September 30, 2006

smileIn my last post, I provided a brief history of the Beach Boys’ legendary SMiLE album that group leader and producer Brian Wilson and lyricist Van Dyke Parks had planned for a Beach Boys release back in 1967, but, for a variety of reasons, never did – that is, until Brian’s own version was released in 2004. Now we’re ready to look at what the original version of SMiLE might – might – have sounded like had it been released in its original form sometime around March or May 1967, courtesy of my own (ahem) extensive research, and my trusty old DART (Digital Audio Restoration Technology) CD Recorder 4 software.

First, however, we need to transport ourselves back to a late ’66/early ’67 mindset and the common recording practices of that time and the limitations of the 33 1/3 RPM (“LP”) format. Brian’s 2004 release of Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE, was presented as sort of a three-act play, exploiting the flexibility of the CD format. But this was hardly the format SMiLE would have been presented in had it been released in LP format almost 40 years ago.

For the serious artists of the mid-to-late ’60s, the constraints of the LP format and the way record companies preferred to package material made for a delicate dance that balanced the artist’s need to produce “art” with the record company’s need to sell product. For SMiLE, this would have meant that the album’s perceived four strongest cuts – “Heroes and Villains“, “Cabin-Essence” (subsequently released as “Cabinessence“), the #1 hit “Good Vibrations“, and “Surf’s Up” would bookend each side of the album. “Heroes and Villains”, being the planned 45 RPM single, would have been the logical choice to lead off the album (although it really wouldn’t – see below), and the overwhelming success of “Good Vibrations” made it a logical choice to kick off Side 2. “Cabin-Essence”, being part of the “American pastoral” side of SMiLE, would have closed Side 1 out, with “Surf’s Up” the solid track that would close the album out.

With this framework in mind, then, and without further adieu, here is the track listing for my re-constituted SMiLE. Interestingly, as many SMiLE-related bootlegs as there are out there, none of tracks I selected for my compilation are from bootlegs; all are taken from previously-released material, including:

* Brian Wilson: Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE
* Beach Boys: Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys (box set)
* Beach Boys: Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace of a Musical Legacy
* Beach Boys: Smiley Smile/Wild Honey “two-fer”

Side 1:
1. Prayer
2. Heroes and Villains
3. Do You Like Worms?
4. Barnyard
5. The Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine
6. Wonderful
7. Child Is The Father To The Man
8. Heroes and Villains (Reprise)
9. Cabin-Essence

Side 2:
1. Good Vibrations
2. I’m In Great Shape
3. Vega-Tables (Promo)
4. Vega-Tables
5. The Elements Suite:
* a) On A Holiday (Earth)
* b) Wind Chimes (Air)
* c) Mrs. O’ Leary’s Cow (Fire)
* d) I Wanna Be Around / Workshop
* e) In Blue Hawaii (Water)
6. Surf’s Up

In this post, I’ll discuss the tracks associated with Side 1, with Side 2 planned for the next installment.

Side 1 Tracks:

1. Prayer : We know from bootlegged tapes of the SMiLE sessions that the a capella “Prayer” (released on the Beach Boys’ 1969 album 20/20 as “Our Prayer”), although not mentioned on the original album’s list of songs, was designed to serve as its intro. Brian had once said that one day he would write music that people would pray to; this piece sounds like the kind of thing he had in mind when he said that. I’m taking the version off the Good Vibrations box set (CD #2, track 18), for, while Brian’s band on the 2004 SMiLE disc do quite the nice job, their voices simply don’t have the separation and depth of those of the original Beach Boys, which, in this circa-’66 recording with 1969 overdubs, are, frankly, shimmering.

2. Heroes and Villains: As devised by Brian and Van Dyke, Heroes and Villains was not just intended as the first 45 RPM single to be released from SMiLE, it was also the underlying theme around which Side 1 was to be constructed around. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the song – couldn’t have said it better myself:

Composed in early 1966, “Heroes and Villains” was the first collaboration between Wilson and [Van Dyke] Parks, and it is reported that when Wilson first played the melody to him, Parks devised the opening line on the spot. Various musical themes in the song recur in numerous other songs and musical fragments which Wilson recorded for SMiLE.

The lyrics for “Heroes and Villains” exemplify the allusive and playful nature of Parks writing for SMiLE, evidently combining the experiences, feelings and preoccupations of both Wilson and Parks. Along with “Surf’s Up” and “Cabinessence” it is lyrically among the most complex and ambiguous of all The Beach Boys recordings. The “heroes and villains” concept has often been suggested as referring to the conflicts between Wilson and the other members of The Beach Boys, but there are clear references to Parks’ experiences as well.

While my version for SMiLE relies primarily on Brian’s 2004 version (except for his relatively-gruff vocal, the arrangement faithfully replicates the 1966-67 version), there is one minor change. We know from bootlegs that a brief 25-second a capella intro was also intended for this song, which happens to appear within the Good Vibrations box track “Heroes and Villains (Sections) [CD #2, track 20]. Adding it onto the start of the 2004 song not only restores what Brian had originally intended, it shows how adept (and willing) the Beach Boys were at trying to realize Brian’s whimsical vision for SMiLE. Once you’ve heard it here, you’ll never go back.

3. Do You Like Worms?: On Brian’s 2004 version, they call it “Roll Plymouth Rock”, but that’s only because Van Dyke Parks thought in retrospect the original title too obscure and pretentious. Perhaps he’s right, but the original title (at least in my version) stands. On my SMiLE, as in Brian’s 2004 version, this track immediately follows “Heroes and Villains”, with a transition between the two songs that is breathtaking. I’m also using the Brian’s 2004 version because it contains lyrics planned for the original version, but not recorded by the time SMiLE was abandoned – lyrics that were crucial to the story Parks and Wilson were trying to tell about American expansion and the triumphs and costs of the whole “manifest destiny” concept in its march westward from the shores of the Atlantic to the Hawaiian Islands:

Waving from the ocean liners,
beaded cheering Indians behind them.

Rock, rock, roll Plymouth Rock roll over
Rock, rock, roll Plymouth Rock roll over
Ribbon of concrete – just see what you done –
done to the church of the American Indian!

Once upon the Sandwich Isles,
the social structure steamed upon Hawaii.
Rock, rock, roll Plymouth Rock roll over
Rock, rock, roll Plymouth Rock roll over

Bicycle rider, just see what you’ve done-
done to the church of the American Indian!

Mahalo lu le, Mahalo lu la, Keeni waka pula
Mahalo lu le, Mahalo lu la, Keeni waka pula
Mahalo lu le, Mahalo lu la, Keeni waka pula
Mahalo lu le, Mahalo lu la, Keeni waka pula
Mahalo lu le, Mahalo lu la, Keeni waka pula

Rock, rock, roll Plymouth rock roll over.
Rock, rock, roll Plymouth Rock roll over.

As Parks is quoted in Domenic Priore’s SMiLE – The Story of Brian Wilson’s Lost Masterpiece, “It’s about bringing this Euro-sensibility into the taming of the American continent, from Plymouth Rock to Waikiki.” This march westward is told from the perspective of a “bicycle rider” (the playing card and the European), a recurring image in the song. Parks again: “It had to do with gambling and cards and so forth. And the church of the American Indian, of course, is the very property we claim now. …It’s just a different attitude, but an important one.”

4. Barnyard: No one is actually certain how “Barnyard” would have sounded on the original SMiLE, because, frankly, Brian hadn’t yet decided whether it was to be a section of “Heroes and Villains” or its own distinct entity. At any rate, because this track transitions seamlessly on Brian’s 2004 version, it sounds and fits perfectly here. This is a happy track, no sophistication, just a few playful lyrics sung around the band making animal noises (cows, pigs, chickens and the like!), invoking an image of family life on the American frontier:

Out in the barnyard, the cook is choppping lumber
Out in the barnyard, the chickens do their number

Ooooh… Ooooh…

Jump in the pigpen, next time I’ll take my shoes off
Hit the dirt, do a two-and-a-half, next time I’ll leave my hat on

Ooooh… Ooooh…

5. The Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine: Then, quickly, a brief cello intro that morphs into a mournful “You Are My Sunshine” sung in past tense:

You were my sunshine, my only sunshine
You made me happy when skies were gray
You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away

In the original 1966 recording, this is a soulful, heart-felt Dennis Wilson vocal, but otherwise, Brian’s 2004 version is identical.

(Note: This piece ends the initial “Heroes and Villains” suite, the “dying strings” sound anticipating the same technique featured at the close of “Glass Onion” on the Beatles’ “White Album” in 1968. Given that the Beatles, without Brian’s knowledge, heard much of the original SMiLE material while on a visit to L.A. in late 1966 – a previously-unreported visit now revealed by Peter Ames Carlin in his book Catch A Wave – The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that John Lennon’s idea for the “Glass Onion” ending was inspired by his hearing this recording.)

6. Wonderful: For my version of “Wonderful”, I’m admittedly going out on a limb here. We know this sweet, harpsichord-backed track beautifully replicated in all its 1966 glory on Brian’s 2004 version is not exactly in the form he originally conceived, because written evidence abounds that he intended some kind of whimsical interlude between the 2nd and 3rd verses to break the tension that exists in this “coming-of age” tale between a girl and a boy. What that “interlude” might actually have been in a 1967 release is anyone’s guess, but for my version I’ve included a section of wordless vocals backed by harmonica, bass and plucked violin within the Good Vibrations box track “Heroes and Villains (Sections) [CD #2, track 20]. I don’t think it’s exactly what Brian might have originally done, but I’m certain the spirit of it is close.

7. Child Is The Father To The Man: For the 2004 version, Van Dyke and Brian created a single track called “Song for Children” by combining a 1966 instrumental track called “Look” with another incomplete piece from the same period called “Child is the Father to the Man”. While some new lyrics were created for Brian’s 2004 version, they are minimal and fit perfectly onto a backing track which, to my ears, sounds identical to the 1966 recordings.

8. Heroes and Villains (Reprise): My finest hour (if I do say so myself) on this reconstituted version of SMiLE, and one I’m certain would meet with Brian’s approval, since it sounds so natural here. This piece takes yet another snippet within the Good Vibrations box track “Heroes and Villains (Sections) [CD #2, track 20], then appends onto that the final section of “Heroes and Villains (Alternative Take)” from the Smiley Smile/Wild Honey disk [track 23], a section that features an entirely different-sounding vocal arrangement and an additional, whimsical verse:

My children were raised you know they suddenly rise
They started slow long ago, head to toe, healthy, wealthy and wise

…At three-score-five, I’m very much alive
I’ve still got the jive to survive with the heroes and villains

Not only does this serve to reprise “Heroes and Villains” in a fun and unusual way, its arrangement and placement here makes it seem, after repeated listenings, as if it were always meant to be there.

9. Cabin-Essence: Lifted directly from the Good Vibrations box [CD #2, track 22], this track was originally released on the Beach Boys’ 1969 album 20/20 as “Cabinessence”, and it closes out Side 1 with a rush of aural magnificence. Brian’s brothers Carl and Dennis loved the SMiLE music, and they found a way to include at least snippets of SMiLE onto a number of Beach Boys albums following its abandonment. The inclusion of this track and “Prayer” (as “Our Prayer”) on 20/20 gave the world its first glimpse into the masterpiece that was lost when SMiLE was abandoned.

This track – one of my all-time favorites – defies description. Breathtaking in its use of cellos and violins backing vocals that rise and fall like winds sweeping across the prairie, Cabin-Essence is an aural depiction of the trans-continental railroad being built by Chinese laborers across a peaceful valley, arriving noisily, then taking their progress west towards the Pacific:

Light the lamp and fire mellow,
Cabin essence timely hello
Welcomes the time for a change.
Lost and found, you still remain there,
You’ll find a meadow filled with grain there
I’ll give you a home on the range.

Who ran the iron horse?

I want to watch you windblown facing,
Waves of wheat for your embracing
Folks sing a song of the grange.
Nestle in a kiss below there,
The constellations ebb and flow there
And witness our home on the range.

Who ran the iron horse?

Have you see the grand coolee workin’ on the railroad?
Over and over, the crow cries uncover the cornfield.
Over and over, the thresher and hover the wheat field

The obscure lyrics contained in its third and final section: “Over and over the crow flies, uncover the cornfield” are reputed to be at the core of the dispute between Beach Boys frontman Mike Love and Van Dyke that started SMiLE on it’s way to abandonment by Brian.

Coming soon: SMiLE Side 2.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:16 | Comments (2)
September 27, 2006

smileNow that we’ve had this kick-ass Dell XPS 400 for a while, I’ve been putting it through its paces the past few nights doing something I’ve always dreamed of doing for the past two years, but never had the technological capability of doing so – that is, building my own personalized version of the Beach Boys’ aborted SMiLE album from the various released and bootlegged material I’ve accumulated over the years.

First a quick SMiLE primer: It was mid-1966, and following the release of their now-legendary Pet Sounds album earlier that year, Brian Wilson, the group’s creative leader and producer, began using multiple recording studios and a new revolutionary technique of recording music not as one single entity, but as interchangeable components that could be assembled in their final desired sequence during the mixdown stage to create what would become the group’s second #1 hit, “Good Vibrations“.

It was during the Good Vibrations sessions that Brian hooked up with lyricist Van Dyke Parks and, working in a sandbox Brian had installed in his living room (!), and with a riff Brian had previously developed that reminded Parks of the old Marty Robbins hit “El Paso”, they constructed the song “Heroes And Villains”, that would become the backbone of what they planned would be an American pastoral theme culminating in a planned album they would come to call SMiLE.

Why “SMiLE”? As both Wilson and Parks recall, the idea was to try and recapture the core idealism of the Eisenhower and JFK ’60s years that had turned increasingly dark and cynical following the president’s assassination and America’s increasing involvement in Vietnam. Wanting to produce a work that rejected the then-hip quasi-British imitators of the British invasion and embraced (both good and bad) the American experience with a positive energy, the theme that ultimately emerged became part musical homage to the American expansion from Plymouth Rock all the way across the Pacific to Hawai’i as told from the vantage point of a bicycle rider (I kid you not!), part celebration of Brian’s more earthly pursuits at that time, such as health foods, astrology, and embracing the tangible elements of air, earth, fire, and water. As the album’s name implies, humor would also be a key ingredient, containing songs replete with imagery, wordplay, puns and multiple meanings.

As it turned out, the methodology employed by Brian was both a good and bad thing: good, because he could complete various bits and pieces in the studio instrumentally, leaving them sans vocals until the rest of the Beach Boys returned from their concert tours (Brian himself had retired from touring in mid’-64), upon which vocals would be laid down and the pieces completed. Bad, because so many of the parts he recorded were so interchangeable that, when it came down to crunch time and time to put all the pieces together into a logical theme, Brian, stressed out from from his increasing amphetamine use, business matters, and, most critically, resistance to this new music by Beach Boy frontman and former collaborator Mike Love, began to lose confidence in the project. As various deadlines passed and delivery of the finished product lagged by several months, Brian simply couldn’t figure out how to put all the pieces together and began distancing himself from the project.

After the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in June 1967, Brian knew his moment in time had passed him by. Rather than be allowed to stand on, and be judged on, its own as an advanced achievement, he feared SMiLE would always stand in comparison (and perhaps less favorably) to the Beatles’ masterpiece. SMiLE’s originally planned time had come and gone.

As the years passed and the Beach Boys began to release various pieces of SMiLE material (most particularly, the legendary “Cabinessence” and “Surf’s Up“) in subsequent albums, and bootlegs of recorded material became commonplace, the SMiLE legend grew and collectors began to search far and wide for any new material they could add to their collections.

But a whole, unified, released version of SMiLE? That would take many years…

When Brian released “Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE” in 2004, rather than end the mystery of SMiLE, his material – an exceptional piece of work on its own – only served to add new pieces to the puzzle for collectors. Let’s make one thing clear: no one really knows what the original version of SMiLE might have sounded like if it had been released in 1967 – after all, certain pieces that had been planned had never been completed – but for afficianados like myself, there were now new and exciting pieces of music available for them to consider and perhaps incorporate into their own personal versions of what they thought SMiLE might sound like.

Technologically, the constraints of recording CDs to cassette – which is all I had been able to do until recently – made it difficult to pull various pieces and sections out and put them back together in a different (and, in my view) more logical fashion. Until, that is, I discovered DART (Digital Audio Restoration Technology) CD Recorder 4, which basically turns your PC into a recording studio where you can manipulate sounds and milliseconds of music and cut and paste them into others to your heart’s content.

Thanks to DART, my personal version of what the original 1966 SMiLE recording might have sounded like is as complete as its gonna get (barring, of course, any future release of original SMiLE material, which, given next year’s 40th anniversary of the original sessions, is not out of the question!), and is now assembled and available for others to enjoy. Allow me to share with you my own personal vision of what Brian Wilson’s legendary SMiLE album might have sounded like.

NEXT: Building the “perfect” SMiLE.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:07 | Comment (1)
September 26, 2006

What do you want? This seems like such a basic question yet it is chok-a-blok loaded with connotations. Looking at the world with my continual wonder (or drunken haze ;) ), I can’t help but realize that VERY few people know the answer to this question. That is why the boat drinks (tribute to the Great White Shank) keep coming!! Oh, don’t get me wrong: ‘eternal peace and happiness’ iS an excellent answer but how can one possibly begin to measure that outcome. Is it good enough to not measure? To not really care about the outcome, but to just strive for it? Are we fixated with ‘measurable outcomes’ these days? Can’t we just ‘be excellent to each other’ and leave it at that?

Well, in some cases maybe, but if you don’t know what you want, how can anyone else on the planet ever help you in achieving such a want or desire. Figure it out. Write it down. Peer in to your soul for answers, because the answers are there. Lots of us just float through life with few big plans; few ideas of grandeur, but if you really want to achieve you gotta revisit that notion. In your work life, your sporting life, your relationship life, if people and teams within that realm KNOW what you want, chances are that they will help and support you in achieving it. Not all people suck…sometimes they even try to lower your handicap. :) (and buy you boat drinks!!)

Filed in: Uncategorized by Kerry at 21:27 | Comment (1)
September 25, 2006

It is another gorgeous day here on the West Coast of Canada, waking up to the changing seasons, a cool northern breeze, and the dropping of the leaves; crisp sunshine burning through the lingering dew drops of the soul. It is hard to believe that amid such beauty, such violence can rage.

The newpaper headlines of raging violence could be picked from any paper, or magazine, world wide, on any day of the week in any language, or culture. It seems to have no borders.

The U.S.A. – Canada Border was virtually shut down yesterday for most of the day as the FBI alerted the RCMP that a violent offender was heading North to Canada on a motorbike. This sounds like a tale out of a Monty Python act; was he armed with a super squirter? At any rate, in protest, the Canadian Border Guards, who are not armed (but CAN be dangerous ;) ), walked off the job, fearing for their safety.

Point taken. The way to quell any fear is with a Colt 45 as a sidearm, right? Let’s face it, those people that are the most afraid, lock their doors, have a burglar alarm, own a gun, take precautions. Those that don’t do these things are either plain naive or stupid {severe sarcasm alert here!}. Those people that somehow are able to look past the evil in the world and still see all the good and the beauty must just not get it, right? I mean who cannot understand that guns will cure the problem? He who carries the biggest one, wins. Is that really how history will be written. Did Gandhi and Lennon have it all wrong? Are the nuclear reactors in Iran and Pakhistan simply for energy? Everyone should just relax. The brainwashing of various sects of society which starts in infancy doesn’t really want to see the western world blown off the map. They must see the beauty of our mornings! I am sure it was misquoted when the senior director of Intelligence for the U.S. told the Pakistani president to be prepared to be bombed back into the stone age! (if they didn’t cooperate with the U.S.) Yikes. How will this cycle of violence ever end? Maybe the world should look a little harder for the beauty in each day and start leading instead of following.

Filed in: Uncategorized by Kerry at 10:06 | Comments (0)
September 24, 2006

…or, as they are known now, Hawai’i. We’ve been looking forward to this vacation for a long time, and now that’s it’s here, well, we’re ready to go. I’ve never been a fan of the idea of vacation-blogging – no matter how much one enjoys it, I think it’s both healthy and a good thing to take a break from it once in a while.

But don’t worry – Goodboys Nation will not lie dormant while I’m gone. I’ve been working on a three-part post re: reconstruction of various Brian Wilson and Beach Boys SMiLE-related releases into my own personal CD version (one, BTW, I’ll be glad to copy for those who are interested), that I think gets much closer to Brian’s original concept than what has been formally released. Combining research from a variety of written sources and my DART CD Recording Studio software, creating this version of SMiLE has been a labor of love, and, while I’m sure the majority out there could probably care less, the posts have been fun to write and, I hope, provide a interesting read. The first two parts are done, the third will come shortly after I return. Take ‘em what you will. :-)

But that’s not all! My good friends Rob (from CrabAppleLane Blog) and Kerry from (KO Living the Blog…) have graciously and generously offered to post an entry or two as the spirit moves them while I’m gone, so please check in on a daily basis to see what surprises await, and be sure to visit their own regular blogs as well.

God willing, The Great White Shank will return to this blogging station October 4. Until then, my thanks go out to all of you who have made Goodboys Nation a regular part of your daily internet blog viewing experience. We’ve been averaging more than 100 hits a day for a while now, and it’s always nice to get e-mails and comments from people all over the country (and in some cases, the world) saying, whether they agree or disagree with my own political philosophies, they always find something unusual and unique here, which is something I had set out to do from the start.

Well, time to pack and wait for the cabana bar to arrive. Oh, I’m sorry, more on that when I get back!

Take care, everyone, and see y’all back here October 4!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:59 | Comment (1)
September 23, 2006

I’ve only got so much room in my suitcase for our week-long Hawaiian cruise coming up, so here are some news notes and observations to help reduce the amount of baggage I’ll be bringing (as if I don’t have enough of my own…):

* Did you know yesterday (Sept. 22) was Elephant Appreciation Day? That’s right! And this site has everything you’ll need to celebrate the day – well, one day later. No wonder Academic Elephant at Red State is so excited. As he notes, tweaking those of the opposition party):

It’s a wonderful holiday in honor of a very special animal, which in 1874 became the symbol of the Republican party. While the GOP elephant’s entry into the political realm was not terribly auspiscious, the mascot stuck because elephants are loyal, intelligent, stalwart and fearsome when provoked. The jackass, on the other hand, well, this is a post about elephants so we will leave that topic for another day. It’s happy hour, folks–so raise a glass to all the brave and true pachyderms of the world.

Indeed.

* I’m a big BIG fan of The Weather Channel and its cadre of female meterologists, and I’ll bet they’re none too pleased at what stories like these means to their profession. (Hat tip: TheStormTrack)

* Tiger Woods hit his first drive into the water today and the Americans are down early 5-3, to the Europeans at the Ryder Cup. The heroes of the day were those Spaniards, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia, who were basically flawless in ever aspect of their game. Funny how Sergio can’t play the majors but does so well at the Ryder Cup. Today is a big day for the Americans, who can’t afford to lose any more ground to their hosts if they want to have a chance in the final mano a mano matches scheduled for tomorrow.

* When I first heard the story about the “official” Arizona state 9/11 memorial, I thought it was a joke – just a bunch of radio station hosts yanking on Governor Janet Napolitano‘s chains, but Flopping Aces has the lowdown on it and it’s, frankly, an unbelievable and inexcusable example of political moonbatiness and incredibly insensitive to the events it purports to memorialize. Not to mention being a true waste of public funds. (Hat tip: Free Republic)

* More good news about the progress in Iraq you won’t read on the front page of your local newspaper or hear from those like “The Perk” during your evening dinner:

Coalition forces in Iraq have suddenly received the manpower equivalent of three light infantry divisions. They did not suffer any repercussions in domestic politics as a result, and now have a huge edge over al-Qaeda in al-Anbar province. How did this happen? Tribal leaders in the largely Sunni province on the Syrian border got together and signed an agreement to raise a tribal force of 30,000 fighters to take on foreign fighters and terrorists.

As I mentioned the other day, it’s stories like this that could make it more difficult every day for the mainstream dino-media to project Iraq as a strife-torn total failure. There may indeed be difficult days ahead for Iraqis, but political and military strategy and its outcome should be a part of the journalistic equation. (Hat tip: Instapundit)

* Kudos to “Big Papi” David Ortiz on setting the Red Sox club record for most home runs during a single season. His 51st and 52nd home runs last night broke the club record of 50 previously held by Hall-of-Famer Jimmie Foxx. For one night, the disappointment of this season was forgotten, and Fenway Park once again became a rockin’ place. It was fun to watch and a joy to behold.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:50 | Comment (1)
September 22, 2006

…that the good folks down in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast still need a lotta help and support from everyone out there. Recently, my good friend Rock from Slidell, LA sent me this aerial photo of the flooding that took place in and around his town following the Industrial Canal levee breeches. (If you look closely at the photo, you’ll see a silver “L”-shaped building just right of center at the top; Rock’s shop is right by there. You can see just how extensive the flooding was.)

Believe me, folks, there’s still a lot of people down there trying to put their lives back together. That’s why it’s so important that we lend our support in any and every way we can. Here are a couple of ways you can help:

* Check the links supplied by Leslie, Andy, and Adrienne at Katrina Networking. They’re working hard to help the folks out in Hancock County, Mississippi so devastated by the actual hurricane itself.

* Leslie herself has a new page devoted to those wishing to help artists and artisans along the Gulf Coast. The artwork you’ll find there are fantastic, and any purchases you make will help them out a great deal.

* Ken DiLiugi at the American Red Cross chapter in Gloucester County, NJ reports they have a desperate need for desktop and laptop computers to help those Katrina refugees still displaced in New Jersey use video conferencing technology to keep track of the progress being made on their homes back in Louisiana as they are made inhabitable again.

* Make plans for a long vacation weekend in New Orleans. This, of course, is perhaps one of the best things you can do to help. Not only does it put spending money in the hands of those whose livelihoods depend on travel and hospitality, but it raises awareness and lays the foundation for more and more visitors to come. My favorite hotel there, the Omni Orleans, like many other French Quarter hotels, have extremely favorable rates, and you won’t be disappointed at the ambience of the Rib Room bar by those magnificent Swedish ivys. Now that summer is over, the weather should be spectacular! Please consider adding New Orleans to your fall travel plans – I did it and had a great time.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:05 | Comments (0)
September 21, 2006

Now that Labor Day, the fifth anniversary of 9/11, and the last of the primaries are behind us, the road is clear to the mid-term elections less than two months away. Be prepared for political ads coming out of the woodwork, charges and rebuttals flying back and forth quicker than the Red Sox’ fall from grace in the American League East, and prognosticators publishing their useless polls that people either breathlessly trumpet or freak out over, depending on their results.

A few observations, helpful links, and things to take note and keep track of as we hurtle our way towards Election Day:

1) The President’s approval rating. The latest from Gallup shows it in the mid-40s, and while this is something the White House can take some satisfaction in and pundits will continue to breathlessly monitor, the fact is, he ain’t running this year! While it is obvious that the President’s speeches over the past several weeks on the Global War on Terror – culminating in his fine 9/11 address last week – have helped improve his ratings, the question is, what effect (if any) will it have on local House and Senate races? My guess is, little.

2) Keep an eye on gas prices. It’s now obvious to everyone that the $3 plus gas prices earlier this year were primarily based on market forces – in this case, speculators anticipating supply problems due presumed reduced refining capacities in the U.S. and the risk of hurricanes. Because neither of which occurred, U.S. home-heating stockpiles are up, and the impact of the Alaska pipeline leak appears to be minimal, gas prices continue to fall. I heard Hannity & Colmes’ Alan Colmes make an off-the-cuff comment the other night about prices coming down “just in time for the election”. While you can guarantee that Democrats will pick up this drumbeat, that dog ain’t gonna hunt. Most consumers are now well aware that oil, like housing, is just another commodity whose prices are dictated by market forces around the world. Last week’s surge in consumer confidence reflects those lower gas prices, and, while it may not help Republican candidates per se, it takes away from Democrats a critical “bread and butter” issue they could have pounded Republicans on.

3) The economy. The Democrats and their cohorts in the dino-media will do all they can to keep you from hearing this, but folks, the economy is humming along nicely, thank you. In the next few weeks, you’ll hear both Republican and Democrat candidates drag out the tired old “are you better off now than you were x number of years ago?”, and for most people, the answer should be a resounding “yes!”. While you’d think good economic news would be sufficient by itself to help Republicans maintain their majority in the Congress, how well they ultimately do will depend on two overriding factors: Iraq and Republican GOTV efforts.

4) Iraq is the 800-lb. gorilla in the middle of every 2006 election living room that won’t go away. The administration up until now has not done a good job publicizing the real progress being made in Iraq, allowing anti-war Democrats to frame the issue politically for their own purposes, as is their right and obligation to their constituents. However, with the latest steps being taken by Iraqis to assume more control over their own security and the new push to reduce sectarian violence in Baghdad, expect the decline in American casualties to continue, and the President’s recent words on the subject to be reflected by improving news on the ground.

5) Republican GOTV. The GOP’s traditional fundraising and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) advantages will be sorely tested this fall, as there are many areas in which the Republican-led Congress has fallen short in the eyes of many conservatives. How the House and Senate’s GOP leadership performs over the next few weeks on spending and earmarks legislation, illegal immigration (funding the wall along our southern border), the President’s anti-terror initiatives (the NSA terrorist wiretapping program and the so-called “torture guidelines” legislation), and Presidential nominees (John Bolton and district court nominees) will have a huge impact on local GOTV efforts.

So what can we expect?

The focus of Democratic candidates between now and November will be on the missteps in Iraq. Politically, that’s really all they have going for them, since just about every other tactic they’ve tried over the past several months has – at least thus far – failed to stick. Because their party has been taken over by Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, and the far-left, “blame America first” progressive crowd, Democrats are having a very difficult time making voters believe they can be tough and trusted when it comes to national security issues. Don’t believe me – check this out (Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt). If all the Democrats have to run on is Iraq, their chances for taking control of any house of Congress are slim indeed.

The goal of Republicans is to try and convince the voting public of what the impact of Democrats taking over one or more houses of Congress would mean: less control over illegal immigration, increased taxes, a less-vigilant war on terrorism, withdrawal from Iraq, and activist judges. The next few weeks will be crucial to motivating the base to come out and vote, and it will be up to House and Senate Republicans to give their base something worth coming out and voting for.

How well both parties can get their message out and energize their respective bases to take the time to go and vote will determine the makeup of Congress as we point our way towards the 2008 Presidential election season.

One final note: The ‘X’ Factor. The one caveat anyone trying to predict what will happen in the upcoming elections is that thing called the “X factor. What would happen if the Iraq government collapses, or terrorists blow up subways trains in Washington, D.C., or something happens to the President, Osama Bin Laden is captured and/or killed, or something else unthinkable happens to change the status quo. That’s why, dear readers, the pundits you will hear happily chatting away on the cable networks between now and November are just that – pundits.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 02:17 | Comments (0)
September 20, 2006

So, this this is what the U.N. has come to, eh? The president of Venezuela calls the leader of the country that kicks in five billion (that’s billion with a ‘b’) dollars a year – far more than any other country on this planet ever would – for its very survival a devil. Great. Not exactly what Eleanor Roosevelt and the original crew had in mind, I’m sure. One need only compare the comical, hysterical tone of Chavez’s speech today with the dignified, measured tone of one of the U.N.’s biggest champions. Ah Eleanor, no wonder you’re one of my heroes!

Is it just me, or does it seem as if more and more world leaders are losing touch with the whole idea of decorum and quiet diplomacy? I mean, you can despise a nation and even it’s leader, but in a U.N. General Assembly, with representatives of every sovereign nation represented, shouldn’t the U.N. be above this? That this institution, once-high-minded and respected, now largely irrelevent, ineffective, and scandal-ridden does not and cannot shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. One look at the U.N.’s incompetence and corruption, and the abominable behavior that’s been allowed to transpire under Annan’s reign would tell you that.

Of course, if you invite skunks to a party, don’t be surprised if the place stinks afterwards. A thug dictator like Chavez calls the U.S. president a devil and complains about American dominance in the world? This coming from the leader of a country awash in oil profits and poverty at the very same time?

Then, later on, a podium is provided to a country’s president who has repeatedly called for the annihilation of another sovereign nation? Here, as NRO’s Anne Bayefsky writes, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, didn’t exactly color himself in glory, either:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad outdid himself in the pathological-liar category. He talked about truth, though he disputes the Holocaust. He talked about peace, though he supplied Hezbollah with the 3,900 missiles shot into Israel less than two months ago. He talked about justice, though the Iranian criminal “justice” system includes crucifixion, stoning, and cross-amputation of the right hand and left foot. He talked about the dangers of nuclear weapons, though he is hell-bent on their acquisition. And he talked about the evils of Zionism, though he doesn’t have a problem with self-determination for non-Jews.

Hugh Hewitt found the way the Iranian president closed his speech chilling:

He closed with a disturbing heartfelt appeal/prayer, which is a warning to the West: “I am emphatically declare that today’s world more than ever before longs for just and righteous people with love for all humanity, and above all longs for the perfect, righteous human being and the real savior who has been promised to all peoples and who will establish justice, peace and brotherhood on the planet. [The Twelfth Imam] Oh Almighty God, all men and women are your creatures and you have ordained their guidance and salvation. Bestow upon humanity that thirst for justice, the perfect human being promised to all by you, and make us among his followers among those who strive for his return and his cause.”

Ahmadinejad is setting up Iran to defy the Security Council, and is establishing a precedent for all future rogue regimes. If the Security Council does not rebuke this challenge and impose sanctions, the organization, teetering on the brink of irrelevance, will fall over that cliff.

Back to Chavez for a moment. He did get one thing right during his speech today – calling for the dissolution and relocation of the U.N., something I am 100% in full agreement with. As he said during his speech:

I don’t think anybody in this room could defend the system. Let’s accept — let’s be honest. The U.N. system, born after the Second World War, collapsed. It’s worthless.

Oh, yes, it’s good to bring us together once a year, see each other, make statements and prepare all kinds of long documents, and listen to good speeches, like Abel’s (ph) yesterday, or President Mullah’s (ph). Yes, it’s good for that.

And there are a lot of speeches, and we’ve heard lots from the president of Sri Lanka, for instance, and the president of Chile.

But we, the assembly, have been turned into a merely deliberative organ. We have no power, no power to make any impact on the terrible situation in the world. And that is why Venezuela once again proposes, here, today, 20 September, that we re-establish the United Nations.

…And maybe we have to change location. Maybe we have to put the United Nations somewhere else; maybe a city of the south. We’ve proposed Venezuela.

That, Mr. Chavez, is a great idea. And one whose fruition can’t come soon enough for many in the U.S. who can think of far better ways to spend five billion dollars than wasting it on a broken, worn-out institution like the one your presence and overblown rhetoric polluted today.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 20:07 | Comments (0)

pirateAaaaarggghhhh! Did you know September 19th is (was) “International Talk Like A Pirate Day”? A great day to hoist a few rums and beers with friends, grab yourself a good pirate nickname, cover one’s eye with a patch, and basically make a fool out of yourself.

Come to think of it, with the exception of the eye patch, you could be talking about a traditional Goodboys Invitational weekend….

As Quint would say, this isn’t like chasing bluegills or tommycocks, this is the real thing! So, rather than have my morning coffee I made myself a boat drink (Myers’s Rum, OJ, Bacardi Light Rum, Three Palms Pineapple Rum), then went here to and got my own pirate nickname (mine turned out to be “Sharkbait Doug Grimm”). I think I like The Great White Shank better…

BTW, my favorite Pittsburgh Pirate was Willie Stargell.

I felt a kinship with Jimmy Buffett when he sang his song “A Pirate Looks At Forty”:

Mother, mother ocean, I have heard you call
Wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall
You’ve seen it all, you’ve seen it all

…Yes, I am a pirate, two hundred years too late
The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothin’ to plunder
I’m an over forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late

Of course there’s nothing wrong with the pirate mentality. Out here in “Pleasant Valley Sunday” Gilbert, AZ, where “rows of houses are all the same and no one seems to care”, I think it’s an absolute necessity to keep one’s self from going mad. Especially when your neighbor is pi$$ed at you ’cause you refuse to trim your bouganvillea that’s making eyes at his driveway and a lemon tree that – gasp!- has crossed a whole 8″ over the wall our properties share. What an a$$. Now there’s someone who needs to be hung from the poop deck in his skivvies and left to the sharks!

Aye, that’ll suit him fine. Aaaarrrghhhh!!!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:10 | Comments (0)

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