Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Obsession Now: The Moody Blues, "Watching and Waiting"

This one took me back a ways.

The Moodies were one of my earliest favorite bands. I'd stumbled across their singles, likely "Ride My See Saw" or "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)", on the radio, and in the '70s the orchestral-sounding arrangements weren't all that common any more so they stood out like beacons amid the legion of guitar wankers dominating the airwaves.

I didn't pick up the band's albums in release order so I had sampled not just Days of Future Passed but also The Present by the time I got around to picking up To Our Children's Children's Children. Days of Future Passed, though perhaps their best-known LP, is not representative of their core sound, while The Present is a mediocre blend of a band that is out of creative juice and early '80s production that polished everything to the same artificial slickness.

To Our Children's Children's Children is emblematic of the band's sound in its prime. Though it boasts no radio hits, it flows relatively well: there are fewer portentous interludes than on, say, In Search of the Lost Chord, and side 2 in particular is a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end. In fact, my current obsession could just as easily have been "Gypsy", the side's opening number, which has been a longtime favorite. "Watching and Waiting" just edged it out for its plaintive lyrics, which suit my current frame of mind a little bit better. It's the kind of song that gets Justin Hayward (though typically not Ray Thomas, credited as co-writer) justly tagged as "lugubrious", and though in the past I remember being a little annoyed by his keening vocal on this track, today it strikes me as just about right. It's also the perfect closer to the side and to the album.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Do good intentions excuse terrible execution?

I heard about this story of the painting restoration gone horribly wrong in Spain earlier this week. A well-meaning elderly woman took on the task of fixing up a weatherbeaten fresco at a nearby church. It turned out so badly, the police initially investigated it as an act of vandalism.
... she could not understand the uproar because she had worked in broad daylight and had tried to salvage the fresco with the approval of the local clergy. “The priest knew it,” she told Spanish television. “I’ve never tried to do anything hidden.”
I believe her. So why was this whole incident treated as vandalism in the first place? Didn't the police talk to the parish priest?

And then there's the bigger question:

What was this woman thinking?

What possessed her to take on this project when she clearly had no idea what she was doing?

Then again, what was the priest thinking? Why on earth did he let a well-meaning but totally unqualified person take on such an important task?

Finally, should she be held responsible for botching this restoration so utterly? I mean, I very much doubt she can pay for undoing her handiwork and then doing a real restoration, but would it be appropriate for the community to criticize her? Or is she clearly so divorced from reality that she simply should be kept the hell away from paint and brushes?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Happy hundredth, Gene Kelly

I'm sorry to say I was unaware until an hour or two ago that Gene Kelly, actor/dancer extraordinaire, would have turned 100 today.

It says something about him that in spite of the general awfulness of his last film, Xanadu, Kelly was still as sparkling and wonderful a presence as ever, and not just because he did his own dancing and roller-skating. If you know nothing of the man, do yourself a favor and ignore Xanadu entirely (try to forget I even brought it up). Instead, check him out in On the Town (with Frank Sinatra) or An American in Paris (with Leslie Caron). Or you could check out a more obscure project of his from 1952, Singin' in the Rain.

Thank you, Mr. Kelly, for giving us some of the most memorable musical sequences in film history.

I'm dancin' — and singin' — in the rain....

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The amazing Republicans

It occurs to me that there's something quite astonishing about the Republican Party's presidential candidate selection process this time around.

President Obama has shown his heart is in the right place on certain issues, such as the need to fix this country's extraordinarily dysfunctional health care system. That his efforts have not been unmixedly successful (to put it kindly) doesn't change the fact that he has attempted to make things better.

On the other hand, Obama has been a profound disappointment on key issues: climate change (his silence has been deafening), alternative/renewable energy research, personal privacy, and the prosecution of the so-called war on terror. On the latter subject, not only has Obama continued to emphasize military rather than judicial "solutions" (a sarcastic reference to his fondness for assassination-by-drone), but he has shown a deeply disturbing contempt for the Constitutional protections afforded to U.S. citizens, however odious their views. I don't care if you do believe a citizen threatens the existence of the United States: that citizen first must be arrested, tried and convicted before you can execute him. If he's too damned dangerous for you to follow the well-established rule of law, Mr. President, you have an obligation to explain to the rest of us why. Otherwise you are nothing but a crime boss elected to public office.

I'm no conspiracy theorist but I can certainly understand the visceral fear some people have that Obama is the very embodiment of Big Brother. He's not turning the country socialist, he's doing something even worse: he's turning the presidency into a kingship. Nixon's enemies list has morphed into Obama's hit list. Yet where Nixon had to resort to clandestine burglary, an act whose illegality would cost him the presidency and his reputation, Obama's got the military and the CIA ticking off names on that list almost in full public view. Did anybody four years ago imagine this would be the state of affairs today? I sure as hell didn't.

Obama's a smart man. A part of me wonders just how bad the classified intelligence reports he's receiving must be for him to be acting as imperially as he is. A part of me, in other words, wants to believe his heart is in the right place on national security, too.

But much more of me wonders just why in the hell such a smart man, who also is no slouch as a communicator, can't explain clearly and concisely (and without compromising national security) just why he looks much more like our recent national nightmare, George W. Bush, than even George W. Bush did.

My disenchantment with Obama's unexpectedly authoritarian instincts (in addition to his enthusiasm for drones as an instrument of foreign policy, he has misspent considerable federal resources on a pointless crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in California, and his deeply misguided obsession with secrecy led pretty much directly to the Wikileaks fiasco) makes me his worst nightmare as a voter: I'm a reliable Democrat who is so pissed at his mishandling of a variety of issues, I'm actively looking for reasons not to vote for him.

And yet, I'll be voting for him in November.


Because Mitt Romney, while the least objectionable and most electable of the major Republican candidates this time around, is still a scarier prospect than another four years of Obama. If I hadn't been convinced of that before, his choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate would have pushed me off the fence in a scalding hurry.

The Republicans should have had this race sewed up. Obama's facing the worst economy in decades and tremendous disappointment among much of his base.

Yet the Republican primary process, by relentlessly squeezing out the last drops of suspect moderation from every single candidate, resulted in an image of the party and its standard bearer that is, well, scary. Scary in the way Rasputin was. Get past Romney's suits and professional candidate's smile (and his ridiculously unconvincing attempts to look and sound like just an aw-shucks kind of guy), and you can see the crazily inconsistent yet infuriated, burn-the-whole-place-down, anti-D.C. irrationality of the Tea Party and die-hard libertarians (who are not one and the same). Even if you believe the would-be czar might have the goods (and in Romney's case I remain deeply skeptical), you can't help seeing that he's in thrall to a crazy-eyed zealot, or in this case, a whole bunch of them.

And it scares the crap out of you.

It scares the crap out of me, anyway.

Republicans' embrace of the most reactionary, intolerant, and fantastically greedy elements of the far right over the past three decades has allowed Obama to make a real fight out of this election.

Because however bad the Obama administration has been, there is every reason to believe a Romney administration would be worse.

Only the amazing latter-day Republicans could pull off such a feat.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How our money is coming back from China

Per a New York Times article by Michael Luo, Neil Gough and Edward Wong, some of it is returning through the hands of billionaire arch-conservative Sheldon Adelson.
In May 2004, the Sands Macau became the enclave’s first foreign-owned casino. On opening day, a mob estimated at 20,000 pushed over crowd-control barriers, ripping doors off their hinges. In its first year, the casino’s profits exceeded its $265 million cost.

By 2007, when the Sands opened its second casino in Macau, the $2.4 billion Venetian — the largest casino in the world — the formerly crime-infested backwater had become the world’s undisputed gambling capital. With Macau providing two-thirds of the company’s revenues, Mr. Adelson had become one of the richest men in the world.

And near the end of the article:
The Sands now has four casinos in Macau, which supply about half the company’s profits.
Our Walmart purchases make Chinese manufacturers richer. They blow that money in Macau at Adelson's casinos. He takes those profits and buys our elections.

This is not a healthy flow of capital.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fix our broken agricultural subsidies

Please, Congress (and my fellow citizens), listen to this man.
We have become dangerously focused on corn in the Midwest (and soybeans, with which it is cultivated in rotation). This limited diversity of crops restricts our diets, degrades our soils and increases our vulnerability to droughts. Farmers in the central plains used to grow a greater diversity of food and forage crops, including oats, hay, alfalfa and sorghum. But they gradually opted to grow more and more corn thanks to federal agricultural subsidies and expanding markets for corn in animal feed, corn syrup and ethanol.
The man is Prof. William G. Moseley, writing in an opinion piece in the New York Times.

Whether we're talking about crops, manufacturing, intellectual inquiry, the human gene pool, or our own talents and interests, diversity is the key to survival on this ever-changing planet.

Either we embrace that fact, or we will go extinct as a species.

It's that simple.

Joe Arpaio: the Rolling Stone profile

I had a vague idea the sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona was a blowhard and a fearmonger, but Joe Hagan's profile clearly shows that Arpaio is something much worse.
Arpaio is an unabashed carnival barker. And his antics might be amusing if he weren't also notorious for being not just the toughest but the most corrupt and abusive sheriff in America.
Arpaio's unabashed hypocrisy in pretending to enforce the law while actually pandering to his constituents' basest prejudices (not to mention indulging his own egomania) is stunning. It's not enough for him to harass the brown of skin, either: he's also touchy enough to send his underlings after his critics. He's the schoolyard bully who grew up and learned he could keep preying on the weak if he got a badge.

It all comes back to those voters who keep reelecting him, though. As bad as this piece makes Arpaio out to be, those voters are not one jot better. They know what he's doing and they not only condone it, they applaud it.

(Courtesy of LongReads.)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Romney on Sikh temple shootings

Per Mediaite's report, here's the statement from Mitt Romney regarding the shootings at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin:
“Ann and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the victims of today’s shooting in Wisconsin. This was a senseless act of violence and a tragedy that should never befall any house of worship. Our hearts are with the victims, their families, and the entire Oak Creek Sikh community. We join Americans everywhere in mourning those who lost their lives and in prayer for healing in the difficult days ahead.”
A pretty standard statement of condolence — but did you notice the caveat?

"This was a senseless act of violence and a tragedy that should never befall any house of worship."

Romney is not shy about promoting his faithfulness, so I will not be shy about calling out his statement for its focus on the "house of worship".

One could, if unkindly disposed, argue that Romney's statement implicitly excuses similar attacks that occur in places other than a "house of worship".

I doubt that's what Romney meant. However, the fact that the statement is open to that willful misinterpretation is telling. The statement speaks eloquently of Romney's unconscious bias in favor of religious sensibilities. His thoughts are first and foremost about the sanctity and primacy of religions and religious institutions.

This focus raises a question for those of us who don't believe in or espouse a religion: where do we and our priorities rank in Romney's worldview?

Certainly my concern is that we would be second- (or even more likely, third- or fourth-) class citizens under a Romney administration. And I would be willing to bet real money that my concerns do not matter a whit to Mitt. He is betting (metaphorically speaking, of course, gambling being proscribed by Mormonism) that I and my ilk won't matter in the election, and that we would be exceedingly unlikely to vote for him in any case.

He's probably right on both counts, certainly for this election. For the future, though, I'd love for my fellow non-religionists to stand up and be counted at the ballot box. I'd really like to give people like Romney (and the many high-profile, aggressively theocratic religious leaders out there) pause.

Oh, and Mitt?

We all — you, I, everyone — would be saddened and shocked if these murders had taken place at a shopping mall, or a state fair, or a movie theater. That the shootings happened at a house of worship is beside the point.

This was a senseless act of violence and a tragedy, period.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

We the people

... are the problem.

Gail Collins wrote a quietly mournful piece in the New York Times in which she set out just a little of the people's business that this Congress failed to carry out before going on their summer recess.

Collins implicitly pinned most of the blame on the House, and in particular on House Majority Leader John Boehner, though there was more than a whiff of disdain for those whose allegiance belongs to the so-called Tea Party.

I won't disagree with Collins insofar as her guesses and implications go, but I will suggest that she didn't mention the real problem: a sizable minority of voters want government to fail. Not just this Congress, not even just this President (though the silent mass of private racists, whose deeds over the last four years have proven much, much louder than their protestations of non-bigotry, would very much like this non-Caucasian president to fail irrespective of the consequences), but the federal government as a whole, and maybe the parts of state governments that don't comport to a pseudo-libertarian ideal, too.

We can get mad at Boehner and Cantor and the other obstructionists in the House, but the real problem is the uncooperative yahoos who keep (re)electing these roadblocks to Congress. It is those yahoos who don't give a damn about this nation's collective well-being.

Or perhaps they do give a damn but they have no goddamned idea how badly they are screwing us all over with their mindless intransigence and signal failure (read: refusal) to understand what we all need to do — or even that they have a civic responsibility to work with the rest of us. Their hearts might be in the right place, but their brains are missing in action.

I'd like to say that I would prefer one over the other, that a self-centered anarchist posing as a libertarian is "better" than a simpleton, or vice versa, but I can't choose. Both appear to be just as destructive to this nation.

Until we can fix our fellow voters, with whom we must share this country whether we will or no, we have no hope of fixing our government, and thus no hope of fixing the country as a whole.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Gimme some of what he's smoking

Mitt, Mitt, Mitt ... stop bogarting whatever you're toking and let the rest of us take a hit.

On Thursday he promised ... well, read it for yourself. Per a Washington Examiner piece by Brian Hughes:

"I know that in campaigns, talk can be cheap. You can say anything," Romney said in Colorado, where he unveiled a middle-class jobs plan that called for more domestic energy production and fewer coal industry regulations. "This is not just an idea, but energy independence for North America."

Romney promised not only energy independence, but a better educational system, free trade agreements and small-business growth -- all while slashing a record federal budget deficit.

To do all these things in a Washington, DC, as dysfunctional as it is, and for a country as dispirited and as far in denial as we are ... well, it would take a miracle bigger than anything in the Book of Mormon.

By the way, the next sentence in the article is:

But he provided few specific proposals for achieving those things.
I've seen this movie and I know what that last sentence signifies: the Republican bluster machine is in full blow-hard mode. The strategy: make promises so huge that no one could possibly imagine you're lying about them. Once in office, you fail to deliver ... but hey, baby, you're in office! Who cares what you promised?

Obama made some extravagant promises he hasn't kept, too: remember the whopper about shutting down the Guantanamo Bay prison? Still, that pales in comparison with "energy independence for North America" by 2020 — which, conveniently enough, would be at the end of a hypothetical second Romney term, and thus way, way too late to hold him accountable for his failed boast.

Energy independence for North America by 2020. Maybe for a week, and even then only if we all promise to turn off our lights at eight o'clock every night. But why am I sweating the details? Romney's campaign demonstrably isn't. And it won't. The details don't matter. Facts don't matter. All that matters is for him to make simplistic promises. Read Jared Diamond's op-ed piece in the New York Times, in which Diamond says, "he misrepresented my views and, in contrasting them with another scholar’s arguments, oversimplified the issue." Diamond goes on to assert that Romney's misrepresentation "is so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it."

Energy independence for North America by 2020 is such a colossal fantasy that if the public were genuinely evaluating Romney for the highest office in the land, it would be calling for him either to be preemptively arrested for fraud (knowingly promising what is not in his power — or anyone else's — to deliver), or else to be confined for close psychiatric evaluation for a minimum of 72 hours.

So if Romney doesn't like to be thought of as a brain-damaged recreational drug user, he should remember that the only other plausible explanation is that he's a bald-faced liar.

Pass the kutchie on the left-hand side, Mitt.