Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Nirvana -- "Rape Me" (1993)

Hate me
Do it and do it again
Waste me
Rape me, my friend

Only one week -- just seven little days -- until election day!

This post is likely to be misunderstood -- but I'm going to post it anyway.  

Richard Mourdock is the Republican nominee for the Senate in Indiana.  On October 23, during a televised debate with two opponents, Mourdock was explaining his position on abortion.  Mourdock would allow abortion in a case where the mother's life was threatened, but he would not allow it otherwise -- even if the pregnancy resulted from a rape. 

Richard Mourdock (center)
(NOTE:  I want to make something clear before I go any further.  I have an opinion on this issue, but whether I think Mourdock is right or wrong isn't important.  What is important is that we acknowledge that there are two sides to the issue, and that the people who take the other side deserve to be taken seriously and treated with respect -- assuming that they are sincere in their beliefs and honest about their views.  I have no doubt that Richard Mourdock was speaking sincerely and honestly on this issue.  And I have no doubt that just about everyone else who was involved -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- were much more interested in gaining a political advantage than they were in addressing the issue on the merits.)

While explaining his position on the issue, Mourdock said something that generated a firestorm of criticism from his political opponents:

I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is a gift from God.  And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

Some interpreted Mourdock's statement as meaning that God intended rape to happen.  The Louisville Courier-Journal (which should know better) said that, as did Mourdock's opponent, Joe Donnelly (who generally opposes abortion, although he would allow it in cases of rape or incest).  He did his best to spin Mourdock's comments in a way that would benefit his own chances in the election:
The God I believe in and the God I know most Hoosiers believe in does not intend for rape to happen, ever.  What Mr. Mourdock said is shocking and it is stunning that he would be so disrespectful of survivors of rape.
(Not really -- but I guess that all's fair in love and political campaigns.)
Mourdock maintained that he was misunderstood -- that he wasn't saying that rape was God's will.
I think that God can see beauty in every life.  Certainly, I did not intend to suggest that God wants rape, that God pushes people to rape, that God wants to support or condone evil in any way.  I spoke from my heart.  And speaking from my heart, speaking from the deepest level of my faith . . . I would be less than faithful if I said anything other than life is precious, I believe it's a gift from God.

I'm sure Mourdock was speaking honestly when he said that.  And I can't really argue with his logic.  After all, if you believe that all life is a gift from God, how could you come to any other conclusion?  (By the way, I also believe that it would be logical for opponents of abortion to oppose capital punishment, and for opponents of capital punishment to oppose abortion -- even though it seems that most people say, "Damn logic, full speed ahead" when it comes to those issues.)

Sally Quinn of the Washington Post gave credit to Mourdock: 
Mourdock made the horrible mistake of telling the truth about what he believes.  He actually believes that abortion is murder.  And he actually believes that God creates life.
A spokeswoman for President Obama's campaign said Obama "felt those comments were outrageous and demeaning to women."   (The chairman of the Democratic National Committee described Mourdock's comments as "outrageous and demeaning to women."  I don't think that choice of words was coincidental -- sounds like everyone is reading from the same script.)
How exactly does Mourdock's statement demean women?  I don't get that at all.  If you disagree with his position on the merits, so be it.  But the Democrats aren't interested in having a serious debate with  Mourdock on the merits of the issue -- they are playing politics pure and simple.  
The Democrats want to win the Indiana Senate seat, and they'll do pretty much anything it takes to do so (including twisting Mourdock's words).  Does that surprise anyone?  It shouldn't -- that's what politicians do, right?
Mourdock's fellow Republicans we're just as bad.  To quote Sally Quinn again, 
All hell has broken loose among his fellow Republicans.  They are twisting themselves into pretzels trying to criticize him and support their Christian beliefs at the same time.  Mitt Romney, who has a campaign ad out supporting Mourdock, has said that Mourdock’s remarks were not in line with his views. . . .
All of these guys are anti-abortion.  They believe life begins at conception. Therefore, they believe an abortion is murder.  So if that’s true, how can they possibly believe it is okay to murder a fetus (a fully realized person in their eyes) simply because of the way the child was conceived?  This is baffling.  I admire Mourdock for telling the truth about what he believes.  
As Quinn pointed out, the problem for the Republicans is that logical consistency doesn't always make for good politics.

Mitt Romney with Richard Mourdock
Let's do the math.  There are people in this country who support unrestricted abortion rights -- abortion on demand, if you will.  (They're probably voting Democratic.)  
There are people who believe it is wrong to abort a child, and would severely limit or ban abortions altogether.  They're probably voting Republican.
That leaves the people who are somewhere in the middle.  They would allow abortion in certain cases, and deny it in others.  Maybe they support parental notification, or other ancillary restrictions.  Or maybe they just aren't sure exactly where to draw the line.
Both parties are engaged in a delicate balancing act.  They have to hold on to their core voters while attracting those who are somewhere in the middle.  That usually requires them to engage in what the Richard Gere character in the movie version of the musical, Chicago, called the "old razzle-dazzle":
Give 'em the old three-ring circus
Stun and stagger 'em
When you're in trouble, go into your dance

Richard Mourdock refused to hide behind his wizard's curtain and try to fool people into thinking he was something different than what he really was (to mix my movie metaphors).  His position is logical and consistent.  But logic and consistency can be pretty confining -- most politicos prefer to maintain a little more room to maneuver.
We'll know in a week whether the Democrats or the Republicans won the election in Indiana.  But it would be a mistake to forget that there's a lot more at stake here than a U.S. Senate seat.

The Washington Post's website features a column by Glenn Perdue, a 50-year-old man whose biological mother was raped but who chose adoption over abortion.  Click here if you'd like to read the entire article.

Here are some excerpts:

Both parties have politicized abortion.  Many strong anti-abortion Republicans have bowed to pressure to moderate their position on abortion now that we are past the primaries and heading towards the general election.  The result is the rape, incest, and life-of-the-mother exception to make the anti-abortion position more palatable for centrist voters.  While I understand the political move, the abandonment of principle is disappointing.
While both parties have politicized abortion, I find myself particularly confused by the Democratic position on this issue.  Generally, my Democratic friends want to help others and provide a voice for the voiceless.  They are good people with good hearts.  The obvious irony is that unborn children are the most helpless, voiceless, and innocent of all human beings.  Yet in Democratic politics, the unborn child rarely merits an honorable mention in the abortion debate.  The political cynic in me thinks that this is because unborn children cannot vote and thus don’t have the political value of an adult woman that believes her right to choose trumps my right to live.
But most troubling to me in the abortion debate is the absence of a real discussion about adoption as an alternative. . . . My biological mother (who recently passed away) went back to western Illinois after giving birth to me, attended cosmetology school, married a good man, and had two more beautiful children.  She went on to have a good life after giving me life.  But just as important is the fact that by giving me life, she gave my father a son, and gave my children a dad. . . .
Perdue points out something here that is often overlooked.  When an unwanted child is aborted instead of delivered and given up for adoption, that not only has enormous consequences for that child.  It also has enormous consequences for the family that might have adopted him or her, for the children that child might have grown up to become the parent of, and so many other people.
The recent controversy over abortion involving U.S. Senate candidates Richard Mourdock and Joe Donnelly of Indiana is both telling and sad.  In their Oct. 23 debate, Mourdock made statements about his belief in the sanctity of life, even in cases of rape.  His words were twisted and shamefully mischaracterized by Donnelly, the DNC, and the Obama campaign to suggest that Mourdock (and by extension, Republicans) were somehow pro-rape and a threat to women’s health care.
Like Sally Quinn, Glenn Perdue gives Mourdock credit for speaking honestly.
Having viewed Mourdock’s debate statements and subsequent comments several times, it is obvious that he is a sincere, religious man that was standing by his beliefs – despite how politically inconvenient they may be.  He is not pro-rape or a threat to women’s health care and was respectful of Democrats and Republicans that have differing beliefs in his remarks.  Mourdock believes that life begins with conception and that abortion should only be an option in cases involving a threat to the life of the mother.  Mourdock stated that “Life is a gift from God” and that “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Looking at my life, my children, and the people we all touch, I believe that I am something that God intended to happen, just as Mourdock said.  Even if the manner in which I was conceived was imperfect and not intended by God, my life is most certainly a gift from God.  Mourdock, I thank you for your courage and conviction in being a voice for the voiceless unborn children of rape.
That "courage and conviction" will likely cost Mourdock the election.  I'd like to think that if he loses, he will walk away from the election with his head held high -- proud that he had the courage of his convictions.  There's no shame in losing an election just because your views are not held by the majority -- what's shameful about speaking honestly, doing your best to persuade the voters to adopt your views, and then let the chips fall where they may?

I wonder if Mourdock would take back his words if he could.  I think most politicians in his shoes would.

Here's "Rape Me," which was released in 1993 on Nirvana's third and final studio album, In Utero.  
Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Living Colour -- "Cult of Personality" (1988)

I'm the smiling face on your TV
I'm the cult of personality!

"Cult of Personality" was the first single from Living Colour's debut album, Vivid, which was released in 1988.    

Living Colour consisted of African-American musicians, but its music didn't really fit neatly into any of the traditional "black music" genres -- it was more rock than it was funk or soul or hiphop.  (Think of Living Colour as the mirror image of the Beastie Boys and other white rappers.)

There are exceptions, but most young musicians -- black or white -- favor liberal politicians over conservative ones.  

I don't know the politics of Living Colour's members, but this song is strictly neutral.  It understands that successful politicians on the left and politicians on the right have a lot in common.  For one thing, their popular support depends on style more than substance -- on personality more than principles.

It will strike some people as outrageous that the song mentions Mussolini and Kennedy in the same line, seemingly equating the two men -- and then goes on to pair Stalin and Gandhi in another line.  

Mussolini addressing some of his cult members
I agree that Stalin and Mussolini are very different from Kennedy and Gandhi, but all four have one thing in common -- they each were cult figures with a number of followers who absolutely worshipped them and believed they could do no wrong.

Lord Acton, a 19th-century British historian, famously said, "Power tends to corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  I'm sure a lot of political leaders get off on power.  The power of any single American politician is severely limited by our system of checks and balances.

Lord Acton
American office-seekers seem to be less motivated by a desire for power than emotional need -- their egos need the attention and adoration they get from the voters.  That's what motivates them.

Having an audience in your thrall is a heady experience for a needy person, and the more successful a political leader is, the more it goes to his head.  The leader begins to believe his own bullsh*t.  

I exploit you 
Still you love me
I tell you one and one makes three
I'm the cult of personality

When you hear people judging the Presidential debates on body language, or whether a candidate was too passive or too aggressive, or whether the candidates "connected" with the TV viewers -- that's getting into "cult of personality" territory, boys and girls.

As you've no doubt heard, the 2012 Presidential contest is competitive in only about nine states.  In the other 41, the winner has been a foregone conclusion for a long time.

The nine competitive "swing" states
If you live in one of the 41, the candidates aren't coming to your city -- and you're probably not seeing any campaign ads or getting any robocalls.  (Oh happy day!)

If you live in a competitive state, however, you are being drowned in TV ads and telephone calls and knocks on your door and fliers under your windshield wipers.

That all sounds pretty awful.  But those of you in the contested states are better off in one important regard:  your votes are much more meaningful.

In fact, the votes of voters in too-close-to-call states like Florida, Virginia, and Ohio are probably too meaningful.  That's because a candidate who wins 51% of the popular vote in a state gets 100% of that state's Electoral College votes -- and the Electoral College is where the President in actually chosen.

Right now, the polls show that Mitt Romney is likely to win the majority of popular votes, but Barack Obama is likely to win the majority of electoral votes.

I'm sure you remember the line from George Orwell's Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."  Well, the same is true of our votes: all votes are equal, but some votes are more equal than others.

In large part, that is because the number of electoral votes any state gets is equal to the number of Congressmen and Senators that state has.  The number of Congressmen a state gets depends on its population.  But all states -- regardless of population -- get two Senators.  So small states get a disproportionate number of Electoral College votes.

Here's what I mean.  Ohio has a population of about 11.5 million people, which gives it 18 electoral votes -- one for each of its 16 Congressmen and two Senators.  That's one electoral vote per 639,000 Ohio residents.

Our six smallest states -- Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming -- have a total population of 4.3 million.  Each of those states has three electoral votes -- each has one Congressman and two Senators -- so they have 18 as a group, the same as Ohio has.  That means citizens in those states get one electoral vote per 238,000 residents.  That's a big difference.

What can we do to fix this problem?  One fix would be to choose the President on the basis of each candidate's total popular votes.

While Richard Nixon had an absolute majority of the electoral votes in the 1968 election, he had only a plurality (43.4%)  of the popular vote.  Third-party candidate George Wallace won 13.5% of the popular vote that year and 46 electoral votes.

If Nixon had failed to win a majority in the Electoral College, the President would have been chosen by the House of Representatives, with each state getting one vote.  That happened in the 1800 and 1824 elections.

After the close call in 1968, the House of Representatives approved a constitutional amendment that would have provided for direct popular election of the President.  (If no candidate received more than 40% of the popular votes, there would have been a runoff between the top two vote-getters.)  President Nixon supported the amendment, but small-state Senators filibustered and the proposed amendment eventually died.

If that amendment had become part of the Constitution, Al Gore would have won the 2000 election.  And Mitt Romney (not Barack Obama) would be the favorite to win this year.

There seems to be little likelihood of direct popular vote replacing the Electoral College anytime soon.  What are some other alternatives to our current system of choosing a President?

What about keeping the Electoral College, but choosing electors in each of the 435 congressional districts rather than doing it winner-take-all in each state?  That would make the Electoral College vote reflect the popular vote much more closely.

Maine and Nebraska already do this.  In 2008, a majority of the voters in two of Nebraska's three Congressional districts voted for John McCain.  A majority of voters in the other district voted for Barack Obama.  So Nebraska's electoral votes were split between the two candidates.

Nebraska's three Congressional districts
Pennsylvania came fairly close to joining Nebraska in 2011.  

Obama won 55% of the popular vote in Pennsylvania in 2008, but won 100% of the state's 21 electoral votes (one for each of its 19 Congressman and two Senators).  But McCain had the majority of votes in 10 of the state's Congressional districts.  So if the proposal that was floated in 2011 had been implemented prior to 2008, McCain would have gotten 10 of Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes instead of zero.  Since McCain won about 45% of the popular vote, giving him 10 of 21 -- or 47% -- of the electoral votes would have been much fairer and more democratic.

Despite the fact that Obama carried Pennsylvania in 2008, the Republicans controlled the state house of representatives, the state senate, and the governor's office a couple of years later.  So why wouldn't they use their power in the state government to change the rules so the Republican candidate would be assured of his or her fair share of electoral votes?

One reason is that you never know for sure who will be helped and who will be hurt by this method of divvying up electoral votes in the future.  If you assume that your candidate will lose, you make this change in a heartbeat.  But if you think your candidate will win, going to Congressional district voting takes away some of his electoral votes.  

Let's say Pennsylvania changed the law only to see Romney win the popular vote in Pennsylvania in 2012 by a narrow margin.  He might only get 11 or 12 of the state's 20 electoral votes instead of all 20.  (Pennsylvania lost one congressional district as a result of the 2010 census.)  Talk about being hoist by your own petard.

So Congressional district voting would likely be implemented only in a state where one party controls all the branches of the state government but expects to lose the Presidential vote.  There aren't that many states like that.  

Republicans would love to see such a system implemented in California, while Democrats in Texas would be all for it as well.  But the dominant party in one-party states like those usually win the winner-take-all Presidential vote as well, so they have no reason to support such a change.

Elbridge Gerry, the father of gerrymandering
Here's one other problem.  Congressional district voting for electors might encourage gerrymandering in order to maximize the number of districts a candidate might win with any particular number of popular votes.  We have enough pro-gerrymandering incentives already.  

I live in the People's Republic of Maryland, where the eight Congressional seats were evenly split between Republicans and Democrats as recently as 2002.  But the Maryland state legislature -- which is in charge of setting the boundaries for Congressional districts -- is dominated by Democrats.  They managed to redraw the boundaries in such a way that two of those Republican districts were transformed into relatively safe Democratic seats.  And this year, one of the two remaining Republicans is expected to lose to a Democrat because his old district was dramatically redrawn.

Maryland can be proud of the fact that it has the least compact (i.e., most gerrymandered) Congressional districts in the whole country.  According to the Washington Post,

The map of Maryland 3rd Congressional District, as redrawn by Democrats . . . is nothing if not cartoonish.  Comically gerrymandered, it slices and dices counties, communities and neighborhoods.  Splattered east, west, north and south of Baltimore, it also takes pains to hack the city itself into pieces. As a case study in majority-party abuse, Maryland’s 3rd District has few peers nationally.

The new 3rd Congressional District (Maryland)
In fact, Maryland itself now counts as the most — read: worst — gerrymandered state in America.   Maryland’s 3rd District . . . is not only the state’s most extreme example of cartographical shenanigans; it also ranks as the third-least-compact district in the country. But Maryland’s 6th, 2nd and 1st Districts aren’t far behind; each is among the 25 worst nationally.
Driven by the prospect of adding a seventh seat to the six their party controls in the eight-member House delegation, Democratic Party leaders went overboard in carving up territory so that Democratic votes would be deployed to maximum advantage, even if it meant stitching them into districts resembling violently spilled coffee.
A few states give the power to determine district boundaries to an independent commission rather than to the state legislature.  Not surprisingly, those states have more compact districts.  (For example, the districts in California -- a commission state -- were described as "dramatically more compact" than Maryland's by one expert.)

In Maryland, we elect all county and state officials in the off-year elections -- 2010, 2014, etc. -- not in the years when the White House is up for grabs.  So the Maryland ballot is going to be pretty short this year.  Given that Maryland is not a competitive state in this year's Presidential election (Obama will win by a wide margin), there's not much reason for me to bother voting next Tuesday.  But I probably will anyway.  

Don't ask me why.

Here's "Cult of Personality":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Pete Shelley -- "Homosapien" (1981)

I'm the shy boy
You're the coy boy
And you know we're
Homosapien, too

Actually, you and I are Homo sapiens sapiens.  (At least I am.  Sometimes I wonder about you.)  

That's the subspecies of Homo sapiens ("thinking man") that includes anatomically modern humans, and which began to appear about 200,000 years ago.

Homo sapiens is an older category that evolved from the earlier Homo erectus species about 500,000 years ago and which included several archaic varieties of hominids with a brain size similar to that of modern humans, but which are distinguished from modern humans because they have a thick skull and prominent eyebrow ridges but lack a prominent chin.

Picture the Geico caveman:

Or picture ex-Boston Red Sox player Johnny Damon (who was obviously separated at birth from the guy above):

You can make fun of Damon's looks if you want to, but here's a picture of his wife, Michelle:

(Michelle reportedly made a few of the Red Sox wives and girlfriends unhappy by obnoxiously comparing her eight-carat canary-yellow diamond engagement ring to their engagement rings.)

In 1976, Pete Shelley co-founded the very successful pop-punk group, the Buzzcocks.  The Buzzcocks broke up in 1981, and Shelley released a solo album titled Homosapien [sic] later that year.  The title track of that album was released as a single that same year. 

Homo is Latin for human being, but it is also a pejorative term for a homosexual male.  Shelley's reference to homosapien may simply be a reference to modern humans ("thinking man" in Latin), or it may be a reference to a wise, self-aware homosexual.

"Homosapien" was banned by the BBC for allegedly making "explicit reference to gay sex."  Shelley does not admit to being gay -- or, at least, does not admit to being just gay.  Here's what Shelley had to say in 1982:

That the BBC thought it was a gay song is great, fantastic.  I'm a sexual person, I don't bother delineating myself into homo, hetero or bi, it just depends on the person, the situation and what happens.
In some ways it can be interpreted as being homosexual but it's basically about being a human being and having got over your bestial impulses and fallen in love with someone who's a homosapien rather than a canine or something.
You'll probably interpret that as though I've just had a long affair with an Alsatian dog.  It's just really good that I fell in love with someone of my own species. I  don't take a copyright out on the ideas. I haven't got a monopoly on them.  If a song throws up ideas for people then I'd rather they discuss it amongst themselves.

Whoa, nelly!  Who said anything about affairs with Alsatian dogs, Pete -- although Alsatians are exceptionally handsome dogs.  (Shelley is undoubtedly referring to what Americans would call German Shepherds, which were called Alsatians by the British until fairly recently.)

"Homosapien" was on the mix tape that my late friend Scott made for me about 30 years ago.  Click here to read more about Scott and that tape.

Here's "Homosapien":

Click here to order "Homosapien" from Amazon:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Steppenwolf -- "Monster/Suicide/America" (1969)

'Cause the people grew fat and got lazy
Now their vote is a meaningless joke

Only two weeks left in the 2012 campaign -- we're getting down to the short strokes, boys and girls!

"Monster/Suicide/America" is from Steppenwolf's 1969 album of the same name.    The group's first three albums all made it into the top ten in the U.S., but Monster peaked at #17 and was the first Steppenwolf not to feature a top ten single.

The three-part title of the song reflects the fact that it consists of three somewhat disparate segments joined together.  But let's just refer to it as "Monster" -- OK?

"Monster" is nine minutes, fifteen seconds long, and I remember hearing it on the radio a number of times the year it was released.  I'm pretty sure the station I heard it on was KWTO-560, an AM station in Springfield, Missouri, that played a lot of rock album tracks before that format had become popular.  (The other l-o-n-g song I remember hearing on KWTO was "Midnight Rambler" by the Rolling Stones.  KWTO was a great station.)

Songs with political themes were fairly common in 1969, and "Monster" is certainly a political song.  It  summarizes the entire history of the United States, warts and all -- it decries witch-burning, slavery, the displacement of native Americans, the Civil War, and so on.  

But the song saves most of its bile for contemporary American society:

The cities have turned into jungles
And corruption is strangling the land
The police force is watching the people
And the people just can't understand

Not surprisingly, the song alludes to the Vietnam War:

We don't know how to mind our own business
'Cause the whole world's got to be just like us
Now we are fighting a war over there
No matter who's the winner we can't pay the cost

In 1969, we had no idea that American involvement in Vietnam would drag on for several more years.  It officially ended in May 1975 -- not quite eleven years after the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

The war in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001 -- so it has lasted longer than the war in Vietnam.  

The number of American troops in Afghanistan grew gradually under the Bush Administration.  There were roughly 34,000 soldiers in Afghanistan when President Obama was inaugurated.  Obama ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan as part of a planned "surge" in troop levels within weeks of his swearing-in.  

There were 71,000 American soldiers there at the beginning of 2010, and almost 100,000 there at the beginning of 2011.  The gradual withdrawal of those troops began late in 2011.

American troops in Afghanistan
Joe Biden got a little confused a few weeks ago, telling a New Hampshire audience that there were 650,000 troops left in Afghanistan.  There are actually about 68,000 soldiers left in Afghanistan.  

President Obama has said that the drawdown of American forces will continue through 2014, but about 20,000 troops will stay in Afghanistan -- perhaps for years to come.  (The week before the Democratic convention, Obama mistakenly said that "[w]e will have them all out of there by 2014," but his press secretary later said that "[h]e never said that all the troops would be out.")

When he originally announced the withdrawal plans in June 2011, the President declared that the U.S. had largely achieved its goals in Afghanistan.  But everything that I've read indicates that the Afghan government will likely lose control over more and more of the country to local warlords as the Americans leave.

Here's what Michael Cohen, a former Democratic speechwriter, had to say about how Obama would likely handle the Afghanistan issue during the rest of the campaign:

He will take credit for winding down the war, he will claim that the surge blunted the Taliban's momentum -- which is partially true -- and he'll argue that Afghanistan is on its way to security and stability -- which is not really true, but isn't quite a lie either.  That things are falling apart and that the administration is making no effort to ensure that there is a viable political process after we withdraw combat troops -- I'm guessing that won't come up.
I'm guessing that's a pretty good guess.

There's been almost no substantive discussion of Afghanistan in the campaign to date.  It's an unpopular war, and both candidates seem to prefer just to pretend that it doesn't exist.  

The third and final presidential debate -- which took place last night -- was supposed to focus on foreign policy, so perhaps there was some discussion of Afghanistan during it.

I have no idea, because I didn't watch a minute of that debate.  I'm a big baseball fan, and I was watching the World Series.

You say the World Series doesn't begin until tomorrow night?  OK, OK -- I told a little white lie.  To tell the truth, I wouldn't have been watching the World Series even if it had been on last night. 

I was hoping for a St. Louis win so I could rant about a World Series matching the 5th-best team in the National League and the 7th-best team in the American League.

The Cardinals lost their division to the Reds by nine games -- their regular-season record was much worse than any of the other NL playoff teams.  If they hadn't added a second wild-card team this year, the Cardinals would have been on the golf course a couple of weeks ago.

And the Tigers were even worse.  If the Tigers had been in either the AL East or the AL West, they wouldn't have finished first -- or second -- or even third.  They would have finished FOURTH.  Their only hope of sneaking into the playoffs this year was to win the AL Central.  That shouldn't have been much of a test, considering that the other teams in that division are the White Sox, the Twins, the Royals, and the Indians -- whose cumulative won-loss record was 66 games below .500.

I vividly remember the 1968 Tigers-Cardinals World Series.  The Cardinals were led that year by their unhittable pitcher, Bob Gibson (who had 28 complete games, 13 shutouts, and a 1.12 regular-season ERA -- all of which were truly mind-boggling accomplishments).  They had a 3-1 lead in the Series after Gibson shut out the Tigers (and hit a home run) in game four.

Bob Gibson and Lou Brock
But the Redbirds proceeded to lose three games in a row, including Gibson's start in game seven.  It was the third-most shocking baseball game I've ever seen.

"Monster" ends with a plea for the United States to wake up and smell the cat food before it's too late:

America, where are you now?
Don't you care about your sons and daughters?
Don't you know we need you now
We can't fight alone against the monster

Sound familiar?  The campaign rhetoric of 2012 isn't all that different than what Steppenwolf was saying in 1969.  Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, and all that jazz.

Steppenwolf didn't believe that America's problems were going to be solved in the voting booth.  When John Kay sang in "Monster" that the right to vote "is a meaningless joke," I'm pretty sure he meant that it didn't really matter whether one party or the other won an election -- politicians from both parties are phonies and liars and thieves.  But there's another possible meaning to that line.  

Which we'll discuss next Tuesday, when we focus another song that speaks to the interminable 2012 campaign.

Here's "Monster/Suicide/America":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Kim Wilde -- "Kids in America" (1982)

Look boy, don't check on your watch
Not another glance 
I'm not leaving now, honey
Not a chance! 

The previous 2 or 3 lines featured "Abergavenny," a 1969 hit by British singer, Marty Wilde.

Today's post features his daughter Kim's 1982 hit, "Kids in America," which was written by Marty Wilde and his son (Kim's brother), Ricky Wilde.

I've previously written about my friend Scott.  The two of us were assigned to share an office when we were brand-new lawyers at the Federal Trade Commission in 1977.  Scott was as big a music fan as I was (not to mention as big a Yankees fan), so we got along very well.

Scott was the designated driver on my first trip to Yankee Stadium -- opening day, 1978.  We ate lunch together at McDonald's several times a week our first couple of years at the FTC, and played softball, listened to music, and went to a lot of movies together -- including the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which we saw together several times one summer.  (I remember squirming through Alien with Scott in 1979.  He was a bigger fan of sci-fi and horror movies than I was.)  Scott was the best man at my wedding in 1982.

I'll never forget the Sunday morning in 2000 when my wife woke me up and handed me the front section of the Washington Post.  There on the front page was a photo of a mangled car and a story reporting that Scott and his wife, Janis, had been killed instantly in freak automobile accident the day before while driving their 14-year-old son and another boy to a soccer game.  (Fortunately, both boys survived.  But three other people in another car were also killed in the accident.) 

Here's what happened: an SUV that was northbound on I-95 in northern Virginia made an improper lane change and struck the rear of a dump truck, causing the truck to veer across five lanes of traffic, barrel through a guardrail and collide almost head-on with two southbound cars.

Scott and Janis and the three people in the other car were innocent victims who could have done nothing to avoid the collision -- they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I can't begin to comprehend why such a terrible thing happened, but it did.

The driver of the SUV wasn't drunk and he wasn't speeding.  I'm guessing he was simply changing lanes hurriedly in an attempt to get in position to exit before it was too late.  The driver of the SUV was from South Carolina, and wouldn't have been the first person to have serious difficulty navigating what locals call "the mixing bowl," where I-95 intersects with the Capital Beltway.  There's no stretch of road in the Washington area where the volume of traffic is greater, and most of that traffic is zooming along at 60 mph or so.
Scott had an amazing record collection.  I had hundreds of albums, but he had thousands.  (I spent a fair amount of money on music, but I was too cheap to spend money on records like Scott did.)

Scott made me a mixtape with "Kids in America" on it sometime after that song was released in 1982.  Most of the songs on that tape were from new wave records released in the late seventies and early eighties.

I still have that tape.  (As you can see, handwriting wasn't something at which Scott excelled.)

I listened to Scott's tape regularly for many years.  Besides "Kids in America," it included "Turning Japanese" (the Vapors), "Pretty in Pink" (Psychedelic Furs), "I Hate Mondays" (Boomtown Rats), "Homosapien" (Pete Shelley), "Echo Beach" (Martha and the Muffins), "Bionic Man" (Fabulous Poodles), "Jackie Onassis" (Human Sexual Response), and "Rock and Roll High School" (Ramones).  I'll be featuring several of the songs from Scott's tape in the coming weeks.

I still think about Scott and his wife (who also worked at the FTC when he and I were there).  Mostly I think how sad it is that his children lost their father and mother at such a young age.  Scott would have loved being a grandfather, and it's a tragedy for his grandchildren that they missed out on the chance to know him.

Scott and Janis's daughter, who was away at college when the accident occurred, wrote a letter to them that was read at their funeral.  Here's a brief excerpt from it:

Dear Mommy and Daddy: You are the two most amazing people I ever met. . . . I want you to know there was nothing else you could have done to make me a better and happier person. . . . I will dedicate my life to [my brother]. . . . I love you always and forever.
Kim Wilde was barely 20 when "Kids in America" was released.  It made it to #25 in the U.S., but was a #2 hit in the UK and a top-five single in France, Germany, South Africa, Australia, and many other countries.  

Wilde released 17 top-40 singles in the UK in the 1980s -- no female British single has ever had more chart hits in a single decade.  She continues to tour and record -- her 12th studio album was released in 2011.  

Kim is also a gardener of some note.  She has won awards at a number of British flower shows, and has published two gardening books.  

"Kids in America" has been covered by everyone from Nirvana to the Jonas Brothers to Alvin and the Chipmunks.  The most famous cover of the song is the Muffs' 1995 version, which accompanies the opening scene of the brilliant movie, Clueless.

Here's Kim Wilde's "Kids in America":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Shannon (Marty Wilde) -- "Abergavenny" (1969)

A chase in the hills up to Abergavenny
I've got to get there and fast
If you can't go
Then I promise to show you a photograph

A British friend of mine sent me this photograph a couple of weeks ago:

"Y Fenni" is the Welsh name for Abergavenny, which is a town of some 14,000 souls in southeastern Wales, just a few miles from the English border.  My friend, who lives about three hours north of Abergavenny, took this picture from her car when she was passing the local train station.

Do any of you remember the jaunty little British pop single "Abergavenny," which was a minor hit in the U.S. in 1969?  It peaked at #47 on the Billboard pop charts, but I vividly remember hearing it on the radio in my hometown (Joplin, Missouri) -- so I assume it got a fair amount of airplay despite the fact that it never cracked the top 40.

"Abergavenny" was sung by the veteran British pop star, Marty Wilde, but the song was released in the U.S. under the name "Shannon," a pseudonym for Wilde.  I have no idea why Mr. Wilde wouldn't want the record released under his real name in America -- perhaps there was some legal nastiness afoot.  (There usually is.)

Marty Wilde with Julie Andrews
Wilde's first single (a cover of the Jimmie Rodgers hit, "Honeycomb") was released in 1957, and he had several top ten hits over the next several years.  It looks like his career went straight downhill after the Beatles and other "British Invasion" groups took over the pop charts.  His only significant post-1962 hit was "Abergavenny."

He wrote and produced a number of 1980s hits for his daughter Kim Wilde, including "Kids in America."  (See the next 2 or 3 lines for more about that great record.)

Abergavenny got its start as a town in early Norman times -- that was over 1000 years ago.  Because it is located so close to the Wales-England border, it was often embroiled in the battles between the two countries in the 12th and 13th centuries.  King Edward I of England invaded Wales and defeated the Welsh army at the Battle of Orewin Bridge in late 1282.

This plaque marks where Llywelyn, the leader of the Welsh forces, was killed that day:

Wales has been subject to English rule ever since (except for brief periods of rebellion, the last of which ended in 1415), but the formal annexation of Wales to England was not legally perfected until 1543.

About 10% of Abergavenny residents speak Welsh, which looks devilishly difficult in print.  For example, one of the local schools is called Ysgol Gymraeg y Fenni.  The local Welsh-language society is named Cymdelthas Cymreigyddion y Fenni.

Abergavenny Castle dates from 1090
You can tell that Welshmen settled the area to the west of Philadelphia (now known as the "Main Line") from the town names: Bala Cynwyd, Gladwyne, and Bryn Mawr, just to name a few.

"Abergavenny" is a cheery little flibbertigibbet of a record.  (That's a Middle English word, not a Welsh one.)  It has the feel of a 1930s-era English music-hall song.  It reminds me a little of "Penny Lane," but is wholly unironic.

Here's a brief video of Kim Wilde watching a taped performance of "Abergavenny" by her father:

Here's "Abergavenny":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Brothers Four -- "Turn Around" (1965)

Turn around and you're two 
Turn around and you're four 
Turn around and you're a young girl 
Going out of the door

Today is the 26th birthday of my twin daughters, Sarah and Caroline.

When I posted this picture of the three of us on Facebook a few days ago, I prefaced it with this question:  "How did they get to be 26 -- and how did I get to be 60?"

A friend answered my rhetorical question with a reference to the memorable Kodak television commercial from the 1960s that featured the song, "Turn Around."  I remember the commercial vividly, but hadn't thought about it in many years.

If you're a parent, you don't need me to explain what that song is about -- you already get it.

Most people think that the version of "Turn Around" that was used for that commercial was sung by Ed Ames, who was a well-known television actor before he became a recording artist.  (Ames's parents were Ukranian Jews, but he was often cast as a Native American.  His best-known role was as Fess Parker's Native American sidekick, Mingo, on the Daniel Boone TV series.)  Other sources insist that Paul Arnold was the singer.

Harry Belafonte was the first singer to record "Turn Around."  The song was co-written by Alan Greene and Malvina Reynolds (she also recorded it), but Belafonte suggested some changes to the lyrics and ended up with a writing credit as well.

Others who have recorded the song include the Kingston Trio, Perry Como, and Kenny Loggins.  The only version of the song that made the top 40 was Dick and Dee Dee's version.

Here's a video of Dick and Dee Dee lip-synching to their record on a Dick Clark television special.  (This may be the worst lip-synching job in history -- Dick is clearly not ready when his spoken introduction begins.)

I think my favorite version of "Turn Around" is the one the Brothers Four did for their 1965 album, The Honey Wind Blows.  Here it is:

This photo of Sarah and Caroline was taken with a camera that was not much more sophisticated than the one shown at the end of that Kodak commercial.  (No, I have no idea which girl is which.  And no, I have no idea why it took me another eight years to realize I needed to get rid of that mustache.)

Here they are a few years later, at a friend's birthday party.  I do know which girl is which in this picture because Sarah is left-handed and Caroline is right-handed.

Here they are with their brothers a few years ago:

And here they are just a few days ago:

That's a beautiful photograph, but it really doesn't do them justice.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Leonard Cohen -- "The Captain" (1984)

Now the Captain called me to his bed
He fumbled for my hand
"Take these silver bars," he said
"I'm giving you command." 

I don't remember the last time I watched a Yankees playoff or World Series game from beginning to end.  (Cicero said that "A man of courage is also full of faith," but  my lack of courage is not because I lack faith in the Yankees.  It's because I know that in the short run, the better team doesn't always win.)

I almost never watch their opponents bat.  After all, bad things can happen when the other team is at bat.

I sometimes will watch the other team bat in the 9th when the Yankees have the lead and Mariano Rivera comes in to close the game out.  (I do have faith in Rivera, every though even he has failed at times in the past.  It would be an insult to his steadfastness not to believe in him.)  However, Rivera's been out almost all year due to a freak knee injury, so I haven't watched many 9th innings this season.

Mariano Rivera (May 3, 2012)
Last night I turned on the TV in time to see the Yankees come to bat in the 9th, down 4-0 against the Detroit Tigers.

First, Ichiro Suzuki hit a two-run homer.  (Suzuki will turn 39 next week.  He's 5' 11", weighs 170 pounds, and has hit only 104 home runs in 8723 major-league at-bats.)

A few minutes later, Raul Ibanez stepped to the plate with two outs and a man on first.  The 40-year-old Ibanez had hit a game-tying home run in the 9th inning Wednesday night, and then won that game with another home run in the 12th.  I couldn't help but cross my fingers and hope for yet another game-saving blast, despite knowing how ridiculously long the odds of that happening were.

Raul Ibanez ties the game in the 9th
To quote Matthew 8:26, "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?"  Ibanez hit one into the right-field seats, and the game was tied.  Mirabile dictu.  

I found the courage to watch the Tigers bat in the 1oth and 11th, and it didn't hurt too badly -- they were dispatched relatively quickly.  The Yankees put men on base in both innings but couldn't push a run across in either one.

My courage failed me at that point, so I turned the TV off.  When I turned it back on a few minutes later, hoping to see the Yankees at bat with the score still tied, I saw a sight even more horrific than the sight of Mariano Rivera lying in the outfield after tearing his ACL on May 3.

I saw Derek Jeter -- the longest-serving captain in Yankees history, and the man who is by far the most significant contributor to the unprecedented success they have had since he joined the team --  lying in the in the infield dirt in the top of the 12th inning.  

Walt Whitman's words describe the emotions of all Yankee fans at that moment:

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up -- for you the flag is flung -- for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths -- for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning . . .
But our captain was unable to stand up, unable to walk off the field under his own power.

Earlier in the game, Jeter had collected his 200th postseason hit, which is an all-time record.  (No one else in baseball history has more than 128.)  He also is the leader in career postseason runs, doubles, and triples.  

Jeter's not a big home-run hitter, but he's hit homers more frequently in the postseason than in the regular season.  His postseason batting average, on-base average, and slugging percentage are virtually identical to his regular season numbers -- despite the added pressure of the playoffs and World Series, and despite the fact that your playoff opponents almost always have better pitchers than the average team.

Derek Jeter was a 22-year-old rookie shortstop when the Yankees went to the World Series for the first time in a long time in 1996.  (He hit .361 in the postseason that year.  He was hitting .364 in the postseason this year at age 38.)  It's now 16 seasons later, and the Yankees have been in the postseason 15 of those 16 years, thanks largely to his efforts.

Derek Jeter with Cal Ripken in 1996
Jeter started every single one of the Yankees' 158 playoff and World Series games since 1996.  He fractured his ankle in the 12th inning last night, so that streak is over.

I wish Raul Ibanez had struck out in the 9th.  If he had, the Captain would be making his 159th consecutive playoff start tonight.

By the way, the Yankees ended up losing after Jeter was helped off the field last night.  That was the least of it.

I can't overstate my affection and admiration for the way Derek Jeter plays baseball and the way he lives his life.  My son Peter was a Jeter fan from the time he was old enough to be a baseball fan.  Here's a picture of him in a Jeter jersey just before I took him to Yankee Stadium for the first time in 2003:

It took me a little longer to understand what made the captain so special.  But I finally got it.

Larry David gets it, too:

Here's Leonard Cohen's "The Captain," from his 1984 album, Various Positions.  Famed critic Robert Christgau called this song "as rich and twisted" as anything Cohen had written to date.  I don't know Cohen's oeuvre like Christgau does, so I have to take his word for it -- assuming he's correct, the song is a fitting choice for today:

Click here to buy "The Captain":