Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dirty water

I wasn't there. I just got to enjoy the traffic in and out of Boston.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Diddling in the legislature

Not a column goes by that I'm thankful again that Helen Ubinas returned from her journalistic fellowship a few years ago committed to write about Hartford and Connecticut.

Today she nailed Connecticut legislators and the governor for fiddling while Rocky Hill burns. Ubinas makes all the right points: it's a devastating economic environment, it's horrendously complicated, all sides on the issue are far apart. But she also points out that the legislators are fiddling, piddling and diddling while towns, which have no control over state tax revenue, wait, hats in hand while the lawmakers consider topics as far ranging as the paint balls and the death penalty.

The governors and legislators have no excuses. And they seem to be failing at what they will eventually have to do, compromise. This is the primary job they are elected to handle, and they aren't doing it.

It appears impossible for lawmakers to create a budget in time for towns to make reasonable projections. When that happens, the towns will be left holding the bag (they'll pass the bag to municipal taxpayers).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jay Bennett, RIP

Jay Bennett was not a founding member of Wilco, but he played an important role in moving them from a band with a cult following, to a band respected for it's rock and roll poetry, and complexity. He died Sunday.

He had a famously difficult relationship with Wilco founder Jeff Tweedy as they recorded what many feel is their breakthrough album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and this alienation, and his eventual dismissal from the band are played out in the great Wilco documentary, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.

I saw him play with the band several times in the early days, and it seemed that his ultimate commitment to musicality and the song often kept a performance from unraveling because of the seething onstage rage displayed by Tweedy.

I once bumped into Tweedy and Bennett in the used CD section of the fine basement record store Turn It Up in Northampton MA. I had my head bent to the stacks, heading alphabetically towards "M" and the person to my right, also flipping his way alphabetically backwards toward "L" and we were about to perform the patented record-store pass when I looked up and noticed it was Bennett. I smiled and nodded and looked across the bins to see Tweedy checking out the "D's." My only surprise was that they were so short. They didn't stay long when they began to notice that I wasn't the only one looking up from the stacks to see what CDs they were checking out. Later that evening they performed a ragged glorious set with Gary Olsen of the Jayhawks in the great side-project band Golden Smog.

Bennett died in the hospital, in his sleep after hip surgery to repair damage he suffered early in his career in a stage dive while performing with his band Titanic Love Affair.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Terror plot or entrapment

Seems like the latest FBI terrorist scare may be another case of jumping from behind the door and shooting, "Boo!"

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thursday move too slow

Richard the great on the weekend.

Milk, the gateway drug

When the FBI comes to Capitol Hill peddling myths about marijuana, they are likely to meet young, knowledgeable representatives who aren't going to buy the bullshit anymore.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The light bulb and the moths

I knew when I saw the call-out box on the front page of the Courant this morning that Helen Ubinas turned over a big rock, and the ugly bugs were going to scatter.

And so, it's come to pass. The online commenters are rabid.

What's so appalling about the truth, that these ignoramuses have to hurl what little remains of their tiny minds against it in hopes that the futile noise the collision makes will somehow bring them a moment of fleeting glory. Like moths, they are suicide bombers hurling themselves against the light bulb in defense of darkness.

I know Helen's a big girl, and she can take it. It just makes me weary thinking about humanity, thinking about America.

Helen Ubinas wrote the truth. The murder of Johanna Justin-Jinich is a travesty. That she died at the hands of an unbalanced man with easy access to a gun who somehow hallucinated control over her is worse. But the coverage her murder attracted was way out of proportion to the coverage of other similar murders whose victims happened to be African-American.

That we are xenophobic as a culture, as an American culture, is an ugly truth. Did you hear about the Indonesian plane crash yesterday where 110 people died? Oh. How about the one that crashed in Guatemala last week killing six? Hmmm. How about the 95 children killed in a US-led strike in Afghanistan? Ninety-five kids. No, huh? Did you hear who one American Idol? Thought so.

It says something about you and me. It says something about what we care about. It says something about our press.

Ubinas is right. The murder of a young, educated, well-off white woman has, and will receive more coverage than the murder of a woman of color under similar circumstances. It doesn't make the murder of the white woman any less horrible. It just makes us moreso.

Life is precious and fragile. Murder is ugly and despicable. We need to worry about each murder, whether it's done on a sidestreet in a section of town that scares us, or its done on a street in a foreign country in our name, or its done in a bookstore three blocks from my house.

And I'm afraid the level of discourse evident in the comments section which follows Ubinas online column, is unhealthy in the extreme. It's gets us nowhere. It gets the Courant many visits to its web pages. It makes us uglier. It degrades the discourse. And while it reveals something about the people we live among, it hides them behind a screen of anonymity that is as frightening as it is sickening.

These commenters are sad, deluded people whose rage bubbles like bile between their teeth. Not a one of them brave enough to open their mouths and say such things to anyone's face.

It's not a free speech issue. It's a commercial issue. And it's time for the Courant to stop.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Not feeling so festive in NY

Most of us have heard that impresario George Wein has resurrected the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals.

But other festivals are not so lucky as Wein's former company seems to have fallen on hard times in the hands of new owners.

Many in NYC are bonarooing the day the new owners took over the shop.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Life is short

Last Day Dream [HD] from Chris Milk on Vimeo.

The thousand year war

With some smug satisfaction George Bush must be clearing brush in Crawford and thinking, "Shit, I did it. I plunged America into a war that will never end."

Of course, I'm not a mind reader. And even if I were, I'd be able to polish off Bush's volume in under an hour. And disturbing reading it would be.

But isn't Obama's recent backsliding on Abu Ghraib photos, military commissions and expansion of a war in Afghanistan a symptom of a trap that was laid for him, for us, by the manipulative warmongers of the Bush administration?

If you haven't read Chris Hedges, War is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, you should. If you don't have the time to plow through 230 harrowing pages, then spend ten minutes reading this essay.

Of necessity. For our country, the world, our sanity, our society we need to extricate ourselves from the immoral, unnecessary wars foisted upon us by the Bush administration. Obama is a good and thoughtful man with his ankle in a bear trap. He needs to ignore the political pain and move us to a standing of peace as soon as is possible.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The most clever Mac/PC ad ever

Go to the front page of the NY Times today, and click on the Mac ad. Genius.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Life is a carnival

And if it were, I'd be feeling the weight more often.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The apotheosis of the columnist

There they are, in all their four-color glory, in the gutter of the daily, and then in a double-truck in Friday's edition.

"Your Favorite Hartford Courant Columnists!"

Well, not mine, but that's another story. Give me Rick, Susan, Roger and Colin.

My first reaction was a resounding, "oh, for god's sake, no." Good writers have no place on television.

I figured it was the sound bite sizification of the weekly column. After all, new Courant publisher Richard Graziano comes from the TV side. He was manager of Fox 61, and a top ad salesman. And he bought in Jeff Levine, a veteran of some Florida Tribune daily/TV station operations. And already, the Courant website seems to have taken a new focus on celebrity, nude beauty models and Connecticut's favorite animals.

So, I asked myself, will success spoil Eric Danton?

Will the TV shows really let these wonderful writers, who, while not faceless, have been 2D thumbnails to us for so long?

And then I thought, well, maybe the writers will have a positive effect on the superficial TV news shows. Maybe they will bring some gravitas to newscasts which threaten to float away with their own fluff factor. Maybe the everyday, everyshape, common appeal of writers who never intended to be talking heads will tear us away from the hairdos, high cheekbones, designer suits and ever-thickening pancake of the anchors.

Maybe TV audiences will be exposed to some real thinking.

After all, we know TV news shows have stolen headlines and copy from dailies for years, and now it's time the faceless writers of those headlines and stories got the credit they deserve.

Or maybe, and sadly, the news shows will only allow these interesting columnists to say half of what's on their minds.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The brothers Reid at the Iron Horse

At 47, twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reid, aka The Proclaimers, show little loss of energy or voice after a career in which their high-powered, intertwining vocals and thick Scottish burrs have delighted fans.

Thursday night they played the Iron Horse in Northampton Mass for the second time. Their last show was way back in 1997.

Thursday the Reids played all the "hits" (only one of which was truly a hit on these shores). They began with my favorite, "Letter From America," and ended with everybody's favorite, "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)." In between they sang the two upcoming singles from their forthcoming album. They sang "I'm On My Way," which found new life in the Shrek soundtrack, and they performed such gems as "Sunshine on Leith" and "Cap in Hand."

As a solo act, the duo don't have a broad dynamic range. What makes them great, and inevitably interesting, is the intensity and power of every song. But with only a strummed acoustic, the vocal onslaught leaves one wishing for some relief.

We sat at the table with Juliana, from San Jose, who may be the biggest Proclaimers fan. Just 23, she's seen dozens of Proclaimer shows, and intends to cover several on this seven date swing.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I'm gonna be

At the Iron Horse tonight with...

Ooooh, baby

In which archaeology proves that men haven't changed much in 35,000 years.

By the way, this was found in the same cave, the Hohle Fels cave, in 2005.

Tortured logic

Both Glenn Greenwald and Dan Froomkin have taken the Obama administration to task for Obama's sudden reversal about releasing further photos taken at Abu Ghraib.

Froomkin, in a Washinton Post editorial lambasts Obama and pulls apart each and every excuse the administration concocted to explain their reversal.

Greenwald admits to puzzlement over a public which seems to agree that our government should not release evidence of its own wrongdoings. It's what the Bush administration did, again and again. To see the Obama administration walk this path is frustrating, angering and impossible to understand.

It's pretty clear. Either we tortured, or we didn't. And the answer to that question, inevitably seems to be, "we tortured."

And if we tortured, then we broke laws, we allowed immoral, unethical behavior in our names, and the people who put us in this postion need to be revealed, at all levels, and brought to justice so it never happens again.

As a torturing country we are in the company of Stalin's Russia, Pinochet's Chile, Idi Amin's Uganda, Saddam Hussein's Iran, Marcos Phillipines.

While it drains the life from any moral imperative we thought we had, new evidence shows that on a practical level, it may increase the use of terrorism on these shores.

Each and every one of us needs to stare hard at what our leaders ordered the men and women of the military to do. Then, only after we've seen every photograph, should we decide whether men like Dick Cheney, John Yoo, Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush belong in a cell.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lieberman loves torture, just not the photos

Creepy Joe™ Lieberman has lobbied for the continued use of enhanced interrogation techniques, that most people now refer to simply as "torture." He thinks it will help get good information in case someone ever walks a nuclear device into the Chrysler Building. CJ™'s been watching a bit too many episodes of 24.

Now, it seems, he's not so fond of releasing photos of torture, because those photos will put our troops in danger. That's an argument he's resisted when others have used it to explain how torture actually works against us.

His mobius strip logic is classic Lieberman. As long as the enemy doesn't find out our soldiers were sodomizing their sons, they can't use it against us.

A willful disregard for the facts

Yesterday I allowed myself a listen to the carwreck which WTIC-AM has become.

Jim Vicevich was at the top of his form, playing the same soundbites ten or fifteen times per show, to somehow emphasize his misunderstanding of them, and occasionally playing one of the many bites he repeats over and over and over and over through the year, as if the repetition in someway bestows credence. When he wasn't beating the soundbites to death, he was mouthing empty platitudes from the conservative script - socialism, nanny state, enhanced interrogation, generational theft, blah, blah, blah.

If anything, old Vicegrip has become more shrill as the months of the Obama administration tick by. It was to be expected. For all the carping these conservative did about Obama, it was a boon to their ratings. Now they're the victims, and liberals are the persecutors. (Ironically, Vicevich, who demanded respect for the commander-in-chief, when Bush was in office, can't seem to muster the requisite respect for Obama).

But Vicevich got up a head of steam on a story that appeared in the Boston Globe about a Harvard program which helps lower income students adjust to life at a school where wealth, and all its perquisites, are considered commonplace. The program seeks to bridge the cultural, social and economic gap which becomes evident, and intimidating, in the most common ways - like being able to afford a winter coat.

Vicevich reinterpreted the facts of the stories, and created a distortion which made a mockery of the facts relayed in the story.

He told his listeners that the Harvard program provided money so poor students could go to the prom, though the story never mentions the word "prom" and Harvard would doubtlessly find it hilarious that Vicevich thinks they hold proms there. In fact, the story says that funds are availableto pay for such things as "admission to dorm dances, tutoring, winter coats, even plane tickets home."

The story also notes:

It can be difficult to discern the neediest students. There's no support group or club for them - many students prefer not to reveal their socioeconomic standing. The university keeps a list of them, available only to Harvard financial aid officials, to try to meet their needs throughout their undergraduate years, be it emergency money for a root canal or a loan for test-prep courses, an interview suit, or travel while studying abroad.

One might guess that a self-professed Christian like Jim would appreciate the concept of assisting a needy student through some difficult, and embarassing times.

But, no. Vicevich wailed about the way in which Harvard was preparing the student (actually two students are featured in the story, and Vicevich continued to conflate the facts of the two students' situations) for the "nanny state."

Has anyone ever asked Vicevich if it was the "nanny state" that helped him avoid creditors in his own bankruptcy?

He bellowed about "the state" paying for tuxedoes. Not sure what "state" Harvard is, but it's probably better off financially than most of the other 50.

But the worst manipulation of the fact is that Vicevich said again and again, that Miguel Garcia was complaining about his situation (Vicevich offered a histrionic imitation of Garcia, wailing like a baby with a dirty diaper). Vicevich claimed that Garcia was getting $50,000 a year in scholarship, and that should be enough, so Garcia should button up.

The story makes clear that Garcia felt intimidated and disconnected, but Garcia himself acknowledges the subleties of getting a paid-in-full first-class education, and needing to worry about his parent's car payments. The story also indicates that Garcia had found coping mechinisms, and that complaining was not one of them.

While it's puzzling that Vicevich could find so much powder for his indoor fireworks, all you need to do is read the comments following the Boston Globe story to see the kind of company the talk show host keeps.

The dark and thorny vines of envy, ignorance, prejudice, racism and anti-intellectualism wind their way through the comments on the radio, and in the newspaper.

It's clear that those who perceive themselves stuck in the middle hold an abiding hatred for those considered below, and those considered above them.

Vicevich is a shameful liar who is using his three hours of vitriol to stoke the fires of hatred. He has, and will claim it isn't so. But a man who is smart enough to know what generates ratings, is not stupid enough to believe what comes out of his own mouth.

BTW, in his online commentary, which appeared after his on-air rant, Vicevich tries to ameliorate some of the false on-air claims he made about Garcia. Vicevich "writes" in a sentence that goes on forever attempting to find a point:

Because Miguel worked his way into Harvard on his own merritt and not on the back of a “rich alumni Daddy” or because he came from some famous family … the odds are all of those folks that make him uncomfortable, will be working FOR Miguel some day, because Miguel is the premiere example of personal freedom, and individual achievement, a life to be celebrated and not pitied. But then, that’s just my take.

And I guess working "his way on his own merritt," means he took the parkway through Connecticut on his way to school.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

And just what are they smokin' up there?

According to Christine Stuart at Connecticut News Junkie, Republican CT State Senator Toni Boucher of Wilton single-handedly killed reduced sentences for marijuana possession using a good old-fashioned filibuster.

So, now we will continue to waste $11 million in enforcement each year for arrests for possession of less than an ounce of a mind-altering substance which wreaks less havoc on society than the legally sanctioned substances like alcohol and tobacco.

Pro-marijuana forces could learn a lesson about public relations. A threatening email from the VP of the CT chapter of NORML (now disbanded), did the cause considerable harm. What can one expect from an individual who wears a t-shirt that reads: Well hung.

Wrap your flag around this patriots

To all those true Americans who have risen to the defense of waterboarding, and other forms of torture as a means to defend our beloved homeland, read what Seymour Hersh has to say about the dirty secrets of Abu Ghraib.

Hersh is careful not to speak until he has the facts on topics, and he's rarely been wrong.

And when you're done reading, think about how sodomizing a boy in front of his mother protects the homeland and makes this country great. You'll have to reach deep into the playbook of the Catholic church to come up with the appropriate defense.

The leaders in the Bush administration, all the way to Bush himself, and the leaders in the military and secret agencies are culpable in allowing this country to sink to despicable levels of official torture. And if Obama doesn't do something about it, he's responsible too.

Monday, May 11, 2009

That's the way the McMansion crumbles

There are, amongst us, many who happily harbor the fantasy of seeing huge tracts of McMansions razed. The troubling fact is that it's happening, and it's a sign that the American dream development may go the way of the 1950's strip mall.

H/T Andrew Sullivan

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Stephen Bruton, RIP

From Jenni Finlay:

The Austin music community is mourning the loss of a capital city legend this Saturday.
Friends say Stephen Bruton died in Los Angeles Saturday morning after a two year bout with cancer.

Bruton produced acclaimed albums for Alejandro Escovedo, Marcia Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Hal Ketchum, Storyville and Chris Smither.

According to the artists’ website, Bruton was a songwriter, singer, recording artist, record producer, actor, collaborator, and something of a raconteur and provocateur.

Bruton grew up surrounded by music in Fort Worth. His jazz drummer father ran a record store where he was weaned on the musical classics from blues, country, jazz and pop to classical. “He always said, if you’re going to listen to music, listen to the best music,” recalls Bruton.

“The thing about Fort Worth is that there was no scene there,” Bruton explains. “No one was looking at Fort Worth, believe me. But there was great music there and always has been. It’s always been black guys and white guys playing together. There was this great exchange of music.”

Bruton’s songs were recorded by many well known artists who also became his friends, such notable artists as Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Hal Ketchum, The Highwaymen, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Little Feat, Jimmy Buffett, Patty Loveless, Lee Roy Parnell and Martina McBride.

His most recent screen role included Man Of The House with Tommy Lee Jones, and he’s been seen in such films as Convoy, Songwriter, Heaven’s Gate, Miss Congeniality, Sweet Thing and The Alamo as well as the TV movie A Seduction In Travis County, the miniseries Amerika and the series Matlock.

Bruton had been battling cancer but met the challenge with dignity and fervor. “I had a bout with throat cancer that took most of the year. I've had 2 follow ups that have been pronounced "clear". Let's let that suffice instead of the long winded version…”

His long career was something of a love relationship with Bruton, “I’ve got no complaints. I get to do what I love. How many people can say that? And that’s worth more than anything. I’d be doing it anyway. And I’ve been very fortunate to do what I do for a long time.”

The circus has folded its tents

The media circus that invaded town in the past 72 hours has mercifully departed, for the most part. While there's still a satellite dish and a microwave tower or two, the well-coiffed reporters, and the bedraggled camera ops and engineers have moved onto the next sensational story.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

If it were up to me

If It Were Up To Me
Lyrics by Cheryl Wheeler

Maybe it's the movies, maybe it's the books
Maybe it's the bullets, maybe it's the real crooks
Maybe it's the drugs, maybe it's the parents
Maybe it's the colors everybody's wearin
Maybe it's the President, maybe it's the last one
Maybe it's the one before that, what he done
Maybe it's the high schools, maybe it's the teachers
Maybe it's the tattooed children in the bleachers
Maybe it's the Bible, maybe it's the lack
Maybe it's the music, maybe it's the crack
Maybe it's the hairdos, maybe it's the TV
Maybe it's the cigarettes, maybe it's the family
Maybe it's the fast food, maybe it's the news
Maybe it's divorce, maybe it's abuse
Maybe it's the lawyers, maybe it's the prisons
Maybe it's the Senators, maybe it's the system
Maybe it's the fathers, maybe it's the sons
Maybe it's the sisters, maybe it's the moms
Maybe it's the radio, maybe it's road rage
Maybe El Nino, or UV rays
Maybe it's the army, maybe it's the liquor
Maybe it's the papers, maybe the militia
Maybe it's the athletes, maybe it's the ads
Maybe it's the sports fans, maybe it's a fad
Maybe it's the magazines, maybe it's the internet
Maybe it's the lottery, maybe it's the immigrants
Maybe it's taxes, big business
Maybe it's the KKK and the skinheads
Maybe it's the communists, maybe it's the Catholics
Maybe it's the hippies, maybe it's the addicts
Maybe it's the art, maybe it's the sex
Maybe it's the homeless, maybe it's the banks
Maybe it's the clearcut, maybe it's the ozone
Maybe it's the chemicals, maybe it's the car phones
Maybe it's the fertilizer, maybe it's the nose rings
Maybe it's the end, but I know one thing.
If it were up to me, I'd take away the guns.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The group

From my day at Lyme Academy College of Art.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A big "thank-you" for failing to do the impossible

Barbara Roessner is out at the Courant for taking on the thankless and impossible task of plugging a leak in the Titanic. She couldn't fix the thing that the owners and publishers had ruined, so she's off the plank without a snorkel. Let's hope, for her sake, that when she took on a job that had "failure" printed all over it in banner 200 point type, that she made a deal for a financial lifeboat. It's no consolation that the entire enterprise seems to be taking on water faster than anyone can bail.

I was among the early dissenters who felt that by rejiggering the layout, printing more and bigger pictures, and re-focusing the stories so that they all took on the soft blur of TV news that the Courant would be alienating their base - people like me who still like to read a daily - and not gaining any new readers because those readers aren't interested in a newspaper.

It didn't take a genius to see that the goal was Quixotic and that Roessner's was tilting at windmills. The owners and publishers had already stripped all that was good and attractive about the paper (good reporters, town coverage, columnists), and expected readers to shout "hurrah" because the logo slid into the gutter, and we could read advertisements for Foxwoods on page 1.

In short, corporate leveraging of healthy papers has driven them to the brink of extinction. Some notable dailies have already stepped into the abyss.

And now, a new knight in shining armor, former top salesman Richard Graziano, rides over the hill, from, of all places, a Fox New affiliate. Of course, Fox 61 is not Fox News, but there is an affiliation with the network which brings us Hannity, O'Reilly, Beck and Cavuto. Be prepared for a dose of "fair and balanced," along with celebs stories, and cute baby animal photos.

While publisher Graziano's background is sales, he recently appointed Jeff Levine, who ran two news dot coms in Florida, as combined managing editor of Fox 61 and the Courant. You can see a sample of his work here.

And so Roessner, and Cliff Teutsch are out the door and we are about to see a formerly great daily take the backseat to a superficial local news broadcast, and a website that promises fabulous party recipes.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bruce says Pete can "kick your ass"

Bruce Springsteen gave testimony to the power of Pete Seeger and the power of song when he said at Pete's huge Madison Square Garden Birthday last night:

"He's gonna look a lot like your granddad that wears flannel shirts and funny hats. He gonna look like your granddad if your granddad can kick your ass."

Well, all right. Sounds like it was a great party.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pete Seeger 90 Today

And we're a better America, and a better world because he's been with us these 9 decades. Happy Birthday Pete.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

An impossibly busy day

Spent the day working with Nerissan and Katryna Nields on a kids video. More later.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Dodd rips a page from Bush's playbook

I guess when Chris Dodd conducts those hometown open forums between now and the election, he's going to make sure that no one asks him anything embarrassing.

Here's a report from Cornwall