Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bill Maher Thought He Was Voting for the OG Prez

It doesn’t rank near the top of the list of dumbest things ever said, but it’s definitely one of the dumbest things I’ve heard recently.

In wishing for an American president who is more, you know, black, Bill Maher betrays his vision of what constitutes an authentically black American: a gun-toting original gangsta.

Apparently an educated man who doesn’t feel the need to resort to threats of violence in his executive meetings isn’t black enough for Maher. His view of black men is, apparently, a cartoonish view of black men as complete captives to their violent urges, with no nuance, and, no matter the education and professional achievement, just one step away from joining the Rollin’ 30 Crips. That’s a real black president, according to Maher. I suppose that, skin color be damned, a dark-skinned fellow who doesn’t exhibit those traits is just a white man in disguise?

Which is one of many, many reasons to switch the channel when he comes on.

Watch Maher make a complete clown of himself.

Friday, May 28, 2010

That’s the Way to Handle a Heckler

Kudos to Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, for his handling of a surprising heckler during his remarks at an Africa Day celebration. The surprising source? The Zimbabwean ambassador, Machivenyika Mapuranga. What could have been embarrassing, though, wasn’t quite a “tear down this wall” moment, but it is admirably frank and utterly right.

Carson silenced both the ambassador and the crowd when he started speaking again. Changing his tone, he scolded Zimbabwe by pointing out that such outbursts would have evoked vicious punishment in the southern African country, which has been ruled by revolutionary leader Robert Mugabe with an iron fist since the 1980s.

“You can sit in the audience in darkness, but the light will find you and the truth will find you,” Carson told Mapuranga, as event staff quietly tried to encourage the ambassador to leave.

Turning to the crowd, Carson said: “It seems that Robert Mugabe has some friends in the room tonight. Unlike in Zimbabwe, they are allowed to speak without oppression, because this is a democracy.”

Good job.

Read the rest.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Birthday Presents for the Discerning Screaming Trees Fan

Sweet Oblivion is being re-released on vinyl. Which is freakin’ awesome.

It also might help blunt the pain of the Lee DeWyze win. If that doesn’t, a quick dose of 16 Horsepower might help.

And if you want something a little more light-hearted, try Richard Swift’s “Would You?”

American Idol: The Old Guys Are Better Than The Young Guys Edition

(Spoiler Down Below)

One thing about watching fogies night is the realization that the old, professional singers are, in large part, out-singing their American Idol counterparts. Including some of those who made it pretty far into the show. Including one of the guys who had a chance to win tonight.

Seriously, Lee DeWyze seems like a really nice guy, but his voice isn’t particularly good, he can’t seem to remember (or maybe he just doesn’t appreciate) the melody, he doesn’t connect emotionally to the song, he’s charismatic in the same way that firewood is charismatic, and he’s boring.

I like pop music and my disappointment in the show isn’t a reflection of the songs that they sing (although what I wouldn’t have given to see them have to tackle, say, Corrosion of Conformity night). It’s a reflection of the fact that they pile outrageous praise on vocal performances that simply don’t deserve it like, for instance, Lee’s take on “The Boxer.” He had zero understanding of the emotion or the subtlety of the song and, honestly, it was a horrible song for a night where they were supposed to be singing inspirational songs.

“The Boxer” may be defiant, but it’s hardly inspirational either in tone or in subject--it’s a hard song about someone who, in the words of Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, is “born to lose and destined to fail.” Unlike the Ness song, though, Simon and Garfunkel’s boxer keeps standing up to take the next punch. That’s not inspirational because there is precisely nothing in the song or the character they paint that leads anyone to believe that the guy is going to win the fight (much less “win” in life)--he’ll just gather more scars and wish he could find his way home. His life will leave him lonely and he’ll continue to take his solace in “the whores on Seventh Avenue,” but that’s an empty and cold life by anyone’s standards.

Inspirational? I don’t see it.

If he had managed to sing it well, I might have forgiven him, but he didn’t. In fact, of the episodes that I saw this year, there really weren’t a lot of highlights--and what few bright spots there were didn’t come from him.

Tim Urban, with one of the most limited voices on the show, managed one of those high points when he sang “Hallelujah.” While it didn’t capture the emotional wallop of Leonard Cohen’s original (another guy with a seriously limited voice) or the transcendent beauty of Jeff Buckley’s version, but he put heart and soul into the song and came out with something special in its own right. Perhaps it was that he managed the emotional connection that most AI performances simply can’t reach. Or maybe it was that you could tell that he was standing right at the ragged edge of his vocal range and giving his all to make it as good as he could possibly manage.

And Tim--we called him Smiley around the Zomby household--was the picture of good grace. His parents must be proud. He stood in front of judges who were brutal and, week after week, he faced their criticism with good humor and a brilliant smile. Even when you could see that something had gotten through, he didn’t let the smile fail. And, finally, the judges relented, even to the point of almost admitting that they had treated him poorly. Still, he smiled, did his best, and enjoyed his opportunity to be in the spotlight.

He didn’t deserve to win the show, and I’m not suggesting that he did, but he had something that nearly none of the others had this year: a natural charisma and good spirit that had me pulling for him whenever we caught the show.

Tonight, though, the two who had a chance to win were a second-rate vocal talent with little charisma and a much more vibrant vocal talent (and a bit of a throwback to the early late sixties in style) who wilted a bit as the show went along.

And while I enjoyed most of the songs that Bowersox had a part in, the truth is that they were often outshone by artists well past their prime. Did you catch Joe Cocker’s moment? The man still has a bigger voice than anyone else on the show (and Lee positively disappeared beside Cocker and Bowersox in that moment--it was obvious that he wasn’t even in the same weight class).

How about Alice Cooper with his immense showmanship and command of the stage? Or Michael McDonald’s duet with Big Mike? Both of the old guys showed up big (even if the audience seemed largely confused by Michael McDonald).

The truth is that American Idol largely crowns second-rate talents and, while I’m happy for the winners, they are mostly music history footnotes just a few years after they win. Tonight, between these two, the winner should have been Bowersox, but the prize went to a guy who probably won’t be remembered except to the Idol-obsessed masses. He’ll make gobs of money (because there are some big guarantees) and he’ll live the life of a star for the next couple years (more than I’ll ever experience) and he won’t much matter in the grand scheme of things.

With Simon Cowell’s retirement from the show, I’ll be mercifully released from the last, tenuous hold that American Idol has used to lure me in with increasing irregularity.

What a relief. 

Just Because

Soulsavers and Mark Lanegan singing “Can’t Catch the Train.”

Sadly, I won’t be able to use Lala’s features to embed songs since Lala disappears in a few days. PS- If you were in the mood for something louder, this, from the same album, might fit the bill.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Robin Hood: The Ten Point Review

  1. Boy, Ridley Scott really does know how to make violence beautiful and visually engaging. Even when it is in the service of re-filming Saving Private Ryan’s, D-Day beach landing reframed for medieval England.
  2. And that’s not the only mash of story and movie references that manages to fall into the mix. When Robin speaks about the need for equality, social justice, and freedom, I couldn’t get Gibson’s The Patriot (and Braveheart, for that matter). It didn’t seem so much a new movie as a cobbling together of many stories (none of which was Robin Hood) into something that didn’t much fit the title or the period portrayed.
  3. And that’s coming from a guy who didn’t think it was such a bad thing that they were taking the Robin Hood legend in a new direction.
  4. The boys wandering in the forest reminded me of a grubbier version of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys. Not bad in concept, I suppose, but it didn’t really matter in the overall story of the movie. If they hadn’t been there, nothing would have changed.
  5. I’m betting that a lot of story ended up on the cutting room floor--the story jerked about from moment to moment without much flow and with some characters making oddly disconnected decisions within a few scenes with no explanation of why they changed their paths. At well over two hours, it’s hard to suggest that the movie should have been longer, but, if longer, the story might have been better.
  6. Let me backtrack for a moment, though: everything from armor and clothing to siege engines and fortifications were just gorgeous.
  7. I’ve heard some folks complain that Robin Hood should have been younger than Crowe. Firstly, I like the kind of gravitas and presence that Crowe can bring to a role. Secondly, he’s playing a man who had been off to war for a decade; he shouldn’t have been some sprightly youngster with no emotional scars. Crowe was a good casting decision.
  8. That’s some serious rabble-rousing anti-government and tax movie, there, isn’t it? Not a conservative movie and, even with its anti-government sentiment, not much a libertarian one, either. Listen to Marrian’s voice-over at the end of the movie and you’ll hear explicitly where the political inspiration was drawn. Still, I imagine that the rebellious currents in the movie are playing well right now with an America that is feeling distrustful and angry with its government right now.
  9. The historical references are so mangled that I decided by the end of the movie that one of the writers was actually waging an open war on history. I’m not sure why one would do that, but it seems like the only possible explanation for some of the oddities.
  10. That was one hellaciously long prologue for the inevitable sequels that will likely feel much more like the Robin Hood that we’re all more familiar with.
  11. Bonus point: I was thorougly disappointed in the music. The music for Gladiator and Master and Commander were both significantly better. Especially the Yo Yo Ma pieces in the latter.

Three stars, then, mostly for the battle scenes, the amazing costumes and sets, the wonderful rapport and chemistry between the lead characters, and the fact that I’m a big fan of knights, swords, archers, and anti-tax sentiment in popular culture. A decent movie, then, but only just. I’m a fan of Ridley Scott, but this is one of his lesser efforts.

If you do find the Robin Hood myths, then Stephen R. Lawhead’s King Raven Trilogy is worth your time. It isn’t your standard view of Robin Hood, and purists will be disappointed, but the story-telling and period details are wonderful. Similarly, his take on the Arthur myths are remarkable (give a skip, though, to Avalon, a singularly unsatisfying book and a wholly unnecessary add-on to the end of the series).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

May 21, 2010: Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash X (Because I Can’t Remember Where We Left Off Edition)

At 7 p.m. on May 21, 2010, at the Milwaukee St. Tavern, the Rocky Mountain Bloggers will be drinking booze, enjoying each other’s company, and solving the thorniest political problems with the amazing acuity that only booze can provide.

Entry is sticky for now. Watch below for other posts. Directions to the bar can be found here.

Who’s Coming to the Party?

Me. Because it isn’t much of a party without me, let’s be honest.
Jed. Whose blogging sprung a leak some time ago. We miss ya, Jed! And, anyway, he might not come. Because he has commitment issues.
Doug S. Who sometimes posts here. Sometimes posts other places. He’s sort of a blog hussy, really, and he has commitment issues, too.
Robert. He will be accompanied by his beautifully trimmed beard and a brace of anti-Zomby jokes. Because that’s how he rolls.
Darren. And, if we’re lucky, his lovely wife, both of whom bring a little needed class to the rest of us rabble.

Steve Green. Because he is both a better conversationalist than I am and happens to be a chick magnet. Which is important when you’re inviting a bunch of bloggers to go drinking.
Robin and his wife will be there to argue the relative merits of the various roller derby teams that come through Denver. And politics.
Walter. Even though he hasn’t said so explicitly, I have faith in him.
Mr. Lady will not be there. But she’ll be there in spirit. We’ll be there in spirits, but that’s an entirely different thing.

Hoping to Fail

Making a long-distance attempt to understand the intent of a failed terrorist has the potential to make one look like a fool. With incomplete evidence and little access to information and statements from the man, it is just so much supposition. There is something that compels us to speculation, though, and, hopefully, to see clearly enough to find something approaching the truth.

From my view--that is, far removed from the crime scene and with nothing other than newspaper and television reports to lead me--it looks very much like Faisal Shahzad intended to fail. If that is the case, then understanding why becomes important. Why did he agree to do it? Why did he make contact with the terrorists in the first place? But why, for all that, do the job so poorly?

I had that thought while I was reading this from Mark Steyn:

Because the reactions of Bloomberg & Co. are a useful glimpse into the decayed and corroded heart of a civilization. One day the bomb will explode. Dozens dead? Hundreds? Thousands? Would we then restrict immigration from certain parts of the world? Or at least subject them to extra roadblocks on the fast-track to citizenship?

What do you think?

I see, as part of the new culturally sensitive warmongering, that the NATO commander in Afghanistan is considering giving out awards to soldiers for “courageous restraint.” Maybe we could hand them out at home, too. Hopefully not posthumously.

I’m not suggesting that we let down our guard. In fact, I think this confirms that the United States has merely been lucky in combating terrorists on our own soil. The next bomber may not be so unlucky or incompetent or so apparently uncommitted to killing his fellow Americans. The next bomb could be devastating and it could strike nearly anywhere. Our Islamic extremist enemies have a longer view than we do (as evidenced by the decade of planning and refinement between the first WTC bombing and the second, successful act on September 11, 2001).

Our tendency towards complacency and our naively optimistic faith in human nature--belief that even our enemies are basically good and only require the right nudge to the conscience, the right Oprah-fied moment, to bring about a redemptive change that will put them in line with the American Way--is arguably our biggest flaw. On the first, consider that the bigger fight is not with the enemy but, quite literally, the urge to quit that fight, bring the troops home, and “return to normalcy.” On the latter, it seems that everyone in the US who isn’t a paleocon or a racist (former President Bush, the neocon contingent, and me included) views the world as being constructed entirely of two kinds of people: Westerners and people who haven’t yet realized their own Western ambitions (but who can be persuaded to join the fold). The common terrorist is really just a careful injection of Western cultural attitude away from being another happy Apple customer with dreams of taking the kids to Disney World.

It wouldn’t be too much of a reach to suggest that people who believe that are overly optimistic about human nature or that they don’t have a proper respect for the power of cultural and religious differences that can make, for example, the Taliban seem almost alien in their beliefs and lifestyle--that what they want is precisely the opposite of the Westernization that we hope to see slowly infecting them. Unlike Steyn’s “political-media class”, I have no illusions that Shahzad was an “isolated extremist” or that he was acting fully of his own accord. I continue to encourage an honest view of the enemy and vigilance in our efforts to keep America and our allies safe. Wishful thinking doesn’t keep the borders secure.

What I am suggesting is that in this instance, we might be seeing more evidence that Muslims immersed in American culture might have a hard time taking drastic action against their neighbors. Building a bomb, assembling it in the back of an SUV, and detonating it is hardly rocket science. The components and ingredients being commonplace and not particularly expensive, and a smart jihadi could pull it all together with minimum exposure. In fact, we know for a fact that a lone redneck whacko with a strong enough hatred of our government can not only build that bomb, but he can detonate it to truly devastating effect.

It requires a pretty strange faith in American exceptionalism to believe that a reasonably bright, college educated man with more financial support and a certificate from Pakistan’s finest Terrorist Continuing Education Camp couldn’t manage to even equal the efforts of Timothy McVeigh. Sans that perverse faith, the simplest explanation may well be one of intent.

Why are there so few attempted bombings here in the United States? Indeed, there are few attempted terrorist acts carried out on American soil and of those attempts, exceptionally few succeed to any significant effect. I’m not suggesting that downtown New York should resemble the streets of Baghdad, but America is remarkably open once you make it inside the borders. Travel from place to place is unrestricted, weapons are easy to buy and transport, and the equipment used to make bombs isn’t exactly under lock-and-key. Maybe exceptional work by our intelligence community explains the small number of domestic attacks or maybe it’s merely dumb luck. The problem with that is that I don’t believe in luck and, while I have great respect for those who work so hard to keep us safe, we know that our intelligence services can fail.

In fact, they failed in this instance and only the would-be terrorist’s incompetence or unwillingness saved the day. A cautionary note no matter how you choose to view it. Ultimately, Steyn is right: sooner or later there will be a bomber who comes through who is either better at his job or more convinced of his own actions.

Understanding why even our radicalized Muslim enemies--at least those who live amongst us--seem to have such a hard time attacking us with the same fervor as their counterparts in other regions of the world might give us a good insight as to how to continue working to win a long term peace. I may well be continuing to be a victim of that overoptimism that I mentioned earlier, but I can’t shake my belief in the “better angels of our nature” and find some hope that, ultimately, the Muslim world and the Western world can find a way to coexist without a state of constant, bloody conflict--to me, the alternative is horrific no matter which lens I choose to view it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Meth: Not Even Once (A Very Short Story)

Meth. Not even once.

Which is extremely lucky for me because I did it twice and skipped all the bad stuff that happened to the people in those ads.


Then I never did it again.

The end.

Speaking of Beer (Because We Were, You Know)

I’m stuck somewhere between disgust that our legislators are wasting time on things like this and, then, happiness that they are wasting time on things like this instead of things that are truly harmful.

While most of Washington was focused on Tuesday’s election results, the House was busy doing something else: Passing a resolution about beer.

House Resolution 1297, sponsored by Rep. Betsy Markey, supports “the goals and ideals of American Craft Beer Week.”

Perhaps the lesson is that a mostly useless congress is the best possible congress.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

American Idol: The Diminishing Returns Edition

I am shocked that the top three of this year’s American Idol is so horrendously bad. There is only one decent personality (Bowersox--who also has some measure of charm and a decent voice) and, beyond that, nothing whatsoever that you couldn’t hear on a street corner or dive bar on a Friday night.

And I know dive bars on Friday nights.

Whoever comes away with the victory at the end of this season is poised to be one of the music industry’s biggest afterthoughts three years on. They’ll have a few albums, they’ll make a bit of money, and no one will care in the end. I suppose Bowersox could escape that, but Lee and Casey are already fading from my memory.

Just think: they are this bad before they’re given the gift of their very own paint-by-numbers pop song that never seems to fit the style or talent of any of the singers that cross the stage.

When the hell does So You Think You Can Dance? start back up?

Woody Allen is an Ass. But You Knew That Already.

In case you missed it, Woody Allen wishes that Republicans would get out of the way of the Lightworker and give temporary Il Duce-ness to the President. I’m tempted to note the serious disconnect I’m having with a Jewish man advocating such a fascist concept, but that would be a lie. I’m not surprised at all.

Woody has been disconnected from reality for a long time now. That he would willingly hand the entire country over to one man, that he would willingly hand all of the rest of us over to one man, is just a reflection of the fantasy world that he has lived in for the bulk of his life.

PS- Mark Morford is an idiot. I wonder if he’s brave enough or smart enough to admit that the whole “Lightworker” article was lunacy and that President Obama, the good and the bad of him, is as normal as the rest of us. My guess is that he still sees “Messiah” whenever he sees Obama. His perverse view of JFK as a “high-vibration being, a peacemaker, at odds with the war machine, the CIA, the dark side” is just as mind-numbingly surreal as his view of Obama. Neither view is, shall we say, “reality based” and neither does their object much in the way of good. For true believers, the step down from messiah to normal human being is an awfully big one.

For normal minds, when the messiah doesn’t follow through on those high expectations, the result is crushing disappointment and disillusionment. Real humans are usually given a little room to maneuver when they make mistakes. That Morford can maintain his messianic view of JFK even after all that we know of the dead president, just shows that he lives his delusions more deeply than the rest of us.

As I said, Mark Morford is an idiot.

Nancy Pelosi: Jedi

If we strike them down, she will become more powerful than we can possibly imagine...

I’m tempted to note that DC is a hive of scum and villainy. We should be cautious.

But that would probably be taking things too far.

Monday, May 17, 2010

One Last Note About Dio

Before we move on from Dio’s passing, here is one last, great article for you to enjoy.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal Lies

I have no idea how these statements could be construed as something other than a lie:

“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008. “And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it — Afghanistan or Iraq — we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”

There was one problem: Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat now running for the United States Senate, never served in Vietnam. He obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war, according to records.
Sometimes his remarks have been plainly untrue, as in his speech to the group in Norwalk. At other times, he has used more ambiguous language, but the impression left on audiences can be similar.

In an interview on Monday, the attorney general said that he had misspoken about his service during the Norwalk event and might have misspoken on other occasions. “My intention has always been to be completely clear and accurate and straightforward, out of respect to the veterans who served in Vietnam,” he said.

But an examination of his remarks at the ceremonies shows that he does not volunteer that his service never took him overseas. And he describes the hostile reaction directed at veterans coming back from Vietnam, intimating that he was among them.

In 2003, he addressed a rally in Bridgeport, where about 100 military families gathered to express support for American troops overseas. “When we returned, we saw nothing like this,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Let us do better by this generation of men and women.”

I can’t say that I would respect him for his choice if he admitted to doing everything that he could to avoid the draft, but I would understand. I have significant moral qualms with conscription and fully understand anyone who simply does not want to go off to war. But lying--and, yes, to say that you served in Vietnam or that you were mistreated when you returned constitutes words used with the intent to mislead--and consistently misleading people about your service is offensive.

Voting against him seems too small; he should be heckled out of the race.

Read the rest.

Hat tip to One Fine Jay.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

If We Gave Them a Do-Over…

If we gave them a do-over, I wonder if the left, the independents, and the moderate right would have ended up voting for Obama? Or would we have seen a Clinton White House? Or, more shockingly, would the election have gone to McCain?

I ask because the comments over here are rather heated.

There is a shoe repairman on my street – a raging wingnut – wears his politics on his sleeve – he has a sign in front of his shop – Obama Lies Impeach Obama.

The impeachment of Obama is something that the left and the right may be able to get done together.

Wouldn’t hurt my feelings. Obama has been a disaster. He intends to do more damage to the citizenry. As a Trojan Horse Democrat he may succeed in gutting Social Security where Dubya had failed. Might be good to impeach him before he takes a huge bite out of our “entitlements”.

I don’t think we’ll see an impeachment of President Obama and his time in office won’t be all hardship and controversy. I remember a lot of bar talk--and comments on blogs tend to be a lot like bar talk--about an impeachment early in the Clinton presidency. I just as distinctly remember it fading away as the economy improved and as he stepped away from some of his more ambitious plans.

I have a hard time imagining Obama serving a second term, but, then, I wouldn’t be too surprised if his political fortunes change by the time he starts actively campaigning again.

Sad Day for Metal Fans: DIo has Died

Fans of Sabbath, Rainbow, and Dio will all be mourning today.

Ronnie James Dio, legendary frontman of Dio, Black Sabbath, and Rainbow, passed away peacefully, according to his wife, today at 7:45 a.m. He was 67. The legendary metal vocalist, born Ronald James Padavona, was diagnosed with stomach cancer in November, forcing him to cancel shows with Heaven & Hell—the name of the Sabbath lineup he’d been fronting since 2006.

Read the rest.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bork! Bork! Bork!


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

All You Zombies…

No, it’s not a call to arms. Neither is it a short story by Robert A. Heinlein.

Well, actually, yes it is both of those things on some days, but I’m not talking about them right now. I’m talking about the Hooters’ song by the same name. It came up while on BYO.fm today--which, more about that later--and I’d forgotten just how much I enjoy this song. There’s a touch of synth toward the end that I could do without, but the song itself is awfully darned catchy. It was followed by Arbouretum’s “Pale Rider Blues,” which I believe I’ve talked about here before. If not, then treat yourself to this nine-minute, slow-building dose of dark thoughts. Not to mention that you’ll find the album, Rites of Uncovering, has some of the most impressive guitar solos that you’ll ever find on such a deeply folk-influenced album.

It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it is phenomenal.

I suppose the funny part is that after those two picks, BYO sidetracked me into Bernie Mardones’ “Into the Night.” Which, no, I will not apologize…

God bless random picks from my giant freakin’ music collection. The problem with having tens upon tens of thousands of songs at your disposal and a seemingly unquenchable thirst for more and newer music is that you forget to appreciate the good and great stuff already in your library. The same could be said for books. The problem with having a finite lifespan is that there is just too much to see, learn, hear, read, and experience for one, short life.


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