Below The Beltway

I believe in the free speech that liberals used to believe in, the economic freedom that conservatives used to believe in, and the personal freedom that America used to believe in.

December 25, 2010

Christmas Greetings

by @ 12:07 pm. Filed under Holiday Time, Holidays

White House and National Christmas Tree

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all . . .

and a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2011, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great, (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only “AMERICA” in the western hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform, or sexual preference of the wishee.

(By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.)

And I mean that sincerely!

December 24, 2010

The Pagan Roots Of Christmas

by @ 2:57 pm. Filed under Holidays, Religion


David Hume notes the extent to which, despite it’s religious overtones, much of what we know about Christmas is decidedly non-Christian:

Though Christians assert “Jesus is the reason for the season,” a more precise formulation might be that “Jesus became the reason for the season in the minds of some.” This is important. It is not without rationale that Christian groups like the Jehovah Witnesses reject Christmas, it is not a scriptural festival. Its emergence in the 4th century coincided with the synthesis of Christianity with Roman Imperial culture as the latter took upon the former as the state religion. In 274 the Roman Emperor Aurelian dedicated a temple to the sun god, Sol Invictus, on the 25th of December, Natalis Sol Invictus, “the birth of the invincible sun.” Interestingly, many early depictions of Jesus Christ co-opted solar imagery (e.g., the halo around the Christ). It seems that the thrusting forward of December 25th as the birth of Christ was strongly motivated by co-option of a pre-existing festival. Additionally, holiday merry-making seems to have its classical antecedants in Saturnalia. But this tendency of a mid-winter festival is not limited to Southern Europe. Yule and its cousins play an even greater role in the north than they do in the sunny Mediterranean. The darkness of the mid-winter solstice festivals bloom to usher in the season of hope and lengthening days. Customs like the Yule Log, Christmas cookies and gift exchange all emerge out of this pre-Christian substratum. This is was not unknown to the Christian Church, during the medieval period there were futile attempts to suppress some of these practices. A great enough frustration broke out during the Reformation that groups like the Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas, which was after all a minor holiday next to Easter.

And then, of course, there’s the whole commercial side of the holiday and the fact that it’s pretty unlikely that Jesus Christ was actually born in December.

The funny thing is that all of these things are self-evident and yet to listen to the Bill O’Reilly’s of the world, you’d think that those horrible pagans were making an assault on the pure Christian holiday of Christmas.

In reality, it was the other way around.

December 12, 2010

Happy Birthday Old Blue Eyes

by @ 1:51 pm. Filed under Frank Sinatra, Music


Today would have been Frank Sinatra’s 95th birthday so I figured it was a good time to resurrect a post I first published on December 12, 2005.

I grew up listening to Frank Sinatra. It wasn’t because my parents were particularly Sinatra fans, but growing up in New Jersey, you really couldn’t help it. In big ways and small, Sinatra was everywhere. On the radio. Blaring over the speakers at Yankee Stadium at the end of a game. In Atlantic City.

So, I guess it isn’t a surprise that I turned into a fan myself. It started in 1990 when CBS aired a 75th birthday special, which coincided with the release of greatest hits collections from Capitol Records and Reprise. I ended up buying both collections that Christmas and listening to them throughout the winter of 2001. Then it was on to the albums to the point where now, I’ve pretty much got every album Sinatra released from the 1950s onward —- which makes for a lot of CD’s.

Had he lived, Frank Sinatra would be 90 years old today. So I’ll take that occassion to provide my own list of my ten (plus one) favorite Sinatra albums, and the reasons I like them so much.

1. Songs For Swingin’ Lovers

If you’ve never really listened to Frank Sinatra before, this is the album to start with. Just as the combination of Lennon and McCartney was a revolution in the 1960s, the combination of Frank Sinatra and his arranger Nelson Riddle was a revolution in the 1950s. Together, Sinatra and Riddle pioneered the idea of the concept album; a collection of songs paired together to create an image or mood, or to tell a story. Swingin’ Lovers was the first concept album and remains one of the best.

The highlight, of course, is the masterful performance on I’ve Got You Under My Skin, with a trombone solo by Milt Bernhart that blows me away everytime I hear it.

Extended editions of this album released on CD include the bonus track “Memories Of You”, left out of the original album for reasons I can’t contemplate.

2. In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning

Admit it guys, its happened to all of us. The gal that got away. The torch that burned bright and then died. It happened to Frank too, her name was Ava Gardner, and this album, along with “Only The Lonely” is what he did about it.

In my opinion, the mark of a great singer, is their ability to reach within themselves and bring out something that touches your soul. By the time you finish listening to this CD, you’ll think that someone has reached into your soul, taken it out, and thrown off a tall building. Catharsis is the only word to describe it.

3. A Swingin’ Affair

What can you say about an album that contains “Stars Fell On Alabama”, a blow-you-away performance of “Night and Day” and “At Long Last Love” ? As with “Swingin’ Lovers”, Sinatra and Riddle once again pull off absolutely perfection.

4. Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely

Sinatra once joked that they were going to sell this album with its own revolver because the songs were so depressing. Whereas “In the Wee Small Hours” was catharsis, this album is nothing but pathos, each song is more emotional than the next. The emotion doesn’t roll you over, it just sinks in, song after song, until you’re left numb and absolutely stunned at the same time. The album includes two songs that Sinatra would later sing in concert for years to come as what he called “saloon songs” — the song sung by the lonely guy in the bar at 2am — “One For My Baby” and “Angel Eyes.”

Many consider this to be the greatest album of Sinatra’s career, and its easy to see why that might be the case.

5. September Of My Years

Though recorded when he was still 49, this is Frank Sinatra’s reflection on what its means to turn 50. Each song flows into the next as Sinatra and arranger Gordon Jenkins tell a story, in song, of a man looking back life. If the tone is meloncholy, that’s only because of regrets of missing times now passed. This is an album that Sinatra could not have pulled off in the 1950s, and definately not in his younger days, but with the mellow voice that came with age and the subdued arrangements from Jenkins, everything fits together perfectly.

6. Sinatra & Strings

This was Sinatra’s first album with arranger Don Costa, who he would work with several more times over the years, but it is unquestionably the best. The first reason for that is the material itself; these are some of the great songs of American popular music. Sinatra had recorded most of them before, but not in this way. Costa’s “Night & Day” is an absolutely masterpiece and possibly the best studio recorded version that Sinatra ever did. The blow-away piece on the album for me, though, is “Come Rain or Come Shine”; Sinatra’s voice had never sounded quite so powerful.

7. Come Fly With Me

Sinatra and Billy May together for the first time, and the results are pure genius. Together, they take us on a tour around the world that mixes ballads with swingers and leaves the listener wanting more, much more, at the end. The best song on the album is the title tune, which became part of Sinatra’s concerte repetoire for years to come.

8. Come Dance With Me

“Hey there cutes, put on your dancin’ boots and come, dance with me.”

You’ve got to know that an album that starts with that line is going to be swinging fun all the way through, and this one does not disappoint. Not surprisingly, this was one of Sinatra’s most commercially successful releases of the 1950s.

9. Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim

Nothing may sound more improbable than the idea of Frank Sinatra singing bossa nova, but that’s exactly what this album pulls off, masterfully. With Brazilian master Antonio Carlos Jobim playing guitar (and providing Porteguese vocals on several tracks), and a string orchestra staying lightly in the background, Sinatra goes places he’d never been in his career before. The result is a true classic, with the duo’s rendition of “The Girl From Ipanema” being the one that steals the show.

10. Sinatra At The Sands

Until the late 90s, there were only two officially released live albums in Sinatra’s entire catalog. One, The Main Event, was released in 1974 to coincide with his out-of-retirement comeback tour and is related to the ABC television special of the same name that aired in October 1974. This is the other one, and its clearly the better of the two.

Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. Both from New Jersey — one from Hoboken, the other from Red Bank — and both together live on stage at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas in 1966 The only thing better than listening to this concert on CD would be having actually been there in person. Unlike other recordings that have been released since Sinatra’s death, this album does not contain much of the Rat Pack banter that Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis had become famous for, though there is one long monolouge track that gives you a flavor of what those days were like.

If you want to know what the big deal about seeing Sinatra peform live was all about, this is the album that tells the story.

11. Frank Sinatra With Red Norvo Quartet, Live In Australia 1959

I’ve added this in as something of a bonus track. The one thing that Sinatra fans had in common with Grateful Dead fans is the underground market they created in bootleg concert performances. Many of those bootleg recordings have been recorded on to CD in the past decade and made available, through European channels where the copyright laws are weaker, for sale in the United States. A select few have been legitimized and officially released in the United States. This is one of those recordings.

In 1959, Sinatra went on a tour with a quartet led by vibraphonist Red Norvo. Because there wasn’t the support provided by a large concert band, it was an environment that challenged Sinatra vocally and led, in this case, to some of his best work. The sound quality on this recording is not as good as it would have been had the concert been recorded officially, but it is acceptable. Since Sinatra never took the small group format into the studio, though, its the one of the few recorded examples we have of him singing the songs he’s best known for in an entirely different format.

And there you have it. I’ve listened to each of these albums so many times over the years that I’ve lost count. Tonight, though, I might just have to pop one or two into the CD player, pour myself a drink, and raise a glass in honor of the legend that was Frank Sinatra.

December 11, 2010

Ron Paul On The Fed, Korea, And Sarah Palin

by @ 1:42 pm. Filed under Politicos & Pundits, Politics, Ron Paul

December 10, 2010

Ron Paul: Lying Is Not Patriotic

by @ 2:21 pm. Filed under Politicos & Pundits, Politics, Ron Paul

Ron Paul On Fox Business Channel

by @ 12:39 pm. Filed under Politicos & Pundits, Ron Paul

December 5, 2010

Jeter, Yankees Agree To Three Year Deal

by @ 9:32 am. Filed under Baseball, New York Yankees, Sports


Every fan of the New York Yankees can breath a little easier:

This past month has been by far the most tumultuous period of the Yankees’ otherwise cozy 18-year relationship with Derek Jeter, and it left an uneasy feeling across their empire. Even with his eventual return considered a certainty, the public dispute over the terms of his new contract was unsettling, evocative of parents quarreling: Jeter and the Yankees were never headed for a divorce, but the innocence had faded.

Their protracted stalemate finally ended Saturday when Jeter agreed to a three-year, $51 million deal that in all likelihood will be the last of his career. If Jeter exercises a creatively designed option for 2014, he will finish that season at age 40. Perhaps by then, the debate over Jeter’s value, which raged from barrooms to boardrooms, will have ceased.

Jeter’s performance in the first three years will determine how much the option year is worth. His option-year salary has an $8 million base, but he could earn an additional $9 million based on how he finishes in Most Valuable Player award balloting and whether he wins any Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards, according to a person in baseball briefed on the details of the contract. Picking up the option year is solely up to Jeter. The Yankees cannot choose to decline the option year, but if Jeter were to decide not to play a fourth season, the team would pay him a $3 million buyout. The deal, which was engineered by the team’s president, Randy Levine, and is pending a physical examination, was completed Saturday during a meeting among Jeter; his agent, Casey Close; the Yankees’ managing general partner, Hal Steinbrenner; General Manager Brian Cashman; and Levine.

Some of Jeter’s guaranteed $51 million is deferred, making his average annual salary closer to $16 million. That represents nearly a $3 million pay cut from his previous annual salary, $18.9 million, which he received in a 10-year pact that ran from 2001 to 2010, but he remains the highest-paid shortstop in baseball, ahead of Troy Tulowitzki, who last week agreed to a 10-year, $157.75 million deal to stay with Colorado.

For Jeter, maintaining that distinction could be construed as a victory, given that a shortstop who turns 37 in June would not have fetched as high a salary on the open market, perhaps not even half the four- to five-year deal for $23 million to $24 million a year he originally sought. But the Yankees prevailed, too, conceding little from their initial three-year offer for $45 million while ensuring that some of their concerns about Jeter’s recent on-field performance and future viability as a shortstop were understood and addressed.

Jeter has made more than $205 million from the Yankees, more than he ever thought possible — or was even necessary. In 1998, after learning that Mike Piazza had rejected an $80 million contract from the Los Angeles Dodgers, a 23-year-old Jeter emphasized all four syllables of “80 million” in an interview with The New York Times and said, “You can’t spend that much money in your lifetime.”

Well you’re gonna have to figure out something to do with it Derek.

Oh yea, you’ve got that girlfriend. :)

December 2, 2010

The Difference Between Libertarians And The Tea Party

Yea, this pretty much explains it:

H/T: Jason Pye

Ron Paul Talks Tax Cuts And The Deficit Commission

by @ 3:35 pm. Filed under Politicos & Pundits, Politics, Ron Paul

Ron Paul was on Morning Joe this morning talking about the deficit commission, tax cuts, and military spending:

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The Doctors Paul Talk Tax Cuts

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