Say No to Nukes and Clean Coal

In his first State of the Union address, President Obama called for nuclear power plants and the exploration of clean coal technologies.  He even made a reference to drilling.  I thought “drill baby drill” was the republican mantra.   Back to nukes, hey – NO NUKES.  Nuclear power plants are expensive, exceedingly so and take years to build.  Can you name a plant built in the US on time and on budget?  And they are dirty and dangerous.  Remember Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.  In the same speech,  Obama warned of the threat of nuclear weapons and pledged to work with Russia to reduce stockpiles and launchers.   So why explore nuclear power?  Spent fuel from a nuclear reactor poses a danger to the environment and could be used to make a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb.  And clean coal?  An oxymoron if ever I heard one.  I’d rather try to power something with Oxyclean, or even oxycodone, stuff potent enough to power a medium-sized middle western city for two months.

The State of the Divided Union

President Obama’s first standing ovation during the SOU address came when he said, referring to the resiliency of our nation during hard times,  “It’s because of this spirit…that I’ve never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight.  Despite our hardships, our union is strong.”  But is it strong?  What union was he referring too?  He mentioned the Battle of Bull Run during the American Civil war.  There was certainly a strong resolve on the part of President Lincoln to preserve the union.  Or was he talking about labor unions?  It’s hard to argue that unions are strong when they represent only 12.3% of the workforce or approximately 15 million workers.  In fact, union membership is on the decline.  In 1983, there were over 17 million union workers – over 20% of the workforce.   So what union was he talking about in his speech? Not the union of the people either.  I can’t remember a time when the people of this country were more divided.  I think his point was that the people don’t want to be divided.  That voters are fed up with partisan politics.  He tried to elevate himself above the gridlock that is Washington, but his administration is part of the problem.

Obama supporters expected him to deliver on some of his 2008 campaign promises on domestic issues in his first year, promises on  health care and immigration reform and job creation.   Ambitious as the promises were, the fact that health care reform did not come, that he came close but could not close the deal speaks to a failed approach, one in which he tried to placate the blue dogs and republicans by giving up on the public option.  As to jobs, the stimulus package hasn’t created as many as expected, partly because the stimulus wasn’t big enough.  And without Ted Kennedy, immigration reform may be nothing more than a hollow promise.

So what is Obama to do to right the ship? First, he wants bipartisan governance, but the republicans don’t want the democrats to get credit for anything.  They seem determined to say no to everything, even their own ideas.   So he should continue to expose this hypocrisy as he did at the meeting with republicans a day after the SOU.  I hope more candid meetings like this continue, but I have a feeling that the republican leadership will put a stop to it.   Second, he needs to stop sounding like a republican or he is going to lose his base of support.  How many times did Obama reference tax cuts in the SOU?  Tax cuts for businesses, for the middle class, for students, for homebuyers, for parents, and even more corporate welfare to encourage investment.  Tax breaks for everyone except the wealthiest, who don’t need them and could, if they chose, game the system by hiding assets or hiring  effective lawyers and accountants to find loopholes.  And then a spending freeze.  Republicans might like the sound of that, but of course will criticize him for not doing it soon enough.  Reducing the deficit should be a national priority, but it should be noted time and time again that Obama inherited the huge deficit.

The State of the Union is this:  We are a divided nation.   We don’t have to always agree on the issues, but there is such a thing as compromise.  Without it, we will continue to be a dysfunctional nation.  Let’s bring back the United in United States of America.

Justice Alito’s “you lie” moment at the SOTU

There was another “you lie” moment during Obama’s address, did you hear it, well maybe you didn’t – but thanks to CNN’s instant replay, it was clear for all to see. Here’s the context.  In an unusual tactic in a State of the Union address, President Obama criticized a recent Supreme Court ruling, in front of the members of the court, who had front row seats.  Bold.  Axis:  Bold As Love..I digress.  What was even more unusual was the display of emotion that came from an Associate Justice- Justice Samuel Alito, known to be a competitive debater…check out Resolved, if you haven’t seen it already, but I digress again.  Alito whispered, “that’s not right” after Obama opined that the ruling  “will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”  A frightening thought.

Top 10 Reasons Brown Won MA Election

10.  Famous Daughter.  Scott who?  Oh, Ayla Brown’s father.  If MA had allowed text voting, he’d have won in a landslide.

9.  Williams.  A liberal arts college- one of the most highly selective in the country, maybe the most selective.  Martha Coakley’s alma matter.  Elite.  By contrast, Brown graduated from Tufts University – selective yes, but not as selective as Williams.  And his BC law degree and BC basketball playing daughter bring him instant credibility in Boston circles of influence.

8.  The Economy.  High unemployment and loss of jobs…and loss of a little bit of hope and optimism in the progressive baystate.  A baystate turned impatient and independant and to Scott Brown.

7.  Health Care.  Who cares?  MA has it.

6.  The Democratic Establishment.  Didn’t help Coakley to be associated with it.  Obama, Patrick, Kerry all establishment figures unfairly blamed for the economic malaise created by 8 years of Bush.

5.  Personality.  Brown has it.  Coakley doesn’t.  You have to take the campaign to the streets, make connections, shake hands, reference a barking dog in Southie.  MA residents you know what I’m talking about.  Coakley did not connect to the electorate or to their pets.

4.  Negative Ads and Robo Calls.  No need for them.  Coakley’s use of the attack ad may have backfired.  And people actually said that they voted for the candidate from whom they received fewer calls.

3.  Snow.  Low urban turnout.  High suburban SUV turnout.

2.  Hoops and Red Sox.  The Baystate likes basketball players.  And the Browns got game.  That Coakley accused Curt Shilling of being a Yankees fan made it seem that she had no idea who he was.  You just can’t make that error and expect Red Sox nation to forget.  Now if she had just said that Shilling should stick to sports, that would have been an acceptable answer.

1.  No Party.  Republican in name only.  He’s as likely to caucus with Max Baucus.  He’ll anger both parties before long, like Senator Lieberman.  Independent, but not an ideologue  – not welcome to a tea party either and too much of a damn Yankee to find a home with the blue dogs.   But he’ll find a home on Fox with his own show soon enough.  You watch.

Scott Brown’s Star Will Fade

Some conservative pundits have called Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate victory over Martha Coakley a Massachusetts miracle.  Ted Kennedy held the seat for 46 years.  It is almost unthinkable that his seat would be occupied by a Republican.  However, I imagine that Ted would not have been surprised.  Had he an inkling that a Kennedy might not run for his seat, he might have been nervous that a competitive Democrat could be found.  Let’s see – Coakley, Capuano – not exactly everyday names in Massachusetts.  Coakley had the bigger profile.  US Representative Capuano was known, but not much beyond his district.  I voted for him; even thought he would beat Coakley easily, but I underestimated her and later her opponent Scott Brown, whose daughter of American Idol fame is better known.  No, this is not the Massachusetts miracle, rather the Massachusetts disaster. 

Scott Brown calls himself the 41st senator.  With his election to the U.S. Senate, there is no chance for health care reform, at least not in its current form.  It’s back to the drawing board.  If there is any reform possible, it is certain to benefit the insurance companies.  This is the constituency to which the Republicans are beholden.  It’s that trickle down theory their hero Ronald Regan espoused.  The problem is that nothing trickled down.  The rich got richer and richer and today the wealth disparity between have and have nots is wider than ever before.  This is not an accident.  This is result of years of Republican rule leading to legislation that has favored corporations.  And many nearly went belly up and clamored for government handouts which we have been all to willing to give out.  What happened to welfare reform?  With respect to health care reform, the Republicans and the Blue Dogs masquerading as Democrats seem more concerned about costs than anything else, but where were they during the Bush years as Bush turned a surplus he inherited from Clinton into a massive deficit.  Bush cut taxes, shielded corporations from paying their fair share, made no effort at regulatory reform, spent like there was no tomorrow and nearly led the country into a Depression.  This is what Obama inherited.  A disaster, and now the Massachusetts disaster.

Brown will caucus with the Republicans, but they aren’t going to like him much once they get to know him.  He’s fiscally conservative and a social moderate, some would say bordering on progressive.  He’s more of an independent who will anger both parties like Lieberman.  This will give him some power, but not the power to get reelected in Massachusetts.  His star will fade and he’ll end up going on the talk show circuit with Sarah Palin.  What an interesting presidential ticket that would make.  With any luck, Brown will get his own show on Fox.  Rather he be on Fox than in the U.S. Senate.

Sherlock Holmes? Read The Adventures For Free

If you haven’t seen Sherlock Holmes, don’t bother.  Read the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories for free on Project Gutenberg, and wait until the movie comes to your local cable company.   Call me a purist, but I prefer the clean and precise prose of the original stories to the rapid fire quips the characters launch at one another throughout the movie.   The odd rapport between Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) made me feel like I was watching an episode of House.  Hugh Laurie by the way would have been a better choice to play Holmes – the British actor’s accent surely would have been more convincing.  House insults his colleagues incessantly, like Holmes, and they him. In fact, Holmes is said to be the inspiration for the brilliant, drug addicted House.  Holmes was known to have an affinity for cocaine, but Robert Downey, Jr. portrays the character as a slightly deranged, but mostly sober sleuth.  Unless I fell asleep during some parts of the movie, which could have happened while taking a break from my five gallon tub of buttered and heavily salted popcorn, I don’t recall any reference to cocaine, opium or absynthe.  Holmes seems more addicted to Watson’s company.  The high maintenance Holmes needs constant attention and companionship, unlike Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes who is more detached and anti-social.   Guy Ritchie’s manic-depressive Holmes is a frustrated comic at heart who half-heartedly solves the Crime of the Century, incidentally one of my favorite albums by the British group, Supertramp. Robert Downey, Jr. even won a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy for his portrayal of Holmes.   Sherlock Holmes, the movie – a comedy? Sherlock Holmes, a comedian? That’s just wrong!

In the Sherlock Holmes stories I’ve read, and I have not read them all, Watson is in awe of Holmes’ deductive powers and admires his intellect, like a graduate assistant to an acclaimed professor.  In the movie, there’s is no awe – they interact as fraternity brothers, more or less on equal terms.  Holmes insults Watson.  Watson acts mildly annoyed most of the time and plays the role of the armed sidekick.  Both versed in the martial arts, Watson is  more the head butting rugby player brute , while Holmes plays the crafty featherweight boxer who punches to disarm, stun and disable enemies twice his size.  He is also a master of disguise and I would have liked this aspect of his detective arsenal to have been featured more.

And what’s the deal with Holmes and Irene Adler?  There was no romantic chemistry between them whatsoever as intended.   On the other hand, from a strict reading of the only story in which she appears in the literature, “A Scandal in Bohemia”, there is not even a trace of romance in the air.   And speaking of artistic license, Lord Blackwood, the main villain in the movie, is a complete fabrication, while Holmes main nemesis, Professor Moriarty plays a bit role.   And as a fabrication, Lord Blackwood is not even very original; too close to J.K. Rowling’s Lord Voldermort if you ask me.

Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack was the star of the movie.  His score brilliantly evoked 19th century London and the mind of the disturbed, eccentric detective.  Buy the soundtrack.  Skip the movie.  It’ll be on TV soon enough, in HD probably. Save your money for a bag of Orville Redenbacher.

Haiti is in Desperate Need

I still can’t believe it happened to Haiti again.  Haiti:  the poorest country in the Americas with 80% of the population living below the poverty line; a country whose people launched the first and only successful slave rebellion to gain independence from its French oppressors.  Haitians, a peaceful people who overcame the bonds of slavery only to suffer through brutal dictatorships, political instability and recurring natural disasters.  The earthquake in Haiti may prove to be the single worst natural disaster in modern history.  Already the death toll is estimated to be over 200,000 and this number will rise unfortunately.  Only the Tangshan, China earthquake of 1976 is comparable with 255,000 fatalities officially reported though the number is said to have been as many as 655,000.  Haiti.  A land stripped of trees and vegetation by excessive logging, unwise farming practices and flooding, which has lead to dangerous landslides and massive soil erosion.  With each torrential ran, topsoil simply washes away leaving a desert like terrain.  These environmental conditions make Haiti even more vulnerable to natural catastrophes.

That this earthquake was predicted with some degree of certainty is one of the most haunting aspects of the disaster.  Haiti knew it was coming eventually, but even if it had known one was on the way, it did not have the infrastructure in place to organize a mass evacuation.  The proposition would have been impractical, even absurd.  How could 3 million residents of Port Au Prince have been relocated.  Haiti is a poor country.  It did not have the resources to earthquake-proof the buildings and houses, but I can’t help but think as Anderson Cooper said of the slow pace of relief efforts, “these deaths did not need to occur”.

And relief is still on the way and finally getting out to the people who need it, but it has been a painstakingly slow process because of the complete destruction to the government, the UN building, the communication grid and other vital systems.  Initially, no one was in charge – a complete disaster after the disaster.  Relief planes backed up on the single airport runway.  Planes circled Haiti’s airspace.  Planes were sent back, flights cancelled.   Once on the ground, relief organizations couldn’t get moving.  Blocked roads.  No clear sense of where the aid needed to go most urgently.   And in the chaos of disaster planning, people died – yet another tragedy within the tragedy.

Fortunately, there has been substantial support in the U.S. and from the international community for the relief efforts.  Private citizens, corporations and governments have pledged millions of dollars in cash for the relief efforts.  Through donations, relief organizations have begun to ramp up their operations.  The U.S. government has sent security personnel, search and rescue teams, and supplies.  The UN is present.

In a humanitarian gesture, the Obama Administration plans to issue Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to all Haitian nationals living in the U.S.  And it’s about time.  Aid is on the way.  Aid is on the ground.  Haiti is in desperate need.  Now is the time to help.

Please donate what you can to a relief organization of your choice.  I would recommend Partners in Health (PIH), or the American Red Cross, though there are many, many more.  Here’s a list compiled by the Huffington Post.

The Best Album of 2009 – Derek Trucks Band Already Free

Have you heard of Derek Trucks?  He began playing with the Allman Brothers band at age 11, becoming an official member in 1999.  At 17, Derek released his first album.  Since then, the Grammy nominated Trucks has  released 6 albums with his band, toured with Eric Clapton, jammed with Bob Dylan, recorded with McCoy Tyner and played with some of the greatest musicians of all time all before his 30th birthday.

In 2009, the Derek Trucks band released their 7th album entitled  Already Free and I submit that it is one of the best recordings of the year.  Produced by Derek Trucks and recorded at his home studio in Jacksonville Florida, the record  has an organic vibe.  The music seems to get better and better with each listen revealing complex flavors much the same way as a fine bottle of red wine opens up after being uncorked and left to breathe for a few hours.  Already Free defies classification.  The album has the aroma of blues and southern rock – roots music, and a hint of Indian and gospel with a long jam band finish.

The first tune “Down in the Flood” is a cover of a Dylan song first recorded in ’67 and officially released in ’75 on the Basement Tapes.  Derek Trucks reinvents Dylan’s folksy original with his signature slide guitar playing.  Mike Mattison’s raspy pipes inject the song with some blues, quite a contrast to Dylan’s nasal twang.  Whereas Dylan’s sound is tinny peppered with a breezy harmonica producing something you’d hear from an old pickup truck with an AM radio, Derek Trucks soulful, caffeinated sound is a high fidelity adrenalin rush.

Here’s a quick rundown of the other 11 songs on the album:

Something To Make You Happy.  This bluesy tune evokes the magic of  Stevie Ray Vaughn and oddly reminds me of “Jackie Blue”, that classic Ozark Mountain Daredevil tune I remember liking so much as a teenager.

Maybe This Time.  Doyle Bramhall II is the vocalist on this one.   Derek’s guitar whines and cries and near the end takes on the persona of a sitar.  Indian blues.  Would V.S. Naipul approve?

Sweet Inspiration.  Gospel revival.  What you might hear at a rural church one Sunday morning with a dancing chorus and lots of amens from the congregation.  Inspiring.

Don’t Miss Me.  I feel like I’m in the swamps of Jacksonville where this album was recorded.  Murky waters. Doobie Brothers “Black Water”.  I can smell a fish fry and is that a lightning bug in the distance? Watch out for the gators.

Get What You Deserve.  Vocalist Mike Mattison’s composition.  Hard driving fuzzy guitar sounds.  Reminds me a little of ZZ Top.

Our Love.  A Doyle Bramhall II tune and one of my favorites on the album with Doyle on lead vocals.  The moody tones of the guitar project a roller coaster of emotional states – passion, sadness, desperation, resignation, hope, devotion reminiscent of a Coltrane solo.  And there’s a vulnerability to Bramhall’s vocal – a quality I sometimes hear in some of Miles Davis’ recordings when he plays a muteless trumpet.

Down Don’t Bother Me. Southern rock here.  Atlanta Rhythm Section.  A Mike Mattison composition.  Derek’s guitar is smoking like a cured ham. I hear some Duane Allman and Johnny Winter influences in the playing.

These Days Is Almost Gone.  Blues.   Paying tribute to Elvin Bishop perhaps?  “Your second chance could be your last…don’t be late because the sun won’t wait”.

Back Where We Started.  Derek’s wife, Susan Tedschi, on vocals.  Very nice ballad.  Almost like a response to “Our Love”.  A good dose of acoustic guitar.

I Know.  Another one of my favorites.  Starts off with sitar like vibrations.  And then, jam band time.  Feeling some Allman Brothers.   And some brass and woodwinds in there somewhere.   “I won’t be blue”.

Already Free.  The bluesiest tune of the lot.  Timeless.  “The world has passed me, passed me by”.

Don’t let this record pass you by.  Go out and buy it.  Buy it now.

“Give a Little Bit” in 2010

I resolve the following in 2010:

To blog a little bit more, just a little bit.  I once had a cat named Little Bit, a bit psychotic was Little Bit – frightened of everyone, of anything that moved, especially of Oliver, our other cat.  I averaged 7.3 posts a month in 2009.  I’ll shoot for 8 a month in 2010.

By the way, speaking of resolutions, Resolved is an excellent documentary on high school debate, particularly for anyone who has ever been involved with organized debate at some level.

To reduce my carbon footprint.  Unfortunately, I’ve gained a little bit of weight.  I once had a cat named Little Bit…wait, I already said that.  “Give A Little Bit” is one of those great catchy Supertramp tunes of the late 70’s. I definitely need to exercise more – so more walks in the Arboretum, less junk food…good bye ice-cream until the summer.  No more cheese doodles, cheese dip, blue cheese. Oh the madness of the proposal.

I’ll try to conduct a paperless life, that is a life with less paper,  but not totally free of paper.  Paper or plastic.  Paper…actually, neither, but that’d put the bag boys and girls out of work.  I once tried to unionize a group of baggers…tried.  We have some reusable bags that I’ll try to reuse more.  We (meaning me and the family) need to stop buying bottled water.  I have a BPA free bottle and a filtered tap at home, but we buy Poland Spring water and cases of  Crystal Geyser…Natural Alpine Spring Water from New Hampshire.  The label says don’t refill.  I wonder if this is a subtle hint to the dangers of  plastic.  Speaking of dangers, I don’t drive much.  I take a hybrid bus near my house and walk to work from the bus station everyday and I will continue to do this.

Recycle.  We do extensively at home.  I need to figure out a way to recycle more at work.  My colleagues are committed to it, so it’s just a matter of putting a collective plan into action.   One thing I can do is stop printing so much.  I print e-mails too often out of laziness, like when I need an address, or meeting time or phone number.   I should just write these things down instead.

I buy a lot of books, but could easily find those books in the library.  The thought of community book sharing via the public library system is appealing.  Rather than buy books, I could look for a book swap situation.  And while I have found it difficult to read for long stretches of time on-line, I do get all my news electronically; I no longer have a paper newspaper subscription.  And I will try to read more novels and poems electronically on Project Gutenberg.  But I’m not ready for a Kindle yet…not just yet.  And  I’m not ready to completely give up on paper books, just as I have not been able to give up my albums and CDs just yet.   Digital, paper or plastic?  This is the question for 2010.