Sunday, November 29, 2009

Going Rogue

I just read this. Someone tweeted a link to it and I thought that I would go take a look. I have to admit that my reading and sources of information are rather insulated. I think everyone's natural tendency is to gravitate to views that reinforce your own views. While this may make us feel better and gives us a sense of validation the tunnel vision that comes as a byproduct, in reality, does neither us nor the country any real favors. In fact it has the potential to be extremely harmful. Is it any wonder that, according to some statistics, over 40% of Republicans do not believe that President Obama is a natural-born citizen and therefor illegible to hold office. This is in spite of the fact that the contrary has been proven by the cable news networks, the White House, and plenty of other sources. The more you read information that only supports your preconceived ideas and opinions the more polarized your views are bound to become.

Which is what makes this blog post so refreshing. Following a link to a conservative site to read a review of Sarah Palin's book, I didn't expect such an honest and frank assessment, especially after conservative pundits have been falling over each other to praise it. Rush Limbaugh actually said that it was the best book on policy that he has ever read. But this was review was written by someone who evidently has been a supporter (and defender) of Governor Palin but was honest enough to allow themselves to be subjective in reading the book. Unlike a lot of conservatives who say that the discrepancies in the book that were found by the AP were nothing more than liberal media smear campaign, this reviewer saw the errors in the book and took them for what they are: errors.

"Her publisher did not fact check this book well (if at all). She was badly served by her publisher and editor. People who criticize me for nit-picking her use of quotations miss the point. I am a fan . . . though now a weary one . . . and I found the errors. The publisher had to know that her critics would check every fact.

"How can I in a single day with no help find error after error when I am no writer, no editor (as this blog post indicates), and no specialist?"

It's refreshing to see someone, anyone, take off the rose-colored glasses and take an honest look at the people that they look up to. It's rare. I think that may be part of the reason I admire Glenn Greenwald so much.


Originally uploaded by BigMisterC
I put our tree up today. Rather than procrastinate like I usually do and stretch it over two weekends, I figured I'd just get it done. All the Christmas decorations are out, the boxes are actually put away. I feel a nice sense of accomplishment if I do say so myself.

We have a new camera as well (the old is on its last legs - the zoom works only when it wants to along with quite a few other functions.) One of the most fun features of the new camera, for me at least, is its macro function. I took a whole bunch of super close-ups of some of the ornaments and posted them here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Sorry for the blogging diarrhea but I've had a lot ricocheting around in my noggin and not a lot of time to sit down express it....


I saw this editorial on, which I find myself reading less and less, but that's another blog entry. It's very true what the writer points out: that Sarah Palin is almost going out of her way to avoid minorities, people of color and urban areas on her book tour. I realize that she is not running for office nor in public office at the moment, but the feel of the book tour, the timing of it all, her involvement in the election in upstate NY all reek of a thinly veiled campaign of some kind. If she were truly on a book tour, where the objective would be to expose as many people as possible to the book, meet as many people as possible to get your it marketed and eventually sold to the greatest number of people possible?

As the author, points out, "Palin's curious tour schedule takes me right back to some of the more disturbing displays during last year's campaign, when people at some campaign rallies at times made racist remarks." He then goes on to say that he does not believe that Palin herself is a racist. That's okay; I'll do it for him.

I don't think that she's an overt racist. She may not even be aware that her actions are racist. But during the presidential campaign, every time someone would shout out a racial epithet or a death threat, etc. about then Senator Obama she said or did nothing to address those actions. Rather than speaking out and trying to keep the campaign focused on issues and differences in policy, she instead allowed it sink into the mire. It got to be so bad that the mood of the campaign became bigger news than the actual campaign itself. We all remember when that seemingly addled woman stood up at a McCain rally and said to him that she said, "I don't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's an Arab." John McCain was finally forced to stand up and address the madness that his campaign had been inciting. I think John McCain is, at heart, a decent man. I don't know if anyone else got the sense that I did from that moment, that he was sorry for opening the Pandora's Box of populism and attempting to appeal to the far right, super conservative base of his party by nominating Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin has yet to address the fact that when given the opportunity to repudiate the hateful and/or racist comments shouted out by people in the crowds at her campaign events. She has yet to comments on her divisive, offensive comments that did nothing but encourage the xenophobia and racism of the people who attended her rallies: "He's not one of us." He "pals around with terrorists." Maybe she is a racist, maybe not. She is, without a doubt, a self-serving and self-centered individual who does not care what kind of destruction or damage to the American political landscape she leaves in her wake. Redesign

To quote Mr. Horse from Ren & Stimpy, "No sir, I didn't like it."

I tried to give them feedback on their website about the redesign, which is still in beta but the form didn't work. So, Ms. Walsh, here is what I would have told you had the site functioned properly:

If I were grading the design team or designer a letter grade for the new layout it would be a D. Looking at the code, it's a mess. If, in the future, you decide to redesign again it would be a nightmare for the person doing the redesign. It would be easier to scrap it all and start from scratch. The HTML & CSS is much more complicated than it needs to be. The beauty of doing a layout with CSS is that it is simpler, lighter, etc. I could understand if this were a site that utilized dynamic pages (JSP, ASP and the like, but they aren't.)

Moving beyond the mechanics of the pages, the layout is awful. Nothing flows, everything is disjointed, and the scale of elements and their relationship to one another is completely out of whack. The War Room for instance, the logo is cut off on the left hand side (which a new reader would not notice but is a bit of a shock to people who been visiting the site for a while) and is smaller than the headlines of the stories. Having all the navigation and links to the right side of the page is a good choice, but they are all over-sized and awkward. The advertising comes between the content and navigation, placing, perhaps, too much emphasis on the ad over the content. On some pages there are huge gaps of empty space between the content and the navigation at the bottom of the page. On most pages the ad comes between the top navigation and the content of the page - awful... why interrupt the flow of the page to place an ad there? It makes the top navigation, which I like seem separate from the rest of the page.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Our two biggest problems

So, our country is at something of a crossroads; we've been standing here for quite a while, being pulled one way and another trying to find direction. We're facing a number of crises but it's not all grim news. Just like JFK said, "When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters-one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity." We are faced with a financial crisis, the magnitude of which we haven't seen since the Great Depression in the 1930's. We are mired in two wars that have bankrupted our nation, financially and morally. We have, for the first time in our history, and much to the surprise of the rest of the world, elected a man of color to the highest office in the land, giving us hope to move into a post-racial America.

But what are the two things holding us back?

Partisanship and Populism.

The election of Barack Obama was supposed to signal an era of post-partisanship. In his first hundred days he regularly invited GOP members of congress to the White House on a regular basis. In a Gallup poll taken during his first 100 days in congress, 66% of Americans felt that he was making a sincere effort to reach bipartisan solutions for the problems that we face. In stark contrast, only 38% percent felt that Republican congress were making the effort to reach across the aisle in the same poll. Many liberals, myself included, were banging our head against any available hard surface wondering why the hell he was even bothering. All the while the Republican party, in spite of the fact of naming members of the GOP to cabinet level positions, ambassador posts, etc., still cry foul - that the administration is incredibly partisan.

Like I said previously, we are facing daunting challenges. But we're not all doing the most we can to fix the problems. There is no denying that healthcare in our country is nowhere as good as it should be. It is safe to say that the inefficiencies, inequalities and the unethical practices that the insurance companies use are pushing this country closer and closer to the edge of an economic as well as moral crisis. ...unless of course you are so rabidly partisan that you think the white house is using the term "crisis" only so they can grab more power for themselves. We're never going to solve our problems if half the people working in government spend most of their time obscuring and distorting the facts, opposing any action taken by the majority, slow walking and delaying action, nominations, etc all in the name of political gain.

But our elected officials aren't the only ones to blame for all this. As long as the electorate is willing to be spoon fed utterly insane conspiracy theories, thinly-veiled racist hatred, off-base political commentary and accept it as "news" or "facts" we're going to be stuck in this mess. News companies, journalists, newspapers that lean to one side or the other keep on putting out sensationalist tripe in an effort to outsell their competition at the expense of neutral, factual, substantiated journalism. And as long as we are willing to allow them to do this the national conversation about the most pressing issues of the day will never rise above the most common denominator; no real progress will be easily made. If members of congress are able to gain political capital by telling lies about healthcare rationing, death panels, forced abortions any progress made will be hard fought and hard won. Much harder than it need be. If populism is allowed to have the upper hand over intelligent discourse, we become the biggest impasse to real progress in this country. We need to find a way to rise above the bitterness and bickering that has dragged our political process down into the mud.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Obstructionism is NOT the side of history you want to be on...

So, let me lay my thoughts out; spread them out on the table and get them organized.

For the majority of the last thirty years, the Republican party has held the reins of government. Most of our presidents have been Republicans and they have had more often than not a majority in Congress. Since the beginning of the 21st century, they have led the country down a rather ruinous path. Our economic health as a nation has not been this poor since the Great Depression; we are embroiled in two different, un-winnable wars against enemies that we cannot easily find or identify; we have lost our moral high ground by torturing and unlawfully detaining our enemies, spying on our own citizens and rolling back or trampling upon rights guaranteed in our constitution. Our standing in the world has been diminished and tarnished by a foreign policy of unilateralism and belligerence; we have gone from being the nation that helped found the U.N. and the failed League of Nations to a country whose leadership felt that tact and diplomacy has made us weak.

Understandably, the people of this nation decided that enough was enough and voted a Democratic majority into congress in 2006 and two years later added to that majority as well as electing a Democratic president: only the third Democratic president to be elected since 1968. It's not only a indictment of the mismanagement of the country by the previous administration, it was indicative of the changing demographics within the nation. Whether anyone likes it or not, we are a much different nation than we were at the end of the 20th century. The United States that walked tall and alone in the world no longer exists. While we are certainly the sole, remaining military superpower but after years of intertwining our economy with the world economy we are on our way to being on a more even playing field where trade and commerce are concerned. The face of the nation is changing; we are a little less white, a little less Christian, basically a little less like anyone who has held the power in our country since its founding.

In my opinion, it is plainly evident that there is a lot of work that needs to be done. We have to define our goals in Afghanistan and Iraq; the banks need to be reeled in, placed under greater scrutiny and regulation; unemployment needs to be addressed; something has to be done about the inequality and inequity of the ever-widening gap between the richest and the poorest in our country; our education system is outdated and failing; for a wealthy, industrialized country we have an abysmal healthcare system in comparison to our peers; on and on and on goes the list.

Don't get me wrong; I love this country. I know that it is a blessing to be born in the United States and be a citizen of this nation. I don't want to live anywhere else. But my eyes are open. I know that racism is still prevalent in our day and time. I know that there are people born into poverty in our inner-cities whose lives are so bleak and barren of any promise that they turn to gangs, violence and drugs.

So, in the face of some of the greatest challenges in our country's history and as we move towards a future that is quickly evolving before our very eyes, what is the GOP doing?


Actually, worse than nothing. They are opposing each and every initiative being taken up by their Democratic counterparts. Slow-walking nominations of sorely needed government positions: several months into our swine flu pandemic they had to be shamed into confirming the president's nominee for Surgeon General. Doing everything possible to cloud and confuse the issues with misinformation and divisive, populist rhetoric: death panels, socialism, czars. And this is coming from the mainstream members of the party. I won't even go into the fringe elements like the birthers and 3%ers.

They complain that they "want their country back." I think that they have had it for long enough and I don't think that they deserve to get it back. They are like a poorly behaved child who was given a precious family heirloom. Their parents (the voters) came into the room one day and found them beating the family dog with this precious family treasure and took it away from them. They chastised them and in turn gave it to their quieter, more cerebral and considerably more compassionate sibling and entrusted it to their care. The horror of a child is now pointing out the flaws of their sibling and making up a few for good measure (socialist, weak on national defense, not "real Americans") in an attempt to persuade their parents to give them back their plaything.

If the parents are smart, they'll tell the brat to shut up, go to his room and to leave their sibling alone...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Best of the Decade: Music

The first decade of the 21st century is winding down and just like every other decade cultural commentators and people who make a living following the entertainment industry are going to start compiling lists of the best off and the worst of and the most influential and blah blah blah... Well, to hell with them. I am going to compile my own damn lists and don't give a rat's ass how comprehensive or diverse my list is. These are, in no particular order, my favorite 10 albums of the 00's:

1. Is This It by The StrokesThe Strokes were hopelessly over-hyped before they ever released a single track or CD. For me, that usually doesn't bode well - I usually do not wind up liking those bands no matter how much music critics in hip magazines tell me how much I should like them or how important they are. The Shins and The Flight Of The Concords are two good examples of that. But the under-produced sound of the CD, Julian Casablancas's lazy easy vocals, the very, very New York club feel of the disc, the way it feels fresh and new and a throw back all at the same time made me fall in love with this album. I'm not one for straight up rock either, so this disc really took me by surprise.

2. Illinoise by Sufjan Stevens
I think that I, like most people I talk to who know his music, first heard about Sufjan Stevens on NPR. This is something that truly defies categorization. It's folky, it's sometimes like a high school band, it's poppy at times, it is at times evocative of Vince Guaraldi's music for the Peanuts TV specials, it's whimsical, it's sentimental, inspiring and heartbreaking, all in one bold stroke of genius. The song titles border on the insane, "To The Workers of The Rock River Valley Region, I have an idea concerning your predicament, and it involves an inner tube, bath mats, and 21 able-bodied men." This is the second album in what is a very lofty goal: to write and record one album for each of the 50 states in the U.S. All the songs revolve around the state of Illinois and cover a wide spectrum of subjects: from UFO sightings to a dream visit from Carl Sandberg to the serial Killer, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. To give you an idea as to the power of his songwriting and lyrical originality, halfway through the John Wayne Gacy song you start to feel for him, he becomes something of a sympathetic character; he's able to make you see yourself in the man and feel some of the pain that drove him to those unspeakable acts. The song is beautiful and heart-breaking.

3. Timeless by Sergio Mendes
Sergio Mendes is something I heard all the time when I was growing. My parents had Sergio Mendes and the Brasil 66 LP's so this sound was immediately familiar. Hearing the opening track of "Mas Que Nada" was like stepping out of a time machine, but it became quickly evident that this wasn't my Dad's Sergio Mendes. The album was produced in close collaboration with Will.I.Am and is almost as much a Black Eyed Peas album as it is a Sergio CD. It's still very, very much a Bossa/Samba album but so much more at the same time. The artists that pitch in on the album are amazing: The Black Eyed Peas (of course) but also Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder, Q-Tip, Jill Scott, John Legend, Justin Timberlake (channeling Marvin Gaye), india.arie, Black Thought of The Roots and a whole host of Latino artists who I got to hear for the first time on this album.

4. Suzuki by Tosca
This is a group that most people have never heard of. Tosca is two DJ's/musicians from Vienna name Richard Dorfmeister and Rupert Huber. I stumbled upon them because I am a big fan of Kruder and Dorfmeister (another of my strangely eclectic favorite artists). Suzuki is like the soundtrack to a trippy, relaxed stupor-induced dream. The tracks float along and meld into one another as the album progresses. It's a strange concoction of electronic music, hip-hop, jazz and ambient music with a healthy dash of bossa-nova thrown in. It is an album that you can leave in your CD player for a month and not get sick of. It's laid-back hypnotic and relaxing and most of all highly addictive. It's an aural sedative...

5. The Way I See It by Raphael Saddiq
This is like a blast from the past. It's not just Neo-Soul; this is straight-up soul music. It sounds like it straight out of Motown in the early 60's. Not to say that it feels dated; it's not. Great music never feels dated. You can reach into your bin of oldies, pull out Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, fire it up and it still feels fresh, new and relevant. The lyrics and emotion that pours out of these songs are universal even if it feels like you're taking a step back in time in listening to it. Raphael and Joss Stone are instantly evocative of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "Keep On Loving Me, Honey;" and his duet with Stevie Wonder will make you want to pick up the CD to make sure that it came out in 2008 and not 1968.

6. The Renaissance by Q-Tip
Where would Hip-Hop be without the influence of A Tribe Called Quest? Twenty years after tribe first emerged their influence is still felt in any Hip-Hop/Rap act that isn't mindlessly obsessed with rims, gun, money, etc. (i.e. a good deal of the crap that's forced on listeners by the recording industry.) With his first solo album in over nine years he truly is trying to spark a renaissance of hip-hop. He sounds as good, the rhymes are as inventive, the originality is as stark and astounding as the height of ATCQ. It's a jolt meant to re-awaken the best of hip-hop and a love song to it as well. His unique collaboration with Norah Jones on "Life Is Better" is truly a genuine love song to hip-hop itself.

7. The Power Of Suggestion by Karminsky Experience
Again, this is an album that has a unmistakably retro feel to it it yet feels so new and unique at the same time. I don't know very much about this pair of DJ's at all other than that they are from London and are on Thievery Corporation's Eighteenth Street Lounge label. Their music sounds like it was torn directly out of a ne'er-released Austin Powers soundtrack, or a movie from the hip sixties scored by Henry Mancini on ecstasy. The songs themselves are diverse in feel and have a distinct Middle-Eastern influence to it. Not a single song is disappointing on the whole disc. It might be a bit of a shock to the system at first listen but definitely grows on you.

8. The Mirror Conspiracy by Thievery Corporation
This is an album that would appear on each and every "best of" list that I might ever write. It changed the way I listened to music, honestly. It's sexy and savvy and international. It's diverse and worldly. The music pulses and throbs, insistently and seductively drawing you closer and closer. The mood it evokes is spacious and expansive, laid back and relaxed; it takes you to a place where the sun is warm, the air is heavily perfumed with spice and smoke the sounds of distant shore lazily caressing the sands. It's beyond a "chill-out" album; it's international without all the pretense and preachiness that comes with "world music." It's alien and foreign and simultaneously warm and inviting. If you do not know about Thievery Corporation, buy this album. I can easily guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

9. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips
Maybe I just miss concept albums, maybe The Flaming Lips are the most under-appreciated band in America, or maybe, just maybe this is simply the pinnacle of pop music and exists in a place so elevated that the air is too thin and rarefied for the average music listener to tolerate. It is, indeed, pop music; every song has an unmistakable pop sensibility and approachability. But under the happy, upbeat veneer of the songs lie an expansiveness that embraces the tenor and feel of acts as diverse as Bjork, Radiohead, Yes, and Neil Young... And of course, there's the amazing song "Do You Realize??" that I cannot listen to and not tear up just a little bit... The album is worth buying for that song alone but is so much more than that one song.

10. The Shepherd's Dog by Iron and Wine
I always kind of liked the lo-fi, alt-country sound, bluegrass, etc., so when I read the reviews of the album (I had never listened to any Iron and Wine) I thought to myself that it's probably not half bad. Then a few years back, Pepsi was running a promotion where you could accumulate Pepsi points and use them on I quickly began hoarding bottle tops with the intention of expanding my musical horizons with MP3's from the site, gratis. I downloaded "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)" and was blown away. The music is distinctly American to its core, raw low-fi slide guitar, organs and at the same time so atmospheric and dreamy. Couple that with Sam Beam's rich, whispered storytelling and the result is simply amazing and inspiring.

I never thought I would say this...

...but Sarah Palin is right. The photograph of her on this week's Newsweek is inappropriate. It's sexist; forget about it being partisan, sarcastic or snarky. This is an article that is supposed to talk about her influence on the GOP, her divisiveness, political ambitions, etc. Would Newsweek use an image of Hillary Clinton or Condeleeza Rice with either of them appearing in short shorts for a story about the difference in their impact at the State Department? No.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Love Defeats Voldemort

Love Defeats Voldemort
Originally uploaded by Jeffrey
Jeffrey Zeldman's daughter's drawing is, as one poster on flickr said, a mountain of awesomeness

The Right's textbook

Glenn Greenwald's article The Right's textbook "surrender to terrorists" is, as usual, excellent and insightful. The GOP, Limbaugh and Beck are the greatest enabler of terrorism in this country, NOT the president, NOT the Democratic majority in Congress, NOT the speaker of the house, NOT the Senate majority leader. It is the ones who spread fear and foster this mentality that there is something something going on behind the scenes that give the terrorist the toehold they need in our society to strike fear into the hearts of those who are weak-willed and weak-minded enough to follow or listen to the crap that they peddle.