Friday, April 30, 2010

Flat Stanley Visits the Left Bank of the Charles

I received an email a week or so ago from my friends Don & Jackie in Iowa. They asked if I would show Flat Stanley around Cambridge, Massachusetts where I live. Don said this was a favor for his cousin’s bowling teammate who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska and has a granddaughter in Maryville, Missouri.

Well, whenever someone’s cousin’s bowling teammate needs a favor, I always say yes. Plus, it was a warm, sunny day and I was glad to get out of work to show someone around town.

When Flat Stanley arrived in another email the next day, I was surprised. I was expecting a boy, not a girl with long orange hair and a blue skirt. I asked her how she got the name Stanley. “That’s my last name,” she replied.

She wasn’t very happy because she arrived upside down. She said she had traveled by email upside all the way across the country from Lincoln, Nebraska. That’s 1,500 miles. She had quite a headache.

I should tell you a little bit about my city. Cambridge has about 100,000 residents, which is about 10 times more people than Maryville. But the town is only about twice as big, so it’s a lot more crowded. That’s like if you had to have four other classes share your classroom with you.

First we went to Cambridge Common, which is a large park in the middle of the city. The farmers used to graze their cows there, but there are no farmers in the city anymore.

During the American Revolution, this is where General George Washington took command of the Continental Army in 1775. He was the first President of the United States.

Cambridge Common also has some cannons that were captured from the British. Flat Stanley wanted to fire the cannon, but I didn’t think that was a good idea. “The people in those buildings wouldn’t like that,” I said.

Cambridge has two universities, Harvard and MIT, so it is a college town like Maryville.

We went into Harvard Yard and saw the statute of John Harvard.

Some Native American students at Harvard have constructed a Wetu, a wigwam covered in bark like the ones Native Americans in Massachusetts lived in a long time ago.

Next we walked into Harvard Square, where there are lots of stores and a subway station.

Last we went to JFK Park, which is named after John F. Kennedy who was President of the United States 50 years ago. He was born across the Charles River in Brookline.

I asked Flat Stanley if she would like to go back by email, but she said no, she didn’t want to do that upside down thing again. So we chose the regular mail.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wall Street Journal Hypes the iPad as Ultimate Leisure Device

The iPad 3G arrives in stores tomorrow. Throw away your Kindle. And that's the hype coming from the Wall Street Journal.

Common Sense columnist James B. Stewart calls the Apple iPad "the ultimate leisure device: the book, newspaper, magazine, television, stereo and movie theater all rolled into one." His headline: "Punch Apple's Shares Into Your iPad, Press 'Buy'."

Personal Technology columnist Walt Mossberg thinks the iPad will replace the laptop for a lot of people. He thinks Apple has done a beautiful job. He says he got 11.5 hours of battery life playing video back to back. He says he's a fan of the Kindle but would pick the iPad for ebooks.

A Wall Street Journal poll asks readers to rate Kindle or iPad: Which is the better book-reading experience? At this writing, the score is 66.77% iPad, 28.8% Kindle, 4.5% other reader.

I tried the iPad at the Apple Store this past weekend, and thought it was great for web surfing. One problem is that it doesn't support Flash, which is used on a lots of websites. But the salesman says a lot of media websites are promising to dump Flash, including the Wall Street Journal's website.

That's a lot more than just hype.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Brilliant Sunset on an Otherwise Sunless Day

The sun slips in under the cloud cover at the end of a rainy day.

It burns very brightly for a moment.

Then leaves a lingering afterglow.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Antje Duvekot at Club Passim

Antje Duvekot headlined last night at Club Passim in Cambridge. Also on the bill of fare were Lucy Wainwright Roche (opening) and Anne Heaton (unbilled).

Speaking of the bill of fare, we continue to love the new menu, which is the old menu with smaller portions and wine and beer. The highlight last night was a vanilla ice cream float with orange soda.

Antje has a little trouble remembering the words to a new song, which I am calling Something Happens to the Neighbors.

Antje singing her goodbyes to the Dublin Boys never gets old. Dublin's loss is Cambridge's gain. Antje did two shows at Club Passim Thursday and another two shows Friday. That's a big draw for a folk artist at Club Passim.

Friday, April 23, 2010

YouTube Turns 5 (That's 1700 in Human Years)

YouTube went operational five years ago on April 23, 2005 with the posting of the above video, Me at the zoo. That 19 seconds has been viewed over 2 million times.

Jawed Karim is the YouTube co-founder seen in this video. He left YouTube in its first year to get a graduate degree in computer science from Stanford University. That could be the most expensive graduate degree in history.

Jawed is reported to have received 137,443 shares in Google when that company bought YouTube in October 2006. That was worth $64 million then, and would be worth $75 million now. But the other two YouTube co-founders, Chad Hurley and Steven Chen, received $345 million and $326 million apiece. You do the math.

By my calculations, 1 YouTube year is equivalent to 340 human years. According to YouTube, every minute another 24 hours of video is uploaded. And it would take 1700 years to watch all the videos posted to date. That's a lot of trips to the zoo.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Samuel Bayer at Bloc 11

Samuel Bayer at Bloc 11 in Union Square, Somerville on April 21, 2010. The song is Your Side of the Bed.

Literate, resonate, exuberant. Well, two out of three ain't bad. Maybe it just wasn't an exuberant night. Better to be literate and resonate.

Bloc 11 is a great space. The bands set up in back. You can sit back there, or up front with the open windows to the street. There is Wi-Fi for your laptop. You can get your sandwich hot or cold. Your tea is served with a little teapot.

The whole place shuts down at 9pm so as not to keep up the neighbors.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Store That Still Isn't There

We reported on this now empty Brattle Street Harvard Square retail space in February 2009 and again in November 2009. The signs are that a new store is coming soon.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes at the Orpheum

Elvis Costello and started his latest tour at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Elvis Costello and the Impostors, now Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes. To say that this is a new band is an understatement.

T-Bone Burnett was involved as a producer which might explain the hat Elvis was wearing along with his trademark black-rimmed glasses. And lyrics like these from the song Sulfur and Sugarcane:

The women in Poughkeepsie
Take their clothes off when they're tipsy
But I hear in Ypsilanti
They don't wear any panties

This may be my new favorite Elvis Costello song. As he says on his website, "It was startling to find how much applause one can receive for impugning the moral reputation of the ladies of Ypsilanti, even in Ypsilanti." I have been to Ypsilanti.

The band also did some stuff from the songbook, like What's So Funny About Peace, Love, & Understanding. With the fiddle, bass fiddle, mandolin, and accordion:

As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity.
And as I walked on
Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?

That was written by Nick Lowe, and was recorded by Elvis Costello on Armed Forces in 1979. You can have your Beatles and Dylan and Rolling Stones. I'll take Elvis Costello, the greatest balladeer of my generation.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sean Hannity Tea Bags Cincinnati Tax Day Tea Party

Sean Hannity was supposed to do his Fox News show from a tea party event in Cincinnati last Thursday on Tax Day, April 15. Then he abruptly canceled on the day of the event, leaving the organizers holding the bag.

The Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati had been booked for the rally, which was hosted by the Cincinnati Tea Party, the Cincinnati 9/12 Project and the Ohio Liberty Council. That's ironic itself as Fifth Third Bank, for whom the arena is named, received $3.4 billion in bailout money and the tea party is very much against the bank bailouts.

Sean Hannity was the main attraction. When his cancellation was announced to the tea party rally, many wanted a refund on their admission tickets. Which begs the question, did they come for the tea party politics, or to see a Fox News celebrity in person? To their credit, the Cincinnati tea party organizers have promised to issue refunds to those who ask for their money back.

It has never been clear to many observers if the tea party groups are truly independent grass roots groups. Often, Fox News commentators such as Sean Hannity have been the main event at these tea party rallies. And they have promoted the rallies on their Fox News shows as public appearances and book signing events. It begged the question, were these rallies just clever marketing to promote Fox News stars and sell their books?

In the case of the 9/12 project, there can be no pretense of independence. This movement was started by Glenn Beck, who moved his cable show from CNN to Fox News after the 2008 election. The 9/12 project website is run by Glenn Beck's production company. But Glenn Beck and the local Cincinnati group bill the 9/12 project as a nonpartisan movement. So that begs the question, why is the 9/12 project co-hosting a political event like the tea party rally?

Back to why Sean Hannity bagged out at the last minute. The tea party organizers said Hannity's people told them that it was a personal emergency. They were surprised when later that evening the Hannity show aired from its usual studio in New York.

It's now being reported that the "personal emergency" was that Hannity was summoned back to New York to do his show by his bosses at Fox News. They were said to be shocked to learn that admission was being charged to the event and that the tea party organizers were making a profit out of the taping of a Fox News show. And that does beg the question, was Fox News hosting a fundraising event for the tea party, a political group.

That's something that Fox News may have every right to do, particularly in light of the recent Supreme Court decision on the free speech rights of corporations. But not something that they want to be seen as doing, any more. That's the word that came down earlier in the week from CEO Rupert Murdoch of News Corp., which owns Fox News.

Here's what Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace had to say about the cancellation the next day:

"I think what happened is that the Fox folks were upset when they found out that they were selling tickets to the rally, and that the idea that maybe they were going to be profiting from the rally, and from Sean's involvement in it. I don't know that Sean's in trouble, but I think that there's -- people are looking at Fox, and, you know, how do we avoid being taken advantage of."

So if Fox News thinks it is being taken advantage of, what do the Cincinnati tea party organizers think? They think they have been ill-used and Fox News is not telling the truth. Here's what they said in their press release:

Cincinnati Tea Party will profit from broadcasting Hannity Show
The Fox News Network was unaware of paid tickets

No member of the Cincinnati Tea Party has personally profited from any event.
All members are volunteers – we have no paid employees.
The cost of tickets was designed to offset the cost of the event – we did not make a profit."

The Cincinnati tea party organizers say they had expenses over $70,000, gave away $4,000 worth of tickets, and put over 4,250 hours of unpaid volunteer work into the event. So who is taking advantage of who? It looks to me that the Cincinnati tea party organizers were paying for Sean Hannity's book signing and a venue for Fox News to broadcast the Hannity how.

Here is my advice to the tea party. David Frum summed it up well last month when he observed, "Republicans originally thought Fox worked for us and now we're discovering we work for Fox." But in the case of the tea party, I would go further and say you used to work for Fox, now you're on your own.

And how did the Cincinnati tea party go without Sean Hannity? The main celebrity speaker ending up being Ohio's own Joe the Plumber. Joe Wurzelbacher had been scheduled to appear on Hannity's show in Cincinnati, but Hannity did not take him with him back to New York.

Joe had some good advice for the crowd to not depend on Sean Hannity and other talk show hosts for their political views. Then Joe was asked about his position on illegal immigration:

"Illegal immigration? Put up a fence and start shooting."

With invective like that, maybe the tea party deserves to get fired. And considering the now supposedly terminated association, maybe Fox News deserves to get fired too. But for a replacement many tea party goers are not hiring Joe the Plumber. Half the audience left at intermission.

Jon Stewart Goes Nazi Kamikaze on Fox News Logo

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
A Farewell to Arms
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
Skip ahead to 2:14.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

John McCain Goes Maverick on J.D. Hayworth

It is funny but is it fair? We think so.

John McCain faces a tough primary challenge in his bid for reelection to the U.S. Senate. The conservative wing of the Republican Party found a former Congressman and radio talk show host named J.D. Hayworth to run against McCain.

If the conservative wing had supported McCain more enthusiastically in 2008, he might be President today. Instead many vowed in the spring of 2008 to vote for Hillary Clinton. McCain had to settle for staying in his U.S. Senate seat for Arizona. Now they want to deny him that office too.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Virginia Governor McDonnell Commended for His Intellectual Dishonesty

The Confederate History Month proclamation that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell issued last week continues to reverberate, at least in the minds of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

When the proclamation was first issued, they were all smiles. A "nail in the coffin of political correctness" they trumpeted.

But when the Governor added a paragraph on slavery to the proclamation, their smiles turned upside down. They yanked the proclamation off their website with a direction to "visit the Governor's site to read his revised proclamation."

And they added a resolution of their own that ends with this missile:

"THE VIRGINIA DIVISION, SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS, does hereby commend Governor Robert F. McDonnell for the issuance of the Confederate History Month proclamation; and"

"THE VIRGINIA DIVISION, does hereby absolutely refute the claim that Confederate soldiers went to the field of battle for the sole purpose of preserving slavery as an intellectually dishonest argument; and"

"THE VIRGINIA DIVISION does not endorse any statement that the Confederacy existed entirely for the defense of slavery and considers such statements to be a detriment to the memory of the many Virginians who gave their lives to defend against the illegal federal invasion of the Commonwealth of Virginia in a long and bloody war."

There are several ways to look at this. One is that this neoconfederate effort to recast the causes of the Civil War is a dangerous whitewashing of history that may hide a secret racist agenda.

Another is that the revisionism is in some sense a good thing, as it shows any acceptance of slavery is no longer acceptable in our society. It's sometimes too easy to brand as racist, or too quick to find guilt by association. This may be nothing more than it purports to be, an interest in history colored by a personal connection of descendants to some of the participants in that history.

My view is that groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans can be proud of their heritage. No one should feel they can't be proud of their ancestors. I just don't think they need to try so hard to refute anything they regard as a blemish on their ancestors' honor.

There were blemishes on the honor of both sides in the Civil War. We can be proud of Abraham Lincoln, even though he was ready to amend the U.S. Constitution to preserve slavery in the existing slave states as a way to avoid war. We can be proud he kept the country together, even though the cost in lives of doing so was very high.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Whereas April is the Cruelest Month for Celebrating Confederate History

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, darling of the Republican Party election victories of November 2009, put his foot into it this week when he issued a proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month in Virginia.

Two clauses in the Governor's proclamation raised eyebrows. One clause describes the Civil War as a "four year war between the states for independence." I could wonder at some length about whose independence from what is being talked about, but I'll let that go.

Another calls upon "all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth's shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War."

I'd call on Virginians to reflect on the stupidity of the Confederate leaders' shared groupthink in leading the South into a ruinous war, but that's probably a lost cause, at least among the group that requested this proclamation, the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

And I'll reflect that the term "citizens" meant only white residents. The sacrifices of black residents during or before the Civil War apparently not being worthy of notice. That failure to include any acknowledgment of slavery proved to be a big problem for McDonnell. After a few days of waffling, he apologized by adding a clause to his proclamation:

"WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history."

If you go to the website of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, you will find a copy of the Governor's original proclamation. But they haven't found time yet to update their website to add the new slavery clause. Look for that in May at the earliest and at the latest, never.

This unintentionally ironic statement has also not been removed from their website: "If the proclamation does anything, it hopefully will be a nail in the coffin of political correctness, an insidious disease infecting our nation."

And what makes April so special in Confederate history? In Virginia, it's the month that the legislature voted to secede from the Union in 1861. It's also the month that Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia in 1865. Virginia is hoping to reap an influx of tourists when the 150th anniversary of the Civil War begins next year.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Going Rogue Earns Sarah Palin a Lot of Pearls

When former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin appeared with Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann at a Tea Party rally in Minnesota yesterday, we could not help but notice the pearls. Is that three strings of pearls, or four? Clearly quitting her job as Governor and Going Rogue is not cutting into Sarah Palin's jewelry budget.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rachael Sage and Seth Glier at Club Passim

Rachael Sage and Seth Glier at Club Passim on April 6, 2010:

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Welcome to the Club, the Special Relationship is Over

French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaking at Columbia University in New York City on March 30, 2010:

"Welcome to the club of states who don't turn their back on the sick and the poor ... When we look at the American debate on reforming health care, it's difficult to believe. The very fact that there should have been such a violent debate simply on the fact that the poorest of Americans should not be left out in the streets without a cent to look after them ... is something astonishing to us. If you come to France and something happens to you, you won't be asked for your credit card before you're rushed to the hospital."

Who would have predicted that the welcome to the club of socialized medicine would come from a French right-winger like Sarkozy? Maybe that means Sarkozy is not a true right-winger. Or that the health care reform is not truly socialized medicine.

We would inform Sarkozy that you never have to show a credit card to the ambulance driver in America. The bill comes later. After that, if you get a big pile of bills and fall through the health insurance cracks, comes the personal bankruptcy.

What Europeans and even some Americans don't understand is that a large section of America is afraid that the health care bills, instead of bankrupting the individual, will bankrupt the nation. I don't know if we will be able to get over that fear. I hope we will.

Sarkozy also had this to say on America's role in the world:

"Reflect on what it means to be the world's No. 1 power. The world needs an open America, a generous America, an America that shows the way, an America that listens."

Maybe Sarkozy has it backwards and it's we who should be welcoming them to the club. I think that's what France and Europe really want, but they should be careful what they wish for. Britain has been a member of the club, and now a committee of the British parliament has determined its special relationship with America is no longer politically correct:

"The use of the phrase 'the special relationship' in its historical sense, to describe the totality of the ever-evolving UK-US relationship, is potentially misleading, and we recommend that its use should be avoided. The overuse of the phrase by some politicians and many in the media serves simultaneously to de-value its meaning and to raise unrealistic expectations about the benefits the relationship can deliver to the UK."

"The perception that the British government was a subservient 'poodle' to the US administration leading up to the period of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath is widespread both among the British public and overseas. This perception, whatever its relation to reality, is deeply damaging to the reputation and interests of the UK."

The reality is that the support British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave the Bush administration was crucial, both in obtaining support from the American people and in persuading other countries to join the coalition. And let's not forget the role of the British intelligence services in touting the threat of WMD. Britain wasn't a poodle but a bulldog who now has trouble accepting its share of responsibility. Maybe we should be kicking them out of the club.

My advice to Britain, France, and the rest of Europe: If you want America to listen, you need to speak more clearly. Your private counsels to American governments count for nothing with the American public. And if you are going to tell us a story, make it a true story.

Getting back to Sarkozy, it is too easy to just hear the mocking of America. When Sarkozy asks for "an America that shows the way" he is begging for American leadership.

Listen up, many Americans don't want the responsibility of being No. 1. We didn't ask for it and it runs counter to our most cherished democratic ideals. Our idea, the world must remember, was the UN Security Council, where the big powers would include the small powers, work things out, and act together. The failure of the UN Security Council to bring security has been a great disappointment to America.

The European Union is perhaps the best example to prove our good faith in our intentions. Has there ever, in the history of the world, been a No. 1 power that allowed such a union of countries to be created without a fight? Yet America has encouraged and embraced the European Union.

The reality is that America looks at the potential security risks facing the world, a resurgent Al Qaeda, a nuclear-armed Iran, an unstable North Korea, with trepidation. All that has happened in the last decade, from the 9/11 attacks to the financial crisis, does not give America any comfort or confidence in being labeled No. 1. I don't know how soon we will get our confidence back. I hope we will.

The latest security challenge is the troop buildup the Obama administration is putting together for Afghanistan. Europe, we're listening, how many combat troops are you going to send? If none, tell us in plain words why not.

Remember, Europe, you asked for us to put aside the Republican party and vote for Obama, and many of Americans obliged by voting Democratic for the first time in their lives. I don't know if they will do that again. I do know that hope is not going to cut it the second time around.

Johnny Mac and the Local Forecast

Johnny Mac and the Local Forecast performing at Sally O'Brien's in Union Square, Somerville, Massachusetts on April 2, 2010.