London Olympics Off to a Great Start but…

So far, the London Summer Olympics have been pretty interesting, even though the events I like the most have not yet aired – dressage (just kidding), who gets the medal in the dancing horse event anyway, the horse or the rider?  I believe Mitt Romney’s horse  (his wife Ann’s actually) is competing in London.  The horse named Rifalca (aka “crazy legs”)  is a equine treasure that yields a handsome tax break and perhaps even precious medals.

So far, I’ve watched as much coverage as I could, and in some cases, as I could stomach.  For example, I managed to get through a water polo match as the Americans took out Montenegro.  The game is a bit silly in my view, but it is a game, at least, being that there is a ball involved, unlike dressage.  I found the caps they wear pointless – I guess they call them hats.  Are they simply decorative?  I’d like to see them wear those old diver helmets made of cast iron.  The other thing that annoys me about water polo is that dang whistle the refs incessantly blow.  Sometimes a player will get whistled for dunking a guy’s head or splashing his opponent in the face with water, and have to go dog paddle in a little roped off penalty area at the side of the pool.

The men’s and women’s bike races just took too long, and I tired watching them tire, but both featured fantastic finishes.  I enjoyed the women’s race more because they biked in the rain and it seemed far more treacherous and challenging with quite a number of spin-outs and non-fatal crashes.  Not that I enjoyed the crashes, but that the element of danger made the event more exciting.

The gymnastic qualifying rounds just seem pointless.  Couldn’t they just line them all up and have everyone go one after the other, and say the best vault wins gold, next best silver and so on for all the events.  And how many countries compete in swimming?  The Olympic Committee should just cap it at 16 countries and build a 16 lane pool.  One race per event.  My oldest daughter believes there are too many distances too and I quite agree and also think there are too many events.  There should only be the freestyle, that’s it.  The backstroke is just plain stupid. Have you ever heard of the 100 meter backwards sprint in track? Actually, that might be pretty interesting.

Beach volleyball.  I’m sorry, that belongs in the X games, not the Olympic Games.  And skeet shooting?  Come on.  That’s something for hunters, not athletes.   I could go on.

I’m partial to basketball, soccer (futbol to the purists), track and field, cliff diving, bowling and croquet.  These are the events that produce true Olympic champions.

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London Olympics Opening Ceremony Ok but…

I saw some of the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics and later all of the highlights and have to say that I felt like I was at the cinema watching movie trailers with lots of stunts, pyrotechnics and clever moments. I chuckled when David Beckham arrived via boat with the torch and wondered if Posh Spice was on board.  Mr. “bend it like” Beckham handed the torch to a legendary British rower, who ran for a bit before passing the torch on to a group of future Olympic hopefuls.  If I had choreographed the ceremony, I’d have had the rower row in from the Thames with oars shaped as torches adorned with LED lighting.  He would have then passed it off to Beckham for a scissors kick to set off the fireworks and lighting of the rings, which in turn would have  lit the tower.

I’m a concert goer, not a theatre goer, so all the theatrics did not move me as much as the music.  Personally, I would have preferred a live Rolling Stones set, but really who could complain with a Beatle gone solo. Paul McCartney, who, frankly, even with cosmetic adjustments, is beginning to look and sound his age, performed only as he could with a rousing “Hey Jude”.  I wonder if Julian Lennon was in the crowd? I kept waiting for Ringo and George to emerge on stage or parachute down from a “heli”, as Bear Gryls might do, but I guess the Beatles are not getting back together after all.

The soundtrack to the Danny Boyle extravaganza included songs by Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Radiohead and David Bowie among other British bands and musicians, but did not include anything from two of my favorite bands of all time, Genesis and Yes.   The set list should have included the Yes tunes “Roundabout” (because there are so many in London) and “Long Distance Runaround”, for obvious reasons and some perhaps not so.  See my Music For Olympics playlist on Spotify.

I’m just glad the Olympics have finally opened.  Let the games begin!

YES, Boston 2012

Yes, Boston 2012

Yes is one of my favorite bands of all time and I’m thrilled that I finally got the chance to see them live.  And they did not disappoint.  Frankly, I was amazed at how good the aging rockers sounded.  By way of a little personnel history of Yes, bassist Chris Squire formed the band with vocalist Jon Anderson in 1968. Steve Howe joined in 1971, and helped propel the band to commercial success.  In his first year, the band recorded two landmark LPs:  The Yes Album and Fragile. Drummer Alan White replaced Bill Bruford in 1972.  After a string of keyboardists contributed their expertise to the band, including the theatrical organist, Rick Wakeman, Geoffrey Downes joined Yes in 1980 and has played with the band in several configurations and spinoffs over the years including Asia.  Original vocalist Jon Anderson, who in my opinion was the heart and soul of the Yes sound, left, came back, left again, came back, left after an illness, wanted back in, but it never came to pass. To fill his big shoes over the years, Yes experimented with a number of vocalists including Trevor Rabin, Trevor Horn, Benoit David and Jon Davison who sounds eerily like Anderson with a similar stage presence.  The current lineup includes Howe, Squire, White and Davison.  The band’s history is even more complicated than the lineup changes but I won’t get into that.  Suffice it to say that this current configuration of YES sounds great!

When I was in high school, I listened to Yes a lot, even obsessively so if you asked my mom. I owned most of their albums and literally wore out Yessongs (1973), one of the great live progressive rock recordings of the 70’s.  In college, I particularly enjoyed Tales From Topographic Oceans (1974) and Going For The One (1977) and was absolutely delighted to hear 3 selections from these, in my opinion, undervalued Yes albums.

I soured on Yes after what I considered the mediocre records of Tormato (1978) and Drama (1980) and lost interest in the newer sound of Yes, but still occasionally listened to the old stuff.

Fast forward 28 years.  My youngest daughter home from college for the summer told me that Yes was coming to Boston.  She knew I liked the band, and though not a big fan herself, seemed at least curious and receptive to their sound.  My wife is not a progressive rocker, so I bought tickets for myself and my two daughters.

To prepare for what I imagined would be the bulk of the show’s musical content, I bought Yes’ latest CD (mp3 files actually) Fly From Here (2011).  I didn’t initially like it much, but it grew on me after playing it a dozen or so times.  I was struck by how much the vocalist, in this case, Benoit David, sounded like Jon Anderson. When I learned that he was no longer touring with the band, I was a little disappointed and doubtful that Yes could find a suitable replacement.  My concerns, however, were put to rest the moment vocalist Jon Davison hit his first notes on the opening song – “Yours Is No Disgrace.”  It was as if he were lip synching to Jon Anderson’s vocals. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Davison delivered a superior version of Anderson.

The Boston show was a riot.  Procol Harum started off the night.  Lead singer Gary Brooker was a hoot, cracking jokes about their age – these guys, well, at least Gary and Geoff Whitehorn, his soulful Fender Strat playing compatriot, must be pushing 70.  Brooker was saying stuff like the band had downloads of their latest material available, but that he himself did not know how to download anything, that he had a typewriter and kept his money in a shoebox under his bed.  He later invited the audience to dance to a tune written in 4 4 time in a minor key, because the band particularly likes to dance in minor keys.   They saved their signature tune for last: “Whiter Shade of Pale”.  The largely pale and aging crowd went wild, as if awakened from a collective evening nap.

Speaking of the crowd, I was a little disappointed that the venue was only about two-thirds full. I expected Yes to sellout, but I had to remind myself that this is 2012, not 1973.  And there were a fair number of people in the audience who were adults in 1973.  At nearly 50 myself, I was one of the younger members of the audience.  The youngest were quite likely first time Yes listeners, who, like my daughters, were introduced to the band first by their parents.

The acoustics at the Bank of America Pavilion were surprisingly good.  The band sounded absolutely fantastic.  They played songs almost exclusively from their earlier period much to the delight of the seniors in attendance with the exception of “Tempus Fugit” from Drama (1980) and the “Fly From Here” suite (2011).  They even played part of a tune from Tales From Topographic Oceans (1974) which was both a surprise and delight.

The light show left quite a bit to be desired.  My youngest described it as a Windows 2001 screensaver.  But the show truly was about the music so no one seemed to care or notice for that matter.  Some in the crowd provided their own special effects with the aid of hallucinogenic herbs as evidenced by the faint smell of cannabis that wafted through the briny night air courtesy of a pleasant sea breeze.

I kept saying to my daughters, “what a great band”, and they both seemed impressed and somewhat surprised by the beauty of the music.  And it really was a beautiful night.  May Yes live to play another decade!

I’ve provided the set list from the concert below.  If you have Spotify, you can tap on the links to play all the songs.  If you don’t have Spotify yet, what are you waiting for? I think you can still get Spotify with ads for free.

YES set list, Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, MA  – 7/21/2012

Yes Set List in playlist format

or individually if you prefer:

Yours Is No Disgrace

Tempus Fugit

I’ve Seen All Good People

America

The Clap

Second Initial

The Ancient/Giants Under the Sun (Giants only with vocal part)

Fly From Here

Wonderous Stories

Heart of the Sunrise

Awaken

Roundabout (encore)

San Fran Bottled Water Ban

San Francisco is leading the fight against plastic bottled water.  Now they haven’t banned the stuff yet, but have drafted an ordinance that would require the owners of new and rehabbed buildings with water fountains to install bottle filling taps. The theory is that the taps would encourage people to refill BPA free bottles with water rather than reach for another plastic store bought bottled water.

You know, when I was a kid, I would have thought the idea of buying water to be positively preposterous.  Still do, but I do buy bottled water now and again, despite the fact that I have a Brita container and a BPA Free Camelbak bottle.  My beef with the Camelbak is that it’s a little too fat at the base to fit into my car’s cupholders; an annoying design flaw by both the auto and bottle maker. With climate change bringing about catastrophic droughts, and with the constant polluting of groundwater via the frackers, water truly is a much more precious commodity…but back in the day, and I’m talking some 40 odd years ago, I was drinking water from those porcelain fountains at school and garden houses.  And it was a real treat to visit the fancy places and drink water out of a glass bubbler in those funny paper cups that looked like tiny dunce hats.

Anyway, I do applaud San Francisco for their intentions.  Those non-biodegradable plastic bottles require too much energy to produce and recycle.  And all too often, they end up in landfills or floating around in the oceans causing harm to marine life.  And who ever heard of a message in a plastic bottle?

The tap proposal is a good thing really, but I, being predisposed to exaggeration, would go several steps further.  I would only allow the city to sell plastic bottled water to tourists who presented a valid tourist visa.  Canadians would only have to prove a Canadian accent by pronouncing the words out, house or about.

As I was writing this post about water, some great songs came to mind.  If you have a Spotify account, groove on; if not, give it a Spin.

Water of Love – Dire Straits.  After all, San Fran was once known as the city of free love with all the hippies.

Black Water – Doobie Brothers.  A California band.  I’ve always liked this song.

Slow Water – Brian Eno.  This is an ambient songs, but not cheesy like those relaxation tapes the old hippies now listen to while doing yoga and eating hemp cereal and free trade Trader Joe’s mushrooms.

Sound of Water – Pat Metheny/Brad Mehldau.  Just a very cool song by two master musicians.

Chevy Sonic as American as Tater Tots and…

Photo by Morven

Can you guess which automaker has sold more cars each year in the U.S. for the past 51 years?   If you said Ford, you’d be wrong.  GM is the answer.   This is probably not a shocking revelation except that in the Northeast, the big three automakers seem to be Toyota, Honda and Nissan.  And yet their market share is tiny compared to Ford, GM and Chrysler.  Take June 2012.  Toyota sold 177,795, Honda, 124,808 and Nissan, 81,801.  By comparison, GM sold 248,250 vehicles, Ford 207,759 and Chrysler, 144,811.  Chrysler which includes the brands Fiat, Jeep and Dodge hasn’t really taken root in Boston.  The only Dodge Darts I’ve seen were the ones showcased on 60 Minutes in their piece on Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler/Fiat’s new CEO.  And the only person I’ve even seen driving a Fiat 500 is Jennifer Lopez.  Can you even name one Chrysler car?  Be honest.  The only models I can think of are the LeBaron and the New Yorker which haven’t been produced since the mid 90’s.  What has Chrysler been doing for the last 20 years?  Certainly not building a keeper.  They ought to bring back the Cirrus.  Remember that one? I don’t either.

Corolla, Camry, Prius, Rav4, Highlander, Civic, Accord, Fit, Altima, Rogue, Maxima, and Pathfinder are the brands I see most often rolling along on the roads of Boston.  Don’t see any Darts, or many Fiestas, and Impalas on the streets of Beantowne. And the Volt, America’s “revolutionary” gas-electric plug in vehicle, hasn’t sold well in the birthplace of American liberty.  I’m not exactly sure why, but reports of fiery batteries haven’t helped.  I also haven’t seen a Chevy Sonic yet, but I finally found a Sonic in Massachusetts.  Love me some tater tots.   How about a new Chevy Sonic ad, “it’s as American as tater tots, chilly cheese fries and a Supersonic Double Cheeseburger with Mayo and 1290 calories and 87 grams of fat”.

Making Sense of all this Madness

This is not exactly a rant, but I’m trying to make some sense out of the madness that defines U.S. politics.  I thought I’d start with some statements that I believe cut through the rhetoric and get right to the point or at least my point.

  • The only people who really care about the 8.2% unemployment rate are the unemployed.  The rest, DEMS and GOP alike use the statistic for political advantage.
  • The people who care most about the Affordable Care Act, A/K/A Obamacare are the uninsured.
  • The only people who support voter ID laws are desperate Republicans who hope to prevent the uninsured and unemployed from voting.
  • The word TAX is used to fear monger.  Ironically, it was the ability to tax that helped transform the country from a loose confederation to a united group of states.
  • The people who care most about income inequality are the very rich who have the most to lose and whose interests both parties have always protected.
  • Capitalism through “free” market enterprise means to get as rich as possible by any means necessary.  Bain Capital is the classic textbook example.  Profit over people.
  • Deficit reduction via spending cuts is code for privatization.
  • Politicians who deny climate change have been bought out by the energy industry who profit wildly from the drilling, fracking, mining and burning of fossil fuels that are significantly responsible for global warming which has brought about catastrophic weather extremes.  This world view is one of profit over the environment and ultimately over people when there’s no environment left.  How crazy is that?

 

Beasts of the Southern Wild A Masterpiece

Jared Bowen, an arts and theater critic for Boston’s NPR Affiliate WGBH, highly recommended the film, Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Largely based on his review, I decided to go to the cinema to see it.  I’m not much of a moviegoer.  I might see two films a year.  Last year, I only saw The King’s Speech and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Beasts was the first movie I have seen this year, and wow, what a film.

I went with my daughter who is home from college for the summer.  She too had heard about it and wanted to go.  But here’s a warning:  it might not be the best father-daughter movie and you’ll know what I mean after you see it.  But then again it might be a great father-daughter movie.  The main characters are two first time actors – 6 year old Hushpuppy and her father Wink, who live on a tiny environmentally vulnerable island south of New Orleans they call the Bathtub that is nearly washed away by a Katrina like hurricane.  Hushpuppy, who sees her late mother in everything, including a lighthouse beacon, constructs her own fantasy world to cope with the devastation and poverty all around her reminiscent of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Hushpuppy creates the beasts by making a connection between a family hog and a rural myth the medicine lady told about prehistoric wild boars called aurochs trapped in the ice age who will take over the earth when the ice melts.  There is clearly a climate change metaphor at work here.  She tells the children in the community that they have to be strong to survive and learn how to take care of the weak and sweet people who need help.  Wink, the alcoholic father with a terminal medical condition also tries to toughen up his daughter and teach her survival skills. He shows her how to  catch a catfish in the swamp with one hand and whack it dead with the other and how to rip open a crab shell with her bare hands to get at the meat.

The film is a raw glimpse of rural swamp life that watches like a fictionalized post Katrina documentary with touches of magical realism.  There are no dramatic special effects, even though the aurochs come to life.  The acting is soulful and honest as if the characters are playing themselves.  Quvenshane Wallis, the 6 year old Hushpuppy, gives a performance that rivals Tatum O’Neil at the age of 10 in Paper MoonBeasts is not a fraudulent feel good Disney fantasy.  There’s no glossing over unpleasant aspects of life, no sanitized romanticized imagining of swamp life.  The lines, “don’t cry” are guaranteed to generate audience tears.  Though raw and dark, the film is uplifting and illustrates the value of love, self-reliance and community.

Desperate GOP with new Southern Strategy

I don’t know why the fuss about the Affordable Care Act, (ACA) A/K/A Obomneycare.  The GOP objects for political reasons and now have tried to repeal it something like 33 times.  Interesting, wasn’t 33 the year prohibition was repealed? They argue that the ACA is bad economics – $ over people every time – and that affordable health care is an unconstitutional violation of freedom, which they’ve made up in desperation after the SCOTUS ruled ACA is constitutional.

The GOP says Obomneycare represents the largest tax increase in the history of the world.  What?  I guess they are talking about the penalty (tax) that people who refuse to buy insurance would have to pay.  Would that many people opt out of health insurance?   Largest tax increase?  Don’t forget that the President has been asking for an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, but the GOP won’t support it because the poor billionaires won’t get their cut.   I guess it’s tough being a billionaire in America.

They say affordable health care is not good for America.  Come again?  Texas, led by “don’t mess with Texas” Rick Perry, has refused to set up health exchanges and to expand Medicaid, which  the federal government would pay for 100%  for the first three years, after which states would have to chip in 10%.  Other southern states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida, which have some of the highest numbers of people without health insurance in the country, also refuse to expand Medicaid to provide access to affordable health care for residents without it.  I hope they understand that just because someone is uninsured, doesn’t mean they can’t vote.

Will the southern states secede from the union and form their own country? This might be in the works if the governors of Texas and Florida with the two first names for names – Rick Perry and Rick Scott – get their way.  Remember, it’s Florida that has refused to abide by a federal order to stop purging its voter rolls as part of a voter suppression strategy.  Wait, maybe they do know the uninsured can vote.

The MLB All-Star Game Needs a Real Change Up

The MLB All-Star baseball game is on tonight and I don’t care.  I find the exhibition game boring, even though the outcome has some bearing on determining the home team at the World Series.  By the way, baseball shouldn’t call its ultimate tournament, the World Series because only American teams play.  Granted, there are non-American players on every team, mostly Dominican and the one Canadian team, but this limited diversity does not constitute the World.  Anyway, the All-Star game lacks excitement and I have some ideas for how to energize and internationalize the game.

Why just play with a baseball? Why not let the pitcher (and catcher) decide what ball to throw!  Here’s how it would work.  The pitcher would have a big drum or garbage barrel full of balls behind the mound. He’d grab one and have to throw the same ball or kind of ball to the batter, but could switch up for the next batter.  So one batter might get a series of wiffle balls, the next, cricket balls, a third, some tennis balls and so on.  Rubber balls, soft balls, golf balls, hackey sacks, lacrosse balls, racket balls, ping pong balls, croquet balls, foil wrapped Hostess Ding Dongs, hockey pucks, cans of tuna fish, and badminton shuttlecocks would all be permissible.  Talk about a change up!

Players on the losing team would have to donate a game’s salary to their favorite charity and would have to sit out the first game of the World Series if their team makes it that far.  Pitchers would have to throw nothing but fastballs in their first inning of work.  No need for the catcher’s sign.

Courts Order Twitter To Fork Over Tweets

I read that U.S. courts have ordered twitter to hand over information on some of its users, including tweets that had been deleted, in what seems to be a violation of U.S. privacy laws.  One such case involved an OWS protester.  I am not an OWS protester and have not been taken to court for anything, but I do support the movement in spirit.  If my tweets were ever handed over to the government, here’s a sampling of what they’d have on me:

Wribbie@wribbie

The truth is that facts are nuanced and sometimes “interested”.

Enough with the flat tax, we need a fat cat tax.

The GOP should say if you want to avoid paying taxes, buy health insurance!

Climate change denying is part of a general pattern of GOP obstructionism where facts don’t matter.

Hey folks. Instead of Stretch Genie, just buy your size.

Libor, sounds like the name of a soap, or a small city in Portugal.

Maybe we can use some of Phil Swift’s Flex Seal to fix the economy.

GOP wants smaller government – no regs, but more corporate welfare.

Hard to take Bible literally when you read things like, “Noah lived 350 years after the flood and died at 950. Gen 9: 28-29. CEV.

Creationism should be taught in school: Sunday School.

Lizz Winstead looks and sounds like Jane Kaczmarek, who plays the mother, Lois, on Malcolm in the Middle.

Imagine if the angry birds and mad cows went on strike.

Gen. Clark says no one can get to the right of Obama on foreign policy, but that’s not true – the Pres doesn’t favor bombing Iran.

I believe the rulebook stipulates that all pitching coaches must wear a mustache.

Educ. is not traning. Training is narrow. Lose job, need more training, not so, with liberal arts – you are “trained” for life.

If football players can play in the rain, why can’t baseball players?

With all of Regan’s “liberal” stances, the GOP will have to go way back to Warren G. Harding for a hero.

I just have to say this: I’m not a fan of Tim Horton’s. I’m not.

Salty’s A falls right off his uniform.

I’m not excited about the new Dodge Dart.

Ron Paul has passed 1 bill in his 14 years in Congress. One.

Cat running for senate in VA. Cats are not easily influenced by special interests, but do like the catnip.