Saturday, February 17, 2007


Open Thread

Time for that weekend section of Ragged Thots, where we all pretend that we haven't experienced cognitive dissonance in every other thread this week.

And as a guest in the Ragged Thots House, I was remiss in my duty of NOT reminding everyone of RAG's presence on NPR (especially since he is not a "tooting-my-own-horn" type and forgets to remind us himself). As RAG was on with Glen Loury, one of the only Roundtable professorial types that I still have some academic reverence for, I strongly encourage everyone to partake of the dynamic duo by listening HERE.

I feel really bad about missing that one, so I'll make it up to our host by selling bootlegged DVDs of his stand-up appearances from the trunk of a car in Brooklyn this summer.

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Friday, February 16, 2007


Lefty Immaturity

My buddy Dan Gerstein makes his Politico debut to upbraid the liberal blogosphere's immature approach to debate as evidenced in the John Edwards blogger mess.

This penchant for ad hominem attacks on those they disagree with was made vividly clear to me last year during the Stephen Colbert White House Correspondents Dinner aftermath.

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Friday Trivia! Valentine's Edition

For this week's Friday Trivia, I decided to go with a Valentine's Day theme. Have at it:

1. Which rock band from Seattle once did a cover of Kiki Dee's "I Got the Music in Me" on their LP titled Magazine?

2. What former Major League Baseball player and manager is currently managing a team in Japan's Pacific League?

3. Which recently discovered moon of Uranus was named after a character in Shakespeare's play Timon of Athens?

4. Which song from the Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart musical comedy Babes in Arms has been recorded by the following singers: Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Costello, Carly Simon, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Chaka Khan?

5. What was the name of the Houston franchise of the World Hockey Association (which existed from 1972-1979)?


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Cool Aid

Whoo! Folks worldwide is gettin'
fired up. It's getting hot in here, so take off all your prose: Everyone's favorite concert promoter, Don Kirshner Al Gore is planning the Mother of All Battles of the Bands. Look out, Band Aid! Move over, USA for Africa! Put your Hands Across America together for The Concert to Prevent Global Warming.

U2 and Coldplay are among the rumored acts. With that much sanctimonious rock ego and hot air in one place, I think Global Warming may become MORE of a problem. Don't expect a diverse selection of music, as we all know that jazz musicians are responsible for Global Warming and would be persona non grata. What if it gets too hot and the protests get out of hand? Will there be Global Rioting?

Of course, there are many logistical problems that need to be worked out for a concert of this magnitude. Who will they get to sing the National Anthem? Who will Gore supporters get to spit on Cub Scouts DURING the National Anthem? What will extraterrestrial life forms observing from deep space think, when they see millions of people the world over joining Al Gore in his favorite dance of all time?

The only one of these charitable egofests that I ever wished to attend (but was too young at the time and lived on the wrong continent) was The Concerts for The People of Kampuchea. Now, if you had a time machine and could return to any of the big musical guiltfests of the past, which one would you attend? A concert with wankers like Lionel Richie, Sting, Springsteen, and Bono; or a kickass series with The Specials, Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney and Wings, The Who, Rockpile, The Clash and the Pretenders? In case you're wondering, Sherman, join Mr. Peabody in a trip backward nearly three decades (30 years? Wow, I'm getting old!):

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Thursday, February 15, 2007


Barack In Black

One would have thought that this, "Is Obama really black?" nonsense would have been over by now. But, no, CNN was doing, "Blacks and Obama -- Where's The Love?" on Wednesday night.

That followed an otherwise rather nice profile on Sunday's "60 Minutes" where correspondent Steve Kroft had to ask, "You were raised in a white household…. Yet at some point, you decided that you were black?"

Obama answered it in a straightforward -- and I believe, accurate -- manner: "Well, I'm not sure I decided it. I think, you know, if you look African-American in this society, you're treated as an African-American. And when you’re a child in particular, that is how you begin to identify yourself."

He said that he is black because he is perceived as being black when he walks down the street (though the later, "I also notice when I'm catching a cab, nobody's confused about that either," line somehow didn't ring true. From personal experience, it seems to me that nicely dressed black men rarely have trouble catching a cab -- just like a well-dressed white man. The difference is when the casual attire comes out. Two men -- one black and one white -- both wearing jeans and a baseball cap: The odds are with the white guy getting the cab. Yet, somehow, I can't see Obama ever dressed in jeans and a baseball cap. Besides, once you're in the U.S. Senate, the staff tends to hail the cab, anyway).

Another way of saying this is that, regardless of where we are born, the society in which we grow up -- over an extended period of time -- shapes our observations and reactions. There are undoubtedly a countless number of times where Obama "learned" that he was different from his white peers.

But, as Andrew Ferguson notes in a Weekly Standard dual review of Obama's two books, the man was always aware of his blackness, unlike some of his middle-class black friends, he saw no reason to adopt the "angry young black man" persona that many chose (interestingly, Clarence Thomas adopted the "nationalist" pose for a while, when he was in college):

Obama is the shrewdest of memoirists. He won't let himself, or his reader, off easy. As a teenager he befriends Ray, another African-American boy who vents his authentic black rage between classes at their prep school, as the ocean breezes stir the towering palms overhead. This black rage was "the thing that Ray and I never could seem to agree on . . .

Our rage at the white world needed no object, he seemed to be telling me, no independent confirmation; it could be switched on and off at our pleasure. Sometimes . . . I would question his judgment, if not his sincerity. We weren't living in the Jim Crow South, I would remind him. We weren't consigned to some heatless housing project in Harlem or the Bronx. We were in goddamned Hawaii. We said what we pleased, ate where we pleased; we sat at the front of the proverbial bus. None of our white friends treated us any differently than they treated each other. They loved us, and we loved them back. Shit, seemed like half of 'em wanted to be black themselves--or at least Dr. J.
Well, that's true, Ray would admit.
Maybe we could afford to give the bad-assed nigger pose a rest. Save it for when we really needed it.
Now, obviously, given that the two young lads are the same age, there is something different in Obama that makes him not want to default to the "bad-assed nigger pose." Yet, it was obvious that, at even that point, he thought of himself as culturally "black" -- even after being raised by a white mother.

What is most disappointing is that much of the current discussion did not come from the straightforward black intellectual left -- say a Cornel West or a Michael Eric Dyson.

No, it was initiated from two people whom I greatly respect for their rejection of the usual liberal black orthodoxy -- Stanley Crouch and Debra Dickerson.

Dickerson in Salon echoed the comments Crouch first made back in November the New York Daily News -- even using similar phraseology:

Crouch: "If we then end up with [Obama] as our first black President, he will have come into the White House through a side door - which might, at this point, be the only one that's open."

Dickerson: "Since [Obama] had no part in our racial history, he is free of it. And once he's opened the door to even an awkward embrace of candidates of color for the highest offices, the door will stay open. A side door, but an open door."

As I said when Crouch's column first appeared:
It is odd that Stanley would say that Obama has not "lived the life of a black American," even though the man is obviously perceived as a black person. Strange too that he would contrast Obama with Powell who is as "not-American black" as the Illinois senator. Though both of Powell's parents are racially black, both were born in Jamaica. Powell talks about the mixtures of cultures that formed is background as much as Obama does his.

And how would winning the White House as the black American son of a white mother and an African considered getting in through the "side door"? If you win, you go through the front door just like anyone else.
In what way, exactly, is Obama not "black"? Because by many of the markers that both American blacks and whites have dealt with race, Obama is as black as anyone. Is it because his father isn't an American-born black? Well, both of Colin Powell's parents were born in Jamaica and the "he isn't really black" stuff never arose (with the possible exception of those who condemned him for being a Republican). Is it because Obama's mother is white? Well, as the notorious "one-drop" rule that plagued America for much of its history would tell you, the fact that a black man had a white mother was hardly novel in the United States. Didn't matter, the offspring was black.

Is it because his father was African? Well, the earliest black nationalist -- Marcus Garvey -- urged American blacks not only to embrace their African heritage, but to leave America and return to Africa.

So, now, we're supposed to think that a real "African-American" isn't black enough for the American black community?

The debate itself is insipid.

Indeed, the best deflaters of these foolish notions are those who refuse to take them seriously, such as Saturday Night Live's "blackness scale" and Stephen Colbert's devastating takedown of Dickerson.

Say what you will about Joe Biden, but after he put his foot in his mouth about Obama -- he stopped! Can the media now move on and examine more interesting things about the Illinois senator -- like his stand on the issues. Hell, he's a politician: His race is one thing about him that won't change over the course of this campaign.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Rudy, Don't Take Your Guns To Town

The NRA should love these Rudy Giuliani comments:

"I used gun control as mayor," he said at a news conference Saturday during a swing through California. But "I understand the Second Amendment. I understand the right to bear arms."
He said what he did as mayor would have no effect on hunting.
Right, of course. Because the "Second Amendment" and the "right to bear arms" are all about hunting.

For those keeping track, this is the usual Democratic presidential candidate approach to finessing the issue of gun control (well, obviously, not the "I used gun control as mayor" line).

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Monday, February 12, 2007


Shabby Grammy

So, are the the Dixie Chicks now "ready to make", uh, like a tree -- and leave?

As they picked up thei fifth and final Grammy (Album of the Year)last night, the trio at least had the honesty to admit that their big night was about everything BUT their music.

As the incredibly annoying Natalie Maines recognized, the left-leaning music industry wanted to exercise its collective freedom of speech by rewarding the Chicks for their boldness in denouncing George W. Bush -- four years ago.

Well, their awards actually went for their musical rejoinder after the country music establishment turned its back on them for perceived unpatriotic comments.

So, the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences told Nashville: the Chicks also won Best Country album -- even though musically it's more Southern California than Tennessee or Texas. No wonder Eagle Don Henley was so effusive as he announced the album choice (in addition to being one of the biggest liberals in music).

Just about any awards show is going to be rife with politically correct outbursts. One reason why I usually like to catch the Grammy Awards is because of the music usually makes up for it. Not so this year. Madscribe didn't really miss anything with the big Police reunion; I was disappointed. When I first heard that they would be getting back together to open the show, I was excited. But the actual performance of "Roxanne" gave me a ho-hum feeling -- particularly in comparison to the insane Prince/Beyonce curtain-raiser from two years back.

Last year, the arguable highlight of the show was watching the all-star group of Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello and Dave Grohl tear into "London Calling"; they made everyone who saw and heard them feel the the loss of Joe Strummer and the sadness that there would never be a Clash reunion.

But the sound of The Police was never that far from Sting solo. And, unfortunately, Mr. Gordon Sumner is quite with us -- just a whinier, less interesting version of his younger self (sort of like Paul McCartney). Oh, Sting, where is thy death?

Indeed, few of the performances held up in contrast to previous shows. The salute to the Eagles was far less interesting than last year's jam session salute to Sly and The Family Stone.

With the notable exception of Mary J. Blige, most of this year's live acts seemed like they were going through the motions (Blige and U2 were the show-stoppers last year with a fantastic version of "One"; early last night, a recorded version of that same collaboration lost out in its Grammy category to a duet between Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder; that sort of set of the tone for a rather desultory evening).

But the most appalling part of last night's show was what wasn't there -- a legitimate tribute to honor the passing of one of the true musical giants of the 20th century. Except for a shrieking Christina Aguilera doing "It's a Man's Man's Man's World", a couple of clips from the 1960s and a special dance impression (from Usher?), James Brown was practically ignored. It was pretty sad actually.

Given how much the show kept playing up the gimmick of the television audience selecting one of three young pretty black girls to get her "big Grammy" break to duet with Justin Timberlake (who had already performed solo), the Recording Academy could have spared more time to give an appropriate send-off to the Godfather of Soul (especially given the rather tired "Tribute to Soul" with Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie and teenage sensation Chris Brown).

As a few critics have noted, last night's show was very backwards-looking: Somehow, the producers managed to overlook the person who cast the greatest shadow over American popular music in the 20th century.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007


It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that Sting?

Wow, if I had known that The Police were reuniting, I might have actually given a hoot about this year's Grammy Awards! The last time I actually sat through the Grammy Awards---1987---I was treated to the wonderful impromptu acceptance speech by Little Richard.

My joy at a Police-reunion, however, has nothing to do with a certain Rain Forest-friendly blonde blowhard. Personally, I find Sting to be a crappy singer and a piss-poor bassist. Every lyric of a Sting song screams, "Look at me! I 'm smart!! I READ STUFF!!" Were it not for the presence of some of the most talented jazz musicians of the 1980s (Omar Hakim, Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland), I wouldn't have even bothered with his first two solo albums, Dream of the Blue Turtles and Nothing Like the Sun.

Nope. The greatest musician in that band (ahem) was, and always will be, Stewart Copeland. That's who I'll be looking forward to seeing, if the tour winds it way to my area. Guitarist Andy Summers is also musically light years ahead of Sting. My all-time favorite Police song, the Copeland-penned "Bombs Away"

The President looks in the mirror and speaks
His shirts are clean but his country reeks
Unpaid bills
Afghanistan hills

Unfortunately there's no video for the song, but it would have been appropriate for this evening's show (and better than Dixie Chicks politics).

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