It's all a matter of perspective.

Friday, August 30, 2002

Hurrah! They figured it out.
With my former optimism for the baseball strike turning to dismay, today I shall prove myself to be an even older fart than anyone (other than Ms. J.) previously thought by discussing the current state of popular music. I caught the last half of the MTV Video Music Awards last night, and then the first few minutes of the replay. That was all I could take. During Jimmy Fallon’s opening number he fell to the ground and James Brown came out to sing to him, “Get up-ah . . . Get on up-ah . . . you gotta’ start the show.” It was all down hill from there. After reflecting on the depressing quagmire of horrible performances last night I have come to the conclusion that the artist with the most influence over today’s pop music scene would have to be Paula Abdul. She was a dancer and good looking, not a singer. In fact it has been alleged that she did not even sing on her records. I think that it is safe to say that she invented the kind of dancing that you see on MTV now, with the artist in the middle flanked by a co-ed group of dancers – all of them doing synchronized jukes and thrusts.

Most of the performers: Eminem, Justin Timberlake, Puffy Puff-Puff Diddio, were introduced as “great entertainers” and not singers or musicians. I don’t think I would agree that they entertained me, certainly not greatly, but I would heartily agree that they are not singers. In the above list of performances, I never heard a single live sound coming from the stage. Not one. Nothing! No live sound. I remember when I was a kid and I loved MTV; yeah most of the pop singers lip-synced, but the rappers would really rap and the talking at the first of the song would not be lip-synced. Last night, there was not a single sound during most of the performances that was not from tape. It was shameless. They did not even try to fool anyone. I do not know why they even insult us with the prop-mic. It obviously does not work, the performers did not even say, “thank you” at the end of the song. At least we were not forced to watch the spectacle of Britney Spears constantly adjusting her fake headset mic as if she is trying to get better reception.

The new rule is that you can not have a performance at the MTV awards now without elaborate sets, blinding lighting displays, constant pyrotechnic explosions, and 250 people on the stage. Each year they try to outdo the last. I think that Puff the Magic Diddy’s performance was the most obnoxious display of excess I have ever seen, with hundres of dancers, people with pogo shoes doing flips, extras shuffling in and out, people swinging by on trapeze, more rappers and fakers coming out and lip-syncing. They will do anything to try to distract people from the reality that none of these people are singing! They even went so far as to shoot the entire show with some kind of choppy, effected look to further distract the viewers. This is supposedly a show about awarding great musical performances, yet there is not a single bit of music being performed. At least most of them did not have a band up there pantomiming. I think Justin Timberlake was the only one to pull that one.

There were some performances that were live. I did not get to see The Boss perform with the E-Street Band, but I am sure they were live and awesome. He always is. As a matter of fact, he is entirely too classy of a performer for the disgraceful load of garbage that was most of the rest of the show. Sheryl Crow played piano and sang a nice tune. She is always good, especially when you do not have to listen to her live band which is mediocre at best. A band called The Hives played. I have never heard of them, but they looked like they were doing an impression of the Stones from 1964 doing an impression of the Ramones from 1976. They were entertaining and performed their own music live, even if they were not particularly talented. They were immediately followed by a group called The Vines, who sounded like a neo-Nirvana clone; the lead singer had a black eye and they were loud and they smashed their shit at the end of the song.

But the highlight of the night, the moment that will live in infamy, was the surprise performance from Guns and F-ing Roses at the end of the show. When Jimmy Fallon came out in the skull GNR shirt from the 80’s and started whistling Patience, I almost lost it. They played Welcome to the Jungle, they played some crappy new song with lots of synth and a drum loop, and then they played Paradise City. The only original members left in the band are Axl and Izzy, but they are certainly the most important ones as Izzy wrote all of the music and Axl the lyrics. The other musicians are all hired guns; they can all play very well and they all look very disturbing. Axl never sounded better live than he did last night. (But again, in the 80’s he never resorted to lip-syncing, even when he could not even approximate the vocals on the album.) All in all, it rocked, but was not enough to restore my faith in Rock and Roll.

Non-musical highlights include:

Britney Spears gave Michael Jackson a birthday cake and unable to avoid acting like a freak, he gave an acceptance speech from notes as if he had just been awarded the Nobel Weirdo Prize. His speech included the exclamation, “David Blaine, your magic is real and I believe in you!”

Diamond Dave Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar presented the Best Rock Video award. Dave has a wig that has been fashioned to look just like his hair did in 1980. Sammy looks a whole lot like Mark Currey with blonde hair, but that is just my opinion.

Can you tell that Brandi is a nursing mother of a newborn?

As depressing as the show was, and it positively moved me to anger, I will watch again next year. I have to. It is the only time all year that I catch up on what is going on in pop. Although I am an old man, I do not want to be out of the loop altogether. But the reason I will always watch the video music awards is that I love to get mad and bitch about the state of the music business. I love to point out how horrible they are and how fake and unholy and without redeeming quality the whole thing is. It makes me feel superior.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

A city in Minnesota places a tax on rainwater.
CNN reports that 70,000 Austrailians identified their religion as "Jedi" in the government census last year. Jonah Goldberg points out that it is better than marking "Unitarian"
Master economist Larry Kudlow has an piece on NRO concerning the economics of the baseball strike. While Keith Olbermann reports this morning that the two sides are close to an agreement, Mr. Kudlow makes it very plain who you should be rooting for.
Today's threatened baseball strike is all about the Yankees and their great success. The baseball owners, guilty of class-warfare thinking, would love to take actions that would severely damage the great Yankee franchise. In the process, they would also cripple the standing of the game and the game's players.

Owners want a new revenue-sharing plan that allegedly would take more money from the rich teams and redistribute it to the poor ones. They would also institute an unbelievable 50 percent luxury tax on teams with high payrolls.

Step back a moment and think about this. In today's soft economy, if anyone in Washington proposed a 50 percent tax on luxuries the general public would instantly label them out of their minds. Yet the owners carry on with just such a tax-the-rich campaign. It's a scheme that would make Al Gore blush.

In so doing, the owners would do to the baseball economy what a similar luxury tax would do to the gross domestic product of the United States. They'd cripple it. Don't forget that George Bush the elder raised a luxury tax in 1990 that doomed his presidency and made a mild recession even worse. Instead of sticking it to the rich, the tax threw millions of blue-collar workers — those who produced the goods and services qualifying as luxuries — out of jobs. Major League Baseball players are dead right to oppose this crazy plan and the owners are completely wrong to favor it.

More, if anyone cares to look at the facts, the rich teams they would tax frequently fail. Yes, the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves have dominated the game in the last decade, but that's a result of good management on the field and in the front office. Plenty of other "rich teams" have fared poorly.

Think of the major-media-market Los Angeles Dodgers. Or the Boston Red Sox. Or the other perennial losers in prime locations like Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, and Chicago. The Cubs and the White Sox fail miserably each year, but it's the owners and management — and not the Yankees — who are to blame. The Cubs, in particular, report poor economic performance. But that's a sham. The team's excess revenues are upstreamed to the Tribune Company, which owns the Cubs, rather than back into the team.

League-wide, teams use phony accounting that would make former Enron executives proud. They depreciate stadium-related assets although the taxpayers financed the stadiums. They use phony accounting for minor-league team expenses. And they never open their books for full disclosure — the exact same sin that has sent many corporate CEOs to jail.

Why should poorly managed teams be subsidized in the first place? When sinking companies in Japan and elsewhere in the Pacific Rim were subsidized the economists labeled it industrial targeting. In baseball, it's nothing more than crony capitalism.

And since when does America punish success? Taxing success will generate less of it, both for the Yankees and the other teams. For example, when the Yankees go on the road they routinely draw crowds much larger than the home team usually brings to their ballpark. In places like Tampa Bay and Chicago, Yankee magic rubs off on all concerned, including local TV viewers and radio listeners. That the poorer franchises don't build on this success is not the fault of the Yankees. Blaming the Yankees in this way is akin to blaming rich Americans for injecting capital in start-up businesses that in turn create new jobs and greater wealth.

A dearth of taxes is not what ails baseball, but the selfishness of owners. They'd prefer to pick the pockets of players and fans than let poorly managed teams go under. If the baseball economy were based on free-market capitalist principles, poorly-run teams would indeed go under — and rightly so. has an interview with Steve Earle this morning. A few excerpts:

Steve Earle on Poetry:
It's like bluegrass. Deciding to be a poet is a hardcore decision. It's saying, "I'm going to do something that's really hard, that I'll never master, and that will never make me a fucking dime." Bluegrass and poetry have a lot in common.

On Spirituality:
I'd be a really bad Buddhist. I really hate to kill things now but I don't mind that other people kill them so I can eat them. I think it would be really hard on me to get that introspective. My spirituality boils down to that there is a God, and it ain't me. That's what's important for me to remember.

Our attempts to be God are where we fuck up. When we start trying to control shit or control the illusion that we control things, it's bad. The vast majority of times I still want to control everything and I wear myself out and then I have these moments where I'm able to literally let it go and those are the best times.

On Baseball:
It sounds weird but ballparks are the most tranquil structures human beings have ever built. For me, more than any church, more than anything else. I'm a huge Yankees fan. I was 6 years old in 1961 and that's what you got on TV in Texas was the Yankees. But I'll go to any ballpark, it doesn't matter. We have a triple-A team in Nashville and I go a lot. I can walk in and it happens almost immediately. As soon as I get to the top of the steps and see the green, I start feeling better. The shape of the fields, the colors, everything about 'em, I love 'em.

On Texas and Patriotism:
It's funny about Texas. I'll always be a Texan because there's no cure for it. Probably if there was, I'd take it. There are a lot of things about Texas that really bother me and more each time I go back. . . . I'll always be a Texan and I'll always be an American. I may not always live in the U.S., but I'll always be an American. The government can't decide whether I'm an American or not.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Keith Olbermann gives a day by day forecast for the baseball strike that is somewhat encouraging. He sees as a worst case scenario about nine days of strike, and seems to think that the strike will likely be avoided. His reasoning, bankers calling in loans to the owners that they can not pay without baseball games to generate revenue. Here is his play by play for Thursday:
Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002: Sometime on this day the owners -- probably still clinging to the $107 million mark for the luxury tax threshold for all four years of the deal -- will suddenly instruct their mouthpieces to push it up in at least the final three years. If their creditors, TV partners and sponsors have scared them enough, the offer will be sufficient for the players to say yes and to announce a tentative settlement in time for Peter Jennings to nod sagely about it.

If the owners present a lukewarm offer that Don Fehr still thinks he can finesse in short order, some kind of public announcement or leakage of "positive signs," will be made by 6 p.m. EDT. This is pure logistics: Players have to know whether to travel to the cities in which their new weekend series will begin the next day. The union has never sent players into the air to get to games unless it expects those games to be played.

There remains a 50-50 chance that despite all the exterior pressure, all the fear of cataclysmic revenue collapse and ownership financial fatalities, management will still be belligerent. In that event, talks will break off by dinnertime or by midevening at the latest, and the strike will begin at the end of the Tampa Bay at Anaheim game, around 12:30 a.m.

Simple rule of thumb here: If they haven't broken off talks and announced a strike by 7 or 8 p.m., they've probably got a deal, or at worst, are about to get one.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Interview with Myself

For RHET 3316

1. In your family or among your friends, whom do you consider to be the most influential person in your life? Why?

The person who has had the most profound effect on my outlook would have to be the boy, Wylie Allman Greer. He has taught me more about patience, respect, and how to deal with other people than anything else I have done. He has shown me a picture of God’s love for us. He amazes me with his capacity for learning and his natural sense of compassion.

2. What is the best advice that you ever received? How did it change your life?

I read in one of my wife’s magazines last week, “If you can’t fix it, forget it.” I thought this to be something I could really use, but I have not put it in to practice enough yet for it to make any difference. The problem that I am going to have is that I will stress myself out trying to prove that there is some way I can fix it.

3. What type of music, movies, or other entertainment do you like best? Who are your favorite performers and why?

I tend to prefer performances where the artists are allowed room to improvise and/or the piece is captured live. This is true for all of the performing arts. I like Jazz, Bluegrass, and Improvisational rock (My son’s middle name is Allman). My favorite movie makers are The Cohen Brothers and David Mammet.

4. If you could have dinner with any three persons, living or dead, who would they be? Why would these be your choices?

It would be impossible to pick just three and it is a lot more fun to make up several dinner parties of people whose conversations you would like to eavesdrop on. I would cook the food and keep the wineglasses full and stand in a corner and listen.
Calvin Coolidge, C.S. Lewis, and William F. Buckley.
Condoleezza Rice, Germaine Greer, and Sojourner Truth.
P.J. O’Rourke, Christopher Buckley, and Dennis Miller.
John Calvin, Billy Graham, and the Apostle Paul.

5. Realistically, what do you think that you’ll be doing – or what would you like to be doing – ten years from now?

I see myself freelance writing for webzines and periodicals from an office in my house. Perhaps I could publish a book here and there. My sweet wife will be running a successful decorating business from an office in our house. I would like another kid or two running around trying to distract us from working. In a dream world I would also have a recording studio in my back yard where I could hang out with my buddy Dan in the evenings and a shack on a river somewhere where my family could spend the weekends.

6. What is the one thing that you would like to change about yourself? Why?

I wish I could go back and talk to myself when I was about fifteen. First I would convince myself to get a GED and go to college as soon as possible. Then I would tell myself what I want to major in and what I enjoy doing in life, because this took me ten years of floundering to figure out. Basically I would cut out all of the wasted time and ensure that I would not find myself with a family and a mortgage, locked into a job that ruins my day and having to both go to school and work full time. Do I have any regrets? Damn right.

Dave Shiflett on the Sex in St. Patrick's scandal.
Most Virginians, at the very least, are taught early on that there are some things you just don't do in church. You can snooze, but you never snore. Your mind can wander, but you must keep your hands to yourself. You can go in drunk, but don't complain if the parson singles you out as the Devil's Spawn and someone picks your pocket.

And you certainly don't go into church for a poke. That's true even if you're married and the place is empty. You might take a tumble in the graveyard but it had better be a very dark night and you'd better leave the place just as you left it. One goes to church on Sunday, as the old saying goes, to beg that Saturday night's wild oats experience a divinely directed crop failure.
Check out this article on faith by Condoleezza Rice in the Washington times. If she is not Bush’s running mate in ’04, it will be a shame. Can you imagine a Rice/Powell ticket in ’08? Wouldn’t that just be pee in the cheerios of the political left!
When I first moved to California in 1981 to join the faculty at Stanford, there were a lot of years when I was not attending church regularly. I was traveling a lot. I was a specialist in international politics, so I was always traveling abroad. I was always in another time zone. One Sunday I was in the Lucky's Supermarket not very far from my house — I will never forget — among the spices and an African-American man walked up to me and said he was buying some things for his church picnic. And he said, "Do you play the piano by any chance?"
I said, "Yes." They said they were looking for someone to play the piano at church. It was a little African-American church right in the center of Palo Alto. A Baptist church. So I started playing for that church. That got me regularly back into churchgoing. I don't play gospel very well — I play Brahms — and you know how black ministers will start a song and the musicians will pick it up? I had no idea what I was doing and so I called my mother, who had played for Baptist churches.
"Mother," I said, "they just start. How am I supposed to do this?" She said, "Honey, play in C and they'll come back to you." And that's true. If you play in C, people will come back. I tell that story because I thought to myself, "My goodness, God has a long reach." I mean, in the Lucky's Supermarket on a Sunday morning.

I noticed that commenting has been unavailable for a few days now. I finally got an opportunity yesterday afternoon to go to the site that I use for this service,, and see what the deal was. Looks like they do not exist any more. This is a real drag. I guess I am going to have to find another hosting service.
I realize that I am going to have to admit that I read a gossip column to share the following. Amy Reiter reports:
I'm actually starting to feel a little sorry for Britney Spears. The pop princess, trying to take a little time away from the spotlight, has nevertheless fallen victim to a couple of Montreal radio pranksters. According to the Canadian Press, a radio duo who call themselves the Masked Avengers dialed up Britney, told her they were Celine Dion and invited her to perform a duet -- "Let's Make a Hole in One" -- with Tiger Woods at a bogus charity event. Spears gushingly accepted.