Friday, April 30, 2004

Album of the Day

Paul Simon: Graceland. While Graceland's importance as an icon of the incorporation of world music into Western pop is overstated (Peter Gabriel did much more several years earlier, for example), it's still a really really good record. It's full of interesting collaborations, most notably with South African musicians. But one of the best tunes ("All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints") has a closer-to-home set of collaborators - Los Lobos.

Attack of the Federal Criminal Kudzu

ReasonOnline has a very interesting column this month about the explosive expansion in Federal criminal law in the last 50 years or so. It questions the fundamental wisdom of using Federal power to punish and enforce what are, in reality, local crimes. Not to bite the hand that feeds me, but there is a lot to be said for the argument that things have just gone to far. Oh, and notice who presided over the initial doubling of the Federal prison population - that champion of "smaller government," Ronald Reagan.

So Much For Protecting the Weak

A Catholic Archbishop has, in essence, fired a priest under his authority who was a visible advocate for those who have been victimized during the Church's child abuse scandal. Isn't a priest's job (indeed the church's) to give comfort to the afflicted, the victims of society? Instead, leave it to the Catholic Church to punish one of their own, one of the few, who actually helped the people who the Church has spent years fucking over (in more ways than one). It's more evidence that their policy in all things is to cover their own asses, regardless of the costs.

What You Can't See Can't Hurt You, I Guess

Tonight, ABC's Nightline will be dedicated to honoring the memories of those Americans who have died in combat in Iraq. As I understand it, Ted Koppel will simply be reading the names of the fallen while their pictures are on the screen. No commentary, no "angle." Nonetheless, Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns several ABC local affiliates, have pulled the program from their stations tonight. One of those affiliates is WCHS here in Charleston. This does not come really as a shock to me - WCHS pulled Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect long before it was cancelled by ABC. Also not shocking is the generally favorable local reaction to the show being off the air.

Outside of Charleston, however, things are quite different. An official at WSXY in Columbus says the station has received many calls, none of them in favor of Sinclair's decision. Also weighing in is Arizona Senator John McCain, who has certainly earned the right to opine about all things military, in a letter to Sinclair's CEO:

"Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war's terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces . . . It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves."

Sinclair claims the show "appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq." In general, local affiliates have the power to not show network programs that might, for some reason, offend local sensibilities. Normally it's because something is labeled indecent or overly violent or what have you. That's objectionable enough, but to take a news program off the air because it might "undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq," which seems highly unlikely, is frightening. What's next - taking the ABC Nightly News off the air because they show what's happening in Fallujah? That is certainly not in the public interest, folks at Sinclair.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Album of the Day

Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, & Steve Vai: G3 Live in Concert. This is an interesting disc, if only because it shows the wide gulf (in my mind) between Eric Johnson on the one hand and Satriani and Vai. In their 3-song individual sets, each player has his strengths. Satriani undoubtedly is a hell of a player, but the brief set obscures his lack of song-writing skill (based on the two albums of his I own). Johnson covers a broader stylistic ground and sounds more cool and in control of his abilities. Vai's songs are the most interesting, but his over the top Strat-abuse can only go so far. When the three play together on the closing jams, however, it gets really interesting. Johnson is the only one who really stands out and sounds unique. The fact that he's willing to not play a million miles a minute some times doesn't hurt either.

El Tri Goes Down in Dallas

The US men's national team downed Mexico 1-0 last night in what is becoming an annual "friendly" grudge match between the powers of CONCACAF. Truth be told, the Mexicans were lucky to almost escape with a 0-0 draw, as the Yanks outplayed them all night. Our honor was saved by a late goal by an opportunistic Eddie Pope (come back to DC, Eddie!) on a corner kick in the dying second of stoppage time.

Celebrating (?) 50 Years of Brown

As the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education, approaches, many punidts are trying to assess the true effect of the decision. FindLaw columnist Edward Lazarus takes on some of the revisionist theories about the case.

More World Justice

I have, in this space, commented on the Supreme Court's ability to look at how other nations deal with the issues it confronts. I generally think it's a good idea. This column from Jurist goes into some good detail about some of the justices's opinions on the matter, focusing on Scalia.

Stay The *censored* Away From My Movies!

In what has to be one of the more interesting uses of new consumer technology, Wal-Mart is getting ready to sell DVD players equipped with censorship technology that will allow viewers to "excise" unwanted content. Parents (presumably) can program into the player what they thinks is inappropriate, from graphic violence to sex to bad language - or, in other words, from being fucked up to fucking to the word "fuck." Some directors are up in arms, and rightly so. You should really take the film as it's intended to be seen.

But on the other hand, it's not as if the would-be censors control anyone's view of the film but their own (or their kids). It doesn't stop me from fully enjoying the blood-spattered goodness of Kill Bill in the privacy of my own home or in the theater. Hey, at work I even programmed my PC's CD player to skip one of the 20 tracks on Mike Keneally's Dancing that, IMHO, is a dud in the middle of an otherwise brilliant album. Would Mike really care? Should he?

Now That's Personal Responsibility

Yesterday's USA Today had an interesting story about Japanese public reaction to their hostages taken in Iraq. Rather than engage in a national hand-wringing, accompanied by yellow ribbons and the like, the general public reaction was a collective "tough shit." Basically, the trio knew what they were getting into and had no one to blame but themselves for being taken. Wonder what it would take for people in this country to react the same way?

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Album of the Day

Rush: Presto. This one makes the cut for purely nostalgic reasons - it was the first CD I owned. A gift from my brother for Christmas the year he bought my parents a CD player (I was still a student living at home at the time). While it's not the band's strongest work, and is probably their "lightest", I like the wide open production that allows you to hear each player doing their thing.

A Bush Too Far

NationalJournal.com has an interesting column about the oral argument in the Supreme Court last week regarding the whether the folks being held at Guantanamo as "enemy combatants" can avail themselves of the courts to challenge their confinement. It makes some good points, particularly that Dubya's gone one step beyond in this case.

Is He Stupid or Just Insane?

Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, has a history of somewhat nutty ideas. He was the one who, a few months ago, opined that the commercial fortunes of women's soccer could be saved simply by the ladies wearing tighter uniforms. Now, he's taken aim at that soccer staple - the draw. Blatter is seeking ways to force a winner and loser for future games. Penalty kicks, it seems, may be on the horizon for all matches. And just as MLS finally got over it's aversion to draws!

Draws occur more frequently in soccer than other sports, largely because of the low-scoring nature of the sport. I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the attitude displayed by many managers and players that "playing for a draw" is an acceptable strategy. A draw should be an acceptable result only if the two teams play each other pretty tight and no real winner could be determined. No team should come out of the tunnel playing for a draw for 90 minutes. Maybe a shift in attitude would lead to fewer draws and, hopefully, make Sepp happy enough to leave things well enough alone.

A Lesson On Colors

Among the numerous issues facing the people of Iraq is this overlooked quandary: what about a new flag? American officials, in an attempt to wipe away all vestiges of the Hussein regime, have designed a new one. As the article indicates, it's color scheme is a pretty radical departure in the Arab world. Whether that's intentional or the byproduct of our lack of understanding of the region is unclear.

Can The Republic Survive? Vote Now!

A disclaimer up front: I do not have, nor have I ever had, any use whatsoever for American Idol. Kudos, I suppose, to Fox for developing a "reality" TV hit that doesn't involve massive plastic surgery or eating horse rectum, but that's damning with faint praise. The show has always been about which of the singers can capture the popular attention and grab the top prize. The judges, as I understand it, are out of it at this point. It's up to you (certainly not me), the viewer. So why the hue and cry now that, all of a sudden, the voters are kicking off the "talented" contestants? This crisis rates not one but two articles in USA Today. Wake up, ya' idiots - it's always been a popularity contest. If it wasn't, someone with actual musical talent (as opposed to skilled karaokeists) might make waves on the show. Until something like that happens, count me as bemused and reaching for the remote.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Album of the Day

Rush: Grace Under Pressure. This album gets the nod, not because it is my favorite Rush album, or even my favorite Rush album that I listened to today (it was a good day). For it's weaknesses, p/g contains what is, in my mind, the great underrated Rush tune of all time, "Between The Wheels." It's a perfect album closer and contains one of Lifeson's best solos. In spite of that, it's rarely (if ever) seen the light of day live. Oh well.

The Due Process of Victors' Justice

Today's USA Today has a lengthy article about the rules set down by the Pentagon for the military tribunals set up to try the "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo. Accurately, the article concludes that the procedures tip in favor of keeping those folks locked up. No "better that 5 guilty men go free than 1 innocent man be wrongly convicted" for these folks.

"I'm A Monster, Baby"

Imagine (this might take some effort) you are a lonely horny rhinoceros stuck in an English zoo. You haven't gotten lucky in a while. What do you do? You try to get it on with the nearest available target - in this case a Renault Laguna sedan. From the "You Can't Make This Stuff Up Department comes this description of the action from one inhabitant of said Renault: "He sidled up against us. The next thing I know he's banging away at the car and it's rocking like hell."

Bonus points for anyone who knows the relevant of this entry's title to this story.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Album of the Day

Ritual: Think Like a Mountain. Ritual is a Swedish prog band who bring a healthy dose of Scandinavian folk influences to their music. It really is unlike anything else I have in my collection. At first the album did little for me, aside from a couple of tracks. Repeated listens have uncovered various interesting layers and bits throughout the disc. Highly recommended.

How Did We Get Here?

Just recently I discovered a website called JURIST, which is dedicated to legal news and analysis. It's hosted by the University of Pittsburgh law school. Currently on the site is a symposium about the selection and appointment of federal judges, the problems of the system, and proposed fixes. One particularly interesting piece traces how we got to the stalemate on judicial appointments we have today.

Preach On, CSM!

The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting column today about how the Christian right just doesn't get it in regards to the Ten Commandments and American history.

Let the Hypocrisy Begin!

As expected, Mel Gibson's production company has begun shopping around The Passion of the Christ to the broadcast TV networks. Many people, self included, are wondering how exactly that would work. In the post-Super Bowl tit incident world, how on Earth could the FCC justify allowing one of the broadcast networks to show a film that is so violent even it's creator says to keep the kids away? Right wingers are already out in force, claiming that the flick "may be violent, but it is also one of the most beautiful, powerful and instructive movies ever made," in the words of Brent Bozell of the Parents Television Council. So, in other words, anything is OK as long as it promotes Christian dogma.

The power and instructive nature of the film doesn't enter into it, folks. Unless, of course, the right is willing to call off the FCC and allow people do decide for themselves what is too violent or sexual or whatever to watch on TV. What a concept!

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Album of the Day

Renaissance: Ashes Are Burning. Many a pop or rock band has experimented with a full orchestra. Usually it comes off cheesy and strangely mechanical. One exception is Renaissance, perhaps because, rather than a gimmick, the orchestra was always an essential part of the band's sound. It helps, I think, that the band basically comes from a folk / acoustic background, which means no odd grating of orchestral and electric sounds. My one complaint, alas, about the band is that they seem incapable of really kicking the intensity up when it needs to be. To paraphrase one six-string genius, "they don't go to eleven."

Damon Hill Speaks Out on Senna

As the tenth anniversary of Ayrton Senna's death approaches, his former Williams teammate Damon Hill is going public with his view on the cause of the Brazilian's fatal accident, as reported here and here. Hill blames pilot error, which is a plausible, if not particularly popular theory. I think a difference has to be drawn, however, between the reason Senna left the track (probably pilot error) and what caused the accident to result in a fatality. So many factors contributed to the latter.

Let's Hope He Doesn't Always "Score" That Quickly

The BBC is reporting a new world record for the world's fastest goal scored in a soccer match. A player for Cowes Sports FC scored just 2.5 seconds into a match with Eastleigh Reserves. Given that soccer is not the most tightly timed of sports (extra time anyone?) I have no idea how this feat was determined. In an amateur game, no less. The only explanation given is a FA official's statement that "[t]wo-and-a-half seconds may not seem long enough to complete the manoeuvre described by the referee, but we appreciate there was an exceptionally strong wind." Well that settles that.

I've Found My Marbles!

After many anxious days scampering to the mailbox, today finally brought Marbles, Marillion's brand new album to my door. The special edition of the 2-disc opus includes a massive 120+ page booklet. It has to be that large to accommodate the fans who ponied up their orders well before the album was even made - all 13,000+ of us! It will take a while to digest. Until then, to my long lost cousins Martin, Steve, and Tim - hello!

To learn more go to marillion.com and discover a better way of life.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Album of the Day

Premiata Forneria Marconi: Storia di un Minuto. As with yesterday's entry, I don't really have much to say about this Italian prog classic that I didn't say in my Ground and Sky review. I will second Conrad's conclusion that, the "moog in 'Impressione di Settembre' has to be heard to be believed: if this isn't the moog's finest hour, then it's certainly its finest eight bar riff." Amen, brother.

At Least He Kept His Priorities Straight

One would think that a news story about a teenage son who seeks out a contract to kill his mother would be weird enough. Not to be outdone, the would be contractor in this case had specific instructions for the hitter: don't hit the family TV. And who says kids today don't have their priorities straight?

Yeah, But Who Do You Put on the Money?

FindLaw yesterday had an interesting column about the challenges facing the drafters of the forthcoming Iraqi constitution. The author makes an interesting comparison of the situations facing the would be Iraqi "founding fathers" and those who drafter the United States Constitution. Not surprisingly, the Iraqis do not come out on top in the comparison.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Album of the Day

Porcupine Tree: In Absentia. I don't have much to say about this disc that I haven't already said in this review I wrote for Ground and Sky last year. I will say that the beginning of "Blackest Eyes" is one of the best album openers in my collection.

See Freddy Play? Not That Much

Soccer Times columnist Robert Wagman writes today that Major League Soccer has performed a public relations bait and switch with DC United's young superstar Freddy Adu. Wagman largely echoes thoughts made last week by the Washington Post's Tony Kornheiser last week that because the league did so much to promote Adu (and itself) in the weeks and months leading up to the start of this season Adu should be starting. Wagman, being a soccer guy, admits that, from a strictly soccer point of view, Adu's situation is being handled well by new DC coach Peter Nowak, however.

I tend to agree with Wagman. Adu needs to be brought along slowly, but the overwhelming hype surrounding his debut probably pissed some potential fans off when they didn't see him play for an hour. Hopefully they watched anyway and maybe, just maybe, became fans of the game itself.

It Only Works With Lots of Bass

The Royal Auto Club Foundation for Motoring has determined what it says is the song most likely to cause an accident if listened to while driving your car. The winner (or loser, depending on perspective) is Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" (from the opera Die Walk√ɼre), followed closely by the "Dies Irae" section of Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem. A trio of more modern tunes by Prodigy, Basement Jaxx, and Faithless round out the top five. Personally, I'd say that any modern lifeless synthesized pop tune is more likely to cause an accident - if only as adesperatee act on the driver's part to make it stop!

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Album of the Day

Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here. While many pundits mark The Dark Side of the Moon as Floyd's high water mark, I give that honor to Wish You Were Here. It's nearly perfect. The bookends of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" ease you in and out of a fairly dark mid section of the disc that includes two swipes at the music industry ("Welcome to the Machine" and "Have a Cigar") and the title track.

Is Ethnic Peace Worth Losing Your Identity?

Columnist Michael Dorf has an interesting column on FindLaw today Rwanda's attempt to heal its history of ethnic violence by eliminating the concept of ethnicity. To be fair, the Rwandans did come up with the concept of Hutus and Tutsis that has plunged the nation into violence so often. That honor goes to the Belgians, who created the arbitrary distinctions based on economic status during their colonial days in Africa. Historical arbitrary distinctions made by colonial Europeans creating a history of violence and instability - who knew?

Does Iraq = Vietnam?

Today's USA Today has an interesting cover story about the debate whether Iraq is turning into a new Vietnam. The concept is hotly debated, of course. Most interesting to me is that even those who disagree that one equals the other still readily admit that some of the same mistakes made in Vietnam are being made in Iraq. That's not good.

Maybe Newdow Is On To Something . . .

When a church-state issue comes before the Supreme Court, such as the recent Pledge of Allegiance case, some commentators always bring up the fact that the House and Senate open their days with prayers. True enough, but if Tuesday's example is any indication, it's time for them to go as well. A Roman Catholic priest prayed for lawmakers to let religious faith be the guide for their votes and "be the antithesis of John Kennedy." Specifically, he said: "Almighty God, please change and convert the hearts of all the representatives in this House. May they be the antithesis of John Kennedy, may they be women and men of God, and may their faith influence and guide every vote they make." C'mon, folks, do we really need something that blatant when opening a session of Congress?!?

They're Not As Think As You Drunk They Are

Sometimes, you don't even need The Onion to get a really good headline. From CNN.com: "Study: Heavy social drinkers show brain damage." No kidding. Read all about this Earth-shattering development here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Album of the Day

Oysterhead: The Grand Pecking Order. I discovered this album completely by chance one day at Borders. The cover caught my eye. I was intrigued by the guys who made up the band: drummer Stewart Copeland (The Police, Animal Logic), insane bassist Les Claypool (Primus), and guitarist Trey Anastasio (Phish). My curiosity was richly rewarded. This is really cool off-kilter power-trio rock. Short and to the point, for the most part, with a very twisted sensibility.

Maybe Baseball Really Is America's Pastime

I am not, as a rule, a fan of baseball. I do admire the majors for one thing, however. As set out in this column, baseball is the only one of the major stick and ball sports where something resembling pure capitalism reigns. The rich get richer and the poor stay that way. Sounds harsh, but that's life. I would only add that for real capitalism to take hold, MLB needs to institute promotion and relegation, as most soccer leagues around the world do. That way, the bottom few MLB teams swap places with the best AAA teams every year. If Montreal can't cut it in the majors, it gets sent down to AAA.

More Open Wheel Goodness

Following up on my post yesterday about the upcoming Champ Car season opener, ESPN.com has a good rundown of the teams and drivers. It is a little out of date, however. I thought Dale Coyne's lineup was set, but I could be wrong.

Is This The Best They Can Do?

USA Today has an interesting article today about Matt Daniels. Daniels is the head of the Alliance for Marriage and author of the controversial amendment to the Constitution that would outlaw gay marriage. Most interesting is that he seems even more clueless than I would have expected. His motivation seems to be to prevent kids from growing up like he did, the child of a single mother who got mugged twice while growing up in NYC. How any of this should effect whether two guys (or two girls) get married isn't really explained. It seems that, in an effort to fight the scourge of single parenthood, Daniels would welcome as many two-parent households he could find.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Album of the Day

National Health: Complete. Rather than an album proper, Complete is a two-disc set released in 1990 that contains the band's three studio albums (National Health, Of Queues and Cures, and DS al Coda) and a few assorted bits to flesh things out. Plagued by an ever-shifting membership and increasing record company resistance to all things prog (they formed in 1975, after all), the band lurched from one phase to the next. The music is breathtakingly complex Canterbury-style prog, mostly instrumental. Of Queues and Cures, released in 1978, was the best album of that year and, quite possibly, one of the best of all time. The package is rounded out by copious liner notes from keyboardist Dave Stewart who recounts the rise and fall of National Health with great humor.

Reports of Open Wheel's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

I will be the first one to admit that, for a while, I did not think I would see the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach come off this weekend. After the disastrous "media day" that saw two long time Champ Car supporters bolt to the IRL, it seemed that the circling vultures were finally going to get to pick the CART carcass clean. But guess what? People stepped up throughout the Champ Car community and, come this weekend, Paul Tracy will kick off the defense of his 2003 title against a full field of Ford-powered Champ Cars. If you believe Speed's Robin Miller (and who wouldn't), the competition should be better this year than last new. Can defending Toyota Atlantic Champion A.J. Allmendinger join Jimmy Vasser and Ryan Hunter-Reay as American winners in the series? Will former F3000 champ and F1 driver Justin Bell make big waves, or will be be overshadowed by fellow F3000 ace "Tokin" Tomas Enge? Will the crowd at Long Beach dwarf any IRL gathering this year not held in Indiana?

You can bet your ass the answer to that last question, at least, is a resounding "yes"!

The Tony George School of Constitutional Interpretation

A while ago I wrote a blurb about the Supreme Court's growing trend of looking to law from other countries for guidance on complex legal issues. This article from Slate looks at the issue as well. It points out a house resolution sponsored by Florida's Tom Feeney (responsible for some of last summer's horrific Sentencing Guideline changes) called the "Reaffirmation of American Independence." It would, potentially, allow the impeachment of judges who cite foreign law. As I wrote before, the Supreme Court is the highest court in the federal food chain and it, therefore, bound by no other court's opinions. Why should a court case from the European Union be off limits if it's logically compelling? Not that logic has a lot to do with the "Reaffirmation" in the first place.

PDBs For Everybody!

Want to see for yourself the "smoking gun" Presidential briefing memo that caused such a furor last week? Then look no further. It does seem to back up Rice's description of it as "historical" and not pointing to a specific threat. Still doesn't look very good for Dubya.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Album of the Day

Steve Morse: High Tension Wires. This was technically Morse's first true "solo" album after his time leading the Dregs (the rest had been under the Steve Morse Band name). Having said that, most of his familiar cohorts are here. Seeing that Steve was always the songwriter in whatever group he was in it seems odd to delineate this one album as a "solo" album. Regardless of semantics, I think this is the best of the post-Dregs Morse albums I have. The songs are actually well constructed and aren't just excuses for showing off Steve's chops.

Kone Killing Basics Explained

If you've clicked the Legal Eagle Racing link over there on the right of the screen then you know that I spend some of my weekends flinging my car about in parking lots. It's called autocross (or Solo2) and it's a blast. Today's Washington Post has a fairly lengthy article about the sport in the DC area. If you're curious.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

He's Not That Fat

While acknowledging the obvious "ick" factor to this story, it can be beat. A few years ago, a woman smuggled a gun into the South Central Regional Jail in Charleston. She concealed the weapon underneath a roll of flab. Granted, it was only a pistol, but there's a lot more to hide with a pistol than cocaine.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Album of the Day

Miriodor:Mekano. Miriodor is a French-Canadian prog band who reminds me, in a weird way, of a darker, harder version of Krakatoa. All instrumental and full of quick changes, quirky rhythms, and occasional blasts of pure noise. Which makes it sound sort of random and pointless, but the tunes are somewhat catchy and really stick with you.

The Fourth Giveth, The Fourth Taketh Away

In some sort of cosmic joke, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals today handed down decisions in two cases that I argued a while back. One was a winner, the other really is a winner, but I didn't convince the judges of that.

The first case, US v. Johnson, involved whether a couple prior convictions should count when figuring Mr. Johnson's criminal history score. This is the one we won, as I convinced the court that a West Virginia fleeing conviction was "similar" to hindering an officer, an excluded offense under the US Sentencing Guidelines. It helped that the WV Supreme Court had already defined fleeing as being hindering under state law.

The other case, the one I lost, is US v. Perkins. The issue in that case is whether police could pull over Mr. Perkins based on a phone call from an unknown source that didn't really allege any wrongdoing. Unfortunately, I only convinced one judge to see things that way.

Given that it took them six months to get to Perkins, I wish they could have held out one more day so I could enjoy the victory in Johnson a little bit.

Dude, This Is Pretty Plucked Up Right Here

Say what you will about this killer's sanity, at least he takes his Bible seriously.

New at KFC - 3 Piece Mourning Dove Meal

In one of those cases where the law seems to run away from common sense, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that state hunters may shoot the mourning dove in the state. On it's own, that's not really all that interesting. But consider this: in 1971, the mourning dove was designated as Wisconsin "official bird of piece." What better way to celebrate the prospect of peace on earth than by blowing away an official symbol of it?

Politicians Lie? Who Knew!

Yesterday's USA Today had an interesting article about the Annenberg Political Fact Check. The Fact Check is a project of the respected Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. It's goal is to evaluate political ads for their truthfulness, in a non-partisan way. Most ads don't lie outright, of course, but distort, exaggerate, and mislead. Which comes as a surprise to nobody, I'm sure.

Album of Yesterday

Paul McCartney: Flowers in the Dirt. How is it that, out of more than 500 albums, I own only one solo album by a former Beatle and this is it? Not that this 1989 release is overly horrible, it just doesn't rise out of mediocrity very often. True "You Want Her Too" (with Elvis Costello) and the acoustic "Put It There" are very good, but the rest varies from passable to downright awful.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Maybe Napster Wasn't Evil After All

In the debate over illegal downloading of songs from the Net, the battle cry of the RIAA has been "downloads hurt sales." CD sales have declined over the past few years, as downloading has grown, so one must be the cause of the other, right? Well, maybe not. A non-industry study has found that any relation between downloads and lost sales is minimal at best. It concludes that, for the most part, those who download music for free likely would not have paid for it, anyway.

Album of the Day

Marillion: MarillionRochester. This two-disc set documents Marillion's performance in Rochester, New York in September 1997. It's not the best live disc I own - the production is sort of rough and there are some technical hiccups here and there. But more than just another album, this is an artifact of one of the strangest and coolest movements in the history of the modern music biz.

In 1997, as we fans eagerly awaited the release of This Strange Engine, keyboardist Mark Kelly posted on the band's mailing list about touring plans. He wrote that an American leg to the tour looked doubtful because of the staggering cost of getting the band over here and the, um, "humble" size of the crowds drawn to the shows. Disappointed, many American fans started to wonder out loud about ticket prices - the prices being charged for mainstream big-name artists were huge compared to what many paid to see Marillion in the US a few years before. Would you pay $50 to see Marillion in the states? That's about what some tickets cost at the time. It was discovered that the band had very little to do with setting prices and, indeed, saw very little profit from ticket sales. What to do, then.

Someone had an inspiration. What if we US fans, who were willing to pay top dollar to see the band, contributed to a common fund to help pay for the band to come to the states? With that, the Tour Fund was born. Contributions were solicited, in $50 amounts, at first. The response was overwhelming. Some gave much more than $50. Some gave in the names of friends. Some folks from well outside the borders of the US contributed, just to help out. In the end, almost $60,000 was raised and the band toured the states. MarillionRochester was a thank you from the band to the contributors, a momento of a unique musical achievement.

Much Adu About Something (but Not Much)

Even if you are not a soccer fan, you probably know all about 14-year-old wunderkind Freddy Adu, who made his MLS debut for DC United this weekend. Adu came on in the 61st minute of DC's 2-1 season opening win over defending champion San Jose. Did he live up to the hype? Of course not. I would have been very surprised if he really made an impact in half an hour, particularly once DC was reduced to ten men due to Dema Kovalenko's red card. I hope Adu becomes all he is cracked up to be, as a fan of both DC and the US national team. Now that the "debut" hype is over he can, hopefully, get down to the business of learning how to be a professional soccer player. I figure that once the spotlight moves on to its next target, Freddy will thrive.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Album of the Day

Marillion: Brave. Not only is this Marillion's masterpiece, it is one of the top albums of the 1990s, prog or other. It's based on an actual event, the discovery of a catatonic girl walking on the giant suspension bridge that connects England and Wales, apparently contemplating suicide. Dark and powerful, it explores the possible reasons why this girl ended up like that. It also takes on the media that feeds the sensationalism around things like this. A classic, pure and simple.

More "Under God" Nonsense

I said, at one point, that I would be perfectly happy to let "under God" remain in the Pledge of Allegiance because the "under God" supporters are so willing to strip the phrase of any meaning just to score a political victory. For a much more eloquent look at that argument and what it means, check out this column from The New Republic.

This Is Coercion, Folks

During the debates about the Pledge of Allegiance case that was heard by the Supreme Court last week, one of the fall back arguments of the "under God" side was that kids are not required to recite the pledge at all and, therefore, they can opt out of saying "under God." The comeback to that argument is that being the only kid in a classroom to not do something is inherently coercive. The Supreme Court doesn't like religious coercion in the public schools. For an example of what happens when a kid dares to try and refuse, consider this story from Washington state. What's even more ironic is that, as Washington is in the Ninth Circuit, "under God" is already out of the Pledge there (until the Supremes say otherwise).

Stereotypes are Good (for the Most Part)

Findlaw has a very interesting book review that deals with the benefits of stereotyping. Well, not "stereotyping" as most people think of it, but generalizations about group behavior. The author argues that American law basically deals with generalities - we prefer the certainty and predictability of general rules rather than the possibility of perfect justice that would come through a system of complete judicial discretion. Applying that principle to investigations leads to the conclusion that some kinds of profiling, although probably not racial profiling, are a good thing. Particularly if those doing the profiling are honest and open about it. It's an interesting theory.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Album of the Day

Marillion: Clutching at Straws (remaster). Clutching is a great album, but what makes the remaster really interesting are the goodies contained on the bonus disc. This was the last Marillion album with Fish as a front man. Shortly after the tour in support if Clutching, things reached a breaking point in the band and Fish split for a lengthy solo career. Several of the tunes on the bonus disc are demos (which resided in a biscuit tin in keyboardist Mark Kelly's home for nearly a decade!) which were destined for the next Marillion album. After Fish's departure, the songs split, as well. Some musical bits went to the next Marillion album, while the lyrics for several songs would show up on Fish's first two solo albums. Most interesting is "Story From a Thin Wall." Musically, it became "Berlin" from Marillion's Seasons End, while the lyrics became Fish's "Family Business" from his debut solo album. There are a lot of interesting "what ifs" sprinkled throughout.

Doth Scalia Protest Too Much?

Loads have been written about Antonin Scalia's refusal to recuse himself from an upcoming Supreme Court case involving his buddy Dick Cheney. Findlaw columnist Edward Lazarus analyzes Scalia's lengthy memo justifying his decision and concludes that Scalia's arguments don't really hold water. He also points out that Scalia may stretch some points in his favor so far that they break.

Don't You Hate It When This Happens?

This is one of the weirdest, "oops, my bad," situations I've read about in a long time. A California man arranged to be the "rapist" in a rape-fantasy scenario with a woman he met on the Net. He would "break in" to her house and ravage her. Turns out that when the time came for the deed, the guy went to the wrong house. He was only subdued after the startled home owner kicked him in the balls, apparently.