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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Howl

The best way to sum up this review would be this: Howl is a near-gospel experience, and that’s no bad thing.

While fans of the band probably expected--or even hoped for--a helping of harder-edged rock music, what they got was more exciting. What they got was a band reaching beyond its garage aesthetic and finding a gorgeous mix of blues and gospel and an early 70’s rock delivery.

Opening with “Shuffle Your Feet”, BRMC immediately gives us harmonies, layered acoustic guitars, touches of harmonica, and a lively, clap-along beat. It’s a musical feel that will carry throughout the album; it also introduces the lyrical content. Not only does BMRC do a fair imitation of the sound of gospel music, but the lyrics are occupied with thoughts of God and the ultimate disposition of our souls.

The thread runs from the slow country croon (well, whine, really) of “Devil’s Waitin’” on through the slow-building grit of “The Line.” While the vocals won’t win awards for beauty, the overall sound is a revelation for a band that had almost ceased to exist when critics and fans alike seemed underwhelmed by their previous release. Howl is filled with fuzz and echoes that make the thing feel more grounded and real than slickly produced albums with no room for stray noise; that sound lends a sense of authenticity that helps overcome the shocking change of sonic direction.

It’s not a perfect album. The title track, “Howl” is a forgettable sway that occupies about four and a half minutes of the album’s time for no appreciable reason and “Still Suspicion Holds You Tight” is just as pointless. For that matter, at times it would be a relief to hear a more resonant voice than Peter Hayes and Robert Turner (aka Robert Levon Been, son of The Call’s lead-singer Michael Been).

Still, looking past the couple flat bits on the album, the reward comes in moments of exceptional song-writing and gripping tunes. In fact, it’s hard to imagine something better than the spacious and warm “Fault Line"--a song that single-handedly comes close to making the CD worth the purchase price. It’s just cake that you get the aforementioned “Shuffle Your Feet”, the stomp of “Ain’t No Easy Way”, the well-developed gospel of “Promise”, the intimate whisper of “Gospel Song”, and the back-porch feel of “Restless Sinner”.

The high points definitely outnumber and overshadow the low points on Howl. Here’s hoping that BRMC can hold it together to make another trip down this trail; it’s a powerfully good slice of Americana.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

DVD Review: Casanova

To be succinct, Casanova is a bit like Shakespeare in Love without the charm and with far less wit. Occasionally funny, never smart, hardly likable, and not much to look at, it would be hard to recommend this to anyone with even a tiny bit of taste. Heath Ledger is serviceable as the famed lover and Oliver Platt almost manages to make it worth the ride, but there just isn’t enough meat to make this a full meal.

The worst part is that drawn out ending saps what little energy the movie had gathered. It’s a frenetic, ridiculous (not in a zany, funny way; in an irritating, eye-rolling way) end to a mediocre movie.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

David J’s First Annual Indeedathon

Indeed. Indeed. Heh. Huh. Indeed. Indeed and heh (if you read the comments). Heh. Er, and sorry about that. Indeed. Public Service Announcement: Dr. Pepper’s new Berries & Cream flavor was approved by an entire focus group filled with people who hate Dr. Pepper and want the company to fail. No. Seriously, dude. Indeed. Indeed. Infreakin’deed. Heh. Indeed. Heh.

Update: Indeed.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

NHL Action

I have no idea what the outcome of the Denver/Dallas game three is going to be, but I do have a couple observations:

1. Man, I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, but Jake Schroeder sure can sing the national anthem. I’m the type that stands, places his hand over his heart, and can get a little misty when I hear the “Star Spangled Banner.” It’s a tough song, but when it’s done well it soars; Jake makes you feel the song

I know nothing about his politics, but I tend to think that anyone who can sing our anthem with his level of conviction must care deeply about his community. For that reason, I wish him luck in his fledgling political career.

2. What a fiery pace to this game. Both teams are skating, hitting, and handling the puck well. This should be fun.

3. It is awfully nice to watch your team score the first goal of the game. On the other hand, it’s a little painful to watch them give up a short-handed goal a few minutes later.

Yep, this is going to be a good one.

Very Quick Thoughts While Heading Into My Day

So, the Nuggets have lost the first two games of their playoff series. Yeah, gee, didn’t see that one coming, did I?

Luckily, the sting has been taken off by the fact that the Avalanche have won both of their games--one with an intense domination and the other with a whole lot of work.

“Bush Threatens Veto of Bloated War-Funds Bill.” Mr. Veto is makin’ threats. Ooo, scary.

Ernie Chambers has the wrong solution to a set of very real problems. He is the driving force behind Omaha’s move toward re-segregating schools. I agree with at least part of his core complaint: that parents have too little say over the way money is spent to educate their children. I disagree with his remedy: essentially codifying the de facto segregation that exists because of income distribution through school districts and cities.

Sen. Chambers is right to be angry about the bloat, the inefficiency, and the lack of community involvement; although, having a closer insight on schools than I’ve ever had before, has convinced me that the biggest problem failing schools face is one of parental apathy or downright hostility to their children’s schools and education. Simply shifting the and demanding more equality in spending isn’t going to fix the cultural problems that lead to failing schools even if he does achieve his goal of reducing the bureaucracy. I imagine the schools will just fail in new and imaginitive ways.

I, of course, have all of the solutions; I’m just keeping them to myself because I hate sharing. I’m an only child, you know.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

American Idol: April 25 (Even Quicker)

Great love songs? Boring crap for all I can tell.

Katharine McPhee: that had to hurt. When you lose Paula, you know you probably didn’t sound particularly good.

Elliott Yamin: why would you choose such a tremendously forgettable song? Paula cried, though, and that’s irritating. The vocals were good, but the song is bland.

Pickler: the g-phrase listens to Pickler speaking and says, “She’s like Forrest Gump.” Pretty sure she didn’t mean that in the nicest possible way. Pitchy, wandering, uninspired take on a classic. She can’t sing a love song and make people feel the music.

Paris: she sang a song that I really can’t stand, but she sang it pretty well. I love her personality, I love her voice, I wish she had chosen another song.

Taylor: he could be going home after this. Love the charisma, love the voice, but this just wasn’t very good.

Aside: is “Ihatepaula.com” available?

Chris: is he going to win? The guy sounds like any number of pop “rock” singers--and I have a feeling you could slip him into a few groups without anyone noticing the difference--but he also shows a great potential to make big bucks for his producers.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Good News in Africa

There is good news in Africa today as a report shows good economic growth through the countries making up Sub-Saharan Africa.

Growth in the 48-country region hit 4.8% in 2004, exceeding the global growth rate of 4.1% that year, the last year covered in the institution’s latest “World Development Indicators” report.

The trend is expected to continue this year as many African countries pursue sound economic policies, develop a good investment climate, battle corruption and use aid more effectively, according to the bank.

Economic growth often brings educational and health benefits. If there is an attendant shift toward stable, freer governments, then we could be entering a period where Africans begin to capitalize on abundant national resources. Of course, that’s a big “if”, given the tumultuous nature of politics and corruption in Africa. It also fails to note just how far down the economic ladder most of Africa exists; there is much ground to make up before they can be considered in the same breath as the developing nations of Central and South America, for example.

And while it does stand as good news, the mitigating factor is not only that successes seem so fleeting through much of the continent, but also that the successes exist alongside the monumental failures like Zimbabwe. Stability is sometimes hard to maintain when you live next door to nations that bleed refugees and invite civil war and economic unrest. As Zimbabwe continues to decline, what will the effect ultimately be on Mozambique and South Africa, for instance?

Still, good news is good news and these steps toward progress must be applauded. What I continue to hope for is that we see a sort of post-post-colonial period sweep through Africa. A period where the nations that threw off Europe’s rule finally grow weary of making excuses for their homegrown tyrants.

Read the rest.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Joys of Blogging

One of the biggest joys of blogging is the email that you, occasionally, find from thoughtful people who want to disagree with you (or, at least, share some of their own thoughts on a subject). It can help you expand your own thoughts and understand your own beliefs a little better when they are challenged.

That link to Oscar’s site from a few entries back brought an email from a lady who I hope comes by to challenge me regularly. Normally I would share part of the conversation, but I think I’ll keep this one for myself. I did want to say a semi-public thanks, though, to this reader who gave me something to ponder today.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled weekend…

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Flight 93

A few weeks ago, when I saw Spike Lee’s new movie, I also first saw the trailer for United 93. It took me a moment to realize what I was watching, and then, in a way I didn’t expect, I started reacting physically to the images. My breathing stepped up a touch, my hands clenched, my eyes widened--it was far a far more visceral response than I would have imagined.

I’ve talked to a few people about the upcoming movie since then and nearly every one had a variant of “it’s too soon” come out of their mouths. This either immediately followed or immediately preceded a variant of “but I really have to see it"--which is the kind of confused response that an emotionally charged, controversial film is bound to have. I think it also tells us that it isn’t too soon if the movie has been done right. Americans are obsessed with the events of 9/11--that day has dominated our country spiritually, politically, and culturally. It’s a rare contemporary movie, album, speech, or television show that avoids referencing either the events or the fallout.

United 93 is just an extension--a logical extension aiming to deal with one of the key events of our national tragedy--of the thoughts that have been running through almost all of our minds. Thoughts about terrorism, fear, bravery, and what it will take to set our world back right.

There are so many ways to get this movie wrong (it could be a melodramatic study of an already overwhelmingly emotional subject, it could make excuses for a horrific act of terrorism, or it could, in a Pearl Harbor-style maneuver, insert a wholly unnecessary love story) and one way to get it right: being honest, unadorned, sober, and true to the horror of the day. Honor the bravery of the passengers and the loss that their loved ones must still feel.

Done well, United 93 could remind us of that terrible day in 2001 that brought us to where we are today: in a difficult war, hotly divided politically, and facing a future that requires more patience and strength of will than my generation ever expected to need. A somewhat isolationist President, set against the idea of nation building and planning to keep America’s eyes turned inward, was transformed into a man who believes that the demands of our time involve transforming an entire region of the world both politically and culturally through a mix of military power, economic inducement, strong diplomacy, and a faith in the universal desire of people to be free.

I actually hope that United 93 will be a reminder of not only 9/11 but also of all of the successes, mistakes, frustrations, and hopes that, woven together, make up the fabric of the entire world since that date.

And, yes, barring warnings from trusted friends, I will be seeing United 93.

Update: Further thoughts from De Doc and De Deb.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Pondering Life’s Big Questions

First Big Question: How can I properly applaud Ace’s dismissal from American Idol when Paris was in the bottom three this week? Do the voters value perky breasts over talent?

Second Big Question: Do I know anybody in Kentucky? Because I’m going to be there in October and it would be really cool if someone wanted to buy me shots.

Third Big Question: Have you heard Jesu’s Silver yet? Because it is tremendous. It’s atmospheric and vast, but with a kind of biting edge--sort of what Brian Eno would sound like if he poured acid on the master tapes. Or something like that. Justin Broadrick is an amazing talent.

Fourth Big Question: Will the Nuggets be able to capitalize on their best season since I was in high school? Somehow I doubt it, but it’s nice to see them back in the mix.

The Slow, Slow Drive to Work

Heading into work today, while I composed a few thousand words of something will probably never actually get written, I realized that, in a purely functional sense, I only average something like 18 miles per hour during the drive. On a good day, I might see something close to 30 mph, but on a bad day it drops to between 8 and 10 mph.

Not terribly important in the way that this is, but still pretty freakin’ important to me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

American Idol: April 18 (The Quickie)

Can’t stand Rod Stewart’s voice; seems like a nice enough guy, though. Ridiculously cute child, too.

Chris Daughtry on “Wonderful World” is actually pretty damned good. While his voice won’t match the expressive beauty of Armstrong’s, it is about as pretty as Daughtry will ever get. A classic arrangement and a classy vocal turn.

Paris is divine. Her vocal on “Foolish Things” was perfect and surprisingly mature for such a young lady. Utterly gorgeous, not overly adorned, and warm. According to the g-phrase, it was also one of the most difficult songs we’ll here tonight.

Taylor’s “You Send Me” was almost two songs in one. It started about as boring and lifeless as you could imagine, but finished with all the personality that we’ve come to expect from Hicks. It was never bad, but I can’t help but think it should have been outstanding.

Elliott Yamin fit “It Had to be You”, but the goofy back-up singers did nothing to help him no favors. Good but not great.

Kellie is bubbly. Perky, too. And not as particularly bright. I was shocked that she could string together “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” without a speech coach and a cue card. Kind of the opposite of Taylor, she started well and ended bad. Stupendously bad.

Acs is just not a particularly good singer. His nasal, weak voice is my least favorite of the bunch (and that’s squeezing under a mighty low bar) and his new look--which hair slicked back--wasn’t a good thing. Although Picler probably deserves the boot, I can’t help but hope that Ace is the one to get voted off the island this week.

Katherine looke and sounded her best. Which means that she looked magnificent and sounded, you know, pretty good. Vocally, she just doesn’t have it in her to be the best, but this was a solid night for her and a great performance.

Not as good as Simon suggested, though.

Now, for the good part of the night: House.

A Happy Independence Day?

Today is Zimbabwe’s independence day, marking 26 years of misrule, decline, and oppression. This address from Arthur Mutambara, an opposition leader associated with the Movement for Democratic Change, sums up my feelings beautifully.

Twenty six years after independence, the people of Zimbabwe are not enjoying the fruits of liberation. Instead, starvation, unemployment, deplorable working conditions, unmitigated suffering, and unprecedented hopelessness have become endemic. There is a litany of challenges: We live in an undeclared state of emergency where our basic freedoms and liberties of assembly, speech, movement, and association are heavily curtailed by repressive legislation. Zimbabweans live in a state of collective fear of violence, hunger, diseases and arrest. Basic and essential commodities are either unavailable or unaffordable. School fees, property rates, rentals and agricultural inputs are beyond reach. The crippling fuel crisis, erratic power supply, destruction of commercial agriculture, food shortages, and lack of housing are devastating the population. Inflation has soared to record levels of 913%, unemployment is above 85%, while poverty levels are above 90%. There is rampant corruption in both the private and public sectors, accentuated by poor public sector and corporate governance.
[...]
Civil society and civic organizations must be non-partisan, internally democratic, and respectful of their own laws. Term limits should be strictly adhered to in civic, party and national constitutions. There is need to restore political freedoms, rule of law, personal security, and political legitimacy in Zimbabwe. It should be understood that the Zimbabwean political culture has been defined by Zanu PF for the past 26 years. We are all cut from that same cloth, hence the tendency to replicate Zanu PF undemocratic practices in all our organizations. We need to acknowledge this and consciously create and live a new democratic value system.
[...]
Today, the 18th of April 2006, our sacred Independence Day, it is our humble submission that the Zanu PF government under the leadership of Robert Mugabe has violated all the principles of the liberation struggle leading to this unprecedented economic collapse. They have totally failed to organize and manage the affairs of our nation. They neither understand the causes of the economic crisis, nor do they have a clear vision for the country. More importantly, Zanu PF has neither the will, strategy nor capacity to deliver our country from economic collapse to prosperity. We demand our human rights and dignity today. We demand an end to the national economic crisis today. We demand the immediate resignation of the entire Zanu PF government today. The people of Zimbabwe must rule themselves again. Today, the hour has come for us to reclaim our national birth right.

And, of course, there is far more in what I didn’t quote. As much as some of the specifics may be overly optimistic or even a tiny bit naive, the direction is right and only a radical change will save Zimbabwe from complete collapse.

What is most maddening is that this talk of rebellion comes to mark the “independence” of what should have been one of the wealthiest and most stable nations in Sub-Saharan Africa; it was a nation with a decent industrial base, a healthy agricultural sector, a reasonable infrastructure, educational opportunities actually improved for some time after independence, and the kind of optomistic, international support that could have helped Mugabe build an example for other nations in the region.

Instead, Zimbabwe became a very typical African story of corruption, tribal politics, violence, and corruption.

Happy independence day, Zimbabwe.


Zimbabwe Independence

More Reading:
Tuesday, April 18, 2006 – Independence Day (Ha ha the joke’s on us)
Sokwanele home.
More Zimbabwe news from New Zimbabwe.

Original photo of Harare from CricketUmp.com.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Speaking of Dan Wesson (Because We Were You Know)

Jed notes the return of Dan Wesson revolvers (if not quite Dan Wesson Arms) which got me to thinking. First, it got me to thinking about how I couldn’t afford one of those new revolvers. Second, it got me to thinking about the upcoming Tanner Gun Show. Which got me thinking (because I think somewhat regularly if not always particularly well) that it might be a great day to meet some of the other local believers in the right of citizens to keep and bear arms.

King Kong: DVD Review

Somewhere inside all of the too-obvious special effects, irritating direction and camera work, melodramatic acting, and mud-encrusted natives is a bad script trying to hide beneath the debris of an impressively defective movie. It has all of the sins of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films but without the redeeming value of the LOTR books to prop up the effort. With a script that has all the nuance of a longing hobbit glance, you might imagine that there might be a camp classic buried in there somewhere; sadly, no sense of humor or irony is in evidence.

The movie is overly long (because Jackon is big enough that he doesn’t have to worry about pacing and running time anymore) and has an almost George Lucas-like reliance on CGI that manages to get in the way of enjoying the visuals.  In fact, in many ways King Kong seems like a complete visual extension of the LOTR movies with the addition of more modern characters. Every big effects scene goes a few steps too far and every dramatic moment is emphasized by what I can only assume was meant to be an “edgy” slow motion, jumpy camera crawl. “Edgy” or “irritating”: you make the call.

Kong is probably the best part of the movie. He is as impressive as the villagers are filthy and disturbing. His facial expressions and movements are impressively well done.

It’s a meaningless (although slightly creepy) love story that doesn’t have the advantage of being charming, funny, well paced, or particularly smart. Like Kong, the whole movie is just really freakin’ big. Ultimately, the main advantage of this remake is that it simply isn’t the execrable V for Vendetta.

I always consider it a bad sign when I fell like giggling during the big dramatic scenes. Some of the effects were so laughably off--as with the slow-mo close-ups of our heroine in Kong’s grasp as he runs through the jungle--that the urge to laugh was almost overwhelming. The running of the bulls scene-as depicted with a cast of dinosaurs and the occasional squished sailor--encouraged a similar response.

This one definitely wasn’t for me.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Governed from Afar

Discontent grows over the EU’s role in unfettered governance of its members--as well it should. The distance between the ballot and the power seems to be growing ever wider.

Brussels now generates 80 per cent of the legislation in EU member states. Let me repeat that: Brussels now generates 80 per cent of the legislation in EU member states. That’s not my figure: it comes from the German justice ministry which, in reply to a parliamentary question last year, listed the 23,000 legal acts adopted in Germany since 1998 and showed that 18,000 of them were there to give effect to EU directives and regulations.

While our own Government refuses to publish such data, I think we can reasonably assume the proportion to be roughly similar across Europe.

When four out of every five laws are handed down by EU functionaries, it is hardly surprising that elections are treated as perfunctory, almost folkloric, affairs.

Just as in Iran, or the old Soviet bloc, Europe’s national parliaments are becoming decorative rather than functional: true power resides elsewhere.

The article I’m referencing takes a rather flip tone, but the truth is that the growing divorce between the citizens and their “representatives” can only make citizens feel more removed from the political process, distrustful of their leadership, and, ultimately, powerless to enact change through legitimate acts. It doesn’t help that Brussels continues to act as if the defeat of ratification of the constitution in France and the Netherlands was a mere inconvenience to an inevitable ratification; it’s even worse to think that there might be a loophole that will moot the reluctance in the UK, France, and the Netherlands.

And, failing the bully tactic, plans are in place to implement portions of the constitution without bothering to actually have to ratify the constitution. To be completely fair, it is heartening to see some parties pushing back against this kind of a back-door ratification.

Keep watching: the ongoing birth pains of the EU should continue to be a fun spectator sport for some time.

Bits of Good News

Two bits of good news:

The Euston Manifesto (which I noticed, as I’m sure many of you did, over in The Corner). I need to read through it more carefully, but this declaration of democratic, progressive principles is well worth contemplation. Update: Another view (and a funny one, at that). And you can also read Publicola’s unfettered views on the subject (he plays nice when he comes here because he knows I’ll buy his dates drinks whenever the next bash rolls around).

The return of Oscar Jr, who is simply always worth reading. Welcome back.

My Easter Wish

To all my Christian friends, I would extend wishes for a wonderful Easter. For myself, I hope for a day of reflection on the promise of renewal found in the resurrection; for the personal hope that comes from my faith. For all of us, I would offer a prayer for guidance and wisdom, that our actions would help to make the world a better, more just, more loving place where my friends’ children can grow up safe and happy.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Fun with Dick and Jane, DVD Review

The biggest problem with Fun with Dick and Jane is that it isn’t very funny. It felt like work to find a handful of chuckles, and none of the “best” moments were memorable. That’s the biggest problem with the flick; the smaller problems are harder to track (of course, I’ll give it a shot).

Jim Carrey is lifeless in the role (shocking considering that he was the producer) and exhibits none of the charisma that he showed in, for example, Truman Show. The narrative is something less than interesting. It seems so far removed from the reality of corporate America, job hunting, and financial difficulties that it can’t actually resonate with viewers. Dick and Jane’s son isn’t so much a character as a prop to be brought out for the occasional joke. The writing stinks. The closing credits starts with a “thank you” to a list of people like Ken Lay and to companies like Enron and ImClone which might have been witty in a smarter movie. Unfortunately this isn’t that movie, so it just comes across as churlish and stupid.

So, yeah, I wouldn’t exactly recommend this one.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Step by Step Instructions for the Most Current Perfect Friday

  1. Sleep in late because you won’t be going in to work today.
  2. Have a leisurely lunch with a friend. Sit on the patio because the warm spring skies are too good to pass up. Drink a beer because you can.
  3. Go to your girlfriend’s house to play with her dog. Give the pup a treat just because the way she leans up against you is so damned cute.
  4. Wait for the g-phrase to come home and notice just how cute she looks and how pretty her smile is. Hang out while she tells you about her day and just enjoy her company.
  5. Go grab a cheap dinner at Jason’s Deli. Mostly because of their gigantic baked potatoes.
  6. Spend way too much money at the local Borders because books make you happy.
  7. Grab a few videos at Blockbuster so you can settle in back at home for a night of cuddling and reading.
  8. Realize that strawberry milkshakes from Baskin Robbins would probably go pretty good on a night like this one.
  9. Settle in to read Bernard-Henri Levy’s American Vertigo--a sort of spiritual successor to Tocqueville’s famous observations about American vices, virtues, and potentials.
  10. Feel blessed that regardless of the strife and struggle in the world, there is much to appreciate and love.

It might not be your perfect Friday, but it worked wonders for me.

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