1.31.2008

Rocky's Football Corner: Super Bowl 2008

by Rick Rockwell

Not many folks, least of all this author, predicted the New York Giants would be in Super Bowl XLII.

That makes the Giants very dangerous. As they prepare for the game, they seem loose, focused, and angry that the world has already pre-ordained the New England Patriots as the champions. Lest folks forget, the Giants came close to ending the Patriots’ perfect season just over a month ago. And the Super Bowl is their second shot at stopping the Patriots’ impossible run.

If the Giants win, the Patriots fall short of perfection and become an argument for the ages: great team or also-ran? How can a team be considered among the greatest (18 straight wins or not) if they don’t take home the championship rings and trophy?

Ever since the Giants played the Patriots in a real classic, the Giants are the team that has been unified, solid, and surprising. The Patriots have been inconsistent. What would have happened to the Patriots if they had faced a healthy Chargers team in the American Football Conference Championship? Could they have survived three Tom Brady interceptions if LaDainian Tomlinson was galloping up and down the field?

The strength of the Patriots though is their concept of team. Quarterback Brady had a poor day (some of it apparently due to an ankle injury) and running back Laurence Maroney steps up and rumbles through the Chargers. Maroney and the Patriots’ offensive line are fairly unsung this year, but they have contributed at key moments when the Patriots’ passing attack sputtered.

If the Giants are going to win, they will need to do something no team has done so far: shut down both the pass and the run.

When these teams met in the regular season, the Giants stopped Maroney, but Brady passed for 356 yards and receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker burned the Giants’ suspect secondary. If the Giants follow the formula of the Chargers and Jaguars, teams that double and triple covered Moss so he barely showed up in the statistics, then the running lanes will be wide open for Maroney.

There are some solutions for the Giants and their defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, but they are risky. The strength of the Giants’ defense is their pass rushing line. They have three tremendous sack artist linemen. The Giants will need to use plenty of line stunts and blitzes from their solid linebacking corps to disrupt the Patriots’ offense. They will also need to hit Moss hard at the line.

On the offensive side, the Giants will need to get their running game going. In the December game, Patriots’ Coach Bill Belichick focused his defense on the run and gambled Giants Quarterback Eli Manning couldn’t beat his team. Manning responded with four touchdown passes and the Giants nearly pulled off the upset. But Belichick is the master of throwing up entirely new defenses against teams the Patriots have to play twice in a season. If the Giants can’t win the battle at the line of scrimmage then expect the Patriots to roll. Belichick likely has some blitzes in reserve that he usually throws at the other Manning brother that will disorient Eli. Belichick will not let Manning have another strong day, at least not without challenging him a bit more this time. However, if the Giants do manage to establish a running attack, watch out, because this will become a shoot-out scoring match.

Others can take much more credit about predicting the Patriots would be in Arizona in February. However, last year, a week after the Colts won the Super Bowl, this column did predict if the Patriots paid for some receivers they’d be in the big dance. With Moss, Welker, and Donte Stallworth that prediction did come true. Also, before the playoffs started, this column predicted the Patriots would win the Super Bowl, although the expected opponent was the Packers. Likely, the Giants will give the Patriots a better game, and this will be close. Still, it’s the Patriots by a field goal, in a very field goal friendly location.

Super Bowl Office Pool Prediction

Patriots vs. Giants (Patriots)

Two Weeks Ago: .500
Playoffs: .800
This Season: .684











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John Edwards Says Good-Bye to the Campaign Trail, For Now

by Molly Kenney

Former Senator John Edwards announced today from New Orleans that he is dropping out of the presidential race. With campaign donations on the rise and a new wave of pre-Super Tuesday publicity, the most populist candidate in decades seemed as if he was in it until the Democratic convention (despite the obstacles cited in "John Edwards, We Hardly Knew Ye"). In fact, after the South Carolina primary, Edwards said he was in it until the end, and now he is not.

In his departing speech, Edwards assured supporters that his passion — fighting poverty and ending what he called the "Two Americas" — would be carried on by Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Speaking of the workers who share his goal of economic justice, he said, “It's hard to speak out for change when you feel like your voice is not being heard.” Projecting, John? The media, and consequently most of America, may not have noticed him, but hopefully one media darling has.

It’s hard to believe that a man who persevered through his child’s death and his wife’s battle with cancer would give up on anything, but it’s easier to believe for a man in the middle of his second unsuccessful campaign. He and his team are smart enough to know, and have known for awhile, that he wasn’t going all the way and that he could dangerously divide the Democratic vote. So what stopped him now? The Kennedy family endorsement of Sen. Obama (D-IL) couldn’t have been the straw (despite the comparable physical enormity of Sen. Ted and a camel), and his campaign hasn’t disintegrated like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s has. I smell a deal, or at least, I hope for one.

In his announcement today, Edwards did not endorse Obama or Clinton, but he has been associating with Obama for quite some time. As early as the Iowa caucuses, Edwards and Obama were both pushing "change" and collaboratively fighting "the status quo:" Sen. Clinton. In debates and on the campaign trail, they have been relatively soft on each other but tough on Sen. Clinton (D-NY). Obama and Edwards can work together, and it looks like already they are working in unison. By leaving the race, Edwards could be taking one for the team and withholding his endorsement as game strategy.

But Obama has other options, if he wants a running mate, someone like Sen. James Webb (D-VA), who looks a lot like the white Southern man that the Democratic party wants. Webb is a Vietnam veteran, and garners media attention. Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) would help with the Latino vote and Obama's foreign policy weaknesses, but the media cared less about Richardson than they did Edwards. However, considering Edwards’ populist fire and legacy of two failed campaigns, Webb and Richardson might be safer options. But since when has making change meant playing it safe. If Obama’s call for change is as sincere and passionate as Edwards’ call for ending poverty and the class structure, then Obama should go after it with Edwards as his running mate.

With Edwards out of the race, here’s to compromised dreams. Here’s to Obama-Edwards 2008.

For more background on the election campaign, please see these archival posts:

(Photo of former Sen. John Edwards campaigning in New Hampshire in 2006 from Roger H. Goun of Brentwood, NH via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)









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1.30.2008

Music Review: The Mars Volta's The Bedlam in Goliath

by Stephen Tringali

The Mars Volta’s latest album, The Bedlam In Goliath, is a sonically streamlined effort. Gone are the ambient noise-filled interludes of their second record, Frances The Mute. In their place are fleshed out jam sessions that draw on the usual Volta influences: jazz fusion and metal. In this sense, their latest album is a throwback to the properties of their first, De-Loused In The Comatorium. Its rock and roll sessions flow continuously for more than one hour and fifteen minutes — a length that seems excessive no matter what genre listeners enjoy.

If The Mars Volta have one glaring fault it is their love of excess. Their songs rarely run below the six-minute mark, and their albums never play for less than one hour. Some bands manage to hold listeners attention for this length of time. For instance, Yo La Tengo’s two best albums, I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, run more than an hour long. But they are composed of various musical dynamics. Some songs play off as melodic, acoustic pop while others scream with distorted skronk guitar.

The Mars Volta, on the other hand, have one game, and they don’t play it particularly well. Their songs, all neatly concocted variations on the one musical snap-shot that screams “This Is Mars Volta, and This Is What We Do,” rumble forward on the momentum created by metal-influenced rhythm guitar, jazz fusion-style keyboard and lead guitar interplay, and falsetto singing. These elements alternately stick together into tight rock formation and break into jazz and jam band-inspired improvisation.

A song like “Aberinkula,” which opens the album with a blasting chorus section and then quietly devolves into its verses only to later explode into the same riff-drive chorus, borrows from the De-Loused track “Intertiatic E.S.P.” Not only is the song structure similar, but the instrumentation — a particular aesthetic and timbre shared by nearly all Mars Volta songs — sounds too similar to prove itself worthy of extended listening.

The Mars Volta formula quickly grows old, especially considering that it’s been utilized to varying degrees on every one of the band’s other three albums since their first was released in 2003. Perhaps the band’s fans will find The Bedlam In Goliath to be of minor interest. But the majority of the rock listening crowd will likely be looking forward to the future classic rock influenced releases of the year: The Black Keys’ Attack & Release (due out April 1) and My Morning Jacket’s Evil Urges (out June 10).

(Photo of The Mars Volta by niken2506 via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. To see The Mars Volta play their single "Wax Simulacra" from The Bedlam in Goliath on Late Night with David Letterman, please check below.)









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1.29.2008

Kennedy Endorses Obama at American University

by Lagan Sebert
Special to iVoryTowerz

I immediately quit being annoyed at the large man blocking my view as I noticed him choking back tears. It’s not something I’m used to seeing at a political rally, so I decided to just let it slide.

The reason for the tears: Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) accepted an endorsement from Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy (D-MA) at American University’s Bender Arena today (Monday, Jan. 28). Both Senators portrayed the moment as historic, in spite of a campaign season exhausted by endorsements. When everyone from Ted Danson (Hillary Clinton) to Pat Sajak (Fred Thompson) to Ric Flair and Chuck Norris (both for Mike Huckabee!) are publicly tossing out their support for presidential candidates, how much can an endorsement really matter?

But for many Obama supporters this particular endorsement signals the passing of the baton from a family cherished in the hearts’ of Americans to their candidate. Obama said he was “humbled” by the Kennedy dynasty, which he said embodied the “best of the Democratic Party.” Kennedy repeatedly compared Obama to his older brother John, who inspired a new generation of American leaders.

“I feel change in the air,” said Kennedy to roars of cheers. “Barack Obama can renew the belief that the country's best days are still to come. I’ve found my candidate and I think you have too.””

Claims of lofty ideals and promises of change are common at political rallies, but the uncommon aspect to Obama’s campaign is his ability to turn an entire arena into a frenzy of giddy excitement. His ability as an international leader has yet to be tested, but his ability to campaign sets him apart in the political field. It’s like watching Jordan in '93 or The Beatles in '65. He is simply ON!

“I will never forget this,” someone yelled into a cell phone. “I want to touch him,” a girl pleaded as she pushed her way toward his outstretched hand. “He’s beautiful,” another girl told her friends.

Obama’s almost messianic support seems just a little less bizarre due to his perceived comfort with the attention and the expectations.

American University, which has a reputation as a liberal campus and was named the most politically active school in the country by The Princeton Review in 2006, appeared to be friendly ground for both Obama and Kennedy.

The university also has a history with the Kennedys. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy used American University as his platform to call on the Soviet Union to work with the United States on a nuclear test ban treaty.

At today's event, an estimated five thousand people filled the arena and thousands more were turned away. Students began lining up outside as early as five in the morning for the midday rally. In line, I overheard people describing the intricacies of the delegate breakdowns in the western states while others argued about where the university's sports teams should compete and in what collegiate sports divisions. It’s obvious where priorities lie on campus.

Obama said endorsements from the Kennedy family were about more than politics to him. He said his father came to study in the United States with help from education legislation pushed through by John F. Kennedy.

Obama talked of seeing portraits of John and Sen. Robert Kennedy on walls and copies of their speeches on bookshelves. He said it was proof that their dream has endured and that they continue to inspire Americans.

Kennedy’s endorsement also adds a strategic boost in the face of the coming so-called “Super Tuesday” primaries (Feb. 5). One of the demographics where the Kennedy family has proved most popular is the Latino population; a population Obama has struggled to win and one that will command a lot of attention in states like California and New York, which vote on Feb. 5.

From the evidence at American University, Barack Obama looks to be trying to sustain a wave of momentum from his South Carolina win by doing what he does best: delivering powerful oratories that are as vague as they are stirring to crowds of adoring fans.

For more background on the election campaign, please see these archival posts:

(Photos of Sen. Barack Obama hugging a fan, and Sen. Edward Kennedy shaking hands at American University © copyright Sarah Dorsey and used with permission. The photo editing was performed by Lagan Sebert. To see full video coverage of the endorsements of Sen. Barack Obama by various members of the Kennedy clan at American University from C-SPAN, please check below.)




(Editor's Note: To see full coverage of the endorsements of Barack Obama by various members of the Kennedy clan, please see The American Observer, which is written and edited by students and faculty from the School of Communication at American University. Both Lagan Sebert and Sarah Dorsey have contributed items regularly to The American Observer since September of 2006.)










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1.28.2008

John Edwards, We Hardly Knew Ye

by Jeff Siegel

For years, the Democratic Party desperately wanted to run a white male from the South for president. Party leaders saw the strategy as a chance to cut into the Republicans' post-Civil Rights era stranglehold on the region.

And, in fact, the only two Democrats to live in the White House since Lyndon Johnson have been white Southern men – Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. (Though whether that helped them get elected is problematical – Carter carried most of the South, but Clinton only a couple of key states.)

So why didn't the Democrats take to John Edwards this year? He's a white male Southerner who was the party's nominee for vice president in 2004. He's an articulate example of the party's working-class roots, someone whose father was a mill worker and whose mother delivered mail.

Yet his primary performance has been woeful, never getting more than 18 percent of the vote. He did better in Iowa, finishing second ahead of Hillary Clinton with a 30 percent caucus performance, but the media were so busy crowning Barack Obama that hardly anyone noticed. The latest disappointment? Saturday in South Carolina, where former Senator Edwards was third in a state that should have done him better.

In this, we can see the continuing transformation of the Democratic Party of the New Deal and the Fair Deal to its post-modern persona as the party of Let's Make a Deal, and especially with anyone who will contribute to the party's candidates. Edwards, though not a liberal in the classic Democratic Party sense, at least understands that the party must represent working people, minorities, and women – in other words, everyone who doesn't benefit from a George Bush tax cut. Here's what Edwards said in a speech from the fall of 2007:

Here's the truth: the system in Washington is broken. Money is corrupting our democracy. Lobbyists and the special interests they represent are pouring millions of dollars into the system, and stopping the change we need dead in its tracks.
Somehow, I can't see Sen. Clinton (D-NY) saying that. Not even she is that much of a hypocrite.

Edwards' third place in South Carolina dooms his campaign, if only because it will give the media an excuse to ignore him. It also means that the Democrats will probably nominate Clinton – as much as it pains me to write those words. Sen. Obama (D-IL), for all his success (which isn't as much as Jesse Jackson had in 1988, not that anyone in the media knows this), remains a black man in a country where that is still a severe handicap. Just ask Tennessee's Harold Ford. The New York Times and The Washington Post can write as much as they want about how race doesn't matter in 2008, but they're not kidding anyone who lives outside the Beltway.

Edwards was the last best hope for what was left of the old Democratic Party. Those of us who still believe in those values will have to find another home. There is no room for us in Clinton's party, with its sweetheart deals with lobbyists, its wink, wink, nudge, nudge with robber barons like Rupert Murdoch, and its decision by focus group.

And, to be honest, they don't want us anyway. We remind them too much of what they used to be, and how they have betrayed that legacy.

For those who want more background on the campaign, please check these archival posts:
(Photo of former Senator John Edwards at an appearance in Miami, FL in June of 2007 by Alex de Carvalho of Miami via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)







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Kenya: Ethnic Cleansing & Euphemism

by Robin Forman

Ethnic fighting.

Don’t you just love it?

It makes it sound like there’s nothing anyone can do to prevent these savages from killing each other.

Well, thank you, media, for being so afraid to ruffle a single feather yet again.

You know what else they glaze over by using the word “ethnic?”

Holocausts.

They call them “ethnic cleansing.” It just takes the edge off…like Advil for the headaches that are the ills of the world.

This phrasing, without hesitation or question, also takes the blame right off those in charge and places it on the people they supposedly lead.

Let’s turn to Kenya where ethnic fighting has now claimed the lives of at least 700 people since the controversial re-election of President Mwai Kibaki.

On just one day last week, the fighting killed at least ten people in Kenya’s Rift Valley and forced thousands more from their homes.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga and his rival Kibaki met for the first time since the disputed elections last month triggered weeks of violence. Former U.N. Chief Kofi Annan acted as a mediator at the meeting and denounced the violence, saying what he saw was “gross and systematic human rights abuses of fellow citizens.”

The meeting saw little success and resulted in new accusations and anger from Odinga’s side when Kibaki declared himself the country’s “duly-elected” leader.

Police were deployed on the outskirts of Nakuru in the Rift Valley. Reuters reports that police battled to stop clashes between tribal gangs wielding machetes, spears and bows and arrows. The clashes have left at least 27 people dead in Nakuru in the past three days.

What makes these ethnic clashes difficult is Kenya's 36 million people are split into more than 40 different ethnic groups, each with its own strong identity, a variety of cultural traditions, and separate tongues.

Okay, so apparently ethnic fighting is common in Kenya, particularly around elections. The worst fighting occurred in 1992 when 1,500 people were killed in tribally tinged land clashes in the Rift Valley.

But do we really need to wait for that body count to say or do something? Because we’re about halfway there right now.

For more background on the unrest in Kenya, please see: "Kenya: Tribal Tensions & Shattered Democracy;" and "Kenya's Lethal Crackdown."

(Photo of a police barricade in Nairobi by DEMOSH of Nairobi, Kenya via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)










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1.27.2008

How the Media Killed the Kucinich Campaign

by Laura Snedeker

What does it say about American politics when the people with the most integrity flop fantastically? Ohio Congressman and two-time presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich reduced the number of palatable Democrats when he officially dropped out of the race last week after predictably poor primary results and low poll numbers.*

“There is a point at which you just realize that you, look, you accept it, that it isn’t going to happen and you move on,” Kucinich said.

Amidst the orgy of fundraising and childish sniping between the two media-appointed front-runners, Kucinich’s long-shot campaign provided an alternative voice in a country overrun by national security hawks whose plan for change encompasses only the oval office.

It is sign of how conditioned Americans have become to destructive and deceptive politics when the candidate with the boldest vision of change is marginalized by the mainstream media and treated as an object of curiosity and scorn: “In this cage we have the pinko-feathered peacenik….”

The lack of initial media coverage predetermined Kucinich's eventual exclusion as commentators lined up behind the three least radical Democrats. The Des Moines Register excluded Kucinich and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel from the debate before the Iowa caucuses because neither had a campaign office in the state before the deadline. ABC News excluded both candidates, as well as Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter from the debate hosted by St. Anselm College in New Hampshire; the candidates were excluded for not meeting arbitrary polling benchmarks. The Nevada Supreme Court upheld CNN’s right to exclude Kucinich from the Nevada caucuses debate.

In early debates, Kucinich’s only widely-reported statements were also widely ridiculed in the mainstream media. In a debate hosted by NBC News in October, moderator Tim Russert was compelled to ask the candidate to respond to a claim that he had once seen a UFO in the skies over Washington State.

“I did. And the rest of the account — I didn’t — I — it was unidentified flying object, okay. It’s like — it’s unidentified. I saw something,” Kucinich replied, undoubtedly well aware of the intent behind Russert’s obnoxious question.

Kucinich’s subsequent shunning may have had as much to do with his irreverent observations about the mainstream media as with his unsettling political views. After slamming the Democrats for their willingness to go along with the war in Iraq and urging people to “adamantly reject any kind of a move towards war with Iran,” he took a shot at Tim Russert and his cohorts.

“The media did play a role in taking us into war in Iraq, and I’m urging the members of the media to urge restraint upon you and our president, whose rhetoric is out of control,” Kucinich said.

The media have been painfully slow to acknowledge their role in cheerleading for the Iraq War. They displayed almost criminal negligence in failing to examine the so-called facts presented by the Bush administration, for fear of being called unpatriotic and un-American. They beat the drums hard and fast, abandoning notions of objectivity to become the president’s personal propaganda machine. That a politician should have to lecture the media on self-restraint and accountability is shameful.

Those who criticized Kucinich and his supporters for being too idealistic, while embracing empty rhetoric about change, miss the point. Change is about being idealistic and angry enough to go against the prevailing political wisdom; cynicism is the bastard child of idealism denied in favor of limited possibilities.

*Kucinich was attracting support from about one percent of the electorate in many polls.

For those who want more background on the campaign, please check these archival posts:

(The photo of Congressman Dennis Kucinich at a candidates' forum for the Service Employees International Union in Washington, D.C. in 2007 is from SEIU International via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. On a national level, SEIU did not endorse a presidential candidate, although state chapters of the union have endorsed various candidates. However, the union had no presence in South Carolina where Democrats voted on Saturday in a primary.)









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1.25.2008

South Carolina Primary Preview

by Rick Rockwell

The question this weekend in South Carolina is whether this primary will re-ignite Barack Obama’s candidacy* or whether it is time to polish Hillary Clinton’s crown.

Unlike the caucuses in Nevada last weekend, Sen. Obama (D-IL) needs to step up again and stop Clinton's machine. Obama did give Sen. Clinton (D-NY) some anxiety by taking the Iowa caucuses. But if Obama can't take down she who would be Queen this weekend, the race will be over.

Some are already worried about the heated rhetoric in the Democratic campaign, fearing both Clinton and Obama are giving the Republicans ammunition for the general election. Forget that reasoning for now, although it does have some credibility. If Clinton's momentum is not stopped in South Carolina, she will roll inexorably to the nomination. Do we really want this race to be over in January or early February?

Here's the main reason to vote against Clinton: the Iraq War.

Clinton is the biggest war hawk of the Democrats. Right now, she promises to start moving troops home within 60 days of taking office. Can you believe her? This is at least the third position she’s taken on Iraq. She likes to point out Obama’s inconsistencies, but she is the most inconsistent on Iraq. Typical for the Clinton machine (and much like her husband) she is taking the position that shows up best in focus groups. Forget leadership. Forget forging bold policy. She’s ready on Day One to do what ever she feels like, no matter what she promises now.

Clinton also sounds a lot like President George Bush when she discusses the need for national security trumping human rights.

If you want the real anti-war Democrats then you need to look to names like Howard Dean (now the head of the Democratic National Committee and responsible for a great Congressional election strategy in 2006), Al Gore (now a Nobel Prize Winner, among a passel of other awards he’s collected since 2000), or Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). (Kucinich is now officially out of the 2008 presidential derby.) They all took the heat for their positions when the idea of war was popular.

Sure, Obama opposed the war in his famous 2002 speech, but as Clinton likes to point out, he has softened his rhetoric ever since. Also, his voting record is far from the revolutionary leadership needed on this all-important policy topic.

If only former Senator John Edwards had a better voting record. But he doesn’t. He made the mistake of voting to authorize the war too (one of many votes Edwards is constantly having to explain) but at least he apologized for caving in to the Bush administration.

So where does that leave Democrats? Well, if you look at the last month, it means Democrats are arguing over the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as race politics gets played out in the first Democratic primary in the South. Or this week, they started arguing about why Obama would call the Republicans “the party of ideas” and which Democrat secretly admires Ronald Reagan more. So as usual, the Democrats are beset on tiny issues of nuance while ignoring the biggest issue for the country: the Iraq War.

Only Kucinich has the guts to do this, and the rules in the House of Representatives make it difficult for him to stop the legislative process. But instead of campaigning, one of these brave Senators should go back to D.C. and filibuster until the Senate removes the war authorization. One Senator can shut down the process because the Senate runs on unanimous consent. Think that wouldn’t get some TV coverage?

Barring that, Obama needs to get even tougher with Clinton in the next debate in Los Angeles. Not only should he point out Clinton’s war policy inconsistencies, but he should demand her apology for her vote as proof she has really changed her mind. (On the stump in the past day or so, Obama has followed this strategy and put Clinton's vulnerabilities on the war front and center.) If he’s going to squabble with her, it should be about something that really matters.

However, South Carolina will tell us all whether that strategy is a week too late.

*A Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll – one of the polls that has consistently tracked the race correctly – shows Obama had an 18-point lead in South Carolina on Jan. 23, so his revival is quite possible. That poll shows Clinton dropped 14 points in the past week, and Obama gained five points, as both were statistically tied in the state a week ago.

For those who want more background on the campaign, please check these archival posts:

(Political graphic by The Heretik, who offers graphics for use via Photobucket.)









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How Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver Jumped the Shark, Part I

(Editor's Note: Hilary Crowe has recently relocated to London. This is the first of a two part commentary. To read the next part, please go here.)

by Hilary Crowe

It’s the end of the third long week in my introduction to London, and as I drag my feet across the always wet cobblestones and up the treacherously slippery marble stoop and stairs back to my euphemistically “cozy” flat, all I can think about is tonight’s cheap eats – the modest omelette. I look forward to this knowing that in the flats’ gap of a communal kitchen, I’ll have to hedge my bets and launch my nightly war with the finicky stove. The wobbly card table will be occupied, so tonight, like most others, I’ll wedge myself past my peers and navigate narrow hallways and blind corners back to my room, balancing the steaming plate and carton of fragile leftover eggs as I open doors and fumble for keys. Safely seated on my “dining room floor,” space heater against my back, I’ll dig in and tune out in front of one of the five channels British terrestrial television offers its audience for a mandatory £208 a year. So goes my lackluster, yet oddly satisfying, typical evening meal.

Thus far, compared to Tampa, Florida, Washington, D.C., and even New York City, London life proves to be a bit more unforgiving. Tasks made simple by suburbia – sedans, familiarity with one’s cultural landscape and comparatively modern infrastructure – are now tiny battles by which my day is won. Each hour is a struggle to gain some semblance of social consciousness, yet the grueling day still feels too short – streetlights burn bright at 4 p.m. and pubs tap out at 11 p.m., which is just as well, as the tube closes at midnight, even on weekends. As anyone sporting a suit and serious haircut on Fleet Street will attest, time is money: there’s never enough of either.

So when A-list, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s sensational Channel 4 television special Jamie’s Fowl Dinners was the feature presentation during last Friday’s TV dinner/zombie-fest, my usual poultry-centric meal was a bit harder to digest. This was not because I felt terrible for chomping on the breasts of cage-reared chickens that grew so fast and disproportionately large that their mangled legs could barely carry them to the cornmeal. It was because my five-years-long, smalltime celebrity crush was not, in fact, my own best kept secret from across the pond but a powerful player in British business, politics, and omnipresent in advertising. And he, who I thought few people knew or cared enough to be smitten about, was now accusing me of selfishly stuffing my ignorant, anti-gourmand face with ill-gotten goods, railing against my fellow proletariat/student/people-who-live-on budgets from his ivory tower of fame and fortune.

(To read the second part of this commentary, please scroll down or go here.)

(Photo of Jamie Oliver by coolhawks88 of London via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)








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How Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver Jumped the Shark, Part II

(Editor's Note: This is the second part of a commentary by Hilary Crowe on Jamie Oliver's program about chicken dinners on British television. To read this from the beginning, please go here.)

I am, however, but one of the unwashed masses Ringmaster Oliver attempts to educate with his circus of shockjock barnyard horrors – cramming 100 hens into one pen onstage and electrocuting a chicken into stupefaction then cutting its throat so that blood flows out of its beak and into his hands as the bird dangles from metal hooks on a mock-assembly line set, the live audience looking on agape and aghast. It was clear that months of preparation and filming had gone into the production of this “Fowl” show (Jamie's Fowl Dinners), as documentary segments of Jamie Oliver touring processing plants to watch fuzzy yellow chirping chicks get gassed, mini-Auschwitz-style, for not fully absorbing the yolk sack prior to hatching and of our culinary crusader strolling among the rank-and-file cages on growers’ properties, tut-tutting all the way. Representatives from Mr. Oliver’s employer Sainsbury’s and its rival Waitrose, two bargain-priced supermarkets selling indistinguishable stock at trivial differences in price, discussed, as if at a run-of-the-mill press conference, their companies’ efforts to decrease or eliminate the number of cage-reared chickens and eggs they sell.

Between broadcasting such doom and gloom and casting the carcass on my plate as the martyr of the animal kingdom, Mr. Oliver urged the audience to buy free range, organic poultry products. Every fifteen minutes, when asked their thoughts of what they learned so far, audience members eschewed the Colonel and extolled the pricier, “freer” chicken – convinced that the free range dishes Oliver served them tasted detectably better than the caged-bird version. Among this saccharine schlock, however, only one poor woman brought up the price difference, the obvious fact that many Britons were living on a tight budget, and said she’d stick to the cheaper alternative. Oliver cheekily vilified her and promptly moved on to his next adoring fan.

Though much of the studio audience was too smitten with the charming young (Oliver is 32) muckraker to agree with this woman, the fact is that, for many, it’s not easy being green. And it’s neither simple enough nor justified to point the knotted finger of blame solely at those of us who live on a tight budget and need a source of cheap, lean protein, or at supermarkets, like ASDA and Tesco, that exist because a significant percentage of Britons need affordable groceries to live. It’s quite easy, if not reckless, for a figure as prominent as Mr. Oliver, who gets paid £1.2 million to front Sainsbury’s ad campaign, to bite the hand that feeds. Even as said contract now hangs heavy over flames after Mr. Oliver cost his employers that invaluable currency, consumer confidence. Oliver, the disgruntled Sainsbury’s mutineer, is financially set for life with his stable empire of books and extra-ornithological crusades (i.e. nutritional re-education and healthier school lunches). But for the rest of us, time is money – in the form of pay checks – and it’s no secret or new development that for some there is a tragically inverse relationship between the two.

I have heard the expression quite a lot since coming to London that Americans live to work, while the British work to live. So, Mr. Oliver, I wonder what kind of life working class Britons can expect if the cost of living (eating inclusive) is raised so that chickens can meet the same inevitable fate, but at the end of a longer, greener path? What about the quality of life of those who live paycheck to paycheck? In a perfect world, chickens and humans would lead happier lives beyond the confines of literal and financial cages, without humans having to work overtime to fulfill the righteous mission of keeping agribusiness and supermarkets from flooding shelves with tortured meat and ill-gotten eggs. I’m sure we all look forward to a day when eco-sensitivity and healthy living are the popular norm instead of the aristocratic privilege.

I realize that it does take baby steps – as Mr. Oliver eventually suggested (no doubt humbled by hindsight), paying for the best quality organic and free range food products one can afford – if such a higher goal is to be achieved. However, the one group Mr. Oliver has yet to ensnare in the debate, and the one group with any real power to more expediently change the status quo, is the government. Perhaps the government should mandate that all livestock be grown free-range and cage-free. Perhaps then consumers will not be forced to choose between less food and a quiet conscience or more food and the mark of Cain.

(To read this commentary from the beginning, please go here.)

(The photo of Jamie Oliver at a book event in London's Borough Market is by rockandrollbruce from a public album via webshots.)








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iVoryTowerz Radio: Let It All Hang Out

This week, we are listening to the underground podcast with a knowing look and a snarky smile curled across our lips. Do we have edgy music, as usual? Of course. Do we have bands playing while enjoying an unusually good time? No doubt. Do we have xylophone solos? Get real! Yes! So put on those earbuds and get ready for a hefty dose of Texas swing, funk, and the best eclectic new music we could find, with the usual stops for new wave and heavy metal along the way, plus a few surprises during our musical journey. Enjoy!


(This podcast is no longer available.)


Playlist

"Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)" by Hombres
Jeff’s New Wave: “Old Habits Die Hard” by the Sir Douglas Quintet
"Bob Wills Boogie" by Bob Wills
“Before the Last Teardrop Falls" by Asleep at the Wheel
"Lonesome Dollar" by Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys
Cover Me: "Somethin' Else" by Little Richard & Tanya Tucker
"Sexy Side of You" by George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars
"Guitar" by Prince
“Billie Jean” by Chris Cornell (request)
“Ain't It Strange” by Dr. Dog
“Pure Narcotic" by Porcupine Tree
"I Want to be a Sheep" by Ezra Furman & the Harpoons
"Gone Daddy Gone" by Violent Femmes
"Love My Way" by The Psychedelic Furs
"St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast/Father O'Blivion" by Frank Zappa
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Final Six” by Slayer

(Mp3 Runs - 1:19:28; 73 MB.) Program contains lyrics that discuss mature themes.

(Graphic courtesy of Xark! and used with permission. As noted, Xark! is one of the blogs we heartily endorse.)




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Campaign 2008: Beyond Race & Gender

by Lauren Anderson

In less than two hundred years, both women and blacks have won the right to vote. In just the past century, both groups have led powerful movements to push for equal rights. In many ways, the current presidential campaign appears to be the fruit of those labors. Two strong, intelligent people, one a woman and the other half-black, are competing for the Democratic nomination. Many people predicted that women would align behind Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), while blacks would align behind Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), but that has not been the case at all.

According to The New York Times, black voters will make up at least 50 percent of the Democratic voters in the South Carolina primary (on Jan. 26), a number which could make or break it for Clinton and Obama. Many people initially expected Obama to carry the state with ease, but polls have shown otherwise. (A Reuters-Zogby Poll from Jan. 17 shows both candidates statistically tied for the lead in South Carolina.) Some significant black leaders and organizations have endorsed Obama's closest competitor, Hillary Clinton. Similarly, many women have shown their support for Obama, not Clinton. The polling of CNN and other media outlets showed 35 percent of female caucusgoers in Iowa voted for Obama, while only 30 percent voted for Clinton.

In this case, there is no greater achievement for women or African-Americans than the division among them. It proves people are voting based on issues, not just on race or gender. In an election that has commanded so much attention concerning these issues, it’s reassuring to know that voters remember that they are, in terms of qualifications to be president, insignificant. Voters are willing and able to look past skin color and sex, something that many in this country have been fighting for since before its inception. Whether Clinton, Obama, or neither win the election, this country has gained something more important than four years in office. We have reached an unprecedented level of tolerance, hopefully opening the door for the advancement of diversity across the nation.

Editor's Note: This is the last posting on this blog for Lauren Anderson who now moves on to other pursuits. And we wish her well. To see some of her other commentary on the campaign, please read: "Mitt Romney: Faith in Politics 2008" and "The Polarizing Senator Hillary Clinton."


(Vote sticker photo by CAVE CANEM of Detroit via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)





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1.23.2008

Rocky's Football Corner, 1.23.2008

by Rick Rockwell

A quarterback served notice at Lambeau Field this past weekend that when it comes to the playoffs and championships in the next decade you are going to be hearing the name Manning in both conferences.

Eli Manning who directs the offense for the New York Giants finally came into his own during this playoff season. Not only did he best Brett Favre, one of the great quarterbacks in the National Football League (NFL) on the frozen tundra and in overtime, but Manning has been the picture of efficiency. Only two other quarterbacks have a better rating during the playoffs, and one of them is the league’s most-valuable player, Tom Brady. (The other is Billy Volek of San Diego who threw just four passes in relief of Philip Rivers two weeks ago.) Eli’s brother, by the way, you know, that guy who plays for the Colts and is in every other television commercial? He had a rating of 97.7, very respectable, but not as good as Eli’s 99.2. So Eli gets to go to the Super Bowl this year and Peyton Manning just gets to star in most of the Super Bowl commercials.

What happened to Eli in the playoffs? During the season, he had 23 touchdown passes compared to 20 interceptions and a rating of 73.9. Very ordinary. Even the Ravens’ washout Kyle Boller had a better rating. This was a typical season for Eli, as his career rating is 73.4.

But ever since the last game of the season against the New England Patriots, Eli has been playing at a higher level. Against the Patriots, he had four touchdown passes (twice as many as Brady, who did set the touchdown record this season) compared to one interception. Since that game he has not been picked off in three playoff games, and he has four touchdown passes in those playoff wins.

So what’s the Eli mystery? Why did he suddenly peak at just the right moment to lead his team to Super Bowl XLII?

Actually, it is no secret. First, Giants Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride has constructed excellent game plans, with Coach Tom Coughlin, meant to maximize Manning’s talents, but also lean heavily on the running game. They haven’t asked Manning to do too much or to press. Next, it is obvious it just took Eli four seasons to learn the offense.

And no, this is not because Manning is slow, or dumb, or not as serious as his brother. This is because it takes years to master an offense in the NFL (unlike in college) and teams tend to rush quarterbacks into service years before they are ready. This is a natural mistake because teams invest millions in high draft picks and the fans, the talk radio maniacs, and itchy owners want that investment to pay off. Immediately.

Lucky for Coughlin the Eli gamble finally turned to gold at the right time. If Coughlin had not won at least one playoff game, he'd would have probably lost his job. The media, fans and the talk radio fanatics all wanted that in the preseason. Even if he loses the Super Bowl, Coughlin's job is likely safe for a year or two.

But Coughlin gambled with Eli in 2004, when Manning was the top draft pick in the league, by starting him in the back half of the season, years before he was really ready to guide the team. Manning, by the way suffered through with a horrid 55.4 rating and the Giants, a team that had started strong with Kurt Warner at the helm, finished 6-10. Just think of how much better the Giants would have been in 2004 and 2005 if they had put Eli on the bench to study and stuck with Warner. (Warner, now in Arizona by the way, had a better rating than Eli this season, and there’s a strong argument to be made Warner should start next year when Matt Leinart comes back from his injury.)

Leinart in Arizona, Jason Campbell in Washington, and even Vince Young in Tennessee are all great examples of how talented college players cannot just step into an NFL offense and immediately light up the scoreboard like college. Look at what Todd Collins did in Washington after a decade of studying the offense, compared to Campbell’s mediocre performance. And Norm Chow, the former offensive coordinator for the Tennesee Titans is paying the price with his job because Young is not ready yet to run a complex offense.

Eli Manning shows it takes about four years for a quarterback to master the NFL and now he’s ready to challenge Brady. Again.









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1.22.2008

Music Review: Cat Power's Jukebox

by Vincent Lee

Rarely does one expect much out of a cover record. Its typically one of three things: 1) A tribute album to an artist; 2) An attempt to recreate a group of random songs with the artist's own persona, usually failing; 3) Or something horrifically boring with no originality to speak of. With choices like this, it is rare to find a cover album worth listening to more than once. Cat Power's Jukebox is the second form, yet it is a surprising success.

The range of artists is very interesting. On the one hand you have folk artists such as Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan, then other ranged choices like Hank Williams and James Brown. Yet Cat Power (a.k.a. Charlyn "Chan" Marshall) manages to somehow fuse these various different elements into a consistent jazzy indie theme. None of the selections are especially popular. The most noted song is “I Believe In You,” a track off of Dylan's Slow Train Coming. The broad group of artists and songs adds some unique character to this cover album.

From top to bottom, this album is very solid and consistent. There is not a poor song to be found. Oddly enough, the standout song is the only original song, “Song to Bobby.” A soft song that takes advantage of Marshall's voice in several ways. On previous Cat Power records, Marshall would sometimes find herself too busy hewing to an indie ethos to explore her amazing vocals. She does not make that mistake on this album.

By no means is this album special or extraordinary. However, from top to bottom each song is solid and flows with amazing fluidity. Other than the aforementioned “Song to Bobby” the use of piano in coordination with Marshall's vocals stands out significantly. For a cover album, this is a standout. In general, the average indie rock fan should enjoy this as much as any other Cat Power album.

(Photo of Cat Power – Chan Marshall – by basic sounds via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. To see Cat Power perform "Metal Heart" – which appears on both Jukebox and Moon Pix – in San Francisco in 1998, please check below.)










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South Carolina Presidential Candidate Debate Highlights

(After enough of these debates are held, various points become obvious to viewers. First, the candidates repeat the same things to each other and use the same arguments from debate to debate. Second, the candidates often reuse parts of their stump speeches in answering questions, so these are not really debates but repetitions of these speeches. Third, the journalists and moderators who hold forth during the debates need to do more to control the conversation but should also ask better questions, and they should hold candidates to account for dodging questions. Fourth, even though debates are better than horse race coverage at discerning differences among the candidates, they still don't get at the core issues, like they could. With all those caveats, we have tried to uphold our public service commitment of finding highlights from this latest debate that at least illuminate a bit.)

by Rick Rockwell

The gloves finally come off with some hard jabbing between Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) in this exchange during the CNN debate in South Carolina prior to this weekend's Democratic primary.



Clinton and Obama discuss the mortgage crisis in the clip below and continue their jabbing over their records.



In this part, Clinton and former Senator John Edwards team up to focus on Obama's record in the Illinois legislature.



The top Democratic candidates will go at it again next week in Los Angeles in the ongoing debate series.

For those who want more background on the campaign, please check these archival posts:

(Photo of Sen. Hillary Clinton by dbking of Washington, D.C. via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)









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1.21.2008

What Do You Mean, We Still Don't Have Any Nominees?

by Jeff Siegel

Somewhere, George McGovern must be smiling.

Bomber George, as he is fondly remembered, was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972. The convention that nominated him in Miami Beach was everything that I love about democracy – full of arguing and shouting and disagreeing and maneuvering. The delegates argued about nominating McGovern, then a Senator from South Dakota. They argued about nominating Tom Eagleton, a Senator from Missouri, as his running mate. There was so much ruckus, in fact, that McGovern didn't make his acceptance speech until after 2 a.m.

Was it great television? Nope. Was it a healthy exercise of the franchise? Most undoubtedly, so it had to go.

The party bosses were aghast at what happened (even Archie Bunker got a vote for vice president). They vowed never to let this happen again – especially after McGovern suffered one of the worst defeats ever, losing to Richard Nixon by 503 electoral votes. Post-McGovern, conventions became scripted, prime-time entertainment events that ran more to schedule than the Academy Awards. The idea? Not just put the nominee's best foot forward, but sculpt him in an angelic light, all sweetness and middle-class tax cuts.

Fast forward 36 years. The convention system – with its primaries and caucuses – is dying, its arteries hardened by a steady diet of the fast food equivalent of political marketing. The republic needs a debate about the issues; instead we get a super-sized order of quarter-pounders with cheese, fries and a Coke. There's a 1,300-word Washington Post story detailing Saturday's Nevada's Democratic caucus results, and in almost none of it is explained the results in terms of the Iraq War, the economy, health insurance, and immigration. Instead, it focused on polling minutiae. The story says more women voted for Hillary Clinton, but doesn't bother to explain why.

Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer people care about this stuff? Why would they, given what's on the menu?

The idea – and the media play into it by focusing on the horse race and not the issues – is not to nominate a candidate, but to nominate one as quickly as possible. (For more on this, please see "The Iowa Caucuses: How Not to Crown the Next Emperor or Empress.") Don't make waves, don't give the other guy something to smear you with, and save your cash for the general election. When that doesn't happen, like this year, everyone is baffled. The New York Times, which declared Clinton the winner before the primary season started and hopped on the Mike Huckabee bandwagon so quickly it probably hurt itself, published two stories in the last week puzzling over this development. In the second, talking about John McCain, it said:

In almost any other year, a victory like this — particularly in a state with a history of backing the eventual Republican nominee — would send the winner hurtling down the road toward the nomination.

But perhaps not this year, and perhaps not this candidate.

Gee, no fooling? You don't think that's actually why we vote, do you?

Is it too late for McGovern* to get into the race?

For those who want more background on the campaign, please check these archival posts:
*McGovern is currently serving as a United Nations global ambassador on hunger issues and he is the co-author, along with William R. Polk of the book, Out of Iraq from 2006.

(Political graphic of many of the major Republican presidential candidates © copyright DarkBlack and used with permission. For more material like this, please see DarkBlack's blog.)







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