December 31, 2008

Bedtime Music: Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton - Islands in the Stream

What makes a song "country" (or any other particular genre)? Here we have the case of Islands in the Stream, a duet sung by country singers Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton; their rendition of the song ultimately ranked #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart for two weeks. But the song was originally written by the Bee Gees, apparently for Diana Ross, neither of whom are country singers. And yet Islands is ranked the best country duet of all time by Country Music Television (CMT). So is it the song, the singer(s), or the style in which the song is sung?

Harold Meyerson: "The Civil War Isn't Really Over"

Harold Meyerson at the Washington Post had an interesting article today; however, it was the second half that I want to highlight:

Lesson Two: In matters economic, the Civil War isn't really over.

If Abraham Lincoln were still among the living as he prepared to turn 200 six weeks from now, he might detect in the congressional war over the automaker bailouts a strong echo of the war that defined his presidency. Now as then, the conflict centered on the rival labor systems of North and South. Now as then, the Southerners championed a low-wage, low-benefits system while the North favored a more generous one. And now as then, what sparked the conflict was the North's fear of the Southern system becoming the national norm. Or, as Lincoln put it, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Over the past century, of course, the conflict between North and South has been between union and non-union labor. The states of the industrial Midwest and the South had common demographics (Appalachian whites and African Americans, though the Northern states also were home to Catholics of Eastern European origin) but developed two distinct economies.

Residents of the unionized north enjoyed higher living standards, both from their paychecks and the higher public outlays on health and education, than did their counterparts in the union-resistant South.

But, just as Lincoln predicted, the United States was bound to have one labor system prevail, and the debate over the General Motors and Chrysler bailout was really a debate over which system -- the United Auto Workers' or the foreign transplant factories' -- that would be. Where the parallel between periods breaks down, of course, is in partisan alignment. Today's congressional Republicans are hardly Lincoln's heirs. If anything, they are descendants of Jefferson Davis's Confederates.

This argument is not completely novel; for example, Kevin Phillips spent a significant chunk of his book American Theology on the influence of the South over American politics (which Richard Nixon exploited in his Southern strategy). This is where it's a necessity to revitalize the Frostbelt's economy and, in particular, to rebuild the infrastructure - not only of the entire United States - but especially of the country's northern tier. The north needs to rally around unionization in order to increase personal income levels and to improve the region's education and health care, as Meyerson points out.

From a political perspective this means that the Democrats must cut through the Republicans' BS and pass the legislation necessary to help stimulate the economy. Monetary policy at this point is nearly useless. Fiscal policy, in the form of government spending, is the only significant tool available to the government in order to speed up the recovery of the American economy and to improve the country's future business competitiveness.

"Joe, You Ignorant Slut"

Former National Security Advisor Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski had a brilliant put-down of Joe Scarborough on the latter's show yesterday, somewhat reminiscent of the Dan Ackroyd put-down on SNL's Weekend Update segments back in the late 70s, "Jane, you ignorant slut!" Here's the money quote:

You have such a stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on it's almost embarrassing to listen to you.

And it was all the more delicious to watch because Joe's co-host is Dr. Brzezinski's daughter, Mika. ;)

Of course Dr. Brzezinski was correct in knocking down the wingnuts' meme that Yasser Arafat was to blame for "walking away" from the peace accords. That's not true at all. In fact, even the Israelis acknowledge that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was to blame for the failure of the Taba Summit:

It was not Arafat who broke off the talks at this critical moment, when the light at the end of the tunnel was clearly visible to the negotiators, but Barak. He ordered his men to break off and return home.
-- Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom

Get a clue, Joe, you ignorant slut!


HT: TalkingPointsMemo

The Sky in Motion

A very cool, well-made video. It makes you think that, due to the rat race, we rarely take any time to just look up.


túrána hott kurdís by hasta la otra méxico! from Till Credner on Vimeo.

December 30, 2008

Bedtime Music: Christina Aguilera & Andrea Bocelli - Somos Novios

I think I was surprised as much as anyone when I read that Andrea Bocelli was interested in performing a duet with Christina Aguilera. At the time, I only knew of Aguilera as another cookie-cutter pop singer, a woman relying upon her looks to sell pop songs (and certainly that has been her bread-and-butter). But Bocelli, not hampered by her physical attractiveness, knew what he was talking about when he said he was interested in singing with Aguilera. The below video is of the two singing Somos Novios (It's Impossible), which appears on Bocelli's 2006 album, Amore.

My Post of the Year

Time for a little navel gazing as we come up to the end of 2008. Blogging has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for me this year. On the one hand, I wrote more blog posts in 2008 (379, not counting this one or any others published before tomorrow) than in any other year. On the other hand, the birth of my daughter A'ishah has taken away a considerable amount of time writing, which is only natural as taking care of her is the much, much higher priority in my life. What's interesting is that at least one person began to think that I was no longer writing on my blog. As I mentioned in that post, it's not that I've quit writing; it's just that I've been extremely busy. (I almost feel guilty for writing this post. Almost. ;) )

This year the tone of my blog has changed somewhat. I haven't written quite as much about Islam as I had in the past, and there were a lot more posts on political and economic issues. Writing about politics isn't a surprise, especially in such an important election year. The posts on economic issues were driven by two motives: both the number of serious issues that have cropped up in the past year that I felt deserved commentary, and an overall rekindling of my interest in the subject. For the past two years I had been teaching economics, which is a subject I've always enjoyed, to the point where I'm now going to try to go on for a Ph.D. in the subject, insha'allah. And so I've done a number of very small-scale analyses on different topics, many of which I've cross-posted over at Daily Kos, where I tend to get a lot more feedback. But I don't really feel that any of these posts qualify for a "post of the year," so I'm leaving them out of the list.

The blog posts that gave me the most pleasure writing this year (other than those about my daughter ;) ) was my series on The Great Arab Conquests. Somewhat surprisingly it generated little comment from others; however, the lack of attention it got didn't diminish the joy I had in writing these. I wish I could write a lot more of this type of post.

Be that as it may, my top four blog posts for 2008 were: On Submission, written in February; The Pearl - Thoughts on Identity, written in November; Six Pieces of Advice Meme For Boys, written in March; and my post of the year, Straight Talk About Islam, written in May. Two other posts in the Straight Talk About Islam Series have been written since the original post; be sure to check them out as well.

December 29, 2008

Bedtime Music: Alison Krauss and Robert Plant - Killing the Blues

New theme this week; I had done male vocalists two weeks ago and female vocalists last week, so this week: duets. ;)

In looking for a video to use, I stumbled upon a duet by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Plant is someone whom I'm familiar with; if you've followed my Bedtime Music series, you know that I've focused mostly on rock music while only occasionally going into other genres such as classical and jazz. So, Robert Plant, former lead singer for the classic rock band Led Zeppelin, is someone who I enjoy listening to. But Alison Krauss? Krauss is a 37-year-old award-winning bluegrass-country singer (21 Grammy Awards to date) who's been recording music since the age of fourteen. In 2007 she collaborated with Plant on an album entitled Raising Sand. This video is of their second track, Killing the Blues. The album overall has been nominated for five Grammy Awards (including Album of the Year), and Killing the Blues was nominated for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.

The End of Firaushah

I wanted to say that Milady and I made the recent decision to shut down Firaushah.com. I pulled the plug, so to speak, last night on the 998th day of operation. Over 2.5 years, we received a total of 8,206 hits from 4,316 visitors coming from 92 different countries. We wish more of you had bought from us, but that's the nature of the E-commerce beast. Tudungs, kefiyyeh, and a few other things are still available for sale; if you're interested in buying anything, please e-mail me.

December 26, 2008

Bedtime Music: Kylie Minogue - Can't Get You Out of My Head

Our final female vocalist this week is Australian Kylie Minogue. To be honest, I had never heard of Minogue until I came to Singapore, where she's popular (although her most recent concert here - on November 25th - generated some complaints). Can't Get You Out of My Head appeared on Kylie's 2001 album, Fever. The song is very popular, having reached the number one position for the charts of 40 countries although, as luck would have it, the song only reached #7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. I've decided to use a concert video instead of the original music video as this version's not quite as sexy (sorry for that cheek shot; luck of the draw). BTW, according to Wikipedia, Kylie sings 176 "la's" in the song (although the accountant in me is not impressed enough to actually verify that number. ;) )

Watts Zap Best of 2008

I haven't shown any Watts videos in a long time (since July 1st), so it's time to present the Watts Zap Best of 2008 compilation. Two of the blunders in this clip are especially ironic. The "false start" by Dayron Robles (Cuba) is especially ironic considering he's the current world record holder in the 110 meter hurdles and Olympic gold medalist. Likewise, the very last video of Mao Asada (Japan) launching herself into a flop on the ice is not what one would expect from the 2008 world champion.

December 25, 2008

Bedtime Music: Sheryl Crow - All I Wanna Do

Tonight I'm featuring Sheryl Crow's hit, All I Wanna Do, off of her 1994 album, Tuesday Night Music Club. The song earned Crow the 1995 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The lyrics are based on the poem "Fun," by Wyn Cooper. A book of Cooper's poetry, "The Country of Here Below," had been purchased by Crow's producer, Bill Botrell, and the resulting success of the song brought a considerable amount of royalties and exposure to Cooper. The line "This ain't no disco" is a reference to the Talking Heads' song, Life During Wartime.

The below video is from Crow's February 14th performance at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

JDsg is alive and well...

...he's just been super-busy. ;)

I got the following comment today:

I've notice you no longer write on your blog, I sort of enjoyed reading you posts, it was always interesting.

Wow! Talk about leaving the wrong impression! I know, I haven't written much in the way of essays or commentaries on current events as I usually do; the problem has been a very hectic schedule over the past couple of weeks. Milady and I have been cleaning up the flat, tossing some old furniture and buying some new stuff. For example, even though today is Christmas, Ikea delivered three new wardrobes that we ordered (very badly needed), our new office chair (to replace the old one with the miserable casters that were always falling off), and a new bookcase (to replace another that was falling apart). I've also been preparing a lecture on astronomy very similar to the one I did back in 2005. Because there are supposed to be around 60 kids for this camp, I just finished burning 70 CDs last night with all the photos I'm using to give away as gifts to the kids. And I'm trying to prepare my college applications (going on for a PhD, insha'allah). And I'm trying to finish up an essay for the blog. :)

So it's not like I've given up on blogging; far from it. I'm just trying to squeeze in everything while helping out at home, including taking care of the baby. In the meantime, I have tried to keep up with my three regular series (Bedtime Music, Drum Corps Saturday, and Movie Sunday), following the blogger's rule that, even if you can't write something for the day, at least put up a picture or video so that you have some new, fresh content. In that regard I hope my readers have enjoyed some of the posts (Bedtime Music in particular has been growing more popular over time). But I do apologize for not being as regular in my written posts as I used to be, and I hope that you all will continue to visit my blog and leave comments.

December 24, 2008

Bedtime Music: Tina Turner - What's Love Got To Do With It

In my opinion, the period of 1983-85 was an exceptionally good time for rock music. Tina Turner happened to be at the start of her comeback at this time, and she really shook up the music industry with her hit, What's Love Got To Do With It, from her 1984 album, Private Dancer. The irony is that, because she was considered "unmarketable" by the American recording industry, only eleven radio stations initially put this single on their playlists. With some pressure on Capitol Records to promote the song more, What's Love Got To Do With It eventually rose to number one, for Tina her first and, in America her only, number one hit. Eventually, the song won three Grammy Awards in 1985: "Record of the Year," "Song of the Year," and "Best Female Pop Vocal Performance." The song is also ranked #309 on Rolling Stone's listing of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

This video is of Tina's performance at the Grammy Awards on February 26th, 1985.


December 23, 2008

Bedtime Music: Tracy Chapman - Fast Car

Several years ago, when I was teaching English to teenagers from around the world, I was delighted to find that the textbook and accompanying cassette tapes included Tracy Chapman's song Fast Car, off her 1988 self-titled debut album. What a joy that lesson was. Of course the kids loved the song, too; "Play it again," they would say, to which I was all too happy to oblige. ;) Fast Car won Chapman a Grammy Award for "Best Female Pop Vocal Performance" (the song was also nominated for "Song of the Year" and "Record of the Year"), and is listed at #165 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

December 22, 2008

Bedtime Music: Pat Benatar - Love is a Battlefield

As promised last week, this week's theme will be female vocalists, starting off with Pat Benatar (whom I've seen live in concert). By 1983, when Love is a Battlefield came out (on the album, Live from Earth), Pat was already a well-established artist. She had called songwriters Mike Chapman and Holly Knight, asking for a hit for her next album, and they came up with this song. Except that they really wrote it as a ballad instead of an up-tempo dance song. When the album came out, Chapman and Knight were shocked:

"When Mike and I first heard it we were horrified, we hated it, because it was so different. But then it became such a huge hit, and we had to step out and say, You know, they did a very good rendering of it, and that's how it was meant to be. There's lots of ways you can hear that song, and they're all good." (Songfacts)

Because Michael Jackson's music video Thriller had recently come out, Pat's video also has a group dance scene in the second half.

December 21, 2008

Movie Sunday: Mr. Baseball

Mr. Baseball is one of my favorite movies. (Milady groans. :) ) Why? Because it's a romantic comedy, it's about baseball, and it's about life as an expatriate. (OK, so I loved the movie before I even became an expatriate. ;) ) It's a classic "fish out of the water" story set in a culture that's both exotic and attractive to Americans. Mr. Baseball's also got some exceptionally good performances in it by the supporting cast of actors: Ken Takakura as Uchiyama, the baseball team's manager, Aya Takanasha as Hiroko, the Japanese love interest (and the daughter of Uchiyama), a young Dennis Haysbert as fellow expatriate Max Dubois, and Toshi Shioya as Tom Selleck's interpreter and guide. And the "rookie" in the first clip belting out the 500-foot home runs? That's "The Big Hurt," Frank Thomas.

Now if only I could find a copy of the movie here to buy...



Jack Elliot: Just let them have a little fun.

Uchiyama: Baseball is work. Not fun.

Jack Elliot: Baseball is grown men getting paid to play a game. When you were a kid, I bet you didn't pick up a bat and ball because you were dying to work. A player's career is short enough. Let them enjoy it.


Max 'Hammer' Dubois: Max Dubois. Around here they call me Hammer. Don't ask me why.

Jack Elliot: Jack Elliot.

Max 'Hammer' Dubois: Yeah. I know who you are. I've been in Japan, not dead.


Jack Elliot: C'mon, it ain't over till the fat lady sings!

Toshi Yamashita, Jack's Interpreter: [subtitle as he translates to the team] When the game is over, a fat lady will sing to us!

December 20, 2008

Drum Corps Saturday - 2005 Hawthorne Caballeros

The next corps up in the 2005 DCA Championships were the Hawthorne Caballeros, who scored 90.050 in the prelims and 89.688 in the finals, placing seventh in both shows. (This was actually their worst showing at DCA since 1969!) The Cabs' show that year was themed "Passage To The Pyramid," playing the songs "The River Nile," "Sandstorm," and "The Riddle and Passage to the Great Pyramid."



December 19, 2008

Bedtime Music: Joe Walsh - Life's Been Good

I don't know about you, but Joe Walsh's 1978 hit, Life's Been Good, seems like the perfect Friday night song. I've always loved the song and its humor, and used to secretly dream of starting a rock band just to be able to perform this one song. ;) Life's Been Good originally appeared on the soundtrack for the 1978 movie FM, which itself had a fantastic lineup of songs, some of which I've already featured on Bedtime Music. In this video Walsh is true to form in that he changes some of the lyrics; this has been a regular habit of his while performing in concert over the years.

December 18, 2008

Bedtime Music: Robert Palmer - Addicted to Love

Next up is the late Robert Palmer's Addicted to Love, from his 1985 album, Riptide. The original music video for this song and several others of Palmer's were famous for the Patrick Nagel-look models who danced seductively while Palmer sang. According to VH1's Pop-Up Video trivia, a musician had been hired to teach the models basic guitar fingering techniques, but "gave up after about an hour and left." The videos have been very popular over time, and many people have either referenced them or parodied them in other works (such as the "Billy Mack" video in the 2003 romantic comedy Love Actually). In any event, the song was popular enough that it soared all the way to #1 on the US charts and #5 in the UK.

This particular video is from a May 1986 concert in Tokyo, and has none of the dancing girls. Sorry, guys!
;)

December 17, 2008

Bedtime Music: Marvin Gaye - What's Going On/What's Happening, Brother

Tonight's male vocalist is Marvin Gaye with the first two tracks off his landmark 1971 album, What's Going On, with the title track and What's Happening, Brother. The song, What's Going On, and album are rightly considered to be among the very best of all time, with Rolling Stone ranking the title song the fourth greatest of all time and the album the sixth greatest.

What's interesting is that Motown's chief, Berry Gordy, originally tried to block the release of the single, which had been recorded before the remainder of the album, as he felt the song was too political for radio at the time and that the song would flop for being "uncommercial." When the single proved to be a best-seller, Gordy reversed himself and asked for the remainder of the album to be finished.

This live performance comes from the long out-of-circulation 1973 film,
Save The Children.


Michael Palin on "Has the World Changed?"

This webpage was brought up on a conversation over at Street Prophets, and even though it's old (originally published October 11, 2001), this particular quotation by Michael Palin (of Monty Python and travel documentary fame) is still very much relevant today, especially on the need for people not to be so Islamophobic and xenophobic. Sadly, a lot of people haven't listened to Palin's advice.

It's certainly widened our horizons and forced a lot of people to find out more about in the hope of understanding a part of the world they know very little about. What I've read and heard since 11 September does encourage me in one way - the idea of the monolithic and slightly obscure Muslim world has been broken down and people are having to learn more and understand more about Islam, and the Muslims and that's a good thing because it is ignorance that causes problems. As someone who has traveled a lot, I'm only beginning to learn about the differences in cultures and religions - there's a tendency to forget that there are many different opinions and views across the worlds. We can't be an island, however much we want to and we need to not see different religions as a threat and not dismiss foreign countries as somewhere else.

December 16, 2008

Bedtime Music: Boz Scaggs - Lido Shuffle

Although Silk Degrees was released in 1976, I didn't hear it for the first time until after I had gone to college, about four years later. Boz Scaggs was a bit of a revelation for me, singing more soul and ballads than I had listened to up through that time. Although his voice doesn't have the punch that he had in the original recording, I chose this video because this is one of my favorite Boz Scaggs' songs, Lido Shuffle, which rose to #11 on the US charts in the 70s.

BTW, if the Boz Scaggs' "sound" sounds familiar, it should. Four of the original session musicians on
Silk Degrees later formed the band Toto; one of whom, David Paich, co-wrote Lido Shuffle with Scaggs.

CNN: Islamic Finance Faring Well

I saw this video yesterday on CNN International, and was impressed by it. The story is a brief overview on Islamic banking and sukuk bonds, and suggests that the Islamic finance sector is doing better in the current economic climate than traditional financing. CNN even asks the question, Could Islamic banking be the answer to the current economic downturn? (Of course, this is not the first time I've suggested this on this blog.)

The video also expands a little bit further on the basic principles of Islamic banking, providing an answer to the recent odd story out of Bloomsberg. As I pointed out last week, there's more to Islamic banking than just no interest; we're not all going to become Islamic bankers anytime soon, insha'allah.

Islamic Banking - Basic Principles
  • Interest is prohibited
  • Any capital has to be invested
  • Lender has a stake in the business deal
  • Lender shares losses as well as profits
  • Capital used to buy assets can be held as collateral
  • No lending on speculation or promises
  • Business contract must be transparent

    Sukuk:
  • Asset-backed Islamic bonds
  • Bond holders share the profits earned

    Embedded video from CNN Video
  • December 15, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Sting - Fortress Around Your Heart

    New theme tonight, a simple one: male vocalists. Next week, insha'allah, we'll do female vocalists.

    Tonight's video is of
    Sting performing his 1985 hit, Fortress Around Your Heart, from the album The Dream of the Blue Turtles. Like his earlier song, Every Breath You Take by The Police, Fortress was inspired by the breakup between Sting and his first wife, Frances Tomelty. In an interview with Musician magazine, Sting said:

    "Fortress is about appeasement, about trying to bridge the gaps between individuals. The central image is a minefield that you've laid around this other person to try and protect them. Then you realize that you have to walk back through it. I think it's one of the best choruses I've ever written."

    Personally, I've always enjoyed the song because of the vivid visual imagery of the lyrics.


    A'ishah and Winnie the Pooh

    A'ishah had been a bit cranky just before bed so Milady pulled out a large Winnie the Pooh doll that we had purchased some time ago (we've bought her several stuffed animals over the past few months, only one of which she currently plays with). This is Milady playing with A'ishah, also providing all the sound effects. ;)

    video

    December 12, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Ambrosia - Biggest Part of Me

    The last band in our theme this week of "Alan Parsons Six Degrees of Separation" is Ambrosia. While none of the original Ambrosia band members have ever been part of The Alan Parsons Project, the four original musicians (David Pack, Joe Puerta, Christopher North, and Burleigh Drummond) all appeared on the first APP album, Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Later, David Pack would appear on the first of the "solo" Alan Parsons albums, Try Anything Once. Likewise, Parsons was engineer for Ambrosia's self-titled first album, and producer for their second album, Somewhere I've Never Traveled.

    This particular song, Biggest Part of Me, appears on Ambrosia's fourth album, One Eighty (so named because it was recorded in January 1980). The song reached #3 on the US charts, and the album generated three Grammy nominations, including Best Pop Vocal Group. This particular video I believe comes from The Mike Douglas Show.

    One Last Kiss Goodnight

    How often do I kiss A'ishah during the course of the day? Twenty times? Thirty? Fifty?

    Milady was trying to get A'ishah to sleep tonight; however, the latter kept looking back over her shoulder at Daddy. Milady noticed this, and wondered if A'ishah wanted a kiss goodnight from me. So I kissed her head and told her once more that Daddy loves her. With that she stopped turning around and fell asleep within a few minutes.

    December 11, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Pilot - Magic

    Sorry about running late tonight; it's been a very busy day and evening. Anyway, it's not bedtime for me just yet, so it's still Bedtime Music. ;)

    Tonight's band is Pilot, with their 1974 hit Magic. Great song; the lyrics are still catchy even today. And the band's connection with Alan Parsons? Alan produced the debut album, Pilot, which this song was on, and Pilot band members Ian Bairnson, David Paton and Stuart Tosh (who also worked with 10cc, as I mentioned last night) were all key members of the Alan Parsons Project.

    December 10, 2008

    Bedtime Music: 10cc - I'm Not in Love

    Next up is 10cc's I'm Not In Love, from their 1975 album, The Original Soundtrack. In keeping with this week's theme, 10cc is related to Alan Parsons through two of their musicians, Eric Stewart, one of the original band members who sang a number of songs on Alan's albums through the 90s, as well as drummer/songwriter Stuart Tosh (Stuart MacIntosh).

    There are some interesting facts about
    I'm Not In Love:
  • The song was originally written in a bossa nova format (which might have been very interesting to listen to).
  • The dreamy, ethereal choral backing to the song was created through numerous overdubs of the band members singing a single note in unison. Through mixing and recording on 16-track tapes, a virtual chorus of 256 voices was created. Billy Joel later used the same effect on his song, Just the Way You Are, as did Queen with Bohemian Rhapsody.
  • According to Stewart, the band was already being courted by Phonogram to leave Jonathan King's UK Records label and sign a new deal. He said: "I rang them. I said come and have a listen to what we've done, come and have a listen to this track. And they came up and they freaked, and they said, 'This is a masterpiece. How much money, what do you want? What sort of a contract do you want? We'll do anything.' On the strength of that one song, we did a five-year deal with them for five albums and they paid us a serious amount of money."
  • The woman who says, "Be quiet, big boys don't cry...", is Kathy Warren, who was the receptionist for the studio where the song was recorded.

  • December 9, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Al Stewart - Year of the Cat

    This week's worth of Bedtime Music will be shortened due to the fact that I didn't have the time to prepare last night's post.

    New theme this week: Artists who have "one degree of separation" from
    Alan Parsons. Yeah, I'm a (very) long-time Alan Parsons fan, and those of us on the Alan Parsons e-mail list (the Roadkill gang) have occasionally played "six degrees of separation" using Alan instead of Kevin Bacon. This week, I'm going to play four different groups that have some sort of tie with Alan. Tonight's musician is Al Stewart, playing Year of the Cat. This song came out in 1976 on the album of the same name, Alan having produced the album.

    According to Songfacts:


    Al Stewart originally wrote the lyrics after seeing the British comedian Tony Hancock in Bournemouth, England in 1966. Hancock was very depressed, and the show was a disaster, with the comedian going to the front of the stage and addressing the audience directly and pouring out his soul. In Al Stewart: The True Life Adventures of a Folk Rock Troubadour, Stewart is quoted: "He came on stage and he said 'I don't want to be here. I'm just totally pissed off with my life. I'm a complete loser, this is stupid. I don't know why I don't just end it all right here.' And they all laughed, because is was the character he played... this sort of down-and-out character. And I looked at him and I thought, 'Oh my God, he means it. This is for real.'" Hancock killed himself in 1968 with a drug overdose. Stewart's song was originally titled "Foot Of The Stage," with the chorus, 'Your tears fall down like rain at the foot of the stage.'

    Many of Stewart's songs have alternate lyrics, and he wasn't happy with the Hancock-inspired words, as he didn't want to take advantage of the man's tragedy and besides, no one in America knew who Hancock was. Al re-wrote the lyrics as 'Year Of The Cat,' which he delivered to Parsons.


    A'ishah's Busy Weekend

    This weekend was busy for the family due to Eid and an emergency visit to the hospital. Sunday afternoon, Milady was feeding A'ishah when the latter inexplicably reached for her left eye with her hand and cut the eye lid... somewhere. We never did find the cut, but her tears were coming out bloody so we made a run to the hospital. Fortunately, everything turned out OK. There was no damage to the eye itself, and the cut stopped bleeding rather quickly. The below picture shows the orange dye the hospital staff put on and around A'ishah's eye to see if the cornea had been damaged.



    Yesterday, on our Eid visit to Milady's parent's home, we fed A'ishah for the very first time by spoon. The pureed mixed vegetables we've been feeding her weren't going through the bottle nipple very easily, and I had been suggesting for a few days that A'ishah be fed with a spoon. Milady and her mom finally broke down yesterday afternoon, much to A'ishah's delight (as you can see on the two videos).

    video

    video

    December 8, 2008

    "We Are All Islamic Bankers Now"

    There's an odd article out of Bloomberg with the title We Are All Islamic Bankers Now. The premise is that as worldwide interest rates become closer and closer to zero, the global financial industry will become "Islamic."

    By 2009, we may all be Islamic bankers, too.

    It's an odd yet apt comparison. Islamic banking is more about the means by which a certain group of people obtains money. Zero interest rates are about getting as much money, in any way possible, to everyone.

    There's still something to be said about the spreading appeal of scrapping interest rates. It's no longer a unique aspect of certain transactions or a banking novelty. Its becoming the norm, and its quite disorienting.

    Japan's benchmark interest rate is 0.3% and headed to zero in the months ahead. The US federal funds rate is 1% and headed lower, too. The UK's rate is 2%, Canada's is 2.25% and the euro zone's is 2.5%. As the fallout from the global crisis worsens, these and many other benchmark rates will edge toward zero.

    According to Islamic law, the charging of interest, or "riba" in Arabic, is unjust and exploitative. That concept bears little resemblance to Japan's zero-interest-rate policies, or ZIRP. The BOJ never argued it was seeking to foster brotherhood or socio-economic justice.

    But that's exactly what the BOJ did. By eliminating borrowing costs, and going further in recent years with "quantitative easing," the BOJ was doing its bit for social fairness and stability. It was about protecting the Japanese way of doing business and maintaining the equalitarianism on which the nations 127 million people pride themselves.

    Now the Fed is heading down a similar road for similar reasons. With an unprecedented array of emergency-loan programs aimed at easing the worst credit crisis in seven decades, the Fed is engaging in Japan-like quantitative easing. The level of rates is one thing. The more fascinating development is the Fed pushing waves of extra liquidity into the financial system.

    What the author fails to understand is that there's a lot more to Islamic banking than having no interest rates. To be sure, interest-free financing is an important characteristic in Islamic finance; however, it's far from being the sole criterion. There are other aspects that must be considered before financing can be considered shari'ah-compliant, and there are very few people around the world who are qualified to make such a determination.

    The final quarter of the article has the author slobbering over himself as greed for an untapped source of capital (in these days of tight credit) begins to take over:

    The point here isn't to downplay a fast-rising asset class. Globally, Islamic banking assets are estimated at $US600 billion to $US650 billion and have registered annual growth of 10 to 15% over the last decade, according to Celent, a Boston- based financial research and consulting firm.

    That kind of growth means Islamic assets will top $US1 trillion by 2010, Alexa Lam, deputy chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission, said at a EuroMoney conference in Hong Kong last month.

    The reason why data from Boston and perspectives from Hong Kong are being highlighted here is to show just how anxious the world is to get a piece of Islamic finance. The figures and growth rates speak for themselves.

    Will we all become Islamic bankers now? The answer is "no" (insha'allah wa alhamdulillah).

    December 5, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Carly Simon - Nobody Does It Better

    The last Bond theme song this week is my favorite: Carly Simon singing Nobody Does It Better from the movie The Spy Who Loved Me. (This is my favorite Roger Moore movie as well.) Written by Marvin Hamlisch, with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, I remember hearing once that the song was written via a trans-continental conference call.

    Nobody Does It Better was and still is an immensely popular song. The song reached #2 on the U.S. singles chart and #1 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart, and was ranked the 67th greatest song by the American Film Institute for its listing in the top 100 songs in American cinema. For Bond movies, the only other song on the list is Goldfinger, which is ranked 53rd.

    December 4, 2008

    44 Presidents in 4 Minutes

    A short, interesting video where the 44 Presidents in American history are morphed one after the other. Check it out!



    HT: Crooks & Liars

    Bedtime Music: Shirley Bassey - Diamonds are Forever

    Tonight's Bond theme song is the title track from the movie Diamonds are Forever. Like Goldfinger and the later Bond movie Moonraker (which we won't use this week), Shirley Bassey is the singer. Ironically, the song almost wasn't used in the film because co-producer Harry Saltzman hated the sexual innuendo in the lyrics. (Imagine that! /snark ) The song, however, was used at the insistence of the other co-producer, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli.

    All Recessions are Not Created Equal

    In an announcement that was of little surprise to most of us, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) finally declared that the United States has been in a recession since December 2007. What may not be quite as well known is that not every state is necessarily undergoing an economic recession at any given time. I thought it might be interesting to see which states are doing well despite the recession and which states are suffering the most.

    To do my analysis, I downloaded the historical data spreadsheet (Excel file) of the State Coincident Indexes, which is published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. This is a long-running series of indexes that has been published since 1979. What the coincident indexes do is:

    ...combine four state-level indicators to summarize current economic conditions in a single statistic. The four state-level variables in each coincident index are nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index (U.S. city average).

    Based on this index number, individual state economies can be compared against each other and the nation as a whole to see how well the state is doing. The Philadelphia Fed also create month-by-month color-coded maps so that one can see at a glance each state's performance. Below is the most recent map available, from October 2008. (You can find all of the previously published maps since January 2005 here.)


    Looking at the data since December 2007, when the recession officially started, what we find is that fourteen states have actually had economic growth as a percentage change over the past eleven months. Thirty-five states have had a contracting economy while one state (Kansas) has had neither a recession nor growth (a 0.0% "change"). (There is no data for the District of Columbia.) The fourteen states, in order of decreasing economic performance, are: Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Virginia, New York, West Virginia, Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Nebraska, Massachusetts, and California. What's surprising to me is that California is in this list as they currently have the third highest unemployment rate in the country.

    On the other side, the bottom ten states since last December are Delaware (41st), Arizona, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Michigan, Idaho, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon (50th). All of these states have had their index drop by at least 2.2% since December and, in the cases of the latter four, by over 4.0%. (Oregon's index has dropped by a whopping 6.1%.)

    Of course these index numbers can change significantly from month to month. Both Oregon and Nevada have seen their index numbers drop by double digits within the eleven-month span (and not for the better). However, while things may look gloomy for some individual states, the economy may become better for them within a short period of time while the rest of the country labors under the current recession.

    "She is so boring!"

    Yes, I said this about my daughter. ;) One of my sisters (EFva) and I talked a few weeks ago about how one of her daughters made a face when first tasting apple juice. Now that A'ishah is four months old, we've bought one jar each of apple juice, mixed vegetables and mixed fruits. While we haven't given her the mixed fruits yet, neither the apple juice nor the mixed vegetables caused A'ishah to make a face; rather, she's liked both quite a bit (she ate the entire jar of vegetables all in one go). In this regard, she's "boring," in that I had hoped she might make a face for the camera. ;)

    video

    December 3, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Paul McCartney and Wings - Live and Let Die

    One of my favorite Bond theme songs has been Paul McCartney and Wings' Live and Let Die, from the Bond film of the same name. It helped that one of my cousins who loved music (and later became a DJ) gave my family a 45 rpm record of the song, which I remember playing quite a bit. ;) McCartney was actually considered to sing the theme song for the previous Bond movie, Diamonds are Forever, but he was passed over in favor of Shirley Bassey, who ultimately sang three Bond theme songs. What's interesting is that producer Harry Saltzman actually wanted a black soul singer to do the theme song (since the movie mirrors the blaxploitation film theme that was popular in that era). Saltzman later compromised when actress Brenda Arnau sang the theme song in the "Fillet of Soul" nightclub scene.

    Trivia note:


    December 2, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Shirley Bassey/Anthony Newley - Goldfinger

    Our second Bond theme song is Goldfinger, a song with an interesting history behind it. The lyrics to the song were written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, with Newley singing in the original recording. However, Shirley Bassey was then asked to re-record the song, which was used in the film. (This is the first video clip below.) In 1992, the Newley demo was released on a compilation album, The Best of Bond...James Bond. (Someone has taken the Newley demo and put it to the film's intro; this is the second video below.) As you can hear, the Newley version is much softer, more understated and very jazzy. It's an interesting version, but I prefer Bassey's interpretation myself.



    Dunstan Baby Language

    Milady and I just watched this video clip on Oprah about an hour ago. (It originally aired on November 13, 2006.) I wish we had known about these five words* four months ago, but I guess that's how things go. ;) So to all you future moms and dads out there, pay attention! ;)



  • The five words are "neh" (hungry), "owh" (sleepy), "heh" (discomfort), "eair" (intestinal gas), and "eh" (burp).
  • December 1, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Garbage - The World Is Not Enough

    New theme this week: songs from the James Bond series. As Milady discovered rather quickly in our relationship, I'm very much into the Bond movies. ;)

    This video, The World Is Not Enough (from the Bond movie of the same name), is actually a separate music video that isn't part of the traditional Bond opening credits. I first saw this video at some friends' home when they played the movie DVD, the video being among the "extras." It's rather well done (IMO), with the making of a killer robot who looks like Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson. The robot kills a test subject, kissing him with acid(?), before being taken to the concert hall where Manson and Garbage are singing. The robot then kills Manson backstage before singing with the band who, along with the audience, are about to be blown up by the bomb inside the robot's torso.

    About the title of the song and movie, it's based upon the Latin phrase
    Orbis non sufficit. This is the Bond family motto, and was mentioned in a much earlier Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

    November 30, 2008

    Movie Sunday: Kung Fu Hustle

    I thought I'd do an Asian film this week for Movie Sunday. While the Asian film industry isn't nearly as big as either Hollywood or Bollywood, a number of countries in east and southeast Asia have decent film industries, including South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. This particular film, Kung Fu Hustle, while it did very well in the U.S. for a foreign language film, was huge here in S'pore. The film is usually played several times per year on S'pore TV now. The problem with preparing for this post was not a lack of videos to chose from (the most common problem), but keeping the number down to my traditional two. There are so many great comic and fight scenes to choose from. :) BTW, these clips are the first time I've seen this film dubbed in English; prior to this I had only seen the film in the original Chinese (with subtitles).

    Trivia:

    • The name "Pig Sty Alley" (Zhu Long Cheng Zhai) is a play on the Chinese name for the Walled City of Kowloon (Jiu Long Cheng Zhai), a Chinese enclave in Hong Kong for much of the 20th Century, and well-known as a breeding ground of crime, slums and disorder. It was torn down in 1993.
    • The "Landlady," played by Qiu Yuen, appeared in the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun at the age of 18. She played one of two teenage girls who, together, beat up almost every male student in a Thai martial arts academy, allowing Roger Moore to escape. She starred in Kung Fu Hustle by chance. She had accompanied another actress to the audition, where she was seen by the director, Stephen Chow, smoking a cigarette while having a sarcastic expression on her face. Chow convinced her to appear in the film only after much persistent persuasion.




    Donut: [nearing death, grabs the landlord] With great power comes great responsibility...

    Landlady: Donut, you are badly hurt. You must keep still.

    Donut: This could be the end of a beautiful friendship!

    Landlord: Oh, Donut. Tomorrow is another day!



    Sing's Sidekick: Memories can be painful. To forget may be a blessing!

    Sing: I never knew you were so deep.

    November 29, 2008

    Drum Corps Saturday: 2005 Carolina Gold

    In eighth place at the 2005 DCA finals was Carolina Gold; they had a score of 85.588 in the prelims and 85.988 in the finals, just barely beating last week's corps, the Atlanta CorpsVets. This would be Gold's best showing at DCA to date; they haven't done quite as well since 2005.

    The show's theme was "Reflections," and consists of Summertime (from Porgy and Bess), Fascinating Rhythm (from Lady Be Good), I Got Rhythm (from Girl Crazy), Autumn Leaves, and Remembrance.



    November 28, 2008

    Bedtime Music: Bear McCreary - All Along the Watchtower

    I'm going to end this week with a "bookend," another song used on the TV series Battlestar Galactica. Here in S'pore, we're still watching the second season's episodes; however, I had read a few weeks ago that Bear McCreary, who's in charge of the music for the series, had come up with a very unique cover of the Bob Dylan song, All Along the Watchtower. Wow! I love it!

    Unfortunately, once again, the version I really wanted to use isn't available for embedding; however, you can watch that video here. In its place, I'm using another video that has a static picture. But who cares? Just press the play button and be amazed at this very cool version of the song.
    :)

    November 27, 2008

    Bedtime Music: The Monkees/Smash Mouth - I'm a Believer

    Something a little more light-hearted tonight. In a first, I'm presenting two different versions of the same song, I'm a Believer, the first by The Monkees and the second by the band Smash Mouth. While you may not be familiar with the latter group, you've heard their cover of this song if you saw the first Shrek movie. What you may not know is that the song was originally written and performed by Neil Diamond. The Monkees' cover of the song, however, made it to #1 on the US Hot 100 chart and remained there for seven weeks (and for four weeks on the UK chart), which are remarkable achievements. Since The Monkees' cover came out in 1966, well over a dozen covers of this song have been recorded.



    U.S. Unemployment Rates: Where Do We Stand?

    The October US unemployment figures were recently released and, with very few exceptions, the numbers are rather dismal. (Highlights can be found here.) The numbers that were released, however, are only the "official" statistics. Meaning, the official unemployment rate that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gives out in its monthly press release is only one of six unemployment rates that it actually calculates. The "official" unemployment rate is the not-so-imaginatively named "U-3." There are two smaller unemployment rates (U-1 and U-2), and three larger (U-4 through U-6). What I'm concerned about is U-6.

    The official definition of U-6 is:

    Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.

    ...where...

    Marginally attached workers are persons who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the recent past. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for a job. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule.

    Yada yada yada.

    In essence, U-6 covers everyone who's either unemployed, whether they receive unemployment benefits or not, or might be working a part-time job but who really want to be working full-time (i.e., they're underemployed).


    On to the statistics then. In October, the "official," U-3 unemployment rate was 6.5%. This is the highest unemployment rate we've seen since March 1994. However, the U-6 unemployment rate in October was 11.8%. This is the fourth month in a row that U-6 has been over 10%, with the lowest rate this year having been in February, at 8.9%. The last time U-6 was this high was in January 1994, when it was 11.8%. (Ironically, this is also the very first month U-6 was published.)


    As most economists are presuming today, the country is almost certainly in a recession at this time (even though it hasn't been officially announced yet). How do these unemployment rates, then, compare against the last three recessions? U-6, being a rather limited series of data, only covers one time period when unemployment was almost as bad as it is today. In June 2003, U-3 peaked at 6.3%, while U-6 peaked in September, at 10.4%; the largest spread between the two unemployment rates that year was 4.3%.

    The next earliest spike in unemployment rates happened in June 1992, when U-3 reached 7.8%. However, there wasn't any U-6 rate at that time, so we can only guess what it might have been. Doing a little spreadsheet analysis, my own guess is that the spread between U-3 and U-6 at the time was about 5.3%; add that to the 7.8% and the hypothetical U-6 unemployment rate may have been about 13.1%. The worst of the three recessions, though, was that of the early 80s. U-3 peaked in November and December 1982 at 10.8%; this is the only time U-3 has ever peaked above 10% since 1948, when the current series of unemployment rate data starts. Assuming that the spread between U-3 and the hypothetical U-6 was still around 5% at that time (and I think it may have actually been larger), total unemployment and underemployment probably would have been around 16% in late 1982.

    So. Unemployment is bad now. It's slightly worse than it was six years ago, but it's also not as bad as it was back in the early 90s or the early 80s, which was much, much worse. Consider that your positive thought for the day. ;)

    November 26, 2008

    Bedtime Music: The Doors - The End

    Tonight's song is The End by The Doors. My introduction to this song came about in 1979 (or 1980) when I first saw the movie Apocalypse Now with some college friends. As you may (or may not) remember, Francis Ford Coppola used this particular song to frame the movie, playing excerpts of The End at both the beginning and during the climactic scene of the movie (the killing of Colonel Kurtz).

    Of the song, Jim Morrison said,


    Every time I hear that song, it means something else to me. It started out as a simple good-bye song probably just to a girl, but I see how it could be a goodbye to a kind of childhood. I really don't know. I think it's sufficiently complex and universal in its imagery that it could be almost anything you want it to be.