Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Corny crimes against humanity

I found the WSJ article quoting a UN official (later officially disavowed) describing the use of food crops to make biofuels as a crime against humanity. Of course, in this way of thinking:

(1) A lawn or a flowerbed that could be raising vegetables is a crime against humanity.
(2) Harvard Yard and Cambridge Common are crimes against humanity.
(3) Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks are crimes against humanity.
(4) A Christmas tree is a crime against humanity.
(5) Giving your sweetie a single rose is a crime against humanity.

For that matter, belonging to a CSA that grows less productive organic vegetables is a crime against humanity and so is living in a house in the suburbs.

On the other hand, driving up the cost of corn should make crops grown in developing countries more economically viable, which has been a big complaint against US and European agricultural subsidies in recent years (growing more food on a subsidized basis is also a crime against humanity in the eyes of some at the UN, by the way.) And taking all those calories out of the food supply might help do something about the obesity problem in the US. And we don’t have to fight terrorists to get our ethanol (or we might, I think Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols were from corn country).

Friday, November 16, 2007

Things to do in Fall River

From one of our WestPort correspondents:

If you are going to the Narrows, Fall River is an interesting place. I have worked and lived in Fall River. My dad was born there.

If you are looking for a place to eat, I recommend sampling one of the Portuguese restaurants, which are actually Azorean by way of America. If you could eat shellfish, I would recommend Shrimp Mozambique – perhaps you could push that on a dining companion. Their steak is served in a really delicious garlicky gravy-like sauce and normally served with a roasted red pepper, egg, and plenty of fries for sopping (or rice). You are hard pressed to find vegetables in these restaurants. I don’t know why these people don’t get scurvy or something. You can’t go wrong with Flan for dessert.

All the restaurants have variations of the same dishes and everyone knows which place serves each dish in their favorite way. I have taken part in numerous arguments over who has the best Shrimp Mozambique -- I liked O’Gils. Also, you can get true rose wine – not that crappy White Zinfandel that has replaced it in the rest of America. Many of the bars/restaurants have a very “grandpa hanging out at the lodge” feel. And, I bet you can still get a draft for a dollar or two at most of them.

The restaurants have bars with separate entrances because only the guys go into them. You rarely see women in them. We quite a ruckus in these places. Many of these places have dancing in the evening on the restaurant side. I’ve bartended them. They do some old-fashioned Portuguese dances and it’s pretty fun to watch.

The local folk are great. Loud and brash blue collar families who never leave the city. They live in 3-deckers with their extended families. Girls live with their parents until they get married. When they get married, their husbands literally hand over their paychecks to them – the wives give them an allowance. When the husband dies, the wife wears black for the rest of her life. They have these Catholic feast days where there are parades led by people carrying statues of the Virgin Mary and old women bringing up the rear crawling on their HANDS AND KNEES. Crazy folks.

VI Day in Iraq

“Remember VE Day and VJ Day at the end of Wolrd War II. We’re about to see VI Day in Iraq. – Oliver North on Hannity and Colmes.

Reply: A recent poll found that 46% of Ohioans think we are on the right course in Iraq. How could that many people be so wrong?

A: We are winning at the moment and we are starting to withdraw troops. That’s the right course, just needs to move along faster.

Here’s what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky had to say today: "We ought to get the troops the funding they need to finish the mission without restrictions and without a surrender date."

Remember the old baseball rule. If the team is ahead or tied when the pitcher is changed, the new pitcher gets stuck with the loss. Likewise, if the old pitcher goes out ahead, the old pitcher gets the win and the new pitcher just gets a save. So all this jockeying is just over who gets the credit or has to take the blame. So Pubs can say “We were winning, we wanted to keep pitching, they pulled the funds and put in their own pitcher, then our enemies went ahead. They lost us the war.” Or, if the Pubs draw down troops on their own schedule before the 2008 election they get to campaign on “We won the war” (won past tense).

You wait. I’m guessing V-I day will be declared some time next spring or summer, after the primaries, before the conventions.

Reply: To add to the baseball analogy - When there is a pitching change, the outgoing pitcher is responsible for any men left on base.

A: No, I don’t think the men left on base count for who gets the win and who gets the loss. Maybe men left on base affect the pitcher’s ERA. Men left on base can affect whether a pitcher gets credited with a save. For the Dems they are spinning towards either (A) not our loss, we were behind when we took over or (B) our win, we were losing but turned it around. They could also spin towards (C) our save, we were ahead but vulnerable and pulled out the win, but that doesn’t seem to be in their playbook. I’m personally sticking with, the other side scored some runs but the game is won, let’s come home.

Reply: It's football season, for chrissake. The Pubs fumbled. Let's hope the Dems recover.

A: It’s not enough to recover the fumble, you also have to move the ball down the field.

Reply: True, but you can't move down the field unless you have the ball.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Johnny Carson named Hollywood hick

Lest you think my hick theory (head Iowan in charge) is all wet, native Iowan Johnny Carson has been named Greatest TV Icon, with native Iowan Walter Cronkite at #5 (top newsman in the list).

Q: Who is Marcia Cross (#100)?

Reply: Desperate Housewives. Important to note she was born in 1962, a very good year.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Banjo night at Sanders Theater

Friday, November 9, 2007 was banjo night at Sanders Theater in Cambridge. About the banjo, Grammy award-winning banjo artist Alison Brown says there are two kinds of people. When you take out the banjo, some people run towards the stage and some run away. The folks in the first category got a real treat at Sanders with a double bill put on by World Music.

There is a danger, when you headline Sanders Theater, of getting upstaged by the opening act. That principle was on display with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who came on first. They performed old-time string band music infused with fife and drum and other African-American styles of the Deep South. This three person ensemble worked through a range of instruments: banjo, guitar, fiddle, harmonica, snare, bones, and jug. Lead singer Rhiannon Gibbons performed barefoot, a brave and trusting move for a cold November New England night. She asked from the stage that the house lights be brought up so they could see the audience. It was engaging and it was fun. It was a lot of fun. And if they could only get a few people up to dance, they got everyone to sing, and earned a standing ovation that brought them back for an encore.

Then Crooked Still took the stage and brought the lights back down. This four person group played the Cantab bluegrass night for several years, the Somerville Theatre, and Club Passim. They perform a lot of traditional folk songs with banjo, cello, and double bass. The lead singer Aoife O’Donovan (Aoife is pronounced just like it’s spelled) has a sweet voice, but had a little difficulty filling Sanders with it. And there was an air of melancholy. Crooked Still has played together since 2001, when they were all graduate students here in Boston, but now they have spread apart. Double-bassist Corey DiMario now lives in Vermont. Banjoist Dr. Gregory Liszt has been touring with Bruce Springsteen and his Seeger Sessions Band. Cellist Rushad Eggleston, whose attire and demeanor as always brought to mind a down-on-his-luck circus clown, is now living out on the West Coast and is leaving the group for other musical interests. So it was, I’m sure for many of their long-time fans, a special send-off in a great venue. And the technical level of their musicianship was excellent. Crooked Still does plan to add two new members this winter, and one hopes to see them around town, perhaps someday back at Sanders.

Coming up for the banjo crowd: Alison Brown plays the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River on Saturday, December 8. I may need to take a run down there, and am looking to recruit. It’s a great space in an old mill building in the waterfront district.

Geek rock concert report (TMBG)

They Might Be Giants played The Roxy in Boston on Friday night, October 19, 2007.

This is a band you may think you’ve never heard of, but you most definitely have heard. They did the Dr. Evil Theme for Austin Powers II, the theme for Malcolm in the Middle (you’re not the boss of me now …), and performed the theme for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I remember first seeing They Might Be Giants on Letterman in 1993. IMDB says Mary Chapin Carpenter and Bill Murray appeared on that show too. And I had all their CDs back in the days when I only had 12 CDs. Of course, being the ultimate geek, actually going to one of their shows never even occurred to me back then.

I have never seen a concert audience quite like this one. It is geek pride night: men with plaid shirts, women wearing hooded sweatshirts (not hoodies, hooded sweatshirts), and lots of fans holding up big yellow styrofoam fingers (the first finger, number one). I get me one of those by purchasing their new CD, The Else. And there are a lot of younger fans who couldn’t have been more than toddlers back in the day. The number of brown-haired women sporting the librarian look and wearing glasses warms my heart (contact lenses ruin your geek cred). Admittedly, there are a couple of women dressed in the classic rocker chick style with the designer slacks; the shiny-fuzzy, skin-tight, v-necked top; and the not-quite-shoulder-length blonded hair. But they stand off to the side towards the back, like a couple of wallflowers.

My friend the journeyman wind and reed player from the now-defunct Uncle Shaker Band came with me. TMBG is, he says, about as much rock and roll as he can take these days. He and I stopped before the show at some food joint in the Theater District for a bowl of soup. We may have a convert.

From all appearances, the show at The Roxy is a sell-out. And from the stage TMBG is shamelessly plugging a show Saturday night at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton which they say has not yet sold out. It sounds great, this is to be a special horns show with the horns playing parts on all the old favorites that they don’t ordinarily play. They ask us if we know anyone in western Massachusetts we could call and tell to go. They ask us if we know us, if we can get in a car and drive to Northampton for the show. They ask for a show of hands, for people driving out, that we might hook up with for a ride. But there is a problem they don’t mention. Saturday night is ALCS game 6 with the Boston Red Sox against the Cleveland Indians. What is a self-respecting geek rocker to do? Choose you favorite band or your favorite baseball team? I’m afraid that Northampton horns show won’t sell out, unless they get some fans to drive up from New York City.

The show starts at 7:45pm, and clears out promptly around 10pm to make room for the dance DJs who take over The Roxy on weekend nights. We file out past three hip-hop DJs who are waiting impatiently in the marble foyer with their equipment. They look us over with something between confusion and disbelief.

So what does any self-respecting geek-rocker do after a TMBG show? In my case, I took the subway home and popped the documentary Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns into the DVD. But after 10 minutes I swapped it out and stayed up way past my bedtime watching episodes of the new Battlestar Galatica. I was a fan of the original show in the late 1970s. The new show stars Edward James Olmos in the Lorne Greene role as Adama. But it also stars Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck in the role originated by Dirk Benedict. I am pretty sure if I watch this new series long enough (which I will), Starbuck is going to hook up with Apollo, now played by Jamie Bamber. And before that Starbuck is likely to dally with the original Apollo, Richard Hatch, who now plays a freedom fighter/terrorist named Tom Zarek. I am so confused.

But I digress. It’s now 3 weeks later and having watched my way through Battlestar Galatica Season 2.5 (2.5, how geeky is that), I’m back to finish watching Gigantic. It turns out the two leads of TMBG, John Flansburgh and John Lindell, are from Lincoln, Massachusetts. So that explains the recurring Ernie Boch theme in the show. “Triangle Man hates Ernie Boch. They have a fight. Triangle wins.” Ernie Boch got famous in Boston back in the 1970s and 1980s by inviting people to “come on down” to his Toyota dealership. I had thought TMBG was a band from Brooklyn, which is true only in the sense that the two Johns ended up there after college. Now that I know they are from New England, I may have to reconsider their entire body of work.

Set list:

The Cap'm
Damn Good Times
The Mesopotamians
Take Out the Trash
Don't Let's Start
XTC Vs. Adam Ant
It's Not My Birthday
Alphabet of Nations
E Eats Everything
Upside Down Frown
Memo to Human Resources
I'm Impressed
Mr. Me
Museum of Idiots
With the Dark
Withered Hope


Bee of the Bird of the Moth
Doctor Worm
Particle Man
Maybe I Know

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Shoot him with your products

Q: Which presidential candidate said the following when speaking to works at a gun factory up in New Hampshire?

"I will follow Osama Bin Laden to the gates of hell and I will shoot him with your products."

A: John McCain

Friday, November 2, 2007

Find your candidate

Q: Take the quiz and find your candidate.

A: You call this a quiz? The questions and available choices leave something to be desired. On immigration, where is the choice for stiff fines on employers hiring illegals while establishing a North American Union without doing any of the crazy fence, guest worker, denial of citizenship to kids born in the USA to undocumented parents stuff. And what kind of a question is this on Social Security: “Do you favor the concept of privatization of Social Security to any degree?” Here were my scores:

Dennis Kucinich Score: 21 nutcase
Mike Gravel Score: 21 nutcase
Bill Richardson Score: 20 my first choice, as it happens
Joe Biden Score: 19 idiot, unqualified
Hillary Clinton Score: 18 my third choice, has moved up from fourth
Barack Obama Score: 18 unqualified
Chris Dodd Score: 17 unqualified
Mitt Romney Score: 16 my fourth choice, down from second, would be excellent VP
John Edwards Score: 15 pretty boy
Ron Paul Score: 14 nutcase who wants to repeal 14th Amendment while claiming to be “for” the Constitution
John McCain Score: 12 high personal respect, low political
Rudy Giuliani Score: 11 my second choice, up from third, would feel duty-bound to vote for first pro-choice Republican nominee since Ford
Duncan Hunter Score: 9 who?
Jim Gilmore Score: 9 who?
Sam Brownback Score: 8 who?
Fred Thompson Score: 6 why?
Tom Tancredo Score: 5 who?
Mike Huckabee Score: 3 why?

So Guiliani/Romney would be the best bid the Republicans could make for my vote. Richardson/Clinton would be test best bid the Democrats could make, and I would definitely put aside my sense of duty for that, but that ticket is not going to happen. Of course, I would have to move someplace else for my vote to count, as we know Massachusetts will go for the Dem. Or could Guiliani be competitive in Massachusetts?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Head Iowan in Charge

Whoever you may think is running the country, there is always an Iowan in charge:

1868 to 1914 - Buffalo Bill Cody – He closed the frontier and helped start the conservation movement.

1914 to 1933 - Secretary of Commerce and then President Herbert Hoover. “We could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.” During World War I, as head of the CRB, he saved Belgium from starvation. And I’ll bet you didn’t know that FDR’s bank holiday that restored confidence in the US banking system was actually planned by the Hoover administration.

1933 to 1948 - Secretary of Agriculture and then Vice President Henry Wallace. His hybrid seed corn revolutionized agriculture. He was the New Deal. Had he become President in 1945 or 1948, he might have avoided the Cold War.

1948 to 1962 - Actor John Wayne. These years mark his career from Red River to The Searchers to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but it could be argued his hickdom extends into the 1970s. His 1969 movie True Grit ushered in the post-feminist era with the seminal line “she reminds me of me.”

1962 to 1981 - CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite – After Cronkite broadcast that he thought the Vietnam War was unwinnable, President Lyndon Johnson is reported to have said, "If I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."

1981 to present - Senator Charles Grassley. On the Senate Finance Committee, he saved Social Security as we know it in the 1980s by raising taxes and again in the 2000s by burying private accounts. And in the 1990s he helped Bill Clinton balance the federal budget.

Note: There is a school of thought that Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show was the hick from 1962 to 1992. Some maintain that Mamie Eisenhower was the hick from 1941 to 1960, I just don’t know how much influence she actually had. George Gallup is also sometimes mentioned as the hick from 1936 to 1984.