Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why Jim Webb is my favorite Senator right now.

For a junior senator, only two years in office so far, this guy gets things done. He quickly got the New G.I. Bill passed for vets who have served since 9/11. The difference between the old one (the Montgomery GI Bill) and the new one is that this one will actually pay for college instead of about 1/3 of it. And he did this in spite of fierce Pentagon opposition, which position was that it would cost too much and give too much incentive to military members to get out after their first term and go to school instead of back to war again.

Now he is taking on crime and prison reform, and it's about damn time. I will let him speak for himself, "We have five percent of the world's population; we have 25 percent of the world's known prison population. There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice." - It's hard to argue with that kind of common sense. What we are doing in our prisons is atrocious, and in a country where a majority claim to follow Christ, there does not seem to be much concern for the "least of these" in prison.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A great site for Fort Worth locals

FortWorthology is a wonderful site dedicated to rethinking the ways we live together in cities. I would love to hear about more examples of local-focused blogs dedicated to new urbanism, or suburb rethink, or whatever you call this new move toward considering our metro areas holistically. I do not live in Fort Worth, but I am glad there are people there giving serious thought to sustainable cities designed for human beings, as opposed to cars.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Did O.J. take the rap for his son?

I have watched a bit of this and for those interested in the case it might be compelling. I had a friend back in the '90s in the Marines who grew up with Jason Simpson and had been to their house many times.. His first reaction when hearing about the whole affair was that Jason probably did it. He said Jason hated Nicole and was one crazy cat. He also said that he wouldn't be surprised if O.J. took the rap for Jason. Might be something to this after all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Brandi Carlile is a raging talent.

I have written songs on and off since I was 11. Some are better than others, and some are damn good, so when I run across a song writer who impresses me, I tip my hat.

Brandi Carlile - hat tip to you.

"I'm like the rain in a downpour,
I wash away what you long for..."

Check out her song "Downpour" on The Story.
Just about any song on the album is brilliant. She has quite a knack for matching a lilting melody with a starkly honest turn of phrase. I must admit I didn't expect to like her stuff just by description because her kind of homegrown Americana-ish pop is not normally my kind of thing, but I have listened to this album constantly for a week and this girl has skills.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I've heard the new movie Watchmen uses Leonard Cohen's original version of Hallelujah instead of one of the many covers out there (some glorious, some hideous). As a one who had declared myself a huge fan of Cohen I guess I should weigh in on these covers.

My first reaction to the huge and growing popular response to this song is somewhat unexpected, at least by me. And I am dismayed at it. Because now, this beautiful thing I had discovered and was known by only a few others and was special to us all has been appropriated into the huge crass marketplace of the unwashed. It has already become treadworn and tired through relentless repetition. Which is so sad for such a brilliant song.

The first time I ever heard it, or anything by Cohen was in the mid-90s while in bed with a randy co-worker who had coaxed me to her apartment with promises of desperate passion. She was playing some rather weird music in the background as we consummated our unfaithful (for her) relationship. I found out she was cheating when she answered the phone as it rang in mid-coitus... and she talked to her long-distance fiance. As the call stretched into minutes I started listening to the singer more closely and realized that it was some kind of odd genius coming out of those speakers. It was Cohen's live version of Hallelujah.

But Cohen's unusual lyrical mingling of sex and spirituality, which pervades his work, is always colored, for me, by the circumstances of our introduction. Cohen's alluring and sensual melodies settled across the dark room of that young girl's flat as I lay still, still, well, intimately connected to her, while she carried on a very intimate and passionate conversation with her half-a-world-away fiance. It was a strange experience, sharing this woman's bed as she cried and whispered "I love you" to someone else. Kinda chips away at one's belief in other people, doesn't it? Of course, I didn't leave either so I suppose that says a lot about me too, at least the younger me. Looking back, I can't think of a more fitting soundtrack for such an occasion than the bard of tortured love. It was the start of a long relationship - with Cohen. I don't remember her name.

As for the endless cover versions. The one most spoken of is Jeff Buckley's, but I prefer John Cale's to his. However, the top prize must go to k.d. lang, who wrenches unbelievable emotion from this performance at the Canadian Juno Awards in 2005.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cadillac Records

While it's not strictly historically accurate, the movie Cadillac Records captures the major moments in the history of Chess records and its legendary blues titans. While Jeffrey Wright and Beyonce Knowles have gotten alot of critical notice, and for good reason, especially in Wright's case, it was Eamonn Walker's portrayal of Howlin' Wolf that stole the show for me, though he was afforded only a minor part in the film, which really follows the careers and relationship of Muddy Waters and Leonard Chess as the main storyline.

Here is Walker's rendition of Smokestack Lightnin' in the film. His performance of Howlin' Wolf's inhuman growl is even more startling if you hear the actor's natural, fairly refined London accent.

I enjoyed the film so much, I watched it twice in a row on a flight from Tokyo to D.C..

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Reminiscence - a homecoming

I am in my Dad's old neighborhood. I took a drive around his hometown in Massachusetts. I wasn't raised there, nor anywhere close. I only ever visited the area as a very occasional visitor - mostly at family reunions. But seeing this area has brought to mind events I have tried not to think about for awhile now.

My father died while I was at war, about four years ago now. I spoke to him from a satellite phone from Fallujah as he lay in his death bed. I don't remember much of what was said. He was having traouble speaking. He managed to get out, "I love you," and something about being proud. I couldn't make it all out clearly.

When I said goodbye and hung up the phone, I was paralyzed for several minutes; very still and alone in the middle of a vast desert stillness. I had said goodbye for the last time. I got on a helicopter to Taqqadum, a base where I would catch a plane to Kuwait, then a long flight back to the world.

At Taqqadum, I slept for a few hours, awaiting the next flight south. When I woke I called my brother from a green phone at the field air terminal and found out from my brother that Dad was dead.

I wanted to be mad at God, but I found that I didn't any longer think there was one. As fantastical and crazy as it sounds to say that this is all a big accident, this world, this universe, this precarious life, is an accident, it is the only thing that made sense to me.

The misery I saw in Iraq, in Haiti, in Afghanistan, and a dozen other miserable countries; the deep, deep sorrow that was gripping me; the sheer madness of this healthy, pious, non-smoking, non-drinking, 68 year-old tri-athlete dying of lung cancer - it seemed to me that all of it could only be excused, if we are all indeed just products of chance, because if there is a God, he has a lot to answer for.