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A penny for your thoughts indeed. Around here that would be a raise.

What makes a good blog? I think thematic consistency, a little exhibitionism, and honest writing. I can promise you the last one.

Most of my posts seem to be about music or politics. Some of them are funny. But all of them would love to hear a comment from you.

Oh-- and please welcome God to the APW team. We're thrilled and humbled to serve as His earthly vessel.

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Location: NYC

I was born at a relatively young age. Growing up consumed the better part of my childhood. As a young man I chased a lot of girls. But they kept getting away. Then I got older and even slower, so I got married. I've lived in New York City almost since before I moved here. I summer in Manhattan, which is like New York City, but with more humidity.

Here's me, without baby, thinking big thoughts. (Actually, what I'm thinking is, "Hey, these aren't Pringles!") I think I look better with baby.

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The Allman Brothers Band: The Magnificent Seven at Jones Beach 8-24-04
Thursday, August 26, 2004

Backstage at Jones Beach Theater. The sun is descending behind the horizon. A solitary figure, Warren Haynes, emerges from the shadows, guitar slung low across his back. A hush falls over the place; the only sound his boots on the concrete. Women and children peer cautiously out of windows. Men look away. A lone ball of tumbleweed blows across his dusty path. Behind him, his six amigos—

OK, I’m kidding. But it struck me about sixty percent into Tuesday’s show that the Allman Brothers are like the Magnificent Seven. They ride into your town, an all-star team of desperadoes, each expert on his weapon of choice. They chase away your blues and ride on, asking nothing but that bluesy justice be served. Served of course, with several heaping side orders to boot—jazz, rock, and soul.

The three drummers lay down the percussive bed that heralds “Walk On Gilded Splinters.” Then the guitars join in and the band is off. Most of the crowd is unfamiliar with the song. There are harmony guitar riffs, then harmony vocals. Soon the guitarists are trading wicked licks, bringing the classic Allman Brothers sound, with intensity, to this relatively new vehicle. Derek and Warren drive the song to the final verse with simultaneous pleading lines. For the faithful, it is a solid opening; for the house at large, maybe a puzzler. But still, a strong statement of purpose—here we are, here’s what we do. Any questions?

Then immediately into a brisk, powerful “Trouble No More,” with Derek answering Gregg’s strong vocals with staccato responses. Warren and Derek briefly trade lines on the brief mid-section, and Derek sizzles on the song’s dash to the finish. By “Aint Wastin’ Time No More” the band has won over the crowd, with Derek again punctuating Gregg’s vocals in telepathic interplay, and playing stinging, ringing leads over the break-- soaring above the fray like an indifferent angel. On the outro Warren takes the reigns, pouring the evening’s sweet summer breeze out through his graceful and understated solo, then kicking it up a notch as he climbs up the fret board to that ringing gutbucket place.

Next up is “Woman Across the River.” Warren’s bluesy solo licks between the verses are right in the pocket; Gregg layers on some tasty organ before Warren goes back into the vocal. Then Derek lays into a solo that is pure cool—so “cool,” in fact, that his strings are smoldering. As Derek lets loose Warren raises his right arm, a finger aloft, to indicate time to return to earth. The band follows his lead, then Warren snarls out the final verse, and the outro is again a highlight. The band continues to sneak in some of its best playing after the songs are ostensibly over. The guitars trade blistering lines, falling into and out of harmony riffing, the rhythm section locked in, the entire band hurtling forward until finally Warren hits the closing riff and the runaway train screeches to a halt. Bam!

Funky guitar chording lays the groundwork for what will soon be “You Don’t Love Me,” Derek beginning the vamp as Warren changes axes. Here the action is before the song starts, as the band explores the pre-song riff, Gregg offering up some organ. As is always the case, the drums are locked on, providing a solid bedrock foundation. Finally, almost three minutes in, the twin riff that should kick off the song—only it doesn’t immediately, there is some more vamping, before finally Gregg and the guitars lock onto the proper melody and Gregg begins the vocals. Both guitar players shine, Warren playing some searing slide lines.

Next up is a crowd-pleasing but somewhat rote “Midnight Rider.” Then a jaunty take on “Standback.” From my vantage point (close enough, nicely centered) the sound and the mix is perfect. The drummers are percolating, Oteil is slapping and snapping this one forward, his bouncy funky bass line serving almost as the lead instrument.

Warren slows things down with a heartfelt reading of “Dreams to Remember.” The band falls in softly behind him, Gregg layering on organ with a deft, light touch, as this song is all about the soul singing. Derek takes a resonant, glassy slide solo during the break, in full empathy with the vocal delivery; few guitarists can “sing” back as well as Derek can. Maybe none. The band does a stop time on Warren’s final verse, Derek’s accents barely there. All around, a magnificent exhibition of notes not played, Warren’s gritty vocals carrying the day.

Next Gregg offers up “Who to Believe.” Soulful vocals, solid soloing on the break. Then a forceful, aggressive “Every Hungry Woman,” both guitarists straining against the melody in almost competitive blasts of solo work.

The experience of a live concert is very much impacted by pacing, song selection, and flow-- how the band grabs you by the scruff of the neck at the show’s outset, provides you with an overall experience, then pats you on the butt and sends you on home. A good concert—especially with a band like the Allman Brothers—is far more than the sum total of how well each song individually is played. It is a holistic experience, one song leading to the next. This is why hard-core fans enjoy live recordings of entire shows better than the anthologizing of the traditional live album; the former carries the indelible magic of the here and now, “to go.” (It is also why I am listening to the Instant Live recording of the show as I type.)

All of which is a roundabout way of saying, it was at this point that the show took a left turn, the band pushing the needle from solid to outstanding, with a sequence of songs that combined to pull you forward, blow you back in your seat, pull you forward, blow you back, and send you off in that happy place. It started with the impossibly wobbly, off kilter, riff to “44,” a song that manages at its best to exist wholly apart from the constraints of normal time. To these ears this is one of the finest numbers in this band’s repertoire.

After the initial vocal section, Warren splays fat, stinging crystal clear blues lines over Derek and Oteil’s wobbly signature riff. Five and a half minutes into the song the band is almost silent, the lightest drum brushes keeping the song going, as Derek begins whispering over the top. Soon he is carrying on a conversation, Derek’s wispy lead lines posing existential questions, Warren’s chording providing snippy answers. Derek stretches out on a fat slide note, Warren still egging him on with tasteful chorded responses, and it is the point that the song falls out of time, and there is only endless now. Around and around they go, faster and faster, somehow creating the illusion of swirling in a circle, the band picking up steam, building the tension, everyone locked in, Derek’s fingers flying across the strings, Oteil laying thunder down at the bottom, and you know, you just know, that at any second—

--and there it is, the break back into the lumbering riff, executed on a dime. Time begins elapsing again, the band falls in behind Warren’s final verse. Then a minute-and-a-half more of time-free licks, Derek adding lines to the song’s wind-down like a master chef seasoning a gumbo. In all almost 12 minutes of pure group virtuosity. If this is the direction this band is taking, count me in.

An upbeat “Statesboro Blues” follows, feel-good bumpa dumpa music after the breathtaking “44.” Gregg takes matters into his own hands with a jaunty piano solo, Warren bleeds the innards out of his poor strings. Then Derek leaves the stage for one of the most blissful reads ever of “Melissa,” Warren pitch perfect in augmenting Gregg’s singing, his solo comprised of soaring, elegiac lines that seem never to end. He is avoiding the familiar triplet approach to soloing on this song, making it his own, making it new and breezy and just totally hitting the spot. It is old, it is new, it is welcome. Warren’s breathtaking solo on the outro goes on a full ninety seconds after Gregg has sung the final lyric.

“Black Hearted Woman” follows, forceful, the “Other One” style jam on the outro sounding somewhat less like that tune than usual. Out of the coda jam Derek improvises over the drum section—beautiful guitar improvisation that is reminiscent of the great jazz horn players—before dropping in enough of a taste that you know that, when he’s good and ready, he’ll be finding his way over to “Mountain Jam.” Butch pushes him, laying down the familiar tom-tom beat, but Derek will not be rushed.

From here on, the band has found the spot.

Derek flirts with the “Mountain Jam” lick, coming toward it, flitting away with jazzy asides, coming back, flitting away. He is a tease, and we love to be teased. Warren joins the party, Derek finally states the theme, Warren grabs onto it, and so the band is off and into “Mountain Jam.” The twin leads are yin and yang, fire and ice, over driving drumming. After the opening melody Derek takes the lead, playing jazzy colorful lines, then chording, and the baton is gracefully passed to Gregg as his smooth B3 solo emerges seamlessly from Derek’s wake, fights for space, and wins it. Then a similar hand-off, and Warren is leading the band. The music morphs as the band falls in behind Warren, fluid. Derek tosses off sporadic, long languid licks. Then Derek and Gregg pull back—still playing, but softer—creating the impression of a five-piece as Warren solos primarily over bass and drum section. Then Warren and Derek play discordant leads that blend perfectly together, taking the cool music down, down, taming the wild beast, Warren tossing in bird calls, the music less and less there until it is gone entirely and only the drums remain.

The drum solo is a short one—less than six minutes—before Oteil joins the percussionists for some sweet bass improv vamping, using the full fret board, his ringing melodic explorations eventually sliding, beautifully, into what my wife informs me is the Christmas song “Away in the Manger.”

There is another moment of virtual silence as the guitar players return and begin sprinkling notes over the rhythmic bed; soon the twin leads are wrapped around the “Afro-Blue” melody. After an all-too-brief workout on “Afro-Blue, back into “Mountain Jam” for the close. In all, a 28-minute tour de force from Derek’s pre-“Jam” riffing to the close of the “Mountain Jam” sandwich. A great way to end the show.

Only, it isn’t over. From the ashes of “Mountain Jam” emerges the mighty “Whipping Post.” Derek flies over Oteil’s deep bottom, exploring the dark places in the song, then racing frenetically to the next vocal interlude. Then Warren solos with a light minor key touch over Derek’s chording. The band picks up speed, Warren leading the charge, as they slam into the final vocal section (“Sometimes I feel…”)

NOW the ending is perfect.

In what almost seems like too much of a good thing, the band returns to encore with “Layla.” While the novelty of them playing this song may have worn off, the majesty most certainly has not. They approach it as less an anthem and more an old chestnut from some bluesman’s catalog. On the coda, Derek’s wistful playing evokes, without quoting, Duane’s original lines, and it is the perfect complement to the cool breeze coming off the water all around. It is the perfect note on which to send you off into the summer night. Finally Derek and band touch down, Warren wishes Oteil a happy 40th birthday, and we’re out. On to the next town, as the band rides out, the strains of “Little Martha” as the credits roll, the end of another perfect bluesy redemptive spaghetti western.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 6:16 PM  0 comments

The Political Brain
Monday, August 23, 2004
OK, it is the summer after all (and the dog days at that), so maybe that excuses my posting articles from other sources. Or maybe I'm just getting lazy.

Ordinarily I'd link to this one, but the NY Times requires registration, and my experience is if you click a link to an article and you aren't registered, you don't bother registering and so don't go on to read the piece.

Anyway, something to make you go "Hmmm..."

Reprinted without permission. If the Times lawyers come after me I may have to hold a fundraiser.


The Political Brain
August 22, 2004

A few months before retiring from public office in 2002, the House majority leader Dick Armey caused a mini-scandal when he announced during a speech in Florida, ''Liberals are, in my estimation, just not bright people.'' The former economics professor went on to clarify that liberals were drawn to ''occupations of the heart,'' while conservatives favored ''occupations ofthe brain,'' like economics or engineering.

The odd thing about Armey's statement was that it displayed a fuzzy, unscientific understanding of the brain itself: our most compassionate (or cowardly) feelings are as much a product of the brain as ''rational choice'' economic theory is. They just emanate from adifferent part of the brain -- most notably, the amygdala, the almond-shaped body that lies below the neocortex, in an older brain region sometimes called the limbic system. Studies of stroke victims, as well as scans of normal brains, have persuasively shown that the amygdala plays a key role in the creation of emotions like fear or empathy.

If amygdala activity is a reliable indication of emotional response, a fascinating possibility opens up: turning Armey's muddled poetry into a testable hypothesis. Do liberals ''think'' with their limbic system more than conservatives do? As it happens, some early research suggests thatArmey might have been on to something after all.

As The Times reported not long ago, a team of U.C.L.A.researchers analyzed the neural activity of Republicans and Democrats as they viewed a series of images from campaign ads. And the early data suggested that the most salient predictor of a ''Democrat brain'' was amygdala activity responding to certain images of violence: either the Bush ads that featured shots of a smoldering ground zero or the famous ''Daisy''ad from Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 campaign that ends with a mushroom cloud. Such brain activity indicates a kind of gut response, operating below the level of conscious control.

Could the U.C.L.A. researchers be creating the political science of the future? Consider this possibility: the scientists do an exhaustive survey and it turns out that liberal brains have, on average, more active amygdalas than conservative ones. It's a plausible outcome that matches some of our stereotypes about liberal values: an aversion to human suffering, an unwillingness to rationalize capital punishment and military force, a fondness for candidates who like to feel our pain.

What would that kind of insight tell us that we didn't know already? One thing is certain: evidence of a neurological difference between liberal and conservative brains would not be another instance of genetic determinism, since patterns of brain activity are shaped by experience as much as by genes. (Those who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome also show unusual patterns of amygdala activity, but those patterns are almost inevitably the imprint of a specific event, and not the long arm of DNA.)

Nonetheless, opening up the brain's black box might provide new explanations for how people become Republicans or Democrats, not to mention libertarians or Maoists, in the first place. It's pretty to think that we all decide our political affiliations by methodically studying each party's positions on the issues. But a recent study by Paul Goren at Arizona State found that voters typically formed their party affiliations before developing specific political values. They become Democrats first and then decide that they, say, oppose capital punishment and support trade unions. But how do they make that initial decision to be a Democrat? The most likely indicator of political preference is your parents' party affiliation, but if everyone simply voted along family lines, the dominant party would simply be the one whose members had the most voting offspring. The real question is why someone would ever break from the family tradition -- without feeling strongly either way about specific issues.

Those M.R.I. scans suggest an explanation. Perhaps we form political affiliations by semiconsciously detecting commonalities with other people, commonalities that ultimately reflect a shared pattern of brain function. In the mid-1960's, the social psychologist Donn Byrne conducted a series of experiments in which the participants were given a description of several hypothetical strangers' attitudes and beliefs. They were then asked which stranger they would most enjoy having as a co-worker. The subjects consistently preferred the company of strangers with attitudes similar to their own. Opposites repel.

Say you're inclined to form strong emotional responses to images of violence or human suffering, and over the course of your formative years, most of the people you meet who respond to these images with comparable affect turn out to be Democrats. That's a commonality of experience that exists beneath conscious political affiliation -- it's closer to a gut instinct than a rational choice -- but if you meet enough Democrats who share that experience, sooner or later you start carrying the card yourself. Political identity starts with a shared temperament and only afterward deposits a layer of positions on the issues.

Seeing political identity as a reflection of common brain architecture helps explain another long standing riddle: why do people vote against their immediate interests? Why do blue-collar Republicans and limousine liberals exist? The question becomes less puzzling if you assume that 1) people choose parties primarily because they desire the companionship of people who share their cognitive wiring, and 2) they desire that companionship so much they're willing to pay for the privilege.

These are all hypotheses now, and indeed it may turn out that some other region of the brain plays a more important role in creating political values. But if the U.C.L.A. results hold water over time, it won't justify the Armey theory that liberals are somehow less rational than conservatives. One of the most celebrated insights of the past 20 years of neuroscience is the discovery --largely associated with the work of Antonio Damasio -- that the brain's emotional systems are critical to logical decision-making. People who suffer from damaged or impaired emotional systems can score well on logic tests but often display markedly irrational behavior in everyday life. Dustin Hoffman's autistic character in ''Rain Man'' was brilliant with numbers, but you wouldn't necessarily want him in the White House.

Is there something intrinsically reductive or fatalistic in connecting political values to brain functioning? No more so than ascribing them to race or economic background, which we happily do without second thought. Isn't it more dehumanizing to attribute your beliefs to economic conditions outside your control? At least your brain is inalienably yours -- it's where the whole category ''you'' originates. No one denies that social conditions shape political values. But the link between the brain and the polis is still uncharted terrain. Prozac showed us that the slightest tinkering with brain chemistry could have transformative effects on a person's worldview. Who is to say those effects don't travel all the way to the voting booth?

Steven Johnson is the author most recently of ''Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life.''


Posted by: --josh-- @ 12:46 PM  0 comments

Bill Maher on King Against Religion
Thursday, August 19, 2004
I'm nowhere as anti-religion as Bill Maher. Actually quite the contrary; I have seen it work miracles first hand for many people-- as I've seen AA and psychotherapy do as well. My thing is, just keep it between you and God, not you, ME and God. (I also prefer not to hear about your therapy.)

Anyway, whatever you believe, I think Bill Maher has always been funny and worth a listen; I remember seeing him in LA at the Comedy Store in 1988. And he had a great joke about growing up half Jewish and half-Catholic; he'd go into the confessional and say, "Forgive me father for I have sinned, and I believe you know my attorney Mr. Kaplan." Johnny Carson loved that one.

Anyway, here he is from a recent visit to Larry King, railing on religion and the religious right.


MAHER: It's a perfect example about how the world is really dividing I think
between the religious and the non-religious. And we are in danger of being on
the wrong side of that because we are such a religious country.

KING: Religion is bad?

MAHER: Religion, you know, I think is very bad. And it's extremely dangerous
at this point in time. I read a statistic, I think 61 percent of the people in
this country say religion solves some or all -- most or all of our problems.
OK, religion solves nothing. OK, religion doesn't solve it. You know, it's
like a hot bath does not solve a cold apartment. It may salve for awhile, but it
doesn't solve it. It actually makes more problems because faith is a way to
make a virtue of things that make absolutely no sense. Like stem cell research.
I mean, the idea that President Bush -- remember when he went away to make
that big decision right before 9/11, he went to his ranch for a month to think
about it. Oh the red states were very impressed, Larry, that he took a whole
month to think about stem cell.

When by the way, he should have been thinking about terrorism. That was the
month when he met with the CIA director once. OK, so he's down there thinking
about stem cell. He comes up with this Solomon-like decision to split the
difference right down the middle, which the media hails as some sort of wisdom. As
if it is wisdom to split the difference between people who really could use
help from this stem cell research, and a bunch of right-wing nuts who would
rather see research go undone, all because some microscopic goo on a subatomic
level might, what one day grow up to be a Republican? That is not wisdom. And I'm
glad Ron Reagan is pointing that out. Again, you want me to be more

....CALLER: Yes, do you think President Bush is sincere in supporting Ariel
Sharon's position, the government with denying the Palestinians right of return
or do you think this is just a ploy to get the Jewish vote? MAHER: I think
this is all -- this has everything to do with the fact that George Bush is a
born-again Christian. OK, and this is why religion is so dangerous in our
society. Because George Bush is not just a Christian. He's a born-again, they believe
Jesus is coming back any day now. And they want everything to be perfect for
him. They call it the rapture, right?

KING: Why is that bad?

MAHER: Well, Thomas Jefferson said the book of revelations was the ravings of
a lunatic. George Bush organizes his foreign policy around it. That's why
it's bad. Because his decisions about Israel are affected by his religious

KING: You mean that Christ is coming back Israel.

MAHER: Jesus is coming back, and he's not coming back to Toledo, Larry, he's
coming back to his home, which is Jerusalem, which has to be in Jewish hands
because the Jews have a very important role to play when Jesus comes back,
which is, of course, to be dead. Because there can't be any Jews around.

KING: That's right, yes.

MAHER: I mean, this is scary stuff. Because it's completely irrational. It's
like half this country wants to guide our ship of state by a compass. A
compass, something that works by science and rationality, and imperial wisdom. And
half this country wants to kill a chicken and read the entrails like they used
to do in the old Roman Empire. And I'm with the compass people.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 4:15 PM  1 comments

Book Recommendation: Craig Unger, "House of Bush, House of Saud"
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
I've been reading Craig Unger's House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties. I've linked to it in two other places-- including my opening post on F9/11. I'd lent the book out while reading it, and have now gotten it back and am finishing it.

I recommend this book quite highly. Especially for anyone who saw and liked Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (and more so for those who, like me, hated it and thought it was pure tripe.) The book covers somewhat similar ground--indeed Unger is briefly interviewed in the film-- but comparing the two is like comparing footnotes to pratfalls. The one is a thoroughly researched, intelligent, and informative work; the other, a Michael Moore movie.

Obviously Unger has an agenda-- or at least a hypothesis, as spelled out in the book's title. Doesn't matter; everyone does. If you want to read 5 other books covering the same ground that are more sympathetic to Bush, by all means do so. Indeed
neo-con Stephen Schwartz's book The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Saud From Tradition to Terror
is also herein recommended. Frankly I don't think Unger's anti-Bush at all; in fact, I think he's somewhat dispassionate, and the story he weaves about the Saudis infilitrating US foreign policy starts with the Carter administration and includes members of both parties (actually, the oil for security relationship with the Saudis dates to FDR). Of course, the Texas oil men the Saudis have courted for years do seem to be disproportionately represented in the administrations of both Bushes. But don't let me spoil the book for you.

Anyway, forget Bush bashing (which this book doesn't do, although it might engender anger in the reader toward the administration.) If you want a good accounting of the history of US/middle east relations from, say, the mid-70s to today, one that ties together the Iran hostage crisis and Iran Contra and the Iran/Iraq war and the fall of the USSR and the 1993 attempt at the World Trade Center, up through 9/11 and the present day, this is the book for you. Frankly I find that the Bush/Saudi relationship is a framework or backdrop for a broader history of the topic. And to put Unger's objectivity in stark contrast to Moore's over-the-top oafish agenda-foisting, try this: "But these Bush-Bin Laden 'relationships' were indirect-- two degrees of separation perhaps-- and at times have been overstated. Critics have asserted that money may have gone from Khalid bin Mahfouz and Salem bin Laden through James Bath into Arbusto Energy, the oil company started by George W. Bush, but no hard evidence has ever been found to back up that charge." (Unger, page 101). Whereas Moore uses cinematic innuendo to pretty much place Bush and Bin Laden at the same tea party.

If you read the first APW post, about Fahrenheit 9/11, you know I took Moore to task for making a whole movie about US and the middle east without once mentioning the word Wahhabi. Unger, of course, mentions the word for the first time on page 3. Here's the thing: for my money, it is FAR more important for Americans to understand who "the evil doers" are than to look for some oil-fueled (pun intended) Bush family conspiracy (although, believe me, the Bushes are far too cozy with the Saudis for our national security interests to be best served, and you don't need a book to tell you that). Words can obscure or inform; calling our enemies "terrorists" obscures, because we are characterizing a group of people by their military tactic. I mean, we called the Japanese the Japanese in WWII; not bomber plane fliers.

So a free tip: find Unger's book at Borders or Barnes & Noble, buy yourself a latte in the cafe, sit down and and read chapter 5, the Double Marriage. Then you can put the book back. This is the chapter that neatly and concisely explains the history and development of Wahhabism and the Saudis, and it is the quickest way I know of for the loyal APW reader to get up to speed on the people we are at war with (that would be the Wahhabis). I don't think either Bush is mentioned once in that chapter, so for you conservative libertarians out there, the water's fine. Go check it out, if only to be that much more informed about the world you live in. (Note: Schwartz's book is actually far more in-depth on the Wahhabis-- that's basically what its about-- and as I say, I recommend it. But the one Unger chapter is shorter than reading the whole Schwartz book, and we here at APW are always looking to save our loyal readers valuable time.)


Posted by: --josh-- @ 9:03 AM  2 comments

The San Fran View on Gay Marriage
Friday, August 13, 2004

Well, I’m still in San Francisco, but I’ve been so busy with the business that I’ve been neglecting my five loyal readers. I mean, if I haven’t been meeting, I’ve been greeting.

But it is fitting, being in San Francisco, that today’s topic is, again, gay marriage.

The national media have picked up the story that a California court ruled those gay marriages performed by this city’s mayor invalid. He says he wasn’t surprised, and that this was a first step, not a last.

While here, serendipitously, I learned a few things about gay life that I wasn’t consciously aware of because I hadn’t thought about them. A friend and colleague who is openly gay and also an expert on the demographics of the US gay market gave a presentation here, and there was some discussion afterward. In the Netherlands, where gays enjoy full civil rights—marriage, partner benefits, etc.—18% of the population is gay. It is of course unclear whether that means 18% of people would be gay if there were no barriers, or if gay people simply had the good sense to move to the Netherlands. (Or if there’s just something gay about being Dutch; I mean, you’ve seen those wooden shoes, right?.) But my colleague—I try to preserve peoples’ anonymity here, because no one volunteers to be in my blog (except my brother), but his name is Jeff—pointed out that the vast majority of US gays identify with their lifestyle over religion and ethnicity. In other words, if you are gay and Italian, chances are you identify yourself as gay first, Italian second. Jeff says that this is because being gay—and the limits thereof—are “in your face” every day. Jeff and his life partner have been together for 20 years, but Jeff can’t get survivor benefits from social security (something most of us take for granted; my mom gets a nice check from the government each month because my dad accrued SSI benefits while he worked and my mom stayed home and raised us.) He and his partner can’t file a joint tax return. You ask me, that’s just wrong.

These are things I hadn’t thought about, but it just makes my feelings about gay marriage more clear. To oppose gay marriage is to be anti-family, homophobic, and frankly just plain mean and cruel. These are people who ARE families, ARE couples. And no one “chooses” to be gay; you discover you are gay—often at great pain and anguish (or don’t you remember beating up the kid in junior high you thought was a “homo.” Which he wasn’t, not then, but very well might be now.) To the religious nuts who say being gay is a sin because it says so in the bible, I pose two questions: (1) If being gay is a sin, why does God make so many gay people? (2) Do you own slaves? Because the bible is pretty clear about slavery being acceptable, and I’ve decided that I don’t want to hear from anyone about the bible as a guide to what should and shouldn’t be legal unless they own slaves.

(By the way, I respect everyone’s religious beliefs and their rights to them, but I feel very strongly that religion should be a private matter, not a public one. Your religion is between you and your God; not between you, ME, and your God.)

Finally, of course, there’s the Jim McGreevy thing. Guy is governor of New Jersey, has a gay affair, gets threatened by the lover with a sexual harassment, and so he resigns, admitting the whole thing, his wife (!) standing by his side.

Should he resign? Sadly, we know he has to. But what struck me is that he proclaimed, I think with pride, that he was “a gay American.” Bravo, Jim. He didn’t apologize for being with a man; he apologized for cheating on his wife. I wonder if that subtlety will be lost in the sound byte culture we live in; people will think in 6 months (if they remember this at all) that he resigned because he was outed. But I think his stand was heroic (cheating on the wife, of course, less so.) I don’t know if he was a good governor—because let’s face it, this is Jersey we’re talking about, who pays attention? But I think that proclamation may one day be seen as a turning point, however small, in the morally right fight for gay rights.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 1:17 PM  16 comments

Missing My Baby
Sunday, August 08, 2004

I’ve spent a lot of time explaining to people what a blog is since I started A Penny’s Worth. Of course I talk about the etymology of the word (essentially a contraction of “weB LOG.”) The general consensus seems to be that a blog is basically “a journal other people can read.” On the one hand that makes it sort of like a column—democratizing the concept of “journalism”—but in another context, blogging can be like keeping a diary and publishing it if you’re not careful (or even if you are.) Is my life that fascinating? Well, frankly, yes it is. I can amuse myself for hours on end, with clever repartee and witty banter. And boy, what I had for breakfast! But that’s just me. And it does seem a frightful conceit; we even say so in APW’s Mission Statement (see above.)

So I try and make the things I write universal, at least in some way. But sometimes it’s tough. For example, I am going to be in San Francisco all this week on business. Five nights. That’s by far the most time I’ve spent away from the baby since she arrived. I mean, a week is 10% of her little life. I’m drafting this on the plane out, and I already miss her like the dickens—her little hands, her dark piercing eyes, the little non-verbal games we play, the way she smells, the way she holds onto my neck when I walk her around the apartment. It’s breaking my big old jaded heart.

The baby and I have a lot of non-verbal communication things going on. For one thing, I’m convinced that babies can see auras—a capacity most of us outgrow; have you ever noticed a baby like or dislike someone instantly for no apparent reason? Or known someone who is like a baby magnet?—and she likes mine. More tangibly, and this is uncanny, when I stick my tongue out at her, she sticks hers back out at me. This never fails to fill me with sheer delight. I mean, she’s 10 weeks old! How does she know that’s what I’m doing? Just thinking of that tiny little tongue darting out of her little milky mouth makes me want to get on the first plane home.

I love San Francisco, have friends there, and most of the ‘90s I made a point of getting out there at least once a year. But now I just don’t have much enthusiasm for it, if it means missing a whole week of my baby’s littleness. I mean, she’s just starting to smile.

So what’s the point here? See, that’s just it. There isn’t one. This is little more than a diary entry about missing my little sweetheart. (I mean, I’ll miss my wife too, but we’ve been apart before. And I can count on her remembering me when I come home.)

So anyway, more to come from San Francisco. I’ll see if I can’t make it more universal. Although now that I think about it, hokey as it sounds, a parent’s love for a child may be more universal than I’m giving myself credit for.

Posted by: --josh-- @ 11:35 PM  0 comments

Second Thoughts on Ridge
Thursday, August 05, 2004
You know, I really want to get back to writing about music, but I've been so busy from work (the Big Thoughts have been flying fast and furious), and I find presidential politics so compelling, that I fear I can't help myself. Maybe soon. Lately I've been listening almost exclusively to the soundboard recordings of the first leg of the Dead's summer tour, with my man Warren Haynes on board. The shows seem to have started off rocky, but I'm about 6 shows in and they seem to be finding their footing.

Anyway, my brother kind of guilted me into denying that there was anything overtly political in the timing of Tom Ridge's terror announcement. He thinks I'm a conspiracy nut (my brother, not Tom Ridge). But I don't think I am; I think that I'm merely questioning motivations, not suggesting intricate evil conspiracies. And besides, conspiracy has gotten a bum rap; all it really means is two or more people working in concert to achieve a common goal. My wife and I conspired to have a child.

I am by nature a cynic, not a paranoid. And color me increasingly cynical on this one.

As the reports about the announcement continue to emerge, I find myself wondering.

The pundits on the left seem pretty sure, but I think they're maybe getting a little ahead of themselves; their anger is showing.

Here are some things we appear to know:

1. The Pakistanis were asked by the administration to deliver a "High Value Target" (HVT) by November, and specifically were given the dates of July 26-28.

2. The Pakistanis endeavored to do so. Apparently the Pakistanis believe that in recent history, Republican administrations have been more supportive of Pakistan, Democrat administrations seem to tip the balance toward Pakistan's enemy, India.

3. There appears to be some merit to this belief.

4. Apparently, here is what happened. The Pakistanis captured one or more Al Qaeda operatives, and as a result came into possession of hard drives (or passed these along to us.) The hard drives contained extensive reconnaissance information on the buildings cited by Ridge in his speech.

5. We came into possession of the information over a week before his speech to the nation, and before the Democratic convention.

6. Much of the information dates from 2000 and 2001. It is quite logical to assume that the work might have been done as part of the research that led to the selection of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center as targets.

7. Conversely, sources from the Office of Homeland Security (OHS) suggest that Al Qaeda is meticulous and long-range in its planning, so old research is still relevant.

8. I believe Al Qaeda does indeed intend to attempt a terrorist attack on US soil prior to the election. I think they believe they influenced the political process in Spain by blowing up that train shortly before the election there, and then the "Spain out of Iraq" guy won. However, I'm not convinced the guy was going to lose otherwise.

9. Taking all this into consideration, the conclusion I keep coming back to is that Bin Laden and his Wahhabi ilk, if they are indeed thinking this through, should want to strike in such a way that hurts the incumbent. And as I've written (to the consternation of fully 20% of APW's regular readership), a terrorist attack between now and the election helps Bush (by definition it helps the incumbent.) Subsequently, either Al Qaeda are dumb (a possibility I am loathe to rule out); or else they plan to strike directly AT the incumbent. In other words, I suspect that the logical targets are Madison Square Garden, where the convention will be held, or the Waldorf Astoria, where the president generally stays when in town (not just Bush; the president dating back to FDR, according to one cabbie I had.)

What to make of all this? Especially given the "vote Bush!" coda to Ridge's speech, and the personal ethics of some of those closest to the president (Karl Rove, drop us a line some time), I am beginning to wonder about the timing and prudence of the announcement. I would like to kmow precisely why they issued a warning based on information obtained from 2000 and 2001, didn't indicate it as such, and then went on national TV not when they got the info but at least a week later, right in the middle of Kerry bounce season.

Now, to be fair, there may well be very good answers these questions. But suddenly I want to know them. Because frankly I don't really think those sites are in the kind of jeapordy the OHS would have us believe. Also, there is a legitimate question of whether it is fair game to use your office (in this case Bush) to keep your office. I mean, everyone from my city councilman on up does it. And if Kerry were president and did a similar thing, its possible I'd be applauding him for playing Republican-style hardball.

Bottom line, I think there are questions to be answered, and "Trust us, we can't tell you for reasons of national security" is starting to get old.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 7:50 PM  0 comments

More on Bush and Why I'm Scared that Something Blowing Up is Good for Him
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
In my last post I talked about feeling safer if a terrorist attack wasn't good for Bush. This pissed off roughly 20% of APW's regular readership (i.e., my brother.)

I do know I have a habit of thinking something through from point A to point B, then speaking or writing from point B without sufficiently explaining how I got there. So let me get clearer on this.

1. Why terrorism is good for the incumbent: Think back to 9/11; if you're really old think back to WWII. An act of terrorism on US soil results in something akin to widespread patriotism. I say "something akin" because it isn't actually patriotism; I'm from the school that dissent is one of the most patriotic acts a person who loves his or country can engage in. Its a little like jingoism, but that isn't right either. Let's just call it "team spirit." After 9/11, there was a lot of team spirit for team USA. Even in France.

What happens is, you don't question the Commander-in-Chief; you rally behind him. Indeed after 9/11 the administration took advantage of this phenomenon by rushing through the Patriot Act, a piece of legislatioin I submit would never have passed if not for 9/11, and which wouldn't pass right now. But in the frenzy of team spirit, no way it was going to fail.

So terrorism on US soil would unleash another wave of team spirit, making it incredibly difficult for Kerry to campaign against Bush without appearing to be a traitor. Has a sitting wartime American president ever been defeated?

2. Why it scares me that something blowing up in NYC is good for Bush: Let me be unambiguous about this. It is NOT because I think he's an evil man who would allow American lives to be deliberately lost to further his own personal quest for power (and everyone running for president is on a quest for power, let's not kid ourselves.) No, its because I think he is intellectually lazy, and the administration around him follows his lead. I do not, for example, think we should be in Iraq; Iraq never waged war on us, never represented a threat. Sure, the guy in charge was evil. But we aren't actually in the business of going around getting evil despots out of office (unless we invaded North Korea while I was out to lunch.) Indeed we prop them up as often as we eliminate them, because our actions are generally motivated by economic interest. OK, that rambled a bit, but point being, Bush's agenda is anti-Iraq, and he has too much of our defense expended there, when we really need it for the people we are actually at war with. See, his personal agenda affects our safety, because he is president. I believe with absolute certainty that the world would be safer if we hadn't invaded Iraq (except for Iraqis and Kurds; but certainly for Americans.)

So I am left with what I can only call a visceral feeling that maybe the president isn't as concerned with Wahhabi incursions as he should be, that he doesn't really properly see the lay of the land as it really is, that he is assuaged by the Saudis, who should be watched at all times with a wary eye. I just don't trust him, as a New Yorker, to keep me as safe as I feel I should be. I think in private he waves off these warnings with a smirk, doesn't believe them (and all the blaming of intelligence failures for 9/11 and the Iraqi invasion is a cop-out. There was plenty of intelligence, if one wanted to connect the dots and believe the story it told. We knew, for example, Wahhabi members of AL Qaeda were enrolled in US flight schools and didn't want to learn how to land the plane.)

Ultimately I believe that the trust Bush places in the Saudis, and the irrational visceral hatred he had for Saddam (fueled, of course, by the Saudis, who wanted no part of a reinvigorated Iraqi oil industry), make us all less safe, and make him complicit by sheer ignorance in the problems we have with the Wahhabis and in the middle east. He has been, to a great extent, a tool of the Wahhabis (again, read House of Bush, House of Saud; there's a link for it in the links section.) And I believe that, for that transgression alone, he deserves to lose his job. It may be the worst thing any president in my lifetime has done.

It would of course be nice if I could say Kerry "gets it" and would make everything better. Alas, nothing I've heard or read yet suggests to me he does (although, again, I like the shot he took at Saudi oil princes in the speech; I only wish I didn't think he was just pandering to those who saw the Moore movie.) This is why APW predicts a Kerry win, but has not endorsed Kerry.

To sum up and go off on another tangent: I know that's a little flimsy on why the Bush thing scares me. But its the best I can do because it is largely a visceral feeling. Thanks to my brother for forcing me to think more about these things.

By the way-- today the Times reports that much of the information on which Ridge's speech Sunday was based-- including the info on buildings targeted by Al Qaeda-- dates from circa 2000 or 2001. I still don't quite know what to make of that. Apparently what happened was they got leads in Pakistan that led them to places former Al Qaeda operatives had been, and they found a storehouse of information indicating intelligence gathering about these sites. It remains possible from what I read, though, that this research was part of the pre-work for 9/11, and not for the supposedly pending attack in the US.

However, I do believe Al Qaeda is planning something here, and soon, because they believe they influenced Spain's political process by blowing up that train, and shortly after the "Get Spain out of Iraq" guy won the election. So I feel confident they plan to have a similar impact here. Of course, such an attack would only serve to keep the guy they hate in power. And again, that loops back to, that just plain frightens me.

You know, I think we all like it better when i write about music.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 5:10 PM  0 comments

The American Political Process-- Ya Gotta Love It
Monday, August 02, 2004
Item: Tom Ridge makes Scary Speech the weekend after the Democratic convention concludes. Now, If I were cynical, I'd think that they were sitting on this news-- or making it up-- to throw some cold water on the Dem momentum post-convention. But I'm not cynical, as regular readers would know (nyuck nyuck). So it is equally possible that Ridge held off until the convention was over so as not to steal the Dems thunder. He strikes me as a gentleman. A little stiff, but that goes for most in high profile public positions. So let's dispense with the issue of the timing of the speech altogether; APW believes this is a non-issue.

Of course, you had to love the speech he gave. Let me boil it down for you:

"If you work in Citicorp, give some serious thought to telecommuting. Vote Bush!"

It was the perfect blend of terror and party line. The second part of the speech was pure campaign rhetoric, and I give him enough credit to have felt bad about having to do it. He seemed a tad uncomfortable.

What troubles me is that a terorist attack is good for the incumbent. Us New Yorkers remember after 9/11, Giulliani magnanimously volunteering to stay on even after his term expired. And they've already floated the idea that a terrorist attack might mean election day need be postponed for national security, no? Isn't it worrisome that this administration, which has made implications about Kerry letting France dictate his foreign policy because he has the temerity to have learned to speak French (presumably while Bush was failing the same course), is so cozy with the Saudis that THEY make our foreign policy in the middle east right now? Is it not a little troubling that a great big explosion in the middle of NYC is good for Bush politically? I'm not saying I smell a conspiracy-- lord knows, if that's what you want, there are plenty of websites for you. But I would feel better if a great big explosion in the middle of NYC was not in the best interests of the president, is all I'm saying.

Item: Popular vote too close to call. According to the CNN/Time/Gallup/Fenner & Ziggy poll, Bush is looking at 50%, Kerry 47%, with 3 points standard error, a virtual tie in the popular vote. This is a real pet peeve of mine. Why do we care about the popular vote? Is Al Gore president? No? I didn't think so. Didn't he win the popular vote? Wolf Blitzer, you are a real live journalist. I would expect this from Aaron Brown or anyone at Fox. But not the Blitzman.

I'm not going off on a rant about the electoral college here (but if I did, I'd say that in this day and age it is no longer the logical approach that it was in 1789.) But I am going to go off on the news media that continues to report on the popular vote, as if it meant a damn. We all know that what matters is how the electoral votes cume on a state-by-state basis. So here is A Penny's Worth's site of the day. They track polls by state, and report states as voting Bush, voting Kerry, leaning Bush, or leaning Kerry. They currently show Kerry with 215 solid electoral votes, Bush with 198. But the leaning states give the current nod to Bush, 76 to 51, for a total of 274 electoral votes. Note that they show every southern state voting or leaning Bush, including Florida and Edwards's home state. Remember that when APW came out for Kerry (a prediction, not an endorsement), we believed that Edwards and Bill Clinton would help Kerry carry one or more southern states that Gore lost in 2000. Indeed, APW thinks Florida is in play, and that Kerry knows enough to use Clinton and Edwards there up the yin yang, and that he understands he has to win the state by enough to actually take the state (that is, he has to win by a margin exceeding the fudge factor that all state governments have, like it or not.)

Anyway, check out the site. They update it, and as the election gets closer, it will be an interesting sanity check as the networks run around with their popular vote polls.

By the way, a tip of the hat to my cyberfriend W!b for bringing the site to my attention.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 5:08 PM  3 comments

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