Wednesday, December 31, 2008

WTIC-AM and the end of commercial community radio

I can't say that commercial community radio is gone, because there are still some good, small, community radio stations that serve cities like Middletown and Waterbury, but the 50,000 watt "flamethrower" that is WTIC-AM, our state AM station, has abdicated, once and for all, it's role as a servant, or a partner in the community.

The corporate owners, and the local managers have decided to rid the station of any leavening effect that intelligence, reason, and fairness would bring to the imbalance of right-wing, misinformed, often-wrong, always-wrongheaded radio fare they present. As you likely know, WTIC-AM has canned Diane Smith, who was able to call out the worst instincts of conservative host Ray Dunaway, and they've also fired Colin McEnroe, a moderately liberal alternative to the heavyweight conservatives they regularly schedule.

I've listened to WTIC for as long as I can remember listening to radio. My mom's bakelite, faux Crosley, still sits in my office, a testimony to my love of radio, and its importance in my life. That radio was tuned to WTIC, permanently, and we listened to Bob Steele every morning of my school life.

Radio is important, and it's no coincidence that even in this day of the iPod and the internet, that when a government revolt or coup takes place, among the first places seized by the rebels are the radio station. Because with a broadcast transmitter, you have the power to get the word out to anyone with a handful of capacitors and resitors, and a coil of copper wire.

But corporate ownership, and the simple algorithm of conservative radio's being able to define a marketable audience, has changed it forever. WTIC has gotten rid of its best and brightest, and leaves us with the dull tarnish of announcers like Dunaway and Vicevich.

WTIC is a licensee of public airwaves. You can, and should, visit the station and ask to leave a complaint in their "public file." It's a file the FCC considers important when considering a station's commitment to a community. You can also complain to the managment, but that won't likely get you too far.

I want to thank Colin McEnroe for all the entertainment he's provided, but also for the good work of holding public figures to their word, and to the standards of their jobs. He's called out Joe Lieberman, Chris Dodd, George Bush (and his entire crew), and the police departments of Hartford and Avon. He's made some enemies, and it's likely that it hasn't helped him to keep his job, though it should be the reasons TIC would want him there.

And like hundreds who have left comments on McEnroe's blog, and on the blogs of his colleagues, I vow not to listen to WTIC again. These fifty years have been a good run, but when there's nothing there to please the ear or tease the brain to think, there's nothing worth tuning in for.

One final note, my WWUH radio colleague Doug Maine has a theory that may yet prove true. He writes:

The news about Colin is so depressing. I would view the planned "news bloc" as a placeholder for more syndicated programming in afternoon drive a few months down the road, at best Clark Howard, at worst Sean Hannity.  What's really going on, I think, is that CBS is getting ready to sell or swap its Hartford stations. I had read recently that CBS Radio was looking to get out of small and mid-sized markets and focus only on major markets. Confirming that this afternoon I looked up CBS Radio on Google News and read that earlier this month they agreed to trade five mid-market stations (1 in Seattle, 1 in Baltimore, 2 in Portland, Ore., and 1 in Sacramento) to Clear Channel for two stations in Houston.  If they don't consider Seattle a big enough market, where does that leave Hartford? I think the departures of McEnroe (who was so vital and essential to political/cultural dialogue in these parts) and Smith (who could sometimes keep Dunaway's right-wing snarkiness in check) is part of cutting the bottom line and making the station more attractive to potential buyers, probably with even less of a public-service ethic than CBS. This town's feeling smaller all the time.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Colin McEnroe gone from WTIC

Roger Catlin reports that Diane Smith and Colin McEnroe have been ejected from their roles as show hosts on WTIC AM.

And Jim Vicevich gets more time?

Looks like WTIC is going all conservative, all the time. Or shall we say all shallow, all the time.

Turn your radio on. It may be your last chance to hear smart, liberal talk on Hartford commercial radio.

UPDATE: Colin refuses to discuss this on the air today. I tried, and while I mentioned his departure, he refused to say more. He says he plans a "goodbye" show tomorrow.

You can register your complaints and dismay by calling CBS radio local VP Suzanne McDonald at 677-6700 x300 or Operations Manger Steve Salhany at extension 291. I've already called. They need to hear what a foolish decision it is to expand conservative programming, deleting moderating factors, and abdicating their responsibility to the community to air all sides of issues.

Just what you need to know for New Year's Eve

Another reason not to let the New Britain Herald and the Bristol Press fail.

I have one question. Why would he want to open a bottle of Corona?

A ruinous legacy

(How tragically true and prescient this Nation cover illustration was, eight years ago.)

Sadly, I don't think we've seen yet the complete ramifications of the destructive eight-year administration of George Bush.

Bush has brought America to its knees.

And despite the delusion that Condi Rice is trying to peddle, I think history will judge Bush harshly, and even discover that his actual election was fraudulent in 2000, and possibly in 2004 as well. In the short term the picture is clear, our reputation, our Constitution, our liberty, our economy, our reliability - all in ruins, or at the very least tattered and in disrepair.

In today's New York Times, Bob Herbert calls out the Texas bully. You know what happens when you stand up to a bully. The bully disappears.

AN ADDENDUM: Talk about re-writing history, check this out.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Et tu, Herbert

Sitting at a Christmas Eve party with my friend, and radio colleague, Stephen Allison, our talk came round, as it seems to these days, to the economy.

"It's a fiction, a fairytale gone wrong," Steve said. And I agreed.

"What's money but an act of faith," I added.

"Just like the Wizard of Oz," Steve replied.


"You know, whats-his-name, Baum, wrote that story about the abandonment of the gold standard," Steve said.

"I didn't know that," I replied. "But it gives new meaning to 'Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

Allison went on to say that what the country, and the world needs at the moment is a good shot of optimism, even if it is fictional, because most of what we place our trust in - money, the stock market, the market economy - is nothing if not a fiction.

In fact, at least one book has been written about the allegorical interpretation of The Wizard of Oz. It's called The Historian's Reading of Oz. It considers everything from the collapse of farms after the Panic of 1893, the rise of Standard Oil, the gold and silver standards, and the cyclone as a symbol of political and social upheaval.

The point of our conversation is that the economic problems we find ourselves in are largely psychological, and fictional in their origins - as fictional as the economic glory we experienced just before the fall. Unfortunately, while the origins are a fiction, the outcomes are very real.

What we need is a leader who can sell "hope" as if he were selling "soap." For god sakes, the outgoing crowd sold us a war like it was a new HBO series, and most of America bought into it. Our new leader needs to sell us a recovery, because, in the end, a recovery begins when we all believe there is going to be a recovery.

In the New York Times today, Paul Krugman addresses the issue on a state-by-state level. He worries that austerity budgets demanded by state laws will hamstring recovery and will simultaneously harm the things that need the most protection - health care, education and the needy.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Auld lang syne

It can't be five years since I last heard Johnny Cunningham and Susan McKeown sing and play Auld Lang Syne on their Winter's Talisman tour, but it is.

That night, as on each of the tours I witnessed, the crowd stood, and held hands, and sang along with the traditional Robert Burns lyric about embracing friends, family and loved ones despite past harm done.

As always, I'd find myself crying thinking about the son I hadn't spoken to in years. I wasn't the only one in the room wiping a tear away.

At the end of the concert at the Iron Horse, I was rushing to get home. Johnny was outside with a smoke, and some admirers, and over their heads he motioned to me.

"Ed," he said. "Give me a call. There's something I want to talk to you about."

A few days later, Johnny Cunningham was dead of a heart attack.

I miss those wonderful holiday concerts, and Johnny's stories, jokes and fiddling. But I listen each year to the haunting recording of the song on Johnny and Susan's album, A Winter's Talisman.

Preparing to write this, I searched for a recording of the song on the web. It's a beautiful combination of the ancient variant, and the modern version, which was almost ruined for North Americans by the maudlin annual reproduction of it by Guy Lombardo and his orchestra. I couldn't find the Cunningham/McKeown version of the song,(thanks to an anonymous commenter the entire Winter's Solstice performance can be found here.) but I did find an obituary of Cunningham in Britain's The Telegraph, in which I'm quoted.

I wish I could say that I've reunited with my son, and that the tears when I sing it this year will be for a different reason, but, it's not so.

Here are the original Burns lyrics, and an earlier version or the song that McKeown recorded with bassist Lindsey Horner.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes
And pou'd the gowans fine.
We've wandered mony a weary foot,
Sin' auld lang syne.

We twa hae sported i' the burn,
From morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roared
Sin' auld lang syne.

And ther's a hand, my trusty friend,
And gie's a hand o' thine;
We'll tak' a right good willie-waught,,
For auld lang syne.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

More than one way to skin a fat cat

I heard this a few days ago on Democracy Now, and forgot it until Susan Forbes Hansen reminded me.

It's one thing for the Bush administration, in a lame duck move designed once more to reward corporate bigwigs, to offer public lands up for private gain. It's another thing, apparently, for a bright young student to figure out a way to throw a monkey wrench into the works.

I offer you Tim DeChristopher
, a hero for the end of the Bush administration. May he inspire others.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day

Ever the musical chameleon this was Elvis Costello just past the "angry young man" phase, and moving toward the expansive musician. I remember seeing this lineup at the Jai Lai fronton in Milford.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Birthday, Shane

Like his idol, Brendan Behan, Shane MacGowan lives life in a slurry of whiskey and words. He's just finished another round of Christmastime gigs in Britain and Ireland with his bandmates, the Pogues, and he's left critics with no shortage of words to describe his self-destructive auto-auto de fe. MacGowan has created some beautiful songs, which he now tramples like lilies fallen beneath the wheels of commercialism.

MacGowan turned 51 this Christmas Day, and we all wonder how. How has he escaped the damage he's swallowed. How has he not fallen victim to one of the many accidents he's been a party to. How has his body not refused, even once, to mount the stage and bellow those songs that his audience now knows better than he does.

MacGowan and the Pogues return to America in 2009 for a St. Patricks season set of gigs on the East Coast.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I know he's serious, but is he serious?

This week Pope Benedict XVI once again shamed the legacy of tolerance which Jesus preached to impugn homsexuality as "a deviation, an irregularity, a wound," which threatens "the ecology of man."

Holy shit. I mean, really, this is holy shit.

Is it any wonder that Catholics have abandoned the church and its medieval philosophy in droves. You can bet I won't be setting my foot in a Catholic church except for the funeral of friend or family, or some other occasion (wedding maybe?) where I can pretend to pay attention to the nonsense that the Catholic clerics spew, without having to commit myself to their nonsense, or scream in disbelief.

If homosexuality is a wound to the ecology of man, because it's against the supposed "natural order" of one man/one woman living together to procreate, then what's the celibate priesthood? Sounds like a festering wound to me. And if you add pederast priests who have been protected by the Vatican itself, I'd say that wound was gangrenous.

Time for the Catholic leaders to sell off the treasures, endow the impoverished, and return to sack cloth and ashes and an ascetic lifestyle which may get them closer to the truth of Jesus then they seem to be now.

Peace on earth to all men, Pontiff, even if love one another. What a way for the Catholic Church to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

If you look in the mirror it's your father's face, in the thin grin

The great Leo Kottke with, Jack Get's Up, a song of the season. You go ahead and figure out why.

Here on Youtube.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Enabling rage

This is how it goes.

The wildly popular basketball coach blows a gasket during a game of little importance. He insults his players. He calls them names. He barks at his assistants. He stomps and pouts and turns red in the face. He throws one tantrum after another. He embarrasses himself, his team, his university and his state. And the media acknowledges that he was over the top.

But then he wins the next game. A big game. On national television. And the press, buying the coach's excuses, claims, this is why he screamed last time - so he could win this time. Humiliation equals victory. Degradation equals pride. Rage equals a "W."

I don't buy it, and any reporter who does is a cheerleader and not a journalist.

We're in hell, see us waving?

A nod to Susan Campbell for the line which I stole to headline this blogpost, and for the ongoing courage to bite the hand that feeds her when it's appropriate.

Campbell wrote a great column in Sunday's Hartford Courant about her love of newspapers, and the absolute necessity of solid journalism (newspapers) in a world prone to corruption, greed, cruelty and incivility.

I love newspapers too. In fact, I've always loved the Courant, except when I was hating it. A day doesn't go by, even now when it's a shadow of its former self, that I don't pore over every column inch. Even if I've missed it in the morning because of an early start on a job, and I get home late, I'll feel an obligation to read the Courant before I pass into sleep.

These days I've become my father, checking the obits first, but it was my father, who read three papers every day, who bequeathed his love of the printed word to me.

But I don't agree with everything Campbell says. While the Courant is AOCPN (America's oldest continually-published newspaper), a marketing boast which never earned a single reader, that fact is not enough to save it. As Campbell points out, the Courant has survived a lot. But that survival is not predictive of its future. There are a few companies of a century or more, which seemed as solid as Gibraltar (Lehman Brothers - 158 years, Washington Mutual - 110 years), and this year, they disappeared, or were absorbed by bigger companies..

But AOCPN can be a rallying cry, and I think that Campbell means it in that way. But it isn't her fellow reporters, editors and photogs she needs to convince. It isn't the readers, who are as anxious as she is for a paper with substance. It's the owners, and unfortunately, I don't think they have journalism, democracy, or even the lure of a well-told story as their first priority. If it's between the Courant and the almighty buck, I think the Courant's out of luck.

One more thing, I think Campbell is not exactly right about the lack of original reporting on web-only "newspapers." Just a look at the New Haven Independent will prove the point. But coming from a town, Middletown, which has essentially been abandoned by the Courant, I know that our little town blog is at far more civic meetings and events, in the past six months, than the Courant's staff is able to be at.

I hope the Courant survives, in it's ink and newsprint glory. And if the hard copy disappears, I hope it remains alive on the web. What's clear is that as long as there are reporters with the passion of Campbell, and her diminished team of colleagues, there will always be somebody to look over the shoulder of the crooked politician, the bullying cop, the overzealous developer and the under-represented citizen.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

The boys of the NYPD choir were singing "Galway Bay"

Gary Puckett appearing at the Osquake Casino, Pottersville

Yet another great analysis of It's A Wonderful Life in the New York Times yesterday. It seems as if the troubles we're currently experiencing is making Frank Capra's simple little Christmas movie into something prescient and instructive.

If you've ever paid any attention to art, you'll understand that poets, musicians, painters, novelists, playwrights and yes, filmmakers are at least as good as scientists in predicting what the future holds. The imaginative ability of artists to see the detail within the big picture, and to synthesize and create a new world, is what makes them so good at envisioning where a political movement will take us, or how an economic policy will fail us.

Anyway, Wendell Jamieson gives us his take on It's A Wonderful Life, and the way he sees it as an essentially dark, but redemptive tale.

His most amusing analysis is that Pottersville (the town Bedford Falls would become if George Bailey never lived), seems like more fun than Bedford Falls, and would have been, eventually, more prosperous as Pottersville.

In Jamieson's analysis of the movie, he points out the inconsistencies, and anachronisms. The one thing that always struck me as funny/weird/politically incorrect, is when George Bailey, running through Pottersville, is searching for the woman who would become his wife (Donna Reed as Mary Hatch), and Clarence the angel tells him, in horror, that he can find her at the library. Yes, she is unmarried, an "old maid," and, God help us, a librarian.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another slap on the wrist for Creepy Joe™

Apparently politicians are immune to the behavioral theory that bad behavior rewarded only leads to more bad behavior.

On Wednesday night, immediately prior to their holiday party, Connecticut Democrats gathered to issue a flaccid rebuke to Connecticut Senator Creepy Joe™ Lieberman.

While some state Dems are still angry, and were ready to show Lieberman the door which he had already used to flee the party, most others were less willing to send Lieberman packing a trunk to the trunked pachyderms.

Dems would do better than to underestimate the anger that Democratic voters feel toward Lieberman, and toward those who are providing the life vests which keep his sorry ass afloat.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dems: still time to give Lieberman the boot

Consider this, my fellow party members, you're about to hitch your wagon to a pony with the lowest approval ratings of any Senator ever (tied only with NJ's Robert Toricelli who retired after a campaign finance scandal). The people of the state recognize Lieberman's intrinsic creepiness.

In addition, the folks at MyLeftNutmeg are recruiting people to attend the Democratic State Committee meeting tonight to monitor who votes for letting Lieberman off the hook. So when you're voting with Joe, it will be reported on the web tomorrow, and it ain't just Connecticut that's watching.

A modest proposal, dude

I've been an advocate of legalization since I read an essay in 1975 that Gore Vidal wrote for Esquire Magazine. It was an expansion of this famous earlier essay.

The logic seems irrefutable, maybe now more than ever.

And now Bernd Debusmann offers similar logic, which suggests that the ailing US economy might be $76 billion to the good, if drugs were legalized. It's a better suggestion than repaving all our highways.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Helen on Christmas, Jesus and upside down Christmas trees, with a little RE Keen thrown in for good measure

If you haven't been following the essays of Margaret and Helen, shame. Here they are on the topic of the winter holidays. Makes good sense.

And here's Helen's fellow Texan, Robert Earl Keen, on the holiday.

There's been more snow in Louisiana than Connecticut

As proof, I offer musician Wilson Savoy (Pine Leaf Boys) at home last week in Lafayette with his snowman.

Jim Calhon is out of control

I was lucky enough to get some free tickets to a UCONN mens basketball game at the arena in Hartford. The seats were seven rows off the floor, and directly behind the UCONN bench. They couldn't have been any better. But for one thing. It exposed me to the derangement of UCONN men's coach Jim Calhoun.

I've met Jim Calhoun 3 or 4 times, and have always found him to be affable, funny, smart (I've discussed books and history with him), and willing to do good for charities in need. And I've defended him against people who say that his ranting during games are ineffective, outrageous and unneccessary.

I was wrong.

His behavior is beyond the pale. This was a game against Stony Brook. It was significant only for the fact that Stanley Robinson, a player who left the squad and had been working in a factory, returned to the team.

Calhoun's over-the-top, histrionic, uncontrolled rage would have you thinking it was for the National title, and even then, the behavior would be embarassing, distasteful and wrong.


I heard him call a player a "stiff." He told another player he was "useless." And he didn't just tell them. His features grew contorted. He pointed fingers in the players' faces. He grabbed players by the arms. The veins in his foreheadbulged and his face was purple. He cursed more than one player out, using the most graphic of anglo-saxon profanities. He raced onto the court, during a stoppage in play, to berate one of his players, and was warned away by a referee. He even pulled this nonsense on his assistant coaches. He yanked players from the game for even the most understandable of mistakes - missing a difficult shot, allowing a skilled opposing player to score, missing a rebound. Jim, the ball is made of rubber. Sometimes it bounces the wrong way.

You don't have to be a genius to read the body language of players and coaches. On the floor, players are constantly looking over their shoulders in fear of making a move that would have them on the bench, and the focus of a tantrum. Coaches move funereally after being hounded by their coach to instruct a player about what went wrong. Players roll their eyes at the childish antics of their leader. Isn't the right approach to criticize the behavior, and not the player himself?

At the beginning of the game, an announcer makes a long announcement about good sportsmanship. At halftime, Boy Scouts are paraded onto the floor where they are honored for their hard work and praised for their respect. During the rest of the game, the head coach makes a laughingstock of these announcements. Certainly the sport is about teaching and demonstrating athletic prowess, but it's also about respect for tradition and rules. How does Calhoun explain his behavior in those terms?

Calhoun is a state employee. He's a coach, but as a university employee, he can be considered something of a teacher. Any other teacher would be fired for behavior like this.

His defenders will ask you to look at his record, to look at the players he's put in the NBA, to witness the players who return and praise him.

There are other winning coaches who are in the hall of fame, who have garnered national championships, and who have the respect of their players, who don't act this way.

Calhoun is a bully. He's an enraged father-figure who can't control his emotional outbursts. He's a foot-stomping, berating, tyrant who has figured that if no one is going to stop him, he'll continue to do just as he pleases.

None of his good works, none of his championships, none of his charities is an excuse for the belittlement he ladles onto all who sit on the bench with him during a game.

I know the press has criticized this behavior in the past, and those who have dared, have been ostracized.

But where are the adults - athletic department administrators, school administrators, state leaders, who could take Calhoun aside and say, "Stop."

Is the winning worth it? I enjoy UCONN games, and the wins, but I won't enjoy them as much as I once did. I would never allow a child of mine to be coached by a man like Calhoun. Most people will tell you that humiliation is not a tool for achieving what you want. It's the tool of a tin tyrant, an out-of-control parent, an authority who is controlled by rage.

Maybe Calhoun would tell you otherwise, and point to his own record.

I'd suggest he get someone to tape his performance for a few games, and then sit down and analyze that tape.

If he isn't embarassed, I'd be surprised. It's unacceptable behavior, period.

Maybe you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but you can get rid of an old dog.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk

The web won't forget

Old newspapers get cast aside, and in the past, stories may have been forgotten, but one thing is evident from the latest election - the web doesn't forget.

Want to know which Senator was involved in a scandal four years ago? Google it.

Want to be reminded which administrator lied us into war? Check your favorite anti-war site.

Want to quote a speech a congressperson gave about the strength of the American economy? Check a news data base.

If you don't think the internet has the power to remind the electorate about the scurrilous activities of politicians, ask Chris Shays, or Tim Mahoney, or Phil English, or John Sununu, or Elizabeth Dole.

And if you're a Democratic leader in Connecticut who is about to let Creepy Joe™ Lieberman off the hook, beware. Your actions will be remembered. In any other organization, Lieberman would have been fired summarily. Politicians just don't seem to have the will, or courage to dismiss someone whom they might need a favor from some day. And don't give me this baloney about conciliation. If Lieberman had no power, you'd drop him like a used tissue.

And, BTW, while Creepy Joe™ Lieberman claims he is still a registered Democrat, although he declares himself an independent, he ran for office on the Connecticut for Lieberman party. Of course, he created the new party (which incidentally has been pirated away since then by John Orman), to get a higher position on the ballot. And Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz has said it's all on the up and up. So, in effect, Lieberman walked away from the Democratic party. Mayber Connecticut Democratic leaders don't, in fact, need to issue a censure and a disinvite, but instead, an invitation to re-join the party, and a new oath of loyalty for the errant senator to swear by.

But the next time you run for office, there will be a blogpost that will remind people just how unwilling you were to address the misgivings of the electorate in your party.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A loafer dodges a loafer

And when all is said and done, the dimwit just stands there. Isn't this the administration that prosecuted a shoe bomber?

It's reported the angry journalist said: "This is a goodbye kiss, you dog," or "My dogs are sick of these cheap Pakistani shoes, goodbye."

The Nojo Party

Our spineless, feckless, worthless Connecticut State Democratic leaders are backing down from the promise they made to censure Creepy Joe™ Lieberman and asking him to resign from the Democratic Party.

In Greenwich, the Democratic town committee did just that. But even in cities where the town committees have passed resolutions of criticism and censure (most recently New Britain), the committees have largely backed-down from asking Lieberman to skedaddle. Some town committees are avoiding the subject altogether before the State Democratic Party meets next month. Here in Middletown, the December meeting of the party, which meets monthly, is not happening. And it must be remembered that although town committee chair Dan Russo, while he campaigned vigorously for Barack Obama, supported Lieberman over rival Ned Lamont in the primary and in the general election for the senate seat two years ago. Which leads me to believe that he will avoid Middletown's part in any censure at all costs.

In September when they felt feisty, and Lieberman was hot off the podium at the Republican Convention, the State Democrats wrote a resolution of censure which crescendoed with an invitation to leave the party:

Resolution To Censure Joseph I. Lieberman Whereas Joseph I. Lieberman sought re-election in 2006 as an independent after losing the Democratic primary; and Whereas he has publicly endorsed and actively campaigned on behalf of Republican Presidential candidate John McCain, among others; and Whereas he has attended and addressed the Republican National Convention thereby undercutting the election campaigns of Democratic candidates all across America; and Whereas support of right-wing Republicans cannot be reconciled with the ideals and values of the Democratic Party, nor with the best interests of the people of America; and Whereas these actions exhibit extraordinary disloyalty to the countless Connecticut Democrats without whom his career as an elected official would never have been possible; Therefore, be it hereby resolved, that we, the undersigned members of the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee, delegates to the Democratic National Convention from Connecticut, and Connecticut Democratic public officials publicly censure and repudiate the words and actions of Joseph I. Lieberman, and ask of him that he resign as a member of the Democratic Party of the state of Connecticut.

But being spineless Democrats, they decided to put off the vote until after the election, and they'll actually vote on it this week, on December 17.

Of course, Barack Obama's gone all concilatory with Lieberman, and state leaders are feeling the pressure to scold Creepy Joe™ but not punish him. Awww. While one can forgive Obama for his stance, and we can even understand (well, not completely), the sense of conciliation in the Senate, it's impossible to understand how local Democrats can forget how deeply Lieberman shoved Connecticut Democrat's noses in the pile of political dog shit.

In fact, Nancy Dinardo, another Lieberman sycophant, who was really angry in September, is now talking about "a modification" to the censure resolution.

Sure, if you dislike Lieberman you can sign the online petition for censure, like some 273 people already have, but the groundswell is missing, and the leaders are falling back on their worst instincts.

I think we should take a page from Lieberman himself. When he couldn't get the party to do what he wanted, nominate him as Senate candidate, he started his own party.

We need a new Democratic party in Connecticut, the Nojo Democratics. If I bump into Susan Bysiewicz at Brewbakers this morning, I'll ask how I can get it going. She seemed helpful when Lieberman wanted to start his own, and she didn't even demand that he quit the Democrats. So that means you can belong to the official Democratic party in the state and the Nojo Democrats.

I got my Nojo working.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Jon Stewart's cunch to the punt

Well, you'll get it after watching this segment unless you're bass ackwards.

And he's gone, or so say Hall and Oates.

And Hannity? Well, he's angry, but isn't he always.

Where are the strong? Who are the trusted?

I was dancing to Nick Lowe's classic "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?" last night, and I realized how much an arrow to the heart a simple rock and roll song can be.

With the Ponzi scheme scandal of major investor Bernard Madoff uncovered this week, along with the laughable graft of an Illinois governor, and the failure of lame duck Republican Senators refusing to bail out a blue collar enterprise after saving thousands of bankers and brokers, in what can only be called class warfare, Lowe's line, which I use as the title to this post, is suddenly right on target.

Lowe wrote the song years before it ever became a "hit" for Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Lowe was in a pub rock band called Brinsley Schwarz, and already had a penchant for writing love songs with his tongue planted firmly in cheek. By the time Costello and Lowe recorded the single for Stiff records, punk musicians in England had firmly rejected all that had become a flaccid vestige of hippie philosophy homogenized into mush by California record companies, and Lowe and Costello's version of the song could have been labeled "ironic." In fact, Costello, Lowe and Stiff conspired to confuse the public by releasing the Costello version as the flip side to Lowe's single, "American Squirm." The confusion worked as Costello is often credited with writing the song, and it has become the anthem with which Costello frequently ends his live shows.

Lowe has always contended that his lyric was written with sincerity, and in the ensuing years, it seems that the song holds a lot more truth than any of our leaders has to offer.

What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?

As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin for light in the darkness of insanity.

I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?

And each time I feel like this inside,
Theres one thing I wanna know:
Whats so funny bout peace love & understanding? ohhhh
Whats so funny bout peace love & understanding?

And as I walked on
Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony.

'Cause each time I feel it slippin away, just makes me wanna cry.
Whats so funny bout peace love & understanding? ohhhh
Whats so funny bout peace love & understanding?

So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony.

'Cause each time I feel it slippin away, just makes me wanna cry.
Whats so funny bout peace love & understanding?
Whats so funny bout peace love & understanding?
Whats so funny bout peace love & understanding?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Re-reading Dr. Johnson

It took John Milton's 400th birthday, and an encounter with John Basinger to bring me once again to the great 18th century essayist Sam Johnson, and his famous critique of Milton's Paradise Lost.

Back when I was in grad school, this kind of reading was an everyday occurence, but now, it's haphazard, and rare.

I found the essay in an introduction to Paradise Lost that is now publicly available on the internet as a GoogleBook.

Of course, the famous line, "None ever wished it longer than it is," is actually part of a devastating paragraph which states:
Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays dow, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. We read Milton for instruction, retire harassed and overburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation; we desert our master, and seek for companions.

It's beautiful, and it's Johnson's devastating wit and intellect on full display. But I had forgotten the prodigious praise Johnson heaps on Milton, and the epic poem, before he pricks him with this sharp pin of disapproval.

I actually love Paradise Lost. And both it, and Johnson's essay are worth re-reading.

And if you can't imagine re-reading Paradise Lost, this weekend, you can see John Basinger perform it, in a marathon session, from memory, Saturday and Sunday, at the Buttonwood Tree in Middletown.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Will there be a silver lining to the dark economic cloud hanging above our heads?

As we all watch years of hard work and savings disappear down the rat hole on Wall Street, it's hard to imagine something good coming from an economic bust.

Maybe it'll be enough to convince us that pinning our hopes, and our economy, on a bunch of manipulative, insecure, grubbing and greeding traders, is not such a good idea.

Maybe we'll be satisfied to see natural, and sustainable financial growth of a couple percent a year, instead of demanding gargantuan leaps of 15-20% a year.

We should be taking some example from the slow food movement, which emphasizes local production, organic means, sustainability and the enjoyment of real ingredients. These principles could easily be applied to our economy. And as Naomi Klein has suggested that a crisis is the time to demand change - real change, revolutionary change. From a New Yorker profile of Klein:

The New Deal is usually told as a history of F.D.R., she said, but we don’t talk enough about the pressure from below. Neighborhoods organized, and when their evicted neighbors’ furniture was put on the streets they moved it back into their homes. It was that kind of direct action that won victories like rent control, public housing, and the creation of Fannie Mae. The other thing that’s important to remember, she said, is that the organizers were a threat—of socialist revolution—and it was that which allowed F.D.R. to say to Wall Street, “We have to compromise, or else we’ve got a revolution on our hands.” Now, these market shocks are opportunities for the same reason that the crash was in the thirties, because we are seeing the failures of laissez-faire before our eyes. “It’s time to say, ‘Your model failed,’ ” she said. “This is a progressive moment: it’s ours to lose.”

And the people at Yes Magazine (yes, there's a Yes) suggest that the crash might actually make us shift our values in a positive way.

And they see a path to a new economy.

It's time we took the economy out of the hands of those who benefit by making the majority of us suffer.

The perfect date

Susan Campbell, one of the few reasons to read The Hartford Courant on a regular basis, has written a book about her childhood as a devout evangelical Christian, called Dating Jesus, and will be signing copies of the book on Saturday in West Hartford at noon at the BookWorm on Farmington Ave.

I haven't read it yet, but it will likely feature Campbell's unique perspective and her engaging combination of humor and a deep sense of the importance of every human life.

Campbell Courant column regularly demands that readers consider those around us who are not as fortunate as we, when she isn't making champions of those who serve the poor and infirm or skewering pious politicians and narrow-minded bigots.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Escape from Pottersville

I make films for a living and teach a film course at Trinity College, and I'm often asked what my favorite film is.

Often I feel a prisoner of my own maudlin sentimentality when I tell a very hip student, or some cynical adult that my favorite film is Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.

Most people are polite, but I'm sensitive about my choice, and I can pick up on even the slightest hint of a raised eyebrow, a dismissive clearing of the throat, or a bemused smile.

But, dammit, it really is my favorite movie, and a good one.

Dismissed frequently as "Capra-corn" it's a redemptive story which deals with the protagonist's slide from anger and depression (internal and external), and up to a thwarted suicide attempt. The reversal pivots on the appearance of an angel, a trip into the future (undoubtedly a lift from Dickens), and the ensuing transformation of perspective for our hero, George Bailey.

While thousands of DVD copies of this classic are sold every Christmas, and NBC hosts an annual broadcast (Saturday December 13, 9 pm EST) it's not, simply, a saccharine holiday movie. It has a complex structure which plays with the notion of time, a twisting plot, a legitimately great script (Capra with Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett), and wonderful acting. In fact, I still think it's the best, most complex role that Jimmy Stewart ever played.

Capra's archives are housed at Wesleyan University, where they were the first to be acquired by the legendary creator of the film studies program Jeannine Basinger, who wrote a devotional to the film called The It's a Wonderful Life Book. I'm sure it's been done, but I'd love to see Basinger present the film at the Goldsmith Family Cinema on Wesleyan's campus some December.

At this point in my life, I'm happy to admit that I find it impossible to remain dry-eyed as I'm sucked into the film's themes of family, community, generosity and caring. But I am just as happy to be legitimized by The New York Times film critic, A.O. Scott's recent reassessment of the film.

The animated New Yorker

There was a time in my unsophisticated life that I often stared at a New Yorker cartoon for minutes at a time trying to figure out what made it funny. Although there was a time, much earlier in my life, when I had trouble deciphering the satire in Mad Magazine too.

These days I'm happy to say that I get most of the New Yorker cartoons, but occasionally one will stump me.

To make things easier, on their website, the New Yorker is featuring animated versions of some of their cartoons, like the Moses In Connecticut frame by Mick Stevens sampled (poorly, I might add) here.

Some work better as animations than others, but maybe when I get stuck on one, there'll be an animation to help.

Here's a better representation of Mick Stevens' work.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The kids are, well, all right

Swedish indie dish Lykke Li and Wisconsin brooder Bon Iver in a sweet bit of fountainside music.

What the Tribune press release doesn't say

As reported everywhere yesterday, the Tribune Company has filed for bankruptcy. What was less reported is what effect that will have on Trib publications and stations, and moreso, on current and former Trib employees like those who work, and worked for The Hartford Courant.

Alan Mutter, a former executive editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, which is a daily competitor with the Tribune, offers some sobering words about the potential for financial loss for creditors, employees, and former employees. Seems like the Trib, as part of the bankruptcy settlement, has the right to end promised severance payments, wipe out employee equity in the complex EOS, Sam Zell structured, and restructure debt for anyone who has an outstanding invoice with the Trib, or one of it's media outlets.

In related news, the Governor of Illinois, who has lately taken a heroic stance in the recent battle between workers at Republic Windows and Doors and Bank of America, has been arrested for campaign violations and extorting editorial support from, of all places, The Chicago Tribune.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Time to let some women kick ass in the old boy's club

Something for Barack Obama to consider as he populates his cabinet with the very folks who are responsible for the economic mess we're in.

A few good women tried to stand up to these jokers, and were castigated for their efforts. Maybe it's time to extend an invite to people who made good sense at a time when everybody else was following a quick buck.

Unfortunately, Tanta won't be able to accept any White House invitations.

This can't be good for the Courant or Connecticut

(Fuck you too, Sam)

You've likely already heard that the Tribune Company is interviewing bankruptcy lawyers to help the fabulously overrated Sam Zell get out of a fix.

Of course bankruptcy does not mean that Tribune papers will necessarily slip below the surface and drown, but it could mean that some sub-producing properties might disappear, and other more valuable properties might be spun-off and sold.

What's it mean for the Courant? Hard to tell from the outside, but in general, it's not a great season for dailies in Connecticut, especially for one which has just reinvented itself into something that resembles a newspaper, but is not quite one.

The Courant's own Kevin Rennie, just yesterday, published a reasoned argument why state support of a news organization is a bad idea.

I think it's a bad idea too. Not because I don't like newspapers. I do. I want a hunk of pulp and ink in my hands every morning.

But corporate publishers have leveraged many newspapers, The Hartford Courant among them, into a situation that is totally akin to homeowners who have subprime mortgages which have turned completely upside down.

The debt is destroying these dailies at a time when other forces have already made an effective run at legacy dailies.

I don't want my tax dollars poured into an antiquated, over-leveraged, outmoded company whether it's a behemoth automaker which hasn't had the courage to look to the future to reinvent transportation, or a humble daily with dented furniture, and high-speed presses.

Who, in their right mind, would pay good money for something they could create themselves.

Message to my friends at the Courant, the Herald and the Bristol Press: don't buy the company, remake it yourselves. You are the most important assest the papers have. Why buy yourselves from someone else? It's kind of a demented servitude.

You don' t need the buildings, or the printing presses, or the executive salaries.

All you need is you. Good writers, good editors, good photographers, good designers, a couple of crack ad salespeople, some administrative staff to compile online classifieds and collect obits, a fast-computer for eveyone, and a server. Voila. You've got yourself a new newspaper, without the baggage. (And for the folks in Hartford, I even have a name, how about The Hartford Times?)

And if once a week you've got to print a wrapper for advertising circulars, so be it - you can contract that out.

You've got the skills; you've got the sources; you've got the reputation; you've got the institutional memory; and one would think, you've got the motivation, considering the circumstances.

Hell, it doesn't even take much more money than the lot of you could pony up.

Sure it's a scary leap at a doubly scary moment in history, but the alternative is to wait for the inevitable collapse. And it is inevitable.

A year ago, a friend told me that the Hartford Courant netted $40 million, but that most of that went to pay the Trib's debt service.

At a fraction of that, you could make a new, high-journalistic quality, frequently-visited, web paper. Look what Paul Bass has done in New Haven. Look what Naomi Klein says about seizing the opportunity to change at times of "shock" (there's a bit of a leap needed here since Klein mostly talks about governance and politics, but the analogy to re-creating journalism is an easy one to make).

To be fair, I know this has been an ongoing discussion over beers and burgers, but opportunity doesn't knock twice.

Believe me, you are the most able to make this happen, and if you don't do it, someone else surely will.

And besides, we need you.

UPDATE: The Tribune has filed for bankruptcy.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bill Ayers sets the record straight

Now I suppose this will mean that John McCain, Sarah Palin and Joe Lieberman will humbly apologize?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Kevin Lynch's finale

Kevin Lynch is off to live in the Netherlands. It's a place with nationalized health, subsidized college tuitions, and tolerance for weed. It's also a place that appreciates bluegrass.

In Kevin they have a gift.

I stopped by his last WWUH Saturday Bluegrass show at the station this morning with Rani Arbo in tow to represent Middletown in saying goodbye to Kevin.

Those of you who appreciate his show know his gift. He understands the music he has played for you at ground level. He knows most of the musicians, and he has met many of the legends, and he has stories about all of them.

Kevin's about to start a new phase in his life, and maybe a new radio show for the Dutch (which will hopefully be available on the internet.) We'll miss his depth of knowledge, his laid back approach, and his walking-around history of bluegrass.

I'll miss all the lessons about music I learned from Kevin, but in this interconnected world, he's only a video chat away.

Even this morning I walked away with something. Kevin is unloading most of his print and music library before he moves, and he gave me two Vernon Dalhart 78 rpms, because he knows I have a passion for this early country music pioneer, and he gave me a first edition of Alan Lomax's Folk Music of North America.

That's Kevin. Leaving you with something when you least expect it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Buyers for the Herald and the Bristol Press?

(Christine Stuart photo)

I'll believe it when I see it, but politicians are saying they've heard from potential buyers for the two financially-troubled dailies.

DECD said they'll offer low-interest loans and tax credits for potential buyers.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Some of my best friends are Grammy nominees

I'm happy to say that each of the nominees in the Category 72 are friends, but that I've only heard two of these albums.

Category 72

Best Zydeco Or Cajun Music Album
(Vocal or Instrumental.)

  • Live At The 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
    BeauSoleil & Michael Doucet

  • From Now On
    Michael Doucet
    [Smithsonian Folkways Recordings]

  • Homage Au Passé
    Pine Leaf Boys

  • Live At The 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
    Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys

  • Cedric Watson
    Cedric Watson
    [Valcour Records]
The rest of the nominees are here.

Delivering the papers from death's doorstep

There's a lot of ink, and a lot of passion being expended about a potential helping hand for ailing dailies in New Britain (The Herald) and Bristol (The Bristol Press).

State legislators representing these two cities will be meeting with Joan McDonald, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development on Friday to discuss an economic incentive for any potential buyer.

The parent company of the Herald and The Press has said they well shutter these dailies, along with 11 weeklies if buyers are not found.

This week, the weekly Advocate newspapers, which are owned by The Tribune chain, which also owns the Hartford Courant and Fox 61 TV, features an opinionated story by Andy Bromage, accusing reporters for the Bristol Press of begging for a bailout.

Press reporter Steve Collins, who also authors an informative Bristol blog called, is tagged by Bromage as the chief Press cheerleader. Collins says that Bromage has gotten the story wrong.

Collins, who seems to have no fear in criticizing his corporate employers, naturally would like to see the paper saved, along with the jobs of his colleagues. He also understands, as do city leaders, the importance of having an independent newspaper in any sizeable city. Collins makes it clear that Press employees do not want the parent chain, the financially troubled Journal-Register chain, to receive any financial help from Connecticut, but would like the state to create an attractive loan package for any potential buyer.

There is no doubt that the corporate parents of many papers have made a mess of their media children.

But the issue of government assistance is thorny.

One of the most basic questions, being asked frequently, and as recently as this morning on WTIC-AM (see Mornings With Ray and Diane, podcast interview with Jerry Dunklee) is how to keep a newspaper free when they are beholden to a government. It's already an age-old struggle to keep advertising and editorial staff and management separate. Is it more difficult to write an anti-government editorial if a publisher's loan is hanging in the balance?

Another question is whether it's wise to invest in a business, which even in its most successful instances, struggles with retaining readership. Newspapers across the country are seeing circulation plummet. There is undoubtably a need to have a journalistic watchdog in each and every community. Time and again we see proof that political leaders and civil servants are not capable of policing themselves.

But is the ultimate solution admitting that the most important asset of a newspaper is its editors, writers and reporters, and that the legacy of ink and paper needs to be abandoned. Is it better for Steve Collins to expand his blog, sell ads, hire his colleagues, and throw off the capital expenditures and overhead which have contributed to the demise of the daily?

I love newspapers, and I hate to see any disappear. But I'm an aging, and amongst a disappearing population who feels the absolute need to hold the news in my fist. The generations coming after us are as comfortable examining news on media which doesn't leave smudgy fingerprints.

I encourage Collins, and reporters and editors across the state to cast off the burdens their corporate owners have placed on their shoulders and create something new with the talent, the institutional knowledge and the experience they've gathered through the years.