Thursday, March 30, 2006

American Idol (review) Down to 9 the Annex

I turned on my Digital Video Recorder last night to find Shakira belly dancing in Kellie Pickler’s prom dress on my tv set. My first reaction was that I’d been on the wrong kind of websites again and my wife was going to catch me. After I saw Simon's polite but annoyed smile at Wyclef Jean who had mysteriously jumped on the stage and then begun rapping in Simon’s face, I realized that this was just America’s favorite family program, AI. I couldn’t understand any of the lyrics and mostly I found myself checking out Shakira’s abs, trying to figure out how tall she actually is, and whether Wyclef was hip-synching.

It was like some parody of world music out of The Simpsons. At one level it was kind of fascinating. Wyclef Jean is from Haiti. Shakira is half Columbian and half American by way of Lebanon (I guess that was the belly dancing part). It had plenty of energy and Shakira certainly sings loud enough and clear enough, but it was like whoever conceived the thing had ADD. If this is the music of the 21st century, then no wonder all the contestants fell flat, sharp, and off the beat on Tuesday night. If this is someone’s idea of “World Music”, everyone’s going to be invading everyone else’s country and boom boxes and mp3 players should be declared Weapons of Music Destruction.

Two nights ago, they slipped in a quick commercial for an American Idol parody featuring Mandy Moore which appears to be her attempt at a comeback after her parody of Christian schools did about as well as Andy Roddick's recent tennis career. I’m wondering why parody something that’s already this funny all by itself?

Through one of my sources, I did get secret tape of the judges’ activities while all the contestants were out cross-promoting Ice Age. Just as I suspected, there was Paula in high priestess robes and Simon in his black t-shirt with cowl carrying out a ritual sacrifice of a fatted calf and one of Heather Cox’s goats under a freeze frame of Mandisa. I’m just glad none of those far right bloggers were around to witness it and tell everyone about how degenerate Hollywood celebrities really are. After all, what do celebrities know about politics as opposed to say rich people?

In the meantime, Randy and Ryan were at an overeaters anonymous meeting with Jared from Subway who apparently wants to be a guest judge on the show. Jared was unhappy because the producers kept insisting that they have their standards about the musical bonafides of any guest judge. They said, “Look, we’ve earned a reputation for musical integrity. We’ve had Quentin Tarantino, Barry Manilow, and now Kenny Rogers.”

Subway then offered to sponsor the next season on AI and since Kenneth Lay had dropped his plans to appear as a guest judge, apparently Jared is in for a “Songs about Food and Diets” theme night. Lay’s former company was going to sponsor the show, but the producers drew the line at a “How to Rip Off Shareholders and Avoid Conviction” theme night. As they explained, it was a gesture of respect to Justice Scalia who apparently has a deep understanding of the history of gestures in the Catholic Church. It would have been fun, Katherine Harris was going to be in charge of counting the votes through Dieblod Cellular.

After Shakira’s security cleared a group of old men in trench coats from the studio audience, the show then did the AI non-musical chairs routine. Can you imagine how long it takes them in rehearsals to get them in place for that? All these screams of “What do you mean you want me to sit near Lisa and Bucky?”

I can just see everyone Wednesday night pushing to squeeze into that front row with Taylor and Mandisa.

“Hey, I was about to sit next to Taylor! You took my seat.”

“Well, kiss mah grits, It’s mah seat now.”

“What if, what if, what if.”

“You know, I don’t really belong up here next to Bucky, but do you see my complaining.”

“Yeah, well did you watch the playback video?”

“Come on guys, can’t we just work it out, unh ?”

“Look Paris, it’s okay that you did Beyonce, but don’t get any ideas about doing Shakira, at least not the way Shakira did Shakira tonight.

“If I could just tell Kelly Clarkson that because of you, I’m sitting up here by myself.”

This week, the show had two points to make in the eliminations. First, they showed America how mysteriously popular Bucky Covington really is. My theory is that he doesn’t just have one identical twin. Well, if you are one of the twelve people who saw that move with Ewan Mcgregor and Scarlett Joahannson called The Island, you might get where I'm going here? I’m pretty sure there are forty thousand Bucky Covington clones in a holler somewhere in the Carolinas waiting to be cast as extras in Dukes of Hazzard 2 where Daisy Duke pretends to be a dancer at Nick Lachey’s next bachelor party. In the meantime, every Tuesday night the clones dutifully dial Bucky 866 number on their cell phones while having conversations with one another that no one north of Durham can understand.

Second, with Katharine Mcphee’s family denying any connection to the Church of Scientology, Tom and Katie decided to send her a message by jamming her 866 number and e-metering Simon into reversing himself on the “Almost as good as Xtina” thing (now there's a Thetan name if I've ever heard one). Notice that, Katharine pointedly referred to God when Ryan asked her what she thought about being the last two. In the meantime, she was offered a small role on South Park.This is a small point, but I’d worry about a God who spends Wednesday night watching American Idol eliminations instead of say Darfur, Iraq, or even the recovery of the Gulf Coast. At least traditionally, the day of rest was supposed to be Sunday when God used to watch Ed Sullivan,Bonanza, and more recently Married With Children. Word is that God stopped watching Sixty Minutes after that memo about the Ten Commandments was typed up in the Times Roman font.

Throughout the process, Lisa Tucker was doing her best to smile hard and look brave. I admire the fact that she did her seven plus appearances on the show without trying to affect some Made for Reality TV character/personality. Mostly she sang, perhaps not all that memorably, but certainly pretty well with challenging material. She struck me as an old school show business professional stuck inside a sixteen year old. Clearly, she knew she was a goner as soon as they put her on the top row with Ace Young and Bucky. Sure enough, America sent Nala back to Disney.

The camera kept panning to Paris Bennett crying as Lisa did her sing off. “Because of you, I wasn’t the only African-American female teenager in the final 12 and you took my votes.”

Actually, I think the tears speak to some of the bonds between the contestants that the show doesn’t reveal. Paris was doing all this crying, presumably about her friend Lisa, and I’m still not sure why America didn’t get to see that Lisa Tucker.

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Read more!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

American Idol (review) Getting Down to 9

On a night that felt more like I was watching “American Valium” than “American Idol”, there were at least three really strange moments.  The first came after Mandisa did a rock-gospel shout out to the Lord as sort of a testimony to her faith amidst the lion's den of American Idol where Simon compared her to a “stripper” last week then called her “sexy”.  

Paula responded, “I worship at the Church of Mandisa”, which to put it diplomatically was probably not anywhere close to the reaction that the Sacramento-raised singer had meant to evoke (some silly business about “false idols”)

Simon then just shook his head at her and said “Nope, not for me. I’m afraid.”

I watched Mandisa stand on stage next to Ryan with her eyes suddenly wide open and sad, saying nothing, while she possibly wondered if spirit and tv celebrity mix.  

Certainly, there have been singers who could go between singing sacred and commercial music without compromising either.  Aretha Franklin’s, Spirit in the Flesh album, comes to mind as does Mahalia Jackson, who might have been better than any singer of the last century at emotionally touching a non-Christian audience without compromising her spiritual roots.  To go back and listen to either makes you question how Christian Music devolved into Amy Grant ( I actually like Amy Grant).  The great Christian music from J.S. Bach on down through Mahalia has always had this transcendent quality that makes even non-believers listen and go “Whatever he or she has, I got to get some of that because I must be missing something in my life.”

Many years ago, I was bicycling across the country and my group was hosted by the Unitarian Church of Roanoke, Virginia.  At the dinner, our hosts seemed a lot like us, informed, good hearted, but ultimately sort of chatty and pleasant.  I know I’m insulting the very fine folk who are serious Unitarians, Universalists, Congregationalists, but particularly in the south, they struck me as people who needed to appear to go to Church, but didn’t necessarily have strong beliefs about any particular doctrine.  These people would never lead you into the Crusades or any other kind of war for that matter, but they quite possibly might never lead you into heaven and certainly not sainthood.  

At the end of the dinner, the Unitarians had invited a Black Gospel Choir to serve as the evening’s entertainment.  The effect in this room full of real estate agents and middle-aged professionals who happily chatted about mortgage rates and healthy diets was palpable.  The Gospel Choir had a deep abiding faith that emanated through their music and haunted the space.  “The spirit matters and really great music tells us that,”  was the only lyric that I remember.

At the end of the performance, I  pulled aside one of the soloists and said “That was incredible.  Do you ever do any secular songs?”

Obviously, it was a stupid thing to say and I guess my only excuse was that I was thinking about Aretha Franklin or maybe like the 1987 equivalent of Idol, almost like “Don’t you want to make big bucks off your voice?”.  The woman stared at me, a la Mandisa at Paula and Simon (talk about weirdly Biblical names for judges) and said politely, “No, we only sing for the Lord.”

To her, God was a real-powerful force that justified and gave her music whatever capacity it had to touch an audience of non-believers like myself.  

Mandisa’s greatest strength as a contestant on Idol beyond her voice has been a sense of emotional centeredness.  It’s very odd, but when she took on the kind of music that mattered most to her personally, instead of amplifying that strength it diminished it.  I don’t know if this was her God’s way of telling her “Not here, not this way,” but it brings me back to Paula’s worshipping at the Church of Mandisa.  The comment was appalling but bizarrely accurate in summing up all that was right and all that was missing from Mandisa’s attempt to transform her stay on American Idol into ministry.  She sang about the Lord but didn’t quite touch the Simons of the world in the way that she managed so well when she calmly told Simon that Jesus would forgive him for making fun of her size.

The two other strange moments on this week’s Idol both involved Chris Daughtry.   It’s apparent that there’s some intern at Fox who tracks message boards and blogs for rumors about the show and the contestants.  So Ryan, the host and spinmeister, now does these one on one chats with the object of our collective pixel-based gossip and tries to “cool down” the buzz.  So, there was Chris talking about how much he loved “Live’s” cover of Walk the Line and how he was trying to pay tribute to both Live and Jaoquin Phoenix all at once, not take false credit for it and to beg them not to sue the show.  The Washington Post then jumped in by announcing that Chris Daughtry was no longer one of the candidates to replace Ben Domenech as the right wing voice on their website.    

To which I ask,”What kind of alt rocker would do Image Control with Ryan Seacrest? Isn’t alt rock about having a sense of independence?”

Daughtry then did a very edgy song by Creed built around the refrain “What if”  which I think you’re supposed to make sound like “What F”.  Daughtry did his rocker thing reasonably well, but how do you make yourself genuinely anarchic and rebellious under a blue and white neon sign that says “American Idol brought to you by Ford and Coca Cola”.  Didn’t the guy see Fight Club?

After weeks of calling the guy uncompromising and a “true” artist, the judges got tough on him this time.  Randy accused him of singing “sharp” and Simon did this “Creed wouldn’t be caught dead on this show, Chris it’s time for you to do a Bee Gees song or maybe some Trisha Yearwood.”

Next week, I hear that Chris is going to come out in a hairpiece and blue suit with tie loosened ever so casually to do an Elvis Costello cover of Burt Bacharach.  Either that or I hope he does a duet with Bo Bice some time soon, so I can watch them play tug of war with the mike stand.

I’m not sure why American Idol’s venture into the music of the 21st century didn’t work.  The judges talk constantly about sounding “new and fresh”, but Idol’s actual musical sensibilities are hardly avant garde. Fresh in Idol terms is like New Coke vs. Classic Coke or low carb Whoppers.  One of the things that hit homepage for me last night was that I didn’t know most of the music other than the Kelly Clarkson and the Gavin Dagrew “I Don’t Wanna Be” that Bo Bice covered pre-Elliot.  In the 20th century, which began with Louis Armstrong being born on July fourth 1900 (at least according to Louis Armstrong), American pop music became the world’s pop music.  Arguably jazz, blues, rock and roll, soul, and country which are all products of 20th century America remain this nation’s most enduring contribution to world culture, though I do realize that some people insist that the Brady Bunch and fast food are a close second.  I wouldn’t really expect to find the 21st century equivalent of Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, Frank Loesser, or Loretta Lynn on a show like American Idol, but if this was the music of this century thus far it makes me a little sad.

Part of the power of 20th Century American pop music is that blues, jazz, and rock are perfect expressions of American national distinctiveness.   All three combined African rhythm and improvisation, especially the integral role of the drum beat, with European tonality and instrumentations into something that didn’t exist on either continent.  At the turn of the last century, melody was largely king in pop music.  American music made melody and beat more or less democratic partners.  Eventually, all three forms also absorbed America’s growing role as an industrial power.  Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday were two of the first singers to not only master, but  build their art around the microphone.  Rock and roll combines the twin foundations of American industry, electricity and steel, expressed through the electric guitar.  20th century pop music is quite possibly the basis of our common culture in a country whose people come from anywhere at any time.

I have no idea what the music of the Information Age, post NAFTA, America will be.  I just know that it hasn’t come forward yet and that our popular music has fractured in the quest.  In the meantime, I hear hip hop, but don’t really know it (neither does American Idol which seems to disdain the  most “modern” pop music form going).  I might know who Billy Joe is but I’d never recognize Green Day on the radio.  Similarly, I know what Faith Hill and Gwen Stefani look like but I can’t necessarily name any of their songs.  Yes, the simple explanation may be that I’m just a fogey who remembers Fogerty as a member of Creedence and half expects to hear "Stuck in Lodi" when someone says he’s doing “Creed”.  

At the same time, I think that our music is not the culturally binding force it once was.  Blame it on cable and the mp3, but as a child I might not have liked Sinatra, Elvis, or David Ruffin,but I knew who they were, what they sang, and what they sounded like.  There were three channels on the television and a handful of radio stations, most taking bribes from the same record companies, playing substantially the same “new” music.  Even the dorkiest junior high teacher of the time would know who the Rolling Stones were or even say Hendrix or Cream.  It seems strange now, but the Rolling Stones if they didn't spend the night at least spent some time together and the Doors who never got much higher both appeared on Ed Sullivan next to Senor Wences and a group of poodles who could ride bicycles.  We tend to look back on the 60’s as a time of discord in America, but American music still held America together.  In the words of Kevin Kline in the Big Chill “Sixties music remains the only music that matters” in any culturally resonant way where music remained deeply social rather than a mere path to wealth.

I’ve often wondered about American Idol as a cultural phenomenon.  The vast majority of viewers don’t actually run out and buy the winners’ music or even download their mp3s.  My current theory is that in this very politically and culturally divisive time in America where  middle ground seems virtually unachievable, American Idol holds out the promise that a middle is still somehow possible.  Millions of people vote, in an election sponsored by a cell phone company, and the show itself is one of the last icons of network TV’s power to reach the full cross section of America.  In fact, I don’t know of any other show that gets followed by grandmothers, teenagers, gays, soccer moms, NASCAR  dads, etc.  I suspect, though, that the bulk of viewers who actually vote tend to be teenaged and female.  

The hard thing about watching the 21st Century theme night was to see how far apart all the contestants really were.  There was along with Chris and Mandisa, Kellie Pickler doing Suds in a Bucket, Elliot stretching out with “I Don’t Wanna Be”, Bucky doing Tim Mcgraw, and Katharine taking on Christina Aguilera with most of the high notes missing until the end.  I found myself looking at 10 singers as each tried to define a niche, but none made a case for the proposition that all of America should listen to and talk about him or her tomorrow. In its way, the show was an eloquent expression of the rise of Ipod culture.  We don’t listen together nearly as much as we listen to what we want when we want by ourselves.

Where things stand for me,

Taylor dialed the tick and whoo meter back a lot.  It was nice to see that they’re options for him not compulsions.  

Katharine didn’t sound almost as good as Christina Aguilera to my ear.  They criticized Lisa Tucker for taking on a song that was too big for her voice, but that also might apply to Katharine who took on material that might have been too rangy. Just as bad, there was no emotional connection to the lyric.  

It wasn’t painful to hear Lisa Tucker take on Kelly Clarkson, but it was painful to watch her encounter with the judges.  She clearly thought she had done pretty well before Randy went at her.  She appeared caught between trying to laugh it off and crying in dismay and both emotions seemed oddly unfamiliar to her. I wish her well, but she’s not long for the show.  I personally don’t think it’s the size of her voice, but her lack of apparent dynamics.  She doesn’t seem to have fine control over the loud/soft thing that sends off a sense of ease and command from the singer.
I’m surprised by the number of Bucky fans on the internet.  Why did the black cowboy hat  remind me less of Tim Mcgraw and more of the Brokenote Cowboy group from the Hollywood segment of the auditions?  

I kept thinking that Paris was auditioning for one of those Motown Revival Specials. Part of me wanted to react with, "Well Dick, I give that one a 71 because it had a great beat and it's good to dance to."  This is a song Fantasia, who appears to be a non person in Idoldom these days, would have killed.   Paris certainly was credible, but I’m not sure she was memorable with Beyonce's anthem to aerobics class.  

Kellie also dialed her act back a bunch.  This time she went for the wholesome country girl just singing the music she likes and away from Minnie Pearl meets Jessica Simpson.  One of the dangers of singing in your zone though is that people actually expect you to be good at it.  

Ace didn’t perform well, but he struck that note of defiance when Ryan asked him if he had regrets about his song choice and I liked that hint of independence from a guy who's come off a bit too soft-edged both as a singer and a personality.  

I’m not sure who dressed Elliot with the hooded jacket, sort of Eminem as lounge lizard, but he continues to sing pretty well.  

Simon and Randy kept saying “This is the night when we get to see what kind of music you guys might actually record.”

First I wonder what Ayla Brown was thinking as she watched at home between timeouts of the NCAA Women’s final four which appears to be a rerun of the ACC tournament.  Poor kid is probably muttering something under her breath that should stay “unwritten”.

Second, maybe it wasn’t the singers.  Maybe last night just reminded us how stagnant, insubstantial, and non-transcendent our pop music has become. Does anyone remember when music literally did move people to change their society for the better?  

Chancelucky out.

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Read more!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

the 4 Gig Idog

My wife went off for a weekend with her sisters which left our daughter and myself to look after the animals.  This includes a cat who has learned to open the front door Opposable Thumbs link and two border collies who, inspired by the cat, have learned to open the side door to our garage.  Last year, the problem was that we had a cat that insisted on running away.  This year, it’s animals that we can’t keep out of the house.  It rained on Friday night and Belle the sheltie, the only creature who apparently doesn’t know how to open at least one door on her own, was yelping at  the sliding door demanding in out of the rain.

Belle is more than a year old, so she’s not a puppy anymore, but her hobby remains chewing on anything that smells vaguely of people .  Neither shoes nor feminine hygiene products  (yuck) have been safe.  My wife lets her sleep in the bedroom, but had taken to tethering her to the bedside table with a leash.  Unfortunately, Belle had taken to chewing through the leash.  I am convinced that sheltie is a Celtic phrase for retarded beaver with fluffy coat.  My wife’s instruction before leaving went something like, “If you let her in the house, don’t let her out of your sight.”

I’d rented movies from the local video store.  After three months in Netflix, let me say that the service leaves a lot to be desired.  It’s taken me an average of three weeks to get off the “long wait” list for any popular new releases, which means by the time I get them they’re not “new releases” anymore.  Much to my surprise, my daughter was willing to watch with me rather than troll on her bedroom computer.  A third of all Americans who have appeared on reality tv shows have their own My Space pages.  So we settled down to watch Amy Smart in “Just Friends” which turned out to be just horrible.

It was like someone decided to do a whole movie based on Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri’s nerd cheerleader routine from Saturday Night Live, only they couldn’t sign either Will Ferrell or Cheri Oteri and they couldn’t hire a writer.  The dog started out by the couch, but apparently didn’t like the movie either.  Somewhere between the hockey puck scene and the frozen Porsche, the dog disappeared to the back of the house where I figured at worst she would hunt for more feminine hygiene products, chase the cats onto our bureau and under the beds, or scratch on the sliding door to the deck.  

I called the dog back into the living room and all seemed to be well enough until I woke up the next morning and found a pair of in the ear earphones under the bed and my daughter’s Ipod Nano, a Christmas gift, in its pink leather protective case.  It was probably the leather that attracted the dog.  She didn’t get through the case, but she managed to get her teeth into the screen which then shorted something out on the inside.  
I knew the dog was a nuisance, but I just thought the dog had better taste in music than that.  

I put the dog outside in the rain for the rest of the morning and then did my best to see if the Ipod could be rescued.  You’d think if they built a 4 gig music player that was thinner than a milk bone, that Apple would have figured out how to dogproof the thing.  It wouldn’t have happened had I been more vigilant during the movie, but I do wonder why we should keep a dog who doesn’t understand the difference between gnawing on the many rubber dog novelties we’ve purchased for her in the last year and a metal and plastic object that stands at the apex of contemporary industrial design.  

The Ipod hadn’t been sitting on the floor, my daughter had put it in her purse where she had some reasonable expectation of safety for her prized gadget.  In the meantime, I hooked up a USB cable to the dog and downloaded 3 gig of music, but it’s all old Three Dog Night albums, Donny Osmond's "Puppy Love", Elvis's "Hound Dog", and Randy Jackson saying something about a pound.  How many times can you listen to “Jeremiah Ate an Ipod” over and over again.  At least now when she barks to come inside, we have to plug in headphones to hear her.
This is one dog whose byte is worse than her bark.

Read more!

Friday, March 24, 2006

American Idol Last 10 (review)

"Bobby Bennett's Opening Act in Las Vegas 2031"

  After my wife and I finished watching American Idol a couple weeks ago, I decided to put on a beanie and sing about butterflies in falsetto to her as we headed to the bedroom. She hasn’t laughed at me in quite that way in a long time.  I wound up putting the beanie away and gave up all thought of singing any more Michael Jackson to her, but by morning she was going “Hey Ace, how about loading the dishwasher and folding the towels.”

I yelled back, “Dear, I’m not your father figure.

Then she started begging me to do that thing where I run a hand through my hair and stare longingly at the security camera in our neighbor’s driveway but then she started laughing some more. This weekend though, I’m going to do stuff like hammering shingles and staining doors also while staring at the camera, humming Stevie Wonder, and steadfastly not complaining that I’m missing the  NCAA Sweet Sixteen. My wife insists that gets her way more excited than smoldering stares and hand through hair moves even in the still of the night and if I finish cleaning out our garage too, it’ll get me out of her bottom three.

Someone needs to pull Ace aside and say “Hey, beanie boy.  You want to do the heart throb thing?  Why not think Elvis, Marvin Gaye, maybe even Nellie?  Yes, I know a long time ago girls might have fantasized about Michael Jackson but that was before it come out that he wasn’t fantasizing back about them.”

My wife got back at me though, I came home a couple Wednesdays back and she said she was making this new recipe for something called “Callamurray,”  (a sea creature that has the head of one of the characters on the Mary Tyler Moore show)  which she followed with “Salmonella” (apparently that’s where you sing scat while cooking fish).  Anyway, she affected this strange accent halfway between Dolly Parton and Paris Hilton.  I went to the living room and put on a Beatles disk, the real ones not as covered by American Idol contestants, to drown out the twang.  She responded by saying, “I ain’t never heard of no Beatles.  Are they like Garth Brooks?”

To which I said, “You know dear, I saw a picture in the National Enquirer of Kellie Pickler reading Wittgenstein while dressed in one of Jennifer Lopez’s old awards show outfits. I think she’s faking it.  You might as well pretend to be Mandisa.”

“Are you saying that I’m fat?”  

“No no, dear, Mandisa’s a very dignified spiritually-centered individual with a great voice, not some blonde with a backstory who pretends not to know what “ballsy” is.”

I then started chasing her around the living room with a tarantula, but because of the Mandisa thing I still spent two days sleeping on the couch anyway.  Our fifteen year old daughter then came home to announce that she wanted to find a boy just like Kevin Covais.

“Why like Kevin?”

“I wasn’t expecting much from you anyway when I told you that, Dad,” she snapped.

For about five minutes we talked about whether Kevin Covais looked more like Chicken Little or Stuart Little then we told her, “When you fall in love at this age, don’t let it be forever or we’ll vote you out of the house.”

Our family counselor recommended that we stay away from American Idol for a couple weeks.  In his words, “Dawg, it’s okay if you don’t write about it.  You’ll work it out and to be honest it wasn’t that funny anyway.”

I told him, “Thanks, that was hot. Even if your advice started out a little bit pitchy.”

So here I am, life is back to normal.  We have forgiven America for evicting Gedeon Mckinney from our living room.  I say that picture he drew of the earth evoked Al Gore too much with his being from Tennessee and all.  Same thing with Ayla Brown.  She was the daughter of a politician from Massachussetts so when America voted they thought she was Michael Dukakis or John Kerry.  The daughter now wants a nice boy who dresses like Ryan Seacrest.  My wife now pretends to be Katherine Mcphee studying for her Smoldering Look 385 final at the Boston Conservatory.  I shaved my head, act humble, and cover alt rock covers of old songs while pretending they’re my own arrangements.

Last night, Clay Aiken’s father sang “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” on our tv set.  He seems like a nice enough vocal coach for the contestants, but actually hearing the guy sing reminded me that there are a lot of folk who make it big in the music business without necessarily singing better than a lot of the contestants on the show.  Of course, I wasn’t much of a fan when the guy was actually writing all the songs that made Simon Cowell insult two thirds of the singers on Idol.  

I really did like seeing Bobby Bennett get to meet Barry Manilow, there’s something about this AI extended universe that makes reality tv feel like one big happy family.  Even the people who don’t make the top 12 keep reappearing on the show in this strange dilated relativistic timeframe. I mean we last saw Bobby Bennett something like four weeks ago and instead everyone was acting like he'd been on some island talking to a volleyball for seven years.I’ve also heard that William Hung is in negotiations to be the next Bachelor.  

So now that there are nine singers left and one extra from the revival of Hee Haw,  how’s it look?   First, I had thought Lisa Tucker would do better on this show than she has.  I think the turning point was when she revealed that she’d been in the Lion King starting at an age when other kids watch the dvd.  At that moment, she shifted from  talented unknown teenager to singing version of Keisha Knight Pulliam.  America doesn’t like child stars as teenagers unless they ‘re forced to be Danny Bonaduce for a few years of their life.  I also think that she may suffer from one of those she’s been on stage so much so early that when the Idol people said “Now go show America who Lisa Tucker is.”  She just went “Whoa, not sure who that is.”

Worst of all, she just doesn’t look she’s having fun.  

With Bucky, I just never realized that they had that many cell phones at diners serving chicken-fried steak in wite gravy.  He’s genuinely likeable and he sings okay but shouldn’t he have been able to do Buddy Holly? I do hope Buck stays on long enough so they get to feature him with Kellie, Taylor, and Paris singing in four part hominy.

Elliot Yamin apparently has the best backstory of any of the contestants.  I have no idea why it’s never mentioned.  To me, he looks vaguely like Jim Nabors and seems to be the contestant who’s making the fewest attempts to play a “character”.  I loved the fact that he said that he honestly wasn’t a Barry Manilow fan, talked about actually doing Karaoke, and appears to be what Idol is supposed to be about, the every day guy who America discovers by “Phoning Home Elliot”.  Maybe in two weeks, give him a finger that lights up and have Drew Barrymore in the audience.

I know that a lot of people insist that Taylor is some sort of original, but I wonder what would happen if they had Blues night and made them do the real thing a la Muddy Waters.  Mandisa would kick his twitchy harmonica playing self from Beale Street to Natchez.  Of course, I would have loved to see Kevin Covais take on Howlin Wolf.  I actually think that even Katharine might out blues Taylor who strikes me as more bluesy than blues man , someone who can squeeze a lifetime of pain into twelve bars.  As he says himself “He’s all about having fun and entertaining people”.

I keep thinking that Chris Daughtry should have been on that show where Inxs picked its own lead singer, though it would scare the heck out of me to have to replace some guy who hung himself.  It’s a bit like getting cast as Superman, one of the Hope diamond roles in the entertainment world.  The judges keep saying how much they love the fact that Chris seems to know who he is and that for me is the paradox.  If you’re an alt rocker and you really know who you are, what are you doing on American Idol?   It gives me these weird visions of Kurt Cobain singing Smells Like Teen Spirit to Paula Abdul and actually listening while they tell him about being a little more upbeat if he really wants America to vote for him.  It’s a weird line to be walking, but he’s still managing it pretty well if you can imagine an alt rocker that grandmothers would vote for.

While I thought that Mandisa did Dinah Washington well, it brought home something that makes me hesitate about Mandisa.  Dinah Washington was one of these undeniably distinctive singers who sings two bars and leaves no doubt about who’s singing whether it was What a Difference a Day Makes or the even more pop stuff they pushed her into to broaden her career.  She sings well, has the personality, but for some reason the music doesn’t stick with me.  I may well be in the minority here though.  It’s unfair to compare any female singer to Sarah Vaughan, a singer from the last generation who became a star from winning the Apollo Theater talent contest over and over again ( a la Idol), but even if Mandisa had two names, I’m not sure she pulls off that “Oh my God, wow” thing that Sassy, who never had a hit record fwiw, managed on a regular basis.  Mandisa makes me think less great singer and more one of these individuals who could do those old sitcoms then at the end of the show she would come out and sing.  

It’s embarrassing to confess this, but I had an MP3 of Katharine Mcphee from Stevie Wonder night and my wife walked by and said “Wow, what’s that?”

Watching her, there’s something a little stagey about her performances as if she were trained for Broadway, but when she sings well I find myself remembering what Katherine Mcphee sounds like on Thursday and even into Saturday. I do think that the storyline America craves in this sort of show is the spectacle of a performer “growing” into stardom as he/she moves through the eliminations.   Chris and Taylor give more of a sense that they’re trying to be discovered but already know how they want to sound.  Katharine’s either a very skilled manipulator of her own image or she’s actually finding her way of doing things as the show unfolds.  If this actually happens, it’s a much better story than any backstory.  I do think that’s part of why America took to Clay Aiken and Kelly Clarkson so well, both seemed to grow into Idolness as the show progressed.  Katharine has the inside track on that particular storyline this year.  The hard thing will be actually having to appear to get looser, warmer, and more idiosyncratic as a performer over the next several weeks. On the other hand, if it gets revealed that the special person she chose to sing "Come Rain or Come Shine" to was L. Ron Hubbard, then I'd say all bets about her winning would be off.

Television tends to be a very revealing medium which happens to be part of why reality tv often works much better than it should.  There’s something about being on a smallish ( I know this is changing in America but our house has a set with a 27” screen and a tube still) screen and being expected to do new material every week.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t create a character for television, but people have to believe that that character is an extension of who you really are.  In varying degrees, I think this is the basic challenge for Paris Bennett and Kellie Pickler.  Each has established a personality in the show. It helps that Paris can actually sing, but I believe they’ve painted themselves into an HDTV corner.   Is the Idol audience going to buy that each performer is who she’s been projecting.  

Kelly’s pushed it with the I come from some sort of Redneck Brigadoon in a town smaller than Bucky’s and missed the whole last thirty years of yankee culture.  Dolly Parton has a schtick, but she’s always matched it with Dolly knows she’s not Dolly and in fact she’s really smart.  I’ve never heard of Stevie Wonder and I don’t know what “ballsy” means just may have pinned the “she’s faking it meter”.  I also have to say that after all that talk about understanding the lyric of Walking After Midnight with Barry Manilow, she missed the underlying loneliness that Patsy Cline put in it and that Jessica Lange who’s not a singer caught much better.  

Paris has a similar kind of forced giddy teenager thing going- She has a big voice-Randy worships her grandmother.  There’s just this bit of doubt that it’s a bit more calculated than that .

I do sometimes wonder what we’ll think about Idol in 30 years, well it likely won’t be me doing the thinking.  I looked up Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour which started on the Dumont Network to see who its most famous alums were and came up with Gladys Knight who was on the show at age seven and Wayne Newton.  If anyone remembers Star Search which actually gave America Dennis Miller, Martin Lawrence, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Lee Ann Rimes, and Rosie,  and almost outlasted the publisher’s clearing house sweepstakes is that most of the people who became stars from the show didn’t last that long on the show itself.  Could you imagine a conversation that went like this, “Do you remember Idol?”  

“Oh yeah, that was the show that had Scot Savol and Jasmine Trias on it before they married and had their own reality show.  Right, and wasn’t Kevin Covais on the show before he became president?  Yes and the Brittenum Twins too before they solved the question of how to travel faster than the speed of light.  Didn’t Ryan Seacrest used to be on the thing before he took over the Tonight Show fifteen years ago?  Do you remember how Paula went deaf for the last five years of the show and no one noticed until late in the fourth year?

Other Reviews by Chancelucky


Read more!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Latest Response from NCVA (volleyball)


I received the following response letterChancelucky: Letter to NCVA from group (parents) volleyball from the NCVA.  I should mention that the letter itself was actually unsigned though the names of the board members appeared in print below the signature line.  Second, my paper version of my letter that contained my check was returned to me unopened and apparently unread, though I had also faxed it.
I’m not sure how we are supposed to meet with the commissioner when she is too busy to copy 990 forms or respond to any requests between now and the June board meeting, but the group has committed to keeping communications open and working with the region.  

The group started requesting a copy of the current bylaws two months ago.  The NCVA has been a registered non-profit in California since 1982.

March 17, 2006

Dear Mr. ______,

The NCVA Board of Directors is committed to working with all it’s’ customers and parents of the Region.  The NCVA Board of Directors considers and appreciates inputs from all stakeholder groups: and is very interested in working together to ensure the continued quality of our services, programs, and events.  This letter is in response to the points discussed in the letter you sent to the NCVA office dated March 9, 2006.

  • As stated in earlier correspondence, the NCVA Bylaws will be posted on the NCVA website.  The NCVA adheres to this Bylaw access requirement according to California Corporation Code 516.  Our corporate attorney has advised us of the following:

  • “California law does not require NCVA to post its Bylaws on its website.”

  • NCVA is not required to give a copy of its Bylaws to a “customer” or to anyone else other than a Board member or a state or federal regulatory agency.”

This is the current practice of the NCVA.  All Board members receive the Bylaws once they become members of the Board of Directors.  Members of the NCVA, who are players, coaches, club directors, etc. are our customers.  This is state in our Bylaws.  It has been part of our Bylaws since their inception in 1994, and has not been changed.  The Bylaws have been written by our corporate attorney, approved by the State of California, and have been on file and approved by USA Volleyball- our National Governing Body by an act of the United States Congress.  Our Bylaws are currently being physically updated to reflect amendments that have been approved in previous years and once updated will be posted on the NCVA webpage.

By posting the Bylaws on our website, the NCVA has granted sufficient access to all of its customers and exceeded the requirements of the California Corporations Code 5160, thus eliminating the need to visit the NCVA office in person.

  1. As you are well aware, the NCVA is in a very busy time of the season.  Because it would take a great deal of time to compile and copy seven years’ of 990 forms, we refer you to the fact that this information can be found on the Internet.  Your check has been returned in this mailing.  

  1. Your request to attend and address the NCVA Board of  Directors at the June 12, 2006 (the next scheduled NCVA Board meeting) has been approved and placed on the agenda (Exact time and details to follow).  The NCVA Board of Directors strongly encourages you, your group, and any other interested parents to continue to meet with the NCVA Commissioner, Donna Donaghy, to help improve the level and quality of communications with parents.  We believe your first meeting was very productive and offered some great suggestions that will begin to establish a direct line of communications between the NCVA and parents

  1. As advised by our corporate attorney:

“NCVA is not required to post Board minutes, Board agendas, oro Board meeting dates.  Obviously, a Board member is entitled to all of this information.  There is an exception if NCVA received any funding from the City of San Francisco ( we do not receive any funding from the City of San Francisco).  Some nonprofits in San Francisco that receive City money are required under local, City law to hold two open meetings a year.”

Since we do not receive funding from the City of San Francisco, we are not required by any local or state regulations to conduct any open meetings for our customers.  The NCVA Board has decided to post information on the NCVA website about customer protocol for attending Board meetings.

  1. In response to your request for a list of all NCVA members with addresses and contact information, the following are members of the NCVA:  Ed Cohen, Martin Bagnasco, Donna Donaghy, Diane Mazeei, Andy Serrano, and Tim Walsh, Their address is 72 Dormoan Avenue, San Francisco, Ca. 94124.  NCVA customers, including your daughter, are not required to give out personal information to anyone within or outside of the NCVA unless they choose to do so.  If you need to address correspondence directly to an NCVA Board member, please address your envelope “Attn (give name) Personal and Confidential” and the office staff will forward the envelope unopened.  Sending the letter “signature required” will confirm receipt of your letter.

I believe that the points in your letter have been addressed.  If there are any further concerns you wish to bring forward, be aware that they may not be addressed until we have completed the Junior Far Western National Qualifier and the Power League Regionals.  Our office staff is completely focused on these upcoming events and working long hours to maintain the high quality that is the standard for NCVA tournaments.


list of names of all the board members follows.    

Read more!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Drilling Ducks with Dick

Mud clings to my knees and elbows as I crawl on my belly  towards a duck blind on a frigid Texas morning.  I would  have made it here earlier, but the Secret Service detail insisted on making me wear forty five pounds of body armor underneath my bright orange vest for my hunting trip with the vice president.  

Blam –blam, two shots ring out just above my head and as I look up I hear the quack of a wounded duck as it plops onto the pond in front of the blind.

“That’s number 65 for the day Mr. Vice President and it’s not even seven in the morning yet,”

I recognize the voice of my friend Karl.  Ever since Karl was forced to an underground bunker at the White House, it seems that I’ve been getting less work from my favorite client for my freelance writing, the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (VRWC).  It was Karl who got me out duck hunting for this first time in my adult life.  They set up this hunt with the vice president six months ago as a simultaneous fundraiser and serious policy discussion opportunity.  The idea had worked spectacularly with the energy taskforce several years ago who got to enjoy the thrill of killing hundreds of animals in a single afternoon with both the vice president and Justice Scalia joking about how they were making fossil fuel for future generations.  This year, however, a number of the people who had given money to hunt with Dick Cheney abruptly backed out about a month ago.  

“I told them to think of it as killing several dozen birds with one stone,” the deputy chief of staff joked, “But even that didn’t work.”

In any case, Karl figured it might embarrass the administration if they had to cancel the junket so he offered to pay me double my normal rate to go and write it up in such a way that it might improve the vice president’s current 19% approval rating, which is just ten percent below Hitler’s at the close of World War 2 but slightly higher than Andrea Yates’s.  Consider the fact that the vice-president has killed a lot more children than Andrea Yates did, the 19% is really pretty promising.

Half a dozen more shots ring out, before I hear the vice president speak for the first time, “Damn, I love the smell of dead fowl in the morning.”

Karl nods., “You’re up to seventy seven now Dick and it’s just three minutes past seven AM.”

DC:  Wow, Karl, never seen anyone who could count better than you.  My count had 45, but you must be counting the ones I shot on the ground and those little ducklings too.

DC:  Hardly seems fair to count the ducklings though.  I can off like four or five of them with just a single shot, particularly when they’re scrunched up next to their mother in the water like that.

CL:  Sorry guys, didn’t mean to throw up all over your duck blind here.  I just haven’t seen this many dead birds since Hillary gave me a tour of Tyson chicken…

Silence…followed by the sound of a shotgun being cocked.

There's a boom skyward as a mallard falls out of the air.

KR: Sorry CL, but that's one angry woman. We don't like to talk about her, especially when we're hunting. Puts the veep into a little bit of a frenzy.

CL: Look over there, isn't that the nest of the mother duck you just shot?

The vice president immediately pulls his gun away from the spot.

DC: Phew, that was a close one, nearly shot eggs.

CL: If you can shoot the mother and all the ducklings, what difference does it make if you hit a few eggs?

KR: CL do I have to remind you that this administration is pro life. We protect the rights of the unborn.

DC:  I know it looks a little disgusting, me sitting here killing all these birds like this, but you ought to know that they don’t go to waste.  The owners take the carcasses down to the local soup kitchen afterwards.  

CL:  They have a soup kitchen out here.

DC:  You bet. You know how the media never runs the positive stories.  Since this administration started, there are half again as many soup kitchens as there were in Clinton’s time.  Under Clinton, they were actually closing the things.  Now, they even have them out here in rural Texas.  How’s that for compassionate conservatism?  

CL:  You’d think at least someone like George Will would pick up on something like that.  Geez, maybe even Molly Ivins might do a column.

A dozen shots fire skywards in rapid succession followed by a hail of curse words.

CL: So, the local soup kitchen winds up with several hundred servings of birdshot pate and duck a l’orange tonight?


KR:  A few months ago, Dick had a night hunting trip around here and they got to have Canard au Phosphor Blanc?

CL:  I’m sorry, I don’t know what that is.

I’m finally standing, though I stay as close as possible to the vice president so I can track his shotgun.

KR:  That’s duck done in White Phosphorous sauce, it’s one of Dick’s creations.

DC:  Yep, you load up a couple shotgun shells with white phosphorous and you see every feathered critter in the night sky.  It’s too bad that nosy Italian paper ruined it.  Now, you can’t find white phosphorous shotgun shells anywhere in the US.  Can you imagine a duck prepared so fresh that it cooks itself before it even hits the ground?  I still might have  a couple shells left over, talk about a lunchtime treat!

CL:  Maybe another time Mr. Vice President.  I’m still feeling a little sick.

KR:  Now you might think the vice president is just shooting these birds out of pure blood lust, but what you can't see is that some of these fowl have terrorist ties.

CL: Terrorist game birds?

KR: That's right, we have reports that many of these birds right here have ties to Al Quacka.

DC: You've heard of avian flu haven't you?

CL: I've never heard of a wild duck with avian flu just chickens.

KR: Several of these ducks were tied to repeated attempts to bomb the vice president's limousine with bird dung. Fortunately we intercepted their communications and stopped it. We just never told the liberal media about it.

CL: But covering a car with bird dung is not even close to spreading avian flu.

DC: We have the evidence. The hunting dogs in this county welcomed me as a liberator.

I turn to Karl.

CL: You know I've never said this before, but this guy is nuts.

KR: It's statements like that that come perilously close to helping the enemy. It's bad enough that you have friends in PETA and adopted cats from the SPCA. I can't always protect you CL.

The vice president blows on a whistle and a dozen undocumented workers come out to pick up the dead ducks.  In the meantime, he keeps firing as more undocumented workers seem to be releasing dozens of more birds from cages just across the marshy end of the pond

KR: It's really unfortunate that America never gets to see this side of the vice presidsent, how he's a dedicated environmentalist who cleans up even after his hunting expeditions.

At one point, stray shot hits one of the workers in the arm.

W:  Sorry senor vice presidente.  I didn’t mean to embarrass you further.

DC:  Quite all right.  Apology accepted.  Sure hope you have health insurance.

W:  Well, actually no.  

DC:  Shame.  You see what a great country we have.  They don’t have health insurance in his country.

CL:  Dick.  I think he lives in our country.

He fires off several more shots as the undocumented workers scatter into the brush.

DC:  Well, you want to talk some policy.  That’s why you paid the RNC to come on this hunting trip didn’t you?

CL:  Well, actually sir, Karl’s pay….

Before I could say “Paying me” to be here, Karl had kicked me in the shin and shaken his head at me.

CL:  Well sir, why don’t you talk about whatever policy you feel like.

DC:  You know days like this I like to think about our peace plans.

CL: As in Iraq?

DC: Right.

The vice president takes a hand grenade out of his shirt and throws it at a group of ducks circling a pool of bread crumbs floating in the water.  The explosion sends up a small geyser that splashes us in the duck pond as the air fills with feathers.

KR:  I guess the folks at the soup kitchen won’t be able to eat those.

DC points his shotgun at KR’s chest.

DC:  You making fun of me Karl?

KR:  No, never. wouldn’t think of it.

DC:  You don’t think I could pull this trigger right now?  

CL: Uh, were't we talking about your peace plan for Iraq?

DC turns his gun away from Karl and shoots  more ducks.  I look down to see a pronounced wet spot in Karl’s pants as he collapses against the back of the duck blind.

DC:  Well now that the insurgency’s in its last throes.

CL:  So you don’t think it’s turning into a civil war?

DC:  Of course, it’s not a civil war.  That’s a gross exagerration, this is at least 140 years from being a Civil War.  Do you see a Gettysburg or a Shiloh,  a Monitor and Merrimack?  How can this be a civil war?

CL:  Well, I have seen a Bull Run or two in this war.

DC: Now that the insurgency’s in it s last throes.  

CL:  Is that the reason that there are now seven hundred more US troops there than there were last month and is that the reason they had that airborne assault north of Baghdad.  

DC:  They’ve captured almost forty insurgents in that campaign even though seventeen of them turned out not to be insurgents. They also captured a stash of 300 different weapons.  It’s been a major success.

KR:  Liberal media never shares the really good news about Iraq.

CL:  Isn’t the Pentagon now predicting a five to six year campaign to stabilize Iraq?

DC:  Exactly, they’re in the last throes.

CL:  Excuse me?

DC:  That’s an end date isn’t it?  You realize that the Iraqi government has met all its deadlines in the last year.

CL:  I know they met last week for thirty minutes then indefinitely postponed their next session.

DC:  That’s thirty minutes more than our Congress met during St. Patrick’s Day week.  

CL: You have a point there.

A flock of geese fly in a V overhead.  The vice president pulls out a machine gun and kills so many of them that the birds lay in stacks on the ground.

KR:  Dick, you are truly a great sportsman.

DC:  Always wanted to be on that show with Curt Gowdy.  Too bad he’s passed.Talk about your great reality tv.

KR: You know Dick, if America could just see you like this today, they’d see how serious you are about peace in Iraq and our precious freedoms under the second amendment.

DC takes a break from shooting and reaches into an ice chest on the other side of the duck blind and brings out a seventy two ounce can of beer.

DC:  Thought I’d start on my one beer at lunch a little early today Chancelucky: The Schrodinger Presidency.  All this hunting made me a little thirsty.

CL:  For beer or blood?

Both men look at me quizzically and the VP offers Karl and me cans of our own.

KR:  Maybe a quarter can for me.  I’m very careful not to drink more than that when I hunt.  You think 237 ducks in one morning is enough?

DC:  Time to knock off for lunch. Hey Chancelucky, you think that John Kerry would ever have the guts to shoot 237 ducks in a single morning?  
I shake my head.
KR: NRA member my ass.
They giggle.

DC: Enough for me today,my trigger finger’s a little sore, got to keep it fresh in case they have to give me the football again.

As I head out of the duck blind I almost bump my head on the opening to the outside.

CL:  Mr. Vice-President be sure to duck on your way out.

I’ve never been shot in the butt before and I suppose it was my fault.  After watching the vice president hunt this morning, I should have known about his quick reflexes and clear judgment when it comes to firearms.  I hope he visits me in the hospital a few days from now and I’m already writing my letter of apology to him for the media.  It truly was an honor to spend the morning learning how you can be pro gun and pro life all at the same time. I still remember Dick's last words to me that morning.

DC: Please CL, we don't have to tell the President about this or the press.

I have to say that he sounded awfully "Desperate".


Read more!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Our National Security Strategy

In case you were watching the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament, the president unveiled a new national security strategy.  The strategy came out on the same day that the 102nd airborne launched a mass assault on insurgent strongholds north of Baghdad.(Operation Swarmer resulted in no-gun fire and the capture of 41 insurgents 17 of whom were released shortly thereafter)  The air operation is the largest since the first month of the war and here you thought it was Major Military Operations are Over and Mission Accomplished almost three years ago.  Well, Americans have to understand that maintaining security it hard work.  In the operation, a mixture of 1500 Iraqi and Coalition forces are on the ground.  On Monday, the president told us that the Iraqi army is becoming increasingly capable but for some perplexing reason no one seems willing to specify how many of each are in those 1500 who are taking the lead in this operation.  In the same week, the new Iraqi parliament had time to have its first session. It was 30 minutes deep in the green zone and the session ended with an indefinite postponement.

I took some time to look over the main points of the administration’s strategy myself.  Most of the headlines have focused on the documents renewed endorsement of the doctrine of preemptive war, a comforting thought in a week when we’ve been issuing serious warnings both to Iran and China.  Other than the fact that it calls Iraq a significant success story in America’s security strategy over the last three years. (I wonder how the Sunnis feel about that right now), I did think the document offered a pretty good blue print for what I’d want at home.

It calls for an expansion of freedom, democracy, and human dignity.  Who can quarrel with that?  I imagine the women of South Dakota and Indiana might like some of that right now.   So would hundreds of prisoners in Guantanamo and countries unknown.  Should I begin to talk about Americans currently living in poverty?  The strategy criticizes governments that seek economic freedom at the expense of political liberty.  I have to agree with that too.  Americans shouldn’t have to be concerned that their phones and computers are subject to surveillance nor should they have to worry that government lawyers would resort to strategies like coaching witnesses.  This is one of my favorite lines from the strategy, Some governments have not delivered the benefits of effective democracy and prosperity to their citizens, leaving them susceptible to or taken over by demagogues peddling an anti-free market authoritarianism.”

That’s a nice distinction and I feel safer already because I live in a country taken over by demagogues peddling a pro-free market authoritarianism.  Call me what you want, but if I had to prioritize civil liberties, the free market actually isn’t at the top of my list nor does it show up anywhere in my copy of the bill of rights.  I still have hazy memories of all those photos of poverty during the so-called “Gilded Age” when America was still legally duking it out over the issue of whether any form of regulations was permissible at all.  Back then the anti- free market measures were things like safety and health inspections of businesses, fire codes,  child labor, maximum hours, minimum wages, the right to form a union.  I’d even dare say that those anti-market notions made most Americans more not less secure.  

Here’s some more great ideas for the United States,
  Honor and uphold basic human rights, including freedom of religion, conscience, speech, assembly, association, and press;
  Are responsive to their citizens, submitting to the will of the people, especially when people vote to change their government;
  Exercise effective sovereignty and maintain order within their own borders, protect independent and impartial systems of justice, punish crime, embrace the rule of law, and resist corruption; and
  Limit the reach of government, protecting the institutions of civil society, including the family, religious communities, voluntary associations, private property, independent business, and a market economy.

It sounds like a perfectly sensible recipe to me, but I wonder how well we set an example for this both abroad and at home.  

Another excerpt:

Tailoring assistance and training of military forces to support civilian control of the military and military respect for human rights in a democratic society.

I don’t think they meant to have civilian contractors controlling military prisons and yes I’m all for military respect for human rights.  How are we doing with that? The same section goes on to mention fighting corruption and for democratic accountability.  I consider those great ideas as well and would welcome an Administration who supports those things at home and abroad.

I’d be happy to go on and I would point out that I don’t agree with all of the administration’s strategy, but let me say this about those parts that I’ve excerpted above.  “No strategy works if you don’t actually implement it.”

Gold Star Mom Speaks Out: Evil Eyes This is a link to a Gold Star mother's encounter with Richard Perle, one of the architect's of the war.

Read more!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Microsoft Explorer Problem with this site

For some reason, I’ve been having a lot of trouble with Blogger.  It’s currently working fine in Firefox, but for some reason it drops the right hand column that includes all the links etc. if it’s in Microsoft Explorer 6.0.  If you are seeing this in Explorer and want to look at older posts on my site, please use this link in the meantime.  link to my older posts with categories on the right.   Apparently, you can also simply click on "Read More" on any of my post and it'll get the right hand column back in Explorer. Hopefully, I’ll be able to resolve the problem some time soon. I appreciate having a reader let me know about this problem in Explorer, please feel free to let me know when there are other problems with the site.
Wow!, it's 3/26 but I actually solved the problem myself after much tinkering. I looked through my posts and found an extra span class-fullpost command that seemed to cause the problem in Explorer. I had thought I was going crazy.:}

Read more!

Monday, March 13, 2006

NCVA power league 2 (2006) volleyball

"Women in photo on right vote to change name of sport from "Mintonette" to "Suffrage Slam Dancing". President Wilson brokered a compromise that renamed it "Volleyball and called for players to stop wearing hats during matches."

     I’ve been getting all these warnings about reprisals from the NCVA.  At this point, I have to report that the brake lines of my car are still intact, my daughter is still getting letters from colleges, and rather than being sent to a gym in Darfur we actually played the second league tournament at Diablo Valley College which I consider now one of the better facilities on the circuit.  There were four courts for four pools in a well-lit facility-A dividing curtain between the front and back minimized the number of ball ons- The hardwood floors were newly refinished-The bathrooms worked, though the men’s had no soap-There were good spots to bring food and hang out during the matches including a pond with ducks and picnic tables nearby.  In addition, the flow of play went smoothly, no two hour waits between matches and no confusion about the format.  While I’d heard reports of thieves at an earlier event there getting into ice chests and backpacks, that didn’t happen this time.
     In the NCVA’s girls’ handbook, there’s a bill of rights for the players.  One of those rights is a safe-healthy playing environment. As people who might have looked at other posts on my blog may know, I’m not terribly political :}.  That said, this is my complicated perspective on being a volleyball parent and my recently getting involved in the parent group asking for more of a voice in how NCVA works.

     I’m old enough to remember when the idea of young women getting athletic scholarships was considered a highly political matter.  Title 9, which came from the Nixon administration, is the driving economic force behind our sport.  Title 9 came out of an era when there was a growing cultural recognition that women should have control over their own bodies, livelihoods, and selves.  In the 19th century, women’s legal issues had been literally more paternalistic in that the law expected to protect them from having to make certain kinds of decisions.  

It was during that time that the Nixon Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade which was largely decided as a privacy case. The notion that American women should be expected to make major decisions about their bodies, lives, and society itself is actually fairly new For instance, American women have only had the right to vote for president for 85 years.  

Roe v. Wade has little direct relevance to girl’s volleyball, at least I hope not.  I mention it because our daughters are becoming young women at a pivotal time and I think it’s every bit as important that my daughter take pride in herself, her body, and her right to speak up and decide for herself as it is that she learn to set the four accurately.  The scholarship obsessed wing of the sport that hangs out in prep volleyball is really just a small portion of the young women and their parents who play volleyball. My 70’s perspective (I feel like I should be playing Crosby Stills and Nash and Traffic in the background here) on our sport is that its greatest value is that it helps our daughters learn that their body is something other than sexual capital.  At its best, the sport teaches young women to celebrate and take pride in what they can do with their bodies athletically and as part of a team.  I want to believe that a young woman who learns to train and control her body and will through sports also becomes a young woman who knows how to speak up for herself, even if that includes her growing up to be a pro-life activist.

There is nothing intrinsic about volleyball that guarantees this result.  Our sport has been responsible for fostering any number of negative body image problems that include a body fat obsession that has in many cases induced anorexia.  Second, there have been many cases of coaches whose system and philosophy were tantamount to physical and emotional abuse of our daughters.  At the extreme end, there have been a number of instances of sexual abuse in our sport that occurred much more recently than ten years ago.  

I haven’t said this even to the rest of my parent group, but at one point in our meeting with the commissioner, I mentioned the need to regulate against coaches who cross sexual lines with players as an area where parents have to have a say and need information that clubs might not give them.  The commissioner then quickly told me that fortunately there weren’t any problems with that in Northern California.  She may not have been aware of them, but it wasn’t completely true.  

To me, being a good volleyball parent is not simply a matter of paying bills, dropping my kid off at practice, and cheering at tournaments.  If my kid is in an unsafe or unhealthy situation, she needs to have the confidence that I’ll ask about it, do something about it, and speak up if I don’t get answers (something I’ve learned from my wife)  In that spirit, I also need to know that the money we spend on this in lieu of health insurance, vacations, or saving starving children in other parts of the world, is being used effectively.  If our daughters don’t see us speak up on their behalf, it makes it less likely that they’ll speak up for themselves.  To me, insisting on a region that communicates better than it has is part of being a fully “supportive” sports parent.  
Seeing the region’s bylaws and some form of the budget simply should be the right of any parent in youth sports.  Sadly, I have spent far too much of my time as a volleyparent speculating about who plays where and when or how teams are seeded.  While I still have plenty of interest those matters, I’ve honestly never considered it my right as a parent beyond knowing the what and the why behind those decisions. I also have no interest in running anyone’s tournaments or administering a region, I just want to know enough about it to make sure that my daughter’s right to a healthy-safe environment remains a priority with the region.

     Back to Volleyball

     One of the signs that most of the teams that belong in gold are currently in gold is that all three teams that came up from silver went back.  North Valley, though, certainly made it interesting in pool play.  They lost a very close  two game match with Vision 15-1 then outblocked and outmaneuvered the Empire 16  Mizuno team to easily take the first game of their match.  North Valley is not the sort of team that looks impressive in warm ups although they have good size.  Their setter #4 presented problems throughout the match making very good judgments, dumping effectively, and setting very quick threes to her middles before the Empire blockers could get in position.  North Valley took the first game 25-16.

One of the hard things about the current format is that the 2 vs. 3. match in pool play makes or breaks the entire day for one of those teams. One problem with the 3 team pool is that all 3 teams frequently go 1-1 and the actual difference between first and third is minimal.  If you finish third though the consequences are dire.  You drop into a bracket of four teams and can only survive by winning both matches.  When Empire got behind well into the second game and my daughter’s team was staring at the disinct possibility of having to figure out where the silver division played for league three.  Somehow Empire pulled out game 2 and came back again in game 3.  

During the day, I did finally meet Chris Crader and Souper Dave and it came out that we were actually at the same college in the same year, which is something that happens in California’s junior university system.  Oddly, that was the year before my older daughter started playing club volleyball.  Not long after that, the first junior volleyball website,, sprung up somewhere in the South Bay with a guy who had some sort of vision.  Apparently, he sold it for a net and a bag full of balls otherwise our online volley world might now look a bit different.

Higher level junior volleyball is never completely predictable.  Last time, I talked up the Vision 15’s as one of two teams with a slight edge over the rest of the pack.  Last time, Vision dispatched Empire very quickly.  When they turned up in the same pool, I assumed that it would be a good result if Empire just kept it close which they did 25-23 in the first game.  In the second game, Empire finally used its height advantage at the net, improved its defense, and for the first time this season played serious sixteens level volleyball.  Empire won in a close third game.  In fact, across the gym I’d say that the level of play advanced the way two more weeks of practice and another tournament of strong competition should make it advance.  In that very basic, ultimately important sense, the region is working quite well.  

After somehow not seeing City Beach 15’s all last year and missing this year’s City Beach 16’s team, the League 2 playoffs were my first look at what may be the most physically-talented team in the region.  First off, Morgan O’neill, a 5’9” outside who I think is still a 9th grader, is a very physical hitter who is an active defender, understands positioning on the court, and when given an open 4 will put the ball away with the force and at an angle that makes observers take notice. City Beach’s other left, Katherine Douglas also consistently delivers high-hard swings.  Both lefts are well-trained and appear to know how to hit smart as well as hard.  

If it ended there, Beach would have a very competitive gold level team.  Lyncee Mendalia who comes from that peninsula volleyball town, Salinas, is imo an excellent libero.  On one point, she went back to the net to chase a hard hit ball to the baseline, reached an arm to her left without full turning around, and turned it into a clean dig.  Very few athletes can outrun a well hit volleyball, keep track of it, and maintain any level of control over the contact because the act combines foot speed, vision, and shoulder strength that few people have all at once.

Beach also has not one but two tall setters with good hands in Blair Safir and Melissa Costello, (Costello looks to be the stronger hitter and Safir appeared to be the more mobile of the two which helps because she goes to Bishop O’dowd in Oakland).  Sophia Dunworth and Caitlin Baxter give them athletic middles.  Dunworth is from Amador Valley which makes for a beach that stretches pretty darn far.

Now that I’ve said this, I watched Delta Valley play them very competitively in the crossover match.  I enjoy watching the younger Delta teams because they have a distinctive more or less aikido approach to the game.  Instead of overpowering opponents, Delta teams tend to be about angles, balance, and quickness.  They play two smallish rightsides and any five players on the floor at one time handle the ball well not just passing but setting too. The Delta approach depends on all the players having strong court awareness and moving quickly to the right spot as the play demands. One thing I’m not sure about though is they do a fair amount of hitting balls overhand, flat footed from behind the ten foot line.  In general, I’ve long wondered if the error/advantage ratio for this kind of play works out.  Taking full swings at overpasses is another favorite question of mine.  Last year, Delta 15’s just weren’t very tall.  This year, they added a six foot middle in Taylor Brown who gives them the ability to match up better against bigger teams.  

You don’t see a lot of booming swings from this year’s Delta 16’s, but what I’ve noticed is that this particular version knows how to compete.  You can watch fifteen points where the other team gets three or four spectacular kills and Delta wins eight of the points with someone like Lisa Fowlkes consistently finding holes in the floor and the defense.  If you lose to Delta, you’ll feel like you didn’t play well at all, but I suspect that’s not what really happened.  After Delta lost in two very close games with City Beach, they came back and beat Empire in a three game match that Empire was in position to win at 23-22 in the second.  After going down in the third 5-0, Empire took an 8-7 lead then missed three serves down the stretch including match point, Ouch!

I also have one of these horrible volley parent confessions to make.  One of my friends in the east bay who I hadn’t seen in two years came to meet me for lunch yesterday.  I hadn’t seen the guy in close to two years and yet there was about a ten minute stretch where I watched the Delta/City Beach match which didn’t involve my own daughter rather than visit with him.  He’s threatening to make me attend his kids’ swim meet at the pool next to the Diablo Valley College gym.  

Oddly, Empire’s Power League 2 result was identical to league 1, but this time the team actually played well for much of the day.  In this format, where you place doesn’t tell the whole story in terms of how well your team may have played.  To have a good day, it’s essential that you win the right matches, the 2 vs. 3 in pool and the crossover.

Each time I glance over at a Golden Bear match, the score seems to be 26-27.  They took third place for the day and I noticed the very tall Ayeesha Ellis having an impact in the middle in close matches with Gold Cal and Yahoo.  

The final this time matched Vision 16’s the 1 seed against City Beach 16’s.  The two teams remains very close.  I’d say Beach has more hitting options, but Vision currently is slightly tougher mentally particularly on out of system points.  For the second league in a row, I noticed that Vision tends to set right side Taylor Smith on critical points and that she delivers consistently.  Katherine Knox also gives them a dynamic hitter from the left to answer the two City Beach lefts.  Knox, City Beach’s O’neill, and Smith, all go to Archbhisop Mitty, who along with Amanda Gill should make Mitty a serious contender for prepvolleyball mythical national champion status in 0’7 if not in 0’6 (no, I don’t have any influence on John’s high school or club rankings nor should I).

After an extremely tight first game that went into extra innings, Vision won the second game by never relinquishing a one to two point lead until they pulled away at the twenty point mark.  I imagine Will Yuen drove home feeling pretty good.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to soon returning to being the sort of volleyparent who just watches matches.  This Thursday, my daughter and her team leave for Crossroads, without the guitarist Robert Johnson.  She’s bugging me to reactivate her cell phone least she meet up with Herbert Packer in some Colorado cafeteria.  She tells me, “Dad, if you expect me to speak up for myself how can I without a phone that does text messages and pictures?”

Read more!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Letter to NCVA from group (parents) volleyball

In the interest of being open about communication from the parent group to the NCVA and vice versa, I'm posting the below letter from the parent group in response to the e-mail from the Commissioner. As I wrote earlier, I believe that we can ultimately improve communications between parents and the Region and help to make certain that parent concerns are heard by whoever happens to be on the board.

For those not in the region, I believe that in all youth sports parents should assert their right to participate in governance, know their bylaws, and be aware of the organizational budget both for their clubs and the governing body for their region. Most states lay out clear duties for any public benefit corporation and 501 (c) (3)'s are required by the IRS to provide copies of form 990, which may not be the same as the budget, but is a good first guide.


Dear Ms. Donaghy and Ms. Mazzei,

As we have stated from the beginning, our only interest has been to provide input to the NCVA as parents who want to help improve the level and quality of our communications  with you by clarifying the way the region works for our children, for us, and for Northern California volleyball.  We ask the board and the region to work with us rather than against us in that effort.       

On behalf of the parent group who met with you at the Bladium on March 4, I first wanted to say that we are troubled by your apparent sudden change of position on certain key matters and the tone of your most recent e-mail. At the meeting, you had stated that the bylaws were available and in fact were substantially identical to the bylaws of the other regions.  You had indicated that you considered all the requests in the agenda presented to you, including the request for a budget, as “doable”.  You had also indicated that the board did not need to be involved in these discussions, but now tell us that the board has not conferred any official “status” on the group which raises the concern that our meetings as currently configured may not lead anywhere.

In light of that, we are making the following formal requests.

1.  While we are happy to hear that the soon to be “revised” bylaws will be posted on the NCVA website, we believe that the membership should have some familiarity with what’s being revised and the opportunity to offer input to the board about possible revisions, additions, and changes to those bylaws. On behalf of my daughter who is an NCVA member, I request a copy of the current bylaws.  I would prefer to have a copy mailed rather than to physically visit the NCVA office.

Under California Corporations Code 5160 or 7160 (we're not sure at this point if NCVA is public benefit or a mutual benefit corporation)
  1. Every corporation shall keep at its principal office in thisstate the original or a copy of its articles and bylaws as amended todate, which shall be open to inspection by the members at allreasonable times during office hours.  If the corporation has nooffice in this state, it shall upon the written request of any memberfurnish to such member a copy of the articles or bylaws as amendedto date.

  1. We would also like to request copies of the last seven IRS form 990’s filed by the NCVA.  Under IRS regulations, anyone can request three years of the  990 form, which is essentially a matter of public record.  We were surprised that the commissioner of the region seemed to be unaware that the board chair considers the “budget” per se a private matter and that you did not in its stead mention the 990 form.  The regs provide that it’s reasonable to charge a dollar for the cover page and 15 cents for each ensuing page.  The standard 990 is 17 pages.  I am enclosing a check to NCVA for twenty dollars under separate cover (in the mailed version of this letter) to cover the costs of copying and production both for the 990’s and the copy of the bylaws.

  1. The group requests the opportunity to attend the next NCVA board meeting to approach the board about officially recognizing a parent “study” sub-committee to include one director and at least three currently active parents of NCVA juniors to a) look into the concerns presented in our March agenda, b)to collect information about the effectiveness of the Region,  c) and to present recommendations to the board.  

     If a director is not available to serve as a member of the sub-committee, we request that the board grant the sub-committee the full inspection powers of a director.

  1. The group requests a list of all upcoming board meetings with proposed agendas.  This includes any meeting that will consider changes to current bylaws or adoption of new bylaws.  In addition, we would like notice of any meeting at which the board selects its directors or nominates new directors.  Under California Corporations Code, this is supposed to take place annually.  We are concerned that a substantial numbers of the individuals we spoke with had never seen the current bylaws.  To change them without discussion with the major stakeholders in the region would possibly be a violation of the directors’ duties under Corporations Code.  

  1. On behalf of my daughter, I am requesting a list of all members  of the NCVA with addresses and contact information as provided under Corporations Code 6330 (a) (1) or 8330 (a)(1) so that even more parents and members may participate in providing input to this group.  

     We do appreciate your having met with us at the Bladium.  In light of the busy schedule this month outlined in your e-mail, we believe that it makes more sense for our group to meet directly with the board of directors and hope that you will be able to provide us with some dates when that can happen.  In the meantime, we look forward to working with the board and staff to resolve these issues.

Chancelucky volleyball links

Read more!

NCVA response (parent issues) volleyball

I got the following e-mail from Donna Donaghy shortly after our meeting on Saturday.  I’m a little less optimistic about this latest attempt to work with NCVA because (maybe it's me) but the tone was not encouraging, but remain hopeful that we can work things through. I’ll be posting the followup shortly.


Per your request for the NCVA by-laws, Diane Mazzei has informed be that the by-laws are under review/updated at this time and will be available on the NCVA webpage as soon as possible and that our budget is not open to the public.
I have meetings, and/or events that I am required to attend, all NCVA related, every weekend for the month of March. I can meet in the evenings during the week. At this time I have meetings scheduled for the evenings of March 13th, 15th, 23rd and the 31st. As I said this is a very busy time for me. Anytime after 7:00 PM will work. I am not sure of a place, I am not sure were everyone is coming from.
I would like to make it clear, so that we do not have any misunderstandings, that I have agreed to meet with your group to discuss and answer any questions you may have. I believe it is important to communicate with all stakeholder groups.
The NCVA/ Board does not recognize this group as an official parent group/committee of the NCVA. that I or the NCVA has given you or this group any authority, responsibility and that I do not guarantee any out come from these meetings. I will share the discussions that we have had with the Board.
Can you give me some insight as how or if you are planning to communicate the contents of our meetings to others outside the four in the group?
Chancelucky volleyball links

Read more!