Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Black Keys

It's a rock and roll given: with each new generation of middle class white boys, a few brave souls will attempt to play the blues. Some fail (Pat Boone), some succeed (Eric Clapton). Emerging American duo The Black Keys are succeeding with an approach wholly different than their generational kindred spirits, The White Stripes.

The White Stripes consist of a guitar and drums, just like The Black Keys. They're both from pathetic Rust Belt towns (Detroit and Akron), and they both play a sort of free-form, heavily-amplified blues/rock. But the similarities end there.

While the Stripes adhere to a strict color scheme (red, white and black), the Keys seem to wear whatever was laying on the floor. While the Stripes exude sexuality, the Keys are average-Joe nerds who could use some exercise.

The full house at The Granada last Friday night was hot for the Keys, though, and they certainly delivered. Dan Auerbach is an idiot savant on blues guitar, spitting out loopy, muscular riffs that seem to draw upon the entire history of the genre. He's surprisingly congenial with the crowd, and he works himself (and the audience) into a frenzy with a combination of old fashioned hard work and a symbiotic relationship with his drummer.

Their performance became noticeably more loose and authoritative as their set wound down, leaving their audience sweaty, satisfied, and as the cliche goes, wanting more, much more.

Jessica Lea Mayfield

Nineteen year old Jessica Lea Mayfield opens for The Black Keys, Friday night at the Granada Theatre in Dallas.

How did she score such a gig? Well, Dan Auerbach of the Keys is her artistic patron, and invited her to open their shows.

She brought along a full band, but her schtick is simple: art-school girl acoustic solo.

She was a cool customer, and shows a lot of promise. Her songwriting and arrangements need work, but keep an eye on her.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Is Obama a Good Speaker?

Daniel Finkelstein of the Times of London asks the question.

"I find that too often he can be an empty, rather woolly speaker. Someone who likes the sound of his own voice a bit much. It is a danger he has to guard against."

Popular wisdom holds that Obama is a fantastic orator. But is he effective? He's still not shown he can match Bill Clinton's ability to frame difficult issues in clear, succinct language that gives the audience a simple takeaway.

If Bill were running against McCain, his lead would be insurmountable. What advice does Clinton's policy adviser William Galston have for Obama?

"Your stump speech is too long and discursive. It shouldn’t last more than fifteen minutes, it should focus on your agenda, not today’s news story, it should feature short, declarative sentences, and it should leave no doubt about what you care about the most."

Though he, too, was a law professor, Bill Clinton never sounded professorial. After a rambling speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention (the audience applauded when he said "in conclusion"), he simplified his message, turned up the dial on his personal charm, and won consecutive terms. Obama has inherited what should be an ideal landscape for victory. Will his message seize it?

The Mediterranean Diet Fades in Mediterranea

Fascinating article in the NY Times. Even Mediterraneans are having a tough time following the Mediterranean diet these days.

A Greek man laments the influx of junk food and cheese:

"If we continue like this, we’re going to become like Americans, and no one wants that.”

Fast-food culture and cattle ranchers don't like the Mediterranean diet — it calls for red meat just once a month. If we all ate like that, McDonalds/Burger King/Wendys would all be out of business in a year.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Future Oscar Winner

Elisabeth Moss had a major role on The West Wing, currently stars on Mad Men, and will soon star on Broadway in Speed The Plow.

Her major roles have featured her playing intelligent young women in stifling situations — first as the daughter of the President of the United States, and now as a young female copywriter in a male-dominated early-sixties ad agency. She uses her extraordinary face to convey a repressed rage against constraint that sears the screen. A recent Mad Men scene found her in suffering silence versus a predatory priest. Without speaking a word, she communicated a gripping range of emotions that explained exactly what her character was feeling. I was blown away.

She is beautiful, but not in a Charlize Theron kind of way. Moss has a unique, aquiline beauty, which lets her play anything from dowdy and tired, to stunningly vibrant.

I can't think of a better young American actress working today. When she gets the chance, she'll win an Oscar.

Brother, Can You Spare $700 Billion?

The leader of the party of low taxes, deregulation, and personal responsibility plans to ask Congress to approve a $700 billion bailout to fix the credit crisis.

Let me repeat, without using my cut-and-paste command: Seven-hundred BILLION dollars.

That's roughly $2,000 for every man, woman and child living in the United States.

Can you imagine what we could have done with $700 billion?

For one thing, every single American could have world-class, guaranteed health coverage, with free prescriptions and possibly complimentary lollipops. Instead, more than forty million Americans are left to fend for themselves, unable to afford to see a doctor.

For all the cranks (often right-wing Christians performing exegesical yoga) that complain about federal social spending, here's some perspective:

In 2007, the federal government spent $254.2 billion on welfare. Today, we're about to spend nearly thrice that amount to try to fix a situation that could have easily been avoided by preserving the simple regulations already enacted by the congress under Franklin D. Roosevelt more than 70 years ago. (Thanks, Bill Clinton & Phil Gramm.)

Conclusion? Before we indict all of the brown people and hillbillies for sucking this country dry, think about the big screw perpetrated by Wall Street types wearing silk suits and slicked-back hair. They may not laze around in a trailer all day, but on this day, they've brought the country (and possibly the world) to its knees in a way that all of Reagan's so-called "welfare queens" could never dream of.

When a politician proposes any kind of government action that might actually help poor and working-class Americans, it's dimissed as "socialism" or "neo-Marxism" (often, ironically, by poor and working-class Republican voters). But when politicians propose government action to help the wealthy and privileged, it's championed as a "bold approach."

Question for anti-socialist free-marketeers: in what way is this proposed bailout anything but (a) the priciest instance of socialism in US history, and (b) a thundering repudiation of Friedman-style laissez-faire economic theory?

Right-winger Michelle Malkin laments:

"This is your Bush legacy — not Pelosi’s, not Reid’s, not Obama’s: A ginormous bailout of every last, failing, panicked financial institution’s illiquid assets that may reach into the trillions — TRILLIONS – when all is said and done.

Reader John in Venice, CA e-mails: “Going forward there is no debate a conservative can win when pitted against a liberal wanting to spend money on social programs. What would the argument be against spending money on terrible social programs? Government money does not work? Conservatives who are supporting this welfare bailout are no different than Maxine Waters or Barbara Boxer. We have lost. Conservatism has absolutely no more moral high ground to speak from.”

Fiscal conservatism has been on life support for quite some time. Bush/Paulson pulled the plug permanently today."

Why do Americans who can't scrape two nickles together continue to vote for politicians who champion the privatization of profits, but socialization of losses for Wall Street?


Former Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker cheated death last night, surviving a plane crash that killed 4 of 6 people on board.

Barker and the other survivor, "DJ AM" Goldstein, apparently kicked out windows to escape the burning wreckage. Once outside the fiery crash, they struggled as flames continued to burn through their clothing.

Both are expected to survive.

Barker starred with his ex-wife, former Miss USA Shanna Moakler (who has dated Billy Idol and Dennis Quaid), on "Meet the Barkers.

After their separation, Barker dated Paris Hilton, which led to an infamous physical altercation between the women at an L.A. nightclub.

All Growed Up: Gary Puckett

Singer Gary Puckett had a string of hits in the late sixties, including "Lady Willpower," "Woman,Woman," and "Young Girl," a creepy song with lyrics that could have been written by Humbert Humbert.

He's still performing today, hitting the high notes and looking remarkably youthful for a 66-year old man. If he's had plastic surgery, one certainly can't tell from his photo.

For persepective, consider this: he's one year younger than Dick Cheney.

What gives?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Raucous Laughter

You know how seeing somebody yawn makes you have to yawn?

Well, laughter has a similar effect. Watch as these two news dudes completely lose it on set.

At the :53 mark, one anchor begins laughing so hard he literally cannot breathe.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Are Cats More Beautiful Than Humans?

It's a strange question, but one worth asking. Let's pretend we're not a member of either species, but rather an uninvolved observer from the Planet **56-AE.

Though lacking an eyebrow, cats have much larger, more expressive eyes than a human. Their eyes come alive in the dark, adding a mystical sensuality that humans can't match.

A cat's nose is a simpler, more elegant structure than a humans. In fact, human noses are often cited as an defeater of beauty. Cat noses are compact, tipped with color, and their nostrils are small, almost incidental, as compared with humans.

Cats lack full lips, so humans get the nod in this department. Human lips can range from full and pillowy, to narrow and vice-like.

Human ears are strange, unresolved open coils of skin leading directly into the skull. Smart women keep them covered. They seem slapped onto our heads, and with rare exception, never move. Cat ears are expressive and architectural, forming a lovely triangular shape, which they display with pride.

I went to college with a girl who was born without exterior ear flaps. Her replacement ears, while presentable, still drove home the fact that human ears are innately unattractive, a vestigal adornment crudely covering the inelegant open pits leading into our brains.

Absent thick fur, human skin is exposed to the elements, and eventually shows age lines. Cat skin is covered in fur and hides wrinkles. Plus, their fur invites touch in a way that human skin simply can't.

Human men can cultivate facial hair, but it can't compare with the deep, sophisticated patterns found on the lowliest tabby cat. Women apply makeup to their faces to accentuate their eyes, cheeks and mouth, an advantage a cat can never exploit, but still doesn't need.


Cat! Is this possible? It ultimately comes down to their eyes and the ears. Some humans are a work of art. All cats are a work of art.

(Anyone ever enamoured by a cat knows it's true.)

Still, I'm a man, and a woman's beauty rules the day.

Microsoft Shelves Pricey Ad Campaign

Blessedly, Microsoft has put the kibosh on those awkward, unfunny Bill Gates/Jerry Seinfeld ads.

In true Microsoft fashion, the campaign smacked of throwing big money at a problem. "Jerry Seinfeld was cool 15 years ago! Let's see if he's available! And we'll pair him up with Bill Gates for some observational humor!"

The final result? A series of spots featuring two extremely wealthy men, idly resting on their laurels. Not cool.

Let's not forget that the computer seen on the set of "Seinfeld" was always a Mac.

Meanwhile, the Apple campaign (which could have been produced for, say, $20,000) rolls on. These spots reinforce Steve Jobs' legendary aesthetic (a Nordic, white-on-white austerity), while clearly positioning Apple as the computer/cell phone/mp3 player of choice among the hipster set.

While Bill Gates' place in the history of information technology is undeniable, I've always considered him more opportunist than innovator. His empire, built on stand-alone software packages that run on operating systems pioneered by others (like Apple), is in peril. Conversely, Steve Jobs continues developing consumer products that revolutionize the industry, along with ad campaigns that seem fresh and relevant to their target audience.

While I'm loathe to gush about a corporation, any corporation, can anyone deny that Apple is the most innovative, most relevant, most American corporation in the world today?

Go Panthers!

Famous alumni of this great American high school:

• Ryan Malone (hockey player)
• Sean Casey (baseball player)
• Kevin Orie (baseball player)
• Heather Terrell (author, barrister)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

They Grow Up So Fast…

Pebbles the Cat is becoming a big girl now. But she's still playful, and she purrs a lot.

When I finish my shower and swing the curtain open, she hops up on the bathtub rim and licks all the water off my leg while purring loudly.

She's very furry. Her ruff is regal. She only eats dry food. She never tries to sneak outside. She poops in my plants. I think she misses her brother. She only drinks water out of a people cup. She's one years old. She was found wandering around with her littermates at Lake Arcadia. She was adopted last Halloween. She greets me when I come home with lots of cat talk. When I say her name, she flicks her tail wildly, even if she's pretending to be asleep.

I only call her "Pebbles" during official business, like trips to the vet. Usually I call her "Pebby," "Baby Cat," "Lil' Baby Cat," "Baby Girl," or "Ki-Ki."

The omnipresent sense of guilt I feel for not spending more time with her only confirms my suspicion that I'd be a mediocre parent at best.

Worth The Proverbial Thousand Words

Caribou Barbie, another victim of an unfortunate camera angle.

Lovely Rita

Our song break today is one of my all-time favorite ballads, "We're All Alone."

The melody, by Boz Scaggs, is incredibly complex for an AM pop song. From the first notes, the singer must absolutely nail some difficult passages. Rita does it effortlessly, without labor or hestitation.

Scaggs is also to be commended for constructing such a perfect fit between words and music. Very few words sound forced into the melody. The pacing of the phrases is fantastic, and the melody never bores. And Coolidge sings as a comforting, reassuring lover, beguiling, yet somehow maternal. In her hands, the song becomes an erotic lullaby.

I find her performance (while sometimes breathy) far superior to the Boz Scaggs version. In his take, Scaggs affects his Kermit the Frog voice, and I get too distracted to enjoy the performance.

Rita is still performing today, and she's as lovely as ever.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

American Rogues You've Never Heard Of: Dan Sickles

Until stumbling upon his name in Wikipedia, I'd never heard of Daniel Sickles. I suspect very few people have. But for a time, he was one of the most famous men in America, and today, many lawyers are familiar with his name, for reasons you'll soon discover.

Born in New York City, in 1819, Daniel Sickles was educated as an attorney. He entered politics as a Democrat in the New York Senate, and was elected to Congress in 1857.

A few years earlier, Sickles married a 15 year old girl named Teresa Bagioli, daughter of a prominent Italian vocal coach. The couple became a prominent fixture on the Washington social scene, but Sickles, a notorious womanizer, conducted numerous affairs with prostitutes and courtesans.

Eventually, Mrs. Sickles began her own affair with US District Attorney Phillip Barton Key (son of the author of "The Star Spangled Banner"). When Dan Sickles learned of the situation, he murdered Key in broad daylight near Lafayette Square (firing at least one shot directly into his groin). Almost immediately, public opinion favored Sickles. But he still had to face trial for murder.

Represented by a dream time of notable defense attorneys (including Edwin Stanton, later Secretary of War), Sickles claimed the murder was caused by temporary insanity. This defense had never been attempted before in a United States court, but it worked, and Sickles won acquittal, to the delight of a sympathetic public. But Sickles lost that sympathy when he publicly forgave his wife with these words: “I shall strive to prove to all that an erring wife and mother may be forgiven and redeemed.” They remained married until her death at age 31.

After the trial, Sickles rehabilitated his image as a Union general during the Civil War. At Gettysburg, a cannonball struck his right leg, mangling it so badly that he underwent amputation (the leg bone and cannonball are on display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine) within thirty minutes of the injury.

Undaunted, he went on to serve as US Minister to Spain after the war. Rumors swirled of an affair with Queen Isabella II.

He continued to serve in government until his death, at age 94, in 1914.

So, anytime you groan at the prospect of an insanity defense in a scandalous trial, remember Daniel Sickles. He made it a viable option.

I certainly believe his life should become the subject of a major motion picture by Oliver Stone. Can we get Woody Harrelson to star? No? How about Matthew McConaughey?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Abstinence-Only Education, In Action!

Well, so much for abstinence-only education. The Religious Right loves the story of redneck hockey dude and Bristol Palin's heaven-sent love story. In reality, these two poor saps are being strong-armed into a 1920's-style soul-crushing marriage designed to paint a Disney-style happy ending to their teenage fling.

Pickles Bush on W.

"And let's not forget that President Bush has kept us safe."

Yes, he has, if you don't count September 11th, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina. Nearly 5,000 Americans died on his watch during those two episodes.

The most recent time I can recall more Americans dying within our borders was during the Great Flu epidemic of 1918.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Max Richter Takes On Ring Tones

Minimalist composer Max Richter hears opportunity when a cell phone rings.

"Why is is it that the ringtone medium has so far been treated as unfit for creative music?" he wonders.

In his "24 Postcards" suite, Richter has composed short pieces designed to be used as cell phone ring tones. He envisions a performance in which the audience, having received text messages from the composer, "performs" the work. Very interesting!

Go to the 24 Postcards site to listen to the ring tones. They're very inspiring, and further push what I'm now recognizing as a new creative discipline: the creation of visual art or music intended for an audience using a specific piece of digital hardware, like a phone, or a computer.