Saturday, June 11, 2011

Today's Tune: Sissel - Shenandoah

It's all bumps, no road in Obamaville

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
June 10, 2011

‘There are always going to be bumps on the road to recovery,’’ President Obama said at a Jeep plant in Toledo the other day. “We’re going to pass through some rough terrain that even a Wrangler would have a tough time with.’’ His audience booed. They’re un-fire-able union members with lavish benefits, and even they weary of the glib lines from his twelve-year-old speechwriters.

We’re not on the road to recovery. You can’t get there from here, as they say. Obama was in Toledo to “celebrate” the sale of the government’s remaining stake in Chrysler to Fiat. That’s “Fiat” as in the Italian car manufacturer rather than “an authoritative or arbitrary decree (from the Latin ‘let it be done’),” which would be almost too perfect a name for an Obamafied automobile. The Treasury crowed that Fiat had agreed to pay a whopping $560 million for the government’s Chrysler shares.

Wow! 560 million smackeroos! If you laid them out end to end, they’re equivalent to what the federal government borrows every three hours. That’s some windfall! In the time it takes to fly Obama to Toledo to boast about it, he’d already blown through the Italians’ check. But who knows? If every business in the U.S. were to be nationalized and sold to foreigners to cover another three hours’ worth of debt, this summer’s “Recovery Summer” would be going even more gangbusters. I’d ask one of Obama’s egghead economists to explain it to you simpletons, but unfortunately they’ve all resigned and returned to cozy sinecures in academia. The latest is chief economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, the genius who in 2007, just before the subprime hit the fan, wrote in the New York Times that this exciting new form of home “ownership” was an “innovation” that had “opened doors to the excluded” and was part of an “incredible flowering of new types of home loans.”

Where have all the flowers gone? Not to worry. By now, some organization of which you’re a member has already booked Professor Goolsbee to give an after-dinner speech at your annual meeting where you’ll be privileged to get a glimpse of his boundless expertise for a mere six-figure speaking fee.

“I’m not concerned about a double-dip recession,” Obama said last week. Nor would I be if I had government housing, a car and driver, and a social secretary for the missus. But I wonder if it’s such a smart idea to let one’s breezy insouciance out of the bag when you’re giving a press conference. In May the U.S. economy added just 54,000 jobs. For the purposes of comparison, that same month over 100,000 new immigrants arrived in America.

So what kind of jobs were those 54,000? Economics professorships at the University of Berkeley? Non-executive directorships at Goldman Sachs? That sort of thing? No, according to an analysis by Morgan Stanley, half the new jobs created were at McDonald’s. That’s amazing. Not the Mickey D supersized hiring spree, but the fact that there’s fellows at Morgan Stanley making a bazillion dollars a year analyzing fluctuations in minimal-skill fast-food service-job hiring trends. What a great country! For as long as it lasts. Which is probably until some new regulatory agency starts enforcing Michelle Obama’s dietary admonitions.

Until then, relax. That bump in the road is just a quarter-pounder with cheese that fell off the counter on the drive-thru lane to recovery. Like every other blessing, we owe the Big MacConomy to the wisdom of Good King Barack. “This plant indirectly supports hundreds of other jobs right here in Toledo,” Obama told the workers at Chrysler. “After all, without you, who’d eat at Chet’s or Inky’s or Rudy’s? . . . Manufacturers from Michigan to Massachusetts are looking for new engineers to build advanced batteries for American-made electric cars. And obviously, Chet’s and Inky’s and Zinger’s, they’ll all have your business for some time to come.”

A couple of days later, Chet’s announced it was closing after nine decades. “It was the economy and the smoking ban that hurt us more than anything,” said the owner. But maybe he can retrain and re-open it as a community-organizer grantwriting-application center. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median period of unemployment is now nine months — the longest it’s been since they’ve been tracking the numbers. Long-term unemployment is worse than in the Depression. Life goes slowly waiting for a fast-food job to open up.

This is Main Street, Obamaville: All bumps, no road. But shimmering on the distant horizon, beyond the shuttered diner and the foreclosed homes, is a state-of-the-art electric car, the new Fiat Mirage, that should be wheeling into town in a half-decade or so provided it can find somewhere to charge. “We will be able to look back and tell our children,” declared King Barack the Modest of his own candidacy in 2008, “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow.” Great news for the oceans! Meanwhile, back on dry land, a quarter of American mortgages are “underwater” — that’s to say, the home “owners” owe more than the joint is worth. In Harry Reid’s Nevada, it’s 63 percent. Perhaps Obama’s Aquatic Bodies Water-Level Regulatory Authority, no doubt headed by Jamie Gorelick or Franklin Raines or some other Democrat worthy, could have its jurisdiction extended to the Nevada desert.

“Hope”? “Change”? These are the good times. What “change” are you “hoping” for in Obama’s second term? The loss of America’s triple-A credit-rating? The end of the dollar as global currency? Or just a slight upward tick in the same-old-same-old multi-trillion dollar binge-spending?

On what?

Random example from the headlines: The paramilitarization of the education bureaucracy. The federal Department of Education doesn’t employ a single teacher but it does have a SWAT team: They kicked down a front door in Stockton, Calif. last week and handcuffed Kenneth Wright (erroneously) in connection with a student-loan “investigation.” “We can confirm that we executed a search warrant,” said Department of Education spokesperson Gina Burress.

The Department of Education issues search warrants? Who knew? The Brokest Nation in History is the only country in the developed world whose education secretary has his own Delta Force. And, in a land with over a trillion dollars in college debt, I’ll bet it’s got no plans to downsize.

Nor has the TSA. A 24-year-old woman has been awarded compensation of $2,350 after TSA agents exposed her breasts to all and sundry at the Corpus Christi Airport security line and provided Weineresque play-by-play commentary. “We regret that the passenger had an unpleasant experience,” said a TSA spokesgroper, also very Weinerly. But hey, those are a couple of cute bumps on the road, lady!

The American Dream, 2011: You pay four bucks a gallon to commute between your McJob and your underwater housing to prop up a spendaholic, grabafeelic, paramilitarized bureaucracy-without-end bankrupting your future at the rate of a fifth of a billion dollars every hour.

In a sane world, Americans would be outraged at the government waste that confronts them everywhere you turn: The abolition of the federal Education Department and the TSA is the very least they should be demanding. Instead, our elites worry about sea levels.

The oceans will do just fine. It’s America that’s drowning.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Today's Laugh Track: Sam Kinison

Need a Light Bulb? Uncle Sam Gets to Choose

By Virginia Postrel

If you want to know why so many Americans feel alienated from their government, you need only go to Target and check out the light bulb aisle. Instead of the cheap commodities of yesteryear, you’ll find what looks like evidence of a flourishing, technology-driven economy.

There are “ultrasoft” bulbs promising “softer soft white longer life” light, domed halogens for “bright crisp light” and row upon row of Energy Smart bulbs -- some curled in the by-now-familiar compact fluorescent form, some with translucent shells that reveal only hints of the twisting tubes within.

It seems to be a dazzling profusion of choice. But, at least in California, where I live, this plenitude no longer includes what most shoppers want: an inexpensive, plain-vanilla 100-watt incandescent bulb.

Selling them is now illegal here. The rest of the country has until the end of the year to stock up before a federal ban kicks in. (I have a stash in storage.) Over the next two years, most lower-wattage incandescents will also disappear.

This is not how the story was supposed to go. When compact fluorescent light bulbs were new, promoters sold them as a market-oriented, win-win proposition. They were like “lite”beer: the same great illumination, for a fraction of the electric bill.

But, as with beer, not everyone was convinced. Some consumers didn’t like the high out-of-pocket cost. (A basic CFL runs about three times the initial price of the equivalent incandescent.) Some didn’t like that bulbs could take a while to build up to full intensity.

You Look Blue

Some didn’t like the occasional flicker. And a lot didn’t like the light. Its bluish cast lacks the warmth of traditional incandescents and gives skin tones a somewhat deathly tinge.“Fluorescent is just not attractive,” a resolute restaurant designer once told me. “I don’t care what they say.”

One serious technophile, University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds, spent much of 2007 flogging compact fluorescents on his popular Instapundit blog, eventually persuading more than 1,900 readers to swap 19,871 incandescent bulbs for CFLs. To this day, the Instapundit group is by far the largest participant at, a bulb-switching campaign organized by the consulting firm Symmetric Technologies. But Reynolds himself has changed his mind.

“I’m deeply, deeply disappointed with CFL bulbs,” he wrote last month on his blog. “I replaced pretty much every regular bulb in the house with CFLs, but they’ve been failing at about the same rate as ordinary long-life bulbs, despite the promises of multiyear service. And I can’t tell any difference in my electric bill. Plus, the Insta-Wife hates the light.”

What Americans Like

By the end of last year, CFLs had managed to capture only 25 percent of the general-purpose light-bulb market -- a decent business, sure, but hardly the radical transformation evangelists were going for. Most Americans, for most purposes, have stuck to traditional incandescents.

So the activists offended by the public’s presumed wastefulness took a more direct approach. They joined forces with the big bulb producers, who had an interest in replacing low-margin commodities with high-margin specialty wares, and, with help from Congress and President George W. Bush, banned the bulbs people prefer.

It was an inside job. Neither ordinary consumers nor even organized interior designers had a say. Lawmakers buried the ban in the 300-plus pages of the 2007 energy bill, and very few talked about it in public. It was crony capitalism with a touch of green.

Of such deals are Tea Parties born.

It’s a Ban

Now, I realize that by complaining about the bulb ban --indeed, by calling it a ban -- I am declaring myself an unsophisticated rube, the sort of person who supposedly takes marching orders from Rush Limbaugh. In a New York Times article last month, Penelope Green set people like me straight. The law, she patiently explained, “simply requires that companies make some of their incandescent bulbs work a bit better, meeting a series of rolling deadlines between 2012 and 2014.”

True, the law doesn’t affect all bulbs -- just the vast majority. (It exempts certain special types, like the one in your refrigerator.) The domed halogen bulbs meet the new standards yet are technically incandescents; judging from my personal experiments, they produce light similar to that of old-fashioned bulbs. They do, however, cost twice as much as traditional bulbs and, if the packages are to be believed, don’t last as long.

Washington Knows Best

Strictly speaking, it’s also true that the rules are neither mandates nor bans. They’re standards: We don’t tell you how to reduce the amount of energy your light bulb consumes. We just tell you that it can’t use more than a certain amount.

It’s as though, to spur innovation and encourage Americans to lose weight, Washington had decreed that no beer shall contain more than 8 calories an ounce. That wouldn’t technically be a ban on traditional brews, but nobody but a pedant or a flack would call it anything else.

Back when consumers weren’t paying attention, ban supporters weren’t so coy. “Bipartisan Bill Declares ‘Lights Out’ on Older, Inefficient Technology,” boasted the 2007 press release from the ban’s original sponsor, Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat. “By 2014, the traditional incandescent light bulbs found in approximately 4 billion U.S. light sockets will be virtually obsolete.”

A Bipartisan Mistake

Though sponsored largely by Democrats, the ban was a bipartisan effort. It never would have become law without support from Republican senators and the signature of President Bush. Through filibuster and veto threats, Republicans got other changes in the 2007 energy bill -- changes that had vocal corporate constituencies -- but they didn’t fight the light bulb ban. Maybe it seemed like progress. It was certainly pro-business.

“The entire discussion of ‘phaseout of least- efficient general service light bulbs’ has been at the industry’s initiative,” Kyle Pitsor, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association lobbyist told Bingaman’s committee in 2007 testimony. “This is not a case of manufacturers dragging their heels, but of leading the way. New standards-setting legislation is needed in order to further educate consumers on the benefits of energy-efficient products.”

No Polished Wonkery

Though anti-populist in the extreme, the bulb ban in fact evinces none of the polished wonkery you’d expect from sophisticated technocrats. For starters, it’s not clear what the point is. Why should the government try to make consumers use less electricity? There’s no foreign policy reason. Electricity comes mostly from coal, natural gas and nuclear plants, all domestic sources. So presumably the reason has something to do with air pollution or carbon-dioxide emissions.

But banning light bulbs is one of the least efficient ways imaginable to attack those problems. A lamp using power from a clean source is treated the same as a lamp using power from a dirty source. A ban gives electricity producers no incentive to reduce emissions.

Nor does it allow households to make choices about how best to conserve electricity. A well-designed policy would allow different people to make different tradeoffs among different uses to produce the most happiness (“utility” in econ-speak) for a given amount of power. Maybe I want to burn a lot of incandescent bulbs but dry my clothes outdoors and keep the air conditioner off. Maybe I want to read by warm golden light instead of watching a giant plasma TV.

Only Use Matters

What matters, from a public policy perspective, isn’t any given choice but the total amount of electricity I use (which is itself only a proxy for the total emissions caused by generating that electricity). If they’re really interested in environmental quality, policy makers shouldn’t care how households get to that total. They should just raise the price of electricity, through taxes or higher rates, to discourage using it.

Instead, the law raises the price of light bulbs, but not the price of using them. In fact, its supporters loudly proclaim that the new bulbs will cost less to use. If true, the savings could encourage people to keep the lights on longer.

Even if you care nothing about individual freedom or aesthetic pleasure, this ham-handed approach wouldn’t pass muster in a classroom at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. As pollution control, it’s horribly inefficient.

The bulb ban makes sense only one of two ways: either as an expression of cultural sanctimony, with a little technophile thrown in for added glamour, or as a roundabout way to transfer wealth from the general public to the few businesses with the know-how to produce the light bulbs consumers don’t really want to buy.

Or, of course, as both.

(Virginia Postrel is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

Illustration by Javier Jaén

To contact the writer of this column: Virginia Postrel in Los Angeles at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tobin Harshaw at

Alone in the Wilderness and the Spotlight

The New York Times
June 9, 2011

Joshua Bright for The New York Times
In a New Light: Bellini's 'St. Francis in the Desert' Visitors study Giovanni Bellini's painting of Francis of Assisi, which recently returned to the Frick Collection after conservation and study. More Photos »

The Frick Collection has long since mastered the art historical meet and greet. Last spring Rembrandt, seen in a late self-portrait, received fans in the Frick’s skylighted Oval Room.

This summer the guest of honor is no less a celebrity than Francis of Assisi, as depicted in Giovanni Bellini’s painting “St. Francis in the Desert.” The Bellini, like the Rembrandt, is owned by the Frick and recently returned home after a stint of conservation and study. This explains why it’s being given the red-carpet treatment in the form of its very own super-small show titled “In a New Light: Bellini’s ‘St. Francis in the Desert,’ ” which consists of the painting itself and a closet-size multimedia room.

If a picture’s truly great, of course, it doesn’t really need an excuse to get the spotlight. And many art historians rank the Bellini as one of the greatest Renaissance paintings in the United States. It certainly has the presence of a stand-alone event. The eye instinctively goes to it, as to any source of visual drama and mystery.

There’s not much mystery, however, surrounding the history of the picture. It was produced in Venice around 1480, when Bellini was probably in his 40s. (He died in 1516; his exact birth date is unknown.) And it emerged from a fertile aesthetic milieu. The artist’s father, Jacopo, was a pioneer of the Venetian painting boom. His half brother, Gentile, was one of its leading lights, as was his brother-in-law, Andrea Mantegna of Padua, from whose wiry, carved-out style Giovanni learned a lot.

The American collector Henry Clay Frick bought “St. Francis in the Desert” in 1915 and hung it in his Fifth Avenue-facing living room, where it stayed until it traveled up the street to the Metropolitan Museum last year. There it was examined by the conservator Charlotte Hale and passed its physical with flying colors. Basically it needed no more than a dusting off.

X-ray testing confirmed facts that everyone more or less knew. The picture, in oil on three joined wood panels, is pure Bellini, though an assistant coated the panels with preparatory layer of white gesso, spreading it on by hand. (Palm prints and fingerprints are still detectable.) On this clean, light-reflecting surface Bellini made a highly detailed ink under-drawing of the entire composition and adhered to it while painting, making a few adjustments as he went.

All of this is pretty straightforward, as is the Frick display, with the picture on a kind of giant easel in the Oval Room under slightly tweaked natural lighting. Still, there are elements of mystery, starting with the painting’s title. It seems to promise, above all, face time with St. Francis, but as we approach from a distance what do we see? Mostly landscape. And is that landscape desert, as described? No. It’s Central Italy in early spring or fall.

True, the foreground is rocky, a stagelike platform of lava-formed terraces backed by a cliff of cracked, blocky stones. But surrounding this is a verdant world. A pasture, with a grazing donkey, lies in the near distance; beyond that farm fields spread out; beyond them is a walled city with orchards and parks.

Even the rocks, tinted an aqueous green, sprout vegetation, to the obvious benefit of a well-fed rabbit seen peering from a crevice. Water must be plentiful, judging by the presence of a long-necked heron and a small red bird — possibly a kingfisher — hovering under a dripping pipe in the picture’s lower left corner.

St. Francis is somewhat dwarfed by all this, but once focused on, he becomes the center of attention. Standing, arms spread wide, one foot advanced, gazing upward, mouth open, as if he’d been stopped in his tracks or even knocked back by something he’s seen or felt, he’s a magnetic figure, the source of the painting’s drama.

He was, in life, exceptional: a spiritual power generator, a social lightning rod, and a charmer. He was born in the Umbrian hill town of Assisi around 1181, the son of a rich cloth merchant. He had poetic tastes and immersed himself in romantic tales of chivalry. By temperament he was ardent, wired, prone to emotional extremes.

Youthful zeal sent him charging into a local intercity war, as a result of which he cooled his heels in prison for a year. Years later, as a holy man bent on martyrdom, he went to Egypt, where he marched into the court of a Muslim and announced: You need a new religion. The ruler was naturally surprised, but he knew a good person when he met one, and sent Francis safely home.

Francis was a good person, and fearless, and a visionary. He grounded his thinking on the Gospels and took them at their word. Jesus said “give away everything,” so Francis gave away everything — once, every stitch on him.

He could be impossibly self-depriving; people had to persuade him to eat, wear shoes. But he was correspondingly self-giving. You needed a bandage, a pep-talk, a prayer, a kiss? Francis was your man. If he found a hurt bird he nursed it back to health; if he met a wolf with a mean streak, he’d say, “Watch your mouth,” and give it a pat.

Some people thought he’s a lunatic, this guy who suddenly bursts into song, in the middle of nowhere, for no reason, as if he was plugged into an iPod:

“Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures, Especially Sir Brother Sun, Who is the day and through whom You give us light.”

And he’d go on and on this way, about Sister Moon, and Brother Wind, and Sister Water — “very useful and humble and precious and chaste” — and Brother Fire, and Sister Death.

Maybe it was all a performance, a theatrical method of preaching and teaching. But he approached life in a genuinely countercultural way. On the verge of the great age of Humanism, he was an un-Humanist, in the sense that he didn’t hold Man up as the crown of creation. He considered all beings, from bees to bears to people, equally reverence worthy. He was like the Buddha in this. Or maybe the Buddha was Francis in an earlier life.

Francis had visions; in one a crucifix asked him to repair a ruined church, and he did so. He is said to have performed miracles, to have healed the sick and injured with his touch. Near the end of his life, when he was in retreat in a hermit’s cell on a mountain in Tuscany, he himself was injured: he was suddenly pierced with the stigmata, the five terrible wounds of the crucified Jesus.

This is the event taking place in Bellini’s picture, though he depicts it in a somewhat unorthodox way. We clearly see nail marks, tiny dots of ruby paint, in his hands, and microscopic inspection has revealed that there were once marks on the foot visible in the picture. The fifth wound, the gash made by the spear that pierced Jesus’s side, Bellini never shows, as if he thought it would be too conspicuous and too easily give the story away, reduce the mystery.

Nor did he include the winged seraph that in traditional depictions — Giotto’s, say — inflicted the stigmata by shooting penetrating rays in Francis’s direction. In Bellini’s subtle version divine power is visualized as light, almost natural, but not quite.

It falls, intense but dispersed, from the picture’s upper left corner, as if from a sun positioned too high for dawn and too low for noon. Everything in the landscape is silently alive to momentousness in progress. The heron stiffens, the donkey raises its ears, a tree bends, as the light hits Francis full force, illuminating, almost too harshly, his desk, his discarded sandals, the wattle gate on his cell.

The resulting image is of a saint who is also a man, and of a world that is divine, but also not. The Francis who has come down to us in official biographies is a comparable mix of the radical and the conventional. He despised wealth (he literally wouldn’t touch money) and personal authority (he refused to be ordained a priest), but he framed his preaching in the language of aristocratic poetry and submitted unresistingly to the rule of papal Rome.

In Bellini we get some of all of this, though his Francis, a gaunt but elegant ascetic, is easier to admire than to love. His connection to nature seems tenuous: he’s in the middle of it, but he’s not seeing it, or touching it.

So for touch, you turn to Bellini himself, and this is where the Frick’s ’multimedia presentation — overseen by Susannah Rutherglen, a curatorial fellow — comes in. The digital display approaches the painting not as a grand panorama, but as a series of intimate, sensuous, hand-on details that the unaided eye cannot see: moving clouds as wisps of scumbled pigment; tiny daisies stippled into being; the distant shepherd, a mere smudge of paint but with watchful eyes.

And when the digital view focuses on the little donkey, an artist’s skill and a mystic’s vision become one. First we see the animal in the under-drawn image, tenderly formed; then in the painting, every rough hair of its coat defined. Then we move photographically closer and closer and closer, until we finally meet our Brother-Sister Creature virtually eye to eye and pulse to pulse, in true Franciscan perspective.


Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Music Beat: Joe Ely comes full circle

By Jim Beal Jr.
San Antonio Express-News Music Writer
Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Joe Ely's new CD is "Satisfied at Last."
/ SA

Joe Ely has done a pretty good job of keeping track of his movements.

"I got my first band together right at 50 years ago when I was 14 in Lubbock, Texas," Ely said in a phone interview on the eve of his latest tour. "Two or three years after Buddy Holly died, there was a huge increase in the number of bands in Lubbock. The only requirement was you had to have at least one Stratocaster in the band."

Ely left Lubbock to work at the Cellar Club in Fort Worth, then the Cellar Club in Houston.

"In Houston, I had a disagreement with the proprietor, and he pulled a big old gun on me. I hit the back door, never went back for my last pay check and wound up in Venice, Calif."

When Ely returned to Lubbock a few years later, he fell in with fellow West Texas musicians Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. A short-lived collaboration, the Flatlanders, led to one album that was barely released at the time but worked its way into Texas music history. Subsequent Flatlanders projects and tours have gone more smoothly and further. Ely put together a hot West Texas band, signed with the MCA label and released a string of inspired albums that mixed roadhouse rock 'n' roll with twang and more for a quintessential Texas sound.

"Butch and Jimmie were a few years older, and they were writing their own songs. That inspired me to keep a journal and put down my thoughts," Ely said. "That inspired me to do what I'm doing today."

What Ely is doing today is celebrating the release of a new CD, Satisfied at Last, on his own Rack 'Em Records label. Satisfied at Last includes seven original songs, two Hancock numbers, Leo and Leona and Circumstance, and Billy Joe Shaver's Live Forever

"I kind of look at it as a record of where I'm at right now," Ely said. "The first song, 'The Highway Is My Home', is about what I've been doing for years, running up and down the road bumping into things and then coming full circle, coming home and writing down what I learned. People would tell me parts of a story, and then I'd make up the rest. It's my observations and philosophies."

Songs such as the title track, "I'm a Man Now and Roll Again" sound as if they're built as much on reflection and personal experience as on observation and the overheard.

"The songs that wanted to be on this record are on this record," Ely said. "Used to be I wrote all the time whether I had anything to say or not. It takes discipline to write. Sometimes you just have to sit down and write. The difference now is I don't force it. It's still hard work. I'm a lot more of an editor now. I'm harder on myself now."

And the songs on Satisfied at Last that were penned by Hancock and Shaver?

"I don't even think of them as covers," Ely said. "I just think of them as finding their ways onto the album. A few years ago, Billy Joe called me and said he was being inducted, well, he said he was being indicted, into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in Nashville and asked me to sing a song at the ceremony. I was honored. I chose to sing "Live Forever", and it's been in my set since. Butch's songs just came up, knocked on the door and said, 'I want in.' Of course, they're on there because they just fit that circular thing."

Satisfied at Last features a large crew of guitarists - Lloyd Maines, Teye, David Grissom, Mitch Watkins, Jeff Plankenhorn Rob Gjersoe, David Holt, Fred Stitz, Keith Davis and Ely - along with a cadre of long-time collaborators: Davis McLarty and Pat Manske (drums and percussion), Joel Guzman (accordion, keys), Glenn Fukunaga (bass) and Little Johnny Fader (bass, keys).

"Different songs demanded different players, so I called all my old buddies," Ely said. "Some of the stuff we did in the studio. All of a sudden I'd be in the middle of something and say, 'Wouldn't it be great to have Lloyd here on steel?' So I called Lloyd. All the guitar players add different textures."

At this point in his career, Ely spends four months writing, four months recording and four months on the road.

"It used to be 80 percent on the road, 10 percent in the studio and 10 percent lost somewhere," Ely added, laughing.

See, he's pretty good, not perfect, at keeping track.

Joe Ely's latest reflects on long, winding road of his life

By John T. Davis
June 8, 2011

You had to appreciate the irony: Joe Ely was out of gas.

Or the next thing to it. He was calling a reporter from a gas station, muttering imprecations at the self-serve pump that refused to recognize his ZIP code. "My little gauge said 'Range — Five miles'," he said.

Ely, of course, has made a decades-long career out of extolling the joys and temptations of the open road. The first line of the first song on his first album, from 1977, was all about lighting out for the territory: "Well, I left my home out on the great High Plains/Headed for some new terrain"

As a bookend of sorts, the first song on his newest and 18th-or-so album, "Satisfied at Last," is a two-edged love song to the two-lane blacktop, "The Highway is My Home."

But if Ely's vehicle was running on fumes, the man himself is still firing on all cylinders. After a long interlude that saw him releasing a book culled from his road journals, a handful of archival recordings and two live albums, Ely is back at last with an album of new original material, leavened by one Billy Joe Shaver classic ("Live Forever") and a pair of tunes from his fellow Flatlander, Butch Hancock.

As the title suggests, "Satisfied at Last" finds the peripatetic Ely in a rare contemplative move, looking back at the landscape and land mines he has traversed while pondering what's left of the journey.

"It's a bit about mortality," said Ely who, unthinkably, will qualify for Social Security next year. "We ain't getting any younger, and you've got to look that in the eye. I'm having probably as good or better a time making music as I've ever had in my life. I've got a bunch of new mountains to climb, but I've made it through the first part. So the record is kind of a celebration."

Musically, the album continues Ely's trademark fusion of rock, country, flamenco, blues and Tex-Mex influences, propelled by a cast of longtime cohorts that includes, among others, guitarists David Grissom, Rob Gjersoe and Mitch Watkins; bassist Glenn Fukunaga; steel player Lloyd Maines; drummers Pat Manske and Davis McLarty; and accordionist Joel Guzman.

The tone of the album, to hear Ely tell it, springs from a tale of journey and return chronicled by the first two songs, "The Highway is My Home" ("I wanted to show where the struggle came from my early life, living on the highway and hitchhiking around the country, through the rain and bad roads") and "Not That Much Has Changed," a knowing, fond look back at the immutable small West Texas towns that shaped Ely's early world view. "Everything sort of looks the same," he said. "But there's that weird, different vibe about it. And then you realize that the difference is that you've changed."

Consequently, songs like the title track and "I'm a Man Now," "You Can Bet I'm Gone" (in which the protagonist arranges to have his ashes fired from shotguns as a final farewell) and Shaver's "Live Forever" all reflect on the years and miles, choices made, and roads not taken.

Ely recalled a time when all his choices were in front of him, but he was at his lowest ebb. "I was sitting in the Lubbock County Jail in about 1968," he said (he and some friends were arrested for possession of psychedelic mushrooms, he said, adding that the case ended with probation).

"Things were looking really bleak. I never thought I would actually go out and do something with music.

"But then I moved down to Austin and hooked up with (artist) Jim Franklin who took us up to New York City to help him paint a mural. And there, I joined up with an off-Broadway theater troupe because they needed a guitar player. And that ended up taking me to Europe for six months. I was in heaven — I had a job, I was playing guitar and getting paid for it. All of a sudden, I went from the depths of despair to having one of the greatest times of my life!"

So what would Joe Ely, circa 2011, have told the skinny youth moping in the county lockup?

"I'd tell him to change the radio station," he said, laughing. "'Cause I was listening to Merle Haggard singing 'Branded Man.'"

Then he added, "I think I would have told that kid in jail to hang on. Everything's going be all right. And that might be what this record is about."

Joe Ely: Satisfied at Last

By Lynne Margolis
June 7th, 2011

Six-and-a-half decades into a life full of restless adventure played out on stages around the world, it’s good to hear Joe Ely proclaim he’s “Satisfied at Last.” But his title-song declaration that he’s happy with his lot hasn’t dulled his edge at all. He’s still a terrific songwriter, a dynamic performer and spot-on producer.

For this album, Ely collected a hot list of Austin-area musicians to lend their chops, sometimes in surprising ways. Who knew accordionist Joel Guzman also could play some funky bass, as he does on the opener, “The Highway is My Home”? The song, which visits one of Ely’s favorite themes (he is, after all, the guy who published the journal Bonfire of the Roadmaps), is full of ‘70s-tinged instrumentation, including Pat Manske’s congas and Ely’s own electric riffs. It’s an interesting directional shift, one that might bear more exploration.

By now, Ely’s established a pattern of themes, many of them road-related. On “Not That Much Has Changed,” he sings about going home again, using somewhat well-worn imagery. Yet, as familiar as some of his phrases sound, lines like “the watertower has more names” are still striking in their simple evocation of what revisiting the past can be like. (If there is one gripe with this album, it’s that story-songs like “Mockingbird Hill” and Butch Hancock’s “Leo and Leona” do sound similar to others he’s already done.)

On “Satisfied at Last,” Ely had four different guitarists lend electric licks to his acoustic twang. They provide a dramatic finale to his declaration, “I didn’t come here with nothin’/just a slap on the ass/You can bet when I’m leavin’/I’ll be satisfied at last.” (Betraying his Texas pride, he also injects a sly dose of humor with the line, “I traveled the country/Oklahoma, too.”)

It’s natural for a guy looking in the rear-view mirror of life to write songs like “You Can Bet I’m Gone,” another reflection on mortality. In his charming style, Ely sings about his preferred funeral: “When I die, don’t toll no bells/Just put my ashes in some shotgun shells/Get all my friends some windy day/to say goodbye, watch me blow away.” This one is a Texas twanger, with David Holt’s tasty guitar and a cool changeup at the end.

But it’s the beautiful bittersweetness of Billy Joe and Eddy Shaver’s “Live Forever” that truly speaks to the issue. Eddy Shaver’s overdose death gives the song a poignancy its father-son authors could never have imagined, and Ely imbues it with every ounce of the heartache Shaver and those who loved his son have known since. Accented by Guzman’s accordion, the song is almost the antithesis of the bravado-laced “You Can Bet I’m Gone.” It’s a nice balance, from a guy who’s been able to keep his throughout years of the craziness that comes with a musical life. The Stones can keep singing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in their 60s, but hearing Ely say life is good is actually more satisfying.

Related Articles


By Ann Coulter
June 8, 2011

In Part One of my new book -- released this week! -- "Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America," I demonstrate that liberals have all the earmarks of mob psychology.

Their myths, slogans, demands for immediate action, messianic goals, demonization of opponents, creation of political idols and occasional resorts to violence -- all this is classic herd behavior.

Because mobs are irrational, immature, subject to wild passions and infatuations, they cannot be reasoned with. And they are always dangerous.

The mob attributes of liberals we will review this week are a crowd's inability to perceive contradictions and its tendency to form an infatuation for an individual.

Consider just one blinding contradiction recently embraced by liberals.

Immediately after Jared Loughner's shooting spree in Tucson, Americans were lectured on civility by the likes of Keith "the leading terrorist group in this country right now is the Republican Party" Olbermann.

Two days after the shooting, The New York Times ran an op-ed by former Democratic congressman Paul Kanjorski (Pa.) calling for "an atmosphere of civility" to eliminate a "fear of violent confrontation." Only months earlier, Kanjorski had said of the Republican candidate for governor in Florida (now governor), Rick Scott: "They ought to have him and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him."

But the media turned to one man more than any other to discuss how rhetoric can lead to violence: Al Sharpton -- someone whose rhetoric actually had inspired violent mobs.

In addition to libeling innocent men in the Tawana Brawley hoax, ginning up angry mobs outside the Central Park jogger's rapists' trial, whipping up mobs after a car accident in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood killed a black child and a rabbinical student was stabbed to death, Sharpton famously incited an anti-Semitic pogrom against a Jewish-owned clothing store in Harlem, saying, "We will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business."

Someone who was listening to Sharpton later decided to storm the store and start shooting, wounding several employees, and setting a fire that killed seven people.

Of course, after all this, Sharpton became a pariah -- oh wait! In the opposite of being exiled, he became famous, ran for president as a Democrat and Al Gore kissed his ring, after these events.

In January of this year, Sharpton was repeatedly rolled out as the expert commentator on civil discourse -- on NBC's "Meet the Press," NPR, CNN and MSNBC. As MSNBC's Ed Schultz said in introducing him, "Al Sharpton is on a crusade against hate speech on talk radio."

In light of Sharpton's history, you'd think that, in the middle of the Arizona shooting being blamed on "rhetoric," someone in his organization might have said: "Boss, I'd keep a low profile for the next couple of weeks. We just don't want you to be on TV right now because someone is going to say -- 'Hey, how about Freddy's? What about Gavin Cato's funeral? Weren't you the guy stirring up the violent rabble at the trial for the Central Park jogger's rape?'"

They needn't have worried. No one brought up any of the mayhem that had followed Sharpton's speeches.

As Gustave Le Bon, the father of groupthink, explains: A crowd's "complete lack of critical spirit does not allow of its perceiving these contradictions."

Second and most obviously, liberals fanatically worship their leaders. FDR, JFK, Clinton, Obama -- they're all "rock stars" to Democrats. They're the Beatles, Elvis, Abraham Lincoln or Jesus, depending on which cliche liberals are searching for.

Nearly seven decades after FDR was president and five decades after JFK was, we still have to listen to liberals drone on about their stupendousness. It's as if Republicans demanded constant praise for Calvin Coolidge.

Even Republicans are forced to pretend to admire these profligate Democrats in order to court Democratic voters. Republicans don't mention Reagan as much, and he was a better president.

In 1992, Time magazine quoted The Boomer Report editor Cheryl Russell, saying, "Every woman I know is having sex dreams about Bill Clinton." (If you call nightmares about Bill Clinton dropping his pants "sex dreams," I guess I was, too.)

When Obama came along, guess who liberals started having sex dreams about? Yes, the big-eared beanpole. The New York Times' Judith Warner reported: "Many women -- not too surprisingly -- were dreaming about sex with the president."

Meanwhile, during Reagan's first year in office, conservatives didn't even rank him as their favorite conservative. He was assailed from the right throughout his presidency.

Republicans certainly never had sex dreams about Reagan -- nor Coolidge, Nixon or Bush. Most of the time, conservatives can barely stand their leaders. They aren't a mob.

As Gustave Le Bon explains, the "convictions of crowds assume those characteristics of blind submission, fierce intolerance, and the need of violent propaganda which are inherent in the religious sentiment."

Perhaps if they believed in a real God, liberals wouldn't have to keep creating an endless stream of human gods.


Book Review: Ann Coulter's "Demonic"

Ann Coulter Gets ‘Demonic’

Yet another pull-no-punches tract from the Right’s Queen of Mean. (Also read Andrew Klavan: Now I Am Happy.)
June 8, 2011 - 12:00 am - by Christian Toto
Liberals eager to find offense with Ann Coulter’s latest book need only thumb over to page 4, where the blond provocateur lumps left-wing protestors in with the Maoist gangs looting villages and impaling babies in China.

Or they can simply read the title.

Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America is yet another pull-no-punches tract from the Right’s Queen of Mean.

She’s as divisive as ever, lobbing red meat to her base while driving the Left to fits of rage. It’s in her DNA. But her tabloid style distracts from a larger truth. Few can illuminate the chasm between Right and Left like Coulter. You just have to endure her baiting prose to see it.

Demonic feels as packed as her political columns, and often nearly as riotous. At nearly 300 pages long — not counting the bibliography and various appendixes — it’s hardly a rush job. It’s the breadth of her examples which will leave readers gasping. Thank goodness for her fiery sense of humor. It’s a mandatory release valve for the anger her prose is sure to inspire.

What conservative wouldn’t get red-faced over the Left’s tactics, what Coulter describes as an amalgam of hate, insincerity, and outright deception.

Coulter ties the Left in knots via her mob mentality description, based on the 1896 book The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind by Gustave Le Bon — who might as well get a co-author credit here.

“Democrats activate mobs, depend on mobs, coddle mobs, publicize and celebrate mobs — they are the mob,” she writes. And if that weren’t scabrous enough, she’s just getting started.

“The Democrats’ playbook doesn’t involve heads on pikes — as yet,” she writes.

It’s Coulter being Coulter, and if you’re offended it would probably make her day.

Coulter boils down support for ObamaCare via the “mob mentality” lens: “it will provide health care for 30 million uninsured Americans, everyone’s health care will improve — and their plan would save money! … Only the mob could believe it,” she writes.

In “The Historical Context of the Left,” Coulter fashions herself a politically incorrect professor out to label the Left as the heirs to the French Revolution, a topic previously explored in Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism.

“Liberals don’t like to talk about the French Revolution because it’s the history of them,” she writes, before recalling the beheadings and other atrocities from the era.

It’s an imaginative, if incendiary, way to view the likes of and the union thugs, but Coulter wastes far too much pulp on the matter. A Coulter book should be read in a few intoxicating sittings.

She later turns her attention to the American Revolution, delivered in her own inimitable style. The text does support tea partier Sarah Palin when it describes how Paul Revere warned the British they would be massacred if they went near Lexington Green.

One tenuous connection between the two revolutions was Thomas Paine, who inexplicably supported the mob-like tactics practiced by the French.

“He was a historical one-hit wonder, desperately trying to find that follow-up single that would put him back on top,” she writes.

At times, Coulter’s barely controlled contempt for liberals bubbles over, and she lets loose with a fusillade of offenses to buttress her points. It almost feels like a jazz riff, impassioned and intoxicating in its venom.

In between the partisan broadsides, Coulter blasts the revised decisions in the Central Park jogger case, gives props to Marie Antoinette for her courage in the face of death, and taunts the Left for its own conspiracy theories regarding “The October Surprise.” The latter makes birthers look like sober-minded scientists.

Need examples of the Left’s hypocrisy? How about noting the liberal rages against the Duke lacrosse players accused of rape back in 2006 and the silence of the left-leaning Innocence Project toward the players’ cause?

Or how did the Democratic Party’s racist recent past (Bull Connor) beget the rise of Al Sharpton?
“The Democrats simply traded one mob constituency for a new one. You might say they traded their white robes for a track suit and a giant medallion,” she writes.

Coulter stands astride two distinct sides of the punditry realm. On one, she marshals compelling facts and humor to hammer home her assaults against the liberal mindset. On the other, she takes every opportunity possible for hyperbole, trampling her salient points.

In the book’s final chapter, indelicately titled “Lucifer: The Ultimate Mob Boss,” Coulter swats liberal icon Saul Alinsky before urging conservatives not to meekly accepted the Left’s tactics. It’s a call to arms, a metaphorical one, mind you. Appeasement simply lets the mob win, she cautions, and that‘s not how you handle an unruly gathering with hate in its heart.

“A mob cannot be calmly reasoned with; it can only be smashed,” she states.

Demonic stands as a tonic for weak-kneed conservatives who might get wobbly as the 2012 presidential elections come into focus. And it’s the best way to make a liberal’s blood boil at room temperature.

Also read Andrew Klavan: Now I Am Happy.

Christian Toto is a freelance writer for The Washington Times. His work has appeared in People magazine, MovieMaker Magazine, The Denver Post, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and He also contributes movie radio commentary to three stations as well as the nationally syndicated Dennis Miller Show and runs the blog What Would Toto Watch?

Muslim Woman Seeks to Revive Institution of Sex-Slavery

Posted by Raymond Ibrahim on Jun 8th, 2011

Last week witnessed popular Muslim preacher Abu Ishaq al-Huwaini boast about how Islam allows Muslims to buy and sell conquered infidel women, so that “When I want a sex-slave, I go to the market and pick whichever female I desire and buy her.”

This week’s depraved anachronism comes from a Muslim woman—Salwa al-Mutairi, a political activist and former parliamentary candidate for Kuwait’s government, no less: She, too, seeks to “revive the institution of sex-slavery.”

A brief English report appeared over the weekend in the Kuwait Times (nothing, of course, in the MSM):
Muslim men who fear being seduced or tempted into immoral behavior by the beauty of their female servants, or even of those servants “casting spells” on them, would be better to purchase women from an “enslaved maid” agency for sexual purposes. She [Mutairi] suggested that special offices could be set up to provide concubines in the same way as domestic staff recruitment agencies currently provide housemaids. “We want our youth to be protected from adultery,” said al-Mutairi, suggesting that these maids could be brought as prisoners of war in war-stricken nations like Chechnya to be sold on later to devout merchants.
The Arabic news website, Al Arabiya, has the sordid details, including a video of Mutairi addressing this topic. I summarize and translate various excerpts below (note: I am not making any of this up):
The Kuwaiti female activist begins by insisting that “it’s of course true” that “the prophet of Islam legitimized sex-slavery.” She recounts how when she was in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, she asked various sheikhs and muftis (learned, authoritative Muslims) about the legality of sex-slavery according to Sharia: they all confirmed it to be perfectly legal; Kuwaiti ulema further pointed out that extra “virile” men—Western synonyms include “sex-crazed,” “lecherous,” “perverted”—would do well to purchase sex-slaves to sate their appetites without sinning.

Here’s a particularly interesting excerpt from her taped speech on the rules governing sex-slaves:
A Muslim state must [first] attack a Christian state—sorry, I mean any non-Muslim state—and they [the women, the future sex-slaves] must be captives of the raid. Is this forbidden? Not at all; according to Islam, sex slaves are not at all forbidden. Quite the contrary, the rules regulating sex-slaves differ from those for free women [i.e., Muslim women]: the latter’s body must be covered entirely, except for her face and hands, whereas the sex-slave is kept naked from the bellybutton on up—she is different from the free woman; the free woman has to be married properly to her husband, but the sex-slave—he just buys her and that’s that.
She went on to offer concrete suggestions: “For example, in the Chechnyan war, surely there are female Russian captives. So go and buy those and sell them here in Kuwait; better that than have our men engage in forbidden sexual relations. I don’t see any problem in this, no problem at all.”

Mutairi suggests the enslaved girls be at least 15 years-old.

She further justified the institution of sex-slavery by evoking 8th century caliph, Harun Rashid—a name some may recall from Arabian Nights bedtime stories; a name some may be surprised to discover politically active Muslims modeling their lives after:

“And the greatest example we have is Harun al-Rashid: when he died, he had 2,000 sex slaves—so it’s okay, nothing wrong with it.”

Mutairi’s rationale is ultimately guided by a sense of efficiency, a desire for the good of society: legalizing sex-slaves helps prevent Muslim men from transgressing Allah’s laws (as we have seen, extramarital relations with fellow Muslim women is strictly forbidden, but not with infidel sex-slaves, since they are scarcely considered human). Thus, the institution of sex-slavery provides a convenient, Sharia-compliant way of satiating the libidinous urges of Muslim men.

The Kuwaiti activist’s blunt approach also has universal parallels. For example, in the West, some seek to legalize marijuana, arguing that, since people use it anyway, let it be made compliant with the law. In the Muslim world, we have those who seek to legalize sex-slavery, arguing that, since Muslim men will use women anyway, let it be made compliant with Sharia law.

Such are the inevitable differences between the Western mindset (based on reason and universal rights) and the Sharia mindset (based on the life of a 7th century Arabian caravan-raider and slave-trader).

Mutairi concluded by piously supplicating Allah: “Oh I truly wish this for Kuwait, Allah willing—Oh Lord, Lord, you are bountiful…”

While she waits, Mutairi can take solace in the fact that, if sex-slavery is not institutionalized in Kuwait, it thrives underground throughout the Muslim world, where non-Muslim girls—mostly Christians—are routinely abducted, enslaved, and forced into lives of unspeakable degradation.
After all, just because a practice is not formally institutionalized does not mean that those who deem it their divine right are not practicing it.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

English music superstar Adele: 23, and already the heartbreak queen

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, May. 17, 2011

“There is just something SO different about Adele, and once you fall into the fandom, you're in for life.” – Paige, age 16 (almost 17), member of the online Church of Adele

She sings with a choir’s strength, with a smoky, supple alto turning her sorrow into treasured gold. She has the R&B swagger of Amy Winehouse and the big-ballad poise of an artist well beyond her 23 years. She’s brilliant, it’s true. Still, just how in the world did Adele Adkins happen?

Make no mistake, Adele, the English superstar who sold out her concerts in Montreal on Monday and Toronto on Wednesday, is absolutely happening. Without the sex-splashed shenanigans of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, the singer-songwriter’s second album, 21, has sold in excess of five million copies and sits atop charts in more than a dozen countries, five months after its release. It’s a very good record – a flooring, soulful account of heartbreak – but there’s more to her appeal than songs alone.

“She’s relatable and, for me, she’s got the best voice of her generation,” says Jonathan Dickins, Adele’s manager. “But I think the key for every great singer is whether or not you believe what’s being sung. And with Adele, I think you absolutely believe every word coming from her mouth.”

Fair enough. But I must say, while sharing a couch with the singer earlier this year, I could not believe the words coming from the likeable superstar. She mentioned her pet dachshund (dubbed Louis Armstrong) and a second one she is hoping to acquire (to be named Ella Fitzgerald). Will she mate them? “No, I had Louis’s balls cut off about a year ago,” she cracked.

Oh yes, madam, Adele, dubbed “the girl with the mighty mouth” by The Guardian, is refreshingly blunt. It’s another of her qualities that attracts fans. When asked about her work on 21 with the eccentric Rick Rubin – one of the album’s seven credited producers, Adele among them – she said she had heard a lot of different stories about him. “I started [soiling] myself, because this guy didn’t sound consistent,” she recalled. “But he was amazing once we were in the studio.”

Adele is signed to the British independent label XL Recordings. Unlike, say, England’s Leona Lewis, a pop singer with a big soulless voice and a wood-panelled personality who rose to fame on the strength of a televised talent search and subsequent major-label promotion, Adele’s rise has been fairly organic. Her debut album, 19 – like 21, its title reflects the singer’s age when the album was made – marked a strong beginning. The LP sold more than three million copies worldwide.

The new album’s material is more polished and grand, though again it’s inspired by a collapsed relationship. Bluesy opening tracks Rolling in the Deep and Rumour Has It reveal an emboldened artist. The “heartbreak superstar,” as proclaimed by Rolling Stone magazine, describes her approach for 21 as “a bit more boisterous, with more swagger and attitude.”

There wasn’t any breakout moment, though her soul-baring performance of Someone Like You on this year’s Brit Awards gave Adele a boost. Unlike her heroes Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand and Patsy Cline, Adele insists on singing her own material. “The songs I like, they convince me, and transport me off into this little world, and they make me gasp for air and hold my breath,” she explained. “I don’t think I could convince myself if I tried to sing someone else’s songs.”

With her earthiness, openness, accessible songs and golden voice, Adele is something like Norah Jones multiplied by Aretha Franklin, convincingly staking a claim to the huge mainstream ground between the underdog old maid Susan Boyle and the salacious, vamping Winehouse.

Like Winehouse, Adele can be naughty, but not in a train-wreck way: She said she enjoys a “tipple,” but now keeps to red wine instead of spirits. And while she had been off cigarettes for six weeks when I spoke with her – “I’m bitter,” she disclosed, “I need a smoke badly” – she has since resumed smoking.

Loyalists contacted by e-mail through the singer’s online chat group include 16-year-old Paige, who finds inspiration in the artist’s self-confidence: “[That] she is so comfortable with herself and her body, even though some people say nasty things, just reminds people that they can reach their dream no matter what size or shape they are.”

A 42-year-old follower, who goes by the chat-group moniker Azule, admires Adele for her genuineness: “She drops the pretense. We’re able to connect with her rage, grief and loss. And her vulnerability is palpable.”

And so it’s a tidy packet – song and true spirit, with a personable, cheeky demeanour – that galvanizes Adele’s audience. Says Jeff Winskell, music director with Vancouver’s Virgin Radio 95.3 FM: “Adele’s songs may follow a typical pop-music formula, but they stand out drastically on a Top-40 station because of not only her voice, but the very Motown-ish arrangements. Her music is perceived as more organic, traditional and timeless, and that perception is propelled by her openness about being a real woman. ... She loves being ‘her.’ ”

The real woman with the fake eyelashes played down her role as some sort of plus-sized role model – “It’s not something I resist, but it’s not something I totally embrace either” – and would prefer not to be recognized as an anti-Gaga or a Perry-opposite. “I admire artists who have that kind of fire in their belly,” she said.

She described herself as a prankster, but Adele doesn't see herself resorting to hijinks on stage. “I'm not brave enough to put whipped-cream guns on my boobs,” she joked, referring to the Perry's interesting choices in toppings. “I'd just be embarrassed. I'd giggle the whole time.”

And she’d have a full legion laughing along with her, you’d have to think.

She could have had it all, but Adele is refusing to go all Gaga

The Irish Times - Friday, May 27, 2011

REVOLVER : THE CHINESE concept of yin and yang refers to how complementary opposites interact within a greater whole as part of a dynamic system. Key to the idea is how opposites only exist in relation to each other.

Even though it’s only May, we can safely say that the biggest music story of this year is the ongoing yin and yang narrative unfolding between two music giants. In some ways it’s a battle for the very heart and soul of what music has now come to represent.

Industry's saviour: Adele

In one corner is the airbrushed, haute couture, post-modern figure that is Lady Gaga. Staring balefully at her from the other corner in a “think you’re tough enough” manner is the cider-swilling, size- 16 Adele.

Look beyond the Gaga hyperbole and incessant Twitter-led white noise and you’ll find there’s only one real winner here. Gaga might give “good front cover”, but Adele, the 23-year-old from Tottenham (the daughter of an unmarried teenage mother) has not just broken all sorts of sales records that have stood since the days of The Beatles: the figures show that she has also, in the UK and Ireland at least, kept the benighted music industry ticking over.

Remove the sales figures this year for Adele’s 19 and 21 and UK and Irish album sales are down by 8.7 per cent compared to last year. Once you factor in all of Adele’s sales, the sector is actually up 1.5 per cent. This is believed to be the first time that one musical act has singled-handedly kept the industry afloat and in profit.

However, Adele’s influence runs deeper. It’s not just that she sings without Auto-Tune (rare among today’s female big-hitters). And it’s not just that she takes her musical reference points from true greats such as Dusty Springfield and doesn’t just get in some Swedish dance-pop hit- maker to write her material for her.

And place Adele beside the Rihannas, Britneys and Beyoncés, and you’ll see a young woman who doesn’t do soft porn-style videos, doesn’t look like she’s starved herself to near death, and views pelvic flicks as somewhat degrading and tacky.

Describing herself as “a normal size 16, happy and healthy” is perhaps the most radical statement you’ll hear from a female music star. “I wouldn’t encourage anyone to be unhealthy overweight,” she says, “just as much as I wouldn’t encourage a f***in’ Ralph Lauren model to suck ice when she feels like fainting.”

Despite being offered mega- money to headline the summer’s biggest music festivals, Adele says she’s turned them down “so I can sit in Brockwell Park drinking cider with my friends”. There’s also a professional consideration: she’s savvy enough to know that her music is “too slow” for an up-for-it festival crowd.

Using the same logic – and citing her disapproval of solo acts performing in enormodomes – Adele has also declined an offer of three nights at London’s 02 arena. Such decisions drive the people around her insane, but the singer is adamant: “You think I’m going to play a f***in’ arena? Are you out of your mind? I’d rather play 12 years at the Barfly than one night at the 02.”

And don’t be expecting any endorsements or tie-ins from this year’s biggest selling artist. “I think it’s shameful when you sell out,” she says. “It depends what kind of artist you want to be, but I don’t want my name anywhere near another brand. I don’t want to be tainted or haunted.”

A healthy, enormously talented young woman who won’t sell out or rip off her fans. How much more of a role model for today’s Heat -magazine-polluted, X Factor - enslaved youth do you want?

All hail Adele for committing the music industry’s worst sin

By James Delingpole
The Telegraph
27 May 2011

Is Adele the bravest, craziest, most downright wonderful star in the history of pop? After what she has just told Q magazine on the subject of tax, I think she might well be.

Here’s what she said: “I’m mortified to have to pay 50 per cent! [While] I use the NHS, I can’t use public transport any more. Trains are always late, most state schools are ––––, and I’ve gotta give you, like, four million quid – are you having a laugh? When I got my tax bill in from [her album] 19, I was ready to go and buy a gun and randomly open fire.”

The reaction from Guardian readers online has been typically unpleasant: “£4 million is nothing compared to the money the NHS needs for the psychological damage her painfully bad excuse for music has inflicted,” quips Ianl. “So not only a purveyor of boring mum soul, but a bloody Tory too?” says JohnnyVodka.

Which, of course, makes the 23-year-old London soul singer’s outspokenness all the more admirable. She’d have known the effect her remarks would have on her audience. Yet with the insouciance of a woman who has spent most of the year topping both the UK and US charts, she has apparently decided that becoming British pop’s answer to Sarah Palin is a fate she is big enough to handle.

In the music business this is probably a first. Sure, the Beatles famously wrote a song about the absurd 95 per cent tax rate under Wilson and Heath: “Let me tell you how it will be/There’s one for you, 19 for me/Because I’m the taxman.” Sure, the Kinks sang, in Sunny Afternoon, how “the tax man’s taken all my dough”. Sure, the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main St was inspired by the year they spent exiled in the south of France to avoid the punitive UK tax rate. But, though they may have let such sentiments slip into their song lyrics, they certainly never did so in their interviews or public statements.

And with good reason. A rock star can get away with many vices – from drugs to Satan worship to on-stage bat decapitation – but the one perversion that remains absolutely verboten is the kind of conservatism expressed by Adele. Rock stars, after all, are traditionally supposed to be champions of the underdog. Their fans may permit them the odd stately home or private jet, but what they absolutely won’t forgive is any sign that they’ve abandoned their socialist principles. That would be “selling out”.

This is why the list of “out” conservatives in the music biz is so embarrassingly, painfully short. In the US, about the best names they can come up with are Lynyrd Skynyrd (mostly dead), Kid Rock (who?) and Johnny Ramone. In Britain, the list is even shorter – just Tony Hadley out of Spandau Ballet, apparently; and Gary Numan – not least because the merest intimation of Right-ish leanings is so swiftly pounced upon by the commissars of the Leftie music press.

When, in 2009, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker hinted that a Conservative government might be desirable at the next election, he carefully presented it as an anti-Gordon Brown view (“he makes a mockery of the whole system”, claimed Cocker) rather than a pro-Cameron one (the thought of a Tory administration, he insisted, did not “excite” him).

By pop star standards, even this was dangerously reactionary. What you’re really supposed to do if you’re proper and authentic is hate the Tories so violently that you issue a fatwa banning them from your records: just like Johnny Marr and Morrissey did to David Cameron when they heard he was a fan of the Smiths.

Yes, there may be other closet conservatives lurking discreetly backstage (Neil Young, it’s said; and also Mick Jagger). But openly and in the full glare of the spotlight? All but never. Adele, your openness, fearlessness and integrity puts the rest of your industry to shame.

Two sides of Adele

By Tom Lanham
The San Francisco Examiner

Note: Adele's concert has been canceled due to illness.

In person, Adele Adkins is a zany, outgoing redhead with the wit and comedic timing of a young Lucille Ball.

The brassy Brit — who performs as simply Adele — already made her stateside TV debut on “Ugly Betty,” a role she thoroughly enjoyed.

“But I sounded like Dick Van Dyke doing it — even though I’m English, I was putting on this fake English accent,” she says. “So it’s not something I want to pursue, acting. I just want to be a singer, and I don’t think you can be good at lots of things. You can be good at one thing, and mediocre at all the others.”

The plan is working. Adele’s new sophomore set, “21,” is the biggest-selling album of the year. In the No. 1 spot on the charts for nine weeks in the U.S., it has sold more than 1.7 million copies.

Overseas, its chart-topping reign was so magnetic, it drew her 2008 debut, “19,” back up to rest alongside “21” at No. 2.

At only 23, Adele — who plays the Greek Theatre in Berkeley on Saturday — truly rules the pop-R&B roost.

“So I don’t want people to be distracted by other things that I do,” she says.

Humor may be key to the Grammy winner’s success. But so is humility. She knew she hit paydirt with “19” and its breakup-themed ballads such as “Chasing Pavements.”

But she was also willing to admit the truth.

“I’m quite limited and quite set in my boundaries as a musician,” was her sober assessment. “I can only play four or five chords, so I would’ve ended up writing ‘19.2’ if I’d written this new record on my own. So I made a conscious decision early on that I wanted to work with more people this time.”

Adele co-penned “21’s” first gospel-stomping single, “Rolling in the Deep,” with Paul Epworth. For the rest of the record, she recruited co-writers such as One Republic’s Ryan Tedder and ex-Semisonic songsmith Dan Wilson.

“Dan had me on my hands and knees, crying my eyes out — there’s just something about him that made me completely open up as a composer,” she says. “And it’s unbelievable how professional Ryan is, and it’s totally rubbed off on me.”

Adele might be sitcom-ready. But her concerts play more like telenovellas.

“Even at the end of touring my last record,” she says, “I’d think, ‘this is so embarrassing that I’m still singing about this guy who broke my heart two and a half years ago, and he’s had, like, 14 women since me!’ So now I have to go sing this record, and it’s like breaking up again, every night.”



Where: Greek Theatre, Gayley Road and Hearst Avenue, Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $45 to $65
Contact: (800) 745-3000,

It’s Obama’s Economy, Stupid

No president “runs” the U.S. economy, but this president talks like he does.

By Jonah Goldberg
June 8, 2011

‘Now, my administration has a job to do as well, and that job is to get this economy back on its feet,” President Obama declared on July 14, 2009, in Warren, Mich. “That’s my job, and it’s a job I gladly accept. I love these folks who helped get us in this mess and then suddenly say, well, this is Obama’s economy. That’s fine. Give it to me.”

OK. It’s yours.

The unemployment rate then was 9.5 percent. It’s now 9.1 percent, well above the 8 percent cap that the administration’s advisers projected under the stimulus bill. But that’s not the amazing part. According to a White House report written by economic advisers Jared Bernstein and Christina Romer in January 2009 in support of the bill, if we had passed no stimulus package at all, the unemployment rate would have topped out at around 8.8 percent in the last quarter of 2010.

If only.

Instead, we got Obama’s vital “investments.” Since his speech in Warren, we’ve spent another $2.8 trillion in borrowed money. Presumably, we could have cut the unemployment rate by four-tenths of a percentage point more cheaply than that?

Meanwhile, we’ve accrued a total of $3.7 trillion in debt on Obama’s watch, while losing 2.8 million jobs. That doesn’t sound ideal either.

But what do I know?

The more salient point is that Obama acts like he knows everything. From Day One, this White House has been cocksure about how to get us out of the economic ditch. In every major relevant speech, Obama has stuck with a consistent message: We know what to do and the Republicans don’t. “I will not sacrifice the core investments we need to grow and create jobs,” Obama insisted yet again in his April budget speech.

So what does this guy have to do to get the blame for the bad economy? Mark Halperin, an analyst for MSNBC and Time magazine, was asked on the Today show over the weekend about the political impact of the bad economy. He assured viewers that the president was totally engaged in the need for job creation. “The Republicans, though, have the onus on them to come forward with some ideas. The president’s ideas are still a little bit up in the air.”

A little bit up in the air? They’re in concrete. From his April 14, 2009, “New Foundation” speech at Georgetown University to his latest campaign stop, Obama has insisted he knows exactly what he’s doing. He stands by “Obamacare” as a boon for the economy. He still sees the “green revolution” — and all the crony capitalism that comes with it — as the solution to our woes. (That’s why he nominated John Bryson, a former utility CEO, subsidy-seeking entrepreneur, and environmental activist, to be his next commerce secretary.)

But is there any evidence it’s helped create jobs? Consider that when President Reagan oversaw a huge jobs boom, the media recycled the untrue claim that these were all low-paying “hamburger flipper” jobs.

Well, McDonald’s alone may be responsible for a quarter to a half of the new jobs created in the last month. And that hiring probably wouldn’t have happened if Mickey D’s hadn’t been given a waiver from Obamacare.

And then there’s the stimulus, which the White House still touts as an unqualified success. Well, during Obama’s first year in office, more than half (119,000) of all the new jobs in the United States were created in business-friendly Texas, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If Obama created those jobs, why’d he put so many of them in, of all places, George W. Bush’s home state?

No president “runs” the U.S. economy, but this president talks like he does more than any I can remember. And yet, none of his economic promises or predictions has panned out. (Remember the long, hot “recovery summer” when 250,000 to 500,000 new jobs a month that the vice president promised turned out to be mirages?)

How does the media react? Not by taking him at his word when he says he wants it to be “Obama’s economy.” Instead, they’re ferociously truth-squadding Sarah Palin’s comments on Paul Revere and following her bus around like they’re in a remake of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

And maybe it is.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

The Coordinates of Radicalism

By Andrew C. McCarthy
June 8, 2011

What is it that radicalizes Muslims, including American Muslims? Is it American foreign policy? Israeli “occupation” of the ancient Jewish territories of Judea and Samaria? Cartoons depicting the warrior-prophet as a warrior? Korans torched by obscure Florida pastors? The life of Osama bin Laden, or, perhaps, his death? Any of a thousand claimed slights, real or imagined, that purportedly provoke young Muslims to “conflagrate” — if we may borrow from the forgiving rationalizations of Faisal Rauf, would-be imam of the would-be Ground Zero mosque?
Here is the unsettling but sedulously avoided truth: What radicalizes Muslims is Islam.

Political correctness requires that we becloud this simple truth with a few caveats that, in most any other context, would be regarded as distractions by sensible people. So it is necessary to say that there is more than one interpretation of Islam. We must further note that the fact that Islam itself is the radicalizing catalyst does not mean that all, or even most, Muslims will become radicals. But here is another disquieting truth: Even the terms “radicalization” and “radical Islam” get things exactly backwards. The reality is that the radicals in Islam are the reformers — the Muslims who embrace Western civilization, its veneration of reason in matters of faith, and the pluralistic space it makes for civil society. What we wishfully call “radicalism” is in fact the Islamic mainstream.

These are the principal takeaways from an important study just competed by Israeli academic Mordechai Kedar and David Yerushalmi of the Center for Security Policy in Washington. As detailed in a just-published Middle East Quarterly essay, “Shari’a and Violence in American Mosques” (available here), the authors’ “Mapping Sharia” project surveyed 100 randomly selected mosques across the United States. Onsite, fully 81 percent of the mosques featured Islamic texts that advocate violence. In nearly 85 percent of the mosques, the leadership (usually an imam or prayer leader) favorably recommended this literature for study by congregants. Moreover, 58 percent of the mosques invited guest lecturers known for promoting violent jihad.

Kedar and Yerushalmi sought to study two intimately related sets of correlations. The first focused on sharia, the Islamic system of law that is based primarily on the Koran and the Sunnah (i.e., the words, deeds, and traditions of Mohammed). The authors homed in on observable sharia-compliant behaviors. These are not actions unique to terrorist groups but conduct reflective of the broad consensus of sharia jurisprudence that cuts across the Sunni/Shiite divide — for example, women wearing the hijab or niqab (respectively, the head covering or full-length covering of the entire female form), the segregation of men from women during communal prayer, and the enforcement by imams of the requirement that male worshippers form up in tight, straight lines during mosque prayer.

The survey probed whether there was a statistically significant correlation between these sharia behaviors and the availability at the mosque of “violence-positive” literature. Significantly, although violence pervades Muslim scripture, the authors did not include scripture (the Koran and the Sunnah) in this violence-positive category. Instead, they confined it to “normative and instructive tracts,” because “a believer is free to understand scripture literally, figuratively, or merely poetically,” unless it has become an Islamic norm or a legal obligation through incorporation in sharia.

Thus the focus on violent-positive tracts, which are interpretive of scripture. They were ranked in accordance with their promotion of violence as “severe,” “moderate,” or “nonexistent.” The “severe” is easy enough to spot: It includes tracts that affirmatively call for brutality against non-Muslims (and deviant Muslims) by such 20th-century ideologues as Muslim Brotherhood theoretician Sayyid Qutb and his fellow polemicist Abul Awa Mawdudi. Similarly straightforward is literature that does not approve of, much less incite, violence. Most disheartening is the “moderate” category. These are tracts written by widely respected sharia authorities that, though predominantly concerned with “the more mundane aspects of religious worship and ritual,” express “positive attitudes toward violence” — implicitly endorsing it even if they have not incited it in the manner of Qutb and Mawdudi.

The authors found that 51 percent of the mosques featured severely violence-positive literature; an additional 30 percent distributed moderately violent tracts; and 19 percent offered nonviolent materials. What’s more, there was a strong correlation between sharia-compliant behavior and the presence of severely violent (as well as moderately violent) tracts. And while the mosques that were not as sharia-compliant (e.g., mosques that did not segregate the sexes during prayer or enforce straight prayer lines) featured less in the way of violent materials, the percentages of even these mosques that had violence-positive literature on site was disturbingly high. (See Table 2 of the MEQ essay.)

The second, related correlation the study examines is between the presence of violence-positive materials at a given mosque and the recommendation of these materials to worshippers by the mosque’s imam — a direct promotion of violent jihadism. To cut to the chase, if these materials are on site, the imam is nearly always found endorsing them. The more observably sharia-adherent the imam, the more certain this conclusion. For example, 93 percent of imams who sported the traditional full beard were found to recommend violence-positive literature. Nonetheless, more than three-quarters of imams who did not manifest similar indicia of sharia-compliance were still found to endorse the pro-violence literature if it was on site.

Perhaps the most jarring finding in the study involved mosque attendance. As the authors observe, “mosques that contained written materials in the severe category were the best attended, followed by those with only moderate-rated materials, trailed in turn by those lacking such texts.” We are not talking small divergence here: Severe-material mosques were found to have a mean attendance of 118 worshippers at services, while no-violence mosques had 15. The moderate-violence mosques came in around the middle, at 60.

In this aspect of the study may lie whatever modest silver lining there is. The Kedar-Yerushalmi survey examines what goes on in the mosques. It does not account for what happens outside the mosques or for how many American Muslims actually attend mosques with any regularity. That is to say, the fact that only 19 percent of mosques actually reflect what Islamic apologists portray as a vibrant, predominant brand of “moderate Islam” does not necessarily mean that only one in five American Muslims is a moderate.

Thousands of Muslims pray privately, as Islam permits. They visit mosques rarely, if at all, and when they go it is more for social or cultural purposes than for instruction. If they are Westernized, pro-American Muslims, they may resist the mosques precisely to avoid the influence of rabble-rousing clerics who have been recruited or trained by Saudi-backed Muslim Brotherhood elements. The study does not account for these Muslims. Their number would edge up the percentage of Muslim moderates, perhaps considerably.

But that is not the Islam Muslims are getting in American mosques. In sum, the study shows: The more sharia-compliant the mosque and its imam, the more virulently anti-Western is apt to be the Islam being preached there. Nor can it be ignored that this promotion of a pro-violence and anti-Western Islam in more than 80 percent of American mosques is of a piece with polling conducted of Muslims living in Islamic countries. As Messrs. Kedar and Yerushalmi remind us, a 2007 survey conducted by found that substantial majorities in Morocco, Egypt, and Pakistan — and a majority even in reputedly moderate Indonesia — favored the implementation of sharia law and the insulation of their countries from Western values.

It is time to stop pretending that there is some other cause for this. Many things can prompt a tinderbox to conflagrate, but it has to be tinder in the first place. Islam is the tinder. We can hope that brave Muslim reformers can build on the small but far from invisible havens where a nonviolent, pluralistic Islam has taken root. But to deny an obvious nexus between the mainstream Islam of the mosques, the violent jihadism of the terrorists, and the stealth jihadism of Islamist organizations is to remain willfully blind.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.