Gotta find my corner of the sky ...


We wrote recently in Think Again about the struggle over "white spaces," the unused spectrum between television channels that could be used to deliver low-cost, universal Internet to the country -- unless the FCC allows big telecommunications companies to buy that broadcast real estate, and quite likely sit on it.

There have been two developments of late. On October 16, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin affirmed that the "white spaces" could indeed extend high-speed wireless Internet access to hard-to-reach rural areas and underserved urban neighborhoods, without harming over-the-air TV signals. A vote is scheduled for November 4, although the National Association of Broadcasters wants it delayed. Mountain Area Information Network is pressing for a vote now, and has an action page for anyone interested. We'll keep you updated here.

Also, we should note that the New York City Council, in the same round of voting that granted Mayor Michael Bloomberg (and the Council members) the right to seek a third term, passed a unanimous resolution asking the FCC to hold off on making a decision. Big Broadway shows are putting the pressure on the Council, because they believe use of "white spaces" will interfere with their wireless equipment. That, however, appears to be an unfounded concern.

Blind, negative quote of the day from Republicans:

"[Sarah Palin] is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," said this McCain adviser, "she does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: divas trust only unto themselves as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom."

I'd expect a lot of these in coming weeks...

McCain Suck-Up Watch, Brokaw edition: Tom Brokaw did not challenge Sen. John McCain's false claim that under Sen. Barack Obama's health care plan, "[S]mall-business people who have employees without health insurance, that he is going to fine them if they don't have, have the insurance policy that they want, that Senator Obama wants them to have." In fact, while Obama has proposed requiring large businesses that do not provide health coverage to pay a percentage of their payroll into a National Health Insurance Exchange, small businesses would be exempt. More here.

George Zornick writes: Mike Huckabee has his own Fox News show -- I almost missed that news, since it plays Saturdays at 8 p.m. and seems to have gotten limited advertising by the network. But it's a fascinating development - the Fox News channel is now providing a weekly unfiltered message directly for a past, and possibly future, Republican candidate for president.

Huckabee has not declared he's competing for the GOP nomination in 2012 -- assuming John McCain loses -- but it's hard to believe he's not considering that option. Earlier this year, even after it became clear that McCain had all but clinched the nomination, Huckabee stubbornly stayed in the race, and when he did concede, he did so loudly. "I may be in a position like the pitcher who goes to the bullpen," Huckabee said. "He is not on the mound, but should something happen, he is ready to come in for relief." And the numbers for 2012 are there -- Newsweek asked Republicans who they were most likely to support in 2012, and more said Huckabee than even Sarah Palin -- leaving him a close second only to Mitt Romney.

So this is a guy with clear presidential aspirations, and the show reflects it. It's a talk-show format, and Huckabee's opening monologues are not distinguishable from stump speeches -- there's some stated values and policy positions, constant references to "what I believe in," and of course jokes, but of the gentle, canned, campaign trail type. It appears to be a big hit, at least for Saturday night. The series premiere brought over 2 million viewers, which is more than the viewership of CNN, CNBC and MSNBC put together for the same time slot.

But there are many questions to be asked -- who is writing these scripts? Does Huckabee have political advisers preparing the content of the show? It does appear it's completely his own operation; when the show was announced, the AP reported that: "Fox News Channel spokesman Richard White said that Huckabee's new show would air on the channel but referred all questions about the show to Huckabee's agent." One would think that, with a future presidential run possibly still on the table, every word Huckabee says on the show, every guest he interviews, every joke he makes, comes through that filter. Not just for gaffes (which he's unfortunately made already), but even bland policy statements that, say, are in contradiction to what he's supported in the past, or guests that are perhaps a little too offensive to key voting blocs. If he does run for president or any other political office in the future, opposition researchers will no doubt be poring over every minute of this show, and Huckabee must know that.

Still, Fox is not embarrassed about offering what is essentially a personal and political infomercial on their network. You'd think that, if not Romney supporters inside the network, the financial guys at least would be ticked -- the other networks were able to get Obama to pay for such a thing.

Speaking of Fox News, it's clear that there's some talent in the minor leagues that ain't ready for the big show just yet. Barbara West of WFTV in Orlando gave Joe Biden a real doozy on Thursday. Here's one question:

WEST: "You may recognize this famous quote: 'from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs.' That's from Karl Marx. How is Sen. Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?"

Gotcha! (By the way, here was what followed: BIDEN: Are you joking? Is this a joke? WEST: No. BIDEN: Is that a real question? WEST: That's a question.)

West's hometown paper called the interview "embarrassing"; Frank James of the Chicago Tribune says it "may be the worst interview of a major political figure by a 'professional' broadcast journalist I've ever witnessed." It's not substantively worse than what Hannity, Cavuto, Dick Morris imply on a near-nightly basis, but at least they only imply it! Some tact, please, Ms. West.

Silence is golden, says Harry Shearer.

From TomDispatch:

Over the Bush years, staggering sums of taxpayer dollars have been sunk into the Pentagon budget, as well as America's vast network of bases, and Bush's wars abroad. And yet, even in the midst of a financial unraveling, no one talks about Pentagon cutbacks. In fact, both presidential candidates have opted for an expansion of the size of the armed forces slated to cost at least $108 billion.

The militarization of our society and its costs are subjects most Americans put little thought into, and so what might be involved in demilitarizing it and un-garrisoning the planet is not much discussed either.

Ever think about what that might mean economically? Well, in these tight times, Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, has and, in this highly original piece, he begins to imagine -- and put some price tags on -- just what it might mean from bases sold to Humvees decommissioned -- for America's military empire to be brought home.

What if, for instance, the Pentagon simply sold off the buildings and structures on its 761 acknowledged overseas bases (the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't even counted in official figures)? "At their current estimated replacement value," Turse writes, "the country would stand to gain more than $119 billion. Think of this as but a down payment on a full-scale Pentagon bailout package." What if it sold off the more than 11,000 acres it owns in Abu Dhabi, "the richest and most powerful of the seven kingdoms of the United Arab Emirates"? That's $48.9 million -- and another $80 million for the structures on them.

And, if you started coming home from those bases, you could stop funding force-projection weapons systems, including a plane like the F-22A Raptor, designed to counter advanced Soviet aircraft that were never built. (That one system saves us at least $3.7 billion right there.)

This is but the beginning of what Turse calls a Pentagon trillion-dollar tag sale. In our present American world, this remains, of course, but a fantasy. Nonetheless, it's time to start talking about where our money should really come from and where it should really go.

Alter-reviews: Weekend Live Music Roundup

Southside Johnny & La Bamba's Big Band, by Sal:

There were a lot of people on stage at the Nokia Theatre on Friday night, and while Southside Johnny got top billing, it was Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg's show. It made me think of La Bamba playing Danny Rose to Southside's Lou Canova. We know who the people paid to see, but we know exactly how he got there ... at least for this show. The brief tour behind their excellent new CD, Grapefruit Moon: The Songs Of Tom Waits opened up in NYC, and a nice show it was. It was basically the album ... live. And that was fine. I can't believe anyone in the crowd expected anything else. Watching Rosenberg conduct this big band was both exciting and endearing. The orchestra seemed a bit uncomfortable -- opening night jitters? -- but La Bamba kept them busy with his John Barry-meets-Nelson Riddle arrangements. John Lyon seemed happy out front, doing a fine job with the Waits catalogue. He even boasted about his new suit and shoes. Grapefruit Moon is a success. While it's not the first tribute to Tom Waits on CD -- Holly Cole released Temptation in 1995, and a few other very uneven various artists compilations have been around -- this new venture from John Lyon and Richie Rosenberg has the feel of two artists who have been waiting to show this off for years. After 35 years of performing, Southside Johnny's performance on Friday seemed a bit like a debutante's ball.

Eric adds: Didn't Scarlett Johansson release one earlier this year as well? Anyway, I thought it was fun show and it looked like both guys had a great time with the big band, which by the way, included Baron Raymonde on sax, who two weeks earlier killed while sitting in with the band Petey hired for our 30th high school reunion.

Anat Cohen Quartet, by Sal:

I'll try not to gush all over this review, but it won't be easy. Anat Cohen's Notes From The Village is not only my favorite jazz release of the year, but could easily end up on my Top Ten for the Year. There are a handful of solos that never fail to reduce me to mush. Johnny Hodges on "Warm Valley," from the Ellington "Blanton-Webster" collection. Dr. Michael White on "Burgundy Street Blues," from "A Song For George Lewis." And just about every note Anat Cohen plays. Not just on this new CD. I mean every note. (So much for not gushing.)

Saturday night, Cohen and quartet exploded on the Village Vanguard stage, with five extended takes on tracks from the new CD. Opening with Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," Cohen, with Jason Lindner on piano, Joe Martin on bass, and who I think is the most exciting drummer I have seen NOT from New Orleans, Daniel Freedman, wowed the crowd, each taking a few minutes to show off their goods. Cohen moved and danced about the stage less like a jazz musician and more like a rock star, but it wasn't a distraction. It only exemplified the soul behind her playing. Freedman's drumming had the crashing attack of Tony Williams and the pocket groove of Clyde Stubblefield from The J.B.'s. Cohen could not keep still, even when she was off to the side watching the rest of the band. Cohen played clarinet most of the night, only switching to soprano and alto for one song, the tour de force that was the Cuban standard "Siboney." A bluesy take on "A Change Is Gonna Come" had Cohen's horn crying, pleading for some change. The band closed the set with "Washington Square Park," a song she said "had a bit of all the wonderful sounds you hear walking through the Village." It did indeed. Alternating from a pulsing, almost Gershwin-like opening, to a noirish blues, to a swaggering funk, the Israeli-born Cohen took 12 minutes to convince the crowd that she was a real New Yorker. Buy Notes From The Village, and go see Anat Cohen when you can.

Sal Nunziato
Read My Blog When You're Not Reading Eric's

Joan Osborne live, by Eric:

I caught Joan Osborne's show at the Highline ballroom on Saturday night. I'm the biggest Joan Osborne fan of anyone I know; I bought all of her albums, and while I like her original material of late and agree with Sal that the new album, Pretty Little One, as some excellent songs on it, coupled with beautifully written arrangements, it is as a singer that she most excels. Whether singing country songs, Grateful Dead standards, or soul classics, her sultry, sexy voice and rhythmic intensity make it hard for you (or at least for me) to stay in your seat when the girl really gets going. Saturday night the new songs predominated, and so things didn't really start heating up till late in the set, and she returned to her classic first album, and some wonderful, funky stuff from the soul record, with a rave-up of "Only You Know and I Know" and a terrifically gutsy "Let's Just Kiss and Say Goodbye." Thankfully, she's going to be around for quite a while ...

Billy Bragg live, by Mickey Ehrlich:

Saturday night at the Grand Ballroom in New York City, Billy Bragg, the British singer-songwriter, performed to a half-filled house. The weather was miserable but the audience was good-humored, seated on the carpeted floor of the hall and chatting before the show began. Bragg is famous for wearing his politics on his guitar strap, but the opening act was the apolitical Louisville, Kentucky, sister act, The Watson Twins. The general admission tickets were standing room only, but for this pair people stayed seated. People come to a Billy Bragg show to hear his '80s love songs in his unrepentant cockney accent and for a dose of his old-style, sentimental socialism = all unions and revolution.

Bragg's between-song banter predictably focused on the election. The middle-aged songwriter spoke aggressively about hope, faith and resistance to cynicism. His statements of support for Barack Obama's candidacy were met with enthusiastic cheers, but as the evening wore on, songs seemed more like they were placed between banter than the other way around.

After a while, jokes and throwaway lines became dissertations and the crowd grew restless. The idealist told us that if Obama is elected we cannot become cynical when he doesn't meet our expectations and that we should never make the mistake of losing interest and dismissing Obama as just as bad as Bush. "Things balance out," he said. He told us that though Tony Blair will be remembered for following Bush into war, we must not forget that he brought lasting peace to Northern Ireland. Later he told us about what an inspiring experience it had been to see The Clash in Hackney play in a "Rock Against Racism" concert. He told us and he told us and he told us. He played a beautifully somber version of Woody Guthrie's "Ain't Got No Home," but he should have left it up to the audience to make the obvious contemporary connection to the Depression-era ballad rather than heavy-handedly explaining it before he started singing.

Performances of his older songs, like "Shirley," were terrific and energetic. His newer songs, though they often lack the deadpan humor and wordplay of older works, rang earnestly true through solemn performance.

Bragg is not an ineloquent speaker. He can be funny and incendiary and exciting to listen to. Artists have not only the right to political opinions, but if they feel strongly, they have a duty to share them with the world. Bragg writes honest songs that make explicit what he believes in and why he believes. People who go to his shows expect and hope to hear what he has to say about what he thinks. The Dixie Chicks have to make speeches because they don't write political songs and you wouldn't know one way or another from their music what they think. Bragg is a different kind of artist and he should let his art write his editorials for him.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ken Bilderback
Hometown: Gaston, OR

For months the pundits pontificated on why Obama wasn't running away with the race, given the Republicans' plunging popularity. "He should be leading by double digits!" they declared. "What ever could be wrong with him?"

So now he is leading by double digits, and the same pundits are sure that the race just has to be tighter than it appears. "There's just no way he could be leading by such a margin," they bluster. "The race is bound to get tighter as Election Day nears!"

What will we do for comic relief when this campaign finally ends?

Name: Michael Kropp
Hometown: Mahwah, NJ

I agree whole heartedly with Lord Charles that the "Fairness Doctrine" ship has sailed, but I find it incredibly ironic that the right continues to make the doctrine its cause celebre. The irony being that the same group that rails against the return of the Fairness Doctrine also believes in affirmative action for wingnuts -- that the "liberal media" should hire more "conservative" journalists.

Somehow I doubt Messrs. Limbaugh, Hannity, et al, get the irony.

Name: Jim C.
Hometown: Walnut Creek, CA

Granted that a coffee-table book on the Clash is pretty unpunk, I'm not sure it tops having our local PBS stations air that documentary on them every fundraising night.

FWIW, I saw the Who/Clash tour at the Oakland Coliseum (as we called it in the dark days of socialism before stadium names could be freely sold). Embracing the rock-crit CW of the day (and remembering their great show at the SF Civic a year or so earlier), I fully expected the youngsters to upstage the lumbering dinosaurs. But they didn't. The Clash went on in the afternoon and, annoyed at the California sun, gave a so-so performance. The Who, with the benefit of darkness and a full lighting rig, Rocked On Out. It was the last Who concert I ever saw, and they went out in an autumnal blaze of glory. Stop me before I start reminiscing like an aging boomer.

Name: Jim
Hometown: Manchaca, Texas

It's totally irresponsible of you to provide YouTube links not only to Elvis Costello but also to "Panama Red" when you ought to know that there are people out there who are supposed to be working but find themselves unable to avoid watching those videos and every other link that they lead to. Thanks.

Eric replies: Hey, we call it "Slacker Friday" for a reason ...

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