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Friday, November 30, 2012

Lydia Loveless, Tanlines, Supreme Cuts @ Webster Hall 11.29.12 (in that order)

NYC's finest

Supreme Cuts






Tanlines








Lydia Loveless


Every generation has a type of music that confounds them.  Hell my parents have distaste for The Beatles and The Stones.  Once Elvis and Sinatra were not viable anymore things went downhill for them.  "All that drug music!  I don't get it!" my dad can be overheard telling his buddies during coffee time at McDonalds.

That's ok.  They like what they like.  Old habits die hard, right?

I like to think I am more open minded.  Over the past few weeks I have seen Grimes, moe., M83, Miike Snow, Matt and Kim, and tonight Men Without Hats.  If there is music playing and the timing, venue, and libation is right, count me in.

However, I am finding it more difficult to embrace club music, or dubstep, or whatever the hell they call a few guys on stage with computer monitors and HUGE bass lines.  That describes most of last nights main event at NYC's wonderful Webster Hall.

Hometown boys Tanlines had a homecoming of sorts after about 10 years touring in support of their debut album Mixed Emotions.  Funny, that is exactly how I felt after the show.  I happen to love the record and think the duo, Eric Emm (guitar/vocal) and Jesse Cohen (percussion/computer device) are two likable and talented chaps.  "Not the Same""Brothers" and "All of Me" are all first rate tracks highlighting the 80s synth resurgence.

On stage last evening the two Brooklyn boys (back by no one) did a nice enough job recreating the sounds from their album.  But too often during their quick (55 minutes) set I kept asking where the music was coming from.  Emm was playing a guitar, but I could barely hear it.  Cohen was drumming some sort of drum pad, but it was lost in the computer mix or soundboard.

It is the same thing that hurts Sleigh Bells.  The absence of a drum kit makes it hard to rally behind this live act.  You cannot throw so much bass and drums at an audience without the inclusion of a real bass and/or drum.

Well, it turns out you can; but it hardly feels like a rock show.  By no means was it an offensive evening or even without its merits.  But with so many techno/synth acts bringing much more energy and musicianship to their live game (see M83, Miike Snow, Naked and The Famous to name a few) this Tanlines show was lacking.  This tour and debut LP is now behind them.  Here is hoping we will be getting some more terrific cuts from them, and that they cultivate a more polished and rousing live show befitting the talents they are.


Chicago duo Supreme Cuts started the evening with bowel shaking bass lines.   They hunched over keyboards,  twisted and turned knobs, and shaked their heads like kids at a death metal show.  It was a confounding mess.   Mind you, there were a handful of thrashing teens determined to let loose to the cacophony of beats and boops befitting a Todd Solondz inspired nightmare.  Again, this is precisely the kind of thing that escapes me.  Play an instrument!  More than likely this set put a damper on my feelings for Tanlines.  It was really that bad.

Thankfully as we headed toward the exits we stumpled through "The Studio at Webster Hall."  Located  in the basement "The Studio" stage hosts small acts on there way up.  Small town/rural Ohio alt country artist Lydia Loveless was the headliner last night.  Think geeky, younger sister of Mary Chapin Carpenter or aw shucks niece of Lucinda Williams if you will.  She has a big voice, writes smart lyrics and has an overall good sound.  Her husband plays the upright bass.  We were happy to leave the club after seeing/hearing some drums and the twang of a guitar.

Thanks Ms. Loveless.  We will be meeting again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Could it Be 40 years?

It was yesterday, wasn't it?  When I was wearing the World's biggest, thickest and geekiest eyeglasses known to man.  When I took to the basketball floor in Rec Specs and short shorts.  Picture Kurt Rambis and Rhea Perlman reproducing.  That's me!   Toughskins and Sears sweaters were all my rage.  Members Only jackets were cutting edge (and it was ok if you could only afford Club Member jackets, wasn't it?)

A time when heading to the arcade meant quarter after quarter deposited into Pac-Man machines, and Q-Bert, and the sweet rolling ball action of Centipede.  Does anyone remember Asteroids?  Space Invaders?  We did not need the cool gaming systems either.  Atari 2600 was just fine.  Those handheld battery operated Mattel or Coleco football games provided countless hours of fun.

DVD's and pay per view were crazy pipe dreams.  We liked our movies on VHS (or even Beta!)  John Hughes was God and Molly Ringwald was the girl next door.  We waited on line for Star Wars.  No Jar Jar Binks and CGI for us thanks, we like our monsters Jim Henson and/or Rick Baker-esque.  Vampires were not pretty boys with lip liner and big hair.  Werewolves were pretty boys in red leather jackets singing "Thriller."  Wait, Twilight might be a push there.  Both pretty queer, huh?

We bought vinyl, then cassettes, then cd's.  The sound was crisper.  We could touch the music.  We read liner notes.  When was the last time you were blown away by cover art?  Can you tell me what the Maroon 5 album looks like?  So, you only know what it sounds like???  Double fail.

Video killed the radio star and we liked it.  Thomas Dolby and the Thompson Twins were stars.  Human League were viable artists.  Bruce, and The Police, Tom Petty, and Dire Straits made huge records.  Hair metal made us rock our heads and take things less seriously.  Def Leppard were legitimate stars.  Van Halen was guitar rock, not a sibling sideshow.  Madonna and Janet Jackson tore up the dance charts.  Paula Abdul was choreographing Laker girls and dancing with DJ Skat Cat.  Her hazy critiques of karaoke artists would come later, much later.  Diamonds in the Sky were Beatles tracks from Sgt Peppers, not Rhianna songs.  Has anyone ever seen a diamond in the sky?  Is it a musician thing us non-artist types are not capable of seeing?  Although Rhianna sees something redeeming in Chris Brown so here credibility is lacking.  Let's move on.

Do you remember scripted television programs?  Michael Keaton annoyed his hippie parents.  Cosby wore crazy sweaters and shilled for pudding pops.  Oh pudding pops, how I miss you...  Hill Street had its blues. St Elsewhere introduced us to a lucid Howie Mandel.  Moonlighting showed us what romantic comedy could be, then promptly made us hate everything about it.  That's Incredible was our Funniest Videos.  Monday Night Football had Howard Cosell and drop in guests like John Lennon.  World Series games were played during the afternoon.  60 Minutes had Mike Wallace, Andy Rooney and Don Hewitt producing.  We hated watching it on Sunday (school the next day-yuck!), but we appreciated it like an old t shirt.   A creature comfort if you will.

Dancing and "Stars" were things you saw camping (ok, not me, but other people), not network television.   We relied on A&R folks and studio execs to find music talent.  Ever take a hard look at X Factor, or American Idol?  Those shows resemble Rollerball (the James Caan version, not dreadful reboot from a few years back.)  Or to make it more relevant, The Hunger Games.  Kids competing each other and often times brought to tears by judges at a panel or the masses.  "We like you!"  "We love you!"  "We hate you!"  Go away and die!"  "You win!"  "You lose!!!"

This rejection and praise should be done behind closed doors, not on Primetime.  Why are we so fascinated by the public spectacle?  Again, I have veered off topic.  But the whole thing speaks to our primal appetites, no?  How long until we arm a Clay Aiken type with a microphone in one hand and pistol in the other?  Hmm, Clay Aiken and pistol...  maybe not the best analogy.

Back on topic, sort of...  Eventually we had to worry about which college we would go to (or get into it in my case.)  What major would we choose?  What do we want to do when we grow up?

Which brings me here.  40 years in and asking many of the same questions.  Turns out liberal arts majors are kinda useless unless you really have your shit together.  "You gonna teach??" they all said.  "Um, no." was my curt response.  "So then what???"

"Well, um..."

Marriage, a child, mortgage, pets, car payments, coaching duties, aging parents, expanding waistlines, graying hairs, failing eyesight (could it get worse???!!!), bad backs, bad loans, questionable political systems, antiquated infrastructures, menacing natural disasters, and countless other questions we ask ourselves:   What have we gotten ourselves into?  How will we get out?

Really not so different from what my folks faced, and their folks before them.  The one certainty of getting older is uncertainty.  Ours is a World of constant threats, lingering doubts and the struggle to make ends meet.

It is coming to terms with that daunting World view that defines us today.  Can you do it?

Do you have a choice?  Forces work more against us than with us.

But we cannot throw in the towel.  And we cannot live life like some sort of automaton.  Simply going through the motions will only succeed in stifling the very freedoms we work for, and often times take for granted.

For every eight hour day we earn at least one hour of me time?  5-7 hours a week at a minimum.  Spend it doing whatever.   Play catch with your child.  Read a book by the fireplace.  Call a friend or loved one you have not connected to in a while.  Hit the gym.  Catch a movie.  See a show.  Live damn it!!

Otherwise what is this all for?

We had the misfortune of putting our house on the market a few weeks back.  Silly us, we wanted a little bit more space and some more fruits for said labor.  Naturally Hurricane Sandy blew the sign off our well manicured lawn mere hours after the stakes went in the ground.

Bad timing, not unlike moving to the NYC area months before 9/11.  

Not to worry.  It will sell.  We will live to see another day.  And we will all laugh about it years from now.

It will not prevent us from decorating for Christmas.  It will not stop us from attending concerts and watching our daughter play basketball.

Another obstacle in a series of obstacles that appear determined to beat us down.

Scratch that, it sounds too much like an irritating Facebook post from one of your cousins who thinks everything is part of a cabal intent on destroying him or her

This is life.  After 40 years you learn to take it all in and smile.

There are so many that have real problems!

Not here.  Count me amongst the thankful, grateful and fortunate.

Bring it on!!  And bring it on another 40 years!!  (but no more than that- we live too long damn it-)






Sunday, November 18, 2012

Matt and Kim, Wellmont Theatre. Atypical Father/Daughter Dance

Matt and Kim, Wellmont Theatre 11.17.12




So much energy it was exhausting to watch.





Visual program was most entertaining.  Lyrics, live feed from the show, and some nonsense filled the video screen.


Who doesn't like confetti?

Lots of folks in these parts belong to country clubs.  Some of them are super nice (read: super expensive.)  Baltrusol in nearby Summit, NJ is something like a bajillion dollars a year.  It hosts major golf Championships, fashion from Lily Pulitzer and some major movers and shakers from the NYC area.

Folks like me can get overpriced grounds tickets the next time the US Open or PGA comes to town.  Other than that the daunting fence does an admirable job of keeping my sorry ass away.  Which means I will not be able to attend one of those father/daughter dances those clubs embrace.  Not that my daughter would want to go to such a thing.  But nevertheless, the bonding moments between father (almost 40) and daughter (10) are forever fleeting.

Leave it to music to form a common bond.  Since she is not permitted to drive it has been established that the parents control the radio dial.  More specifically, I control the dial.  These days that means plenty of newer alternative, some 80s, some 90s, and the occasional adult alt.  I have been careful to not listen to Howard Stern with her in tow.  She will have plenty of time to hear about Bradley Cooper's conquests and porn star sound effects later in life (much, much, later in life.)

For the most part she digs what she is hearing.  She has seen Gotye, The Bravery, Cut/Copy, and Blondie to name a few.  Last night the Wellmont in Montclair, NJ presented a Brooklyn double bill:  Oberhofer and Matt and Kim.

"Let's Go", the addictive single from Matt and Kim's fourth LP Lightning brought us here.  The duo is a sheer force of high energy, high voltage, high octane dance pop.  It is a rather simple formula.  Matt Johnson is the man behind the keyboards and vocalist.  Kim Schifino plays drums.  But the formula is successful because they are having so much fun it's contagious.  Johnson's vocals, a high pitched squeak that is admittedly not for everyone, is serviceable and suits the material.  His humor, attitude and showmanship are exemplary.

When you add Schifino's voracious drumming, spirited stage antics and vulgar banter between songs the Matt and Kim live show goes from ordinary to exceptional.  It is just two folks on stage so you have to forgive some pre-programmed music.  Johnson's keyboard has tracks, hooks and grooves to pull from.  Last night they sampled from Sugarhill Gang and DJ Kool.  So, in that sense, there were some moments when the event took on a dj set and/or club night.  The countless tweens and drunken college kids further emphasized that feeling too.

But when Matt and Kim reached into their original material things went remarkably well.  The opening song, "Block After Block" was fast and furious.  "Daylight", probably their most popular song, was performed with an avid enthusiasm.  The whole darn concert was a giddy, free wheeling smile fest.  These guys should be working at Disney because it is hard to imagine a more happy duo.

Last night marked the final show of their 6 week tour and they were intent to go out in style.  Balloons were thrown into the audience to be blown up and released.  They blew confetti into the crowd a few times mid song.  Kim crowd surfed on hands and shaked her ample booty from various points on the stage.  Matt propelled himself from his keyboard stool and appeared to take flight.  They thanked New Jersey.  They thanked everyone.  They had a blast.

My 10 year old date stared in awed amazement for the 90 minute set.  It was the first time she saw crowd surfing.  It was her first concert that had "a light show, and movie screen."

"It was so much fun dad, they were really good!" was her assessment once she got her hearing back.

The Brooklyn duo might never get higher praise.  This is a highly critical and highly opinionated young lady to say the least.  Her father was quite impressed too.

Good thing events like this exist.   This is the kind of dance I approve of.  Soon the little one will want nothing to do with me.

"Just drop me off and pick me up dad." I can hear her say.

"Sure, no problem."  Think it will occur to her that I will park the car and hover around the venue rather than make myself scarce?

Youth is, after all, wasted on the young.  And acting your age is grossly overrated!!

For more:  Setlist looked something like this...  Matt and Kim official page.   Please note they will be supporting Passion Pit in the winter, with a notable show on 2.8 at New York's Madison Square Garden.  It is suddenly a much more interesting event (although I am still a bit shocked Passion Pit is playing MSG.)

Also, check out Oberhofer here.  They started off the evening with some quality, upbeat rock.  The guitar work and Brad Oberhofer's voice had a tendency to grow repetitive.  Overall, they have a good vibe and are easy to root for.

Oberhofer, Wellmont Theatre 11.17.12



NJ's smallest hipster.  Had a great view all night and managed to score a seat for Matt and Kim!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

moe. @ Wellmont (or the day I realized I am done with jam bands)

Back in college (early 90s) there was an explosion of jam bands.  It all stared with the Grateful Dead, and when Jerry Garcia passed other bands were wanted/needed to fill the void.  Sure the Allman Brothers Band has played pretty consistently since the late 60s/70s.  But for the most part a new wave of jam bands sprung from the ashes.   Widespread Panic and jam icons Phish are among the stand outs. Buffalo, NY band moe. started around this time and, as evidenced by their perfomance Saturday night at Wellmont, have more than stood the test of time.  The Mrs. was a big fan during college (she knows percussionist Jim Loughlin- who for a while jumped from moe. to other act Yolk.)  Truth be told I knew nothing about them before Saturday's show.  The lesson here?  Do not be afraid to jump out of your comfort zone.  If a night out is the worst thing to happen than you are still playing with house money.  Drinks and dinner at Pig and Prince beforehand and treats at the Ritz diner helped to enhance the evening.

Moe. are made up of Rob Derhak (bass/vocals), Al Schnier (guitar/vocals/keyboard), Chuck Garvey (guitar/vocals), Vinnie Amico (drums), and Loughlin.  The formula is all there.   Songs transition into one another.  Within each song is a long interlude that eventually streamlines into the same, easy going melody that began it.

It is clear these guys have been playing a while.  Out promoting their 10th(!) studio album moe. has a large catalog to sample from.  Derhak's voice is pleasant and sets a comfortable tone.  The guitars mesh well together and compliment one another quite well.

But all of it left a too familiar feeling.  That is not to say moe. is at fault.  Judging by the the sizable, diverse and enthusiastic crowd (they are called moe.rons) it is obvious moe. is much loved.  Moreover, jam bands are still very much in demand.  They are very much like an old, comfortable blanket.  At the end of a long day, or week, you know exactly what to expect when you throw the old thing over your shoulders for warmth and comfort.  It may be tattered and worn; but you dare not discard it.

Similarly moe. gave its largely white college boy crowd much to love.  They sang along.  They danced their white boy dances.  They drank and smoked enough to give me a contact buzz.  Innovative and groundbreaking?  Hardly.

Just what the doctor ordered?  You bet.  Except these days it ain't my doctor is calling for.  And it surely ain't the right prescription.

But that is ok.  It's good to know that old reliable is still alive and kicking if someday I need a fix again. And since Phil Lesh played three nights at Wellmont right before moe., and Phish could sell out MSG tomorrow if they announced a new gig, it is fair to say jam bands are here to stay.

Me?  I look forward to something a little different for my next show.  It will sound a little something like this:  Matt and Kim "Let's Go"
Not sure why this was stationed by the sound board.  But I liked it.
 R

This is what a jam band looks like.







Wellmont has done quite well with the light lately.

Set list:
 Set 1: RebubulaHi and Lo > BulletTambourinePaper DragonNot Coming Down > GeorgeSet 2: Four > Mexico > St. AugustineDownward Facing DogOpium > MeatEncore: New York City

Monday, November 12, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a lot Like...

Let's put aside the fact that I am addicted to Starbucks coffee.  It is beyond cliche and I am a bit embarrassed by it.  The struggling writer with the disheveled hair sucking down overpriced coffee twice a day is NOT something I am proud of.

Nevertheless, the store is right down the street and I happen to think the coffee is great.  I drink it black and I like it bold.  Nothing, in my opinion, compares.

But as I entered my local for the now mandatory second cup (I mean, it's dark at 5pm for God's sake!) this afternoon I was thoroughly disappointed at what I saw.  There, on November 12th, were countless baristas transforming the space into a Christmas wonderland.  They even erected a fake plastic tree with ornaments, garland and a nauseating star.

It is bad enough they switch their signature cups to the seasonal red ones on November 1st.  They fail to realize we here in the Northeast celebrate Halloween in mid-November these days.  Why the big rush???

I understand we want to feed the beast that is Holiday shopping/commercialism.  The retail business relies, er, lives and dies based on these next few weeks.  Therefore, we all kind of live and die by it.  I do not wish to dismiss or diminish its importance.   But do we all need this early reminder that Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa is coming?  The healthy supply of catalogs are more than we need for this.  Who are these companies and what do they do the rest of the year?  Frontgate?  Harry and David?  I got one the other day from In the Company of Dogs?  Does anyone know how many trees JCrew, Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware kill each year?  Haven't they heard of the interweb??

The problem is far bigger.  My guess is you can walk through any Target, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, you name it, and find ominous/hideous/ostentatious displays imploring us to BUY, BUY, BUY!

And of these displays what exactly is necessary?  I know it isn't an overpriced mug from Starbucks.  It isn't a great sweater deal at a big box store or HD TV.  Those are just things.

Coming off a rough few weeks which saw many of us waiting in line for gas and eating canned soup by candlelight isn't it time to stop and prioritize?

Rushing the Holiday season is a great place to start.  That is,  putting the end to the rush would be most welcome.  I usually hate or ignore the ubiquitous eCards everyone posts on Facebook, but this one was particularly good.  It read: "Black Friday, Because only in America do we wait in line and trample others for sale items one day after giving thanks for what we already have."

After all, the next Holiday is Thanksgiving.

How will it be this year in Staten Island?  Or Rockaway?  Or Seaside Heights?

Are those folks wondering what time they can line up on Black Friday for "Door buster sales?"

It is high time we slow things down and enjoy the now.

Maybe I am biased because I was born on Thanksgiving.   It might explain why it bothers me that it is too often overlooked.

In my World we should all be tracing our hands and making paper turkeys.  We should be preparing our menu for next Thursday and thinking about which pants will work best to accommodate the copious amounts of food we will soon eat.  And lest we forget that blasted Macy's parade?  Big, bold, silly balloons sprinkled with awkward lip synched performances and eager high school marching bands acting as background fodder while the kitchen warms with savory smells and fond memories.

That is a Holiday.

Let the shopping and rest of the season start soon thereafter, and not a moment sooner.



Thursday, November 8, 2012

Diversions

Heavy winds, unimaginable waters, gas lines, fallen trees and then a snow storm.  Yet, we are the lucky ones.  The Northeast has been ravaged and the landscape of my youth (Seaside Heights, NJ) and now (NYC) has been forever changed.

As the region continues to rebuild and move forward may I offer a diversion?  That is, let's all take time to forget!  When you wake up tomorrow Staten Island will still be a mess.  They will need your help now, and for years to come.  

Step away from the dour coverage and zone a bit.  You deserve it.  The election is over.  With it, we are free of robo-calls and tedious political ads.  Can this finally be the end of Linda McMahon?  Has Vince given her a camel clutch yet??

Find your favorite audio/visual device and enjoy folks.  Art.  Saves.  Lives.

Here are 10 diddies old and new that have helped me get through the past fortnight.  

Diiv "How Long Have You Known?"  Brooklyn band released their debut album earlier this year.  More of the "New Surf" movement (see: Real Estate, Caveman, et al.)  Dreamy guitar licks and soft melodies are the stars here.  Hopelessly addicted to its charms.  They are part of a great double bill with Canadian rockers Japandroids 12.4 @ Webster Hall.  You really should go.  Tix and info here

Django Django "Default"  British psych-synth act who also released their debut album earlier this year. I hear Thomas Dolby, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Erasure.  The Manchester movement of the 80s is definitely in their DNA.  Goofy simplicity that gets in your head and refuses to escape.

Erasure "A Little Respect"  Vince Clarke is an absolute beast!!   His fingerprints can be found on Depeche Mode, Yaz and Erasure, to name a few.  You cannot mention 80s Brit Synth without including Clarke (and his partner Andy Bell for that matter.)  This is source material for the 80s renaissance we are witness to today.  This is a perfect pop song.

Pet Shop Boys "West End Girls"  I have a soft spot for this one because I do a mean Neil Tennant.  That wispy, exaggerated lisp plays to my strengths.  All that aside this is still one an 80s classic.  Some songs grow stale and boring over time.  Not this one.

M83 "Steve McQueen"  Their NJ show a few weeks ago was a real eye opener and one of my favorite shows of the year.  This track stood out and has been getting frequent plays on whichever device is handy.  Have you joined Spotify yet folks?  If not you should, and then play this song over, and over again.

Imagine Dragons "Radioactive"  Here performed live (a little shaky I might add) on Jimmy Kimmel.  Las Vegas rockers who also have a debut record from 2012.  Everyone and their mother knows their smash hit "It's Time".  The entire record is pretty strong and this second single is proof positive.  Plus I think the folks at Glee will not want to cover it.  That in itself adds some street cred.

Bryan Adams "One Night Love Affair"  For a while there Bryan Adams was a force on the rock charts.  "Cuts Like a Knife" and "Summer of 69" are undisputed mega-hits.  I heard this a few days back and couldn't help think of the Val Kilmer cult classic Real Genius.  This played during the raucous pool party scene when our hero Mitch was busted by Jerry the science prof.  Such good stuff!  "What is that popcorn, I hate popcorn, get it away from me."  Kilmer's Chris Knight:  "Great, now I know what to get you for your birthday."  There are about two dozen lines memorable lines in that film.  How many can you remember from ANY of Judd Apatow's movies?  Where was I?  Oh yeah, this is a good song.

Cheap Trick "The Flame"  A song I probably dismissed when it was released way back when.  It was the bands first #1 single and dominated radio play.  Even though it brings back memories of awkward pool dances and bad skin I find myself digging it.  Power ballads and hair bands were staples of the 80s.  It gets no better.

Def Leppard "Bringing on the Heartbreak"  OK, maybe it does get better.  Before every white kid in suburbia was issued Pyromania this track (off their debut album) was a minor hit.  Sure "Foolin," "Rock Of Ages" and "Photograph" get all the glory.  But don't forget about the single that acted as our Union Jack shirt wearing introduction to them.  Two handed drumming never sounded better.

Avett Brothers "Live and Die"  Good old fashioned, banjo picking, alt country, toe tapping, folk goodness.  These brothers from North Carolina are not for everyone.  If you can't get into this groove I am not sure they ever will be.  It is easy listening, unpretentious fun.  Give it a try.

This blogger hopes everyone reading has been spared from the destruction that has enveloped the Northeast.  We wish you good health, much happiness and the ability to enjoy some music in the most carefree of setting.

Join the conversation.  What songs have caught your attention?  New or old.





(0) Days Since Our Last Lost Time Incident

A few days removed from the election it appears little has changed.  Oh, the banter in social media and cable news is active as ever.  Within a half hour on my Facebook feed I am witness to posts from either side of the aisle.  Micro-blogs range from: "Obama got away with murder."  "I am disappointed to be an American."  "Sad day :-(. " to  "Ooooooo Bama!!!"  "America has spoken!!" "Flava Flav :-O ."

It is more of the same rhetoric, or vitriol that preceded the election itself.  Very little, if any, of the discourse is constructive or even relevant.

"Obama's not a citizen," they cry.  "Romney wears magic underpants."

Life goes on.  Everyone is going to be just fine.  The DOW and interest rates will continue to fluctuate.

Mother Nature, this Autumn's headline, had nothing to do with the results.  And she might be the biggest factor in the next 4 years.

She certainly has wreaked havoc on the Northeast.  Several thousand people in my home state of NJ, as well as other states, still find themselves without power 11 days post Sandy.  A snow storm hit yesterday that further damaged the relief work currently ongoing.

New Jersey Transit buses are still several weeks away from becoming fully operational.  It has been several weeks since I made the commute to New York City.  My wife, and many of my friends and neighbors, have had to scramble to simply get to work.  Buses have been chartered.  Car pools have been formed.

We are still reeling from the effects of 9.11 and now another force to contend with.  The candidates spoke of "jobs" leading up to Tuesday.  What if you are prevented from getting to the jobs that already exist?

The brutal combination of Hurricane Sandy and yesterday's Nor'Easter illuminate two major issues.

1.  These type of weather events are the new norm.  Winds are going to be stronger.  Storms surges WILL be unprecedented.  Whether or not you believe in climate change or global warming is irrelevant.  All you have to do is look out the window.  Assume this is a random pattern that God decided upon.  You still have to acknowledge the pattern exists.  One storm is a fluke.  Two events are an oddity.  When the events are systematic year in and year out it is imperative you open your eyes.

Explain it anyway you like.  But let us ALL admit something is going on here.

2.  If this is indeed the new norm we MUST update/revise/reconfigure our aging, tired and downright antiquated infrastructure.  Think about it, there are several train tracks that have been rendered useless due to Sandy.  Thousands of workers who rely on that service are unable to use it to go to work.  Consequently they are forced to drive vehicles using already scarce fuel to adapt.  Gas rather than electric is the only alternative.

We should be moving away from gas, not embracing it as savior.  Our trains should be near indestructible forces of engineering able to withstand the breath of Godzilla and splash of the Kraken's tail.

This is not to discount Sandy's force.  The destruction of the Jersey Shore and Staten Island is quite real and overwhelming.  But we have done nothing to improve upon the way we travel.  There was a proposal a few years back to add another rail tunnel leading into NYC that Gov. Christie put an end to.

"We can't afford it!" he growled.

Can we afford this?  How does FEMA make its money?  You and I, right?

The hits are going to keep on coming.  Hell it's not even mid- November.

But what will we do to prevent further catastrophes?  Are we comfortable waiting in gas lines and looking at empty shelves in grocery stores?

Where to start?  Can we get electrical wires underground?  Is it time to further examine electric cars?  Solar and wind should be on the table, no?

Sure, we will all have to pay more.  But isn't it worth paying a little up front rather than lots down the road?

I look at my 10 year old and wonder what World I have brought her into.

She came into this World shortly after 9.11.  War has been ongoing since her birth.  She knows the color chart detailing NYC's "threat levels."  Katrina was in her lifetime.  Now Sandy.

What next?

She should be worrying about 5th grade nonsense like fitting in with the "perfs."  Yes, "perfs" is the Mean Girls-esque "Plastics"group that roam the halls of her suburban grade school.  Let her worry about basketball tryouts and school socials.  We can only blame the Baby Boomers for so long.  And I do, believe me.

We have four more years.  Here is hoping we can make a change.



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Some Lessons Learned From Sandy

We are the fortunate ones, that is for sure.

We "suffered" a mere two nights without power.  We did have heat thanks to a gas fireplace insert.  The stove top worked too so hot beverages and some meals were salvaged.  Another day or two and we may have started eating one another.  More likely we would have probably eaten the weaker folks in the neighborhood.   Ling story short, it was getting grim.

It still is for some other neighbors, friends, and countless others along the coast line and surrounding NYC area.

And say what you will about the Jersey Shore (and beaches in Long Island, Queens, etc...) they have suffered the tortures of the damned.  The tortures of the damned!!  There is a hardscrabble, blue collar mentality that defines those spots.  Spray tans, gold chains and Snooki are but a small demographic in the rich tapestry that is Shore living.  I'm not big into the thoughts and prayers, but seriously, thoughts and prayers folks.  This is all out mayhem.

Since moving back to NJ about 10 years ago we have been witness to 9/11, the NYC blackout, banking collapse, auto bailout, recession, housing bubble bursting, wars (quagmires?!), and now (2!!!) Halloweens lost to violent storms.

This is a not so subtle hint.

But where else to move?  It is still the greatest City in the World.  California will be an island in the Pacific soon.  The midwest can be wiped away by tornadoes at any minute.  The South is too hot.  Chicago?  Too cold.  Canada might be an option.  But they don't have Stoli O so it would be a tough sell to the Mrs.  Plus the universal health care is so creepy and efficient.  

There has been lots of time to think since our NYC office is without power.  Our colleagues in Connecticut and other parts of the region are also suffering.  The trains are down indefinitely so even if we wanted to work we could not.  Sure we could drive in (3 hours one way and we would need another human in the car.)

Truth is there are forces at work that are making things very difficult these days.

It is pretty clear the Earth's climate is whacked out.  Clear too, that is going to get worse before it gets better.

With that in mind a few things to remember when the Aliens come to eat our brains.  Or is it as the Mayans suggest, total darkness?

1.  Have Verizon, not AT&T.  A side by side comparison of phones in this household was all the evidence I needed.  Verizon provided internet, email and a phone signal when all hell was breaking loose.  AT&T was good for your downloaded apps.  It is probably a good idea to have a backup phone battery or two.

2.  There are certain to be conspiracy theories abound the next few weeks...  but the Obama/Chris Christie love fest was pretty good stuff.  Bipartisan politics and Presidential campaigning has NO place in disaster relief.  These two foes put the gloves down and went about the business of helping people.  That is their role, correct?  You could argue the merits of FEMA, and the Government as a whole, but not right now.  With so many people in such peril it was encouraging to see cooperation and dare I say compassion.  Sure Fox and Friends and Hannity will start blaming Obama for creating Sandy in a lab somewhere.  Especially if he wins next week!  Can you see the headlines?  Hurricane Obama storms Romney.

3.  Enough with "The Storm of the Century" rhetoric folks.  "Storm du jour" is way more appropriate.  Snow ruined Halloween last year and winds did it this year.  Will locusts or frogs be the reason trick or treating is postponed next year?  And how many Halloweens in November will it take before we change the date permanently.

4.  It has been said before, and will be said again (in fact, right here), we are waaayyyy to reliant on oil. We made a huge miscalculation in failing to fuel both of our vehicles the evening before the storm.  Mainly we could not charge our devices, or better, get the hell out of here and too a place with power!   Several days later many folks are still unable to source fuel for a myriad of reasons.  Fueling stations cannot fire up their pumps.  Once they are powered up long lines of consumers devour their product (gouging the prices along the way.)  This is the boom we need folks.  Call it hippie nonsense or cock eyed optismism but if we can safely develop alternate means of energy we should be able to get out of our collective funk.  Is it wind?  Solar?  Can we bury all the wires underground?  All of it?  Oil, and to a lesser extent electric, are our country's (read:economies) lifeblood.  New York City is virtually closed this week.  We can watch videos on phones but have watch passively as weather patterns make a mockery of our inferior infrastructure.  If our culture of complacency stays the same how can we expect a different outcome?

5.  Trees suck.  Ok, not quite.  But after surveying the damage in my town their street cred is off the charts.  They are an amazing force of nature. They are easy to love when providing shade.  But when time, wind and rain take their toll and they end up on your roof their grandeur is sorely lacking.  Screw you trees!  If you can't stay upright can you give a brother a heads up.

I could go on and on but a warm bed awaits.  First, a moment of thanks to all those who work, mostly uncredited, to get things moving again.  The utility workers and local government (police, fire, ems, et all) have done a phenomenal job this past week.

Much love to all those who have suffered and are still suffering.  The irony is not lost on me as I write this on a computer, listening to music, in a heated home.   There are too many out there who would, no, SHOULD, be able to enjoy such a privilege.  Here is hoping a full recovery and rebuilding to you and yours.

There is a nearly completed 100 or so story building almost complete where two planes took out the World Trade Center.

We gonna let some bitch named Sandy knock us out?


A Democrat's Case For Romney


I started blogging almost a year ago.

My motivation, in part, was, after years of obsessive devotion to following politics and arguing stridently for consistently liberal-left positions, to put myself on a News Fast. In doing so, I re-examined my views based on relying on conversation with others (I am blessed to have many intelligent, thoughtful, and creative friends, acquaintances, and colleagues) while avoiding my usual diet of left leaning fare such as Salon, Slate, The New Republic, The New York Times, American Prospect, Washington Monthly, and The Nation.

I also harkened back to my education - which is in philosophy and law --- both fields having in common the critical analysis of arguments, facts, and data, with the  consideration of all sides of a position as a necessary part of same.

As we near Election Day 2012, its time to revisit my views. Rather than tie them to loyalty to one wing or another, I ask simply, "what do I want"? Not a laundry list of issues, or a party platform, but what values do I want to see affirmed?

Here they are:

  • Vibrant commerce that creates jobs, supports innovation, and encourages economic growth
  • Pragmatic, scientific, facts and data based spirit of inquiry.
  • Problem-solving and practical solutions, rather than strict adherence to dogma or ideology, including a distaste for fundamentalism of any stripe.
  • Bold cosmopolitanism - a curiosity about, and tolerance of, other cultures, religions, and experiments in living.
  • Respect for the person, privacy, and property of others.
  • Recognition that we have a moral duty to help one another bear each other's burdens.
  • Free flow of information and the open sharing of perspectives and views.
  • Optimistic, yet realistic, vision of the future.

In other words, American culture at its best.

I can't imagine that much listed above is terribly controversial. And I think these values transcend political parties.

In addition to the above, I have a different view of democracy than I started with.

I used to think that the goal was to put a party in place who would enact a specific agenda, and that I should see myself as a foot-soldier in that fight, even if all I was doing was arguing and debating with others, and not actually putting some skin in the game by volunteering for a campaign.

However, based on some reading I've done on systems theory, conversations I have had with actual politicians and campaign managers, and an excellent book by Judge Richard Posner, "Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy", I've come to believe that the most essential function of democracy is the non-violent, peaceful selection and replacement of leaders.

Not the stuff of soaring rhetoric, but when you consider how many countries there are where change of leadership is determined by who has power over the army or the secret police, its importance cannot be overemphasized. When democracy works best, we are able to keep our "best and brightest" scheming wheeler-dealers on their toes, with good policy being a side effect of same.

With apologies to Orson Welles as Harry Lime in "The Third Man", in the 20th Century we had politicians up to their ears in graft, back-room deals, and horse-trading, but they gave us roads, bridges, dams, Social Security, The Civil Rights Act, defeated Hitler and the Soviet Union, and put man on the moon. In the 21st Century we have ideologically pure, incorruptible politicians to whom compromise is a sin. And what have they given us? The soundbite.

Which brings me back to Election 2012.

If I disregard the Democratic party line that Romney is a valueless, craven sociopath, and assume the more realistic position that he is a narcissistic egomaniac  (in other words, a seeker of high public office) I think I can offer a perspective on him that is, perhaps, more helpful.

Romney is, at heart, a CEO, a venture capitalist and business opportunist. He is an intelligent (Harvard JD/MBA) pragmatic facts and data guy. I firmly believe that in his personal life he is every bit the humorless, painfully straight-laced and starched Puritanical tight-ass that he appears to be. But I don't think he is a right wing fanatic on policy --- he wants to show big accomplishments --- not for the GOP, but for the history books. And I think he is motivated by what will get him there, not ideological purity. He wants to be, and believes himself entitled to be, a Great President, not a great Republican.

Romney started years ago grooming himself to run for president. He worshiped his father, former Michigan governor George Romney, a moderate Republican. Mitt saw a deeply unpopular GOP and calculated that a right of center moderate Republican had the best chance of winning the presidency. Mitt's plan as governor of Massachusetts was to brand himself as a moderate Republican who could "cross the aisle". RomneyCare was to be his stepping stone, a government/free market policy mix developed with Democrats and, therefore, proving his statesmanship. A quick review of YouTube in 2007 and 2008 is full of Romney making his rounds on the talking head circuit touting his plan as a model for a national policy.

And I think this is who Romney actually is. A pragmatic, right leaning technocrat. Re-read his NYTimes op-ed on the auto industry. Except for perhaps adding a few lines about extending unemployment benefits and job training, I think he's right on the money about "controlled bankruptcy". The auto industry has been bailed out by the feds twice in my lifetime now --- who do they think they are... farmers?

However, Mitt's plans were flustered by the unexpected phenomenon of the Tea Party. The Tea Party encompassed the complete opposite of the values I listed above, and therefore the worst elements of American culture: anti-intellectualism, anti-science, racism, isolationism, know-nothingism, demagoguery, xenophobia, hysteria and fear. The folks who would have been ripe to become America Firsters in the 1930s and 1940s, and John Birch Society members in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Tea Party is the latest strain of a cultural herpes that flares up when the America's immune system is weakened by bad economic times or war. And like the Firsters and Birchers, I guarantee that in 10 years people who were Tea Partiers will deny or dilute their past participation in the movement.

Romney's great failure of leadership and character was in his shameless pandering to the Tea Party wing-nut right, from which he now must return to the technocratic pragmatic center. Let's face it, he was the only GOP presidential candidate who did not come off as a lunatic when given more that five minutes to speak freely, and the "Anyone But Obama" sentiment was so strong he could have run as a right of center moderate and still won the nomination.

But, like he learned at Bain Capital, you do anything and everything to close the deal.

Again, Romney is driven by accomplishment, not by ideology. I think if he wins, he will see his opportunity to enter the history books as the Great Statesman who overcame gridlock, and, just as only Nixon could go to China, only Romney can move the GOP closer to the center. So I don't think he would be so bad. And if the Democrats maintain a majority in the Senate, he could be even better than "not so bad".

So that's my case for Romney. The best one I can make, consistent with those values listed above.

I figure that I should vote in a way that endorses those values. Therefore, I will still be voting for Obama and the Democrats, not because they are all perfect leaders, but because I think they, much more than the GOP, presently support those values I listed above.

Now, if Republicans were to support those values, and if Romney was the guy he was back as Governor of Massachusetts, I suppose I would feel compelled to vote for him.

Things can change. Recall that one hundred years ago, Republicans, led by Teddy Roosevelt, were the cosmopolitan "progressive party", passing pragmatic and innovative anti-trust, consumer protection, and conservation laws to adapt the marketplace to a new century, while the Democrats were the party of states' rights, fundamentalist religion, and populist isolationism.

In short, regardless who the next president is, I think its all going to be pretty much OK.