Archive for October, 2008

Tricks For Us; Treats For Polluters

Posted in politics on Friday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

With all the drama, worry, excitement, and attention surrounding the upcoming Presidential election, it’s easy to forget that George W. Bush is still the current occupant and he still has (some) power. Check out this disturbing information from R. Jeffrey Smith’s piece in today’s Washington Post:

The White House is working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

Those and other regulations would help clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on emissions of pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining.

Once such rules take effect, they typically can be undone only through a laborious new regulatory proceeding, including lengthy periods of public comment, drafting and mandated reanalysis.

“They want these rules to continue to have an impact long after they leave office,” said Matthew Madia, a regulatory expert at OMB Watch, a nonprofit group critical of what it calls the Bush administration’s penchant for deregulating in areas where industry wants more freedom. He called the coming deluge “a last-minute assault on the public . . . happening on multiple fronts.”

Oh, so when they want to push this stuff through (or the Patriot Act, or the war, or the bailout) it’s all about urgency to act with no time for honest debate. But if the next president wants to undo any of it, of course it MUST include “lengthy periods of public comment, drafting and mandated reanalysis.”

Gee, none of this sounds good. And as I read on, it didn’t get much better:

The burst of activity has made this a busy period for lobbyists who fear that industry views will hold less sway after the elections. The doors at the New Executive Office Building have been whirling with corporate officials and advisers pleading for relief or, in many cases, for hastened decision making.

According to the Office of Management and Budget’s regulatory calendar, National Mining Association officials came in two weeks ago making the case for easing rules meant to keep coal slurry waste out of Appalachian streams.

Many of the rules that could be issued over the next few weeks would ease environmental regulations, according to sources familiar with administration deliberations. Lee Crockett of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Environment Group said the administration has received 194,000 public comments on the rules and protests from 80 members of Congress as well as 160 conservation groups. “This is fatally flawed” as well as “wildly unpopular,” Crockett said.

Two other rules nearing completion would ease limits on pollution from power plants, a major energy industry goal for the past eight years that is strenuously opposed by Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups.

One rule, being pursued over some opposition within the Environmental Protection Agency, would allow current emissions at a power plant to match the highest levels produced by that plant, overturning a rule that more strictly limits such emission increases.

According to the EPA’s estimate, it would allow millions of tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, worsening global warming.

A related regulation would ease limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants near national parks. A third rule would allow increased emissions from oil refineries, chemical factories and other industrial plants with complex manufacturing operations.

These rules “will force Americans to choke on dirtier air for years to come, unless Congress or the new administration reverses these eleventh-hour abuses,” said lawyer John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Bush Administration ladies and gentlemen!!!

BREAKING NEWS: Rock Critic Makes a Good Point!

Posted in misc.blurbs, music on Thursday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

In light of my previous post, it’s appropriate that I came across this quote in another review today:

The average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

Exactly, Mr. Critic. You got one thing right!

(okay, turns out this is actually a bit at the end of the cartoon movie Ratatouille…)

Reviewing the Reviews: Cardinology by Ryan Adams and the Cardinals

Posted in music on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank
Maybe someone can write a “Ryan Adams Album Review Generator” program where some software will just spit out all the necessary buzzwords for a review that somehow says his new album is good and that his old ones are also good but do it in some sort of backhanded compliment way.

It must include the word PROLIFIC, as well as pastiche, antics, Gram Parsons, editor, enfant terrible and/or “bad boy,” Grateful Dead, focus, quality/quantity, and something about dating actresses or whatever…

Perusing 18 different published reviews of Ryan Adams and The Cardinals new Cardinology CD, I was amazed and amused at what I found. Sure, there’s was the usual varying of opinions (some loved it, some sorta liked it, some found it predictable and boring), but that’s to be expected with any album. Reading the reviews, apparently someone must have invented that “Ryan Adams Album Review Generator” software, cuz it’s obviously been put to some use.

Among these 18 reviews, the word “prolific” is used 12 times (including two mentions of “prolificacy” and one time Adams is even called “insanely prolific”). It is the very first word of one review, the second word of another, and it appears in the first sentence of five other reviews and in the second sentence of yet another two. One review claims that “he became obsessive-compulsive about recording anything that rhymed.”

The Grateful Dead is mentioned six times, Gram Parsons four times, and Neil Young three times. In what must be a software glitch, U2 and/or Bono is mentioned an astounding 11 times (more on that later). Variations on “quantity vs. quality” come up at least six times in addition to three references to “edit” or “editing,” and four mentions of “focus.”

With all the talk about being “prolific,” and in attempt to illustrate the “quantity/quality” point, we eventually reach the fuzzy math portion of these reviews. According to some direct quotes:

*Ryan Adams has been making music at an insane pace for more than 10 years.
*Focused on just the one LP this year (he put out three in 12 months not too long ago)
*He recorded three albums in 2005 alone (Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights and 29), and he hasn’t missed a year since before this decade began.
*He’s released 10 albums in nine years
*While it might be a short time between albums for many modern-day artists, 16 months is a long time in the world of Ryan Adams, who released three albums in 2005
*Their fourth album in as many years
*Ryan Adams returns with what seems like his millionth album,
*His first release in a year — notable for a guy who put out three full-lengths in 2005
*Five-year period starting in 1997 that spanned two bands and five exquisitely realized albums.
*Cardinology is Adams’ fifth full-length album released in the last three years (not to mention the 2007 EP, Follow the Lights).

Ignoring the varying inaccuracies of some of these statements, the guy’s job is to make records. So he’s made about 11 records over 9 years? (This includes Demolition, assembled from demos from unreleased albums to capitalize on the success of Gold, and the 7-song EP Follow the Lights with only 3 new songs.) Is that REALLY too much? Sure, it’s a bit more than the usual 2-3-year wait between records to maximize hype that the Music Business Formerly Known as the Record Industry might prefer. But some of these reviews make it sound like he does 3 records every single year. It’s actually really an average of close to one each year. As it should be.

The strangest thing I’ve found is that, all of a sudden, the Cardinals are often being compared to U2. Huh? U2? Other than perhaps his 2003 single “So Alive,” I don’t think Ryan Adams has ever sounded like U2 or even close enough to warrant comparison (including on this new album). I can maybe hear how, in “Go Easy,” when he sings “if only just to say this to you now…” the melody and delivery is kinda/sorty dripping with syrupy Bononess, but only slightly. And I don’t know if I ever would have thought of that if U2 wasn’t mentioned in so many Cardinology reviews.

Again, actual quotes from the reviews:

*“Fix It” even dares to blossom into the type of stadium-filling chorus that U2’s Bono would be proud to call his own.
*U2 knock-offs “Go Easy” and “Cobwebs”
*“Cobwebs” …boasts one of the best choruses on the LP (and another that seems to be taking its cues from the U2 style of epic songwriting).
*“Magick” and “Cobwebs” cringe-worthy horrors that would shame even Bono.
*[In concert the band was] producing a hybrid that echoed Neil Young, the Byrds, Gram Parsons, U2 and the Grateful Dead.”
*…a couple of tunes veer close to overblown U2 territory.
*when he sings “Cobwebs,” his voice ascends to Bono-like melodramatic heights.
*”Magick” echoes like prime U2
*
…the slinkier “Fix It” (and its almost U2 moments — ditto “Go Easy” on the Bono thing), etc.
*Cardinology is a classic-rock record to the bone, nodding to influences that Adams has conjured before but never so well: the country rock of the Grateful Dead and Gram Parsons, the arena anthems of U2.
*“Fix It” … with a soaring Bono-style chorus…

But wait, maybe it doesn’t sound like U2, since one reviewer declares “Those looking for anthemic rock will be better served by U2.”

That’s not the only contradiction these reviews are inevitably filled with. For example, after saying he’s best known for quantity over quality, one reviewer then says: “Last year’s Easy Tiger, billed as a return to form, was the sound of Adams trying too hard to edit himself. By making a concerted effort to rein in his self-indulgence, Adams also leeched away some of the recklessness and spontaneity that makes him so fascinating.” Very similar sentiment has also been applied to the new album in this and other reviews. They all cry (and have complained in past reviews) that he needs an editor and he’s reckless and too prolific and unfocused. So he tones it down and “edits” himself, puts out a “focused” record (just ONE this year!) and then they bitch that he’s “leeched away some of the recklessness and spontaneity that makes him so fascinating.”

Another typical contradiction is that many of these same rock critics were the ones hailing him as a genius or The New Dylan following his solo debut Heartbreaker and then championing his inevitable rockstar breakout upon the release of its follow up, Gold. But now some of these same clowns write “Adams needed someone to sit him down and explain that he actually wasn’t the musical messiah we’d all been waiting for.” Gee, wherever did he get that idea? At least none of them mentioned actresses…

By the way, I think the album is good but maybe not quite the mind-blower I’d hoped for. As a fan, I’m a tad disappointed that it is not as rockin and jammy as their great live shows. But the sound, courtesy of Producer Tom Schick, is very warm and organic. (Number of times Schick is mentioned in the 19 reviews I read: zero.) The songs are good; it’s a solid album that I can already feel growing on me…. And that’s all it needs to be. (UPDATE: After several more listens, perhaps this album is much better and deeper than I initially thought. It’s actually, well, beautiful and very brave. And it sounds great. Keep the faith and stick with it.)


As always (if possible), don’t buy Cardinology at BestBuy, Target or on Amazon. Support your local independent record store (while it still exists) and buy Cardinology from them.

NOTE: The reviews discussed in this post came from: Wall Street Journal, New Music Express, Stereogum, Rolling Stone, Paste, Indielondon.co.uk, Buzzsugar.com, Inthenews.co.uk, Buffalonews.com, Entertainment.ie (Ireland), Entertainment Weekly, Courier-Journal (Louisville), AVclub.com, Allmusic.com, The Observer (UK), and student newspaper websites from Penn State, University of Maryland and even University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Tell Tale Signs

Posted in music, politics on Thursday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

Haven’t posted in a couple weeks…. Didn’t even bother to write up a “review” of the third Presidential debate. I guess my summary would be, to borrow a popular phrase, “more of the same.” Barack Obama seemed smart, thoughtful, and presidential, while once again John McCain came off angry, unfocused, and desperate.

But now election day is getting really close, and I just cant be bothered to comment on the trivialities like the $150,000 spent on wardrobes for Sarah Palin (how small-town regular fiscally conservative gal of her!) or whatever else is passing as news these days. I’ve fallen in to a bit of a silent hopeful pregnant pause… a calm before the storm. I’m hoping that storm is a landslide victory for Obama, but still cautious that it could be the dark clouds of a looming McCain administration…

I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to Bob Dylan’s excellent new collection Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8, Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006. Some spectacular modern-era stuff on these discs from the legend who could dedicate earlier classics like “Masters of War” to McCain and “The Times They Are Changin’” to Obama.

So as we’re speeding toward the election (or are we creeping?), the economy is crumbling before our eyes and amid our financial worries there’s also very real concerns about voter suppression tactics by the Republicans (examined here) that could help ensure a McCain victory.

In the background I hear Dylan singing “Time is pilin’ up, we struggle and we scrape / We’re all boxed in, nowhere to escape” and “Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin’ / Everything is broken.”

And yet I’m excited at the thought of Obama winning and ushering in a new era of… of…. everything: to live in a country with real, intelligent, and inspiring leadership. I know nothing will get better over night, and that this economy will take a while to bounce back, so it’s a cautious optimism for sure.

In the background Dylan is singing “Most of the time, I’m clear focused all around / Most of the time, I can keep both feet on the ground…”

Of course, these last few weeks and likely the next two, the McCain campaign and all the pundits on The Right have been downright ugly. Trying to scare us into these ridiculous notions that Obama is a Socialist and a terrorist sympathizer. By the way, haven’t we always had a progressive tax code? Has McCain proposed a (non-socialist) flat tax? If so, I must have missed it. And while we’re all distracted by the 15 minutes of fame for Joe the Plumber, the McCain campaign continues to drop hints about who’s “pro-America” and just how radical-liberal-socialist and anti-American Obama is. Meanwhile, they downplay Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama as a “black thing,” claiming in various ways that Powell only endorsed him ‘cuz he’s black. Funny, I dont remember anyone saying Joe Lieberman only endorsed McCain ‘cuz he’s white…

In the background Dylan is singing “Have you seen dignity?”

And yet somehow…. After the 2000 and 2004 elections, after living through the atrocious Bush administration years…. With all the impending economic doom and gloom…. Amid my worrying and skepticism, I’m excited.

In the background Dylan is singing “Things should start to get interesting right about now” and “The air burns and I’m trying to think straight / And I don’t know how much longer I can wait.”

I Went to a Battleground State and All I Wore Was This Lousy T-Shirt

Posted in politics on Thursday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

I wore my Obama shirt to a festival in rural Virginia last weekend. The few times anyone said anything it was positive.

My wife did hear one guy with his wife/kids remark with some contempt in his voice, “that guy had an Obama shirt on…. It said Obama on it” and he kept looking back at us. And afterward, when we returned to our car, we found that someone had turned our Obama magnet upside-down.

Other than that, it was all positive with a few “Yay Obama!” comments as well as a “nice shirt!” from a guy in another Obama shirt. Even a bearded guy who looked a bit like what some might call a redneck said “I like your shirt! Obama!”

At the gate, a lady probably in her 50’s said “You think he’s gonna win?”
I said “I hope so….”
“Me too” she said.
I said “But, I’m trying not to get too excited…..”
There was a 10-15 second pause as we stood there and I waited for the line to move ahead.
Then I said, “but I am.”
“Me too,” she said.

My Friends the Stinking Corpses and Other Reasons McCain Lost the Debate to "That One"

Posted in politics on Wednesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

I said it about Sarah Palin in the VP debate , and since this election has become just a matter of repeating our favorite talking points, I’ll go ahead and repeat it again now in reference to John McCain in the second presidential debate. Hopefully some other bloggers and eventually the mainstream media might actually join me in pointing this out:

If the rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is so despicable and so full of hate (and it is), and if meeting with him or another of Iran’s leaders would in some sense validate him (and his hate speech) and in turn actually give those reckless words an international platform…. Then why does John McCain insist on repeating all of his worst lines about “wiping Israel off the map” and calling Judaism a “stinking corpse”?? He’s a candidate for President of the United States, and in a debate televised across every network in America and replayed all over the world, there he is delivering Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic talking points for him. Sure, he’s denouncing those words, but he’s also constantly repeating them on TV and amplifying them through campaign rally microphones and giving them the largest platform possible by hurling them on to the Presidential political stage. And since we all agree that talking about wiping Israel off the map and calling Judaism a stinking corpse is reprehensible and disgusting maybe John McCain should stop doing it.

I’m getting the sense that people are starting to feel sorry for John McCain. I started to think that way (just a bit) last night. He’s not some horrible evil guy obviously, but it seems like he’s turning into this uncomfortable liar who’s gritting his teeth and grinning uncomfortably cuz in his heart he knows he just can’t give his old patented Straight Talk anymore. He’s not allowed. And that bums him out so he’s trying to do the best job he can at being this Rovian Bush-figurehead thing that he’s not really down with. He probably doesn’t condone the personal attacks about Obama “palling around with terrorists” and all the guilt-by-association rumor-mongering smear’n’fear tactics his campaign has indulged in, but he doesn’t have a choice. Not sure if that illustrates a lack of intangible leadership or if it’s simply that he’s just not really the one in charge of this campaign.

The debate reaction will no doubt include commentary on McCain abrasively referring to Obama as “that one,” and trivial analysis of whether McCain avoided shaking Obama’s hand afterward (I didn’t notice, but I’ve seen it mentioned a lot today). But the real story for me, is that I felt a “Fuckit I’m gonna lose and I think I’m okay with that” sorta vibe from McCain last night.

I excuse McCain’s physical appearance and stiff mobility for the obvious reasons. But he seemed uncomfortable. Not just physically, but generally just really fish-outta-water uncomfortable. To his credit, he kept trying to show confidence (“I’ve BEEN there, I know how to DO this stuff!”) and at the end of each of his speaking segments he’d drop the mic from one hand down to the other, like “nailed it!” but he never really nailed it.

He said his hero was Ronald Reagan. Later he said his hero was Teddy Roosevelt. And the “We don’t have to prioritize! We can do it all at once! We’re AMERICANS, we’re the BEST and we can do ANYTHING!” seemed to ring hollow. Same with “I’ll get Osama bin Laden, my friends. I’ll get him. I know how to get him. I’ll get him no matter what and I know how to do it.”

Really? He knows how to get him? Why hasn’t he shared this info with anyone? Does he hate America? (Sorry, I tried to get thru this without sarcasm… couldn’t do it.) Speaking of the elusive Mr. Bin Laden (anyone checked the closet or under the bed?), it was interesting that Obama also “played the 9/11 card” if I can put it that way. It almost seemed as if he was using something from the opposition’s playbook, like “hey, I can bring up 9/11 outta the blue too!” but I think he did have a fair point: he talked about 9/12, 9/13 and the next few weeks. How all of us REAL regular people actually felt. Like, man, things are different. I’m gonna smile to my fellow man and help someone out and feel a connection with other citizens for no reason other than it’s the right thing to do. That feeling evaporated quickly and Obama seemed to call for that spirit to return in these equally daunting times.

But finally, toward the end, the formerly Honorable Sen. John McCain finally spoke the truth and I finally agreed with him: “That requires a cool hand at the tiller,” and again later: “I’ll also tell you, when times are tough, we need a steady hand at the tiller.” Indeed. I think we all know which one of these guys is more steady-handed and cool-headed: “that one.”

The Pitbull Barks Up the Wrong Tree

Posted in politics on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

Seems the McCain campaign is unleashing Sarah Palin to make some targeted attacks.

“For me, the heels are on, the gloves are off,” she announced Monday to a group of Republican donors at the Naples Beach Club. “I’m sending the message back to John McCain also: Tomorrow night in his debate, might as well take the gloves off.”

“Okay, so, Florida, you know that you’re going to have to hang on to your hats,” she said at a morning rally in Clearwater, “because from now until Election Day, it may get kind of rough.”

She went on to insist that Senator Obama “is not a man who sees America like you and I see America,” whatever that means. Later, in Carson, CA, she said “Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country.” This is in reference to the fact the Barack Obama once sat on the board of an educational charity with Bill Ayers who was part of a radical anti-American group 40 years ago. It’s quite a stretch to imply that Obama is “palling around with terrorists,” but it stokes the unfounded fears about Obama, especially when Palin doesn’t mind taking the stage at one of her appearances Monday after being introduced by Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott who said: “On Nov. 4, let’s leave Barack Hussein Obama wondering what happened.”

Hussein!! Hey everybody, Obama might be wearing a flag pin these days, but he’s still the boogey man!!

Speaking of boogey men and sleazy politics, McCain had previously said that attacks related to Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, are off limits. In regard to introducing Wright into the campaign, McCain had said “there’s no place for that kind of campaigning, the American people don’t want it, period.” But Palin told New York Times columnist Bill Kristol in an interview published Monday: “I don’t know why that association isn’t discussed more.”

Umm… Governor Palin? Where were you earlier this year when we got what seemed like two straight months of All Rev. Wright All The Time coverage from the so-called “liberal media”?? Which of the “all of ‘em, y’know, any of ‘em, vast various sources” of news media were you reading and watching that didn’t discuss Rev. Wright enough?

Aw heck, maybe you’re right doggone it. You betcha, let’s deal with some associations that should be “discussed more.”

We’ve already chronicled Palin’s association with the Pray Away the Gay! church event that hoped to convert homosexuals into Normal Straight Christ-Loving Patriotic Americans… so let’s move on.

Pastor Thomas Muthee, an alleged Witchdoctor of sorts, visited the Wasilla Assembly of God church in October, 2005. Video shows Muthee put his hands on Sarah Palin’s back and say, “make a way for Sarah, even in the political arena. Make a way, my God. Bring finances her way, even if for the campaign, in the name of Jesus… Every form of witchcraft, it will be rebuked in the name of Jesus. Father, make her way now.” So it’s okay to have some kook hit Jesus up for some campaign money, as long as he doesn’t spout anything anti-America. But wait, there’s another association for that angle…

Palin recorded a speech for the Alaskan Independence Party’s convention just last March, and her husband remained a registered member of it until 2002, even though it was founded by a man named Joe Vogler who not only wanted Alaska to secede from the United States but also said:

“The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government, and I won’t be buried under their damn flag,” and: “I’m an Alaskan, not an American. I’ve got no use for America or her damned institutions.” One more for good measure, this is what he thinks of President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “I speak pretty frankly, I call him the dirty rotten son-of-a-bitch communist traitor, because he had involved us in that war that we had no business in.”

From a great piece by David Talbot:

Vogler’s greatest moment of glory was to be his appearance before the United Nations to denounce United States “tyranny” before the entire world and to demand Alaska’s freedom. The Alaska secessionist had persuaded the government of Iran to sponsor his anti-American harangue.

Imagine the uproar if Michelle Obama was revealed to have joined a black nationalist party whose founder preached armed secession from the United States and who enlisted the government of Iran in his cause? The Obama campaign would probably not have survived such an explosive revelation. Particularly if Barack Obama himself was videotaped giving the anti-American secessionists his wholehearted support just months ago.

Where’s the outrage, Sarah Palin has been asking this week, in her attacks on Obama’s fuzzy ties to Ayers? The question is more appropriate when applied to her own disturbing associations.

Then there’s Ed Kalnins, the pastor at Wasilla Assembly of God where Palin was a member. During the 2004 election, he praised President Bush over John Kerry before warning, “I’m not going tell you who to vote for, but if you vote for this particular person, I question your salvation. I’m sorry… If every Christian will vote righteously, it would be a landslide every time.”

The following year, in reference to criticism of President Bush and the federal government’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, he said, “I hate criticisms towards the President, because it’s like criticisms towards the pastor — it’s almost like, it’s not going to get you anywhere, you know, except for hell. That’s what it’ll get you.”

And of course it’s been well-publicized that John McCain has sought and accepted the support of preachers like Jerry Falwell and John Hagee who say that Katrina was God punishing New Orleans for having a Gay Pride Parade, Catholicism is the “great whore,” the Holocaust was God’s will, and other nonsense. In his 2000 campaign, McCain denounced these types as “agent of intolerance” but the 2008 version of McCain just smirks it off and cashes their checks.

For more detailed lists and explanations of the vast various sketchy associates of McCain/Palin, click HERE and HERE.

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