Thursday, January 28, 2010


Supreme Court's New Robes

Prior to President Obama's State of the Union Speech and then his utterly brilliant appearance before the Republicans at their annual retreat in Baltimore, I was in a high state if anxiety. The president wasn't standing up to the bankers and Wall Street. He was letting the national health care bill be whittled away by a Congress intent on getting as much pork or political kickback at the expense of the American people. Where was the guy I thought I had voted for? Why all this political navel-gazing and no action. To the relief of all my friends, who run for the hills whenever I go on one of my hair-on-fire political rants, I'm happy to say I'm calm. President Obama has been kicking well-deserved political butt. He admonished the Supreme Court's 5/4 ruling permitting corporations to advertise their political beliefs. He acknowledged that he's hearing what's going in people's minds, and even threw a bone to gay voters by promising to begin to reverse "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" which keeps gay military personnel firmly in the closet.

But it was President Obama's superbly assured presence in front of his very vocal Republican opponents that made me think there might be hope for us after all. While many of those asking Obama questions used the opportunity to grandstand, he rightly chastised them without resorting to Reagan's old "there you go again," or Bush 43's smirk. He told the assembled throng that he has adopted their best ideas into the health plan which isn't that much different than the previously suggested Baker/Dashle (there's a third senator here, but I'm forgetting his name at the moment) plan and said that he was shocked over the current plan's reception where it is being met on the Republican side as "some sort of Bolshevik plot." He made it clear that he wasn't going to adopt any plan that said 'our way or the highway.' And he cautioned all the demonizing on both sides, which made it very difficult to negotiate credibly. Obama was never more presidential, gracious, humorous or reassuring.

Then last night I caught the first of a two-part meeting between Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly on his "The O'Reilly Report," and as I wrote to a friend this morning: "I think Stewart's observation that Fox "cyclotronic" delivery of the day's news, elevating some of that news to panic mode," is right on. O'Reilly's lack of a real sense of humor plus his tendency to bully, was undone by Stewart's humor and his refusal to be bullied without resorting to yelling. It makes O'Reilly look scary, sanctimonious (in his desperate attempts to paint Fox as fair and balanced while characterizing Obama's supporters as slackers), and petty." More importantly it showed that Stewart is not in lockstep with the president and has some real concerns that don't toe the party line. In other words, he is as thoughtful as he is funny, and they don't come funnier than Jon Stewart does these days. Even Dennis Miller (oy what a creepy, snarkey, uncomic guy this man is!) concedes that there's more than a touch of Dave Garroway in Stewart, in a segment afterwards.

Looking forward to Part II. Not that I'm betting on good manners, and logical thinking to prevail in Washington and someone will do something stupid soon to get my blood boiling all over again.

I was thinking of all the Grammy Awards fuss in relation to a very brief appearance by Norah Jones toward the end of the evening. I found I enjoyed Lady Gaga a great deal and her performance with Elton John was as delightful as it was respectful. But I truly felt sorry for Stevie Nicks having to sing one of her hits with Taylor Swift who couldn't hit a note on pitch if her life depended upon it and got a real kick in the ass about it the next day. Suddenly I see her record label defending her and blaming the media and public for elevating her and then delighting in tearing her down. I think Taylor Swift has the good will of the press and her fans. She got criticized for singing poorly and deservedly so. Her voice, to my way of thinking is beside of the point. It's a slender, fragile non-voice in the classic Suzanne Vega mold. It doesn't undermine her skills as a songwriter, but as a performer, it does expose her to people who are sensitive to the niceties of timbre, pitch, power, the ability to color her voice to the emotional needs of the song. And I'm afraid she fails in those basic elements of a singer's art. Now back to Norah Jones. I thought her first album, which was a massive success, was a snore. But last fall she released her third studio recording "The Fall," and it's a winner. The songs are wonderful, memorable, and she's reaching for a new maturity. Her voice has acquired a new depth and I've played it a lot. There isn't a monotonous moment in it.

I'm often at a loss with rock music, but Dave Matthews appearance singing the anthem, "You and Me," was also a highlight. I downloaded his latest album and I must say, it's terrific! Now if only someone would make a good R&B album. It's too long between John Legend CDs.

For any of you cabaret lovers, Rebecca Luker's new CD "Greenwich Time," is a great, great, great experience. Ms. Luker unleashes her very pure soprano and sure dramatic grasp on a clutch of contemporary songs that defies description. There is a great deal of warmth and depth to her singing and I'll play this one over and over again. She also includes "In a very unusual way," from NINE. Luker joined the cast of the last Broadway revival of NINE near the end of Antonio Banderas' run and her singing of this gorgeous and rather under-performed ballad, was the highlight of the evening.

While many of you are still coping with blustery, cold days back East, it's overcast and often rainy in Portland with steady mid-40s temperatures. I must bring my camera with me on one of Beau and my walks to show how early spring seems to come to Portland. I'm envious of other gardeners who will have the first daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, and then tulips as early as the end of this month. I'm anxious to have rose bushes for which the city of Portland is famous as the rose capital of the country.

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