Parties, Parties

I doubt whether the results of the recent European election, which were dismal for the socialist and left-leaning parties, have much meaning for politics in the U.S. I don’t think Americans pay much attention to who is being elected to serve in European parliaments, or what those politicans stand for, and I certainly don’t think most Americans look to Europe for political trends and viewpoints. The European election results do, however, provide some support for the American two-party system. If a vote is splintered among many candidates, as is the case in many European systems, fringe parties — such as parties which advocate racist policies that appeal to only a distinct minority of voters, for example — have a better chance to pick up seats, particularly in times of widespread voter dissatisfaction. In the American two-party system, the vote will not be split and the support for fringe parties will be overwhelmed by support for the two mainstream parties. In addition, the competition for nominations is such that politicians of the far left and far right are not likely to be nominated by either the Democrats or the Republicans.

The two-party system may not be perfect, but it is well-suited to weeding out the nuts and preventing electoral embarrassments.

The Best American Band: Van Halen

Van Halen

Van Halen

Ah, Van Halen. The heavy metal, power guitar chords. The guitar stud and the strutting lead singer. The songs about sex, and sex, and sex. The personality conflicts and break-ups. The hair! Van Halen helped to define both the sound and the look of the ’80s American heavy metal band. Is there any doubt that This Is Spinal Tap made more than a nod or two in the direction of Van Halen, circa 1984?

Still, the now somewhat stereotypical nature of the Van Halen act shouldn’t detract from the classic nature of the Van Halen music. Eddie Van Halen was an exceptionally good, creative guitarist, and the rhythm section kept the beat moving. I was less impressed with David Lee Roth — his squawks and squeals wore thin on me, which is why I wasn’t heartbroken when he left the band and was replaced by Sammy Hagar — but the band unquestionably produced some classic, definitive rock ‘n’ roll. Their songs focused with laser-like precision on the musical tastes and sensibilities of adolescent males, with heavy and catchy guitar riffs and lyrics about sex and girls and ne’er-do-wells, usually with a dose of humor added. Songs like Hot for Teacher, Black and Blue, Beautiful Girls and Finish What Ya Started can trace their roots back to the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll and songs like Chuck Berry’s Maybelline and Reelin’ and Rockin’.

Van Halen is well represented on the Ipod, which includes Eruption, Finish What Ya Started, Jump, Panama, Hot for Teacher, Black and Blue, Beautiful Girls, Best of Both Worlds, Runnin’ With the Devil, and Everybody Wants Some, among others. Any band that can produce that body of work, and at the same time help to create an entire genre of music, merits serious consideration.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

A Green Dream

Here’s an interesting piece on GM and “green cars.” The apparent focus of GM and Chrysler on “green cars” as the lever that will move them out of the ditch is wishful thinking. Sure, there are some Americans who will buy “green cars,” regardless of their quality and reliability, just to say that they are driving green cars. (See the classic South Park “smug” episode.) I think the number of those consumers is pretty small, however. Here’s a method of approximating that market — the next time you drive to work during rush hour, look at how many drivers are content with humping along in the slow lane, and then from that number subtract all white-haired drivers and all drivers who are shaving, combing their hair, fiddling with their Blackberry, or performing other morning ablutions. The remainder is a good approximation of the potential audience for hybrids and electric cars. You aren’t going to buy one if you must have a car that can give you the crucial burst of acceleration that allows you to cross three lanes of traffic and pass that slow-moving panel truck that has been getting on your nerves.

The other change in the car market — and one that has been devastating for GM and Chrysler — has been the increased focus of consumers on buying cars that last. When I was a kid, Americans seemed to accept that they needed to buy a new car every few years, just to have the biggest fins or the biggest engines or the station wagon with the most realistic faux wood paneling on the side. Those days are long gone, however. I’ve been driving my car for many years, have put more than 120,000 miles on it, and hope to continue to drive it for years more. The fact is that consumers don’t buy GM and Chrysler cars because they perceive that many of those cars are poorly made and unreliable. I think even “green” consumers will be looking for green technology that is reliable. Why buy a green car from a company that has a well-earned reputation for building poorly made cars when you can buy a proven green car from a company like Honda, whose reputation for quality is unassailable?