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Friday, July 23, 2004  

Technology: The iPod has arrived

A person knows she has become a public figure when she sees herself staring back from a general circulation magazine. Someone, or rather something, had its role as a cultural icon confirmed this week. The iPod is the cover story at Newsweek. Apple CEO Steve Jobs displays the latest rendition of the world's most popular MP3 player next to the headline, "iPod, Therefore I Am." The cover story explains the appeal of the iPod and dispels some misconceptions about the product.

Music hits people's emotions, and the purchase of something that opens up one's entire music collection -- up to 10,000 songs in your pocket -- makes for an intense relationship. When people buy iPods, they often obsess, talking incessantly about playlists and segues, grumbling about glitches, fixating on battery life and panicking at the very thought of losing their new digital friend. "I'd be devastated if I lost it," says Krystyn Lynch, a Boston investment marketer.

Fans of the devices use it for more than music. "It's the limousine for the spoken word," says Audible CEO Don Katz, whose struggling digital audiobook company has been revitalized by having its products on Apple's iTunes store. (Podsters downloaded thousands of copies of Bill Clinton's autobiography within minutes of its 3 a.m. release last month.) And computer users have discovered that its vast storage space makes it a useful vault for huge digital files -- the makers of the "Lord of the Rings" movies used iPods to shuttle dailies from the set to the studio. Thousands of less-accomplished shutterbugs store digital photos on them.

Though Apple is approaching having half of the MP3 player market, much of the hoi polloi either does not understand what the iPod does or thinks it is only a music player. Just this week, I talked to several persons who needed an introduction to the iPod. One of them surprised me because I assumed that he was high tech savvy enough to know more about the device. Apparently, some people know its name, but not what it does. The Newsweek article is likely to ease the burden for iPod evangelists. The iPod is the Cadillac of MP3 players for both Macintosh and Windows computers. From its inception, it has also been a hard drive that allowed users to back up their entire computers to it. But, since generation two, about a year and a half, the device, now in its fourth generation, has been able to do even more. Many of the uses for the personal digital assistant are now transferable to the iPod, including contacts, notes and documents one wants to read or have read to him. Books can be downloaded in iTunes from Audible and other ebook sellers. Photographs and movies can be stored on the hard drive and accessed in FireWire mode. Accessories allow users to send music to their stereos, home and car, for broadcast, and record voice memos. The iPod has earned its celebrity status through a combination of versatility and hard work. Now, the story is being been told to just folks.

The latest generation of iPods seek to address the two most common complaints about the device -- price and battery life. These improvements may deter competitors in their quest to claim some of Apple's market share. MacWorld considered how the changes will enhance the strutting success of the iPod and iTunes.

On Monday, Apple introduced new iPod models at lower prices. The 20-gigabyte version is now $299, down from $399, and a 40-gigabyte model is $399, down from $499. Both come with a longer battery life of 12 hours, versus eight hours previously.

With 70 percent of the market for legal music downloads and 45 percent of the market for portable music players, Apple's nearest competitors including Rhapsody from RealNetwork, Napster from Roxio and Connect from Sony do not attract anything close to the traffic on the iTunes network.

Even the RIAA, no fan of so much of what is occurring in high tech, is pleased with Apple.

"The iPod and iTunes store are a shining light at a very bleak time in the industry," says Cary Sherman, president of the Record Industry Association of America. Since just about everybody feels that within a decade almost everybody will get their music from such places, this is a very big.

True. The significance of the iPod goes beyond the affection of those of us who own and love them. The iPod is the first device to demonstrate how miniaturized high tech will allow the tranfer of a variety of information digitally for consumers.

Read the entire article about the arrival of the iPod, online at Newsweek.

Reasonably related

Eliot Van Buskirk at ZDNet Anchordesk rates the iPod.

•What's 'on' on my iPod? Friday is Old School day for the Diva. The Chi-lites are asking "Have You Seen Her?" The Manhattans want to "Kiss and Say Good-bye." Teddy Pendergrass says to "It Don't Hurt Now."

11:45 PM

Thursday, July 22, 2004  

Confession: Ms. Jackson and the Diva -- macking

Toni and Foxxy, cold Crystile in wine glasses.
We macking -- Brown and Braxton.

Toni Braxton and Foxxy Brown

"You're Making Me High"

Rich people are different. So, it would be presumptuous of me to declare much commonality with Ms. Jackson. I had my wisdom teeth removed at 18. Janet Jackson had a CD, a starring role on a television series and a Rolls Royce at 18. 'Nuff said. So, it is with some amusement that I admit to sharing an experience with a Jackson family scion. In a recent interview in Blender magazine, Jackson describes certain prurient aspects of her early adolescence. The Vancouver Sun summarizes the article.

NEW YORK -- Long before her right breast was exposed to the world during the Super Bowl halftime show, Janet Jackson says she had thoughts about sex. "As I've gotten older, I've come to realize that I had a very active sexual mind at a very young age. I hope that doesn't sound bad," Jackson tells Blender magazine for its June-July issue.

"My first crush was on Barry Manilow. He performed on television, and I remember taping it. When no one was around, I used to kiss the screen."

Jackson also recalls having a "major crush" on Teddy Pendergrass when she was 12.

"I thought he was singing to me," says the singer, now 38.

"When you're a kid, you have little fantasies, but I saw myself being with him as an adult, not as a kid."

Make that a double.

Wait a minute. I do not mean Barry Manilow. Scratch him and the donkey he rode in on.

But, Teddy Pendergrass? TP? Teddy Bear? For Ms. Jackson's fantasy to come true, she would have had to knock me down to get to him. The gift of a TP CD has reminded me how enthralled I was with the sensuous singer back in the day. He may be the last of the soul men and deserves more attention than he gets. The late Barry White pales in comparison, despite his reputation for being the man to get down to. For more than a decade Teddy ruled that roost. That voice -- always 'reasonable,' yet sensual and commanding. From smooth baritone to gruff growl. That face -- soulful eyes that seem to look right into yours, luscious lips that beg to be kissed, and possibly the only beard I've ever wanted to run my fingers through. That body -- long and lean, deep chocolate, and always clothed, though somehow it seemed not to be.

Teddy Pendergrass' genius was to transcend the material he was singing, to endow it with a soulfulness that it lacked in the voices of less magnetic singers. From his early 20s on, he had the ability to convey both sexuality and spirituality in a manner that mesmerized. The songs, some sensual ("Close the Door," "Love TKO," "Do Me") and some evangelistic ("Somebody Told Me to Deliver this Message," "Wake Up Everybody") made him the first African-American male vocalist to have five albums in a row go platinum. His erotic appeal, acomplished without ever removing clothing or sexually explicit dancing, took American girls and women by storm. Millions must have fantasized about 'their' Teddy Bear.

That one Teddy CD was not enough. I bought Life is a Song Worth Singing and Joy this week. Couldn't stop there. I have TP's autobiography, Truly Blessed, and hope to finish reading it soon. Watch for the review.

It is difficult to describe how convincing Teddy's songs can be in print. Suffice it to say that when he wheedles, "Let me do what I want to do. All I want to do is make love to you. Let me do. . .do. . .do" on "Close the Door," even a nun might be not just willing, but eager. Ms. Jackson's judgment might be questionable sometimes, but she couldn't have chosen a man more worthy of erotic fantasy than Teddy Pendergrass.

Whats's the art?

Teddy Pendergrass' smile.

Reasonably related

Read the article in which Ms. Jackson gets nasty at Blender.

Read a capsule history of Teddy Pendergrass' career at MP3.com.

4:45 PM

Wednesday, July 21, 2004  

News: Bono to speak on AIDS and economics

Bono is coming to the Pacific Northwest, but not for the reason you are thinking. The rock star has decided to go beyond speaking out about political issues briefly at benefit concerts for causes he cares about. Though other entertainers, including Whoopi Goldberg and Linda Ronstadt, have been pilloried for daring to criticize the current administration, Bono (pictured) is becoming even more politically active than he has been in the past. Goldberg was recently dismissed as a spokeswoman for Slim-Fast, a product that supposedly helps people lose weight. She had mocked George W. Bush at a fundraising event. Just this week, Ronstadt was ejected from the Aladdin casino in Las Vegas when she dedicated a song, "Desperado," to controversial auteur Michael Moore. Bono appears to be undaunted. He, minus his band, U2, will be appearing in the role of spokesman on international relations and poverty. The Oregonian explains.

When Irish rock star Bono appears at Portland's Rose Garden Arena this fall, he won't sing while sprinting around a heart-shaped stage, as he did in an April 2001 show with his band, U2.

The World Affairs Council of Oregon has recruited the singer to kick off its 2004-05 International Speaker Series, the council will announce today.

Bono, a singer and activist for the world's poor, is expected to deliver an address on how rich countries' foreign aid and trade policies have hampered Africa's ability to fight the spread of AIDS. He won't sing at the Oct. 20 event, but, as with the three other speakers in the council's series, Bono will deliver a 45-minute address and take written questions from the audience.

Though the right of people, including celebrities, to express their views publicly is a given to me, by so demonstratedly changing his role from singer to activist, Bono doubtlessly risks oppobrium from some quarters. It will be said that he should stick to what he knows. But, the entertainer seems to be doing that already. He has gathered an impressive body of information about AIDS in Africa and is well-informed regarding the topic. The notion that a person should engage in only one kind of work seems silly to me. I believe it is evidence of the anti-intellectual bias in American society. Talent is distrusted. The doubly talented are doubly distrusted. If an individual is capable of achieving in more than one field, that is a benefit to society. But, I think many people resent such displays of versatility.

Any criticism Bono is subject to as a result of 'gettng out of his place,' will be cushioned by the success of U2.

U2 became one of rock's hottest tickets in 1987, with the release of The Joshua Tree, an album that put the previously niche rockers on magazine covers worldwide. Bono's ability to reach a diverse audience helped U2 mark the second-highest gross sales of any rock tour in history in 2001.

The audience for Bono's speaking engagement will be limited to less than 5000 people. The Council hopes that featuring the rock star will attract attention to the issues of debt relief, AIDS and the relationship between First and Third World countries from young people.

2:00 PM

Friday, July 16, 2004  

News and analysis: Youth, stupidity and the hockey player

As winter turns to spring, a young man's fancy turns to. . .murder. To Mike Danton, 23, a professional hockey player, that made sense. You see, he had a jones -- drugs. And, his behavior was rather bizarre sometimes. His agent, David Frost, was aware of both problems. Therefore, to Danton, anyway, the man needed to be killed.

The spring cleaning plan from hell came to a just conclusion in an Illinois court this week.

The New York Times has the story.

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) -- Former St. Louis Blues player Mike Danton admitted Friday that he tried to hire a hit man, almost certainly bringing his NHL career to an end.

Danton pleaded guilty to a federal murder-for-hire conspiracy charge and faces seven to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 22.

The plot unraveled when the would-be hit man turned out to be a police informant.

With an accomplice, an equally vacuous young woman, Danton tried to hire a hit man, a dispatcher employed by the police department. The man turned informant. It wasn't long before Danton was giving up a stick and skates for an orange jumpsuit.

I am not ready to enter fuddy-duddyhood by writing a lengthy lamentation about the shortcomings of young people. However, over the last two or three years, I have noticed a seeming decline in intelligent behavior by youths I come into contact with both on and off line. Last week, I explained to a young woman that cash can be used to pay most bills. She was under the impression that only credit cards and checks were acceptable. A few weeks ago, I helped an elderly woman up from the sidewalk after she had been knocked down by a large Labrador a fellow in his early twenties was walking. Fortunately, the entrance to a hospital was only three blocks away. While the fragile oldster leaned on my arm and limped to the emergency room, the young man cursed her as as a "clumsy old bitch" and departed with his dog. Here in the blogosphere, I regularly observe behavior notable both for its stupidity and dishonesty, often by people in the next generation. The ripping off of material from Big Media and attaching of one's name to it, tying to create the impression of authorship, is an example. Apparently, other people are not supposed to realize the young bloggers doing this haven't written a damn thing. But, we do.

I'm not a believer in the broad brush approach. Some of the finest blogger on my blogrolls are in their 20s. I have friends who don't remember Ronald Reagan I trust with my house key. However, I am beginning to think of them as exceptions. In an era when 'Paris Hilton' is among the most sought out references on the Internet, vapidity may become the identifying characteristic of a generation.

Mike Danton's vacuity caught up with him today.

The would-be killer -- identified by the government for the first time in court Friday as Justin Jones, a Columbia, Ill., police dispatcher -- eventually went to police, and Frost was unharmed.

The prosecutor told the judge Friday that Danton had promised to pay Jones $10,000 for the killing, and to make it appear like a botched burglary.

Investigators have said Danton was worried that Frost would go to the Blues with information that could damage his career. Frost has said he urged Danton to get help for his use of painkillers and sleeping pills and his erratic behavior.

I can't help but wonder if Danton ever figured out the kicker to his king-sized mistake. His agent has a legal duty not to disclose confidential information about a client. It is unlikely he would have reported Danton's drug use and erratic behavior to the team.

7:30 PM

Thursday, July 15, 2004  

Law: Internet censorship at libraries has arrived

Multnomah County, in a case with implications for the rest of the country, is resigning itself to the fact that you win some and you lose some. The win and loss this time around is in regard to free speech. Unfettered access to the Internet is something we old hands take for granted. We accept that some pornography will inevitably pop up when we least expect it and that our email will contain the usual offers of Viagra and triple X pics. Some of us even seek such material out. But, we are old hands -- and adults. The question of whether Internet access should be freely available becomes more complex when children are involved.

The county first clashed with the federal government over the matter in 2002, filing a lawsuit in response to regulations it refused to implement. The regulations of the Child Online Protection Act would have allowed the federal government to decide which patrons of libraries could see what via Internet connected computers. Content that might be seen by children was to be filtered or else. The Act would have held libraries financially responsible if pornographic Internet content was sought out or slipped through. Multnomah County prevailed in court. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled the Act was unconstitutional because it unduly restricted access to information.

Congress passed the Child Protection Act in 1998, but it never went into effect. The law would have authorized fines up to $50,000 for the crime of placing harmful material within easy reach of children.

But, to an extent, the outcome in regard to the Child Online Protection Act was a Pyrrhic victory. Congress had passed another law restricting use of the Internet in public libraries. It is the later regulations that were upheld. The Multnomah County Library system, and possibly yours, is not in compliance with them.

The county -- one of two plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the then-nascent Children's Internet Protection Act -- argued that Internet filters were a form of censorship and prohibited access to information. Government officials countered that without filters libraries allowed access to pornography. The new law, they said, simply stopped children from viewing objectionable material.

Librarians and proponents of free speech complained that filters are the equivalent of censorship. Under filtered Internet use, students would be blocked from viewing sites that could be potentially helpful for school projects -- date rape or abusive relationships, for instance -- but that would be filtered out because of certain key words.

Multnomah County joined the American Library Association as a plaintiff in the suit and then-Director Ginnie Cooper -- who now runs the Brooklyn Public Library -- testified against the law.

. . .In 2002, a federal panel of judges in Philadelphia ruled that the law violated the First Amendment because filters blocked too much material that wasn't pornographic in nature. But in 2003, the Supreme Court overruled the panel, saying that because libraries can unlock the filters upon request, they don't impose too great a burden on the systems that use them.

The different rulings in the two cases can be summed up in one word: control. The COPA put control directly in the federal government's hands, the ultimate in state action. The CIPA, though, allows libraries to exercise some discretion in filtering Internet content.

For the most part, the Children's Internet Protection Act and the Supreme Court's ruling in the case last year don't serve as mandates to filter Internet use by children. Libraries still have control over the Internet use of children and other patrons.

A number of library systems in larger metropolitan areas offer a choice of filtered or unfiltered access. Some smaller and midsized systems decided to comply with the law in order to keep federal money, while others are figuring out how to balance the need for protection against the freedom to gather information.

The federal government is using a carrot instead of a stick to urge compliance with the Children's Internet Protection Act. Library systems that filter all Internet computers or filter any used by children, including teens, are eligible for federal funds. Systems that do not are not. Libraries decide whether to censor the Internet. However, SCOTUS has ruled that their decisionmaking does not amount to usurping the free speech rights of the public because exceptions can be made -- filters can be removed when it is deemed appropriate.

It is unclear how effective any of the plans that allow some form of filtering will be. Pornography is so rampant on the Internet that innocuous browsing can lead to a site full of lascivious photos. Even filtered computers, which search for porn using key words, are likely to miss some. Or, the material may enter through a back door, such as clicking on a recently published blog in the Blogger masthead and discovering it contains racy material. Furthermore, children who are subjected to censorship at the library may not be at home, the coffee shop or the neighborhood pizza place. Efforts to control children's access to pornographic content completely will prove futile.

Multnomah County Library will allow children under 13 to use only filtered computers.

What's the art?

An exterior view of the historic central Multnomah County Library in downtown Portland, Oregon. The building opened in 1913.

Reasonably related

The American Library Association maintains a comprehensive collection of information about the Children's Internet Protection Act on its site.

11:45 PM

Wednesday, July 14, 2004  

Music: Jonny Lang has grown up

The phrase 'child star' engenders ambivalence in many of us, and, with good reason. Child stars often grew up to be troubled adults before the Different Strokes curse. Even Shirley Temple, the perfect child star, was molested as a young teen and endured discomfiture when her audience's affection for her as a moppet did not follow her into adulthood. Donny and Marie Osmond both acknowledge emotional problems that partly relate to their early stardom. Michael Jackson? Let's not even go there. So, it is a pleasure to observe a performer who became known young and is still doing fine past turning twenty-one. I had that pleasure observing a performance by Jonny Lang at the Safeway Water Front Blues Festival last week. When I first met Lang he was too young to drive or to go into bars unless he was performing in them.

Since then, he has recorded two albums that sold platinum and been nominated for a Grammy. Now, the boy is a man. Age, self discovery and the purchase of his label by Interscope all played roles in Lang's new, broader focus.

Jonny Lang, the guitarist who exploded onto the scene at age 15 with the bluesy 1996 CD, Lie To Me, hadn't put out a CD in five years until Long Time Coming finally arrived in stores in October.

Lang, who plays in Seattle Saturday, nearly released a CD about three years ago. But when his record company said "We don't hear a single," it sent Lang down a considerably different path as a songwriter and musician.

A collaboration with musician and songwriter Marti Frederiksen has resulted in an album that is more about Lang than the blues per se.

The new CD brings those influences fully into the forefront. Only two tracks truly fit the blues-rock mold so familiar to Lang's fans.

Instead, Long Time Coming is dominated by songs that blend rock, soul and funk. A poppier side to Lang's music also emerges.

"Just like everybody, you have your own original style in you," said Lang, noting that he had grown up listening to Motown and soul and didn't discover blues until his early teens. "It was just what was in my heart to do."

Lang's precocity was apparent from his first album, Lie to Me. Consider his heartfelt rendition of the lyrics, by Bruce McCabe and David Z, of the title song.

Lie to me and tell me everything is all right
Lie to me and tell me that you'll stay here tonight
Tell me that you'll never leave
Oh, and I'll just try to make believe
That everything, everything you're telling me is true
Come on baby won't you just
Lie to me, go ahead and lie to me

A fifteen-year-old has just begun being lied to. But, Lang clearly knows there is lots more of that to come.

Some reviewers are saying Lang has abandoned the blues.

Lang, who shot to the top of the blues charts in the mid-'90s as a teenager with an old man's voice and a young man's guitar showmanship, headlined Gov. Jesse Ventura's inaugural ball and toured with B.B. King. But now it's bye-bye, Jonny Blues Boy; hello, soulful California rocker. He quit drinking, stopped smoking and abandoned the blues. On his third album, Long Time Coming, Lang sounds more like Stevie Wonder than Stevie Ray Vaughan. And he even does a version of a churchy piano ballad set to a rhythm track by -- get this -- Eminem.

I don't believe that is true. There were always rock undertones to the songs Lang penned himself. On Long Time Coming they are more pronounced. But, the blues inprint on his glorious guitarmanship is still very much present. A protege of Buddy Guy does not forget. The most memorable song on the CD, "Dying to Live," works as both blues and rock. So does his cover of "Red Light." Besides, the 23-year-old has plenty of time to geta full blown case of blues all over again.

One of the highlights of Long Time Coming, foreshadowed on 1988's Wander This World, is Lang's ability to cover a soul standard and make it his own. His version of Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City" is an astounding blend of guitar and saxophone virtuosity. The message of the song is bolstered by it being sung by someone too young to know the racially segregated world described, but deep enough to recognize the crushing evil being depicted. Partly reared by bluesmen who did know that world intimately, Lang seems to have absorbed the pain and outrage they must have felt. When I experienced the song performed live, in a crowd of thousands, it brought tears to my eyes. The cover of "Living for the City" also brings Lang full circle in a way. A successful former child star is interpreting one of the best former child stars ever.

Reasonably related

•Jonny Lang's website. Hear music from Long Time Coming there.

•A well-run fan site has the lyrics to some of Lang's songs.

•See videos for Lang's CDs at VH1.

•Photo from the 2004 Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival, by Mac Diva.

8:45 PM

Tuesday, July 13, 2004  

Commentary: Feeling for Marion Jones

I tend to be a fairly empathetic person. That means not forming a definite opinion about people accused of wrongdoing until I know most or all the facts available. I was sympathetic to the Portland Seven until the guilty pleas began. I hope Michael Jackson is not a child molester. I did not make up my mind about O.J. Simpson until after I was sure he had motive, means and opportunity to kill two people -- not to mention leaving his DNA on the scene. So, my inclination is to believe Marion Jones, the Olympian whose supposed involvement with the BALCO doping scandal has been widely discussed, is innocent. Jones (pictured) has not been charged by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, but the allegations cloud what should have been a glowing future for the athlete who won five medals in 2000. In fact, a pattern of poor performances at the Olympic trials by athletes associated with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) has emerged. Guilty or blameless, their ability to perform is deteriorating.

The stress seems to be taking a toll on Jones, who has failed to qualify for her best event in this year's Olympics. Tim Layden, writing at CNN commented on the disappointing news.

Jones' fifth-place finish in the 100-meter final was staggering only in the moment it occurred. To see the erstwhile Mrs. Jones, winner of five medals in Sydney, holder of the seven fastest non-Flo-Jo 100-meter times in history and at her best an overwhelming presence on the track, flatten out at 50 meters and struggle home deep in the field was briefly disorienting

However, Layden dismisses the trauma of being the central figure in an embarrassing episode as irrelevant to Jones' failure.

Was she distracted from preparation by the Balco scandal? No sale. Sprinters train a few hours a day. She's supposed to be a professional and, what's more, it's her own high-priced legal and PR team that has pushed Jones to the front of the Balco Affair with an aggressive and questionably pre-emptive strategy.

He is less sure of himself in regard to Jones' giving birth last year, saying it may be an explanation or part of one. He hints Jones performs well when using steroids and poorly when not. However, Jones' high school and college records, and her early post-college performances, before she was associated with the BALCO circle, belie that. An athlete who was dependent on performance enhancing drugs would not have earned the stature Jones did earlier. Indeed, much of the taint of Jones is derived from her choices in partners. Her ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, is a shot putter who is said to have failed doping tests four times. Jones' fiance and the father of her son, Tim Montgomery, the world record-holder in the 100 meters, has allegedly admitted use of steroids in grand jury testimony. Her former coach is also a central figure in the scandal.

The aspect of the situation that makes me feel for Jones is this: At this time, it does not matter whether the doping allegations are true. The anxiety, depression and reputational damage occur when a person is accused, whether the accusations are ever proven to be well-founded or not. In my youth, I was naive enough to believe people could just ignore the travails they face and carry on as usual. But, older and wiser, I now know that stress under adversity is the norm of the human physiology. Under the circumstances, Jones will suffer. There is no escaping the mental and physical effects of difficult situations -- even if you are the fastest woman in the world.

Reasonably related

•See the accomplishments of America's best female athlete.

ABC News reports Marion Jones qualified for the finals in the long jump, for which she is the record holder, but just barely. There is still a chance she will be eliminated before the Olympics.

6:00 PM

Saturday, July 10, 2004  

Listening: Seduced by a New Age song

Just a little bit of Wyndham Hill type music goes a long way with me. New Age, sew-age. When exposed to anything more mellow than Mark Cohn or India Arie, my ears try to close themselves. So, I was surprised when I found myself liking a song by the singer Iron & Wine yesterday. I was seduced as much by the video that accompanies the song, "Naked As We Came," at the iTunes Music Store, as by the song itself. Perhaps more.

Simon at Webmink is responsible for whatever has happened to me since I became aware of Iron & Wine at his blog.

I'm not going to describe the video because I want you to form your own opinion.

View the vid and hear the song. Let me know if I am succumbing to easy listening syndrome.

Reasonably related

•The Iron & Wine website, courtesy of Sub Pop Records.

•Don't have iTunes? You can hear an audio clip at Amazon.

5:00 PM

Friday, July 09, 2004  

News: Texas education miracle wasn't

Education in Texas was the recipient of boxcar loads of attention a few years ago. When it was in the news, it played to the tune of a mariachi band. George W. Bush rode into the White House, or at least into the Supreme Court, partly because he claimed mastery of one of the major domestic dilemmas in the country -- the failure of our schools to teach and graduate more literate people. Bush then appointed the man he claimed had shepherded the Texas education miracle, Rod Paige, U.S. secretary of education. Now, cue the violins. The truth about the alleged miracle has emerged. The 'miracle' seems to have consisted of frauds on several levels.

The Houston Chronicle reports the Texas has the highest proportion of dropouts in the country, and, it is not improving.

For the second straight year, Texas has the lowest percentage of high school graduates in the nation, according to a U.S. Census Bureau study released Tuesday.

Seventy-seven percent of Texans age 25 and older had a high school degree in 2003, the same percentage as a decade earlier, when Texas ranked 39th in the country. So while other states have seen their graduation rates improve -- a record 85 percent of Americans have high school degrees -- Texas is treading water.

Defenders of the situation have tried to blame low graduation rates on the state having a large population of Hispanic immigrants. But, knowledgeable sources disagree, pointing out that 85 percent of Hispanic students are American born. Additionally, they say that the high rate of Hispanic dropouts, about 40 percent in cities such as Houston, shows the educational system is failing 34 percent of the state's population. There isn't a moderate achievement, not to mention a miracle, with such a level of failure occurring, they say.

Education officials understated the dropout rate in Texas by not acknowledging most dropouts. But, why would educators want to make a mockery of their commitment to education? The Daily Texan asked an expert.

'The dropouts become absolutely necessary because what they are trying to do is get the [test] numbers up, not improve the education of the children,'' Rice University researcher Linda McNeil said. ''What this system sets up is it rewards the principals who get those kids out of the building.''

It's called a ''leaver'' code system, and it's used to disguise dropout rates, said Maria Robledo Montecel, San Antonio-based director of the Inter-cultural Development Research Association.

School districts in Texas can use any one of about 30 ''leaver'' codes to explain a student's disappearance. About 20 of the codes, ranging from pursuit of a GED to imprisonment, exempt a student from being counted as a dropout, which, along with standardized test scores, is used to determine a district's annual accountability rating by the Texas Education Agency.

The TEA claims only 1.3 percent of Texas students dropped out in 2001-2002. The others, just 'left.' An independent group pegs the figure at 39 percent.

But, claims of fraud don't stop with falsified dropout numbers.

HOUSTON, June 25 - Three years after Rod Paige left his job as schools superintendent in Houston to become the federal secretary of education, his successor and several of his closest associates are stepping down, some amid questions about how business dealings have been conducted in the district.

The New York Times reports that associates of school board members and administrators were awarded profitable contracts by the Houston school district. A school board member quit when her husband was not awarded an additional contract for architectural work after investigators began probing the situation. Other officials have left claiming a need to spend more time with their families.

The revelations suggest a pattern and practice of dishonesty.

In the seven years that Dr. Paige was superintendent, Houston reported such gains in student achievement that George W. Bush's supporters hailed the progress in the 2000 presidential campaign as a Texas miracle. It helped Dr. Paige earn his cabinet seat and enabled the Bush administration to use Houston as a model for the No Child Left Behind education act. With Dr. Paige's departure for Washington, Ms. Stripling, a onetime teacher, was named to replace him. In 2002 the Broad Foundation, based in Los Angeles, awarded Houston a $1 million prize as the best urban school district in the United States.

But in 2003, a state audit of records at 16 middle and high schools in Houston showed that more than half the students who should have been reported as dropouts in the 2000-2001 school year had not been. Those findings were followed by the discovery that Houston had also failed to report thousands of schoolhouse crimes, raising doubts about the district's credibility with all kinds of data and attracting nationwide attention from the news media. . . .

We are all familiar with the adage, 'if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.' Yet, when people in high places try to sway us with tales of miracles, we are sometimes succeptible. The false impression of a very successful educational system in Texas, crafted by a coterie of interested parties, misled a nation. We should not allow ourselves to be fooled again.

Reasonably related

I learned about this topic from Dirtgrain, a teacher and blogger who regularly researches and writes about issues in education. You can read his weblog here.

11:30 PM

Thursday, July 08, 2004  

EW interviews Michael Moore

Relax, Republicans. This entry is about an interview of Michael Moore that apppeared in Entertainment Weekly. That is right, entertainment. Where y'all say Moore (pictured) belongs. So, put away those 'Fahrenheit 9/11 is entertainment, not information,' talking points right now. First, some information. It has become popular among Right Wingers to say F9/11 is a failure. The facts suggest otherwise.

The surprise was that Fahrenheit won the Palme d'Or in Cannes. That it survived a bruising fight between Disney and Miramax. And most of all, that it soared to the top spot at the box office with $24 million and broke all kinds of records. By June 28, Fahrenheit was the highest grossing non-concert, non-IMAX documentary of all time, (besting Moore's last movie, the Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine), and the only one to ever win a box office weekend.

That's right, F9/11 is the only documentary, or 'mockumentary' if you prefer, to ever gross the highest receipts for a weekend. The film is not a failure. So, one wonders why it is a smash. A person with an opinion about its success is Michael Moore. He offers three reasons why the movie is popular.

Fahrenheit 9/11 humanizes the people involved, including the Iraqis.

•One side of the invasion and occupation of Iraq has already been told by Big Media. He is telling the other.

•The film provides the first opportunity to see casualties in Iraq, getting past the cleansing imposed on footage and still photos from the occupation by the government.

But what of the hatred? How does it feel to be held in contempt to the extent that people try to make a living from criticizing you? Moore says he can handle it.

The way I learned to deal with this is that there are two Michael Moores. There's the one the rightwing lunatics have created. The fictional Michael Moore. The one that they just make stuff up about. And then there's me. So whenever I read something about me, I have a good laugh. I enjoy reading the exploits of the fictional Michael Moore who has a penthouse on Fifth Avenue and has, in the Daily News today, a hot tub on his balcony. Did you know that? I read that and I thought, That would feel good. (Laughs.)

While reading the several pages of the interview, I found myself really connecting with Michael Moore for the first time. I have appreciated his objectives as a film maker on an intellectual level throughout his career, but remained emotionally distant. That changed. In EW, Moore seems bewildered by some aspects of people's behavior that also bewilder me. For example, the lying -- often for no identifiable purpose. Why would someone want to claim the film maker has a hot tub on a balcony? Why not a gold toilet? Or a calvacade of call girls, on, well, call? Or, better yet, no lie at all? The film is said to humanize the not so collateral damage in the invasion of Iraq, both for Americans and Iraqis. The interview humanizes Moore.

Read the post Fahrenheit 9/11 Michael Moore interview, touted as the most thorough yet, in this week's edition of Entertainment Weekly.

10:00 PM

Wednesday, July 07, 2004  

Health: Waiting for mad cow disease rules

Six months have passed since the federal government announced it would pass legislation to curb practices that result in mad cow disease. But, nothing has happened. Some observers began to express skepticism, doubting the Bush administration intended to enact the rules it initially opposed. (The beef industry also claimed that no changes to the status quo were needed.) But, perhaps the doubters are in error.

Today, after appearing indifferent to reform as recently as last week, the FDA announced it has changed its tune.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Food and Drug Administration later this week will publish details on long-delayed safeguards aimed at protecting the U.S. food and animal feed supply from mad cow disease, the agency's top official said on Wednesday.

"There's going to be a suite of them (rules) out this week," said acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford.

The FDA said on Jan. 26 it would ban animal blood in cattle feed, as well as ensure that dietary supplements and cosmetics are kept free of materials from "downer cattle" -- animals too sick or hurt too walk.

Those of us who have maintained an interest in the controversy were wondering if we would ever see results. The FDA's entrance into the situation after a cow from the Pacific Northwest was identified as suffering Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) was slow. Spokespersons first said the food supply was safe. Only later, after the practices that result in the malady, including feeding animal parts and feces to cattle, were publicized, was there a move away from defensiveness.

The Oregonian wrote about the rules that appeared to be a phantasm last week.

The measures -- among them a call to stop calves from being fed cow's blood -- were announced Jan. 26 by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and then-FDA Commissioner Mark B. McClellan.

. . .At the time, the FDA said the rules would take effect upon publication in the Federal Register. But publication never happened.

FDA officials this week confirmed the rules had not taken effect. And a call Thursday to acting FDA Administrator Lester Crawford was referred to an agency spokeswoman who said she could not say when the new rules might be instituted.

That no new FDA protections are in place provokes concern among government officials and consumer advocates.

Consumer advocates fear the administration, never enthusiatic about changing the rules governing slaughter and usage of cattle, has been influenced by the industry to ignore the proposed changes now that the media has moved on to covering other controversies.

Carol Tucker Foreman, a former USDA assistant secretary and current director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America, referred this week to the "mysterious, disappearing rules" and criticized the FDA for being lax.

"It's not unusual for a department to say we're going to put out some proposed rules and then have some time pass," Foreman said. "But for the (Health and Human Services) secretary and the FDA commissioner to call a press conference to announce it and then to disappear from the face of the Earth is pretty . . . unusual and irresponsible."

Crawford's statement may be a response to that recent grumbling. However, even if the proposed legislation is enacted, it stops short of a reliable mad cow disease policy according to some. They support adopting the standards enacted in Europe.

The American measures will include:

•Restricting brains, spinal cords and other tissues known to harbor the highest concentrations of brain-destroying agents from FDA-regulated foods, dietary supplements and cosmetics.

•Prohibiting materials taken from dead or so-called "downer cattle" from FDA-regulated foods, dietary supplements and cosmetics.

•Ending the use of poultry litter collected in hen houses -- typically comprising feces and contaminated feed -- in cattle feed.

•Prohibiting the use of mammalian blood as a protein booster for young cattle.

We should know whether the FDA will act within a week.

6:45 PM

Tuesday, July 06, 2004  

Politics: John Edwards is an endorseable choice

I have been a reluctant trooper in regard to this year's presidential election. Unlike most people in the blogosphere, I have never heartily supported any candidate. When John Kerry emerged as the last man standing in the Democratic Party, I accepted that I would vote for him. However, of the two Johns, my preference would have been John Edwards. One of the reasons I admire Edwards (pictured) is he has lived a challenging life, rising from working-class origins to become a very successful trial lawyer. Kerry's wealth and status are largely inherited. Another reason, I prefer Edwards is his uncompromising support for civil rights. Silver Rights explains.

It appears Edwards will be more open about his opposition to some traditional Southern values. Right Wing talk radio host Les Kinsolving discovered Edwards will not balk at offending 'heritage' supporters recently.

SALEM, N.H. - Democrat presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, denounced the Confederate flag on Wednesday, Jan. 21, calling it "divisive" and "a symbol of oppression to some Americans."

He also declared that the Confederate flag which flies on the state capitol grounds in Columbia, in his native South Carolina, should be removed.

. . .My answer is that the Confederate flag, which is a symbol of oppression to a lot of Americans, is a divisive symbol and should not be flown in a place like it's being flown in South Carolina, in front of the state capitol. It shouldn't be flown on public grounds like that. That's my position and I stand by it.

The interviewer got nowhere with trying to manipulate or trip up the pugnacious trial lawyer turned politician.

But, how will Edwards' principled stand play with relatively conservative white voters? In my experience, many of those people like a bit of wink-and-nod from leaders to reassure them the status quo is not really being disturbed.

Edwards has also refused to wink in regard to the hot button issue of affirmative action. He emphasized his support of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision upholding affirmative action programs in higher education this summer.

"The court reaffirmed America's commitment to equal opportunity and justice," Senator Edwards said. He cautioned, however, that the 5-4 ruling "underscores the importance of nominating and confirming justices committed to upholding civil rights."

. . .Senator Edwards filed a friend-of-the-court brief with 11 other senators urging justices to uphold the admissions policy. The senators argued that affirmative action policies at universities throughout the country play a significant role in remedying racial disparities. The senators' brief was one of more than 60 submitted to the high court in support of the University of Michigan.

Again, a politician has taken a principled stand that many of his constituents may oppose. The fact Edwards is a Southern politician taking that stand makes him even more vulnerable than he would be otherwise.

Edwards' unequivocal support for civil rights could cost him a some votes among Democrats who are also participants in or sympathizers with the neo-Confederate movement. However, it could also help Kerry with a part of the electorate he has failed to get enthusiastic support from -- racial minorities. Time Magazine recently considered Kerry's lack of appeal to African-American voters.

Because black voters are more opposed to President Bush than is almost any other voting bloc, John Kerry's first move to secure their enthusiastic support might have been simply to follow Hippocrates' instruction: do no harm. But when he appeared before the National Conference of Black Mayors in April, Kerry chose to speak not about their concerns but about his plan to make the U.S.'s chemical plants more secure — leaving the audience underwhelmed. And when Kerry's campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, listed his top election strategists, it revealed that the group of six was all white, angering black activists who feel the Democratic Party takes African Americans for granted. Noting that Bill Clinton was sometimes called America's first black President, Kerry said earlier this year, "I wouldn't be upset if I could earn the right to be the second." Responds a senior Clinton Administration official who is black: "That ain't gonna happen. He's not going to out-Clinton Clinton, and if he tried, he would look phony."

. . .Though a Democrat, Massachusetts state representative Byron Rushing has said he will not campaign for Kerry until he sees a strategy that will energize black voters. "People want to like Kerry. People want to be enthusiastic about him. But for whatever reason, they're not," says Julianne Malveaux, a Washington-based black activist and writer who attended a recent Florida retreat for African-American political consultants.

According to Time, Kerry has been close to two black Americans in his life, one as a child and another as a young adult. Though that record is probably more diverse than one would find for many white Americans, it describes a person not exactly cognizant of the experiences people of color have. If he is to win the one in five Democratic voters who is African-American that Al Gore did, he must find a way to appeal to people he may rarely even think of. And, the problem does not stop there. Kerry, a patrician New Englander, has shown no particular knowledge of Hispanic or Asian voters, either.

Edwards, however, has achieved his political success in a part of the country still openly riven by issues of race and class. He was forced to face racial issues head on during his rise to prominence. Most importantly, he has not blinked. I believe many of the civil rights supporters Kerry needs to attract are aware of Edwards' advocacy for their cause.

Kerry will not win the degree of approval from supporters of civil rights he would have by hiring Donna Brazile as his campaign manager, but he will shore up an increasingly doubtful constituency by having selected John Edwards as his choice for vice president.

4:00 PM

Wednesday, June 30, 2004  

Reading: Asimov's Foundation fumbles

The science fiction writer of the last generation who has been in the public eye lately is Ray Bradbury. His rather silly complaint about Michael Moore's use of 'Fahrenheit' in the name of his movie, Fahrenheit 9/11, has gotten more ink than it deserves. I don't believe there is a copyright violation issue. Furthermore, the nod to Bradbury's novel, Fahrenheit 451, can be perceived as a compliment. But, the sci-fi writer who has had my attention for the the last two weeks is Isaac Asimov. Though I have read some Asimov over the years, I did not approach the Foundation cycle until now. I may have picked up the first book because I was stymied by Ursula Le Guin's Hain cycle. However, Asimov's Foundation books have their frustrations, too.

Asimov began the cycle in the early 1950s, when he was in his early twenties.

The time is millenia into the future. Humans have colonized the galaxy and reached an inventive zenith in which technology is well-dispersed, and mainly nuclear. Technological civilization is in decline, though few realize it because the process of decay is so slow. At the edges of the Empire, worlds have drifted back to using fossil fuels and wood as energy sources. The royalty of the Empire is not interested in seeing, hearing or saying any evil, that is, any acknowledgement that all is not well. Enter one Hari Seldon, the superhero of the Foundation series. He is a psychohistorian, a psychologist who can foresee the future by studying aggregates of people and determining their likely responses to stimuli. His goal is to soften the decline of the Empire into barbarism for 30,000 years he believes is inevitable. He plans a recovery that will take only 1,000 years. Seldon manipulates the emperor into setting up his dream laboratory -- a planet where he can develop his theory to his heart's content.

Seldon and his followers are exiled to Terminus, a planet at the far reaches of the galaxy that they develop from scratch. The exile serves the government's purpose by eliminating dissenters who might disrupt the status quo. It serves Seldon's purpose by giving him free reign over a population that, at first, is fully dedicated to his ideas. The initial rationale given for the existence of the Foundation is that it will research and publish an encylopedia containing all of the knowledge of mankind. But, by the end of Foundation, the first book of the series, that rationale is revealed as a pretext. The Foundation exists to keep technology alive and innovative. While the Empire loses its technological sophistication, the Foundation will gradually spread its technology to surrounding planets. The initial method for spreading technology is religion. In return for inventions of the Foundation, other planets agree to allowing 'priests' from the Foundation to 'minister' medicine and other science.

It isn't long before some rulers of barbarous planets reject Foundation technology rather than have their power threatened by Foundation priests. The method for transferring technology shifts to traders. The traders engage in mercantile capitalism, without the threatening trappings of religion. However, they will become a threat -- to the Foundation because of their independence. Another threat precedes them. Seldon can only predict matters involving large groups of people. Psychohistory does not apply to individuals. Therefore, he misses the emergence of a mutant leader 300 years into the Seldon Plan. The Mule grasps power over much of the Foundation's reach by controlling the minds of leaders of various governments and factions. Foundation and Empire chronicles the Mule's impact on the Foundation and the inevitable clash of what remains of the Empire and the Foundation.

Another set of protagonists in the Foundation series is a secret second Foundation that considers itself the ally of the first. Seldon's plan has been for the Second Foundation, consisting of the mentally powerful, to be the leaders of the technologically superior Second Empire. Leaders of the original Foundation rebel against the notion. They consider themselves the true heirs to Seldon's vision. In Second Foundation, the two groups finally meet. The result is a resolution that appears to consolidate the power of the first Foundation, while eliminating the second.

Though the plots of the three novels may sound complicated in description, they are not when actually reading the books. There is a group of leaders who are either on the wrong track or despotic. A single man rebels against them, and orthodoxy, and gets the next step of the Seldon Plan right. The first of the righteous renegades is of course, Hari Seldon. He reappears in holographic form time and again to confirm that events are proceeding as he predicted.

Some aspects of Asimov's futurism are puzzling. Despite the passage of time, human life expectancy hasn't increased. People still get the same diseases and there no are cures or even restoration of missing limbs. Smoking, likely one of the habits any advance society will find a less harmful substitute for, is prevalent. Nor is there is any caution about the dangers of nuclear power. Women get little attention in the novels, and then stereotypically. Bayta, the heroine of Foundation and Empire, achieves the distinction because of the Mule's romantic attraction to her. In Second Foundation, her teenaged granddaughter is a kind of good luck charm for the male characters. The sexual stereotyping is particularly noticeable if one has been reading Le Guin. Her early books, written during the same period, explore the role of gender in future societies. Asimov seems to believe sex roles are fixed. There are also no nonwhite characters in the three Foundation novels I read.

The frustration I am experiencing with Le Guin's Hain cycle is the opacity of the Hain themselves. The Hain influence other planets by introducing superior technology to them, but it is not clear what their own planet is like. The frustration I've experienced with Asimov's Foundation cycle is the lack of growth in human capacities he envisions for the future in these books. Asimov places all his faith in a single sort of human, the vigorous male leader who sets less vigorous male leaders straight, achieving power for himself. Asimov's ideal is not mine.

Reasonably related

•The official Isaac Asimov Homepage.

•There are three additional Foundation cycle novels written in the 1980s and 1990s.

3:16 PM

Tuesday, June 29, 2004  

Film: A cool look at Fahrenheit 9/11

Ms. Lauren at Feministe has seen Michael Moore's controversial movie. Her review is one of the most unbiased I've read in the blogosphere. Though she is on the Left, she has brought an objectivity to the topic not in keeping with the usual biases of Bloggersville. She resists the temptation to dehumanize people whose politics she disagrees with. Nor does she ignore the flaws in Moore's outlook. The result is a review I suspect any reader will find thoughtful.

Spoilers ahead.

I saw the movie tonight, and as much as I would like to give a raving review, I cannot. While I agree with the basic premise of the movie, much of Michael Moore's argument is based on an emotional appeal that I inherently resist.

Unlike others who have criticized the movie, I didn't think Moore's scope was too wide. Overall, Moore's threefold thesis was clear:

1) The Bush administration is a parade of assholes.

2) Like in Bowling for Columbine, a fear-based spin on the news will make us agree to just about anything - even war.

3) War is bad.

Oddly, much of the footage of the administrative rockstars readying themselves for the camera on September 11th made Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice appear more human than appear as members of the Evil Empire. The infamous seven minutes of Bush in his photo op at the Florida elementary school recorded a reaction much like my own -- his presidency doesn't make him less human for his stunned reaction.

Unlike Moore's analysis of Bush's paralysis due to lack of informed action by his cronies, I perceived his reaction of that day as much like mine.

I am impressed with Lauren's analysis of the use of the word 'conspiracy' to refer to the relationship among Bush administration members, cronies and corporations benefitting from the invasion of Iraq. In America, the interlocking aspects of power are often out in the open. For example, evidence of Vice President Dick Cheney's profitable relationship with Halliburton is available to see for anyone willing to do minimal research. As nefarious as the interlocking relationships may be, they lack the cloak and dagger qualities of what most people consider conspiracies.

As much as I disagree with the current administration, I cannot peg them as a part of a wide conspiracy to profit from the war. A conspiracy is not a conspiracy if it is in the open. This administration is heavily tied with business interests and has acted accordingly. This administration is heavily concerned with moral comeuppance and has acted accordingly. This is no conspiracy - no conspiracy about oil, no conspiracy about millions of dollars of profit.

Let me say it again: A conspiracy is not a conspiracy if it occurs in wide open spaces.

What of my own attitude toward Michael Moore? I am neither a partisan nor a critic. I consider his films to be good food for thought, but not sacrosanct. But, I reject the Right's claim that Moore's movies are 'just lies.' The blending of fact and techniques of fiction to make a point has a long history in the arts. I believe what is being called lying is actually a form of literary license.

Read the entire review of Fahrenheit 9/11 at Feministe.

11:55 PM