Monday, March 31, 2008

Opening Day in Minneapolis

Photo by Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

Twins 3, Angels 2. And he shall be Livan. And he shall be a good man. Nice opener, even if the weather reminded us why we built the Metrodome in the first place.

Opening Day in Chicago

Photo from Benny Sieu, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Brewers 4, Cubs 3. But I think we need to watch out for Kosuke Fukudome, a highly talented Cub from Japan. And I think WGN television has to be pleased that Harry Caray is no longer around to inadvertently turn Mr. Fukudome's name into an unintentional X-rated malaprop.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Aesops on the Portside

How bizarre. There sure seems to be a lot of, ahem, embellishment going on when it comes to the ever-evolving biographies of the Democratic presidential hopefuls. In the past week we've been treated to Sen. Clinton's claim that she was dodging bullets in Bosnia, which appears to have been, well, overstated a bit. But that's pretty much standard stuff for Mrs. Clinton, who once claimed to have been named after Sir Edmund Hillary, conquerer of Everest. The problem was that when Sen. Clinton was born in 1947, Edmund Hillary was an obscure civil servant in New Zealand. There were a lot of babies being born in those days of course and to find a unique name a parent would have needed to use some ingenuity, but selecting the surname of Kiwi civil servants was not a likely naming strategy.

Thank goodness Sen. Obama would never do anything like that, right? Well, maybe he would. Obama said that he owes "his very existence" to the generosity of the Kennedy family, which helped to fund a scholarship for his father to come to America, where he met his mother. Great story. Too bad it's not true. Turns out that Obama's father came over to the United States in 1959, while the Kennedy family wasn't even approached about financing the program until 1960.

Here's what I don't get. You'd think that people who are as obviously intelligent as Sens. Clinton and Obama would understand that every word they utter will be fact-checked. These cute little fables don't help them in any real way, and when they are inevitably discovered to be, well, crap, the fables erode their credibility. Considering how often we've been reminded over the years about President Bush's supposed stupidity and mendacity from our portside friends, you'd think that these geniuses </Sid Hartman> would know better than to make claims that are so easily proven false. Man, if a slack-jawed, drooling, moronic Republican like me can figure it out, you'd think these two Wile E. Coyotes would.
UPDATE: Turns out maybe we were too harsh on Sen. Clinton. Check out this new video.

What's Going On in the AG's Office?

It's always easy to lose track of important stories over the weekend, but there's been some interesting rumblings about the conduct of Attorney General Lori Swanson. Much of the coverage has surrounded allegations about whether or not AG Swanson has been interfering with a unionization effort in the AG's office. That's pretty serious business.

There may be more than that, though. A lot more. Gary Gross at Let Freedom Ring is all over the story here, here and here. Additionally, the redoubtable Lady Logician has more, much more, over at her place. I do not pretend to know how an attorney general's office should work, but I do know this much -- Rachel Paulose got run out of the U.S. Attorney's office for a lot less.

More Housekeeping

Just a quick note to call to your attention a few changes to the ol' blogstead. I have modified my blogroll, adding a few more blogs that I think are worth your time. And in the interest of clarity, I've changed the name of said blogroll to "Mr. D. Recommends. . ."

Give a few of the new links a punch when you have a chance. Meanwhile, I'll keep exploring.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Big Screen

In the previous post I talked about Hollywood's odd current string of ranty anti-war movies, which have all been summarily rejected by the larger audience. It occurs to me that finding a large audience for anything these days is increasingly problematic. We have so many more choices now than ever before. I can get to two large multiplexes with 15 screens apiece within 10 minutes of my house. I can see any number of different films, on any number of subjects. There are thousands of other films available on various DVDs at my local library, or the video store, or even from a box at McDonald's. I am part of a market niche that marketers can easily find. And they do.

While that's great, sometimes I wonder if finding a larger, broader audience is something anyone is really trying to do any more. In earlier years, the producers in Hollywood spent more time trying to find stories that would have more universal appeal. The ones that are especially well-done are a huge part of our cultural heritage. I would be willing to bet that nearly everyone who reads this blog has seen the movie that is pictured above. That movie, North by Northwest, is a grand entertainment from 1959. Nearly 50 years on, it still works beautifully. I showed it to my kids last year and they both loved it. While it's one of my all-time favorite movies, it's probably not even the best picture directed by Alfred Hitchcock. But it has all sorts of things that please audiences -- charismatic stars in Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason, taut, tense storytelling and some of the most famous set-pieces in movie history. It's just wonderful.

So here's a question for the audience of this blog. Actually, two questions.

1) What movies, meant for a larger audience, do you particularly enjoy? And,

2) Can you think of any movie made in the last decade that will be as beloved in fifty years as North by Northwest is now?

The floor is open.

More Bombs than Dresden

So the early word on the latest anti-war movie coming out of Hollywood is that its box office is as dismal as all its predecessors. Stop-Loss, starring Ryan Phillipe, discarded ex-husband of Reese Witherspoon, is D.O.A. at the box office. It would appear that Phillipe is being discarded by the mass audience as well. This follows in the trend of all the others, like Redacted, In the Valley of Elah and countless others whose names I've already forgotten.

It's puzzling, really, that Hollywood has been spending this much money trying to be didactic. For all the suffocating, self-congratulatory liberalism that is endemic out there, there's one true thing that matters, which is profitability. I went to college with a guy who is a pretty big wheel out there, fellow by the name of Matt Tolmach. Matt was always a pretty sensible guy and it would be interesting to get his take on why his industry continues to persist in making a string of movies that people don't want to see. Maybe I'll see him at a reunion or something and I'll ask him. Matt hasn't fallen prey to that tendency in his own career; lately he's been the executive in charge of Will Ferrell movies. Those tend to make money.

We get results

I've often compared blogging to dropping a penny in a deep well and listening for the splash. Sometimes you hear it. Yesterday was one of those days.

I wrote Thursday's post primarily to chide Senator Coleman's campaign. I mentioned that Sen. Coleman hadn't been able to get the attention of the more prominent Minnesota bloggers, naming a few of them. It wasn't my intent to chide these bloggers at all for not covering Coleman's campaign announcement. I hadn't covered the event either.

But a funny thing happened. I cross-posted the article on True North and suddenly responses began appearing. AAA, Jeff Kouba at TvM, Mitch Berg and Chief from Freedom Dogs all wrote thoughtful responses to my piece. If you haven't already read these pieces, please give them a look as they all have interesting things to say about the upcoming campaign and the coverage to date.

As Mitch rightly points out, we aren't in this for the money. There's no right-wing equivalent of George Soros providing largesse for most of the bloggers I know. I don't even have Google ads on my site, although it might make sense to include some one day. We blog because we want to add our voices to the ongoing discussion and because we learn from each other. Every time I visit Ben, Dan, Lee, Gino, Leo, RH and Daria, Stinger and LL, I learn something. That's the reason we blog - because we get results.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Everybody Knows Your Name (But Nobody Seems to Mention It)

So I got a call a few weeks back inviting me to attend the kickoff for Norm Coleman's Senate campaign. I'm a freelance writer and while that gives me significant leeway in setting my schedule, it also means that if I don't show up for work when I've got a contract, I don't get paid. I have a contract right now and my family likes it when I make money. So I had to decline the invitation.

I wasn't especially worried about missing the event, since I figured that other bloggers would be there and would write about the event in detail. The ever-reliable Michael Brodkorb was there of course and there's substantial coverage of the event over at MDE, as you'd suspect. But as yesterday spread into today, I started to notice something. Many of the other prominent center-right voices in the Minnesota blogosphere hadn't written anything about the event, either. Nothing from Powerline. Mitch Berg was otherwise occupied. AAA hadn't weighed in. No barking from the Freedom Dogs. Not a peep at Anti-Strib. Bupkis at TvM. And most notably, nothing at True North.

As bloggers we're all independent actors -- despite what some people would have you believe, there's no "ScaifeNet" or "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" afoot. We all make independent, idiosyncratic judgments concerning what we write about. And there have been some interesting local stories in the last few days, including the controversy at Forest Lake High School and the light bulb bill that Rep. Bachmann introduced, among other things. In all of that, Norm seems to have gotten lost. I'm not sure what it means, but the apparent lack of interest in Coleman's event must mean something. And it would seem to be a good idea for Norm's campaign people to see if they can ascertain the larger meaning.
Cross-posted at True North

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Guilty Pleasures Part Nine - Gonzo!

We're back. Our last installment of this feature so captivated you that no one bothered to vote. While that may have been a hint, my suspicion was that the indifference comes from a simple realization -- no one cares about 10cc or Hot Chocolate. So now for something completely different.

I've never been much of a metal guy. For all the axemanship on display, for me a lot of metal lacks the thing that makes music worth listening to -- fun. I admire the talent of a band like Mettalica greatly, but that admiration doesn't make me want to listen to their music very much. But since guilty pleasures are about having dumb fun as much as anything, there are two acts in the genre that guarantee more dumb fun than anyone else. And here they are.

In this corner, from a 1976 appearance on Australian television, with the original lineup including howler non-pareil Bon Scott, we have:


In the other, from a 1977 concert appearance, it's the Motor City Madman:

Free For All, by Ted Nugent

It's in the air tonight. Cast your votes!

The Four Best Words, Part 2

And now, after a month, I finally get to my beloved Milwaukee Brewers.

It's been a long time since expectations have been this high in Milwaukee. Last year the Brewers ended a long stretch of terrible play, finally getting over the .500 mark for the first time in many years. And there's a lot of reason for optimism -- there's a lot of good young talent taking the field for the True Blue Brew Crew. But I still remember the sage words of my college friend John Ed Kelley, who said "you need two things. You need pitching, and you need management." And those are the two things I worry about in thinking about my Brewers.

The everyday lineup should score a lot of runs. You would be hard pressed to find a better offensive infield than the one the Brewers will send out this year. Prince Fielder had a monster year last year and is poised for another. In one of the most interesting moves of the offseason, the portly Fielder announced that he has become a vegetarian. Around the same time, worldwide commodity prices spiked. Coincidence? I think not. The guy can flat hit, though, and he's better than you think defensively. He hit 50 homers last year and could easily do it again. At second, Rickie Weeks is coming off an iffy year but it's worth remembering that of all the young stars that have come through the Brewers system, he was the most highly regarded not that long ago. The guess here is that he'll hit at least .280 and will pop 20-25 homers, which are outstanding numbers for a second basemen. Shortstop J.J. Hardy became a star last season and there's little reason to believe that he'll fall off much this year. At third, the Ryan Braun experiment is over and steady Bill Hall takes over. Hall hit 35 homers in 2006 but fell off last season as he attempted to learn the outfield. He may not hit 35 this time, but 25-30 is quite possible. The reserves are steady veteran Craig Counsell and Joe Dillon, who is poised to take over at second should Weeks falter.

In the outfield, talent abounds as well. Braun will move to left field, which is probably the best position for him on a National League team. Braun demonstrated awesome power in his rookie season, hitting over 30 homers. He should be able to duplicate that. In right, Corey "Sunglasses At Night" Hart is a budding star as well. He's a guy who could easily hit 25 homers and steal 25 bases. In center, the eventual starter will be veteran Mike Cameron, who will begin the season serving a 25 game suspension. In the interim, look for the promising Tony Gwynn Jr. to start. In reserve the Brewers have two reliable guys named Gabe - Gross and Kapler, respectively. Both are experienced professionals and Gross has been a reliable pinch hitter.

Catching is in the hands of offseason acquisition Jason Kendall, who has been one of the better catchers in baseball for the past decade. It's not clear how much Kendall has left in his tank, but he should be serviceable or better.

So far, so good. But that's not pitching or management. And here's where I get concerned.

The starting rotation has a chance to be very good. Ben Sheets is one of the most talented pitchers in baseball, but he appears to be made of porcelain. He has broken down nearly every season in his career. When he's on, he's dominant. But he needs to stay healthy if the Brewers are going to contend. Jeff Suppan is a very good #4 pitcher in a rotation. The problem in Milwaukee is that he's the #2. He's a solid, wily veteran who was a huge part of the the championship team in St. Louis in 2006. Last year he was adequate. He'll have to be better. Dave Bush is a marginal guy whom you'd like to replace, but in this rotation he's currently #3. Like Suppan, he gets by primarily on guile. That may work but you always wonder. Three younger pitchers wait in the wings. Lefthander Manny Parra showed flashes of brilliance last year and may turn out to be especially important, while righthander Carlos Villanueva also pitched well down the stretch. These two will fill the final spots in the rotation for now, while the talented Yovanni Gallardo gets healthy. If Gallardo comes back soon and pitches up to his ability, things could get a lot better for the Brew Crew.

Then there's the bullpen, whose two key performers were prominently mentioned in the Mitchell Report. Prospective closer Eric Gagne was a dominant pitcher for the Dodgers earlier in the decade, but was injured a few years ago and has only shown flashes of his former brilliance. If he can manage to be even 85% of what he once was, the Brewers will be fine. But you wonder if he was a product of pharmaceuticals. Turnbow has been great at times and awful other times. He's probably best suited for the setup role, where he'll be able to pump 98 mile-an-hour fastballs without the game being on the line. He too was mentioned in the Mitchell Report. The rest of the pen consists of veterans who have been through all this before, with varying levels of success. The aptly named David Riske was a contributor in Cleveland but was available for a reason. Salomon Torres comes over from the Pirates and is a fairly reliable guy, while Guillermo Mota has had his moments as well, but has never been a great pitcher. Seth McClung is nothing special and lefty Brian Shouse is adequate.

Then there's the manager. Ned Yost seemed to melt down at the end of last season. I've heard widely varying opinions about Yost, but he has to be viewed with suspicion until he coaches a winner.

The primary rival for the Brew Crew in the Central should be this guy's beloved Chicago Cubs, who are defending their title and look to have a pretty good team again this year. I think the Brewers have more overall talent, but the Cubs have a proven winner in manager Lou Piniella. That may be the difference. No matter what the result turns out to be, this season will be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

One year on

One year on, it looks a lot different. And a lot better.

A year ago today, I was admitted to United Hospital with a diagnosis of a pituitary tumor. I spent the better part of two weeks in the hospital, eventually having surgery to remove the tumor in the first week of April. I wrote about my experience here and periodically throughout the following months here. Looking back on what I wrote then, the words appear a lot more calm, a lot more stoic, than I was actually feeling. I didn't put down the fear that I felt. Although I had every reason to be confident about the stellar team of doctors and nurses that worked on my case, I was scared as hell. The previous year had been filled with horrific, debilitating headaches, culminating in the big one that prompted the trip to the doctor that led me to United. As my vision blurred, as my words slurred, I feared the worst. As my children got on the bus for school that morning, I worried that I might not see them again. Even as my brain felt like it was exploding, it was impossible to turn it off.

One year on, it looks a lot different. The surgery was successful and while the rehabilitation period took longer than I would have liked, things are much better now. The debilitating headaches are pretty much a thing of the past. I've long since adjusted to the regimen of medication that is now part of my life. At the time of the surgery, I was unemployed and our financial situation was getting dicey. Since then I've been able to switch gears and have had steady freelance writing income for much of the past year. I've been able to coach, teach Faith Formation classes and increase the quantity and quality of my blogging. In the most visible manifestations, one year on my life is better in every way.

One year on, two things are clear. I am fortunate to have a wonderful family, especially a fantastic wife. When Mrs. D signed on for better or worse, she likely couldn't have envisioned the potential dimensions of "worse." There have been times in the past year where it would have been easy, and understandable, if she wanted to walk away from the challenges that were part of our life together. She never flinched. I cannot begin to explain how grateful I am that she has been willing to share her life with me.

The other thing that has become clear is the importance of faith. I have it on good authority that God received many prayers on my behalf in the past year and all of these prayers have been answered. One year ago, it would have been easy to lapse into despair, but it didn't happen because the people who cared about me shared their prayers, their support and their witness. One year on, I have a better (though imperfect) understanding of what faith can do and what it really means. Of the many gifts I have received in the past year, that is the most important of all.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Feel the Tingle

The indispensable Brad Carlson is reporting that Kathy Tingelstad is bowing out of the race for 49B. Slowly but surely the swamp is being drained.

Rebel Rebel, Your Face Is a Mess

Mass at my church was a little more uneventful than what happened at the Holy Name Cathedral auditorium in Chicago on Easter Sunday, where some unkempt moral exhibitionists who refer to themselves as "Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War" decided to stage a little street theater. They interrupted Cardinal George's homily by squirting fake blood on themselves and a few parishioners before they were arrested and led away. Word is they are being charged with felonies for their little morality play and my guess is that they aren't going to garner a lot of sympathy for their little stunt in the heavily Catholic Windy City. Oddly, none of these folks looked like any Catholic schoolgirls I ever knew. Generally speaking, most Catholic schoolgirls don't wear scraggly beards and in my experience the vast majority are likely to wash their hair on a regular basis. Also, actual Catholic schoolgirls tend to be female and only half of this troupe were, as far as I could tell. And none of them were wearing plaid jumpers, either. I suspect they are a little confused; perhaps they need to talk things over with this guy.

Meanwhile, in Portland, Oregon, they had a protest last week and some of the protestors offered the helpful suggestion pictured below.

Apparently these anarchists aren't especially fond of traditional military discipline, although they have no trouble issuing orders. And based on the way some of these bien pensants have chosen to cover their faces, they clearly have the courage of their convictions. They also seem to be sharing beauty tips with their fellow buskers from Chicago.
I don't know about you, but I sure find people like these folks tiresome. I'm sure that some of these folks or other like-minded individuals will be coming to St. Paul later this year to share similar hijinks as well as their own heartfelt commitment to solipsism. Of course, there's a long history of that sort of thing, as we were reminded this week during the on-again, off-again release of Highland Park doyenne Sara Jane Olson, a/k/a Kathleen Soliah, who gladly threw away the blandishments of revolutionary struggle once she had a chance to marry well.
I'm thinking we haven't heard from Mumia in a while. Maybe he'll pop up again soon.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

He is risen

And that is all that matters today. Any day, for that matter.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


It's not pretty, this nomination process for president. It's plenty enlightening, though.

I was away for a couple of days and look at all the fun we're having. We have the sainted former president being accused of McCarthyism. And we have this report linking the passport file peeking back to a guy who advises the Obama campaign. And we get high drama when Bill Richardson, who most people assumed would be a loyal Clintonite given his long history with them, endorsing Obama, prompting the ever-excitable James Carville to compare Richardson to Judas Iscariot. I guess he'd already used the trailer park line about Paula Jones.

Meanwhile, Hillary gets some love from The Nation for her claim that she's always opposed NAFTA. This, of course, after Obama goes through a fun little minuet about his anti-NAFTA credentials.

And all of this after the weeklong contretemps over the Right Reverend Wright and his kind thoughts about many of his fellow countrymen and the speech that was either bullcrap or brilliant, depending on how you view the world. Meanwhile, we learn that the church bulletin had a nice endorsement of Hamas.

Bottom line -- what the Clinton and Obama campaigns are doing to each other is more than just scorched earth. They are razing the villages, pouring salt on the land and adding toxic ooze dredged from the bottom of the Fox River.
Pretty amazing....


UW 72, Kansas State 55. Heartbreak on the other side as beloved MU falls to Stanford in overtime. The Badgers move on to the Sweet Sixteen, while KSU star Michael Beasley prepares to be a New York Knick. It's about time for the Knicks to get the ping pong ball again, right? No way a kid that talented will ever be a Woofie or a Milwaukee Buck.

Back from St. Cloud

The family and I had a nice time in St. Cloud. So nice, in fact, that we had no idea that MnDOT had closed the Hwy 23 bridge. Or that the wonderful writer Jon Hassler died, who lived near St. Cloud and whose novels were usually set in small-town Minnesota. The St. Cloud Holidome is a fine place to take kids and escape, even if big news happens not far from it.

More soon!

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Okay, I lied. One last post and then I'm on vacation.

This is simply a house rule that I'm imposing. I am decreeing the Dilettante Codicil to Godwin's Law, to wit:

Use of the name Hitler or references to Nazis, unless specifically addressing the Third Reich or the career of George Lincoln Rockwell and his acolytes, is out of bounds. Those engaging in such invective (a) automatically lose whatever argument they are in, and (b) are subject to whatever mockery their opponents choose to deliver and/or are required to spend quality time with Jonah Goldberg.

Calling your opponents "Hitler Youth" or similar is not only intellectually lazy, it's just a crappy thing to do. I don't want to see it here. I will not censor anyone, but I really want to see that sort of thing cease around here. 'Kay?

Back on Saturday!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Just so you know

We'll be taking a brief trip out of town starting tomorrow and I probably won't be blogging until we return on Saturday. It's Spring Break here for the kids and they are going pretty stir-crazy, so we're going to get out of Dodge.

In the meantime, here are a few quick recommendations:

I'm based in New Brighton, perhaps the most non-descript suburb in the Twin Cities. Despite the seemingly placid facade around here, there's a lot of interesting things going on. And if you want to understand New Brighton, you really need to be reading my colleagues at Boots On. But don't think that they only concern themselves with New Brighton. This is a really fine group of writers and you should visit them regularly. Like Bill Cosby used to say on his old Saturday morning cartoon show, you might learn something.

One of the blogs on my blogroll is Dorky Dad, who is also based here in New Brighton and is one of the more consistently funny guys I know of on the internet. He's well worth your time, especially when he's doing things like this.

While I'm busy recommending people, I'd like to recommend another blog that is based in the place where we're going for our little getaway, lovely St. Cloud. Leo Pusateri is a smart, big-hearted guy who runs Psycmeister's Ice Palace, a consistently fascinating and often technically dazzling outpost on the Internet. I always admire Leo's good humor, wisdom and the fact that as a Chicagoan he understands the proper way to serve a hot dog. I assume that you're already reading SCSU Scholars. If you're not, you'd better get with it.

Back soon!

There's still time. . .

. . . to get in on the March Madness contest over at my friend Strolling Amok's blog. He's promising a fabulous prize and given what I know about SA, it probably involves massive amounts of caffeine.

Guilty Pleasures Part Eight - Topic A Edition

As you've probably noticed, I've been spending a lot of time discussing guilty pleasures from the 1970s. You probably know why -- the 70s were weird. I spent the majority of my childhood in the 1970s and a lot of what I now know about the 70s weren't things I experienced first-hand.

For example, Topic A. As the 70s concluded, I had just turned 16. Some of my friends and associates were acquainted with what Iago referred to as "the beast with two backs," but I went to school with a bunch of Catholic girls, some of whom took the Church's admonitions on the topic to heart. Well, they did at least as far as I knew and a gentleman didn't ask, unless he'd had a few cocktails. (I fully expect that someone who knew me in that era will remind me that I was no gentleman. In fact, I'm counting on it.)

But we'll leave that aside. Other people living in the 1970s were well-introduced to the topic and Topic A seemed to be Topic A, B, C, D, E and F throughout the decade. No more were the references to what the rock and roll boys wanted couched in euphemism. And even the milder-sounding stuff was pretty racy -- give Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis" a listen sometime if you doubt me.

But she's not competing tonight. Instead we have two English bands, both from 1975, with two sides of the dilemma, one denying, one bragging.

First, 10cc, with "I'm Not In Love"

or, if you prefer

Hot Chocolate, with "You Sexy Thing"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

You should read Obama's speech - Update

It's up on Drudge and probably elsewhere - I can't link to it on this computer but will update this post later on. [Link]

My first guess -- he may have saved his campaign. More soon!


Okay, it's now several hours later and a lot of reviews are in. Not surprisingly, the starboard side of the blogosphere has ripped Obama a new one. Here's a site with a boatload of links.

My take remains the same -- Obama probably saved his campaign today. Here's why:

  • He didn't take the bait on repudiating his pastor. As hateful as Jeremiah Wright appears to be, Obama can probably finesse a lot of that with the audience he needs to reach right now, the remaining Democratic primary electorate. If Obama had tossed Wright overboard completely, which is what I thought he was doing, it would have hurt Obama more than it would have helped him. My friend Rich cautioned me about this in the comments to that post. At this point, it would appear that Rich is correct and I was wrong.

  • Of course conservatives don't believe Obama. In this case, that doesn't matter. Again, this speech wasn't for conservative consumption, even if my fellow conservatives did consume it and lay waste to the logic, reasoning and import of the speech. The scrutiny our side offers isn't going to matter to the people who will decide Obama's fate in the short term.

  • The focus will be on Obama's eloquence. You have to give him the nod -- he's probably the best orator we've seen since Reagan. For all of Bill Clinton's mastery of the political process, oratory was hardly his strong suit. It's worth remembering that his initial appearance on the national stage at the 1988 Democratic convention, in a speech on behalf of Michael Dukakis, was a long-winded disaster. Mario Cuomo was good, too, but Obama blows him away.

  • Race is still a huge issue and Americans do need to have an honest conversation. I'm hardly convinced that Obama is the guy to lead that conversation but I'd be hard pressed to think of anyone else right now who is as well-positioned to talk about the issues than Obama. In a better world, someone like Thomas Sowell or Walter Williams would be that person. We don't live in that world.

  • The speech doesn't take the issue of Rev. Wright off the table, but it does kick it down the road. And the longer Obama stays on the road, the more likely it is that he will outlast Mrs. Clinton.

Earlier this year I expressed my view that big changes are in the offing, but that the changes don't necessarily have anything to do with the Obama campaign. I still have that sense.

Monday, March 17, 2008

When the shark bites

Has the Obama campaign jumped the shark?

It's possible. Consider the evidence:

You get this column from Ron Fournier of the Associated Press.

Iowahawk has joined in the fun.

As has Scrappleface.

A campaign can survive scandal -- the Clintons proved that. What it can't survive is ridicule.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

And what could be more traditional than John Belushi's musings on the "Luck of the Irish?"

Have fun, everyone!

March Madness

It's NCAA tournament time, probably the most enjoyable three weeks on the sporting calendar each year. I'll have more to say about it anon, but for now, I give you two views worth reading.

First, the musings of my brother over at Stinger Nation.

Second, the deep thoughts of my son over at Ben's Sports Blog.

Now if we can only get Billy Packer to stop babbling about the ACC, we'll have something.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Guilty Pleasures Part Seven -- No Guilt Cover Version

Today we take up the suggestion of another member of the Boots On crew, the estimable Right Hook, who suggested a feature on cover versions. An excellent suggestion and this particular one will provide multiple choices.

One thing to note - there's nothing in this collection that would be considered a "guilty pleasure." We're talking about some of the best and most important acts in the history of rock. What's interesting about these covers is how the varying artistic sensibilities change the songs, sometimes radically. Okay, that's enough rock-crit jargon. Let's just get to the music:

First, we look at a song from perhaps the greatest male soul singer of the 1960s, Otis Redding. Besides being a great singer, Redding was an excellent songwriter. While he is best remembered for his posthumous classic "Dock of the Bay," one of his greatest songs is "Respect." His performance was great, but the cover is more famous, done by perhaps the greatest female singer in any rock-related idiom, Aretha Franklin. When Redding heard Franklin's version, he simply smiled and said "That girl done stole my song." Indeed. But we'll turn it over to you:

First, from a performance only days before his death, Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays singing "Respect" with a bonus Spanish lesson in the subtitles.

Then, Lady Soul with her eternal classic, "Respect," in a strange video that includes what I think is an old SNL bit or something after; you can (and probably should) ignore the last 2-3 minutes of this after the song is done.

Vote two: three versions of the same song, all by major artists, all classics in their own way, but very different.

First, the jaunty original of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," by Gladys Knight & the Pips, from a 1972 performance that features some serious Pip action and a truly appalling dress on the divine Ms. Knight, along with more stage patter than is probably necessary.

Second, the eternal classic version from of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," by Marvin Gaye. The video presentation here is homemade and pretty minimal, but the song stands out. And since we are still using Chicago election rules, Mrs. D has already cast 10,465 votes for this version. I'm guessing the others are playing for second place.

Third, the Grapevine gets the swamp rock treatment in this version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, with some vintage picking from John Fogerty.

Finally, we look at how artistic vision can change everything. These last two are pretty much self-explanatory.

First, from a 1976 performance in Edinburgh, Sir Elton John performing a simple, elegant version of his 1972 hit, "Rocket Man."

Finally, from a 1978 performance at the Science Fiction Film Awards, we have the classic interpretation of "Rocket Man" by America's greatest living conceptual artist, William Shatner.

Cast your votes!

If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don't Want To Be Wright

Slowly but surely, the halo is starting to getting knocked askew from Rock Star Barack. He's backpedaling more than a Vikings defensive back. Now Jeremiah Wright, who has been Obama's pastor for 20 years, is his "former pastor," and not just because Wright is retiring from the Chicago church that Obama has attended for 20 years. Apparently his friend and mentor, the man who Sen. Obama said brought him to Jesus, is a non-factor. Obama is also claiming that he never heard the incendiary comments that have been widely attribued to Wright. That should be easy enough to fact-check and I don't doubt that the Chicago media are already on the case. It's not clear who Obama's pastor is yet, but it appears the job is open. I'd like to nominate Uncle Ben for the job.

According to the reports, Sen. Obama is also re-evaluating his relationship with Tony Rezko, even as the evidence mounts that he is much more beholden to Rezko than he's let on. Apparently the total haul that Rezko provided to Obama is about $250,000, enough to pay Eliott Spitzer's personal services tab for at least a week.

It will be interesting if these two issues will blow over in the next few weeks or not. Those of us who noted that Obama came up in Chicago sensed that he would have a few stories he'd have a hard time explaining once scrutiny finally arrived. As Obama casually tosses longtime friends and associates overboard, he is starting to be revealed as less a transformational figure than a conventional politician. There's no particular shame in that. It also means that Obama has finally lost control of the narrative he has controlled throughout the primary season. He still has an excellent chance of winning the nomination. But now he will be judged on the merits, not on the narrative.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Guilty Pleasures Part Six - Worthwhile Canadian Initiative/Singles Band Edition

I'm sure someone has written a definitive treatise on Canadian rock and roll figures, but it won't be me. I do know this -- Canada has produced more than its share of very good acts, including major figures like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and The Band. Besides these luminaries, there were others, most notably Rush.

But in some respects, the quintessential Canadian band was The Guess Who, who came out of Winnipeg in the early 1960s and first hit it big in the U.S. with "Shakin' All Over" in 1965. While the lineup changed over the years, the key players were keyboardist Burton Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachmann, who were both exceptional musicians. It would be another four years before they hit the charts again with "These Eyes" in 1969, but after that they were a regular presence on the U.S. charts for the next five years. It's easy to forget how big an act they actually were and how many hits they had, but when you start to list them, you realize two things: they were very good and astonishingly consistent. Most casual rock fans know probably a dozen songs well -- "Undun," "No Sugar Tonight," "American Woman," "Laughing," "Hand Me Down World" and even their slightly sad swan song on the U.S. charts, "Clap For the Wolfman," a tribute the famous d.j. Wolfman Jack. If you turn on any classic rock station in America and listen for three hours, there's a better than even money chance you'll hear a Guess Who song. Other than maybe Three Dog Night or Creedence Clearwater Revival, I can't think of another band that was as successful during that era. Like most of the Canadian rock stars, these guys weren't especially fashion conscious, but they sure could play.

About the time the Guess Who started to fade from the scene, our second contestant emerged from the British Midlands. The Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) formed when Roy Wood of The Move joined forces with Jeff Lynne, who had been at the helm of another Birmingham band known as The Idle Race. Wood and Lynne had been heavily influenced by late-period Beatles music and were especially interested in adding orchestral elements to rock structures. It took a while for the project to mesh, but once it did ELO became a constant factor on the radio in the 1970s. Although ELO albums were filled with orchestral flourishes and concept album touches galore, they were, like The Guess Who, a singles band, consistently capable of coming up with 3-4 minutes of something interesting, beautiful and/or hook-filled. They hit the Top Twenty on the U.S. charts 15 times in their career, although interestingly they never got to #1. The band has been operating off and on ever since its founding, but their moment really was the 1970s. Jeff Lynne has also had significant success as a producer for other acts and was the secret weapon behind the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys.

So let's play. Here are your choices:

First, from late 1973, "Star Baby" from The Guess Who, as nominated by the intrepid Daria of Boots On fame.


From 1976, a favorite slow song at innumerable desultory high school dances that I attended, "Telephone Line" from ELO.

Cast your votes. Next up -- Moments of Pure Genius.

Two very quick things about politics

While I've been conducting a musical interlude this week, politics continue. Two things worth noting:

  • Mike Ciresi dropped out, which means that Al Franken is probably going to get his shot to run against Norm. I don't have any particular view on Franken that hasn't been expressed elsewhere. What I do know is some things about the guy who was at the center of the scandal surrounding the birth of the Air America network that has been Franken's primary perch. The guy who was responsible for a lot of the shady dealings early on was a fellow by the name of Evan Montvel-Cohen, generally referred to as Evan M. Cohen in most accounts. As it happens, Mrs. D and I were at Beloit College at the same time Mr. Montvel-Cohen was a student there. I'm going to write more about this in the coming weeks; put it this way, nothing that EMC did in his Air America days surprises me, or anyone else who attended Beloit in that era.
  • A lot has been written about the Override Six in recent weeks. I've written about the issue a number of times myself. But as usual, no one does a better job of explaining the underlying issues than Craig "Captain Fishticks" Westover. Go read this and learn something.

Overnight Sensation

While no one will ever confuse blogging with show business, the element of performance is part of both. Anyone who sticks with blogging for more than a few posts thinks about the audience the blog reaches. Mr. Dilettante is a fairly modest outpost – I have been able to develop an audience but no one is going to confuse me for someone like Mitch Berg, who gets 10 times the amount of visitors that I do each day.

If you happen to be an aspiring blogger and want to improve your numbers, I have a tip for you. Write something about Eric Carmen. As part of my "Guilty Pleasures" series, I briefly discussed the career of Carmen and his 1970s band The Raspberries. Apparently an Eric Carmen fan chanced upon my post and put up a link on yesterday. Once that happened, my numbers took a huge spike and I received almost 150 visitors from the site yesterday, which essentially tripled my usual number of visitors. The visitors from the site were quite respectful; it appears that only one left a comment on my blog, which helpfully disabused me of a few notions about the relative merits of Mr. Carmen and his solo career, which I had termed "irritating." I also note that apparently the Raspberries are back in operation. That's good to hear – they were a lot of fun and were one of the better bands in what was an otherwise a pretty spotty era in rock history.

The few disparaging comments about my blog were left back at Eric, and they too were generally quite respectful. At least one Carmen acolyte was displeased that I had matched the Raspberries against the Bangles, and another looked askance at the comparisons that some of my other commenters had made about Carmen's appearance back in the early 70s, especially the one from SA comparing Carmen to Jaclyn Smith. No one seems to have objected to Rich's comparison of the Raspberries to a bunch of Century 21 realtors, though. Guess the housing market is even worse than I thought. Someone even noted my connection to my beloved alma mater, Beloit College.

Thanks to those who visited me; I appreciate your patronage. And a thank you to Eric Carmen for allowing me to borrow some of his audience, if only for a day or two.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Guilty Pleasures Part Five - Eternal Verge Edition

What makes someone a star? Talent? Charisma? Or is it something more ineffable? One of the eternal mysteries is why some exceptionally talented people don't ever quite make it big. As we've been going through this series, we've identified a number of really good bands that never quite made it. The Anonymous Truck Driver put his finger on probably the best example by naming Big Star, who came out of Memphis in the 1970s and were either 10 years ahead of their time or 10 years behind. They had a tremendous frontman in Alex Chilton, who briefly tasted fame with the Box Tops in the late 60s, but they were never able to get much attention during their time together. They were so much better than the competition - just compare anything they performed with something like "Billy Don't Be a Hero" or "The Night Chicago Died" and the injustice of it seems almost cosmic in scope.

But as unjust as Big Star's fate was, sometimes I think it would have been worse to be in the position of the two bands I'm featuring today. They are very different bands who emerged in the early 1970s who played in very different styles. But they had some things in common -- amazing musicianship, strong songwriting and a great reputation among other musicians. Oh, and some very interesting album cover art. But neither band quite made it to stardom, at least in America.

Few bands had the talent of Roxy Music, which emerged in Great Britain during the height of the glam movement of the early 1970s. They had a charismatic frontman in Bryan Ferry, a hot guitarist in Phil Manzanera and at least initially were the place where Brian Eno plied his trade. Later on they added talented bassist John Wetton and violin virtuouso Eddie Jobson. In Europe, they were huge. In America, not so much. Ferry ran a concurrent, successful solo career and when he wasn't making music dated some of the most beautiful women in Europe, including model Amanda Lear and Jerry Hall, who later dated Mick Jagger for many years. Despite a remarkably consistent body of work and critical acclaim, it really didn't happen in America.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, a former member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention was looking for a new gig as the 60s came to a close. Guitarist Lowell George met keyboardist Bill Payne when Payne auditioned for Zappa. They formed a friendship and soon thereafter a band, Little Feat. George had wide-ranging tastes and the ability to play in a variety of styles, including country, blues, r&b and funk. The inventive Payne was able to play it any way you wanted. After adding a powerful rhythm section, Little Feat released two albums to critical acclaim and minimal sales. In 1973 they briefly broke up, but then reformed and added a second superb guitarist and vocalist in Paul Barrere. This was the lineup that should have made Little Feat stars. They released a number of superb albums during the period and gained a reputation as one of the most fearsomely talented live acts in rock and roll. Time and again Little Feat would open for a better known band and would blow them off the stage. But for reasons that remain mysterious, they never could get over. George eventually died in 1979 and the band was never really the same, although the band continues to this day in a variety of inferior configurations.

So who do you pick? Well, let's find out.

First, we have Roxy Music with "Out of the Blue" from their 1974 album Country Life, featuring a virtuoso bass performance from Wetton, some amazing playing from Jobson on a crystal violin and reed man Andy Mackay wailing away on an oboe, of all things. The cover from the Country Life album appears at the start of the video -- let's just say it's PG-13.

Or, you might prefer Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken," featured in a 1977 appearance on the Midnight Special, featuring two guest backup singers you may have heard of.

The polls are now open. Next time -- what's wrong with being a singles band, featuring a recomendation from our friend Daria of Boots On fame.

Happy Birthday, Mills!

As you grow up, you make friends. If you're lucky, you have good friends, people who care about you and who are there for you during the good times and the bad. If you're really lucky, you have a friend like my great friend, Mark Miller.

Mills and I grew up together in Appleton, Wisconsin, mostly in the 1970s. It was a good place to grow up and probably as good a time as any. There was a lot of weirdness in the air during that time, but not in Appleton, which remained almost blissfully removed from the churning larger world. We grew up in a town filled with tidy houses and general prosperity. The major industry in town is papermaking, which is about as recession-proof an industry as one could imagine. Most Appletonians lived quite comfortably. While there was a pocket of poverty on the outskirts in the mysterious place known as Koehnke's Woods, if you grew up in Appleton chances were good that you had a nice house, an intact family and enough money for candy when you were little and gas to cruise College Avenue when you got older.

Mills and I were largely inseparable during our childhoods. We were prime devotees of faux sports all year long -- Wiffle ball in the spring and summer, Nerf football in the fall and Nerf basketball in the winter. We would play ball all day long and keep track of our home run statistics; most years Mills would end up with about 400 homers and I would usually have a few less. Once fall arrived, we would return to the open field in the park across the street from my house and re-enact the highlight packages we'd seen during halftime of the game. Since the highlights we saw were often of games on the West Coast, we would be John Brodie and Ted Kwalick (pictured here), or perhaps Daryle Lamonica and Fred Biletnikoff, or maybe John Hadl and Harold Jackson. In those days, the Packers weren't really capable of highlights, of course; it was hard to get too excited about Jon Staggers and Jim Del Gaizo. As we played, we'd be humming the soaring orchestral strains that accompanied NFL Films, straining to get our pre-pubescent voices to sound like John Facenda. And during the winter, we'd retire to Mills' basement, where his father had set up a full-court Nerf basketball court. We would play for hours, pretending to be Doctor J or Rick Barry or Bobby Dandridge or Hank Finkel or McCoy McLemore. Okay, we didn't really pretend to be Hank Finkel or McCoy McLemore.

It's easy to remember those days and smile about them. We had a lot of fun. But it wasn't just playing. As we played, we would talk and think and dream about the wider world beyond our little town. And even in playing faux sports, or walking around town, or cruising up and down College Avenue with the rest of the kids later on, we started to understand the larger world and our place in it. Today, over 30 years on, it's clear that a lot of my understanding of the world comes from the time I spent with my great friend Mark Miller. Today is his birthday. Happy birthday, good sir. Thank you for the great gift you have given me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know. . . .

. . . which way Lori Sturdevant blows. The Star Tribune editorial writer, columnist and DFL weathervane simply can't understand why those nasty Republicans would reject the leaders who sold them out over the transportation bill. She turns her benevolent gaze toward the misunderstood solons of District 41, Ron Erhardt and Neil Peterson, in her Tuesday column. Well, maybe I can help her understand.

Sturdevant begins her description of Antietam, also known as Edina's South View Middle School, as follows:

One vote was the elephant in the theater full of District 41 GOP elephants Saturday at Edina's South View Middle School. It was the vote cast Feb. 25 by Republican Reps. Ron Erhardt of 41A and Neil Peterson of 41B to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto, and put a tax-increasing transportation bill into law.

Tax-increasing? One has to enjoy Sturdevant's gift for understatement. Yeah, $6.6 billion is tax-increasing.

The punishment meted out to the two wayward representatives was stern. Endorsement for the fall election was not only denied them; it was bestowed with ease on their opponents, Keith Downey in 41A, Jan Schneider in 41B.

True. Downey and Schneider won easily, which should surprise no one. People who pass $6.6 billion tax increases typically aren't popular within the GOP. Or elsewhere for that matter.

Both endorsees took pains to say that their critique of the veteran lawmakers went beyond a single vote.

Again, true. But now watch how the adjectives start to shift.

But Schneider's abrupt emergence as Peterson's opponent in late February spoke louder -- as did a scourging seconding speech for Schneider by Marlene Overpeck, who said she "felt betrayed" by Peterson's vote. "I expect the Democrats to act irresponsibly, not our own representative," Overpeck said.

So Schneider's entry was "abrupt." Perhaps it was. So was the imposition of a $6.6 billion tax increase. And the seconding speech was "scourging." Heavens, we can't have that. Ms. Overpeck should understand that emotion is not allowed at the BPOU.

Downey has been running hard since last summer -- even taking a leave of absence as manager of a business consulting firm, the better to campaign. One look at the proliferation of his campaign's red ballcaps and T-shirts where 41A delegates were seated said it all. He didn't need heavy rhetorical artillery to wrest endorsement from Erhardt -- though he wasn't above some not-so-subtle references to age.

Age? Really? We can all safely assume that the Democrats will not say a word about Senator McCain's age in the upcoming campaign then, since mentioning it would be out of bounds.

"The stark choice we have today is, we can focus on the past or the future," said Downey, who is several decades Erhardt's junior. "We can embrace a DFL-lite agenda, or a Republican agenda."

Downey put the choice pretty clearly. Correctly, too.

Applying "DFL-lite" to Erhardt and his late wife Jackie would have been a local laugh line not long ago.

Since February 25, it hasn't been a laugh line at all. It's been fact. And Ms. Sturdevant can rest assured that none of us have been laughing.

A financial planner, Erhardt has been among the party's most prolific fundraisers and reliable foot soldiers for more than 30 years. He's run for the Legislature with party endorsement nine times, and has never won his seat with less than 56 percent of the vote. In 2006, he was the second-best Republican vote-getter in his district, behind only U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad.

The role of a financial planner is to help his clients keep and grow as much of their wealth as possible. Apparently Erhardt has a little trouble with the concept. As for his vote getting ability in 2006, it was probably pretty good. At that time he hadn't voted for a $6.6 billion tax increase.

That point begs a longer look: In 2006, DFL U.S. Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar took District 41 with more than 56 percent of the vote. Pawlenty won there too, but his percent of the vote barely cracked 50 percent.

Klobuchar ran an outstanding campaign, no doubt about it. But this is 2008. It would be interesting to find out whether Erhardt is still more popular than Pawlenty in his district now. That's a question Sturdevant would prefer not to beg.

And in 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry carried District 41A with 51 percent. Rumor had it that there were rumblings under old Edina gravestones for days thereafter.

You'd think that those votes -- and not just the one on the transportation bill -- would have been on District 41 minds Saturday. It doesn't seem to be a propitious time for Republicans to be in purge mode.

Sturdevant is a political junkie and she thinks in these terms. That's her prerogative. The thing to remember is this: while Downey was actively campaigning for the endorsement, it was quite likely that Erhardt would have won endorsement if he hadn't decided to override the veto. Once he betrayed his supporters, Downey's already-active campaign gained all the traction it needed.

Peterson tried to remind the convention of events on the larger political stage.

And failed.

"This district is trending blue," he said. Republicans aren't automatic winners anymore. A Republican has to be able to attract independent and even DFL votes to prevail. "I've done that before, and I can do it again," Peterson said.

Not without the support of your party, Mr. Peterson.

Those words were for naught, as was Erhardt's assurance, "I fit the district." He clearly didn't fit the convention.

The message here: these citizens couldn't possibly be representative of the GOP or of the district. Never mind that in 41, as was the case throughout the state, thousands of people participated in the caucuses and BPOUs for the first time. You might think that a political columnist would welcome the new faces and voices to the process. The Obama campaign is always celebrated for its ability to attract newcomers. Apparently 41 is different.

The legislators' defense of their transportation votes -- that they were needed to solve a problem that is as keenly felt in Edina and Bloomington as anywhere in the state -- also fell flat. Delegates were unpersuaded by reminders that the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Partnership -- both important GOP allies -- supported the transportation bill.

Never mind that the transportation issues have been building for the past 30 years. Never mind that there were other proposals on offer to deal with the problems. The only solution in Sturdevant's world was a $6.6 billion tax hike. Our friends on the Left often instruct us about "false choices." This would be one. As for the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Partnership, well, let Sturdevant tell the story.

Maybe that's because delegates could see for themselves how far the business community's support went. Former state Chamber governing board president Scott Thiss placed Downey's name into nomination for endorsement. Business Partnership lobbyist Jill Larson sported a Downey sticker. "I'm here as an individual," she said by way of explanation.

Just a guess - the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Partnership have probably received a little feedback about their support for the bill, too. They know which way the wind blows, too.

And a House staffer whispered to reporters that Erhardt expected a letter of support from Chamber president David Olson. No letter arrived. ("We had members on both sides of that one," Olson explained. He spoke at the GOP District 48B convention on behalf of another override-backer, Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka. Abeler, too, was denied endorsement, but wasn't dumped in favor of an upstart.)

Do you hear that sound? Listen carefully. It's a tiny violin playing a plaintive melody for Erhardt. As for Abeler, Sturdevant doesn't mention that he had no opposition at his BPOU and still couldn't get an endorsement.

About half of the delegates at South View Saturday indicated that they were newcomers to convention politics. Then they likely don't know what a hard-fought primary battle -- or a November bid by a formidable independent -- can do to a party's prospects.

Just a guess. They did know. Sturdevant assumes that Erhardt and Peterson will definitely go forward and run. Perhaps they will, but without the support of the party and the party loyalists, they are doomed. And if 41 is trending as blue as Sturdevant asserts, they were doomed anyway.

If they knew, maybe they would not have looked so pleased with themselves at the convention's end.

Sometimes doing the right thing is reward enough.

Cross-posted at True North. Stop by and get your news!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Guilty Pleasures Part Four - The Curse of Being "Beatlesque"

UPDATE: Welcome to visitors from; appreciate you stopping by.

When you consider popular music for the last 40-50 years, it would be difficult to find an act that is more universally loved and understood than the Beatles. My daughter was born fully 30 years after the Beatles completed their last recordings, but she knows their music. No other band has been able to match the combination of melodicism, intelligence and 50,000 watt personality that the Fab Four gave the world. There was something magic about them and about their moment, which became all too clear as the four went on to solo careers that rarely matched the excitement that the boys managed together.

Because the Beatles were so good, and so influential, many acts that have exhibited some of the hallmarks of the Beatles sound have suffered for the comparison. One band that had the tag was Badfinger, which signed with Apple Records, had a number of hit singles, but despite notable success never approached the fame of their patrons and later suffered a series of misfortunes, including the suicide of two members.

Another band that got tagged Beatlesque is one of our contestants today, the Raspberries, who came cruising out of Ohio in 1970 with matching suits, tight harmonies and sprightly guitar. They had a charismatic frontman in Eric Carmen and managed to get a number of hits in the mid 70s. But they never quite hit it big, either. Carmen later went on to have a highly successful (and irritating) solo career as an overwrought balladeer. But back in the day, the Raspberries were awfully good.

Ten years later, an all-girl band emerged from the "Paisley Underground" scene in Los Angeles and also got the Beatlesque tag. This would be our other contestant, the Bangles. The Bangles had a lot going for them - they were attractive, they could play and they could sing tight harmonies that reminded many of the Fab Four. But they were a lot like the Raspberries in one crucial way -- maddeningly inconsistent. When I listen to the Bangles today, some of their stuff is flat-out brilliant, but they are probably best remembered for their hit single "Manic Monday," which is a trifle.

Neither of these bands were ever close to being the Beatles, but for a few fleeting moments, there was some magic in their performances. Which brings us to tonight's contest.

In this corner,

"Go All the Way," by the Raspberries from a late 1973 appearance on the "Mike Douglas Show."

And in this corner,

"Hero Takes a Fall" by the Bangles from late 1984; you'll have to ignore the clowns who introduce the video.

Give us your winner and, if you feel like it, tell us who has better hair - Eric Carmen or Bangles frontwoman Susannah Hoffs. The ballot box is open.

Family Blogging

I was going to relax my usual strictures against engaging in schadenfreude and stick a few pins in Eliot Spitzer, but my brother already has it covered over at Stinger Nation. His synopsis says pretty much everything I planned to say and he's also included a link to an excellent blog post from the lifestyle reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which is worth your time as well.

Then there's my son Ben. He's decided to get into the polling business as well. If you are so inclined, give his blog a look and vote on who you think will be the new Packer quarterback.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Guilty Pleasures Part Three - B-List Southern Rock Edition

Southern Rock is a very large canvas indeed. Some of the very best American bands came from south of the Mason Dixon line, with the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd being the most prominent. But there were others: in fact, there were a lot of other very good bands that came around in the late 60s and early 7os. If you want a good survey, all you need to do is take a listen to "The South's Gonna Do It" by the Charlie Daniels Band, who calls out the roster in much the same way Arthur Conley's "Sweet Soul Music" did it a decade or so earlier:

Well the train to Grinder Switch is runnin' right on time

And the Tucker boys are cookin' down in Caroline

People down in Florida can't be still

When old Lynyrd Skynyrd's pickin' down in Jacksonville

People down in Georgia come from near and far

To hear Richard Betts pickin' on that red guitar

CHORUS:So gather round, gather round children

Get down, well just get down children

Get loud, well you can be loud here and be proud

And you can be proud here

Now be proud to be a rebel 'cause the south's gonna do it again and again

Elvin Bishop's sittin' on a bale of hay

He ain't good lookin' but he sure can play

And there's ZZ Top and you can't forget

That old brother Willie's gettin' soakin' wet

And all the good people down in Tennessee

Are diggin' barefoot Jerry and the CDB

As good a list as that is, there were more. You also had the Bellamy Brothers and Blackfoot. And you had the contestants for today's showdown.

First, in this corner, jamming for nearly 8 minutes in true Southern rock style, we have:

And in this corner

"Bounty Hunter" by Molly Hatchet

Thanks to the ever-resourceful Strolling Amok (a former North Carolina resident) for this suggestion.

Cleanup on Aisle 41

After the dust has settled, it now appears that four of the six GOP representatives who decided to side with the DFL and implement the gigantic $6.6 billion dollar tax increase over Governor Pawlenty's veto will have to pursue re-election without the endorsement of their party. Two of the luminaries who made the decision to undercut their governor and party are from SD41, Ron Erhardt in 41A and Neil Peterson in 41B. Both were defeated soundly at their BPOU on Saturday, with Erhardt losing big to Keith Downey, and Peterson losing the endorsement to Jan Schneider.

The news was too fresh for the local media have much more than news coverage in today's editions, but clearly the tone is that the unthinking mossbacks are in charge of the GOP. In the St. Paul Pioneer Press, reporters Bill Salisbury and Dennis Lien tell their readers that "Conservative Republicans detest tax increases. That's the main reason party activists disciplined the three wayward lawmakers."

Conservative Repubicans do detest tax increases, so I suppose that's true, as far as it goes. The problem is that sort of surface-level analysis doesn't go very far at all. One thing has been quite clear in 2008. The BPOUs have been getting much larger participation in this cycle than they typically do, and terming those attending these events as "party activists" is misleading at best. There is clearly enormous interest in this election cycle and many of the people who have been attending the caucuses and BPOUs are newcomers to the process. I would argue that those attending these BPOUs are far more representative of the voters in a district than they have been in the past. Party activists and party regulars are a pretty small subset of the overall population, but it's not really plausible to argue that a cabal of party hacks are controlling things. First-time delegates and newcomers to the process cannot be party hacks.

Erhardt scoffed at the verdict delivered by his BPOU, telling Laurie Blake of the Star Tribune "I can't let 123 people decide my fate. They don't represent the district." What Erhardt doesn't mention is that he took endorsements in his district in the past from much smaller delegations. Whether Erhardt chooses to acknoweldge it or not, those 123 people do represent the Republican Party in his district. And without support from the party, he will not win re-election. The DFL is not going to thank him for his vote and not field an opponent. Erhardt will still have to explain why his election is preferable to electing a full-fledged DFLer. Voters have consistently demonstrated that when a liberal Republican runs against a DFLer, there's not much reason to prefer the liberal Republican. Erhardt may want to believe that his political enemies within the party are simply persecuting him for his Profile in Courage moment. As Erhardt campaigns for the primaries, he may quickly get disabused of this notion. He may have thought that the Chamber of Commerce would provide political cover for him, but he's alone now.

Cross-posted at True North

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Guilty Pleasures Part Two - 70s Fashion Risk Edition, African-American Division

Okay, here's another poll. While I had originally planned on doing a "University Marxist" poll this time, there's just too much weird and wonderful stuff out there to do two Britpop ones in a row. We'll reschedule that one for a little later. This time, let's go back to the 1970s.

When I was a kid growing up in Appleton, Wisconsin, what was then referred to as "urban music" didn't gain much purchase on the local radio. Some of it hit the Top 40 stations, but you were much more likely to hear the Bay City Rollers or perhaps Pure Prairie League on the air where I grew up. Top 40 in Appleton in those days might be more accurately termed "Top 22 3/4" or something like that. Sometimes at night you could pick up WOKY in Milwaukee and you might get a fuller picture of the 70s music scene, but that took more effort than most of us were willing to undertake. The thing I understand now is that the 70s were weird and wonderful and there was a lot of really good music that I never had a chance to hear growing up. Probably the best example of that was the amalgam of bands that George Clinton ran in the 1970s, variously as Parliament, Funkadelic, Parlet, the Brides of Funkenstein, etc., etc., etc. I never heard any of it until I went off to college and even then it was barely on my radar screen. A lot of it is really cool stuff.

Still, it was the 70s, and that meant that the brilliance was heavily slathered with weirdness. And while the music stands up quite nicely 30+ years on, some of the fashions that folks sported back in the day are hilarious. So for today's contest I am offering three choices for your perusal, each somewhat weirder than the next.

The first is one of my all-time favorite tunes, the boogie down epic from the Spinners, making a return from the oblivion of the Obama soundtrack:

Next up, from roughly the same era, a classic bit of foolishness from the Ohio Players, featuring the always-strange "Sugar" Bonner. Also note the mid 70s dance crew that appears mid-song:

Finally, from a 1978 concert in Houston, Texas, George Clinton and crew in all their perverse glory:

Although it's the same era, we're a long ways removed from the Starland Vocal Band. Place your votes!

My daughter wants to know what you think

My daughter Maria is 8 years old and she's a pistol. Since she has noticed that her dad is having contests, she decided to have one as well. She has requested that I ask everyone to visit her blog and answer her question. It won't take long, really. And she's pretty funny, too. Check it out!

But they've captured the crucial Lori Sturdevant vote

It hasn't been going well for the consciences of the Minnesota House. Over at True North Chief reports that the twin consciences of SD41, Neil Petersen and Ron Erhardt, both lost their endorsements at the BPOU. I'd shed a tear about that, but I'm certain that Lori Sturdevant will do it on my behalf so I won't bother. It also appears that Jim (En)Abeler might lose his endorsement is SD48. Without support from the party, all of these solons will be hard pressed to retain their seats. If it's any consolation, they won't be the only ones.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Guilty Pleasures - A Mr. Dilettante/K-Tel Joint Venture

Our old pal Gino has been running a version of "Battle of the Bands" on his blog, getting his vast North American audience to vote on the relative merits of bands (sample battles have included Scorpions vs. Gorky Park and the B52s vs. Devo - he's now taking votes on Flogging Mollys vs. the Dropkick Murphys here - go vote).

Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I'm just going to steal his idea and give a just a little twist. We got some excellent suggestions for the Barack Obama soundtrack thread that I posted earlier. So I want to do two things here.

First, I want your votes on who you prefer between two 80s Britpop dance numbers. Then, I want your suggestions for other "guilty pleasure" songs that we might put up for debate right here, on the big stage. By "guilty pleasures" I mean songs that might have been (or still be) considered uncool, but that are actually pretty good. If it has a cheesy (or vintage) video to go with it, even better. It's a wide canvas and of course there's a lot of room for debate on the topic. By way of illustration, I'll give you my eternal example of a "guilty pleasure" band.

The Sweet. If you're old enough, you'll remember these guys, a British pop band that had some rock power and wrote dumb but enjoyable songs that were hits throughout the 70s. They were responsible for such dubious but fun ditties as "Little Willy," "Fox On the Run" and, quintessentially, "Ballroom Blitz." Thirty years on, these guys are still dumb fun.

So here are the first contestants:

ABC: "Poison Arrow"


Scritti Politti: "Perfect Way"

And remember, this is a Chicago-style election. Vote early, vote often. Next contest will feature "University Marxist" bands.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

There's Something About Lori. . .

I know, I know, I know. Conservatives want to have the most conservative candidate possible, one who hits all our positions perfectly and makes the right decision 100% of the time. It would be a wonderful thing if we could get someone like that to run for every office.

There have been a lot of comments on this blog and at our friends at Boots On (which should be part of your regular blog reading rotation, 'kay?) about whether or not 50B nominee Lori Grivna is conservative enough. I've had a couple of posters in the last week who have cast a few aspersions about Lori and her upcoming campaign against Kate Knuth. I want to say something about that.

I met Lori for the first time last week and I have no hesitation about supporting her candidacy and I think that all voters in 50B should join me in supporting her. Lori has done a lot of thinking about what she wants to accomplish in this campaign and how she intends to defeat Knuth. While I understand the misgivings that some of the posters have shared, I don't think these misgivings have a lot of merit. A lot has changed since the fall of 2006 and Kate Knuth and her pals in the DFL caucus have been doing enormous damage. A lot of conservatives sat at home in 2006 and the result was the loss of this seat to a callow young woman who lacks even the most rudimentary understanding of economics. Our friends in 53A let Phil Krinkie twist in the wind and he was replaced by a DFL hack. If Lori Grivna and Phil Krinkie were in the legislature today, Pawlenty's veto would have stood. That's the reality we must face. Lori Grivna deserves support. I would hope that my readers understand that. If that isn't clear to everyone, I have work to do.