Saturday, December 26, 2009

Beatles Projects [Original Post Restored]
Sorry, Christmas got in the way of finishing this. I'm curious what you all think about what The Beatles' best song is - the usuals and the lurkers - if you are a Beatles fan especially. This post is stupidly long, so I can't blame you if you just skip down to the end to see what my students came up with and why.

First, I have to back up a little and bore you a bit with the actual rationale and theme for the class, and why i had the kind of students I did. At my school, all students now take a core Gen-Ed curriculum that includes a series of classes designed to spread across all four years, based not on subject matter as much as different learning emphases.

In their first year, every freshman takes a writing class from an English professor, and a "first year seminar" that could be taught by a teacher in any department. Every first-year seminar is held together by a theme and a central text (Different every year. This year, all freshmen read Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma") and a handful of films they all watch. As sophomores, they all must take 2 classes one term that are "linked" together: professors will have made some effort to coordinate. Some History professors link with Literature classes, for example; there are lots to choose from.

I'm not sure what Seniors are required to do (some kind of "capstone" experience), but the Junior seminar class is one that emphasizes collaborative, and "problem-based learning." The idea is to make the course interdisciplinary in a way that invites them to bring their own majors, perspectives, knowledge to the subject matter (students are encouraged to take Junior seminars outside their major), with the task of approaching a central problem, in dialogue with others presumably bringing their own perspectives. My Beatles class was one of these Junior seminars. Assigning a problem for the semester, and emphasizing group work, are not things I would ordinarily do, but were required elements that fulfilled general education goals.

As for the content of the class, I had my own interests in approaching The Beatles as subject matter, mindful that my students would not all be music students (5 of the 20 turned out to be), or necessarily be musicians of any kind. I couldn't make it a class with any technical music discussions, and didn't want it to be an overly history-ish class (which still would have been interesting), or turn it into a Beatles trivia festival (which would not have been). I wanted the class to be somehow focused on the appreciation of the music: the experience of listening to it, thinking about it, knowing it, while considering important context that helps shape that level of appreciation.

So, my starting point was this: consensus says The Beatles were great. The Greatest Band Ever, even. If that's true, what makes them so? What is the substance behind the canonization? Is it in the DNA of the music itself? Is it just their personalities? Just George Martin's (Geoff Emerick's) expertise? Just Brian Epstein's brilliance? Just the luck of the right worldwide musical attitude at the right time? To be a true exploration in this direction, we had to be open to the possibility that in fact they were not so great after all, and open to the likelihood that they at least weren't always great.

This is a concern I have that's not limited to The Beatles. We regularly teach and assume greatness in the arts, and in music especially. Yet, we rarely say why, at least not with anything more than what can sound like trivia (Beethoven expanded the orchestra; some of his symphonies have more than 4 movements; sometimes there is no break between them, blah blah). Once in the canon, it's just assumed worthy of praise. Music education rarely criticizes, say, Beethoven's 8th Symphony for being a bit lame compared to the others. It's even more rare that we ask why the 7th is so great in comparison. And it's easy to see why we don't: it's hard to say why. Really hard. And puts the person leading the charge in a pretty vulnerable position, which teachers rarely enjoy.

It would invite conversation that doesn't have a simple or, surely, fact-centric answer or conclusion. It asks students to be aware of and develop what they think about the merit of a song, rather than asking them to remember what we tell them is important. It's harder to grade. And it shows some Very Serious Evaluations to be based on little or nothing that can be demonstrated, or based on reasoning that can be asked away by a determined (and usually miserably cynical) adversary. That's because no matter how you answer the question "What Makes [insert music] Great?", they can respond by firing back: "what's so great about that?", as they can to any response you give that question, and so on. That approach can be an important turn designed to explore deeper and expose our own assumptions, or it can be a rhetorical ploy without constructive purpose except to question the whole notion of musical value in the first place.

And on some lame level, these cynics do have a point. After you dig through enough "what's so great about that" questions, the support for artistic evaluation will indeed show itself to be resting on essentially groundless belief - like all values. (It is - as the story goes - turtles the rest of the way down.) The issue really is whether you take this realization to be the end of the conversation (as some do - It's all just opinion, they scoff), or take it to be the beginning, the opening that makes the conversation possible at all (as I do).

On another level, I wanted to subtly raise the issue of what any of that stuff means to regular people like us who just like music. Is saying a song is good, or great, the same as saying I like it? How do we think about differences or overlap between those two kinds of evaluation? Is close listening necessarily the best? Or the best indicator of great music? What's the other way to listen?

[As an aside (yet another), this last issue was a difficult one for me, influenced by a book I read over the summer in preparation called "How The Beatles Destroyed Rock and Roll" by Elijah Wald. You have to read a book with that name, right? As it turns out, it's a bit inaptly titled (inapt if the point is to indicate the content, maybe not if the point is to sell books). The subtitle is more on point: "An Alternative History of American Popular Music." The Beatles aren't even really discussed until near the end. There, he makes the case that popular music was on the precipice of a huge cultural breakthrough, bridging the black-white divide, when - inspired by Bob Dylan mostly - The Beatles stopped making rock and roll music and started making rock music, leading the masses of white American youth toward music that wasn't for dancing but was for listening, reopening a huge cultural gash that persists today as strongly as ever.

That's a huge oversimplification of his argument, but the basics. He notes that in 1964, for the first time, Billboard stopped segregating charts with a separate list for "R & B" and "Pop", because so many of the same tracks had come to be on both lists. But by the end of that year in which The Beatles conquered America and first heard Bob Dylan, things had changed drastically enough that Billboard separated them again in 1965, and they remain so. It doesn't help, he says, that pop music histories and criticism are written primarily by white men who, well, don't really dance. So naturally this development toward "popular music as art" is constantly reinforced as one of great progress, rather than one of great cultural divide, as he sees it.]

Of course, in Beatles class, we didn't have philosophical discussions like that every day (what might be great about this? what might be great about that? what's the meaning of great?); in fact, we almost never did, directly. But that was sort of the underlying terrain the class was designed to walk across. My goals were for them to develop an intense familiarity with Beatles albums, and to develop an awareness of ways of listening and ways of evaluating. When the class was over, I wanted them to have thoughts and opinions and experiences to bring to the question "What's So Great About The Beatles?" (that was the name of the course).

So, instead of picking and choosing their most influential albums to study (which would have presumed the answer to the question), we went through every studio album and major single (at least the A-Sides). They had to know the music well enough to pass listening quizzes along the way, and for most albums (we did about one a week), they had to bring 2 paragraphs: one explaining their favorite lyrical moment and the other their favorite musical moment. What do they like, but also why do they like it. Many of them (like most of us) have lots of answers for the first part of that question, and not many for the second. Others have trouble with both halves.

Each week, they discussed their choices in their groups first and then we talked about them together as a class, trying to pull out the most astute observations, and I usually shared my favorites as well. That gave me a chance to introduce some very basic musical concepts to build on over the semester they could all appreciate and experience, regardless of musical background: meter, song form, instrumentation and texture, mode, melodic contour, things like that, as well as introduce them to some musical context - other recordings that especially seemed to inspire certain songs of The Beatles. Without really telling them explicitly how to listen, I was covertly trying to suggest ways of listening that I think all are rewarded by The Beatles at times.

All of that to say, I wanted the class to focus on their listening experience - both to enhance it hopefully, and to empower their evaluations and opinions with vocabulary and, well, practice.

That's the background for their project, which I told them about early in the semester and was presented by them during final exams earlier this month. They had 2 tasks. The first - which was due weeks before - was to develop a theory or set of criteria for what makes a great song, and argue for it, anticipating and answering obvious objections. Then, using the criteria, they had to determine which of The Beatles' original tracks was their greatest, and defend their selection. That was the problem for them to solve, essentially: which Beatles song was their greatest? Obviously, depending on their criteria, it could require research, could require contemplation, argument, or just judgment.

I had 4 groups of 5 and they all chose marvelously different approaches, emphasizing vastly different values. They had varying degrees of success justifying their choices, but they all offered substantial attempts to support their theories and final decision. All groups chose to list several criteria for greatness, which proved to be a difficulty in some cases: finding a song that did all of those supposedly important things well. But each had a different focus and priority. Here's a summary:

1. One group emphasized the issue of a timeless and universal message. They felt that to be a truly great song required a certain amount of simplicity within a unique perspective, so that there could be both honest personal expression that makes it different from every other song, but with wide accessibility and appeal, and a relatable message. I read their theory and predicted they would come up with "All You Need is Love", or "Hey Jude". Instead, they argued for "In My Life" and made a decent case.

2. Another group focused on the need for creativity, but emphasized that it be restrained enough that it could be appreciated by a wide audience. They were concerned with both musical and lyrical creativity. They chose "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". When I found out they were picking that song, I thought it would be the hardest defense, but they did the best job of any group.

3. The third group prioritized universal appeal and impact, and took a...transcendent view of "greatness", one that showed itself in the enormity of its effect on culture and the public. They picked "Hey, Jude" after studying global sales charts, number of cover versions, press mentions over time and a few other things like that.

4. The last group - somewhat similar to the 2nd - argued for the importance of creativity, but was less concerned that it be accomplished within a widely appealing framework. What was more important to them was that, to be great, a song had to challenge traditional boundaries. They found in "A Day in the Life" multiple genre-busting, somewhat experimental elements, from song structure to orchestration to narrative voice and other things.

We had a decent discussion about their process of deciding, and of coming to a consensus as a group. Most of them expressed some surprise at their group's final answer - like they didn't come out of it with a song they expected going in, but were pleased with it. Pretty much everyone agreed that the song they identified as the Beatles' greatest was not their favorite personally. And we finished with me arguing that what makes The Beatles so great is that just about no matter what your definition of great music is - as the diversity of philosophies in the final projects demonstrated - they offer shining, powerful examples in their catalog that would qualify as a good candidate.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Early Christmas Gift
From the US Senate, passing health care reform early this morning. We're only a conference report and couple of votes away from sending it to the President where it will become the single biggest progressive achievement during my lifetime. Jon Chait says it better. Merry Christmas everybody.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Did God Miss?
I believe this is a hoax, because - well I just have to - but decide for yourself.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Teaching Children Math
Lots of Movie Watching To Do
Ebert offers his top ten movies of 2009. Only there's 21 in the list. He explains. I've only seen two - ouch. Side note - I guess his glowing review of "Knowing" wasn't a joke.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Deal
I've said it before, but looks like a deal in the Senate. Could it be more fragile? Not one vote to spare, Lieberman could change his mind at any moment, and if the House uses its prerogative to change the bill in any way - or a handful of Democratic Reps decide it's just not progressive enough to support, then the whole thing could blow up.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Deep Thought Friday
In-fighting and ideological purity battles are supposed to be ruining the Republican Party forever.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Cold Shoulder
C-Span worth 2 minutes of your time.
I Read Ezra
I may be ignorant, incompetent, negligent, and have an embarrassing blog (see commenter below), but none of those things can be said about Ezra Klein, who explains the cost controls that *are* in the Senate bill but nobody really talks about (one of which Howard Dean has been inaccurately saying isn't even there). I only hesitate to champion anything in the bill, since every time it looks like liberals can get behind some part of it, Lieberman makes us take it out. (I only wish I thought this was part of Dean's current jujitsu.)

And while I'm at it, will let Ezra explain why reconciliation is not an option right now.

Hopefully he won't mind me copying and pasting his whole answer to a reader questioning his take on reconciliation. You should read the entire discussion:

I think there's no chance of it. First, the bill would likely lose the insurance regulations, much of the delivery system reforms, the exchanges, possibly the mandate, and more. In return, you'd get ... what? A weak public option? Medicare buy-in? You're talking about bulldozing the infrastructure of the bill so we can put back in some of the interior furniture.

But putting that aside, the politics of it are baffling. You go back to the drawing board. You're closer to the election. You seem like you've suffered a massive defeat. Poll numbers continue to drop. There's more industry opposition. Vulnerable Democrats want to move to jobs. There's huge controversy over whether reconciliation is legitimate. The final bill will have parts that we can't predict stripped from the legislation.

And aside from all that, if you think we can get these pieces in reconciliation, why not pass the bill and then go back and get these pieces in reconciliation? If reconciliation is a good strategy, it's a good "and" strategy, not a good "or" strategy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Beatles Post Warning
Taking this break from my massive grade-a-thon to let you know that tomorrow (to reward myself for finishing), I will post more than any of you ever wanted to know about the end of the Beatles class: final projects. Will you care? Probably not, but it will give me a chance to get some final thoughts down somewhere, and I'd like to do that while it's still fresh.

In the meantime, so you will be ready, you can be thinking about your own answer to the basic task I gave my groups. It's a little more complicated than this, but the essential question is: of all the original songs released by The Beatles (on UK studio LPs plus Magical Mystery Tour LP, and singles), which is the greatest and why?

Explanation, details, and their choices to come. For the most part, it went amazingly well.
Smoke and Mirrors [UPDATED]
Nobody around the NHL thinks the Predators are too good this year. And doubters have some arguments in the stats. The team is 21st in the league (out of 30) in goals scored, 27th in power play conversion, and a dreadful 29th in penalty killing. And yet, the team is somehow tied for first in the Central Division, is in 5th place in the Western Conference (the top 8 go to the playoffs) and tied for 7th place in the entire league with a record of 20-11-3. Go figure.

The Canadian media love nothing more than to taunt the Predators for both their boring play and their (lack of) fan base, and the futility of both as they see it north of the border. The Preds make a Western Canada road swing this weekend where I'm sure all of those creative reporters and pundits will dust off their old stories and try to make them sound like new discoveries.

Ron, I await your e-mails, and hope the stories begin: "Despite beating the (Canucks, Flames, Oilers) last night, Nashville is not very good." But it will be a tall order. Those are some tough buildings. 3 points in the 3 games would be a success.

[UPDATE: Preds come from behind and win the first game at Edmonton 6-3! Stay tied for first in Central, and now only 2 points behind first place in the Western Conference. Next 2 games are even tougher. Notice the Edmonton Sun reporter - calling the loss to Nashville "flabbergasting" gives essentially zero credit to the Preds, who suffered a 2-0 blitz in the first 5 minutes, switched goalies, then took over the game, dominating the ice for most of the rest of the game, especially 5-on-5. After the start, Oilers players thought it would be an "easy game" (after 5 minutes against a team 9 spots ahead of you in the standings!?), and believe they must have "rolled over" or been "complacent" to get beaten so thoroughly. Hopefully the winning streak and the underestimation continues!]
In Praise of Reid
I reiterate a question I asked weeks ago with respect to health reform and everyone on the left demanding the public option: what is Harry Reid supposed to do?? Lieberman will not play ball. He's one of the 60 and we have no Republican help. Zero, toward a public option. And yet weak-kneed Democrats are railing about the failure of the health reform process because we lost the public option - a concession that has frankly been pretty clear from the beginning of the process. And yes, we lost the Medicare buy-in too. But nobody even dreamed that would be a part of the bill before one week ago when it was floated as a compromise that Lieberman has now shot down. *That only puts us right back where we were 2 weeks ago.*

I was hopeful too that we could get something truly amazing done. But there is no margin for error in the vote counts. The idea that this could be rammed through somehow with pressure or arm-twisting or whatever just seems ludicrous. We should get the best bill that we can and be mindful of the dreadful state of medical access for the poor and the sick in this country. I am inclined to reject on its face any complaint that the reform bill we will end up with somehow makes the overall situation worse.

Remember Sicko. And note how many of the horrors profiled in that film would be in a different place under the insurance regulations proposed here. That, plus the large number of uninsured, used to be what we liberals most cared about. And both of those are addressed - if less dramatically than we would all like - in the Senate reform that eventually God-willing will pass.

Really, though I didn't mean to get on that rant when I clicked "New Post". I only meant to link to Matt Yglesias' post on Harry Reid, which you should read if your love for Democratic leadership is waning.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Just got the Top Ten Religious Liberty Stories of 2009 up at the other place. Go check it out. Whether you care or not.
Film Award Season
LA Film Critics are out with awards. Big winners are "The Hurt Locker" (picture and director), Jeff Bridges for Actor ("Crazy Heart"), Yolande Moreau for Actress ("Seraphine")
...for the words to describe what I'd like to do to Joe Lieberman today in a way that accurately reflects my anger but won't get me in trouble with the FBI, or whoever. Any ideas?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Kudos to Houston
For electing an openly gay Mayor.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obama's Nobel Speech [UPDATED]
is here. Already been arguing with some about it that I would normally agree with. I'm a big supporter of the President obviously, but find this speech a bit depressing. What do you think?

[UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan, as usual, was quite taken with the speech and frames it in a compelling and beautiful way, but one which is no less depressing to me than before. I think that highlights what I'm feeling about it, not that I disliked, or especially disapproved of it, just that the reality of it was depressing in a way that I am not sure was necessary for the occasion. Makes me think that either the President or I didn't really understand why he won the award in the first place.]

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Stimulus 2.0
Stephen Pearlstein likes some things about the President's new jobs bill approach.
As the president explained Tuesday in his speech at the Brookings Institution, there is nothing irreconcilable about paying down the deficit and investing in economic growth. The choice between them is a false one, but figuring out the right balance is as much art as science.

It is the unfortunate reality of any recession that the burden of right-sizing the economy and industries is borne disproportionately by those who lose their jobs, often through no fault of their own, while others suffer very little. Stimulus 2.0 recognizes that it is the government's role to compensate the losers by extending unemployment benefits to those who qualify -- and provide health insurance and food stamps even to those who don't qualify for jobless benefits.

The new proposal also restores tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending that was cut from the first stimulus bill to make room for across-the-board tax cuts that, as some of us predicted, didn't pack much of an economic punch. The president talked a good game Tuesday about making sure that the best projects with the highest payoff will get the money. To walk the walk, however, he'll need to supplement that with a clear veto threat at the first sign of the kind of political earmarking that he's accepted in the past.
Moving On
I just got an email blast from in which they express outrage over Democrats' new plan to ditch the public option in search of enough votes to, you know, have a chance at passing something. I removed myself from their mailing list, and left this as my comment when they asked why:
At this point in the game, outrage over losing the public option is mis-placed and foolish. What do you expect??! It simply will not pass because it does not have 60 votes. Period. I'm as liberal as they come, but I prefer some progress to no progress. The bill being discussed would be progress. MoveOn is counter-productive for essentially rallying liberals against elected Democrats who are trying to deal with Lieberman et al. Have we *already* forgotten how bad it can be when Republicans are in power??
Democratic leadership and the President have been very consistent in wanting a public option. Reid put it in the Senate's bill even. What are they supposed to do? Obama has done more than could be imagined the last year to try and woo Lieberman into being a team player. He's practically bowed down to Olympia Snowe. They are saying no to the public option. We don't have 60. Was there a better way to play it from the beginning? I don't know. But we are where we are, and I'm getting tired of my fellow liberals who refuse to acknowledge it.
Looks Like a Deal
A public plan could still be triggered, under an unlikely scenario, but the big story here is the Medicare buy-in for those 55-64 who aren't covered by employers, and the enhanced regulations on insurance companies who may be required to spend as much as 90% of premiums on health care, in addition to the other regulations widely discussed. Read the NYTimes report here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Follow Health Care Debate: Be the Smartest on Your Block! [UPDATED]
TPM has created a news wire to follow developments in the Senate health care debate. Just keep a window open and hit refresh every couple of hours between now and Christmas and you will be the most informed person you know on the negotiations, amendments, and political jousting.

Meanwhile, if you want some educated policy analysis, you know better than to look to me. I keep my eye on Ezra Klein these days, for helpful posts like this one from this morning on public option alternatives, considering its likely defeat.

[UPDATE: And this one.]

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Best of...
Lists must help sell magazines. Paste Magazine is out with their best (albums, movies, books, tv shows, you name it) of the last decade. They're a little bit snooty over there, but still, check it out.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Final Beatles Discussion
We are done with the book, and made it through basically all of the studio albums. All they have left are group projects, which I'll leave for another post. Having trudged through the depressing Beatles breakup the last week, and playing students the earliest solo work of each Beatle, my question for the class was a simple one: Is there a lesson to be learned from the band's demise? A pitfall to be avoided?

And the related follow-ups: did the breakup of the Beatles really cut short a musical career? Or is their ouevre complete? Could the end of the Beatles have been as much an artistic, musical reality as it was the result of personality conflicts and business troubles? Supposing the pitfalls had been avoided, or overcome, then what? Had they gone as far as they could as a group anyway?

On the other hand....

While it's very easy to tell the story of the Beatles' musical output with a beginning, middle and end, is there something real in that progression? Or just the tidiness of a historical perspective that knows from the beginning how the story turns out?

Earlier in the semester - can't remember if I posted about this here or not - I asked them to presume that The Beatles simply ended at that point: right after Rubber Soul, maybe deciding that with touring impossible, it wasn't worth going on. Of course, we realize now that something important would have been missing (no sgt pepper's. no revolver. no white album. no abbey road. no all you need is love.), promise would have been unfulfilled. But, what if we didn't know? Would they still have be considered great if Rubber Soul was the pinnacle of their career? More important, wouldn't historians have still offered an arc to their story? One presenting Rubber Soul as a proper, even inevitable end?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Glass Half Full Tuesday
When President Obama announces his Afghanistan mission tonight increasing troops by 30,000, reports suggest he will also discuss an exit strategy with something like a time table. If that's true isn't it possible this could be received as an announcement of the end of the war too, and not just an escalation?

Monday, November 30, 2009

What a Week
Obama announces troop increase and plan for Afghanistan (pissing off the left), and health care debate starts in the Senate (pissing off everybody else), basically doing all the stuff he said he would do when he ran for President, with the added bonus of now nobody likes it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Try It

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Aftermath Deep Thought
I guess it is possible to eat too much green bean casserole after all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Abbey Road Thoughts?
Class finishing up - discussed Abbey Road this short week. It's been an interesting and fun experience to spend a semester going through each album chronologically, roughly a week on each. You hear different things. With this, their last (I consider) album, 2 sounds *really* stick out that never did so much for me before: 1) Paul's bass playing explodes on Abbey Road - so active, dominant on many tracks. 2) This album is the first in which they make use of a Moog synthesizer - an appearance in several songs. For some reason, I've just never paid the least attention to that sound before on Abbey Road; maybe because it was the first Beatles album I ever heard, took it for granted, whatever. It's done tastefully of course, with George Martin back in charge, but such crazy, unexpected sounds. In the context of the other albums, the Moog truly sticks out when it's in there.

Students were fascinated by the Chuck Berry song "You Can't Catch Me", from which John took a line (and was eventually sued over, "Here comes ol' flat top..") and the vocal phrasing for "Come Together". If you haven't heard them next to each other, give it a try. We had a good conversation wondering how the same mind could be driven to write lyrics as opaquely disjointed as his songs like "Come Together", and also near the same time develop "I Want You", which seems equally important to him, and has all of 9 words: "I Want you so bad, it's driving me mad". How to define those 2 philosophies of language and poetry? Is there any overlap?

They also marveled at how George could have gone from blossomed into writing "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something" so abruptly (does "While My Guitar..." give sufficient indication he has songs like that in him? Certainly Blue Jay Way doesn't.)

Everyone was impressed and excited by the medley making up most of Side 2, especially the transition to "The End".

What do you love, or think, about Abbey Road?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nervous Political Logic
The argument goes something like this: Reagan was a clueless dunderhead who said a whole bunch of nothing that passed for inspiration in right-wing circles, and so Democrats didn't take him seriously in 1980, and he won. Sarah Palin is a clueless dunderhead who says a whole bunch of nothing that passes for inspiration in right-wing circles, and so Democrats aren't taking her seriously in 2012. Therefore, she will win too, unless we start treating her like a serious candidate with considerable political skills. Discuss.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What's the End Game?
Senate Dems have just enough votes to proceed with health care debate, but Sen. Lincoln joins Lieberman in vowing to filibuster any public option. Stay tuned, I guess.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Republicans are Smoking Crack
52% of them anyway.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Go Vote!
For the Nashville-Ottawa game in this poll of the best games so far in the NHL. The top 3 vote-getters will be re-broadcast on Thanksgiving on the NHL Network!
White Album Update
In order of most-to-least preferred, below is the list of tracks my students would have placed in The Beatles' White Album if it were only a single LP of 14 songs. We didn't take track length into account, even thought that would have been a practical concern if they had actually decided to whittle it down like George Martin urged. Our goal was just get it down to 14 and order them into side A and side B.

A few notes:
--Many of the students were familiar with a couple of the more generally popular songs, and a couple students who came to class as big fans already knew the album fairly well. But hardly any of them had really listened to the whole thing, even once, until completing this assignment. So, most of their decisions were really first impressions.

--"Blackbird" was the only unanimous selection.

--No song received zero selections (out of 20 students).

--In our discussions, the first thing I did was raise the issue of Revolution 9, assuming that none of them had chosen it. In fact, I was able to beam like a proud parent after a solid handful of them said they picked it in their necessary 14 - proud not because I agree (it wouldn't have come close to my 14), but because I figured they would dismiss it. In fact, many of them had great reasons for including it despite not being something they would likely listen to, say, in the car. To them it seemed to fit in line with many of the things we have discussed from Revolver through Sgt. Pepper's. It was nice to be able to talk about whether or not the piece worked on the album and rewarded close listening, and not have to only defend the idea of electronic collage as legitimate musical expression.

--Revolution 1 was not especially high on their list, but I can explain that. In the previous class, we discussed the single that preceded The White Album, "Hey Jude" with "Revolution". They loved the single version of Revolution and were a bit deflated when I showed them the very different version of the song (Revolution 1) that ended up on the White Album. I like both, but from an energy level standpoint, the album version really does suffer when you play them back to back. So, most decided they could remove it from the album and still have the song as a single. A win-win. (That let them count it out. in.)

--Their album was required to include a George song and a Ringo song. Nobody was too taken with either Ringo selection, but they preferred "Good Night" to "Don't Pass Me By". That's why it made #6.

--Otherwise, most of our discussion focused on whether or not all the seemingly throwaway tracks like "Why Don't We Do it in the Road" or "Wild Honey Pie" were really expendable or if a few of them had to be kept to preserve the character of the album, and whether that character was worth preserving.

--In general, they seemed to like some of the individual songs quite a bit, but didn't care as much for the album as a whole. And they were saddened to learn how many of the tracks were really the work of only 1 or 2 of the Beatles in isolation from the others. Or maybe they could just tell I was sad about it and were playing along. Who knows.

By how often selected for 14-track version (* means it made my list):
*1. Blackbird
*2 While My Guitar Gently Weeps
*3. Helter Skelter
*4. Back in USSR
*5. Dear Prudence
6. Good Night
7. Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da
*8. Happiness is a Warm Gun
*9. I Will
10. Cry Baby Cry
11. Birthday
*12. Sexy Sadie
*13. Julia
*14. Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey
*15. Glass Onion
16. Mother Nature's Son
17. Revolution 1
18. Rocky Raccoon
19. Revolution 9
*20. Why Don't We Do it in the Road?
21. Honey Pie
*22. Don't Pass Me By
23. Yer Blues
24. Long, Long, Long
25. I'm So Tired
26. Piggies
27. Martha My Dear
28. Wild Honey Pie
29. Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
*30. Savoy Truffle
Hockey Goal Celebration Fail
Major league goal + major league celebration attempt + minor league rink =
via Puck Daddy.
Health Care Numbers [UPDATED]
Harry Reid is expected to lay out his Senate bill today and along with it the scoring of the CBO. Early buzz is promising.

[UPDATE: the Senate bill will cost $849 billion, reduce the deficit by $127 billion over 10 years, and will likely result in 31 million currently uninsured Americans gaining coverage, raising the level of coverage in the U.S. to 94%, according to CBO estimates. The national health exchange created by the bill would include a public option that, after a period of time, would be only optional for states. A vote is expected on Saturday to bring the bill to the floor. It will need, and I expect it will receive, 60 votes. Then, the amendment process will deal with some of the more contentious issues. It would take 60 votes to remove the public option, and there are not likely 60 votes to do that. That's the beauty of Reid's insistence on having it in the bill he brings to the floor. On the other hand, it will take 60 votes to pass the final amended bill and, thanks to Lieberman, there aren't 60 votes with the public option either. Not really sure what the plan is at that point, maybe the hope that the spirit of Hanukkah will warm his Scrooge-like heart?]

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sorry, Been Out of Town
Did I miss anything?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Your Beatles Assignment
I thought you may be interested in playing along with the homework for Thursday, which is White Album day. The task is to create a shorter track list, imagining The Beatles had agreed to turn it into a single album of only 13 or 14 tracks. Which ones make the cut? In what order? Remember that to be a Beatles album, it will need at least one song of George's and one that features Ringo. How does the character of the album change? Or not? Let's see your track list in comments.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Dream Theater
A new study profiled in the NYTimes gives nightmares to Freudians, Jungians and psychology majors everywhere, suggesting that your dreams aren't in fact your subconscious trying to speak some inner personal coded truth to you.
Health Care Reform
Josh Marshall comments on the big-picture significance of this weekend's house vote, predicting it will be seen as a "genuinely historic development." The momentum, he argues, will be difficult to turn around and we will get a bill signed by the President pretty soon.

I don't disagree. All in all, it was a pretty inspiring weekend. And it was hard not to be calmed and optimistic by the fact that President Obama's methodical, keep-moving-forward approach seems to have actually worked. He sounds honestly assured he will eventually win the day, not just on this issue but many, reminiscent of his no-drama campaign style that refused to get caught up in the daily crap. And whether or not he actually is so sure, we apparently really do have a President who is determined to be...steady. It's not a normal feeling. Given the 8 years worth of jitters (really, maybe even more than 8. For all Clinton's greatness, I'm not sure "steady" would be an apt describer.) we lived through previously, it's almost hard to know how to just relax and be basically confident.

All that to say, now that Monday is here, it's probably the inability to find my inner Obama that leaves me with this barrier to celebration over the close weekend vote: the House was supposed to be the easy part! Lots of struggles ahead to wind up with a bill that will surely be less attractive when it comes out the other side, assuming it does.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Smartest Man in Congress
Kenny Byrd weighs in on the historic health care reform vote pending in Congress, reminding us of one bit of history: for all of his undeniable intelligence, Representative Jim Cooper voted against the Americans with Disabilities Act.

[UPDATE: Cooper is a yes.]
If You Care
Call Jim Cooper's office and urge the Congressman to get off the fence and vote for health care reform. The vote is scheduled for tomorrow. He's one of the few who claims to remain undecided.
Nashville Office - 615-736-5295
DC - 202-225-4311
Stewart Does Beck
It's funny even if you haven't watched Glenn Beck before. But if you have had the misfortune, it's hilarious.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Explaining To Do?
The FBI knew?
At least six months ago, Hasan came to the attention of law enforcement officials because of Internet postings about suicide bombings and other threats, including posts that equated suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on a grenade to save the lives of their comrades.

They had not determined for certain whether Hasan is the author of the posting, and a formal investigation had not been opened before the shooting, said law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the case.
He was about to be deployed to Iraq. Didn't that make it a good time to find out for certain if it was him?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

I'll never understand incidents like Ft. Hood today.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

What the...
There's no crazy like Bachmann crazy.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

It's the First Tuesday After the First Monday in November
Therefore, people are voting. The media has decreed that 3 races matter: VA Governor (where Dems will lose), NY-23 (where Dems probably lose), and NJ Governor (where it looks to be a toss-up). 1 out of 3 would be nice; 2 out of 3 would be great (even though the Dem candidate in NY-23 isn't so good on issues).

What I care more about though tonight is the gay marriage referendum in Maine. Polls show a tie. A No-vote (pro-gay marriage) would make the other losses worth it for me. Would be nice to see one more state do the right thing.

[UPDATE: 1 out of 3 in high profile elections, and not the one I expected (NY-23), but sadly gay marriage looks defeated in Maine. 53-47 with a little counting still to be done. Tough night for equality and good sense.]

Monday, November 02, 2009

Opening the Exchanges
I don't completely understand this, but it sounds like a good idea - what part of it I do.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lunkhead of the Week
Who else could it be?
It's Time to Pick a Side
Krugman is right. No need to excerpt; go read the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

There's a Zero Percent Chance...
...that this was an accident. We know the Governor probably doesn't write these things himself... Classy staff, Arnold!
Conservative identification is at its highest point since (at least) 1992.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Formal Apology
I probably need a whole pad of these. Here's a blank one. Here's a list of the forms available from the Bureau of Communication. "Let that which is unsaid be said."
Reid Announcement [UPDATED]
Coming this afternoon, hopefully to tell us he's got 60 votes for a public option. Even if it's likely an opt-out program (in which individual states can vote not to participate), this is better than no government program. For a while, we may just have states that are public-insurance-eligible and some that aren't, just like we currently have gay marriage states, states with guns in bars, etc.

[UPDATE: Senate bill will have public option with opt-outs for states. Reid says he doesn't have 60 votes yet but close. This is the hard part.]

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lunkhead of the Week
Though he may not be the one to blame here (we'll see), Daniel Inouye.
The anti-rape amendment introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) may be stripped from the defense appropriations bill by Appropriations chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the Huffington Post reports.

Multiple sources told reporter Sam Stein that the provision -- which would prohibit the Pentagon from hiring contractors whose employment contracts prevent employees from taking work-related allegations of rape and discrimination to court -- is being targeted by defense contractors. Their lobbyists have reportedly flooded Inouye's office, worried they may lose contracts or open themselves up to lawsuits.
This is crazy. If there are legitimate concerns about the language of the amendment, let's fix them and then pass it. It's outrageous to think a woman working for a defense contractor overseas has zero recourse against a company that allows her to be brutally raped by other employees.
Mark, Are You Writing Preds Marketing Now?
After the local hockey team defeated the Ottawa Senators 6-5 in a crazy overtime game last night, this billboard spotted...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Trying Not to Get My Hopes Up
but this is somewhat promising.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is This What a Successful Presidency Looks Like?
So, Afghan leader and George Bush BFF Hamid Karzai has agreed to a run-off election, amid indications that hundreds of thousands of his votes were fraudulent. Meanwhile, Iran has apparently reached an agreement (with US, UK, France, Russia) about processing nuclear fuel. It's hard to imagine either of those things happening under a Bush-Cheney regime.

Just sayin.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where All the Lonely Wild People-Things Are
Saw "Where the Wild Things Are" tonight. Need to know what you think. I'm tempted to warn that it's really probably too intense for young children, but the more I think of it, it may be too intense for 40-year-olds as well, perhaps even moreso than for children, I dunno.

It's a very beautiful film, visually (and musically), and maybe even heroic in its emotional ambitions, but also a tough, sad experience in many ways.

Between that and discussing "Eleanor Rigby" and "For No One" in class today, I'm spent.

Monday, October 19, 2009

But I guess not surprising. Too many nutjobs out there these days.
48 Minutes Later
Everybody knows Reuters has been fooled by a fake press release, except for Reuters.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lunkhead of the Week
Coming in a close second, for losing my iPhone at the hockey game last night and causing trouble for everyone from my brother to the security staff at the Arena all morning tracking it down. Thanks especially to my bro, and a good Samaritan who turned it in, phone is retrieved and all is well.

But the winner of the week for outstanding achievement in lunkhead behavior?
Richard "FA" Land. See how his ridiculous apology, for saying something truly offensive and wrong, would have you believe he used the word "precisely" as "hyperbole". I don't believe that's even remotely possible by any reasonable meaning of either word. He must be one of those who uses the word "literally" to mean the opposite of literally.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's Not Reid's Fault
...that Joe Lieberman exists.
"If Harry Reid does not have the leadership skills to get 60 votes for cloture and give a Democratic president an up-or-down vote on health care, progressives will help defeat him in 2010, even if that means Republicans take that seat," said the head of one progressive organization, who's still working out the detail of the campaign. "There is no use for Reid's vote if 60 Democratic votes means nothing on cloture, and no use for Reid's leadership if his leadership is so blatantly ineffective."
If this is all just liberal pressure, I guess..ok. But come on, why does nobody seem to remember that Joe Lieberman is one of our 60? We couldn't even get the guy to respect the Democratic primary voters in CT, or support the Democratic nominee for President! Yeah, pressure him with committee leadership and all of that I guess, but why would that work? What's Reid supposed to do?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Who Remembers Whom?
It must be weird enough playing on a high school football team with a quarterback that is the son of Joe Montana, but check this out: the backup QB? his name is Trevor Gretzky. A NYTimes piece profiles these children of star-athletes-trying-to-be-dads, asking which famous father is more recognizable and sought-after by crowds and today's high-schoolers, Joe or Wayne?
Trevor Gretzky insisted that people recognized Nick Montana’s father more often than his own at the games. “Especially my generation; no one really knows who he is,” Trevor said of his father. “People don’t notice him compared with Joe Montana.”

That was not necessarily true when the Lions played recently at Venice High School. After the game, while his mother, Janet Jones, fell into conversation with other parents on the field, a steady stream of people drifted over to his father to have photographs taken with him. As Wayne Gretzky walked toward the exit, fans continued to give chase. Between poses, he pleaded, “Janet, let’s go!”
I had to laugh though at the reference Times reporter Karen Crouse made in the piece, as if trying to outdo them both with a famous person nobody will likely remember.
Trevor was 6 in 1999 when his father wrapped up his 20-year N.H.L. career, with the Rangers. Because they cannot remember much of their fathers’ playing days, each has Rose Mary Woods-like gaps in his knowledge of his father’s career.
Rose Mary Woods? Really? A Nixon's secretary reference in a story about a high-school football team? A strange, funny thing to write there.

Oh yeah, and Nick Montana's favorite receiving target? That would be Trey Smith, Will's son. Everybody knows his dad.

Monday, October 12, 2009

So, maybe you heard about the 2 Americans winning the Nobel prize in Economics? That's great news and all except that there's no such thing, according to Ezra Klein. Strange.

[UPDATE: Kevin Drum says this is stupid. He's probably right.]
Tough Weekend in Sports
Vanderbilt fumbled on the goal line in overtime, losing to Army. The Predators wasted one of the great goalie performances I've ever seen in person, when they finally let the Sabres score on their 42nd shot with 3 minutes to go to lose 1-0. The Red Sox blew a 4-run lead (and a 2-run lead in the 9th) - even one strike away from winning a couple of times - to lose yesterday 7-6 and end their season. And, to make matters worse, the Yankees won, moving on to the ALCS.

Did anything good happen?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Lunkhead of the Week
Andy McCarthy
Nobel Prize
Like President Obama, I woke up to the surprising news that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. He got an actual wake-up call. I just got the radio alarm clock version. Still, I have to say I was shocked and my immediate reaction was annoyance: this just gives Republicans the excuse to: a) badmouth these very prestigious and important global awards, something they already started once Al Gore won, and b) complain that Obama hasn't accomplished anything of substance, a charge it's hard to disagree with in many respects.

I'm warming to the idea though (screw the Republicans), helped along by the interview I heard with Elie Wiesel on the way to school.

I think it's very easy from the perspective of America to forget just what the election of Barack Obama means to the world. He represents an affirmation of hope, yes, but hope for what? Hope for lots of things, surely, but this most of all: that our common humanity can overcome the very real conflicts of our cultural differences. It sounds corny, I know. It feels corny to type. But to a world beset by violence and crisis, which saw its most prominent leading country descend into madness over the last 8 years, it must be a very real moment of hope indeed, that America - flaws and all - is not going to merely turn our backs on diplomacy, justice and the environment.

That's no small accomplishment. Whether the President did that, or just represents it, is obviously debatable. But either way, its effects would seem to be significantly felt around the world, and shouldn't be underestimated.

But there's another element to this award: an air of desperation. The world needs you, Mr. President, the committee seems to be saying. This award is for what he - and really nobody else right now - can do, what he should do, and what he must do. It's a reminder of the weight he bears, and indeed an addition to it. The entire world is moved and inspired by his election; but is also depending on him to live up to the award he now owns. That's the message I get from this decision.

Read this reaction from Shimon Peres, and tell me it doesn't re-fill you with the sense of pride and hope you had on election night.
“Very few leaders if at all were able to change the mood of the entire world in such a short while with such a profound impact,” President Shimon Peres of Israel said in a congratulatory letter to Mr. Obama. “You provided the entire humanity with fresh hope, with intellectual determination, and a feeling that there is a lord in heaven and believers on earth.”

Mr. Peres, who won the peace prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat in 1994 following the Oslo Accords, added: “Under your leadership, peace became a real and original agenda. And from Jerusalem, I am sure all the bells of engagement and understanding will ring again. You gave us a license to dream and act in a noble direction.”

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sounds Good to Me
A compromise is taking shape.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Grayson's got a new ad campaign. I haven't seen the movie it spoofs, but lots of people have, and I've seen enough commercials to get it.
Discussion of the Day
Beatles class today was mostly a discussion revolving around this one idea: what if for whatever reason, they stopped making music after Help! ? If their career spanned Please, Please Me - With the Beatles - Hard Day's Night - Beatles For Sale - Help! (KT you can have I Feel Fine released too) and then no more, how would their music be remembered and evaluated?

Thoughts? Opinions?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Assurances [UPDATED]
Ezra Klein says the Finance Committee will certainly vote yes for the health reform bill tomorrow, even though, of the 14 Senators we even have a chance of getting (13 Democrats plus Snowe), 6 of them have reason to vote no instead.
From what I hear, there are no real swing votes. There are senators who, for tactical or political reasons, might vote against the bill. But the people I talk to don't believe there is a single Democrat on the committee who would actually imperil the legislation's chances. Anyone whose vote is needed will vote for the bill. But if the bill is going to pass comfortably, you might see Snowe withhold her vote to strengthen her negotiating position on the floor of the Senate, or Lincoln hold back because she's worried about her political standing in Arkansas, or Wyden hold back because he's genuinely unimpressed with the legislation and infuriated at how he's been treated.
I dunno. Sounds like we may have a game of chicken among Democrats as to who most needs the freedom to vote no. Hopefully, they won't take it so far there's a train wreck. Say what you will about the Baucus bill - yeah, it's not very good. But if a bill doesn't get out of Finance, there won't be a bill. I have the most sympathy for Wyden. His ideas to unhinge insurance from employment and open the exchange (with public option) to all Americans are probably a better way to go than where we are headed.

The truth is, though, the process is simply not moving in that direction. We need him to suck it up, both in committee and on the final bill. When you've done as much as he has to develop a different, probably better, plan that is now on the scrap heap, that has to sting, but it's got to be done.

[UPDATE: Oh delayed for a week.]

Friday, October 02, 2009

Lunkhead of the Week
Robert Halderman

Seems like a pretty pathetic guy - clearly with troubles. But he gets lunkhead honors for this twist, a lesson for us all: in your execution of the plan to extort millions from a celebrity, when said celebrity arranges for you to meet with his lawyer, that should be a warning sign. Dude, if David Letterman wanted to pay you off to keep you quiet, he would have met you in a discreet location somewhere himself and not involved anyone else. Going to a lawyer's office and admitting your illegal scheme to take money from his client is a lunkhead move, if there ever was one.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Help! tomorrow. Will they love "Yesterday" or hate it? I identify with both feelings...we'll see. I always get a handful of great, surprising, insightful things they hear in the lyrics and in the music that I never heard before myself or thought of anyway. Really makes me look forward to these days. Wish we didn't have to go so fast through it.
My New Hero
Rep. Grayson from Florida, whose exploits today you should follow from here, to here, to here.
Damn You, Ken Burns
Sucked in to National Parks: America's Best Idea. Struck by the same old debate. Business says the establishment of national parks will be devastating, kill all the jobs, and destroy the economy. Funny, I don't remember the logging industry ceasing to exist once park lands were protected.

But they put up fight after fight, insisting that putting limits on their tree-cutting would be the end of economic development as we know it. Loggers ravaged 60 acres a day in the Smokey Mountains in a race against the people of Tennessee and Kentucky, who were tasked with raising $10 million to purchase the land, which they did, Burns insisted, dollar by dollar, in mostly small donations.
Early Entries
Candidates are lining up for Lunkhead of the Week honors, right behind the 13 Senators mentioned in the post below.
Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C.

A Congressman, a Crank, and a Corporation. Some contest.

Not that I'm running a democracy here, but feel free to vote your preference, or nominate others, in comments.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Senate Finance Committee had a perfectly good chance today to add a pretty modest public option to its health reform bill. Baucus (MT), Lincoln (NE), and Conrad (ND) though joined the 10 Republicans to kill the Schumer amendment. We knew Conrad was against because of his co-op preference. If there's good news, it's that we find out Bingaman (NM) and Carper (DE) and Nelson (FL) are ok, at least on this very scaled back public option.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I'm Hopeful
Read this first, then watch the trailer:
Beatles for Sale the topic for tomorrow by the way, if u want to keep up. Favorite song there?
RIP Lucy (in the sky)
The death of Lucy Vodden at age 46 has been announced by St. Thomas' Hospital in London, where she was treated.

The hospital said Monday she died after battling the disease (Lupus) for years.

Vodden came to the attention of John Lennon when the Beatles' young son Julian came home from school one day with a drawing that he said was "Lucy in the sky with diamonds."
Instead of just asking "why" over and over again, soliciting the same non-responsive answer, how about trying a different approach. This is not the hardest question to ask, I don't think. Here's my stab at it:
Ms. Whitman, there are a few qualities that might lead a person to make the mistake of not voting, like apathy, forgetfulness, elitism and laziness. Which one of those would you say describes the reason why you didn't?
Then the followups kind of ask themselves.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lunkheads of the Week
Human beings. The United Nations Environment Program's latest report is not good news. (my emph. for those of you that like your bad news really bad.)
Robert Corell, who chairs the Climate Action Initiative and reviewed the UNEP report's scientific findings, said the significant global temperature rise is likely to occur even if industrialized and developed countries enact every climate policy they have proposed at this point. The increase is nearly double what scientists and world policymakers have identified as the upper limit of warming the world can afford in order to avert catastrophic climate change.
The group took the upper-range targets of nearly 200 nations' climate policies -- including U.S. cuts that would reduce domestic emissions 73 percent from 2005 levels by 2050, along with the European Union's pledge to reduce its emissions 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 --and found that even under that optimistic scenario, the average global temperature is likely to warm by 6.3 degrees.
Other findings include the fact that sea level might rise by as much as six feet by 2100 instead of 1.5 feet, as the IPCC had projected, and the Arctic may experience a sea-ice summer by 2030, rather than by the end of the century.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sorry, But
Why do census workers need to be warned to "be careful"?

Clarifying...why is the state of our country such that it's dangerous to be a census worker, of all things?

Even a pizza delivery guy presumably has cash and, I guess, pizza. Why would anyone want to kill a census worker?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Challenge
In his speech to the UN today, President Obama tackled, among many other things, the issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
I am not naïve. I know this will be difficult. But all of us must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we only lend it lip-service. To break the old patterns - to break the cycle of insecurity and despair - all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private. The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. And nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks over a constructive willingness to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and its right to exist in peace and security.

We must remember that the greatest price of this conflict is not paid by us. It is paid by the Israeli girl in Sderot who closes her eyes in fear that a rocket will take her life in the night. It is paid by the Palestinian boy in Gaza who has no clean water and no country to call his own. These are God's children. And after all of the politics and all of the posturing, this is about the right of every human being to live with dignity and security. That is a lesson embedded in the three great faiths that call one small slice of Earth the Holy Land. And that is why - even though there will be setbacks, and false starts, and tough days - I will not waiver in my pursuit of peace.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oh Noes!!
If porn turns you gay, I guess most of us all of us are destined for same-sex love!? How will the human race continue considering the Internets are teeming with porn?

Also, what if - er, hypothetically speaking - you've just been into, you know, soft core? Maybe you could still come out of it bi?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thanks Deb!
Lunkhead of the Week
Profiled at the other blog, in which I try my best to teach Scalia a thing or 2. In case you were wondering what's up over there.
Krugman Asks
How bad does a bill have to be to make it too bad to vote for?
Just a thought: can we not put some pressure on Senator Snowe, instead of letting her, apparently, rule the world? How much good is she willing to vote against, just because her caucus (which already hates her and would kick her out if they could) doesn't like the public option? She's not getting her way on everything, so she is willing to abandon health reforms she believes in?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cross-dressing British comedian Eddie Izzard (very funny, saw him in concert a couple years ago) was not an athlete...until, that is, he completed 6 weeks of training and then ran a marathon.

43 times.

in 52 days.

That's 1,100 miles for charity. Truly insane.
Mental Health Break
A Red Sox winning streak has them pulling away from the Rangers for the wild card spot - nice pitching by Dice-K last night helped them to a 5 1/2 game lead. With a series in New York still to go, that's a nice cushion. Post-season, here we come.

Meanwhile, just in case, hockey season is on the way. The first pre-season game for the home team is tomorrow. Go Preds! (Get Phil Kessel!)

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Facebook Update
Sorry to hijack this blog (especially since I don't seem to bother updating my own much these days), but since we've talked about the plusses and minuses of Facebook here before, I just wanted to let everybody know that I've been de-friended by some right-wing person I apparently went to high school with but have no idea who he is. I don't really mind, since I'd already hidden his posts anyway.

See, Mark? Sometimes Facebook can lead to a happy ending.
Deep Thought Analogy of the Day
Joe Wilson:Obama :: Iraqi Shoe-Thrower:Bush :: Kanye West:Taylor Swift :: Serena Williams:Line Judge

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lunkhead of the Week
There's a clear choice this week, obviously, but I'm going to go elsewhere, because while Congressman Joe Wilson is nutty to the core, Minnesota Governor - and presidential aspirant - Tim Pawlenty knows better. He's just desperately appealing to The Crazy so they'll like him.
Out of Bounds
Many are comparing Joe Wilson's outburst with the typical harassment British Members of Parliament use all the time. Actually, not so much. Even there, calling someone a liar is unacceptable.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Most Important Thing...
...the President said last night was that he was so committed to making health reform deficit neutral that he wanted a provision mandating further budget cuts if the savings they expect don't materialize. Shouldn't that help reassure those budget hawks who believe the deficit-neutral promise can't possibly be kept?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I'm In For $25
Hopefully the candidate I just supported isn't some loon, or worse. But it feels good to take *some* action in defense of congressional manners. Seeing the numbers raised it looks like I'm not alone.
Sounds About Right
Barney Frank tonight on the current state of Republican opposition: "A blend of cynicism and stupidity."

I thought the speech was fabulous and moving, a moment sullied only by the jerk of a Republican congressman who heckled the President. It's too late now, but I started writing a post earlier today saying I half expected some townhall-style lunacy to enter the event, either from the gallery or from some idiot Representative (who, let's face it, had probably had a few drinks). But it seemed so unlikely, I ditched it. Never underestimate the GOP I guess.

What did you think?
Tonight - What Do You Want to Hear?
Honestly, I don't care much what Obama says about the public option. There are so many moving parts in the details, it's hard to keep track of all the consequences just from watching the news. Depending on how it's structured, a public plan may be great or may be so-so. I'm all for it, but don't anticipate him saying anything different from what he's been saying: he's for it, thinks it's the best way to control costs, but doesn't think it's the be-all of reform.

No, as much as the process needs the President to pass down details, that's not what I'm looking for in his speech. What I want him to do is light a fire under Congress to recognize that the current system has destroyed too many lives, threatens to devour our entire economy, and will only get worse on both counts unless and until they act.

If they can't handle the task of grappling with reform and coming together on the best bill they can pass, they are basically worthless as legislators and representatives. I want to hear him shame and berate them into action. Especially the Democrats. The bill will not be perfect. It may even cause as many problems as it solves initially. But maybe those won't take us 50 years to fix like the ones we have now.

They should already be ashamed that the President has to call a special joint session just to tell them to do their jobs. I know building consensus isn't easy, but we're close, we have majorities in both houses, and there's no reason why it can't be done now. If Republicans make us beat a filibuster, then figure out how to use reconciliation and browbeat them for the next 14 months for being such obstructionists. If we lose in 2010, we lose. Let's go down doing something, instead of going down doing nothing.

How about you? What are you looking for?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Liberals Debate Public Option
Robert Reich argues that a public plan is needed to give taxpayers a big enough pool of participants for leverage in negotiating rates with health providers. Ezra Klein makes the case that the public option isn't all that. For one thing, not as many people as you may think will even be eligible to buy in (an under-reported feature/bug of the legislation), so the pool won't be all that large. Krugman counters.

Monday, September 07, 2009

What's so bad about attaching a trigger to the "public option"? It sounds to me like a reasonable way around the vote logjam in the Senate, especially if it can overcome a filibuster and avoid the hassle of reconciliation. But a trigger also could actually be a good idea, leading to stronger reform than a public option might be without one. Read Nate.
Talkin' Baseball
I love the Red Sox and follow them pretty closely. And if I care about rooting for actual success every now and then, it's a good thing too. The 4 American League teams that will likely make the playoffs this season are, unsurprisingly, the top 4 payrolls in that league, with the #1 salaried Yankees nearly 70% higher than #2 Boston. (In the more even-handed NL, the #3,5,9 and 10 ranked salaries look to make the post-season this year). For fans, then, it's pick sides between the same few well-heeled teams that make it almost every year, or hope that you're cheering on an above-average-payroll team that can sneak in every once in a while. For those in the bottom third or so, barring something very strange (Tampa last year) you have little chance. So it is that my Pirates set the record this year for most consecutive losing seasons, with a payroll only 1/4 that of the Evil Empire Yankees.

Until there is a meaningful salary cap like they have in the NBA, NFL and NHL - where there are still inequities, only less so - teams like the Pirates will for all practical purpose have no chance whatsoever, unless purchased by a tycoon with millions to burn. What kind of a game is that?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Remember When...
...Dan Quayle visited the impressionable school children of America and spread his political ideology of poor spelling?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Lunkheads of the Week
Independents. They are now apparently leaving Obama and the Democrats in droves in latest polls. Somewhere in America are perhaps millions of screwed-up voters who once upon a time pulled the lever for Democrats in Congress but Republicans for President, then supported Bill Clinton in 92 cause George raised taxes, then got caught up in Newt Gingrich's Contract and voted in Republicans in 94, backed Perot in 96, but went for Dems in 98 because they were pissed about impeachment, then went for W in 2000 because Al Gore sighed and talked funny, then would have gone against W in 2004 but had to vote for him because Kerry betrayed his country in Vietnam, then voted Democrats in control in 2006 because of Iraq, and supported Obama in 2008 because they thought he would do something about health care and fix the Bush economy, and now are going to vote Republican in 2010 because Obama is trying to do something about health care and hasn't fixed the economy yet, after he's had 8 whole months to undo Bush's 8 years of damage.

These people truly confound me.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Late Night Health Care Deep Thought
If "being an asshole" could be categorized a pre-existing condition that jeopardizes one's health coverage, anti-reformers would change their minds quickly.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Most Important Video Game Ever?
Here's Seth Schiesel reviewing The Beatles: Rock Band in this weekend's New York Times:

The Beatles: Rock Band is nothing less than a cultural watershed, one that may prove only slightly less influential than the band’s famous appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. By reinterpreting an essential symbol of one generation in the medium and technology of another, The Beatles: Rock Band provides a transformative entertainment experience.

In that sense it may be the most important video game yet made.
With all due respect to Wii Sports, no video game has ever brought more parents together with their teenage and adult children than The Beatles: Rock Band likely will in the months and years to come.
Previous music games have been about collections of songs. The Beatles: Rock Band is about representing and reoffering an entire worldview encapsulated in music.

An entire worldview?

My Naivety on Display re Health Reform
There are only so many Democratic Senators and Representatives. Surely they talk. Doesn't somebody in the leadership already know where everyone's breaking points and bottom lines are? Contingency A if we have a replacement for Kennedy, and Contingency B if we don't. Other than that variable, shouldn't the endgame already be basically known? Are there 60 votes for a plan with a public option or aren't there? Are there 50 for the kind of public option required in a reconciliation package or not? If the answer to both questions is NO, then what is the next best plan that would get 60, or 50 in reconciliation? Don't we know the answers to these questions? Why all the suspense?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer Homework
Is it too much? Here's a NYTimes panel on the question of summer work and homework, generally for children. Whose view is closest to yours?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Know What This Is?

Answer here. Pretty cool.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Remember When TARP Was Sold as an Investment?
And not just a bunch of money we simply threw out the window to save the financial system? Well, it turns out we are actually making a profit on some of it. The $700 billion original cost is shrinking as banks pay back the US Treasury - and then some. By the time the whole thing plays out, we may even break even on the deal (with the added bonus of perhaps avoiding the complete meltdown of the economy in a global depression).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lunkhead of the Week
Steven Anderson. Some weeks, it's an easy call.
Deep Thought
Given the state of things, politically - with liberals frustrated and confused about his health care strategy, independents predictably weak-kneed when it comes to actually doing something, and Republicans just frothing-at-the-mouth, batshit insane, it's pretty impressive really that Obama's approval ratings are as high as 50%.
Argues for compromise. Would you take this deal?
More Ted
Kenny B wants to know why this isn't playing on newscasts across the country re health care.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What is the Price?
In case your eyes have been dry all day, here's Ted on the minimum wage 2 years ago.
The Lion of the Senate
Rest in Peace, Ted Kennedy. Read the President's statement here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Health Reform Updates
Some recommended links:
Jon Gabel of the National Opinion Research Center writes an op-ed in the NYTimes questioning the ability of the CBO to accurately predict savings in reform:
As health care reform makes its way through Congress, the budget office’s assessment of how much various elements might cost may determine the details of legislation, and whether it ultimately passes. But when it comes to forecasting the costs of reform, the budget office’s record is suspect. In each of the past three decades, when assessing major changes in Medicare, it has substantially underestimated the savings the changes would bring.
At TPM, Josh posts the concerns of a doctor has an idea why fellow professionals aren't more engaged in the reform effort:
Remember our daily lives: every insurance company requires that we are certified with them, every company has a different form to use, every company says no to our initial request. Hospitals rarely collect more than 40 cents on the dollar billed. THEY DRIVE US CRAZY. So, why not enlist us in the cause?

There are many examples of low-hanging fruit: a universal billing form, available for electronic submission to cut down on paper work and administration costs; a penalty for a claim incorrectly rejected...He needs to show us why reform will improve our working lives as well as our patients lives. If he did that, there would be no louder advocates.
Steven Pearlstein rips Michael Steele.

David Leonhardt explains the benefits of an approach like Wyden-Bennett, which Nashville Congressman *sigh* Jim Cooper supports, but hardly anyone else.
In the simplest version, families would receive a voucher worth as much as their employer spends on their health insurance. They would then buy an insurance plan on an “exchange” where insurers would compete for their business. The government would regulate this exchange. Insurers would be required to offer basic benefits, and insurers that attracted a sicker group of patients would be subsidized by those that attracted a healthier group.

The immediate advantage would be that people could choose a plan that fit their own preferences, rather than having to accept a plan chosen by human resources....

The longer-term advantage would be that health insurance would become fully subject to the brutal and wonderful forces of the market. Insurers that offered better plans — plans that drew on places like the Mayo Clinic to offer good, lower-cost care — would win more customers.
Don't Try This at Home
Thanks to Mark for sending.

Monday, August 24, 2009

God Help Us
Wasn't Timothy McVeigh a right-wing terrorist? Also, just a year ago weren't we at war with terror? I guess it's ok if you're a Republican.
In Which I Sort of Agree with Douthat
It doesn't feel great to, but I basically agree with his column this morning, which ends this way:
If the Congressional Democrats can’t get a health care package through, it won’t prove that President Obama is a sellout or an incompetent. It will prove that Congress’s liberal leaders are lousy tacticians, and that its centrist deal-makers are deal-makers first, poll watchers second and loyal Democrats a distant third. And it will prove that the Democratic Party is institutionally incapable of delivering on its most significant promises.

You have to assume that on some level Congress understands this — which is why you also have to assume that some kind of legislation will eventually pass.

If it doesn’t, President Obama will have been defeated. But it’s the party, not the president, that will have failed.