Thursday, April 28, 2005

Album of the Day (sort of)

Actually, there is no selection today because I went on a little buying spree at lunch and spent a good chunk of the day listening to new purchases. I had to run an errand at the mall across the street from my office anyway, so I popped in FYE to see if they had the new Porcupine Tree disc, Deadwing, that was released on Tuesday. I wasn't optimistic, but there is was. I figured I'd pick up another Steven Wilson project, Blackfield, too, and while I was on my way 'round the CD racks I spied the first Hatfield and the North album (cleverly titled Hatfield and the North). Three fairly obscure prog (and related) discs purchased in one fell swoop in a mainstream retail establishment in Charleston, WV - it was a good day. :)

Does Dubya Have a Nukyaler Option?

I've not written a lot about the impending use of the "nuclear option" to eliminate the filibuster during Senate debates over a few of Dubya's judicial nominees. Frankly, there is enough rank hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle on this one to drown the entire Congress several times over, so I have a hard time getting worked up about it. My initial thought that I had right after the election - that if the GOP can't muster five conservative Democratic votes on these nominees then the GOP might want to tell Dubya to reconsider - still stands. But, for a pretty good take on the looming nuclear exchange, check out this column from Reason, which concludes:

If the Democrats really think Janice Rogers Brown is a threat to the Republic, they ought to be willing to get hoarse-voiced and incoherent keeping her off the D.C. Circuit. And if Republicans are committed to these judges, they ought to be willing to sleep on cots in cloakrooms. For their salaries, perks, and power, the least they can do is give us a show.
That's why I keep C-Span in the rotation on my cable box.

Who Needs the ERA?

USA Today has an interesting story today about a number of female soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan as amputees. Aside from a human interest story about soldiers coping with the consequences of battle, it drives home the point that women now serve in combat zones and are put in harm's way every day, regardless of their exclusion from "dangerous" positions in the military. Practicality, and the realities of modern warfare, are modernizing the military in a way that laws never have.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Album of the Day

Live Art, by Bela Fleck & the Flecktones (1996): I haven't had one of those "must have" albums as an AotD lately, but this one certainly is. Two discs chocked full of live performances from Bela and company, augmented by a host of talented folks (Chick Corea, Bruce Hornsby, Edger Meyer, etc.). This would be a very good introduction to the 'Tones, as it takes a few cuts from the studio albums and mixes them in with otherwise unreleased stuff. My favorites are the Scottish-flavored reggae of "Lochs of Dread," the folk-song based "Far East Medley" (including a tune I played in the high school band), and bassist Vic Wooten's solo on "Amazing Grace." But, hell, it's all good - just go get it now!

Talk Dirty to Me

Freedom marches on in Georgia, where the state supreme court overturned a 17-year old's conviction for making obscene phone calls. His crime? Using jail phones (he was already in the klink) to call his 14-year old girlfriend and then engaging in ribald verbal intercourse with her. Unfortunately for him (1) her Mom found out and was not pleased and (2) the calls were recorded (as are all calls at all jails - loose lips really do sink ships, folks). The court reversed the conviction on the grounds that the First Amendment prohibits the criminalization of indecent (as opposed to obscene) speech carried over the phone lines.

Retreating Is for Pussies

The common law has long recognized, via the concept of self-defense, that people have a right to use force, including deadly force, to protect themselves. Most states maintain a common law requirement that before a person can resort to deadly force he or she must retreat - try to get away from the dangerous situation. Deadly force, in whatever form you choose, should be the last option (generally, there's no duty to retreat in your own home). But now, with the help of the NRA, folks in Florida no longer have to retreat, thanks to a new law recently signed by Jeb Bush. Proponents of the law argue that it takes the burden off of a victim of attack to make split second legal decisions at the point of a gun. Gun control advocates are concerned that Florida will now resemble the Wild West, with residents resorting to gunplay to solve minor squabbles.

I can't see either angle being completely true. For one thing, self defense still only applies when your life is actually in danger (or there is a risk of serious bodily harm), so I doubt juries will acquit someone who overreacts to a non-threatening situation with a gun. On the other hand, I can't see someone really faced with a life or death situation to ever consider what the law requires or allows. Instinct is bound to take over. I suppose the main result may be more acquittals in self defense cases, which I suppose could be a good thing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Album of the Day

When the Sweet Turns Sour, by echolyn (1996): This is a really weird album to listen to in 2005. Nine years ago, this compilation of raw demos, live cuts, and a Genesis cover (hence the title) was set to be the last echolyn release, following the band's breakup. The lineup info even lists who echolyn "was" rather than is. Two brilliant new echolyn albums later, things have obviously changed for the better. That leaves this material in a sort of limbo - not finished for official release but still part of the band's back catalog. I'd really like to see the band revisit "100 Diversions" or "Patchwork" live or in the studio (ala the "As the World 2000," etc., bonus cuts from the new albums) to see how the "finished" product would turn out.

Juding From Faith

Over the weekend, my brother accused me of anti-religious bias in a discussion of gay adoption in Florida. I tried to convince him that I have no problem with "people of faith" in general, only when they seek to enshrine their dogma in law. The GOP is making the related argument in the judicial filibuster brouhaha, arguing that Dubya's judicial candidates who are being held up by the Democrats are being targeted because of their religion. As this column from American Prospect Online points out, that's just not the case. Religious people are perfectly free to be religious and act on their convictions. But judges, in particular, are bound to uphold the law, not their personal religious dogma. Those nominees that don't grasp that concept should rightfully be kept off the bench.

Props for The Beas'

USA Today has a nice in-depth story today about DeMarcus Beasley, once of the Chicago Fire and now of the newly-crowned Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven. Beasley is one of the team's leading scorers both in Holland and in Europe. The story was in honor of today's Champions League semifinal first leg match between PSV and AC Milan. Beasley became the first American to play in a Champions League semi (started and went for 61 minutes). Unfortunately, PSV went down 2-0 and will have quite a pit to dig out of next week in the return leg. Still, congrats to Beas!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Album of the Day

Boomerang, by Tea in the Sahara (1996): To follow up on my Hungarian disc from last week, here is one of two German discs I own. This one suffers somewhat from the fact that English is not these guys' native tongue (you tell me what "usucaption" means, 'cause Merriam-Webster sure as hell can't), which is a shame because the vocals themselves are fairly strong. And the music is some of the best modern symphonic prog I've heard. Lots of nice acoustic piano, tasty guitar and synth leads, and just enough scope to keep things interesting.

Just How Much of a Citizen Must You Be

In the soccer world, FIFA places some fairly strict limits on which country a player can represent. The main restriction is that once a player suits up for one country on the senior level, he/she is forever tied to that country. This is different than, say, Olympic sports, where athletes move around frequently to have easier routes to the Games (I remember in particular a Dutch speed skater who couldn't crack the Dutch Olympic team, so he moved to Belgium and represented that country in the Games). Still, there are some oddities in the FIFA system, mostly where a person born in one country becomes a citizen of another country solely to be a part of the new country's national team. David Regis, for example, represented the US in the 1998 World Cup after becoming a US citizen only when told he couldn't break in to the French national team. That sort of thing doesn't happen all the time, but it isn't exactly rare.

Still, I can't manage up the outrage for such situations that this column over on does. OK, so Portugal has a couple of native Brazilian forwards and the Poles rely on a Nigerian native to score their goals - who cares? In an increasingly small and mobile world, it would be very backward of soccer to refuse to recognize players as citizens of whatever country they are actually a citizen of. FIFA already prohibits country-hopping once a player has committed, so it's not as if Romario can shop his services around to the highest national team bidder. Seems to not be much of a problem to me.

Are You There, God? It's Me, Joseph

It came out over the weekend that the newly minted Pope Benedict XVI, while he was still Joseph Ratzinger, prayed to God to not be selected Pope. In Benedict's words, "[e]vidently, this time He didn't listen to me." I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with a Pope who's calls aren't taken by the Big Guy (or Gal) upstairs.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Album of Yesterday

Marsbeli Kronikak, by Solaris (1995): This has the distinction of being the only disc by a Hungarian band in my collection (the title translates to The Martian Chronicles). It was one of those really obscure "must have" prog discs of the 80s that was rereleased on CD in the mid 90s and became more widely available. My initial impression was a mostly, "eh," but listening to it yesterday made me appreciate it quite a bit more. It's mostly instrumental (very light "ooh" vocals here and there) neo-prog, with occasional Eastern European folk influences and a lot of Ian Anderson-ish flute. Pretty good stuff, really.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Album of the Day

Afraid of Sunlight, by Marillion (1995): AoS has the distinction of being the first Marillion album I bought when it was new. To be honest, I wasn't overwhelmed, not caring for anything beyond the title track and "King" on first listen. All these years later, AoS is right up there with its predecessor, Brave, as a Marillion masterpiece in my book. Of note is the track "Out of This World," about the death of Donald Campbell during an attempt to set a speed record on water in his boat, Bluebird, inspired an expedition to raise the boat from the bottom of the lake. Marillion front man Steve Hogarth and guitarist Steve Rothery (who was the expedition's photographer) were present for the raising, which you can read about here.

I Assume Tom DeLay Is Not Reading This

I really hope Tom DeLay likes the taste of his feet, because he's putting them in his mouth damn near every day. His latest meltdown is another attack on judges, this time Justice Kennedy. In addition to the usual attack on using "foreign law" to support a decision, DeLay is now concerned about Kennedy's work habits:

And not only that, but he said in session that he does his own research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous."
First of all, I'm fairly certain that Justice Kennedy does very little of his own research, on the Net or no (that's what law clerks are for). But secondly, this reminds me of Bush the Elder's astonishment at bar-code scanners at the grocery store all that time ago - is DeLay that out of touch? Does he simply believe that the Net is filled with nothing by left-wing rabble rousers and free porn (now if only someone would create a web site for left-wing rabble rousing porn they'd be on to something)? He, or at least his staff, should know better. For one thing, Congress itself has a copious online presence, from current and past legislation (in excruciating detail) to streaming webcasts of committee hearings. For another, the Supreme Court, all the federal courts, and most state courts release their opinions online. With the help of info sites like Findlaw or blogs like How Appealing, you can keep up to date on late breaking decisions quite easily. And finally, lots of people (your humble narrator included) access Westlaw and/or Lexis via the Web.

I guess my point is, if DeLay didn't have his head so far up his own ass, he'd know that doing legal research on the Web is not only perfectly acceptable, but fairly important in the 21st Century.

Of Course They Do

This headline says it all:

Some see Virgin Mary in underpass stain
Of course they do. And these people think we non-believers are weird? Oh, those crazy Chicagoans. :)

Album of Yesterday

Hot House, by Bruce Hornsby (1995): This, Bruce's second solo album (technically), shares lots of players with the first, Harbor Lights. As such, it sounds very similar (not that this is a bad thing), although the songs feel looser and more open to jamming than on the earlier album. That being said, I think the lyrics are sharper on this one, with some of Bruce's best story songs. My favorite is "Hot House Ball," that tells the tale of growing up in the shadow of a nuclear power plant.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Album of the Day

The Seduction of Madness, by Garden Wall (1995): Today was not exactly a sweet spot in my CD review - nothing affirmatively bad, but nothing all that notable, either. This album is notable only because I found it in the used bin of the FYE in the Town Center Mall in downtown Charleston. Not exactly an oasis of obscure Italian prog. Too bad the album itself isn't that good - average heavy neo (sort of prog metal) with awful English vocals. And the front cover painting of a nekid chick with lopsided, um, "tracts of land" is just a little disturbing.

Mamas, Don't Let Yer Babies Grow Up to Be Snitches

A Georgia high school is signing on to a program to financially reward students ($100-$500) who inform on other students in possession of guns or drugs or who commit other offenses. Now, I'm not particularly opposed to the idea of convincing kids to report crimes (although there are certainly arguments against that), but what really bothers me about this is the messages being sent. First, rather than encouraging kids to "do the right thing," the school is teaching them early on that the only reason to do good is for your own monetary reward. That isn't quite so bad (I don't believe in altruism - every action has a selfish motive) as the other message, which is that snitching is good.

The federal criminal justice system (at least in drug prosecutions) would grind to a halt if defendants wouldn't roll on their friends. Again, that doesn't sound so bad, but consider that this perversely rewards those who are the most culpable because they have the most information to give. Therefore, your higher level dealer/manager will make out better than a first-time street level dealer who doesn't have anybody else to snitch on. A reliance on snitching breeds expectations on the part of those charged with offenses, which sometimes leads to misrepresentations or flat out lies in order to obtain a benefit.

I just hope that by encouraging these kids to rat out their buddies with the prospect of quick cash doesn't overshadow other points of views.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Album of the Day

as the world, by echolyn (1995): This was the great white (commercial) hope of modern prog - a band with no ties to the 70s releasing an album on a major label. And, indeed, the distribution power of Sony 550 made sure that as the world made it all the way to the CD bins of the Discount Den in Morgantown, WV, where I happened upon it. Unfortunately, as often happens in the music biz, a change management in the company meant that the band's champion at the label was gone and the promised financial and marketing support never materialized. The band, as a result, broke up (thankfully, only briefly). It would be interesting to play "what if" with touring and marketing support and imagine what as the world could have become. As it is, it stands the test of time as a brilliant album and even the turbulent times that followed eventually produced the equally brilliant Cowboy Poems Free and Mei. Sometimes it all works out.

I Won, I Won!

Much to my surprise, I checked the Fourth Circuit website this afternoon to find that the court had not only decided one of the cases in which I had oral argument, but the court vacated and remanded for resentencing. Whoo-hoo, I won at the Fourth Circuit! In a full-on 24-page published opinion (complete with dissent), no less. A win is a win, but this one is leaving me a little cold. This case was briefed before Blakely came out last summer and had a really interesting issue involving various possible interpretations of an earlier Fourth Circuit case. However, with the Supreme Court's recent decisions in Booker and Shepard, the Court was able to vacate and remand without actually reaching that issue (which is still relevant at resentencing). So I sort of feel like it must when you win a soccer game on an own-goal or win a race because the guy in front of you blows up. You had to do good work to be in the right place to profit from changing circumstances, but you're not completely responsible for the result.

But, still, a win is a win, especially in the Fourth!

The Beast Is Back

In spite of its recent blasphemy of building and selling an SUV, Porsche has always been and will always be a sports car builder. They're race cars, some derived from the venerable 911 and others racers-from-the-ground-up prototypes, are the most successful on the face of the planet. LeMans, Daytona, Sebring . . . you name it, Porsche has won it so many times many people have lost count. That's why the company's absense from the top-rungs of sports car racing has been so confusing. But all that's about to change. In partnership with another racing heavyweight (Roger Penske), Porsche announced today that it will build an LMP2 prototype for the American LeMans Series (and the big race itself, of course), which may debut later this year. After a Penske-only development period in 2006, the car will be available to customers. Along with the debut of a Mazda rotary-powered LMP2 car at Road Atlanta this weekend, things in the ALMS prototype classes might (finally) be looking up.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Album of the Day

Happy Days, by Catherine Wheel (1995): This is one of those albums that as you groove along to one track you think, "why don't I listen to this more often?", and then when the next track kicks in you think, "oh, yeah, this is why." It's one of the most up and down discs in my collection (outside of most ELP albums). Still, there are several really strong cuts ("God Inside My Head," "Heal," "Kill My Soul") among the weaker ones ("Fizzy Love," "Little Muscle" - who thought those were good ideas?). "God Inside My Head" was particularly appropriate as I read through the file of a client who is nutty as a fruitcake. Finally, it's hard not to like an album with a tune called "Eat My Dust You Insensitive Fuck."

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Album of the Day

The Division Bell, by Pink Floyd (1994): On the Floyd stuff disc I have in the car, I commit what to many Floyd fans must be a heresy - I follow a cut from the old Syd Barrett-led days with "Take It Back" from The Division Bell. I wasn't so deeply into the Floyd back catalog when this album came out, so I supposed I didn't have the same built-in bias against it that some fans do. It's surely not Wish You Were Here, but I prefer it greatly to the only Roger Waters solo album I have (Amused to Death). And given the fair amount of writing Rick Wright did on this one, it's easily as much a Floyd album as, say, The Final Cut.

Dumb Crooks - Caught on Tape Edition

The blogosphere has a couple of really funny dumb crook stories today in which said crooks provided their own videotaped evidence. The first, from I'm A PD, details her client's attempt to create an alibi videotape to prove he was somewhere else while the victim got shot. No summary can do this masterpiece of modern cinema justice, so just go read about it for yourself. Then over on CrimLaw, Ken Lammers links to an old post in which he details a client whose criminal antics were caught on video - by the client and his buddies. The highlight, for me:

I did represent one of three white kids who videotaped themselves getting drunk,
calling each other "n*gg*r alot, then talking about how they were going to mess
up this other "n*gg*r (another white kid), then taping themselves chasing this
kid (the kid gets away when they chase him thru the diamond of an ongoing police softball league game and the police stop the chasers and send them on their way).
You can't make stuff like this up, folks. Or if you did, it wouldn't be nearly as funny.

What the Hell is Wrong With Italy?!?

Things in Italian football have just gone to shit since John Paul moved into the grotto. First, fan violence erupted in various locations during Serie A games this past weekend. Second, the AC Milan-Inter derby/Champion's League quarterfinal second leg was called because of flare-throwing tifosi. With AC Milan up 1-0 in the game (3-0 on aggregate), an apparent Inter goal was disallowed in the second half. The fans' reaction behind the AC Milan goal was to pelt the field with lit flares (flares in the stands are a big part of the atmosphere in Italian footy), one of the missiles hitting Milan keeper Dida in the shoulder. The game was rightly suspended and UEFA is investigating. I only hope that there aren't similar scenes in Turin when I sit down to watch the Juventus-Liverpool game on tape.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Album of the Day

Brave, by Marillion (1994): My first Marillion purchase was Misplaced Childhood and for quite a while after I focused on the Fish-era back catalog based on the opinions of many folks on Usenet. At the time, Steve Hogarth was still the "new guy" and many long-time fans hadn't bought into the switch. But then I started hearing about Brave and how that was winning some people back. Indeed, it was a critical album for the band - an astonishing return to form after Holidays in Eden failed to please either fans or the market. A sprawling concept album, not only did it instantly become one of the band's best, it pointed the way down the path they continue to tread (in various ways) to this day. I instantly fell in love with it, stunning cover and all, and firmly became a fan of the band as it existed at the time rather than it's 80s "glory" days. Play it loud with the lights off, indeed!

Speaking of Those Commandments

To follow up on my comment yesterday about the Ten Commandments as a basis for the Constitution, check out this excellent column by a former state judge and a former Assistant US Attorney that argues: " it would be harmful for the nation to adopt the fiction that the Ten Commandments were a principal source of our laws." Preach on, brothers!

Schumy Uber Alles

This week's issue of Time includes a list of the 100 most influential people on the planet. To my complete shock, one of the three athletes on the list is Ferrari F-1 pilot Michael Schumacher. I'm sort of surprised that anyone at Time would know anything about F-1, much less Schumacher (who, to be fair, is one of the highest paid athletes in the world). Which may explain why the article about Schumy in the magazine is written by Pink Floyd drummer and sometime racer Nick Mason.

Water-to-Wine Action Set Not Included

Next month a California company will begin selling a talking Jesus action figure, complete with five Bible verses. Jesus is about a foot tall and is only one of the many action figures the be released, including Moses and and the virgin Mary. All of this, I think, begs the ultimate question: can talking Jesus take down a full-sized GI Joe?

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Beautiful Game

Those of you who have read my bio know that in addition to being a soccer fan, I'm a player, too. I played as a kid all the way to high school, where I had to choose between soccer and the band. Alas, I was a much better clarinet player than soccer player. My soccer muscles atrophied for years, even after I really bought in hard on soccer fandom after watching a young (18?) Patrick Kluivert score the European Cup (nee Champion's League) winner for Ajax in 1995. So imagine my surprise a few years ago when I saw a billboard advertisement for the Southern West Virginia Adult Soccer League.

It took about a year to get around to it, but I eventually signed up to play in the old-farts (over 30) division, which played 8 v 8 on a short field. I first played again in April 2003, nearly 15 years after my last match. As cool as that was, however, it wasn't quite the real deal. In the two years since, there were several tries to move the division to a full sized field and 11 v 11. After putting a team together, I played goal this Sunday in my first honest-to-gods soccer game in who knows how many years. We won, which was great, but it was nice to have room and time to move and to play a game that was kinda sort of like the ones I watch on Fox Soccer Channel on the weekends.

In addition to playing outdoor, I've played indoor at the local YMCA the past two seasons. My team this year got on a roll late in the season (just like the WVU basketball team) and played its way into the championship game tonight, in a 3-2 double overtime thriller. This will be the first cup final I've played in since 1989 - we lost and I had a fight with my girlfriend after. So even if we lose 0n Wednesday, at least it won't be as bad as 1989. :)

Album of the Day

Thud, by Kevin Gilbert (1994): I've sung the praises of Gilbert in general and this album before, which is odd because when I first got it (used) I really didn't get into it. Other than the sarcastic love song "When You Give Your Love to Me" and the ominous "Shadow Self" (timed "6.66" on the tracklist), it didn't do much for me. Maybe I was expecting more "prog" or something. Slowly, but very surely, it grew on me until today I can't see how I didn't love it instantly. It's spoiled me for other pop albums, both musically rich and lyrically profound (if dark and somewhat depressing). Go get yours now, damnit!

OK, These Folks Are Starting to Scare Me

Over the weekend, a cabal of religious fundamentalists and like-minded lawyers and "scholars" gathered in Washington to launch a campaign to reign in what they see as an out of control federal judiciary. According to the Washington Post, those in attendance included Roy "What Supremacy Clause?" Moore, Phyllis "The Eagle Forum Has Landed" Schlafly, and Alan "Illinois, Maryland, Whatever It Takes" Keyes. Loonies all, but loonies with clout.

In spite of the fact that "the world inhabited by most of those at the conference seems so at odds with empirical reality that one expects it to collapse around them," according to this Salon report, these folks are getting scary. Consider the topic of "Christian Reconstructionism," a theory that:

calls for a system that is both radically decentralized, with most government
functions devolved to the county level, and socially totalitarian. It calls for
the death penalty for homosexuals, abortion doctors and women guilty of
'unchastity before marriage,' among other moral crimes. To be fair, [Howard]
Phillips [who recruited Jerry Falwell to start the Moral Majority] told me that
'just because a crime is capital doesn't mean you must impose the death penalty.
It means it's an option.' Public humiliation, he said, could sometimes be used
In their world, the Schiavo case really was a matter of murder (the husband put her in the coma) regarding a woman who was so lucid and reactive that she could have fed herself if not being held down by armed guards (presumably in rented SS costumes). I'm not kidding (see page 3 of the Salon piece).

And, of course, they hold to the fiction that the Constitution is rooted in the Bible. Exactly which book discusses the value of the separation of powers or a federal form of government? Hell, for that matter, most of the "government" in the Bible was theocratic dictatorships, outdated even by contemporary standards compared to the democratic and republican experiments of Greece and Rome.

It's hard in listening to these folks not to just point and laugh (which is what I did when I saw some of them on C-Span this weekend). But if the rest of us don't keep a close and serious eye on them, things might get out of hand.

Let's Talk John Paul's Legacy

The papal hits just keep on coming! This week will bring not one, not two, but nine masses in Rome to celebrate the late John Paul II. Apparently each mass gets a different cardinal presiding, including American cardinal Bernard Law. You may remember him as the Boston-area cardinal who covered up the rampant child abuse of local priests by shuffling them from parish to parish without telling anybody why. What was JP's response to this conspiracy of silence - promotion (just like Dubya, hmm . . .)! After resigning in 2002, Law was shuffled to Rome as an archpriest. Abuse survivors are understandably pissed at Law's part in this week's festivities, but is seems oddly fitting, given the Church's pattern of dealing with the abuse scandal.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Album of the Day

Epilog, by Anglagard (1994): Along with Anekdoten, Anglagard was one of the Swedish leaders of the prog revival in the early 90s. Their two albums (this is their second) are widely viewed as modern classics. As for Epilog, it is a fantastic (if short) slice of instrumental symphonic prog. The odd thing to me is that some of the same people who praise this album to the hilt will slag off on The Flower Kings or Spock's Beard for being too repetitive of what happened in the 70s. While that may be a valid criticism (or major point in their favor), the fact is that Epilog could have fallen out of a time warp from 1973. While I don't have a problem with that, it just seems like an odd little bit of hypocrisy.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Album of the Day

Rift, by Phish (1993): There some artists from whom I have just one album, and while I like it quite a bit, I have no motivation to go out and get any of their other stuff. Rift is one such album. I actually picked this up in college and didn't really get into it for several years. Here in the last couple of years, however, it's really grown on me. Yet, I feel Phish phulphilled. Yes, they're good players, and yes, some of the tunes are great ("Rift," "My Friend, My Friend," "It's Ice" and "Silent in the Morning," in particular), but others seem like filler and the lyrics seem completely tossed off. Of course, maybe that's the point.

Keep Flogging Those Rental Cars

The Supreme Court of Connecticut yesterday held that a rental car company's policy of charging their customers' bank accounts and/or credit cards if the GPS system in the rental car showed the driver was speeding did not constitute legitimate damages for violating the rental agreement. Every time a car rented to a customer exceeded 79 mph, the rental company took $150, As the court (via Justice Borden) wrote: "a customer would have to travel more than 1,070 miles at high speeds, without decelerating below 80 miles per hour, to cause $150 of excess wear on the vehicle." The state AG concurred:

'You cannot secretly track drivers' speeds and gouge them under the guise of
safety or vehicle expense,' Blumenthal said. 'No logic or law warrants a private
company ambushing consumers with a $150 fee for exceeding a random speed limit.'
So, road warriors of the world, continue to abuse those vanilla Oldsmobuicks in the pursuit of driving excellence. No mention from the court if it's decision would cover automatically withheld damages if the renter and friend took the car to an SCCA rallycross and returned it afterwards (after removing the embedded clumps of dirt, of course).

GOP, Meet Backlash

Ever since the 2004 election, the GOP has been riding high on a wave of "values" voters who supposedly were in lock-step with the party's fundamentalist religious wing. But now, it seems that the follies of Tom "What Grand Jury?" DeLay and crew during the Schiavo scrum are coming back to haunt the GOP. A new USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll shows that, among other things, a majority of the population sees the GOP as "'trying to use the federal government to interfere with the private lives of most Americans' on moral values," while Democrats aren't. A whopping 76% disapprove of Congress's role in the Schiavo affair. And finally, folks have shifted from thinking that the fundies had the right amount of influence in the Dubya regime to having too much influence.

Love the Messenger, Hate the Message?

The cover story of today's USA Today deals with the fairly wide divide between the late Pope and his subjects here in the U.S. It's hardly a new issue, but it's particularly relevant as the College of Cardinals prepares to select the next pontiff. A few interesting quotes:

Others expect the Vatican to conform to their needs and tastes. Mark Hart of
Life Teen, a Catholic youth program active in 900 U.S. parishes, says: 'Young
people are looking for another Holy Father willing to enter into their culture.
It's less important what his native language is. … It's more important that he's
willing to speak their language, the language of post-modern culture.'
Buddy Christ, anyone?
'The church has totally lost control' of U.S. Catholics, says Ronald Inglehart,
who heads the survey at the University of Michigan Institute for Social
Research. Americans, he says, 'don't want big institutions telling them how to
OK, assuming for a minute that's true (an open debate), then why don't the so-called "cafeteria Catholics" leave the church and form their own or move in with one of the numerous Protestant sects that seem to split every time someone has an original thought. Those ultra-conservative Catholics (who think the Vatican is too modern) didn't have any problem doing that. I just can't understand the desire to subjugate yourself to an autocratic faith and then complain when you don't agree with the leadership. That's the whole point of free will and freedom of religion, people - if you can do it better yourself, have at it!

One More Red Nightmare has a story today about the downfall of that school teacher favorite - the red pen. Seems that modern school children are so sensitive that dealing with red scribblings from their teachers, even if they are positive comments, is to "stressful" for them. While I give some credit to the schools in the story for simply sidestepping the issue (by using other colors), it does make me wonder. Hell, I correct my own writing in red pen (tho' my colleagues tend to use blue) to this day and it's by far the least stressful part of my job.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Album of the Day

Harbor Lights, by Bruce Hornsby (1993): In the spring of 1993, I was just finishing up my freshman year of college. In a time honored college tradition, I took two finals one morning and them promptly headed to the bookstore to sell my now useless textbooks and free up a few bucks. Bucks in hand, I headed to Morgantown's famous Discount Den and picked up a couple new CDs, including this one. I went back to the dorm, where my room mate was sleeping through a migraine. Undaunted, I whipped out a pair of headphones and sat down in front of the stereo to check out Bruce's latest. As I started to paw through the liner notes, noticing the heavy hitters involved (Jimmy Haslip, Branford Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Jerry Garcia, etc.), the first solo piano notes of the title track drifted through my head. "This is different," I thought. By the time the band kicked in, my jaw was quite literally on the floor. I was a fan of Bruce's days with the Range, but this stuff (which, it turns out, was closer to his live performance), seamlessly blending pop and jazz with Bruce's trademark lyrics was just great. And it still is.

How Do You Say "My Bad" In Chinese?

Just when you thought those Chinese executioner's vans (death in 30 minutes or your next is free!) couldn't be beat, consider the strange tale of Mr. She (yeah, it's a bit confusing). She was charged and convicted of killing his wife 1994. Authorities never ID'd the victim's body, but She was convicted on the basis of a confession that was tortured out of him. Now, 15 years later, after She had served all of his sentence (death commuted to 15 years), his wife turns up. Seems that she ran off with another man 15 years ago and never told anyone, must less the cops who were beating a confession out of her husband.


More Than Kissin' Cousins

From Pennsylvania comes this story of the opening of a broad new front in the battle over the meaning of marriage. It seems that first-cousins are seeking to break down the barriers now in place in 26 states to prevent their marriage (it's perfectly legal in Europe and Canada, apparently). I note this story for two reasons, only:

1. The organization promoting this agenda is called Cousins United to Defeat Discriminating Laws through Education - CUDDLE. Isn't that nauseatingly cute?

2. Given the fact that the popular myth is that everyone in West Virginia marries a cousin, I just wanted to point out again that this story comes from PENNSYLVANIA!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Album of the Day

Deus ex Machina, by Deus ex Machina (1993): When I first started re-exploring prog in college, one of the first really "out there" bands I heard of was Deux ex Machina. Modern hard driving fusion-inflected prog with slightly over the top vocals and lyrics in Latin - what's not to love! Several Deus discs later, this remains my favorite, as the songwriting seems stronger than on their other albums. Maybe that's just because it was the first one I heard and has a special place in my heart. Or maybe not.

Hey, Look, Judicial Activism!

One wonders if the lunatics calling the judges involved in the Schiavo fracas "activists" are aware of the Supreme Court's decision today in United States v. Johnson, 'cause that's what activism really looks like. In Johnson, the Court not only decided the question squarely presented to it in the petition for certiorari, but went beyond that to resolve an issue that really wasn't necessary to the holding, as the four dissenters point out.

The IRL Turning Right - Is It Just Wrong?

By all accounts, it looks like the IRL's first foray into left-right racing on the street circuit at St. Petersburg this weekend was a success. I have to admit, the racing was about what you'd expect from open-wheelers on a street circuit. The cars are still fugly (who decided to make them flat?), but they didn't sound as bad as they do on the ovals. And the field, while not super deep (Ed Carpenter and AJ Foyt IV? They're the best this series can do? Jeez!), won't be greatly upstaged by the Champ Car grid in Long Beach this weekend. The stands were (fairly) full, certainly more so at Phoenix and Homestead. Even ESPN's picture-in-picture ad scheme works for racing (but it sucks for soccer - no more, please).

Still, is Robin Miller correct that this was a step in the "right direction" for the IRL? Maybe. But is it the right direction for American open-wheel racing? The last real distinction between the IRL and Champ Car is about gone. The only difference now is the emphasis (IRL favors ovals over road racing, Champ Car is the opposite). As Miller points out, the IRL has become everything CART was when Tony George took his Speedway and went home back in 1996. If all the IRL's road racing events go this well in 2005 and they add more for 06 (Road America, anyone?), Champ Car could go the way of the dodo. Killed by the ghost of it's own past.

Popely Thoughts

Say what you want about the late John Paul II, he had exquisitely bad timing. He kicked off only a couple of minutes before DC and Chivas were to kick off the MLS season on ABC. I note this only because it continues MLS/US Soccer's incredibly bad run of luck when it comes to games on ABC. Earlier broadcasts had been scrapped due to the death of Ronald Reagan and the beginning of the US military campaign in Afghanistan. At least the game was moved to ESPN, rather than dropped altogether (as in the past), so I did get to see DC see off Chivas 2-0.

Given the all-Pope-all-the-time focus of the news outlets the past few days (except for the print edition of the Sunday New York Times here in flyover country, which said only that the Pope's condition was "serious" - whoops) it's caused even non-believer me to reflect on John Paul, the only Pope I've ever known. There are several things to admire about the man.

For one, he was instrumental in the collapse of the Soviet bloc, particularly in his native Poland. While bishop in Krakow, John Paul allowed members of the nascent Solidarity to meet in his church, shielding them from the communist enforcers. Once he became Pope, of course, John Paul's return to Poland and continued support for Solidarity not only doomed communism in Poland but all over Eastern Europe.

For another, when it came to the meta issues of life, John Paul was consistent. He actually was pro-life in every way, including the unpopular (in this country, at least) anti-war and anti-death penalty ways. For those fundies hypocritically blathering on about a "culture of life," you could certainly learn a few things about moral conviction from JP.

But finally, I think the one act of JP's that resonates most to me was a personal one. After a gunman tried to assassinate him in 1981, JP visited his assailant in prison and offered his forgiveness. That's an act that most people simply aren't capable of. If that ain't holy, not much is.

Having said that, JP presided over a organization that had and still has significant problems. His adherence to outdated dogma on things like birth control has helped fueled uncontrolled population growth in third world hellholes where resources are scarce at best. And the church acted shamefully in covering up and refusing to acknowledge the existence and extent of the child abuse scandal that rocked priests in the US in the recent past. Speaking of the US, American Catholics simply can't have it both ways -- according to a poll conducted just after JP's death, 59% say they want the new Pope to follow in JP's footsteps on major issues. But on those specific issues, overwhelming majorities hold positions directly counter to the church.

None of this is to denigrate the dead, only to point out that JP was a man, and like all men he was more complicated than his devotees and detractors are willing to admit.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Album of the Day

hat, by Mike Keneally (1992): "Thank you for buying hat," multiple Mikes sing in the opening of "Your Quimby Dollars at Work." Thus begins the solo career of one of the most amazing musical talents on the planet (and just a damned nice guy, too). After years with Zappa, Mike finally cranked out this twisted collection of tunes that established his talent, humor, and uniqueness. Compared to his later stuff, hat reminds me a little bit of Kevin Smith's first film, Clerks - both were made on the cheap by guys who were learning how to do it as they went along and are fairly rough compared to their later works. But, they're both great (in ways completely different from said later works) show what can be done when creative people do what they want to do when left to their own devices.

Are You Ready for Some Futbol?

It's hard to believe that Major League Soccer kicks off its 10th season this Saturday. The league has expanded to 12 teams this year (again - let's hope it sticks this time) and looks to be past any concerns about stability in the US sports scene. Growth, of course, is another thing. The second season of Freddy mania and the return of Landon Donovan from Germany (fuck the doubters - he looked damned good against Guatemala the other night) won't hurt.

One thing that's not hard to believe - DC starts the season as defending champions again. Will they be as successful this year? I hope so, but as this preview points out it may depend on who steps up to replace New Zealand international Ryan Nelsen (who is helping keep Blackburn's Premiership hopes alive now).

Regardless, I've got my Direct Kick subscription paid for and I'm ready to get rolling!

When We My Creamy Ranch Illegal, Only Criminals Will Have Creamy Ranch

The headline says it all:

Pat Buchanan doused with salad dressing.
Well, OK, maybe it doesn't say it all. Seems that America's favorite failed presidential candidate was assaulted with what appears to be creamy ranch dressing flung upon him by a disgruntled audience member during a speech last night at Western Michigan University. You know, I'm the first to admit that using salad dressing (or desert topping, in the case of Bill Kristol) to make a political point is childish, not likely to win many converts, and borderline psychotic. But I must admit - seeing that twit covered in dressing made me laugh really hard this morning.