Archive for 2012 September

Did Neil Young just buy Crazy Horse’s beaded jacket?

For 10k? I hope so. Someone did today, anonymously, at an auction I happened to cover.

No one in our culture has loved Crazy Horse better than Neil Young. No one individual better deserves a chance to have a beaded jacket that appears to be (at least through the Internet) more of a sacred vestment than a garment. 

Well, and after all, the old man does love this sort of jacket, as you can see in this post on the "Buffalo Springfield again" concert two years ago. 

(Guess that if Young did buy what appears to be a sacred item, he would want to preserve it, and perhaps wear it only at special occaions, if it all.)


The anonymous buyer bought the beaded jacket over the phone. Auctioneer John Eubanks, a master at the trade, asked the young man taking the call where the buyer was calling from, in front of the crowd at the barn-sizred auctionhouse in Casitas Springs. .

The young man didn't say. 

At the auction were many other extraordinary items, including Butch Cassidy's "amnesty Colt," the gun he hoped to trade in 1899 for one last chance at a peaceful, perhaps loving. life. But although the gun sold for about seventeen times the — what to call it? — the beaded jacket, which is most beautiful?.

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The undecided voter: Hating the hating of politics

Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post is one of the best of this nation's roughly 40,000 reporters, a man who likes complicated science stories, but also a shoeleather reporter ready and willing to go on a hunt to hardscrabble Ohio in search of that mythical beast, the undecided voter.

How does he find him (or her?) He interviews and interviews and interviews. And comes back with a simple truth that a zillion pollsters this election year have yet to clearly articulate, in my reading: 

A lot of voters are lukewarm about the guy they support, but they are white hot about the guy they loathe.

Dig into the quotes and you begin to suspect a deeper truth: The undecided voter is a person who hates the partianship. A person who hates the bitterness and hating of politics.

Look at it this way, and it's easy to understand why the undecided voter is difficult to persuade. And easy to see why pollsters increasingly doubt anything dramatic will change in six weeks. Today long analyses from both the L.A. Times and The New Republic landed on the same basic conclusion: 

As for the relatively few undecideds in the middle, research indicates that they are less likely to vote early than partisans on either side, preferring to wait until the last minute to make up their minds — if they vote at all.

Never thought I understood the undecided voter before — or respected him as much. 

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We saved the ozone layer. We can save the climate.

From Daniel Doniger at the NRDC last week, a reminder on the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Montreal Protocol, that Republicans and Democrats in this country, including the Reagan and Bush administration, allied to support an international treaty to save the ozone layer

Millions of lives saved.  Hundreds of millions of cancers averted.  Agricultural disaster avoided. These are big achievements. 

In Doniger's post is a presentation from Dr. Paul. A. Newman of NASA, discussing what he calls "The World Avoided." He points out that ozone, like carbon dioxide, is a trace gas, found in very small amounts in the atmosphere — 10 parts per million for ozone, 390 ppm for CO2. 

We as a species have proven we can take action to avert atmospheric disaster. It's a fact. 

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Graphing Psychology: Weakness and Mercy

From the brilliant Jessica Hagy


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Daniel Larison: GOP is a party about nothing

Strange irony of the political punditry today: Nobody, but nobody, has been tougher on the GOP than the gang at The American Conservative. Here's Daniel Larison on what the Republicans will learn from their loss this fall: 

The GOP’s predicament is that it is mostly running on nothing, or at
least nothing that isn’t a rehash of Bush-era policies. That could make
it much easier for movement conservatives to conclude that the lesson of
the election is that Republican candidates need to be more explicitly
ideological, which in practice will mean that there will be even less
interest in reviewing where the party may have gone wrong. As much as
critics of the Ryan plan would like to link the campaign to it, it is
going to have many more defenders after the election insisting that the
campaign never seriously made use of Ryan or the plan. If Romney’s
campaign is a reflection of the party’s failings, it becomes all the
more important for the rest of the party to pin the blame for a 2012
loss on Romney alone. Just as movement conservatives threw up their
hands after the 2006 drubbing and said, “The Republican Party failed us,
it has nothing to do with us,” Republicans will throw up their hands
and say that Romney failed them and they are not responsible.

Brutal — and probably true. 

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Lyle Tuttle: How to be a real tattoo artist

Covered a tattoo convention over the weekend for the Star, and had a chance to interview Lyle Tuttle, the man who made tattooing safe for women, back in the 60's, beginning most famously with Janis Joplin. (And here she is, displaying her armband, courtesy of Tuttle.) Here's his part of the story


Among the celebrities at the convention was octogenarian Lyle Tuttle,
who became famous in the late 1960s for tattooing Janis Joplin, Cher,
the Allman Brothers and other celebrities.

Tuttle said that when he started working professionally after World
War II
, tattoos were like stickers on luggage — mementos of travel and

"Now seems like everyone in the world has them," he said.

Tuttle thinks there is beauty in body art but also thinks that too
often people get tattooed for the wrong reasons, such as out of peer
pressure or drunkenness, and he has reservations about tattoos on the
neck or hands. "If I was to get a neck tattoo, I would in essence be
alienating myself from society," he said. He added that he's troubled by
people who want a tattoo on their hands or neck as "the first rattle
out of the box."

Tuttle said he no longer works professionally. He told a story of
refusing to give a tattoo to a woman who came in to his shop who
couldn't decide on a design. Instead of trying to talk her into buying a
tattoo she didn't really want, he talked her out of it.

"You have to have a conscience to be a real tattoo artist," Tuttle said.

To me he added, as he walked away, "Make me look like a gentleman."
Liked that. 

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The post-modern candidate who is about nothing: Romney

Mitt Romney's latest "secret video" debacle has been unexpectedly depressing for me. Think conservative Jonah Goldberg (of all people!) put his finger on the reason why here:

Romney’s remarks reinforce the overriding problem with his campaign:
It is bloodlessly non-ideological. And that is by design. Stewart
Stevens, Romney’s top strategist has made it abundantly clear he doesn’t
much care about ideas or philosophy. That showed in his convention
strategy and in Romney’s speech, which he apparently wrote. Responding
to complaints about his stewardship, Stevens told Politico:
“Politics is like sports. A lot of people have ideas, and there’s no
right or wrong. You just have to chart a course, and stay on that
course.” Not only is that not true of politics, as best I can tell it’s
not even true of sports either. 

Even the campaign’s ostensibly ideological ads and soundbites seem
offered not as statements of conviction but as carefully — and sometimes
not so carefully — crafted slogans aimed at telling the silly
swing-voters what they most want to hear. I’m not naive; focus groups
and poll data are part of politics, like it or not. But when conviction
politicians use such tools it’s often as a way to make what they believe
more salable. With the Romney campaign, all too often it seems like
they’ve got it reversed. They’re trying to sell the voters on the idea
that Romney believes something.

That's what's really depressing. It's not that Romney is wrong (unsurprisingly). It's that he's completely cynical even in his wrongheadedness. He believes in nothing, except maybe not paying taxes. '

Where did we get this guy? Libertarian Dave Weigel shakes his head, tweets:

At this point I'm amazed that the Salt Lake City Olympics went off without constant fires and explosions.            


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The $400 million snow job, thanks to David Koch (et al)

Jane Mayer of The New Yorker fills in the details on the latest from David Koch, revealing that he and his allies plan to spend $400 million on this year's elections…mostly to preserve the Bush-era tax break on dividends

Toles visualizes the scene

Scary thing is, Koch may be making a rational decision in terms of dollars. Currently he pays 15% on dividend income. If Bush era tax cuts are repealed, as the administration proposes, and dividends are once again taxed at a rate of 39.6%, could that cost him tens or hundreds of millions? 

Given that Koch is worth $25 billion, according to Forbes, and gets most of his income from dividends, it's possible. Which is utterly horrifying, if you believe our tax code and political/financial system should not contribute to the destruction of our nation.  

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Downbound Train: The kids think Springsteen is all right

At age 62, Bruce Springsteen is on tour, and the young bucks (or semi-young bucks) of today, including Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, are joining him on stage. 

Good to see, and great to read a full-scale feature on Springsteen by the editor of The New Yorker (especially meaningful given how much space the mag has given of late to the corporatized hit-making machine of today, which can be depressing for those of us who value authenticity over flash/money). 

Rock music has many fine songwriters, but Springsteen is without doubt the music's greatest storyteller. The stories he tells the crowd on stage evolve into his songs, until the singer becomes the man in the chorus. (Although the singer looks more muscular than the character — his vulnerability is expressed in his lyrics, not in his look.) Still, no one embodies himself in his work more fully than Springsteen:

Remnick includes a story from Springsteen on stage in l976:

My mom, she was a secretary, and she worked downtown. . . . And my father, he worked a lot of different places. He worked in a rug mill for a while, he drove a cab for a while, and he was a guard down at the jail for a while. I can remember when he worked down there, he used to always come home real pissed off, drunk, sit in the kitchen. At night, nine o’clock, he used to shut off all the lights, every light in the house, and he used to get real pissed off if me or my sister turned any of them on. And he’d sit in the kitchen with a six-pack, a cigarette. . . .

He’d make me sit down at that table in the dark. In the wintertime, he used to turn on the gas stove and close all the doors, so it got real hot in there. And I remember just sitting in the dark. . . . No matter how long I sat there, I could never ever see his face. We’d start talking about nothing much, how I was doing. Pretty soon, he asked me what I thought I was doing with myself. And we’d always end up screaming at each other. My mother, she’d always end up running in from the front room crying, and trying to pull him off me, try to keep us from fighting with each other. . . . I’d always end up running out the back door and pulling away from him. Pulling away from him, running down the driveway screaming at him, telling him, telling him, telling him, how it was my life and I was going to do what I wanted to do.

You can hear this especially well in the central lyric in his underappreciated Downbound Train, from Born in the USA record (although actually written for Nebraska). A young band named Roadside Graves, invited to pay tribute to Springsteen, was asked to record Downbound Train. Their version, available via Aquarium Drunkard, is a little 80's for my taste, but lead singer Johnny Gleason wrote thoughtfully about the song (here slightly edited): 

"I immediately knew I had to tinker with the lyrics a bit, the last verse
has always bothered me because I couldn’t see the character working at a
car wash and then swinging a “sledge hammer on a railroad gang”. I
prefer leaving the character after the third verse, dreamlike running to
his empty house."

Agreed, but Gleason did not change and could not improve the central verse. No one could: 

Last night I heard your voice
You were crying, crying, you were so alone
You said your love had never died
You were waiting for me at home.  
Put on my jacket, I ran through the woods
I ran till I thought my chest would explode
There in the clearing, beyond the highway
In the moonlight, our wedding house shone
I rushed through the yard, I burst through the front door
My head pounding hard, up the stairs I climbed
The room was dark, our bed was empty
Then I heard that long whistle whine
And I dropped to my knees, hung my head and cried…

And here's a typically strong live version, from July in Paris this year:

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John Cassidy: Start the blame game — it’s over for Mitt

From veteran writer/editor John Cassidy, blogging for The New Yorker:

When Romney decided to run in 2012, the best argument for his candidacy
was that he had nothing to do with the Bush Administration and could
appeal to moderate voters. But rather than trying to make a break with
the Bush Administration and portraying himself as a different sort of
Republican, one who has learned from the mistakes of the past, Romney
has embraced the Bush heritage—one that delivered the Presidency to
Obama in 2008. We see this in economic policy, where he has embraced the
Republican orthodoxy that tax cuts are a solution to everything and tax
increases are evil. We see it in the field of social issues, where he
has pandered to evangelicals and conservative Catholics on issues like
abortion and gay marriage. And now we see it in foreign policy, where he
has given a platform to the very folks who led us to disaster in Iraq.

Romney's blundering during the past couple of days is of a piece with
his entire campaign. A man with an impressive résumé, whose best hope
of victory lay in portraying himself as a moderate, independent
figure—somebody not beholden to tired old orthodoxies, Democratic or
Republican—has self-destructed by aligning himself with some of the
least credible and most voter-repellant groups in the G.O.P. If he had
kept quiet on Tuesday, he would be well placed now to raise some
legitimate concerns about what happened: Why was the consulate in Libya
so lightly guarded? What returns is the United States getting on the
billions of dollars in aid it provides to Egypt? Why did we intervene in
Libya but not in Syria? What’s our over-all policy for the Middle East?
If he tries to make these points today or tomorrow, his intervention
will be widely dismissed as another political ploy.

His electoral prospects have deteriorated to the point where about
his only hope is a grim one: that the situation in the Middle East
worsens, and more American embassies get sacked. That way, perhaps, the
alarmist warnings of Bolton and others about lack of leadership and
resolve on the part of the Obama Administration will start to resonate
with voters. As of now, though, I’m sticking with my initial judgment: it looks like curtains for the Mittster.

Famous election analyst Charlie Cook agrees, in a mealy sort of way, and a slew of polling from swing states looks bad, bad, bad for Romney.

Via Political Wire

"New Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist polls show President Obama building leads over Mitt Romney in Ohio, Florida and Virginia among likely voters.

Florida: Obama 49%, Romney 44%

Ohio: Obama 50%, Romney 43%

Virginia: Obama 49%, Romney 44%

"These states – all of which Obama carried in 2008 but which George W. Bush won in 2004 – represent three of the most crucial battlegrounds in the 2012 presidential election. And according to NBC's electoral map, Romney likely needs to capture at least two of these states, if not all three, to secure the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the presidency."

Politico reports the numbers in Ohio "roughly match up with internal surveys conducted by both Democrats and Republicans recently."

Rumor has it that Team Obama thinks Romney is an inept politician, and Romney's definition of the middle-class today to ABC News would seem to prove the point: 

Romney when asked if $100K is middle income: "No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less."

Perhaps he will claim to have been misquoted by the liberal media, but Derek Thompson takes him to task anyhow in The Atlantic, and helpfully provides a chart showing what Romeny thinks vs. what the Census Bureau has found: 

The Census Bureau says that middle-class household income is about 50k. 

Jamelle Bouie adds:

If you look at the last 30 years of Gallup polling, one trend becomes clear—the leading candidate after the conventions almost always goes on to win the election. This, of course, isn’t to say that the election is a lock for Obama, but that Romney’s odds have become longer than they actually look.

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