December 30, 2008

No Coal is Clean Coal

Until now, ash waste from coal fire power plants has been a sleeper issue I only hear about occasionally in meetings of environmental advocates. That changed when the TVA spilled more than a billion gallons of coal ash sludge over 300 acres and into a major river.


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(AP photo)


The TVA admits:
that in just one year, the plant’s byproducts included 45,000 pounds of arsenic, 49,000 pounds of lead, 1.4 million pounds of barium, 91,000 pounds of chromium and 140,000 pounds of manganese. Those metals can cause cancer, liver damage and neurological complications, among other health problems.

And the holding pond, at the Kingston Fossil Plant, a T.V.A. plant 40 miles west of Knoxville, contained many decades’ worth of these deposits.
I wasn't going to blog about this because it's a national story until I saw the SJ-R's article about the coal industry response to the Reality Coalition ad campaign. Doing a story about clean coal without mentioning that a catastrophic spill of toxic coal ash happened less than a week ago is...strange. Currently proposed clean coal projects still produce solid waste.

Coal industry executives say that carbon capture technology won't be ready for broad commercial use for at least another 10-20 years. That assumes it can be done economically on wide scale, which is questionable. The UN Panel on Climate Change warns that the future of our planet will be determined by what we do in the next four years. Clearly, if we're serious about addressing global warming we can't wait for coal industry experiments.


December 20, 2008

Spoon

With their last album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon shows everyone how to do it right.

The first thing they did right is release their new album on high quality vinyl with a coupon for a digital download. The download even includes songs from the CD release bonus disc.





They packaged everything in very nice album artwork. The picture shows the back side of the album cover and the inner sleeve.

Pay attention other labels! This is how I want to buy all music from now on. Don't get cheap with the downloads and album artwork! I also like that Spoon is on an independent label so I don't have to give more money to the major labels while they do their best to destroy themselves. My only complaint is that their label, Merge, wanted to charge a 50% markup for shipping my order, but luckily I found the album at Recycled Records.

Finally, Spoon recorded an album full of great songs. It gives me hope that there's still good new music happening. My favorite on the album so far is Don't You Evah. I don't know if it has an official video but this one with Keepon the dancing robot is the most popular.





The end of the record has an intentional skip that I would guess keeps playing forever if it didn't drive me crazy after two minutes. I give them points for doing something different.

I don't know why I didn't hear about this album earlier. Probably because Springfield's only "alternative" station was too busy playing old Billy Idol and Matchbox 20 songs. ugh.

It's about the artwork

In the age of illegal downloads and the failure of major labels to develop quality new talent, what's the incentive to pay for music?

You might think that record companies would reduce the cost of digital downloads compared to CD's since they don't have to pay the same manufacturing and distribution costs. Most songs cost $.99 to download. Most CD's have 10-15 songs and cost $10-$15. That makes downloading songs no cheaper than buying CDs, which are already priced artificially high. I can't feel any sympathy for the record labels crying about theft when they're gouging fans and robbing artists.

Part of a vinyl record's appeal is that I'm getting something more for my money. You get the music plus you get the artwork that doesn't come with a download. It's hardly worth bothering with the artwork in a tiny CD package.

It's best when the record comes with a code for a digital download too (aka an LP3). Even better if it's released on an independent label.





I recently got Ryan Adam's album Easy Tiger. It's not his newest (I think he releases a new album once every three weeks) but I was still able to order a copy at Recycled Records. It came in a plastic sleeve with a cover that folds out into the poster pictured above. The record itself is translucent orange vinyl. Cooooooool!

Like most of Adams' albums, this one is good for reminding me of that one girl I never seem to get over.

Mabye nothing is more of a hipster cliche than a Strokes album on vinyl but I love it. Surprisingly, this one didn't come with a one-inch button.





The back side of the poster above has lyrics and more artwork. This album didn't do as well as their others but You Only Live Once is one of my favorite songs. It's worth the cost when I'm buying an album I can listen to from start to finish like these two.


December 19, 2008

Fela Kuti

One of the subplots in The Visitor has an immigrant musician teaching a white middle aged economics professor to play African style drums. It highlights one of my favorite musicians, Fela Kuti, a pioneer of modern Afrobeat music. His music was often political. His live performances and personal story are legendary. I rarely meet anyone else who's a fan so it's nice to see him get some exposure in the movie.

I found a cool video of him on youtube made when he was still alive.





I saw his son, Femi, perform at Lollapalooza last year complete with a large band and dancers. They put on an amazing show. I've never seen anything else like it. I'll play one of Fela's CD's before the movie on January 13th.


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(Femi Kuti dancers)

The Visitor, January 13

The next Liberty Brew & View movie is The Visitor, Tuesday, January 13, at 7:00pm. Doors open at 6:30 at Capital City Bar & Grill. I'm excited about having an excellent movie and speaker for January.

The Visitor is a character driven drama that examines the issue of immigration policy through the story of an economics professor and a young immigrant couple. I saw it in Chicago earlier this year and I've been wanting to show it for LBV because it's the kind of movie that looks at a current issue while still being entertaining. You can find out more at the movie website. Here's the trailer:





This month's showing is sponsored by the Central Illinois ACLU and IMAGE Inc. They've arranged for a special guest speaker. Shelly Heideman, a Community Organizer with Beardstown/Rushville Immigrant Families United, will speak about immigration policy after the film.

I'm showing it a week earlier than normal this month because January 20th is Obama's inauguration. If you want to get emails about LBV movies you can sign up here or just send me your email address.


December 10, 2008

Happy Jane Addams Day!

December 10 is recognized as Jane Addams Day in Illinois. Few people made the kind of lasting impact on America that Addams did and she's inexcusably under-recognized for her influence.

She's most known as a pioneer of social work and volunteerism for founding Hull House in Chicago. She was also a socialist and pacifist who became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.


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The Hull House Museum is hosted by UIC. Some of their faculty recorded short audio essays about Addams and her work. The one by William Ayers is pretty interesting.

Addams believed that efforts like Hull House weren't enough without systemic societal reforms. That lead her to become a political activist on a variety of issues including immigrant rights, women's rights, child labor, unions, and more.

It's time that Jane Addams be selected to represent Illinois in the US Capitol Statuary Hall Collection instead of James Shields or Frances Willard. "Instead of who?" you may ask. Exactly.


December 9, 2008

Schadenfielde

Schadenfielde

Definition: Gleeful pleasure taken by the citizens of Springfield Illinois upon hearing of the Governor's shameful and humiliating arrest.


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(AP/SJR photo)


Used in a Sentence:
After years of Springfield feeling abused by the Governor, the storefront signs and jubilation in downtown bars were predictable displays of schadenfielde.


Does anyone have stories about blatant displays of schadenfielde? It was everywhere today. Feeling it yourself?


December 8, 2008

Be careful what you wish for, Rod.

"I don't care whether you tape me privately or publicly. I can tell you that whatever I say is always lawful the things I'm interested in are always lawful ..."
Rod Blagojevich - 2008


"Follow me around . . . . I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'd be very bored."
Gary Hart - 1987

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Will Illinois miss out on clean energy jobs?

Many wind turbines are made in Europe but the U.S. is finally playing catch up. One factory building parts for turbines opened right across the river in Fort Madison Iowa. A Michigan company is creating jobs building small scale wind generators.

Colorado and Montana had success attracting new factories this year with incentives.
Denmark-based Vestas Wind Systems will eventually employ 600 workers at its 400,000-square-foot plant outside Windsor, about 60 miles north of Denver. It has about 200 workers now.

Ditlev Engel, Vestas' president and chief executive, said the United States was the company's largest market last year.

"We have great faith in the potential of our industry in this country," he said.

Gov. Bill Ritter attended the plant's ceremonial opening on Wednesday, calling it "a victory for our state" that will help attract other renewable energy companies to Colorado.
Besides creating new jobs, manufacturing turbines closer to where they'll be erected reduces the environmental impact of shipping them to their final destination.


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While other states are creating new clean energy jobs, Illinois keeps throwing money down the black hole of "clean" coal projects which have never been proven to work. Will Illinois start attracting renewable energy jobs or will state leaders keep pandering to pipe dreams of reviving the coal industry?

There's nothing wrong with clean coal research, but when the coal industry comes asking for taxpayer subsidies (they always do), we have to ask ourselves what investments make the most sense for the people of Illinois.

Coal is the past and it's becoming an albatross for the downstate economy. We can choose new energy jobs or we can let downstate die slowly along with the coal industry. We could even give out-of-work members of the United Mine Workers first dibs on retraining for the new jobs.

Illinois is already falling behind. I'm waiting for state leaders to start showing real leadership on this issue instead of towing the line of coal industry lobbyists.


December 7, 2008

I keep it cool

Last night SNL ran the definitive skit that will be Obama's persona in popular culture for the next four to eight years. This is what Dana Carvey's "Not gonna do it" skit was for George H. W. Bush. It's what Will Ferell's "strategery" was for George W. Bush. This is it.





Turn it up enough to hear the cool, jazzy music in the background.


December 3, 2008

Jazz Record Mart

Jazz Record Mart in downtown Chicago claims to be the largest jazz record store in the world. I don't doubt them. I picked out some good finds and left with less money in my wallet than I planned.

Miles Davis is the reason I didn't start listening to much jazz until the last year or two. It's not his fault directly but his many imitators. For years my main experience with jazz was live trios, quartets and quintets copying Davis' early style by playing meandering, jazzy versions of recognizable tunes. Once in a while you would hear a melody come through and think, "oh, now I know what they're playing." Davis could make that work. Many other bands can't.

Combine that with people like Lawrence Welk representing big band and I didn't see the appeal. There's a lot of good jazz out there but there's a lot of bad jazz too. It took watching Ken Burns' Jazz series to find what I like.

Miles still isn't my favorite. I'm not crazy about the trumpet in general and lead trumpet players often sound like they're trying too hard to get my attention. Blending in with the band is not a bad thing. I prefer non-trumpeters like John Coltrane and Benny Goodman.


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But...Workin with the Miles Davis Quintet is a good album and I've enjoyed listening to it several times since I brought it home. I'll probably get one more Miles album from later in his career.

One of the first jazz albums I owned was John Coltrane's A Love Supreme on CD. It completely blew me away. Blue Train is my first Coltrane album on vinyl. It makes all the lists of great Coltrane albums everyone should own and now I do. I love it, but A Love Supreme is still my favorite.

I've heard Gil Scott-Heron called a jazz musician and the godfather of hip hop. He's most known for the song, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Some of my favorite songs by Kanye West and Common used samples of Scott-Heron songs.

I was a little disappointed when I got this album home and noticed in fine print that it's a collection of previously released songs. I'd rather have an original full album if it's someone I know I like. The collection is good though so I'm happy with it even though I already have many of the songs on CD. It's always good to have one of his albums around on vinyl just in case you ever find yourself hosting a party full of radical left wing activists.

Charlie Christian caught my attention in the Ken Burns Jazz series as an early innovator of the electric guitar as a lead instrument. So I picked up one of the Benny Goodman Alternate Takes series which has a mix of big band and smaller group recordings with Charlie Christian. It's funny switching from a Coltrane or Davis album with songs that last ten minutes or more to a series of quick three minute numbers that were standard in the 30's and 40's.

Finally, I picked up a copy of a Lou Rawls album, Man of Value. This post is getting long so maybe I'll write about that one another day. I'm eager to get back to Jazz Record Mart, but thankfully, for the sake of my checking account balance, I won't be back in Chicago too soon.


December 2, 2008

Screw you Rod Blagojevich

The sad thing is that with a blog title like that no one really knows which of many issues I might write about. I don't write about the Governor much because everybody in Springfield already complains about him constantly. But now it's personal.

Springfield is a nice town but it's no Chicago. We don't have the same endless entertainment options, unlimited variety of restaurant choices, skyscrapers, major sports franchises, a world famous theater district, or entire neighborhoods full of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture you can find in the Chicagoland area.


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But we do have the Dana Thomas House. It's not just one of the nicest houses to visit in Springfield along with Lincoln's Home. It's considered the world's most complete example of Frank Lloyd Wright's early Prairie Style home architecture and interior design, and one of the nation's most architecturally important residences that's open for public tours. It's a site toured by tens of thousands of national and international visitors every year.


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Holiday decorations at the Dana Thomas House aren't just a fun holiday activity. It's one of the best annual traditions Springfield, and the entire state of Illinois, has to offer. Besides being an excellent family activity, I've always ranked a Christmas tour at the Thomas House along side the Carillon Festival as the top two best places to take a date in Springfield.


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I blame George W. Bush for many things. He lied to the country and the troops to justify the war in Iraq. He worsened a recession when he first took office by talking down the economy and we may be entering a depression as he leaves office. He tarnished the international reputation of the Unites States, perhaps permanently, by condoning acts of torture and unprovoked wars of aggression.


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Yet, never in my life have I been able to blame George Bush for messing up my dating life. If anything, I should thank him because I once dated a woman I met at a rally in opposition to a Bush visit in Knoxville.

I've never had reason to blame any politician for messing up my dating life until Rod Blagojevich shut down the Dana Thomas House. That's a pretty big deal considering how meager my dating life is lately, and the Carillon Festival is six months away. For that, for the latest round of state workers to lose their jobs, and for all the much better reasons he's disliked by so many in Springfield: up yours Rod!


December 1, 2008

George Ryan

I'm probably in the minority but I think Dick Durbin is right to ask George Bush to commute George Ryan's prison sentence. I've never been able to take any pleasure out of seeing a non-violent offender in his 70's locked away in prison. Ryan was held accountable by having his pension taken away and being lead away in hand cuffs for at least some time in prison. That destroyed the reputation and financial benefits he spent his entire career building up.

I'm also ambivalent because I've never been convinced that Ryan's crimes were all that unique. Some of the witnesses in the Ryan trial testified that they were continuing practices similar to what happened under previous Secretaries of State including Jim Edgar, and people in Springfield talk about Edgar like he's some kind of saint. Singling out one bad apple doesn't change the system if you don't hold anyone else accountable.

Passing much stronger anti-patronage laws that separate state employment from politics, similar to what the federal government does, would make me happier than seeing one corrupt politician in jail whose main crime was pushing the line just a little bit farther than everyone else.