2009-09-25

FAS: "Ramble On" by Led Zeppelin

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For the next three weeks we will be choosing songs done by each of the savant guitarists featured in It Might Get Loud, which includes Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Jack White (White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather), and The Edge (U2). If you are a guitarphile or simply interested in people who take their craft to a whole other level, this movie is a must see.

This week is from, in my opinion, the greatest rock n roll band of all time, Led Zeppelin.

“Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin

I could go on and on and on and on about the history of this band (a super group), the scandalous stories that surrounded their career (the “shark” incident), and the recording intricacies (headphone bleed throughs and squeaky drum pedals that you can hear on certain songs), but I will leave that for your own study because it requires a much much much longer post than what this is for. You’ll just have to buy me a beer sometime and listen to me wax poetic about them. Right now we will focus on the song alone.

“Ramble On” is from Led Zeppelin’s 1969 album Led Zeppelin II and is listed in the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. But this song is famously known not only for its catchy acoustic intro and “bongos” throughout (it is actually Bonzo hitting a plastic trashcan), but for its heavy use of The Lord of The Rings references. Speaking of either Frodo Baggins as he travels to Mordor, or that of Aragorn as he has to choose between staying with his love Arwen or going to destroy the Ring in Mordor:

“Mine’s a tale that can’t be told,
My freedom I hold dear,
How years ago in the days of old,
When magic filled the air.
Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor
I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum, and the evil one crept up
And slipped away with her.”


Also the opening line - "Leaves are falling all around" - is guessed to be a paraphrase of the opening line of Tolkien's poem "Namárië". The poem may also be the inspiration for the entire first verse.

And now ladies and gents,

“Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin


Cheers,

2009-09-23

Remember the Summer of 2009?

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Today is the first full day of fall, so I thought I'd take you all on a stroll back through the simpler time that was the Summer of 2009. It truly was the best of times and the worst of times wasn't it? And although Top 40 radio would have you believe it was the summer of Miley Cyrus, the Black Eyed Peas, and Beyonce, Music Is Art casually reminds us that there were actually some pretty solid albums released in the last few months.

For example, have you checked out Jack White's new band The Dead Weather?

Anyways, click here for MIA's list of the Best Albums of the Summer of 2009, and let me know if there are any glaring omissions (Chris, Matt, Blake, Hal I'm looking at you guys)?

2009-09-22

Adventures In Niche Blogging II

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Awkward family photos (something I think we can all relate to):

"This just makes me uncomfortable"



Adventures In Niche Blogging

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Every Gen Y'er I know of prefers artistic engagement photos. However since there is no clear definition of art, unfortunately (or fortunately for you and I) this can sometimes result in Awesomely Bad Engagement Photos:

"Here babe, let me help you stretch."


2009-09-21

The View From Your Recovery

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Apparently banks haven't gotten the memo that the recession is over:



2009-09-18

FAS: Double Shot by The Felice Brothers

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Hal Denbar is never wrong. Whenever I get a message from him telling me to check out a band, it is guaranteed to be a winner. He first introduced me to FAS's own Black Joe Lewis, and recently a group called The Felice Brothers. I cannot stop listening to their album, and it was too hard to pick a single song to represent this week's Friday Afternoon Song so I chose two.

THE FELICE BROTHERS

"Theirs is a world of moons and moonshine, mountains and cabins, a place where men get drunk on Jack Daniels and stalk off, guns in hand, to confront their cuckolding wives. The Tennessee-bred Kings of Leon sang about a familiar world... but while those siblings were blessed with a fashion sense and rugged good looks, the Felices are ragged, scruffy, and dirty-faced. They're a pack of earth-stained country boys from the wilds of the Catskill Mountains..."

The Felice Brothers - which originally consisted of 3 real life brothers, which one eventually left to start his own group - got their start playing a their father's afternoon barbecues for his fellow carpenter colleagues, and eventually moved their show to the New York subway system. They began doing small tours and putting out a couple records on their own dime. Playing at arts festivals and folk festivals the brothers slowly got momentum and notoriety from their lively, upbeat live shows, and word quickly spread. They began touring with some larger acts (most notably Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band last fall) and landed their first record deal in 2007 from a European label.

The band now consists of two of the brothers, Ian and James, and their friend Christmas (bass player who was previously a traveling dice player... really), and Greg Farley (who plays the washboard and fiddle).

The vocals are uncannily reminiscent of Bob Dylan - that is if Bob Dylan was in tune.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

"Frankie's Gun!" by The Felice Brothers

"Take This Bread" by The Felice Brothers

Cheers,

2009-09-17

Government Waste vs. Job Creation

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(Gravina Island Bridge aka the bridge to nowhere)

I do not understand why politicians focus on job creation. Ok that’s not entirely true, I don’t understand why we let them get away with it. I mean, aren't business cycles more important after all?

Take, for example, Bill Clinton’s record in the 90’s. Dems tout this as though the dot-com boom wouldn’t have happened without him, yet I fail to see how Washington influenced a bunch of computer nerds out in Silicon Valley to create jobs. Conversely, George W has one of the worst records of job creation since the dawn of time (at least according to MSNBC), yet he presided over the dot-com bust, the fallout from Enron, 9-11, and the mortgage crisis. Sure he's partly culpable for that last point, but I strongly doubt any other politician would've applied the brakes on the housing bubble before it was too late.

And now we have continuing jobless claims remaining fairly constant at > 500k, with an administration claiming to have saved millions of jobs. It all seems like a bunch of nonsense doesn't it?

I say all of this to lead into today's news that the government is planning to save billions of dollars take over the student loan industry (color coded to the appropriate talking points):
[Obama's] plan is to do away with a system in which the Federal Government subsidizes banks and other private finance companies like Sallie Mae to lend money to students. The Administration essentially wants to cut such companies out of the game and run the system itself. Democrats claim the move will save $87 billion over 10 years, which can be used for a laundry list of education priorities, including increasing the maximum amount of Pell Grants, expanding Perkins Loans and investing in community colleges and other programs.

Educational institutions currently have two ways to offer federal loans to students. In the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL, pronounced "fell") program, the government pays subsidies to banks and lenders to dole out money to borrowers and reimburses companies up to 97% of the cost of any loan that is not paid back. The second way is the direct-loan program, created in 1993 as an alternate option, in which the government cuts out the middle man, lends money directly and gets all the profits.

"Ultimately, what they are trying to create here is the Post Office of student lending — you've got no choice," says Jack Remondi, vice chairman and CFO of Sallie Mae, the nation's largest lender, referring to Obama's Aug. 11 comments that questioned the efficiency of American letter carriers. "And this is the President's initiative on health care: if you create competition, that should drive down costs and save people money."

The loan industry estimates that up to 35,000 jobs might be lost by the transfer from FFEL to direct-loan. Members of Congress who represent states that employ a large portion of the industry workforce, like moderate Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, have opposed the measure for that reason. But the Department of Education (which would run the new and expanded program) maintains that... the total amount of jobs lost will actually be much less.

Approximately three-quarters of the FFEL loans in the 2008-09 academic year were already in the hands of the government.

Personally, I'd like to see both the costs associated with these two programs as well as their respective default rates before I make a final decision, but keeping wasteful programs afloat simply to appease angry Senators seems, how do I say this nicely, just a tad fiscally irresponsible.

Similarly, I was surprised to hear a few months ago that Senator John Cornyn voted for the F-22 boondoggle that even the Defense Department deemed wasteful. That was until I received my monthly newsletter from Senator Cornyn explaining that cutting the program would lead to the loss of valuable jobs in Texas. I guess I should've known.

So I ask you, the humble blog reader, where do we draw the line between government spending that is wasteful and government spending that is essential for job growth? Because I'm confused.

---------------
UPDATE: Matt Yglesias lays out the benefits of this move by the White House.

2009-09-15

ROADTRIP!

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Thanks to VroomVroomVroom I now have one more addition to my list of "Things to do before I die"; drive from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina on the worlds longest continuous road:

The Pan-American Highway is recognized as longest continuous road, spanning 29,800 miles from Prudhoe Bay in North Alaska right across Canada, the U.S., Central and South America – all the way to Ushuaia on the southern tip of Argentina. Driving it will take you through just about every climate the world has to offer and some of the prettiest spots on Earth.

Any takers?

2009-09-14

Aggie and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dies at 95

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Norman Borlaug and George Harrar, 1943Image via Wikipedia

Sad news for Aggieland in yesterday's NY Times:
Norman E. Borlaug, the plant scientist who did more than anyone else in the 20th century to teach the world to feed itself and whose work was credited with saving hundreds of millions of lives, died Saturday night. He was 95 and lived in Dallas...

He was widely described as the father of the broad agricultural movement called the Green Revolution, though decidedly reluctant to accept the title. “A miserable term,” he said, characteristically shrugging off any air of self-importance.

Yet his work had a far-reaching impact on the lives of millions of people in developing countries. His breeding of high-yielding crop varieties helped to avert mass famines that were widely predicted in the 1960s, altering the course of history.

Largely because of his work, countries that had been food deficient, like Mexico and India, became self-sufficient in producing cereal grains.

“More than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world,” the Nobel committee said in presenting him with the Peace Prize. “We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.”

Dr. Borlaug is the only Nobel Laureate from Texas A&M, and is perhaps one of the most important men of the 20th Century. His story might also be one of the best real-life examples of the power of teaching a man to fish.

His life's work is truly an inspiration.


2009-09-11

FAS: "Sugarfoot" by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears

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The stories are almost too perfect. Tales of ragged beginnings, blues and soul music that congers up images of hot and dry lounges filled with fedora-adorned patrons (before they became trendy) wearing suspenders and smoking their Lucky Strikes, and a lightening-fast acclaim and rise to stardom... but don't be fooled into thinking this happened during the Dust Bowl. This is happening now.

While working in a pawn shop in down in Austin, Joe Lewis walked over one day and picked up a guitar. He took it home that night and started teaching himself how to play. Sharpening up his chops inside and outside of work hours he decided to hit up some local open mic nights as a solo musician, a period he now laughingly recalls as “horrible…I was usually too drunk or too scared to put on a good show, but people kept asking me to come back.”.

While he eventually put together a band with a solid lineup, Lewis couldn’t capture the mojo he was looking for and was seriously considering retiring from music in his mid-twenties -- until future bandmate, guitarist Zach Ernst entered the picture. Ernst was a student and UT and a part of a student organization that put on concerts and asked Joe Lewis - who was down on music and working at a restaurant shucking oysters - to open up for Little Richard in 2007. Enrst then put together a new group - consisting of Black Joe Lewis, Sugarfoot Watkins, Rooster Andrews, Big Show Varley, Wild Bill Slyder, McKnight the Night Train, and Sleepy Ramirez - and four weeks later Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears played their first gig.

The labels quickly began knocking down their door and after signing with Lost Highway in 2008, they released their first full length album, Tell 'Em What You Think, on March 17, 2009. Filter Magazine named their song "Bitch, I Love You" this year's anthem for Valentines Day. (I also asked Kristi if it could be our first dance at our wedding. Turns out Van Morrison is more appropriate. Probably a good call.)

Ladies and gentlemen, in the vein of James Brown, Lightenin' Hopkins, Joe Tex, here comes the sugarfoot...


"Sugarfoot" by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears


Cheers,

2009-09-10

How to Pick Your New Favorite Band (in chart form)

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2009-09-09

Auto-Tune Tonight's Speech

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It's almost as if the auto-tuner was created for this:



(hat tip: The Daily Dish)

Choosing Life

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What would you do if you found out during the 20th week of pregnancy that your child would not survive outside the womb for more than a couple of days, if it even survived the remainder of the pregnancy?

Over the weekend the Dallas Morning News published the story of Deidrea and T.K. Laux who were forced to answer this question when they learned that their baby boy (Thomas) had Trisomy 13, an incurable genetic disorder. Their story is as inspiring as it is heartbreaking (h/t Beliefnet):

Deidrea and T.K. stared out at the cavernous, packed sanctuary of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship.

Pastor Pete Briscoe told the congregation that the Lauxes were newlyweds, married 10 months earlier.

On this first Sunday in May, they wanted to dedicate their unborn son to God.

In a shaky voice, Deidrea described the bleak February day that she and T.K. learned of Thomas' condition. Feeling her son's movements in the long night that followed, she knew that God was with them and they wouldn't be alone.

When she explained Thomas' diagnosis to her fifth-grade Bible study group, the girls asked if it was OK to pray for a miracle.

"The miracles have been happening every day," Deidrea told the congregation, "when we feel our son moving and he's growing."

The Lauxes understood that their sadness and joy were inseparable, and they could choose to celebrate every moment they had with their son.

Every morning, T.K. brought his wife breakfast in bed and nestled near her belly for father-son talks. He imagined aloud that Thomas was scuba diving, four-wheeling, playing soccer. Thomas kicked and spun at the sound of T.K.'s voice, clearly alive - here and now.

"We're so grateful that God chose us to be his parents, because he is such a special little boy," Deidrea told the congregation as T.K. nodded beside her. "We're telling God, 'Thank you - thank you for this gift.' "


DMN also released a video documenting the Laux's journey from planning the funeral, to delivery, to the final heartrenching moments, and it is without a doubt one of the most powerful videos I've ever seen. I will warn you that the emotional response is pretty intense (i.e. you might cry), so you might consider waiting until you get home to watch it.

Words really can't do the video justice, so I'll simply close with these words from Deidrea Laux:
"We didn't terminate because ... there was going to be some sort of a medical miracle. We didn't terminate because he's our son."
Click here for the video.

----------------------------
Also, back in June Andrew Sullivan compiled similar stories from women who decided to take the alternate route and terminate, collectively title It's So Personal. From reading these stories and having personally known a small number of women who've struggled with the aftermath of that decision, I can only say that this issue is more complicated than many are willing to admit.

2009-09-08

Happy Obama Brainwashing Your Child Day

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As an elementary school kid during both the Reagan and Bush (41) Presidencies, I am proud to say that I was not brainwashed by either President's classroom addresses even though I listened to their "propaganda" during my most formative of years. But maybe I'm the exception.

More interesting perhaps was a decision by my 5th grade faculty to stage an actual Presidential debate during the '92 election. I, naturally, was selected to portray George H.W. Bush and was pitted against a real nerdy type, Ross Perot, and a girl, Bill Clinton (which my parents found to be hilarious even though I didn't the joke until years later). If University Elementary School was any predictor of the Presidential outcome, George Bush would've been reelected by a resounding 90% of the vote. Which just goes to show you how lazy 5th graders are about learning what the polls said they should've been thinking.

Anyways, here's a cogent explanation of what's happening today. Glen Beck viewers need not clickthrough.

Happy Obama Brainwashing Your Child Day!

-----------------
UPDATE #1: Somehow I missed Newt's positive remarks about the address.

UPDATE #2: Greg Mankiw called it "inspiring".

2009-09-04

FAS: "No Rain" by Blind Melon

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"No Rain" by Blind Melon

While I enjoy all of the songs put up for a vote this week, I am very happy this one won.

Blind Melon formed in 1989 with the moniker stemming from a term the late front man Shannon Hoon's father used to describe the neighborhood stoners. Quite fitting, considering Hoon's legacy which is wild to say the least.

After leaving Indiana for Los Angeles to try to make it in the music biz, Shannon befriended his sister's high school friend, Guns N Roses front man Axl Rose, who invited him to do backup vocals on the classic albums Use Your Illusion I and II. Around the same time he formed the band Blind Melon. He quickly got his name into the scene... and got everything in the scene into him.

In 1992 Blind Melon released their debut, self-titled album which eventually went quadruple-platinum (that's pretty big), and Hoon became increasingly drug-dependant. His rap sheet lists:


  • Once arrested for indecent exposure after he urinated on a fan in Vancouver (you can't tell that you have never wanted to pee on a Canadian...)

  • Smoked pot openly on stage

  • At the contradictory Woodstock '94 he went onstage wearing his girlfriend's dress, clearly drunk, and tossed a set of conga drums into the crowd

  • Attacked a security guard at the Billboard Music Awards

  • Reportedly had no recollection of recording their second album Soup

  • Was in and out of rehab his entire career


Very rock and roll for a guy named Shannon.

It all came to a crux in Houston after an all-night cocaine binge when one of the roadies was unable to wake him. Thanks a lot, Houston.

In spite of all the drugs (or maybe because of it), Blind Melon put forth one of the most classic rock sounds since classic rock was just called "rock." His vocals bring back times from the 60s and 70s, leading you to assume he was on stage rocking with Janis Joplin at the original Woodstock rather than sharing the stage with Cypress Hill and Nine Inch Nails.

But no matter if you were a dedicated fan or just a passerby in the 90's, everyone knew of the Bee Girl. She instantly became an icon (and apparently is a struggling actress now), and helped bring this catchy pop tune to permeate every living soul during that time.

Well, as it turns out, Blind Melon has reformed a couple times with different lead singers, but none have been able to equal Hoon's prowess. They are currently looking for their next one if any of you are interested.

A simple MP3 would not do this song justice, so I am posting the classic music video.

Get our your bee suits and rain sticks, and enjoy.



Cheers,

Sign of the Apocolypse

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Deep fried butter.

I love Texas.

2009-09-03

The High Price of Cheap Food

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Please allow me to preface this with an apology to my in-laws in Iowa, but apparently what I allude to in the title has a lot to do with corn and the federal government:

Somewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won't bite one another. To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics. The waste produced by the pig and his thousands of pen mates on the factory farm where they live goes into manure lagoons that blanket neighboring communities with air pollution and a stomach-churning stench. He's fed on American corn that was grown with the help of government subsidies and millions of tons of chemical fertilizer. When the pig is slaughtered, at about 5 months of age, he'll become sausage or bacon that will sell cheap, feeding an American addiction to meat that has contributed to an obesity epidemic currently afflicting more than two-thirds of the population. And when the rains come, the excess fertilizer that coaxed so much corn from the ground will be washed into the Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will help kill fish for miles and miles around. That's the state of your bacon — circa 2009.
Ok so I guess I'll be reducing my biannual bacon, egg, and cheese McGriddle intake to just annual. The article continues:
But cheap food is not free food, and corn comes with hidden costs. The crop is heavily fertilized — both with chemicals like nitrogen and with subsidies from Washington. Over the past decade, the Federal Government has poured more than $50 billion into the corn industry, keeping prices for the crop — at least until corn ethanol skewed the market — artificially low. That's why McDonald's can sell you a Big Mac, fries and a Coke for around $5 — a bargain, given that the meal contains nearly 1,200 calories, more than half the daily recommended requirement for adults. "Taxpayer subsidies basically underwrite cheap grain, and that's what the factory-farming system for meat is entirely dependent on" says Gurian-Sherman.

So what's wrong with cheap food and cheap meat — especially in a world in which more than 1 billion people go hungry? A lot. For one thing, not all food is equally inexpensive; fruits and vegetables don't receive the same price supports as grains. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda but just 250 calories of vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit. With the backing of the government, farmers are producing more calories — some 500 more per person per day since the 1970s — but too many are unhealthy calories. Given that, it's no surprise we're so fat; it simply costs too much to be thin.
Which reminds of an article I read recently that explains how a growing number of poor children in America tend to be both obese and malnourished.

The whole article is worth reading.

2009-09-01

Has the Market Peaked?

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Unfortunately I have to agree with Doug Kass' prediction that the market has likely peaked for 2009. Here are 5 of the 10 reasons he provides to support that claim:

  1. Cost cuts (exacerbated by wage deflation) pose an enduring threat to the consumer, which is still the most significant contributor to domestic growth.
  2. The consumer entered the current downcycle exposed and levered to the hilt, and net worths have been damaged and will need to be repaired through higher savings and lower consumption.
  3. The credit aftershock will continue to haunt the economy.
  4. While the housing market has stabilized, its recovery will be muted, and there are few growth drivers to replace the important role taken by the real estate markets in the prior upturn.
  5. Commercial real estate has only begun to enter a cyclical downturn.

Trying to time the market is almost certainly a fool's errand, in my humble opinion, but Mr. Kass' thoughts are pretty hard to refute. I'd only add that the uncertainty around what's going on in Washington at the moment is not something that markets have historically looked favorably upon.

Click here for the rest of the article.

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