Saturday, October 30, 2010

Watch it burn

A ten-minute drive, if that. Sixty seconds in line. Two minutes waiting for the print-out. Ten minutes to fulfill my civic duty. Another minute to register my civic duty. A second to put on a sticker.

That was it. Something easy. Something simple. Something barely 50 percent of our country bothers to do - vote.

Florida has early voting for a two-week period and I took advantage of it Friday to vote for Alex Sink, Charlie Crist and some school board people I know nothing about.

I'm no civic servant hero. I don't phone bank. I don't Get Out the Vote partly because of my lack of charm and my fear that some ignorant statement from an uninformed citizen would set me off. And I'm not the busiest person in the world.

Still, it takes 10 minutes. There is no excuse not to vote.

This ain't no haughty public service announcement starring John Legend, Susan Sarandon and other "librulz." It's just a simple fact. We aren't asked to do much as American citizens. Many other countries, like Israel and South Korea, have mandated military service. In the U.S., men register for the selective service, but we are nowhere close to a draft.

Just once every two years we are asked to vote. And unless you are a single parent with five kids and two jobs, you aren't too busy to vote. You have to work all Tuesday? Then vote early. Can't vote early? Then fill in an absentee ballot. Again, not difficult.

Yet less than 50 percent will end up voting in the midterm elections. The stay-at-home people will still complain, as if taking their ball and going home will give our nation better leaders. They must stare at a fire, shrug or cuss, go home and expect it to be over by the next morning.

My age group is the worst of all. Most numbers say a third of us 18-34'ers will vote. No, we're not too busy. We just don't care. We don't feel it will have an effect. The politicians don't care about us.

That's right. They don't. Why should they? Does the CW worry about how to reach grandmothers who love JAG reruns? They will not bother with an age group that doesn't vote. You have to go to them. They will not come to you. This is the same group that had to be dragged kicking and screaming to allow women the right to vote, to abolish slavery, to end Jim Crowe, to pass worker protections and food safety regulations. They are always years behind the populace, and they're just fine with that backward position if they are never called out on it.

The youth came out for Obama, didn't get 100 percent of what they wanted, and are disillusioned. Things were supposed to be fixed in two years. Little do they know that the NAACP and black Americans fought for decades until the first Civil Rights legislation was passed in the 50s. With today's attitude, they would have quit in the 30s and sat home so Strom Thurmond could be voted president.

That's basically what liberals are doing now. We didn't get everything we wanted. Obama has compromised too much. He's been excruciatingly slow on gay rights, closing Guantanamo, ending the wars, bringing down unemployment, etc. Much of this is true.

He's also the most successful progressive president since Lyndon Johnson and has done more for the liberal cause in two years than Bill Clinton was able to do in eight. Health care reform. Wall Street reform. He saved a million jobs by rescuing the American auto industry. He's invested more in green energy than any president ever has. He staved off a depression. He made America likable again to the rest of the world. He instituted the Consumer Protection Agency. He kicked private banks out of the student lending industry and invested millions back into government grants.

There a plenty of things to complain about, but for progressive/liberals/communists/potheads, this president is the best you're gonna get. Want the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Then push him from the left with all you have. He'll be more amenable to your position than a President McCain would, or a President Palin, or a President Romney.

Instead, progressives and liberals are doing what they do best, sniping and giving in. They will take a courageous stand by staying home so Sharron Angle can go to the Senate and John Boehner can be third in line for the presidency. What good does that do for their cause?


So Democrats are prepared to sit outside on the lawns and watch the fire. Almost half of America will let an extreme right wing movement take over D.C. - the same people who burned down everything from 2000-2008 - because these ordinary citizens don't want to take 30 minutes out of their day to vote.

And that's how they expect things to get better.

Since when do fires put themselves out?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Some sporting thoughts

My heart is back to its normal rate and I'm no longer shaking.

Just like the infamous goal-line stand from 2003 against the Colts, the Pats let slip a sizable lead on the road to a rival, only to escape at the last second with a win. Like those old Pats teams, they were extremely opportunistic on defense and rudimentary on offense.

They infuriated. They frustrated. They excited. They gave me a near heart attack.

And they won.

There's a ton to criticize after this one. The offense needs to pick it up in the first half. Matt Light needs to take off his roller blades. The hands team should have been on the field for the onside kick. Brandon Tate needs to make an impact.

We Pats fans have been spoiled the past few years with 38-14 blowouts. We've been used to Brady-to-Moss for 50-yard touchdowns. Now that those days are gone, we hearken back to the Super Bowl years with rose-colored glasses.

Those teams blew leads. They missed tackles. They struggled to get going on offense. We tend to forget this looking back on it. Those teams did make just enough plays to win. It's trite. It's a cliche, but it's true.

This year's edition was alert enough to pounce on the ball after that Chargers receiver just dropped it on the ground thinking the play was over. This edition made a heads-up play picking up the ball after the lateral by Philip Rivers while the Chargers just stood around thinking about what dance they were going to try after their next touchdown.

When your offense is gaining 30 yards in a half like the Pats, these are the types of plays (and breaks) you need.

And for the Chargers, who talk trash like they are the Miami Hurricanes of the 80s but play like the 'Cane from today, this loss must eat at them. They're a flashy, talented team. They're also sloppy and play terrible situational football. Frankly, they play like your average Cranston West dropout. The Pats of this season play like Cranston East honor roll students (for the most part. The 15-yard cushions on 3rd and longs are driving me crazy.)


Oh no! The Rangers and Giants are in the World Series. How boring! The ratings will be terrible! Baseball is dead!

Hog wash. Even speaking as a Red Sox fan, not every World Series needs Boston, New York or Philly to be interesting. Many always complain that its the same teams in contention every year in baseball. Now we have a team that's never been to the Fall Classic in the Rangers and a team that has the second longest championship drought. (You know who's No. 1 there.)

And who cares about the ratings, besides Fox TV executives? Sure, they're not doing jumping jacks. It's not Yankees-Phillies, but I don't remember last year's breaking records. People will watch a competitive World Series, no matter who's in it. Angels-Giants was great. Marlins-Indians was an all-time classic. Non-Northeastern teams can play great series as well. And there are plenty of interesting players involved in this one.

Cliff Lee vs. Tim Lincecum in Game 1. Josh Hamilton, who put a David Ortiz-like fear of God in the Yankees. Nelson Cruz, who hit the home run that ended New York's season. Elvis Andrus, who ran the Yankees crazy and was ten times better than Derek Jeter. Neftali Feliz, an electrifying rookie closer. Buster Posey, one of the best young catchers to come along in a while. Matt Cain, a criminally underrated pitcher. Brian Wilson and his fake beard. The ballpark formally known as Pac-Bell, for my money the best field in the country not located on Yawkey Way.

So if fans don't watch this series, they can never complain again about East Coast bias or Yankee over-saturation. The storylines, players, angles and hungry fans are there for the taking. Take a week off from Dancing with Bed Bugs and Iron Urologist and watch this series.


As for my pick? The Rangers have the better lineup. They have more power and better base-runners. They play superior defense and they have the best postseason pitcher going right now in Cliff Lee.

So of course I'm picking the Giants.

I'm going against my brain here, but this San Francisco club has all the ... intangibles. I can't believe I'm saying this. I swear Joe Morgan hasn't overtaken my blog. But they've proven they can win one-run games. They don't rely on any one player, mostly because they don't have one who is good enough to rely on. They've been in playoff mode since early September.

And their pitching has been phenomenal. Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez are better than Lee, Wilson and Lewis all together. And the Giants bullpen might be even better than the starting staff. Old friend Javy Lopez, who loved to come in against a lefty while playing for the Red Sox, only to promptly issue a four-pitch walk, has been dominant. Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Guillermo Mota, former Boston great Ramon Ramirez and, of course, heart attack closer Brian Wilson comprise the best bullpen of any playoff team has this October.

A good bullpen is essential in this era of six-inning starts and La Russa-style specialization. The Giants are well equipped with versatile arms. The Rangers will not abuse this pitching staff like they did the Yankees.

And Bruce Bochy just played around with good ol' boy Charlie Manuel in the NLCS. Then again, Manuel is a terrible tactician. He went to the Jimy Williams/Grady Little school of southern drawl, go-with-the-gut managing. Ron Washington is a fine skipper, but Bochy is better. And he has the Dave Doyle charm going for him, which means only good things can happen.

With home field and the gods of baseball on their side, the Giants take a seven-game classic to win their first title in the beautiful City by the Bay.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

This century's OK Computer

There's a CD that is getting the Hot Fuss treatment, which means I've been playing it non-stop for weeks. This new album is the closest thing to "OK Computer" I've heard.

Can you guess what disc I'm talking about?

I think that hint gives it away. It's Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs." The Montreal band, consisting of nearly 321 members, has produced a masterpiece, plain and simple. This album is the best one I've heard since I was recuperating from surgery and listening to the Killers' debut effort way back in 2004.
Highly produced, extremely atmospheric and loaded with ambition, this collection of 16 tracks wades through a familiar topic -- American suburbia with all its traps, false hopes, distant memories and trashed dreams. While this motif could be boring in a less-talented band's hand, this band hits the sweet spot. Win Butler's lyrics turn the simple streets of Houston into a Blade Runner-esque dystopia, and he does it with a sincere passion.

Since I'm far from a musician, I can't act like an expert on the sound, but I find it fascinating. Every song fits in with the others to serve the album's larger theme, ala Radiohead's "OK Computer." No one song really sticks out head and shoulders above the rest, but no song is wasted. Every guitar rift, drum beat, string instrument, every backup vocal is handled with care. Let's start at the beginning ...

1. The Suburbs (7/10) -- A jaunty opener, this song sets the stage for the motifs that will pop up through through the album -- suburban war and decay, boredom and moving on from one's roots. Like most Arcade Fire songs, several instruments and melodies conflate here, but the accompanying piano rift and the high-pitched chorus burst through most prominently.

2. Ready to Start (9/10) -- The most radio-friendly tune with a tremendous intro featuring a steady drum beats and distorted guitar. "If the businessmen drink my blood / like the kids in art school said they would." That should give you an idea what Butler is going for with this one as he attempts to escape his suburban home with his music. I think he succeeded. Even though it's a single, the song isn't simply verse-chorus-verse like most rock songs you hear over the airwaves, which is why this album just gets better the more you listen to it. The songs veer into unpredictable paths.

3. Modern Man (7/10) -- A clean, guitar driven song that features Butler pondering the emptiness of being a ... modern man. Self-explanatory. Not the best, but solid.

4. Rococo (9/10) -- Now this is classic Arcade Fire. No other band I've heard sounds quiet like this -- a haunting orchestra with a sly, creeps-under-your-skin melody. "They seem wild but they are so tame / They're moving towards you with their colors all the same," Butler warns of today's poseur, conformist teenagers. The song's title refers to an art form from 18th century Europe. This is an ambitious group and they won't be singing about pot or girls. Great, great song.

5. Empty Room (8/10) -- Regine Chassagne, Win Butler's wife, makes her first appearance as lead singer in this orchestral/punk romp with great work by the band's violinists. "When I'm by myself / I can be myself" she yelps. One of the album's shorter tunes, it injects some life after the dreary Rococo.

6. City With No Children (9/10) -- Empty Room segues into this catchy, radio-enticing songs with the album's most memorable guitar rift. Butler brings up his hometown of Houston directly as he dreams of driving back home in an underground highway and listening to the engine failing. The guy writes great lyrics. Reminds me of when I go back home to Cranston and look at the empty streets of my old neighborhood, streets that used to teem with children playing kickball or manhunt. And then I cleanse my dentures.
7. Half Light I (7/10) -- Chassagne and Butler team up on the vocals in this captivating song that pours out the melancholy and revels in mystery. It's not a song you will hear as a single, but it's a song that keeps you listening for the chance you might discover something new even on the tenth listen.

8. Half Light II (No Celebration) (8/10) -- I know I've used the word "haunting" before, but it's what I think of most. Like OK Computer, this album never lets up. While not as downright depressing, its melancholy is thick and unforgettable. Butler sings of the markets crashing and going back home to a town he doesn't know anymore, backed up by a wall-of-sound effect where all of Arcade Fire's instruments mesh into a techno rhythm. "Though we knew this day would come / Still it took us by surprise / In the town where I was born / I now see through a dead man's eyes." Katy Perry this is not.

9. Suburban War (10/10) -- Where Butler sounds a bit excited by going back home in "The Suburbs," he also laments in this coupling of a song that refers to some of the same exact lyrics of earlier tunes. A wavy guitar drags down the mood even as the keyboards try to lift it up. "All my old friends, they don't know me know." Simply fascinating and enticing, I just can't help but throw myself into this song every time. It's a Pink Floyd experience.

10. Month of May (8/10) -- The pace picks up with this Ramones tribute. When they want to, Arcade Fire can produce a toe-tapping rocker like the best of them. Butler refers to his stoic teenage fans with their arms crossed tight in a pain too much for someone so young.

11. Wasted Hours (6/10) -- Not one of my favorites, but a good song on any normal album. This is as acoustic as these ambitious arena rockers get.
12. Deep Blue (7/10) -- Butler remembers his first forays into the music world in this dirge mid-tempo offering where he urges suburbanites to put down the laptops and cell phones and find the wild in the night. Sometimes I forget this song is here, but I'm always pleasantly surprised.

13. We Used to Wait (10/10) -- Enigmatic lyrically, but a home run musically. This is my favorite song on the album, just a hair above "Suburban War." The piano bass line is the kicker. I love it. The chorus is a gem as well. Over five minutes long, this song weaves it way from the opening piano to an anthemic chorus made for sing-alongs at concerts. This goes up there with "Wake Up" and "Keep the Car Running" among Arcade Fire's best.

14. Sprawl I (Flatland) (6/10) -- Haunting, there's that word again. Butler recounts driving in his old neighborhood, looking for his former house and the places in which he used to play and feeling out of place, like he's traversing through a dead town. I can certainly relate to that. While the music itself isn't memorable, the lyrics are.

15. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) (9/10) -- This sounds more like Blondie than Arcade Fire, but I really like it. Backed by a synthesizer, the charming Chassagne sings of being ostracized in a sprawling suburb of conformity. "Dead shopping mall rise like mountains beyond mountains." This is a unique offering in their catalogue and a nice change-of-pace. It's also the catchiest song on the entire album.

16. The Suburbs (continued) (5/10) -- Bands always do this, ending albums with a whimper instead of bang. They finish with some 10 minute meandering mess or a tiny one-minute throw-away. Why not end with something great? Anyway, Arcade Fire reprises the opening song. It's not really a stand-along song, so I guess it's unfair to say it's the worst. Basically, the true ending to this collection is Sprawl II and this is just a coda.

Whew. That took a while, but I had to do it. This album has been on an endless loops in my car for nearly two weeks. I can't stop listening to it. "The Suburbs" is that damn good. Listen to it. Now!

Monday, October 4, 2010

A weekend at Sears

Usually when the Sears clan gets together, it's because someone has died. This past weekend, we reconvened for the wedding of my sister Lauren.

I arrived in Rhode Island on Thursday to find the good ol' gloomy weather I knew from my formative years. I always enjoy the ride home from the airport, where I get to soak in the sights of my home state. The Dunkin' Donuts stores on every street corner. The new CVS or Wallgreens that pop up like insects in summer. The sheer lack of fancy sports cars I've grown used to cussing under my breath in Florida.

And of course my reunion with the queen of the Sears family, Jelly herself.

I attended my brother-in-law's bachelor party at Dave's Bar & Grill Thursday night. The music was terrible. Every successive song hurt more than the previous one. There was lots of pool. A typical Rhode Island run in with the mother of fellow Thunderbolt and Husky I knew. In the end, it made the bachelor party of one Jeff A.J. Burnett Schaible look like a scene from the Hangover.

On Friday came the wedding rehearsal. This is where I reunited with the priest officiating my sister's wedding -- Father Joe Upton. Seeing Joe, who used to clown around a ton in high school, decked out in priestly attire and coolly running the rehearsal was something to see. And more proof of how old I am getting.

From there we went to the rehearsal dinner at Pinielli's off Route 2. I ordered the seafood risotto instead of the chicken parm because I'm a risk taker and an adventurous eater. The best part of the night came when the waiters served the plates of chicken parm -- the biggest pieces of chicken I've ever seen.

At first, I mistook them for super chickens, the one Peter Griffin has battled a few times. Take your large dinner plate and imagine a piece of breaded chicken stretching from one end to the other. It was gigantic. If only Jeff Schaible could have seen it. He would have taken it home and framed it.

The day of the actual wedding saw picture perfect weather after non-stop clouds. We in the groom's party did what men usually do one wedding days -- wait. An SUV limo escorted us to the family parish just five minutes from my parents' house and dropped us off in order to pick up the girls. We waited in the church for over an hour.

It did amuse me that before the mass as the church was holding a pet blessing. Parishioners stood in a circle on the church lawn with their oblivious dogs and cats as the priest read prayers. I found it hilarious. I'm sure the dogs are thinking 'What is life?' and 'Is there a God?'

The traditional Catholic ceremony was very nice. Father Upton runs a tight ship in what was his first wedding as a priest. From the church we rode the limo all the way down to Narragansett for the reception at The Towers, a medieval-looking place right off the beach. It's a popular venue and now I see why.

My two sisters gave the maid of honor toast, but erred when calling Lauren the favorite. I'm the favorite. And if I'm not the favorite, then it's Jelly. The best man speech was heart-felt, given by the groom's brother. Of course it wasn't good as mine, but that's a lofty standard.

Now, a wedding reception is always a dicey minefield for singles. Young and old, there were lots of intersexual mingling and forlorn faces on the lonely throughout the night. It was heart-wrenching to see my aunt's face during the anniversary dance. She was having trouble keeping it together because she had lost her husband a couple years ago.

My sisters were urging me to talk to my sister's former boss, an attractive woman who was certainly enjoying herself on the dance floor. First of all, I hate dancing. Hate it. It's just uncomfortable to me. Now, if the wedding party broke into a game of pick-up basketball or 24 trivia, I'd be in my element. And it's weird to have my sisters and mom urging me on like that.

Anyway, by the time I worked up the courage, my cousin Matt stepped in. He was all over her, dancing with a drink in his hand, going all Jersey Shore on her. And when I say all over her, I mean it. He was in her ear for the rest of the night.

I finally found a chance to display the Sears charm toward the end of the reception where we went through the usual pleasantries. It's tough to hold a conversation over blasting music. I don't know how people do it. And in the confusion and hustle and bustle at the end, she went off to her hotel and that was that.

Either way, I was heading back to Florida the next day so it felt useless to meet new people. When would I be seeing this girl again anyway? I felt the same way with the groom's family. Nothing against them, but I float in like a guest star in Friends during sweeps, coming to town during Christmas and sundry other occasions. So the impetus to get to know people wasn't there.

And I'm not know for being a chatty gadfly, am I?

I flew out the next day. Months before I started my new 5 a.m. shift, I scheduled this flight a tad late in the evening. A three hour trip turned into eight, a magic trick airlines perform with great skill. A layover in Philly was delayed an hour, the flight was so bumpy there was screaming on the plane, and a middle-aged mother had to ask me if I was alright as I gripped the armrests with my face an ashen white.

It also took me a half-hour to exit the economy parking lot at the airport and I got home at 12:30. I ended up sleeping just three hours before I had to roll into work. Thanks to a medium iced coffee I made it.

But who cares about my travails. My sister is on her honeymoon. Congrats, Lauren and Derek! Welcome to the family, brother-in-law!