Crooner Andy Williams, who died today at the age of 84, possessed a remarkable voice that could deliver drama, power, and tenderness all in the same note.
If you're not sure what that sounds like, you need only re-listen to Williams' striking rendition of the Mancini/Mercer classic Moon Riveror the sweeping ballad Love Story, from the 1970 movie of the same name.
During a career that spanned more than five decades, Williams not only made enormously popular records, he also hosted his own successful variety show in the late 60's and early 70s. On The Andy Williams Show, the singer performed, featured comedy acts, and promoted new musicians like The Carpenters, Bread, The Temptations, Gladys Knight, and of course The Osmonds.
Even those who are too young to remember Williams' hit songs or his variety show have likely enjoyed a bounty of Andy Williams during the Christmas season. Many of the holiday songs he recorded have become the "preferred" versions over the years. Seriously, you can't beat Andy's "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," can you?
Though away from the limelight for years, Williams will be missed. For many of us who are in the 40+ age group, the world becomes a little less innocent and a little more jaded without the shining smile, gentle spirit, and rich silky voice of Andy Williams. RIP, my huckleberry friend.
In light of Williams' passing, you have likely already heard plenty of Moon River and Love Song. I decided to feature this legendary performance that showcases Andy's phenomenal voice in pitch perfect harmony with two other American musical greats. (Thanks to my friend Jon Williams for sharing this with me!)
Last weekend, SNL kicked off its 38th season. The show has had its peaks and valleys over the years, but as the "Fox & Friends Morning Show" parody below shows, Lorne Michaels and company still deliver the goods when it comes to political satire.
"It was you and people on Fox that said in Libya, 'We didn't know who they were and let's not help these people.'
They had an election and they elected moderates. They rejected Islamists.
And yes, there are al-Qaeda factors and there are extremists in Libya today, but the Libyan people are friends of ours, and they support us, and they support democracy.
So you were wrong about -- so you were wrong about Libya."
- From Senator John McCain, during an interview Thursday with Fox News host Sean Hannity. After Hannity bragged about his perceived correctness in predicting events in post-revolution Egypt, McCain disputed his "facts" and then set him straight on Libya.
What a pleasure to see McCain, a seasoned politician with a wealth of foreign policy experience, call out a hawkish Fox News simpleton. McCain's comments could also serve as a valuable reminder to his party's presidential nominee that conducting world affairs in the 21st century requires "careful calibration," not blowhard nationalistic rhetoric.
Mitt Romney's premature, inappropriate, and errant criticism of a statement issued by an American embassy outrages me.
Romney believed that the American embassy in Cairo had issued a a communication expressing regret for hurting "religious feelings of Muslims," after extremists attacked our consulates in Libya and Egypt on September 11.
The GOP nominee saw the embassy statement as a political opportunity to attack the President as a weak American apologist, and he pounced.
"I think it's a -- a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values. That instead, when our grounds are being attacked, and being breached, that the first response to the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation."
Unfortunately, in his blatant eagerness to sound like a bad ass and score political points during a still unfolding foreign policy tragedy, Romney lacked many of the salient details.
First, Romney was wrong about when the embassy statement was issued. The original statement was not in fact a post-event apology, but was instead a communication issued prior to the attacks as a preemptive effort to quell a swelling undercurrent of anti-American sentiment that threatened to boil over.
Second, Romney was quick to criticize the Obama administration for the "apology," when the statement had actually been issued by a local diplomat, prior to any State Department or White House approval of the message.
The White House has subsequently issued a formal statement in response to the attacks and disavowed the original embassy message. Additionally, President Obama expressed empathy for the onsite diplomatic personnel, who crafted the original communication from a soon-to-be besieged embassy, rather than from the safety of a campaign office.
In the last two days, I've read numerous articles and accounts about this incident, and I was grateful to see politicians from across the spectrum express disappointment in Romney's poor judgment. Nonetheless, my anger over Romney's actions has become palpable.
"I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful c*ckmonster.
They won’t overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children.
You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else..."
- From Chris Kluwe, punter for the Minnesota Vikings, in a letter he wrote to Maryland state delegate Emmett Burns, after Burns recommended the coercion and censoring of pro-LGBT Baltimore Ravens player Brendon Ayanbadejo.
Although the full story has been widely reported and Kluwe's letter has gone insanely viral online, it warrants additional discussion here nonetheless.
For those of you who missed it somehow, here's the play in three acts.
Baltimore Ravens player Brendon Ayanbadejo is a strong and vocal supporter of a November ballot initiative in the state of Maryland that would recognize same-sex marriage.
A Baltimore County delegate, Emmett Burns Jr., is mortified by Ayanbadejo's public support of the measure. Burns sent a letter to the Ravens owner expressing his displeasure with Ayanbadejo and insisting the player be pressured to "cease and desist such injurious actions."
Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, also an advocate for same-sex marriage, delivered a public and verbally brutal beatdown to Burns, in his very direct and powerful open letter.
The online reaction to Kluwe's letter has been overwhelmingly positive, and LGBT rights groups are understandably thrilled to have both Ayanbadejo and Kluwe weigh-in so forcefully in favor of marriage equality.
The significance of the actions of these bold NFL players cannot be understated.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provided unemployment and job market numbers on Friday for the period of August 2012. With 103,000 private sector jobs added in August and 7,000 public sector/government jobs eliminated, the report reflected a disappointing net gain of 96,000 new jobs.
The Bureau's August release also shows a reduction in the unemployment rate from 8.3% to 8.1%. While this is positive news on its face, the decline in the unemployment rate results mostly from a decrease in the number of Americans who are seeking work, not from an increase in the number of newly created jobs.
The big picture bad news embedded in the August job statistics is that the economy and job market continue to recover at a pace which almost everyone, including the President, finds to be unacceptably sluggish.
The good news is we now have 30 consecutive months of positive job growth. Additionally, according to Steve Benen on the Maddow Blog, in the first eight months of 2012 the economy yielded 1.2 million new private sector jobs, which is already better than five of the eight Bush/Cheney years in their entirety.
Our choices in the upcoming presidential election are becoming increasingly clear. Some of us will decide that President Obama has made the right choices and opt to give him four more years to finish the job of repairing a devastated economy. Others will conclude that the speed of the recovery is simply unacceptable and will opt for the Romney alternative.
Regardless of your choice, I believe it's important to pursue and process the unadulterated facts. The graph above represents actual job growth results and trends (red = Bush, blue = Obama), which I believe illustrate simply and plainly the real world impact of the policies of the current and prior White House administrations.
By the end of the Bush administration, we were losing more than 600,000 jobs per month. Under President Obama job growth has been slow, but steady and positive.
My question for Mr. Romney is this - what specifically are you proposing that is different from the Bush-era policies that led to so much of the "red ink" and job loss in the chart above?
Finding quality blogging time has been challenging lately, but the wide world hasn't stopped spinning and generating jaw-dropping news and events.
Mass shooting victim and former member of the House of Representatives Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) inspired us with her movingrecitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at the DNC. Author Richard Bach, who taught us so much in Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions, was injured in a plane crash this week and his son told the world (not ironically) how much flying means to his dad.
We acknowledged the career and retirement of American tennis great Andy Roddick with a video compilation of Andy's most hilarious, endearing, and enraging moments.
Lastly, we said goodbye to talented actor Michael Clarke Duncan who died young this week at age 54. We celebrated Clarke's life and work by sharing a clip from his Oscar-nominated performance as a death row inmate who possesses a very special gift in The Green Mile.
In January 2011, six people were killed and U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) was severely wounded in a mass shooting at a Tucson area supermarket.
After being shot in the head at point blank range, Giffords "had part of her skull and brain removed, underwent intensive reconstructive surgery, and lost the full use of the right side of her body and half of her vision." (Salon.com)
This is what Representative Giffords did last night.
For the better part of the last decade, Andy Roddick has been the face of American men's tennis. Last week on his 30th birthday, the former world #1 announced that the 2012 U.S. Open would be his last tournament.
Roddick's tennis resume is bursting with accomplishments, including winning one of the sport's major events, the 2003 U.S. Open, as well as 31 other titles.
Additionally, the Nebraska native spent a remarkable nine consecutive years ranked among the top 10 players in the world.
Throughout his career, Roddick's sardonic persona, both on and off the tennis court, consistently propelled him into the midst of controversy, his forthright manner endearing him to some fans and alienating him from others.
With his loss to Juan Martin DelPotro earlier this week in New York, Roddick's career has officially come to a close. ESPN and the Tennis Channel have paid adequate tribute to Roddick; below are the words and images that best capture how I will remember him.
Angry, annoying, cocksure, whiny.
When sufficiently "provoked," Roddick took on line judges and chair umpires with ferocity.
Even tournament referees and directors could not escape the wrath of Andy.
Sarcastic, entertaining, hilarious, quick.
Andy was not always kind to the media either. He expected reporters to be as prepared and dedicated to their craft as he was to his, and if the media fell short of his expectations - he might just walk out.
He never suffered fools gladly, though he often did so with wit and humor. This trait, along with his willingness to be self-deprecating from time to time, made for some of the game's most entertaining press conferences and interviews.
Committed, passionate, honest, real.
Despite sometimes playing the role of villain, Andy's sincerity and earnestness often made him relatable and irresistibly likable. Who didn't feel for Andy after his heartbreaking loss to Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final (16-14 in the fifth set)?
During his final moments this week in Arthur Ashe stadium, Andy showed the world what the game of tennis has meant to him with grace and humility.
Say what you will about Andy Roddick (he doesn't care what you think anyway), but his departure leaves a hole in American men's tennis that none of the current crop of younger tennis players, talented though they may be, is ready to fill.
"Dad described his religion as flying. He's a very avid aviator. It would be terrible if he recovers and can't fly again — this guy needs to fly."
- From James Bach, son of writer Richard Bach.
Bach, the acclaimed author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions, is in serious but stable condition after crashing his private plane last weekend.
My high school guidance counselor turned me on to the work of Richard Bach, and to this day, I consider Illusions to be pivotal in my development as a grown-up human being.
Bach often uses flight as a metaphor for life in his work, and his books are comprised of inspirational and aspirational stories that both challenge and aid us in finding our truest selves. His words show up regularly in some of my all-time favorite Daily Zen quotes on the blog.
Actor Michael Clarke Duncan died Monday at the age of 54, having never fully recovered from a heart attack he suffered in July.
Duncan, who at 6' 5" and more than 300 pounds was a hulking and recognizable figure, appeared in dozens of films, but he was best known for his Oscar-nominated portrayal of a convicted child murderer in The Green Mile (1999).
In The Green Mile, Duncan played John Coffey, a character to whom writer Stephen King purposefully gave the initials J.C., and a gentle giant of a man who sits on death row awaiting execution by electrocution.
Duncan played opposite Tom Hanks, the prison guard who learns that not only is Coffey very unlikely to have murdered anyone, he is also a man with a very special and potentially divine gift for absorbing the pain of others.
If you've seen The Green Mile, the clip below will remind you of Michael Clarke Duncan's extraordinary work in the film. If you haven't seen the movie, add it to your Netflix queue tonight.
RIP, Mr. Duncan, and thank you for bringing John Coffey so beautifully to life.