January 31, 2010

Early Grammies snark

From the NYT's ArtsBeat blog:

Well, that only took, what, 50 years? After a career spanning nearly a half-century as a solo artist and a member of groups like Buffalo Springfield and Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Neil Young won his first Grammy Award in a pre-telecast ceremony in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon.

Great! Yay Neil! What's it for?

Best Art Direction on a Boxed or Special Limited Edition package

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January 30, 2010

Amazon throwing its weight around

It's just pulled all Macmillan books from its website, citing differences over the pricing of e-Books.

Lots of discussion at Making Light, including links to John Scalzi's thoughts and a letter from Macmillan's CEO.

Amazon's getting awfully high-handed here; I think I'll switch to Powell's and Borders once my last order clears.

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January 29, 2010

Lack of courage

The Hawai'i State House just punted on a civil unions bill, and they did it in the most cowardly fashion imaginable: on a voice vote.

The State Senate passed a bill which would allow the same rights to both same-sex and heterosexual couples on the first day of the new legislative session, so it moved to the House. Sadly, the gutless wonders there wouldn't even put their names to their votes, fearing retribution in an election year, no doubt.


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Well, now. That was extraordinary.

Have you ever wished there was something similar to the Brits' House of Commons Question Time, when members ask questions of the Prime Minister? That's what happened today at a Republican Retreat in Baltimore, and it's safe to say that they will probably not invite President Obama to speak to them again that way. It was a brisk Q&A, and he rebutted every single one of their talking points, clearly and honestly.


Nearly every reviewer agrees Obama won and the fight should have been stopped.

Transcript if you can't see the video. This Time blog post has a link to MSNBC's coverage if the C-Span video is poor.

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January 28, 2010

More education required

Today on ATC Robert Seigel spoke with a guy named Robert Call in Chillicothe to whom he'd previously spoken a while back. This was a guy who seemed generally sympathetic to the President's goals. Seigel asked the guy about health care reform, and the guy said he was glad it was sinking because he liked what he had.

President Obama, if you want reform to pass, you've got to keep stressing to people (as you have before) that "If you like what you've got, you won't have to change it." The fact-checkers keep adding caveats which are perfectly true: your employer might choose to pick a different plan based on what's on offer after reform. Guess what? Your employer has that option every year when it chooses a health care plan for you as things are without reform. So, Mr. Call, your fears are misplaced.

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Full text.

I thought he did well. I'd have liked a little more fire and brimstone directed at The Party of No, but evidently Obama and his team felt this wasn't the time or place for it. Equally, it could just not be his style to express anger in public.

Exhorting his fellow Democrats to remember they still had the largest majority in both Houses of Congress they've had in years was (should be) a spine-stiffener.

Telling the Republicans that if they insist on supermajorities for every piece of legislation they're equally responsible sounded good, but will undoubtedly have little effect on that group of ideologues, who couldn't even applaud for tax cuts. That shows where their focus is: political gain, not the general welfare of Americans.

I thought it was a good speech, not a great one.

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January 27, 2010

Hand one to the other side, why doncha?

You've got a lot of smart political pros working for you, Mr. Obama, so were they all out to lunch yesterday when your team leaked the spending freeze plan?

If it was basically a series of targeted cuts as it now appears to be, why announce anything at all? You could have submitted your budget and let the press and Congress figure it out.

By doing it the way you did, you handed the Republicans a club with which to beat you. Right on schedule, there was Senator McConnell saying it was too small, and there was Representative Boehner saying it was like announcing a diet plan after participating in a pie-eating contest.

You also kicked your liberal friends in the teeth. Many of them were already frustrated by your perceived unwillingness to push the Senate and House to pass health care reform in the only way left available, getting the Senate bill voted on by the House and then fixed in reconciliation. Most of them also think more spending is necessary, if only to help out struggling states (that would be 48 of 50 which need it, last I looked). Instead, you announced a freeze, something you scoffed at when Senator McCain proposed it during the campaign in 2008.

You fought pretty hard for the nomination, but that spirit seems to have been lost once you took up occupancy at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. If you want both you and your party to succeed, you need to step up your game.

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January 26, 2010

Is he frackin' kidding?

Headline: Obama Seeks Freeze on Many Domestic Programs

Dear sweet Mother of God, and he's got economic historians working for him, too.

Look at the charts at Wikipedia. See the dip in GDP and the spike in unemployment in 1937? That was when Roosevelt listened to the anti-deficit opposition and rolled back many of his New Deal policies.

Apparently Obama feels that one year in, the economy is recovering enough that he can emulate that horrible, very bad decision. He's nuts.

Mr. President, if you thought your base might be demoralized in November with no health care reform plan, no closure of Gitmo, no investigation of Bush/Cheney war crimes and no repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

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January 25, 2010

Strategy memorandum

Update below

Steve Benen of Washington Monthly has written a memo outlining his ideas on how to get the health care reform bill passed. Some clever soul named Ian in the comments at Balloon Juice created a website called Pass The Damn Bill which redirects to Benen's memo.

I urge you to read the memo and pass the site URL along to all your friends if you agree with it. And call your Congressfolk. The Congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121

Update: Andrew Sullivan has borrowed a chart created by Nate Silver which shows that the individual parts of health care reform are nearly uniformly viewed by Americans as good things.

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January 24, 2010

Name this phenomenon

For a period of about 25 years I couldn't wait for a new Dick Francis novel; I often got them in hardback for my birthday (it coincided with his publication dates). These days I don't find them compelling enough to do that; I'll wait for the paperback.

Sure, economics has something to do with it too, but it's more that I don't expect the stories and characters to grab me the way they once did, so I don't need the book as quickly.

Who's run into this situation, and which authors have reached that lower level of interest for you?

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January 23, 2010

Memo to House Dems

I know the Senate bill is less than what you'd prefer, okay? It's less than I'd prefer as well. But it's the only game in town right now.

Let me remind you of three things it does that would instantly improve health care in this country:

  • 30 million uninsured Americans would immediately get access to insurance
  • The bill prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to Americans for pre-existing conditions
  • The bill prohibits insurance companies from practicing rescission, a fancy word for "Oh, you're sick and it will cost us to pay for your care? We don't want to do that, so your policy is cancelled immediately."
Look, it's a simple calculation: Are your re-election chances improved if you help your fellow citizens or if you do not?

Don't be selfish.

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January 22, 2010

I wouldn't do that if I were you

Let me get this straight. The product you put out on the field last season was mediocre, finishing with 6 wins and 7 losses. Attendance has been trending downward for the past three or four years, even with a season that culminated in a Sugar Bowl appearance several years ago. The economy in this state is down. Your own faculty is taking 7% pay cuts, your tuition is rising, and the public and private sectors are both shedding jobs.

And you think this is a good time to raise ticket prices to go see football games?


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January 21, 2010

"Corporations are people!"

Yeah, yeah. Soylent Green was released a thousand years ago, but it looks like the conservative majority on the US Supreme Court saw a rerun of it and decided "Works for us!"

WSJ: Supreme Court Reverses Limits on Campaign Spending

Royal Dutch Shell's $10M toward Congressman "Drill Baby Drill" and your $25 toward his opponent are equal contributions under the law. Doesn't that make you feel warm and fuzzy?

I've heard commentators saying things like "shareholders can sway corporate behavior," including Chief Justice Roberts. See Reargument, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission p. 58:

[Are you saying] shareholders are too stupid to keep track of what their corporations are doing and can't sell their shares or object in the corporate context if they don't like it?
to which I say, "have you ever owned stock?" In my experience annual shareholders' meetings rarely have any impact on management's activities, even when salary and bonus decisions are discussed.

Another argument I've heard: "Well, it means labor unions can spend freely too," to which I say, "unions are way outgunned in terms of the cash they have to spend, and they only represent about 12% of the American population. What about the rest of us?"

Thank you, Ronald Reagan and the Bush family. Between the three of you you appointed all the justices who voted in the majority on this case.

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January 20, 2010

Dear House Democrats

You do realize that the Republicans are going to bash you no matter what you do in their campaigns against you this fall, right? It's the nature of politics that your opponent will do that. Wouldn't you rather be bashed for doing something good for the country (which is, after all, part of the reason you went in to public service in the first place, I hope)?

In your shoes, I'd hold my nose about the parts of the Senate health care bill I don't like and pass the damned thing. Then, in the fall campaign, I'd busily point out that a whole bunch of your constituents just got health insurance, that a whole bunch more now can't be denied health insurance for pre-existing conditions, and that your opponents belong to a party which has shown itself since the elections of 2008 to be nothing but the Party of No. It's shown itself to care nothing for the good of the American public.

Jon Walker at FDL says:

The party in power must run on their accomplishments and point to those accomplishments as a down payment on other promises they will fulfill if they are allowed to stay in power. You must deliver something to the voters and hope they like it.
The American voter likes fighters, not quitters. Don't throw away a whole year worth of work based on one defeat in Massachusetts, no matter how stupidly you think your party managed that Senate campaign.

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January 19, 2010

One of Kate's most moving songs

I heard Linda Ronstadt remembering Kate on CBC's As It Happens this afternoon. She told a story of sitting at a table with John Rockwell, the NYT music critic, when the McGarrigle sisters sang this song. She said she looked over and there Rockwell was, weeping. Once he composed himself he told Ronstadt the song always did that to him. She admitted it took her forever to be able to perform it herself, because she was affected the same way. She finally did cover it on her Get Closer album in 1982.

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Tough day for pop culture fans


Robert Parker, author of the Spenser crime novels.

Erich Segal, classics professor, author of Love Story and co-author of the screenplay for Yellow Submarine.

Kate McGarrigle, folk singer and songwriter with her sister Anna. Also the mother of Rufus and Martha Wainwright. Kate and Anna wrote Heart Like a Wheel and a lot more.

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A Supplemental Airfield Option?

We've all heard that Port-au-Prince has only a single-runway airport. I wonder if anyone in the Army Corps of Engineers has thought of using their updated version of the World War II Marston matting. It has advantages in that it doesn't need specialized labor to lay it down; all it needs is a flat piece of ground long enough for aircraft.

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January 18, 2010


It's early yet, and who knows how this special election is going to be financed, but this stinks. Ed Case has a 37-25 percent lead over Colleen Hanabusa for the First Congressional District seat being vacated by Neil Abercrombie. Have all of us forgotten how much of a Blue Dog Ed Case was when he was in Congress representing the 2nd District? He voted with Bush and the Republicans about 30-40 percent of the time, as I remember it. He'd happily join with the deficit hawks in the House, no matter whether it made good fiscal sense to do so.

C'mon, fellow Hawai'i voters. We need someone in that office who believes in Obama's agenda, not a guy who loves to put up obstacles.

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January 17, 2010

Favre and the Vikings

I got really really tired of the Brett Favre "will he or won't he" retirement saga, particularly when ESPN decided it was worthy of 30 minutes of every hour-long SportsCenter, but I never thought he was too damned old to play the game.

I was right about that.

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January 16, 2010

Sports media also fails

It ain't just the political press which comes in for my wrath.

I got in the car to go to the store this afternoon and flipped on the AM station to hear some of the Saints-Cardinals game just in time for the "halftime report" from Westwood One, which has the radio broadcast rights to the playoffs. I heard the score (Saints 35 - Cardinals 14) and expected to hear a recap of how the game got to that point in the first half. What did I get? "Will the Colts' sitting their players down in the last two games of the season affect their performance in the upcoming game this afternoon?" Not a freakin' word about whether Brees picked apart the Cardinals' secondary, whether Reggie Bush ran well, is the Saints' pass rush affecting Warner, etc., etc.

Way to go, Westwood One.

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January 15, 2010

More Haitian aid

I get a weekly email from a company called Wolfgang's Vault, which sells vintage art from the Bill Graham collection of advertising posters used to promote concerts at the Fillmore, Winterland, and other venues. Additionally, it offers streaming audio of live concerts from that era.

Wednesday, in their blog, they said this:

We in the Wolfgang’s Vault family are heartsick over the devastation in Haiti following yesterday’s earthquake. An immediate effort to help is required.

With that in mind, we’d like to share our decision that, effective immediately, 25% of all sales on Wolfgang’s Vault over this next week will be donated directly and immediately to the Red Cross for Haitian Relief. We will reconcile accounts daily beginning tomorrow and send the day’s donation on behalf of ourselves and our customers, immediately.

Additionally, we know many people are suffering their own financial hardships at this time, and the purchase of an item this week that automatically provides the 25% in proceeds to the cause may not be feasible. And since we greatly value and appreciate every one of our members and friends, we have also decided to make a donation on behalf of every site visitors for this week.

In addition to any other donation you might have made, checking out the offerings available from these guys earns a little cash for the relief effort. You might find something you'd like to listen to, too.

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January 14, 2010

Cable maker fail

If you want to record from vinyl to computer, you need a line-in plug on the soundcard in your computer. So you either lug your turntable to where your desktop is or lug the desktop to the turntable's location.

But what if you only have a laptop? Most laptops don't have line-in plugs, just USB ports. Ideally you'd like to have a cable with RCA plugs at one end and a USB adapter at the other. Unfortunately, I can't find such a thing on the internet. What I can find are Xitel's INPort Deluxe and Roxio's Easy LP to MP3 widgets. Trouble is, they're both around $70, which may or may not be priced correctly but is more than I want to pay.

Come on, Dynex, Belkin, Monster; create a simple adapter and sell it for $25.

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January 13, 2010

Right wing lunacy

There may be one hundred thousand or more dead in Haiti, but does Rush Limbaugh care? Why, no. He'd rather try to score political points against President Obama.

Obama will use Haiti to boost credibility with "light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country"

Now, I'm pretty sure President Obama's thought processes about Haiti went like this: "Jeepers. A 7.0 earthquake has devastated a country only 700 miles from Miami, one with which we've had a relationship for a couple of hundred years. How can my country help?"

See, Rush, that's called compassion. I realize that's a foreign subject to you and you're way too old to learn it now, but it's found in most decent human beings.

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From the US Department of State:

For missing family, call 1-888-407-4747. To help with relief efforts, text "HAITI" to "90999" and $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross, charged to your cell phone bill. Or visit InterAction to contribute.

Man. That country is the red-headed stepchild of this hemisphere, isn't it?

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January 12, 2010

"The Family"

I finished Living Witness and have moved on to Jeff Sharlet's The Family, subtitled: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.

If you've been watching Rachel Maddow's show, you'll recognize the name of the book and its author; she's had him on several times in the past few weeks to discuss its premise.

The Family is a movement composed of fundamentalist Christian men who believe they are meant to rule America and the world. "Well," you say, "there's a lot of crazies out there who think that." True enough, but some of these crazies are well-placed members of Congress in both the House and Senate. Some names: Senators Inhofe, Coburn, Brownback, Grassley and Nelson; Representatives Pitt, Wamp, and Stupak.

I'm just finishing the foreword and haven't formed any conclusions yet, but I do want to remark on the clever work the publisher did with the paperback version: the book is a paper representation of an old family Bible, all the way down to the image of the pebbled background often found on those books. As I get further along I'm sure I'll have more to say.

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January 11, 2010

Jane Haddam's latest

I'm reading Living Witness, the 24th book in Haddam's Gregor Demarkian series.

If you're not familiar with these books and you're a mystery reader, you should give them a shot. It's one of those series which really needs to be read in order. Demarkian is an interesting character and he lives in an interesting place: an Armenian-American enclave in Philadelphia which has grown from its tenement roots into a gentrifying neighborhood.

One of the aspects of Haddam's books that I enjoy is that she takes on cultural issues and makes them the centerpiece of the novels. In Living Witness it's the argument about teaching Intelligent Design in schools. The Publisher's Weekly review at Amazon says Haddam "takes a nuanced look at the debate over teaching evolution in public schools." I don't know where its reviewer found the nuances. Haddam makes no secret of her disdain for the ID argument; she does try to make some of its proponents somewhat sympathetic, but she makes it pretty clear that she comes down on the other side.

Give Gregor a try.

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January 10, 2010


That has to be the feeling of every Green Bay Packer and every fan of the team after watching the end of that wildly entertaining game.

I saw the first half and thought the Packers were toast. For them to come back to tie in the fourth quarter was one of the most amazing things I've seen on a football field. To then lose on a fluke play (had Rodgers not inadvertently kicked that ball I think it would have dropped untouched) must be the most disappointing thing that's ever happened to those players.

Ah well, congrats to the Cardinals; you played a wonderful offensive game and your quarterback outdid his earlier playoff and Super Bowl performances.

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Pull the plug?

Is the Patriots' dynasty over? Judging from today's debacle, maybe. It's hard to imagine Tom Brady throwing three interceptions in a playoff game, but that's what happened today.

Now, Brady's got some nagging injuries and his best receiver (Welker) was on the shelf, so maybe it's too early to say the Patriots' run is over, but they didn't look good at all today. We'll see next year.

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January 09, 2010

Schadenfreude, football version

As a once-fan of the Redskins, I should have known this if only for the sheer joy of it: the Dallas Cowboys haven't won a playoff game in 13 years, so NBC tells me. In that time, the 'Skins have gone 2-3 in playoff games.

'Course, my allegiance switched to the 49ers in the 1980s, so what the Redskins have done hasn't been high on my radar since then. Nonetheless, the Cowboys have been objects of my derision ever since they started calling themselves "America's Team," so I guess I'll be rooting for the Eagles (Argh! Another NFC East team I should hate!) this afternoon.

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January 08, 2010

It's Friday, but imagine otherwise

Everything I've read about the Moody Blues has indicated they had a helluva time trying to translate their studio album work to the stage.

Well, other than the absence of the LSO, they succeeded pretty well here. This is a performance of their first big hit (after the R&B period in which "Go Now" appeared), "Tuesday Afternoon," from the Days of Future Passed album.

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January 07, 2010

A question

In light of Obama's press conference today and the reactions from the commentariat afterwards: Where was the baying for accountability from the punditocracy when torture at Abu Ghraib was revealed? When the existence of secret prisons in Europe was revealed? For that matter, in August of 2001 when Bush told a CIA briefer he'd "covered his ass" once he'd told Bush about the August 6, 2001 memo titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US?"

Where were the cries of "someone needs to be fired!" from Chris Matthews, Brit Hume, Andrew Sullivan, Pat Buchanan and a host of others back then?

Just wondering.

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Look who's blogging!

Hey, sports fans, John Feinstein has a blog!

For the non-sports fans, he's the guy who's written nearly a dozen non-fiction books about sports in America, including A Season on the Brink, which recounts a year on the sidelines with Bobby Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers basketball team, and A Civil War, a story of the Army - Navy football rivalry. He's also written four YA mysteries, a sideline I didn't know he'd been pursuing.

He's a damned good writer, and his blog is entertaining.

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January 06, 2010

Market failure

I have yet another Borders gift certificate, so I went wandering through there yesterday afternoon. I got to the CD racks and paused in front of the "Ms," thinking for some unexplained reason about The Moody Blues.

Now, back in the 1970s my beer-drinking buddies and I were absolutely enthralled by the Moodies; their seven albums beginning with Days of Future Passed and running through Seventh Sojourn were all in constant rotation on our turntables when Zeppelin wasn't. All of those records were conceived as "concept" albums; you had to listen to each of them as a whole or you really weren't getting the impact the band desired.

Given that, I was surprised to see that Borders had no boxed set of the records available. In fact, after looking at Amazon and at the Moodie's own website, there is no such boxed set. There are a bunch of CD compilations of songs from the albums, but nothing which really works to full effect, from what I can tell.

If I were the band, I'd be trying to persuade Polydor or Decca to present the entire set as a listening experience.

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January 05, 2010

Persistent buggers

I bought the domain name linkmeister.com back in May of 2002. Through Dotster I've renewed it automatically every year since. It's never lapsed, never even been close to lapsing.

Nonetheless, once or twice a year I get a letter from some outfit calling itself Domain Registry of America trying to get me to switch to their "service," which as far as I can tell is nothing more than sending me out reminder notices that the domain will expire. For that "service" they will charge me $30 a year or $50 for two years. Not bad, except that Dotster charges me $15.95 annually.

They're pretty clear now that it would be a switch; as I recall, in earlier year's letters the implication was that they were already the registrar of record for linkmeister.com, which was untrue.

I really wonder how many people they manage to dupe into switching.

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January 04, 2010

Sounding the tocsin once again

Digby has a very informative post warning us of the evil that Pete Peterson wants to do to the tattered social safety net we lower and middle class Americans are still clinging to.

Peterson, who's got billions he made as a hedge fund manager, essentially thinks that America will fail unless "serious fiscal reform" takes place. What that means in practice is reduce the deficit by cutting programs. To that end he's sponsoring the establishment of a Deficit Commission, which would think for a while and then recommend solutions to Congress, which couldn't tinker with the proposals but could only vote Yea or Nay on them.

I don't know about you, but giving some unelected bipartisan (read: fiscal scolds on both sides of the aisle; think Blue Dog Democrats and their buddies on the Republican side) commission that kind of authority and then demanding that Americans' elected representatives vote up or down with no discussion seems a little, how should I put this, undemocratic to me.

Go read Digby.

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Piano player

I don't think I've ever seen anyone have any more fun on stage than Carole King. This is from her Brill Building repertoire, first performed and released by the Drifters.

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January 03, 2010

YouTube has the darndest things

Here's an oddity: The Cowsills (forerunner and prototype to The Partridge Family) having fun with the old country song "Silver Threads and Golden Needles." It was first recorded by Wanda Jackson in 1956.

And Linda Ronstadt adding a little heat to the same song:

If you think that's unusual, from Wikipedia comes a list of performers who've sung it:

  • UK pop group the Springfields had a 1962 hit.
  • An early 1960s recording by Janis Joplin is on the 1975 Janis Joplin compilation album Janis.
  • The Cowsills recorded the song on their 1970 studio album IIxII. It peaked number 77 on the Billboard charts in September 1969.
  • The Grateful Dead performed the song several times between 1966 and 1970 featuring Bob Weir on the lead vocal and Phil Lesh singing harmony.
  • Linda Ronstadt covered the song on her 1969 studio album Hand Sown ... Home Grown.
  • Linda Ronstadt also recorded a country-pop crossover version for her 1973 Don't Cry Now album, released as a single in 1974.
  • English folk rock singer Sandy Denny recorded the song on her 1977 album Rendezvous.
  • In 1993, the country trio Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn recorded the song together on the album Honky Tonk Angels. Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris also performed the song as a trio on an episode of Parton's 1976 variety show Dolly!

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January 02, 2010

The last decade stank


The past decade was the worst for the U.S. economy in modern times, a sharp reversal from a long period of prosperity that is leading economists and policymakers to fundamentally rethink the underpinnings of the nation's growth.

It was, according to a wide range of data, a lost decade for American workers. The decade began in a moment of triumphalism -- there was a current of thought among economists in 1999 that recessions were a thing of the past. By the end, there were two, bookends to a debt-driven expansion that was neither robust nor sustainable.

There has been zero net job creation since December 1999. No previous decade going back to the 1940s had job growth of less than 20 percent. Economic output rose at its slowest rate of any decade since the 1930s as well.

Let's see, what kind of tax policy did the US institute in 2001? Which party controlled the Congress for six of the first eight years of the decade, and which party controlled the White House for the first eight years? And did the gap between rich and poor in the US grow or shrink during the decade? See the chart reproduced here if you're unsure.

I knew I wasn't alone in feeling left behind for the first time in my 40 years of work.

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January 01, 2010

The Granddaddy of Them All®

In football bowl games I'm a conservative. The Rose Bowl should be played between the Pac-10 and the Big Ten, as it was for the first ninety-something years of its history. Seeing the following matchups in the Rose Bowl was just weird.

2006 Texas 41 USC 38
2005 Texas 38 Michigan 37
2003 Oklahoma 34 Washington State 14
2002 Miami 37 Nebraska 14

I guess I'm rooting for Oregon, since I've spent a few weeks in that state and I was born in the West.

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