The Green Fields of America
Compass 7-4495-2

Since its founding in 1978, The Green Fields of America been akin to the Almanac Singers in that it’s more of a guild than a permanent group. It was and remains the brainchild of Mick Moloney, who uses it to showcase established and rising Irish musical talent. The current iteration spotlights Athena Tergis (fiddles), Billy McComiskey (accordion), and Robbie O’Connell and John Doyle (guitar, vocals), with Moloney on banjo, mandolin, and vocals. Add guest musicians such as Jerry O’Sullivan and Bruce Molsky and let the celebration begin. The material mirrors the immigrant experience in it that it’s a blend of familiar and sentimental songs (“The Rambling Irishman,” “The Bonnie Irish Boy”), newly composed tunes, political songs, and mutt genres. At outstanding example of the latter is “The Glendy Burke,” a Stephen Foster song that’s a cross between John Hartford and an Irish music hall ditty. Still another is “The Catalpa,” a Fenian song whose action takes place in America, Australia, and Ireland and which borrows liberally from all three musical traditions. In like fashion the circling dancers on “The New Irish Barn Dance” would be equally at home in Connecticut or Connemara. And give a careful listen to Robbie O’Connell’s bittersweet Blasket Island farewell “The Islander’s Lament,” as well as the rollicking rendition of “Across the Western Ocean.”

For a clip of Doyle, Moloney, and Tergis click here.


Health Murder Organizations


A woman walks into a room and notices that her mother is hooked up to the respirator that helps her breathe. But the electricity bill has been really high lately, so she decides to pull the plug to economize. After all, her mother has had a good long life and the daughter could use a few extra bucks to pay the greens fees at the local country club. What would you call such a person?

A wife is stricken with breast cancer and has no insurance. The treatments will cost $40,000. Her husband looks the bank balance. He has the forty grand, but he’s got his eye on a BMW. He buys the car. What label would we apply to such an individual?

A street juggler has drawn an enthralled crowd. His act is amazing—he can juggle Indian clubs, a bottle of digitalis, and a defibrillator at the same time. One man is so excited that he goes into cardiac arrest. But the tips are coming in fast and furious, so the juggler continues his act. How would you assess his ethics?

A baby needs a blood transfusion in order to live. The local hospital staff has been really busy lately, so they decline to perform the procedure. They’ve done the math. Every day 216,000 children are born in the world and it just doesn’t make sense to waste human and monetary resources on such an easily replaced commodity. Would we applaud the business acumen of such an institution?

Absurd examples? Not really. They parallel the kind of decisions made by HMOs every day in America. And so they shall continue as long as medical care remains a for-profit delivery system. Consider this the next time you switch on your TV or cruise the Internet and come across propaganda that tells you that health care reform is “socialism,” or that it will rob you of “choice.”
You’ll hear that “government programs” are wasteful and that the “private sector” is always a better solution. Really!!?? By that reckoning there should be no healthcare crisis in America. The government has had no role in soaring costs, unless you think Medicare is a wasteful program and you like the idea of pulling the plug on the elderly! Sorry—the vaunted private sector is the very architect of the current mess.

Who are these people who stoke the fears of government-led “socialism?” Most are like the man who’d rather have a BMW than his wife—they place self-interest above all else. And if you think that’s just my opinion, check out recent Harris polls. Government programs are unpopular, Americans hate them, and they want to rely on themselves, right? No way. Medicare and Social Security have 76% approval ratings, with only the National Parks and crime prevention programs garnering higher rankings. Medicaid—which delivers medical services to the poor—is viewed favorably by 71%. And by the way, Americans are really pissed off about welfare bums, correct? Not at all; 65% approve of emergency aid and 59% of food stamps. In fact, the only government programs we don’t like are the INS and foreign aid.

The glaring problem with the current medical system is that its primary goal is not your physical health, it’s the financial health of shareholders. The logic is akin to that of most capitalist enterprises and few of us would get upset if HMOs were in the entertainment field. We can live with a cancelled TV show. But what if a CEO decides to cancel your life? This happens. Like the juggler and the heartless hospital, HMO executives look at how much revenue is coming in, what actuarial data tells them, and how they can maximize financial resources. What choice, exactly, do you have if your HMO says “no” to a procedure you need? Sue them? Maybe your estate will get a settlement, but that’s pretty cold comfort!

So let’s strip away the propaganda and cut to the moral quick: it’s immoral to profit on the illnesses and misery of others. Health Maintenance Organizations are an oxymoron. At some juncture every HMO decides that you’re just not worth the cost any more. And what should we call that logic? See my title.

Oh, For Heaven's Sake!

It sure looks like an Egyptian girl to me!

Just when we thought America couldn’t possibly get any weirder something comes along that reminds us we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Headline on Yahoo News—and one hopes the word “news” was meant ironically—“Jackson’s Ancient Double: Statue’s a Dead Ringer for Jacko.”

Let’s see, there’s the battle for health care reform, the Sotomayor nomination to the Supreme Court, the economy, the crisis in Iran … but Andrew Grenier, Yahoo’s go-to-guy in Chicago, gives us the earth-shattering news that there’s a 3,500 year-old statue—Grenier says 3,000 because his math isn’t any better than his reporting—that (gasp!) looks like Michael Jackson. First of all, wouldn’t it be the other way around? Secondly, who friggin’ cares?

Sure, we all like offbeat human interest stories, the “man bites dog” example they trot out in Journalism 101. But that’s exactly what’s so lame about the Grenier piece. It’s trite, unimaginative, and unspeakably boring because it’s pure contrivance. I’m sure if someone looked hard enough they could find a statue somewhere that vaguely resembles your Uncle Ralph. People past and present are, after all, the same species. But even worse, the Grenier piece is ghoulish—a lazy reporter trying to hitch a ride from a corpse. How long does Media Lite intend to milk Michael Jackson’s demise? Here’s all we need to know: Michael Jackson is dead. As the Italians would say, “Basta!”--LV



Blue Moose tears up the stage at the Champlain Folk Festival.

We’ve just come back from the 26th annual Champlain Folk Festival held at Kingsland Bay State Park and would like to report that acoustic music is alive and well in Vermont. We’d like to, but it’s not so.

This is not a slam against the Champlain Festival. It’s a miracle that it took place at all given the loss of corporate sponsorship and an economic collapse that has shrunk the donor list to one that fits on a single column of the program. And bad weather on Friday and Sunday didn’t help.

And it’s certainly no slam at the performances. Among the highlights were Jeni Hankins and Billy Kemp singing gorgeous songs of hardship and hope dug from the hills of West Virginia; Laura Risk, just one month removed from the birth of her second child, laying down misty Scottish fiddle tunes and lively Quebec reels; Sana Ndiaye explaining the intricacies of the ekonting, a three-stringed West African banjo ancestor; The MacArthurs anointing the new stage named for their late mother; Annie Rosen amazing with unexpected tender vocal moments; and Marc Maziade showcasing an unheard of thing: French-Canadian banjo picking. The dance floor was sizzling and packed, despite treacle-like humidity.

So what was lacking? Young folks! They were on site on Saturday, but seldom at the music venues. Instead they were busy plunging into Lake Champlain, sunning themselves on floating docks, scarping up Island Ice Cream—the ginger comes highly recommended—and heading back to the lake for more watery fun. To be fair, it was a hot day and the lake was inviting, but a generation ago if you had given young folks a choice between swimming or tunes, music would have won hands down. Music is the altar at which Baby Boomers and Gen X worshiped, but the missionary efforts have been weak. Much of what we see on acoustic music stages, dance floors, and in concert seats is simply too gray to be sustainable.

This brings me to the band that was the surprise hit of the festival: Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers, a saucy band from Boston that was everything that was lacking elsewhere: pathbreaking, energetic, insouciant, and young. Yes, guitarist Stash Wyslouch and fiddler Andy Reiner exude a bit of attitude. No, you won’t hear nyckelharpa maven Bronwyn Bird or fiddler Mariel Vandersteel give academic discourses on traditional playing styles. Blue Moose calls their mash-up of Norwegian, Swedish, and old-time American tunes “Scandilachian,” and good on them. Enough already with preservation—traditional music roots are deep enough. It’s time to get irreverent, funky, and greener. Blue Moose was the only band to pack the Saturday showcase concerts and the only one that lured the young folks out of the water. Like Canada’s The Dukhs, Sweden’s Vasen, or the rising American bluegrass band Crooked Still, they embody hope for the future of acoustic music, if Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and festival organizers can stop reliving the past and make way for the whelps.

Also on the festival lineup was Roland Clark, all of fourteen and scary good with the fiddle. Let the greening begin.
Caution: Check out Blue Moose live--their YouTube videos are pretty awful!



Is this related to the sign below? We're just asking! (From Vergennes, VT)

Cool, but some towns have local ordinances against this sort of thing. (From Vergennes, VT)

Okay, we're convinced. We won't go barefoot in the shipyard. (From Boston. Photo courtesy of Bill Allen. Thanks Bill!)

But how are we supposed to practice our death-defying trapeze act? It's amazing--we do somersaults in midair while carrying buckets filled with the letter Z. (From Lerwick, Shetlands)

Thank goodness. We can't stand those Aberdeen-style toilets!
(From the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow.)

But what if the service was really good? (From Glasgow.)