Thursday, November 29, 2007

'Tis the season

One man who never worried about what to buy for Christmas.

So, how's the Christmas shopping going? If you've been fighting the crowds at the mall, it's probably something you're not wanting to think about right now.

Word is that the less-affluent are scaling back their Christmas shopping, while upscale retailers are doing just fine:

Nationally, many luxury goods retailers appear to be doing just fine as wealthy consumers feel little ill effects from gasoline above $3 a gallon. Take jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co., for instance. Its same-store sales have climbed higher, while Saks stores saw 10.6 percent same-store sales growth in October as women stocked up on pricey shoes, jewelry and accessories.

Meanwhile, retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
[...]have responded to the softer economy by offering deeper discounts, and Wal-Mart's profits have increased as a result.

Stores such as J.C. Penney and Kohl's Corp. — sandwiched somewhere in the middle between the discount chains and luxury boutiques — have reported declining profits, though.

The article goes on to cite a recent consumer study:

A survey by consumer research firm BIGresearch in Worthington, Ohio, found households making less than $50,000 a year plan to cut holiday spending by 18 percent this year to $424 on average. Those making more than $50,000 a year said they plan to spend as much as last Christmas.

Another study I've seen finds that the average family plans to spend $859 on Christmas gifts this year, down 5% from 2006. This study notes that Christmas spending has declined in six of the past seven years. That may seem odd considering that the Bush Administration and its apologists claim that we are in one of the biggest economic expansions in history. Or perhaps American families are starting to realize that there's more to Christmas than presents under the tree.

Has the rising cost of gas and groceries cut into your Christmas budget, or are your family and friends worth a few months of post-holiday belt-tightening? One thing Mrs. S. and I have been thinking about is that we've put off buying a new car as long as we can, and that it would be nice to have some extra cash to take to the car dealers in order to keep the payments down. The car situation may end up leading to us not being as generous this holiday season as we might like to be.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Kevin DuBrow

Kevin DuBrow, lead singer of Quiet Riot, passed away Sunday at age 52.

I'm not going to waste too much space on DuBrow, as Quiet Riot was at best a footnote in rock history. Their moment of glory was their 1983 release Metal Health, which topped the Billboard album chart, a rare feat for a metal album in any era. Their mediocre cover of Slade's "Cum On Feel The Noize" reached the Top 5 and is claimed by some to be the first metal single to achieve that, although one would have to have a narrower definition of heavy metal than I have to make that claim. (For what are "Whole Lotta Love" and "Smoke On The Water", both Top 5 hits as well, if not classic heavy metal?) Quiet Riot's best achievement by far was Metal Health's title track.

Strannix has a more generous assessment of DuBrow's talent than I do. Randy Raley didn't think too much of DuBrow, but his post does include a nifty Slade tribute.

Now grab something handy and bang your head one more time in memory of Kevin DuBrow.

UPDATE: Brian Holland piles on.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Odds 'n' sods

With plenty of leftover turkey to eat and shopping to do, I may not be around for a few days. Here's a couple of things to consider for now:

First, a contest! Teeny Manolo has some Amazon gift certificates up for grabs at their place. The contest is fun and easy - click the link to find out more.

And a question. David McMahon, who paid a visit here the other day, is an Australian writer/photographer who has some pretty good stuff on his blog, and is well worth the trip over there. He asks this question: "When did you last write or receive a real snail-mail letter (you know, in an addressed envelope)?" I don't believe I've gotten a real hand-written letter (I've gotten plenty of the form-letter type) since I lived in Florida in 1986. My wife had an aunt, who was near 90, who wrote her a couple of times a year. Her aunt passed away last year, and I don't think we've received any letters since.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Whether you deep-fry your bird, grill it as we've been doing the last several years, or have the traditional oven-baked turkey, I hope you have plenty. Let's all take the time to be thankful for our lives, our families, and the many good things we have. We tend to take a lot for granted, and Thanksgiving is a good day to reflect and be grateful.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Since I don't want people to think this is turning into a pot blog, how 'bout those New England Patriots? The Pats are now 10-0 after their dismantling of the Buffalo Bills last night. Can they go undefeated? Will they become only the second team in NFL history to complete the regular season and postseason with a perfect record?

My gut says no, it's too hard to go through the NFL undefeated, and strange things always seem to happen during the pro football season. One can argue, though, that the Pats have made it through the toughest part of their schedule; the best teams they have remaining, the Steelers and Giants, each have a good share of problems.

There is one interesting scenario. The Miami Dolphins, who back in 1972 achieved the NFL's only perfect season, are currently winless and play the Patriots the next-to-last week of the schedule. Should the Patriots come into that game at 14-0 and the Dolphins at 0-14, and Miami somehow finds a way to win, that would be the pro football story of the decade.

Tennessee lawmakers discuss medical marijuana

Lo and behold, it turns out that the Tennessee legislature held hearings last week on our topic of the moment, medical marijuana. Among those testifying on its behalf was a man long-time Hillsters are familiar with, Bernie Ellis:

Ellis, who suffers from degenerative joint disease and fibromyalgia, and who was convicted on federal drug charges for growing medical marijuana for himself and providing it for free to four terminal patients, said that marijuana was once a significant medicine before it was banned 70 years ago. He read testimonials from cancer and AIDS patients who said marijuana helped eased their suffering. "We would not be here urging you to make medical marijuana legal again in the state if it were not safe and effective," Ellis said.

Of course, there is no chance in hell of this legislation becoming law in Tennessee. The mere whiff of a medical marijuana bill will bring all the Baptists, Church of Christers, and various other "pro-family" groups out of the woodwork in staunch opposition. Former state Senator David Fowler, who now heads the Family Action Council Of Tennessee, stirs up the troops:

Fowler said, the bill "would inevitably lead to increased public consumption of marijuana and make a mockery of our criminal drug laws. What has been observed in other states is that marijuana distribution becomes uncontrollable in society at large even when it is restricted to 'medicinal uses.' With an individual able to produce up to 13,000 joints per year under this bill, it is naïve to think that those joints won't wind up in the wrong hands."

Shades of Reefer Madness!

For those who don't remember for various reasons, Reefer Madness was a classic bit of anti-pot propaganda that came out in 1936, and became a staple of "midnight movies" during the 70's. Reefer Madness and other films of its ilk were funded in large part by tobacco companies fearing that widespread pot smoking would cause them to lose business, leading to laws being passed that made marijuana illegal. Effective in fueling anti-pot hysteria at the time, today it's more hysterical than anything. The whole movie is on YouTube if you have the time and desire to check it out.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Legalize it

Sonia, in her pundit mode, has a good post up at The Soccer Mom Vote on medical marijuana. She's got plenty of information on where the Presidential candidates stand on the issue, as well as links to resources about medical marijuana.

I'm willing to go one further. Legalize marijuana, tax it, and regulate it as we do alcohol and tobacco.

Legal marijuana would provide millions of dollars in much-needed revenue to state and federal government, and just might save us some other tax increases. Kentucky and Tennessee, two of the nation's most prolific pot-growing states, would especially benefit.

Spare me the moral arguments. There wouldn't be any massive increase in pot-smokers with legalization. I assure you anybody who wants to smoke pot in this country is already doing so. It may be easier to treat those prone to abuse if marijuana were legal, since the abuser wouldn't have to admit to law-breaking. Making pot legal could well lead to less abuse, since you'd no longer have the allure of forbidden fruit. Not to mention the benefits that cancer and glaucoma patients would receive, along with their no longer haveing to jump through legal hoops in order to obtain marijuana.

Continue to deal with marijuana use that interferes with work the way we do now. Alcohol is perfectly legal, yet if I come to work drunk they'll fire me. Handle those who come to work high the same way. With freedom comes responsibilities. Same with underage pot use. Those getting caught selling pot to minors should lose their license, get fined, and/or go to jail, just as with alcohol.

Alcohol causes more social problems, family misery, and deaths than marijuana ever will. Drunks get belligerent and fight. Potheads zone out, put their headphones on, and eat a lot.

Peter Tosh:

Legalize it, yeah, yeah
That's the best thing you can do
Doctors smoke it
Nurses smoke it
Judges smoke it
Even the lawyers too

Legalize it - don't criticize it
Legalize it and I will advertise it

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veterans Day

(H/T: SteveAudio.)

Today we pause to honor those who gave of themselves to serve their country in the military, including my father and father-in-law. When you have done that, I urge you to take time to read the story of the young man pictured above. Los Angeles Times photographer Luis Simco snapped this picture, which circulated around the world, and bound the lives of the photographer and the soldier forever.

The young marine lighted a cigarette and let it dangle. White smoke wafted around his helmet. His face was smeared with war paint. Blood trickled from his right ear and the bridge of his nose.

Momentarily deafened by cannon blasts, he didn't know the shooting had stopped. He stared at the sunrise.

His expression caught my eye. To me, it said: terrified, exhausted and glad just to be alive. I recognized that look because that's how I felt too.

I raised my camera and snapped a few shots.

With the click of a shutter, Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller, a country boy from Kentucky, became an emblem of the war in Iraq. The resulting image would change two lives -- his and mine.

Take time to read the entire article. It is shameful how we use our young people to fight the wars of the wealthy and powerful, and then throw them away. One more reason to work toward the day when war will no longer be necessary.


War time is only the other side of peace time
but if you've ever seen how wars are won
you know what it's like to wish peace time would come
And don't it seem like a long time
seem like a long time, seems like a long, long time

"Seems Like A Long Time", lyrics by Ted Anderson. Rod Stewart does a fine job with it, but I recommend that listeners seek out the excellent version recorded by Brewer & Shipley on their Tarkio LP.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday morning chuckle

Be sure to tell this one to Aunt Mabel as she heads to church this morning:

Q. What's the good thing about the Rapture?

A. All the "Christian" conservatives vanish, and we get their stuff.

Q. What's the bad thing about the Rapture?

A. All their stuff is from K-mart.

Norman Mailer

Award-winning author Norman Mailer passed away yesterday at age 84.

Mailer burst upon the scene in 1948 with his first novel, The Naked And The Dead, drawn from his experiences in World War II. He wrote a variety of articles, novels, and works of journalism over the following years, but many felt the author never reached his true potential. He won two Pulizer Prizes, the first for The Armies Of The Night, his 1968 account of the peace march on the Pentagon, and for The Executioner's Song, a sensationalized version of the life and death of Gary Gilmore, who became famous by his execution at the hands of a Utah firing squad.

Mailer also gained attention as a shining example of an egotistical, hard-headed, macho writer. Known for his drinking, fighting, and womanizing, he broke an actor's jaw while directing a movie, bit Rip Torn's ear in another scuffle, and allegedly head-butted Truman Capote, whom he especially disliked. Married six times, he stabbed his second wife with a penknife while drunk and nearly killed her. Amazingly, she never pressed charges.

I haven't read much of Mailer's work; to me he seemed to have a hard time keeping his ego out of his writing. One interesting example of Mailer's work available online is "The White Negro", an essay on hipness published by Dissent magazine in 1957.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Winning isn't everything

This one's for my friends who are spending this fall lamenting the lack of success of their favorite football teams. Consider the situation of Patrick Berry and his fellow seniors on the Red Boiling Springs High School squad. In four years of playing high school football, Berry's Red Boiling Springs Bulldogs never won a game.

The kids who play for Red Boiling Springs are in a tough situation. Their main obstacle is numbers. The high school's total enrollment is less than 100, making Red Boiling Springs one of the smallest schools in Tennessee playing football. The Bulldogs regularly face schools with twice their enrollment. They also have to deal with playing in one of the toughest Class 1A districts in the state, facing district rivals like Trousdale County, with six state championships to their credit and a solid tradition of success. Red Boiling Springs' season concluded last week with the team's losing streak extending to 51 games on the field. (During this streak, the school has been credited with one victory by forfeit.)

Yet in the face of all this adversity, Patrick Berry and his teammates learned lessons they will carry with them throughout their lives. They learned to stick together in the face of adversity, to believe in themselves when others don't, and that it's important to love what you do. These kids are a good antidote to the stories of dumb, lazy students we saw last week. After high school, Patrick Berry plans to enlist in the Army. When Army life gets tough, and the guys around him begin complaining, Berry figures to be able to shrug it off and work on, having already learned how tough life can be from the lessons he picked up on the gridiron.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Old gasbags never die

The news that Don Imus is returning to radio came as no big surprise to me. Imus' reputation is such that somebody was bound to give the washed-up old blowhard another chance if he wanted it. (WABC got rid of Curtis Sliwa to make room for Imus, which suggests a surprisingly shallow talent pool in the nation's #1 market.) But why would RFD-TV, a fledgling cable channel best known for agricultural programming, be interested in offering Imus a syndication deal? RFD-TV founder and president Patrick Gottsch explains:

"The biggest obstacle we've had in the last three years is convincing urban-based program directors in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, and so on that they need to be carrying this 'rural' network," Gottsch said. "Imus helps us cross those borders."

Yeah, a few cracks about "nappy-headed hos" will certainly help to transcend that hillbilly image.

It's not that Don Imus is untalented; nobody hangs around in radio for nearly 40 years without having a pretty good idea of how to make the medium work. Apart from being a racist, misogynistic boor, Imus has probably inspired more bad radio than anyone else in the history of broadcasting. Rush Limbaugh would be inconceivable without Imus paving his way. Imus' real legacy, though, is the legion of insufferable "morning zoo" programs, lame acts such as Bob & Tom and John-Boy & Billy; mediocrities who sound like they hired five guys to sit in the back of the studio to make sure that somebody laughs at their jokes. If you wonder why you can't hear music on the radio on your way to work anymore, blame Don Imus.

Timothy Noah has compiled some of the low points of Imus' career.

(Crossposted at Corrente.)

UPDATE: At Corrente, Lambert completes the title of the post for us. Old gasbags never die, he says, "they just fart away..."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Robert Goulet

Another notable celebrity passed from the scene last week as Robert Goulet, suave star of stage, screen, and song, died at age 73.

Robert Goulet came along ten years too late to truly be appreciated. He rose to stardom in 1960 with his portrayal of Lancelot in Camelot. In an earlier time, his powerful baritone and darkly handsome looks would have made him a matinee idol. By the time Goulet came along, though, rock 'n' roll had already began to change the face of music and entertainment in general. Goulet had his share of success in the 60's, recording a string of best-selling albums and winning a Tony, a Grammy, and an Emmy, but as the decade progressed, the style and image Goulet excelled at was rapidly becoming seen as outdated. To his credit, Goulet understood this as well as anybody, and prospered in the latter portion of his career by parodying the hammy, over-the-top lounge act that came to many people's mind whenever his name was mentioned. He did this so well in commercials for ESPN that they won an Emmy for Best Promotional Shorts in 1996.

We should best remember Goulet for his great voice and his lush romanticism, qualities that his signature song from Camelot, "If Ever I Would Leave You", display in spades. Also, check out Randy Raley's blog, where he offers a fine tribute to both Goulet and Porter Wagoner, focusing on the latter's funeral.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Yet another silly quiz

Via Tristero at Digby's, here's a little something to help you kill a few minutes of your time:

How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a Working Class Warrior, also known as a blue-collar Democrat. You believe that the little guy is getting screwed by conservative greed-mongers and corporate criminals, and you’re not going to take it anymore.

I have to admit that's pretty fitting, although I'm not sure how that result got there from some of the questions in the quiz. Yes, Daniel Kurtzman is selling a book - two books, as a matter of fact. If How To Win A Fight With A Conservative isn't to your taste, he's also hawking a companion volume, How To Win A Fight With A Liberal. Fair and balanced, and all that.