Friday, September 29, 2006

Blogs and Broken Singles

First things first. Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles are playing at the Underground City Tavern on October 7. I hate to put this in such stark terms, but this is definitely a “be there or be square event” if you fancy yourself a music lover with a hipster bent.

Sarah recently won the Boston Music Award for best local female vocalist, and not without reason. She’s good the way Lucinda Williams is good and that’s real good. And so is her band. So I’m playing Leonard Trumper here and trying to promote the show. Here's a post I did on there last Springfield appearance.

Speaking of music, the Abstract Prosaic is making like Griel Marcus over at the Occasional Potato. If that isn’t clear to you, and for the life of me I can't figure out why it wouldn't be, try this: Jeff has posted some critical analysis/musings on two of the seminal records of the early nineties. It’s interesting stuff if you fancy yourself a music lover with a hipster bent.

Inspired by Jeff’s new direction and ThirtyWhat blog’s signature lyric coda, I’ve decided to start a new irregular feature to replace the classic From the Treadmill series that has laid dormant for many months now.

On each entry, this new feature will focus on a song that is exemplified by the craftsmanship of its lyrics. These type of songs speak more to the heart and mind then to those nether regions that popular music is often accused of appealing to. They have literary qualities and are often structured like a short story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, only instead of residing on the pages of a book or on a movie screen, the action transpires within the music.
For songs of this type to work, the lyrics have to be weaved into a melody. I’ve never cared for those folk singers who recite poetry or protest speeches over a C-A-D chord progression and try to pass it off as a song. They’ll be none of that here.

I’ve already several songs in mind for this feature, but I’ve yet to decide how to approach the review. I don’t want to get too academic in my analysis so that BFS doesn’t turn into 100-level poetry class, although I may point out literary devices used and try to ascribe meaning where none exists. Sounds boring already.

I also need a catchy title for the feature, something a little less stupid than “From the Treadmill.”

Anyway, look for it soon, or don’t, because I may not do it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Of Kings and Kingston's

A King's Ransom

No doubt some bloggers will take issue with the recent disclosure that Barak Obama is raking it in hand over fist. I find it reassuring.

An AP report states that the Obamas took in a cool $1.67 million last year, with Mrs. O chiming in with about $350,000 of that from her gigs as a hospital administrator and a board of directors member.

I don’t blame the senator for cashing in on his popularity with book deals and what not. As long as he has cash flowing in from publishing houses, he’ll be less tempted by the graft from the Jack Abramoff’s of the world. And although I do not doubt Michelle Obama’s qualifications, I can also understand why her employer might want to promote her and triple her salary. I’m sure that if my wife’s name was being bandied about as a possible presidential candidate, then my bosses would throw some extra dough my way so that I might remember them fondly should I ever become First Gentleman.

I’ve long held to the theory that the reason so many politicians are either lacking in aptitude or are just plain corrupt is because the job doesn’t pay well enough. Smart, honest people seek their fortunes elsewhere and slick, dishonest people see government as their personal treasury. Maybe Obama will serve to break this mold.

Fiscal conservatives might find something to hang their hat on with the Obama’s financial disclosure as well. I’m sure they’re hoping that the $545,614 in federal taxes that the senator paid last year will bring him around to the merits of the flat tax. I doubt it though.

The report also mentioned that the Obamas claimed childcare expenses. It doesn’t specify an amount, but I’d think that it must be rather high. That’s the one thing that puts a damper on the story of their rise to political and corporate royalty.

Everyone knows the hectic lifestyle of a senator, especially one with presidential aspirations. And everyone knows that executives pulling down what Michelle Obama makes typically put in a lot more than 40 hours a week. So as the Obamas become increasingly important to so many people, with money come demands after all, I just wonder how much time they spend with the two people to whom they are most important – their two daughters.

After the Smoke Cleared

The first tale of woe in a post-smoke society made its way to the letters-to-the-editor section today. The aggrieved proprietor of a local business was looking for answers. The smokers have abandoned him. Sales are down. His employees face dismissal. His suppliers wait on hold. Where, he demanded, are the non-smoking customers who were promised to him by the proponents of the smoking ban?

Well, his letter sure won’t help to draw them in because he neglects to give the name of his establishment.

If a person doesn’t have the sense to give his business a plug in a letter that is meant, at least in part, to drum up business, then perhaps he lacks the acumen to succeed, ban or no ban.

Speaking of the smoking ban, here’s an interesting story that someone could pursue. What percentage of the soon-to-be reconstructed Barrel Head will be designated as the smoking section? I know that the trend in recent years has been for larger smoke-free areas as the number of smokers has decreased. But the Barrel Head, tucked away as it is in the puff-friendly hamlet of Jerome, is in a unique position.

Even if you believe that the ban won’t have a detrimental effect on most businesses, it’s foolish to think that the BH isn’t going to siphon off some smoking patrons from the likes of D’Arcy’s and the Dublin Pub. So what’s the smart move here for the Brother Davlin?

If he grants complete asylum to the refugees from Carcinogenesia and promises an ash tray on every table, he risks turning the place into a nicotine den. On the other hand, if he allots half the restaurant as a safe-breathing zone, he might end up leaving some smokers waiting outside for a table while the smoke-free area remains unoccupied.

What would you do, if profit were your only motive?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

We didn't start the fire*

That Chris Britt is a very good editorial cartoonist is evident in his ability to present his viewpoint in such way that it instantly sparks debate. Often, vigorous debate. Such as the one I hope to have here now.

In today's offering, Britt show the Pope pouring fuel on the flames of Islamic bigotry. It's an interesting take.

There's no doubt that Islamic bigotry is on the rise, probably more so in European countries where Muslim immigrants are more segregated than they are in the U.S. Yet it's true that there are more negative feelings towards Islam here, and I admit to harboring some myself. In particular, I have trouble with the belief that the Islamic version of an eternal weekend in Vegas can be won by strapping a bomb to your chest and heading down to the deli. But I understand that not every Muslim shares in this belief and it's not fair to judge them as if they do.

I do wonder, however, if Britt doesn't overstate the effects of the Pope's words on Islamic bigotry. I haven't read any reports of mosques being burned, Imam's being murdered, or mass protests where likenesses of Mohammed are burned in effigy. So the Pope didn't douse an anti-Islamic uprising with gasoline, so much as squirt a little lighter fluid on people's quietly-held prejudices.

The Pope's comments did prove to be quite incendiary to some Islamics, who in response attacked Christian churches, murdered a nun, and set fire to papal-like puppets while demanding an apology or his pointy-hatted head on a platter.

It strikes me as more than a bit absurd to respond to accusations that your religion spurs violence by becoming violent. If being called a lush sends you straight to the bottle, then the problem isn't the name caller.

There are more important lessons to be learned from this incident than simply that the Pope should be more careful to not offend Muslims. For example, that people should be free to practice whichever religion they choose, or no religion at all. That criticism often leads to understanding, even though it may sting a bit at first. And most importantly, that free speech is essential to a free society and should be fiercely defended.

Anne Applebaum, writing for Slate**, made this last point quite well while addressing the Western response to this incident:

I don't mean that we all need to rush to defend or to analyze this particular sermon: I leave that to experts on Byzantine theology (and to my colleague Christopher Hitchens). But we can all unite in our support for freedom of speech-surely the pope is allowed to quote medieval texts-and of the press. And we can also unite-loudly-in our condemnation of violent, unprovoked attacks on churches, embassies, and elderly nuns. By "we" I mean here the White House, the Vatican, the German Greens, the French Foreign Ministry, NATO, Greenpeace, Le Monde, editorial cartoonists (amendment mine) and Fox News. Western institutions of the left, the right, and everything in between. True, these principles sound pretty elementary-"we're pro-free speech and anti-gratuitous violence"-but in the days since the pope's sermon, I don't feel that I've heard them defended in anything like a unanimous chorus.

I don't know why we aren't singing in harmony on this one, but she's right that there a good number of people taking the Pope to task while almost taking for granted the extremist response throughout the Middle East.

I seem to recall, in the aftermath of the Danish cartoon furor, that Britt sided with his ink-stained brethren against Muslim condemnation. I wonder why the Pope isn't afforded this same freedom of expression. Granted, you can believe that the Pope had the right to say what he did and still have been wrong for saying it, but when you choose to only address the latter, bloggers like me will question why you ignored the former.

As to the larger issue of global unrest, some are of the opinion that what we are experiencing is a clash of civilizations brought about by advances in technology and communication that have thrust modern beliefs and values on people who would prefer to live more insularly lives. There is hope in this theory. Once the culture shock wears off, understanding and acceptance could follow. I read something recently that might give credence to this:

Speaking at campuses, mosques, and the homes of Muslims, the Al Qasemi (an Islamic institute of higher learning) faculty said that it is time for Muslims to quit blaming others and examine their own responsibility for the troubles of Islamic civilization; time for Arab Israelis to call themselves Israelis, not Palestinians; and, above all, time for women to have full equality with men in the Muslim world.

All these assertions are considered radical, even incendiary, in much of the Arab Muslim world. But Mohammad Essawi, the president of the college, said such changes in thinking are needed to transform an education system in the Islamic world "that is still in the 12th century and does not have an open mind."

It's comforting to hear this type of liberal thinking amidst so much theological fascism. But where in the Middle East, you may be wondering, would a group of Islamic educators dare call for such progressive changes in attitude? In Israel, the home of Al Qasemi College. When a rabbinical school opens in Iran, we'll know that the educators' message is taking hold.

*Forgive me for cribbing titles from Billy Joel.

**If you aren't familiar with Slate and are on the verge of accusing me of being manipulated by right wing doctrine, Slate was founded by Michael Kinsley and still leans to the left most of the time. It's one of my favorite online sources for commentary.

Thanks for Something

Thanks to everyone who voted BFS as the second best local blog, and to everyone who reads this blog but didn’t vote for me. I hope that you all took my snippiness as the end of my last post with the satirical spirit in which it was intended.

Thanks too to the Illinois Times. Given all the abuse that has been heaped on them here over the past year, it would have been perfectly understandable if they had filed my votes away in the trash next to their copy of Ann Coulter’s latest book.

Taking second place to Rich Miller and his Capitol Fax blog is quite an honor. I prefer his blog to mine as well. If you are at all interested in state politics, or even if you’re just a conscientious voter, you will benefit from reading his work.

As I said earlier in the comments section, I doubt that there was much separating me from many of the other local bloggers in terms of votes, and I know that there isn’t anything separating us in terms of quality.

Okay, enough of this sappiness. All of this false modesty is killing me.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Concession of a Blogger

The last vote has long since been tallied and the outcome determined. On Thursday the Illinois Times will name the Best Local Blogger in their annual Best of Springfield contest. I respectfully concede to the winner this prestigious and coveted title.

It was here, on a lonely May evening back in 2005, that I posted my first blog entry. Inspired by the wondrous opportunities inherent in this new technology, I set out with little to guide me but a vision. A vision that in its quintessence would offer a better way for everyone in our community, borne from the humble insights and observations that would pour from my figurative pen.

And with your generous comments and my ever rising hit counts, you let me know that you believed in the dream as well. Together we would make BlogFreeSpringfield a harbinger for a new day in public discourse in our town. A place where every voice could be heard, and then put down in a flurry of personal insults. A place where people could gather in anonymity and spout opinions that good taste and decorum would prohibit them from saying in public. A place where Angelina Jolie could be exalted and James Blunt scorned. Compared to the intelligentsia that would gather at BFS, the Proustian salons of Paris were filled with a pack of Jerry Springer guests

It was never my intent with this blog to win a popularity contest, focused as I was on the loftier goals of community enlightenment and uplift. Until, that is, the IT added a blogging category to their populist survey. At that point, being coronated by a people who think that the Olive Garden is fine dining became my mania. My raison d'etre. But tonight, I have come to accept it isn’t to be.

It would be easy to look back on my past blogging miscues as the reason that our dream fell short this year. From my sporadic posting schedule, to my tiresome polemics, and on to that unfortunate encounter with Dr. Doriginality, my failures as a blogger are many.

Perhaps my biggest downfall was cleaving to the courage of my convictions in my mission to shed light on the criminal activities of the Red Hat Society. In them I made a ruthless and formidable enemy, who no doubt used every weapon in their illicit arsenal to upend my candidacy. I will not be Best Blogger. I regret nothing.

But as I ponder my own shortcomings, it occurs to me that the real reason that someone else is being bestowed with the title Best Blogger is because you people probably never bothered to actually pick up a damn ballot and vote for me. Sure, it’s good fun to come here and spout your opinions about the ethics of police detectives or the plight of the moderate Muslim, but it’s apparently too much to actually log on to the IT’s Web site and cast a vote for the person who provided you the forum for your rantings.

Thanks for nothing.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lucky Strikes

We all knew it would happen. When the city council passed the smoking ban last spring, we just knew that something would happen between then and September 17, that would allow the ban to be skirted by some or all. I expected a weasely amendment introduced by one of the alderman that would have redefined a “public space” in such a way to exclude establishment’s named for real or fictional characters ( Marley’s=smoke ‘em, The Alamo=snuff ‘em out.)

The aldermen, however, stood strong in the face of minority opposition. With just days to go before the ban is to go into effect, smokers were down to their last gasp. And then, the answer appeared on the front page of the newspaper.

The SJ-R reported that the state might not enforce the city’s ban in some of its facilities because it contradicts agreements spelled out in union contracts. And no politician wants to mess with the unions, a group of individuals who always seem to be itching for a fight. Could it be that they could take the fight even further, beyond state property and into Lu’s Home Tavern?

I’m not talking about the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, which proved itself almost completely lacking in rational thought during the smoking ban debate, but a new union tasked with protecting those who will be forced to practice their trade in alleys and on street curbs this winter: The United Brotherhood of Hackers.

I’m not sure what kind of bargaining power a group of yellow-toothed barflies would hold against city government, but as loyal sons and daughters of Hoffa, it’s certain that they would be pandered to. If they could band together as a unified voting bloc and actually unglue themselves from their bar stools on election day, they just might make some noise during the next aldermanic election.

If the city did stick to its guns, I’m not sure that the threat of a strike would hold much sway, however. The smokers’ major grievance is that they don’t want to be forced to walk out of anywhere.

There are other problems to organizing labored breathers* as well. The union might spring for some snazzy satin jackets, but there would be little to offer in terms of benefits beyond being allowed to wallow in your own carcinogens. They probably wouldn’t be able to negotiate any type of health coverage, and collecting pension contributions would be a hard sell to a three pack-a-day smoker.

*I know, that's pretty weak. But it's in keeping with this entire post and most of the ones preceding it.

Jimerica Industries

Jim Leach blogging again, too late, I might add, to stage a last minute run at the IT’s best blogger title. I’m convinced that Gotshoo will win thanks to his offer of a free blogger party should he emerge victorious. It’s a shameless offer to be sure, but also fiendishly clever.

Back to Jim. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised to receive an email from his “webmaster” asking me to update my link to Abelog’s new URL. I was immediately reminded of Darren from Kramerica Industries when he called to set-up a lunch engagement between Jerry and his boss. A blogger with a webmaster?

I’ve always considered blogging a solo pursuit, just a man or woman and his free software. Hiring staff adds a whole new dimension. It creates a caste system that could upset the delicate balance of the local blogging scene. What’s next, a team of interns, schooled in the political philosophies of the Jim Leach Show, who ghost-write Jim’s blog entries while he sips cognac with Jeff Lynne in a Birmingham recording studio. These big media types are all alike.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cooking with Rodent

The SJ-R's Chris Britt recently inked a cartoon that lampooned the rodent infestation at Franny’s Tavern. It was in response to a recent health inspection where suspicious mice activity was reportedly detected in food preparation areas. The cartoon shows a Franny’s patron ordering a bowl of Chili Sans Itchy amid a bar-full of mice. It has gotten some play on talk radio and I have to say that I was a bit taken aback by it when I first saw it.

My first reaction was that it seems a little harsh to go after an otherwise upstanding local establishment in such a ruthless manner. It’s one thing for an editorial cartoonist to be merciless when going after politicians, since some consider them to be lower than mice on the food chain anyway, but quite another to skewer the proprietor of a blue collar bar, a gentleman who is apparently so kind-hearted that he also runs a shelter for wayward rodents.

Rather than depicting Franny’s as a spot still overrun with mice, Britt could have chosen to draw a pipe-playing leprechaun leading the horde out of the Irish pub towards the Lincoln Park lagoon where they would meet their demise. It is, after all, better to light a candle than curse someone’s darkness. But that's just me.

On the other hand, anyone serving food that had previously served as lodging for mice is deserving of a harsh rebuke. If I had been one of the people who had eaten at Franny’s in the weeks preceding the health inspection, I probably wouldn’t have laughed a vengeful laugh upon seeing the cartoon, if only to keep from swallowing the chlorine I’d been gargling with. So in that respect, I suppose you could say that Britt struck a blow for every Franny's customer who was served a crap sandwich.

I do have somewhat of a history with Franny’s and perhaps that is responsible for my initial compassionate reaction. For a few years, I lived across the street from the venerable drinking hole that was once a popular political hangout.* Although I was never a regular**, and I don’t know the owner or any of the patrons, I do harbor a minor affinity for the place.

The day after I became engaged to my future wife, we met some friends at Franny’s to share the good news. What I remember most about that evening, even more than the inappropriate condolences directed towards my wife, was a minor incident that involved one of the patrons.

As my wife-to-be left our table to powder her nose, she caught the eye of a 50ish bloke who had apparently been soaking there in place for some time. He watched her as she passed and again on her return. This was not the admiring stare of a chap harkening back to his halcyon days spent a-courtin’, but the hard glare of someone who either harbored a misogynic attraction to cute brunettes or had just eaten a pork tenderloin breaded with mouse droppings. I now have reason to believe that it may have been the latter.

I don’t blog much about golf, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t congratulate Annika Sorenstam on winning the Brass Rail Award. She must have scored a lot of points on that last day because I think she was in 10th place earlier in the week. I’m not sure if this is the first time the fairer sex has won a golfing match, but her victory struck a blow for women everywhere. Take that Bobby Riggs. Annika has also helped restore some pride in our country in a time when we can really use it. USA! USA!

*Dan Rutherford hosted a gathering at Franny’s during the fair which provided me a glimpse of why I’ll probably never become involved in a political campaign. In addition to being made to hoot and holler like an audience member at a Let’s Make a Deal taping, apparently you’re also required to “get happy” upon hearing some of the dregs of popular music (Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll, YMCA.) Maybe it’s just a Republican thing, but I can’t imagine that a Blago shindig is any more happening.

**A BFS t-shirt, should they become available, to the first person to identify the song that laments the “regulars” who haunt taverns. The NGR is in effect and it has to be the song I’m thinking of and not some other song that I don’t know. Also, no making up your own lyrics, Ms. What.

Friday, September 01, 2006

A nice blog post where I don’t mention pedophiles, terrorism, or failed attempts to introduce a new word* into our collective lexicon of expletives.**

I wanted to write something on the less serious side since it's Friday. Based on the comments, none of you are taking my warning about the Red Hat Society seriously so you can all just sit idly by while they turn our town into a crime-infested sinkhole. So here are a few lighter items to start the Labor Day weekend. Enjoy it while you can because soon only red-topped women-of-a-certain-age will be allowed to attend the Ethnic Festival and the Rail Classic.

Congratulations to Pat Coburn, publisher of the SJ-R, on his retirement.

This should give you an idea of the kind of person Mr. Coburn is. Yesterday I sent him an email congratulating him on his retirement and thanking him again for allowing my work to be published in his paper.*** Although he obviously had to have been swamped what with preparing for his departure and assisting with the transition to a new publisher, he responded within a few hours. He even paid me a compliment in return. That will get you mentioned on BFS every time.

I know that some of you have a problem with our local paper at times, but it is an indispensable resource to our community.

Arthur Miller once said that “a GOOD newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” By this definition, if you substitute community for nation, Springfield is home to a very good daily.

There is no doubt that the SJ-R, more than any other source, leads the discussion among local media. Radio and television newscasts, talk radio, blogs (especially this blog) – all of them follow the SJ-R’s lead to a significant extent. Even the Illinois Times, which is positioned as the alternative press, owes them debt of gratitude, if for nothing else then for providing them a worthy nemesis.

The changes at the SJ-R during Coburn’s tenure have a lot to do with their ability to get the community talking. The most obvious is the increased emphasis on the letters-to-the-editor page, but the one that I think is even more important is allowing readers to comment directly to every online story. I’ve also appreciated his efforts in getting the newspaper staff involved in other public forums to share their expertise. Although it speaks unfavorably to my social life, the Bernie Schoenburg-hosted Capitol View program that runs on Friday nights is about as close to must-see as TV can be for me.

Everyone who has participated in, or even followed, the debate on profiling and the Muslim response to terrorism will receive four credit hours towards the master’s degree of their choosing. I’ve taken online courses at the graduate level and the level of discourse never reached the level it does here. Not only is it a rational and vigorous debate, the grammar is astounding for an online forum. The tone has also remained quite civil. Thank you Monkey Boy.

Russ at Springfield Rewind, who always does great work, has outdone himself with his current piece on White Oaks. He’s posted pictures from the hallowed mall’s past, along with articles published during its planning and construction. Just reading the list of original stores is enough to set your mind awash with memories. Huzzah, Russ.

Unspelled is asking us to delve into our pasts and into our psyches, and reveal some of our inner secrets as they relate to pop culture. All of the cool local bloggers are playing along and the 26th Man even revealed himself to be a huge Vanilla Ice fan.

* Remember crap tablet. That was going to make me a trendsetter in popular language and possibly be my entry into the OED. Thanks for nothing!

** I was going to use the headline “Odds and Ends”, but it reminded me of everything I hate about newsletters. You know, how they always have the clipart image of a stork next to the birth announcements and every other story ends with the line “a good time was had by all.” I especially hate the roses and thorns feature (A Rose to the wind, for being a friendly source of energy. A Thorn to John Ashcroft, for saying that thing he said a few years ago.)#

# I skewered the liberals with this example because they seem to be particularly fond of the rose/thorn device. Conservatives are much less metaphoric when dispensing with opinions and would probably prefer daggers to thorns if forced to choose.

*** Some of you will probably interpret my gracious tribute as brown-nosing. How crude. In response I can only say that I pity you your cynicism.