Friday, December 26, 2008

20 Best Albums of 2008


One more list. It is the end of the year, after all. My favorite albums of 2008:

20. Asking for Flowers by Kathleen Edwards

It takes a Canadian songwriter, and a talented one, to put former hockey enforcer Marty McSorley into a song and make it work. From I Make the Dough You Get the Glory:

I'm a Ford Tempo,
you're a Maserati.
You're The Great One,
I'm Marty McSorley.

Awesome. Edwards deserves the top 20 for that line alone.

19. West Texas by Sleepercar

Impressive alt-country outfit fronted by Jim Ward of Sparta. Standout track: A Broken Promise

18. Consolers of the Lonely by the Raconteurs

Gotta give Jack White his due. He and Brendan Benson kick it old school, like Motor-City madmen of yesteryear.

17. The Hard Way by James Hunter

Speaking of old school, James Hunter seems, at first, like a 1960s retro-soul act but this album is the real deal. He sings like the love child of Van Morrison and Sam Cooke.

16. Oracular Spectacular by MGMT

A cool melding of psychedelic, electronica and pop - the song Time to Pretend is one of the standout tracks of the year.

15. Brighter than Creations Dark by the Drive-by-Truckers

Another solid album from one of the best bands in America.

14. The Felice Brothers

I learned of these guys from my favorite radio program, Vin Scelsa’s Idiot’s Delight. There’s a timeless storytelling and sepia-toned Americana here that recalls The Band and The Basement Tapes.

13. Acid Tongue by Jenny Lewis

An expressive singer and talented songwriter, Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley is equally comfortable with pop, rock and alt-country – it’s all here.

12. Evil Urges by My Morning Jacket

Nice to see this excellent band finally getting its due.

11. Vampire Weekend

I was completely prepared to dismiss these Columbia grads as pretentious poseurs but their album delivers – it’s interesting, adventurous, catchy and fun.

10. Mudcrutch

Tom Petty reforms his original band from Gainesville Florida and puts out one of the best albums of the year.

9. Cardinology by Ryan Adams

Amazing to think that since the dissolution of Whiskeytown in 1999, this guy has released 11 albums without sacrificing quality for quantity. This album is one of his best.

8. A Swingin’ Christmas by Tony Bennett featuring the Count Basie Big Band

No kidding. This is simply terrific.

7. Viva la Vida by Coldplay

I used to think that Coldplay was bland and overrated but for my money this album, produced by Brian Eno, has them sounding their majestic best.

6. The ’59 Sound by the Gaslight Anthem

Bruce Springsteen meets Joe Strummer. Not the most original band in the world, but this album delivers a certain Gaelic swagger, Jersey grit and infectious pop-punk that’s irresistible.

5. Lust Lust Lust by the Raveonettes

Ronnie Spector meets the Jesus and Mary Chain. I’m going to go out on a limb and call the Raveonettes, Denmark’s greatest rock duo of all time.

4. Little Honey by Lucinda Williams

I don’t think Lucinda Williams is capable of making a bad album. Standout track: Jailhouse Tears, a duet with Elvis Costello.

3. Real Animal by Alejandro Escovedo

This guy’s been flying under the radar for years. What a great rock n’ roll album.

2. The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell-Tale Signs by Bob Dylan

I figured that a collection of unreleased tracks from Bob Dylan’s recent period (1989-2006) would be less interesting than the bootleg recordings of his more iconic material of the 60s or 70s. I was dead wrong. For fans of Bob Dylan, this is as good as it gets.

1. Stay Positive by the Hold Steady

A Brooklyn band, by way of Minnesota, that combines Springsteen’s working class anthematic rock, the slacker sensibility of the Replacements, the word play of Leonard Cohen and the retro-rollicking booziness of Thin Lizzy. I don’t think there’s a band (or album) out there right now that better captures the redemptive power of rock n’ roll.

Gottta Stay Positive. See you in 2009!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The 50 Greatest Islanders of All Time


Hockey anyone?

I grew up spoiled. As a kid growing up on Long Island, I learned to enjoy the sport of hockey just as the N.Y. Islanders were emerging as one of the greatest teams in all of sports. It is stunning to consider just how far this once mighty franchise, now almost 40 years old, has fallen. But sport is about hope and nostalgia. As every sports fan knows, hope springs eternal. And in the interest of nostalgia, here is my purely subjective list of the top 50 greatest Islanders of all time.

50. Roman Hamrlik

Solid defenseman who specialized as a power play quarterback, "Hammer" was the Islanders All Star representative in 2003.

49. Lorne Henning

An original Islander, Henning played nine seasons as the Islanders transformed from an expansion squad to a dynasty. He specialized in killing Power Plays and scoring short-handed goals and famously, assisted on Bobby Nystrom’s overtime goal which gave the Islanders their first Stanley Cup.

48. Gord Lane

A rugged defenseman who possessed little in the way of hockey skills, Lane was nevertheless a key contributor to all four Stanley Cup wins.

47. Travis Green

A productive center, Green broke in with the Islander in 1992 and totaled 237 points before being traded to the Ducks in 1998.

46. Mick Vukota

Sure he was a goon but every team needs at least one; he bled Islander blue and orange for 10 seasons racking up 1879 penalty minutes.

45. Jason Blake

Speedy skater scored 40 goals in the 2006-07 season.

44. Kelly Hrudey

Goaltender made 73 saves in the “Easter Epic,” the classic four-overtime game 7 playoff game won by the Isles over the Capitals in 1987.

43. Wayne Merrick

A solid two-way center, Merrick centered Bob Nystrom and John Tonelli on the “Banana Line” and was a member of all four Stanley Cup champion teams.

42. Alexi Yashin

There was no denying his talent, but Yashin ended up symbolizing the era – overpaid and underachieving.

41. Michael Peca

An inspirational two-way player, Peca played only three seasons but made his mark as team Captain leading the Islanders to the playoffs in 2002, and winning the Selke Trophy, awarded to the league’s best defensive forward.

40. Glenn Healy

Healy’s goaltending was instrumental to the Islander’s playoff run in 1993.

39. Gary Howatt

An original Islander, Howatt was an energetic and combative terrier who, despite being only 5’9, was willing to take on anyone.

38. Maurice Czerkawski

Productive Polish winger had two 30-goal seasons and two tours of duty on Long Island.

37. Steve Thomas

All energy all the time, Thomas enjoyed his best season in 1992-93, scoring 37 goals with 50 assists.

36. Roland Melanson

Rollie the Goalie shared netminder duties with Billy Smith and won three Stanley Cups before he was traded in 1985.

35. Trent Hunter

A physical winger who can also score, Hunter is the heart and soul of the current Islander squad.

34. Dave Lewis

Very solid defenseman 1973-80, who missed out on the Stanley Cup when he was traded with Billy Harris for Butch Goring in 1980.

33. Benoit Hogue

A left winger with talent and flair (and a great name), Hogue was key contributor to the Islanders playoff run in 1993.

32. Anders Kallur

A smooth skating Swedish forward, Kallur won four Stanley Cups and is probably the most underrated player from the dynasty squad.

31. Rick Dipietro

A highly regarded goaltender, DiPietro is the team’s most important player (even if he is overpaid). Injuries are all that are keeping him from star status.

30. J.P Parise

Hard working winger is best known for scoring an overtime goal 11 seconds into overtime to beat the Rangers in famous 1975 Playoff Series.

29. David Volek

Talented Czech forward would probably be remembered as an underachiever but he provided a golden moment when he scored the overtime goal to defeat Pittsburgh in the playoffs in 1993. His goal represents the greatest Islander highlight of the past 20 years.

28. Duane Sutter

Nicknamed “dog”, Sutter was a feisty corner man and as tough as any of the Sutter brothers. A member of all four Stanley Cup teams.

27. Darius Kasparitus

Combative defenseman whose devastating hip check made him an instant fan favorite. As a brash rookie he consistently punished the great Mario Lemeiux as the Islanders upset the Penguins in the 1993 Playoffs.

26. Tomas Jonsson

Agile defenseman won two Stanley Cups with the Islanders and is one of three Swedish players to win the national championship, the World Championship, Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup.

25. Billy Harris

The first draft pick of the Expansion Islanders, Harris was a productive right winger on the famous “LILCO” line with Brian Trottier and Clark Gilles. He totaled 443 points as the Islanders grew into a powerhouse, but Harris was traded to the Kings in 1980 and never won a Stanley Cup.

24. Claude Lapoint

Gutsy center and terrific face-off man, LaPoint played over 500 games for the Islanders and was the three-time winner of the Bob Nystrom award to honor his leadership, hustle, and determination.

23. Rich Pilon

A solid stay-at-home defenseman, Pilon was a crushing body checker and intimidator who played over 500 games (1988-2000).

22. Derek King

Productive left winger with great hands, King quietly scored over 200 goals and is 10th on the Islanders all-time scoring list.

21. Ray Ferraro

A gutsy forward and likeable guy, Ferraro was one of the inspirational leaders of the team during the unlikely playoff run of 1993.

20. Dave Langevin

Bammer was a solid stay-at-home defenseman and important physical presence the four-time Stanley Cup championship team.

19. Ziggy Palffy

It’s too bad his teams weren’t better because Palffy was an exciting player and fun to watch. The Slovokian national scored 168 goals for the Islanders (1994-99).

18. Kenny Jonsson

A terrific all-around defenseman, Jonsson was perennially underrated as he played 597 games for the Islanders 1996-2004. He achieved well-deserved recognition in 2006 when he helped Sweden win the Olympic Gold Medal.

17. Butch Goring

A terrific skater and accomplished penalty killer, Goring proved to be the missing piece to the championship. He was great fun to watch too – tirelessly making his presence felt all over the ice. He joined the Islanders in 1980 and helped them win four straight Stanley Cups.

16. Ed Westfall

The former Bruin star joined the Expansion Islanders in 1972 and enjoyed four 30-goal seasons as the Islanders transformed from mediocrity to greatness.

15. Stefan Persson

Persson was a well-rounded defenseman and one of the first Swedish stars in the NHL. He played in over 700 games for the Islanders and was an integral part of their dynasty. He scored 5 goals in the 1980 Playoffs.

14. Pat Flatley

Flatley was one of those hard-working inspirational forwards that every team needs if it wants to win. He was a slow skater for a winger and he didn’t score many pretty goals but he did everything else so well – checking, passing, digging in the corners etc. He totaled 780 games and 170 goals for his Islander career (1984-1996).

13. Pierre Turgeon

There were high expectations for the talented Pierre Turgeon when he came over from Buffalo in a trade for Pat Lafontaine and very nearly met them, scoring 58 goals and 132 points in the 1992-93 season before Dale Hunter’s cheap shot effectively ended Turgeon’s season and the Islanders playoff run.

12. Glenn Resch

One of the most popular Islanders of all time, Chico Resch was an All-Star goalie but lost playing time to Billy Smith during the first Stanley Cup run and was traded to Colorado in 1981.

11. Bob Bourne

Probably the fastest skater ever to wear an Islander jersey, Bourne had three 30-goal seasons and was a key member of all four Stanley Cup squads.

10. Ken Morrow

Morrow joined the Islanders just one a week after winning the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics. He went on to play 550 games with the Islanders and his solid defensive play helped the Islanders win four Stanley Cups.

9. Bobby Nystrom

A physical right winger who often mixed it up and occasionally scored, Nystrom is appropriately remembered as “Mr. Islander.” His 900 games is third behind only Potvin and Trottier and his overtime goal to win the Stanely Cup in 1980 assured him of immortality.

8. Pat Lafontaine

One of the greatest American players of all time, Lafontaine joined the Islanders just after the 4th Cup victory. A terrific skater and scorer, only injuries held him back.

7. Brent Sutter

Probably the most gifted of the multitude of Sutter brothers, Brent won two Stanley Cups with the Islanders, succeeded Denis Potvin as captain and totaled 610 points and 287 goals.

6. John Tonelli

A battling left wing, full of heart and ability, Tonelli was equally at home on the top line (with Trottier and Bossy) or the famous “Banana Line” with Nystrom and Wayne Merrick. He had three 30-goal seasons and his defining moment was probably in the decisive playoff game against Pittsburgh in 1982. In the face of elimination, Tonelli scored the tying goal and the game winner in overtime.

5. Clark Gilles

A prototypical top line winger, Gilles was big and physical but also a gifted scorer and leader. He had six seasons with 30 goals or more and captained the Islanders to the first of their four Stanley Cup wins.

4. Billy Smith

One of top playoff performers in NHL history, Smitty won over 300 games for the Islanders and of course, four Stanley Cups. And he was one mean and nasty competitor.

3. Mike Bossy

Take your pick – you can place Bossy, Trottier and Potvin in just about any order at this point. Bossy scored 50 or more goals in nine straight seasons and totaled 573 career goals in just 10 seasons. One of the greatest scorers ever, his name is practically synonymous with the term “sniper.”

2. Bryan Trottier

A brilliant two-way center and the Islanders all time leading point producer, Trottier was probably the NHL’s greatest all around player in the early 1980s. When I was a kid, I got his autograph at Herman’s Sporting Goods in Huntington and was amazed by how normal he seemed, how physically unimposing. But he was freakishly strong on his skates. He had some bad blood with management at the end of his career, (and did himself no favors when he became Head Coach of the Rangers in 2002). But none of that should diminish his greatness as a player.

1. Denis Potvin

As a kid, I had a poster of Denis Potvin in my room. A skilled defenseman and devastating hip-checker, Potvin succeeded Clark Gilles as Captain and when he retired, he was the NHL career leader in playoff goals, assists, and points for defensemen. For me, he is the indispensible Islander - supremely talented, tough, arrogant and at the heart of every great Islander team and moment.

Sorry Ranger fans!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tis the Season


Like it or not, there’s simply no escaping Christmas music.

Do Christmas songs put you in that toasty warm and fuzzy holiday mood or do they make you want to drive an icicle into your skull? Well, there’s good and there’s bad. Naughty and Nice.

Here are my top 20 favorite Christmas songs:

1. The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole

Chestnuts Roasting on the Open Fire. For me, Nat’s rendition is the ultimate version of the ultimate Christmas song. Smooth and melancholy. Sweet and evocative.

2. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by U2

The 1963 Darlene Love version is great - the power of Love’s vocals and Phil Spector’s lush production make this the best Christmas song of the rock-n-roll era. But I especially love U2’s version. For my money, Bono has never sounded better.

3. Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John Lennon

Sure it’s sappy and the children’s choir is a bit much, but this really is a beautiful tune. Some people think it’s too political. I don’t know. Is Peace on Earth political?

4. O Holy Night

As a rule, the more traditional and religious-themed songs don’t do much for me – probably because I’m not a Christian. “O Holy Night” is an exception. In the hands of a quality singer, this beautiful carol, composed in 1847 by Adolphe Adam, is a real holiday treat.

5. White Christmas by Bing Crosby

Too obscure?

6. 2,000 Miles by the Pretenders

One of the few Christmas songs of the rock era that manages to capture that melancholy feel of the more traditional standards.

7. Father Christmas by the Kinks

Santa gets mugged and the true meaning of Christmas comes shining through. This yuletide rocker is my favorite of the anti-Christmas songs.

8. Christmas Wrappings by the Waitresses

Another great anti-Christmas song with an infectious touch of ska and a 1980s new wave feel.

9. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

You can’t go wrong with a Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett version. (Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders does a nice job too). Ubiquitous and melancholy – a true Christmas classic.

10. You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch by Thurl Ravenscroft

In case anyone needed further evidence that Dr. Seuss was a genius.

11. Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Sure this one gets played to death, but it still manages to leave a smile on my face. The rollicking piano, glockenspiel and sleigh bells festively compliment Bruce’s giddiness.

12. Frosty the Snowman by the Ronnettes

My favorite version. There’s a sweetness and sadness in Ronnie Spector’s voice that works perfectly for Christmas songs.

13. The Christmas Waltz by Frank Sinatra

One of the great holiday standards, Sinatra’s phrasing and the ethereal arrangement create a magical, floating feeling.

14. Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth by Bing Crosby and David Bowie

Crooners spanning the generations, this was recorded just a month before Bing Crosby died. The pairing of Bing with the androgynous Bowie must have struck people as a strange idea, but it works nicely.

15. Christmas in Hollis by Run D.M.C.

Irrepressibly joyous and kicking.

16. Fairytale of New York by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.

Drunken, dysfunctional and poignant; a modern classic.

17. Merry Christmas Baby by Otis Redding

Springsteen’s version pales by comparison. Otis delivers holiday soul and sexiness with a Stax groove.

18. I’ll be Home for Christmas

Another melancholy classic. Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and the Carpenters all recorded beautiful versions. It occurs to me that my favorite Christmas songs are the ones that are full of either sadness or irony.

19. Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight) by the Ramones

Nothing melancholy here.

20. Merry Christmas from the Family by Robert Earl Keene

Family dysfunction, lots humor and plenty of booze. A fun Christmas tune that rings true.

In the spirit of ecumenism, I should probably also include a list of the top Chanukah songs. Instead, I’ll note that at least 7 of the 20 Christmas songs had Jewish composers.

I also considered listing the worst Christmas songs but found it to be far too depressing an endeavor. But the absolute worst? Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.”

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right...


After Obama was elected, one of the questions often asked was: Will he govern from the Left or from the Center?

His various appointments, notably the economists, Geithner and Summers, but also his choice of Clinton for State and his decision to keep Gates as Secretary of Defense, have suggested to many that Obama's political compass points closer to the Center than to the Left. Some commentators and economic analysts have even suggested that Obama is squarely “Center-Right.”

Whether any of this is good news or bad news depends on your own political views and expectations. Many Americans are relieved at what appears to be a centrist and pragmatic approach, though some conservatives are surprised and some progressives are both surprised and disappointed. My own view is that there is little about Obama's choices that should surprise anyone, unless they actually believed the bit about him being a Marxist (or were under the absurd impression that “change” entails appointing only individuals with absolutely no experience in government.) It should have been obvious that Obama is both a centrist and a pragmatist. He is also a liberal. These are not contradictions.

Part of the problem here is our media’s simplistic obsession with placing politicians along a linear left-right political axis. This sort of directional thinking, and the terms generated – right, left, conservative, liberal - is often misleading. At a minimum, it represents a very limited and superficial way of looking at politics. Some observations:

• The model of “Left” and “Right” that is used to describe political ideology presumes a single dimension. It imagines a single linear axis to account for political and economic philosophies, cultural values, theories about role of government, etc. This is deeply flawed. In reality there are multiple dimensions that influence any person’s political views.

• Why do we, as a nation, limit our political thinking to a single left-right axis? I think the most obvious reason is that we have a fairly rigid two party system. We think of our political system as two opposite poles with a line connecting them. The line reflects a sort of continuum and imagines that viewpoints necessarily lie somewhere between the poles. Psychology and Evolutionary Biology may also offer an explanation. Perhaps human beings are predisposed to categorize political ideas (like religious ideas) in a dualistic way: “Us” versus “Them.” “Good” versus “Evil.” “My Group” versus “the Other.”

• The error of this one dimensional left-right model is conflated when we use terms like “liberal” and “conservative” to locate us within the left-right political spectrum. For example, the opposite of liberal is not conservative. The opposite of liberal is illiberal.

• During the campaign, it was argued that Obama had the most liberal (left-leaning?) voting record in the Senate in 2007. The flaws in these kinds of rankings and arguments have been analyzed at length. For one thing, they purport to rank according to votes on legislation but they don’t tell you a thing about the candidate’s priorities. And when you scratch beneath the surface and look at the actual legislation, you can see additional problems inherent in these sort of rankings. For example, if you introduce legislation for better heath care for members of the Armed Forces and veterans, is that a liberal or conservative measure? If you support reform and seek greater transparency and accountability in government spending, is that a liberal or conservative measure?

• Globalization further shatters the traditional left-right single dimension approach to politics. Thomas Friedman offers the instructive example of India versus Indiana. The state of Indiana, in an effort to save tax payers $8 million, outsourced a contract (involving the processing of unemployment claims) to a firm in India. Curiously enough, this measure was supported by pro-labor Democrats and opposed by free-trade Republicans. So who are the liberals and who are the conservatives here? What is the “left” position and what is the “right” position?

The traditional paradigm simply doesn’t work. But at least we live in interesting times.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Life is full of Gutter Balls


This is just wrong.

Bowling Alleys with bumpers so that kids no longer have to endure the painful humiliation of gutter balls? Please.

This is just another example of coddling children and succumbing to our spoiled culture of immediate gratification. I don't mean to sound cranky (or worse, like Andy Rooney) but how does this "everybody's a winner" nonsense prepare kids for life? What happened to perseverence? To practice? To learning to overcome failure?

I say, take a lesson instead from Barack Obama. His pathetic gutter balls probably cost him Pennsylvania in the Democratic Primary.

He bounced back. Your kids can too.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Top Singers of All Time?


I’m a sucker for lists.

Recently, Rolling Stone magazine featured its top 100 singers of all time.

I’m especially drawn to these sort of lists – the ones that rank music and art based on purely subjective criteria. These lists are always absurd and often terrible but they’re also a lot of fun. The value of them isn’t in the ranking but in the arguments they generate and what they reveal about your own tastes and preferences (and of course the inferior tastes and preferences of your friends, not to mention the so-called rock journalists who arbitrate such matters). And once you get past the spirit of competition, these sort of lists can be appreciated as a celebration of all those great artists. And when a magazine features a well-written tribute (like Bono writing about Bob Dylan) you might even be reminded of what was once worthwhile about such magazines and music journalism in the first place.

To be sure, any list of singers that features Bob Dylan at number seven tells you something about the criteria. We are not talking about technical ability or the beauty of a voice, and certainly not any classical or conventional measure of what constitutes great singing. Clearly, we are looking at other factors: A measure of singer’s influence on culture or other musicians? A unique vocal style? Some intangible quality that speaks to emotion? Or touches the soul? Or tells the truth? I suppose it’s any or all of the above. (The judges consisted mostly of rock musicians and journalists with some industry big-wigs thrown in for good measure).

Within the pages of the magazine, Jonathan Lethem eloquently defends the subjective and unconventional nature of the criteria:

For me, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith, just to mention two, are superb singers by an measure I could ever care about – expressivity, surprise, soul, grain, interpretive wit, angle of vision.

Amen. But now it’s time to tear into this crazy list because there’s so much wrong with it:

• No Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday etc. This isn’t necessarily a criticism given that the Rolling Stone's focus is on the “Rock Era” but still, there is something arbitrary about such designations. If the list includes country legends Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and George Jones, why not Sinatra?

• No Chrissy Hynde! For me, this is the most glaring of all the omissions. Absolutely unconscionable.

• Generational Bias. Rolling Stone, as ever, is a magazine by Baby Boomers and for Baby Boomers. The list features only a handful of artists who emerged within the last 20 years: Kurt Cobain, Jeff Buckley, Thom Yorke and Bjork. I would add Eddie Vedder for certain. Less famous but also up there in my book are Layne Staley, Alison Krauss, Greg Dulli, and Mark Lanegan.

• I don’t care how good Patti Labelle may have been once or what kind of other-worldly pipes she possesses. Her destruction of the National Anthem before Game Four of the World Series this year should automatically disqualify her.

• Other noteworthy omissions: Michael Stipe, K.D. Lang, Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, Joe Strummer and Eva Cassidy.

At some point, I’ll include my own list. In the meantime, something to think about:

What makes a great singer?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Why Hillary is the Wrong Choice for Secretary of State


I don’t mean to dwell on the negative.

After all, these are heady times for liberals. Obama supporters are still marveling at the historical magnitude of what transpired on November 4th even as we embrace the promise of change. So a certain degree of generosity is to be expected as we follow Obama's lead in healing divisions and moving toward a new administration. But I don’t like the choice of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

It’s easy enough to appreciate the logic and the politics behind the choice. This part of the agument is compelling. Hillary is smart, tough, and well-connected. She’s also an influential and groundbreaking politician, the Democratic runner-up and, lest we forget, a Clinton. It is prudent that Obama reach an acceptable accommodation with her if he is to govern effectively.

But is she right for the job? What particular expertise or experience in foreign relations does she bring to the table? Whatever Hillary’s merits, doesn’t it make more sense to appoint a seasoned diplomat to the post, someone with actual hands-on foreign policy experience - someone like Richard Holbrooke? Hillary’s foreign policy experience is limited and it comes from her role as First Lady and from her time in the Senate. It also might be argued that the institution of the U.S. Senate is already overrepresented within the Obama administration – starting with Obama himself and Joe Biden. Senators tend to be, by necessity, generalists. There are more focused avenues of expertise within DC and expertise is what is needed here, probably more so than name recognition. Even among the big names that were considered, both John Kerry and Bill Richardson have more extensive and more relevant foreign policy experience.

And finally, and there is no escaping this: Hillary is an inherently divisive figure. This is not merely how she is perceived, it is how she operates. I don't mean to pick at old wounds, but Hillary ran an election campaign that was both stupid and nasty. Her attempts to exploit racial division in America were disgusting – as bad, if not worse, than any smears that emerged from the McCain/Palin mudfest. Ah but all of that is over now, insist the Hillary defenders. Isn’t Obama’s decision to elevate his former rival, a clever and magnanimous display of leadership? (Assuming one regards a move from the Senate to the Cabinet as an elevation. Presumably, Hillary does.) And, some have noted, if Hillary possesses a Machiavellian streak, is that really such a bad quality in a Secretary of State who will be sitting across the table from the likes of Vladimir Putin? But most importantly, isn’t it time to let bygones be bygones and find a way for Americans to set aside their differences and to work together?

Well, sure. But my objections to Hillary aren’t rooted in vindictiveness over the kind of campaign she ran. The point is that the kind of campaign she ran revealed some alarming deficiencies in her judgment – a deafness of tone and a lack of emotional intelligence. Her choice of staff, her frequent condescension and her inability to measure the consequences of her words and tactics should give us pause. A Secretary of State must not merely be smart, tough and have an extensive rolodex – she must be adroit at sizing up situations, forging alliances and seizing opportunities to win friends. In short, the post calls for a uniter, not a divider.

None of this has dampened my enthusiasm for Obama and for the most part, his cabinet seems to be shaping up nicely. Other Obama supporters remind me that Obama is a pretty smart fellow and that we should trust his judgment and his leadership which, so far, has been impressive. And I agree that it has. But it’s not lack of trust in Obama’s leadership that motivates me to write on matters such as this. I admire Obama’s qualities of leadership but I’m also aware that the truth of this nation applies to even our strongest and greatest leaders. My support for Barack Obama, as sincere and wholehearted as it is, does not move me to silent obedience - I do not work for him. Beginning on January 20, 2009, he works for me. For all of us.