Monday, February 27, 2006

Album of the Day

Wicked, by the Jon Finn Group (1998): Jon Finn is a Boston-based guitarist whose four-piece group served up a tasty slice of prog-tinged instrumental rock last decade. Finn has generous technical abilities, but he avoids the wankery that so often comes with the territory. In fact, the compositions here are very strong (and show a good sense of humor, i.e. "If Stevie Ray Vaughn Went to Berklee and Studied Jazz" and the three-part "Pompous Music Suite"). My biggest gripe is that Finn and company haven't released a follow up yet. But, looking at his web site, it appears that Bull In a China Shop is being written as we speak (well, as I type and as you read). Good news!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Album of the Day

Venus, by Everon (1997): Several years ago, I participated in a year-end poll/competition over at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page in which I won a prize of about a dozen CDs, mostly from central European bands I had never heard of. They were duds, for the most part, ranging from really awful (like "vying for worst in my collection" awful) to passable. This disc was one of them and, for some reason, it clicked with me today a little more that in the past. In fact, it reminded me a lot of the Enchant discs I listened to today - guitar led, heavy riffing, neo-prog with surprisingly decent English vocals (the band is German, I believe).

I Won't Even Kiss Her, Unless I'm Gonna Make Her My Wife

Imagine that you are Mr. Tombe, from the Upper Nile State in Sudan, and that you are deeply infatuated with your neighbor's goat. Imagine further that you manage to slip away into the night with the creature and begin to, um, "show it your affections," only to be caught in flagrante delicto by said goat's owner. What happens next? Why, you marry that girl, of course! Actually, the owner forces you to "marry" her and a local court orders you to pay a dowry of 15,000 Sudanese dinars (about $50). As for the actual capture itself:

Mr Alifi . . . told the Juba Post newspaper that he heard a loud noise around midnight on 13 February and immediately rushed outside to find Mr Tombe with his goat.

"When I asked him: 'What are you doing there?', he fell off the back of the goat, so I captured and tied him up".

Mr Alifi then called elders to decide how to deal with the case.

"They said I should not take him to the police, but rather let him pay a dowry for my goat because he used it as his wife," Mr Alifi told the newspaper.

Remember kids, always concentrate on the dismount!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Album of the Day

Black Moon, by Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1992): I spent a lot of time out of the office and on the phone today, which means slim pickins for AotD. Hence the choice of Black Moon, ELP's early 90s comeback albums. It's certainly not ELP's worst (or even second worst, given the horror stories I've heard about Love Beach and In the Hot Seat), and it's no uglier than, say, Yes's Union that was released the year before or what Genesis was doing at the time.

You're Guilty and You're Poor, So Here's Your Bill

There is a scene near the end of Terry Gilliam's brilliant Brazil where our hero, having been arrested for several acts of vague criminality, meets with several helpful drones from the Ministry of Information:

Either you plead guilty to, say, seven or eight of the charges, which is going to help keep costs down within your means, or you can borrow a sum, to be negotiated, from us at very competitive rates.

We can offer you something at, say, 11.5 percent over 30 years, but you may have to buy insurance to qualify for this. If you prefer something more specific, say, against electrical charges over 70 pounds . . ..

Plead guilty, it's easier and cheaper for everyone.
Unfortunately, that's not as far from the truth as it should be. Decades after Gideon set the principle that poverty should not be a bar to legal representation in criminal cases, the indigent folks who utilize the PD system are still paying, in a multitude of ways. Today's New York Times has a great article about the various court costs, probation fees, and other ways of making poor people pay for their interaction with the criminal justice system.

I see it in the Federal system, where defendants are charged $100 per charge as a "special assessment." Unlike a fine, which can be waived if the person is too poor to pay, the special assessments are mandatory. They sometimes get paid off over years from the near-slave wages made while in prison.

Failure to pay these charges can lead to further time in prison. It's a vicious cycle that makes absolutely no sense. As Dan Filler points out over at Concurring Opinions:
This is not a bleeding heart versus tough love issue. It is a matter of pragmatism. Bernie Ebbers should share the costs of his trial and punishment if he has some cash lying about. But while there may be moral arguments for dunning the average John Doe, practical considerations suggest we shouldn't.

Paging Justice Alito - You're Defining Moment Is Calling

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that will decide the fate of the Federal "partial birth" abortion law. Following up on that, the state of South Dakota is on the verge of passing legislation that would virtually ban all abortions (except to save the life of the mother). It lacks even the usually present rape/incest exception that lures in the weak-kneed moderate pro-lifers. If enacted, the law would obviously conflict with Roe v. Wade, but that, of course, is the point. With Alito now part of the Court, the hopes are that Roe is not long for this world.

But is it really that clear cut? Even assuming the Alito (and Roberts, for that matter) would vote to overturn Roe, wouldn't that leave the pro-lifers one vote short? The underlying affirmation of Roe in Casey was actually 6-3, not 5-4. The replacement of O'Connor with Alito gets them one step closer, but it may not get them all the way. If that's the case, could a pending challenge to the South Dakota law actually hinder the ability to put the fifth vote on the Court if another vacancy occurs during Dubya's remaining days? Let's hope so.

Words of Wisdom

Today I did an initial appearance for a guy who was charged with assisting in the sale of about $1000 worth of crack cocaine. That charge carries with it a potential term of up to 20 years in prison. The fact that more he could get more than 10 years allows the Government to basically keep him in custody pending trial (i.e., no bail). He really latched onto the possibility of 10 years, concluding:

Ten years, man. That kind of time in prison can be deleterious to one’s mental health.
No kidding.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Album of the Day

Brain Salad Surgery, by Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1972): ELP is along among the big 70s prog bands in not really producing a five-star definitive album. Every one of their releases has some fairly obvious dead spots, some of which took up entire sides in the old LP days (side 2 of Tarkus, anyone?). BSS is probably the closest they came. The obvious highlight is the massive "Karn Evil 9." The rest ranges from interesting ("Toccata") to somewhat aggravating but not bad (everything else). It's hard not to like an album that has the greatest stretch for a rhyme of all time: "A little sadder, a litter madder / Someone get me a ladder" - from "Still . . . You Turn Me On."

Maybe We Should Start Reinforcing Fort Sumpter Again

You are a right-wing nutcase who is concerned about the "extreme marginalization of Christianity in America." You want to foment political change - but how? Here's an idea - get a whole lot of like minded wingnuts to all move into one state and slowly take it over, from the bottom up. Where might this work? Why, South Carolina, of course! That's the plan of Cory Burnell, who for some vague reason ("busy recruiting") still lives in California:

With a decisive majority, Burnell says, his group would be able to pass laws
that line up with their biblical principles and their interpretation of the U.S.
Constitution -- laws that include outlawing abortion and homosexual relations,
allowing governmental displays of Christian symbols and ending state-funded
What might it mean that for those laws to have any real effect you'd have to get out from underneath the Federal government? Why,secessionn, of course:

Edwin Gaustad, professor emeritus of history and religious studies at the University of California-Riverside, on the other hand, said, 'I would think it would have little chance of going anywhere unless there was a secession of South Carolina from the union.'

That's an option Burnell and his followers would consider, although they say it would be a last resort.

At least there's a tradition to build on there. Alas, such grand ambitions may be a long ways away. The total number of pilgrims convinced by Burnell to move to the Palmetto State is a whopping 20.

On Thin Ice

Wow, and I thought the figure skaters were the drama queens! The first real juicy story of the Winter Olympics in Turin is the ongoing spat between American speed skaters Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick. Basically, Hedrick is pissed at Davis for skipping the new-for-2006 "team pursuit" event to focus on the 1000m race. The US lost the pursuit, Davis won the 1000m (and gave one of the most flatly affected post-win interviews I've seen this side of Kimi Raikonen). Yesterday, the two ended up with silver (Davis) and bronze (Hedrick) in the 1500m, behind a jubilant Italian. The press conference was apparently a barrel of monkeys of fun!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Album of the Day

In the Region of the Summer Stars, by The Enid (1975/2001): The Enid are an English band that got going right as prog started to dwindle off in the mid 1970s. All instrumental, their music is firmly in the symphonic prog vein, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. Some of the arrangements do lean more towards "classical music played by a rock band" than, say, Genesis or Yes, but it's prog nonetheless. I'm not certain that the original release of this, their debut album, has ever seen the light of day on CD. This version, which includes new recordings of the old material (as well as bonus tracks, of course), was put together in 2001. I'm not sure if that was done out of a desire to improve things or as some sort of legal trick.

Nancy Grace Is a Bitch

Yesterday's USA Today had a puff piece about CNN legal analyst/harpy Nancy Grace. I've never been a fan of hers. Maybe it's the fact that she can't say anything in a normal tone of voice and always seems to be shrieking at people (even those she agrees with). Maybe it's the fact that after 9/11 she felt qualified to tell the families of those killed and wounded in the attacks how they should feel since she lost her fiance to a homicide years ago. Or maybe it's because the ideas of due process, zealous representation of those accused of crimes, and the presumption of innocence don't really matter in her world. Everybody charged with a crime is guilty because, well, they just are!

But I've never felt compelled to vent about her, until she called me a Nazi:

But, she adds, 'when people say defense lawyers are just doing their jobs and are necessary for our system, you could say that about a lot of people who claim they're just doing their jobs. You could say that about the guards at Auschwitz.'
Well, Nancy, let me say this on behalf of myself and maybe a few of my fellow brother and sister defenders: FUCK YOU.

I hope, someday, that you are charged with a crime, maybe one you didn't actually committ. I hope the analysts review the relevant facts from the cable news networks well before trial and confirm that you're guilty, just as you've done time after time. I hope that you shop around for a really good defense attorney to clear your name and win your case. And I hope nobody takes your case and you are left to represent yourself. Given the legal prowess you demonstrate on TV, you'll surely get the chair.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Album of the Day

mei, by echolyn (2002): Aggressive, yet delicate. Intimate, yet epic. Angry, yet hopeful. At more than 49 minutes, mei's one track is all of those and more. I can't really expound on it any better than I did in my initial review over at Ground and Sky. It's simply a classic.

Texas Is Bizarro World

I know things are different in Texas, but I had no idea it went this far. Harry Whittington, who was shot in the face last weekend by Dick Cheney in a hunting accident, was released from the hospital today. At a press conference, Whittington - I can barely type this with a straight face - actually apologized to Cheney:

My family and I are deeply sorry for all Vice President Cheney and his family had to deal with this week. ...We hope he will continue to come to Texas and seek the relaxation he deserves.
Are you fucking kidding me?!?! You get blasted in the face and you're sorry for all the shooter "had to deal with" as a result? Holy shit. Whittington is a lawyer, and for the sake of the criminal defendants of Texas, I hope he becomes a judge. I can already see the sentencing arguments: "Your Honor, my client should receive a lesser sentence because the victim in this case has not accepted responsibility for the hellish existence my client has endured since this crime was committed." I wonder how far that'll fly?

It's Not Over Until the Hotdog Wipes Out

Well, you know, I wondered about this. Last night, watching the men's snowboard-cross knock out rounds last night, I wondered if anybody ever got a little cocky on the last jump, tried to show off a little too much, and wiped out crossing the finish line. Who knew it would happen today, in the medal final, no less? American Lindsey Jacobelis was leading the final handily as she came off the last jump near the finish line. Rather than keep things neat and bring home the gold, she grabbed her board, hot dogged a little bit, and bit the snow. While she struggled to her feet, Switzerland's Tanja Frieden slid past and won gold.

Hard way to learn a lesson that I once heard Mario Andretti teach: to finish first, you must first finish. The incident reminds me of the Monaco round of the old F3000 championship from 2003. Norwegian Bjorn Wirdheim led every lap of the race from pole. After he rounded the final corner, he pulled over towards the pit wall to salute his crew (a traditional salute in road racing). Wirdheim missed exactly where the finish line was, however, and slowed down too much, thinking he had won the race. He hadn't - the finish line was further up the pit straight. As Wirdheim coasted to a stop, the second-place driver powered past him to win the most prestigious event on the F3000 calendar. Wirdheim went on to win the championship that year, but I bet he never lifts at the end of a race anymore!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Album of the Day

Six Degrees of Inner Turbulance, by Dream Theater (2002): Yesterday I commented about working my way through the halcyon days of DT's career. Well, here is where I got off the bandwagon. After being disappointed with Scenes From a Memory, I still went out and bought this one sound unheard. Unlike Scenes . . ., which I've at least grown able to listen to, Six Degrees . . . holds no charms for me. None of the better songwriting from the earlier albums is present and the shift into wankery overdrive is complete. Of course, when Mike Portnoy is crediting himself as playing "lead drums," it does not bode well.

Fundies of a Feather

Remember back when Dubya was building his "coalition of the willing" to go into Iraq and the French have the temerity to say, "non?" In the wake of that rejection, right wingers across the country started renaming things that had to do with France, most notably renaming french fries "freedom fries." I think I also saw mention of "freedom toast," although thankfully not "freedom kissing" (some things are sacred). Such idiocy is not limited to American militants, it appears. You see, in Iran, Danish pastries are extremely popular, but it's hard to buy them in good conscience now in the wake of the ongoing cartoon row. So, the Iranian "confectioner's union" (I am not making that up) has renamed the melancholy pastries "Rose of Muhammad" pastries.

See, underneath the cultural differences, right wing nut jobs are basically right wing nut jobs all over the world. Talk about the brotherhood of man.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Album of the Day

Images and Words, by Dream Theater (1992): One of the quirks of the A-Z trip through my CD collection is that I encounter huge chunks of discs by one band. The first one up is Dream Theater, which occupied my entire day today. In fact, the run of albums today(Images and Words, Live at the Marquee, Awake, A Change of Seasons, Falling Into Infinity, and Once in a LIVETime) are pretty much the high point of the band's career, in my opinion. Things started to fall down after LIVETime (well, after Falling, really, given James LaBrie's horrible screeching on the live album). But these albums really show the band's prog-metal talent. Images and Words, of course, is not only the album that put the band on the map but, as Brandon puts it in his Ground and Sky review, "this is the album that put prog-metal on the map."

What Does This Say About the Special Sauce?

Eww. Just - eww. A woman in North Carolina is suing a nearby McDonalds after discovering blood smeared over the bottom of her french fry container. It appears that one of the store's employees got a cut and bled into the box. Makes me want to look twice at the next ketchup stain I come across at a local fastfoodery.

Another Setback for ID

The rapid devolution of the "Intelligent Design" movement continues to gather steam. Last night, the Ohio Board of Education voted 11-4 to remove ID-inspired language from the state's science curriculum. Ah, the march of progress!

Olympic Musings

Now that the 20th Winter Olympic Games are firmly underway, a few thoughts I've had about the festivities.

  • Well, the opening ceremony was its usual weird self. Always nice to see Peter Gabriel, although I'm fairly certain he wouldn't be too keen on Bob Costas's description of him as "former lead singer of Genesis," seeing as how Pete's been out of the band for more than three decades! Also, does anybody think "Imagine" was an odd choice, given the "Imagine there's no countries," line? An Olympics without countries wouldn't really work, would it? Still, any ceremony that involves a Ferrari F1 car doing donuts isn't a bad thing.
  • The whole "Torino" thing has bugged me for weeks. If you're learning Italian, that's fine, but for us normal English speakers the name of the host city is "Turin." Alas, the decision to parlare italiano is not a plot of the suits at NBC. Rather, it is the request of the organizing committee, as "Turin" apparently doesn't have enough zing to it. Thanks to CCR for the pointer.
  • Autocross is about the lowest thing on the motorsport totem poll (I say that as a fan and competitor, by the way), so we frequently like to play up the success of racers who got their start dodging cones. But I never figured I'd root for one in the Olympics. Tanith Belbin, one half of the United States's best medal hopes in ice dancing, is an avid autocrosser. More than that - she drives an EP3 Civic Si, just like me. So we know she's got good taste, at the very least.
  • Hopefully, Tanith won't end up at my new favorite blog, DFL. As you might expect from the name, it is dedicated to keeping track of the athletes in the Olympics who finish dead last in each sport. At this point, Romania leads the upside down metal table with 5 DFL competitors.
Feel free to hum the Olympic fanfare to yourself while reading this entry!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Album of the Day

1st, by Discus (1999): In spite of it's decidedly British origins and characteristics, progressive rock is a global phenomenon. It really first caught popular fire in Italy and the 90s rebirth was largely driven by Swedish bands. Meanwhile, the Americas have contributed more than their fair share of interesting bands to the prog stew. But so far there has only been, to my knowledge, one prog band to make it out of Indonesia - Discus. Having said that, there's not an awful lot in the music that screams "Indonesian" to my ears. In fact, were you to strip away the more pop-flavored vocal tracks with Indonesian lyrics (a good idea), you're left with mostly instrumental high-energy fusion. Good high-energy fusion, it must be said, but not particularly distinct. Still, a neat artifact to have in the collection.

A Kiss Is Just a Kiss

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I submit this fairly interesting column from today's New York Times that discusses exactly how humans came to kiss each other. Is it evolutionary or a social construct? The urge to lock lips is not universal:

All across Africa, the Pacific and the Americas, we find cultures that didn't know about mouth kissing until their first contact with European explorers. And the attraction was not always immediately apparent. Most considered the act of exchanging saliva revolting. Among the Lapps of northern Finland, both sexes would bathe together in a state of complete nudity, but kissing was regarded as beyond the pale.

To this day, public kissing is still seen as indecent in many parts of the world. In 1990, the Beijing-based Workers' Daily advised its readers that 'the invasive Europeans brought the kissing custom to China, but it is regarded as a vulgar practice which is all too suggestive of cannibalism.'

An interesting question, but really irrelevant in the end. Definitely file that under the "if it feels good, do it" category. :)

Free Legal Advice

I know lots of criminals are not exactly the brightest bulbs in the box, but here's a free tip to those engaged in criminal activity: don't do Internet research on ways to kill someone three or four days before actually killing someone! The Brit who is accused of killing his wife and daughter apparently did just that, in addition to searching for escort services and flipping through profiles on Adult Friend Finder. Either he's not too bright or he just picked a really really bad time to engage his morbid curiosity and wandering eye.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Album of the Day

Unfolded Like Staircase, by Discipline (1997): Since I mentioned this album the other day, it's only fair to pimp it again here. This is another album that I've grown to like more over the years since I first heard it (see the Ground and Sky review linked above). It's dark, epic, symphonic prog with vocal/lyrical similarities to Van der Graff Generator and Fish-ear Marillion. Not the easiest stuff to get into at first, but well worth it at the end.

Hateful Speech Equals Bad Law?

One has to be pretty low on the human food chain to think protesting a funeral service is a good idea. Particularly when it's done to push an extremist Bible-thumping agenda that would even make Pat Robertson blush. That's exactly what the asshats from the Westboro Baptist Church have been doing for years now. What started out as protests at the funerals of AIDS victims (remember the mouth breathers with the "God Hates Fags" signs? That's them) has now morphed into protests at funerals for service members killed in Iraq:

It was a typical scenario for the Westboro Baptist Church. Another demonstration outside the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq. This time the venue was Meadowood Baptist Church in Midwest City, Okla., noted a full rundown of the event recorded later by church members on their Web site.

The signs held by members that Feb. 2 were dutifully noted on the church's web-journal: 'Steve held 'Thank God for Dead Soldiers,' 'You're Going to Hell' and 'Fags Doom Nations' while Shirl held 'America is Doomed,' 'God is America's Terror' and 'Don't Worship the Dead' with a flag tied around her waist.'

They recently appeared at memorial services for miners killed in two recent disasters in West Virginia. The mine accidents, they bellowed, were punishment from God for the state's sinful ways.

As you might expect, some people are pissed off at this activity. But does that anger translate to good law? The West Virginia House of Delegates last week overwhelmingly passed a bill that would limit the places where such protests could take place:
Delegates voted 96-1 to send the bill (HB4306) to the Senate for consideration.
It bars protesters at funerals and memorial services who disturb the peace from
coming closer than 500 feet to such a service and makes that a felony.
The one dissenting vote came from Republican Charles Trump, the House Minority Leader. Is he a supporter of the Westboro idiots? No, but he has concerns about a law directed at the suppression of speech, even incredibly hateful speech. I applaud his concern and his vote - it takes balls to stand in front of a piece of legislation moving so fast as to flatten anyone in its path in the name of a broader and farther reaching principle.

Compare that with the opinion of Democratt (and lawyer) Lidella Hrutkay, who was "not concerned about whether the bill is constitutional" because "somewhere down the road someone'’s going to challenge it and we'’ll let the courts do their job." Wait a second - don't legislators take the same oath to uphold the Constitution that judges do? If there is a possibility that a law might be unconstitutional, shouldn't that concernern a legislator? Maybe, after investigation, she concludes that the law is in fact constitutional and therefore supports it. Fine, but "punt to the courts" should not be an option in situations like this.

I'm reminded of when I heard a lecture by ACLU president Nadine Strossen while I was in law school. They were fighting the Communications Decency Act in court at the time. She told of trying to sway Congressmen to vote against the Act arguing that it violated the First Amendment (as the Supreme Court later held that it did). She got no takers, with one Congresscritter actually telling her that a "no" vote would be dangerous politically and that the Supreme Court would clean up the mess down the road.

What's the point of this (ever expanding) screed? The Westboro folks are assholes, plain and simple. And maybe the new WV law is a proper time, place, and manner restriction that will pass First Amendment muster. But that issue should be hashed out now, before anyone has to challenge it in the courts. Not every problem can be, or should be, solved by passing a new law.

You Know Who You Are 'cause You're Offended

As the "row" (as the British call it) over the Danish cartoons of Muhammad continues, one of the weirder skirmishes is taking place in Ohio. Last week, the Akron Beacon Journal published a cartoon by their cartoonist that seems to comment on the media reaction to the controversy. It has a couple sitting on the couch watching CNN, which is showing one of the offending "cartoons" but is digitally blurring the Prophet's face. The woman comments, "no wonder Muslims are upset. Muhammad looks like he's on acid." (see the cartoon for yourself over at the Volokh Conspiracy).

Some local Muslims are offended, although it's not particularly clear at what:

At Friday's news conference at the Islamic Society of Akron & Kent in Cuyahoga Falls, the speakers were passionate.

A.R. Abdoulkarim, Amir of the Akron Masjid, applauded newspapers that decided against running the cartoons, but condemned those who did. The Beacon Journal, he said, was in a class of its own.

'They take the prize for being the most ill-intended, irresponsible property group,' he said. 'Allah curses and condemns them and every Muslim in this community should curse and condemn them.'

Julia A. Shearson, director of Ohio's Council of American-Islamic Relations, said they want the Beacon Journal to apologize for running the 'unethical' cartoon and want the paper to publish their letters to the editor.

Now, putting aside the whole "any image of the Prophet is de facto insulting" argument, I don't see what the hullabaloo about this cartoon is. It seems pretty clearly aimed at media outlets who, as they so often do, try to discuss something sensitive without actually showing whatever is they are discussing for fear of further offending people. That approach simply doesn't work and, potentially, ends up with people having the wrong impression as to what the whole controversy is about. It does not appear to be aimed at the Muslim community in general or done with an intent to offend.

The offended parties are free, of course, to peacefully protest, call for an apology, and write letters to the editors. But it seems to me that if something like this cartoon is a grievous insult to your faith, maybe some self examination is in order.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Evolution

In response to several of the major fundie "x Sunday" events that have occurred in the past year, several more liberal denominations joined together this weekend for Evolution Sunday. The occasion was the 197th birthday of Charles Darwin, and preachers used the day to urge the faithful that evolution was not a threat to their faith, but in fact strengthened it. As one pastor put it, Darwin "'forced religion to grow up, to become, really, faith for the first time.'" However, where the Focus on the Family fueled events originated from sold-out megachurches and were broadcast via satellite all over the country, the crowds involved with Evolution Sunday seemed a bit more, um, modest:

At St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church, a small contemporary structure among the
pricey homes of north Atlanta, the Rev. Patricia Templeton told the 85 worshipers gathered yesterday, 'A faith that requires you to close your mind in order to believe is not much of a faith at all.'

In the basement of an apartment building in Evanston, Ill., the Rev. Mitchell Brown said to the 21 people who came to services at the Evanston Mennonite Church that Darwin's theories in fact had compelled people to have faith rather than look for 'special effects' to confirm the existence of God.


Album of Last Friday

Feed the Silence, by Dark Aether Project (1999): I seem to be focusing on second albums here recently, for some reason. This is DAP's second release, with an almost completely different lineup from their first, IIRC. When I originally wrote about this album for Ground & Sky (linked above) I concluded:

My overall impression of the album is that it was made by a group of very good
musicians who share a pretty strong vision of what their music should be.
Unfortunately, that vision just doesn't excite me all that much. I'd recommend
this album to those who like a little less structure and more of a free form to
their music.
Which just goes to show how tastes change. I'm not going to put Feed the Silence on my list of Desert Island Discs any time soon, but I get a lot more out of it than I did several years ago.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Album of the Day

As Far As We Get, by Dagmähr (2001): This is the second album from this (French?) Canadian quartet. I'll give them this - they certainly set the stage well in the liner notes, boldly proclaiming that "[i]f you want to be in a 70'[s] prog mood, grab Foxtrot or Close to the Edge." Progressive rock, they write "means doing the best music possible without feeling forced to repeat the past." I'd say that, generally, they live up to their challenge. The music here, dark and symphonic, is clearly influenced by the 70s prog giants, but doesn't devolve into a "spot the riff" competition at any point. In fact, the album which I'm reminded of most when listening to this disc is Discipline's Unfolded Like Staircase from 1997.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Album of the Day

Curtains, by Crucible (2001): Crucible is a Connecticut-based prog band that peddles a fairly mainstream brand of symphonic / neo-prog. The traditional 5-piece lineup (guitar, keys, bass, drums, vocals), lots of 70s sounding keyboards, and slick time changes are all in place. Having said that, the actual music on Curtains is pretty good, if you're into that kind of thing. The keyboard bits, in particular, have a Trick of the Tail-era Genesis vibe to them in spots. Nothing earth shattering, but definitely something for neo/symph fans to check out.

Way to Knock Down that Straw Man

As the Middle East continues to boil over with rage sparked by the Mohammed cartoons, commentators continue to weigh in. In today's USA Today, Kathleen Parker writes a column entitled "Shameless Appeasement," in which she criticizes many in the West for letting rioting Muslims off the hook. Problem is that, as much as I've read about the controversy, I've never seen anybody actually do that. She opines:

Many U.S. newspapers have declined to reproduce the cartoons out of respect for Muslims, setting up the absurd implication that an open airing of the debate's content constitutes disrespect. Both the U.S. State Department and the Vatican have declared that Muslims were justified in being offended, while former president Bill Clinton, speaking in Qatar last month, called the cartoons 'appalling.'
That's a fair enough statement of what's been said. But then Parker jumps to this conclusion:

While our government is issuing sanctimonious sympathy notes to the hysterical mobs, a Jordanian editor is arrested for publishing three of the cartoons and urging Muslims to 'be reasonable.' While President Bush and Clinton were feeling the pain of religious fanatics, marauders were burning Danish government buildings in Beirut, Lebanon, and Damascus, Syria, and promising Londoners a 9/11 of their own.

Such are the fruits of appeasement.

Whoa, hold on a second. How are those things "the fruits of appeasement?" Wouldn't appeasement be something along the lines of "we know you've done wrong, but we understand your pain and therefore will not hold you responsible?" I've heard nothing but a ringing endorsement of the right of the Danish and other newspapers that have printed these cartoons under the principles of free speech. The reaction to the Muslim violence is a little more fractured. Some folks write it off as just "irrational" or "uncivilized," while others recognize that the cartoons can be offensive to some Muslims. But nobody in either camp is arguing that the destruction of embassies or loss of life that has resulted from the protests is somehow justified.

Sadly, this is just another in a long line of straw man arguments drummed up by the right. Dare anyone try to understand an illegal and antisocial act and they are branded "sympathizers" and "appeasers." It's much easier to sit back, point fingers, and laugh at the behavior of others. It doesn't get you very far in understanding how the world actually works, however.

Football Idiocy from the West Coast

After the NFL conference championship games a couple of weeks ago I wondered whether we were in for two more weeks of dumb behavior from Steelers and Seahawks fans. I didn't hear of anything really stupid until yesterday and from a Federal judge, of all people. Beverly G. Grant (that's right - a female football fanatic), a District Court judge in Tacoma, Washington started a sentencing hearing in a manslaughter case last Friday by asking everyone in the courtroom to cheer "Go Seahawks" before the proceedings got underway. She issued a written apology on Monday:

'I take full responsibility, particularly as it has impacted the Patricelli family, the judiciary system and others,' Grant wrote. 'I have consistently tried to treat everyone in my court with dignity, fairness and respect ... my sincere regrets to all.'
Aside from the judge's initial actions, I'm disappointed at a conspicuous absence from her list of people to whom she expresses regret: the defendant! She mentions the victim's family by name and presumably encompasses both the prosecutor and defense attorney with "the judiciary system." But the only person whose life was impacted in the end during the pep rally cum sentencing hearing was the guy who got sent to the pen for 13.5 years. Perhaps the judge should apologize to him for taking the bench with such levity before condemning him.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Album of the Day

Timeocde, by Chandelier (1997): I got this disc used a couple of years ago. I knew vaguely of the band, from Switzerland IIRC, for a while and kept them on a regularly updated list of "bands I'd like to hear" that I keep in my head. When the chance came up to get it for about $5, I figured why not? Well, I suppose I could have lived without ever hearing this album. It's mostly mediocre neo-prog, never really offending but never inspiring, either. The one "highlight" (and I use the term loosely) is - I shit you not - "Ferengi Lover," an ode to one of Star Trek's odder alien races. The tune even includes a quote from the Trek theme song. I guess $5 is a small price to pay for exposure to such camp.

One Step Forward, One Step Back

Yesterday's New York Times had a special additional magazine section called Play, a take on the sports world from the NYT Magazine perspective. Nicely done, it contains not one but two soccer articles. One, "When the Grass Was Greener," discusses a new documentary about the defunct New York Cosmos called Once In a Lifetime. The Cosmos, for those of you too young to remember, was the shining franchise of the North American Soccer League and home to, at one time, such big soccer names as Pele and Beckenbauer. The team was a pop culture sensation but is now seen as an example of what went wrong with the NASL - too much growth too soon, leading to eventual collapse. What's nice about the Play piece is that admits that the NASL period was not the golden era of American soccer. Rather, we live in it today:

While the Cosmos make for an irresistible narrative, they don't deserve to embody the game's glory days — which would be now.

The M.S.L. has survived for a decade, adhered to a prudent business plan and built a competitive league. The United States team reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup and now ranks eighth in the international federation standings, ahead of England and Italy. In June, it will field perhaps its best World Cup team yet.

Of course, there is no "M.S.L." It's particularly aggravating that they got the acronym wrong after correctly identifying Major League Soccer earlier in the piece. But, that seems symptomatic of the game in this country: one step forward and one step back, all at the same time.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Album of the Day

Beyond Reality, by Cast (1996): Cast is probably the most well-know of modern Mexican prog bands. The sound is firmly in the neo/symph vein, complete with guitar tones right out of Wind and Wuthering or A Trick of the Tale. It's not groundbreaking stuff, but it's pretty good (mostly) epic prog. The two downfalls are the production quality and the vocals. Not so much the vocals, but the English lyrics. I assume they're translated from Spanish directly, 'cause sometimes they don't really fit together too well. The band might be better off sticking with their native tongue.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Album of the Day

Feels Good to Me, by Bill Bruford (1977): After my crack the other day about how bad solo albums by bass players and drummers can be, it's only fair that I highlight this Bruford album. Released a year before UK's eponymous effort, this sometimes sounds like a prototype for that band. Bruford, of course, and guitarist Alan Holdsworth went on to UK, while the Eddie Jobson and John Wetton roles are filled here by Dave Stewart (of National Health fame) and Jeff Berlin, respectively. The music is an amalgam of Canterburyish prog and jazz/fusion, as you might expect. Some bits (particularly Stewart's keyboard tones) sound dated, but the tunes and playing are top notch.

Curling to Statehood

Every once in a while, some disenfranchised DC resident will come up with a creative way to promote the cause of statehood for the District. How about forming their own Olympic team? Inspired by Puerto Rico's upset of the United States basketball team in the 2004 Olympics, a group of DC residents has organized a District curling team and have begun the process of seeking admission to the Games via the International Olympic Committee. I'm not kidding. The logic went like this:

When the guys hanging out at the Adams Mill Bar in Adams Morgan got over the initial embarrassment of that loss, somebody raised the question: Why exactly does Puerto Rico have an Olympic team?

Turns out Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands also have Olympic teams despite being territories of the United States. All of those places are represented in Congress by a non-voting delegate. Just like . . . the District of Columbia, which doesn't have an Olympic team.


It should be pointed out that, at the very least, Puerto Rico also has its own national soccer team and has competed in World Cup qualifiers (the were ousted by Aruba in qualifications for the 2002 Cup), as have the US Virgin Islands and American Samoa (who lost their four matches in the most recent round of Oceania qualifying by a combined 34-1). So If DC wants to start a soccer team, I may be persuaded to relocate to play goal. I've never been capped by the US, so that's not a problem.

Of course, if the curling thing doesn't work, there's always beer:

You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer
- Frank Zappa

Let's Hope the Jury Sits Far Away

Lots of our clients have tattoos - that's hardly uncommon in the criminal justice system. But I've never seen a set of tats quite so, um, confrontational as the ones above the "smoky brown eyes" of Jose Luis Gomez. Good luck with those.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Album of the Day

Debut at Dusk, by Blind Owl (1987): Back when I wrote reviews of every new album I bought, I wrote a fairly tepid review of this disc, giving it 2 1/2 stars out of 5. Little did I know that it would provoke a nasty email from the band leader, who accused me of (among other things) heartlessly posting my review shortly after the death of another band member (as if I could know such a thing). In all my musical writings, it's the only negative feedback I've ever gotten. And in the years since, my initial opinion of the album has stayed the same.

Wither African Football

One of the big stories of World Cup qualifying was that of the five African countries that qualified for the finals in Germany, only one (Tunisia) had previously made it that far. That left such traditional powers as Nigeria and Cameroon (as well as 2002 upstart Senegal) on the outside looking in. A shift in the balance of power? Perhaps, but what they to make of the ongoing African Cup of Nations? With group play at an end, only two of the five World Cup teams, Tunisia and Ivory Coast, made it to the knock out phase. Nigeria and Cameroon were among those progressing at the expense of Ghana, Togo, and Angola. So is parity so prevalent in Africa that there really is that little difference between the teams? Or did World Cup qualifying come out horribly wrong? Given that the US plays Ghana in the group stage in Germany, I'm really interested to find out.

He Can Move a Mountain, but Can He Take a Joke?

The BBC has an interesting story about a growing controversy in Europe over portrayals of Muhammad. The images in question are cartoons that originated in a newspaper in Denmark and, among other things, portrayed the founder of Islam "wearing a headdress shaped like a bomb, while another shows him saying that paradise was running short of virgins for suicide bombers." Muslims are upset, as Islam apparently prohibits any image of the Prophet, much less one that would be considered blasphemous.

In the wake of the uproar over the cartoons, several newspapers have stepped up to defend that Danes' right to publish them by republishing the images themselves. Some have added other cartoons, like this one, asking the $1,000,000 question in all this: can Muhammad take a joke? As we struggle to set up a democracy in Iraq, that's not just a theoretical question:

Reporters Without Borders said the reaction in the Arab world 'betrays a lack of understanding' of press freedom as 'an essential accomplishment of democracy.'
Indeed it is.

Is the Death Penalty Bogarting the Spotlight?

Yesterday, during a post about new reports from the American Bar Association and Amnesty International about the death penalty in the United States, Doug Berman at Sentencing Law & Policy went off a bit:

My (inappropriate?) reaction: I view these reports as a disconcerting waste of time and energy, and as further proof that the Supreme Court is not alone in getting caught up in a "legal culture of death." I continue to be troubled by how much time and attention is given to death penalty processes and defendants, especially since (1) everyone on death row has been convicted and sentenced to death for murder, and (2) the alternative to execution is life in prison. Putting innocence issues aside, I find it amazing (and annoying) how much energy is spent trying to ensure that a bunch of murderers get to spend a bit more time locked in a cage before they die.
Let me say that I agree with Berman's sentiments. On a grand scale, the administration of the death penalty in this country touches only an infinitesimally small number of people. Far more people are doing life in prison (which is equally barbaric, IMHO) in state pennitentiaries. And, of course, the continuing ratcheting up of sentences for all offenses continues unabated in Federal court (even after the failed promise of Blakely and Booker).

Having said that, I think Berman is slightly off base. Like it or not, death is different, as the Supreme Court has noted on numerous occasions. The finality of a carried out death sentence, particularly in light of the inequities that have been demonstrated in the system, justifies a lot of the disproportionate attention it receives. The solution to that, of course, is to do away with capital punishment altogether. That eliminates the inherent problems of justice associated with it while freeing up the resources (both financial and intellectual) to be better used elsewhere.

Temple of the Holy Herb

As a public defender, I'm no stranger to creative defenses to criminal charges (you work with what you got, after all). But this one is pretty good. Steven Schrumpf was arrested in Moundsville after a traffic stop, during which the cop found marijuana and a pipe. The cop stopped the car after Schrumpf sat at a green light for about 15 seconds (do your own commentary, i.e. ,"oh, man, that is sooo green!"). Charged with misdemeanor possession, Schrumpf's alleged defense (his PD doesn't seem to be on board) is that "he is protected by the state and U.S. constitutions because the pot was used for religious purposes." As experts in the linked article make clear, that absolutely will not work. Good luck, tho'.

Album of Yesterday

View, by Bryan Beller (2003): Beller is known as the musical partner in crime of Mike Keneally, playing bass with Mike for more than a decade. It was only natural that he'd eventually put together a solo album. View includes solo bass workouts and a varied selection of full "band" cuts (featuring Keneally, Rick Musallam, Toss Panos, and a host of others). Choice melodies, tasty playing, and deep grooves are found throughout. Bass players (like drummers) sometimes get lost in the shuffle musically and some of them crank out solo albums to justify that status. Not the soon-to-be Nashvillean Beller.