Friday, December 31, 2010

Indie Classical: Terrific New Sounds that Cross Musical Boundaries

Morning Edition, the NPR news show, ran a interesting story today on "indie classical" music, a border-crossing blend of classical, jazz and other musical styles that is thriving on small record labels.

To our admittedly untrained ears, these were exciting sounds—fun, innovative and hip.

It was brand new music to us, which is one of the joys of NPR. We listen and learn every day,  discovering amazing and creative people in the arts. That's why we love Tulsa's NPR station, KWGS 89.5.

The NPR music link, with several audio samples, is here.

Inspired Viewing in Tulsa: "The King's Speech"

The AT crew went to Tulsa's Circle Cinema the other day to see The King's Speech, the inspiring new film from director Tom Hopper.

Starring the sturdy Colin Firth, The King's Speech is a historical drama that examines the troubled (and sometimes humorous) relationship between the Duke of York (Firth) and his unorthodox speech therapist (wonderfully played by the Australian actor Geoffery Rush).

Set on the eve of World War II, the film moves from the soon-to-be King's personal failings to the rise of Hitler's power on the continent. The story, based on actual events, is affecting and powerfully constructed, a testament to the filmmaker and his actors.

We were especially pleased to see the lovely Helena Bonham Carter (playing the Duke's wife) and the sublime Jennifer Ehle, in a smaller role as the therapist's wife).

We recommend seeing the film at the Circle Cinema, Tulsa's non-profit art house theater, While you're there, check out the progress the Circle is making on its two new theaters—can't wait. It's going to be terrific.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Recent Reading: Sherman Alexie's "Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian"

Sherman Alexie is one funny man. His books are sharply observed, clever and irreverent, a verbal roller coaster of contemporary Native American consciousness.

His 2007 young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is no exception. It's hilarious, honest, heart-breaking and ultimately redeeming. The book is not for the squeamish, which is to say that it speaks frankly about the problems of adolescence (read: sex).

Alexie's hero is Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, a Spokane Indian, who leaves his reservation school for the nearby all-white school. The transition is brutal and sometimes sad, but Junior rises to the many challenges of his new environment.

If that's not enough of an enticement to read True Diary, consider the prizes it has won. There's the National Book Award, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner, BookSense #1 Pick, a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, and many other prizes and awards.

And if the awards don't impress, remember where we started: Sherman Alexie is funny.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Haley Barbour Friend: Yazoo City Was That Bad

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour poked a hornet's nest recently when he suggested that his hometown, Yazoo City, wasn't such a bad place during the civil rights years in the 1960s.

Barbour, a national Republican leader who campaigned in Oklahoma for Gov.-elect Mary Fallin, was wrong, of course. But Barbour's remarks, made in The Weekly Standard, are one more sign of Barbour's unreconstructed view of the South, a view at odds with the reality of the Jim Crow era.

Fortunately, other Yazoo City folks have a more clear-eyed memory of the past. Read it here: Yazoo City was that bad.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Obama's Latest Plot: Giving Manhattan Back to the Native Americans (Not!)

The right-wing myth machine never ceases to amaze. Not content to claim that President Obama is (1) foreign born (Keyna!), (2) a secret Muslim (of course), (3) an anti-American socialist (naturally!) and so on, now the Wingnuts claim that he's planning to give Manhattan back to the Indians. 

Obama would do that, wouldn't he? Sure, it makes perfect sense for this America-hating, Christian-hating foreigner.

It's baloney, as always, but the right-wingers keep beating this horse, hoping against hope that one of these myths will lead to the Real Truth about the Great Satan, er, President Obama.

We've said it before, but it's worth repeating: Political arguments should be based on facts and evidence, not rumor and speculation. The right's continuing failure to make its case based on some semblance of reality undermines its claims to be taken seriously. (Glenn Beck, anyone? Sean Hannity? Rush?)

Read the full-bore nuttiness here.

Oklahoma Business Leaders Push to Update Outdated Liquor Laws

Better late than never: Oklahoma's outdated liquor laws are coming under fire from state business leaders.

Unlike many neighboring states (Texas and New Mexico, for instance), Okies can't even buy wine in the grocery stores.

But that may change if some business leaders get their way. Past efforts to reform the liquor laws have faltered, however, due to resistance from existing business interests and some church groups.

Read it here: Changing the liquor laws.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Haley Barbour Goes Wild: Mississippi Republican Governor Racks Up Big Jet Costs

Mississippi's Republican governor, Haley "Big Boy" Barbour, would love to be president. But Barbour's plans for the White House keep getting sidetracked by Barbour's bad judgment.

Barbour, former chair of the Republican National Committee and one-time lobbyist, was in hot water recently when he downplayed the civil rights struggle in the South. As Barbour remembers the turbulent 1960s in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the problems of segregation weren't all that bad.

Barbour is from a prominent family in Yazoo City—a prominent white family. No wonder his world view was so rosy.

Now we learn that Barbour has racked up major expenses—in excess of $500,000—flying the Mississippi state jet here, there and pretty much everywhere. The full details are here.

By the way, Oklahoma Gov.-elect Mary Fallin had Barbour in Oklahoma during her successful campaign. A bit of advice for Gov. Fallin: This guy is trouble. Keep your distance.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tea Party Fail in Alaska: Joe Miller Loses Another Court Case

Ah yes, another Tea Party candidate has gone down in flames. 

We're talking about Joe Miller, the Tea Party's man in Alaska. He's the guy who lost to incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski, who managed to beat him as a write-in candidate. 

That's a Tea Party rejection—a huge one in Sarah Palin's Alaska.

Today the Alaska Supreme Court slammed the door on Miller's court challenge to Murkowski's electoral victory. Goodbye Joe!

The legal details here.

Oklahoma's Uphill Battle over Sharia Law Ban

The Great State of Oklahoma will be spending its precious resources next year defending the voter-approved ban on sharia law. From what we can tell, this is likely to be a losing legal battle.

As USA Today recently reported, constitutional law expert at the University of California-Irvine, Edwin Chemerinsky, says "the Oklahoma law won't stand because it discriminates against one religion and violates the requirement for 'full faith and credit' which requires Oklahoma courts to enforce judgments from other states and countries."

Moreover, as Randall Coyne, constitutional law expert at OU points out, "There's no risk of Oklahoma falling under the sway of sharia law or any other law other than American law for that matter. It's fear mongering at its worst."

Imagine that—the Republicans fear mongering in the Sooner state.

The Year in Crazy: TPM's Nominees for the 2010 Golden Duke Awards

Our friends over at Talking Points Memo (TPM) have compiled a list of nominees for the Golden Dukes, a dishonorable award for outstanding political weirdness.

Among this year's honorees are Christine O'Donnell, Tea Party favorite and conservative activist from Delaware, and Tom Tancredo, the nutty former Colorado congressman and anti-immigrant gadfly.

But there's more, including the unhinged Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert. Read all about the nominees here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Coburn Blasted by (Gasp!) Fox News Anchor over September 11 First Responder Bill

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn is once again putting principle above people. Coburn, an unabashed budget hawk, has been criticized for blocking a bill—one that is paid for!—to provide health care to the September 11 first responders. 

Coburn's opposition is so cynical that it has come under fire from Shep Smith at Fox News, an organization usually happy to stand up for right-wing ideas. But not this time.

To repeat, the cost of this bill is covered by closing some significant corporate tax loopholes. (Not surprisingly, the wonderful humanitarians at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are fighting the bill too.)

Given the rising opposition from Fox's Smith and other pundits, Coburn appears to be fighting a losing battle, one he would do well to give up. The story, with Fox News video, is here.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rep. Anthony Weiner on Tax Cuts for the Rich

From CBS, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner on the rich getting richer at the expense of the middle class:
I simply don't believe that someone who makes $1 million should get a $116,000 tax cut for Christmas," Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), one of the deal's most vocal opponents, said on CBS' "The Early Show" this morning. "Today in America, the top 1 percent of the country makes as much as the next 25 percent. We need to stand up for the middle class. I think the very well-to-do have already had their piece."
Like Weiner, most Democrats framed their opposition to the deal as a matter of moral principle. Several other lawmarkers, pundits and political operatives -- on both sides of the issue -- have also taken that tack.

Zing! Jon Stewart Blasts GOP for Blocking 9/11 First Responder Bill

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Voice of Heartbreak: George Jones

AltTulsa is interested in all sorts of topics, everything from politics to poetry, from biography to the arts. We also enjoy music (but who doesn't?), even some of the old country crooners like George Jones. 

Jones has long amazed music fans with the particular quality of his voice, a voice that is sad, lonely, even heartbreaking. So we weren't too surprised when NPR featured Jones in its Fifty Great Voices series.

Courtesy of NPR, you can hear the voice (and see video clips) here.

Mapping the U.S. Population: A Visualization of New Census Data

The AT gang is mathematically challenged, but we do love a good map. For some reason we can't explain, maps are wonderful and—we hate to say it—educational

That's why we were intrigued by this census map we found at the NY Times site. Type in a zip code— and presto!—population data shows up of several kinds of maps.

Check it out for yourself at this link:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Gun Ban that Never Was: Fear-mongering Runs Out of Steam

Remember the right-wing hysteria over Obama's "gun grabber" policies, the claim that his administration would take firearms away from all us good ole boys and girls?

Buy your guns now, citizens, before the liberal put a stop to private ownership of firearms.

Even if you don't recall these claims, this baloney was a favorite anti-Obama meme among conservatives and the NRA. "Obama is coming for our guns," they said, over and over again in one form or another.

Now, two years into the Obama Administration—surprise!—there's no gun grabbing going on, not a bit. Turns out, this bit of nonsense was whipped up by the gun nuts and conservatives as a part of the misinformation and hyperbole over a Democrat winning the White House.

The misinformation campaign continues, of course, but the gun grabbing has, well, fizzled. As have gun sales, since the public has grown increasingly weary of the right's scare tactics.

Read about declining gun sales here: The end of the Obama firearm "surge".

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Empty Chair: China's Shame at Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony

Folks who keep up with international human rights (that would be us) have been dismayed with China's reactionary response to the Nobel Peace Prize, an award that went to the Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo.

At last week's ceremony, Liu Xiaobo was absent because he's in prison in China for his free speech and human rights activities. He was represented in Oslo by an empty chair. 

Writing in The New York Review of Books, Perry Link has a moving report from Oslo and the significance of the empty chair. Link's essay is here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Poor Taste, Bad Judgment: Westboro Church to Picket Elizabeth Edwards' Funeral

Those holier-than-thou members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, say they will picket the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards.

That's right, fellow Okies, the Westboro gang is not satisfied with picketing the funerals of soldiers who died defending the nation, now they are going after political wives.

This is nasty and hateful business, but it's the sort of things some Bible-thumping idiots like Fred Phelps do to get attention for their ultra-fundamentalist (read: nutty) causes.

The Westboro folks have a right to hold extreme opinions and to express them, but they should take their protests to an appropriate public location or forum. There are times and places for their brand of dissent. But the funerals of soldiers and political spouses are not the place for hate speech.

Read the story here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dr. Tom's Errors: Coburn Wrong on Tax Bill

Oklahomans don't expect much from our elected representatives, but some familiarity with the facts seems to be the least we can ask.

Unfortunately, Sen. Tom Coburn has gummed up the details on the latest Washington tax package. Coburn spoke today about the middle-class tax cuts under consideration in Washington, but some of his figures were, well, bogus.

Oklahomans can (and do) disagree about policy issues of all sorts, but that doesn't mean we can make up our own facts. At some point, the rhetoric and grandstanding has to stop so that we can move on to debates about real numbers and actual policy effects.

Coburn, unlike his colleague Jim (War on Christmas) Inhofe, is usually more honest about these matters. But today, no so much. The facts are here.

Tulsa Chumps of the Week: Councilors Westcott, Mautino & Turner

Three Tulsa city councilors played the conservative religious card today, attempting to stop the annual Holiday Parade of Lights because the event has dropped Christmas from its title.

The action was prompted by Sen. Jim Inhofe, who has made an issue of the name change and said he won't participate in the parade until "Christmas" is returned to the title.

It's a tempest in a teapot, of course, part of a completely phony "war of Christmas" that Fox News gins up every December. Naturally, Inhofe and others pretend this is a serious problem, but there's little evidence that it is.

There are also legal problems at stake here, such as the city attempting to ban a parade based on its title. As several authorities have noted, this runs afoul of the First Amendment on its face, since the amendment prohibits the government from banning speech it doesn't approve of.

Here's part of the Tulsa World's online report on today's vote:
Tulsa's Holiday Parade of Lights will march forward Saturday after the City Council in a 5-3 vote approved its special event application at a special Tuesday meeting. 
Councilors Bill Christiansen, G.T. Bynum, Chris Trail, Maria Barnes and Jack Henderson voted in favor of the permit, while Councilors Rick Westcott, Jim Mautino and Roscoe Turner were against it. Councilor John Eagleton was absent. 
Councilors who were opposed to issuing the permit were protesting the annual event dropping "Christmas" from its title, which actually occurred two years ago. 
Council Attorney Drew Rees advised councilors that it was not in their purview to vote down the permit…. 
Westcott, Mautino and Turner should know better that to fall for this sort of nonsense, but—hey!—pandering to the religious right is a long and dishonorable tradition in Oklahoma, so we can't say we are surprised.

Don't Tell Inhofe: GOP Leader Hosting Festivus Party (Oh the Horror!)

Since Tulsa's own Jim Inhofe is convinced that the forces of political correctness have hijacked Christmas in Oklahoma, it may come as a surprise to the senator that other Republicans are doing their part to undermine the holiday. 

Take Rep. Eric Cantorplease. Cantor is hosting a non-Christmas holiday party. As far as we can tell, this Festivus party doesn't detract from Christmas in the least, even though Inhofe (and Fox News) would have us believe otherwise.
In what may been seen as another salvo in the War on Christmas, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) is hosting a fundraiser in honor of Festivus, the satirical holiday created by the TV program “Seinfeld.” Cantor and his supporters will “air the year’s grievances and perform the feats of strength, both important parts of Festivus, a grumpy, anti-consumerist holiday popularized by Frank Costanza.”

Friday, December 3, 2010

Oklahoma Republican of the Week: Sen. Harry Coates of Seminole

Gotta love Oklahoma's family values legislators, men like Harry Coates, a Republican state senator from Seminole.

It's guys like Coates who are protecting our families against all that sin and corruption of the liberal left, backroom deals, corruption, the lamestream media, and assorted other ethical lapses and political miscreants.

Oh wait. There's Coates on the front page of the Tulsa World, something about the 60-year-old senator's sexual affair with a 29-year-old.

Ok, that's not good. But at least his private failing doesn't have anything to do with official state business. 

What's that? The 29-year-old is a lobbyist for a company who wants a state contract. Really? And Coates supported that company. Couldn't be! And now there are serious questions about the entire process and the political wheeling and dealing behind it.

Oh, this is worse than we thought—and another black eye for the "family values"vision in the Sooner state.

Sen. Harry Coates, one more pro-family (and, hey, pro-gun!) conservative leader who has fallen from grace.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tea Party Hypocrisy: Anti-Spending Lawmakers Want Their Earmarks

You can have it both ways, at least if you are a hypocritical Tea Party official.

Yes, the newly elected Tea Party windbags want to cut all sorts of federal spending—except for the pork-barrel spending in their own jurisdictions. 

It's classic conservative baloney, but some conservative voters may get their dander up when they realize they've been duped by the Tea Party gang, which looks more and more like politics as usual.

Read the story here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Jim Inhofe: Cultural Warrior—or Big Baby?

Since we all know that Christmas is under attack by secularists all over Oklahoma (!), we are pleased to report that "Oklahoma Jim"—Tulsa's own invincible (and self-appointed) Christian war horse, is on the job.

We can all sleep well tonight!

We're refering, of course, to Inhofe's declaration that he will boycott the Tulsa Christmas Parade—oh wait, it's now the Secularist-Humanist Winter Carnival and Gay Orgy (Ha!)—because it no longer has "Christmas" in the title.

Officially, it's the Holiday Parade of Lights—a name that includes our Jewish friends as well as friends of other faiths—but that's an affront to Inhofe's oh-so-tender religious faith.

This is one of Inhofe's "Christianity correct" gimmicks, one that makes the state a laughing stock in the rest of the nation.

To wit: Steve Benen, writing in the (highly anti-Christian, apparently) Washington Monthly:
Have you noticed that a few too many powerful federal officials appear to have the maturity and temperament of small children?

What's more, Right Wing Watch added, "Inhofe's involvement in the annual "War on Christmas" demagoguery should not be a surprise, as he is one of the Senate's most prominent culture warriors and even said that he tries to use his status as a Senator to convert people to Christianity."

States with the Lowest Divorce Rates: Massachusetts, Yes! (Oklahoma, No!)

Oklahoma's conservative politicians like boast about the Sooner state's traditional values—it's all "sweetness and light" out here on the prairies. (Recently guilty: Republicans Mary Fallin, Scott Pruitt, Randy Brogdon.)

That's a myth, of course, since the facts don't bear out those family values people always want to crow about.

Today's telling example: the state's divorce rate, which is, in fact, high. Yes, Sooner fans, Oklahoma is the state with the seventh highest divorce rate. (Thank goodness for Arkansas, which is even higher.)

The state with the lowest divorce rate is—wait for it—Massachusetts, arguably the nation's most liberal state. The list of the low divorce states, with a link to the high ones, is here.

Coburn Blows It: Dr. Tom Goes Wrong (as Usual) on Food Safety

The U.S. Senate passed a food safety bill yesterday—with bipartisan support. In other words, the Republicans actually voted in favor of government helping the people.

Oh wait—not all Republicans. Oklahoma's own Tom Coburn, an opponent of all federal spending (or so it seems), thinks new federal rules will make things worse. This position holds that federal regulators are incompetent or corrupt, and that the food industry has a sterling record of self-regulation.

Both assertions are wrong, but that's not the kind of argument likely to sway an anti-spending True Believer like Coburn.

Here's how the Washington Post described the senator's positions:
The measure's most vocal opponent, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), argued that it would create layers of bureaucracy without making food safer.
"The problem with food safety is the agencies don't do what they're supposed to be doing now," he said. "They don't need more regulations. They need less."
Fortunately, Coburn lost. Meanwhile, the rest of us can, when the legislation becomes law, have more assurance that our eggs, peanut butter, spinach and other foods won't be contaminated and make us sick.