Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I'm Dancin', You're Dancin' . . .

Over at The Onion A.V. Club, this week's "Definitive Mixlist" is 2 CDs worth of songs about dances. I'm shocked that they left off the obvious National Health inclusions, "The Collapso" and "The Lethargy Shuffle and Mind-Your-Backs Tango." Granted, they're both instrumental. And the second one requires "a fully flight-cased Hammond L 122, a consenting partner, and a bucket of cheese sauce as accessories." Oh, and they're in such odd meters that any attempt to dance to them would look like some sort of free-form epileptic seizure.

Album of the Day

The Fabric of Betrayal, by Timothy Pure (1995): This is a strange album, as it was made with a different lineup than future TP albums (Blood of the Berry and The Island of Misfit Toys), some of the material was recycled on those albums, and it's now out of print. It's not as polished, lush, or deep as the later albums. But, it's a little lighter and more "fun," if that's the right word. How has "Legoland" not made it onto the later albums, I wonder?

Teddy Bears Always Freaked Me Out a Bit

But somehow, knowing that Snuggly Bear (and his friend General Hayden) are on the case make me feel so much better about domestic surveillance!

We're Sorry, This Number Has Been Disconnected

Pity the poor folks at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. As a routine part of their election coverage, they mail each candidate a letter with questions to answer for a special voters' guide the paper produces. Seems that something went a bit awry when they tried to get a hold of flailing incumbent GOP Senator Rick Santorum:

Back in March, as part of that process for the primary, the newspaper sent a letter to Rick Santorum at his home address, at least the one that he claims. Back from Penn Hills came the letter with a sticker from the U.S. Postal Service checked as 'Not Deliverable As Addressed -- Unable To Forward.'
As the paper has now repeatedly made clear, "[h]e doesn't live here anymore," with the emphasis being very rightly theirs.

And who could blame him? If you Senate career was in the toilet and your last name had been repurposed for something that would make a Bible-thumper blush, wouldn't you get the hell out of Dodge?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Lazy Blogging - Peru Edition

I'm back from the weekend at the Peru round of the SCCA Solo National Tour. The short version: I got killed. The long version: see this post over at the SWVR forums for all the details. I'm too lazy right now to reformat it for Blogger.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Programming Note - A Brief Hiatus

You, gentle readers (all three of you), have no doubt noticed the paucity of posts around the Ranch the past few days. Alas, real life (re: work) has intruded a bit on my blogging energies/time. In addition, after taking my fourth class win in five events during this autocross season today, I'll be prepping this week to head to Peru, Indiana this weekend to compete in my first SCCA Solo National Tour event. As a result, the Ranch will be on hiatus until after Memorial Day. In my absence, please patronize some of the links to your right.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Album of the Day

Volume Two, by Soft Machine (1969): Very rarely do two albums released back-to-back by the same band end up sounding so very different. This second set from Canterbury forefathers packs 17 tracks (17!) into its 33-minute running time. The material is a jazzier free-form approach to the psychedelia of the day, complete with the requisite Canterbury sense of humor (a run through the alphabet not once but twice on the same album? OK, so one is backwards, but still . . .). Third, by contrast is a sprawling double album consisting of just four tracks (one per side, you pre-LP kids) and moves the band more towards jazz fusion. A lot of prog fans prefer Third, but I prefer the quirky nuggets of this disc.

Danicamania - The Backlash Begins

This time last year, during the run up to the Indy 500, you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting media coverage of Danica Patrick. Patrick, you may remember, is more than just an up and coming racer with great potential. Patrick's a girl, and a fairly good lookin' one at that. As a result of that combination of talent and marketability, Patrick is by far and away the most visible competitor in the Indy Racing League. But there's one problem - she still hasn't delivered the goods on track. In fact, since her 4th place finish at Indy last year as a rookie, she's not matched that finish in other IRL races. Today's New York Times has an article questioning whether the honeymoon is over for Patrick as long as her performance doesn't match the hype.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Album of the Day

Flying in a Blue Dream, by Joe Satriani (1997): There are several really talented guitarists out there who, when they open their mouths and sing, make you think, "at least he's a really talented guitar player." The mostly instrumental Satriani opened his mount in several places on Flying . . ., to bad effect. His voice isn't horribly bad, but it's not that good, either (and the lyrical quality doesn't help). The instrumental stuff is much better.

Roger Edmonson for President!

Screw Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, or Russ Feingold - I've found the next President of the United States! Roger Edmonson is currently presdient of the Grand American Road Racing Association, which sanctions the Rolex Sports Car Series and the showroom stock Grand Am Cup series. Earlier this year, Grand Am instituted "qualifying races" at several circuits for the Rolex series. They were short sprints (no pitstops or driver changes, as is traditional in sports car racing) which, in addition to setting the starting lineup for the feature race, paid full points towards the series championship. Lots of drivers were unhappy about this arrangement, as the aggressive nature of the short races led to bumping, banging, and wrecking. Which, in turn, led to some front runners taking nose dives in the points.

What was Edmonson's response to all this? After only three of the five events where the qualifying races were to be used, he admitted he was wrong and changed course:

I announced last year that select 2006 race weekends would include qualifying races. After seeing these races at three events, I have concluded that the critics of this plan were right and I was wrong. What sounded positive in theory did not meet expectations in reality.
Imagine Dubya - hell, any politician - admitting such a thing and changing course. You know, 'cause sometimes the critics are right! I dunno what his position is on the vital issues of the day, but if Edmonson is man enough to admit when he's wrong, that may be enough to get my vote.

The Obligatory Da Vinci Code Post

I will say up front that I have not read Dan Brown's mega-successful novel The Da Vinci Code. I'll probably see the movie, at some point, but it's not the guiding light of my social calendar. That being said, I'm greatly amused by all the controversy the book engenders. Remember folks, it is just fiction. Nonetheless, USA Today today had not one but two columns about the book from religious folks who are getting riled up in advance of the film's opening this weekend.

One column wonders why The Da Vinci Code is not engendering the negative press in its lead up that The Passion of the Christ did a couple of years ago. The author kind of hints at the reason, but never flat out says it: The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction that is basically a thriller that, at best, should be good for a few hours entertainment. The Passion . . ., on the other hand, purported to be an accurate (viscerally so) depiction of Jesus's final hours, based on the historical accuracy of the Gospels. The film was supposed to have great impact beyond the entertaining. Thus, the stakes were higher, in non-commercial terms at least, for The Passion . . ..

The other column claims that The Da Vinci Code taps into "the last respectable prejudice in the USA," anti-Catholicism.* Why might that be?

The church remains an easy target because it doesn't play by the rules laid down for modern institutions. Its lack of transparency and accountability give rise to popular resentments and paranoia that are exploited by Brown.
Let's see, the Church sits in the middle of Europe, which in the last century threw off the shackles of monarchial/despotic rule via two bloody World Wars. The Pope enjoys the type of authority and one-man-rule that most royal figureheads would die for. The Church is beholden to no one - if you don't like the doctrine, please see yourself out. Hell, even something as big as the priest pedophile scandal in the USA barely pierced the Church's mystique. Should anybody really be surprised that Brown's skillful yarn about a secretive Church conspiracy should prove so popular. I doubt it has anything with a mass fervor to round up Papists and send them to Gitmo.

* I officially declare the phrase "the last respectable prejudice in the USA" and associated phrases overused and overhyped. It has, in TV terms, jumped the shark. Until the Catholics, redneck Southerners, white males, etc. figure out who really is the last officially prejudiced group in the country, let's retire that phrase.

Well, I'll Be Damned

Over at Orcinus, Dave Neiwert reports on a development which just must make Karl Rove's head spin. Remember back in 2000, when Dubya ran on restoring "honor" to the White House after the horrible Clinton years? Well, guess what? A new poll comparing Clinton and Dubya finds that more of the people surveyed - 46 percent to 41 percent - think Clinton is more honest than Dubya. As Neiwert points out, this should come as no surprise to anyone who's been paying attention since 2000. To give Dubya his due, he's not gotten any blow jobs from porky interns, at least.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Album of the Day

Exit . . . Stage Left, by Rush (1981): Rush isn't exactly the most diverse group live - they stick pretty close to the studio versions most of the time. Nonetheless, their live albums usually have a little extra kick in them that makes a listen worthwhile. That's particularly true for this one, as it covers the zenith of the band's proggy phase. The disc-ending version of "La Villa Strangiato" is killer.

What's Next?

So, let's see. We have a bullshit war in Iraq, a consolidation of power in the executive branch, and both sex and money scandals on Capitol Hill. And now, it seems that several large telecom corporations are gleefully cooperating with the NSA in a massive data mining operation. Makes me feel like Dante:

What's your encore? Do you, like, anally rape my mother while pouring sugar in my gas tank?
And, yet, what are the majority of Americans concerned about today? The elimination of the favorite from American Idol last night and the impending hoo-haa about the release of The Da Vinci Code. For fuck's sake, people, what will it take to wake the hell up and call on the people who supposedly represent us to actually do their fucking jobs?

For more incisive commentary on this breaking news than I have the time or talent to produce, see Orin Kerr over at Volokh, Glenn Greenwald at Unclaimed Territory, and Andrew Cohen at the Washington Post's new Bench Conference blog.

Hey, I Found Some Lawsuit Abuse

A lot of times when you hear tales of lawsuit abuse the cases they talk about, if real in the first place, are often not all that awful. Unless you're an insurance company. Alas, sometimes stupid lawsuits are filed and need to be called out as such. Here's one from - where else - Los Angeles:

A Los Angeles psychologist who was denied a tote bag during a Mother's Day giveaway at an Angel game is suing the baseball team, alleging sex and age discrimination.

Michael Cohn's class-action claim in Orange County Superior Court alleges that thousands of males and fans under 18 were "treated unequally" at a "Family Sunday" promotion last May and are entitled to $4,000 each in damages.
Read that again. I'll wait. That's right - this dipshit is suing because he didn't get a free tote bag when he went to a baseball game (must have been a nice bag - he wants $4000 per deprived fan). While I can see, in some law school hypothetical, how this claim might be valid, this is not the type of thing that should be gumming up the courts. Attorneys can, and in this case should have, said, "I'm sorry, sir, but that's not really worth suing over."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Album of the Day

Grace Under Pressure, by Rush (1984): A lot of hard-core Rushfans are down on the mid-to-late 80s albums because of the rise of synthesizers in the mix. I've never really had a problem with that, maybe 'cause I'm a keyboard player myself. I also think I have a special affinity for these albums because they were the first ones I got when they were new. In fact, I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom listening to p/g on casette when it first came out. It was probably the first new album by a favorite band of mine that I got. Oh, and it's got "Between the Wheels," too.

Isn't Justice Supposed to Be Served Cold?

This sounds a bit like an urban legend, but the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel sounds respectable enough, so here goes. A Maine woman has been charged with assault after helping her daughter bake some cookies for her teacher. The cookies, it seems, contained Ex-Lax and were meant to gain revenge on the teacher for a bad grade. Did the prank work, at least? Not really. The teacher didn't eat the cookies, instead sharing them with members of his class, four of whom became sick. Whoops. Talk about transferred intent.

Album of Yesterday

Rush, by Rush (1974): Ah, my first musical love. Rush was the first of my many musical obsessions, as evidenced by the fact that I own everything they've ever done (except for the covers EP from a few years back). I rarely pull out many of the albums themselves, this first one most of all. It's certainly the least impressive in the catalog, but it has its moments. It lives on in concert with regular appearances of "In the Mood" and the like. But the standout track for me this time around was "Here Again," an extended bluesy tune with a nice Lifeson solo. They've not done anything like it since.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Album of the Day

Moodswing, by the Joshua Redman Quartet (1994): I've come to the conclusion that I just don't like jazz that much. I like jazz influences in other genres - pop, fusion, Canterbury prog - but straight jazz just doesn't flip my switch that much. On record, at least. Being part of the vibe at a live show is a different matter, I think. But, anyway, this album seems to be a pretty good example of the genre, it just doesn't flip my switch.

Another Innocent Victim?

Today's New York Times has a chilling article about a new report by a panel of forensic experts that Cammeron Willingham, who was executed by Texas in 2004, was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. Willingham was convicted of burning down his own house, killing his three children in the process. Not only did Willingham not commit the crime - there was no crime at all. What experts at the time labeled arson was not, in fact, an intentional fire. As Dan Markel points out over at PrawsBlawg, this would appear to be the second innocent man Texas has killed.

How did this happen? Because the arson "expert" the state used back then just got it wrong:

[i]n the Willingham trial, the committee found, a deputy state fire marshal, Manuel Vasquez, erred in tracing the blaze to an accelerant. The committee discredited his finding of arson. 'Each and every one of the 'indicators' listed by Mr. Vasquez means absolutely nothing,' the report said.
Why might that be? Well,
[m]any arson investigators were self-taught and 'inept,' the report said, adding: 'There is no crime other than homicide by arson for which a person can be sent to death row based on the unsupported opinion of someone who received all his training 'on the job.' '
My experience with arson cases backs that up. In one case I worked on while I was in the county PD office the conclusion of arson came after the investigator, basically, threw up his hands and said he couldn't figure out what else it could be. Hardly the product of a rigorous scientific method.

Roster Thoughts

With 24 hours behind us, lots of people have lots of things to say about the 23-man roster Bruce Arena announced yesterday as the team he will take to Germany in June. Experts from ESPN and USA Today, as well as readers of the Washington Post's World Cup blog, have all weighed in. And, of course, the BigSoccer boards are swimming in opinions. So, here's my two cents.

First, I was surprised by the inclusions of three players in the roster. The pleasant surprise was DC United's Ben Olsen, who's had a good start to the MLS season (great goal last weekend). He won't supplant any of the big names in midfield (Reyna, Beasley, O'Brien, etc.), but I can see him being very useful to help kill off a game or break up the other side's rhythm. The other two guys - Jimmy Conrad and Brian Ching - I wouldn't call unpleasant surprises, but head scratchers nonetheless. Conrad is lacking in big-time experience, but if MLS form counts for anything, he deserved the shot. It should be fun reading his ESPN pieces leading up to the Cup. As for Ching, I understand the theory - he is a more natural replacement for Brian McBride than, say, Taylor Twellman, due to his size and ability to hold the ball. But Twellman has a kind of reckless disregard for his health that might be handy in the late stages of a scrappy game. But I'm not horrified by the choice, as some Revs fans are.

Second, I think this is a pretty strong team. Yes, there are some players who we will miss greatly if they get hurt - Reyna, O'Brien, Donovan, McBride. But there are very few teams, even really good ones, who could lose their top player or two and not miss a beat. Brazil, maybe. Do you think the Czechs are the same without Nedved or Koller? Or Ghana without Essien? In other words, I don't think we're as thin as some people fear.

Third - I still have no use for Frankie Hejduk. There. I said it. Sorry, Frankie.

Finally, if it were up to me, I think this would make an interesting starting 11 on June 12:


Cherundolo Pope Onyewu Lewis


Dempsey Convey

Donovan Beasley


But, what do I know?

Well, Color Me Surprised

The jury in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial returned its verdict this afternoon, about 90 minutes ago in fact. Against the weight of all expectations, including mine, the jury determined that Moussaoui should not be executed, but sentenced to life in prison. It being a federal trial, there is no parole. The jury apparently decided not to give Moussaoui what he wanted most - martyrdom. It will be interesting to see what the jurors have to say for themselves, if they say anything at all.

Major props to my colleagues in the FPD office in the Eastern District of Virginia for getting this result in what must have been the most trying (no pun intended) case of their lives.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Album of the Day

Storia di un Minuto, by Premiata Forneria Marconi (1972): I raved about this disc years ago over at Ground and Sky, so I won't do so again. Just hit the link and read for yourself.

Irony, Thy Name Is Dubya

I suppose that when you're a runaway President who is never called to account for his excesses by the other branches of government you're bound to wind up in some ironic situations.

First, how about Dubya presiding over "Law Day" festivities yesterday, one day after the Boston Globe chronicled how Dubya has designated 750 laws passed by Congress as ones he doesn't have to follow or enforce. Jack Balkin has more on that here.

Second, remember how a couple of days ago Dubya indignantly said that the U.S. National Anthem should only be sung in English? Yeah, well, he didn't think that back in 2001, when Jon Secada sang the anthem in both English and Spanish for Dubya's inauguration. Sounds like a flip-flop to me - draw up impeachment papers, STAT!

You Think Gas Is Expensive?

What about taking out a mortgage just to wipe your ass? Today's New York Times has the lowdown on runaway inflation in Zimbabwe:

How bad is inflation in Zimbabwe? Well, consider this: at a supermarket near the center of this tatterdemalion capital, toilet paper costs $417.

No, not per roll. Four hundred seventeen Zimbabwean dollars is the value of a single two-ply sheet. A roll costs $145,750 — in American currency, about 69 cents.
When the defense of your economic status quo is basically "it's not as bad as Weimar Germany," you are in deep shit. So to speak.

Soccer on the Brain

As I sit here watching SportsCenter waiting for the announcement of the US World Cup roster, here are a couple of interesting bits from the soccer world.

First, ESPNsoccernet had an article yesterday about American players dealing with racism in Europe, focusing on PSV Eindhoven's DaMarcus Beasley and defender Cory Gibbs, who used to play for Feyenoord. While some of the abuse they've taken appears to be nationalistic (i.e., they hate Dubya in Europe), most of it, sadly, seems to be the basest kind of racism that we, thankfully, don't have much of in the United States.

Second, the Washington Post has a good World Cup blog going. I'm sure there will be lots of discussion there once the roster is announced.

UPDATE: So, we have a roster now. Brian Ching? Jimmy Conrad? Frankie, again? Oy. In Bruce we trust, in Bruce we trust . . .

Album of Yesterday

The Sky Moves Sideways, by Porcupine Tree (1995): As much as I really like later-day PT (from Stupid Dream forward), this album still leaves me cold. This was the first PT album I got and my reaction to it is why I ignored the band until I streamed their NEARFest performance at work a few years back. Where the modern PT makes effective use of dynamic contrasts and the more atmospheric elements of Pink Floyd in the context of more structured pieces, The Sky . . . indulges in some lengthy diversions that just don't really go anywhere. There's nothing really distinctive about the three 15+ minute epics, sadly. There are some interesting bits here and there, but that's about it.