Friday, February 10, 2006


It SAYS Olympic Games...

...but darn if that doesn't sure as heck look like John Kerry leading the way at the Opening Ceremonies of the Turin Olympics?

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"Too Much Time On My Hands"

...was a song by Styx, but it also seems to describe the modern condition.

How else to explain a Wikipedia entry for "Lazy Sunday" -- the first "instant classic" to hit Saturday Night Live in years? Wikipedia!?!?!? And not just a brief item either -- a well-annotated entry with a whole lot of history and plenty of links! From a comic video that lasts all of 2:22?

Nearly two months after it first aired, the Andy Parnell/Adam Samberg old-school rap send-up of white boys heading to see the Chronicles of Narnia has people talking: "Is it indicative of a creative revival of SNL?" Um, maybe not. "Does it suggest an audience pining for the light-heartedness of rap's heyday?" Possibly, given the places
too many rappers end up these days.

Toss in the fact that the video (which, in an admittedly self-censored way, does drop an MF-bomb in the middle) ends up on a site devoted to C.S. Lewis' Narnia tales, inspires response, tribute and parody versions (including one by a 7 and 11 year old kids) and it's clear that a runaway phenomenon is here.

But, the question is: Before the mass democratization of the Internet, where could all of these odd strands of pop culture have found a place to germinate in such rapid fashion? Yeah, SNL has been around for thirty years and managed to do weird juxtapositions like Jesse Jackson reading Dr. Seuss, but previously there had never been a place where the masses had easy access to reinterpret and deconstruct pop culture almost instantly.

Now, it's here -- which frankly may explain why SNL isn't as funny as it was 'back in the day.' It's not just that the current cast isn't as talented as their predecessors (that's partly true. However, "Lazy Sunday" demonstrates that the show can, on occasion, still throw a speedball by you). It's also that more people now have the means to recraft pop culture in varied and bizarre ways.

SNL was once pretty much the sole home to the nerdy-cool, funny kids who were in on their own little joke.

Now, technology has given everyone ways of sharing their own in-jokes with as few or as many people as they wish."Lazy Sunday," which first appeared on a broadcast television show, strikes a chord with "the masses" precisely because it has managed to appeal to the discreet, narrowcast technological networks that now exist. ITunes made it available for download; NBC put it on its site, so people can watch it at their leisure. As an easily digestible bit of comical art, the song "works" because Parnell and Samberg are not pondering weighty subjects; instead, they are thinking small about what's in their own neighborhoods and and their lives -- while rapping honestly and with a sense of fun. Parnell and Samberg are "keeping it real" moreso one could add, than the hardest gangsta rapper.

Of course, it helps that they can still toss off witty lines like, "You can call us Aaron Burr from the way we're dropping Hamiltons." Take my word for it -- that's guaranteed to make an editorial writer for the Hamilton-founded New York Post just fall out of his chair.

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You Better You Betty

Cathy Young gives a fine nuanced overview on themixed legacy of feminism's "Founding Mother" Betty Friedan.

Excellent stuff with both a link to her Reason Online look at Friedan, plus some good personal anecdotes.

Take a look.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006


Winter Of Our Discontent

A season of fretfulness all around:

Discontented Democrats.

Discontented Republicans.

Discontented conservatives.

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Bond Is Wha?

Last week's post about NAACP Chairman Julian Bond's comments at a Fayettville, NC, black college needs some clarification. Some debate has arisen as to the accuracy of the original World Net Daily report and the comprehensiveness of the local Fayettville Observer's coverage.

Brendan Loy sorts it all out.

Readers (including regular, An Interested Party)who left comments in my original post have a point that I should be a bit more skeptical before linkng to World Net Daily.

Still, Bond has
previously referred to Republicans as coming from the "Taliban wing of American politics" and charged that a "right wing operating out of the Justice Department" (which was being run by "J. Edgar Ashcroft".

So, the "Nazi" language was hardly that much of a stretch. But Loy is right: "Fake but accurate" is not a philosophy we endorse around here. So, I apologize for passing partly erroneous information along -- and linking to a WND article. I can't guarantee the former won't occur again, but the latter certainly won't.

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It's Beginning To Feel A Lot Like...Fall 2001

Two days on Capitol Hill:


Thankfully, these events don't have the real world lethality of the anthrax attacks of five years ago. Still, it brings back some unpleasant memories for more than a few.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006



Stick around folks, it'll be a long night...

Opener…The 21st century version of the The Archies, Gorillaz perform their hit, “Feels Good, Inc.” and hand it off to Madonna.

As much as I’d like to use the obvious joke, “another walking cartoon,” truthfully, I can’t. Madge is in great shape and singing pretty well. Which raises an interesting question: Some people asked why Motown singers wouldn’t have made a more appropriate halftime show than the Rolling Stones (who, given Paul McCartney last year, made for ‘60s British acts two years in a row at America’s biggest sporting event). Well, how about that other Detroit extract, Madonna Louise Cicconne? I know folks are nervous after the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction,” but Madonna’s become a bit more -- shall we say -- “restrained” since motherhood.

Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder do a little bit of schtick to open the show (no full-time single host), including a few bars of Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”

Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder do a little bit of schtick to open the show (no full-time single host), including a few bars of Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”

(8:15) First award: It’s an upset! Kelly Clarkson beats out Mariah Carey, Bonnie Raitt and Gwen Stefani to get the Female Pop Vocal Performance for last year’s “Since U Been Gone.” Maybe it’s not such an upset: Kelli beat Gwen at the MTV Video Music Awards too…

I don’t think I will ever “get” Coldplay, though Chris Martin does do a not-bad Bono vocal impression.

UPDATE(8:25): Despite all of his own hype and public posturing, Kanye West gets major plaudits for discovering and producing New Artist nominee John Legend, who looks to be riding the same route to stardom as Alicia Keyes – songwriting/piano playing/singing (as opposed to rapping) in a classic R&B/soul style.

Another New Artist nominee – Sugarland, a country act, “Looking For Something More.” Geez, what’s going on with the sound, lead singer’s voice just dropped out. Oh, great, you can even hear a technician trying to figure out what’s going on?

BEST Country Album: Lonely Runs Both Ways, by Alison Kraus & Union Station. Well, never heard anything from it, but my boss, Bob McManus should love this. Big Alison Kraus fan.

UPDATE (8:40): U2 doing “Vertigo”, a song even I’m getting sick of…

Ah, they segue into “One” – and this time it’s a duet (“One” is a duet?) with Mary J. Blige. The Grammy folks have been promoting this for a while, part of their “music can bring us together” theme. (The best-selling “mash-up” dueo of Jay-Z and Linkin Park are supposed to perform later.) What the U2/Blige collaboration does show is how easily Bono & Co.’s music is adaptable to style other than rock – particularly soul and gospel.

Matt Dillon (white guy dressed in black) and Ludacris (black guy dressed in white) – who both starred in race relations flick Crash -- announce that David Bowie is getting a Lifetime Achievement Award. Couldn’t they have given a little more love to the Thin White Duke -- like actually have him live in person accepting the award?

(8:50) BEST Rap Album: Late Registration, Kanye West!
No real surprise – though he says, “I had no idea!” Right. But give the guy his props. After throwing a temper tantrum last year about not winning the awards he thought he should, he turned around a put together another really good album. The man has a huge ego -- but he also has the talent to back it up.

(8:55) Ben Roethlisberger!!! Um, no. We really don't need to do this. And introducing Kelly Clarkson -- who demonstrates that she really is the "American Idol" break out...

UPDATE (9:02): BEST Rock Album: U2, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.

Bono: "[You can take this rock thing and it] just might amount to more than just entertainment on occasion and you might be able to convey some real honest emotion on occasion."

The Edge: "Even more than the awards is the gift you've given us, allowing us to continue making music,"

Nicely said, guys -- but hasn't that damn album been out for nearly a year and a half now?!?!

Paul McCartney. Yes, he's a living legend, but sorry the former Beatle just doesn't do it for me anymore. Maybe it's because he's now 64.

UPDATE (9:14): That said, I have to admit, it was cool having McCartney bring out "Helter Skelter" -- reminding those of us who forgot that he could really rock out when he wanted to do.

BEST Male R&B Vocal Performance: John Legend, "Ordinary People," what I said above. Good to hear some nice unadorned talent rewarded. Oh, he beat out both Stevie Wonder (who picked up two more Grammys earlier in unaired ceremonies) and Jamie Foxx.

(9:30) I’m glad that Mariah Carey had her great comeback. Still not feelin’ her. Except for that track she did ten years ago with ODB, “Fantasy,” I’ve never been impressed with her. Oh, the acoustic cover of “I’ll Be There” was cool, too.

Always be a little suspicious when the pop performer brings out the gospel choir -- as Mariah does -- and, yes, that includes folks I like such as the aforementioned U2 and Kanye West. Oh, Mariah? Madonna was right to insist that she open the show -- and the producers were smart to take her up on it.

UPDATE (9:36): BEST Pop Vocal Album: Kelly Clarkson, Breakaway -- definitely shaping up to be her night. Beating out Sheryl Crow (geez, splitting with Lance and now this; bummer of a week); Gwen Stefani, Fiona Apple and Paul McCartney. She also has what appears to be a genuine surprised exuberance about winning. Downside of this is that it will make Simon Cowell and the rest of the AI machine even more insufferable. Though this does guarantee Paula Abdul the opportunity to play Mrs. Robinson to an endless supply of young male wannabe singers.

UPDATE (9:43): Is it just me or does Keith Urban -- who I admit all I know about is that he's an Australian country music singer -- look a whole lot like the guy who plays Sawyer on Lost? Meanwhile, I'm amazed how much Faith Hill has changed her sound since Biggie Smalls died and she stopped working with Sean "Diddy" Combs. She seems so much more, I don't know -- wholesome? Guess the duet with Keith is what they mean by "urban" country, huh?

Seriously, this is one major advantage the Grammys have over other awards shows -- the ability to show, by performance, the incredible variety in pop music. This becomes a major marketing tool for the industry in a way that Hollywood, television and even Broadway can't quite manage with their celebratory productions.

BEST Rap Song Collaboration: "Numb/Encore," Jay-Z/Linkin Park. Interesting that this award, of the very few (about 10 percent of over 100) that were shown live -- made the cut. Others in the category included Destiny's Child and Gwen Stefani/Eve, Kanye West/Common/John Legend. Clearly, the Recording Academy considers hip-hop as the creative and commercial heart of popular music.

Dave Chappelle: "One of our comrades is coming back for the first time in 19 years. Give a big Grammy welcome for the music of Sly Stone." Everyone has been waiting for this. Sly has been essentially in a drug-addled forced retirement for more than a quarter-century. How will he look?

It's an all-star medley:
Joss Stone, John Legend & Van Hunt do “Family Affair” Good combination – Sly was a groundbreaker in the pushing the interracial/colorblind aspect of his unique rock/R&B blend.

Fantasia & Devin Lima, “If You Want Me To Stay”

Maroon 5 & Ciarra: “Everyday People”

Will i Am (of Black-Eyed Peas): "Dance To The Music," couldn't he have actually sung the song, instead of that ridiculous freestyle rap?

Steve Tyler & Joe Perry, "I Want To Take You Higher"

Sly Stone, The Man Himself, takes the stage to join in on "Higher."MY GOD, Sly, what have you done to your hair? The Mohawk?

This is actually very sad. The man is barely able to play the keyboards and isn't even really singing. This is almost a "Weekend at Bernie's" type performance. It may have sounded like a good idea at the time, but a better tribute would have been to have the man sit in the audience and enjoy the tribute from the younger artists whom he clearly influenced. This was a travesty. Oh, it would also have been nice to have given the "Family Stone" members a little more recognition.

UPDATE (10:15): Jay-Z & Linkin Park do the song which earned them a Grammy a few minutes earlier...and now they segue into "Yesterday" ---with McCartney coming in to join in! Very nicely done actually. Again, this another way that the Grammy Awards are able to meld the creative eras in ways that the Oscars, Tonys and Emmys can't match.

Bruce Springsteen concludes his stark, solo performance of "Devils and Dust" with an a turgid, "Bring 'em home." Hmm...what could he be referring to?

SONG Of The Year: U2, "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own." Wow, if you thought there was a political message being sent here, the juxtaposition between Springsteen's closing comment and the title of the recognized "song of the year," you might have some fodder for that argument.

But then again, Bono deflects that by saying that the album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, is actually about coming to grips with his father's failing health and eventual death. Certainly this song would jive with that interpretation. But, even Bono would admit that the "true" interpretations of various songs and albums don't always belong to the writers and the recording act that created it in the first place. After all, the songs within U2's previous album, late-2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind, took on profoundly different meanings after 9/11.

UPDATE (10:40): Kanye West & Jamie Foxx use Kanye's "Gold Digger" to introduce a taste of Historically Black College marching bands and step dancers to the broadest possible audience. Again, Kanye's various political statements and attention-getting stunts like "I'm Christ-on-the-cover-of-the-Rolling Stone," take away from the fact that he is one of the most driven, visionary, performers out today.

RECORD Of The Year: A mild upset, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Green Day. Actually, this is perfect song for the Grammys to recognize. The band itself is still remembered for its early-'90s punk days and the album that spawned this song, American Idiot, is seen as a real mature leap forward, along the lines of what The Who did with Tommy. The song is tuneful with just the right amount of "edge" to it to make it too poppy. Who'd a thunk this moment could be possible for guys responsible for these
timeless lyrics:

Bite my lip and close my eyes
Take me away to paradise
I'm so damn bored
I'm going blind
And I smell like shit

Sit around and watch the phone, but no one's calling
Call me pathetic, call me what you will
My mother says to get a job
But she don't like the one she's got
When masturbation's lost its fun
You're fucking breaking

So good to see growing up being rewarded.

BEST New Artist: Appropriately, the award goes to John Legend. Of course, whether that's a good thing or not -- who knows. The presenters, Chuck D, Common & ///// listed the many previous winners, focusing on acts like The Beatles, Sheryl Crow and Norah Jones. Of course, they left off embarrassments like the Starland Vocal Band and Milli Vanilli (later rescinded). I've got my fingers crossed on Legend though.

UPDATE (11:00) And we're in overtime!
Nice list of the past year's dearly departed, concluding with Richard Pryor. Queen Latifah comes on to announce that Pryor is also a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award and praises him as one who "shook things up while you were here, baby." This recognition serves to remind everyone that the Grammys are conferred by the Recording Industry Artists Association. In other words, it ain't just about music. It's about people who put their diverse talents and visions in some recorded format -- music, comedy, spoken word. Pryor's '70s comedy albums certainly shook up things and the award is well-deserved.

(11:17): James Taylor & Bonnie Raitt announce that Steve Lillywhite has won the "Producer Of the Year, Non-Classical" -- mostly for his work with U2, I believe.

ALBUM The Year: U2, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. The boys from Ireland beat a pretty good field including McCartney, Kanye, Mariah Carey, and Gwen Stefani, who must be pretty devastated. She was pretty much shut out, after putting out a commercially and critically received album. Not sure how well Kanye West will receive Bono's point that -- as they've lost two album of the year Grammy's before -- "You're next."

Anyway, this night caps a pretty amazing couple of years -- creatively, musically and, yeah, politically -- for U2, even though some folks, including RAGGED THOTS reader Tater Tots, thinks of them as being ridiculously "overrated"

UPDATE (11:25): Closing: An all-star tribute to the music of New Orleans, featuring Dr. John, Oleta Adams, The Edge, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt and more.

Appropriate given Wilson Pickett's departing a couple weeks ago that "In The Midnight Hour" closes out the show, featuring Springsteen, Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave), Mama Thomas.

Generally speaking, a pretty fine and entertaining show. As I mentioned in the comments, the Grammys have -- after being perceived as irrelevant and musically out of touch for sometime -- figured out how to strike the right balance in melding different generations and styles of music, while showing respect to all.

Good for the RIAA...

UPDATE: More Grammy coverage can be found here.
UPDATE: Slate weighs in here.

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Christimas in Bloom(berg)

On Tuesday, the oft-neglected (by the current mayor) Gracie Mansion was the site for the mayor's delayed New York Press Holiday Party. The transit strike loomed over the original December date, so Bloomberg postponed it.

Well, even though the calendar said February 7, the mayor decided to keep the holiday theme -- so, bartenders and hors d'oeurves servers wore red Christmas-elf hats, spiked egg nogg was served and Bloomberg did his gift-giving schtick. (Egg nogg? Who knew you could even find any of that stuff after New Years Day?)

Erstwhile communications director and now recently-promoted-to-deputy-mayor Ed Sklyer made a quick reappearance to deliver a "Top 10 Reasons Why I'm Glad I'm No Longer Working With The Press."

Skyler will send no fear into the David Letterman's writers, but the line about, "No longer have to fake a terror alert to get out of a debate," was the one that got the greatest combined laughs and groans of horror (I liked it, personally).

On the other hand, Bloomberg's gratuitous slap against NY1 because of its criticism of his skipping the channel-sponsored Apollo Theatre debate, met with universal disapproval.

While a good time seemed to be had by all, I was simply happy to have cause to be in the neighborhood. After the event, a quick walk up five blocks and over three blocks brought me back to the very first New York City apartment building in which I lived.

Thirty-some years later, it remains Mt. Sinai resident housing -- as it was for my mother, the nurse, and myself. Just about everything looks the same -- up to and including the mailboxes in the front lobby.

The only difference is that there is a doorman now. I had a nice chat with Joseph (Kelly, I believe), who works the evening shift. He's been there for thirteen years. He's from Grenada, so we had some West Indian heritage to share.

Thanks for party, Mr. Mayor. It made for a nice late-Christmas gift.

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Hillary's Campaign Oration

While Jimmy Carter and Joseph Lowery got the lion's share of coverage -- and criticism -- about the "political" aspect of Coretta Scott King's Tuesday funeral, Hillary Clinton may have pulled off the more subtle bit of political positioning.

At first, one would have to be nuts to follow a Bill Clinton speech. The hold that "the first black president" still holds on the African-American community was quite evident -- as was the man's basic charisma and ability to weave in Biblical phrases effortlessly:

We would have all forgiven her, even honored her if she said, "I have stumbled on enough stony roads. I have been beaten by enough bitter rods. I have endured enough dangers, toils and snares. I'm going home and raising my kids. I wish you all well."
He is still a master of political stagecraft -- upstaging all around him, including the incumbent president.

How does Hillary compete with that? Answer: She doesn't, but happily allows herself to get part of the spotlight that Bill brings with him. She stands with Bill, as he speaks, appearing in every shot (though, like at the State of the Union, she has to remember that the camera is always upon her; she can't afford to ever break out of even a forced smile, lest she look pained or petulant.) But, in short, if Bill Clinton is the "Super Bowl," Hillary is
"Grey's Anatomy": maximizing a spectacular lead-in to introduce herself to some new "viewers."

All three cable stations carried the funeral live. Those tuning in -- including those on leader Fox News -- saw Bill "hand off" to Hillary who
said the following:

As we are called, each of us must decide whether to answer that call by saying send me.
And when I think of Coretta Scott King, I think of a woman who lived out her calling. She lived her life as an extension of her faith and conviction.
Now, when she met this young divinity student, and he told her what Bill has just reminded us, and proclaimed that he was looking for a woman like her to be his wife, I can imagine that she thought for a minute, 'What am I getting myself into?'
And, in fact, she waited six months to give him an answer because she had to have known in her heart that she wasn't just marrying a young man, but she was bringing her calling to be joined with his.
As they began their marriage and their partnership, it could not have been easy. Because there they were, young, becoming parents, starting their ministry at a moment in history that they were called to lead.
Leadership is something that many who are called refuse to accept.
Many of the Republican-leaning Fox watchers may have tuned out Bill. More may have switched or turned off the TVs when Hillary spoke. This was still one of the larger daytime cable audiences for her to demonstrate her use of scripture.

And, hey, could it hurt if some who hear her story of Martin and Coretta's courtship also hear something of a parable about another young woman asked to be the life-partner of another young charismatic man with big dreams for himself and the country?

That question of mixed glory and sacrifice hangs in the air: "'What am I getting myself into?'"

"[T]hey were called to lead. Leadership is something that many who are called refuse to accept."


And, how interesting that Hillary also adopted the "send me" phrasing from her husband's
Democratic Convention speech praising John Kerry. (Though, considering the 2004 result, that might not have been the best choice.)

Regardless, give the lady credit. Let Carter and Lowery get criticized for "politicizing" a funeral; she knows how to keep the rhetoric at an appropriate, respectful level -- while grabbing a nice bit of the national spotlight for herself -- in a way that may come prove beneficial a few years down the road.

UPDATE: A reader asks, "Will history record Mrs. King's funneral as Hillary's coming out party? You are correct. It really did look as if Bill handed her the baton [Tuesday]." Wednesday, it looked like she decided to run with it.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006


"Helluva week for Steeler Nation..."

...says a Keystone State pal, with the news that Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann's path to the GOP gubernatorial nomination in Pennsylvania just got easier. Lt. Gov. Bill Scranton was Swann's best-known opponent.

Dick Morris also weighs in on the high
quality of black Republican candidates running in various statewide races this year.

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Monday, February 06, 2006


A Fiver For The Men of Steel

Pittsburgh finally gets that one for the "thumb" Super Bowl. The game rarely lives up to the hype -- often because it turns out to be a blowout.

That wasn't the case Sunday: The Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks had a pretty close game. Alas, it was a generally dull close game. Except for Willie Parker's 75-yard run (which, for that matter, was a straightforward gallop up the middle) and Hines Ward's two catches (including the clinching TD from fellow WR Antwaan Randle-El, there wasn't a whole lot of excitement on the field (or during the commercial breaks which had a surprisingly bland bunch of ads this year).

However, that situation was somewhat compensated by the off-field drama. Between Coach Bill Cowher getting his elusive first Super Bowl win and star running back Jerome "The Bus" Bettis being able to retire "on top" in front of his home-town Detroit crowd, the game had an emotionally satisfying conclusion. The fact that these are two fairly "good" pro football tough guys was even better.

Still, "emotionally satisfying conclusions" work well in "scripted" drama, but perhaps not in live sports which are supposed to be the original "reality" show.

Be that as it may, congrats to the Steelers and all their fans -- including
John Cole and my buddy, Eric A.

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