December 21, 2012

…so wrote Jim Morrison of The Doors in their iconic tune “Roadhouse Blues”. Now I’m not really that much into this whole Mayan prophecy bit about the world ending today – if it will end, or is ending as we speak. But hey, I’m up for a catyclysmic event if only to shake things up for a change. With the spirit of Morrison’s sentiments in mind, therefore, here are my top dozen favorite Doors songs, in a very particular order:

12. Peace Frog / Blue Sunday – from Morrison Hotel. Very ’60s sounding, always liked the sweet organ that adorns the background of Blue Sunday.

11. Hyacinth House – from L.A. Woman. Love the guitar and drums in the opening and the bass throughout. Just a funky, very late-60s / early-’70s tune. Reminds me of the music that used to play in the background at the head shop (remember those?) we used to ride our bikes down to in Wilmington center.

10. Love Her Madly – from L.A. Woman. Hearing this song makes me think of my late brother Mark, who brought home the 45 when this song first came out. I wasn’t crazy about it at the time, but he was doing a bit of trailblazing there, I think, while I was still stuck in the Beatles and their initial post-Beatle work. The extended fadeout on the remastered 2007 album version makes the song for me.

9. Touch Me – from The Soft Parade. This was from the period in 1968 when Morrison and band were being savaged by the critics for selling out, but this is a bluesy pop tune with awesome organ and drums highlighted by an electrifying sax solo to close.

8. Horse Latitudes – from Strange Days. Psychedelia reigns! OK, it’s not really a song but I love the imagery in Morrison’s poetry. Real beatnick style stuff I can only begin to wish I had the talent to write:

When the still sea conspires an armor
And her sullen and aborted currents breed tiny monsters
True sailing is dead

Awkward instant And the first animal is jettisoned
Legs furiously pumping their stiff green gallop
And heads bob up Poise, delicate, pause, consent in mute nostril agony
Carefully refined and sealed over

Cool stuff.

7. The End – from The Doors. Iconic, spooky, intense, and surprisingly still fresh-sounding after 45 years, something you can’t say for all Doors music.

6. Riders On The Storm – from L.A. Woman. What’s not to like about this tune? Moody, a little spooky, a great tune with fabulous Morrison lyrics. The song had me from the first sound of rain falling and thunder – what a sucker I am! I remember laying in bed in 1971 listening to WRKO announce that Morrison had been found dead in Paris, and then they played this song. First time I ever heard it. It was a hot muggy July night back in the days before A/C, a night I’ll always remember.

5. (tie) Ship Of Fools and Land Ho! – from Morrison Hotel. Really great tunes, and from Ship Of Fools, truly Mayan-esque prophetic lyrics:

The human race was dyin’ out
Noone left to scream and shout
People walking on the moon
Smog will get you pretty soon

I remember a weekend afternoon in New Orleans and ducking into Pat O’Brien’s on Bourbon Street when it started to thundershower. It was in the bar on the left as you first enter that I planted myself on a stool and watched a boring pre-season NFL game featuring the Cincinnati Bengals (don’t ask me why I remember this) with a crowd of three people. Well, it was so quiet in there that I ambled over to the jukebox and found Morrison Hotel amongst the listings and played these two songs. Ten minutes later, there were guys and chicks in there encouraging to play DJ and I got the place rockin’ and rollin’ with all kinds of vintage stuff – that is, until I got a little too ambitious and took the starch out of the proceedings by playing The Beach Boys’ “Heroes And Villains”. Talk about a momentum killer! It was about time to go anyways. A fun memory…

4. Cars Hiss By My Window – from L.A. Woman. Bluesy. Simple. Fantastic. The title alone is awesome; reminds me growing up on Main Street in Tewksbury, Mass. To this day I still love falling asleep to the sound of traffic on the street, especially after it rains. Don’t get too much of that around here in Gilbert (although the trains that come through around 2 AM every night blowing their whistles at a nearby crossing is nice enough). The title is one of the sounds of growing up, and a memory I’ll always cherish.

3. The Wasp (Texas Radio And The Big Beat) – from L.A. Woman. Not sure what Morrison is trying to say here – maybe the downfall and collapse of Western civilization after a Mayan prophect fulfilled – but it has a great beat and features some very cool poetry:

Some call it heavenly in it’s brilliance
Others, mean and rueful of the Western dream
I love the friends I have gathered together on this thin raft
We have constructed pyramids in honor of our escaping
This is the land where the Pharaoh died

The Negroes in the forest brightly feathered
They are saying, “Forget the night.
Live with us in forests of azure.
Out here on the perimeter there are no stars
Out here we is stoned immaculate.”

Listen to this, and I’ll tell you ’bout the heartache
I’ll tell you ’bout the heartache and the loss of God
I’ll tell you ’bout the hopeless night
The meager food for souls forgot
I’ll tell you ’bout the maiden with wrought iron soul

A great tune.

2. L.A. Woman – from L.A. Woman. I love the intro restored in the 2007 remastered version of the album. The song conjures up every mental picture I have of downtown L.A. in Morrison’s day. I remember dragging my friend Paul and his brother down La Cienega Blvd. during a visit in the late ’70s looking for the same bars and strip joints that Morrison frequented. Let me tell ya – it wasn’t as romantic as it sounded. The traffic was awful, and we couldn’t wait to get to haul our asses outta there. Took a long time to live that down – to this day it’s known as the “Hawthorne/La Cienega Blvd. fiasco”. I’ll tell y’all about it in more detail another time. But that’s inspiration for ya…

1. Roadhouse Blues – from Morrison Hotel. Raucous and bluesy, feauturing a cool harmonica and great lyrics. I mean, do they get better than this?

Well, I woke up this morning, I got myself a beer
Well, I woke up this morning, and I got myself a beer
The future’s uncertain, and the end is always near

Hence the inspiration for this post and my favorite Doors tune.

BTW, if you like The Doors and have only heard their stuff on LP or the original CDs, do yourself a favor and get the remastered releases from 2007. It’s like listening to their stuff for the very first time.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:43 | Comments (3)
December 20, 2012

…as the days grow shorter and all eyes are on the calendar waiting to see if the Mayans were right. My guess is this is yet another ancient prophecy to pass without nary a whimper or shrug. Still…

Maybe it’s just me getting older, but every time I watch It’s A Wonderful Life I seem more attracted to the glitz and tawdry sizzle of “Potterville” more than boring, frumpy Bedford Falls. I especially like that lounge they show where the Hawaiian music is eminating from. My favorite part is when Sheldon Leonard, bartender of “Nick’s” (the Martini place in Bedford Falls) tells George Bailey and Clarence that “we serve hard drinks to men who like to get drunk fast”, then, calling them both a couple of pixies, asks that “the gentlemen” are “escorted out”. They’re then tossed out in the snow like yesterday’s trash and Nick starts ringing up angels on the cash register. Now that’s my kind of no-nonsense establishment!

I really like Alistair Sim in the b/w version of Scrooge, but this year I really enjoyed watching once again Henry Winkler in An American Christmas Carol. It’s a really great holiday film.

But the best thing about Christmas on DVD is watching the All Creatures Great And Small year 2 episode “Merry Gentlemen”. It fun, warm-hearted, and just a joy to watch:

This episode of All Creatures Great and Small has become a must-watch for my family during the holiday season because it gives us a chance to re-experience the taste of a Yorkshire Christmas, spiced with clever dialogue, excellent acting, and neatly interwoven subplots. The stories include those of a gypsy family, a beloved donkey, a near-tragedy for Mrs. Pumphrey and Triki Woo, and a mysterious skeleton in a locked room. The episode also involves a close call with tetanus for Tristan (and the donkey), a test of Siegfried’s miraculous cake-judging ability, a sample of his success at gruffly dispensing wisdom to family members and clients, and finally his efforts to arrange for all a “real, old-fashioned, Yorkshire Christmas.” In this neatly composed episode look for a surprise nativity tableau in a humble stable and stick around through the credits for a glimpse of Triki’s visit from “Santa.” All in all, it’s a particularly well directed segment (thanks,Christopher Barry) of a superior TV series.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. It really is a must see. The whole series was great, especially the first three seasons.

I’m actually torn about this. On one hand, people obviously have a right to express their opinion about things no matter how ignorant they appear to sound (hey, the nightly MSNBC lineup has made ignorance their specialty), but on the other hand I’m sick of people seeing everything and anything through the prism of race. I thought the 2008 election of Barack Obama was supposed to usher in a “post-racial America”; instead, it’s gotten worse – and primarily because of liberals who see coded words and racism everywhere.

One final political note: I’m sick of watching Republicans flailing around trying to negotiate with Barack Obama on avoiding the so-called “fiscal cliff”. Do they not understand he’s just playing them for fools and has no intention of doing anything but making them look even more foolish than they already look? For God’s sake, you clowns, just walk away and let it happen. Methinks Senator Rand Paul is right: let this President and his Democrat cronies own every single tax increase that comes down the pike. This is what American in their stupidity and ignorance voted for; let them see just what happens when the producers and job creators of this country cut back on producing and creating jobs. This country deserves the so-called “leadership” in Washington they voted for.

Filed in: Politics & World Events,Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:29 | Comments (0)
December 19, 2012

Thoughts after putting up our Christmas lights. I don’t know if these are my faves of all time, but you can be sure I’ve got them in my rotation for this Christmas season:

15. I’ll Be Home For Christmas – Jimmy Buffett. I dunno, I just like this version. Perfect with a glass of pinot grigio under happy glowing pineapple lights on the back patio on a chilly December night.

14. Once In Royal David’s City. One of my all-time favorite Christmas carols. Done right, it never fails to send chills down my spine and tears to my eyes. Makes me glad to have been born, raised and bred as an Anglo-Catholic, as I always will be. Guarantee my Mom and my Auntie Marge are going to love this. Enjoy!

13. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow – Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. I absolutely love the cleanness of the arrangement, the guitar (with an ever-so-slight echo) and trombone are featured here. The whole album is a must for our house every Christmas with its quiet joy and a touch of whimsy.

12. Little St. Nick – The Beach Boys. ‘Nuff said.

11. White Is The Winter Night– Enya. Just a pretty and joyful seasonal song from one of my favorite artists. The mileage she gets out of echoed, clipped synth strings never ceases to amaze me. The lyrics are positively delightful: “Green is in the mistletoe and red is in the holly, silver in the stars above that shine on everybody. Gold is in the candlelight and crimson in the embers, white is in the winter night that everyone remembers.” All that’s missing in the arrangement are sleighbells; they would have added a nice touch.

10. The Most Wonderful Time Of the Year – Andy Williams. Because you know in your heart of hearts that it’s not really Christmas without Andy. May he rest in peace.

9. Child Of Winter – The Beach Boys. A 1974 cut that never really saw the light of day. It’s a great little rockin’ tune with Mike Love on the lead and Brian Wilson doing the little dopey narration towards the end. Listen for the Moog synthesizer throughout as it becomes a little more prominent towards the end. A very cool cut.

8. The Christmas Waltz – Frank Sinatra. The whole Frank Christmas CD is as good as it gets. Not a bad track to be found. Christmas popular music as it should be – too bad our culture doesn’t know what taste, class, and appreciation means anymore.

7. All I Want For Christmas– Mariah Carey. You can’t tell me Mariah wasn’t inspired by Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift To You in this rollicking piece of holiday cheer. The song’s intro tells you that – all that’s missing are the tenor and alto saxes. The piano and driving bass, and the postively stratospheric note she hits towards the end does it for me. Heard it the first time while driving from the Providence airport to my folks house. Didn’t know who did it, but I loved it immediately. The background vocals could be a little more dynamic and interesting; imagine what this would sound like if they were done by The Beach Boys? In my mind, it gets better (and higher ranked) every year.

6. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – Plastic Ono Band. Sure, John and Yoko sing this classic tune from 1971, but this is really Phil Spector‘s bag. Multiple acoustic guitars (played by Badfinger), sleigh bells, percussion, shimmering strings (as only Phil could do). It’s Spector at the top of his game. The accompanying “official” video is disturbing, just as Lennon wanted it.

5. Morning Christmas – Dennis Wilson. Haunted and moody like the artist himself, a dense production with lots of synthesizer and bass harmonica; the tag at the end is breathtaking in its beauty. No pop artist before or after did music like Dennis Wilson did. Incredible.

4. In Praise Of Christmas – Loreena McKennitt. From To Drive The Dark Winter Away. Not a bad track on the entire CD, it’s (at least in my view) a must have for everyone’s Christmas music collection.

3. “O Holy Night” – Ricky Lee Jones. Backed by The Chieftains on their Bells Of Dublin release. I know what you’re thinking – Rickie Lee Jones??? – but listen – she does a great job. Nothing fancy, stunning in a folksy way. I love the way she pronounces the word “hear”. When she goes high it’s very pretty.

2. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” – The Ronettes. OK, I know what you’re thinking – there goes The Great White Shank again, off on another Ronettes / Phil Spector tangent. For the sake of brevity all I’ll say is this: y’all know what I think about The Ronettes and Phil’s Christmas album, so let’s just leave it at that. It really doesn’t get a whole lot better than this – and I’m not talkin’ Christmas music, I’m talking classic pop music in general.

1. Blue Christmas. You know who does it. The absolute freakin’ best pop Christmas song ever recorded, hands down. Sparse piano, guitar, stand-up bass, the Jordanaires, all backing the King. How on God’s green earth do you improve on that? You don’t. Two minutes and nine seconds of perfection.

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December 18, 2012

So, how y’all like? This is what our dining table looks like in the “Arizona room” this Christmas season. Pretty neat, huh? This is the Fontanini nativity set my brother Dave and his wife had been sending us for a dozen years or so after we got married, perched underneath the prettiest aluminum Christmas tree $17 will buy you at Big Lots. It’s really very cool – almost makes you think the Baby Jesus is being born in Switzerland or Finland, doesn’t it?

The Fontanini set has always been a fave in our house, and it was fun watching it grow every year as we’d get yet another piece for the set. It’s beautiful stuff. Not sure why they stopped coming – I guess after a while you can only have so many sheep, oxen, and camels; otherwise, it startes resembling the Cartwright Ranch instead of Bethlehem. You can go pretty crazy with these kinds of things if you want: you start with a manger and The Big Three (Jesus, Mary, Joseph), then expand to The Lesser Three (the Three Wise Men), then out to a whole cast of lesser characters and creatures (shepherd, The Little Drummy Boy, various farm animals). If you really wanted to go crazy, you can expand into pieces for a small city, including local well, buildings, post office, Greyhound bus station, and, of course, the obligatory Walgreens on ever corner. But we’re happy with things just the way they are.

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December 17, 2012

Ed. note: The YouTube videos – courtesy of Christmas Dave, are divided into three separate “sides”: Side 1, Side 2, and Side 3. Use these as a reference to the reviews below. Enjoy!

phil OK, I know the guy’s still sitting in a prison cell, whacked out, burned out, and for all intents and purposes, checked out of society and the rock n’ roll world he was once such an iconic part of. But heck, it is the Christmas season and I know it’s not REALLY Christmas until I slap into my CD player the best damned rock n’ roll Christmas record of all time. Which is (for those of you cats and chicks who may not be hip to these kinds of grooves), Phil Spector’s magnificent “A Christmas Gift For You”.

I know what you’re thinking – that’s just The Great White Shank spoutin’ his “yeah-i-know-he’s-in-jail-for-murder-but-believe-me-Phil-Spector-really-was-a-genius” bull$hit, but in this case you need to give me a break. ‘Cause it’s not just me, it’s a whole range of critics across the media spectrum, from Rolling Stone (who rated it #142 in its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time), to bloggers like Hip Christmas and BlogCritics. BC’s praise of the album and its greatness is especially spot-on:

A Christmas Gift For You contains thirteen performances, all captured during that incredible early sixties period when Spector was producing these amazing records. You already know all of the songs, as they have all become tried and true radio staples at Christmas time over the years. Song for song, the wall of sound production — with all of its bells, whistles, and strings — captures all the magic and wonder of Christmas like very little music I can think of. When you hear these songs, it’s like being instantly transported to a kinder, simpler time. It really does feel like Christmas.

In addition to the Ronettes and Crystals classics already mentioned, the standouts here include Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and a version of “White Christmas” so gorgeous you’ll be checking your window for snowflakes. On Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans’ “The Bells of Saint Mary,” the bells and the castanets ring gloriously amid a swirl of gospel-charged backing vocals.

So the thing is, Phil Spector’s recent legal troubles aside, this record just doesn’t sound any different to me. For my money, it’s still the single greatest Christmas record ever made. And tougher sell that it may be these days, it will definitely be on my CD player when the guys and I get together for some Christmas cheer next weekend.

For me, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it.

The album, considered by many to be Spector’s finest piece of work (next to, perhaps, The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, whose praise I sang the other day, and The Righteous Brothers‘ “[You’ve Lost That] Lovin’ Feelin'”) had a bumpy ride on the road to becoming a much-loved and respected holiday and pop music classic. Originally recorded during the summer and fall of 1963, it was understandably overlooked in those tragic weeks following the assassination of JFK and then virtually forgotten. It was only until its re-introduction to the public on the Beatles’ Apple Records label in 1971 – at the urging of John Lennon and George Harrison (both of whom utilized Spector on their first post-Beatles’ solo albums following his work on the Beatles’ Let It Be) – that the album got radio play and finally earned its long-deserved recognition as a classic piece of pop music history.

So what exactly is it about A Christmas Gift For You that makes it both a holiday pop classic and a piece of work sufficient enough to warrant recognition among rock’s all-time greatest works? David Sprague, in his Amazon.com review, puts it simply: “[Spector’s] “wall-of-sound” technique is perfectly suited to the music of the season, as he proves with layer upon layer of piano, sleigh bells, buoyant percussion, and, of course, those legendary Spectorsound harmonies.”

True enough, but it’s only after you buy it and crank it up VERY loud that you start to appreciate not just the massive sound Spector lovingly and painstakingly crafted, but the way his session players and musical artists make the most out of the material given them. Here, Spector’s artists The Crystals, The Ronettes, Darlene Love, and Bobby Sheen are simply vocal instruments in the overall mix, working within the material and the arrangements, not overpowering them. Listen closely, and you begin to see how the subtleties within each arrangement illustrate Spector’s respect for both the material and the genre that brought him such fame and respect in his day:

* On “White Christmas”, Darlene Love’s lead is beautifully understated (something virtually unheard of in this post-Whitney armageddon of Britneys and Jessicas who sound like wailing alleycats in heat). And listen to how the pianos, basses, and saxes (alto and tenor) drive the rhythm, and how beautifully the saxes balance on the tune’s fade-out. Magical.

* On “Frosty The Snowman”, Spector takes a harmless children’s tune and turns it into a holiday pop masterpiece. The Ronettes’ Ronnie Bennett’s earnest vocal is the showpiece here – think ‘Frosty’ meets ‘Be My Baby’, with enough warmth and sweetness to turn ‘the Frostster’ into a puddle of lukewarm H2O.

* On “The The Bells of St. Mary’s”, Bobby Sheen’s lead is sweet and soulful out in front of a driving rhythm highlighted by chimes and Hal Blaine‘s amazing drumwork on the fade-out. Oh, and that’s Darlene Love doing the “yeah, yeah”s towards the end.

* The Crystals’ version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” rejuvenates the classic so much so that the likes of the Jackson Five (awful!) Bruce Springsteen, and others felt it necessary to pay it homage with their own versions.

* On “Sleigh Ride”, The Ronettes give a big fat wet kiss to Leroy Anderson’s classic arrangement; their now-classic “ring-a-ling-a-ling-a-ding-dong-ding” back-up is pure icing on this sweet holiday confection.

* “Marshmallow World” is a fun piece – dig the opening piano with a ton of echo on it. And listen to how the saxes underscore the piano/guitar rhythm; the solo here is a hell of a lot better than that featured on “Santa Claus…”. The mix has always sounded a little muddy to me – perhaps because of the basses (acoustic and electric), but Darlene Love’s vocal is energetic and playful – just like Phil wanted.

* “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. Frankly, folks, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than this, and if there’s a better version out there, I’ve yet to hear it. Ronnie’s lead is both devilish and sexy, and the arrangement rocks. Listen for the piano fills and the sleighbells workin’ behind the saxes. It almost sounds as if Ronnie is slurring her s’s here (‘kishing’ Santa Claus); I think she’s doing it deliberately so I fall in love with her voice all over again every year at this time.

* On “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, listen for the guitar riff that frames the song, similar to what Brian Wilson would later do to the instrumental “Pet Sounds” on that legendary album. There’s also a piano (and guitar?) doing something funky from the instrumental break onward, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is.

* “Winter Wonderland” is a faithful and fun rendition. Listen for the droopy strings featured throughout – they sound kinda funky to me – and how drummer Hal Blaine absolutely beats the daylights out of his toms on every fill. Darlene Love’s vocal is both soulful and fun. A magnificent arrangement.

* “Parade of The Wooden Soldiers”. OK, listen to how the strings behind The Crystals’ rollicking performance absolutely shimmer like glistening snow, especially behind the trumpet solo in the middle. No one – and I mean NO ONE – could make strings shimmer like Phil Spector. (If you doubt me, just listen to John & Yoko’s “Happy Xmas [War Is Over]” single.) Again, Hal Blaine’s drum fills on the fade-out are pretty intense.

* “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)”. Arguably the showpiece of the album. If you want a true holiday audio feast, come inside Mr. Spector’s kitchen where everything – including the kitchen sink – has been tossed in here. Shimmering strings and double acoustic bass (how does he get that sound?) create the necessary tension, then horns introduce a TOTALLY PUMPED and unleashed Darlene Love vocal that leaves nothing – and I do mean NOTHING – in the tank. The grand build-up to close the song is classic Spector: layers and layers of guitar, piano, strings, and percussion back the call-and-answer vocals between Love and the backup singers until the tension is finally released in a tidal wave of vocal calisthenics, soaring strings, and clipped piano notes. Can anyone say, “mucho fantastico!”?

* “Here Comes Santa Claus” is anticlimactic following Love’s tour de force, but it’s to Bobby Sheen’s credit that his straight, if understated, reading becomes the showpiece on this song. The trumpet solo in the middle has a ringing, jazzy touch to it which compliments Sheen’s soulful vocal.

What truly makes A Christmas Gift For You such a remarkable achievement is the success Spector achieved in fusing together what was then a relatively-new pop genre over familiar holiday songs without, as he would write in the album’s liner notes, “losing for a second the feeling of Christmas and without destroying or invading the sensitivity and the beauty that surrounds all of the great Christmas music.” More than anything else, Spector respected the music he was trying to interpret as his own, and in the end, this is what makes this work an enduring classic for the ages.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:55 | Comment (1)
December 16, 2012

Have you ever seen the opening of the movie RED (a great fun flick, BTW) where Bruce Willis walks outside his house and sees every house in the neighborhood all lit up for Christmas with various snowmen, Santas, and reindeer all over the place except his? That’s what I feel like every time I step out our front door. Us, we just have some old-style plastic candles in the window, and the only house with less are the folks across the street who are Islamists from Bangladesh and the renters two doors down, both of whom have nothing up. I’m not complaining or making judgment, it’s just that I’ve never seen our street so lit up before. Almost makes me want to go back to Big Lots and buy that $40 family of reindeer and stick them on the front lawn. Maybe take one of my phony palm trees and put it next to them so it looks like they’re eating it. What do you think? I think $40 is a little pricey for such cheap and tacky holiday decorations.

Been reading a number of blogs out there in the wake of yesterday’s mass killings in Newtown, CT. Some are calling for the outlawing of guns (yeah, that will work about as well as Prohibition did), some for an outright ban on automatic weapons, while others are trying to rationalize something that really can’t be rationalized. One of the commentaries, I think, is Jazz Shaw’s at Hot Air, where he compares the shooting in Connecticut with another potential mass killing that was averted in Oklahoma. While noting that Connecticut has some of the toughest guns in the country, Shaw writes that the best weapon against this kind of thing lies in recapturing the sense of community – both macro and micro:

The last point this brings up, though, has to do with community. If there is any remedy to be found to these events, it’s not through legislation or restricting the tools (read: guns in these cases) used by madmen. It’s the rebuilding of a sense of community and responsibility to each other.. a shared sense of decency being passed down to each generation. When that collapses, the entire system is weakened. The government is, in reality, very limited in their ability to protect us if responsible citizens are not engaged in the duty to protect and defend ourselves. And that includes speaking up when we learn that somebody is even considering doing something like this. That worked in Oklahoma by all accounts. It somehow failed to work in Connecticut. This is a time for all of us to pull together and hopefully remember that we are stronger and safer when we stand up together and look out for one another.

Read the whole thing.

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December 15, 2012

Pretty horrible day. I’ve driven through Newtown, CT – it’s the kind of New England town right out of a Chamber of Commerce travelogue. People can say something to the effect that if something like this can happen in a place like that it can happen anywhere, but where on God’s earth have they been? The sad truth is, it can, has, and will again happen in places just like Newtown, for there’s nothing so unique about that town or city in America that can prevent something like this from again. And there’s really little that can be done whenever it happens.

You feel so helpless when you hear about stuff like this, but another sad truth is that the only difference from the slaughter at Newtown from, say, any given weekend in a major urban city (like, say, Chicago) is the magnitude and the circumstances involved. Believe me, I’m not being heartless in writing this, it makes you sick to your stomach to think not only of the horror the people and children in that school went through and the fright and depair of the parents and the community involved, but if you want to total up all the victims of senseless violence in this country – gun and otherwise – on a daily basis Newtown is just a drop in a blood-filled bucket sitting on a tarp of violent and abhorrent national behavior. This country is out of control in every possible way and manner imaginable; nevertheless, it is still beyond my comprehension that there are people on this earth who could conceive of doing this kind of thing. I mean, it’s absolute madness.

I’m no psychologist or academic, but it seems to me that there’s no one single reason behind this kind of act of senseless violence. Our society and culture has become so dehumanized, alienated, coarse, angry, and broken I don’t even know if there’s anything you can do about it. Between technology, a 24/7 media that requires constant feeding, the breakdown of the family unit, morals and traditions, the daily assault by secularists and atheists on anything having to do with religion, and a “reality-show” mindset where anything involving self-indulgence and self-destructive behavior is a cause to sell and celebrate. Just take a look at any nightly lineup on the cable channels: we’ve become an entire nation of wackos and self-absorbed victims thirsting for our 15 minutes of fame and are willing to pay any price to get it. This isn’t the world I grew up in, and it’s amazing to see just far things have degenerated in just a few decades.

Of course, nothing that happens anymore is outside the realm of politics, so unfortunately (but typically) you have the usual array of ghoulish liberal prognosticators and progressives crawling out from their mansions and limousines to appear on the cable news networks demanding greater gun control measures and/or taking away people’s constitutional right to bear arms. I guarantee they won’t point a single figure at Hollywood or the manufacturers of computer games filled with copious amounts of violence and death. I’m not saying there won’t or shouldn’t be a debate worth having and arguing with the ignorant anti-2nd Ammendment crowd, but now is not the time. Rather, let’s get all the facts before police are sent into every home looking for guns and ammo to confiscate. This is time for people everywhere to offer their prayers and support to all those impacted in any way by this tragedy; there are hundreds of people for whom life itself has been changed irrevocably. I can’t even begin to imagine…

And prayers for this country wouldn’t be a bad thing, either. We are reaping the whirlwind we have sown for ourselves, and the sad fact is, things aren’t going to change or get better anytime soon.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:45 | Comments (0)
December 14, 2012

As a native New Englander I love weather and everything about it. If there’s one thing I miss the most about Massachusetts (besides family and friends, of course) it’s weather. Now one person’s long stretch of blue skies and predictable conditions as we have here in the Valley of the Sun is as much weather as a New Englander’s “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute” kind of thing. Weather or not, it’s still weather.

One of the things you get used to out here in the Valley is the fact you can make a tee-time weeks or months in advance and be nearly certain you’re going to play. No checking the local news every night at 6 or 11 as your golf day approaches to see if you’re actually going to play – even in the months of December and January, when we get our wet-weather systems blowing in from California, the chances of hitting a bona fide washout are pretty slim. That’s a nice convenience, to be sure.

Tonight it’s raining here following a day when there was actually weather as weather to actually see and enjoy. The morning started off sunny with just a few high clouds. Walking outside at noon to greet the UPS guy delivering a couple of Callaway fairway woods (more on that in a later post) the day was lovely and tranquil, a warm sun still shining through a sheen of cloud cover that looked like it was shining through one of those heavy plastic tarps you stretch across the floor when painting a room. It was really lovely; it was all I could do to head out to the back patio and take a much-needed nap.

By early afternoon, I could hear the gate to the side yard just to the left of my home office starting to rattle, so I looked up from my laptop to see the lime tree branches starting to rustle under a now fully-clouded sky. Back east in October it’s leaves that fall; in front of my office window in December it’s limes that fall. Their once healthy-green color now turned to a sickly gree-yellow, yellow, or even brown, I can hear a little thud whenever one falls to the ground. Taking a quick walk outside between client calls, the soft warmth of just a couple of hours ago has been replaced by a cooler breeze. Looking to the south and west, the gray clouds are looking darker and a little more heralding of the rain I see on the Accuweather site just west of the Arizona border.

I like the various sounds the wind makes. During my daily afternoon walk I hear the sound of the few leafy trees there are on our street rustling in the breeze. Next to the sound of thunder in the distance on a still summer afternoon, or waves at the seashore, or rain falling on pavement, I think wind in the trees is a sound I never get tired of. To me it’s the sound of the breath of God moving across Creation. We also have the wind chimes out back and a couple metal art work thingys (a couple of suns and a small “It’s Five o’Clock Somewhere” sign from Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville store) hanging outside that tinkle and bang against the house whenever it’s windy. It’s all very relaxing to my ears.

There’s one sound associated with wind I don’t miss, and that’s the sound of sleet hitting the window at 4 AM on a workday; that means getting up earlier, scraping your car, and a hell commute into work.

Tonight we have had periods of steady rain – welcome news to the Valley where the last time we had any rain was the first week of September. Funny how the rain presents itself when you’re sitting on the back patio: you hear splashes in the swimming pool and can see the drops reflected in the landscape lights. Pretty nice.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:22 | Comments (0)
December 13, 2012

Washington, D.C., December 2012. Holiday trees in thousands of government buildings and offices in the nation’s capital (you can’t call them Christmas trees anymore at the risk of offending every possible fringe constituent!) burn brightly as the days grow ever shorter and darker. Democrats, progressives, and liberals everywhere continue to bask gleefully in celebration of Barack Obama’s reelection, and the mainstream media and the cable folks on MSNBC and CNN who played such a large role in making that happen crow in their success. Activists and lobbyists for every liberal and progressive cause known to mankind and the Obama administration (one in the same) plot just how far they can take their far-left agendas in a second Obama term before people actually take notice of their ultimate intent.

Yes, these are salads days indeed for the Democrats and the liberal left, and, frankly, I can’t blame them. Even while their made man won with the lowest margin of an incumbent president in an election, one where where a few hundred thousand votes across a dozen or so precincts across the country could have flipped it the other way, yet claims he has a mandate from the American people to raise taxes and basically do whatever he wants, more importantly, they take glee knowing that on the other side Republicans are in total disarray and, through a combination of bad messaging, party infighting, and incompetent leadership, seemingly dissolving before their very eyes.

These are dark days for the national GOP. And, given the vast disconnect between the Washington party insiders and tea-party conservatives (the latter largely responsible for putting putting the House back in power via the 2010 midterms), I don’t see anything good coming any time soon. The Washington power-brokers see conservatives and tea-party activists as radical neophytes who don’t understand the way Washington works. Conservatives and tea-party activists see Washington as a bloated, incompetent, inefficent, and corrupt cesspool of power and graft that no longer has either the country’s future or its best interests at heart. One side seeks to concentrate and increase power and influence in the nation’s capital, the other believes in the cause of liberty and personal freedom, and the responsibilities that go along with such.

Making matters worse for the GOP, rather than follow up their November win with concrete proposals to deal with the nation’s upcoming “fiscal cliff” and compromise on legislation that would deal not just with the country’s languishing economy and its long-term fiscal health, President Obama and the Democratic leadership seem interested only in grinding Republicans into the dust. As Rich Lowry has so ably written:

Obama just won an election in which pretty much his only concrete agenda item was a tax increase on the rich, although the casual listener might have thought he was only talking about taxing millionaires and billionaires. Tax increases on the rich poll well, while the Republican counterdemands — entitlement cuts — don’t.

If nothing happens, tax increases go up for everyone, and all the polls show that the public is primed to blame the Republicans. That means that the president and the media will be plowing fertile ground when they paint Boehner and company as hideous extremists who hate the middle class if all rates go up at the end of the year.

So if the White House doesn’t need a deal, why would it want one? Because it is secretly spoiling to cut entitlement spending? Because Obama wakes up every morning wondering how he can cut the deficit today? Because weeks after sweeping to re-election, he is brimming over with modesty?

Obama loves to praise himself in public for his alleged courage in private discussing possible entitlement changes with Boehner during the fight over the debt ceiling. But he never says specifically what these changes were, let alone makes the case for them. He is always in favor of tough choices — in theory.

Never mind the fact that, as the esteemed Michael Barone notes, while raising taxes on the wealthy might score political points with a liberal/progressive mindset and party faithful steeped in the philosophies of class warfare, it does nothing to address the looming crises surrounding every entitlement program known to the federal government. The country is broke, and going more broke every day. The problem isn’t a lack of tax revenue to fund the wants and needs of Americans and the federal government (two very different constituencies!), but one of spending and the government at all levels living far above the country’s needs to support financially.

Of course you don’t hear that from the Republican establishment in Washington, nor will you ever, because that’s just not the way it’s done there. Not even the most rabid tea party activist (well, there may be a few) is saying eliminate Washington altogether – that genie has long since left the bottle. There are plenty of functions a centralized federal government plays and has to continue to play, but this idea that you can’t cut anything by introducing means testing into entitlement programs, eliminating wasteful programs and departments, and most importantly, make a sensible and reasonable argument to the American people why they’re much better off when the government isn’t creating greater dependency through new and expanded programs.

Until the Republican Party establishment gets out of the bed they willingly share with Democrats, lobbyists, and the power brokers that are only concerned with maintaining and expanding their own power there really is no reason to continue to support it, either monetarily or with votes. Speaker John Boehner should be forced out of the Speaker’s chair, RNC chairman Reince Priebus needs to step aside, and there needs to be a general housecleaning in GOP leadership at all levels. I don’t expect any of this to happen soon, however, which, when you come to think of it, is pretty pathetic given the country’s fiscal woes and its economic future.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 09:55 | Comments (2)
December 12, 2012

Oh, it’s not quite that bad – although today was a real bracer, and I do love that tune no matter if its done singing or instrumentally. You can tell the locals from those who don’t come from here by the way folks dress when the temps dip below 80 – the locals have sweatshirts and jackets on, the furriners are still walking around in shorts and t-shirts. I kind of split the difference – long pants and a t-shirt. To me it felt like one of those cool mid-April days in Massachusetts when the sun is warm on the face but a cool breeze is blowing.

You don’t realize how much you like the heat until it’s gone. Ever since the weekend we’ve headed into the “deep Arizona winter” months of December and January, where the daytime temps are in the ’60s (not bad, a little cool, but the sun is warm) but the nights are not great for a cocktail (virgin or otherwise) on the back patio. The last couple of nights especially have been downright chilly – in the mid-30s. I long for the days when you step out the back door and a blast of warm air smacks you in the face and the pool deck is still warm to the feet.

I don’t remember ever missing the sun as much as I do this year. That sun angle is so low, and the days so short right now that you want to capture the sun and bottle it so you can take it everywhere you go. It’s dark and the house is cold at 7 AM when I have my first work calls, and my daily 4 PM-ish walks are really pushing the daylight – and warmth – if I get started a half hour or more late. Last Friday afternoon at the driving range it felt weird to hit balls as the sun started going down – I’m used to wearing a brimmed hat and sunglasses, and sweating my innards out under sizzling blue skies and a blazing, unrelenting sun.

At least out here you’re never that far away from the nice nights and the heat – come mid-February things will be looking up. And the come July, like everyone else out here I’ll be counting the weeks down until the second week of October when the sun god flips off the heat switch. Such is life.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:37 | Comment (1)

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