Saturday, March 07, 2009

Saturday Rock Show

I'm not a huge Ozzy Osbourne fan, but "No More Tears" features some truly awesome guitar work by Zach Wylde. This song just rocks, pure and simple.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Intellectual Dishonesty of Charles Krauthammer

From the very beginning of today's column, Krauthammer manages to do such a fantastic job of projection - every act of treachery he tosses at the Obama Administration's stimulus and budget messages (for lack of a better term, it could be called his initial fiscal policy) is actually mirrored by his own lack of any intellectual integrity at all - that one wonders how this former psychiatrist didn't end up spending quite a few hours on his own couch asking himself how he felt about his mother.
This is run-of-the-mill budget trickery. True, Obama's tricks come festooned with strings of zeros tacked onto the end. But that's a matter of scale, not principle.

All presidents do that. But few undertake the kind of brazen deception at the heart of Obama's radically transformative economic plan, a rhetorical sleight of hand so smoothly offered that few noticed.

When a political commentator offers that he has noticed something few others have, it is usually safe to assume the reason few others noticed such a thing is that it doesn't exist.
"Our economy did not fall into decline overnight," he averred. Indeed, it all began before the housing crisis. What did we do wrong? We are paying for past sins in three principal areas: energy, health care and education -- importing too much oil and not finding new sources of energy (as in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf?), not reforming health care, and tolerating too many bad schools.

Bear Stearns went under because of our dependence on foreign oil?!? Lehman Brothers disappeared from the face of the earth because our schools suck?!?

All you need to know.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Central Front

Yesterday's bloody attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team by terrorists in Pakistan, coming on the heels of the deadly attacks in Mumbai, demonstrate pretty clearly that the new ground zero for terrorism in the Muslim world is not Iraq (which is largely an American goof-up and problem) nor Afghanistan (which, while still certainly anarchic by western standards, is in much the state it has existed over its very long, very independent history) but Pakistan. Getting rid of Musharaf has not solved anything; indeed, in many ways, Pakistan's problems seemed to have deepened since the military dictator left office. The northwest territories are completely beyond Islamabad's control, the entire border with Afghanistan might as well not exist, and there is a serious struggle for national identity between militant Muslims and more traditional Pakistani elites, one the elites seem to be losing.

Of course, the Bush Administration managed to tie the US far too close to Pakistan during its time in office. Rather than deal on a pragmatic level, and at a certain distance, Bush attempted to recreate the friendly, Cold War-era relations between the US and Pakistan, at the worst possible time. Dealing with a deteriorating situation in that country will be very thorny, made all the worse by the Bush-era legacy of false friendliness. While the situation in south Asia is volatile, the thought of a militant Islamic state with nuclear warheads pointed at its major rival is not something to make folks sleep easy. Indeed, one thing that should be kept in mind is that Pakistan is far more likely to fall in to chaos than it is to become some kind of Sunni Iran, a militant Islamic state. Of course, that presents all sorts of opportunities - as if there weren't enough already - for militant groups to exploit for their own purposes. The situation is bad enough that an attack like the one yesterday occurred. Remorse on the part of the Pakistani people and government is not enough, since there seems little ability to deal with the deteriorating situation in their country other than bemoan it.

My own thought is that the US needs to leave hands off as much as possible in Pakistan. Any presence, or perceived influence, by the United States will in all likelihood only inflame militant passions, spurring on even greater acts of terrorism. Yet, it is a developing situation that needs to be watched carefully, and it might be a good idea to find one or two people who speak Urdu and Pashtun and get them over there as soon as possible, to get a detailed look on the ground. My guess is that, rather than the Middle East or Indonesia, it will be Pakistan that will become the central front in the struggle with militants in the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Path To VIctory

The picture at left is off the de facto leader of the Republican Party. RNC Michael Steele has had to apologize to Rush Limbaugh, so it is now true that he is untouchable.

I cannot but think this is the best thing in the world for the Democrats, and liberals in general.

Of all the commentary on the sudden appearance of Rush as the Godfather of the Republican Party, one point with which I would disagree is this:
I think the more exposure we give to CPAC and the right wing extremism they cheer there, which is completely out of touch with the rest of the country the better and thank you so much Rush Limbaugh for helping to make that happen. Knowing my horror watching you speak was being shared by millions of other viewers just made my day last weekend.(italics added)

Horror? No. Comedy gold. Rush, Ann Coulter, that pre-pubescent nonwunderkind Jonathan Krohn - all of 'em are nothing more than hilarity on the hoof. Should any of them seriously believe that any liberal feels fear at the thought that Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity might actually be the spokesman of the opposition, they should be disabused of the idea as soon as possible. Without a doubt, they are nothing more or less than opportunities to laugh at how ridiculous they are.

The path to a permanent Democratic majority will be paved with the words and leadership of Rush Limbaugh.

All That Pork And No Jobs Created Stimulus Law - A Tale

The idea pushed so hard by the the Republicans that the stimulus law won't create any jobs, is nothing but pork, and was a complete and utter waste of time apparently wasn't heard by the members of the Borough Council of South Waverly, PA.
SOUTH WAVERLY — South Waverly Borough is in need of approximately $1.7 million to fully repair 60 percent of its roads.

Where is the money going to come from?

Borough council members Monday said they are looking to the recently-passed national economic stimulus plan as a potential avenue of funding for this project. The roads identified in the project are those that are in the worse shape.(emphasis added)

This is exactly what the bill was designed to do. This is infrastructure spending, tout court. Now, I would ask all those who said no jobs would be created, no actual projects that help people's lives and communities - are these roads in South Waverly not driven on? Is the repair work going to be done by monkeys, and with donated equipment? Or, does the fact that the Borough itself is small make this irrelevant except to the couple thousand people who live there?

Republicans are so stupid.

A Radical Idea

I am so tired of a small group of Cuban emigres dictating our lost policy toward the poor island. Seriously, I mean, we trade with China, we used to deal all the time with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries. Shoot, we were one of the few countries in the world to recognize the Khmer Rouge in Kampucheam just to spite Vietnam. And we refuse to even glance ninety miles south of Florida because a bunch of wealthy refugees insist that Cuba is somehow qualitatively more horrible than they ever could have been. The fact that Fidel Castro managed to outlast, and even outlive, most of the American Presidents who sought his ouster should have been enough a quarter century ago to give the embargo the old heave ho.

Cuban policy has always held all sorts of other worthy projects hostage, and cost us money. Ronald Reagan set up Radio Marti, and the Cuban government managed, with little effort, to block the signal. Yet, despite the fact that no one in Cuba could hear it, it continued to be funded - and perhaps still is - because of the Cuba lobby. Now, Robert Menendez, Democratic Senator from New Jersey and a Cuban emigre himself, is "sending a signal" to the Obama Administration not to touch that holy of holies, the Cuba embargo, by putting a hold on some of the President's nominations to head up science offices.

Here's my idea. Obama simply bypass the Senate, and officially recognize the current Cuban government, reserving the right, as is always the case, of criticizing certain policies and practices of the current regime, headed by Fidel's brother and longtime successor Raul. Once done, and all the howling from south Florida is over and done with, we might notice that the world hasn't ended. Then this kind of happy crappy can stop.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Music For Your Monday

When checking out their bio on All, I had no idea that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen only wanted to be songwriters a la the Brill Building types of the early 1960's. While their early material certainly had an edgy, detached, ironic quality, by the late 1970's, they had evolved from a borderline rock outfit to a much more refined fusion unit. The players on their best release, Aja, included not just a who's who of LA session people like Jeff Porcaro and Michael McDonald, but also jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour and the great Wayne Shorter on saxophone. Of all their material, Aja still stands the test of time, and the following three are all from that album.

Incidentally, I was surprised to learn that Fagen and Becker were among the first to protest the way their record company released their older material on CD. I heard an interview with them when they got back together in 2000, and Becker said the early CD re-releases of their vinyl material sounded like someone took an album, recorded it on a MAC, then did nothing more than re-record it on to CD. It's true. Their unremastered early CD releases are pretty flat. I don't know if they've managed to remaster those early releases, but it would be nice.

First up, "Deacon Blues", live no less:

I was torn about which order to do the next two. So a coin toss managed to decide. While the "Home At Last" rivals the title track for my single favorite Steely Dan song, the latter is better known. Listening to "Home at Last" again for the first time in years, I was reminded that it is head and shoulders above so much music released, even today. For all its faults - the "overproduced" label fits nicely with them - these two songs have a transcendent quality. So, first, a rumination using The Odyssey as a template:

Finally, "Aja" - I love everything about this song - the piano entry, the guitar work, the drumming. If "immaculate" could be fairly used to describe an arrangement, this is it:

Sunday, March 01, 2009

First Sunday In Lent

We read of Jesus being tempted. He goes to the desert after having been baptized by John, and after fasting and praying, faces the daunting task of Satan making the offer of the easy way. Be the magic man and turn the stones in to bread so you won't be hungry. Show your power in front of all the people by throwing yourself off the Temple, forcing the angels to save you in front of the multitudes. Be the king of the world, and the price - bow down and worship me - is it really so large?

We have to face the reality that these offered choices were real. Jesus could have done these things - he could have changed stones in to bread; he could have forsworn his Divine Sonship and worshiped the Devil - or the story itself is meaningless. Like us, Jesus faced the dread choice of the path of least resistance. Don't be who you are supposed to be. Don't make it harder on yourself, and others. Shoot, you can bring your kingdom - right here, right now - for the small price of obeisance to one other than your Father.

As we start out our Lenten journey with Jesus, we, too, have to face up to the temptations that plague us. Why bother with this whole church thing, because most Christians are a bunch of hypocrites? The public face of Christianity is small-minded, ignorant, hate-filled, and who wants to be associated with people like that?

The call to follow Jesus is not a call to forswear sex. It isn't a call to some transient understanding of bourgeois morality. Being a Christian does not mean consigning all those with whom one disagrees, and members of other religious faiths and traditions to eternal perdition. All of these are temptations, really, to take the treasure offered by God and cast it aside for earthly power and glory. All of this is nothing more or less than the desire to control the lives of others, not for the sake of God, but to show how wonderfully pious we are.

The call to follow Jesus is far more dangerous. We are called to offer the world, by example, the opportunity to live as God intended. Not as atomized individuals, but as a community dedicated to love, service, and the odd notion that Divine power is manifest most perfectly in the scandalous death of a political rebel. In our refusal to be a power, we most clearly show Divine power and presence. In the only real "No" that matters, our refusal to demand of others the allegiance to ourselves and our way of life, we show the world what grace really means. In selfless offering of our lives and fortunes to God, we demonstrate what it means to live as God created us to live.

Before we do that, though, we have to remember that even Jesus was offered a shortcut around the pain, the abandonment and betrayal, and death. In that offering, we have to see Jesus' eyes flick from side to side, his tongue licking cracked and dried lips, the sweat of internal struggle beading his forehead. Only after we recognize that Jesus struggled as we do, and overcame it, can we call to him to help us in our struggles as we pick up our crosses and follow him down the road that leads to death, and resurrection.

Virtual Tin Cup

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