Thursday, July 31, 2008

Film Review

Robert Altman's best films contain ironies and counter-ironies in such copious quantity that it's tough to know which in particular to cite. What's the most indicative example of them all--Sidney Chaplin's BBC reporter, Opel, thrusting her microphone and her pretentious opinions upon a world of artificiality, in a vain effort to discover the "real" Nashville? Or, is it instead best realized in Henry Gibson's Haven Hamilton, a fixture in the Nashville scene, too self-absorbed to realize he's about as well regarded around town as his ridiculously false toupee. Nothing could be simultaneously more or less real than this parallel universe of the superficial, the egocentric, and the self-serving.

Each character behaves in a coldly selfish fashion, and even the kindest gestures appear mutually parasitic in the end. Criticism of L.A. glitz and its culture of gorgeously inauthentic unreality would reach its ultimate conclusion two years later with Woody Allen's magnum opus, Annie Hall, but here is one of its first major public viewings.

The country music capital as allegory for the American political process is the best way to pull together all of these disparate elements into some coherent whole. At best, this is a means of pulling together a rough microcosm of fundamentally different people, linking the political world with the celebrity world, and as such it is the axis upon which the movie revolves. Altman's Nashville is a backwater Los Angeles, and its satirical, caustic eye goes easy on absolutely no one.

Quite unusually, while many Hollywood films extend the supreme cliche of a grotesquely farcical portrayal of the south, playing up the peculiarities of natives at the expense of their dignity, in watching Nashville, that overused cliche is thankfully nowhere to be found, so much so that it's easy to forget that this is a film set in that oft-lampooned region of the country.

It's a harsh film, played straight-faced and without the winking kind of grossly distorted caricature present in many satires, which amounts to letting the audience in on the joke and providing sure-fire laughs--as such it demands much from its audience. It's the sort of picture that may take a couple viewings and some background study to understand in totality, and even then it leaves many questions unanswered.

makes no attempt to stick to narrative conventions, instead trying to examine bits and pieces of the lives of no less than twenty-five characters in a little over two and a half hours of running time. The ultimate ensemble film, the audience never gets a chance to be bored, or, at first, totally engaged. Imagine a soap opera or a rapid-cutting miniseries which never makes promises to tie up loose ends or resolve plot devices. To put it bluntly, it takes a while to get into Altman's directorial world, and in particular to process the dialogue, which in the director's trademark fashion is peculiarly cross-streaming, flowing from one scene to another and often within individual scenes themselves. Yet, within this paradigm, linear time is strictly observed, as the events progress in real time, over the course of five consecutive days.

Nashville at times comes across as a parade of eccentrics spouting droll, dry-as-bones humor. One must accept the metanarrative that selfishness is the supreme drive of the human condition and that celebrity is utterly and entirely vapid and hollow. At no point is the audience allowed to completely suspend disbelief--one always knows one is observing art, so those wishing to see character development or much in the way of conventional plot, per se, will be sorely disappointed. Though it may take some getting used to, Nashville is a good film, definitely one-of-its-kind and one never imitated by subsequent directors. Frankly, I don't know how one could.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Album And/Or Song Titles

Both of these, unsurprisingly, were not that great in quality, or at least weren't nearly as good as prior efforts.


Franz Ferdinand- You Could Have It So Much Better


Mansun- "I Can Only Disappoint U"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Music Review

This is Portishead?

(Review of Portishead's new album, Third)

Following in Lock Step

All the cool kids are doing this.

visited 24 states (48%)
Create your own visited map of The United States or determine the next president

There's another one showing the countries of the world you have visited, but I've visited so few it wouldn't be worth the effort.

The Unhealthiest of Unhealthy Obsessions

I've been meaning to post on this topic well before now, but no matter. What prompted me, in part, was observing how the Baby Boomers, who tried their hardest to redefine youth and youthful rebellion in their heyday, have now been trying to prolong the experience. This kind of endeavor makes me deeply uncomfortable. It reminds me how youth-obsessed we are in this culture. Being obsessed with outward appearances while discounting the lessons and experience born out of time is deeply foolish.

There should be nothing shameful in growing old. Existing in a state of arrested development is quite dangerous and sets a regrettable precedent for generations to come. Sure, our outward bodies are more attractive in youth, but that can only take you so far. Just as beauty is only skin deep, so too is youth. This sort of cult of youth that has sprung up now and has encouraged cottage industries to spring up with names like plastic surgery, botox, and color-treated. Millions of Americans desperately fork out dollars to find the Fountain of Youth.

Part of it too is that we often want it all. We'd never really sacrifice the good things that age has to offer if there were some way to exchange them for physical agelessness. Ingrained assumptions are many in this culture and one such example is that of the idea of youth. Many of us will laud experience as the sole denominator of which we place our faith. But while we will criticize those who seem too youthful and inexperienced, we will with the same breath criticize those who appear too old and wizened.

I, personally, have made more progress towards peace of mind and a kind of inner comfort as I have aged. My teenage years were some of the most uncomfortable I've ever experienced. My grandparents generation collectively referred to those times as "the awkward age" and awkward is a kind way to describe the way I felt then.

It's a fallacy of thought to think that we ever had a total reverence towards our elders. American culture, with its emphasis upon newness and particularly the next big thing, has never been receptive towards the idea. So instead of lamenting that which never was, let's create what should be, instead. Age is nothing to shirk from, and it ought to be welcomed rather than smoothed, snipped, color-treated, or altered out of existence.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Film Review

To begin--Wings is not a great film.

Gore Vidal once described the famous film Ben-Hur as "gorgeously trashy" and this rather glib characterization can easily apply here to the first Best Picture Winner. It's easy to see why audiences in 1927 loved this movie. All the elements that make for commercial success are present: frequent and high-flying (pardon the pun) action scenes, a love triangle, an upbeat, optimistic (albeit excessively so) attitude throughout, and a kind of romantic melodrama which appears supremely dated in these days of uber-realism and skeptism.

Wings would never be made now. Having been inundated with numerous examples of the harsh reality of war, no one would believe the kind of glossy, saccharine portayal of armed combat the film sets forth. Nor would anyone buy the campy mannerisms and over-theatrical acting, while although common to the period, would seem hokey in this day and age. A modern audience would have difficult suspending their disbelief long enough to take much of this film seriously.

Director William Wexler's inventive camera shots and overall shot composition provides just enough "art" to satisfy the purists, but even these don't detract from the film's numerous flaws. Namely, the intertitles, which are so patently ridiculous and overwrought that they seem written by the author of a 1950's hygiene film. Second, and perhaps most objectionable is the portrayal of a bumbling, buffoonish Dutch immigrant, whose ineptitude and goofy demeanor is played for laughs. His awkward, halting English and over-the-top silliness would not play for laughs in these days.

Which leads me to my next point. We often have a tendency to lionize the past, thinking that the pasts provides a kind of quality, artistic faithfulness, and overall integrity that does not exist in our times. This is a myth. The past provided just as many examples of, at best, shoddily crafted product masquerading as art as it does now. Wings is, first and foremost, a popcorn film, and think of how often in these times the Best Picture statute is rewarded not towards quality, but as a nod toward films which attain massive popularity and rake in money hand over fist at the box office. That's never changed one iota.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Please Please Me

last night I said
these words to my

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Obligatory Mention

You should know where I am on Saturdays by now.

Saturday Video

My favorite Kinks album is Arthur: Or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, from which this song, "Shangri-La" is pulled. This, the group's first concept album and, arugably, best was meant to be the soundtrack for a BBC television series. The album's satirical critique of English post-war society takes as its foil the person of an everyman named, you guessed it, Arthur. Each song unfolds through a kind of third person omniscient narrator, often resorting to mild mocking sympathy of the title character. It's obvious Davies pities him, but can't resist putting in a few stinging barbs at the character's expense.

Ray Davies' sardonic criticisms of consumerism and conformity are at their strongest in this batch of songs, which he and the rest of the group would never top in quality. A return to success in American success was still a year away, fostered by the off-kilter hit "Lola", but the band reached its peak here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Media Hyperbole Versus Reality

In the course of this election, I've been musing actively upon the controversies that the media has sought to exploit to attract attention, sell papers, and attract the attention of the increasingly distracted electorate. Slate's video reducing the recent Democratic primary fight to night minutes has reminded me of the proportion between actual controversies and the numerous nontroversies which are created out of thin air. I would estimate no more than one in ten of these stories really have any meat or heft to them.

Back to the Presidential Race-- what can't be argued is that the media clearly salivated over the prospect of being able to capture the photogenic Obama looking Presidential at a variety of campaign stops. Nothing appeals to theatrics more than a well-received 200,000 strong speech. Obama has won over the media, now, as to whether or not the American electorate will respond in kind is anyone's guess. I openly admit to not being able to understand people who make up their minds at the last minute about elections or anything. That there would be any undecideds now, roughly 100 days from the election is completely beyond me.

As I've mentioned before, fatigue has set in, both here in the blogosphere and in the world. An exciting primary fight grew wearying about a month before Hillary's concession at the first part of June. Most people I talk to just want this to be all over. And truthfully, I've been hard pressed to find anything original or interesting to write about, scraping the bottom of the metaphorical barrel for nearly two months.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Will This Overseas Trip Help Obama? Possibly.

A column by a British editorial writer sparked the impetus for this post. The central premise in this post is a variation upon what he had to say in his column. He was interviewed yesterday on MSNBC and I found myself nodding my head in total agreement with the argument he was advancing.

To wit, what has been bandied about recently is the hope that an Obama visit will mend fences with the rest of the world, and clean up American's reputation in the world, a reputation sullied by the excesses of the Bush Administration. Among the left, a major sticking point with the current government in power is how it has abused and misused its power. In Obama, leftists hope to see a resumption of American good standing in the rest of the world. It's a worthy cause to laud, though a more thorough examination might do us well to ponder.

Though I hate to admit it, this country is often in a Catch-22 situation when it makes major policy decision, or really, any decisions at all. It can often do no right, or at least get little to no praise for the things it does right; it is overwhelmed by criticism when it makes mistakes, no matter how minor. Likewise, when this country flexes its muscles either economically or militarily, it is perceived as forcing its hand unjustly in the affairs of the world, but when a crisis abroad appears, it is lambasted in the opinion of the world when it does not act decisively.

It's a combination of sour grapes and just plain old envy. We are the most powerful, most affluent country in the world, and other people resent us for those facts. Obama's visit will hopefully impress upon the rest of the country that he is a capable leader, and at the same time make the same impression upon undecided voters, but I don't see this being the slam dunk the mainstream media wishes. It makes for good theater and hyperbole, so I understand the reason why the mainstream media is pushing it. I reflect upon similar press-driven events that are not nearly as important to the overall debate as the hype would have one believe.

What might be a more helpful question would be to ask why, historically, one nation or state has secured so much wealth at the expense of all the others. Should we accept this as a lamentable fact of human nature or is there some way to expand a more equal distribution of wealth and entitlements across the face of the world?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Five Things I Don't Understand

1. People who obsess about pets.
2. The Golf Channel
3. Manufactured celebrity controversies
4. Paying $500 for a pair of shoes
5. Windows Vista

The Lockbox


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Movie Review

I've always been a fan of movies which represent the first taste of success for their director. They are usually edgy enough to appeal to my artistic sensibilities, but commercial enough to be accessible to the rest of the world. Often after achieving public success, artists of all shapes and sizes have a tendency to lapse into vanity projects which represents their worst excesses personified. So it is that I much prefer This Sporting Life to Lindsay Anderson's later films, of which If.. and Oh Lucky Man are ample evidence of this phenomenon.

Director Anderson's films all possess a kind of dreamlike bleakness and deep pessimism. This Sporting Life fits the definition of a tragedy underneath it all, though it masquerades as a drama until its final conclusion. Anderson's films subtly switch from ultra-realistic cinema verite to surrealism which would not seem out of place in a Fellini piece. This Sporting Life plays like a particularly savage nightmare, particularly with its partially non-linear narrative, especially in evidence in the first half of the film, an extended flashback by which rugby player Frank Machin (Richard Harris, in one of his best leading roles), reflects back on the past several months of his life while presumably under ether having his front teeth extracted after a vicious hit incurred while on the playing field.

Nearly forgotten now is the "angry young man" genre of filmmaking common to British cinema in the late 1950s and 1960s. The genre featured beautifully photographed, usually black and white portrayals of the lives and struggles of rough and tumble men in the dirty, industrial north of England. Prior films belied their roots in the theatre, often relying on the claustrophobic staging of one or two interior rooms to emphasize the poverty of the characters. This Sporting Life ups the ante by occasionally moving away from this setup into documentary-style sweeping portrayals of the rugby scrum or the pub. A synthesis of conventional tactics, combined with obsessively tightly crafted editing and scene selection is what makes this movie a worthwhile view from start to finish.



On why Lindsay Anderson never moved to Hollywood or felt totally comfortable with the glitzy, glamorous, utterly sterile American studio system---

"Lindsey preferred British hypocrisy to American bullshit."

A fantastic quote and one I both totally understand and agree with enthusiastically.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Saturday Video

After Bathing at Baxter's was Jefferson Airplane's deliberate effort to shed its commercial pretenses and construct the perfect aural acid trip (remember, this WAS 1967, after all). The album is surprisingly tuneful at times, belying its reputation as a freak out, experimental disaster.

"Watch Her Ride" is my favorite song off the album and utilizes the group's unique three-part harmonies. In addition, Baxter's spares the audience of the reverb overkill which plagued Surrealistic Pillow. As an aside, I was glad to see Surrealistic Pillow issued in a much punchier mono mix which to me crushes the more familiar stereo mix like a grape.

Bottles and Cans and Just Clap Your Hands (And Just Clap Your Hands)

Where it's at.

The American Street.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Multiple Picture Post

(Click to embiggen all of these)

On the road.

July in Alabama

Brock's Gap

Means of Transportation

Open for Business

Please Please Me

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What a Difference and More of the Same

Today's New York Times piece about the role of race in American politics and American society is a deeply disappointing expose of how far we've got to go. But instead of wringing our hands and lamenting the problem, let's confront the issue directly, all the better to put it aside.

A color-blind society may never be in the cards for us. We're too pluralistic a society, for one, and second of all it's an oversimplification to think that even those of us who share the same skin color would think with one voice, or be one monolithic entity. This is the nation of rugged individualism, after all. And by this, I aim to emphasize we may simply be unable undo the ways things are and may always be.

As it was eight years ago, few Americans have regular contact with people of other races, and few say their own workplaces or their own neighborhoods are integrated.

Despite massive works to the contrary back in the era of Civil Rights, I honestly don't think it's realistic to expect that different racial and ethnic groups will ever intermarry, intermingle, or interact openly. Our cultural differences, societal expectations, and means of looking at the world keep us separated. And maybe they're nothing wrong with separate, but equal, after all. It might be the best outcome we could ever expect.

I'm assuming that we really could someday be equal, though separate. I don't call for separate facilities and separate accommodations. I don't call for a return to legislated segregation. I don't believe any group of people should be somehow less than, but I do call for a spirit of mutual co-existence between all Americans, which is going to probably be the best we can ever really expect. Think of the continent of Europe, by contrast, which contains a plethora of different societal mores, cultural folkways, expectations, and languages.

The French wish to keep their own culture, as do the Spanish, as do the Germans, as do the English...and so on and so forth. As I recall, after blowing itself up for thousands of years, Europe has finally settled into a kind of workable live-and-let-live attitude. Taking into account the lessons of history and the odds, let me reiterate that it is highly unfeasible that we'll ever fully adopt Dr. King's Dream.

“Basically it’s the same old problem, the desire for power,” Macie Mitchell, a Pennsylvania Democrat from Erie County, who is black, said in a follow-up interview after participating in the poll. “People get so obsessed with power and don’t want to share it. There are people who are not used to blacks being on top.”

This I agree with wholeheartedly. But what is unsaid in this article is the reason many whites feel this way. They do not wish to confront the chance of having the tables turned on them and being reduced to second-class citizens themselves. And in all honesty, human nature being what it is, I can understand this fear for what it is. If any other ethnic or racial group becomes the majority, they will have to be careful to govern without holding a attitude of resentment and desire to punish those who in the past held them in chains.

If Obama is elected, he will certainly be held to a higher standard due to his race. Instead of lamenting this however, and resorting to the ain't-it-awful chorus that is reassuring but totally unproductive, why don't we take this opportunity, no matter our cultural allegiance, and work to explode the stigma. A successful Obama administration has much to prove, but, if elected, he proves to be a competent and wise Commander-in-Chief, then many bigoted and racist viewpoints motivated out of fear will be proven erroneous and nonsensical.

And I Love Her

In keeping with the Beatles theme.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Movie Review

Howard Hughes is known by many as a aviator and then, in his later life, an all around general eccentric, but what is often forgotten is that as a young man, he produced several high quality films of the late silent era. The Racket is one such film, nominated for Best Picture in 1927, but winning out to the crowd-pleasing aerial epic, Wings.

Hughes' immense fortune allowed him to hire the best directors, the best talent, and the most competent behind-the-scenes workers. This was true with The Racket, whose director, Lewis Milestone, later went on to direct one of the best anti-war films of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front. Though Hughes produced only four silent films, all toward the end of the '20s, each was of uniformly good caliber and almost all pushed the envelope to a degree most of Hollywood would not. Hughes-produced films were among the first to showcase nudity, for example, though to a degree that seems beyond tame these days. Nudity in the silent era was a kind of "Did-I-really-see-what-I thought-I-did" kind of peekaboo tease of a second or two.

A focus on gritty realism and the more lurid details of life characterize these films, much more in line with the overseas film market than the domestic market, which was content to churn out lighthearted, fluffy films seemingly without much care. While America was basking in the glow of an broadly optimistic, overly cheery period, the shadowy, symbolic stagecraft and dark shadows of German expressionism and Danish and Swedish cinema of the period was quite the contrast. Hughes' films, unlike most conventional American films of the time, have a more cynical, street-smart overall attitude, while still managing to managing to appear thoroughly American in delivery.

Having viewed several dozen silent films, most of them have the same kind of saccharine, contrived plots and lazy camera work as today. Put together in a cookie cutter, assembly line fashion, most were designed, then as now, as star vehicles which pushed pretty faces in exotic circumstances. This makes The Racket all the more special, because it strikes the optimum balance between edgy art and commercial sense, a combination which many artists seek to find but few lack the sensibility to pull off.

The Racket's innovative camera work and shot composition put it heads and shoulders above almost all of the films of the period. Today's audience often assumes that all silent films had some kind of noble character and high artistic merit, and this is largely because only around 10-20% of them survive. At best carelessly preserved, if preserved at all, their printing upon highly fragile celluloid filmstock proved to be the undoing of many of them. The only films that survive are generally those which either made lots of money at the box office, or contained spectacular artistic achievements. Often films survive that were stored in the private collections of auteurs like Charlie Chaplin who took similarly obsessive control over their prints and the craftsmanship of their movies. Indeed, the only reason The Racket survives is because Hughes himself included the picture in his own personal archives.

Controversial for its time because it revealed a large city totally under the sway of a gangster (a thinly veiled portrait of mobster Al Capone), even a largely corrupt police force, The Racket ushered in an crime drama obsession in cinema that ran for the next five to six years, well into the era of the early talkies.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Whole Lotta Milk-a

Bureaucracy's Failings

It has become fashionable to lament the high cost of health care and college tuition to name but two services provided to the American public. Both were never designed to become cottage industries, and yet both have become sprawling masses of inefficiency. This we know. This is something politicians have latched onto and incorporated in their stump speeches, but hardly anyone ever addresses the reasons for the increased cost.

Doing so would force us to confront a few unpleasant realities about these fields, their impact in our daily lives, and just how unruly and undisciplined these industries have become. It would be wonderful to see a politician speak the truth about these problems, rather than merely reiterating our grumbling without proposing an adequate solution to fix it.

A major reason why is that supposed non-profit organizations, specifically institutions of higher learning and medical centers, have made money hand over fist in the last several decades. Charity hospitals or colleges/universities have then established largely unnecessary administrative positions within positions, departments within departments, and factions within factions that make little to no rational sense. Since these fields were never designed to turn a profit, yet ended up making money hand over fist, each overbuilt, both in an architectural and staffing sense.

Most students and most patients do not directly deal with half of these departments, and yet they exist to give jobs to middle management. Certain cities, of which my home of Birmingham, Alabama, is a notable example, are utterly sustained by medical centers and public universities as the predominant employer of the entire town. When the steel mills went away and were among the first jobs to be outsourced overseas, back in the 1970s, banking, health care, and higher education stepped in to fill the void. Birmingham was not the only city for whom this kind of response was a godsend.

But back to the issue at hand--slashing jobs to the bone is no real solution, since doing so would increase unemployment and leave many people with no place to go. Judiciously pruning unnecessary departments and administrative staff is the most sensible resolution, combined, of course, with reducing the pay of those who remain. Unchecked, unregulated bureaucracy fosters inefficiency, keeps cost unnaturally high, and slows down the process. If we want to put our money where our mouth is, this kind of necessary regulation is where we'll put our efforts.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Grey Day

And Let Us Not Forget...

The American Street, where I have posted more songs.

Saturday Video

Sorry about not posting yesterday. My internet connection has been wonky for most of two days.

I woke up with this song in my head this morning, so I suppose this ought to be this week's Saturday video. You will probably know this one, as it is "N.S.U." by Cream.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Enthusiasm Gap

Despite Obama's recent jog to the center, enthusiasm for the candidate remains high. Though the halo has slipped a bit in the past couple weeks or so, Obama's rock star status remains largely undiminished. This is particularly in evidence here in Alabama, a state McCain will likely win handily. The GOP margin of victory may be less then ten percent, the closest it has been since 1976, which was the last time this state went blue and handed its electoral college votes to Jimmy Carter.

I live in a middle class suburb of the largest city in the state, Birmingham, and the contrasts between the last election and this one are extremely marketed. This is an area of the country which bought wholesale into the Rovian smear that John Kerry was little more than a flip-flopper and sold wholly into the now infamous 527 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad.

Or to put it another way, this time four years ago, this solidly red state was blanketed with those-always obnoxious, now ubiquitous "W" stickers that spawned a thousand copy-cats and parodies. Kerry bumper stickers were evident also, but they remained vastly in the minority. Now, four years later, in the closing months until this year's election, I have seen approximately one McCain bumper sticker, one McCain yard sign, and more than a few open displays of Obama support adorning the backs of cars and lawns.

The message is clear. I reiterate--though McCain will likely win this state easily, the enthusiasm for McCain is decidedly less than. Now the rank-and-file Republican voter gets the chance to feel the same kind of ho-hum, the same kind of lack of passion that long-suffering Democratic voters have felt the last three election cycles at minimum.


To muse upon a related, though different issue, I have to say that I'm not surprised that Obama's glow has been muted a bit in recent days. This election cycle has simply gone on too long. What was a desire to expedite the end of the second Bush term has now become an endurance test. Frankly, I've long since grown weary and if I could move up Election Day the same way certain states moved up their primaries, I'd gladly do it. Perhaps I'm not alone in wishing that this could just be over.

But back to Obama's recent rightward course and the media backlash created by it, this sort of second-guessing would not have transpired until after the first 100 days of a brand new Presidential administration. The fatigue felt by all of us, politicos, amateur policy wonks, and voters alike is telling. If the election were held today, Obama would sleepwalk his way into the White House with a narrow, but nonetheless sufficient margin of victory in the Electoral College.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Oatmeal Bread Pictures

Before baking.

After baking.

How To Equalize Prescription Drug Costs

It's been a while since I've seen Obama give a mention to his universal health care plan. Having read through the plan in its entirety on his website, I have to say that I wish it took into account the reality of why medical costs are so outrageously high. I am aware that an in-depth discussion of the details of the plan doesn't make for interesting sound-bytes and doesn't hold the interest of the American public the way patriotism, terrorism, and economic recovery plans do, but for millions of Americans forced to pay unnecessarily high drug costs, this hits U.S. consumers where it hurts the worst, in the pocketbook.

This is a complex matter, so in this entry I'd prefer to focus on one particular facet, namely high prescription drug costs. The problem among many in our for-profit healthcare system is that individual consumers in this country are forced to pay a disproportionate share of the research, development, and advertising costs for Big Pharma.

To treat my bipolar disorder, one of the medications I take costs nearly $420 for a thirty day supply without insurance. In Canada or Mexico, the same medication is anywhere from $10 to $20 for the same quantity. The reason for this price discrepancy is that the governments of other country have passed legislation that puts into effect a price ceiling. Pharmaceuticals cannot cost more than a certain amount in almost every country except for our thanks to smart government regulation. Our unwillingness to place price controls shows the power of the pharmaceutical lobby on our government.

If the cost was shared equally across the world, then it might be feasible for us, based on relative financial well-being to pay more for our drugs than other countries who do not have our economic stamina, but certainly paying 80-90% of the cost as we do now is neither fair nor just.

I certainly hope an Obama administration would make a point to establish government regulation where it is badly needed. We all are aware of government waste, corruption, and stalemate. If the Illinois senator wishes to advance smarter government, this would be a good place to start. I fear that in the four months to go before Election Day, this issue will get lost in the shuffle, taken to the back burner and submerged underneath issues such as economic recovery, patriotism, and terrorism, to name a few.

Late in the Day

Monday, July 07, 2008

Obama's Calculated Pandering

Examining the alarmist headlines on the cable news channels has been amusing, to say the length. All of them amount to some variation of: "Will the Liberal Base Desert Obama?".

In a word, no. We're so used to grumbling our way down to the poll, casting our vote for a wholly uninspiring Democratic candidate in November, that if need be we will act in kind this time too. But even so, I'm still under the sway of the Obama glow, even if certain segments of the cynical media have begun to question its love affair with the Illinois senator. As I have maintained before and continue to maintain, politics has some degree of pandering involved and one never truly knows how any candidate will govern until he or she is sworn in and taken office.

If we are to remove the stigma that liberal still has in the minds of many, it's going to have to be done with Obama rolling up his sleeves, passing his proposals through a likely friendly Congress, and signing these bills into law. Through action, not lip-service are we going to change the negative stereotypes that have burdened leftist candidates for elective office. If Obama governs well, these same tired arguments will be less likely to stick and to be deeply damaging both to progressive candidates and progressive citizens.

Truthfully, I'm not thrilled with the hard turn to the center that Obama has taken in recent days, but for all the postulating about post-partisanship and a new way of conducting business, I knew this day would come. How quickly we forget the criticism raging in the blogsophere this time last year, and the vast number of people who were hesitant to back Obama because of these same concerns: Not liberal enough. Not committed enough to a progressive mindset. Not what we really want. Not what we really need.

But, as we always do, we lock ranks around our party's candidate, even if he or she isn't as forward-thinking as we think he or she ought to be. But what we need to ask ourselves is how we can advance a more liberal agenda and convince more of the American people of the validity and rightness of our cause. One effective President can accomplish quite a bit, but he or she can't do it alone. We are very good at identifying problems, but proposing solutions would do us much better.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Silly Season Concludes, Boring Season Resumes

An exciting five month back and forth between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama kept the attention of this country and the world squarely focused on the Democratic primary and American politics. An unconventional primary season has given way to a very conventional general election. What was billed as a change from the status quo has quickly become staid, perfunctory, and boring.

McCain and Obama both are arguing over traditional fault lines. Op-ed columnist have resumed their studies of minutia that they inevitably resort to when passion subsides and paycheck looms large in its place. The blogosophere, still a vital force, has found itself in a collective state of inadvertent sabbatical. I have found it more difficult than usual to find an adequate topic to pursue and the five paragraphs or so to vamp upon said topic.

Reasons are many for the recent lull. At some point a month or so ago, Americans came to exhaustion point regarding the 2008 Presidential election. One marvels that it hadn't happened sooner. Over a year's worth of blanket coverage and an intense fight between the Democrats was bound to try anyone's stamina. The marathon has subsided and now the cool-down has begun.

Have no fear, readers. In a little while we will rouse ourselves from our exhausted stupor and the intensity level will be back to its previous level. Nothing like the down to the wire final days of an election cycle can produce that. But in the meantime, enjoy the downtime and rest up well. We'll need it for the fall.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Saturday Invitation

To American Street, where I have three new performance videos to share.

Saturday Video

Probably my favorite Dylan song of all time, and a damning critique of self-serving activists and the folk rock scene that he had ridden to fame. The one-liners in this song are simultaneously amusing and acerbic, in true Dylan form.

It was fascinating to read about how this is one of Barack Obama's favorites as well.

Friday, July 04, 2008

YouTube Friday

I'm adjusting to new medication, so I simply don't have the focus needed to write anything much of length.

This was the first Wings rehearsal and appropriately Paul, Linda, and the rest of the band are playing a Little Richard cover, "Lucille".

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Patriotism, and Why It's Often in Short Supply

Let it be known up front that I didn't grow up in an uber-patriotic household. Dad didn't display the flag at the front of our house, whistling an out-of-tune but nonetheless heartfelt version of taps while lowering the stars and stripes at sundown every day.

I always felt a little uncomfortable in the presence of these deeply flag-waving people, mainly because I grew up in a culture of deeply rooted skepticism. The extremely patriotic were no different from religious zealots in my mind and even as a child I found it difficult to entertain any sort of trust in elected officials. I found myself constantly reminded of the evil deeds, doublethink, and unethical methods our government had fostered. This kind of dubious record was, incredibly, in the same breath, combated by a desperate willingness to mythologize and romanticize the historical impact and lasting legacy of its noble deeds.

To put it another way, a friend of mine from Australia recently asked me a question, in all seriousness. "Why do you Americans criticize your President?" In a country where a spirit of common purpose and common unity trump partisan strife, by contrast, our desire to eagerly criticize our elected leaders simply did not compute in her manner of thinking. Naturally, I was quick to provide all of the reasons why George W. Bush has a shockingly low approval rating, but she took it in as would a student of a foreign language. With absolutely no frame of reference, she had no choice but to accept what I was saying at face value, even though a thorough explanation still did little to address her confusion.

The largest of many ironies about patriotism is that it is used frequently as a damningly negative critique of a person or a political figure. It's particularly been used to criticism the devotion to country of liberals and paint them into a corner as somehow anti-American and traitorous. Seldom is patriotism used as a way to bolster the appeal of a candidate or a person. If it is used in the latter fashion at all these days, it's a perfunctory sort of qualifier, one that hardly anyone acknowledges as rooted in more than window dressing or platitude.

So tomorrow brings us another 4 July, a day in which we are all supposed to reflect back upon the freedoms and rights granted to us by a band of radical lawyers and assorted rabble-rousers. While we are routinely implored to contemplate the role of American democracy in our own lives and in the world around us, we instead are happy to get a day off, drink to excess, and shoot off fireworks.

I can't say that my breast swells with pride and devotion to country on Independence Day. While I certainly appreciate the good things this country has to offer, I know I am not alone in wishing that this nation would adopt a totally different mindset and means of conducting business. It's difficult to be thankful when so many reforms are in desperate need of adoption and when this country's current government has conducted itself in ways with which I strongly disagree.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Obama Willing to Do What It Takes to Get Elected

Roger Simon's recent article on Politico, entitled "Obama Not Running as Movement", takes a pointed swipe at many of us here in the liberal base of the Democratic Party. Those of us who have bristled at Obama's recent jog to the center would do well to remember that whether we like it or not, this country is still center-right in political orientation.

Double standards do exist, particularly in the realm of religious expression, morality, and foreign policy. The Republican party can be excused far more easily than the Democratic party when it comes to perceived inconsistencies on this issues. So a certain degree of political compromise is necessary to win in November.

Obama himself has said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "A lot of people would like me to be Paul Wellstone. But I'm not Paul Wellstone. I don't agree with everything Paul Wellstone said."

As much as we might hope to get everything we want on our candidate wish list, the reality is that in order to secure election, there's a certain amount of this kind of posturing to the center any Presidential candidate must do in order to win election. What's satisfied me in this election cycle is that Obama and his advisers are not playing it safe and are actually taking the fight to the GOP instead of conceding all but the safest political turf and playing prevent defense. As I have said before many times, nothing is more uninspiring than another weak-kneed, spineless Democratic candidate for President.

What Simon alludes to in this article, more accurately, is the failings of an explicitly populist message. Such passionate appeals, while they often sound compelling, end up appealing to a very small number of voters. While negative messages do resound more resolutely with the electorate, too much of them quickly grow old among voters. In 2004, Dean's failings were many. Namely, he came across as too strident, too tactless, too emotional rather than rational, and it ended up costing him dearly.

If he is to make 2008 a realigning election, if he is to redraw the electoral map, if he is to establish new coalitions, if he intends to explode the conventional wisdom, then I applaud his efforts. One only hopes that, if elected, he will be as bold in setting policy as he is in political maneuvering.