Thursday, 27 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Random Thoughts on an American Holiday

Years ago I saw Greg Proops do a routine at the Edinburgh Festival where he suggested that the British should celebrate Thanksgiving as much as his countrymen. Instead of being thankful for breaking bread with the Natives we should be grateful for saying “fuck off” to the Puritans. I don’t know. If Benjamin Franklin’s dad had stayed put in Northamptonshire we could have claimed the lightning rod and the glass armonica as English inventions.

I enjoyed my first Thanksgiving in America in 1995 while working as a volunteer at a children’s home in South Carolina. My lasting memories of that meal are candied yams (disgustingly sweet) and one of our most foul-mouthed charges surprising me with a lovely speech about what he was thankful for. He later told me his seemingly heartfelt words were all “bullshit”.

Two years later during my university exchange to Wisconsin I spent Thanksgiving with my fellow American Studies exiles in a very cold Chicago. Instead of the traditional turkey we found an excellent, empty Indian restaurant and ate curry.

My only other Thanksgiving in the USA was at a friend’s parents’ house in small-town Minnesota. I bought Carter Burwell’s score to Fargo just so we could play it while driving past the Paul Bunyan statue in Brainerd.

If you want a wonderful musical accompaniment to your Thanksgiving today I recommend tuning into my favourite American radio station WNCW. You’ll hear lots of great songs about food and at noon (US Eastern Standard Time, 5pm UK time) they will play the full 18:34 minutes of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice's Restaurant Massacree, just like they do every year.

The only explicitly related Thanksgiving song in my collection is Dan Bern’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A wonderful stream of consciousness that takes in Michelangelo, the Pope and Men at Work. Enjoy!

MP3: Dan Bern - Thanksgiving Day Parade

Friday, 7 November 2008

Thank You George W Bush

What Have The Neo-Cons Ever Done For Us?

While the only tears I'll shed as George W Bush leaves the White House will be ones of joy, I am grateful for Dubya's contribution to my cultural life over the last eight years. These are just five things we wouldn't have had without W.

1. Journeys With George
Although Alexandra Pelosi's fly-on-the-press-corp documentary is as much about the media as it as about Dubya's presidential bid I think it offers as compelling an argument as any as to why Bush 'beat' Gore in 2000. During the 18 months Pelosi (daughter of Speaker of the House Nancy) spends on the campaign trail, the Texas governor comes across as amusing, charming and even, occasionally, quick-witted. Before Iraq, Guantanamo, Enron, Katrina... here was a man you'd want to have a beer with (although he, of course, would order a Diet Coke).
Journeys With George - official site includes clip
Amazon: Journeys With George DVD
Variety: Journeys With George review

2. Dan Bern - Talking Al Kida Blues
A song I doubt has ever been played on the radio. To me it sums up perfectly the Bush regime's response to 9/11 in all its perversity.
MP3: Dan Bern - Al Kida Blues

3. The West Wing
The fantasy White House drama began while Bill Clinton was still in charge; Martin Sheen plays a Democrat president who'd never get caught with his pants down. The series arguably hit its stride though when Bush entered the Oval Office. As well as wish-fulfillment for Democrats, it also offered a critique of the real president, most notably in the guise of Bartlett's first Republican challenger, the less than bright Governor Richie.

4. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Like the West Wing, the Daily Show began life before the Fiasco in Florida but there's no doubt that having Bush in White House has been the making of the programme. Not only has Dubya supplied a rich mine of comedy gold but the Daily Show has also brilliantly skewered the TV coverage by Fox News et al of his presidency.

5. Team America: World Police
Who'd have thought that Hollywood's most entertaining response to the Bush Doctrine and Axis of Evil would involve a bunch of Gerry Anderson cast-off puppets?

Finally, while on the subject of toys, what better way to remember the Bush years than with one of these dolls. He says 17 phrases and batteries are included. Also available are Top Gun Bush and Turkey Dinner Bush. I imagine prices will come down shortly.

As usual, please leave your own additions to the list in the comments below.

Related posts
Pundits versus the BBC - election night spats
Jimmy Carter - A Tribute in Song
Super Obama - getting out the geek vote

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Pundits versus the BBC

McCain Not The Only Loser on Election Night

Without access to CNN, Fox News or Al Jazeera I stayed loyal to my employer on US election night and watched the BBC's coverage. A revolving A list of pundits including Christopher Hitchens, Ted Koppel, Simon Schama and David "Axis of Evil" Frum joined David Dimbleby to watch Barack Obama became president.

It was not a broadcast that always showed the BBC at its best. Dimblely was crotchety throughout, bizarrely referring to Pennsylvania as the "Big Potato" early on, going off on a self-confessed "rant" against America's election process, and best of all, at 4.50am, suffering this wonderful put-down from Gore Vidal.

That was not the evening's only conflict either. Former Ambassador to the UN John Bolton won our "most loathsome pundit" award and had this to say after Rajesh Mirchandani reported in from Colorado.

There were a number of other low points - Eddie Izzard being asked how the Obama victory would affect his "industry" springs to mind. If you watched any TV coverage of the night, post a comment with your own highlights and lowlights.

Related posts
Jimmy Carter - A Tribute in Song
Super Obama - getting out the geek vote

Monday, 3 November 2008

Jimmy Carter: A Tribute in Song

Last Saturday's Times placed Jimmy Carter at a lowly number 32 in their comprehensive list of America's greatest presidents (Honest Abe was Top of the Pops, Dubya tied with Nixon at 37).

I've always had a soft spot for Jimmy though admit it might be because I find the phrase "peanut farmer turned president" as amusing as Carter's admission to Playboy that "I have committed adultery in my heart many times".

I'm cautiously optimistic that Barack Obama will win today's election but am worried that Barry might suffer the same presidential fate as Jimmy. Both campaigned on fairly liberal platforms; both hoped to oust a hated, criminal Republican regime; both faced an energy crisis and chronic inflation... But what happened when Mr Carter went to Washington? In brief, the nation turned against him and elected Ronald Reagan by a landslide four years later.

Anyway, enough of the politics, I've only written this to share Blue Mountain's classic tribute to the great man from their 1995 album Dog Days. Enjoy. And if you have a vote, please use it wisely, the rest of the world wants to think kindly on our American cousins once again.

MP3: Blue Mountain - Jimmy Carter

Related links
Blue Mountain on MySpace

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