Thursday, July 31, 2008

What Happened?

Over the last week, the Obama to Win contract on Intrade is down almost 8%.  The current bid is now just below $0.60.  It started the week at $0.65.

Meanwhile, the McCain to Win contract has been surging (no pun intended).  It started the week at $0.325 and is now at $0.36, up 10%.

These are significant moves in such tight markets.  I'm not sure what is going on here. McCain was clobbered in the last news cycle with the glowing coverage of Obama's made-for-TV Europe jaunt.  I think his latest round of ads have been shrill and immature.  But something is happening to Obama.  My wild ass guess is that the "Obama is already President" shtick is starting to wear a little thin.  I certainly understand why the Obama campaign is pushing this strategy, but it runs the risk of making Obama seem massively arrogant and self-absorbed.  When the Top Ten list on Letterman is "Top Ten Signs Obama is Overconfident,"  it might be time to dial back on the chin-jutting-into-history playacting and stop treating the actual election like a formality.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Good read on the Obama economic program.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Politics of Meaning

Does this mean anything?  No, probably not.  The polls bounce around all the time and this is pretty clearly a tight race, at least in the world of polling.  And one poll means nothing.

But it does represent an opportunity for McCain.  This is the first time since the beginning of May that he has led in a national poll.  He should be out there beating the hell out of this news.

Why?  Because even though we know that this is just, as the article says, statistical noise, the public perception of this will be that Obama is not as inevitable as he has been made out to be.  Most people won't think, "It's just one poll."  They will just remember, "Wow.  McCain is ahead of Obama??"  And that's powerful.

As I said below, McCain needs to start playing Obama's game, which is a sophisticated one to manipulate public perception.  Obama's whole campaign is structured around the conceit that he is, pretty much, already President.  Call it the "Resistance is Futile" strategy.  If McCain is out there pushing this, however, it starts to make Obama look a bit weak, especially as it comes so hard on the heels of his European PR extravaganza that was supposed to be the icing on the cake.

Cynical?  Sure.  But no more cynical than speaking to 200,000 foreigners in an attempt to make it look like you are already President.

McCain can put some dents in the public perception that Obama is unbeatable.  He needs to start now.

But he won't.

In Case You Missed It

AP reports the US is winning in Iraq.

This is Hilarious

A button company mistakenly prints up Obama campaign buttons with Larry Craig (R-Idaho), He-of-the-Wide-Stance.

That would be a hell of a ticket!

This Guy is Killing Me

McCain really needs to put some energy into his campaign.  As the polls clearly show, Obama is not unbeatable.  Kerry had much bigger poll margins in 2004 and he didn't have nearly the level of concern over lack of experience that Obama faces.

McCain can whine all he wants about the fawning media coverage that Obama gets, but let's not forget that the coverage of the European trip came about largely because the Obama campaign very wisely planned huge events that attract media coverage.   Is it admirable the McCain has consistently travelled to Iraq without much fanfare when Obama hadn't been in nearly three years?  I think so, but that's just not going to beat a well-planned and well-executed media event such as the Obama trip.  And his campaign stage-managed the hell out of it by leveraging Obama's good looks and youthful athleticism.

McCain's problem is that he is defining himself as just "that other guy who is against Obama."  That's not a winner in any election.  Just ask President Kerry.  He has thrown out some policy proposals, such as renewed drilling, but there is no coherent message behind these stories.  This is partly due to McCain's general demeanor.  He hates the kind of stage-managed campaign that Obama is running.  So do I, but McCain needs to get over it.  This is how elections are won in the current day and age.

McCain's best shots at making up ground are a good VP choice and the actual debates.  This is where Obama is, surprisingly, very weak.  Obama off teleprompter has a speech pattern that is appalling.  You have never heard so many ums, uhs, and ahs.  It really is like night and day with his scripted oratory.  This is why his campaign tries hard to minimize those moments.  It's also why they ran away from McCain's townhall debate proposals; they knew Obama would not sound like such a rock star in that format.

But this is all irrelevant unless McCain takes the initiative and sculpts a positive image of why he should be President.  When he has that, he can attack the general fluffiness of Obama and his campaign.  Until then, he is just the crazy guy in the parking lot screaming about the government.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Misanthrope Feels the Effect of Age

The Misanthrope loves the ocean.  Although he spent a lot of time on a lake in New England growing up, the ocean was always special and much more fun.  

I remember the excitement of our yearly vacation to Montauk.  Our family would rent an efficiency or a cottage at one of the hotels on Old Montauk Highway, directly across from the beach.  The drive out always culminated in a trip to the IGA in Montauk to stock up on food for the vacation.  The IGA is just over the dune from the ocean beach, so my brother and I would get out of the car and run up over the dune to get our first glimpse of the ocean and our first scent of the sea air.  It was always a very exciting moment.

That's why I return to the East End every summer.  I actually cannot stand a lot of the people out here, but the beaches are incredible.  This year, however, the beach seems to be in the process of reshaping itself in a big way.  Instead of a soft, sandy, gradually descending bottom, the shoreline has a quick drop and a lot of gravel.  In previous years, the break has been pretty consistent, so all you need to do is get out quickly, dive through a few waves and you are beyond the point where you'd get dumped by a big wave.  It's like having a net game in tennis; you've got to commit to going to the net or you get caught in no-man's land and you get crushed.

This year, the break is confused and all over the place.  Odd little sandbars pop up everywhere and make it hard to get out to a point where you are not going to be crushed.  More importantly, the rip current is much stronger than it has been in previous years.  I've never really been afraid of the current, but on Friday I went in for an evening swim and got myself to a spot where I gave myself a bit of a fright.  I managed to walk out beyond the break without getting clobbered, but in the middle of every set, there would be one or two waves where the receding water from the previous wave would suck me out towards open water with a lot of power.  I was out at a point where I could not touch bottom.  Normally, that wouldn't bother me, but I also noticed that I was having trouble getting back towards shore and I was starting to feel pretty exhausted.  

The moment passed quickly as I managed to swim onto the crest of a wave and ride it back towards the sand bar, but I was reminded that I am not 20 years old anymore and that I need to be careful with strong currents.  I haven't been doing any lap swimming recently either and those martinis are not helping my fitness.  It was frightening how quickly I got tired.  I know that if you are caught in a real riptide you should swim parallel to shore until you get out of the rip, but I was already pretty beat and the thought of having to swim downshore for a 1/4 mile or so was not appealing.

Is The Dam Breaking?

The Independent, a mainstream UK newspaper, is reporting on the allegations against John Edwards.  So is The Times of London.  (Coincidentally, the Times notes exactly what I noted in my earlier post:  the New York Times won't touch this, but it had no problems running thousands of words on its front page implying McCain had an affair with a lobbyist based on no facts at all.)

It seems the story is starting to seep out.  Edwards better get out on top of this or his political career is dead.  

Of course, Edwards has been a private citizen for 4 years now, mostly spending his time making a lot of money at private equity house Fortress and running another ill-fated Presidential campaign, so he has no seat to resign.  I don't really think that he was a serious contender for the VP slot with Obama.  He doesn't deliver any swing states.  He couldn't even deliver his own state for Kerry in 2004.  (Which reminds me of why Pawlenty is such a pointless choice for McCain - Minnesota hasn't gone to the Republicans in any of the last seven elections.  I doubt it will go Republican in the middle of Obamania.)  Most important of all, choosing the other Democratic candidate beside Hillary would not do much to fix Obama's problem with pissed off Hillary supporters.

So, Edwards does seem kind of politically pointless at this time and that does give the MSM some latitude to claim that there is no public interest in his private life.  Then again, we are talking about a guy who ran a competitive campaign for President and made a big deal of trotting out his wife and her medical condition for his political gain.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dreaming of the Past

I'm still plugging away in the Presidential reading program.  Due to having a lot of work on my plate, I am a bit behind and am only now finishing Ulysses S. Grant. although I am scheduled to be on Garfield.  (Fun fact, his middle initial was not originally "s."  The clerk wrote his name down with the incorrect initial at West Point and he just decided to keep it.  The US later became synonymous with "unconditional surrender.")

At any rate,  the program keeps reminding me of the blessed days when candidates didn't go to the convention and it was considered unseemly to be perceived as actively seeking the Presidency.  In fact, for a long time it was considered unseemly to be seen campaigning even after being nominated.  Grant spent most of the campaign hanging out in "his home" in Galena, Illinois.  (It would be pushing it to claim it was really his home.  He rarely lived in Galena, had been a failure there in business and almost nobody in town actually knew him.)

As we enter month number 1,294,567 of the 2008 campaign, I think we can all agree that such times must have been pure bliss.

An Interesting Perspective

I was surprised by this Op-Ed in the New York Times this morning by Susan Neiman of the Einstein Forum.  Based in Germany, she claims that most Europeans are not particularly wowed by Obama and much of the supposedly laudatory coverage of him is actually hard satire, not praise.  She's just one opinion, obviously, but it is certainly a departure from the coverage I have seen in the U.S., where Obama is portrayed as having won the hearts and minds of Europeans.

Neiman makes a couple of observations that do jibe with my experiences traveling, doing business and living in Europe (or, at least, the UK) over the years.

"The mocking undertone that accompanies most descriptions of Mr. Obama in the European news media signifies a trans-Atlantic divide. George W. Bush made matters far worse than they ever were, but the neoconservatives who advised him were right about one thing: Europe is gripped by a world-weariness that resists American dreams."

This definitely matches my experience in talking about America and politics with Europeans over the last 8 years and more.  After igniting two World Wars and bringing us the horrors of fascism, Nazism and Stalin, Europe does feel world weary and this is part of the reason why Europe is so resistant to military adventures like Afghanistan and Iraq.  Americans are seen as naive optimists, something that is generally mocked as "unsophisticated" on the Continent and in the UK.  While Obama may be charming, his "hope" message is actually a continuation of a stereotype of Americans that is not going to change if he is elected.  And his personal popularity is highly unlikely to change European attitudes towards cooperation with the U.S. in places like Afghanistan.  

Polls consistently show that the vast majority of Germans oppose any increased German military activity in Afghanistan.  Obama is not going to change that, nor is Merkel going to risk backlash from her people to help Obama out.  Sarkozy might get more involved, but since he is pretty openly chummy with Bush, it's hard to argue that Obama is changing anything.  In the UK, I happen to know (through a close friend that worked for him when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer) that, despite some obligatory America-bashing to keep political face, Brown is an admirer of the United States and its energy.  In Italy, Berlusconi is already an ally of Bush.  So, politically speaking, what would Obama change?  The former Soviet portion of Europe is already allied with the US.

"Berlin, in particular, is in the middle of a very post-heroic moment. Its former bravado about its history now approaches indifference."

This is something I, too, have noticed in many parts of Europe.  Given the horrors of the 20th Century and the shame over 19th Century colonialism, most Europeans I have spoken to see their past (political and military, not cultural) as an embarrassment and prefer to look towards the future in a peaceful, united Europe.  This trend seemed to be particularly prevalent in the UK, where the legacy of the Empire weighs heavily.  And, again, this is a factor in why Europeans I have dealt with are so skeptical of the United States now.  Having been top dog at one point, Europeans have seen the massive destruction that power can do globally and they fear America is making the same mistakes.  I remember having lunch with a Swiss investor whose father was in the German Army and hearing him say, "I never thought I would see the day when America opened a concentration camp (i.e., Guantanamo)."  His analogy is absurd, but the mindset that sees things like Guantanamo as a step towards bigger evils is not at all irrational.

On the other hand, a large part of anti-Americanism seems to spring from a younger population, removed from the direct experience of World War II, that is sick and tired of hearing from Americans about how we saved their asses in 1944.  In Germany, this is compounded by a young population that is stuck with the shame of Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust but is too young to have any culpability.  So, I do get the impression that there is a certain joy at being able to lecture America after having been lectured to for so many years.  And having seen how often the American students brought it up when I was graduate school in the UK, I can't blame them.

Unfortunately, it also leads to some whitewashing of the actual history.  Neiman, like Obama in his speech, uses a strange interpretation of the Berlin Airlift.  In Obama's speech, he used the passive voice; the Berlin Airlift just "happened," and there is no mention of who organized and executed the actual airlift (hint: it wasn't the Europeans).  Similarly, Neiman writes:

"So when Mr. Obama reminded Berliners of their greater moments — the airlift, the destruction of the wall — he risked more scoffing."

Was the airlift a great moment by Berliners?  The Berlin Airlift is actually an example of what happens when Americans take action to protect a difficult cause.  The French declined to participate at first because they believed that Berlin was a lost cause.  They only came in later, when it was clear that it was working.  It wasn't Berliners flying those planes into hostile territory, it was the United States Air Force.  Yes, there was cooperation from Germans, but let's be real.  No USAF and Berlin would have been part of the USSR.  That Obama managed to gloss over that was not surprising.  As I said, Europeans are pretty tired of hearing how we saved their asses in the 40s. 

Neiman notes that the airlift proves you don't need to drop a bomb to be a hero, but this is a bit disingenuous.  The reason that the airlift worked was because it was backed by American military power.  If you had just sent in a bunch of French cargo planes, the Russians would have had no trouble shooting them down.

But these are minor quibbles.  The point that Neiman is making, that the divide between Europe and America is deeper than antipathy towards Bush, is an important one.  There is a pervasive myth that we had the love of the world after 9/11 and Bush squandered it.  It's total bullshit.  There was no shortage of "America had it coming" opinion in the European media the day after the attack or in the weeks to come.  I remember listening to endless hours of that line of argument when I was in Europe just after the attack.

The Obama Europe trip was only a PR stunt to make him look Presidential.  He is not going to suddenly close the very real divide in world view between America and Europe.  The difference in perspective is deep and difficult to bridge.

(Pre-emptory note: Before StinkRock cries foul over the fact that I am quoting something in the New York Times, I will remind him that this is an Op-Ed piece, not a reportage or editorial opinion.  Neiman doesn't work for the Times.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Basketball Star, Food Poisoned Pilot, Blogger...

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar blog.

Kareem is, of course, the man, but I was blown away by this section from his biography:

Kareem also remains intellectually active, authoring six bestselling history books intended to popularize the contributions of African-Americans to American culture and history. His books include "Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement"; "Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes"; "A Season on the Reservation," which chronicles his time teaching basketball and history on an Apache Indian reservation in White River, Ariz.; and the current New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance."

Jesum Crow!  The guy is unstoppable!

(Found via Gawker.  Kareem used to blog for the LA Times!)

And It Gets Even Weirder

The National Enquirer has now filed a criminal complaint against the security staff at the Beverly Hilton, where they claim to have seen John Edwards on his way to a tryst with his alleged mistress, Rielle Hunter (nee Lisa Druck).

The merits of such a complaint aside, it seems probable that the Enquirer did this so that they could compel the testimony of Edwards, thereby establishing that he was at the hotel on the date and at the time they claim in their article.  How do I know this?  The kind folks at the Enquirer say it right there in the article!  My but they are so clever.

Apparently, the Enquirer is now claiming that Fox News has verified that Edwards was at the hotel by interviewing the guards.  Off course, it does seem kind of suspicious that Fox News did the corroborating.

Then again, there is a link on the page to an article about how former Apollo astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell claims that NASA is covering up knowledge of alien contact.  He says the aliens are "little people who look strange to us," kind of like jockeys.

The Mystery

UPDATE:  I didn't read the IEM winner-takes-all description carefully enough.  It only pays out if the candidate for the party (they don't switch to the actual candidate names until after the nominations) takes more than a plurality of the popular vote.  So, it is not necessarily predicting an outright victory.  The market is only saying that there is  63% chance that Obama gets more than McCain in the popular vote.  The Intrade market, however, does pay out on victory (i.e., Electoral College victory) by the actual candidate.

One of the mysteries of the current campaign is the disconnect between the polls, which are fairly consistent in showing a statistical tie between McCain and Obama, and the various presidential "futures markets," which predict a 63% chance of an Obama victory.  My business partner puts more faith in the futures markets than the polls, believing that the format of the polls makes them unreliable.  

There is something to that position.  With the futures markets, the transaction is totally anonymous and there is no interaction with a pollster to muddy the waters.  With polls, you can get unintended effects from poorly phrased questions and you risk the possibility that the respondent is telling the pollster what they think he or she wants to hear.  This is probably the root of the supposed "Bradley effect," which posits that respondents will say they want to vote for the minority candidate because they don't want to sound racist, but they vote differently once they get in the polling booth.  If you believe that theory, however, then Obama would actually be behind McCain, which makes the disconnect between the polling and the futures markets even more pronounced.
One possibility for the disconnect is that the national polls don't reflect the reality of the American Electoral College, which is, of course, the way we actually pick the President.  Most of the Electoral College tracking maps that I see have Obama with a fragile lead in electors, which could be why the futures markets give him better than coin toss odds.  But the move of one or two swing states (e.g., Ohio, with 20 electoral votes) from Obama to McCain reverses the results and McCain has recently been showing some gains in those states.  

In the Iowa Electronic Markets, this theory about the disconnect appears to be consistent with the two different contracts that trade: the vote share contract and the winner-takes-all contract.  The first is a measure of the popular vote and will pay out in cents on the dollar, the percentage of the popular vote cast for the candidate, while the second only pays based on who wins.  The vote share contract seems to reflect the current polling data, with only 4 cents separating the contracts (note: the link updates with current prices, so it may be a different price quote when you click through.)  The winner-takes-all contract, however, has the 64/36 split, indicating a market perception that McCain will pick up a lot of votes in solidly Republican states that will add to his popular count, but he will lose key battleground states and the Electoral College.

Intrade, the other major futures market, only features a winner-takes-all contract as far as I can see and the results are consistent with Iowa.  They do, however, feature a VP choice contract, which is interesting to watch.  My favorite pick for McCain, Alaska governor Sarah Palin, is trading at 10.2 on the bid.

The one result I absolutely dread is that Obama wins the popular vote by a large margin due to big turnout in solid blue states like New York and California, but loses in the electoral college.  If you think we are divided now, just imagine what it will be like if people think the electoral college "stole" the election from Obama.  Oy vey!

John 3:16


Thursday, July 24, 2008

We Are The World

This is a fantastic post about the vapidity of Obama's speeches.

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Everybody's favorite checkout line read, the National Enquirer, is going with a story that John Edwards visited his mistress and love child mother at a hotel in California.  This is actually a continuation of a story that has been going on for months.  The MSM has been ignoring this one so far.

Of course, major news outlets like the New York Times would never touch a story like this.  Can you imagine a distinguished paper like that putting speculation and innuendo about a Presidential candidate and an extramarital affair on the front page without any corroborating evidence?

Oh, wait.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Speaking of Heartfelt Thanks

Many thanks to all of you for the kind words after every post on the status of Her Satanic Majesty, Maggie P Satanbeagle.  It's nice to know that she has a lot of supporters.

As an update, Maggie has bounced back totally and completely and is 100% her old self again.  She was last seen prancing around the apartment with a rawhide bone, looking for places to "bury" it.  Translation:  I will find it under my pillow later.

We took her and Wallace for a walk on the beach on Saturday and she enjoyed herself immensely.  One of our millions of nicknames for her is "HMS Determination" because of the hilariously purposeful look she gets on her face as she cruises down the beach.  Well, the Determination was at full steam again.

On the treatment front, we had minimal tumor progression again at the last check, so we will go back to the chemo regimen this week.  Her blood work actually rebounded enough last week that it was in the guidelines, but I wanted her to have a real break.

I rarely talk about my professional life here, but I will say that one of our portfolio companies has done me an incredible favor.  Their CEO gave Maggie's vet a free supply of a drug they are working on that is both a chemoprotectant (meaning it protects against some of the effects of toxic chemo) and a chemopotentiator (meaning it appears to amplify the tumor-killing effect of other chemo drugs).  I can't say that I know it will work or have an effect, but it was a gesture of incredible kindness and I can't thank him enough.  Hopefully, Maggie will experience what the human patients have, which is the ability to withstand additional cycles of chemo without the usual side-effects.

She is a fighter.  There is no doubt.  And it's a pretty nice thing to wake up in the middle of the night and have her asleep on top of my head in the bed.

Nostalgia Gone Wild - Part 2

I've had a chance to watch a bunch of the clips from the VH 1 Rock Honors Show for The Who.

It seems like poor Roger must have been suffering from some kind of throat problem or chest cold as he is really struggling in "Baba O'Riley."  I noticed from the clip that Pete seems to have finally returned to a guitar sound that has a little definition.  One thing that has driven me a bit crazy on the last few tours has been this "paper over comb" sound that he has been using that is almost impossible to hear in the mix.  He seemed to be headed that way as early as 1978 because that's the sound he uses on the Who Are You album, but the sound for this show is much, much better defined.  Makes it harder for him to mail it in, though.  In some of the early 2000s shows, he's totally whiffing on huge parts and letting the keyboards take over.  I guess he is really just totally fucking sick of playing this stuff and I can sympathize with him.

Watching Baba O'Riley from this show, however, reminded me of what is probably the greatest moment in Who history post the original band.  It was the October 20, 2001 Concert for New York.  After almost seven years, it's hard to conjure the anxious mood that pervaded New York right after September 11th.  As most of you know, I was down there on 9/11 and saw the whole thing.  I remember waking up very early the next morning and just staring at the ceiling in the morning gloom and having absolutely no idea what happens next after something like that.  I had just switched off.  The Concert for New York happened when I was still at a place where I would just sit in my office and stare blankly at the computer for long periods.

Confession:  I watched the Concert for New York on television and The Who set didn't really affect me much at the time.  I can't help but watch them and compare them to the classic Who of 1967-1973 and, well,  the post-2000 Who-on-Ice will never measure up, so I didn't grasp what had really happened there.

One of my very close friends, however, had been at the concert and he was gushing about The Who set.  He was backstage watching Townshend as The Who were waiting to go on.  Townshend was, typically, annoyed as shit and said something to the effect that the other acts were pussies and The Who needed to go and remind everybody how it was done.  And that is what they did.  When The Who did go on, he told me, it was as if they were 25 feet tall and the rest of the bands were midgets.  It was a whole other level entirely.

After a little distance and time, I went back and watched the video of the show and my friend is right.  The other acts were playing very tentatively, probably because most of us didn't really know how to act at the time.  In fact, my old band Moneyshot played a show at Mercury Lounge 11 days after the attack and we really didn't know how to approach a rock show.  I had to play on borrowed equipment because I couldn't get into my apartment, which was right across from Ground Zero. As I told our audience at the top of that show, "We don't really know how to do this, so we're going to just do this."

But Townshend was having none of it and they all rose to the challenge.  

That would have been a cool moment on its own, if it weren't for something that still breaks my heart and that is the effect The Who had on the policemen, firefighters, emergency service workers and others at the show.  To say that these people had been through hell is to understate.  Not only had they seen such devastation, they had lost so many of their own.  And when the band kicked into "Who Are You," it was probably the first time in weeks that they had been able to let go and bring some joy back in their lives.  It helps to remember that there is no question mark at the end of the album or song.  Who Are You is a statement that you and the band are one, not a question. 

When I look at those guys in the audience,  I know them.  A lot of my dad's family are and were NY firemen and those are the guys in the audience, with their out-of-style moustaches, their mullets and their crisp blue dress uniforms, who jump for joy for the first time in weeks.  When Cusack introduces the band, you can see one of them holding up a picture of his dead colleague behind him, his arm dead straight, straining with all his might to ensure that his friend is captured on video and, hopefully, never forgotten.

They love The Who's biggest hits deeply, having been raised on a steady diet of classic rock radio in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island.  Some of them were probably at Shea in 1982 when the band said goodbye for the first time.  Some of them might even have seen the band in their prime at the Garden in the 70s.  They won't talk to you about how great The Who Sell Out is; they probably haven't heard it.  The Who is the purveyor of fist-pumping FM radio rock to them.  The band's outsider punk status in the early years is of little interest.

Maybe it reminds them of when they were young and didn't have a city of millions riding on their back.  Maybe they just needed to scream in the protection of 18,000 others so they could unburden themselves.  But they almost drown out the band when they sing "teenage wasteland" in the middle of Baba O'Riley.

The Who played for them - directly to them -  and it was something truly beautiful.  There's a lovely moment on the widescreen behind "Won't Get Fooled Again" when the Stars and Stripes are linked to a Union Jack in the middle. A small graphic nod from an older brother about our common heritage, perhaps, but meaningful at a very dark and uncertain time.  When Daltrey tells them at the end that The Who couldn't follow what they had done, it's not bullshit; it's from the heart.  When Townshend tells them they are honored to be there, he means it. 

Just look at them jumping up and down with a smile on their face when the four song set is over.

I still begin to weep when I watch it.  They earned it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nostalgia Gone Wild

Tonight is the VH1 Honors broadcast of the recent Who tribute show in LA.  I don't have cable, so I will miss it, but I'm not that bothered.  Most of the covers are so straight up and so reverential that they are kind of pointless.  The Who sound is so singular that it's kind of silly to try to ape it straight in a cover.  I'd rather see the bands play around with the songs in their own style.

That being said, this clip reminded me that, although I never was too crazy about Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder has one seriously great rock voice.  He nails this one and it is not an easy song to cover for a singer.  I just wish Pearl Jam weren't so crushingly earnest so I could listen to it more.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Trials of the MagDog

Things have been going well for the MagDog lately, but we had a bit of a scare yesterday.  I had serious bout of insomnia, so I got up at 3:45 AM and stayed up all day.  When I got up, I noticed that she was looking a bit sluggish.  By the mid-morning, she was looking very worn down and hard hardly moved all day.  I went to lunch with an old friend and came back to discover that her snout had swollen up so much that she looked like Jimmy Durante.  So we took her to the vet.

At first, it seemed like she might have had a reaction to an insect bite, but this morning the vet called to say that her blood work had come back and her white cell count had crashed below a critical level.  This immunosuppression is the result of the chemo she is taking.  The upshot is that we have her on a short course of antibiotics until her immune system bounces back.  More importantly, we're going to have to give her a short break from the chemo.   Unfortunately, fibrosarcomas are extremely fast-growing tumors, so we are running the risk that this will allow significant tumor growth.  The whole situation is a maddening mix of costs and benefits, so it is very difficult to know what the right course is.  She's rebounded somewhat with rest and with the help of the antibiotics, but she's not nearly 100%.

This is why cancer is such a maddening disease.  The drugs we use can be effectively, but the way they work creates so many side effects that it is as if we were trying to kill a bunch of bank robbers by spraying machine gun fire into a group of them and their hostages and hope we don't hit too many hostages.  Obviously I want to have the MagDog around as long as possible, but I also don't want her days to be spent feeling low or sick.  As  I said in a previous post, the biggest challenge is recognizing when the chemo stops being for her and start being for me.

A Note On Comments

StinkRock and I have been going back and forth in the comment section quite a bit.  For reasons I don't understand, he finds it bothersome that I respond.  The vast majority of comments here are just friendly back and forths about music and other things, but politics always brings out a much more intense reaction.  So, let me clarify some things about comments and this blog:

1) This is my blog.  If you want to disagree with something I write, that's what the comments are for and I welcome them.  I'm interested in hearing facts or solid arguments that contradict or support what I've written.  That's the benefit of this kind of forum.  One of the reasons I like talking to people on the other side of the political spectrum is that it makes me constantly review what I am thinking and hold it up against good arguments.  As a relatively conservative person (at least about the role of government) who lives in the relatively liberal Northeast and went to very liberal schools, I am very, very used to talking politics with people who don't agree with me. 

2) Don't be surprised, however, if I respond.  If you erect a bunch of straw men arguments (i.e., you post a comment arguing against something I didn't say), you should expect that I will point out that I didn't say what you claim I said.  This kind of argument is something I find intensely irritating as I don't like having words put in my mouth.  If you are posting on my blog, engage something that I actually said, not some argument you think I would make because I tend to be on the right side of the political spectrum.  We all have a tendency to say, "Person A believes in political view X, which party of this Party's view, so he must believe Y and I am going to call him on that."  I do it too and I try to be vigilant about stopping myself from doing it.

3) Don't be surprised if I try to poke holes in your comment if I perceive that it is not logical or doesn't respond to anything I actually said.  Presumably, that's what you are doing with your comments, especially if you say something like, 'I call bullshit.'  If I don't think you pointed out a flaw, I may respond and lay out my case.

4) Don't attack me for responding.  If you are posting here and get upset if I respond, don't post.  In debating, the use of ad hominem arguments is generally considered to be a sure sign that you cannot defend your position with real arguments.

5) Don't tell me how to run my blog.  It's my blog.  I can a do what I want.  If it bothers you that I reply, you shouldn't be posting in the first place.  I'm opening my arguments up to scrutiny by posting.  So are you.  That's the deal.  If you don't want responses, don't comment.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Global Warming

I could be mistaken, but wasn't there also a Frank Zappa album with this title?

Oh the Guilt

I just got an email that The Who are touring this fall in the US.  There's no reason to go.  Moon and Entwistle are dead.  The new record was okay but not great.  Townshend doesn't seem interested in playing any lead that doesn't involve abuse of the tremolo bar or a lot of pull-offs to open strings.  And their new video isn't so great either.

Fuck, I know I'll go anyway.  Townshend is my only hero.

What is wrong with me?

Flags at 3/4 Mast

The Indonesian penis-lengthening woman is dead.

Il Retorno di Microdotto

Looks like the Via Skyway show at Rose on Monday, August 18th is going to feature a set from Microdot.  Given that all three of us are going to be there on stage with our equipment set-up and ready, it seemed like a good idea.  Not sure how long of a set to expect, but we will be doing a bunch of songs we never released, including "Paper Airplane Crash."

Should be fun.

A Foam Olive Branch

I believe that StinkRock and I can at least agree on the importance of beer in history.

This article reminded me of something I read in The Great Bridge by David McCullough.  It's a history of the design and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and I am a huge enough dork that I not only read it in just about one sitting (on a flight to London) but I thought it was an excellent book.  It is certainly an example of McCullough's work before he started writing these annoying history-as-grand-opera biographies.  (Here's a fun game - read one of McCullough's later books, like John Adams or 1776, and drink a shot of gin every time you find a description of somebody structured like this: "Although (historical figure) was (short, fat, bald, diminuitive, or some other negative), he was the greatest (orator, general, statesman or other achievement) of his day."  Bonus points if you can find two people who happen to be the same "greatest" of the day.  I guarantee you they are in there.)

Anyhoo, one of the fascinating parts of the book was the description of the daily life of the men who actually labored on the bridge.  I had instant indigestion when I learned that most of them started the day with something called "beer soup," which was a mixture of beer, eggs and some other stuff warmed up.  It's a wonder anything got done because those guys must have been hammered from dawn to dusk.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Amazing Journey

This is a pretty remarkable video.  Dr. Jill Taylor, a brain researcher at Harvard, describes what it is like to have a cerebral hemorrhage from the inside.  It takes a bit to get going and does suffer from a bit of New Age-y mumbo jumbo talk, but it is pretty fascinating to hear what it is like to have your left hemisphere detach from the right hemisphere.  It's also an interesting discussion for any of us who have been involved in a creative enterprise such as painting, writing music, etc., where we are frequently trying to get away from our conscious selves, turn off our internal critic and tap into something that creates our best works of art.  Takes a bit of time, but worth the time.

(Note:  I realized that I am being a bit imprecise here.  The left and right cerebral hemispheres are separate already but they are connected by the corpus callosum.  What she is describing is the effects of a hemorrhage that effectively shut down that communication.)

Pander Bears

StinkRock and I were talking about disillusionment with the political process below when I came across this article in the Washington Post today mocking both McCain and Obama for their pandering to Hispanic voters.  It makes for some stomach-turning reading.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

It's Almost Impressive

The approval rating for Congress is in the single digits for the first time in history.  That's a pretty mind-boggling achievement.  It would be fun and easy to jab at the incompetence of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi (and point out that they have approval ratings below President Bush), but the truth is that the Democrats only finished the job the Republicans started in 2002 with their outrageous pork pigout.  Our national legislature has become an embarrassment, but what is more worrying is the sense of fatalism that an approval rating this low suggests.  The idea that politicians suck no matter what so it's not worth caring is a dangerous one.

Monday, July 07, 2008

For the Misanthrope

Oh yes...

Muy Polvo

For le StinkRock.

Black Gold

So, I was out in the back yard today killing a baby mole with my fireplace irons...let me go back.

The WMDs have discovered a mole nest near the house and seem to delight in driving the little blind critters out and then killing them...or nearly killing them.   Today I found a blind baby mole lying in the grass,  still breathing but clearly injured.  It was a pretty sad sight, so I decided to put the poor thing out of its misery with a swift blow to the skull.

Anyhoo, it got me to thinking about oil again and I saw this article in Forbes which expands on the earlier post I made on the subject.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cassette Tech Bleg

I was talking to Superfly, aka The Misanthrope Mom, about my interest in jazz and she mentioned to me that she had a recording of my late Uncle Ray playing jazz piano with his quartet.  I just got it in the mail and it is pretty eye opening.  I didn't really know Uncle Ray very well.  He and my Aunt Phyllis (Superfly's sister), lived in Rochester, NY and we didn't get up there much.  

It turns out that Ray was a pretty accomplished musician.  He trained at the Eastman School of Music and his chops show on the cassette tape my Mom sent me.

Hence, this bleg.  Do any of my audio-engineering readers know how to get a cassette-to-CD transfer done?  I'd like to have this transferred to a more modern and more durable medium

Thanks ahead of time.  While we wait, please enjoy these photos of the WMDs.