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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Musical Week

If someone tells you it’s hard to find good live music in Louisville they haven't been looking in the right places.  In the space of about a week we attended three amazing, foot-stomping concerts, and no doubt missed some other good ones.

First, at the Palace Theater, a week ago Thursday, we were the geezers amongst a happy, mostly young crowd.  The Avett Brothers rocked out at the first of a three-night stand.  The Avett Brothers’ repertoire defies simple categorizations: western swing, bluegrass, Christian hymns, and calypso.  

The crowd seemed to know every word.  Three young women in the row in front of us, cute as any coeds I've seen, bounced, danced and sang along.  I wasn’t a big fan of the Avett Brothers.  At least until now.  The "kids" are ok if this is the music they are rocking to.

On the following Sunday, one of those gorgeous fall days where you can’t bear to stay inside, we went to the riverfront to see the riverboat festival.  A variety of music drifted towards the best viewing areas as we waited to see the riverboats take off on their race.  We didn’t care who won the race.  It was just a great excuse to be outside on a glorious day.

At the main stage we heard some jazz and also a band called the Billy Goat Strut Review, complete with a female torch singer, a slide trombone, a sax, and a washboard, along with the usual instruments, guitars and percussion.  They played some of the music my Mom use to play on the piano.  Some mixture of old-timey, bluegrass and honky-tonk.

As the Billy Goats left the stage and we were getting ready to head back to our car we were almost run over by the March Madness Marching Band from Lexington.  They marched right through the crowd.  The band members, dressed as pirates and gypsies, played all sorts of outlandish instruments, danced and marched.  Very fun.

To wrap up the week of musical fun we went to the Clifton Center this past Thursday to hear the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Rhiannon Giddens belted out Waterboy, an Odetta song, covered Leadbelly, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Jean Ritchie, as well as singing a foreign language song, perhaps in Gaelic. The Carolina Chocolate Drops also did Sandy Boys, Hit ‘em Up Style, and Snowden’s Jig (Genuine Negro Jig).

The “Drops” played a variety of instruments, including an 1859 replica banjo with an amazing sound as well as bones, some made of wood and some of actually bone, which brought an authenticity to the minstrel songs. Rhiannon talked about the history of minstrel music and how the banjo was one of the ways African Americans had shared music with white Americans.

The memorable opening act, Birds of Chicago joined the encore, which included Read ‘em John. By then, Rhiannon also had invited a tall, thin young man, dressed in bib overalls, who had been among the concert-goers dancing in the aisles, to join them on stage.  He said his friends called him “Long legs” and he danced like George Clooney in “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?”, only better.

“Wow!” the first word out of my mouth at the end of the concert.  My husband simultaneously said the same thing, as did the friendly stranger who had been sitting next to me.  We all were standing on our feet applauding after the encore, wishing for more.  

The next day, as my spouse and I ate breakfast, we both were singing the words to one song that had wormed its way into our ears:  “Corn bread, butter beans and you across the table…”

I capped the week of foot-stomping music by buying my own pair of foot-stomping boots for our next concert.  

*This column was written with significant contributions from my spouse who forty five years ago this Halloween took me on a first date to listen to a concert. He now has taken me to more concerts than I can count.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Allison Grimes vs. McConnell: Who is the Truth Teller?

Relying on her right, under the Kentucky Constitution’s guarantee of privacy in the ballot box, Kentucky Democratic Senate Candidate Allison Lundergan Grimes has refused to say whom she voted for in the last two Presidential elections. As a result, she has been pilloried by the media, including the supposedly liberal press.

However, Grimes refusal to answer that one question is not even in the same ballpark as the dishonesty and lack of candor we see from McConnell. The good Senator, who has fed at the public trough for the last three decades, wouldn't even meet with the Courier Journal to answer ANY questions. How about some editorials saying the public has a right to expect its public servants to meet with the press and answer at least SOME questions? I think this should be Strike One for McConnell.

And when McConnell does speak he does so not only with a lack of candor but an egregious lack of honesty. For example, our current Senator McConnell, who happens to be the Senate Minority leader, claims to be ignorant about climate change.  Probably the greatest problem facing our times. He’s either dishonest or grossly incompetent to do his current job.
Strike Two.

Senator McConnell, who has made his mission for the last eight years to try to bollix up Washington and our government to the point of deadlock, also claims that KYnect, the popular health care web site in Kentucky, that was made possible by the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed “Obamacare”, can continue even if McConnell’s is successful in “rooting out” Obamacare. Some have called McConnell’s claim “disingenuous”. It’s not. It’s such a giant lie that McConnell’s nose should be a foot long.

You see, KYConnect, is popular in Kentucky became it has resulted in health insurance for half a million Kentuckians. Obamacare, on the other hand, is still as unpopular in Kentucky as the President whose name it bears.  Go figure—since KYConnect and Obamacare are one and same in Kentucky.

McConnell’s claims are bald-faced lies. That’s Strike Three. 

Still, the media is trashing Grimes as if her refusal to answer an irrelevant question is the same as McConnell’s lies. Once again, go figure.

I think we need to get a grip on what is really happening.  McConnell is waiting to have one more “gotcha” to tie Grimes to the President because of his unpopularity in Kentucky. An unpopularity that is undeserved given his many accomplishments. Maybe it’s time we called things by their real names. And it’s long since time for us to call McConnell OUT.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Creative Problem Solving

I stumbled on a couple of interesting, apparently unrelated, pieces that got me to thinking we have been looking at problem solving all wrong.

First, on the way to an aerobics class at the gym I caught part of a fascinating story on public radio. The person who was being interviewed has written a book about his mathematical insights. He had been an ordinary guy, managing a futon store, and before that, a mediocre student in school. The latter achievement only because he paid a better student to do his homework.

Then, he was hit in the back of the head by two muggers. That was about 10-12 years ago.   Suddenly, on the way home from the hospital, he had these new insights. The world literally looked different to him.  And he now has come up with amazing mathematical innovations and insights. He goes around lecturing, developing curriculum for schools, and writing amazing books about math. Previously his least favorite subject.

As with most things on public radio, since I listened to it in the car on the way to run errands or go to the gym, I didn't hear the whole thing and may have gotten a few details wrong. I didn't catch either the math guy’s name or the title of his book.  But I suppose if you really wanted to find it you could Google the topic "smacks to head resulting in math genius". How many stories about that topic can there be?

When I got back from my exercise class and was trying to work up the energy to do something more for the rest of the day, I read a few articles in the New York Times. One title struck me—“How Exercise May Protect Against Depression”. Feeling smug, I had just exercised after all, and thus apparently had unknowingly kept depression away, I read the article.

The article was based on mice subjects. They are small and easy to keep, they get stressed like people, and although scientists are not yet psychoanalyzing them, at least I don’t think there are any mice psychoanalysts, the scientists can extrapolate when the mice are depressed from certain micely behaviors.

So using mice to run on little tread mills or whatever to see if the exercise relieves symptoms of stress makes sense. But, as I read further, I discovered the scientists did not make the mice run on little tread mills, or engage in some other sweaty exercise. Instead, the little mice subjects had not been exercising at all. The scientists took a short cut and got mice that already had the muscle chemistry of mice who had exercised. These lazy mice just sat around drinking sugar water since that's one of the behaviors of non-depressed mice. Sort of like a lot of soda-guzzling people.

At that point in the story I felt like I’d had a smack upside the head. Why were people suppose to go to the gym and exercise when you apparently can get muscles that already act like they’ve been exercising? And why weren’t scientists exploring whether people could bypass this whole sweat and fatigue thing at the gym and just jump ahead to the pre-exercised muscles?

Going back to the story about the new math genius, you have to wonder if a good “hit upside the head” (I picture a sort of  Gibbs-from NCIS-smack, typically given to Tony DiNozzo when he needs to have his attention refocused) might be just what the scientists need to get them thinking in a totally new direction.

And is that’s all anyone of us needs to utilize our full creative powers? Maybe I’ll just smack myself in the head rather than go sweat in the gym. No telling what insights I may have.