Saturday, September 27, 2008


A confession: as late as last spring, I naively thought that all of the remaining candidates (McCain, Obama, and Clinton) were acceptable.  I breathed a sigh of relief that the shoot-from-the-hip, often-wrong-but-never-in-doubt attitude that had marked the Bush administration would be replaced a a smarter, calmer, more reasonable regime.  How wrong I was.  I hadn't yet realized that the old kinder, gentler, smarter McCain would be wholly consumed by the new impulsive, dishonest, and pandering McCain. 

Boy, howdy, was my relief misplaced.   There are myriad examples that one could give to show that the former leader of the straight-talk express, the country-first war hero has been replaced by a power-hungry win-at-all-costs narcissist.  But the best, most obvious example is his choice of running mate.  Many of us had grave reservations when McCain chose a relative unknown who had less than two years of gubernatorial experience, and before that had been merely a small town mayor.   But maybe she was an easy study, a bright fast learner who had a real interest in an knowledge of foreign policy and economics.   But any thought that she is a bright, faster-learner or is even moderately knowledgeable about foreign or even domestic policy has been dashed.   Surely the interviews she's given (all three of them in the past month!) indicate tha this is a person out of her depth.    Need proof?   Here it is.  This is from her interview with Katie Curic:

Couric: Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with healthcare, housing, gas, and groceries—allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy—instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

Palin : That's why I say, I, like every American I'm speaking with, we're ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the taxpayers looking to bailout. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are [glances down] concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed [glances down] to help shore up our economy. [glances down] Helping the—oh, it's got to be about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So healthcare reform [glances down] and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief [glances down] for Americans, and trade we've—we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, um, scary thing, but 1 in 5 jobs being created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout [is a part of that].

Should John McCain become president, his first important decision will have been his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. No one can seriously say that he chose her because his sober analysis led him to believe that she was the best possible person to take over should McCain not be able to continue in office.  No, McCain's choice was grounded in one consideration: what would give him the best chance of winning this election.  Palin certainly energized the base for a while.  But I have to believe that even the most conservative person who is thoughtful will by this time be having second thoughts.  And those second thoughts should not be only about Palin's readiness to be the leader of the free world. They should first and foremost be about motivations and decision-making procedures of the man who would be president.   

I submit that by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain demonstrates that he isn't fit to be President of the United States.  

Sunday, January 20, 2008

This Is For You, Bud

Suppose you are the CEO of a company. During your sixteen years in charge, the company's profits have dramatically increased. Your share-holders and employees are well compensated, and your customer base has grown significantly. There is, though, a problem. There have been rumors of illegal conduct for years--assertions that, if true, would go some way to explaining how it is that your company was able to do so well. But happy with the increasing profits and the satisfaction of customers and employees alike, you simply ignored them. Eventually, the evidence of the truth of the rumors became overwhelming and you were threatened with legal action. So a decade after the first audible whispers of wrong-doing were heard, you make a few cosmetic changes. This staves off the lawyers for a time, but with the mounting evidence of illegal activity and the superficiality of the initial reforms, they come back. Eventually, you agree to an indepedent review of the allegations. With only a very few exceptions, your employees refuse to cooperate with the investigation. Even so, when the report is completed, over 80 of your employees have been reported as engaging in illegal activity that directly relates to job performance. Furthermore, any reasonable person will extrapolate from this and conclude that a great many others (perhaps more than half) of your employees are or were guilty of the same.

When this report becomes public, what would you expect your future with the company to be? Not bright, I'd say. But if you are Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and your bosses are just happy to be making money hand-over-fist, you get a three-year extension to your $15 million annual contract.

So much for accountability.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Favorite Songs of 2007

There is a long and respectable tradition of music geeks making lists of top albums. The geekier of the geeks also make lists of favorite songs. As a geekier geek, I hereby give to you my favorite songs of the year CD mix. Your mileage may vary.

(Okay, I can't resist saying more: I worry about how the songs hang together and since I give a playlist of these songs to family and friends, I also worry a bit about the kids in the audience. My favorite song this year is Springsteen's "Long Walk Home" but for various reasons I couldn't make it fit on this playlist. So I went with Bruce's wonderful-remake-of-10th-Avenue-Freeze-Out "Livin' in the Future.")

1. “Tournament Of Hearts” by The Weakerthans from Reunion Tour
2. “Reinvent the Wheel” by Bright Eyes from Four Winds EP
3. “Livin' In The Future” by Bruce Springsteen from Magic
4. “Killing The Blues” by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss from Raising Sand
5. “Butterfly Nets” by Bishop Allen from The Broken String
6. “1 2 3 4” by Feist from The Reminder
7. “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” by Spoon from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
8. “We're From Barcelona” by I'm From Barcelona from Let Me Introduce My Friends
9. “The Angels Hung Around” by Rilo Kiley from Under The Blacklight
10. “The Golden State” by John Doe from A Year in the Wilderness
11. “Tell it to the Raven” by The Mendoza Line from 30 Year Low
12. “Fire In The Canyon” by Fountains Of Wayne from Traffic And Weather
13. “Two” by Ryan Adams from Easy Tiger
14. “The Part Where You Let Go” by Hem from Home Again, Home Again
15. “The Temptation Of Adam” by Josh Ritter from The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter
16. “Missed the Boat” byModest Mouse We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
17. “A Bad Sign” by Michael Penn from Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947 [2007 mix]
18. “Down Here Below” by Steve Earle from Washington Square Serenade
19. “I'm On A Roll” by Over The Rhine from The Trumpet Child
20. “Heavenly Day” by Patty Griffin from Children Running Through
21. “Sky Blue Sky” by Wilco from Sky Blue Sky
22. “Without a Struggle” by Golden Smog from Blood On the Slacks EP
23. “Words” by Lucinda William from West

R.I.P. The Biden Campaign

It's been six months since I've posted and I have no reason to expect anyone to read this. But it should surprise no one who read my last entry that I'm saddened that Joe Biden has dropped out of the race. He was always a long shot and I knew that. But the unexpected sometimes happens in politics and I was hoping this would be one of those times. Joe has the experience in foreign policy that we sorely need (and that no other candidate from either party has, save John McCain) and the combination of good sense combined with a deep knowledge of the issues that makes him (to my mind) the person we need in the Oval Office. But he's done now and I need to accept that and move on. As a Democrat, there are really only two possibilities: Hillary and Obama. And the truth is that I'd be happy with either as president. Hell, I might even be content with Mike Huckabee as president (although I didn't agree with everything he did as governor of my state, he was sometimes inspiring in his ability to put aside politics and just do the right thing). McCain I could live with but I'll need a truckload of Prozac if Romney or Thompson is in the White House.

Mostly, I'd be happy to have a president that well-intentioned people from both parties could respect. From where I stand, that means that we'd better elect Obama, (maybe) Edwards, McCain, Huckabee or (maybe) Giuliani as our next leader. (I think there is no good reason for Hillary to not be respected by both parties--and people who have followed her record in the Senate and her ability to reach across party lines there should agree that she's generally respectable--but that reality hasn't seemed to sink into the perspective of the standard Republican, so that's why I'm not considering her to be someone who would be respected by members of both parties.)

Still, I think Joe might have done more to bring people together than any of these folks. God speed, Senator Biden; and R.I.P the Biden Campaign.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Biden for President

According to the main-stream press, there are three (count 'em) candidates that you should pay attention to: Hillary Rodham Clinton (her husband was president), Barrack Obama (he's photogenic, non-white, and a political rock star), and John Edwards (former VP candidate with amazing hair). I don't know why these are the only three the press pays attention to, but there it is. And between them they have less than two full terms in the U.S. Senate and zero terms in the U.S. House. In addition to the Big Three, there are other, arguably stronger candidates who are generally being ignored. One of them has been a senator for 30 years and has an actual view about what our policy in Iraq should be (and, no, just saying "we should leave Iraq" doesn't count as a sensible policy, no matter what your polls show, senators Clinton and Obama). But maybe because he isn't raising money hand over fist, and he doesn't command rock-star status, Senator Joe Biden's sensible, experienced, and well-informed views go unnoticed by the Wolf Blitzer/Anderson Cooper crowds of cable news.

This isn't to say that he's not getting noticed. has a helpful interview with him here. And columnist Mark Shields has also written about Senator Biden.

For those of you who give a damn about what happens to this country, I ask you to pay attention to what the senior senator from Delaware has to say. He might not be the most photogenic politician or have a cadre of pollsters telling him what to say. But if you care that our next president have significant experience in international and domestic affairs, a scholar's understanding of the Constitution, and a long-record of decency, please visit and have a look.

God speed, Joe.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Farewell to Fallwell

I think my reaction to the death of Jerry Falwell is atypical—at least given that I am a politically-liberal philosophy professor at a large state university. And in many ways I understand and even agree with the views of most of my colleagues. To those who only knew of him through his statements of social morality and political conservativism, he was a pompous ass, a poster child of arrogant intolerance. God knows he said things for which he should be ashamed (and I trust he now is). Again, if this is all I knew of him, I’d join in the chorus of condemnation.

But if you think that this all there was to Jerry Falwell you aren’t seeing the whole picture. By all accounts of people who really knew the man, Jerry Falwell did have a concern for the poor (even if his stress on preaching the gospel over meeting physical needs seems out of balance to many of us), for single, scared pregnant women, and for the souls of those he thought were bringing down divine judgment on our country. Even Al Sharpton, hardly a man given to saying nice things about conservatives and in particular those who initially resisted the civil rights movement, commented on Larry King's CNN show that he counted Jerry Falwell as a friend. Jerry would call Sharpton just to find out how his family was doing and to chat. Sharpton also commented that Falwell never failed to speak to and show concern for the "little guys" who served him food and whose existence is often ignored by those with equal celebrity. People who paint Falwell as a one dimensional conservative moral monster just don’t know what they are talking about. Like most of the rest of us, he was a man with contradictions. But I believe that the most straight-forward measure of the moral compass of a person is how he or she treats the persons in his or her life, and in particular the people who are in servant roles. Everything I’ve read about Falwell leads me to believe that he was at least my moral equal on this score, and likely my superior (since he walked on a more heady stage than I ever will). So I’ll cast no stone in his direction. Yes, I think he sometimes hurt the true cause of Christ as it relates to social/political agenda we should be pursuing. But his convictions were at least in part a result of the time and place in which he was raised. In judgment, we should be merciful--even to the judgmental. The bottom line is that if I were in need and had to appeal on a personal level to someone in the public eye, I rather suspect I couldn’t do better than to ask for the help of the Reverend Falwell.

May God have mercy on your soul, Jerry. May God have even more mercy on mine.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Busy Time for a Music Fan

The first quarter of 2007 has seen the release of a rather remarkable number of good (or at least interesting) albums. Among those added to my collection (several only in MP3 form--thanks!) in the past three or four months are the following:

Bright Eyes: Cassadaga
Bright Eyes: Four Winds [EP]
Andy Palacio: Watina
Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
Patty Griffin: Children Running Through
Lucinda Williams: West
Norah Jones: Not Too Late
Neil Young: Live at Massey Hall 1971
Graham Parker: Don't Tell Columbus
Fountains of Wayne: Traffic and Weather
Modest Mouse: We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank [sic] (Surely they meant to call it: We Were Dead Even Before the Ship Sank)
Michael Penn: Palms & Runes, Tarot and Tea: A Michael Penn Collection
Michael Penn: Mr. Hollywood, Jr. 1947 (this is a remastered, re-release of his 2005 masterpiece)

Of these records, my strongest endorsement goes to the pair of Michael Penn albums. My goodness can the man write a pop song! Clever, word-play-rich lyrics embedded in beautiful and hooky melodies all delivered in a McCartney-esque voice. *Palms and Runes* is a retrospective done right: every track a gem, some new versions of old favorites (well, at least for those of us who know him as more than just "that guy who did the song about Romeo in black jeans") sequenced in a way that does more justice to sound and content than it does to chronology. *Mr. Hollywood, Jr, 1947* is Penn's ode to 1947. It's what a short-story writer would do if trying to capture a place at a time in a collection of independent, although thematically related stories. This is my favorite of all of Penn's records, mostly for it's thinner production and overall unity.

Neil Young's *Live at Massey Hall 1971* is also wonderful. Neil is solo and at the top of his vocal game. If you've ever thought of him as a good songwriter/guitarist whose voice is a drawback, you need to listen to this record. But then I've raved about this record on this blog before.

Other quick notes: I at least like all of these records, although some I've yet to fully absorb. Still, I'd say that the Graham Parker album is a bit disappointing (not nearly as good as 2004's *Your Country*), as are the Norah Jones and Fountains of Wayne records. (Keep in mind that I have high expectations of records by all these folks, so "disappointing" does not mean "bad.") I just don't really get Arcade Fire, the Bright Eyes album is a bit over-produced (do we really need to hear him bleat with an orchestral background?) as is Patty Griffin's (although she still owns the most amazing female voice in pop music). Still you could do a lot worse than support these artists and spend some quality time with some quality popular music.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Boys of Spring

"While Scully danced over the airwaves/Scully surfed over the airwaves..."

Terry Taylor, "Bakersfield"

'Tis spring and a boy's thoughts turn to that which his nature compels him: the high heat, the roundhouse curve, the check swing, the gapper, and (let us not forget) the 6-4-3 double play. Baseball's back and every decent American feels renewed. April is a time for hope, when even the worst of teams is but a few games out of first place.

As always, my loyalties are torn. On the one hand, I've been a Cubs fan forever. And with the addition of Sweet Lou Pinella and Alfonso Soriano (who may well be the best pure athlete in baseball), this is a season that might turn out to be "the" year. But then again I live in Cardinals country and I fully understand why the people around me have a loyalty to the Redbirds. The Cards embody all that is good about baseball. The team is composed of smart trades, can't miss free agents, and homegrown talent the likes of which is not seen east of the Mississipi or west of the Ozark mountains. Or anywhere else in North America.

Despite my love of mid-America baseball, I have to admit that long-time Dodgers announcer Vin Scully is the Prince of the Airwaves. His silky voice and literate accounts of the goings-on on the field greatly out-distance my ability to describe.

Scully dances over the airwaves indeed. (Thank God for's audio subscription.)