Friday, November 26, 2010

Missing in action

I saw this video of "Baby It's Cold Outside" on the Santas Working Overtime blog. It's a great version, worth saving for next year's holiday collection.

But just try to find it. had it and isn't selling this song, which was part of a San Francisco indie CD collection. No sign on iTunes.

Guess the video, which is kind of cute, will have to do:

P.S. The song popped up after Christmas on for 99 cents. Sold. Thank you, Amazon.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Across the border

When people ask me who my favorite writer is, one of the first names that comes up is Ken Dryden. Yes, that Ken Dryden, the former Montreal Canadiens goalie. And current Member of Parliament in Canada, a lawyer who went to Cornell.

Dryden has written five books over the years. He became famous in hockey circles for "The Game," a look back at his time with the Canadiens that instantly became one of the best hockey books ever written. He then worked on a television documentary that was also the basis for a book, in both cases called "Home Game." Not only was the TV show good, but the book was great reading. I've never read a better explanation of the simple joy of playing a team sport than the one Dryden presented there.

Dryden moved on to "The Moved and the Shaken," which profiled an average unknown person in part because he was curious about what a typical person's life was like. It worked far better than you might think. Then he spent a year in an Ontario high school for "In School." It was an education just to read it.

What's great about Dryden's work is that it combines a great amount of thought and patience with a reader-friendly style. You can see the smarts turning in the background as you read, but the prose isn't intimidating.

Dryden hasn't written a book in several years -- he was busy running the Toronto Maple Leafs and running for political office. Now he's out with "Becoming Canada," designed to start a big conversation about the direction of the country. You could have guessed that I bought it and read it quickly.

This latest book probably isn't for most Americans. More than half of it is something of a running commentary on the Canadian political debate over the last decade or so. It's tough for someone on the other side of the border to pick up on some of the references. I will say this much -- Dryden sure isn't impressed with Prime Minster Stephen Harper.

But there is much here that might interest those in the U.S. of A, especially in the first two chapters. Dryden is impressed by Barack Obama, and makes a great point about America's foreign policy in the 2000's. Dryden writes, more or less, that George W. Bush had a foreign policy approach that Teddy Roosevelt would have loved, a "we're America and we'll do what we damn well please" direction. The problem is that this is not 1904 any more, and the world has changed.

Obama came along and tried to have America fit in with the rest of the world instead of extending power over it. Better to engage the enemy, the theory went, then isolate it. For that, he earned the Nobel Peace Prize. Dryden points out that much of America was surprised and confused by this selection, but that rest of the world got it immediately.

Dryden also likes the way Obama has talked about big themes, such as health care, climate change, etc. Such subjects are a hard sell in this political climate in the U.S., and maybe Obama hasn't been a great salesman/politician, but Dryden thinks he's on to something. The author is having similar problems in getting people in Canada to think about something other than how to cut taxes. It's very interesting to read an outside (of the U.S) viewpoint.

In his concluding chapter, Dryden writes about some of the issues that are on Canada's national agenda. An overriding issue is multi-culturalism, as all sort of ethnic backgrounds have become part of the Canadian landscape. It's not just French and English any more, although the arguments between those two sides over the years seem to have taught Canadians to try to get along when possible.

In the midst of that discussion, Dryden mentions the important of education in Canada ... and how that affects all of public policy. He's a believer that everyone should have the same chance to get ahead. That might affect more areas than you might think. It starts with good prenatal care, so that health issues don't cause a child to be giving up head starts to everyone else on day one. It goes from there to good schooling, of course, and access to colleges, but also to day care. But it also includes helping new immigrants who need help learning English in order to use their skills in a new country. It includes giving tax breaks to companies who sink resources into research and development, and to Internet access for all.

It sure sounds like Dryden arguing that a smarter country is a better country. He may be on to something here.

I once wrote that Dryden reminded me a lot of Bill Bradley, another pro athlete turned politician who would have been a better office-holder than he was a candidate. I saw nothing in "Becoming Canada" to change my mind.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

History lesson

I really prefer my Presidential candidates to know more than I do about political history in this country.

Which brings us to Sarah Palin.

In her book, Palin reportedly comments on John Kennedy's relatively famous speech in 1960 about his religion. Kennedy told a Houston group, "I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic."

According to the AP story, Palin's response was that Kennedy "essentially declared religion to be such a private matter that it was irrelevant to the kind of country we are."


Anyone familiar with that campaign knows that there were worries that a Catholic President would be taking orders from the Vatican on any issue of interest. Remember, we had never had a Catholic President at that point; I believe it was a major issue when Al Smith won the Democratic nomination in 1928. I think the nutcases said there were plans to build a tunnel from Rome to Washington if Kennedy won the election. (I think their relatives are on Internet forums today.)

Kennedy needed to get the issue out in the open, and he did so in that manner. Obviously, it worked, as Kennedy won the election.

I'm always a little suspicious when politicians start playing to a religious base. It all sounds like an appeal to "God's law" is actually an appeal to "My God's laws ... and not your God's laws."

But I'm more suspicious when politicians can't understand a history book.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Partial renewal

It was decision time in the publication business recently. In other words, I had to figure out whether to renew a subscription to the Wall St. Journal.

I voted no, sort of. More on that in a moment. I think the reasons are rather instructive, though.

Reason one was the cost. I got the first year for nothing as a reward for filling out on-line surveys. It seemed like the best available option, and I had never seen the WSJ regularly. Therefore, I gave it a try, even though I'm not exactly a business magnate.

After a year, I got a renewal offer in the mail. The cost to renew for an entire year was $99. That didn't sound unreasonable; there were some good stories in it, and $2 a week was more than fair.

I was interested to see what the price plan would be once my subscription came close to expiring this time. Their big discount offer came to something like $340 for 18 months. Whoa. Here comes the pitch and it is way, way too high.

But there's another factor involved here, and it's worth exploring. The Journal has really come across as two-sided in a dramatic sense in the past several months.

That is to say, the editorial board and the columnists all think President Obama is the Anti-Christ. (I exaggerate, but not much.) They go out of their way to slam him when they can, sounding all the while like Fox News commentators. (This is not surprising, in light of common ownership.) Daniel Henninger and William McGurn come off as particularly clueless most of the time. Peggy Noonan is the best of the bunch; did she really call Sarah Palin a nincompoop in her column last week?

On the other hand, the economic news has been slowly improving over the last several months. Jobs are being created, not lost, and other economic figures such as profits are creeping up. But it's really, really difficult for some of the editors to give the Administration much credit for any of this, so they seem to go out of the way to avoid it.

I'm not cutting off ties completely, though. I had some expiring frequent flier miles, and could get a year's worth of the Saturday edition of the Journal for nothing. Works for me. Noonan appears on Saturdays, and the book review section on that day is always worth a look.

That seemed like a fair compromise ... although not too many WSJ columnists seem to know that compromise isn't the worst thing in the world.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Your best shot

I used to be pretty good at shooting mini-basketballs in the arcade game in bars. I think I held the record at the Champions bar in Boston at one time.

But if this person shows up and challenged me, I'd be toast.

EMBED-Basketball Rapid Fire - Watch more free videos

By the way, this clip appeared on the CBS Evening News the day after I posted. I didn't know Katie Couric was a reader!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Ten easy rules

Want my vote in an election? Try to come close to these standards:

1. Figure out what you have to do, do it, and pay for it. Nothing more, and nothing less. In other words, don't pay for today's problems by borrowing against tomorrow.

Note: National emergencies, such as war and the possible collapse of our economic system, qualify as exceptions. But getting re-elected is not such an emergency … so if you want to pass tax cuts to be personally popular among voters, figure out how to keep the budget balanced first.

2. I want representatives who are smart, and who use their informed judgment. In other words, do what is right and not just popular. Sometimes it's even the same thing.

3. Voting to raise taxes on a particular issue should not equal political death. Inflation raises the price of everything, and it's unrealistic to think prices for government are any different. But, as rule number one says, you'd better be spending those extra dollars efficiently. My prices are going up too.

4. If you are going to send me literature during the course of your term, make it something of interest rather than self-serving political propaganda that goes straight into the recycling bin. And since I have no idea what "something of interest" might be, maybe not spending the money at all is a good idea.

5. Stop giving tax breaks to every company that comes along hat in hand. Set fair rates, and don't get into bidding wars with other municipalities for companies. Such moves only make it tougher for companies who don't have such tax breaks to compete. Besides, no one looks at those handouts that have you pictured breaking ground for a new business because of the huge tax break you might have slightly pushed along in the legislative process.

6. Talk to the media during the campaign, and take questions. We want to know more about you than what your campaign ads say. And Republicans, just going on Sean Hannity or the local equivalent doesn't come close to counting.

7. Stop the misleading and negative ads. We're all sick of them. We don't want to look at a smiling color photo of you and a scowling black-and-white picture of the other person, or be told to call the other guy's office to explain his or her behavior.

Talk about yourself, and point out the legitimate differences on issues between you and your opponent. Get out of the world where if you want slightly cut a proposed increase in school lunches, you want kids to starve; and if you want to buy better equipment for police and fire companies, you are pro-tax hikes.

8. Don't have your robocallers dial before 10 a.m. and after 9 p.m. My family gets grumpy when someone wakes it up. And don't do "push polls," where the "pollster" asks loaded questions like, "If you knew candidate John Doe was a Dolphins fan, would it make you more or less likely to vote for him?"

9. If you don't like what the other side is doing, do something about it. Make some proposals, and work to create compromise. Sitting back and saying "no, no, no" to everything is not a governing strategy; it's a way to make yourself look petty and stupid.

10. Finally, show a little respect for the process and the people in it. In theory, everyone is trying to make this a better place to live; they just disagree on the methods. Think of the members of the other party as opponents, not enemies. In the real world, Democrats and Republicans interact all the time, and get along nicely. Maybe there's a lesson to be learned there. (Thank you, Jon Stewart.)

Now, get to work. The next election will be here before we know it, and I'll be watching.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Things you'd never thought you'd see

Take a benefit concert featuring Elton John, Lady Gaga, Sting, Debbie Harry, Shirley Bassey, and Bruce Springsteen. Put them on stage at the same time.

What could they all sing?

"Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey, of course. See for yourself. And thanks to the New York Times for the heads-up: