Rhetoric & Rhythm
 

 
Politics, movies, jazz, baseball... These are a few of my favorite things....
 
 
 

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    Wednesday, February 26, 2014
    12 Songs (more or less)
     
    RULES: in your status update, list 12 songs that have stayed with you over the years in some way. Don’t think too long over the list- just a few minutes. They don’t have to be great records or critical darlings, just ones that mean something to you personally.

    Yeah, right. OK, that was IMPOSSIBLE. So I broke the rules just a bit by dividing my list into three eras - My earliest years starting with the first album I got as a kid (Elvis) and then moving on to the High School years and then the College/Post-college years.
    Oh, and since some songs just go together in my mind, I ended up pairing a few together. So sue me.


    “That’s All Right” - Elvis Presley
    “Bad Man’s Blunder” - The Kingston Trio
    "The Night Chicago Died" - Paper Lace
    "Spinning Wheel" - Blood, Sweat and Tears
    "I'm Your Boogie Man" - K.C. and the Sunshine Band
    “Play That Funky Music” - Wild Cherry
    "Tragedy" - Bee Gees
    "Le Freak" - Chic
    "Barracuda" - Heart
    “Don’t Look Back” - Boston
    “Who Are You” - The Who
    "We Will Rock You"/"We Are the Champions" - Queen

    "Freeze Frame"/"Centerfold" - J. Geils Band
    "Spirits in the Material World"/“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” - The Police
    "Heat of the Moment"/"Only Time Will Tell" - Asia
    "We Got the Beat" - The Go Go's
    "Rock Me Tonight"/"All Night Long" - Billy Squier
    "Let's Go Crazy"/"When Doves Cry" - Prince
    "She's Tight"/"If You Want My Love" - Cheap Trick
    "Panama"/"Jump" - Van Halen
    "Legs"/"Gimme All Your Loving" - ZZ Top
    "Born in the USA" - Bruce Springsteen
    "You Got Lucky" - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
    “Twist and Shout”/"Long Tall Sally" - The Beatles

    "Dazed and Confused" - Led Zepplin
    “Like a Rolling Stone” - Bob Dylan
    "Rocks Off"/"Rip This Joint" - Rolling Stones
    "The Weight" - The Band
    “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” - Neil Young
    “Put Yourself In My Shoes” - Clint Black
    “Don’t Believe the Hype” - Public Enemy
    “Under Pressure” - Queen/David Bowie
    “Her Good Lovin’ Grace” - Jerry Jeff Walker
    "Gone" - The Black Crowes
    "Baby, Now That I've Found You" - Alison Krauss
    "Pennies From Heaven" - Bing Crosby


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    Wednesday, February 19, 2014
    Movies are getting better
     
    After someone put together a list of the Top 25 Movies of the 1980s that did not impress me much,  I decided to put together my own list. The '80s encompassed my formative high school and college years, so I figured I could find tons of good movies they were leaving out. But after perusing the lists at Boxofficemojo.com I came up with only 52 candidates for my own list. Not as many as I expected. So on a whim I decided to look at movies from the subsequent decades and found a few more in the '90s and a bunch more from the '00s. And so far in the '10s, not even half-way through, I already have a list as long as the one from the previous decade.
    So does this mean that movies are getting better?
    First understand that my criteria for good movies is simply whether I enjoyed the movie and would be excited about watching it again. So I tend to favor "popcorn" movies more so than heavy, artsy dramas.
    So what appears to be happening is that Hollywood is pumping out more movies suited to my particular taste. I like action/adventure movies, sci-fi and fantasy and animated flicks. And since about 2000, those are the films that have been dominating the domestic box office. The Lord of the Rings films, the Harry Potter series, the Marvel Superhero movies and the Pixar/Disney combination have all blossomed during the past decade. Meanwhile, the James Bond franchise is still going strong and is now joined by the Jason Bourne series and the Mission Impossible flicks. D.C. Comics also made a comeback with the new Batman movies. And new animation studios have been competing quite well with Disney giving us the Ice Age and Madagascar franchises as well as Kung Fu Panda, Despicable Me and How to Train Your Dragon.
    And the hits just keep coming with more Marvel Superhero movies in the dock, more Pixar and Disney animation movies (on fire now with the breakout success of Frozen) and another Hobbit movie as well.

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    Thursday, April 25, 2013
    Why I don’t like the Zak Brown Band
     

    I picked up a music CD at the library the other day by the Zak Brown Band, a country group that has won a number of Grammys and CMAs over the years. The album was “The Foundation,” one of their first ones. I’m not a “big” fan of country music, but I do have a taste for a certain kind of alternative-folk-americana or what I  call country-music-with-an-edge. I like artists like Dwight Yoakam, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keene, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and the Dixie Chicks, to name a few. I was hoping that the Zak Brown Band would fit into that segment. Unfortunately, upon listening to the first song - a light-hearted number called “Toes” - I was immediately put off and did not like it. 
    It’s not a bad song, really. The guy sings about a carefree day at the beach:

    “I got my toes in the water, ass in the sand
    Not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand
    Life is good today, life is good today”

    So what is wrong with that? Why the negative reaction? Well, for me it is the beer reference. The glorification of alcohol and our whole alcohol-soaked culture that tells people that you need to drink lots of alcohol to be happy or to be cool or to be attractive to women or whatever. It’s a pet peeve of mine.
    I decided to give it another try and I picked out another song - one that won a Grammy called “Chicken Fried.” But once again I was turned off.

    “You know I like my chicken fried
    A cold beer on a Friday night
    A pair of jeans that fit just right
    And the radio up”

    It’s the same damn song! Got to have that “cold beer” to fit into southern culture. So I popped the CD out and put it away with disgust.
    But wait! Was I being fair? Why am I so turned off by beer references in a country song? I don’t have the same strongly negative reaction to a rock song that makes drug references. Was I being hypocritical?
    I guess I make a distinction because drug culture is so foreign to me, whereas alcohol culture is seemingly everywhere. I’ve never actually seen drugs that were not on TV or behind a display case. I’ve never done drugs and have never hung out with people who did drugs either. So it has never had a real impact on my life. But alcohol is inescapable. Our society today is totally immersed in it. Most everyone today drinks alcohol. And if they aren’t drinking it, they are talking about drinking it. Or watching TV shows about other people drinking it. Grocery stores and restaurants are stocked full of it. It is the requisite ingredient for any social gather involving two or more people. And most kids today see it as the passageway to adulthood.
    And even all of that wouldn’t bother me so much if it wasn’t constantly advertised, pitched and glorified with such constant fervor.
    Please! I do not need to numb my brain with chemicals in order to “feel good” and “have a good time.” I can be just as much of a southern good ol’ boy as anyone without having a “cold beer in my hand/on a Friday night”. 


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    Monday, April 08, 2013
    2012 Movies I've Seen
     
    I did pretty well getting to watch most of the 2012 movies that I wanted to see.
    Here is my list of movies I watched from the past year, followed by my list of movies I still want to see.

    Movies I've seen:

    Marvels The Avengers
    The Dark Knight Rises
    Skyfall
    The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
    The Amazing Spider Man
    Brave
    Madagascar 3
    Dr Seuss' The Lorax
    Wreck It Ralph
    Men In Black 3
    Ice Age: Continental Drift
    Hotel Transylvania
    Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
    Dark Shadows
    John Carter
    Mirror, Mirror

    Movies I still want to see:

    Lincoln
    Argo
    Les Miserables
    Django Unchained
    Life of Pi
    The Hunger Games
    Snow White and The Huntsman
    The Bourne Legacy
    Rise of the Guardians
    Wrath of the Titans
    Jack Reacher
    Looper
    Total Recall
    ParaNorman
    Frankenweenie
    Chimpanzee
    Cloud Atlas
    The Pirates: Band of Misfits
    Rock of Ages


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    Monday, April 16, 2012
    The sordid history of VP picks
     

    All that is left now in the presidential race is for Mitt Romney to pick his vice presidential candidate. That an a lot of polling and horserace reporting.
    But while VP picks tend not to have a significant impact on an election outcome, I still find it intriguing how we seem recently to have had a whole string of really wretched and horrific VP picks by both parties - Dan Quayle, Joe Lieberman, Sarah Palin, John Edwards....
    But it didn’t used to be that way. The VP slot used to be considered the on deck circle for the presidency with Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon all being prime examples. During modern times, you might turn back to Richard Nixon’s first VP choice of Spiro Agnew as an example of a bad choice. But I don’t think it was considered a bad pick at first, but only after the scandals that came in Nixon’s second term that led to Gerald Ford becoming the first person to ever assume the presidency without ever having been voted on by the electorate.
    There were not a lot of problems with VP choices back then - George McGovern’s choice of Thomas Eagleton being a rare exception. Walter Mondale, tapped by Jimmy Carter, went on to win his party’s nomination for president. Reagan’s choice of George Bush launched a political dynasty. Even Mondale’s choice of Geraldine Ferraro was seen as a politically smart move at the time.
    So the real trouble seems to have started with Dan Quayle who was instantly panned the moment he stepped into the limelight. And even though Bush won anyway, Quayle was not able to build up any political capital out of his tenure as VP and saw his post-VP presidential campaign flameout almost unnoticed by the political mainstream.
    However, Mike Dukakis’ choice of Lloyd Bentsen was almost universally praised, even though it did not help him win the election. And the next set of VP candidates - Al Gore and Jack Kemp - were considered good choices all around.
    Then in 2000 we had Al Gore choosing the conservative Joe Lieberman while Dick Cheney chose himself to be VP for George W. Bush. In retrospect, Lieberman was a lousy choice for Gore and may have cost him the election. Cheney, on the other hand, while considered to be one of the worst VPs of all time by most liberals, proved to be highly influential and powerful in office as opposed to the hapless and largely ineffectual Quayle.
    And even though Lieberman did everything he could afterwards to stab his party in the back, he was not as bad of a choice in retrospect as John Edwards was for John Kerry. We now know that Edwards was carrying on an affair at the time that has since landed him in court facing felony counts of misuse of campaign funds.
    Not to be outdone, however, Republicans turned around the next election and chose Sarah Palin, who managed to turn herself into a political celebrity even as the presidential ticket she was on crashed and burned.
    Presently, despite the best efforts of Republicans to characterize Barack Obama’s VP as a loose cannon, Joe Biden has proved to be a pretty steady and reliable asset to the campaign.
    So now all eyes will be on Romney as he weeds through a long list of potential VP picks looking for one that could satisfy the Tea Party base without scaring away even more moderates - assuming there are any left at this point.

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    Friday, April 06, 2012
    Little League Baseball
     
    My son's Little League Baseball team is doing terrific this year. They currently have the best record in the Machine Pitch division of North Side Little League.
    Until last night they were undefeated after 8 games, but they finally had an off-night. The first run through the batting order everyone struck out and the team fell behind 4-0. And yet, they still managed to nearly come back in the last inning and ended up only losing by one run.
    Nathan got a hit his second time up that scored a runner from third, however he got sloppy running the bases and ended up getting picked off at second.
    But tonight's game was completely different. Tonight they played the second best team in the league and walked away with it. The final score was 17-8, but only because we gave away 4 runs in the last inning.
    Nathan got a hit every time up to bat, but only scored once. In his last at bat he hit a clear double - not a single where he advances to second on a throwing error which is very common at this age - but a solid hit that went all the way into the outfield and allowed him to run to second before they got it back in. I only hit one double the entire time I played Little League and I played all through junior high school. Nathan is only in the third grade.
    Nathan's team is the Nationals, which ironically is one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball. The second best team is the Cubs.
    Machine Pitch ball can be rough. The machine pitches the ball hard and fast every time. You have five chances to hit the ball and there are no walks. The only way to get on base is to hit the ball. But tonight, everyone was hitting the ball. We had a small team - 8 kids, just enough to field a team without being disqualified - because three kids were gone for Easter Break. That meant that they went through the batting order quicker. I think Nathan got to bat four or five times, whereas the night before he only batted twice.
    The first time up, Nathan was able to drive in a run even though they got him out at first. Later on in the game, however, he kept coming up to bat with the bases empty because the kid in front of him kept hitting home runs. That was Andrew, the team slugger and the coach's son. Andrew had a fantastic night hitting three back-to-back-to-back home runs over the fence.
    Isabel has been having a good time playing baseball too. She is in her third year of T-Ball and is enjoying it. In T-Ball they don't keep score and everyone gets to bat and play in the field each inning. Isabel can hit the ball pretty solidly every time off the tee and get on base. I've been pitching to her in the batting cages lately and am impressed with how well she can swing the bat and hit the ball. I think she will do fine moving up to machine pitch next year if she wants to keep going.



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    Thursday, February 23, 2012
    John Wayne films
     

    I’ve been watching John Wayne movies lately. Just watched the Howard Hawks-directed trio of Rio Bravo and its two variations - El Dorado and Rio Lobo - in sequential order. 
    They are all good in their own way. If I had to combine them, I would take the Dean Martin character from Rio Bravo; the James Caan character from El Dorado and the Jack Elam character from Rio Lobo.
    Maybe because Deano is more believable as a recovering alcoholic, but I think he bests Robert Mitchum in the role as the down-and-out lawman who the Duke helps out. But then the young James Caan as the knife-wielding "Mississippi" out does the guitar-strumming Ricky Nelson as "Colorado" in Rio Bravo. And the wild-eyed Jack Elam is in top form as the crusty old guy with the itchy trigger finger who helps to guard the prisoner.

    That got me to thinking about my John Wayne movie collection which is substantial but nowhere near complete. I own the following John Wayne movies on DVD:
    Rooster Cogburn (‘75)
    Big Jake (‘71)
    Rio Lobo (‘70)
    True Grit (‘69)
    The Undefeated (‘69)
    The War Wagon (‘67)
    El Dorado (‘66)
    In Harm’s Way (‘65)
    The Sons of Katie Elder (‘65)
    McLintock (‘63)
    Donovan’s Reef (‘63)
    Hatari! (‘62)
    How the West Was Won (‘62)
    Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (‘62)
    The Comancheros (‘61)
    The Alamo (‘60)
    North to Alaska (‘60)
    Rio Bravo (‘59)
    The Searchers (‘56)
    The Sea Chase (‘55)
    Blood Alley (‘55)
    The High and the Mighty (‘54)
    Island in the Sky (‘53)
    Hondo (‘53)
    The Quiet Man (‘52)
    Rio Grande (‘50)
    Angel and the Badman (‘47)

    Plus the following movies in a 4-disc collection:
    Hell Town (‘37)
    Winds of the Wasteland (‘36)
    Paradise Canyon (‘35)
    Rainbow Valley (‘35)
    Texas Terror (‘35)
    The Dawn Rider (‘35)
    The Desert Trail (‘35)
    Blue Steel (‘34)
    ‘Neath the Arizona Skies (‘34)
    The Lawless Frontier (‘34)
    The Lucky Texan (‘34)
    The Man From Utah (‘34)
    The Star Packer (‘34)
    The Trail Beyond (‘34)
    Randy Rides Alone (‘34)
    West of the Divide (‘34)
    Riders of Destiny (‘33)
    Sagebrush Trail (‘33) 
    Desert Command (‘33) (‘46)
    His Private Secretary (‘33)
    Shadow of the Eagle (‘32)
    The Hurricane Express (‘32)

    There are many more Wayne movies.
    The ones at the top of my want list include:

    Red River (‘48)
    Stagecoach (‘39)
    They Were Expendable (‘45)
    Fort Apache (‘48)
    She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (‘49)
    Sands of Iwo Jima (‘49)
    The Horse Soldiers (‘59)
    Flying Leathernecks (‘51)
    The Fighting Seabees (‘44)
    Back to Bataan (‘45)
    Operation Pacific (‘51)
    The Shootist (‘76)
    Brannigan (‘75)
    McQ (‘74)
    Cahill: U.S. Marshall (‘73)
    The Cowboys (‘72)
    Green Berets (‘68)
    Chisum (‘70)
    Hellfighters (‘68)
    The Train Robbers (‘73)
    Legend of the Lost (‘57)
    The Fighting Kentuckian (‘49)
    Wake of the Red Witch (‘48)
    Flames of the Barbary Coast (‘44)
    Dakota (‘45)
    Tall in the Saddle (‘44)
    A Lady Takes a Chance (‘43)
    The Spoilers (‘42)
    In Old California (‘42)
    Flying Tigers (‘42)
    The Dark Command (‘40)
    The Three Godfathers (‘48)

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    Monday, January 23, 2012
    Movie List 2011
     
    I'm late getting my year end movie list up.
     Here are the 2011 movies I have seen so far:
     Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
     Cars 2
    Thor
     Captain America: The First Avenger
    Kung Fu Panda 2
    Rio
    The Smurfs
    Super 8
    Rango
    Hugo
    Winnie the Pooh

     And here are the movies I expect that I will see eventually:
     Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
     Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
    Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
    Rise of the Planet of the Apes
     Puss in Boots
    The Help
    X-Men First Class
     Cowboys and Aliens
     The Muppets
    The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
     Moneyball
    The Adventures of Tintin
    War Horse
    We Bought a Zoo
    Midnight in Paris
    Arthur Christmas
     J. Edgar

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    Thursday, December 01, 2011
    Election analysis Dec. 2011
     
    It would seem to me that there were only ever two candidates in the Republican presidential race who got in with any serious expectations of actually winning. That would be Mitt Romney, who never stopped running for president since 2008, and Rick Perry, who came into the race with strong poll numbers and truckloads of campaign cash. The others had entirely different motivations for getting in the race. Some, like Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann hoped to further their political careers down the road and saw raising their profiles though a presidentail campaign as the way to do it. Others, like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich saw it as a way to boost and/or develop their name brand and increase their personal worth in the form of increased speaking fees and book sales. And then there is Ron Paul who is an old-fashioned perennial candidate representing a small but devoted minority faction. But now, due to the stubborn resistance to Romney and Perry’s spectacular flameout, less-than-serious candidates have been allowed to rise to the surface rather unexpectedly. I’m sure no one was more surprised than Herman Cain when he became the frontrunner and suddenly was expected to know things like where Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan is and what U.S. policy in Libya has been. And the “9-9-9” plan was never meant to be anything more than a soundbite to drum up interest in his books and pump up his future lecture fees. And, of course, the fact that his personal life had never been fully vetted out is the biggest clue that he was never intending to be anything more than a novelty candidate so that he could cash in on the free and initially benign media exposure of a national campaign. Gingrich too was just looking to maintain his brand name and keep his foot in the ring so that he could continue to play the role of “seasoned political insider” which is what fuels his private enterprises. That was apparent when his campaign staff abandoned ship halfway into the race. But Gingrich is also just enough of an egomaniac that he will probably continue the charade, pretending that he is a serious candidate right up until the bitter end. Now, to be fair, one could say that Barack Obama would have probably fit into the category of someone just trying to advance their political career and build name recognition for a future race back in 2008. But he ended up winning the primary and had to ramp up quickly to show that he could be a serious and substantive candidate. I think Tim Pawlenty could have done something similar if his campaign had caught fire early on, and maybe even Rick Santorum (who might have fared better had he not lost his last election). But Bachmann, I believe, was never more than just a fringe candidate, not unlike Dennis Kucinich was for the Democrats in 2008. So what happens now? If Gingrich actually wins this thing then Republicans can kiss their chances of victory in November goodbye. There is no way someone with as much baggage as Gingrich could survive a national race that is not dominated by Tea Partiers the way the Republican primary is. Perhaps if by some miracle the entire nation suffers mass amnesia and forgets the past three months, then maybe Rick Perry could come back and win the nomination. Maybe. But most likely it will be up to Mitt Romney to carry the Republican banner next year and his best chance of winning will depend on circumstances largely beyond his control. Only if the economy starts to tank again and/or shows no signs of improvement before the election will Republicans have a chance. That is why they are so adamant about refusing to support recovery efforts today. Anything that boosts the economy between now and next November will also serve to boost Obama’s re-election chances.

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    Saturday, August 27, 2011
    My new iPod
     

    I saved up my birthday money from the past two years and bought myself a new iPod. My old iPod, which I treasured, was an iPod mini and had just 4GB of space. That is about 1,000 songs worth and when I got it, it seemed like plenty. But after awhile I began to want more. I created a Great Songs list that had a broad mix of rock, country and jazz with lots of Beatles, Bob Dylan and Bing Crosby as well as the Ken Burns Jazz collection. But then I began to get into classical music and the more classical pieces I would add to the iPod, the more of the other songs I would have to pull off. Before long I had nothing but classical music on my iPod and even then not enough room for all that I wanted to put on it. Plus, I should note, my iPod mini did not have video capability, not that I would have had room for any videos anyway.
    So I solved all those problems with my new iPod which has 160GB. Let me repeat that.... 160 GB. Wow! Now I have all my music on my iPod, and I do mean ALL of my music - or at least all that I want to put on it. ALL of my classical music - and I've got a lot of classical music after spending the past year raiding the San Antonio Public Library for everything it has to offer. I've got all my Ken Burns Jazz collection plus lots more jazz music to boot; I've got all of my Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Bing Crosby and the Police. I've got almost my entire rock collection, most of my country and folk collection, even my collection of Broadway musicals. I may eventually put my Christmas music on there too as the holiday gets closer. So far I have more than 10,000 "songs" on the iPod.
    And then there are the videos. I have two movies which came with digital copies that I had no use for previously and now I have loaded on my iPod - Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and the 2010 version of Karate Kid, both of which are pretty good movies. And I have downloaded half a dozen free TV episodes off of iTunes mostly to entertain my kids - several cartoon shows, a National Geographic special and an episode of Top Gear. And I have a whole mess of Podcasts that update everyday including NPR news updates, lots of old time radio shows and the entire Rachel Maddow show downloaded everyday. On top of all that I have downloaded all the digital pictures from my computer at work - mostly pictures of my kids.
    But the best part is that even after all of that, I still have more than 67 GB of free space on my iPod.
    I agree completely with this article in the Economist.
    The iPod is definitely the best thing Steve Jobs ever did. While it would be nice to access the Internet or make phone calls, I would never give up my iPod for an iPhone or an iPad. Having all my music in one place, easily accessible by searing or playing randomly is just too much fun.

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