12.31.2008

New Year's Eve Musical Interlude

Who knows when this blog will reawaken and discover 2009 is well underway? So until that time, appropriately, a musical interlude to tide all the revelers over. Please check out the embedded music video below from Death Cab for Cutie ("The New Year"). And if that isn't enough to ring your bells on New Year's Eve (because the television fare is the usual horrible dreck) then may we politely suggest putting the latest iVoryTowerz Radio podcast in your ipod while you sip your champagne. You can find the latest podcast playlist and link here. And if 2008 was the year of hope and promise then we send forth our wish for a year of action and promises enacted into real change in 2009. Rock on into the new year!

(The photo is of a fireworks display on New Year's Eve 2007 in Austin, TX; the photo is by motleypixel of Round Rock, TX via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)







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NFL: Wild Card Weekend 2009

The Second Season

by Rick Rockwell


For those who don’t follow sports, the second season means the playoffs. To some, this is the only season that matters.

There’s no messing around in the playoffs. Make one too many mistakes and your team is done for the year.

So with that philosophy in mind, let’s get right to the pertinent question: who will play in the Super Bowl?

This year, it will be the Manning Bowl. Yes, if you think the Manning brothers are over-exposed commercially now, wait until they are the two headlining quarterbacks in the Super Bowl. That alone should be reason for us to pray against such a possibility. However, the elder Manning, Peyton, is on many lists as the league’s MVP and Eli merely plays quarterback for the World Champion New York Giants. Right now, the Colts and Giants are the best teams in their respective conferences. Sure, the Tennessee Titans have the best record in football, but they are not as hot as the Colts, a team that has won nine straight. Meanwhile, the Giants have the best record in the National Football Conference (NFC) and as usual look primed for the playoffs with a solid rushing attack and tough defense. (The prediction: the Colts triumph in a very close Super Bowl.)

Isn’t this a betrayal of the so-called Hero Team, the Philadelphia Eagles? Well, certainly, but this is the first year the Hero Team was not hexed by its selection so we are in new territory with the team actually in the playoffs. In all seriousness, the Eagles are never sure which team will show up week-to-week. Will it be the shut down defense and flawless Donovan McNabb at quarterback who smothered the Cowboys during Week 17? Or will it be the mistake-prone, lackluster bunch which could not beat Jim Zorn and his mediocre Washington crew in Week 16?

The Eagles have the most intriguing match-up of the coming weekend, as the Minnesota Vikings are also a talented but inconsistent bunch. Minnesota's problems begins at quarterback. Due to injuries, Travaris Jackson returned to the quarterback spot in December and Coach Brad Childress decided he should keep starting. But since that decision, Minnesota’s offense has become more prone to fumble. Gus Frerotte is a steadier hand at quarterback, even if he doesn’t hold the future promise of Jackson. Don’t be surprised if the Vikings blow their playoff chance due to a bad hand-off or interception in the late going against the blitz happy Eagles, especially with Jackson at quarterback. But with Adrian Peterson, the league leader at running back and one of the best defenses against the run in the league, the Vikings have the ingredients to do well not just against the Eagles but also against many other playoff teams.

But neither the Eagles nor Vikings can play at the same level as the Colts or Giants, at least right now. And that’s how it is in the second season. Some teams play just well enough to get into the end of the season tournament. Others are playing at a dominant level.

The Year of Collapse

Some surprise moves in the year-end messiness of firing coaches needs further commentary. If 2008 is remembered for anything, both in football and on so many other levels, it will be remembered as the Year of Collapse. So the Jets fell apart at the end of the season, blowing four of their last five games; that included losing what amounted to a playoff entry game to the Miami Dolphins. The result: Eric “Mangenius” Mangini was axed as the coach. With the division lead in hand, the Denver Broncos lost their last three games, the first time in league history a team with a three game lead with three weeks left lost its division. The result: Mike Shanahan is out as coach; someone who won two Super Bowls in his 14 years in Denver. By those standards, shouldn’t Wade Phillips be out in Dallas? The Cowboys under Phillips lost three of four games in December and winning just one of those contests would have put them in the playoffs. (Most agree Phillips is not the coach to bring cohesiveness to the collection of all-stars and misfit talents assembled by micromanaging owner Jerry Jones.) What about the fate of Jon “Chucky” Gruden, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? The Bucs also collapsed by losing their last four games. Before their swoon they were leading the NFC South but now they too are out of the playoffs. The truth is Mangini and Shanahan probably should have been given another year despite the poor endings to their teams’ seasons. Likely, in 2009, neither the Jets nor the Broncos will be better for changing coaches.

Wild Card Weekend Office Pool Predictions


Game of the Week/Upset Special: Eagles at Vikings (Vikings)

Falcons at Cardinals (Falcons)
Ravens at Dolphins (Ravens)
Colts at Chargers (Colts)

Last Week: .688
2008 Season: .620

For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:
  • The D.C. Universe,
  • Gun Toting Liberal, and
  • The Liberal Journal.




















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    12.30.2008

    iVoryTowerz Radio: Goodbye 2008!

    As 2008 concludes, here's a sensuous and steamy set of music for your New Year's Eve party or other year-end celebrations. This week, the underground podcast has its fingers pointing toward some of the essential music of 2008. But as usual, the podcast covers more than 40 years of sounds with our patented eclectic mix: new wave, post-punk, heavy metal, classic rock, and alternative. There's even some country-rock and Texas swing to top it all off as we send the year off with a bang, and with hopes for a better one to follow. Enjoy.



    (To download or stream this podcast, please click here.)



    Playlist

    “New Year's Day” by U2
    Jeff’s New Wave: “Stop Your Sobbing” by The Pretenders
    "Kim Deal" by The Booty Chesterfield Trio
    “I Woke Up This Mornin'" by Mooney Suzuki
    "My Idea of Fun" by Iggy & The Stooges
    Rick's Metal Shoppe: “It's a Long Way to the Top” by Lemmy Kilmister (request)
    "Rock 'N Roll Train" by AC/DC
    "Bad Reputation" by Thin Lizzy
    “A Certain Girl” by The Yardbirds
    “Gamma Ray” by Beck
    “Southern California” by Brian Wilson
    "Afraid" by Todd Rundgren
    Cover Me: "Only the Lonely" by Chris Isaak
    "Laredo” by Carrie Rodriguez & Chip Taylor
    "Long Way Back to San Antone" by Junior Brown
    "Greenville" by Lucinda Williams
    "Hope" by Rush


    (Mp3 Runs - 1:33:39; 86 MB.)

    Program contains explicit lyrics.

    (The photo collage is by Perla* of Rio das Otras, Brazil via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

    DISCLAIMER: The iVoryTowerz podcast is a non-commercial, non-profit program designed and used for educational purposes. Some of the material contained in this podcast is previously copyrighted but used with permission. Other copyrighted material is reused following fair use guidelines. Any copyright holders who do not wish to have their material used should contact the programmers directly at ivorytowerzradio@att.net and it will be removed. The programmers do not support filesharing and encourage listeners to buy music from the artists featured in this podcast.





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    Music: The Best of 2008, Vincent's List

    (Editor's Note: This is the third part of a short series reviewing the notable music of 2008. To read the previous piece, please go here.)

    by Vincent Lee

    1) Evil Urges My Morning Jacket
    Another huge evolution by My Morning Jacket results in arguably their best album yet, and easily the album of the year. (For a deeper discussion of Evil Urges and My Morning Jacket, please see: "Music: Trying on My Morning Jacket")

    2) For Emma Bon Iver
    This is an absolutely stunning debut album. Bon Iver somehow managed to portray raw emotions in the purest form. Along with great musicianship For Emma shapes up for one of the most powerful albums in recent memory.

    3) Only By the Night Kings of Leon
    On this follow up to their hit Because of the Times, the Kings of Leon compose an album with zero weak songs and several standouts such as “Cold Desert” and “Manhattan.” (For a full review of Only By the Night, please go here.)

    4) Stay Positive The Hold Steady
    In retrospect it's unfortunate that The Hold Steady are not making a great deal of musical progress from album to album, but they are showcasing an absolute perfection of the bar rock sound. This could not be more apparent than on Stay Positive with stand out tracks like “Constructive Summer” and “Lord I'm Discouraged.”

    5) Fleet Foxes
    This eponymous debut is another great first record: A fantastic extension of the group's strong EP Sun Giant. Robin Pecknold's vocals recall Jim James of My Morning Jacket and carry the folk rock sound throughout this self titled album. (For a review of Sun Giant, please go here. For a complementary view of the debut of Fleet Foxes, please go here.)

    6) Consolers of the Lonely The Raconteurs
    This second effort by The Raconteurs is a great step forward and features one of the best songs of the year in “Carolina Drama.” (For a full review of Consolers of the Lonely, please go here.)

    7) Conor Oberst
    This eponymous so-called “solo album” from Oberst feels like an evolved version of Oberst's Cassadaga, from his other musical identity (Bright Eyes). A group of fun folk songs on this one makes for a very solid album. (For a full review of Oberst's latest, please go here.)

    8)
    Furr Blitzen Trapper
    This Oregon-based band makes another strong progression with Furr. This is a very good album with the stunning “Black River Killer,” another candidate for song of the year.

    9) Attack & Release
    The Black Keys
    Attack and Release is this blues rock duo's best album since Rubber Factory. Although it is nothing ground breaking, this new one is a pleasurable and good listen throughout. (For a full review of Attack and Release, please go here.)

    10)
    Elephant Shell Tokyo Police Club
    This is another surprising debut. Composed of high energy and catchy songs, Elephant Shell shows Tokyo Police Club keeping it simple. This makes for a strong album as a result. (For a full review of Elephant Shell, please go here.)

    (To read this series from the beginning, please go here. To read the previous piece, please go here.)

    (The photo of My Morning Jacket performing at Tennessee's Bonnaroo Festival is by Ryan Kindelan who has released the photo to the public domain. To see My Morning Jacket perform the title track from Evil Urges at the Benicassim Festival in Spain from July of 2008, please check below.)









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    12.29.2008

    Bush's Bad Rules, Bad Habits & Obama

    by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

    The human race abounds with bad habits. It’s human nature, right? We consume things that initially feel good and then haunt us with health-threatening pounds, high cholesterol, cancerously prolific cells. We do things that that give us a momentary sense of exhilaration, power, fulfilled lust or relief and then, if we have any conscience, dash us to the cold, hard ground of guilt, sorrow, remorse and pain we’ve imposed on others.

    Oh, yeah, we certainly have some redeeming virtues, but we also suck — and we know it, which is, perhaps, the reason for New Year’s resolutions. We seek self-improvement, atonement or reconciliation via an annual declaration of good intent. And then, more often than not, we repeat the behaviors we had hoped to abandon. Of course, there are those who intentionally persist in misbehaving, despite popular condemnation, perhaps because they don’t believe they are misbehaving. Take, for instance, President George W. Bush.

    Like presidents before him in their eleventh hours, Bush is repeating the traditional imposition of unilateral decisions unlikely to receive Congress’ warm embrace: He has recently expanded healthcare providers’ ability to treat patients as to the personal convictions of the healthcare provider in lieu of reproductive health information and services — even birth control; he has offered up fragile public lands to be sucked dry of their natural resources; and the like. He’ll next be tossing pardons like Mardi Gras beads to the parade of evil doers in his own administration who bared their greedy breasts, although many of their dastardly deeds are buried in the poop pile of executive privilege and blatant disregard of demands for revelation. Such naughty behaviors are the habits of presidents of both parties, irresistible as such power is in its kingly qualities.

    Regardless of the practices’ abdication of what we common folk think of as our democratic process, we anticipate it like an oft-told joke. Yet, for all the cynical expectation that our presidents will take advantage of this benefit of the office, wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t? Wouldn’t President-elect Barack Obama be walking the “change we can believe in” walk if he opted out of this particular perk?

    Sadly, bad habits of individuals and institutions are tough to break, however self-destructive.

    In some exotic lands where innate wisdom has yet to be replaced by mass-marketed family values and dogma cum politics, the local folk use a bamboo trap to catch monkeys. The trap is in its simplicity a work of art; in its design, its intent, an exquisite rendering of one of the more poignant foibles of animal nature.

    The trap is baited and laid to await its hungry prey. The soon-to-be-supper primate reaches through the opening of the trap to fetch the bait, wraps its cute little fingers and opposable thumb around the tasty treat, and is caught, its fist now too big to pass back through the hole. In the monkey’s rigid refusal to let go the tempting morsel, it is held there, captive to its inability to respond any differently.

    One might think that had the monkey the human ability of rational thought, it would simply release the bait and free itself from the stewpot, but then one would be assuming an awful lot about the human inclination for change. From our leaders to our voters, we have a whole lot of fists snared in bamboo tubes.

    Nonetheless, hope abounds, or at least it pokes a puny head out of the muck of current conditions, and I continue to look for something better than monkey business from our leaders — as I hope such persistent hope is not just another bad habit.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay Self-Reliance, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

    I’d like my new president to break with tradition at the end of his term — and throughout it — to forego the foolish consistency of his forebears, to drop the tempting treat, unball his fist and be a large statesman, a philosopher of the people, a divine inspiration for progress. I’d like him to be misunderstood as “Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

    In lieu of that, I’ll settle for someone who does not provide fodder for collections of verbal idiocy. And I resolve to continue to hope, however foolish that consistency.

    (Editor's Note: This piece is cross-posted from Kit-Bacon Gressitt's personal blog, Excuse Me, I'm Writing.)

    (Political graphic © copyright DarkBlack and used with permission. For more material like this, please see DarkBlack's blog.)













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    Music: The Best of 2008, Rick's List

    (Editor's Note: This is the second part of a short series reviewing the notable music of 2008. To read the previous piece, please go here.)

    by Rick Rockwell

    1) Death Magnetic Metallica
    Not since the so-called "black album" in 1991 has Metallica put forth this strong of a musical statement. Death Magnetic is the perfect blend of the group's thrash-metal origins with the more mature formula the band discovered in the 1990s. Kirk Hammett's guitar solos become passionate metaphors for a monumental year. (For a complementary and full review of Death Magnetic, please go here. For a deeper discussion of Metallica, please see: "Metallica, the Rock Hall of Fame & Redemption.")

    2) Consolers of the Lonely The Raconteurs
    No sophomore slump for the musical project headed by Jack White and Brendan Benson. Consolers of the Lonely sees the band experimenting with wider instrumentation, but also delivering high energy: "Salute Your Solution" is easily one of the songs of the year. (For an in-depth and complementary review of Consolers of the Lonely, please go here.)

    3) Modern Guilt Beck
    What if you set lyrics about environmental melt-downs and the failures of government and society to tremolo-drenched surf rock? Beck (Beck Hansen, by his full name) not only is brave enough to ask the question but delivers on this refreshing recording, a collaboration with Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) of Gnarls Barkley. (For a full review of Modern Guilt, please go here.)

    4) The Slip Nine Inch Nails
    Trent Reznor, the musical auteur who is Nine Inch Nails, is a bit like the Stephen King of rock: given some maturity, focus, and a mind for editing all of his ideas down into one disc, he can produce stunning results. The Slip is a return to form for Nine Inch Nails as the very best of industrial rock, and the band's best since 1994's The Downward Spiral.

    5) All I Intended to Be Emmylou Harris
    Mixing country with rock has always been Emmylou Harris' specialty. Nowadays, that's called Americana by some. Nevertheless, on her first solo recording in five years, Harris is in fine form staddling musical styles while delivering soaring vocals on songs that cut to the core.

    6) Accelerate R.E.M.
    Another musical act making a return to form, R.E.M. stormed back on the FM airwaves with significant contributions from Accelerate, and may once again fill some stadiums while on tour. This is the band's best effort since Monster in 1994.

    7) Attack & Release The Black Keys
    Propelled by another candidate for song of the year ("Strange Times"), Attack & Release is one of the best records yet from Akron's favorite musical duo, The Black Keys. Chalk up another successful collaboration for producer Danger Mouse on this one too. (For a complementary and in-depth review of Attack & Release, please go here.)

    8) Midnight Boom The Kills
    This is one of those albums that may sneak up on the listener and it may take several listens before The Kills can mesmerize appropriately. Midnight Boom is lo-fi, garage rock punk at its best. Alison "VV" Mosshart sings like she's the second-coming of Chrissie Hynde.

    9) One Kind Favor B.B. King
    Even at 83, one of the inventors of electric blues, B.B. King seems as vital to music as ever. One Kind Favor is a testament to that. Luckily, B.B.'s audience is bigger than ever so the joy of such a triumph will be spread far and wide.

    10)
    She Ain't Me Carrie Rodriguez
    This is another great sophomore release. Rodriguez has a handful of albums with Chip Taylor. But She Ain't Me shows her doing just fine as a solo act, polishing her vocal chops while her songwriting shows growth and isn't so dependent upon her impressive fiddle playing. (For a full post on Carrie Rodriguez, please see: "Music: Crushing on Carrie Rodriguez & She Ain't Me.")

    (To see the previous post in this series, please go here. To read the final part of the series, please go here.)

    (The promotional photo of Metallica at an appearance in Park City, Utah in 2006 is from Warner Brothers Records. To see a video of Metallica's "All Nightmare Long" from Death Magnetic, please check below.)


    Check out this video: Metallica - All Nightmare Long








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    12.28.2008

    Music: The Tops for 2008, Z's List

    (Editor's Note: This is the first part of a short series reviewing the notable music of 2008. To see the next post in the series, please go here. Please note, these releases are not listed in any particular order.)

    by Z*

    School of Seven Bells – Alpinisms
    This was the best personal discovery of 2008. Their refreshing mix of electronic with dream pop carries such calmness it makes a listener gaze into oneself.

    Girl Talk Feed the Animals
    Once again experimental music by Girl Talk (the stage name of solo artist Gregg Gillis) exposes interesting indie folk to mainstream music through various mash-ups. (For more background on Girl Talk, please see the Ward's Kitchen blog and "Are Girl Talk's Sonic Mash-ups Illegal Music?")

    Fleet Foxes
    The eponymous full-length debut from Fleet Foxes is an indie rock breakthrough from the Seattle band that delivers great music with a folk touch. (For a review of one of Fleet Foxes' other 2008 releases, the EP Sun Giant, please go here.)

    Vampire Weekend
    This eponymous debut from Vampire Weekend shows when indie pop produces great African music it is imperative that it makes it to all sorts of top lists for 2008.

    Santogold
    Another eponymous debut, this one from Santogold (the stage name of solo artist Santi White) is a groundbreaking unthinkable blend of styles... (including indie rock, dub, and electronica, among others) good luck identifying all of those styles.

    Thievery Corporation – Radio Retaliation
    I cannot describe why this is one of the best albums of 2008; the words escape me because I'm grieving the fact that Thievery Corporation's upcoming concerts in Washington, D.C. are all sold out.

    Coldplay Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
    Live the life. Seize the moment. Enjoy the music.

    TV on the Radio – Dear Science
    Catchy and punchy, this album will leave you happily jumping around.

    Blind Pilot Three Rounds and a Sound
    Fresh while still sounding nostalgically familiar, Blind Pilot's debut album spells out each and every instrumental sound accompanied by calming beautiful vocals.

    *Z is from a country that made up the Soviet Union, and her writing on cultural and political matters could have a backlash when she returns home from the U.S., so she writes under a pseudonym.

    (To see the next post in the series, please go here.)

    (The promotional photo of School of Seven Bells is by Krittiya Sriyabhandha for Supersweet and Ghostly International Records. To see a video of the original line-up of School of Seven Bells playing "Sempiternal - Amaranth" from Alpinisms live at Tonic in New York City in 2007 please check below.)








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    12.25.2008

    Holiday Spirit 2008

    This blog will be closed for the seasonal holidays for the next few days. Please enjoy this special time with family and friends. We wish you all the best during this wonderful time of year. As is our tradition, to tide you over during the holiday break, a poem, and of course, some seasonal music. Happy Holidays!

    A Short Testament
    (excerpt)

    …And then there are all the wounded,

    The poor the deaf the lonely and the old,

    Whom I have roughly dismissed,

    As if I were not one of them.

    Where I have wronged them by it,

    And cannot make amends,

    I ask you,

    To comfort them to overflowing....

    – Anne Porter

    (In that spirit, please consider the video below of "Do They Know It's Christmas." This was the first major project by Bob Geldof [BKE], 24 years ago, to bring aid to Africa. This project was aimed at famine relief in Ethiopia. Geldof's work sparked further activism in the U.S. meant to better these Irish-British efforts and the results were "We Are the World," Hands Across America and other fund-raisers. Please note the superstar musicians in the video who have continued to work with Geldof or with the spirit of this project by providing development aid to Africa. Geldof's lobbying for more aid continues through his efforts on the Africa Progress Panel.)



    (Photo by derekadk of Australia via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)











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    12.24.2008

    NFL: Week Seventeen, 2008

    Who is the Coach of the Year?

    by Rick Rockwell


    Unbelievably, only the National Football League’s rookie coaches are true contenders for Coach of the Year honors this year.

    One of those coaches has his team already in the playoffs. Two of those coaches have their teams poised to take a playoff spot.

    No, Jim Zorn, the coach of Washington’s red and gold is the only rookie coach not among that select and high-performing group. Recently, in trying to kiss-up to the team’s management that believes in coddling superstar running back Clinton Portis, Zorn called himself “the worst coach in America.” (This came after Zorn had benched Portis for part of a game.) And then his team went out and severely wounded the Philadelphia Eagles (my wounded Hero Team!) and their chances to make the playoffs. Zorn’s bunch is already out of the playoff hunt, but with a win this weekend, they could be over .500 for the year in a very tough division.

    Actually, much of the Coach of the Year voting is likely to be decided on the field this weekend.

    Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons has the inside track on the voting. His team is already in the playoffs. The Falcons are playing for a bye week and the second seed in the league’s playoff scheme. Certainly, Smith’s case has been helped along by a rookie quarterback sensation (Matt Ryan). Smith also enjoyed the acquisition and emergence of Michael Turner as one of the league’s premiere running backs. And then there’s the Falcons’ staunch defense to consider too. Some might argue some of these pieces were in place before Smith arrived in Atlanta. But what folks can’t forget is that the Falcons were in disarray when Smith took charge; the team was disillusioned by not just the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal but also over a coach that bolted mid-season. In one year, Smith and a revamped Falcons front office have made the Falcons contenders. Getting all that new talent to gel as a team isn’t easy.

    Then there’s John Harbaugh in Baltimore. Coach Harbaugh also found a way to make a rookie quarterback (Joe Flacco) click and moved the Ravens’ moribund offense into third gear and respectability. If the Ravens roll this weekend over the floundering Jaguars like they did last week over the inconsistent Cowboys, then not only will Harbaugh get his team into the playoffs but also he has an argument in the Coach of the Year sweepstakes. However, Harbaugh’s argument carries less of an edge than Smith’s in Atlanta. The Ravens were a playoff team just two years ago. The team has one of the league’s best defenses, a hallmark of the Ravens for years, and the Ravens retained Rex Ryan as defensive coordinator, a carry-over from the Brian Billick era. And then one of the wisest general managers in the game, Ozzie Newsome also provided Harbaugh with plenty of the right talent. (Newsome, by the way, has actually rebuilt the Ravens three times now — twice since the Super Bowl championship in 2001.)

    But the hands-down choice for Coach of the Year should be Tony Sparano in Miami, if his team manages to beat the New York Jets this weekend and head to the playoffs. Sparano took a team that was 1-15 last year and turned it into one that would challenge for a division championship. Last year, folks were writing about the Dolphins like they are writing this year about the winless Detroit Lions (the difference being the Lions are worse than the 2007 Dolphins, if that is possible, and are likely headed to the first 0-16 season). Sure, Sparano had front office help too. The legendary Bill “The Tuna” Parcells revamped the Dolphins’ sorry operation (this column actually predicted as much but who knew it would happen this quickly?) and remade the roster. (Those folks in Dallas have more proof that Parcells, without the meddling of owner Jerry Jones might have delivered them a championship. The foundation of the Cowboys is still the team The Tuna built.) Parcells’ best move: acquiring quarterback Chad Pennington, his old protégé from when The Tuna steered the operations of the New York Jets. But again, Sparano deserves the bulk of the credit. He is the innovator who unleashed the revamped single wing formation (now called the wildcat) on the league and many teams copied the Dolphins’ success. Sparano faced a rebuilding challenge more monumental than any of the other coaches. He deserves the accolades, perhaps even if his team fails this weekend.

    Week 17 Office Pool Predictions


    Game of the Week: Dolphins at Jets (Jets)
    Upset Special: Washington at 49ers (Washington)

    Cowboys at Eagles (Cowboys)
    Titans at Colts (Colts)
    Jaguars at Ravens (Ravens)
    Seahawks at Cardinals (Cardinals)
    Giants at Vikings (Vikings)
    Patriots at Bills (Patriots)
    Raiders at Buccaneers (Buccaneers)
    Broncos at Chargers (Chargers)
    Bears at Texans (Bears)
    Chiefs at Bengals (Bengals)
    Panthers at Saints (Panthers)
    Lions at Packers (Packers)
    Rams at Falcons (Falcons)
    Browns at Steelers (Steelers)

    Last Week: .313
    2008 Season: .615

    For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:

  • The D.C. Universe,
  • Gun Toting Liberal, and
  • The Liberal Journal.


















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    12.23.2008

    iVoryTowerz Radio: Holiday-Anniversary-Birthday Show

    Time flies when you are having too much fun. It seems the underground podcast has stumbled upon its second anniversary/birthday. Thus, another excuse for a holiday party! This program, just like last year's festivities, features some holiday cheer. But there's so much more. Besides some of the cream of the Grammy-nominated crop, of course, there's also appropriate birthday music. And if that's not your cup of eggnog, there's also a jolly music mix: new wave, post-punk, alternative, classic rock, and blues, spanning more than 70 years of music, but with a hefty dose of new material. Enjoy.



    (To download or stream this podcast, please click here.)



    Playlist

    “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen & the E St. Band (1978 Winterland)
    Rick's Metal Shoppe: “I am Santa Claus” by Bob Rivers
    Cover Me: "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by The Raveonettes
    Jeff’s New Wave: “Tin Soldiers” by Stiff Little Fingers
    "Cheap and Cheerful" by The Kills
    “Sleeper Hold" by No Age
    "Spanish Metal" by The Kaiser Chiefs
    "Sex on Fire" by Kings of Leon
    "Just Like Me" by Paul Revere and the Raiders
    “Can't Dig It” by Mondo Topless
    “Shake It Up” by The Nortec Collective
    “Little Trona Girl” by Ry Cooder
    "Come On In This House" by Elvin Bishop with the Homemade Jamz Blues Band
    "Death Letter Blues” by Son House
    "Crawlin' King Snake" by John Lee Hooker
    "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" by Robert Johnson
    "Birthday" by The Beatles

    (Mp3 Runs - 1:28:03; 81 MB.)

    Program contains explicit lyrics.

    (The photo is by Powellizer of Mableton, GA via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

    To hear the original iVoryTowerz Radio podcast, please go here; the playlist is here.


    DISCLAIMER: The iVoryTowerz podcast is a non-commercial, non-profit program designed and used for educational purposes. Some of the material contained in this podcast is previously copyrighted but used with permission. Other copyrighted material is reused following fair use guidelines. Any copyright holders who do not wish to have their material used should contact the programmers directly at ivorytowerzradio@att.net and it will be removed. The programmers do not support filesharing and encourage listeners to buy music from the artists featured in this podcast.





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    Holiday Travel: Planes, Trains but Forget the Automobiles

    by Phil Kehres*
    Special to iVoryTowerz

    Despite the commonly held notions of holiday travel, it doesn’t always have to be nerve-wracking and atrocious. Cutting out the car will do you a lot of good.

    This past week, I had my first experience traveling from the Washington, D.C. metro area to my home in Cleveland during a holiday without a car. I flew direct from Baltimore-Washington Marshall International Airport (BWI) to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. By the end of the day, I had taken five different forms of transit. None of them was a car. All of them were smooth and efficient, and cheaper than almost any option involving a car. I’m not sure why the park-and-pay-through-the-nose method continues to be so popular.

    My flight left at 8:05 p.m., so I left my job in Arlington, VA at about 4:15 p.m. and hopped on the DC Metro subway to Union Station ($1.35). There, I caught the MARC, the Maryland commuter train, to BWI station ($6.00), where a free shuttle took me straight to the airport. I flew to Cleveland, and from the airport, I took the Rapid Transit ($2.00 — also interesting is that Cleveland was actually the first U.S. city to have a direct transit link to its airport) to a station within one block on my friend’s apartment.

    All told, it took about as long as driving to Cleveland would have taken (though that is mostly because I got to the airport much earlier than I needed to), but aside from dealing with crowds for five minutes at Union Station, it was an infinitely less stressful experience.

    Using mass transit on either end of a flight has myriad benefits. It’s more efficient and reliable than driving — you don’t have to worry about accidents, other idiots on the road or the labyrinth that airport parking lots have become. It’s cheaper — no paying for parking or gas. It’s also more relaxing. You can catch up on a good bit of reading and lose yourself in some good music rather than focusing on the road. Perhaps most importantly, it’s environmentally friendly. Flying kills the environment, so why kill it more by driving on both ends of your trip?

    What really saddens me is that most people still don’t get it. I was one of eight people that hopped on the Rapid when I got to Cleveland. Most of the other 200 people on my flight headed straight to the parking garage, taxis or their pre-arranged pickup. People, listen up: your complaints about holiday travel will ring hollow with me as long as you continue to choose the least efficient mode of transportation. Do yourself a favor and give up control for once. Stop worrying and learn to love mass transit. Trust me; it’ll be better for the both of us, because I won’t have to hear so much of your trite whining.

    *Phil Kehres is one of the authors of Excuse Me, Is That Your Blog?

    (To read another view on holiday travel, please see "A Letter to U.S. Airways: Flying the Corporate Skies.")

    (The photo of the DC Metro is by ChrisDag via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. The photographer employed a fish-eye lens to produce the rounded effect.)








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    12.22.2008

    Christmas: Whose Tradition Is It?

    by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

    “This is not what Christmas is all about,” a faithful man lamented over a cup of spiked eggnog, surrounded by holiday-inspired revelers. “It’s not about Santa Claus and gaudy trees and Ultimate Wall-Es. It’s about God’s son, his precious baby boy and the joy he brought into the world.” And the man absolutely knows this to be true.

    Interesting, though, there is nowhere in the Bible — certainly nothing attributed to the Christ child, nothing offered up secondhand or even thirdhand — that indicates Jesus said, “Yo, folks, in years to come I think it appropriate that you celebrate my birthday. December of the forthcoming Gregorian calendar feels like a good month; 25 was always one of my favorite numbers. So, so be it — and have at it. Just don’t forget why you’re getting all those swell gifts; they’re to remind you of me. That little lace number from the paramour? Think of my dear virginal mother who bore me. Those CDs? Don’t forget the heavenly host singing ‘Glory to God in the highest’ that Luke will report after my passing. Keys to a shiny new car with a big bow around it? Remember the three magi hiking a beeline for Bethlehem.”

    Nope, it didn’t happen that way. Indeed, as far as reportedly divine inspiration indicates, Jesus Christ never said a word about recognizing his DOB. What messiah would? Surely they have bigger and better messages to purvey and more humble concerns — the hungry and persecuted for instance — than to be proposing future celebrity roasts for themselves.

    In fact, Christmas’ roots are entangled more in a bureaucratic reaction of the medieval Christian church to those nasty pagan celebrations of the winter solstice than in any Judaic tradition. And, before Charles Dickens did his bit to promote the concept of giving at Christmas, such celebrations were actually shunned by the pre-industrial age Christian elite.

    It took Dickens’ social justice novella, “A Christmas Carol” — a treatise that remains one of the best bits of political propaganda in recorded history — to rock the egocentric foundations of burgeoning capitalism in the mid-19th century to the point that its movers and shakers tripped over each other in the slums of London to find recipients of their newly invigorated sense of benevolent generosity.

    In an interesting 21st century spin on the joy of giving, the Bush administration is now wrapping up a $17.4 billion gift for the derelict U.S. auto industry, and President-elect Barack Obama’s economic team has a bright red sack filled with $850 billion worth of packages for other needy and ailing institutions.

    Well, it is the season of generosity and those tax dollars are surely given with a great deal of faith in their being put to good use. But it doesn’t take an economic disaster or a revolutionary fairytale or a born-again epiphany to awaken that giving spirit. Indeed, even nonbelievers enjoy the pleasures of sharing the goodies they have, for it is the warmth of tokens of tender affection, it is giving to people with less, pausing to remember those you adore that lend Christmas its poignance for many who witness the celebration, regardless of faith. This holiday now belongs to anyone who would claim it. And, were Christ still walking the earth, I imagine he’d be giving and receiving right along with the rest of us heathens, although it’s unlikely Ultimate Wall-E would be on his gift list.

    So, as is my wont on Christmas, I will sit before the fireplace, sipping something surely of the Devil, and I’ll shed a tear for those no longer in reach of my embrace; I will revel in the joy of my lovely daughter and husband, my precious family and the intimates who grant such unexpected pleasures to my existence; and I will thank the Goddess that, despite the god-awful economy, I still have a few bucks left to put in the Salvation Army pot and buy those I love some heartfelt baubles.

    (Editor's Note: This piece is cross-posted from Kit-Bacon Gressitt's personal blog, Excuse Me, I'm Writing.)

    (Graphic by AZRainman. To see more of AZRainman's work, please check out his blog.)










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    12.21.2008

    Zappadan Finale 2008

    (Editor's Note: This is the last day of the Festival of Zappadan, a virtual solstice music and satire festival begun by the folks at The Aristocrats. To see the history of the festival, please go here. To see this blog's kickoff for this year's festival, please go here. Our podcast tribute can be found here.)

    For the final day of Zappadan, a festival of links to various parts of the internet so late-comers can celebrate the festival in style.


    Zappadan Links

    The best Zappadan celebration, of course, comes at Zappadan Headquarters at The Aristocrats:

    • Frank Zappa's cameo in Head, the Monkees' feature film.

    • Zappadan celebration and commentary on Rolling Stone.

    • "Zombie Woof, Part I," not the song, but rather a satire on what passes as news-talk television, punditry, and the type of blow-hards Zappa loved to send up, this one written by Mark Hoback, the ringleader at The Aristocrats.

    • "Zarchives (2006)," which contains part of the spoof Wikipedia entry that was officially posted on that wiki-encyclopedia for some time during the first year of Zappadan.
    Other notable Zappadan posts:
    Happy Birthday FZ!
    All hail the finale of Zappadan!
    Please remember to check the Pandora music list for some suggested Zappa music before Zappadan ends.
    And now a tune to send us out until next year....



    (The photo is © 1977 Mark Estabrook; the copyright holder allows anyone to use the photo for any purpose, provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed. The photo shows Frank Zappa playing in Austin, Texas in 1977. The video is Frank Zappa and his band playing "Black Napkins" at a concert in Barcelona, Spain, from the last world tour by FZ in 1988.)






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    12.19.2008

    iVoryTowerz Radio: Listener Favorites No. 2

    For the second year, the underground podcast spins out a show programmed by our audience. After compiling all the electronic statistics gathered via the internet, we have assembled the top artists for those who tune in to iVoryTowerz Radio. So get ready for an eclectic party because the listeners like quite a range of music. More than 70 years of sounds are represented here, from classical soundtracks and traditional music to heavy metal, punk, and new wave. But that's not all! Don't forget the classic rock, alternative rock, and country-rock. And that means it's time to rock on! Enjoy.



    (To download or stream this podcast, please click here.)



    Playlist

    “You Can't Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones
    Rick's Metal Shoppe: “The Unforgiven III” by Metallica
    "Sister Seagull" by Be Bop Deluxe
    “5:15" by The Who
    "H-A-T-R-E-D" by Tonio K.
    "Vicious" by Lou Reed
    "Hit Me with your Rhythm Stick" by Ian Dury & the Blockheads
    “Snuffin' in a Babylon” by Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias
    Jeff’s New Wave: “What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding” (acoustic) by Nick Lowe
    Cover Me: "Poncho & Lefty" by Emmylou Harris
    “Cadillac Ranch” by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
    “She's About a Mover” by The Sir Douglas Quintet
    "Woman Left Lonely" by Cat Power
    "The Ecstasy of Gold (L'estasi del'orro)” by Ennio Morricone
    "L'etranger" by Edith Piaf
    "Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)" by The Momas & the Popas
    "The Lonely Love" by Juliana Hatfield

    (Mp3 Runs - 1:38:20; 90 MB.)

    Program contains explicit lyrics.

    (The photo is by simpsontwin of Baltimore, MD via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)



    DISCLAIMER: The iVoryTowerz podcast is a non-commercial, non-profit program designed and used for educational purposes. Some of the material contained in this podcast is previously copyrighted but used with permission. Other copyrighted material is reused following fair use guidelines. Any copyright holders who do not wish to have their material used should contact the programmers directly at ivorytowerzradio@att.net and it will be removed. The programmers do not support filesharing and encourage listeners to buy music from the artists featured in this podcast.





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    12.18.2008

    Metallica, The Rock Hall of Fame & Redemption

    by Rick Rockwell

    Can the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ever redeem itself after admitting one of its worst group of inductees in 2008?

    If the Rock Hall manages to induct Metallica in 2009, perhaps that questionable institution will have crawled back part of the way from some of its horrendous choices of the past.

    Metallica is eligible for induction to the hall this year for the first time. Artists are eligible for the hall 25 years after the release of their first recording. Metallica should be a first ballot shoo-in to the hall. They are one of the biggest bands in the world, and critics of the hall have lamented how selection is often these days based upon record and ticket sales and not merit. However, Metallica is also one of the best heavy metal bands ever and certainly can be credited with inventing thrash metal and all of its sub-sub-genres.

    So far, the hall has only inducted one heavy metal band: Black Sabbath. So a band of Metallica’s stature is overdue.

    Of course, this is the same Hall of Shame that inducted Madonna, the Ventures, and the Dave Clark Five, among other questionable inductees last year. This blog’s various commentaries on those nominees proved controversial enough to spark arguments in not one, but two different posts in the past year. To summarize:

    1. How is it Madonna qualifies as a rock performer?
    2. If you let Madonna in the Hall of Fame, doesn’t that allow anyone to be admitted?
    3. Is the hall to merely celebrate fame or is a choice based upon merit in contributions to rock music?
    4. If you admit a bubblegum band like the Dave Clark Five, why not the Monkees?
    5. Aren’t the Ventures too forgettable to be considered let alone inducted?
    6. Why is John Mellencamp, a second-rate Bob Seger/Bruce Springsteen clone, in the hall?
    More pointed questions are possible, and so the complaints are evident.

    Controversy over selections to the hall isn’t new. Actually, a vote counting controversy in 2007 kept the Dave Clark Five from induction that year. Some felt the band's induction in 2008 was a bit of a make-good for that flap. And of course, any institution where Rolling Stones’ Jann Wenner gets to make the key choices is automatically suspect.

    Some of those gripes can be set aside, however, this year, if the hall does the right thing and inducts Metallica.

    And the hall’s selectors can go further. Jeff Beck is also on the nomination list. Beck is in the hall as a member of the Yardbirds, but his exclusion as a solo artist is one of the snubs that doesn’t seem to make sense.

    The Stooges, Detroit’s primal garage band that launched the career of Iggy Pop (real name: James Osterberg, Jr.) and proved inspirational for both the punk movement and alternative bands should also be admitted. The Stooges are also on the list of nominees with Beck and Metallica. Electing the trifecta would go even further toward erasing the bad memories of 2008.

    There are other worthy acts the hall is considering this year, but those three would be at the top of this critic’s ballot, if this critic had a ballot.

    And if the hall doesn’t wake up and admit some real rock acts this year instead of the lame pop idols deemed appropriate in the past? Well, there’s always the rejoinder the Sex Pistols used when learning the hall had invited them to be inducted: they called the place a “piss stain” and refused to show for the induction ceremonies. For now, that seems appropriate.

    (The promotional photo of Metallica playing live in 2006 in Park City, Utah is from Warner Brothers Records. Metallica continues its world tour with two nights at Los Angeles' Forum; the second performance is tonight, Dec. 18. To see a video of Metallica's live premeire of "Cyanide" at this year's OzzFest in Dallas, please check below.)


















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