Thursday, December 29, 2005

2005 - My Year In Film & Video

My Netflix addiction continued unabated this past year - the records show 82 discs viewed in the past 12 months. Damn, even I didn't realize it was that bad. Here's the cream of the crop.

25th Hour (2002): One of the thing's I've done this year is work my way through some of the Spike Lee flicks (um, excuse me, "joints") that I'd overlooked in the past year. Of the bunch, 25th Hour is by far the best. It's basically traces the last day in a man's life before he reports to prison to serve a long sentence. It doesn't sugarcoat the guy's crime (victimless - he's a dealer), but it focuses on the shattered relationships with his family, friends, and loved ones that he leaves in his wake. Lots of people who don't interact with criminal defendants on a regular basis don't know about those effects, but they are very very real.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003): French, animated, and largely free of dialogue - how's that for an interesting basis for a film? This was one of the most original flicks I've seen in a long time, visually rich and exquisitely surreal.

Annie Hall (1977): I was not familiar most of Woody Allen's classics before this year. Like 25th Hour with the Spike joints, Annie Hall was the best of Woody's bunch. A terrifically developed romantic comedy, where the guy doesn't get the girl in the end and it still feels like a happy (in a realistic sort of way) ending.

City of God (2002): I put this Brazilian flick in my queue two years ago because it was on several 10 best lists from 2002 and forgot about it until it popped out of my mailbox. Given that situation, I was a completely clean slate when I watched it. I haven't been so overwhelmed by a film in a long time as I was with City of God, a sprawling epic set in the Rio slum of the same name. As violent, compelling, and moving as any of the great American mob epics.
I even saw a few flicks the old fashioned way - in the theater!

Serenity (2005): I am a huge fan of Joss Whedon's defunct TV sci-fi/western Firefly, so it was only natural that I'd go see the big-screen version when it came out. As such, I'm probably not the most neutral observer, but I think it was the best sci-fi I'd seen on the screen in a long time. Much better that The Phantom Menace, even. Sadly, it went underappreciated and any chances of either film franchise or return to TV are dead and buried. Oh well.

Syriana (2005): Although it has sort of a Traffic-lite feel (given the parties involved, that makes sense), this is nonetheless a great grown-up thriller with serious ideas behind it. And if you have a thing against George Clooney, this is the flick for you!
Well, that's it for 2005 here at the Ranch, folks. Another long weekend beckons, so I'll be back in 2006, hopefully after a successful WVU bowl game.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

2005 - My Year in Tunes

As the year draws to close, it's hip for people to put together their "best of" or "retrospective" lists for 2005. Who am I to buck that sort of trend? Here is a sampling of my favorites from my year in tunes.

New Releases in 2005

Porcupine Tree - Deadwing: PT's major-label followup to the brilliant In Absentia was firmly in the same vein, but equally impressive. As such, there's plenty of crunchy guitar backed up with more mellow, acoustic passages. And the extended Floyd-type stuff is there, too, most strongly on the excellent "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here." It's not a concept album, but was inspired by a screenplay co-written by band leader Steven Wilson. Supposedly the band was recorded for a DVD release on their recent tour. A live video document is about the only thing they lack at this point.

echolyn - The End Is Beautiful: After you produce Mei, a massive 49-minute epic, what exactly do you do for an encore? If you're echolyn, you re-recruit a wayward bass player and get back to work, producing an album that takes your sound to places it's never been while still being unmistakably yours. While a very dark album, lyrically, it's very vibrant and diverse musically (I didn't know the "P" in "P-Funk" stood for "prog" until I heard "So Ready"). More proof that echolyn Mach II is one of the most interesting bands on the planet.

Adrian Belew - Side One / Side Two: I think the original plan for Belew was to release three short albums in 2005, each different in approach and style. It looks like Side Three won't make it out until the new year, but if it's anything like these two, it will be worth the wait. Side One is the heavier and more direct of the two, featuring a manic power trio of Belew, Daney Carey (Tool), and Les Claypool (Primus) in addition to the Grammy-nominated "Beat Box Guitar." Side Two is a little more experimental and employs more electronics in the sonic palette.

New-to-Me Releases in 2005

Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention - Freak Out! (1966): For some reason, I resisted/ignored the earlier Zappa/Mothers for a long time, but I finally broke down and picked up the debut disc this year. While it's not all my cup of tea, I can see why it caused such a stir back in the 60s. It reinforced my theory that Brian Wilson's Smile, originally conceived around the same time but delayed until 2004, is overrated, at least in terms of being "groundbreaking." Freak Out!'s mix of pop, weird doo-wop, modern orchestral music and musique concrete is so much more interesting.

Umphrey's McGee - Anchor Drops (2004): I knew nothing of this Chicago band until I saw a news blurb that they had signed to the Inside Out label in Europe. I/O is mostly a prog label, so I was intrigued. I saw this disc at the local Border's and picked it up sight unheard. Very glad I did. Definitely in the American jam-band tradition, but with strong song writing, nice instrumental interplay (dual guitars - very nice), and cool harmonies. Definitely need to explore their stuff some more in 2006.

The Tangent - The World That We Drive Through (2004): The Tangent are another in the long line of prog "all star" bands, for which I generally have little use. I got their debut due to the presence of Van der Graff Generator's David Jackson in addition to the "younger" guys, curious as to the kind of music that might produce. I liked that one so much that when I found the this, their second, album, I picked it up even though Jackson has moved on. The music is firmly backwards looking symphonic prog, with Canterbury flourishes here and there, but it's very very good, in a less bombastic way than, say, Transatlantic was.

OK, that's it for tunes. Film tomorrow.

The Fourth Amendment: 24 Hours a Day, 7 Days a Week, 365 Days a Year

I was going to set this week aside for "year in review" posts, but I just couldn't let this one go. In today's New York Times, two former DoJ lawyers engage in a pretty weak defense of Dubya's NSA-led domestic spying operation. What I'm particularly surprised/disappointed about is that two lawyers would repeat this talking point from the Dubya defenders:

The president has the constitutional authority to acquire foreign intelligence without a warrant or any other type of judicial blessing. The courts have acknowledged this authority, and numerous administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have espoused the same view. The purpose here is not to detect crime, or to build criminal prosecutions - areas where the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirements are applicable - but to identify and prevent armed attacks on American interests at home and abroad.
I have no idea where people get this idea. The text of the Fourth Amendment is abundantly clear:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . .
There is not qualifier in the Amendment. It doesn't say "the right of the people against unreasonable searches and seizures during criminal investigations shall not be violated." Nor is there, to my knowledge, any Supreme Court case so restricting it. True, the Fourth Amendment most often is discussed in terms of a criminal proceeding, in which the fruits of an illegal search can by excluded if the Fourth Amendment was violated. However, any person who has been victimized by an illegal search can file a civil suit seeking compensation for that injury.

Dubya's NSA shenanigans may not violate the Fourth Amendment, but it won't be because the Amendment's protections are limited to criminal investigations.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Merry Xmas, Blogosphere

The Ranch is going to shut down for a few days while Xmas proceedings take place. While I'm not a believer, I enjoy the season and think that any holiday that promotes renewal, peace on earth, and goodwill towards men is a good thing. So, I leave with the words of a child, from whom so much wisdom often comes:

Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ.

- Bart Simpson
Amen, Bart. :)

If Virginia Is For Lovers . . .

. . . then Canada is now for fuckers, particularly of the group grope type. Yesterday the Supreme Court of Canada handed down opinions in two cases that, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail "redefines obscenity." Basically, the Court, with two dissenters (both French-Canadian, for whatever that's worth), concluded that two private sex clubs could not be convicted of violating obscenity laws. As the parties involved were all consenting adults there was no "harm" that could rightfully be criminalized. Sounds like logic right out of On Liberty to me, which is not a bad thing. May it cross the border undetected, like so many other things.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Bad Day

You know, given his recent troubles, I almost feel sorry for Dubya. Today was another bad day for the man who would be King. First, one of the judges from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court resigns, apparently in protest over Dubya's secret domestic spying program. Then Bruce Fein, a conservative constitutional scholar writing in the right-wing Washington Times says this about you:

President Bush presents a clear and present danger to the rule of law. He cannot be trusted to conduct the war against global terrorism with a decent respect for civil liberties and checks against executive abuses.
Ouch! And, to top it all off, this report from UK's The Guardian shows how the Iraqi elections of last week, Dubya's great triumph of late, is shaping up to be a crushing failure. It's enough to make you hit the sauce.

ID Smackdown, Day 2

A day after a federal judge laid down a six-pack of whup ass on the "Intelligent Design" movement, the various parties are pondering their next move. As this New York Times article shows, the ID folks are undaunted:

Richard Thompson, the lead defense lawyer for the school board, derided the judge for issuing a sweeping judgment in a case that Mr. Thompson said merely involved a 'one-minute statement' being read to students. He acknowledged that his side, too, had asked the judge to rule on the scientific merits of intelligent design, but only because it had to respond to the plaintiffs' arguments.

'A thousand opinions by a court that a particular scientific theory is invalid will not make that scientific theory invalid,' said Mr. Thompson, the president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, a public interest firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says it promotes Christian values. 'It is going to be up to the scientists who are going to continue to do research in their labs that will ultimately determine that.'

Talk about burying your head in the sand. But meanwhile, as this Salon article demonstrates, teachers all over the country are being forced to deal with ID, in one way or another.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

ID Unmasked

On tonight's season finale of FX's Nip/Tuck (it's a guilty pleasure - sue me), we are to learn the identity of "The Carver," a serial rapist/mutilator, in a last-minute reveal worthy of the original black and white version of Phantom of the Opera. Alas, it will not be the most dramatic unmasking of the day.

In Harrisburg, a federal judge issued his decision in the Dover school board case involving the injection of "Intelligent Design" into science classes. In a whopping 139-page opinion, Judge John E. Jones, III completely ripped ID apart, concluding that it is not science and has no place in a public school science class. This was no bland application of settle law to found facts. This was a completely intellectual destruction of ID, which Jones unmasked as simply being Creationism with a new mask. The entire opinion is filled with great quotes, but one of the concluding paragraphs (on pages 137-138) sums it up:

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.
The emphasis is mind. Just in time for Christmas!

The King Is Nekkid

While I rarely agree with him, I've always liked George Will because he is a principled conservative. When so many others on the right just ape the party line and fall in to defend Dubya and his cronies, Will does call him out when appropriate. So, in one sense, it's not surprising that Will is chastising Dubya for his domestic spying program. Will asks the question that most have but the administration has yet to answer - if FISA was not properly set up to handle warrants in these kinds of situations, why didn't they go to Congress and get the statute changed? After all, after 9/11, Congress could scarcely say no to Dubya (witness the PATRIOT ACT). Was it just arrogance? Will speculates:

Charles de Gaulle, a profound conservative, said of another such, Otto von Bismarck -- de Gaulle was thinking of Bismarck not pressing his advantage in 1870 in the Franco-Prussian War -- that genius sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. In peace and in war, but especially in the latter, presidents have pressed their institutional advantages to expand their powers to act without Congress. This president might look for occasions to stop pressing.
Wow, a conservative lashes out at Dubya and cites the French as a positive example - that's a sign of the apocalypse, right?

Racing's Heart Skips a Beat

Motor racing lost one of its true pioneers today with the death of Keith Duckworth. Duckworth, along with fellow Lotus engineer Mike Costin, started Cosworth Engineering. Cosworth would go on to develop, among other things, the DFV V-8 that dominated Formula 1 for nearly 20 years, collecting 156 grands prix and 12 championships. A turbocharged variant, the DFX, enjoyed similar success in Indycar racing in the United States. In addition, cars up and down the club and professional ladders enjoy Cosworth power.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Rex Tyrannus

One of the best parts of Mel Brooks's History of the World is the bit covering the French revolution, in which Louis XVI does a series of unseemly things and justifies them by turning to the camera and announcing, "It's good to be the king." It's a funny running gag when Brooks does it in the context of a broad historical farce.

It is not funny when the President of the United States essentially does the same thing. Dubya's "yeah, I broke the law, what are you gonna' do about it?" attitude towards the NSA's spying on Americans as part of the "War on Terra." Of course, it fits Dubya's tenure in the White House perfectly. He has consistently showed no regard for the rule of law when it interferes with his acquisition of power. And while I don't buy the argument that the NSA scheme is justified by the 2001 Congressional authorization of force that kicked off the War on Terra, I do believe that Congress abdicated its responsibility in the past several years to reign in King Dubya. Somebody needs to step up.

He Is the Central Scrutinizer

I suppose this isn't actually a huge surprise, but the president of Iran has banned Western music in the country. How might this affect the Iranian media?

Songs such as George Michael's 'Careless Whisper,' Eric Clapton's 'Rush' and the Eagles' 'Hotel California' have regularly accompanied Iranian broadcasts, as do tunes by saxophonist Kenny G.
Interesting choices. It is, of course, a huge violation of human rights to suppress speech that happens to be music, even if it's Kenny G. After all, wasn't it Voltaire who said, "I may not agree with your enthusiasm for awful white-bread elevator music Jazzac, but I will fight to the death for your right to listen to it."

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Visit from Saint Dingell

The War on Christmas has reached it's zenith. A Virginia Congresswoman introduced a resolution in the House yesterday "expressing support for 'the symbols and traditions of Christmas.'" Such a mindbending waste of time and taxpayer dollars could only be confronted with the absurdity of poetry. And so it was, by Democratic Congressman John Dingell of Michigan:

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House
No bills were passed ‘bout which Fox News could grouse;

Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer,
So vacations in St. Barts soon would be near;

Katrina kids were nestled all snug in motel beds,
While visions of school and home danced in their heads;

In Iraq our soldiers needed supplies and a plan,
Plus nuclear weapons were being built in Iran;

Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell;
Americans feared we were on a fast track to…well…

Wait--- we need a distraction--- something divisive and wily;
A fabrication straight from the mouth of O’Reilly

We can pretend that Christmas is under attack
Hold a vote to save it--- then pat ourselves on the back;

Silent Night, First Noel, Away in the Manger
Wake up Congress, they’re in no danger!

This time of year we see Christmas every where we go,
From churches, to homes, to schools, and yes…even Costco;

What we have is an attempt to divide and destroy,
When this is the season to unite us with joy

At Christmas time we’re taught to unite,
We don’t need a made-up reason to fight

So on O’Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter, and those right wing blogs;
You should just sit back, relax…have a few egg nogs!

‘Tis the holiday season: enjoy it a pinch
With all our real problems, do we honestly need another Grinch?

So to my friends and my colleagues I say with delight,
A merry Christmas to all,

and to Bill O’Reilly…Happy Holidays.

Thank you, Mr. Dingell! Or, as Barry Lynn put it, "[i]f they honestly think there's some kind of war against Santa Claus or the baby Jesus, they are just not getting out enough."

Sadly, the resolution passed, 401-22. Ho ho ho. :(

Why We Have a First Amendment

Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish novelist, is on trial in his country. His alleged offense? "Denigrating national character." Authorities charge that Pamuk committed this sin when he told a Swiss newspaper earlier this year that "30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it." In other words, Pamuk is being prosecuted for spouting an opinion. This story in Britain's The Independent shows how Pamuk's trial, and Turkey's shaky record on human rights, may affect it's bid to join the European Union.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Oedipus Wrecked

You just cannot make this stuff up. One of the pitfalls of Internet dating is that when time comes to meet in the real world the person on the other end of you love connection is not what you thought they were. Maybe their shorter than advertised, or dumber, or something from another planet. But your mom?!? It happened to Daniel Anceneaux, who chatted with "Sweet Juliette" for six months before arranging a meeting on a local beach. Turns out that "Juliette" was actually Daniel's mother. How warped is this:

"Mom called herself Sweet Juliette and I called myself The Prince of Pleasure, and unfortunately, neither one of us had any idea who the other was," said flabbergasted Daniel.

"The conversations even got a little racy a couple of times.

"But I really started to fall for her, because there seemed to be a sensitive side that you don't see in many girls.

"She sent me poems she had written and told me about her dreams and desires, and it was really very romantic.

"The truth is, I got to see a side of my mom I'd never seen before. I'm grateful for that."
Are you sure?!?

UPDATE: If I'd read the byline more carefully, I'd have seen that this came from that paragon of journalistic integrity, the Weekly World News. I'd say that significantly raises the probability that it is, let us say, exagerated. Thanks to Concurring Opinions for actually reading it.

Echoes of Kelo

Six months after the Supreme Court's controversial Kelo decision, state legislatures are getting set to take up the issue of imminent domain. This article from the provides a good overview of the situation as 44 state legislatures get ready for new sessions. What's really interesting is that several states have already passed "reform" measures on the wave of post-Kelo outrage that really aren't reforms at all. It wouldn't be the first time that politicians had used public outrage to enrich their own powers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

10 Years of Bosman

In 1969, baseball player Curt Flood challenged the traditional "reserve clause" in American sports contracts. Basically, the reserve clause put all the power over where a player would play with the club and prevented players from moving freely between teams once their contracts expired. Flood's legal battle (unsuccessful, but eventually forcing the negotiate end of the clause), up to the Supreme Court, marked a seismic shift in American sports.

For two decades after Flood's legal battle, a version of the reserve clause lingered on in European soccer. Players could only move between clubs if they were bought and sold, regardless of whether they were under contract. In 1995, a journeyman Belgian midfielder named Jean-Marc Bosman challenged that practice in European Court of Justice. Unlike Flood, Bosman won his case, instantly changing the face of European football. Not only did players become free agents once their contracts expired, but the Court ruled that UEFA rules limiting the number of "foreign" players in a team could not be applied to players from European Union countries. As a result, teams like English giants Chelsea and Arsenal have fielded teams without any English players.

BBC Sport takes a look at the effects of Bosman 10 years on.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Backlash For Snitches

Slate has this interesting column today about "the high cost of snitching for law enforcement." The starting point is a new fashion trend of shirts that say "Stop Snitchin'," set in a red octagonal sign. The column does a good job of showing how dependent on snitches law enforcement has become, particularly in drug cases. As it points out, the theory of using small fish to catch big fish is often turned on its head in drug cases, where the bigger fish have more useful information to puke up. The low level dealers, however, know almost nothing about the larger organization and end up getting the higher sentences.

The Lion, the Witch, the Wardrobe, the Controversy

When I was a kid, I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, along with a couple of other Narnia books. I enjoyed them, but not enough to get through the entire series. At no time did I feel that I was being preached to or that there were deeper meanings lurking between the lines. I went on to live a happy cynical life, with the only lasting influence of Lewis's works being two tunes in my CD collection (Steve Hackett's "Narnia" and echolyn's "My Dear Wormwood," if you're keeping track at home).

I guess that's why I'm so surprised about the holy war that's developing over the Disney movie version of Wardrobe. On the one hand, you have the evangelical crowd that are looking to use the film as a conversion tool. On the other, you have more secular folks who just want to enjoy the story and not have a particular interpretation shoved down their throats. I somewhat blame Disney itself, as it wants to tap into the mainstream Lord of the Rings crowd while also looking to cash in on the religious Passion of the Christ crowd. In doing so, they've niche marketed so intently to set up this clash of focus groups.

Nonetheless, the whole thing has produced some interesting writing. First up we have this piece by Polly Tonybee in UK's The Guardian attacking Lewis's series not just for being Christian allegory, but being bad Christian allegory. Then there's this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education by Michael Nelson (fresh from the Satellite of Love, no doubt) taking on some other criticisms of the Narnia books. Finally, there's this New York Times column that makes, I think, the most sensible point: read the books and see the movie(s) for yourself and make up your own mind.

Hat tip to Prawfsblawg for the Guardian and Chronicle links.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Regular Programming . . .

. . . will (should?) resume tomorrow. Had to help the parents get an Xmas tree tonight. At one point today I had a lot of stuff to say about various topics. Who knows if I'll remember it tomorrow.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

It Was Bound to Happen

Recycled creationists, meet your match:

Don Wise, professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is the nation's foremost proponent of ID. No, Wise isn't getting ready to testify on behalf of the school board in Dover, PA. Rather, he advocates for a different version of the acronym: "incompetent design."

Wise cites serious flaws in the systems of the human body as evidence that design in the universe exhibits not an obvious source of, but a sore lack of, intelligence.
After all, who says the "designer" has to be good or smart (unless it's an omniscient white-bearded single father type)?

And You Think Your Job Is Stressful

USA Today has an interesting story today about Jurgen Klinsmann, coach of the German national team. Klinsmann was an ace striker during his playing days with Germany and several of Europe's biggest clubs. However, he had no coaching experience when he took over the national team in 2004. That might be enough for German fans to be nervous in the run up to next year's World Cup. Throw into the mix that Klinsmann lives in *shudder* California! But regardless of what the Germans think of Klinsmann, I like the guy:

The past several years, Klinsmann has played on a local amateur team, the Orange County Blue Stars, for fun and exercise. Unbeknownst to him, organizers gave him the pseudonym of Jay Goppingen — Göppingen is his place of birth — so initially most opponents had no clue who he really was. Hey, that Goppingen guy is pretty good.

So how's his game at age 41? "Slower," he says with a smile.

Anybody who's that into the game is OK with me. Doesn't mean I don't want to kick Germany's ass next year, of course!

Into the Lens

The editorial pro/con in USA Today today tackled the issue of whether cameras should be allowed in federal courtrooms. Arguing the "yes" side, predictably is the paper, while Judge Jan E. DuBois of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania argues "no." I've never been a fan of cameras in the courtroom, but I do admit enjoying the occasional audio from the Supreme Court or a Ninth Circuit on video. Given the mundane stuff that goes on in court most days, I can't imagine that lots of proceedings would ever get put on the tube. But still, I find a couple of the paper's assertions troubling, at best:

The world is witnessing an intense drama as the trial of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein unfolds live on television. People can tune in on TV or watch at their computers, via the Internet.

But if Saddam were on trial in a federal court in the USA, the viewing public would be shut out.

Sorry, that's just false. Saddam's trial (assuming no extra-Constitutional shenanigans by Dubya and crew) would be public and no doubt well covered by the press. The physical limitations of the courtroom would keep some folks from attending, but to say the public would be "shut out" is just ludicrous.

Americans, except for the few who can squeeze into courtrooms, pay the price for this aloof stance. Citizens are denied the ability to watch federal courts decide the people's most weighty disputes, from cases involving abortion rights to trials of those charged with the most heinous crimes.
A more realistic point of view would be that "Americans, except for the few who bother to actually go to courtrooms and see the process, don't much care what happens inside them." In my experience, whether in state court in Charleston or the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, nobody shows up to observe 95% of court proceedings. If the courtrooms were packed to the rafters on a regular basis, I'd be more inclined to buy that argument.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Fundie Funyons

I should have known that when I made fun of the Florida woman who found the Virgin Mary on her grilled cheese sandwich that eventually something equally nutty would crop up in my own neck of the woods. And so, today's Charleston Gazette reports that Crawley, WV man has auctioned off two Funyuns on eBay because they (wait for it) resembled Mary and Jesus. He found them under the seat in his car. Of course, the truly silly part of the story is that someone paid $609 for these things!

Church Closed on Account of Christmas

I understand that in years when Christmas falls on Sunday it creates some scheduling headaches for the nation's institutions. The NFL must hate those years, like this one. But you'd think that one group that wouldn't have any problems with it would by Christian churches. After all, they generally have Sunday services and what better day to have a service than the day on which they celebrate the birth of their savior? Well, apparently, folks just don't show up. That's why several "megachurches" have cancelled services for December 25. Of course, when you get into the details of these arenas of worship, it starts to make sense:

Cindy Willison, a spokeswoman for the evangelical Southland Christian Church, said at least 500 volunteers are needed, along with staff, to run Sunday services for the estimated 8,000 people who usually attend. She said many of the volunteers appreciate the chance to spend Christmas with their families instead of working, although she said a few church members complained.
Wow, that's quite a production.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Paging Dick Wolf (Again)

From Findlaw comes another story perfect for the Law & Order "ripped from the headlines" treatment. A man is charged with attacking his 11-year old stepdaughter. Sadly, that's not all that unusual in the world. What makes this case different is that the stepdaughter is now on life support and a battle is brewing over whether to pull the plug on her. What's even more unusual is that because of the family situation involved, the alleged beater may be the one to make the call. If he can keep her alive, he could theoretically avoid a murder charge (although the girl's legal guardian died under mysterious circumstances as well, so he may not be in the clear). Certainly this is the stuff of TV drama.

Speaking of which, I wonder where the "Save Terri" folks are on this one. They seemed like a pretty confrontational, fire-and-brimstone bunch who would probably be first in line to throw the switch to execute the attacker in this case if the girl died. But on the other hand, the "culture of life" requires them to keep her alive. What a pickle, huh?

Come Out of the Closet, Tom

Two weeks ago, South Park savaged both Scientology and one of it's most visible members, Tom Cruise. Parker & Stone (um, excuse me, "Smith and Smith") nailed the Scientologists by shedding light on the admittedly strange beliefs that underlie the religion. As for Cruise, he ended up in the closet of one of the Park kids and, well, just wouldn't come out. No matter how many times anyone asked him to "come out of the closet." And in the end, the Smiths practically begged to get sued. So could Cruise successfully sue South Park for libel? As Findlaw's Julie Hilden writes today, probably not. The First Amendment almost certainly would foil Cruise's suit. I do take exception to part of Hilden's analysis, however:

On this logic, the First Amendment gives breathing room to creative works even when they fail in their goals. Thus, here, the 'South Park' episode is protected even if its literalization of the 'in the closet' metaphor won't make a single viewer chuckle.

The point is that it was at least trying to make people laugh. And probably, the very silliness of the literalization -- the fact that it was the least creative thing the creators possibly could have done -- did indeed amuse some viewers. 'South Park's' appeal, after all, isn't its subtlety.

The emphasis is mine. I can only assume that Hilden's never laughed at South Park if she thinks that nobody thought the running "closet" bit was funny. I thought it was funny as hell, actually. But, it's a good thing that even bad comedy is entitled to First Amendment protection.

Monday, December 05, 2005

San Diego, (Not So) Super Chargers!

Back in 1972, San Diego mayor (and later California Governor) Pete Wilson hatched the phrase "America's Finest City" as a PR ploy. For more than 30 years, the city has continued to bill itself as America's Finest. Until recently for, as today's USA Today points out, things have gone downhill:

One of its congressmen admitted taking $2.4 million in bribes, the FBI has investigated City Hall, the mayor resigned, a $1.37 billion pension shortfall damaged the city's credit rating and fueled talk of bankruptcy, and two councilmen were convicted of taking bribes from a strip club owner.
In the face of that evidence, the current mayor has removed the slogan from the city's website:
'We couldn't stake that claim anymore,' said Gina Lew, the city's director of public and media affairs. 'We were taking too many hits.'
But leave it to San Dieagans to see the humor in all this:
The San Diego Union-Tribune recently asked readers to come up with a new slogan, saying 'America's Finest' had turned 'creaky.' Among the nearly 500 responses: 'Scandalicious,' 'An Eruption of Corruption,' 'All Major Unmarked Bills Accepted Here' and 'Bunglers by the Bay.'
I personally think that "All Major Unmarked Bills Accepted Here" would look dandy on a flag.