Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Travelogue Part II

Once out of NY, the road surface seemed to change and the Fit began to sound like a 117 horses galloping along on a wooden surface.  I noticed strips from rubber tires all about and road kill marking the miles.  Lots of trucks, even saw a triple trailer – the thing actually passed me which was a little insulting.  I retook my position on a steep incline somewhere in Ohio.  Ohio, Chrissie Hind’s state.  Land of Clinger and Oberlin College, Toledo too where we took in a leisurely stroll in Promenade Park which had an impressive array of bronze statues and the most spectacular smoke stack I’ve seen in years.

And then there was Cleveland where we took in I.M. Pei’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which at first glance looks like the glass triangle at the Louvre. The Rock and Roll Museum has an impressive collection of costumes, memorabilia, including Janis Joplin’s psychedelic Porsche; musical equipment, and guitars.  Lots of guitars.  Custom guitars made for Elvis and Jerry Garcia.  All the greats have guitars on display in the museum – B.B. King, Albert King, Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Les Paul and Howling Wolf.   One of the most fascinating exhibits featured clips of Les Paul playing with Mary Ford and his commentary on the history of the instrument including his contributions to modern guitar playing, guitar building and recording techniques.  He was a master player, tinkerer and innovator.

Jukebox kiosks give visitors a chance to listen to music from any of the inductees and music from virtually all genres represented in the Hall from Blues to Heavy Metal and anything in between.  I grooved to the Velvet Underground and Jeff Beck.

The museum runs a film covering each of the inductees by year and while interesting, was not nearly as interesting as the actual museum exhibits and it was way too long.  If I had known how long it would last – more than an hour it seemed – I’d have skipped it.

And of course it has a gift shop.  The escalator conveniently deposits you there.  Lots of crap as you might expect, but we bought a couple of books – one a history of the guitar and the other a biography of Janis Joplin written by her sister.

After the museum, we had some soul food at Hot Sauce Williams. The food was excellent – crisp, moist fried chicken drowned in barbecue sauce, succulent ribs and mouth watering sides – fried okra, baked beans and corn bread.  Anthony Bourdain had been to the place and gave it high marks.  We gave it thumbs up too.   When you visit the museum, pass on the food there and save your appetite for some good soul food.  It’ll hit the spot and do you right.

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U.S. Road Trip Reflections Part I

Ever driven coast to coast in the U.S.? I haven’t, but recently drove halfway across from Boston to NYC and then to Chicago for a spell and then through Canada to Niagara Falls and back to Boston.  All in all, about 3,000 miles – 4,828 Canadian where the speed limits and distances are posted in kilometers without as much as a warning to American drivers. Still trying to figure out how much I paid for a gallon of gas in Toronto. I love Canada. I do. But I don’t dig  Tim Horton’s, the Canadian version of Dunkin Donuts that does not compare favorably, a place my wife calls Tom Norton’s. Tiny coffee cups, weak ice coffee with dainty ice-cubes and small donuts that look and taste “store bought” as a traveling companion put it, with distinctly Canadian flavours like sour cream glazed and maple frosted. And the wait, I mean 15 minutes for a cup of coffee is just not acceptable. Tim Horton’s sounds more like a steakhouse.

Since we were a traveling party of five with a lot of luggage, we took two Honda Fits.  It’d have been a tight fit all of us to go in one and we’d have exceeded the payload of 850 pounds. Our Fits performed admirably, despite the tiny 1.5 liter engine that we had to gun to pass big trucks, but once up to speed, the Fit runs smoothly. We had some pretty miserable driving conditions with driving rain and lightening but never once felt unsafe in the Fit. It handled flawlessly. And we got excellent gas mileage of about 36 mpg in mixed driving and some heavy traffic in spots.

From Boston, we headed to NYC just to stop off at Zabar’s for gifts of coffee and black and white cookies. You can’t beat Zabar’s, unless you happen to be in Toronto where you can beat it if you go to St. Lawrence Market, which is “Zabar’s times 7”, as my oldest daughter put it.

It was getting late and we plowed through NYC and into PA where we stopped in some small town at a Motel 8 or something or other with a number in it. The continental breakfast was a little on the depressing side with stale Cherrios in a giant dispenser and wet English muffins that toasted soggy. The one Red Delicious apple was the loan fresh fruit, and I think all the patrons were afraid to take it, not wanting to be the one to take the last one, which I took to be an act of polite Midwestern restraint. I’d have taken it, but I do not like the Red Delicious. I do not.

We drove past Williamsport the site of the Little League World Series that was about to begin and Bloomsburg, where my friend DH went to school. We rolled past Allentown, the place Billy Joel made famous. I remember thinking a lot about chocolate and wondering whether the Hershey factory was open 24 7 like the local 7 Eleven. PA, the land of chocolate, Rolling Rock, Quakers and three of my FB friends.

Super Committee on Debt Reduction Doomed to Fail

CNN Money reported that 9 of the 12 member super committee for debt reduction have been appointed and all 6 of the Republicans. Only 3 Democrats remain. I’m not very optimistic that the committee will come to any agreement since all 6 of the Republicans on the super committee have signed Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge. Clearly, the Republicans are not interested in compromising, as it is certain that any deal would have to include some revenue enhancements. 3 of the members – 2 Republicans and 1 of the 3 Democrats who served on the 18 member Simpson-Bowles Presidential Commission on debt reduction voted against the plan crafted at the end of 2010. It didn’t even get enough support on the panel to reach Congress for a vote.

Why the President thinks the super committee will achieve a compromise is puzzling, except that the threat of trigger points may incentivize them to do so. That is, if they fail, there will be across the board cuts to defense and non-defense spending; defense spending is something Republicans would likely try to protect since it greatly benefits corporations, and brings money to their states who may have bases and factories that make weapons we do not need.  A compromise with no revenue enhancements would be a horrible deal. I’d rather have across the board cuts go into place.

Republicans insist that Americans do not want higher taxes. Well, of course, nobody is for higher taxes, but most Americans, the majority in polling, understand that the only way we can responsibly reduce the deficit is to cut spending and raise taxes. But on who? For starters, on corporations who are bursting with profits. And on billionaires (those so called job creators) who feel entitled not to pay their fair share. Any serious discussion should include the reform of the tax code to make it more efficient and just, including closing those gaping loopholes that allow the savvy to shelter earnings abroad, and encourages them to shift business operations overseas.

I think the only way the committee will have any chance of success would be for the Republican members to renounce their no-tax pledge. If they think the Democrats are going to agree to a plan that does not include revenue enhancements, they are delusional. Like Simpson-Bowles, I am afraid this super committee is doomed to fail.

1882 Unites Longfellow and Joyce

I bought some postcards of famous literary figures, artists and composers at the Ocean State Job Lot for a dime a piece recently.  Longfellow, Goethe, Dickens, Joyce, Evelyn Waugh, who is a man by the way, Thomas Mann, who is also a man, and many, many more.  My daughter and I bought 90 all together, which the cashier counted out individually.  I told the checker as she counted that we had 90 and that messed up her count and she had to start over again.  This took about 10 minutes as the line behind us began to grow…restless.

As I sorted through the historical portraits of dozens of poets and authors, I began looking at their dates of birth and death and noticed that there were some common dates among some. For example, Longfellow and Joyce share the date, 1882.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow died in 1882, the same year James Joyce was born.  Stylistically, the two were nothing alike.  Longfellow’s poetry is delicate smooth, conventional –  pleasing to the ear.  Joyce on the other hand wrote with a harsh, inventive, experimental style.  His stream of consciouness narrative technique in Ulysses inspired Faulkner who “streamed” all through  The Sound and the Fury.

In their postcard appearances, the two might as well have been from another planet.  Longfellow looks like a weathered and leathered sea captain, as if home from a 10 year whaling expedition.  A dapper Joyce looked to have been at a dinner party on a Yacht where he might have run into a chain cigar smoking Evelyn Waugh.

New Country for the Ultra Right

I was thinking…something I do from time to time…about how the ultra extreme wing of the Republican party including many who identify with the Tea Party movement held the country hostage in the debt ceiling negotiation. On the Situation Room with Wolf Blizter Fareed Zakaria explained that the debt ceiling negotians were un-American in that the Republicans’ negotiation tactics were and I’m paraphrasing Fareed here: “you either do what we want, or we’ll blow the country up”. As he further explained, this is un-American in the sense that an unwillingness to compromise is against the principles of government and democracy as laid out by the founding fathers, a government with shared powers that was meant to govern by compromise or consensus.

I’m getting tired of a small band of ideological radicals telling me what is best for the country and saying that it is the will of the people. Bullshit. Will of the country? How can this be when the approval rating of Congress is 14%, the lowest in the history of the U.S.

Sometimes I feel like we are in the midst of a Civil War of ideologies. It seems that a small but vocal element wishes to live without a government….god fearing anarchists. Maybe that’s extreme but maybe not so. Why don’t these folks create their own country. Buy some land from Montana – I’m sure they can spare a few thousand acres if the price is right. This could be a haven for those who wish to create their own government, if they chose to do so. The founding fathers and mothers, if women are allowed, might adopt the following principles:

  • Freedom of religion, as long as it involves Jesus.
  • Church and state are one in the same.
  • Freedom of speech as long as the speech is without opinion.
  • Guns, Guns, Guns.
  • Drill baby Drill.
  • No taxes.

Only the facts can be spoken. And the facts are these:

  1. Climate change is a hoax.
  2. Man never stepped foot on the moon.
  3. The world is only 1,000 years old.
  4. Darwin was a Marxist devil.

I don’t know how this new country will generate revenue as the citizens will be against taxes. I guess it will be run on the principle of volunteerism. Volunteer fire, police. What sort of government would emerge is an open question. It might be a theocracy in which case it could collect tithes and offerings to build roads, and schools. It could also attract lots of industry who could pollute with immunity, transact business without any regulations or oversight, free to make unlimited profits without regard to the community or its workers who of course would not be allowed to unionize.

The country would need a president, and I have some possible names. Mitch O’Connell, Sharon Angle, Sara Palin, Michelle Bachman, Christine O’Donnell, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor. Supreme Court, if they chose to go in this direction could be made up of Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, the Koch brothers, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush and Rush Limbaugh.

Good luck!

Spotify, Give it a Spin

Spotify. Anyone have it yet? I do. The free version. I like it better than Pandora, because I have more control. In Pandora, you get started by selecting a few songs you want to hear and then it takes over, like the computer Hal in 2001 a Space Odyssey. It uses some sort of omniscient algorithm to predict what songs you might like. It sometimes gets it right, and sometimes not, but the thumbs up thumbs down thing is a real pain. The thing is, I know what I like, and I like to discover new music on my own.

Spotify. What’s to like? Well, when you download the program, you get instant access to a database of 15 million songs. Pandora has a tiny database of 800,000 songs by comparison. The thing is with Spotify, you have to do all the work. You plug in what song or artist you want to hear and the selection or works of the artist appears. You then select the song you want and it streams. The quality of the stream in the free edition is not all that great, but as good or better than most anything you could find on YouTube, iTunes or Pandora. For the free version, if I understand the terms correctly, you get unlimited listens for the first 6 months, after which you are restricted to something like 10 hours a month and not more than 5 listens or so to a particular song.  You have to put up with ads and some music promotions.  You can’t share music, and can only hear your tunes while connected to the Internet. Premium upgrades give you unlimited listens, sharing capability, the ability to listen while off-line, mobile use, and better sound quality.

For now, I’m content with the free service. We’ll see how hooked I get in 6 months. I might very well upgrade to a premium service – the cheapest upgrade is $4.99 a month. If i do, I’d probably eliminate my monthly Consumer Reports subscription.

Spotify. It’s not for everyone. It might not be for you. There’s no risk to giving it a free spin, except the risk of addiction. Can they hook you? They may have already hooked me.

The US Needs a New Deal

When President Clinton left office, the U.S. had a budget surplus. When President Bush the younger left office 8 years later, the U.S. was on the brink of an economic collapse with high unemployment, a Wall Street brought to its knees by its own greed which had a ripple effect on the economy. Corrupt lending practices were exposed as many homeowners defaulted on their mortgages. Banks failed, the auto industry needed a bailing out and to top it all off, we were at war in two countries, wars that were not paid for – projected to have cost 1.26 trillion by the end of 2011 and an unpaid for prescription drug plan which cost 272 billion. And finally, the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 and then extended through 2012 cost the U.S. something in the order of 2.8 trillion in lost revenues.

The U.S. has a spending problem, no doubt, starting with Bush the younger and exacerbated by President Obama’s policies to carry on with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, adding Libya to the mix, and his deal with Congress to extend the Bush tax cuts. But the U.S. also has a significant revenue problem. And I agree with the President and most Democrats that we have to tackle the debt problem with a balanced approach of both spending cuts and revenue enhancements. However, the government does need to increase spending, or I should say invest, in job creating programs that will help put the unemployed back to work. It is clear that tax cuts do very little to create jobs or spur the economy. In fact, favorable tax policies to corporations have succeeded only in making them more profitable as they move operations and jobs overseas. Some corporations paid very little in taxes over the years while receiving generous subsidies both at the state and federal level. Boston Scientific recently announced the layoff of 1,200 workers and a plan to create 1,000 jobs in China, this despite receiving a substantial tax break from the state of Massachusetts. So the Republicans are right. Corporate tax cuts do create jobs, just not in this country.

How do we get out of this economic mess? If I were a member of this super committee charged with deficit reduction, I would advocate the following:

  • All the things President Obama originally proposed on the campaign trail: raise taxes on the top 2% of wage earners, close corporate tax loopholes, and raise the capital gains and inheritance tax.
  • Complete troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
  • Implement a broad amnesty program for the 15 million undocumented in this country. This would bring economic and social justice to an underclass of exploited workers and help to keep the Social Security fund solvent. It’s the right thing to do; an economic and moral imperative.
  • Create a tax free zone near Waco, Texas, Tucson, Arizona and the South Dakota Badlands where Americans who want to live free of government intervention can live free of government services. They would be charged a fee to travel outside these zones, and have to pay tolls on all public roads. In addition, they would be assessed a clean air breathing tax while traveling outside Waco, Tuscon or the Badlands. To travel abroad, tax free residents will pay 100,000 for a passport or passport renewal. To access any public space or service, they would pay a hefty user fee.
  • For Americans who wish to pay more than their fair share of taxes, they can.
  • Last, America should invest in its ailing infrastructure and it’s national parks system.  We should invest heavily in education, clean energy and the arts. The Obama administration should create a civilian jobs program modeled after the CCC, the Peace Corp, and Americorp expanding into adult education programs focused on literacy for all. Let’s bring back Keynsian economics.

USA USA USA

Arizona Strikes Against Latinos Again

Illustration by Andre Koehne

What is with Arizona?  The state has apparently declared war on Latinos.  First, the governor signs an unconstitutional bill into law (S.B. 1070) requiring cops to essentially engage in racial profiling to ascertain a person’s legal status, a law which would disproportionally affect Latinos.  Four other states have passed similar legislation. Second, voters approved a constitutional amendment to ban affirmative action programs (Proposition 107), despite the University system’s commitment to diversity.   The state also outlawed a Latino literature course taught at a Tuscon High School because it was thought to be “brainwashing” students according to Arizona attorney general, Tom Horne in a New York Times article by Marc Lacey entitled Rift in Arizona as Latino class found illegal. Apparently Horne, who has also been involved in a movement to eliminate ethnic studies programs in the state’s universities, believes the curriculum is not sufficiently Anglo-centric and must therefore be propagandistic.  Those who have complained, object to certain texts used in this class including Paulo Freire’s, Pedagogy of the Oppressed a book Mr. Horne has clearly not read.  If he had read it, he would understand that the book is not in the least bit radical, but rather it touches on a revolutionary way of educating which focuses on making meaningful connections to the lives of students.  This contextualized approach helps one make sense of the world and develop critical thinking skills, a valued trait for senior managers of the corporate world. But if he in fact has read the book,  I imagine the Freirian approach frightens him because it might help young Latino students and anyone else taking the class develop a political consciousness, obtain educational credentials, organize, and get increasingly involved in civil rights causes, which would ultimately threaten the White power structure in the state.

Members of the elite White country club like to conquer and divide.  Were struggling Whites to get a dose of liberation education, they might join forces with Latinos and others regardless of racial or ethnic background, with whom they have more in common than they might think, to push forward a more just society.  Could this be what governor Brewer, attorney general Horne, and the Arizona state legislature fear the most?

By the way, where is Senator McCain in all this?  The “maverick” stood alongside Senator Kennedy several years ago to introduce a reasonable immigration reform bill.  Once a voice of reason, he himself has become more extreme in his views on a range of issues.  Arizona, wake up.  It’s 2011, not 1959.

The Debt Ceiling Debacle

The thing is, I don’t think those of us who voted for Obama wanted the kind of change that the Tea Party branch of the Republican party has forced on us.  The debt ceiling debate was taken hostage by the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican party who insisted that raising the debt ceiling be tied to deficit reduction.  Tactically, this was a brilliant ploy, but reducing the long-term deficit has nothing to do with paying our short-term bills.  Nor does it have anything to do with job creation, which the Republicans had been saying was their top priority.  Tell me how making deep cuts create jobs?  These cuts do nothing to help those most in need, who the Republicans don’t seem to care about at all.  It will not help the unemployed, or the middle class.  I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the plan included eliminating the mortgage interest deduction for homeowners, which will be called tax reform.

This debt ceiling deal is part of a grand scheme to dismantle the government, by eviscerating the very programs that help people and the services that we look to the government to provide.  And remember, increased revenue is not in the plan.  There is no plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. No plan to tax overseas corporate profits.  No discussion of closing corporate loopholes.  Any savings would likely go to providing more corporate welfare to persuade American corporations to create jobs at home in stead of in China.

Here are the cuts we might see in the near future:  EPA – forget about clean air; Education – who needs it?; Consumer Protection Agency – hey buyer, beware!; FDA – just rinse your vegetables for a minute and smell your meat before you eat – better cook everything well-done including cold cuts; infrastructure – don’t count on any upgrades anytime soon.  Pray when you cross a bridge or drive under an underpass.  The Postal Service.  Just send e-mail and pay all your bills on-line – if you don’t have a computer or internet, get with the program.   And for all of you who think you are entitled, think again.  You may be working until you are 80 before you can draw social security and it may take working into your 80’s to pay the medical bills, if medicare is cut.

This is not the change I voted for.  I want a leader who will fight for the middle class, and the poorest Americans – who by the way do not chose to be needy. I want a leader who will not cave to the pressure from a small band of rogue ideologues who refuse to compromise, who view government as a dirty word and who work in concert with a group of legislators who care more about corporate profits than people.

Wake up America!