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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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Record Spotlight: Fun for the Whole Family (No, Really)
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

As a life-long music junkie with a 2-year-old daughter, I am always on the lookout for music that can appeal to the whole family. So when Mary Kaye's newest release, Spin Your Web, crossed our desk here at APW (and it did, literally, cross our desk), well, I was intrigued.

Kaye is an educator-slash-musician (there are a couple more slashes there too) from Maine who makes what is ostensibly kids' music. I say ostensibly, because the first time my wife and I played Spin Your Web, the baby was asleep, but we felt no great need to replace it with, say, U2 or Ani DiFranco. The record is a beguiling, low-key, easy-to-listen-to mix of traditionally influenced folk music, with a distnnct world flavor. The title track has an African beat and a tribal-sounding vocal arrangement, built around a percussive beat, no chord changes. It's the first track, and it feels a lot like an invocation. The next tune , "B.B. Dickenson" (who is a super-girl detective) is set to a reggae beat. Then a bit later, on "Pig Party," you have square-dance fiddles and a folk sound that conjures an almost Celtic vibe. The closing "Blueberry Dreams" combines a straight folk singer-songwriter take with doo wop counterpoint vocals. All throughout, you can hear that Kaye and her partners in crime are having fun. And if a kids record isn't fun, for goodness sake, what's the point?

If there is a common musical thread through the record, it would be the way that various cultural styles of organic folk music are stitched together into a nice comfy tapestry. That, and the sheer jauntiness of the thing. At APW, we generally believe jaunty is good.

The lyrics are playful and describe little daily travails in the lives of kids; where some kids content can be patronizing with lessons writ heavyhanded, Kaye delivers them with the ease and grace that only empathy can provide. In "Let's Get Dressed," Kaye offers these lyrics-- "Put on your pants... got'em on backward, turn 'em around..."-- interspersed with an upbeat "do-da-do do do" refrain. And its fair to say the message in "Waiting"-- "I'm waiting, I'm waiting, I'm still waiting, when are we going to get there?"-- is universal.

I think I'd sum up Spin Your Web like this: imagine if you went to Lillith Fair, and they had a daycare stage. This is the kind of music that I'd expect to hear eminating from that stage. My wife, the bigshot know-it-all teacher with the two masters degrees, says this is the kind of record a teacher might want to play in the classroom during a break period.

Spin Your Web is yet another in what strikes me as a delightful trend-- kids' music that grown-ups can enjoy. I remember listening to Raffi records when my nephew was younger, and wanting to tear off my own ears. But Dan Zanes has turned the whole idea of cool kids tunes into a cottage industry, and Jack Johnson's breezy Cutious George soundtrack is fun for the whole family. And now Mary Kaye. Between records like this and the subtle operatic brilliance of Wonder Pets, there is more my daughter and I can enjoy together on equal terms than I would ever have imagined. So yeah, I liked it. Let's give it 4.5 sippie cups.

You can buy this record from the always-recommended, indie-artist-friendly CD Baby, and a simple click of this whole sentence ought to get you there.

At this point, I should probably mention that my daughter likes it too. Which she expresses by shaking her little groove thang when we put Spin Your Web into the player.



Posted by: --josh-- @ 3:13 PM  2 comments

Dell Sucks: Turns Out I Was Right
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Remember back here when I noted that Dell sucks?

Well, a few days after that I got an email from an actual person at Dell-- not one of those "auomated response, do not reply to this email" emails, but a real email from a real person with his contact info and everything. It said that Dell reads blogs and chat rooms and such to see how they are doing and it had come to their attention that I was dissatisfied, and how could this guy help?

First it creeped me out a little. Then I figured, they probably deployed 'bots to trawl the web looking for mentions, and that this was essentially world class Word of Mouth Marketing, which I am actualy into, so I could appreciate the effort. I wrote to the guy that I doubted he could help me unless he could make Dell stop sucking; that service and quality had nosedived, and it had gone from "You gotta buy from Dell" to, "God help me if I have to deal with Dell." (But I should have asked him for a new wireless keyboard and mouse because mine is all broken now, and if they write again, I will.)

Anyway, check out Business Week's article about Dell. Seems I was exactly right about the whole sucking thing. But then, you already knew that.

Posted by: --josh-- @ 10:25 AM  0 comments

Your Ad Here
Friday, August 18, 2006

Here at APW we seldom give product plugs. But if you click on that logo over there on the left, you will be whisked away to the freshly launched website of Cute Threads, my sister's company. What Cute Threads sells are, well, cute threads-- generally clothing and outfits for infants, babies, and little kids. You'll want something for your own little raggamuffin, and they make great baby gifts (hint, hint.)

So bop on over, have a browse, and be sure to tell 'em APW sent you. Frankly, I think my sister is pricing these way too low.

(l-r: neice Lilly; her brother Laszlo; my daughter Laynie. Lilly and Laynie are sporting matching Cute Threads dresses. The boy is wearing shorts.)

APW BONUS: If you've read this far, here's a deal. If you order from Cute Threads by September 15, and mention APW, as soon as my sister ships to you, and you ask me to, I will send you 20% of the value of your offer via paypal. This is a rebate from me, not Cute Threads, and has nothing to do with them; its just a little congrats thing for my sis.

Posted by: --josh-- @ 3:02 PM  1 comments

On the Street Where You Live
Thursday, August 17, 2006

This week the new season of Sesame Street premieres. On Tuesday, I mentioned in the comments to this post that this year there was a new muppet character, Abby Cadabby. Abby is geting the big marketing push; apparently it dawned on the tree-hugging PC crowd at CTW that no female muppet had ever broken big from Sesame Street (yes, I know, Miss Piggy; but she was from the Muppet Show, not from the Street.) So this floppy, cuddly little magical muppet is getting the Elmo-money push. Presumably you'll want one-- or more-- Abby Cadabby dolls for Christmas. I can't seem to find any on sale yet, but yeah, we'll be buying 7 or 8 mint dolls as soon as they're out, and keeping them boxed and in storage. (What kind of idiots would let their kids play with the retirement nest egg?)

But that Elmo-money push is, as we at APW suspected, causing a problem on the Street. Elmo, it seems, is pissed. "Elmo just wants what's best for Elmo," he told TV Guide, "Elmo is the straw that stirs the drink. Abby thinks Abby is the wand that stirs the drink, but Elmo is the main stirring thingie in this drink. If you don't believe Elmo, Elmo will ask a baby." We've already mentioned Elmo's on-air tirade during Monday's episode of That's Elmo's World (in the above-linked-to comment.) Yesterday, Elmo didn't even show up; Cookie Monster was pushed out in front of the cameras at the last minute to fill in, struggling through what became "That's Cookie's World." ("Baby, how YOU like cookie? Wait-- Why I ask baby? Baby has no TEETH!")

There have been rumors circulating that Elmo plans to bail out of Sesame Street when his contract expires at the end of the year and jump to satellite radio. "Sure, Mel Karmazin would love to have a personality like Elmo on Sirius," said Mel Karmazin yesterday. "But as far as Mel Karmazin knows, he's still under contract."

Personally, I don't care for the Abby Cadabby character. I think she needs a better shtick. I prefer my muppets to have that adult, NYC cab driver sensibility-- like Ernie, like Oscar, like Snuffy, like Baby Bear. I like to imagine, maybe, that Judd Hirsh could play the character. But with all these baby muppets-- like Elmo,. like Zoe, and now like Abby-- its hard to see how the show can appeal to anyone over the age of nine.

The highlight of Monday's show, of course, was the spot-on spoof of Law & Order-- "Law & Order: Special Letters Unit." But don't take my word; click that link and enjoy.

Posted by: --josh-- @ 10:58 AM  2 comments

This strikes Me as a Lot of Work for an Obscure Rock Video
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Hve you seen the video of OK Go on treadmills? Its from YouTube. If you haven't seen it, you really ought to, if only for the water cooler hipness factor at work.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 10:00 AM  0 comments

I'm Ummar. Fly Me.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Fox news (yes, I'm watching Fox today) is reporting that the passengers aboard an Air Alaska flight from Guadalajara, Mexico to Los Angeles, California have been detained, because a suspicious-looking package has been found in the cabin, and no one is claiming ownership.

I managed to find a photo of the contents of that package online, and you can see it, here.


As I said, I don't think this was a terrorist plot gone bad. I think it was a terrorist plot that succeeded. I don't think the intent was ever to actually blow up planes. Rather, I think the intent was to add the liquid-and-gel frisk to the airport strip tease, in an attempt to further grind western business to a halt. This explains the message intercepted by British intelligence, wherein a Pakistani caller said to the Brit-based terrorist operative, "Remember that you can blow up commercial airliners with nothing but a sports drink and a travel shampoo and car keys."

This is only the beginning. The next terrorist threat will almost certainly come from suicide bombers who plan to destroy commercial airliners with exploding pants; by the following day, you won't be able to get on a plane with pants. Then, we can all anticipate the exploding hair gel plot, after which we will be required to have our heads shaved by the TSA agents when we pass through airport security.

Ultimately, we will sit on airplanes stark naked, with no possessions or newspapers to occupy us, covering our genitals with our boarding passes and passports in an attempt to maintain some modicum of dignity.

Me, the next time I fly, I will not strip off my shoes or my belt or my jacket at the check point. I will surrender no liquids, no gels. I will not do the air port strip tease. No, I'm prancing naked as a jaybird through security and onto the plane. And I'm going to like it. Because anything else, and the terrorists will have won.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 4:08 PM  1 comments

New Ryan Adams Song
Sunday, August 13, 2006

If you do the bottorrent thing, you'[ll want to check out some of the summer '06 Ryan Adams & the Cardinals shows, many of which are available for download in soundboard quality recordings from the Ryan Adams archive.

If you're just a regular Joe or Jolene and you wanna hear a song, he's streaming a new studio track at his fan club website, here.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 6:35 PM  1 comments

By the way...
Saturday, August 12, 2006
...the craziest thing happened to me this morning. I was in the shower, and I poured some shampoo into my hand, and just as I began to lather it up-- it exploded.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 1:18 AM  4 comments

Are We Safe Yet?
The talking heads will tell you that a major terrorist threat was foiled this week, but if you were with me Thursday morning, trying to get through security at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, you'd know different. Because the goal of terrorism is to terrorize, and it sure looked to me during my 2-hour jaunt through security-- watching TSA agents wasting time separating 80-year-old white ladies from their chapstick-- like we have been successfully terrorized.

Feel safer?

George Bush took office in January 2001. Eight months later, after he'd shrugged off Clinton's warning about Al Qaeda, after ignoring a security briefing which warned that terrorists planned to use commercial air crafts as missles, Bush became the first president to preside over a massive and successful terrorist offensive on US soil.

Feel safer?

In response, of course, we summarily, overwhelmingly attacked Afghanistan, overthrowing the Taliban, who were Al Qaeda's hosts. I don't know about you, but that sure made me feel a lot better. Yet 5 years later Afghanistan is a mess, the Taliban is creeping back into power, and Al Qaeda is stronger than ever.

Feel safer?

Eighteen months after 9/11 we were at war with Iraq, a country that had absolutely nothing to do with that heinous act of terrorism. How's that going?

Feel safer?

In the wake of 9/11, Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, the huge beaurocracy charged with assuring the safety and security of the nation. Then a big hurricane hit the gulf coast, and we all saw how FEMA (a major part of Homeland Security) snapped into action. As we watched that agency's capable handling of Katrina, watched as they reinforced the levees before the hurricane made landfall, watched as they evacuated New Orleans in time to avert real catastrophe, we were all made to feel confident that we were safer now, safer from the cold, dangerous world.

Feel safer?

Iran and North Korea, two countries singled out by Bush as part of the axis of evil, are taunting us with their forays into the WMD business; Iran is puppeting Hezbollah as they attack our democratic allies Israel. And that whole Israel-Hezbollah-Lebannon thing is going swimmingly, no?

Feel safer?

The world is getting more and more dangerous, and the current administration is wholly inept at managing our safety in that world. They boast a terrifying combination of self-righteousness and sheer boneheaded stupidity that comes damn close to evil. They interpret their inability to navigate this complex and dangerous world as a mandate to stay the course. Our no-winning-play war in Iraq drones on, invigorating and energizing Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations; somehow the fact of this invigoration becomes all the proof the administration needs that they must have been right about Iraq all along.

Our government works like this: they mess up. Their mess exacerbates our problems. The gravity of our problems emboldens them to make the mess worse. And so on. It is a horrific cycle. If this was a movie, you'd walk out on it; it would be too implausible, even for a Tom Cruise movie. But you can't walk out on life (although like movies, you can just watch it on cable.)

Feel safer?

Whenever the Democrats try and mount some sort of dissent-- let alone challenge-- they are labelled "soft on terror." Let's get over it. No one thinks Bin Laden needs a hug. NO ONE is soft on terror. What the Democrats-- and the American voters-- have to realize is that it isn't about tough or soft on terror. It is about smart or stupid on terror. It is that simple. And surely, it is impossible to argue that this administration's policies are anything but stupid on terror.

The Dems need to sieze the agenda. Instead of being defined by the Reps as soft on terror, they need to define the Reps as dumb on terror. There is a simple question they need to ask the American voter.

Feel safer?

George W. Bush has been president for five and a half years. He started off with a bang-- 9/11 happened on his watch. And the world has gotten progressively more dangerous in that time.

So I have a message for the Republicans and conservatives who read my blog (and I know you're out there; some of you are my friends. And brother.) Do you feel safer now than you did five and a half years ago? Do you? Look deep within yourself and decide. Because if the answer is no, then perhaps that ought to color the way you vote this November. And for a lot of Novembers to come.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 12:31 AM  3 comments

Daddy's Girl

Posted by: --josh-- @ 12:26 AM  3 comments

Review: Tom Petty, Highway Companion
Friday, August 04, 2006
"Rock'n'roll will never go out of style," said Tom Petty in a 1999 interview. "The design is flawless."

This summer Petty and the Heartbreakers celebrate 30 years together, with a big tour that revels in his biggest hits and best-loved songs, both with Heartbreakers ("Refugee," "American Girl," "Mary Jane's Last Dance") and without ("Free Fallin'," "I Won't Back Down," and Traveling Wilburys hit "Handle With Care.") And he has a new record out, his first since 2002 (the longest he's ever gone without a record).

Frankly, I thought the tour was a little... rote. I'll see it again to make sure. It hit all the high points, but as a fan who's seen the Heartbreakers maybe 25 times, I'd have preferred a few less hits and a few more... misses. Still, Petty never disappoints, and if the show seemed a tad too "arena-ready," well, he's a pro, and as arena shows go it delivered the goods and rocked the house. I'll see him later in August at an outdoor shed, and I'm hoping the vibe will be different.

But the record... damn, I'm pleased with it. Here's the review I wrote on Amazon (if you like it, go vote me as "helpful.")

A new Tom Petty record is always a welcome occasion (even the ones produced by Jeff Lynne.) Highway Companion is Petty's third solo album, and the previous two (Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers) are generally considered to be among the best in his now-30-years-long history.

Jeff Lynne produces with a lighter touch than usual, which is a good thing; he lets the music breathe, and as a result it sounds earthy and organic, which is how Petty should be recorded. Many of the best songs harken back to the breezy, wistful Wildflowers, especially the lovely "Square One," which Petty introduced in concert this past June by calling it one of the songs he was especially close to.

Guitarist (and Heartbreaker "co-captain") Mike Campbell is, as usual, the secret weapon here. Campbell is absolutely meticulous about guitar sounds; he manages to get precisely the right tone on each solo, each track. Listen to the way his brief but poignant solo pierces like an arrow when he steps up during "Down South;" prickly, trebly, a little bit of echo. If you listen closely, you can hear just how much effort Campbell puts into sounding so effortless. Listen to his full, rubbery tone on "Night Driver;" he manages to speak volumes just by the sound of his guitar, almost regardless of what he plays. And what he plays is going to be note-perfect and spot-on.

Indeed, the credits list only three players-- Petty (who covers the drums), Lynne (bass, among other things) and Campbell. The record has a casual feel to it, a gentle, friendly and inviting vibe. After repeated listens, the message-- about the passage of time-- begins to seep in ("Turn this car around/I'm going back...") "You can look back, babe... but its best not to stare," Petty sings in "Big Weekend." "If you don't run, you rust."

I liked Echo (1999) a lot, and was unmoved by The Last DJ (2002). Highway Companion is a "small" record, in the way the Wildflowers was small compared to Damn the Torpedoes. But it is full of grace and easy, confident singing and playing, by a guy (and his musical cronies) who has little left to prove, and yet manages to prove he's still vital. It isn't a pump-your-fist-in-the-air record; it is a sway-in-the-breeze-in-Indian-Summer record. But I'm already sure it will end up one of my favorites from the Petty canon.

Petty is on the road with the Heartbreakers, celebrating 30 years together. The tour is a big, boistrous celebration. This record is also celebratory, but in a very different way. It is an adult record, full of tasty and tasteful playing, confronting the passage of time but ultimately finding an easy peace with it. A gently strummed, unilateral cease fire with the passage of time. Bravo.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 10:54 AM  0 comments

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