Saturday, March 08, 2008

Saturday Rock Show

It was a year ago that Boston lead-singer Brad Delp died. Boston's debut album was one of the first LPs I ever bought, back in 1978. The album has many virtues and vices. One of its virtues, to me, is the slickness of the production. Considering the album was produced in Tom Scholz' basement, with him playing all the instruments (he put the band together after Epic bought the tapes, which were pressed onto the LP). I have always thought that side 1 was basically "Variations On A Theme", with Side 2 being actual different songs. Of these, I always liked "Hitch A Ride", a pretty typical 1970's stadium rock song, although I always thought the ending solo was good (including Scholz using different guitars and trading channels to make it sound like he was trading 8's with another instrumentalists).

To the memory of a great rock singer on one of the greatest rock LPs of the past 30 years, here's "Hitch A Ride":

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Three Conversations

I'm going to try something here that either will fall flat or might elicit a good response. I want you to give me three different conversations you would like to have with three different persons from your life, and a quick summary of those. What follows are my three, and what they might be, and why. Obviously, feel free to give as much information as you feel comfortable giving.

First, I would like to sit with my paternal grandmother and tell her that it would have been far better to have spoken of the deaths of her younger brother (in WWI) and oldest son (in a horrible car accident) than to have insisted on silence. Far better to remember those who have lived than to have the fact of their deaths always before us.

Second, I would like to sit with my best childhood friend and tell him that nothing he went through was worth killing himself over.

Finally, I would like to sit down with one particular woman from my past, and just catch up. I want to find out what's been happening in her life, tell her about mine. I would like to congratulate her on what's she's achieved, and find out if she replaced one psycho car with another over the years.

That's the template. Go ahead.


I was going to do something else, but I came across a couple posts at a couple different places just now that are breathtaking in the way they loop in to fairy land.

First, over at Tbogg, we have the surprising ability of one right-winger to figure out, in detail, the source of this morning's bombing in front of a military recruiting office in Times Square. As he says, this has been another episode of CSI:Hooterville.

Brad at Sadly, No! gives us the skinny on the latest from Glenn Reynold's wife's blog, in which she relates how prepared she is to face the crumbling of American society because she's read a book.

One guy thinks he's Sherlock-freaking-Holmes because CBS has three different series on forensic science. A woman knows she's prepared for Invasion USA because she has a book in her basement on guns. In that case, I'm ready to tour with either Led Zeppelin or Wynton Marsalis because I've got books on rock bands and jazz. Also, I could fight in a war because I have books on WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I could be a wizard because I have all seven Harry Potter books; I could be a gangster because I have seen Goodfellas and The Godfather about fifteen times each. I could captain a starship because of the number of times I have watched Star Trek and its various spin-offs.

Why are these people taken seriously, instead of taken in to protective custody?

I Support Obama, But Let's Be Real

I haven't really experienced the whole "Your candidate is the personification of evil, mine is the blessed of the Lord" thing that seems to be going on at some of the larger liberal blogs. I have read with some surprise and more than a few chuckles as Atrios and Digby and some others have tried to deal with the on-going flame wars between Obama and Clinton supporters. It got so bad for a while that Digby even turned off her comments. Atrios, as per his style, deals with it in a more ironic, detached, and humorous way. Yet the problem is very real. Indeed, so much so that some are despairing of the two factions uniting to win against McCain come November; passions are running that high.

At Sadly,No!, HTML Mencken has a longish analysis of this whole phenomenon, a reality check for those so lost in glorifying one or another of the candidates. I disagree with some of what he says, as well as his stance of being "above it all". Yet, over all, he does have some points worth considering and taking to heart.
It’s not the support or supporters I object to, it’s the enthusiasm and the fanatics. For any politician. But especially for such mediocre ones. After all, it’s not as if either Clinton or Obama are exactly FDR incarnate; they are both fairly average “liberal” politicians who are thoroughly schooled in the arts of serial triangulation. They ain’t radical; nor are they idealist; they are simply better than any Republican alternative. They’re good enough for a vote (with or without one’s nose tightly held) but that’s it. It just won’t do to mask this homely reality with fawning, drooling praise of either politician.

I think the comparison to an elevated FDR in particular is wrong - Obama and Clinton are not as good at the nitty-gritty of politics as Roosevelt was (he was the master manipulator of persons; I doubt if any President we have ever had was able to sit and listen to all sorts of people and have those people leave believing that he agreed with them), but both of them are both far more intelligent and understanding of certain policy matters. Roosevelt left the details to others, particularly his eminence gris Harry Hopkins. Neither Obama nor Clinton have such an aide-de-camp, and would probably be scorned if they did (Hopkinis was to Roosevelt what Rove was to Bush, the brains behind the throne; in the former case, however, Hopkins was not amoral).

I think it odd that we liberals are investing so much emotion in the current candidates. Even if either or both of them were far better than they are - and for all their flaws they are both quite able, both politically and practically - they would still not qualify for the fawning so many supporters seem to heap upon them. They are people running for high political office, a status that compromises them. They are both smart, well-spoken, hard-working. They are also compromised by the debts they owe to the many powerful people who have supported them for their own, narrow ends. I think Mencken's point about neither of them being particularly progressive or idealistic is not quite true. I also think there are many who exist at the further ends of the political spectrum who will indeed hold their noses as they vote for either candidate come November.

On the other hand, the Democrats have had to suffer under the burden of having several bright, talented, attractive candidates run for the Presidency. John Edwards, Obama, Clinton - all three have many qualities that far exceed any Democratic candidate in recent memory, including Bill Clinton who had many of Roosevelt's best qualities, as well his worst. It has been a good year for Democrats for a change, which is part of the reason neither side is budging all that much. I also think the narrow practical divide is part of the reason it is so heated; the smaller the difference, the more they will be exaggerated for effect.

For example, I support Obama for the simple reason that I think his motivational style has been a boon for the Democratic Party, and will be so for the country. I do not have illusions that his style of governance will differ all that much from a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton. Charges and counter-charges of racism and sexism, from the media and supporters of each candidate, while hardly sustaining the myth of "the most heated primary ever", certainly do not help.

Should Sen. Clinton win the nomination, I will support her in the general election, write nice blog posts about her, urge others to vote for her, etc. This doesn't mean I don't support Obama whole-heartedly; it just means that in the best American tradition, I will be as practical and pragmatic about what is in our best interest, politically, as I can.

What Kind Of Cross

I think my exhaustion with our current political situation is due in part to my own sense that our political discourse is so broken. We dance around the simple fact that politicians are intent on gaining power, and using power. Progressives and liberals like to pretend that this power is something to be used in conjunction with non-elected elites and others who understand the current situation, and are willing to use that knowledge and understanding for the common good. Unfortunately, it has never worked that way even in ideal conditions, which do not exist right now.

Conservatives play the same rhetorical game, although they do less well at hiding their true intent - gaining and maintaining power. Using a gloss of "common good" rhetoric only poorly disguises the reality that they are far more interested in ensuring the social and economic status of corporate and military elites than in truly advancing social and economic welfare.

Being Christian, I am leery of those who seek power, under whatever guise. When I came across Nicholas Wright's answer to a truly stupid question - Would Jesus be a Democrat or Republican if he were to run for President? - it cut through much of the nonsense, and spoke to my own sense of the rot at the core of our current political life.
Jesus didn't run for anything. He acted as if he were a different kind of ruler altogether, with a 'kingdom' that didn't originate from the present world (otherwise, he said, his servants would fight to rescue him) but instead was meant FOR this present world, to transform and heal it. The present way we do politics and government is, alas, part of the problem, and he would have challenged it (its huge cost, its pretense of participation which is shamelessly manipulated by the media, its cult of personality, its ignoring, all too often, of the actual needs of the poor, etc. etc.) just as he challenged the power structures of his day.

The real question is, what sort of a cross would today's system be intent on using to kill him?

Be sure that he would be waterboarded first.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Where's A Shepherd's Crook When You Need One?

So the President was supposed to pass the torch to McCain at a little newsie gaggle at the White House today. Of course, he and his staff even screwed up something as routine as that, and Bush showed up before McCain, so the President proceeded to embarrass the entire nation.

The only thing to make this entire farce worth watching is the way Bush refused to let McCain speak, droning on and on and on . . . .

One last note. I thought McCain was supposed to have superb political instincts. If so, why in the hell is he appearing on TV with the most unpopular President ever? I realize this is one of those "events" that broadcast news creates in order to give it something to do with a 24 hour cycle, but one would think that a President with a 19% approval rating would get, perhaps, a mention once in a while.

Bush doing soft shoe. Heaven and saints and all good things preserve us.

The Morning After . . .

So Hillary is still in it to win it, it seems. Obamentum has stalled a tad.

You know, I've got so much on my mind right now, I couldn't care less, to be honest.

If McCain wins in November, I will blame both Hillary and Obama. And either western Europe or New Zealand will look increasingly good to me as emigrations destinations (Denmark is at the top spot, even though I don't speak the language).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

If It's Tuesday, There Must Be A Primary

I have to say that, while in theory more voting is better than less, nailing down a Democratic nominee soon will be a good thing.

Here's hoping Texas and Ohio, and Rhode Island and Vermont, end this once and for all, so we can concentrate of taking down McCain.

Breath will be held until tomorrow . . .


Just to the right of center, on the corner - that's the house I grew up in.View Larger Map

July 2005. That was the last time I saw my parents. That was the last time I was in the house in which I grew up, my hometown, walked the places I could walk blindfolded. Had anyone told me I would be homesick for all that, I think I would have laughed myself to a stroke. Yet, I do miss it.

View Larger Map

Of all the old stomping grounds, the one place I miss more than any other is a village park called The Glen. It isn't really a glen in the technical sense. What it is, rather, is the last remnant of the small glacier that retreated from that area. Most of the geography is dominated by rolling hills, with valleys cut by the meandering Susquehanna and Chemung Rivers. Here, though, the hills are steeper, sheer, and at the top of the Glen is a small (about 25 feet or so) waterfall that either pours violently or is bone dry. I once climbed it during a dry spell - it is shale, with many steps and handholds along the way - and reached the top to hear the rush of water from the sluice gates at the Village reservoir open. I dashed out of the way as a small wall of water rushed down, turning the once dry fall into a torrent of falling water.

Next to the Glen is a village cemetery. At the top of the cemetery is an access road for vehicles to go to the water supply, and just off the road is a small path. You cut up that path, always keeping the top of hill in view as different paths branch off the main one. After about ten minutes, you come out in to a meadow that stretches out over the top of the hill north of town. If you walk out from the cpose of pine and maple trees about 100 yards and look south you can see the entire Valley from there - Waverly, South Waverly, Sayre, and Athens. I used to go and sit there - just sit.

I blame ER for this bout of nostalgia and homesickness. I hope he doesn't mind.

Anyway, the wife and I will be going out to dinner at Yanuzzi's, maybe, or Tomasso's. We might even venture over the tracks to the east side of Sayre and eat at Mangialardo's. When you order spaghetti at Yanuzzi's, they ask if you want one or two meatballs. If you order two, prepare yourself for a doggy bag for your entree (spaghetti is a side order there) because the meatballs are about the size of a baseball.

Ah, well - in three weeks we shall be there. I am planning on taking the laptop, in the hope that the area has reached the 21st century and has wi-fi somewhere. If not, when you don't hear from me, you know now why. I will be taking pictures and sharing them, although I know my family is, um , reticent to have their picture taken. So, it will be places, rather than people.

Monday, March 03, 2008

(Not Quite) Music Monday - NSFW Or Children

While the 1980's have often been called a renaissance era for comedians, the 1970's were a great time for comedy. Three comedy albums have achieved immortality by setting a standard that has not been matched since - Steve Martin's A Wild And Crazy Guy; George Carlin's Class Clown; Richard Pryor's That Nigger's Crazy. What was most interesting was the career arc these three gentleman pursued over the ensuing years. All three continued to do comedy, although Martin pursued an acting career of variable success. He also is a best-selling author. Carlin continues to do stand-up, appearing on HBO pretty regularly, while also appearing in a few movies (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure being his best known appearance). Pryor did several very funny movies with Gene Wilder, and some lesser efforts (including an odd scene with Margot Kidder in a tub full of bubbles I once saw parodied beautifully in National Lampoon).

Yet, despite multiple personal problems including a near-fatal accident while free-basing cocaine, Pryor came out in 1982 with a triumph, the greatest comedy concert movie ever, Live On The Sunset Strip. My best friend and I went to see it on a beautiful early June Friday evening at our local drive-in. Unlike Martin, who is quite serious and thoughtful, and Carlin, who just seems to get more and more angry, Pryor was funny and light-hearted (contrast his attitude with the near-manic antics of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, both of whom seem to think that everything they do must be FUNNY). The following clips are from that movie. Watching them to get ready for this post took me back to that warm night with a dear friend now gone 21 years. As this is Richard Pryor, it should go without saying that this is for adults only; if you are offended by strong language or sexual references, you might want to just skip this whole thing.

Having made his comedy bones by giving some kind of authenticity to the word "nigger", during the course of the movie, Pryor recounted a trip he made to Africa and his revelation in regards to that word. I think this is a clip that needs to be seen and heard by all those who think the word appropriate - Pryor has a lesson here for all of us.

He was a national treasure. I am grateful that he has left behind a body of comedy work that we can see, again and again, that shows us how people can grow and change and still be hysterically funny.

Richard Perle And History - Two Strangers

Before I take on Richard Perle's op-ed in today's Washington Post, I think it is important to note some background on the man dubbed, along with Robert Novak, the "Prince of Darkness". In the late 1970's, Perle was the founder of an organization called The Committee on the Present Danger (CPD). It saw itself as a counter-point to the real politique of the Council on Foreign Relations, which advocated continued detente and engagement with the Soviet Union. CPD consisted of many prominent anti-communist liberals who were becoming more and more conservative in their approach to foreign policy (Perle had begun his policy life as an aide to the late Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, the drooling anti-Soviet hero of many of today's neo-conservatives). Convinced we were at war with a world-dominating power that would stop at nothing to destroy our way of life (you see how these ideas get recycled?), CPD demanded ever-larger defense budgets, a brinksmanship policy towards the Soviet Union, and the contemplation of limited nuclear bombardment when the possibility of no strike on US soil seemed at least within the limits of reason. Most of the early Reagan foreign policy - from the huge defense department budget increases through the shrill rhetoric ("Evil Empire") to a DoD White Paper that came to light in 1982 in which then Sec. of Defense Caspar Weinberger wrote of developing a policy towards limited nuclear exchange in the face of Soviet adventurism - was rooted in CPD fantasies and paranoia.

Some of the members of CPD first came together during the Ford years, after Ford rejected a CIA threat assessment of the Soviet Union. This was the now-infamous "Team A" versus "Team B" reports. Team A was the group CIA assembled to analyze everything from Soviet grain production through their strategic planning and troop military deployments. Their conclusion was simple - while the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal was a threat to the US mainland, their economic and social infrastructure was such that it could not sustain such a military behemoth for long. Further, Soviet forces were poorly trained conscripts, stationed in occupied territories that were hostile to their presence, straining morale. The Soviet economy was such that, the necessary spending to even keep pace with American defense spending would bankrupt the country.

Team B came along because Ford was convinced by hawks in the Republican party (including then former governor Ronald Reagan who was making a serious bid to boot Ford off the ticket in 1976) that the scenario painted by Team A was wrong in all aspects. Team B, led by George H. W. Bush and including a younger Richard Perle on its research staff, concluded that the Soviet Union, led by hard-line ideologues bent on world domination, had a defense budget that, hidden in other areas of Soviet expenditure, was nearly twice the US defense budget. They assumed the Soviets had a nuclear war-fighting policy, and demanded the Americans develop one as well. They argued that, while a conscripted force, the Red Army being twice as large as the American army would overwhelm the latter in an overwhelming Blitzkrieg-style attack.

As the 1980's unfolded, it became pretty clear that Team A had it right not just in general, but in detail as well. Yet, Richard Perle has developed a reputation as "an expert" on issues of foreign policy despite being, like most neo-conservatives, wrong about pretty much everything. Today he writes in the Post the following:
Despite a near universal belief to the contrary, the "action-reaction-upward-spiraling strategic weapons race" of the Cold War never really happened. . . .

But as is often the case with conventional wisdom, little serious research was done to establish whether it was true. The most important exception was the work of the late Albert Wohlstetter, America's preeminent strategic thinker, who approached the subject with his customary rigor. In a 1976 article -- "Racing Forward? Or Ambling Back?" -- Wohlstetter demonstrated that U.S. and Soviet strategic weapons programs were largely independent of each other and that the number, explosive power and cost of American nuclear weapons had peaked 15 years earlier (under Defense Secretary Robert McNamara) and had been declining ever since, even as Soviet programs had expanded significantly.

Here he is, re-writing history in which he was a participant. For those of us old enough to remember these times, I find it hard to imagine anyone could type the words above with a straight face or clear conscience. Whether it was upgrading to the MX missile - including developing a mobile launch platform for them - the B-1B bomber, stealth technology for ships and aircraft (yes, we have stealth ships, and have had for close to two decades), or the deployment of medium-range, nuclear armed missiles to Europe specifically to counter the deployment of Soviet medium-range missiles to Warsaw Pact countries - the United States had an on-going strategic mind-set of countering every Soviet movement with a counter-movement. Further the "significant" expansion of Soviet programs was an updating of their own technology to meet the far-better technology of the United States, something they never achieved.

In other words, the premise of Perle's entire article is a bunch of hokum, bunk, nonsense, folderol, and bushwah. Sadly, Perle believes he is right - which I believe is far more frightening than the ideas themselves. Further, that such nonsense appears on some of the most coveted opinion space in the American news media shows how far we still have to go to fight the delusions of the right.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

More Christian Stuff For Sunday

Pastor Dan offers some thoughts on salvation and "what is to come".
The one thing I've never really been able to wrap my mind around is the personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I dunno about anybody else, but coming face-to-face with Jesus at the Pearly Gates has always been pretty hard to imagine.

What I can imagine, oddly enough, is being saved into the community. It's an odd thought, but it shouldn't be. The church is the "body of Christ," after all. So perhaps the "face-to-face" wouldn't be so much a personal interaction as entry into a new, reconciled community. I find that thought appealing not least because there's never been a community in this world I could settle into without at least a little ambivalence. Which, to be clear, says more about me and my curmudgeonly ways than the communities in which I've been involved. Still, it's nice to think that there is no part of the self - even those tensions we cannot fully name or understand - that is beyond redemption. I guess we'll find out in the sweet bye-and-bye.

The first paragraph is something I can second. I'm not sure where it comes from, or what it means. A "personal relationship"? That isn't exactly what the Bible calls us to, nor is it evident in Jesus ministry.

The second paragraph, however, is no less mystifying for me. I have to say that I'm just not sure what the afterlife is all about, if it even is. If it is, I can honestly say that I do not think it will conform to anything we can understand, or have experienced.

As for what may or may not be beyond redemption - again, a hearty second. Even out-and-out rejection of God does not, I believe, put us beyond the pale. In seminary, I read a sermon by the wonderfully gifted preacher and originator of Christian anti-Semitism John Chrysostom, in which he portrays the grace of Jesus Christ as being a person of many disguises. One of those disguises is a beggar pursuing us down the street even as we have ignored and even perhaps chased him away with threats of and actual violence. We are pursued by the hound of heaven, and this one will not rest until we are captured.

I have long since reconciled myself to being completely agnostic about "what comes next". Whether it's the silence of oblivion, the Pearly Gates and Golden Streets, the final resurrection of the Dead, or something else entirely - I honestly have no opinions (although I used to joke in seminary that, rather than wine and bread, I always imagined the eschatological banquet at which we are to sit and share to consist of Guinness Stout and Peanut M&M's). I am more and more convinced as each day passes that God is far more concerned with our lives here and now. We are called not to shed our concerns with this world, but to love it transcendently, to work for its reclamation, and like the God who has captured us in grace and love, never ever give it up as lost. Not only is there nothing in us that is beyond redemption; there is nothing that is that is beyond the possibility of God's love granting it eternal salvation.

"No Condemnation Now I Dread"

The Associate Pastor at Poplar Grove UMC, Rich Holton, has a blog (surprise, surprise), and throughout Lent, Rich has been putting up hymns of Charles Wesley as devotional guides, enhancements, etc. I have been over everyday to check them out, because the younger Wesley, for all he was different from his older, more earnest brother, still managed to put succinctly in his poetry what John could only seem to do at length in his sermons - put the message of the abounding grace of Jesus Christ, and the promise of sanctifying grace, in a spiritual and emotional context that was both accessible and beautiful.

Now, when I say "succinctly", I should clarify and add that some of Charles' hymns had many, many verses; "O, For A Thousand Tongues To Sing" begins with the fourth verse of a poem that has, I think, thirteen or fourteen stanzas. As this was not uncommon at the time, I think we should give him a bit of the benefit of the doubt.

In any event, yesterday's hymn, "And Can It Be That I Should Gain", contains the following stanza, which begins with the line in the title of this post:
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine;
alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th' eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th' eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

What I love about this particular verse is the boldness of it. While there is certainly an element of thanksgiving and humility that should always be a part of the Christian life, we should also remember that grace emboldens us. We are, to quote St. John's Gospel, no longer servants but friends. We are not separated from God - there is no condemnation any more - and we are to live and work and worship and finally approach the throne not with fear, but with the boldness that is a gift of grace. There is no swinging back and forth between sin and forgiveness. There is no "backsliding", no possibility that this grace, once having grasped us, will slip away again because we have been naughty. God isn't some passive-aggressive parent looking to manipulate us. We are the beloved children for whom there is nothing but love and mercy.

I would invite everyone to navigate on over to Rich's site and spend just a few minutes in contemplation of the wisdom and insight of Charles Wesley as we, like Jesus, make our own journey to Jerusalem, and its Cross and Empty Tomb (sounds like an English pub, doesn't it?).

My Sunday Head-Beating

Why do I do this to myself? Every Sunday, I know David Broder will write something really inane, and every Sunday morning, I wend my was on over, and get smacked around by the stupid.
My sense is that in the following months of campaigning, voters were often frustrated by their inability to discover the real person behind the notably buttoned-up candidate.

What hurts so much about this sentence? First of all, voters shouldn't be at all interested in "the real person", if by that Broder means what kind of individual Hillary Clinton is - does she laugh at fart jokes, or make a good spaghetti sauce, or prefer smooth jazz to classic rock. Second, if these were important issues, it might have been the duty of Broder and his fellow journalists to kind of, you know, find out and let people know.

To many Washington insiders, for some reason known only to their therapists, Hillary Clinton is this big mystery. The fact that she is this big political ink blot to so many shows the problem with who Clinton is might not be Clinton's problem, but their problem. It might be the problem isn't that voters don't know who she is - I find it surprising that, having been in the national public eye for sixteen years, Broder could actually write that sentence so fecklessly - but that the Washington-based press corps hate her so much they refuse to write stories about her without looking through all sorts of lenses that distort whatever picture they might actually be getting.

Next Sunday, I'll really try something else that doesn't hurt so much.

Virtual Tin Cup

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