Sunday, November 22, 2009
The man in me will do nearly any task,
And as for compensation, there's little he would ask.
Take a woman like you
To get through to the man in me.
Sarah Palin is hot. Her approval numbers are up nearly 10 points, sales of her autobiography, Going Rogue, topped 300,000 on its first day of release, and any show she has appeared on in the last week has experienced a guaranteed ratings spike.
And then there’s this week’s cover of Newsweek…
Appearing a tight thermal-fit, half-zip red running top and equally firm-fitting black running shorts, Palin came across as the perfect running mate. If, that is, she were running an Alaskan 10K instead of taking a lap around the country to test out her presidential prospects for 2012.
Taken from an August 2009 issue of Runner’s World, the picture was one of seven taken of the then-Alaskan governor for the magazine’s popular “I’m a Runner” series. Ironically, the photo Newsweek chose for their Palin cover story wasn’t even the one used in Runner’s World.
Technically, it shouldn’t have graced the cover of Newsweek, either, since it has subsequently been reported that all the photos taken that day are still under a one-year embargo.
But how Newsweek got the photo of the leggy former Alaskan legislator is hardly the point (according to the newsweekly, it was provided by the photographer’s stock agent without Runner World’s knowledge or approval). The fact they used a photo that could have just as easily appeared on the cover of Playboy is the real issue here.
[Writer’s aside: Maybe it’s still not too late for you to snag the rights, Hef? A picture of a scantily clad Palin standing next to a disheveled American flag draped suggestively over a chair would make a wonderful companion piece on the newsstand when estranged, almost-son-in-law Levi Johnston appears on the cover of Playgirl next month.]
One can understand how Palin might be a tad up in arms about the selection of the picture. “The choice of photo for the cover of this week’s Newsweek is unfortunate,” Palin wrote on her Facebook page. “When it comes to Sarah Palin, this ‘news’ magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant.”
Aside from the annoying, increasingly recurring habit of referring to herself in the third person, Palin has a point. As Palin went on to emphasize, the Runner’s World profile was taken to promote health and physical fitness, not her fitness for public office. The headline the editors chose to juxtapose against Palin’s pinup shot didn’t help matters much either.
“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sarah?” suggests Palin is, in fact, a problem. And while her reemergence on the political scene has certainly forced the pundits to take sides, the majority of Middle America could care less that Palin has hopped back on the political treadmill.
And while Palin’s personal popularity is on the rise as Obama’s job performance ratings are steadily declining, things might change if Newsweek were to put the shot of a bare-chested Obama that was taken last summer on the cover. But until that happens, it only makes sense that when it comes to the poll dance, Palin wins.
This isn’t the first time Sarah Palin and the Right have taken issue with a Newsweek cover. During the height of the 2008 presidential campaign, Palin was placed on the cover of the popular newsweekly. It wasn’t, however, her finely-toned body that was at the center of the debate. It was her face.
The tightly-cropped photo highlighted every unwanted facial hair, every pore, every wrinkle, and—gasp!!—a few gray hairs.
Yes, the Newsweek article was little more than a series of cheap Palin potshots, but the Right’s indignation of Newsweek’s calling attention to Palin’s literal and symbolic imperfections were, much like the facial features the photo accentuated, woefully exaggerated.
This week’s Newsweek cover has a remarkably similar stridency: “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sarah?”
The fact both articles were written by the editor, Jon Meacham, accounts for the consistency. But when asked about the selection of photo, Meacham defended the decision saying it was “the most interesting image available.”
Interesting to whom, Jon, conservative white males who have grown tired of pants suits, patent leather shoes and perfectly quaffed hairdos that hearken back to the glorious 80s?
Truth be told, it’s hard to blame Meacham and higher-ups at Newsweek for selecting a picture that portrays Palin as doe-eyed sexpot. After all, we all know sex sells.
As for Palin’s ‘outrage’ over being marginalized by her sexuality, she ought to be thanking the editors at Newsweek, not maligning them. At the end of the day, Newsweek and Palin are in the same business— this week anyway. Both need to push product. Newsweek’s circulation is in a virtual freefall; Palin has a new book to flack.
And Palin must know how hot she looks in that tight thermal-fit, half-zip red running top since she apparently pulled it out of mothballs for the cover of Going Rogue…
But, oh, what a wonderful feeling
Just to know that you are near,
Sets my a heart a-reeling
From my toes up to my ears.
BLOGGER'S NOTE: Wanna keep on keepin' on with Dylan? Well, that's what those links to the right are for. Or maybe you're in the mood for a mystery? Check out BLOOD ON THE TRACKS.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Don't the moon look good, mama,
Shinin' through the trees?
Don't the brakeman look good, mama,
Flagging down the "Double E"?
The train song is one of America’s most important musical genres. It's also one of the most enduring. Over the last 150 years, the train song has formed the bedrock of the American music experience. And of all the enduring American troubadours, few are as partial to a good train song as Bob Dylan.
Whether it’s the tale of a wayward woman forced to live outside the law by jumping a railroad gate to escape a persistent suitor (“Absolutely Sweet Marie”); a luckless sot who casts his last fated lot by flagging down the ‘Double E’ ("It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”); a stranger bound to ramble through the ice, sleet and rain to get back to God’s golden shore (“Man of Constant Sorrow”); or the slow distant rumblings the coming of the Lord (“Slow Train Coming”)— trains are an integral part of the Dylan landscape.
The word ‘train’ appears in no fewer than 39 Dylan songs. The word, ‘railroad’, in another half dozen. And when Bob paid homage to Johnny Cash (a one-time mentor and fellow train aficionado) on the 2002 tribute album, Kindred Spirits, the song Dylan chose to serenade the country music legend was none other than “Train of Love.”
Warren Buffett, it seems, also has a thing for trains. So much so that last week the celebrated financier paid close to $35 billion to acquire the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the nation’s second largest railroad.
And what exactly you may ask is the correlation between the famed ‘Oracle of Omaha’ and the traveling minstrel from Minnesota? In a word: America.
Bob Dylan’s songs have always been about the American experience. Sometimes that portrayal has been dark, sometimes it’s highlighted our better angels. But it’s always been honest. And for Bob, nothing is more honest and uniquely American than riding the rails. There’s just something about trains that captivates him.
Maybe it’s the way the pipes and pistons glisten in the evening sun, their slow, methodical churning filling you with the promise of a new beginning. Maybe it’s the smell from the burning coal as it fills the nostrils of the passer-byers after rising up through the smokestack and out into the night. Or maybe it’s sound of the conductor’s whistle as it splits the night in two.
As for the people who ride those trains, Dylan has nothing but admiration for them. Clearly, he revels their sense of adventure; embraces their sense of longing; covets the freedom they effortlessly embody.
One gets a sense Warren Buffett probably feels the same way.
After news broke of Buffett’s recent purchase, he jokingly replied: “This is all happening because my father didn't buy me a train set as a kid." Of course, Buffett’s billion-dollar investment in the Northern Burlington Railroad was more than a sentimental journey back to his childhood.
Buffett may have been playing the field when he stepped up to the table and rolled a pair of ‘box cars’ last week. But if history is any indication, don’t count on him crapping out any time soon.
“It's an all-in wager on the economic future of the United States,” he said last Tuesday when asked about the investment, the biggest ever for his Berkshire Hathaway investment company, “I love these bets.”
The Administration probably loves the wager, too. After all, what president wouldn’t like a $35 billion cash-infused validation of their economic policy, especially a policy as contentious as the recent Obama-Pelosi-Reid $787 billion dollar stimulus package?
Buffett puts on no airs about his admiration of Barack Obama. But by purchasing the Burlington Northern, Buffett laid his cards on the table for all to see. And you don’t need a Tarot reader to decipher the Oracle of Omaha’s latest pronouncement: America is back on track.
The logic behind the purchase is, like so many of Buffett’s investment decisions, strikingly simple. As U.S. commerce recovers, so too will demand to move goods around the country. And the largest mover of refrigerators, clothing and TVs? Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
And make no question, Buffet’s affirmation in America’s future couldn't have come a better time. Abroad, we are on the verge of committing as many as 20,000 more troops to Afghanistan. At home, we find ourselves still picking through the economic debris brought on by the worst financial shit storm to hit this nation in the last 60 years. Frankly, it’s all just about enough to make you want to pack up our knapsacks and ride that nonstop mailtrain all the way down to Acapulco. Just don't count on Buffett's recently acquired railroad to take you there.
Because while the Burlington Northern may haul corn, coal and a host of commercial goods, one thing it doesn’t haul is passengers. So if you still feel compelled to hop a train bound for nowhere and leave your worries behind, perhaps a Bob Dylan song might just be the ticket.
Lord knows, you've got plenty to choose from…
Well, I wanna be your lover, baby,
I don't wanna be your boss.
Don't say I never warned you
When your train gets lost.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
He's a great humanitarian, he's a great philanthropist,
He knows just where to touch you, honey, and how you like to be kissed.
He'll put both his arms around you,
You can feel the tender touch of the beast.
You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.
In recent months, Barack Obama has been called many things— a saint, a sinner, a savior, a scourge. But just as Obama is not the literal Second Coming, he probably isn’t Satan either.
According the five-man Nobel Peace Prize committee, however, Barack Obama is a man of peace.
The irony that the world's most prestigious peace award has been bestowed on the newly-minted president— a man who has yet to stop any wars, right any innate injustices, or dismantle any of the world’s arsenals hasn't been lost on anyone.
But considering military escalation in Afghanistan is all but inevitable, the Iranian mullahs are allowing the beheading their political rivals and North Korea is nearing nuclear proliferation with each passing day, no one doubts we need someone to stand up for peace. It's just that the selection of Barack Obama has more than a few people scratching their heads.
But he beat them all. One hundred and seventy-two individuals, 33 organizations— a total of 205 nominations. The most ever.
In the past, the coveted peace prize has gone to monks, martyrs, social activists, scientists, former Communists, and environmental conservationists. However, it seems this year it went to a man whose biggest accomplishment to date was restoring some semblance of dignity to the presidency simply by not being George Bush.
In light of the global backlash over the decision, however, apparently dignity does not a dignitary make.
Even Obama was ill at ease when he heard the news. Not since Bill Clinton was asked about a certain blue dress worn by a certain intern by the name of Monica Lewinsky, or Richard Nixon was questioned about a certain group of ‘plumbers’ sent to fix a ‘leak’ in a certain Watergate hotel has a sitting president seemed so uncomfortable.
Unlike his predecessors, however, Obama did not bring the decidedly awkward moment upon himself. That distinction belongs to the five-man Norwegian Nobel Committee that nominated him just 12 days into his prescient presidency.
Of course, in all the hubbub over Barack Obama’s merits as a man of peace, one true man of merit was overlooked…
This year marks the seventh time Bob Dylan has been nominated—and passed over—for a Nobel Prize. The reason for the repeated slight is, like just about everything related to Dylan, a bit of a mystery. Most music critics agree that Dylan is perhaps the most profound wordsmith in modern music. Yet Dylan’s repeated nomination has yet to cement consensus among literary authorities, who are plagued by the nagging question as to whether song lyrics qualify for literature's most prestigious award.
The irony, of course, is that the lyrical nature of Barack Obama's words, rather than quantifiable results of his actions, was probably the largest contributing factor leading to Obama receiving this year’s prize.
To his credit, Obama publicly acknowledged that he didn’t deserve to be in the company of the past Peace Prize winners. And though it seems unfathomable that he would have rebuked the esteemed Nobel committee, Obama did have an alternative: Turn it down.
As Ross Douthat in The New York Times noted in his assessment of the brouhaha following the Nobel announcement, saying ‘no thanks’ to the premature honor would have offended no one but the Norwegians who selected him. It would also have sent a clear signal to Congress and world community that Obama is finally willing to relinquish the thorny messianic crown that, as Douthat accurately observed, has both accompanied—and impeded—his presidency.
There’s no question a large part of Barack Obama’s success—and a major factor contributing to the ‘pushback’ he has experienced in recent months—revolves around this daunting duality. On the one hand, there is Barack Obama ‘the myth’; on the other, Barack Obama ‘the man.’ The problem is that these qualities are not at opposite ends of the spectrum. Rather, there are inextricably intertwined.
Without question there's a mystique that imbues Barack Obama. And judging from their unanimous decision, the Nobel Peace Committee has fully bought into that mystique. But by confusing the notion of aspiration and accountability, the Committee has done a disservice to the Nobel Peace Prize as well as their latest laureate.
By awarding Barack Obama this year’s prize, the Committee effectively debased the criteria upon which the prize was founded. It is not enough simply to set the table for peace; you must serve up the meal. The only thing Obama brought to the table was the Kool-aide. And the Committee drank it up in spades.
And while the fault lies mostly at the feet of the Nobel Committee for this evident blunder, the culpability is not theirs alone. By accepting the prize, the nascent US President allowed himself to be placed high atop a tenuous pedestal like some conquering Roman hero. And now that Obama has ascended to that precarious perch, he's handed his opponents the perfect segue to make the case that the Emperor has no clothes.
Come to think about it, maybe Dylan ought to be thankful the Nobel Prize Committee keeps passing him over…
He got a sweet gift of gab, he got a harmonious tongue,
He knows every song of love that ever has been sung.
Good intentions can be evil,
Both hands can be full of grease.
You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Well, my heart's in the Highlands at the break of day,
Over the hills and far away,
There's a way to get there, and I'll figure it out somehow,
But I'm already there in my mind,
And that's good enough for now
Christmas is a good two months away, but already Jack Frost is nipping at our nose…or ears, as the case will be this Tuesday when Bob Dylan, producing under one of his favorite pseudonyms, releases his first Christmas album.
Love it or loath it, Dylan's decision rip another page from the American songbook isn’t quite as out of place as one might expect. For just about as long as there have been Christmas albums, pop stars have perpetuated the longstanding yuletide tradition of recording holiday-themed discs. Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, and Phil Spector all have recorded Christmas albums. In fact, Diamond’s second helping of Christmas cheer, A Cherry, Cherry Christmas, will be released the same day as Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart.
So why have so many musicians, including those who don’t even celebrate Christmas, start roasting chestnuts over an open fire right around this time every year? The reason is simple: Christmas albums are cheap, easy to make and, if done right, they can result in a stocking stuffed with wads of cash. Dylan, however, isn't in it for the money. All royalties from Christmas in the Heart are being earmarked for food banks in the U.S. and abroad.
Of course, just because everyone from Burl Ives to the the Beach Boys have recorded an album chock full of Christmas classics certainly doesn't mean Dylan had to. Like many of us during the holiday season, he could have surreptitiously made a donation to his favorite charity and forgone the scrutiny this latest seasonal offering will inevitably stir.
But Dylan isn’t like the rest of us, and this isn’t the first—nor will it likely be the last—career move that will leave audiences and critics wondering what’s really going on behind those shades.
Over the last four and a half decades, Dylan has constantly reinvented himself, surprising his audience and critics alike. But of all his countless self-reinventions, his brief conversion to Christianity in 1979 has always been one of his most vexing.
And while some of Dylan’s finest songs were written during that period—“Change My Way of Thinking,” “Every Grain of Sand,” “Pressing On” to name a few—the decision to replace the Star of David with a crucifix has long been a thorn in his side. If the early reviews are any indication, Christmas in the Heart will likely have a similar effect.
Not that the notoriously indifferent Dylan is losing any shlofn over it. His decision to record 15 of the most well known Christmas classics clearly is more influenced by altruistic reasons than artistic ones. And judging from the enthusiastic and playful tone that permeates the disc from beginning to end, Dylan seems to have thoroughly enjoyed making Christmas in the Heart. Having said that, however, those who have heard the album can attest— not since Bing Crosby and David Bowie traded verses on “The Little Drummer Boy” on Crosby's 1977 network special has the Christmas spirit been rendered more surreal.
Bing Crosby and David Bowie duet on “Little Drummer Boy” circa 1977
And while many of his detractors have asked why Dylan would even make a Christmas album in the first place, if we just step back and take a look at the man in question, the answer seems self evident. This is Bob Dylan we are talking about, after all — the same person who cited flamboyant wrestler, Gorgeous George, and über oddity, Tiny Tim, as two of his biggest inspirations.
The real question, therefore, isn’t really so much whether listeners will embrace the new Dylan album as a holiday tradition or not. Truth be told, they probably won’t.
But you just never know. Like so much with Dylan, the answer remains a mystery. And frankly, Dylan probably won’t want it any other way…
It must be a holiday, there's nobody around,
She studies me closely as I sit down,
She got a pretty face and long white shiny legs,
She says, "What'll it be?"
I say, "I don't know, you got any soft boiled eggs?"