Ohio Books And Authors

The Ohioana Book Festival is Saturday, May 8 at the Ohioana Library and State Library building at 274 E. First Avenue in Columbus.  It promises to be an exceptional day, beginning at 10 a.m. and running until 4:30 p.m.  There will be readings from authors, a chance to get books signed by authors, the presentation of awards to young writers, and a series of panel presentations.

All of the panel discussions look interesting, but some in particular have caught my eye.  One is Mentors & Muses:  The Writers and Books That Inspired Me, in which David Catrow and Martha Moody will discuss books and writers that inspired them.  In my view, when people start talking about their favorites of anything, it is usually revealing.  Another presentation that looks interesting for the same reason is How We Write, What We Write, in which Lisa Klein and Lucy A. Snyder will discuss their creative processes.

Ohio is full of really good writers, and the Ohioana Book Festival is a good way to get to know some of them.  Information about the 2010 Ohioana Book Festival is available here.

Another Dog Bites Man Story

Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who went from having a commanding lead in the polls to getting clobbered in the Republican primary contest for the U.S. Senate seat from the Sunshine State, has announced that he will run as an independent.  Of course, the fact that Crist was likely to get walloped in the primary wasn’t the motivating factor.  Rather, it was about “principle.”  In his statement announcing the decision, Crist said that, for him, it is all about “public service” and “putting the needs of people first.” Seriously, he said that — and apparently was able to get it out with a straight face, without dissolving into uncontrollable laughter about the obvious absurdity of his self-serving statement.

There is nothing surprising about this, of course.  Indeed, everything about the story is predictable.  Crist’s decision was not a difficult call because, as any rational person knows, every politician is just about getting himself or herself elected and then reelected.  When you have the itch to be in The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, party affiliation doesn’t mean squat.  Arlen Specter showed that recently, and Crist confirms it.  Also predictable is the reaction to Crist’s announcement.  Republicans are outraged that Crist — that unprincipled hack! — would shed his party affiliation so casually.  Do you think they were outraged when Joe Lieberman decided to run as an independent in a bid — and a successful one at that — to keep his Senate seat, or when Congressman Parker Griffith from Alabama recently changed his allegiance from Democrat to Republican?

If I were a Florida voter, I wouldn’t vote for Crist — not because he has jettisoned his party affiliation, but because his change has exposed the naked truth.  What does Charlie Crist believe in?  Why, he believes in nothing other than Charlie Crist.  He’s now established that his interests come before everything else.  Why would you want someone like that to represent your State in the Senate?

The NCAA Tournament Expands

The NCAA has decided to expand — ever so slightly — the NCAA Basketball Tournament field, from 65 to 68 teams.  Starting next year, there will be four “play-in” games instead of just one.

I suppose this is a compromise solution, between people who wanted an 80- or 96-team field and those who would prefer to leave the Tournament the way it is.  I think making the Tournament much bigger would have been kind of silly, so I am glad the NCAA Board of Directors resisted that temptation.  As it is, I kind of scratch my head at the arguments about whether a “bubble” team from a “power conference” that couldn’t even finish above .500 in conference play should make the Tournament.  If you can’t even win a majority of the games in your conference, why should you be playing for the NCAA championship?  For that same reason, I also like the NCAA Board’s idea of the play-in games not being limited to just small-conference teams.  Why shouldn’t a “power conference” team or two have to play their way in, just like the small fry?

The linked article also notes that, in 2011, every game in the NCAA Tournament will be available for viewing, live, across the country.  The games will be broadcast by CBS, TNT, TBS, and truTV.  That news will cause every sports fan to ask one question:  “What the heck is truTV, and do I have it on my basic cable?”

Debt Commission Deception

The Debt Commission established by President Obama to recommend ways to reduce the federal deficit has begun its discussions and deliberations.  Its first meeting produced the expected round of sound bites.  Erskine Bowles, one of the chairs, said the federal debt is “like a cancer” that would “destroy our country from within.” Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said the federal budget is on an “unsustainable path.” And, with the Commission’s discussions taking place against the backdrop of plummeting credit ratings for EU countries like Greece, Portugal, and now Spain, the debt reduction effort in America should have a special urgency.

So why does the concept of a Debt Commission leave me cold?  Because I think the Debt Commission is just another exercise in deception.

Recently, we have seen what Congress can do when it tries.  I agree with at least one part of Richard’s recent post — if you are going to control Congress, at least try to do something with that control while it lasts.  The dogged Democratic efforts to pass the “health care reform” legislation shows what Congress and the Administration can accomplish when they are fully committed to doing so — even though, in that case, I strongly disagreed with the solution.  If Congress has the will to enact a bill that is thousands of pages long, that regulates and restructures an enormous and extraordinarily complex slice of our economy, surely Congress could substantially reduce the deficit through a similar effort.  What the Debt Commission really tells us is that Congress doesn’t have the stomach for that deficit reduction effort.

Sure, we’ll hear the sound bites from the unelected, ultimately powerless people on the Debt Commission . . . and it will avail us naught.  Congress likes to giveth — a subsidized health benefit here, a new consumer financial regulatory agency there — but doesn’t like to taketh away.  Until circumstances force Congress’ hand, deficit reduction will always be on the back burner.

Something Similar to Alan Parsons Project (Pt. 3)

In addition to what Dad posted, here are some albums I think are similar to the Alan Parsons Project’s I Robot.

1. Jean Michel Jarre, Oxygene. Oxygene, released in 1976, is more electronic and less rock than I Robot, and it’s not exactly a concept album, but it has a similar sound and sensibility.

2. and 3. Pink Floyd, Animals and The Wall. Pretty much any Pink Floyd album from the 1970s is as close to Alan Parsons as you can get. In fact, Alan Parsons was an engineer for Dark Side of the Moon, so he probably influenced the sound for that album and was influenced by Pink Floyd’s sound. Like I Robot, both Animals and The Wall were concept albums and were also sort of funky.

4. The Who, Tommy. Tommy‘s sound is different than I Robot‘s because it was made in the late 1960s, but both are concept albums about an anguished protagonist and both have lots of good songs.

5. The Talking Heads, More Songs About Buildings and Food. This isn’t a concept album, but it reminds me of I Robot because it, also, seems to be a mix of new wave, electronic, classic rock, funk and disco. Actually, pretty much anything by the Talking Heads in the late 70s would qualify.

Massachusetts’ Offshore Wind Farm

I’m delighted that the federal government has approved construction of America’s first offshore wind farm, which will provide most of the power for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

The wind farm I pass on I-65 in Indiana (via Google search)

The project was held up for nine years, partly because locals complained that the turbines would be an eyesore. I don’t know what they’re talking about. Every time I drive from Ohio to Chicago I drive past a wind farm, and I’ve always thought the turbines were beautiful. The Times article says opponents fear they will be an “industrial blot,” but they’re one of the most sleek and graceful examples of industrialism I’ve seen. They’re sort of organic-looking, so they blend in well with nature, and their size and the speed of their turbines make them a magnificent sight. Also, they just look clean and harmless – instead of emitting smoke, they seem to emphasize the purity of the air – which is fitting for what is perhaps the cleanest and most harmless form of power we have.

The beauty of these things shouldn’t be an issue, anyway. What matters is that they provide clean energy. The wind farm’s opponents worry that the turbines will ruin the “pristine beauty” of their coast, but they will make their community’s environment more pristine than the hidden smokestacks currently used for power. The people of Massachusetts should be proud to be national leaders in adopting this form of power.

Greece Fire

Standard & Poor’s has cut Greece’s credit rating to “junk” status.  In so doing, the ratings agency indicates that it considers it unlikely that investors who purchase the bonds will ultimately be paid the principal amount of the bonds and all required interest payments.

What is the meaning of this for the United States?  The fact that some other country’s debt is considered likely to default is not earth-shaking news; this article notes that bonds issued by Egypt and Azerbaijan have the same rating that has now been assigned to Greece.  No, the risk is that Greece’s unrelenting troubles — and the corresponding reduction in the credit rating of Portugal — will inflame general investor skittishness about the massive governmental debt among European countries and the U.S.A.  If investors perceive greater risk of non-payment, they are going to insist on higher interest payments to bear that risk, and higher interest rates mean more deficits and a spiraling debt problem that becomes increasingly difficult to solve.  The yield on Greece’s 2-year bonds is now trading at about 15%.  Imagine if the United States, or debt-ridden states like California, had to pay 15% interest on their borrowings, and an ever-growing portion of the federal budget therefore had to be devoted to debt payments to overseas investors.

The lesson to be drawn from Greece’s predicament is that deficits must be addressed, non-essential spending must be cut, and budgets must be balanced.  As Greece has now demonstrated, constant deficit spending and borrowing is the path to perdition.

Something Similar To . . . Alan Parsons Project (Cont.)

Russell was right.  I did get a big kick out of his unexpected, early morning post about I Robot, and not just because I like to see postings on the family blog.

I think I Robot is a classic album, and Russell’s tale of listening to that album at the close of an college all-nighter had some real resonance with me.  I’m pretty sure that, back in 1978 or 1979, I pulled another all-nighter to finish classwork and write a column that had been the subject of unseemly procrastination and listened to I Robot when 4 or 5 or 6 a.m. rolled around and I needed some inspiration.  In those days, of course, there were no Ipods or personal computers with CD players or, for that matter, decent headphones — so when the wee small hours came you needed to dial back the volume on the stereo and replace, say, Exile on Main Street with a more quiet, contemplative album like I Robot.  Reading Russell’s post was like being time-warped back to the grim, green-carpeted kitchen at 101 W. 8th Avenue in the spring of 1979.  More on that later, perhaps.

To answer Russell’s specific question — of course I Robot didn’t spring into life, Athena-like, from the fertile creative brain of Alan Parsons.  The ’70s were filled with “concept albums,” a genre that probably started in 1967 with Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  “Synthesizer rock” became big in the ’70s, but it also traced its roots back to the ’60s, and to bands like Procol Harum and Whiter Shade of Pale.  And albums that combined some vocals with long, instrumental sections were a staple of the “alternative” stations of the ’60s, where long songs like Inna Gadda da Vida by Iron Butterfly were the norm.

So what is like I Robot — a ’70s album with a theme, some synthesizers, and some longer songs?  I can’t come up with an exhaustive list, but with the help of my friend JV, I’ve come up some suggestions, in no particular order:

1.  The Beatles, Abbey Road — Side one of the album is pretty damn good, side two — with its blended together songs and snippets, ranging from the simple acoustical purity of the intro to Here Comes the Sun to the fine harmonies of Sun King to the humor of You Never Give Me Your Money, and all of the other fabulous tunes — is just otherworldly.  It is, I think, the best album side ever recorded as well as the best “end of the all-nighter” music ever conceived.

2.  Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon — The classic album of my college days, with songs that ran seamlessly together, music that sounded like the soundtrack to a dream, and lyrics that caused any thoughtful college student to sink into a reverie — until the alarm clock abruptly rang.

3.  Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here — An even dreamier (and in my humble opinion, musically superior) Pink Floyd album about the mental breakdown of Syd Barrett, a former member of Pink Floyd, that includes one of the greatest, longest split-up songs ever recorded, Shine On You Crazy Diamond.

4.  Electric Light Orchestra, Eldorado — Another dreamy concept album that supposedly had an internal theme, but one that was pretty elusive to mere mortals.  It featured a bunch of great songs, like Mister Kingdom and Nobody’s Child. Side two of the album was a killer.

5.  Yes, Yessongs — Yes was perhaps the quintessential synthesizer/keyboards band of the ’70s (sorry, Emerson Lake and Palmer), and I think Yessongs was their masterpiece.  A two-album set, the second disk consisted solely of terrific, extended, drawn-out songs, like I’ve Seen All Good People, Long Distance Runaround, and Starship Trooper.

6.  The Moody Blues, This Is The Moody Blues — I admit that this double album was a kind of greatest hits album, but it really captured the blurry, ethereal music and thoughtful lyrics of The Moody Blues (as well as their somewhat over-the-top pretensions).  This was another college early morning hours favorite that was packed with excellent sun-coming-up tunes.

I think any one of these would serve you in good stead at 5 a.m., Russell!

Worst. President. Ever.

No, I’m not talking about a real President.  I’m talking about President Allison Taylor, who has taken an abrupt turn for the worse in the last few hours on 24.

First, she seems to be willing to risk just about everything for some kind of Mideast peace agreement, even though she knows that the Russkies are so opposed to it that they bankrolled a terrorist operation that successfully assassinated President Pompadour, the head of state of Whoswhatistan, the key party in the negotiations.  Now, that’s sure to be a “lasting peace”!  Apparently the Prez thinks that securing a Mideast peace agreement will cement her place in history among the great U.S. Presidents.  President Taylor, please meet President Jimmy Carter . . . and feel free to ask him whether the Camp David Accords put him in the Top Ten of American Presidents, as opposed to sucking wind at the ass end of the list, down there with Nixon and Buchanan.

Second, President Taylor is mysteriously listening to scuzzball ex-Prez Charles Logan rather than the saintly Ethan Kanin, her upright Secretary of State — even though she knows that Logan is a traitorous, duplicitous sleaze who was drummed out of office after spearheading a conspiracy against his own government.  So far, at Logan’s suggestion she has covered up the Russkies’ assassination plot and,  most recently, has remanded a federal prisoner to a “private security firm” bent on torturing the prisoner into spilling her guts about the Russkies’ secret plan.  Sure, President Taylor secured a meaningless promise from Logan that torture would be a “last option,” but we all knew it was a sham.  This, from a President who formerly was so ethical she sent her own daughter off to the federal pen?

Third, President Taylor tried to lock down Jack Bauer.  Who is she kidding?  She knows Jack can’t be stopped, and she’s just made him into an enemy?!?  I don’t care how often she looks pensive or concerned — she obviously is addled.

24 is a pretty PC show, so I don’t think this season can end with President Taylor, the first female President on 24, bringing up the rear in the lineup of 24 Chief Executives.  That means one of the following plot twists must inevitably occur: (1) the President Taylor we have seen the past few hours is her evil twin or a “double,” (2) President Taylor has been drugged and manipulated by Logan and will soon come to her senses, (3) President Taylor is in fact under cover and in league with Jack Bauer and falsely cooperating with Logan to smoke out a deep-rooted conspiracy in her government, or (4) the President will quickly realize the gross error of her ways, repent and join Jack, and be killed in some heroic fashion that redeems her in the 24verse for all time.

Five hours to go.

Something similar to… Alan Parsons Project

what’s up webner house. I know Dad will really enjoy this surprise early morning post. Anyways, I’m wrapping up the tail end of an all-nighter doing schoolwork and some painting. Recently I’ve come across I Robot by Alan Parsons Project and have really enjoyed listening to it while working. It’s an album that I’ve heard for the majority of my life, all the way back from the tape deck in Dad’s old brown Honda accord. Like most of The Beatles’ work, I can sing all the words to I Robot from memory without effort.
It was much to my pleasure to rediscover the narrative of a robot brought to life. I really dig the futuristic sound of the music (modern even by today’s standards) as well as the interspersing of vocals with longer more meditative instrumental sections. I know the album didnt come out in a vacuum and that there must be some similar work out there by other artists. Due to my disconnect from the 70s and its music, I cant really seem to find anything good myself. So, for whoever’s up to the challenge (and I’m sure Dad will have a few cooked up by early evening tonight) turn me on to some quality new music. ready set go

A Verdict (Of Sorts) On The “Stimulus” Bill

The National Association of Business Economics yesterday published the results of its quarterly survey of its 68 members who work in private sector firms.  The survey asked them to evaluate the impact of the $787 billion stimulus legislation passed at the beginning of last year, and 73% said employment at their companies was no higher (or, for that matter, lower) than it would have been without the stimulus legislation.  Sixty-eight people is a pretty small sample size, but the idea that 73% of any group of economists agrees on something has its own special impact.  It is probably fair to assume, too, that the NABE members who were polled work in large-type companies.  Not many Mom and Pop start-ups have economists on the payroll, and it could well be that the survey therefore cannot account for any job growth that happened at the small business level.

Still, it seems clear that the “stimulus” bill will eventually be viewed as an incredibly expensive bust.  The unemployment rate is much higher than was promised when the bill was enacted, and most of the spending under the bill seems to have been geared toward protecting government jobs, not creating or preserving jobs in the private sector.  The results of the NABE survey undoubtedly would have been different if economists employed by federal, state, and local government entities were asked about the effect of the stimulus bill on employment with those entities.

Staying In The Foxhole

Scientist Stephen Hawking is convinced that there is alien life elsewhere in the universe — mathematically, it just seems likely — but strongly recommends that we not look for them.  He envisions a situation where a nomadic race of aliens might raid the Earth for our natural resources or a “Columbus discovers the New World” scenario where the friendly welcoming natives get wiped out by disease or violence.  Hawking therefore adopts the “pessimistic” view of extraterrestial contact where marauding aliens who find us would be perfectly happy to wipe us out.  (The “optimistic” view, epitomized by Star Trek, posits that any aliens intelligent enough to cross interstellar space are intelligent enough not to be bloodthirsty mass murderers.)

In law school we called the Hawking approach “foxholing.”  If you hadn’t read the case and weren’t prepared you tried to stay out of the professor’s line of sight and hoped he wouldn’t call on you.  If the technique worked, you made it to the next class without undue embarrassment — but I always thought the better approach was to be prepared in the first place.

Brace for Disaster

The forecast is bad for Democrats this November: the Republicans could take back the House and will certainly take some seats in the Senate.

If he loses the House, Obama will find himself in the same frustrating situation President Clinton was in after 1994, when Newt Gingrich’s Republicans captured the House and Senate. Obama won’t be signing any more behemoths like the Health Care bill; he’ll be forced to settle for dull compromises like Clinton’s welfare reform act. In terms of domestic policy, his biggest accomplishments will be behind him. In a few years, he might be saying things like “the era of big government is over.”

If anything, Obama’s strait jacket will be tighter than Clinton’s, considering how much more extreme the parties have become in the past fifteen years. Despite many public efforts, very few compromises has been hatched so far in Obama’s presidency, with no Republican votes for the health care bill and only one for the stimulus. The Republicans seem content to reject Obama’s agenda, even after it’s been decaffeinated.

Instead of getting depressed over their future, the Democrats should work on passing as much as they can before November. They still haven’t attended to some of the boldest bullet points in Obama’s agenda: financial and immigration reform.

I’m especially worried about financial reform. The recent market crash revealed serious problems in the financial industry that threaten our country’s prosperity, and although some Republicans have been working with Democrats on the current bill, I doubt that a House with a Republican majority will pass the changes needed. Indeed, Republican Congressional leaders have been saying that the regulations in the current bill – meant to keep banks from failing and prevent another crash – would stifle the banking industry and need to be toned down or forgotten.

If we don’t make the necessary reforms now, it could be years before another opportunity comes along. By then, the impetus will be gone. American voters have short memories. We would just have to brace ourselves for the next meltdown.

Climate change is another urgent issue, and Democrats should make further reforms in the next few months, considering how watered-down the cap and trade bill they passed last year was.

Taking action on these issues will improve their odds for November anyway. Whether or not a majority of Americans support Obama’s ideas, the Democrats will at least be a party that can get things done – which will contrast with all the stubborn head-shaking Republicans have been doing lately. Financial reform will be especially beneficial because most Americans, like me, don’t think too highly of banks. The Consumer Protection Agency Democrats have been talking about founding would endear voters who’ve been saddled with the outrageous bank fees that are always pissing off me and my friends.

I’m hoping the economy gets back on its feet before this fall – I’ve already heard economists say that the recession is over. That would soften the blow for the Democrats more than anything else. Either way, it wouldn’t hurt for them to go over Obama’s campaign speeches from 2008 and see what they missed.

Another Three Years

I was glad to hear this week that Comedy Central and Jon Stewart were able to come to terms and the Daily Show will continue for at least another three years. I love watching his show and try to catch it whenever I can. 

I think he does a pretty good job of addressing the important issues confronting our country with brevity and a bit of humor mixed in.

In the video below he picked apart Fox News Contributor Bill Kristol’s argument against healthcare reform.

Reserving Judgment On Treme

Over the years, Kish and I have loved many of HBO’s series.  The Sopranos, Deadwood, and The Wire are some of the finest TV programs ever made.   So, we looked forward with tremendous anticipation to Treme, a show made by the creators of The Wire and set in New Orleans only a few months after Hurricane Katrina.

Let me begin by making an admission that fatally undercuts the credibility of everything else I am about the say:  I have not been able to stay awake through an entire episode yet.  I start with great intentions and commitment, get energized by some terrific New Orleans music, and then after watching a bunch of seemingly random characters move without apparent purpose through the extremely depressing, brutalized post-Katrina landscape, I doze off.  It’s embarrassing to admit, but maybe it also says something about the show’s pace.  I never nodded off during The Sopranos or The Pacific.

There are things to like about Treme.  I admire Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters, the very talented actors who play, respectively, Antoine Batiste and Albert Lambreaux.  Pierce is a very convincing and likable trombone player who obviously has a musician’s commitment issues; Lambreaux plays a sad-faced, commanding figure I haven’t quite figured out.  I like the idea of having long scenes that include some excellent music, although at times those scenes don’t fit too well with the flow of the show.  Some of the show’s characters — like the angry professor played by John Goodman — are a bit over the top, but I am giving them the benefit of the doubt because they obviously have been deeply scarred by the sight of their city brought to its knees by a horrible catastrophe.

One thing I can say with assurance, based on the portions of the two episodes I’ve watched before drifting off into the Land of Nod.  Davis McAlary, the appalling goateed DJ played by Steve Zahn, is the most annoying TV character I’ve every watched.  He seems to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  He is a slob.  He is a rude and mean-spirited neighbor.  He is an arrogant liar.  He is a looter and a thief.  He drinks the most expensive wine at his girlfriend’s restaurant without permission or compensation.  He has temperamental outbursts when asked to play songs from a playlist.  He bugs people like Elvis Costello who are trying to watch a nightclub show in peace.  Are we supposed to like this jerk or find him interesting?  I sure don’t.  I can’t imagine why his chef/restauranteur girlfriend wouldn’t kick his sorry ass to the curb in a nanosecond, or why Elvis Costello wouldn’t bitch-slap him for telling obvious falsehoods about his musical abilities.  In my view, when that character is on the screen he sucks the wind out of the show every time.  Couldn’t a corrupt FEMA official take him out and do us all a favor?

We’ll keep watching, because I think the show has obvious potential — but it is a slow start so far.  Right now, my short-term goal is just to watch an episode through to its conclusion without being overwhelmed by slumber.