicate that women needn’t concern themselves with breast cancer until they’re 50.  Reports indicate that their study is based on the same data that the American Cancer Society and The American College of Radiologists evaluated with the conclusion that these activities are essential to save lives.

Anecdotes are a wonderful thing.  Take any issue and someone can be found with a personal story that justifies a position or makes it seem plausible.  Politicians do this all the time.  When it comes to breast cancer, there are likely millions of women who could point to the benefits of the current screening protocols.  Anecdotally, my wife is one of them. 

The major emphasis of the Task Force's conclusions was the unnecessary mental anguish, if not physical, that women experience who are inaccurately diagnosed.  An astounding 15% of women in their 40’s detect breast cancer through mammography.  If any case should be made, it would be that digital mammography (rather than film) should be expanded to ensure even more accuracy in testing.  Instead of moving forward, they recommend going backward.  Why?

Having been through the mental hurdles of breast cancer “just” as a spouse, I can relate to how difficult it is for someone who is diagnosed with breast cancer.  Incorrectly… well, obviously less so.  But, I would imagine that after finding out that one does not, in fact, have cancer that there must be a loud sigh of relief... followed by some dose of anger.  Reasonable?

The Task Force includes 19 members, none of whom reportedly were Oncologists.  Data is a collection of numbers.  Sometimes, it's trash in, trash out. Regardless, it’s well known that the same data can often be used to support diverse or contradictory conclusions, depending on the intent of the person using it. 

I admit I'm leaping tall buildings in a single reading between the lines, but I can’t help but think that at least a couple members either experienced a misdiagnosis or were close to someone who was.  To "protect" women from the same pain and suffering, someone must have wielded enough intent and persuasive power to reinterpret the data.  It seems the only sensible reason why a panel dedicated to preventive care would come to the conclusions they did in the face of an abundance of good results. 

Given the gains that breast cancer has made in recent years in visibility and funding, it's just hard to imagine a responsible entity suggesting a reverse in direction.

"Save the ta-tas" makes for nice bumper sticker and a more... prominent...T-shirt, but it's saving lives that matters.

save-the-tatas

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Built to Spill - There is No Enemy

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Built to Spill might best be described as an "Indie" rock band.  "Indie" was often meant to include bands who released their music on independent record labels.  This is so prevalent today, that "Indie" has become synonymous with, your choice of 1) music that is not overproduced Top 20 dreck, 2) music that has absolutely no commercial appeal 3) music with integrity.  Due to the lack of marketing, it also means that bands must build cult followings through word of mouth, touring, and kind reviews.  It also means that a lot of people who might like an artist will never hear them, or of them.

Built to Spill is not on an Indie label, however.  They're on Warner Brothers, which means... nothing helpful, apparently.  Most people haveThere is No Enemy never heard of them, even though they've been around 17 years and developed a fair following in the 1990's.  

My familiarity with BTS begins with their last CD, You in Reverse, which was a thoroughly satisfying guitar driven album.  I still haven't bothered to figure out what it is about; the vocals fit well enough as just another instrument, and it sounds great.

I've been listening to their new CD, There is No Enemy, since its release over a month ago.  I've liked it from the beginning, but some music I have to listen to a "good number" of times to figure out how much I like it and why.

On There is No Enemy, much is the same and some is different.  Guitars are given plenty of room to find their space, and heavy reverb remains as the defining sound throughout the songs.  Doug Martsch, who basically is BTS, stretches his pronunciations over longer phrases, carefully matching the beat or the reverb itself.  Martsch again proves that guitars can be mesmerizing in the absence of fleet-fingered guitar hero pyrotechnics.  Sound matters.

On this release, the tracks are more plentiful and more focus is given to the lyrics.  Some are pointed and some are more obtuse, but they generally deal with imperfect relationships, falsehood, struggling through the weight of life, lack of meaning, and maintaining reason in sorting life out.

Some are more thoughtful in phrases than in their entirety, but "Oh Yeah" stands out as a phrase which is the full lyric, echoing a sentiment shared or hoped for by many:

And if god
does exist
I am sure he
will forgive
me for doubting
for he'd see
how unlikely himself seems

A Flaming Lips-ish "all we have is now" approach is reflected in "Life's a Dream":

Life ain't nothing
But a dream
Realistic
As it seems
Destiny's vulgar
So I might as well resist
Out of the darkness
And all the secrets still exist
Finally decided
And by decide I mean accept
I don't need all those
Other chances I won't get

It's not all as thoughtful or dour, but even though Martsch avoids a confessional approach, the lyrics represent an artist being true to his thoughts. 

The musical mix is also different from the last release, including additional pop chorus elements, brass, organ and mellotron,.  These add diversity to the songs, though carefully picked to embellish the defining sound of Martsch's guitar... as it should.  Even better, the musical sections build on a number of songs up to what can be described as ear candy ("Life's a Dream," "Done," and "Things Fall Apart"). 

Despite their name, it's well-built music, and I've enjoyed There is No Enemy more with each listen, always a good indicator of keeping a place in the rotation for years to come.

Recommended Tracks: "Life's a Dream," "Oh Yeah," "Done," "Planting Seeds," "Things Fall apart"

Rating: 4 of 5, despite words which prevent playing over loudspeakers when my wife or kids are in the room.  It isn't superfluous, but it isn't necessary, either.

 

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Calling all Statesmen

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Okay... Statespersons.

I have a respect for politics.  It takes ideas, persuasion, and consensus building to achieve results.  To limit politics to the political arena would be very short-sighted.  Whether working for a Fortune 500 company, working for a small business, serving on a Homeowners board, or serving on a Committee for a charitable task, politics is necessary to get things done and is observable to both participants and observers. 

I have, however, a disdain for politicians. Regardless of partisan leanings, it’s more or less expected that what we hear from a politician in making an argument is designed to convey an easy message, one that prompts “that sounds good” to the audience.  Listeners are not passive in this process, they prefer having governmental affairs dumbed down, as long as the message makes them feel good about it.  Politicians know this, stroking their constituencies and doting press members with catch phrases and bulleted points for easy consumption, proverbial billboards for passersby.  The issues du jour, when presented most effectively, are digested as easily as Soylent Green for the masses. It’s everything that they don’t tellYummy People Food the public that angers the few who take the time to pry into the details, where the devil can be found.

Politicians don’t just arrive on the scene; they’re molded over time.  At some point in a person’s life, an issue means enough to a person that they seek ways to improve, implement, or resolve it.  That issue motivates them to take action.  They care about it.  They may be successful, they may be forced to compromise, or they may fail, but their attachment to the issue itself warrants the time and energy put into it.  They remain grounded in what it is that is important to them.

Over time, though, these individual aspirations succumb to the weight of political power, itself.  Success in the political arena is not measured by the advancement of any particular issue but rather by the decisiveness and efficiency of the use of power.  Any specific issue likely begins with good intentions, but as it gets caught up in bigger words such as vision, change, and agenda, the issue is subservient to the greater perception of the political machine’s ability to implement it, or, more simply, the maintenance and increase of power. 

Today’s news has two articles that relate to this.  The first is from the Wall Street Journal, which is an opinion blog, but which points out that a liberal supporter of Obama’s Healthcare Plan recognizes that what is at stake has less to do with whatever good, happy feelings result from its implementation amongst the public, but more to do with political power. 

Regarding the Democrats, it says,

Why are they doing it? Because, according to Mr. Cassidy, ObamaCare serves the twin goals of "making the United States a more equitable country" and furthering the Democrats' "political calculus." In other words, the purpose is to further redistribute income by putting health care further under government control, and in the process making the middle class more dependent on government. As the party of government, Democrats will benefit over the long run.

Granted, the interpretation likely comes from a conservative thinker, but it’s not a difficult read from Mr. Cassidy’s quote.  Rather than poke at the potentially destructive consequences of behind what will, in any form, have huge impacts on the way we access our healthcare, I’m more interested in the motivations behind it, and not the “feel good” part.

Somewhere along the way, aspiring politicians (hopefully) began as well intended people, seeking to improve their State, town, school, etc. by their participation in the necessary power structures that exist.  Something mattered to them enough that they chose to become “public servants” to affect change.  This is the blessing we enjoy as a representative democracy.

Skip ahead some cycles of wins, losses, compromises, campaign promises, and indebtedness to supporters along the way, and the amateur becomes a professional, a professional that understands that for anything to get done, one must associate with others with which one may agree or (strongly) disagree but nevertheless support for future payback.  A loner has no power.

How early in the process can well intended people become corrupted?  A second article today speaks to that.  A parent advisory council, I would think, would exist for the sole purpose of helping their students succeed academically through… learning maybe?  But when the fundraisers are failing that support council endeavors, why not just sell test points to make money so that the council can better help the kids …learn?  Oh dear.

I’m sure comedians will have fun with that for a day.  Tomorrow will bring another opportunity.  But this is a good example of how easily an overall purpose can be sacrificed when success is measured by the ability to accomplish a task rather than by the legitimacy of the task itself.  The difference between a parent advisory council and politicians on the national stage is largely a matter of scale.  Certainly the latter may have more impressive talents, oratory skills, educational background or work experience, but this just makes the lack of substance more frustrating, if not insulting.

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Clapton & Winwood - Live @ MSG

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For me, it is a commentary on the quality of new music this year that my favorite two new releases are from artists from the last generation AND which were recorded primarily for DVD release.  I've already commented on Jeff Beck's Live at Ronnie Scott's, whichClapton Winwood DVD was outstanding, and now I come to Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood, which was released quite a bit earlier this year.

Following the synergy they rekindled at Clapton's Crossroads Festival in 2007, Clapton and Winwood reunited for three nights at Madison Square Garden in 2008, followed by a summer  tour in 2009.  The DVD (CD also available, but why?) captures one evening at MSG.

Disc One includes 20 songs, most selected by each from the other's past catalog.  What results is a fine mix of the best of both artists, including songs from Traffic, Derek & the Dominos, a few covers, solo releases, and, of course, Blind Faith - a "supergroup" in which they played that lasted only one album in 1969.

Clapton Winwood @ MSG

Highlights include "Glad," "Pearly Queen," "Rambling on My Mind,"  "Little Wing," "Can't Find My Way Home," and "Dear Mr. Fantasy."  The onlyClapton Winwood Setlist missteps are "Forever Man," which was a fine single for Clapton but otherwise a misfit in this lineup of classics, and "Georgia on My Mind," which even the soulful Winwood shouldn't touch.

Disc Two includes better than average commentary about their relationship and the process of getting the shows together, plus several additional songs, including an outstanding acoustic cover of Robert Johnson's "Rambling on My Mind."

The video quality is good, but the venue itself is a limitation, not to mention the stage arrangement with Winwood's keyboards off to one side.  As compared with Jeff Beck's Live at Ronnie Scott's, the artistry is just as stellar, but the music here is much more accessible and likely much more enjoyable for those familiar with the songs.  Both are highly recommended for guitar enthusiasts.

Rating: 5 out of 5

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What's in a Name?

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I usually don’t have problems with words.  That’s not to say that I never “forget the word I’m looking for.”  I do, more often than I prefer.  But regardless, I usually have no problem with the diction to convey my meaning, if it I don’t use, um, what was the word I was looking for? 

Names, though, are something else.  They are words by which people are known and are addressed.  Growing up with a name like Reese makes one consider very carefully what names are passed on to the next generation.  Say, “Hi, my name is Reese” to a bunch of elementary school kids, and instantly the heckling begins.  It’s not a far leap when connecting dots from A to B, and even those with only a few Halloweens under Reese's Peanut Butter Cupstheir belts can word associate to the name of everyone’s favorite mixture of chocolate and peanut butter.  This is conveyed as such: “Haha!  Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”  This is usually accompanied by animated finger pointing to score a kid version of a Daily Double.  There are other variations which I’m not obligated to disclose here. 

To give a family name to a child, in this case my mother’s maiden name, is one thing, but parents should carefully consider names and their possible influence on and appropriateness for a child through all the stages of their life.  For revisionist sake, why not Rhys?  It sounds the same, but in written form it has an element of nobility or, at least, a stylistic attraction that ups its cool factor.  I would be enthusiastic given that name, which, as it happens, is exactly the meaning of "Rhys" from its Welsh origins.

But it’s not all bad.  In college, I had the satisfaction of staying current with Hershey’s product offerings by way   Reese's Piecesof the name of my coed volleyball team, “Reese’s Pieces.”  And, not surprisingly, even the venerable “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups” has eventually come to better utility than that derived by the mob mentality of 6-8 year olds. 

People can’t necessarily hear well on phones.  There have been ample occasions when I arrive at an appointment and am addressed as “Reefe.”  Perhaps those same kids have grown up and now connect the dots to something more recent in their experience, like reefers.  But, to this day, I have not met a person named Reefe, so I'm not sure why someone would think that must be what I'm saying. 

There are also those times when people ask or verify the spelling of my name.  As when my name is said in full, spelling R-e-e-s-e apparently comes across as R-e-e-f-e.  Same result.  There are, admittedly, a number of people who opt for Reece, and that’s okay.  But, in any of these cases, when they get it wrong, I can now say “R-e-e-S-e, like in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”  The lights go on.  All is well.  If I said “as in Reese reese_witherspoonWitherspoon” I don’t know if it would be as helpful in  spelling, but I’m appreciative of the assist.

Backtracking to all those years ago, one of the basics was to address adults as Mr. or Mrs. (Last Name).  Similarly, when replying to an adult, I was taught to address him or her with “Sir” or “Ma’am.”  In some parts of the country, saying this to an adult apparently makes the adult think that the child is mocking them.  But, in the South, it meant “I recognize you as an elder possessing the authority to tell me what to do and the ability to tell my mom if I misbehave.”  As importantly, to fail to say “Sir” (or Ma’am) reflected directly on the parent and the quality of upbringing they provided.  It was important by societal standards. 

Today, I still say “Sir” (or Ma’am), but usually not intentionally.  It slips out when talking with elders that I don’t know or, occasionally, with those that are in positions of authority over me at work, even if on a first name basis.  I seemed to have missed the chapter on how to apply this lesson as an adult… Given the shifting sands of society’s pleasantries, I doubt my kids will be burdened with this as they grow older.

This brings me to a point that my mother-in-law brought to my attention years ago.  What do I call them?  For those more attuned to in-law jokes, that’s not where I was leading.  I happen to like my in-laws.  But “Mr.” or “Mrs.” seems too formal for what is a more friendly and casual relationship, while John or Alice remains too familiar when addressing a different generation.  Interestingly, I’m okay with asking Alice, “Where is John?”  Or vice versa.  It remains an awkward dilemma that remains unresolved after 22 years in the family, where I have ducked the issue altogether by basically not calling them by any name at all.  That's just not proper, is it?

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Steve Morse Band - Variety Playhouse

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With my son and nephew in tow this time, it was off once again to Variety Playhouse for a concert. The question looming for weeks was, given the general bohemian nature of Little Five Points, what might we encounter on Halloween?

Unfortunately, there was a light rain, and Little Five Points was less of a show than I had hoped for my uninitiated charges. We did, however, encounter two "V"s (for Vendetta) strolling the street and handing out cleverly designed cards.

thecard

The symbolism only became apparent after checking the card's contents later - a rather strident stand against Scientology. Little Five Points is an area which is open to about everything, so it was surprising to encounter something to the negative.

We arrived early, finding the optimal spots at the stage left already occupied, so we stood at the center. Note to anyone who wants to watch guitar players do their thing up close: Always go to the left of the stage. Whenever they do solos, they usually have to stay with a few steps of their effects pedals. If you're off to the right (facing the stage), you're out of luck. I knew this, and I should have sacrificed stage front for a respectable standing 2nd or 3rd row to the left.

The show started on time with David Jacobs-Strain, playing solo acoustic. The show began with a couple covers of old Robert Johnson and Son House blues songs, with sterling slide guitar work. It was an enjoyable set that also included several originals, with a confident stage presence by a young artist.

Steve Morse is hardly a household name for average music enthusiasts. At 55, he's withstood the test of time, from his days with the Dixie Dregs beginning in the late 1970's, to touring with Deep Purple for the

Steve Morse - Variety Playhouse 2009 Steve Morse - Variety Playhouse 2009

last 15 years, to doing side work with his own group. However, those "in the know" hold him in high regard, and there were at least two other parents with their aspiring Satrianis and Vais who were in the floor area.

Morse's music blends rock, jazz, country and other elements to form something that falls short of "accessible" but has Dave LaRue - Variety Playhouse 2009more appreciative value than just a technical showpiece. It was a generally explosive set, with fast action amongst the trio. The band includes Morse on guitar, long term sideman Dave LaRue on bass, and Van Romaine on drums, without vocals. This was their 15th show in 17 nights, and the final night of their tour. Morse is obviously the featured member, but bass is featured throughout the songs, not to mention several worthy opportunities to play solos. The drummer also played at a frenetic pace, but was necessarily a backdrop to the fireworks up front.

Amidst the screaming solos, quieter moments were taken when Morse and Pictures 001LaRue played two classical guitar songs, with Morse on acoustic and LaRue on electric bass. Watching the fretwork at this type of show is as amazing as the sounds, and I only wish we could have seen more from our vantage point.

Sadly, I afterwards found out that my son rarely heard the morsepickguitar, but he at least enjoyed one of the best bassists around. As a bonus, we each scored a pick - my son and I from Morse and my nephew from Dave LaRue. I've seen Morse before, and I won't hesitate to see him again.

Here's a clip from a show last week - a slow burner:

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