Friday, February 29, 2008

Wandering through Dixie

I finally uncovered the photos of my recent road trip back home from doing tornado relief work in northern Tennessee. Luckily I was able to take my time and savor the journey.

The South is always so much fun to explore when you can take the roads less traveled and in the winter it's all that much sweeter. Hope y'all enjoy these snapshots from my home here in Dixieland.

Russell Cave, Alabama

Inside the entrance to Russell Cave

South Pittsburg, Tennessee

Dixie Freeze, South Pittsburg, TN

Inside the Dixie Freeze

The BBQ Pork Platter Special

Daniel Creek
Dade County, Georgia

Cloudland Canyon State Park, GA

The Tennessee River winding through Chattanooga

Home at last!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Rock in the 70's

Lately I have become acutely aware that rock n' roll is pretty much dead and that there are very few new practitioners of this once thriving art form. Fortunately I am stuck in a time warp that keeps me immersed in the musical sounds of my youth: rock that was produced in the early seventies.

This was a great period for rock n' roll and I made a list of all of the albums from this period that I still enjoy playing as I trudge towards middle age. I then whittled this first list down to a core of five essential albums. The basic criteria I used was that these are the records that can make me feel happy on a dark and gloomy day and want to thump my hands against the steering wheel while fighting traffic on Hwy. 417.

Over the next few weeks I plan to do a post on each of these five records. If you're not familiar with some of these albums you might want to check 'em out. They've stood the test of time with me since Nixon was president and gas was 35 cents a gallon.

The first album in our series is:

A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse
(1971) - The Faces

This is the third album by a legendary ensemble that I like to call the spare parts band of rock n' roll because most of its members were later used to replace departed or dead musicians in other bands, including the Rolling Stones and the Who. Led by Ronnie Wood this loose and carefree group of talented musicians played for the sheer love of the music and of making sure they were having a real good time while performing it. The Faces was the first, and maybe only, band to set up a bar on stage so they could have drinks served to them while playing. There are probably all kinds of laws against that nowadays.

This album catches them in peak form with such concert favorites as "Miss Judy's Farm", "You're So Rude", "Stay With Me" (their only Top 40 hit), "Too Bad" and a delightfully shambling cover of Chuck Berry's "Memphis". They were probably best appreciated live but if you were to pick one record of theirs to own this would be the album to have.

The refrain in the song "Too Bad" sums up the band quite succinctly:

All we wanted to do was to socialize
Oh you know it's a shame

I was always getting the pain

All we wanted to do was to socialize

Oh you know it's a shame

How we always get the blame

Outcasts and louts to the end, they were just a bunch of boys out for a laugh and a few pints at the pub before calling it a night. There will never be another band like 'em again.

The Faces are:

Ron Wood - Guitar
Ian McLagan - Keyboards
Kenney Jones - Drums
Ronnie Lane - Bass
Rod Stewart - Vocals

Woody and Rod onstage

Next up: Second Helping by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

American Idol Presidency

Sinking fast

The news is getting pretty grim for the Clinton gang as more and more Democratic voters have become captivated by the charms of the smooth and suave senator from Illinois. Many of us in the Peanut Gallery are watching this drama unfold in a state of joyful glee as Mr. Obama methodically chips away at the ever diminishing possibility that the political couple from Hell will ever get a chance to return to Washington, DC for a dreaded second act.

It is all starting to play out like a well choreographed episode of American Idol where the out of nowhere long shot crooner from inner-city Chicago is beating the stuffing out of the well coached and expensively coiffed professional from Noo Yawk.

That this makes for gripping television there is no doubt but it may not necessarily be a good thing for the country in the long run. Actually perceiving and supporting a president by using the same criteria employed to judge the talents of a celebrity is not only a big mistake but is probably dangerous to our health. Writer Anthony Gregory hits the nail on the head with an article published Monday which amplifies this point quite well (here is an excerpt):

Obama promises lots more spending but he is an interesting case. He actually terrifies me precisely because I find him rather likeable. When a radical libertarian finds something to like in a statist of this caliber, you know we are dealing with a dangerous politician.

His appeal is somewhat understandable. Of course, much of Obama’s program is anathema, but on crucial issues like war and civil liberties, he sounds much less crazed than Bush, McCain or Hillary. Listen to the conciliatory way he puts things. He sounds much less offensive to many basic old liberal principles than the others.

Then it hits me. He’s not saying anything at all, really, except what everyone wants to hear. He is a masterful politician and represents what most Americans want out of their president – someone they can be proud of and feel good about, someone to shape their warm and fuzzy view of what it means to be American. This view varies somewhat, depending on the group, from the center left/progressive coalition that backs Obama to the neocon/theocon/Wall Street Bush coalition. But it is clear that most all Americans want a president they can respect.

I don’t. I don’t want Americans to get their faith back in the presidency. It is a horrible institution and the more the people give it blind trust based on the personality they see, the more awesome its power and abuses. In the 1970s, the presidency was gloriously disrespected and thus relatively impotent. Reagan brought faith back into the presidency, at least for the right and center. Clinton later did the same for the left and center. Their administrations were quite detrimental for American liberty.

Modern politicians get votes not mostly on their policies but rather on how they make people feel about America. When Americans favor the president more, they also tend to think more highly of the presidency. They want more from their government, and are less bothered when it commits great wrongs. It has been populist solidarity with the state that has created the democratic leviathan of the 20th century, with all its power to bomb, usurp and torture. Vast American pride in the presidency is what has allowed it to become the nation's master and such a menace to the world.

Americans shouldn’t look to the president for their self-respect, patriotism and cultural identity. The presidency in its current form is entirely too powerful and thus an inherently corrupting and inhumanely destructive thing. The presidency as it supposedly should be, under the Constitution, is a relatively humble office overseeing the executive branch, one of three composing a radically restrained government with very limited enumerated powers. Today, the presidency overshadows the other branches, the states, and all Constitutional and statutory limits on its power. In any event, why should 300 million people, and to a great extent the rest of the world, have to live under one all-powerful law enforcement official? The whole idea seems like some kind of insanity. How did this become the American way? If we are to restore our freedom, we need our compatriots to snap out of this trance. The silver lining in the Bush administration has been the disgust he has elicited so universally, especially among the left and center. This has constrained his actions somewhat. I am not looking forward to the many Americans turned off by the obvious horrors of the Bush administration once again respecting and trusting the president.

Short of a mass campaign against the omnipotent presidency itself, which Ron Paul’s has come closest to representing in modern electoral history, no presidential bid is going to excite me much. I prefer the president kill far fewer people and loot the country less. I prefer fewer peaceful prisoners to more. But we will all lose out on peace, freedom and wealth so long as Americans love and celebrate the presidency, looking to it as savior, moral guardian for the nation, stabilizer of the economy, provider of goods and necessities, protector against evil and liberator of the world. Indeed, given the choice between an Obama, Hillary or McCain who might breathe new life into the presidency and restore the respect and awe it once elicited; or, on the other hand, the stale, despised and pathetic George W. Bush, I am more than tempted to say: Four More Years!

He's not impressed.

In conclusion we all need to be a lot more like Simon and much less like Paula. Our continuing and dogged skepticism of these pretenders to a clearly un-Constitutional throne will be our enduring strength and salvation.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What I need?

Tonight I happened to walk by the television set and overhear Barack Obama delivering part of his victory speech in the Wisconsin primary. I was struck by an applause inducing sound bite from the Illinois senator wherein he emphatically stated that: "What the country needs is a president who will not always say what people want to hear but what they NEED to hear". This declaration was the follow up to a slew of government programs that he had just promised to implement upon gaining the presidency.

I'm glad that we have a candidate that is at least honest about his intentions to steal my wealth and run my life because I really, really need his help. It reminded me of an old Dylan lyric which seems to turn the entire notion on its head:

When Ruthie says come see her
In her honky-tonk lagoon,
Where I can watch her waltz for free
'Neath her Panamanian moon.
An' I say, "Aw come on now,
You must know about my debutante."
An' she says, "Your debutante just knows what you need
But I know what you want."

I do not plan to vote in this election either.

Bobby for president!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Tornados strike the South

Our part of the country has been getting slammed with tornadic activity over the past few weeks due to the presence of cold Arctic air masses that are diving south and colliding with warm unstable low pressure systems emanating from the Gulf of Mexico. Just last night another round of tornados touched down in western Florida and southern Alabama as yet another cold front pushed its way through Dixie.

Last week I traveled to a devastated area of north-central Tennessee as part of a relief team for Christian Disaster Response. We delivered emergency aid kits to a local church that had a set up a distribution center for storm victims in the town of Lafayette. We also did some field assessments to determine what further assistance was needed in the wake of these destructive storms.

Right now we are working to get contributions to help pay for the transportation of donated food from a group of farmers in the state of Washington who have generously given us food aid in the past, most recently for homeless fire victims in an isolated and mountainous section of rural San Diego County. If you would like to help here is the link to our website:

Distribution center for storm victims

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sunset in my neighborhood

Today's sunset marked the beautiful conclusion of a warm and sunny afternoon in February.

From Florida with love.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The groundhog definitely lives in Pennsylvania

Punxsutawney Phil came out of his heated den yesterday to proclaim that another six weeks of winter are upon us. Well I've got news for everyone: Phil doesn't live anywhere near Florida!

Here I sit on the afternoon following Groundhog Day with a forecast for temperatures to get up to around 85 degrees on each of the next three days and then "cool off " into the upper 70's. It is definitely the first time I've ever run the AC in February!

I'm not sure how to react to July weather on Super Bowl Sunday but since it's here there really ain't much I can do about it except maybe go and soak my head at the neighborhood pool.

Y'all have a Happy Halftime Show.

Our sunny subtropical neighborhood

White ibis cool off in the midday heat

A warm day under the jungle canopy

Saturday, February 02, 2008

To the Rescue

One of my favorite comic book superheroes as a child was Captain Marvel. Just by uttering the magical word Shazam young boy newscaster Billy Batson would instantly be transformed into that mighty defender of the universe Captain Marvel.

Lately it seems that government has been donning cape and tights to try and save various groups of people from the evils that lurk everywhere in contemporary society. I have three recent examples from this week's headlines that bring this point home most poignantly.

First we bring you the enlightened efforts of a group of selfless heroes in the Mississippi legislature who want to make it illegal for restaurants in that state to refuse service to people who have the wrong body mass index in the eyes of the government.

New bill would make it illegal for restaurants to serve the obese

FEBRUARY 1--Mississippi legislators this week introduced a bill that would make it illegal for state-licensed restaurants to serve obese patrons. Bill No. 282 is the brainchild of three members of the state's House of Representatives, Republicans W. T. Mayhall, Jr. and John Read, and Democrat Bobby Shows. The bill, which is likely dead on arrival, proposes that the state's Department of Health establish weight criteria after consultation with Mississippi's Council on Obesity. It does not detail what penalties an eatery would face if its grub was served to someone with an excessive body mass index.

Next we have some caped crusaders in New Mexico who want to prevent folks from ever getting that fat by urging the state government to levy a tax on video games and television sets, which, in theory, would offset the pernicious effects these products have in creating grossly obese people in the first place. Read on:

Finally we have the heroic Georgia state legislature voting 151-9 on Friday in favor of a resolution urging the NCAA to create a playoff system for college football. It seems that the good ol' boys in Atlanta were less than happy that their beloved college football team, the University of Georgia Bulldogs, were only afforded the opportunity to destroy the hapless University of Hawaii in a lopsided blowout in this year's edition of the Sugar Bowl and wind up finishing #2 in the national rankings. What an outrage of justice!

This certainly sounds like a call for governmental action if I ever heard one. A playoff system would have supposedly given the Dawgs a chance at the national glory that went instead to the Tigers of LSU. Sounds like a worthy crusade to me:

All in all I must say that it is comforting to know that there are real Captain Marvels out there every day attempting to save us from the nasty slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which by courageously opposing them will surely end them. Shazam indeed!