Saturday, August 29, 2009

Blanche Lincoln in trouble?

lincoln Here’s one of those stories that actually concerns me a bit. According to a recent poll, U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) enjoys a miserable 36 percent approval rating in this state.

Uh, Lincoln’s got an election coming up next year. The poll numbers can’t be good news for her.

Now, I’m a Republican so I should view that as good news, right? Actually, I’m not so sure.

Let me explain. First of all, Lincoln is a hell of a lot better than our other senator, Mark Pryor. He epitomizes the phrase “empty suit” and apparently believes that he is representing his party simply by voting the way the national Democrats want him to on each and every issue.

Lincoln, by contrast, is more than a bit different. I headed to Washington, D.C., back in 2006 with the organization I work for (they howl every time I mention them on this little blog, so they’ll remain nameless) and we were concerned about some health care legislation that died on the Senate floor. We asked both Pryor and Lincoln why they voted against the bill.

Pryor danced around the issue for awhile, claimed we didn’t have a health care bill allowing small businesses to join together and take advantage of the group rates large corporations enjoy because the Republicans were being unfair. Yes, it was all the fault of the Republicans, see, that the bill failed – they wouldn’t let the Democrats add any amendments and blah, blah, bloppity blah. Pryor’s whining and finger pointing are, sadly, commonplace. His father was equally mealy-mouthed and unimpressive as a U.S. senator.

When we asked Lincoln the same question, she looked us square in the eyes and said, “I didn’t vote for it because it’s a bad bill.” She then outlined what she thought a better bill would be and laid out her position very well. While we didn’t agree with her, she at least had the gumption to explain her vote and why she didn’t like the legislation at issue rather than blaming the Republicans and taking no responsibility for her vote. I can respect that.

Lincoln has, over the years, has demonstrated that she does have the interest of her constituents at heart and has typically attempted to listen to what we say instead of just following the party line. In short, I like the woman and I’ve voted for her twice.

Now, here’s the problem with her being in a potential rotten spot right before the November elections. I might feel a bit better about things if the Republicans could field a top notch candidate against her. However, there are nine Republicans (as of this writing) who may or may not run in the primaries and they range from trouble making gadflies to quality candidates that are a bit unknown.

If we were just talking about a straight-up race against the Republican primary winner and Lincoln, than that’s one thing. Hey, I’d love to see Gilbert Baker (who seems to change his mind daily about running) or Tom Cotton jump in the race and wind up in the Senate.

Ah, but we may not be talking about a race against Lincoln at all. No, State Sen. Bob Johnson (D-Bigelow) may run against Lincoln in the primaries. Given this state’s knack of voting for Republicans in presidential elections and sticking with Democrats in congressional races (out of our six-member congressional delegation, only one of them is a Republican), that worries me.

Frankly, Johnson sucks. Let’s look at some of the things he’s done that I absolutely detest:

* He sponsored legislation in 2005 allowing Hot Springs and West Memphis to hold elections allowing electronic games at those city’s race tracks (horse in the case of Hot Springs, greyhounds in the case of West Memphis). Those machines were approved, thus allowing us to continue the odd practice of allowing gambling in two cities but no other ones in Arkansas. Either ban it completely or let everyone have it. There’s no sense in allowing two groups to hold a monopoly and allowing them to make it more profitable by coming up with new ways to rip off the public is appalling.

* Also in 2005 (a banner year for Johnson, seemingly), he sponsored legislation that would allow Deltic Timber to to stick a housing development in the watershed of Lake Maumelle. The problem with that, of course, is that Lake Maumelle is central Arkansas’ primary water source. What the hell? Why back something that will clearly lead to more pollution of drinking water in the area? That effort – fortunately – failed.

* In 2006, he was in the middle of a controversy in the Arkansas Supreme Court. Justices found the Legislature’s method of providing funding for local projects violated the state constitution and pointed to Johnson’s $400,000 appropriate for road projects in Bigelow (his hometown) as a particularly glaring example of how the system was broken. Uh, Bigelow has about 300 people in it. What was that $400,000 used for and what kind of road project costs that much in Bigelow?

* Johnson backed that blasted cigarette tax last year to pay for a statewide trauma system (necessary) and a lot of other health-related stuff (probably not necessary). That measure passed and I’ve always had an objection to it. We voted to hold a statewide lottery that will generate cash for college scholarships. If, indeed, the money that is used for those scholarships now is replaced by lottery revenue, why not take that surplus and use it for a trauma system? He may call himself a conservative Democrat, but he’s sure as hell not a fiscal conservative. We could use a few of those right now.

* A few years ago when Republican Mike Huckabee was governor, Johnson – yet again – proved he loves spending those taxpayer dollars. He backed the governor’s plan to float $1 billion in bonds to pay for road repairs, see – a notion that infuriated a lot of us Republicans who’d like to see the government cut spending rather than increasing it and taking on more debt.

Again, Lincoln’s weak position in the polls may turn out to be a blessing if we get a strong Republican running for her Senate seat. However, I could well see a situation where that Johnson character gets in office and continues his spendthrift, pork-barreling ways on a national level.

He claims to be a conservative, rebel Democrat who is hard to define. That’s a bunch of nonsense as he’s fairly easy to define. If a project involves spending taxpayer dollars, you can bet he’ll be there pushing for it.

I think I’d prefer to see Lincoln have another term if Johnson is the alternative, honestly. I may not always agree with Lincoln, but I do like her and believe she’s looking out for the best interests of her constituents. I’m not quite sure what that Johnson character would do.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Get well, Crotchety!


Folks, one of the finest bloggers out there – the Crotchety Old Man – is laid up in the hospital.

I gave him a call today to check up on him and to wow him with my thick, hickish Arkansas drawl. He told me he’s without Internet access and will be for a bit because he’s quite ill. However, he mentioned that his wife is taking dictation so he can put up some posts and let us know how he’s doing.

I assume, then, that Mrs. Crotchety is also taking a peek at the man’s comments and reporting back to her ailing husband. To that end, I’d like to encourage each of you to head on over to Crotchety’s blog and post a comment.

Who knows? That might let him know a lot of people are thinking of him. At the very least, a slew of kind comments may cheer him up.

Think about it, huh? And, of course, I hope Crotchety is back and railing on his blog against things that annoy him. The blogosphere just isn’t the same without him.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wordless Wednesday – back to school


Well, my entry is a bit late but I figure it’s Wednesday somewhere, right? This photo is part of the famed Wordless Wednesday event, so click the link and head on over there to visit some of the other participants, huh?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Well, at least I don’t have to buy a new amplifier yet


I’ve been wanting a new guitar amplifier for the past few years.

See, I used to have a decent guitar amp and a couple of great guitars – a Fender Japanese Telecaster and an Alvarez acoustic.

My amp, wonderfully customized Telecaster and Alvarez were hauled down to the pawn shop over a decade ago when I was practicing law and needed to pay my rent. Yes, people who owed me money put me off back then, but my creditors didn’t extend the same courtesy. Bastards.

At any rate, I’ve since replaced my beloved Telecaster with a Fender Deluxe Stratocaster and have been playing through a Danelectro Nifty 50 practice amp for the past few years. The Danelectro is fine (the thing is an absolute tone monster), but it is very limited.

Rather than spending about $600 on one of those great Vox Valvetronix modeling amps I’ve been wanting for some time, I decided to drop about $40 on eBay for a Behringer Guitar Link. That’s a nifty little device that allows you to hook up your guitar (or bass) through your computer’s USB port and wail away.

The device came packaged with some recording software, an audio editor and some amp models – all of that stuff is OK and is good enough to get you started. The amp modeling phenomenon is great, indeed, in that you’ve got software that will mimic various amplifiers. The very limited package that came with the Guitar Link is made by Native Sounds and mimics three amps – the famed Vox that was used by the likes of the Beatles, what appears to be some kind of Fender tube amp and something that attempts to mimic a Marshall tube amp (Native Sounds, apparently, hasn’t bought the rights to “swipe” the legitimate names of the amps their software attempts to emulate).

Of course, the combo package is limited in that you can try three models for 30 days and can get one for free by typing in a serial number that comes with the Guitar Link. Native Sounds is obviously hoping people will move on up to it’s allegedly good (and certainly expensive) Guitar Rig 3 which contains a ton of amp models, a lot of effects and all sorts of things that sound great.

At any rate, I’ve learned a few things while messing with the Behringer Guitar Link and figured I’d bore you good people with all that now:

1. A lot of critics out there claim that these software modelers will never sound as good as real amplifiers. They’re probably right. Hey, there’s no substitute for owning a huge amp, turning it up as loud as you can without the cops showing up and beating your guitar to death. However, this Behringer stuff is great for practicing and recording some demo tracks. One of my favorite features of the package I’ve got is that I can lay down a rhythm track, play it back and solo over it. My 12-year-old son has asked for a Epiphone SG for Christmas and I’m glad to know he’ll be able to do something I never did – bang out a chord progression and practice playing leads over it. Pretty cool. If the kid gets good at playing guitar, maybe he’ll get a “big boy” Gibson SG and an expensive amp. He’s got to learn to walk before he can run, however, and the Behringer Guitar Link (and his practice amp) will serve him well for now.

2. I suck at guitar and I’m mad about it. As a young The Hawg, I took guitar lessons from a fellow in Benton who was well versed in classic country, another fellow here in Benton who could play anything from classic rock to angry punk noise and an aging hippy in Fayetteville who proved just how intricate, complex and absolutely exciting playing rhythm guitar on a Telecaster through a Fender Twin Reverb amp can be.

I never was a great guitarist, but I could at least hold my own. My timing has gone to hell, my fingers won’t do what I know they can do and my poor Strat sounds like it’s being mangled by a sloppy cat who doesn’t give a damn. Obviously, things are different now -- when I was in college I had plenty of time to play guitar. However, being married, having a job and raising kids changes things quite a bit. Also, I can't exactly justify cranking up an amp when people in the house are doing other things (homework, watching television -- living, you know?)

I haven’t practiced regularly in years, see, but the Guitar Link will (hopefully) allow me to make up for a lot of lost time. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get back in the form I was in back when I sang (yelped?) and played rhythm guitar in my college band – the famed Wacky Savages. Yes, you can here my golden Telecaster running clean through a Fender Twin Reverb by clicking here. Ignore my Johnny Rotten-inspired yelp, though. What the hell was I thinking?

3. The Behringer unit was cheap, but setting up right might cost a bit of money. I’ve already had to buy a 1/8” to 1/4” adapter to plug some headphones into this thing (the unit will absolutely not play through my computer speakers). The headphones sound OK as do my computer speakers when I plug it into the unit, but what about feedback and all sorts of fun racket? That will likely require a decent set of monitors and they don’t exactly give those things away for free. Furthermore, I’ll have to get some decent amp modeling software as the package that came with the Behringer is decidedly limited. That costs some money, too. And what if I want to use a foot pedal to switch from, say, running distortion to running a clean channel? There’s some money as well.

You can wind up spending quite a bit to be able to play your guitar through your computer, mix tracks together and come up with some decent recordings. Is it worth it? Well, I don’t know. For now, I’m just happy I can practice whenever I want and I don’t bother people when beating on a guitar when I’m listening to my sloppy playing through headphones. That’s good enough for now.

The Behringer is a lot of fun and it didn’t cost much. As much as I’ve cussed computers since I got my first one in 1982 (a TRS-80 Color Computer!), I’m still regularly impressed with the applications that come out for the trouble-prone things.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Music Monday – Linda Rondstadt

I never much cared for Linda Rondstadt. This song, however, is nothing short of great.

Come join Music Monday and share your songs with us. One simple rule, leave ONLY the actual post link here. You can grab this code at LJL Please note these links are STRICTLY for Music Monday participants only. All others will be deleted without prejudice.

PS: Because of spamming purposes, the linky will be closed on Thursday of each week at midnight, Malaysian Time. Thank you!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bank of America does us a favor


I’m kind of an odd Republican in that I simply don’t trust corporations.

Yes, I know they have their place and we need them to provide jobs and keep the economy going. However, I’ve spent most of my life with the feeling that some company or another was trying to get its hand in my wallet without providing just a whole lot in return.

For example, my home insurer loves to collect payments but tends to drag its feet when it comes to actually paying claims for damages. My mortgage bank has an annoying habit of increasing my monthly payment on my 30-year, fixed rate mortgage for no good reason. And, back when I was broke, I had my auto financing company swipe two car payments out of my checking account one month.

The company acknowledged its mistake and my bank did, too. Regardless, I was pretty much left to fend for myself – the money was gone and neither my bank or the finance company did a damn thing to help me get it back (and that’s one of the reasons I never let any company set up an autodraft on my bank account).

The company that stole my money, by the way, was Ford and I’ll be damned if I’ll ever buy one of their crappy cars again. I’ve had problems with financing through General Motors, too. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a couple of Toyotas are sitting in my driveway and I figure on buying a Volkswagen in a couple of years when I need a new car.

Yesterday morning my wife woke me up and told me that someone got her debit card number and tried to spend about half the money in our checking account. The surprise here is that our bank – Bank of America – called her, said they suspected there was a problem and offered to cancel her debit card.

Furthermore, my wife will get a new debit card and the bank will put back the money that was stolen from our account. Based on my past experiences with those sleazy bastards who tend to start financial institutions, that’s not the result I expected.

“It looks like someone stole your debit card and took all your money,” I would expect to hear. “That’s too bad. By the way, you owe us $2,000 to cover the fees, costs and the amount of the transactions that cut into your overdraft protection. When do you think you can pay us that?”

Seeing how I expect most banks to figure out new and creative ways to steal from me or throw me to the wolves if someone steals my account information, Bank of America’s proactive, helpful attitude simply shocks me. I don’t care what anyone says about that particular institution – Bank of America has just earned a customer for life.

I’ve found a bank that’s honest and genuinely looks out for the best interests of its customers. What a pleasant surprise.