Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Message for the Christmas Shopper

Excerpted from Leonard Pitts at the Miami Herald:
Last week, a 34-year-old man was trampled to death by a mob rushing into a Wal-Mart to buy stuff. Jdimytai Damour was a seasonal worker manning the door of a store in Valley Stream, N.Y., as shoppers eager for so-called ''Black Friday'' bargains massed outside. The store was scheduled to open at 5 a.m., but that was not early enough for the 2,000 would-be shoppers. At five minutes before the hour, they were banging their fists and pressing their weight against the glass doors, which bowed and then broke in a shower of glass. The mob stormed in.

Four people, including a pregnant woman, were injured. And Damour was killed as people stomped over him, looking for good prices on DVDs, winter coats and PlayStations. Nor was the mob sobered by his death. As authorities sought to clear the store, some defiantly kept shopping; others complained that they had been on line since the night before.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine a starker illustration of our true priorities. Oh, we pay lip service to other things. We say children are a priority, but when did people ever press against the door for Parents' Night at school? We say education is a priority, but when did people ever bang against the windows of the library? We say faith is a priority, but when did people ever surge into a temple of worship as eagerly as they do a temple of commerce?

No, sale prices on iPods, that's our true priority. Jdimytai Damour died because too many of us have bought, heart and soul, into the great lie of American consumerism: acquiring stuff will make you whole. ''You, Happier,'' is how a sign at my local Best Buy puts it. As if owning a Jonas Brothers CD, an Iron Man DVD, a Sony HDTV, will elevate you to a level of joy otherwise impossible to attain. Hey, you may be a total loser, may not have a friend, may not have an education, may not have a job, may not have a clue, but it will all be OK as soon as you get that new Canon digital camera, especially if you get it for 50 percent off.

It would be nice to think -- I will not hold my breath -- that Damour's death would lead at least some of us to finally see that for the obscene lie it is, to realize that seeking wholeness in consumer goods is an act of emptiness, not joy.

You, Happier? No.

Just you, with more stuff.

The End of Genre?

Excerpted from Bob Proehl for Popmatters in response to the Country Music Association Awards (acronymically known as the CMAs, not to be confused with the Academy of Country Music's ACMs):
You might not have caught it in Carrie Underwood’s quick introduction, but that sure enough was the remains of the Wailers backing up Kenny Chesney on a medley of “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” and Bob Marley’s hit “Three Little Birds”. Which would have won the best mash-up of the evening hands-down if it hadn’t been for Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long”, a surprisingly poignant hybrid of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” (although the live version leaned heavily toward the former) which has become Rock’s first hit on the country charts, performed with rapper Lil Wayne possibly playing guitar alongside a gentleman who looked oddly like AC/DC’s Brian Johnson in a “Joe the Strummer” T-shirt.

Kid Rock’s performance was a wild clash of symbols, with Detroit-born Rock’s unabashedly white trash appropriation of urban style grafting onto Skynyrd’s oft-misunderstood call not just for Southern pride but a reevaluation of the stereotypes of Southern culture. With his oversized Titans jersey, Lil Wayne at his side, and huge American flags projected behind him, Rock seemed ecstatic to be part of country music, and the audience seemed thrilled to have him there.

In an age where every possible type of music is instantly available to new audiences, where American Idol prioritizes vocal prowess while tossing soul, R&B, pop, and country into the massive blender of Celebrity, and the number of listeners who staunchly self-identify as fans of one particular genre dwindle without new devotees to replace them, the country-music industry seems to have made an astute decision. When more kids are following MySpace phenom Taylor Swift to Country Music Television than are looking to CMT for their next Taylor Swift, it might simply be that the first genre to unify in order to protect and encourage its own financial interests back in 1958 is, 50 years later, the first to embrace the death of genre as a concept.

Kid Rock and Lil Wayne

Kenny & the Wailers

Monday, December 01, 2008

History Lessons

(for the college football fan)
The preseason USA Today/Coaches Poll, coupled with their current records:
1. Georgia (9-3)
2. USC (10-1)
3. Ohio State (10-2)
4. Oklahoma (11-1)
5. Florida (11-1)
6. LSU (7-5)
7. Missouri (9-3)
8. West Virginia (7-4)
9. Clemson (7-5)
10. Texas (11-1)
11. Auburn (5-7)
12. Wisconsin (7-5)
13. Kansas (7-5)
14. Texas Tech (11-1)
15. Virginia Tech (8-4)
16. Arizona St. (5-6)
17. BYU (10-2)
18. Tennessee (5-7)
19. Illinois (5-7)
20. Oregon (9-3)
21. USF (7-4)
22. Penn St. (11-1)
23. Wake Forest (7-5)
24. Michigan (3-9)
25. Fresno St. (7-5)
Not only are 5 of these teams not even bowl eligible this year, nearly half of them have at least 5 losses and more than half are unranked today. Make of it what you will

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Free Dr. Pepper! and related musings.

From AP:
Dr Pepper is making good on its promise of free soda now that the release of Guns N' Roses' "Chinese Democracy" is a reality.
The soft-drink maker said in March that it would give a free soda to everyone in America if the album dropped in 2008. "Chinese Democracy," infamously delayed since recording began in 1994, goes on sale Sunday.
"We never thought this day would come," Tony Jacobs, Dr Pepper's vice president of marketing, said in a statement. "But now that it's here, all we can say is: The Dr Pepper's on us."
Beginning Sunday at 12:01 a.m., coupons for a free 20-ounce soda will be available for 24 hours on Dr Pepper's Web site. They'll be honored until Feb. 28.
This is just great news for Dr. Pepper on the heels of a terrible 3rd quarter earnings report:
On Thursday, the company said net earnings in the third quarter dropped 31.2%, to $106.0 million, or 41 cents a share, from $154.0 million, or 61 cents a share, in the same period a year ago. Sales fell 2.0%, to $1.51 billion, from $1.54 billion a year ago and were just below the $1.52 billion expected by analysts.
The company now expects sales growth of 1.0% and adjusted earnings between $1.83 and $1.86 a share. Analysts have been projecting annual earnings of $1.95 a share.
Way to go, Dr. Pepper. That Texas-sized ego of yours just made a bad situation worse. Not only are you in fiscal freefall, but now you've got to give away millions of gallons of product FOR FREE because you decided to shoot off your mouth about something that has nothing to do with the beverage business. That's just the kind of stuff that's gotten Texas booted out of Washington leadership for the first time in...forever:
When President Bush turns the Oval Office over to Barack Obama, he might as well dump the Lone Star of Texas into the bed of his pickup and haul it off with him. The 28th state has loomed large over Washington for much of the past century — think the president, his father, Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, John Tower, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay.
But at noon on Jan. 20, Texas becomes — please don't throw things — just another state. Currently, only two Texas Democrats chair committees in the House — Silvestre Reyes (Intelligence) and Gene Green (Ethics) — and neither of them is standing.
Without a Texan in the White House or in a top-level leadership spot, members from the state may have to work across the aisle if they hope to bring home the bacon like they did in days of yore.
Seems we're on our way to saying, "So long, Texas!" Say hi to Alaska out there in the land of Obscurity. Coincidentally, the Texas-Alaska connection was established last week, in another Dr. Pepper related story. Quoth one Sarah Palin:
I never asked for anything more than a Diet Dr. Pepper once in a while.
Now, we can blame guilt by association with those pesky Alaskans, or chalk it up to a general Texan malaise, but I know the truth. The real reason for the demise of Dr. Pepper? Unleashing this unpardonable monstrosity on an inexplicably trusting public:

How do you expect the American people to respect you after you do something like that to them?

Monday, November 17, 2008


So I was intending to write a post in praise of pirate movies and I still might, although it was turning into more of a post in praise of Michael Curtiz, anyway, and while a worthwhile venture, that post would require more work than I care to put in right now. Besides, real pirates suddenly started cropping up in the news like crazy so I turned the post in that general direction.

For those who haven't caught it in the news, and it's entirely possible you missed it, given the round-the-clock "Will he or won't he offer the Sec of State to Hillary" and "California is on fire again!!!!" noise, Somali pirates have been terrorizing the Gulf of Aden off Africa's east coast.
In their most audacious attack yet, Saturday they hijacked the MV Sirius Star, one of the world's largest oil tankers, laden with more than 2 million barrels of crude oil. The assault took place nearly 450 miles off the coast of the Horn of Africa.
Source: Forbes

Now, I know what you're thinking, "2 things: 1) Who cares about pirates in Africa? and 2) There are still freaking pirates? In 2008?!?"

On the 2nd question, yes, there are still pirates. The thing is, just like everybody else, pirates have adapted with the times.
This is our typical image of a pirate:

This is a modern day Somali pirate:

As you can see, not only have pirates updated their wardrobe (frankly, taking a step backward) and gone multi-culti (hurray, diversity!), they have 20th century technology like walkie-talkies and water-resistant quartz wrist-watches. Also gone are the requisite peg leg, parrot, and treasure map.

Piracy is actually growing in popularity among the desperately poor Somali youth:
The main lure is money. Most of the hijacked ships have brought ransoms of at least $10,000, and sometimes much more. Many pirates, particularly in the northern Puntland region, have quickly become local celebrities, flaunting their newfound cash by building palatial beachside villas, marrying extra wives or roaring around its dusty towns in flashy cars. And that has attracted many young men desperate for work in one of the poorest countries on the planet.
"Back in 2005, there were just five Somali pirate gangs, with fewer than 100 gunmen," Andrew Mwangura, head of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, said, "Now that youths who used to work as bodyguards for warlords or militia for the government see the rewards available at sea, our estimate is that there are between 1,100 and 1,200 pirates."

I know it's illegal and would require I live in Somalia and amongst pirates, but I'd gladly sign up for a palatial beachside villa. Even one in Somalia.

Now, back to the first question, why you should care:
1. Oil!
From the aforementioned Forbes article:
Roughly 11% of the world's seaborne petroleum passes through the Gulf of Aden. If the incidents continue unabated, shipping vessels may opt to avoid the Gulf of Aden by taking the longer route to Europe and North America round South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, which would almost certainly drive up commodities prices.

2. Pirates could ruin Christmas
From 1up:
While Somali pirates have plagued the Horn of Africa for years, what's of particular concern now is that they've been encroaching into the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, imperiling access to the Suez Canal -- a major shipping route that connects Europe to the Middle East and Asia. It's used by firms to transport oil, gas, coal, toys, and yes, videogames, but the attacks have gotten so frequent that firms are considering diverting shipments around Africa to the south, through the Cape of Good Hope instead. Doing so, according to PC World, could increase transit times by up to three weeks.
"Despite all the publicity over piracy it will really hit home when consumers in the West find they haven't got their Nintendo gifts this Christmas," said Sam Dawson, of the International Transport Workers' Federation, to Reuters. "If there isn't a let up and active intervention by navies in the region, the impact on trade will come within weeks or months because we've gone from one attack every couple of weeks to four in a single day."

3. It provides a new option for veterans/soldiers looking to go Blackwater
Just in case they're looking for something to do now that the Iraq shakedown is winding down:
The Moyock, N.C., company has a ship in Hampton Roads ready to begin patrolling the Gulf of Aden to protect merchant vessels against pirates. The company has spoken to about 10 shipping firms but as yet has no takers, said Bill Mathews, Blackwater Worldwide executive vice president.
"There's definitely a need and a desire," Mathews said during a tour of the 183-foot vessel, named McArthur, on Friday. It's moored at a commercial pier at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base. Mathews said the crew and guards are qualified to provide maritime security, noting that the security teams would consist of former Navy SEALs. The force is highly trained in handling vehicle boardings and anti-terrorism missions.

The use of private companies to protect merchant ships has a long history, said Claude Berube, a former congressional staffer and professor who has written on the topic. The East India Co. employed private convoys about a century ago along the coast of Africa, he said.
Even today, the area remains at risk. As piracy threats have grown near the Horn of Africa, insurance premiums on ships have risen ten-fold, Berube said. The U.S. Navy and its allies cannot cover all the seas, and a private force could help fill the security gap, he said. "It would be feasible," he said. "I think we have to be open to all options."

4. There is that whole international terrorism thing
According to the State Dept.
Al-Shabaab is a violent and brutal extremist group with a number of individuals affiliated with al-Qaida. Many of its senior leaders are believed to have trained and fought with al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

So, there's the skinny on pirates. I have no idea what we should do to stop Somali piracy (short of simply blowing up pirate ships). I just kept seeing this pirate stuff on the news and figured I'd look into it. This is what I found and now you know. I resist the temptation to compare these folks to the Barbary pirates, because they are nowhere close to that level of naval prowess, but they are a real problem just the same. Someone should do something, but like most international problems dealing with Islamic terrorists, no one is sure just what.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A "Legend"-ary Blunder

So, after giving John Legend a few more listens through the week, I'm certain I was a bit over the top in my criticism of the album. It's better than I gave it credit for. I still think it's the weakest of his three albums, but not so far off the mark. Just givin the man his proper due. The album is solid.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

For Veteran's Day

In case you didn't know, Veteran's Day was originally called Armistice Day, celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WW1. Here, in memoriam is an address from General Omar Bradley from 1948. Bradley was the last man designate a 5-star general and was the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by Harry Truman.

An Armistice Day Address

By General Omar N. Bradley
Boston, Massachusetts
November 10, 1948

TOMORROW is our day of conscience. For although it is a monument to victory, it is also a symbol of failure. Just as it honors the dead, so must it humble the living.

Armistice Day is a constant reminder that we won a war and lost a peace.

It is both a tribute and an indictment: A tribute to the men who died that their neighbors might live without fear of aggression. An indictment of those who lived and forfeited their chance for peace.

Therefore, while Armistice Day is a day for pride, it is for pride in the achievements of others—humility in our own.

Neither remorse nor logic can hide the fact that our armistice ended in failure. Not until the armistice myth exploded in the blast of a Stuka bomb did we learn that the winning of wars does not in itself make peace. And not until Pearl Harbor did we learn that non-involvement in peace means certain involvement in war.

We paid grievously for those faults of the past in deaths, disaster, and dollars.

It was a penalty we knowingly chose to risk. We made the choice when we defaulted on our task in creating and safeguarding a peace.

It is no longer possible to shield ourselves with arms alone against the ordeal of attack. For modern war visits destruction on the victor and the vanquished alike. Our only complete assurance of surviving World War III is to halt it before it starts.

For that reason we clearly have no choice but to face the challenge of these strained times. To ignore the danger of aggression is simply to invite it. It must never again be said of the American people: Once more we won a war; once more we lost a peace. If we do we shall doom our children to a struggle that may take their lives.

ARMED forces can wage wars but they cannot make peace. For there is a wide chasm between war and peace—a chasm that can only be bridged by good will, discussion, compromise, and agreement. In 1945 while still bleeding from the wounds of aggression, the nations of this world met in San Francisco to build that span from war to peace. For three years—first hopefully, then guardedly, now fearfully—free nations have labored to complete that bridge. Yet again and again they have been obstructed by a nation whose ambitions thrive best on tension, whose leaders are scornful of peace except on their own impossible terms.

The unity with which we started that structure has been riddled by fear and suspicion. In place of agreement we are wrangling dangerously over the body of that very nation whose aggression had caused us to seek each other as allies and friends.

Only three years after our soldiers first clasped hands over the Elbe, this great wartime ally has spurned friendship with recrimination, it has clenched its fists and skulked in conspiracy behind it secretive borders.

As a result today we are neither at peace nor war. Instead we are engaged in this contest of tension, seeking agreement with those who disdain it, rearming, and struggling for peace.

Time can be for or against us.

It can be for us if diligence in our search for agreement equals the vigilance with which we prepare for a storm.

It can be against us if disillusionment weakens our faith in discussion—or if our vigilance corrodes while we wait.

Disillusionment is always the enemy of peace. And today—as after World War I —disillusionment can come from expecting too much, too easily, too soon. In our impatience we must never forget that fundamental differences have divided this world; they allow no swift, no cheap, no easy solutions.

While as a prudent people we must prepare ourselves to encounter what we may be unable to prevent, we nevertheless must never surrender ourselves to the certainty of that encounter.

For if we say there is no good in arguing with what must inevitably come, then we shall be left with no choice but to create a garrison state and empty our wealth into arms. The burden of long-term total preparedness for some indefinite but inevitable war could not help but crush the freedom we prize. It would leave the American people soft victims for bloodless aggression.

BOTH the East and the West today deprecate war. Yet because of its threatening gestures, its espousal of chaos, its secretive tactics, and its habits of force—one nation has caused the rest of the world to fear that it might recklessly resort to force rather that be blocked in its greater ambitions.

The American people have said both in their aid to Greece and in the reconstruction of Europe that any threat to freedom is a threat to our own lives. For we know that unless free peoples stand boldly and united against the forces of aggression, they may fall wretchedly, one by one, into the web of oppression.

It is fear of the brutal unprincipled use of force by reckless nations that might ignore the vast reserves of our defensive strength that has caused the American people to enlarge their air, naval, and ground arms.

Reluctant as we are to muster this costly strength, we must leave no chance for miscalculation in the mind of any aggressor.

Because in the United States it is the people who are sovereign, the Government is theirs to speak their voice and to voice their will, truthfully and without distortion.

We, the American people, can stand cleanly before the entire world and say plainly to any state:

“This Government will not assail you.

“You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressor.”

Since the origin of the American people, their chief trait has been the hatred of war. And yet these American people are ready to take up their arms against aggression and destroy if need be by their might any nation which would violate the peace of the world.

There can be no compromise with aggression anywhere in the world. For aggression multiplies—in rapid succession—disregard for the rights of man. Freedom when threatened anywhere is at once threatened everywhere.

NO MORE convincing an avowal of their peaceful intentions could have been made by the American people than by their offer to submit to United Nations the secret of the atom bomb. Our willingness to surrender this trump advantage that atomic energy might be used for the peaceful welfare of mankind splintered the contentions of those word-warmakers that our atom had been teamed with the dollar for imperialistic gain.

Yet because we asked adequate guarantees and freedom of world-wide inspection by the community of nations itself, our offer was declined and the atom has been recruited into this present contest of nerves. To those people who contend that secrecy and medieval sovereignty are more precious than a system of atomic control, I can only reply that it is a cheap price to pay for peace.

The atom bomb is far more than a military weapon. It may—as Bernard Baruch once said—contain the choice between the quick and the dead. We dare not forget that the advantage in atomic warfare lies with aggression and surprise. If we become engaged in an atom bomb race, we may simply lull ourselves to sleep behind an atomic stockpile. The way to win an atomic war is to make certain it never starts.

WITH the monstrous weapons man already has, humanity is in danger of being trapped in this world by its moral adolescents. Our knowledge of science has clearly outstripped our capacity to control it. We have many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.

This is our twentieth century’s claim to distinction and to progress.

IN OUR concentration on the tactics of strength and resourcefulness which have been used in the contest for blockaded Berlin, we must not forget that we are also engaged in a long-range conflict of ideas. Democracy can withstand ideological attacks if democracy will provide earnestly and liberally for the welfare of its people. To defend democracy against attack, men must value freedom. And to value freedom they must benefit by it in happier and more secure lives for their wives and their children.

Throughout this period of tension in which we live, the American people must demonstrate conclusively to all other peoples of the world that democracy not only guarantees man’s human freedom but that it guarantees his economic dignity and progress as well. To practice freedom and make it work, we must cherish the individual; we must provide him the opportunities for reward and impress upon him the responsibilities a free man bears to the society in which he lives.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Listen Up

Politics and such aside, it's time to talk music.

John Legend - Evolver
Haven't listened to it enough to give it a fair hearing, but I can say I was not particularly enthusiastic about it, the middle of the album was a muddle of mid-tempo fluff and guest artists (Kanye, Estelle, Brandy) all sounding like re-hash. Even the songwriting seems off compared to Legend's previous efforts. He leaves the signature grand piano at home for the most part, favoring synths and strings and drum machines. I never thought 'generic' would be a word that would apply to a John Legend album. It's not bad, mind you. There are some solid songs and Andre 3000 offers an entertaining rap verse on Green Light (which I understand was the first single, so if you listen to the radio or watch music videos, you've no doubt already heard it).
Quickly feat. Brandy

Robin Thicke - Something Else
Robin Thicke shows John Legend how to make 3rd album. Not content to simply replicate the soft-spoken manner of his breakout hit, "Lost Without U" (which, incidentally, I thought was one of the weaker tracks on his last album, but I digress) for 12-13 tracks, he dug deep and pulled out, well, something else. A throwback 70s funk/soul sound made fresh. Unlike the current (mostly) Mark Ronson-produced or imitating British retro-R&B which is digging up every Motown riff and drum beat from the 60s, Thicke looks to the 70s for inspiration and finds it in spades. And then he doesn't stop there; he drops a little Lou Reed meets Curtis Mayfield gem on us called Shadow of Doubt that stands out simply by being different from the rest of the album, and yet completely at home with the rest of the songs. It just works. And he makes room for his rap buddy Lil Wayne to take the lead on the album closer while Thicke just sings the chorus. That takes confidence that you know what you're doing. And he does. An excellent effort.

Leigh Jones - Music in My Soul
The first find and project from Kerry Gordy, son of Motown founder Berry Gordy. Carrying dad's endorsement, Kerry gives us Leigh Jones, a jazz-soul-pop-blues chanteuse, filling the gap between Alice Smith and Chrisette Michele. The first time I listened to her album I was more impressed by the songwriting/production (which are both top-notch) than by her as a singer. Then, I kept listening because the songs are so good and it just kinda grew on me. And then I realized's fun. Sure, it's mostly jazzy ballads, but she knows how to sing the songs incredibly well, even though she's not the best singer, so they come alive. And when the bluesy I'm Leaving You comes on, I defy you to not sway along with that familiar groove.
Have It Your Way

One Flew South
One Flew South is basically a pop vocal harmony trio who play country music. Imagine The Eagles/CSNY singing Rascal Flatts (if the thought don't cause you to go into convulsions). The guys are older than most new artists coming out, but that only serves to make the songs sharper/better-written and the harmonies tighter. I know country is a divisive genre for some reason, but this should be tolerable to anyone who appreciates a good vocal. Having grown up on a steady diet of Beach Boys and Boyz 2 Men, I'm something of a sucker for a harmony group.

Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis - Two Men With the Blues [Live]
Willie. Wynton. 'nuff said.
That's All

That's all. For now.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Community Organizer in Chief?

Excerpted from Mary Sanchez:
It was a mistake for the McCain camp to dismiss Obama’s days as a community organizer as a bunch of airy-fairy nonsense. Obama has clearly learned how to motivate people, even if his style seems overly naive. At the top of his Web site is this quote from Obama: “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington … I’m asking you to believe in yours.”

OK, that sounds puffy nice, so easy to mock. Except that most people gravitate to goodwill if approached right. We’re a nation that put the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series on best-seller lists, for goodness sake. What most people tend not to have readily available, however, are the political connections and savvy to change things they dislike about their neighborhoods, city governments and workplaces. Community organizing gives them that.

The Obama campaign has drawn a lot of people into the fold who had never been involved in politics. People found themselves in leadership roles, planning strategy, with access to voter rolls online — and they found themselves being held accountable for what they accomplished. That’s a far different concept than giving someone a sign to stand on street corner with on Election Day.

Community organizing believes that government should be of the people, by the people and for the people. You can’t get much more patriotic or democratic than that.

And I think we'll make that the last word on the 2008 presidential election. Onward.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Reflection on the Election

I'll bet you can guess who delivered this speech without my telling you:

I know it's really hard when we think of the tragic midnight of injustice and oppression that we've had to live under so many years, but let us not become bitter. Let us never indulge in hate campaigns, for we can't solve the problem like that. Somebody must have sense in this world. And to hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. We must not use violence. Maybe sometimes we will have to be the victims of violence but never let us be the perpetrators of violence. For if we succumb to the temptation of using violence in our struggle, unborn generations would be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness and our chief legacy to the future would be an endless rain of meaningless chaos. We must not use violence. Oh, sometimes as we struggle it will be necessary to boycott. But let us remember as we boycott that a boycott is never an end. A boycott is merely means to awaken within the oppressor the sense of shame and to let him know that we don't like how we are being treated; but the end my friends is reconciliation, the end is redemption.

Oh, no matter how much we are mistreated there is still a voice crying through the vistas of time saying, "Love your enemy." "Bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. And then, and only then, can you matriculate into the university of eternal life. We must get a hold of this simple principle of love and let it be our guiding principle throughout our struggle.

This means that through this period we will need leaders on every hand and at every scene who will stress this...Oh, this is a period for leaders. Leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with humanity. Leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice. Leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause.

God give us leaders.
A time like this demands great leaders. 

Leaders whom the lust of office cannot kill;

Leaders whom the spoils of life cannot buy;

Leaders who possess opinions and will;

Leaders who will not lie;

Leaders who can stand before a demagogue and damn his 
treacherous flatteries without winking. 

Tall leaders, sun-crowned, who live above the fog 
in public duty and in private thinking.

And this is the need my friends of the hour. This is the need all over the nation. In every community there is a dire need for leaders who will lead the people, who stand today amid the wilderness toward the promise land of freedom and justice. God grant that ministers, and lay leaders, and civic leaders, and businessmen, and professional people all over the nation will rise up and use the talent and the finances that God has given them, and lead the people on toward the Promised Land of freedom with rational, calm, nonviolent means. This is the great challenge of the hour.

And if we will do this my friends we will be able to speed up the coming of this new order, which is destined to come. This new world in which men will be able to live together as brothers. This new world in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of all human personality. This new world in which men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Yes, this new world in which men will no longer take necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. This new world in which men will learn the old principle of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They will hear once more the voice of Jesus crying out through the generations saying, "Love everybody." This is that world. Then right here in America we will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee,

Sweet land of liberty,

Of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died,

Land of the Pilgrims pride,

From every mountain side,

Let freedom ring.

As I heard a powerful orator say not long ago that must become literally true. Freedom must ring from every mountain side. Let us go out this evening with that determination. Yes, let it ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let it ring from the prodigious hill tops of New Hampshire. Let it ring from the mighty Alleghanies of Pennsylvania. Let it ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that. From every mountain side let freedom ring. Yes, let us go out and be determined that freedom will ring from every mole hill in Mississippi. Let it ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let it ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let it ring from every mountain and hill of Alabama. From every mountain side let freedom ring. And when that happens we will be able to go out and sing a new song: "Free at last, free at last, great God almighty I'm free at last."

There are still Black Panthers? In 2008?

This nonsense is just as bad as that embarrassing Ashley Todd hoax. Come on, America. Do better.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Endorsements '08

The election is just around the corner and since I've been MIA for a while I haven't gotten around to offering any kind of official endorsement on this thing yet so I figured I better slip it in just before the election.

That said, the presidential election is gonna be a rout and everyone is jumping on the Barack Bandwagon in the waning days of the campaign, even Joe Lieberman is making nice (especially since his pal John McCain found a new Joe to exploit).

Since there's no point in endorsing this late in the game, especially when the outcome is not in doubt, we've got to endorse elsewhere.

Therefore, after much consideration (well, much might be a bit much), this blog is pleased to endorse in the 2008 election:

CNN's Campbell Brown as Best New Pundit of the Election Season


The transition from "hard news" White House correspondent to armchair analyst never looked so easy.

We are also endorsing:
Michelle Obama for First Lady
Meghan McCain for First Daughter
Darius Rucker for First Pop-Rocker turned R&B/Soul Man turned Pop-Country Crooner:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Mind Your Own Business, Alaska

Maybe Todd Palin was on to something. The "Alaska First, Alaska Always" slogan of his former party might just be exactly what the doctor ordered for Alaskan politicians. Though I might proffer an additional clause: "Alaska Only".

You see, over the last year or so we've had a close-up look at Alaska's political elite and, plainly, it's not a pretty sight. If I may paraphrase Diane Court in Say Anything, "I've glimpsed our future with Alaskan politicians leading our country and all I can say is...go back." Please. Please, go back to your dog-sled races, moose burgers, and ice fishing. The combined effect of the loony Democratic primary candidacy of Mike Gravel, the through the looking-glass vice presidential candidacy of Sarah Palin, and that freshly-minted stain on the Senate courtesy of Ted Stevens create an unequivocal impression of unfitness for inclusion at the grown up table. And these are the folks you picked out the general population to lead you?

The travails of Gov. Palin are well known to all by now and need no rehash so, oh what the heck, here's Andrew Sullivan on a rant:

If you'll recall, we met Mike Gravel back in the Democratic primary. The crazy guy at the end of the stage who never got a question. You remember him, the one who made Dennis Kucinich appear reasonable by contrast. The one who gave this unforgettable ad:

The only thing more bizarre than this ad, is the former far-left Democratic senator's broad-minded support of Gov. Palin as a VP nominee...
Sarah has literally come to the national scene without owing anything to any party or corporate interest––not even McCain––he needs her more than she needs him. Imagine a person a heart beat away not owned by the military-industrial complex, Wall Street, corporate America or AIPAC. WOW! Can this last? Probably not. But she does have an uncanny sense of political direction and the ability to capitalize on change like putting the public interest above Republican Party interests.
...before taking a pot-shot at her running mate...
In the interest of full disclosure: I have no intention of voting for McCain. He is too steeped in the use of military power to solve problems and American imperialism—and the wars it creates. At times McCain has been a maverick, but, unfortunately, never that consistently. There are too many temptations in Washington, even for a man born on third base.
...before falling back into derangement...
Sarah: keep up the practice of having Todd hang out with you in your official capacities. Insist that he be given a clearance equal to yours, so that you are not excluded from the full depth of his counsel. If push comes to shove, he is the only one you can trust. He must study, read and grow in your office as quickly as you. What you face is more than one person can handle.

So, on behalf of everyone here in the Lower 48, go away. Leave us alone. You come down out of your crazy Alaskan/Aleutian time zone and offer naught but bewilderment. It's been a diverting reminder to all of us that you exist, but it's really time to go back where you belong: somewhere in the recesses of our collective consciousness. Let the Lower 48 handle it. We're fine, we're good, really. In the words of your own governor, "thanks, but no thanks" for your participation in national affairs. As we say (or rather sing) down here in contiguous states, "It's one (Gravel), two (Palin), three (Stevens) strikes you're out at the old ball game". Don't act like you don't know the song, I know you play baseball up there in the land of the midnight sun:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Narratives of the Candidates

Out of retirement with this highly recommended piece by David Bordwell about Obama and McCain and the narratives they've constructed for themselves (through their memoirs and the campaign). I don't think I can do it justice in capsule review, so just read it.

If McCain’s book is an adventure tale, Obama’s is a detective story. The through-line, as screenwriters might say, is Obama’s search for his identity as a African American. If McCain’s plot is driven by honor and duty, Obama’s depends on race and social responsibility. McCain steers by a fixed star, and is shamed when he goes off course. Obama is scanning the heavens for some stable pole that will give him a sense of who he is.

Obama’s tale is more complex than McCain’s, but each one reflects the image of the protagonist. McCain lives in a world of clear-cut demands, called the Code, and so any problem comes from failing to meet the obligations of duty. Obama’s world is hazy and uncertain; there is no Code. How should a man like him, with his heritage, find a way to live with dignity?

...we can say that stories create curiosity about past events, suspense about future events, and surprise by means of unexpected events. Whatever other emotions a narrative evokes, we need to feel at least one of these three states. We can distinguish the two Presidential campaigns’ “master narratives,” along these dimensions.

In the ongoing electioneering, Obama’s campaign is now driven almost completely by suspense. He’s not asking us to find out more about what led to the war in Iraq or the economic collapse or the crumbling infrastructure; it’s assumed that we know enough backstory. Everything is about what comes next...The very image of suspense.

McCain, by contrast, is running a campaign driven by curiosity and surprise. Many of his talking points dwell on the past. Who is Barack Obama, really? What did he have to do with Ayers, Rezko, the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives? Why did he sit in Jeremiah Wright’s church? And so on. These questions ask us to feel curiosity in the form of suspicion about McCain’s rival. The fact that most in his audience haven’t taken up the hint has driven the campaign to try to invoke another emotion: surprise. The pick of Sarah Palin is the most obvious instance, but several others have followed: suspending the campaign, promising to buy people’s mortgages, yanking Joe the Plumber out of obscurity as an emblem of small business, even the “not ready yet” tagline of a recent ad. There may be more surprises to come, as gloomy Democrats fear (which only increases their feeling of suspense). At this point, the act of winning would be the ultimate McCain surprise.

So the campaigns may teach us something of interest about narratives: You can’t have a gripping narrative without some suspense. You can do without curiosity or surprise, but a story lacking suspense won’t keep us turning enough pages to be curious or surprised. Maybe that’s why the McCain campaign never had a “compelling narrative.” It didn’t build up enough of a sense of how it would win or how, after the election, the future would be different.