Saturday, October 11, 2008

Saturday Rock Show

In the early 1980's, Jefferson Starship transformed itself from a blues-folk band to an AOR-radio-friendly band, with the lead guitar of Craig Chaquico leading the way (part of this transformation was helped by the departure of original lead singer Marty Balin, whose multiple resentments against the rest of the band reached the breaking point). While Paul Kantner and old Bay Area folky David Freiberg (who played bass in this iteration of the band) produced some great songs, the arrangements were very much geared toward radio play at a time when radio formats were hardening and record companies were becoming skittish about investing in innovation. The Album Future Times marked the "introduction" (as seen in the inner gatefold) of backup singer Grace Slick. Slick had left the band to recover from debilitating alcohol abuse, having had an infamous meltdown at a concert in Germany. While hardly among the great albums or songs of the rock era, there is something solid and reassuring about a very simple melody, a steady beat, and nice, loud guitars. "Find Your Way Back" is a nice song. Two further points. First, Chaquico has transformed himself once again since leaving Starship, being now a New Age acoustic guitarist. Second, I have always dug Grace Slick.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Left . . .

I recently asked, and have yet to receive an answer, as to what, or whom, exactly is "the left" in the United States today. So, I would like to know. Who, or what, is the American left?

Is it the traditional left - social democrats, socialists, and communists of various stripes?

Is it a more vaporous term, referring to anybody and everybody who is to the left, say, of Robert Byrd or Jim Webb or Steny Hoyer? Is Barbara Boxer "leftist"? Is Edward Kennedy? I had a friend of mine from Great Britain laugh at someone who called Kennedy a leftist, because in Britain he would be considered on the right-end of the Labor spectrum, less liberal than, say, Tony Blair or the current PM, Gordon Brown.

Who, or what, is the American left?

I consider myself liberal-leaning-leftist, although I hold certain ideas that would probably prompt some to move me much farther to the left. Yet, I hardly think of myself as either out of touch or out of the mainstream of American political thought. Indeed, I believe I am far more mainstream than, say, Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, or even David Broder.

Thoughts? Comments?

The Ugly And Stupid American

If you are paying any attention at all to the most recent developments in the Presidential race, Sen. McCain has decided to raise questions about Sen. Obama, playing on the most base fears and ignorance out there in our country on matters of race, religion, and otherness in general. The result . . . well, the result is both frightening and discouraging. It is truly sad that these men and women are fellow citizens of mine, because they are just as dumb as lampposts:

I do not think the people in this video are "conservative". I think they are simply frightened bigots, and McCain and Palin are playing on their fears. Would that it were different, but demagoguery is as old as politics and won't disappear just we because we would wish it to do so. Thank God for the internet, though, so we can see how horrid this tumor on our body politic really is.

Exuberance, Panic, & Stupid Newspaper Headlines

One of the biggest jokes, especially as the big investment houses disappeared, credit started to dry up, and Wall Street first slid then free fell over the past few weeks, was a book published about a decade ago, with the ridiculous title, Dow 36,000. At a time when it seemed the stock market was the place to make yourself all sorts of cash, rather than a vehicle for the steady exchange of capital and liquidity for corporations, and as there seemed to be no reason to bad-mouth a steadily rising stock market, the book was well-timed to cash in on the idea that the only possible way the stock market boom would end would be some kind of leveling of at around, you guessed it, the 36,000. Now, part of the argument of the book seemed sound, relating as it did the way share prices were determined, as well as the capitalization and net worth of the company in question, there did seem to be an undervaluing, overall, of commodity pricing as well as overall value. The problem with this argument, however, was that business people try to be conservative in a good way. Sound investors attempt to keep a worse-case scenario in mind, as well as distrust all but the gloomiest information on any company. This is a good way to protect yourself, and the money others are entrusting to you for safe-keeping.

The stock market boom at the end of the 1990's, and it's steady recovery after the recession and 9/11 attacks made even the most skeptical and conservative institutional investor give pause to the possibility that there was something to the idea of an ever-expanding market.

Now, of course, we know that much of this was fueled by leveraged investments, the use of trading various debt commodities as if they had real value (incidentally, this is where a good philosophical background might have come in handy, because there is a distinction between something that is potential and something that is actual - the difference being that something that is potential doesn't exist yet and may never exist).

Yet, the blind exuberance of the boosters and hucksters of our recently-deceased gilded age has suddenly been replaced not with a return to the sober days of careful thought, skeptical investing, and a traditionally conservative approach to matters of finance. Rather, we have this:
The End Of American Capitalism?
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2008; Page A01
The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression is claiming another casualty: American-style capitalism.

It is all well and good to be concerned about our current financial woes. It is all well and good to be concerned about what will happen over the ensuing weeks and months as the fall out from various actions and inactions, some appropriate and some not, weave their way through the fabric of our societies.

This kind of thing, however, is so much crap in a leaky bucket. It is as risible, ridiculous, unrealistic, and nonsensical in its own way as Dow 36,000 was. It is not just fear-mongering, nor is it just succumbing to the rampant panic that seems to have gripped so many many in governments around the world, in financial institutions, and in the elite press that covers this arcana. It is a blindness to the complexity of the issue before us, a surrender to dread and despair without warrant, or even any evidence.

It is important to remember that it has been about a month or so since this whole crisis began. When Bear-Stearns and Lehmann Brothers Banks both went the way of the Pony Express and the Oldsmobile, there was certainly reason for concern. The large investment houses seemed incapable of dealing with the reality that they had staked so much on something that, in fact, did not exist - the value of mortgages that had, for the most part, become worthless. An easy solution might have been available, had not everyone from the President on down done the one thing no "leader" should ever do if a crisis of any proportion brews - panic. The $700 billion dollar "rescue" plan now seems so quaint all the Sturm und Drang over its passage seems quaint.

Even as the Nikkei Index dropped another 10% yesterday, and the Dow is sure to continue to shrink, we are not served by panic. The kind of nonsense printed in this article in the Post certainly shows that despair is just the flip side of optimist, and just as blind, just as ignorant, and just as easily brought in to being.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Yeesh (Corrected For Silly Error)

I'm surprised it isn't raining day traders out there. I remember in the months after 9/11 when the stock market was down around this figure, I thought this was a more natural place for the market to be. Well, it managed to do it in a couple weeks rather than a couple months. Any lower and I might actually start to worry.

In other words, I think the collapse of large investment banks has led to the collapse of an investment bubble that had commodity prices a bit higher than they should have been under normal market conditions.

I have to say, however, that a six hundred point drop in the Dow in one day makes even me nervous.

The End Is Nigh

It's really simple. While the campaign still has a few weeks left to run, and we still have another one of those "debates" to go through (they aren't really debates, you know; they're an opportunity for the candidates to sit around and tell people via teleprompter what their policies might be if elected; debates are about ideas, and American politicians aren't really big on ideas), but for all intents and purposes, this election is Barack Obama's to lose at this point. Which is not to say that he can't. For thirty-six years, Democrats have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory (in 1972, for example, Richard Nixon was pretty unpopular; Sen. Ed Muskie of Maine had been ahead of Nixon in poll after poll for a year; after tanking in New Hampshire with some help from Nixon's plumbers and rat-fuckers, the Democrats went on to pick a congenial, undisciplined loser in George McGovern; this patter would repeat itself sixteen years later when Michael Dukakis blew a huge lead over Vice President Bush). Yet, Obama's whole campaign has been so disciplined, from the very beginning almost two years ago, that I find it difficult to believe it could stumble at this point.

For those Republicans who are quick to blame the financial/credit crisis as being a hindrance for McCain, it is important to remember that is true only if one believes that Democrats are inherently better at managing these kinds of crises than Republicans are. In other words, to claim something like, "McCain would be winning if we hadn't had the financial meltdown," is to claim that Republicans can't or didn't handle this particular bit of public flailing well.

In actual fact, McCain lost this race on a number of fronts. First and foremost, he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. Only die-hard Republican supporters have not noticed that she has become a bit of a joke - albeit a scary one; that she and her running mate will lose have made her more of a pathetic joke now - but, the initial choice showed that McCain had contempt for his party, the office he was seeking, and the American people in general. Immediately after that, his campaign launched a series of ads and speeches that were so untruthful, so filled with bombast and nonsense that McCain lost the one advantage he really had - the support of the Washington pundits (except for David Broder). With no one in the elite press corps willing to have his back anymore because of the abundance of downright sleazy lying he's done - and his unwillingness to directly confront Obama with the various charges he is leveling against him - McCain has nowhere to turn.

One last thing. George W. Bush has done the country a great service in a way. By taking Republican ideology to its logical conclusion both in theory and in practice, he has ended any illusions Americans have that "conservative rule" is anything other than a bad joke. His unpopularity, clear everywhere except on national news where it is noted without comment or context, has destroyed the Republican Party, as can be seen by the potential for serious Democratic gains in both houses of Congress and by the fact that Obama is in play in North Carolina, Indiana, and Nebraska, and is headed for a win in Virginia and Florida (Ohio seems to be the one state in the nation seriously up for grabs). I think his popular vote margin will be substantial without being a landslide. His Electoral College win will be substantive without being overwhelming. But, and this is a big but, this, too, could change, especially as one considers the big wins by populist Democrats two years ago in Montana (John Tester) and the potential strength of Obama's message in hard-hit rural areas. McCain may be playing the character assassination card, but this only works well with an already-comfortable lead. His poll numbers continue to drop, however, so in the long run, his torch-light rallies will only turn off more and more voters.

I know I'm writing this obituary twenty-six days early, but in fact, I think it's accurate enough to stand up to what happens on November 4th.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Music Monday

The topic today - sex! Right up front, in your face, no beating around the bush, innuendo, or double-entendre. For example, "Slide It In"

Or perhaps, if you aren't catching the drift, "Smooth Up In Ya":

The classic rock song about sex is Foghat's "Slow Ride", an entire song dedicated to mimicking the timing of sexual intercourse. It's only eight minutes, though . . . Well, I found a live version that's a little longer! I suppose that's good for someone . . .

It may be objected that I'm missing out by not providing some old "blue" blues, which were far more clever at hiding their intention behind metaphor. Since I was more interested in blatant songs, this is the route I took. Now, I am quite sure I missed some, so I might be interested in hearing from you about what songs you might want to hear in this vein.

Reading Grace In The Old Testament

So, ER has an anonymous correspondent who does not seem to understand what "grace" is. I was thinking last night about my response and how it seemed an easy objection to it could be summed up as follows: "What about all that wrath of God in the Old Testament?"

That only works if one only reads selected passages, and does so without any sense of the whole body of work of the Hebrew Scriptures, and without taking in to account the broader context of the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments together.

There is quite a bit of Divine Anger aroused at Israel and Judah (mostly Judah, because the northern part of the divided kingdom was absorbed by Assyria and disappeared three and a half centuries before the southern kingdom was conquered), and one can read about it in any of the prophets. Yet, if one stops there, one gets an incomplete picture. Even those books that contain the most violent prophetic language usually come around to say something like, "How can I stay angry with you, my child? I have loved you for so long, and even in your transgressions, I still love you?"

The earliest stories in Genesis - of Adam and Even and the expulsion from the Garden; of Cain and God - are stories of Divine Grace (the "Mark of Cain" is not a sign of divine wrath but of divine grace, the protection Cain asks because he knows he will be hated by those who encounter him).

The story of Sodom is a good one to scare the kiddies with, but is more a way to get Lot out of the city, get his wife out of the way, and get his daughters impregnated so the traditional adversaries of the early kingdom - the Edomites, etc. - can be created.

The entire story of the Bible, if one is reading through the lens of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, is one not so much of divine wrath as it is of divine wrath transformed by love in to grace. The idea that we have "to get right with God" in order to call ourselves Christians misses the point; we can't get right with God, but that's OK because makes us right before God. Being a Christian isn't about getting a bunch of words right, or even whether or not we curse, drink, smoke, support gay marriage and abortion rights, but whether or not we love our neighbors as ourselves. Being a Christian isn't about listening to contemporary Christian music and having fish bumper stickers on our cars. Being a Christian is about living for others, and remembering that we are followers of Jesus. Being a Christian isn't about getting a free pass through the Pearly Gates, but living our lives so that, as the prophet said, justice can roll down like water.

We can get sidetracked by all sorts of things in the Bible if we allow ourselves. It is far more important to remember that we Christians have a key to understanding the story of God and humanity not in the story of Noah, or Sodom, or the life of Elijah/Elisha, or even the first two chapter of the prophet Amos. The key is the story of Jesus, and what his life means for us, and how we remember what he taught us and how he taught us - that love for others, even love to the point of a humiliating death - is far more important than adherence to any creed or set of practices, no matter how "religious" they may be. This is so because, as the first epistle of John says, "God first loved us."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

"Dishonest, Dishonorable"

I do so like this new Obama ad. It calls it like it is. Last night, I heard a blurb on BBC World Service from Sarah Palin talking about Obama's "association" with William Ayers. They have decided to take that route.

In seminary, I had a friend who was older than I who was friends with members of the Weather Underground. He told me a story of being stopped at the Baltimore airport in the early seventies and being detained by the FBI because he had just seen a couple members off on a plane (along with a couple members of the Black Panthers as well).

By the standards the right is setting for "friendship" and "association", it seems I, too, have associated with domestic terrorists. Of course, it's nonsense, but the right deals in nonsense and has done so for years. It is only now, as it becomes part of our wider discussion of politics that we realize, "Hey, these people are nuts."

For the record, I don't think the Weather Underground was all that. And the Black Panthers were nothing more than community organizers in Oakland who were protecting themselves. More of them were hurt by law enforcement than they ever hurt in return. I do think it's funny the way the FBI overreacted to them, proving the point that armed African-Americans scared the white power structure to the point of massive psychosis. That, however, is a post for another day.

This Is Why They Love Palin

Sadly, No! is usually good for the funny photo. Seeing one, below, I clicked the link to the original story, and it just shows that reality is always a step ahead of satire.

BAREFOOT BAY -- A sign in one man's front yard has stirred up a controversy in his community.

Neighbors of Andy Lacasse said the sign, which reads "Obama Half-Breed Muslin [sic]," breaches the fine line between free speech and inappropriateness.

"I got nothing good to say about Obama," Lacasse told News 13. "If I see anybody touching that sign, I got a club sitting right over there."(emphasis added)

Apparently he not only has nothing good to say, he can't say it well. "Half-breed muslin"? What is that, exactly, wool and flannel?

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More