Tuesday, November 18, 2008

2008 Election and Other Housekeeping Items

It's about time an election swings the right way. Don't get me wrong -- those who know me also know that 8 years ago I thought John McCain deserved a shot at the White House. He was more of a maverick then. There really was a point where even if you didn't agree with his position on something, you had to respect his point of view, which is more than I can say for most politicians these days. It's amazing how he has spent the last 8 years squandering the respect that he had earned. I am happy he lost. He would have been so very wrong for this country.

Those who are worried about Barack Obama ought to read the New Yorker's endorsement of him from their October 13 issue. I meant to post that link before the election, and I forgot. It still is a good description of what we can expect from him, and it certainly made me feel better about him. Perhaps it will do the same for those of you who remain skeptical.

Obama still doesn't excite me when he speaks, but he has a lot of fresh ideas, which is something we desperately need, and the way he has managed to inspire so many people in this country is refreshing. When was the last time we had a President who did that? Some would cite Bill Clinton, but his personal problems undermined his ability to accomplish much, and it wound up dividing the country. So, that leaves JFK, which is the type of leader we need right now. We need someone to challenge us to get off an oil-based economy and move to other sources of energy. Obama is the guy to do it, and he really has to be. We can't afford not to make the switch, and the investment that would be needed would spur our economy and our sense of innovation, which has been missing for a long time. I really believe that any bailout of the auto industry ought to be tied completely to developing cars that do not use gasoline. It really is a lot like JFK's challenge to go to the moon in the early 1960s, and it is a matter of national security.

Speaking of the '60s, The Music Box, one of my favorite hangouts online, has been stuck in the 1960s lately. They've been working their way through the recent Creedence reissues, starting with their debut, Bayou Country, and Green River. They also recently reviewed Richie Havens' Nobody Left to Crown, which is an album I want to like, but lose interest in about halfway through.

This same issue has dogged Bruce Springsteen lately, at least for me. Speaking of which, Rolling Stone let the cat out of the bag regarding a new album from Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. It is encouraging to read about how the album came together so quickly. It just might help him rediscover a sense of urgency, which he still has in concert but has lost in the studio. Working on a Dream is due on January 27. Although Magic and The Rising were disappointing to me, I'll still be in line to pick this one up.

Last but not least, as we wait for Neil Young's Archives series, which doesn't seem as if it ever will come out, he has found another live album to release. Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House, from 1968, is coming out next week. I hope it's good, and I can't imagine that it won't be. But you never know what you're going to get with Neil.

Friday, October 17, 2008

McCain Challenged by Lettermen

Because John Stewart and Steven Colbert spend so much time dissecting the news (which is, of course, the basis for both of their shows), they typically get all of the credit for challenging and skewering the politicians. They do a great job, and they certainly deserve the accolades that they have received.

The guy who gets lost in the shuffle, though, is David Lettermen. He does not toss softball questions at politicians, and I think he actually does a better (and tougher) interview than either Stewart or Colbert. He has been skewering the McCain/Palin ticket since John McCain skipped out on his program a few weeks ago. McCain had stated that he had to head back to Washington to deal with the economic meltdown, which wasn't exactly the truth. Instead of leaving town, McCain remained in New York for an interview with Katie Couric. Lettermen picked up the feed and has been poking fun at him ever since.

Well, last night, McCain finally fulfilled his obligation, and Lettermen jostled with him a bit before getting down to business. (He even had Keith Olbermann standing by in case McCain didn't show up again). Now, Lettermen is a really smart guy, and he uses two things to his advantage: 1) real news shows don't ask tough questions anymore and 2) the perception is that he is just a host of a late night comedy and entertainment program, so how hard can it be?

Essentially, McCain was lulled into complacency. He was given an opportunity to state his case, and Lettermen was fine to allow him to do that. You could see it coming, though. McCain has had a habit of late of bringing up William Ayers as a way of knocking his opponent Barack Obama down a peg. It hasn't worked. This is partially because Ayers has transformed himself into a respectable member of the community, but the real reason the issue hasn't gained traction is that, with everything in the country falling to pieces after 8 years of Republican political schemes, no one cares (nor should they, but that's another story).

Sure enough, as the interview continued, McCain tried to turn Ayers into a controversial issue. Of course he was led there by Lettermen, who set him up perfectly after challenging McCain's pick of Palin to serve as his VP. (He also asked why she keeps saying that Obama pals around with terrorists, which clearly isn't true). McCain took the bait, and the sly smile on Lettermen's face said it all. He pounced all over McCain's continuing need to bring up Ayers by asking the Senator about his relationship with G. Gordon Liddy, who served almost 5 years for burglary and admitted to plotting to kill a journalist. McCain tried to brush it off, but Lettermen persisted in defining McCain's relationship to Liddy as current and relevant, which is something the mainstream news organizations have failed to do.

It was a great moment, and you can watch the full interview at Lettermen's site. It's a gem of a interview.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Of Elephants and Donkeys....Part Two

Four years later, I'm still aggravated over what the Republicans did to John Kerry. Or maybe, I should say that eight years later, I'm still angry over what the Republicans did to Al Gore. The flip-flop strategy works, even if it's not true. In two presidential elections in a row, it has been used to make the eventual losing candidate look foolish.

Naturally, it shouldn't really be this way. Do we really want a leader who is so fixed in his views that he (or she) ignores the facts and refuses to alter course, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary? Actually, a case could be made that we already have one of those running the country, and look where it has gotten us. The U.S. is a mess. Thanks, George.

The Republicans have been trying to get something, anything to stick and break Barack Obama's momentum. They've tried the flip-flop strategy, but it hasn't worked. This mostly has been because Obama has been consistent or has, at least, framed his views well enough that he can't be portrayed as a flip-flopper, when all he is doing is clarifying or refining his position, mostly by shifting the emphasis of his words rather than his overall point of view.

The same cannot be said for John McCain. Since losing the primary in 2000, McCain has lost his mind and my respect. Is anyone sure what he stands for anymore? Here are some examples:

McCain opposed Bush's mammoth tax cuts. He leveled the same accusations at them as the Democrats did. Bush's tax cuts have favored the wealthy, quite heavily too. All of sudden, though, McCain now wants to extend them by making them permanent. Hmm, talk about a flip-flop. McCain claims that it will help the economy, but no highly respected economist agrees with him. America needs a tax cut, but it's the 90% of people who would be unaffected by McCain's plan that need it most.

There also was a time when McCain opposed off-shore drilling. He was never anywhere close to being a champion of the environment, but he did at least believe that the benefits of allowing off-shore drilling were far less than the devastation that the practice would wreak. Now, he's all for off-shore drilling, and it has become one of the cornerstones of his campaign. Sure, it sounds great to say that it would relieve the pressure of America's dependence on foreign oil. Everyone is for that. However, the amount of domestic production that would result from off-shore drilling (as well as drilling in ANWR, for that matter) is so minimal (and so far off in the future) that McCain would be best advised to drop the plan and focus instead upon alternative energy sources.

These are but two examples of how McCain has flip-flopped his positions on important issues. Admittedly, flip-flopping isn't as bad as it usually is made out to be, provided that there is a solid foundation for doing so, one that emanates from sound facts and logic. In these cases, however, McCain has dramatically altered his positions to ones that don't even make sense.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Grateful Dead Return...

The Grateful Dead are back...sort of. The surviving members of the group (Bobby, Phil, Mickey, and Billy) are going to give performing together another shot at an upcoming benefit for Barack Obama on October 13 in State College, PA. Keeping college students involved in the process is critical to Obama's chances in the fall. Warren Haynes will join the band, too, as will Jeff Chimenti from Ratdog. The Allman Brothers Band will also perform at the gig. Sounds like a blockbuster night, though this version of the Grateful Dead has yet to find anywhere near the chemistry of the original group. Apparently, if it goes well, they might consider a spring tour. In my opinion, they should have tapped Mark Karan instead, but that's probably too close to Ratdog for everyone else's tastes. Oh well.

The Return of Dexter, Mad Men Continues

Mad Men has certainly lived up to my expectations, thus far this year. It's darker, for sure, but since we already know the characters, the show has been able to open up the storylines and reveal more of the subtleties in their lives. The writing has remained consistently strong, and everything from the music to the cinematography has been terrific.

Also of note, Dexter will return on September 28 for its third season on Showtime. Jimmy Smits is going to join the cast, too. I can't wait.

Of Elephants and Donkeys...

Say what you will about The Republican Party, but you have to admit that they usually throw a good convention. Providing further indication that this year they are floundering, the recently concluded convention in Minneapolis landed with a solid thud. There wasn't much said that was substantive, and the whole thing felt hollow. They didn't even seem to make an attempt to fill the hall with minorities like they did in 2004. Nope, this time, the convention hall was filled with just a bunch of crotchety Caucasians, providing a true indication of what interests the Republican party serves.

Overshadowing everything, of course, was the nomination of Sarah Palin to be John McCain's Vice President. (Note: for informational purposes, I linked to the Wikipedia page on her, but keep in mind, in an election year, it may be very inaccurate depending upon who last edited the page). Prior to the announcement, I had wondered if McCain might choose a woman. The concept itself is sound, and it is long overdue. McCain's best chance at winning this thing is to bring some of those bitter Clinton supporters onto his side.

This, of course, is not an easy task. Eight years ago, McCain would have had a better chance of doing it. Despite his very conservative voting record, he still had a lot of respect from people who typically vote for Democrats. Since then, he seems to have lost his mind. He no longer is a maverick who on occasion would take a bold stand against the powers that be. Now he just votes right along with a President who (from Iraq to the economy) seems determined to run the country into the ground.

He had a chance, here, to reclaim at least some of it. The angry Clinton supporters left the door open for him. Instead of walking through it, his choice of Sarah Palin seems to have slammed it shut. I just don't understand this choice at all. Aside from the fact that Palin is a woman, she shares little with Clinton. She supports abstinence education, drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and more tax cuts for the wealthy. Palin doesn't want universal health care and she's is against a woman's right to choose. It makes no sense. McCain may have bolstered his appeal to the religious right, but who exactly were they going to vote for anyway? Would they really choose to not vote and passively elect Barack Obama instead of voting for John McCain?

To be continued...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Return of Mad Men

I'm so excited. AMC's Mad Men returns on Sunday night, July 27. Although it still was a good show, definitely one of the better ones on television, Friday Night Lights fell into a bit of a sophomore slump last season. Mad Men, which I enjoyed immensely when it aired last summer, quickly replaced it as my favorite show. Mad Men revolves around a group of advertising execs in 1960, and it follows their lives both at the agency and at home. It's seriously difficult to summarize the show. It's easy to follow but the issues it deals with are immensely complicated. It deals with gender issues, life roles, and generational gaps during one of the more turbulent eras of popular culture. The program recently picked up 16 Emmy nominations, all of which are well-deserved. I hope that Season 2 won't be disappointing, and I hope my expectations aren't overly high. 10:00 PM Eastern on AMC -- don't miss it!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Presidential Politics

Those of you who are paying attention will notice I finally removed the John Edwards for President link from my blog. It just seemed like it was about time, though I am truly sorry to see him go. He just really felt honest about things, more so than anyone else who was campaigning. I felt good about him four years ago, too, but all of the great work he has done since then made me a believer. He has his heart in the right place, and I'm sure he will continue to work hard on behalf of the people who need it most. As for Barack Obama, I'm not as enthralled with him as many others. There's something about him that just hits me the wrong way. He is, however, the only viable choice left. Eight years ago, I might have voted for McCain, but the way he has cozied up to Bush since losing his Presidential bid has erased any semblance of his integrity. I believe he'd say anything now to get elected.

Ed Begley and Bill Nye Duke It Out - Sort of...

If you've never seen Ed Begley's show on Home & Garden (Living with Ed), it's pretty inspiring, though also a bit daunting. It's not terribly practical for the common homeowner, though it's nice to know that some of the products and techniques he is using are available, at least for the wealthiest among us who consume and awful lot of power.

Anyway, I haven't seen the show for awhile, but I was reminded of it by the Yahoo headlines "Begley, Ney Compete in Eco-Battle" and "Celebrity Neighbors Begley, Nye Carry Eco-Grudge."

As you can guess from the headlines, one of Begley's neighbors is Bill Nye - yep, the science guy - and the two of them have this friendly competition going to see who is "greener." The whole thing is just kind of weirdly amusing. When Ed's wife gets involved, though, things get a little less friendly. There's something odd about it. It's men with power tools or big cars, only for the eco-crowd.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Illinois Wines

So, knowing I needed a nice escape from everything, a friend of mine took me to this winery in Roselle, Illinois, of all places. I didn't really expect much, but figured it would give us a chance to talk and provide a nice diversion from the ups and downs of life. Apparently, Lynfred Winery has been around for quite awhile now, and they have won a number of awards for their wines. They really are terrific too. We did a tasting, and they provide a lovely array of reds, whites, and a fruit wine, which I didn't think I'd like at all. Turns out it was terrific. It's nothing at all like a wine cooler or what you might expect. It's a grand dessert all by its little, old self. I'm not much of a drinker, but I have to say, Lynfred Wines might make me reconsider having a glass with dinner a little more often than I do.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The World of Marty Stuart

I'm becoming more and more impressed with the world of Marty Stuart. Most people haven't a clue who he is, but he's been involved in a ridiculous number of recordings over the years. He's played with Johnny Cash and Lester Flatt. He even helped to turn Billy Bob Thornton's Private Radio into a half-way decent effort. He really is an understated presence. I mention this because I just picked up a copy of Merle Haggard's The Bluegrass Sessions, and guess who was on it...Marty Stuart. He plays a mean mandolin, and he's positively brilliant on it -- as is Haggard who has really come back from nowhere land in the past year or two. According to the All Music Guide, Stuart w'll turn 50 in September, which means he has a lot more time to make great music, and hopefully obtain more recognition for his work.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Where Does the Time Go?

Good grief. Nothing like getting really sick for awhile to put your plans to write on hold. It's been a weird few months, to say the least. I don't really want to talk about that though....So, let's move on....

Friday Night Lights recovered somewhat, but it never got up and running quite as well as the first season. I'm glad it's returning in the fall though. It's still a great show, despite the problems that crept in during the second season. I'm going to chalk it up to a sophomore slump that was compounded by the on again, off again, will it or won't it return that led things off as well as the writer's strike that brought everything to a screeching halt. Season three will be back to normal. I'm sure of it!!

Kudos to CBS for picking up Dexter. What a wickedly good show it is. If you missed it rent it, and stick it out the grisly first half hour of the first episode. It's all kind of morbid and twisted, but Michael C. Hall from Six Feet Under fame is perfect for the role. He is so able to play this seriously disturbed serial killer and make him into a likeable person. Who ever dreamed up the idea of a serial killer stalking serial killers (that would be Jeff Lindsay, author of Darkly Dreaming Dexter) really needs to get checked out. I just may have to get Showtime, so I can watch the second season right away.