Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap discuss whether President Obama is a racist, and whether not liking the president makes you a racist.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The amazing Ringo Starr

The release two weeks ago of The Beatles version of Rock Band and the remastered versions of their 12 album catalogue in mono and stereo has, once again, reinvigorated interest in the greatest band that has ever walked the face of the Earth. Of course, few people, if any, question the unsurpassed legacy of The Beatles' multiple gifts to popular music -- the songs (real quick: has any band ever produced as many memorable lyrics to accompany the mind-blowing sophistication of their music? Some bands or artists produce great lyrics and modest music; some produce great music with lyrics that say little. The Beatles did both), the arrangements, the production values, the creativity, the stunning growth from album to album and the absolutely perfect chemistry between John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. And time has cemented among the civilian population what musicians have known for 40 years -- that Paul McCartney is easily the most influential bassist in the history of popular music, and that George Harrison deserves his place among the most important guitarists of the founding generation of modern rock music. John Lennon is justifiably never really discussed as an instrumentalist of any real import, since his major contributions came as a songwriter, singer par excellence and visionary. As a rhythm guitarist, though, Lennon is much better than people are willing to give him credit for.

So that, of course, leaves Ringo, who couldn't really write music or sing very well. For many years, I would hear know-nothings suggest that Ringo's vocal take on "With A Little Help From My Friends" was his best because he was singing from the heart -- here was this average drummer fortunate to ride the wave of his much more distinguished colleagues. Good 'ole Ringo, just tapping out those simple beats while Lennon, McCartney and Harrison weaved their magic spell.

If only this were true.

Let me be real clear about this: Ringo Starr is among the greatest drummers to ever sit behind a drum kit, regardless of genre.


What makes Ringo just so damn incredible is that was, above all, a musician first and a drummer second. The Beatles were a band that wrote and produced songs. They were not a shredders collective in which the musicians competed to see who could play the fastest, longest and most meaningless solos. No Beatle ever produced a recorded solo of more than 16 bars. In fact, the most commonly quoted George Harrison solos were eight bars over the bridge. There wasn't room for much more in songs that rarely exceeded three minutes and only three times exceeded four minutes ("A Day in the Life," "Hey Jude" and "I Want You [She's So Heavy]"). But in every single case Ringo created the perfect pattern for the song, and, most importantly, never overplayed just to show off. Compare, for example, the Dave Matthews Band -- a true song band and a great one -- with The Beatles. A DMB song just starts to get going by the time that "She Loves You," (2.15 minutes) "Day Tripper," (2.58 minutes)"Fixing a Hole," (3.16 minutes) or "Let It Be (3.50 minutes) are all done. So, sure, a drummer like Carter Beauford -- whose playing gives me a headache and gets in the way of some really great songs that would benefit from a chance to breathe -- gets a chance to show you everything he has in just about every song. But I wonder how Carter would fare if were asked to come up with the drum pattern in "In My Life." I don't think he could top Ringo. And I bet if you asked Carter, he would agree that you just leave Ringo's stuff alone.

Just the other day I had to explain to a pretty good 15 year-old drummer why Ringo is so great. (Proud parent moment: I have never had to explain this to my son, a good drummer, who gets it, and one of his best friends, an exceptionally good drummer, Ringo's greatness). Indeed, as I drove them to and from the DMB concert this summer in Hershey, we spent a great deal of time listening to different Beatles recordings at their request. And they weren't just listening, but explaining why such-and-such a song was so amazing (neither can get over Ringo's playing on "Strawberry Fields Forever).

To the point: here is what I told the young drummer who "doesn't get" Ringo.

1. Ringo was the drummer for The Beatles. The two greatest pop/rock songwriters ever, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, could have picked anyone on the local music scene to play their songs. They picked Ringo, who was the most sought-after drummer in Liverpool and even points beyond.
2. Ringo was the first pure rock drummer to appear on the world stage. Most drummers that played on pop, rock, rockabilly tunes before Ringo were trained in jazz, big-band and other kinds of traditional music. Ringo was the first real drummer to hit clean and hard, use a matched grip and really push a band. He also brought the "rim shot" into rock drumming so you could hear the snare drum above the amplified instruments. Remember, Ringo's drums were not miked in the early days of The Beatles' live performances.
3. Ringo was the first rock drummer to play a "swishy" hi-hat. Drummer before Ringo played the hi-hat tight. Ringo opened it halfway and filled up the sound. Listen to "She Loves You" and you'll get the point.
4. Ringo had perfect time while keeping a loose feel. Listen to "A Hard Day's Night," "Rain," "Drive My Car." "Tomorrow Never Knows," and "Fixing a Hole" just for starters. And he had an unmatched knack for choosing the right tempo. Remember, too, that these were long before anyone knew what a click track or loop was.
5. Imagine what "A Day in the Life," would sound like with any other drummer. You can't. No one can play like that. I can play Steve Gadd's solo in "Aja" note for note. I can play "Tom Sawyer" by Rush (and Neil Peart) note-for-note. I cannot play "A Day in the Life."

6. Ringo was the first drummer to close-mike the bass drum. Listen to how the bass (kick) drum sounded before "Sgt. Peppers." Listen to it on the that recording and on most rock recordings after "Sgt. Peppers." The standard boom-snare-boom-boom-snare" definition you hear? All Ringo -- his idea. He also "standardized" much of the muffling and tuning techniques that are now the norm in rock drumming.
7. Ringo picked perfect patterns for every song. He never overplayed or felt the need to show off. Moreover, his dynamics -- his understanding of when to play loudly or softly or not play at all -- was peerless. Take all the instruments away and you would still know it was Ringo.
8. The backwards roll with that hi-hat "clatch." Drummers will know what I'm talking about.
9. The drum solo on "The End," one of the few quotable rock drum solos ever.
10. Finally, and most important, you know who Ringo is after the first bar -- not first few bars, even. There are dozens and dozens of rock drummers (and jazz drummers) with amazing technical proficiency but no stamp of individuality.

Sure, Ringo benefited from a little help from his distinguished friends. But he gave them as much as help as he got, and, in some cases, a bit more.

Nobody plays like Ringo, and no one ever will.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Live Zeebop this week

Live Zeebop this week (and next)

Thursday, September 24th, Gaffney's, 7141 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda. Two sets from 9-11.30 p.m. Free parking to the side and rear of the venue. Gaffney's is also three blocks south of the Bethesda Metro Station.

Friday, September 25th, Clare and Dons (with the Pablo Grabiel Quartet), 130 Washington St., Falls Church, Va. Three sets from 7-10 p.m. Free parking. Weather permitting, we play outside.

Saturday, October 3rd, Maggianos, 5330 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. Three sets from 7-10.30 p.m. Across the street from the Friendship Heights Metro Station.

Thanks for your support. And don't forget to pick up a copy of our new CD, "Twisted Standards," available at all shows and now through CD Baby.

Zeebop is represented by Grabielismo Productions.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jimmy Carter is (mostly) right

Of all the things in the modern world that irritate kooky conservatives, nothing -- not science, not Europeans in socks and sandals, not the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, not the Canadian national anthem sung at NHL games and not even sex -- gets their sensible shoes shaking more than Jimmy Carter. To this day, I don't know if was his decision to return the Panama Canal Zone to Panama as part of the Panama Canal Treaties, the Camp David Accords, which established peace between Egypt and Israel and at least tried to create a framework for Middle East peace, forged the SALT II treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union, making good on his problem to create a separate Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services, failing to rescue the American hostages held in Iran for the last fifteen months of his presidency, his interview with Playboy magazine in which he confessed to "lust in his heart," rather than lust in a bus or airport restroom, bailing out Chrysler or . . . just perhaps, his refusal to schedule emerging Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell for a match on the White House tennis courts. My own take on Jimmy Carter is that he was neither among the best or the worst of American presidents. While there is much to debate about Carter's legacy, one is hard pressed to conclude that Carter was either dishonest (i.e., Richard Nixon), clueless to the point of sheer wonderment (i.e., Ronald Reagan) or dishonest and clueless (i.e., George W. Bush). And one other point I would always defend in any discussion Jimmy Carter is that he is among the brightest and most observationally astute men to hold the presidential office. Agree with him or not, when Jimmy Carter says something, whether about the Middle East, energy independence or domestic politics in the United States, he usually has a point. It just seems like most of the time Carter's comments tend to cut against the grain of the conventional wisdom peddled and, of course, embraced without skepticism by the political-media establishment in Washington.

Carter's latest faux pas? Asked for his thoughts at a town hall meeting at the Carter Center in Atlanta about the yo-yos, yokels and yahoos who marched on their hated nation's capital a week or so ago, and, in particular, their characature of President Obama as part-Nazi, part-African war lord and part-gorilla, and, separately, South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson's "You lie!" invective directed at Obama during his State of the Union speech, Carter said that "I think it's based on racism."There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president."


"No, no, no and NO," shouted back the tea-party loonies, the right-wing cable mafia who cheer them on and those ever-patriotic Birthers dedicated to proving that Barack Obama was born in a diamond mine somewhere on the coast of Africa. "We are simply expressing our 'policy differences' with our nation's 44th president, who we respect immensely," comes the standard response. "Why else would we take the time to portray him as a Nazi or flatter him by calling attention to his heritage is such a good-natured fashion?"

And these patriots do have a point, don't they? If you think about it, perhaps there is nothing at all racist about a conservative protester raising a sign that features our first African-American president's head Photoshopped into the guise of an African tribal warrior, with a reference to the old Soviet Union underneath. Perhaps these are just honest policy differences articulated by concerned Americans who were mysteriously undercounted in the November 2008 election. Perhaps these are the same concerned Americans who nodded their heads in agreement with the assessment of the Republican party's foremost intellectuals, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, who labeled Obama's first (and now confirmed) selection to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, a "racist" because of her "honest policy differences" with them on the nuances of modern constitutional jurisprudence, and not because she was a Latina who acknowledged that her life experience was relevant to her world view. And, as we all know, only minorities and women bring their "life experience" to bear on their decision-making in the judicial and political worlds. Well-to-do white, Christian men who have navigated the nation's most elite academic, professional and government institutions since they were in short pants and sailor suits, on the other hand, are scrupulously neutral in their understanding of law and politics.

Yes, yes, yes, indeed . . . there is that view, that "honest policy differences" expressed throughracist language, cartoons, photographs, broadcasts and protests are just that . . . honest policy differences. Or there is the very real possibility that a substantial number of Americans beyond the right-wing wacko fringe continue to labor in serious denial about the powerful role that race plays in our politics . . . and our culture and just about everything else that touches on American life.

Take for example a recent exercise conducted by Charles Lane, an editorial writer for the Washington Post. In a recent comment on Carter's remarks, Lane, whose name is not familiar to me and whose work I do not know or normally read, disagreed with the former president and offered the following analysis to demonstrate why the anger directed towards Obama, whether by someone like Joe Wilson or a plucked-from-the-line-at-Home Depot-American, is not fueled primarily by race.

"An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward Israel is based on the fact that it is a Jewish state. I think it's bubbled up to the surface, because of a belief among many non-Jews, not just in the United States but around the world, that Jews are despicable and a Jewish state is inherently illegitimate. I think it's based on anti-Semitism. There is an inherent feeling among many that the Jews should get out of Palestine.

Actually, I do not believe this. I’m altering former president Jimmy Carter’s own words -- substituting "Jews" and "Israel" for "blacks" or "African Americans," and "anti-Semitism" for "racism" -- to illustrate what was both true about his statement blaming white prejudice for the most intense opposition to President Obama, and what was so irresponsibly wrong about it."

First, I think Lane picked a terrible example. As an American Jew who is about as dovish as one can be on the Israeli-Palestinian question, I am nonetheless prepared to disagree with Lane that one who rejects the legitimacy of the Jewish state is somehow not motivated by anti-Semitism. Personally, I find it hard to reach any other conclusion, just as I am prepared to agree with the sentiment that opposition to a Palestinian state and the rejection of Palestinian nationalism is motivated by something other than a deep contempt, if not outright hatred, for the Palestinian people.

Second, by drawing a straight line from the experience of African-Americans in the United States to the legitimacy of a Jewish state, Lane's example employs a conventional and very common fallacy that undermines the point he is trying to make. African-Americans and Jews share a common experience in the United States: discrimination at the hands of private and public authorities that was rooted in our nation's birth culture, albeit in very different forms. And, yes, while Jews were denied the ballot in numerous states well into the 19th century, were prohibited from buying homes in "white" (i.e., Christian) neighborhoods, were prohibited from attending many colleges or, if they were permitted to attend them, only in small numbers, were barred from employment opportunities and forced to comply with Christian religious ceremonies in public schools (and often terrorized if they did not), the American Jewish experience nonetheless pales in comparison to what African-Americans have experienced in this country since they were brought here in chains to the shores of Jamestown, Virginia in 1609. And that comparison applies not only to Jews, but to women (white, black, brown and beige), other religious minorities, Asian-Americans, Latinos and any other ethnic minority, and gays. I will make this as clear as I can: nothing, and I mean nothing, compares in indignity, tragedy, brutality and outright hostility brimming with hatred with what African-Americans have experienced in the United States. No other population in the United States was systematically enslaved and emasculated over a period of almost 350 years and then, almost overnight, expected to hop ride on the mainstream American cultural horse of work, money and consumption with nary a peep of anger and resentment. Remember, this is a nation that once viewed Martin Luther King, Jr. as a threat, so much so that our own F.B.I. spied on him, harassed him and once sent him an anonymous letter encouraging him to commit suicide.

My point: you cannot substitute words for experience, and you cannot substitute the experience of one group that has historically suffered discrimination as a group for the experience of another group that has historically suffered discrimination as a group. It is a testament to the hope that America can offer to almost anyone that we are willing to learn from our mistakes, correct them in public and then watch as the previously despised and disrespected enter the culture, work from within it, and somehow manage to get elected president of the United States. That said, the experience of African-Americans, Latino-Americans, Asian-Americans and the 20th century European immigrants of Catholic and Jewish descent in the United States is not the same. The experience of men who have encountered and suffered from discrimination is not the same as women. And, to use a more recent example, the barriers that gay men and women face in their efforts to achieve social and legal parity in the United States are unique to the discrimination they face. Substituting gay for African-American, or Jewish for gay not only fails on the basis of a non-shared experience, it poses the wrong question. And a wrong question will not yield a wrong answer; rather, it yields no answer at all.

I don't know the precise percentage of people who are pissed off at President Obama because of "honest policy differences" versus those who are still apoplectic that a black man is the president of the United States. I don't know that we'll ever have any real reliable indicator of which is which since Americans are notoriously dishonest when it comes to confessing prejudice to pollsters and other professionals who investigate this stuff for a living. Perhaps it is a product of being born when I was and growing where I did (1961; Atlanta) that I simply cannot embrace the mainstream media-driven post-election narrative that Obama's election ushered in a new post-racial, post-partisan society. Although Carter has me by several decades, I, too, grew up around people who confuse white supremacy with patriotism, understand well the verbal codes and nonverbal rituals that define their world view and had little or no contact with African-Americans except as socially compliant inferiors, and still . . . still cannot grasp that a world that was once legally tilted and politically enforced in their favor no longer exists. I do believe that most white Americans reject the manner and substance with which the tea-party wingnuts are expressing their honest policy differences with President Obama. But I also believe that many of these same people have a substantial investment in the post-racial, post-partisan fairy-tale because it gets the nation off the hook of having to continue to confront our sordid and shameful history of racial discrimination. And a problem of this magnitude will never be solved by the same minds that continue to sustain it by turning a blind eye to the racial hatred that continues to fester in our midst.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap eulogize Patrick Swayze and offer an alternative to Obama's speech to public school children two weeks ago.

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Are the Republicans the Yankees or Bad News Bears of American politics?

As Major League Baseball winds down the 2009 regular season, I find myself, an Atlanta Braves fan, nostalgic, even teary-eyed for the second term of the Bush administration.

For that was the last time the Braves made the National League playoffs.

After 14 consecutive trips from 1991-2005 to baseball's post-season by virtue of winning their division -- not once during this streak did the Braves need the wild card birth created in 1994 to advance to the playoffs -- resulting in nine NLCS appearances and five trips to the World Series, the Braves failed to advance in 2006.

And 2007. And 2008. And, now, 2009.

Look at this very carefully and what do you see? Well, one thing is rather obvious: the Atlanta Braves have a much better likelihood of making the playoffs when there is a Democratic administration in power than when Republicans control the White House. The Braves advanced to the NLCS eight consecutive times from 1991-1999, including every year the Clinton administration was in office (with the exception of 1994, when MLB came to halt after failing to workout a labor agreement; naturally, President Obama's first appointee to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, negotiated the settlement between the players and owners that put MLB back to work in 1995. The Braves continued to prosper during the first George W. Bush administration, just as they had during the last two years (1991 and 1992) of the first and only George H.W. Bush administration. But like many Americans, the Braves began to tire of W and his policies, so that by 2006 they no longer had the inspiration -- nor the pitching, hitting or fielding -- to play post-season quality baseball. So rapid has their fall from prosperity been that the Braves have not finished above .500 since 2005. But thanks to a rejuvenated pitching staff (and a division with the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals) that ranks third in the National League and is among the best in all of MLB, the Braves will finish above .500 in 2009. Once again, there is a reason among the 200 or so Braves fans still with the team to have hope for the future. And if Barack Obama is re-elected, the Braves stand an even better chance of returning to the top of the National League East, since we now understand the clear linkage between presidential election outcomes and the Braves' success.

But there could be a real problem in my analysis, based on some the political commentary I've read about Barack Obama's rapidly crumbling presidency, the convergence of millions (or 20,000, take your pick) of angry, "real" Americans on the Mall in Washington to protest the Muslim socialist jihadist policies of our first African-American president, who just happens not only to be a Muslim socialist jihadist, but a Nazi as well, the now nakedly transparent effort by the Obama administration to destroy Medicare by threatening either to (a) withhold government support for Medicare or (b) increase the government's commitment to Medicare or (c) both and his decision to "fix" -- not "repair" but "fix" as in the 1919 World Series -- the Afghanistan and Iraq wars by making it impossible for the United States to prevail, thus promoting the cause of Muslim-Nazi jihadist socialism in the Middle East and back home in places like Paducah, Kentucky and Opelaka, Alabama, where a gun-less, God-deprived people unable to pray in school will be defenseless against this coming assault. In the true spirit of one door opening as another one closes, Alabama and Kentucky produce more high-grade marijuana than any other state in the United States outside of California, so at least there is a support structure in place to help deal with the consequences of having their lives torn apart.

Indeed, according to the narrative rapidly emerging among the Deep Thinkers who hold forth on such entertainment programs as "Meet the Press," "This Week With A Former Administration Official," "Why It's Better to Be Conventionally Wrong Than Unconventionally Right," "Bland Balding White Men And How They Know So Much More Than Everybody Else," and "Serious People Don't Question Authority," and, naturally, Bill Kristol, Obama is falling faster than a pre-teen girl for a Jonas Brother or a nerdy college freshman boy for Jenna Jameson. And as Obama falls, so falls the fortunes of the Democratic party in the House and Senate, where the well-mannered and thoughtful outburst of one Joe Wilson, a Republican congressman from South Carolina, during President Obama's speech last week represented, according to the thrice-divorced, formerly drug addicted, multi-millionaire Everyman Rush Limbaugh, the true feelings of real Americans. And Limbaugh's statement today, after reading a report about a fight between white and black students on a school bus, that "[w]e need segregated buses . . . This is Obama's America, presumably reflects the opinion of "real" Americans on matters of race and equality as well.

Somewhere later today, a conservative commentator will disavow Limbaugh's remarks, claiming that his (or her, but probably his) "problem" with Obama isn't the new found sense of empowerment among African-American teenagers to fight their white classmates on school buses, but the "failure" of Obama to make good on his "bi-partisan" commitment to promote a "post-partisan" agenda. Although there was no real concern during the W years to hold the White House accountable for its promise to unite and not divide America, out-of-power Republicans now insist that losing the 2008 election across the board did not represent a rejection of the Bush administration and the Republican party; rather, it represented a deliberate effort to create a new opposition party to oppose the proposals of the Obama administration and the Democratic agenda in the House and Senate. Just look at the results of the election and you'll see how this argument makes perfect sense.

Barack Obama: 365 electoral votes
John McCain: 173 electoral votes

Popular vote margin: Obama by 9.1 million votes, the sixth largest margin ever and the largest ever by a non-incumbent.
States flipped between 2004 and 2008: (nine, all in favor of Obama).

As usual Bill Kristol had his finger right on the pulse of the American voter, correctly predicting in 2006 that Barack Obama would not a single primary against Hillary Clinton and that John McCain would win "huge" against Obama. Can there be any doubt why Kristol is the Washington Post's go-to-guy to explain why the Democrats cannot and should not prevail on anything?

Back to the standings . . .

Senate: 60 Democrats; 40 Republicans (this includes Arlen Specter's switch). Net gain: 7 seats. In November 2008, the Republicans did not unseat a single Democrat.

House: 257 Democrats; 178 Republicans.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Right now, the best team in MLB by virtue of winning percentage is the New York Yankees, whose winning percentage of .639 puts them four full percentage points ahead of the second best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose winning percentage of .599 puts them in an almost statistical dead-heat with the Boston Red Sox (.597) and the Los Angeles Angels (.593) but comfortably ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies (.583). The distance between .599 and .583 might seem slight, but, at this point in the season, the Dodgers are four games better than the Phillies. That's a lot to make-up with just 16 or so games left in the season. Remember all the people that thought the Obama's lead going into election night was fragile and unstable? If the polling data reflected the population of Ms. Fountain's 3rd grade class race for room president, then, yes, maybe, a single digit lead might be precarious. But were millions of people going to change their minds three days before the election? No.

So, continuing this scientific analysis of baseball and politics, think of Barack Obama as the New York Yankees, the Senate Democrats as the Phillies and the House Democrats, with a 79 seat margin, as the the new Red Sox Nation (or Chavez Ravine, you decide) of congressional politics. Obama won almost 200 electoral votes more than McCain, 9.1 million more votes among all voters and 28 of 22 states. He flipped such Republican strongholds as North Carolina, Virginia and Indiana. And, like the Yankees, he had almost bottomless well of money with which to make his case. Conservatives, who believe that money is speech because how it's spent reflects a person's (or corporation's) opinion, should be genuflecting before Obama rather than insisting that his "failure" to cure the world W made in six months reflects an abject, James Buchanan (or George W. Bush-like) presidential disaster. The Democrats currently rest atop the congressional standings with a winning percentage of .600 in the Senate and .590 in the House. And the record intake of Obama during this presidential election season means, according to the speech-money paradigm, that our current president is the most revered president ever, since more people spent more money to support than any candidate ever.

In Republican-world, that's not the case. The real winners in MLB this season are the following three teams:

1. Washington Nationals (.345)
2. Pittsburgh Pirates (.382)
3. Kansas City Royals (.400)

If Missouri reflects the nation's heartland, and the nation's heartland reflects the opinion of "real" Americans -- as opposed to fake Americans in . . . where else, New York (the Yankees) and Los Angeles (the Dodgers and Angels) -- then the Republicans are the Kansas City Royals of American politics, since the winning percentage of the Republicans is virtually identical to the American League's worst team. The Pirates are either the Green Party or Ralph Nader; the Nats . . . let's see . . . . either the American Communist Party or the American Independence Party (George Wallace in 1968 and 1972). But that's not good news for the Republicans, since the American Communist Party and the Green Party, attracting even fewer Americans to their positions, possess even greater veto power over public policy than they do.

And just where are the Braves? In baseball's forgotten middle-class, good enough to remain competitive but not good enough to enjoy the prosperity of a previous generation of Braves teams.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, I admit that not a bit of this highly technical, sophisticated, robust and serious modeling of how the relationship of campaign outcomes, right-wing political analysis and Bill Kristol to professional baseball can be understood by people who are not professional political scientists. And I also admit that this post is biased towards people like myself who have a Ph.D and aren't afraid to use it. Going into the post-season, let's just hope that Bud Selig, for all his other faults, is a Democrat. If, God forbid, he is a Republican, rather than seeing the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals, Red Sox and Tigers advance to the post-season, you'll get the Nationals, Pirates, Royals, Diamondbacks, Mets, Cleveland and Orioles.

To the victors go the spoils, unless you decide that, because you were not victorious and have no spoils, they don't.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The quitting point

A few years ago, the social critic Malcolm Gladwell published, "The Tipping Point," a book that tried to explain when fads became social trends. My first reaction was jealousy and anger. I'd always wondered about such things as when "everyone" added a North Face fleece jacket to their wardrobe, when rental car companies started "upgrading" their customers for no obvious reason, or how 9 year-old visitors to my house began asking me for sushi as an after-school snack, as if it came in a box and could be ready in 10 minutes. Of course, like so many great ideas I've had over the years -- pre-mixed tuna with celery and mayonnaise and just a hint of chopped pickles with juice being my best one -- I never followed through. As false consolation, my friends tell me I wouldn't be able to manage the tax problems that would come with new found riches. "Not quite," I tell them. "My wife is a CPA. This woman knows exactly how many kernels should be in a bag of Smart Food popcorn. If the Smart Food people don't include exactly 4 servings per bag, trust me, they will hear about it." A tax problem isn't the issue. Getting distracted by the next great idea is.

Gladwell was on to something, though, and his book, like "Blink" and "Outliers" is fun, interesting and easy to read -- precisely the kind of thing that academics like myself would do if we hadn't been trained in graduate school to be pensive, boring and write in impenetrable prose. And although he offers no clear empirical explanation to explain social trends, Gladwell does offer the reader a lot to think about. But I find myself using the tipping point metaphor in other contexts, most recently while waiting for my 10 year-old teenage daughter to come bounding out of the front door of her school to tell me "this has been the worst day ever." Except the social phenomenon I see around school, around my neighborhood, indeed, almost anywhere where you find the parents of young children, is something I'll call The Quitting Point.

Sitting in the sun on some raised bricks underneath a small oak tree in front of my daughter's elementary school, something hit me as I watched mom after mom (and one other dad and an older man I hoped was a grandparent) come up the sidewalk, eagerly seeking out their social circle for gossip and chit-chat before their young charges came running out with their list of demands for the afternoon.

"Did you get the email from Ms. So-and-So about pumpkin math," asked one who must have, in her elementary school life, been the student selected to make the morning announcements over the intercom.

"Yes, I did!!! And I am so excited! I just love pumpkin math," said another. "I think what we should do this year is to divide . . ." and then I just checked out of the conversation. Pumpkin math? Excited? Like an aphrodisiac? How . . . why . . . for whom? Dear God.

Then I looked across the plaza and saw a relentlessly smiling young mom wearing a grey, oversized sweatshirt with "MINNIE," as in the mouse, on the front, She was talking to an equally cheerful mother wearing a Salty Dog Rehobeth Beach t-shirt, one at least two sizes too big, who seemed nonplussed by the other three children she was hauling around. "Yes, they're all mine!" I've heard her say on more than one occasion to disbelieving other parents. "The Lord's blessed us five times."

"No," I thought. "I think someone wasn't paying attention in sex ed class all those years ago." Then again, she strikes me as the type that attended one of those schools that banished sex ed from the curriculum and encouraged their students to write letters to Nancy Reagan supporting her Just Say No initiative or sign an Abstinence Pledge in exchange for complimentary in-class pizza parties.

The dad, of course, was standing by himself reading a magazine. Moms don't talk to dads unless there was a prior social relationship in place before their children began attending school together. Now and then, we get the gentle reminder from the Room Moms who circle the school at drop-off and pick-up like the Queen Bees they either once were in high school or are now determined to become telling us "you do know there is a PTA meeting tomorrow night, right? It's in the all-purpose room. Do you know where that is?" The dad will remind no one of George Clooney, clad as he is in his "Mets-Yankees Subway Series 2000" t-shirt that, based on the grease stains up and down the front, doubles as his lawn maintenance outfit. At this point, entering year eleven -- our children only overlapped by one year -- at our local elementary school, no one really knows to make of me. I'm sort of like the person who isn't asked to contribute to the Disease-of-the-Week jar when I leave the grocery store or sign a petition of some sort demanding higher or lower taxes. By and large, I'm left alone.

So here it is: When did grown-ups just quit caring? Was the woman in the MINNIE sweatshirt sporting the high-waisted-over-the-knee hemmed denim shorts, half-calf white socks with the Champion logos facing out and clunky running shoes born that way, or did something just happen one morning and she decided to throw in the towel? It couldn't always have been like that. In an earlier life, some guy had to see her from across the room, or make unnecessary trips to her cubicle pretending to need another pencil, or notice that she stopped for coffee at the same place he did every morning and work up the nerve to ask her out. A woman had to nudge her friend when she saw the guy who, by now, probably hasn't bought a new shirt in five years and said, "Do you think you could find out if he's seeing anyone?" There had to be those first few moments of infatuation, the ones where you think to yourself, "Okay, be cool, this could be it. Don't overeat; don't talk about how pissed off you are that you've been demoted from the lead-off spot on the company softball team; and DO NOT talk about your non-existent old girlfriend, even if she makes a reference to the "bad place" she was in until she wanted to go out with you. There had to be that first shiver at the first touch of their hands, the "where is this going to go" feeling after the first kiss. There had to be, right?

No, I am not excited about pumpkin math, not now, not ever. I especially hate Sally Foster gift wrap season and all the other beg-a-thons that go on during the school year. If I ever, ever see Sally Foster's car broken down on the side of the road, I'll simply drive by and wave . . . enjoying a cheap form of revenge for her extortionist tactics. During my one appearance at a PTA meeting five or six years ago, when my now "teenagers-just-don't-their-homework-or-take-showers-or-anything-else-anymore" 15 year-old son was a much more charming first or second grader, I suggested that the school simply assess a student activity fee, similar to how colleges assess their students, based on a projected budget for extracurricular activities over the course of a year. This way, we'd have no overpriced wrapping paper, unused pizza kits, strange "smoothie" concoctions that require no refrigeration and disgusting "flavored" popcorn cluttering up our houses. The school could also eliminate any overhead, which meant that all contributions went directly to school programs and not Sally Foster.

"Your Max's dad, right," came the icy response from the PTA president. She looked at me as if I had just walked into her church and, before an outraged priest, yelled, "No, you prove God exists. I'm good where I am." "We just don't do things that way here, she said, gradually raising her voice. "If you'd have come to SOME OTHER MEETINGS BEFORE THIS YOU WOULD KNOW THAT."


And thank you Celia Hodes.

Many years ago, I used to wonder about my older friends who referred to things like a night out with their wife as "date night," or justified an extravagant vacation alone or with their husband as "cheaper than therapy." What is up with that, I'd think? How much fun can that be? Where's the spontaneity, the romance, the feeling of not knowing where you're going or when you'll be back? Now, I get it. Reserving time for yourself is simply a way of sticking it to Sally Foster. Putting on a clean shirt and pants that don't look like you pulled them off the clearance table at Costco is a way of reminding yourself that, at least once upon a time, it wasn't always like this. These are the lessons I try to remember when the quitting point tempts me. Why, or why, does the Quitting Point beckon so many people who should know better? Why do I get such an evil stare of a "who's that" look from people for wearing a shirt that buttons up the front or a combination that appears color-coordinated? Why do I threaten my children with wearing a "Muffy's Mom" hat or a fleece vest that proudly boasts my son's membership on the AA Peewee Travel Hockey team rather than wear one as part of any 47 year-old's wardrobe? What happened to the idea that, at some point, you were supposed to dress differently than your children instead of like them? Or brag about not having purchased a new dress or suit since college? Or view Back-to-School Night as the social event of the season?

Yep . . . perhaps I should just stage a one-man protest against the infantilization of contemporary adult culture. That is, as long as I don't have to turn in my Sambas.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The high cost of high living

Now that the academic year is up and running -- in other words, the drop-add deadline is upon us -- the big-foot media have now turned their attention to some of the perennial questions in higher education.

No, no, no . . . not, "Can I get better weed on the North or South side of campus?" or "Where can I buy Adderall for exam period?" or "What was that guy/girl's name that went home with me last night?" Yes, yes. . . . those are important questions. But so are these . . .

Why does college continue to cost so damn much even as the economy remains shrink-wrapped?

Why do public colleges in the United States graduate the lowest percentage of their students of any university system in the West with the exception of Italy?

Why are so many students dropping out of American colleges and universities?

If you want to learn which colleges graduate their students at what rate, click here.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

"Twisted Standards" is now available!

"Twisted Standards," the first CD from my band, Zeebop, is now available through CD Baby. To learn more about it, all you need to do is click here.

The CD retails for $10. You can also purchase the mp3 version of the album for $7.92.

We hope you will check it out, and enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed making it.

On Sunday, September 13th, Zeebop will headline the "Jazz in the Park" program of Adams Morgan Day in Washington, D.C. We'll kick things off at noon and play until 1 p.m. The event will be held in the Kalorama Triangle. Best of all, it's free. And, naturally, CDs will be available for purchase. Stick around for plenty of great music throughout the day.

As always, thanks for your support.

The new patriotism

I don't care about sick people, old people, poor people, unemployed people or homeless people.
(unless the sick, old, poor, unemployed or homeless person is me)

I don't care about black people, brown people, yellow people, blue people or foreign people.
(unless they're mowing my lawn, taking care of my children, fixing my roof, cleaning my toilets, painting my kitchen, shining my shoes or building my house)

I don't care about who is getting killed or maimed in what country for what reason or why.
(unless the person being killed or maimed is American).

I don't care that my fellow citizens believe my American-born, Christian president, who has spent his life using the American political process to advance such worthwhile goals as community empowerment (damn, did I just use that phrase?), universal health care, peaceful conflict resolution and cross-cultural understanding (damn, did it again!), refer to him as a Muslim socialist dictator and secret Nazi.
(unless that president is a Republican)

I don't care if the president encourages our schoolchildren to stay in school and work hard, since all their jobs and education are being taken by illegal immigrants and affirmative action.
(unless that president is a Republican)

I don't care if four times as many Americans will die this year from handgun violence than were killed in the September 11th attacks, as long as I get to strap my gun on my leg and stand outside the building where the president is giving a speech.
(unless the president giving a speech is a Republican; then the person should be branded a terrorist and thrown in jail)

I don't care if my favorite TV commentators spout lie after lie night after night, because even if they're telling lies they're really telling the truth. Free speech is what great patriots have died for.
(unless the people on TV and radio are liberals or disagree with anything I believe, in which case they should not be allowed on TV or radio, much less allowed to talk)

I don't care that my government permitted our military and CIA officials to torture prisoners held in places that I don't even know about for crimes they haven't been accused of committing.
(unless the persons being held in places that I don't know about for crimes they haven't been accused of committing are Americans. Then we should demand their surrender or blow them to Kingdom Come)

I don't care that my government lied to me about why we went to war in Iraq or keeps telling me we're winning when we lost years ago.
(unless . . . unless . . . unless . . . unless . . . hmmm?)

I don't care about the environment, air and water pollution, natural resources or corporate contamination of our food supply.
(unless someone comes for my gun or gets my fishes sick from dumping chemicals in my lake)

Nope, I don't care about any of this stuff at all.


'cause I'm just a patriotic American!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap offer their views on President Obama's scheduled speech to the nation's school children this week.

Friday, September 04, 2009

A life in music

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine included me in a Facebook distribution of "50+50 bands/artists I have seen live." Normally, I ignore just about everything that comes to me through Facebook -- the annoying quizzes ("Lowell just took the, "What kind of nuclear weapon are you?' quiz. Lowell is a 100 zillion megaton nuclear bomb."), the creepy "updates" involving the young children of new parents ("How come I'm tired after 47 straight hours of watching Courtney throw up on me? Hmmm . . . sounds like a trip to Starbucks is in order!!!" or "For the first time, Austin got his first choice for third grade teacher. Woo-hoo!!!" and, most frightening, "Buster has a fever of 101.5. Any suggestions?"), the navel-gazing, acid-flashback induced rhetorical questions about life's limits and possibilities ("Am I the only who noticed that Tide's new environmentally-conscious reduced plastic packaging didn't come with a reduced cost, just less detergent?").

Thanks for sharing. Really. Just so, so interesting . . . what would I do without all these important updates into the lives of little kids and their pooping habits or why, no matter when you go to the grocery store, you always get stuck in the worst line with the cashier who's new but trying.

Sitting down to catalog all the artists and bands I've seen over the years was something I should have done a long time ago. Since I'm not really the type of person to write things down, much less make lists, I saw this as a somewhat work-related task -- to improve my organizational skills; to think through the different periods of my life when I saw a particular musician, and where I was in at that point in my life -- thus justifying an exercise that, for people who are required to be accountable in their jobs, would just be a sneaky yet enjoyable form of procrastination.

So I put together a list and posted it on Facebook. Judging from the non-response, no one cared. Perhaps I should have prefaced my list with something like this, "I just discovered my son is making crystal-meth in our basement and attempting to pimp out his sister. Suggestions?"

Here is my life in music (not necessarily in chronological order):

1. The Beatles (really)
2. The Osmond Brothers (sad but true)
3. Janis Joplin/Jimi Hendrix/Joe Cocker (free!)
4. Yes
5. Genesis
6. Emerson Lake and Palmer
7. Jethro Tull
8. Aerosmith
9. Pink Floyd
10. Led Zeppelin
11. Bad Company
12. Kansas
13. Allman Brothers
14. REO Speedwagon
15. Rush
16. Cheap Trick
17. Donovan
18. The Who
19. Weather Report
20. Pat Metheny Group
21. Dixie Dregs
22. Sea Level
23. Renaissance
24. Gentle Giant
25. Jackson 5
26. The Temptations
27. The Spinners
28. Gladys Knight and the Pips
29. Diana Ross
30. Brand X (with Phil Collins)
31. Michel Petrucciani
32. Lyle Mays/Marc Johnson
33. Wynton Marsalis
34. Branford Marsalis
35. Kenny Kirkland Quartet
36. Dizzy Gillespie
37. Gary Burton
38. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
39. Steve Kuhn
40. Cedar Walton
41. Buddy Rich Big Band
42. Art Ensemble of Chicago
43. Bill Bruford
44. U.K.
45. Ahmad Jamal
46. Joe Zawinul Syndicate
47. Paul Bley Trio
48. Keith Jarrett Trio
49. Don Byron
50. Dave Holland Quartet
51. Dave Holland Big Band
52. John Scofield Trio (w/Steve Swallow and Bill Stewart)
53. John Scofield Quartet
54. Aquarium Rescue Unit
55. Derek Trucks Band
56. Caribbean Jazz Project
57. Steely Dan
58. Donald Fagen
59. The Syn (w/Chris Squire)
60. Todd Rundgren
61. The Police
62. Sting
63. Andy Summers
64. Roy Haynes
65. Christian McBride
66. Wayne Shorter
67. Terrence Blanchard
68. Benny Green
69. Kenny Garrett
70. Jeff Watts Quartet
71. Mike Stern
72. Dave Weckl Band
73. Niacin (w/Dennis Chambers)
74. Jon Faddis
75. Herbie Hancock
76. Freddie Hubbard
77. Wallace Roney Quartet
78. McCoy Tyner
79. Pat Metheny Trio (w/Antonio Sanchez and Christian McBride)
80. George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet
81. David Murray Octet
82. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
83. Paul McCartney
84. Brad Mehldau
85. Billy Joel
86. Stevie Wonder
87. Asia
88. The Pointer Sisters
89. The Rock 'n Soul Revue (with Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald)
90. Jean Luc Ponty
91. Stanley Clarke
92. Cassandra Wilson

and hopefully many more to come.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.