Friday, March 30, 2007

Album of the Day

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, by Genesis (1974): Speaking of classic lineups, this was the last hurrah of the classic five-piece version of Genesis. Peter Gabriel would leave at the end of the tour to pursue his own solo career, while the band would regroup as a four-piece and produce two more excellent albums. There are numerous theories as to what exactly The Lamb is about, none of which have seemed completely logical to me. In fact, while The Lamb is a great album, I'd reserve the "best of the era" label for the previous effort, Selling England by the Pound.

The Multi-Faceted Face of Hooliganism

Next time you hear about rioting sports fans in Europe, don't automatically think soccer hooligans. Apparently women's volleyball can get folks pretty riled up, too:

Greek authorities have cancelled all team sports matches for two weeks after a mass brawl between rival women's volleyball fans left one man dead.

* * *

The pitched battle took place between fans of Olympiakos Piraeus and Panathinaikos near Athens.

Witnesses say about 300 fans fought using clubs, knives and stones.
Who knew?

On a related note, I haven't heard any reports of couch burning or other lunacy in Morgantown in the wake of WVU winning the NIT last night!

The Messiah That Melts In Your Mouth, Not In Your Hands

I suppose, with Big Butter Jesus on the scene, it was only a matter of time before somebody made a giant chocolate version of Christ. I am, in me best Dave Berry voice, absolutely not making this up:

A New York gallery has angered a US Catholic group with its decision to exhibit a milk chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ.

The six-foot (1.8m) sculpture, entitled "My Sweet Lord", depicts Jesus Christ naked on the cross.
The Catholic group in question is the Catholic League, which means more public bloviation from renowned blowhard/jackass Bill Donohue. That alone is reason enough to make me smile.

Copyright Craziness Redux

Over at the Conspiracy, Eugene Volokh has some thoughts on the student copyright suit against a plagiarism database company that I blogged about yesterday. As I suspected, it looks like the kids have an uphill battle in court, although for reasons different than I figured yesterday.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Album of the Day

Keys to Ascension and Keys to Ascension 2, by Yes (1996/1997): Here's a great scam to fleece the fan base - one I fell for whole hog. In 1996, Yes reformed in one of (by my count) their three "classic" lineups (Anderson, Squire, White, Howe, Wakeman) for a series of shows in San Luis Obisbo, California and to record some new material. The reunion was the first one of one of the mid-70s lineups since, well, the mid 70s. A live album memorializing the occasion was appropriate. In addition, there was a full album's worth of new material. What to do? Most folks would say put the live stuff on one 2-disc set, release the new material separately. But no, the Yes guys decided to stretch the material together over two 2-disc sets, each one containing live and studio material.

It's hardly a rip off, but it still grinds my gears a bit. The new material stands on its own merits pretty well. It's hardly Close to the Edge or Relayer, but it's far closer to classic Yes than anything put out during the Rabin years. And, honestly, while the live stuff isn't my favorite performance, I would have bought the separate live set, too (hell, I own the DVD anyway!).

Copyright Craziness

Two interesting copyright blurbs crossed my path today. Both could (potentially) serve as object lessons about the overreach of current law.

First, the company that owns the rights to George Orwell's 1984 (it bought the rights from his estate in 1981) is considering suing the guy who made the pro-Obama ad parody of the classic Apple commercial. Orwell's novel remains in copyright protection (assuming no further extensions - hardly a given) until 2044. "But wait," you're saying, "isn't ad really a knock off of the Apple commercial in the first place?" Yes, but that ad wasn't blessed by the copyright holders either:

After Apple aired its Mac introductory ad during Super Bowl XVII, Rosenblum sent a 'cease and desist' letter to the computer maker, she said in yesterday's statement. 'When the Apple 'Big Brother' television commercial was aired during the 1984 Super Bowl telecast, we immediately objected to this unauthorized commercial use of the novel, and sent a 'cease-and-desist' letter both to Apple and to its ad agency,' Rosenblum said. 'The commercial never aired on television again.'
OK, fine. Apple didn't really have a reason to fight it at the time - they got the bump and PR they needed, no need to risk court action. "But wait," you're saying now, "the pro-Obama ad was political speech and parody on top of that - won't the First Amendment protect him?" Right off the top of my head, I'd say yes, as the copyright holders seem to realize:
'The political ad copies a prior commercial infringement of our copyright,' said Rosenblum in a statement. 'We recognize the legal issues inherent under the First Amendment and the copyright law as to political expression of opinion, but we want the world at large to know that we take our copyright ownership of one of the world's great novels very seriously.'
In other words, "keep your virtual mouth shut, or else."

Next, this article from the Washington Post, comes word that several student are suing a plagiarism detection company:
The lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, seeks $900,000 in damages from the for-profit service known as Turnitin. The service seeks to root out cheaters by comparing student term papers and essays against a database of more than 22 million student papers as well as online sources and electronic archives of journals. In the process, the student papers are added to the database.

* * *

'All of these kids are essentially straight-A students, and they have no interest in plagiarizing,' said Robert A. Vanderhye, a McLean attorney representing the students pro bono. 'The problem with [Turnitin] is the archiving of the documents. They are violating a right these students have to be in control of their own property.'
This raises at least two issues in my mind. First, who owns the copyright to student works? It doesn't seem clear to me that the students do. Are student works similar to works for hire, in which the copyright resides with the mother company or government works in which the copyright resides with the agency for which it was produced? For example, I do not control the copyrights in the briefs I write, my office does.

Second, assuming some of the material is plagiarized (which, from the story, it doesn't appear to be), what copyright claim could the kids make? If it does have copyright protection, they would violated it themselves by copying it, right?

Both of these cases make me think that the only area of law that's more interesting than criminal law is copyright.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Album of the Day

Just a Game, by Triumph (1979): If Triumph is a poor man's Rush, then this is their Moving Pictures. It was a favorite of mine back when I was a kid, but I only finally picked it up on CD last year. Each of the 8 tracks work very well, in their own way. The rockers ("Movin' On" and "Lay it on the Line") rock, there's a good screaming blues tune ("Young Enough to Cry"), a good laid back blues tune ("Suitcase Blues"), a patented Rik Emmett acoustic piece ("Fantasy Serenade"), and even a couple of near-prog tracks ("Just a Game" and "Hold On"). In fact, I think what appeals to me so much about this album is its variety. That and the cool "rock and roll star" board game in the liner notes (although, I'll note, Gilgamesh did it a few years earlier).

Sympathy for the Devil

Earlier this week, I watched an excellent flick called Downfall. Released in 2004, and nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2005, it tells the story of the last days of the Third Reich from within Hitler's bunker. It gained notoriety in Germany for being the first film made there in decades in which an actor portrayed Hitler (as opposed to using newsreel footage, for example). That actor, Austrian Bruno Ganz, delivers an amazing performance, bringing fully to life one of history's great monsters. Really, it's matched only by Ulrich Matthes's uber-creepy portrayal of Hitler henchman Joseph Goebbels.*

It being a movie about Hitler, there's also the question of whether comes off too sympathetically in the end. To be sure, the narrow focus of the film precludes extensive discussion of Hitler's reign. With the exception of a brief scene in 1942 (and bookend documentary interviews with Hitler's secretary), the film takes place entirely between Hitler's birthday on April 20, 1945 and the surrender of German forces to the Soviets on May 2. But the portrayal of Hitler in the film doesn't leave a lot of doubt that he's anything other than a psychotic killer.

While the events of the Holocaust aren't specifically depicted or mentioned, for example, Hitler's musing that history will remember him fondly for dealing with the Jews leaves little doubt of his thoughts. As the military situation collapses around him and the Soviets grind on towards the bunker, Hitler rants and rages about how his generals and soldiers are worthless betrayers and repeatedly brushes off concerns for the plight of ordinary Germans as deserving their fate. I tend to agree with what Roger Ebert said in his review in responding to, among others, this piece in the New Yorker:

Admiration I did not feel. Sympathy I felt in the sense that I would feel it for a rabid dog, while accepting that it must be destroyed. I do not feel the film provides "a sufficient response to what Hitler actually did," because I feel no film can, and no response would be sufficient. All we can learn from a film like this is that millions of people can be led, and millions more killed, by madness leashed to racism and the barbaric instincts of tribalism.
What sympathy is generated for Hitler comes from portraying his complete detachment from reality. The war, clearly, is lost by the time Hitler's birthday comes around. Members of his inner circle are pleading with him to follow them out of Berlin. Artillery shells thunder outside the bunker and the nearby Chancellery building. The distance of the Soviets from the center of Berlin is measured in meters, not kilometers. Still, Hitler futilely consults his maps, moving units around that either have ceased to exist or are barely capable of retreating, much less counterattacking. At one point, he fawns over Albert Speer's scale model version of a reconstructed Berlin, musing that, in essence, the city must be destroyed in order to be rebuilt in greatness (indeed, a chorus of "Best of All Possible Worlds" from Candide wouldn't be out of place).

In the end, I think the filmmakers intend their audiences to be fairly smart about the movie. It's goal is not to provide a comprehensive overview of Hitler's life and times, but a depiction of a specific time and place. I'm reminded of some of the IMDB comments to The Motorcycle Diaries, which criticize the film for not showing the violent authoritarian Guevara would become. They miss the point. A movie isn't responsible for anything beyond it's own metes and bounds. It's not required to be a full-blooded educational tool, if that's not what the filmmakers want it to be.

Judged on its own merits, as historical drama, as a war film, and as a psychological study of several days at the end of an historical era, Downfall is one of the best movies I've seen in a long time.

* Still, every time he came on screen, I heard Timmy from South Park calling after his pet turkey!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Album of the Day

Jazz from Hell, by Frank Zappa (1986): Apropos of my discussion about computers and music, here's Zappa's first in-depth work with the Synclavier. Rather than rehash what I wrote about this album last year, I'll pass on a couple of extra facts. First, the album actually won a Grammy in 1988 for Best Rock Instrumental performance (one wonders what the other nominees were - this stuff is just too weird for the Grammy folks). Second, in spite of being entirely instrumental, the album got a parental advisory sticker from the RIAA, presumably because of a song titled "G-Spot Tornado."

Welcome to the Caaaarrrr of Tomoooorrrrrooooowww!

Last weekend marked the debut of NASCAR's hopelessly misnamed "Car of Tomorrow" in the Nextel Cup. In spite of the name and the hype, the car is decades out of date compared to other modern race cars or, indeed, the average street car. As David Phillips points out over at

Nor did the . . . 'Car of Tomorrow' provide much solace for those hoping NASCAR will reverse field on more than five decades of technophobia. With their carburetors, rudimentary electronics and acres of sheetmetal, the CoT’s closest brush with contemporary (let alone future) automotive trends are its Avenger-, Camry-, Fusion- and Impala-headlight/grill decals.
As Phillips makes clear, the real cars of tomorrow were on display at other locales:
Leading off, alphabetically and chronologically, was an ALMS’ Twelve Hours of Sebring themed on motorsports’ linkages to the automotive industry. Whether it’s the GT2 Porsches that spend part of their gestation on the production line with the 911 Carreras, Targas and Turbos destined for your local doctor, lawyer or hedge fund manager, or the ALMS’ commitment to alternative fuels now (be it “clean” diesel or E10) and in the future (E50 within 18 to 24 months; bio-diesel and perhaps hydrogen fuel later), Sebring celebrated racing as an incubator/proving ground for cutting-edge technology with direct applications to the broader automotive industry.

* * *

If anything, the [IRL] XM Satellite Radio 300 IndyCar race was even 'greener' than the 'Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.' From the Honda Hybrid pace car and all 20 Honda-powered Dallaras running on pure ethanol to Jeff Simmons’ sound bite on ABC’s 'World News Tonight' that he prefers 'getting our fuel from the Midwest rather than the Middle East,' the IndyCar season opener was cloaked in green . . .
What's NASCAR got that the ALMS and IRL lack? Fans. And lots of them. Sadly.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Album of the Day

Intersections [1985-2005], by Bruce Hornsby (2006): This 4-disc box set is an absolute treasure trove of goodies for Bruce fans. Disc 1 is ironically called "Top 90 Time" and contains the "hits," such as they are. But, in true Bruce fashion, most of the tracks are live or alternate versions from the original releases (the version of "The Way It Is" is solo piano, for instance). Disc 2 contains a lot of solo piano stuff and collaborations, including the Olympic tune "Barcelona Mona" with Branford Marsalis, both a Grateful Dead cover and the Dead (with Bruce) playing "The Valley Road," a high-octane bluegrass version of the same tune, and a ripping "Darlin' Cory" with Ricky Skaggs. Discs 3 and 4 are all "by request," fan and band favorites. Most cuts are live or solo, but some aren't, so here is where the most duplication of prior releases come in. Still, over all, there just so much good stuff here that's it's almost unseemly to complain.

This Means David Jackson is the Antichrist

Via Pandagon, here is a YouTube video in which a very uptight person explains to a church what makes music "Godly" or sinful. The short answer: if it makes you want to dance, it's not Godly. Or, as Amanda puts it:

The first part of the video, he tries to explain the difference between godly and ungodly melodies, which is a little hard to understand, but it seems that the main signal that a melody is ungodly is it has any kind of soul.
That first part of the video includes a demonstration of Godly versus unGodly melodies on a sax. The "good" melody is bland as white bread on a rainy day. The "bad" melody, on the other hand, sounds like something David Jackson would unleash all over a Van der Graf Generator album.

But the meat of the video is the preacher's extolling the benefits of the march, while demonstrating the Devil's rhythms - boogie woogie, backbeats, and break beats. Exhibit A in the unGodly musical world? "Heart and Soul." Such non-marchy rhythms, he explains:
That’s not gospel music. It might be good for Elvis, it might be good for Jimmy Swaggart, and a whole bunch of other people, but that’s not gospel music.
There's something inherently amusing about a fundy Christian taking pot shot at Lonesome Cowboy Jim, but we'll leave that for another day. What becomes increasingly clear is that, for the preacher, he doesn't prefer march tempos for some aesthetic reason. March tempos are Godly because they propel Christian soldiers, marching unto war. More militant Christian militarism, just what we need!

The whole thing is alternately humorous and pathetic, as this poor guy - who clearly enjoys playing the "bad" stuff (he probably sneaks hits of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" late at night) - tries to convince himself and the congregation of the dangers of enjoying most modern music. Again, from Amanda:
I do sort of agree with Ives that backbeats and upbeats and every kind of toe-tapping, hip-shaking kind of tune does in fact present a real threat to a rigid, fundamentalist worldview. Pleasure and beauty are constant threats, because they give people something to live for, and a sense of self that gives them space to question authority. If anything comforts me in the face of the increasingly agitated fundamentalism in America, it’s that they have no clue how to compete with the pleasures of living available to most of us, pleasures that help assist us in telling them all to fuck off.
Amen. If life in this world is only a preparation for some kind of eternal paradise, than the pleasures and beauties of this world - which might make one hang around in it - must be tools of the devil.

All This Machinery Making Modern Music . . .

Yesterday's New York Times had an interesting article about the march of musical technology. It was about the increasing use, off-Broadway, of computer programs that play back entire sections of scores, replicating all the various instrumental parts. An operator keys in the rhythm, so as to allow the "instruments" to speed up or slow down along with the conductor's whims. This allows the orchestra to sound fuller than its small numbers, but doesn't completely resort to using canned music. Union rules are keeping the tech off Broadway for now, but it's sure to make it in the long run (as sampling synthesizers already have).

I'm not sure what I think about this development. Part of me has never been a fan of "live" music being produced by anything other than live musicians. But modern tech began blurring the lines long ago. Since I've gotten some schooling in the history of musical synthesis and how synths work, I've softened my stance a bit. I used to not be able to stand drum machines, but now that I've played around with one, I recognize them as just another kind of instrument. So, I guess a person who creates tunes using pre-recorded loops can't exactly champion live-performance purity, can he?

Album of Last Friday

Images and Words, by Dream Theater (1992): Last week, I was called out on the WV Blogger board for calling someone of college age a "kid." I defended myself by invoking Crotchety Old Man Syndrome and that, therefore, anyone younger than I am is a "kid," college age versions probably "damn kids." What can I say, thinking about college makes me feel old. This album makes me think of college, as that's when my brother introduced me to Dream Theater. Looking over the disc at work the other day, I realized that was 15 years ago! DAMN KIDS!

Oh yeah, and it's the paradigmatic example of progressive metal, blah blah blah . . .

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Album of the Day

Hot, by Squirrel Nut Zippers (1996): Back in college, jedi jawa and I had sort of a bilateral musical preaching going on. I plowed him with Marillion albums, and in return he stocked me with several Squirrel Nut Zippers albums. I might have gotten this one myself, as it was their breakout album (remember "Hell"? Sure you do!), although they quickly plummeted from public consciousness. It wasn't for lack of quality, as their updated variant of early 20th century pop, jazz, and swing is pretty cool. Certainly a step above the similar (yet very different) neo-swing bands that peaked popularly about the same time.

Mass Suicide, a Decade Later

Remember the Heaven's Gate cult? They were the bunch who offed themselves in San Diego in order to catch a ride on a UFO hidden in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. That mass suicide, which so captured the public imagination at the time, occurred ten years ago next week. In advance of the anniversary, LA Weekly has an extensive article based on new interviews with Rio, who left the cult just before the suicide because he had another mission to complete. That mission, being undertaken as we speak, is to witness to the world that the Heaven's Gate leader, who called himself DO,* was actually the second coming of Christ. It's a long article, but it's a fascinating look inside a cult from a true believer who managed to avoid his brethren's fate.

* And whose end-of-days ravings are immortalized in Porcupine Tree's "Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled," from Lightbulb Sun.

An the Propogandist Is . . .

Well, that mystery is finally solved. The author of the now famous anti-Hillary ad, a reworking of Ridley Scott's famous "1984" ad for Apple, has revealed himself over at Huffington Post. It was not done at the behest of the Obama campaign, tho' the guy admits he's a supporter and had some ties (now severed) to the campaign.

With that resolved, I'll say the same thing I did in the WV Blogger Board thread on this topic - I don't get it. It's moderately clever (tho' it replicates whole chunks of the original ad), but doesn't seem to make a real point. If Hilary is Big Brother, i.e. non-Apple computers, that makes Obama the Mac I guess, right? It's the upstart Macs versus the world. Well, guess what - it's 20-plus years later and Mac is still losing the battle, snarky TV ads notwithstanding. If that's the fate Obama's supporters want for him, he needs a new batch of supporters.

Considering Commas

Earlier this month, the DC Circuit threw out some of the District's gun control laws, embracing a individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment in the process. While much analysis has been made of the decision from legal and historical angles, this column in today's LA Times takes another approach - a grammatical one. Specifically, an English professor from the University of Illinois takes issue with the court's interpretation of the Amendment's commas:

The court dismissed the prefatory clause about militias as not central to the amendment and concluded that the operative clause prevents the government from interfering with an individual's right to tote a gun. Needless to say, the National Rifle Assn. is very happy with this interpretation. But I dissent. Strict constructionists, such as the majority on the appeals court, might do better to interpret the 2nd Amendment based not on what they learned about commas in college but on what the framers actually thought about commas in the 18th century.
I suppose it's only natural, if we're going to wed ourselves to the meaning of the Constitution when it was passed, to take a look at the grammar of the time as well. I would point out, however, to the good professor that one of the grammar texts he cites as being "popular . . . in the framer's day" was, by his own writing, published in 1795. That would be eight years after the writing of the Constitution and seven years after ratification.

A 1795 grammar book has about as much relevance to the original meaning of the Second Amendment's commas as that dang furrin' law that gets the conservatives so upset!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Album of the Day

A History of Madness, by Thinking Plague (2003): When it comes to "weird" music in my collection, Thinking Plague has no peer. While their 1998 breakthrough release In Extremis contained a fairly accessible chunk of RIO/avant prog, a lot of the rest of their catalog is pretty out there (I'd use parts of their first album to drive people from a room). More of this disc is on the weird side, to the point that I don't find much of it very compelling. Case in point, "Least Aether for Saxophone & Le Gouffre," 8+ minutes solo sax followed by soundscapes. Not really my thing. I will say, however, that they produced one of the best Duhbya-era song titles - "Our 'Way of Life' and 'War on Terra'". Of course, it's an instrumental!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Album of the Day

Peter Gabriel (aka, Security), by Peter Gabriel (1982): Apropos of yesterday's post, of course. To be honest, it occurred to me yesterday that I was into the Hs in the A-Z and didn't remember the run of early Gabriel albums. Since they all have the same name (technically, this one got the name Security for the US market, but it's the fourth eponymous elsewhere), they would have come in order all at once. I realized that I'd whiffed on those by not renaming them in my inventory program. So, I caught up today. As I said yesterday, this isn't my favorite of the early Gabriel albums, but it contains a few real gems: "The Rhythm of the Heat," "San Jacinto," and "Shock the Monkey" among them.

My Cases Are Never This Fun

From the Seventh Circuit today comes the kind of case a lawyer can only dream about:

Meet Pull My Finger® Fred. He is a white, middle-aged, overweight man with black hair and a receding hairline, sitting in an armchair wearing a white tank top and blue pants. Fred is a plush doll and when one squeezes Fred’s extended finger on his right hand, he farts. He also makes somewhat crude, somewhat funny statements about the bodily noises he emits, such as ‘Did somebody step on a duck?’ or ‘Silent but deadly.’

Fartman could be Fred’s twin. Fartman, also a plush doll, is a white, middle-aged, overweight man with black hair and a receding hairline, sitting in an armchair wearing a white tank top and blue pants. Fartman (as his name suggests) also farts when one squeezes his extended finger; he too cracks jokes about the bodily function. Two of Fartman’s seven jokes are the same as two of the 10 spoken by Fred.
How did these two flatulent fellas end up in Federal Court?
Needless to say, Tekky Toys, which manufactures Fred, was not happy when Novelty, Inc., began producing Fartman, nor about Novelty’s production of a farting Santa doll sold under the name Pull-My-Finger Santa.
In short, Tekky sued Novelty for violating their copyright in Pull My Finger Fred. Could is possibly be worth it? As the court notes:
Somewhat to our surprise, it turns out that there is a niche market for farting dolls, and it is quite lucrative.
Who knew? Sadly, for Novelty, they lost at trial and were rebuffed by the Seventh Circuit. Alas, their arguments stood less of a chance of success than the proverbial farts in a windstorm.

Innocence Faded

Over at Crime & Federalism, Norm takes a crack at answering a question that lots of non-lawyers have of criminal defense attorneys: Does Innocence Matter? More specifically, does it matter to an attorney if his client tells him he's innocent? Norm argues that it doesn't, because it doesn't really have a bearing on his job of testing the prosecution's case and seeing whether the charges can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. As to trials, Norm writes:

No one is redeemed at trial. Nothing is made right in a criminal case. The murdered victim remains dead; the violated child still shrieks in shame and rage. Criminal law is not about healing. It is all a simple matter of proof.
That's true, and as Norm further points out, no attorney can ever really know if his client is guilty or innocent. It always comes down to trusting the evidence and whether you can trust your client to be honest with you. Since so many criminal defendants are, to put it politely, unreliable narrators, it may be a fool's errand to try and sort it all out given its irrelevance to the judicial process.

A New Level of Creepy

I'd read about "purity balls" before yesterday, but this column from yesterday's USA Today adds a new level of creepy to the practice. As the column explains:

Tuxedo-clad dads promise to 'war for' their daughters' 'purity,' as reported in February's Glamour magazine. Daughters, in turn, vow abstinence until marriage. The fathers slip 'purity rings' on the fingers of their misty-eyed daughters, the elegantly attired couples drift across the floor for a 'first dance,' this one-on-one time with Dad is referred to as a 'date,' and wedding cake is served for dessert. For post-dinner entertainment, a corps of adolescent ballerinas clad in white tulle performs a 'ceremonial dance' to the song [']Always Be Your Baby.[']
That's creepy enough, but now there's a line of apparel to go along with this fabulous new trend:
Another of those 'chastity chic' T-shirts, distributed by California-based Wait Wear, proclaims: 'Notice: No Trespassing on this Property. My Father Is Watching.'
Ewwwww. Forget the prospect of Big Father watching a girl's every move, is anybody else freaked out beyond all belief that they're explicitly claiming a woman's body as "property?" I thought we did away with that convention in the last century! I sometimes roll my eyes when feminists see the big bad patriarchy standing behind every social trend, but I'd say the evidence is pretty clear in this case.

Supreme Court Secrets Exposed!

Well, OK, not really, but yesterday's USA Today had a neat little article about the tradition-bound workings of the Supreme Court and how much slower life is at the Court compared to Capitol Hill. Two bits in the story caught my eye:

By custom, the first thing a lawyer at the lectern to argue a case must say is 'Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the court.' When Chief Justice John Roberts was an advocate, he would write that phrase at the top of his legal pad, in case he suddenly drew a blank.
I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who worries about mental vapor lock when I go to court. When I argue in front of the Fourth Circuit, I have a three-ring binder with a few pages of notes about important dates, facts, and legal cites for the case. But on the front page, in a big-ass font, I have "may it please the court," "I represent . . .," and the intro for my case. I've not frozen up yet, but I surely will and I'll have something to fall back on when I do.

The other thing, which I take a bit of exception to, is:
'There is nothing like the formality, and even the rigidity, of the process,' says Washington lawyer Laurence E. Gold. 'When you step up there (to the lectern), you know you have the assigned time of 30 minutes and not a second more. There's no spontaneity. You don't want to breach any of the unwritten rules of place, whatever they are.'
The emphasis is mine. I think that's just plain wrong. Appellate arguments, it seems to me, are often more spontaneous than trials, particularly civil trials where each side has been deluged by discovery and all the witnesses have been deposed in triplicate. At an oral argument, there's no telling which particular issue or sub-issue will catch a judge's interest. Sometimes it won't be the most important issue, and the entire oral argument may lead down an entirely different path than the advocate envisioned in prep.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Gabriel Goldmine on YouTube

I'm a sucker for musical "behind the scenes" stories when it comes to albums. Part of it's peeling away the layers of a song and discovering that really cool fifth guitar riff buried in the mix. Part of it's the welcome knowledge that lots of my favorite artists jam aimless for hours in search of material, just like I do (if Marillion produces only 55 minutes worth of album-worthy material from 6 months of constant jamming, what chance do I have?).

Over the weekend, somebody on the Genesis newsgroup posted a link to a YouTube video (in five parts) of an episode of the British TV series The South Bank Show from 1982 about Peter Gabriel's fourth self-titled album (aka Security). The show followed him for about 18 months during the writing, recording, and mixing of the album as Gabriel built several songs from world-music rhythmic bases into full songs. Footage includes Gabriel's band in the studio and on stage. It's really interesting, particularly if you have an interesting in Gabriel's music. But even if not, it's a cool insight into a very creative mind.

At the very end of part 5, Gabriel discusses the mixed critical reaction to the album (I prefer the third one, aka Melt, personally) and is pleased to note the positive reactions to the "black music" press, including this beaut:

. . . Sadly, the honkie poseurs of the rock press don't agree . . .
Links here: parts 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5.

On a sadder note, either A&E or Bravo used to show episodes of The South Bank Show back in the day when they actually showed something other than the reality TV crap everybody else peddles. Ah, those were the days.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Album of the Day

Harbour of Tears, by Camel (1996): In honor of St. Patrick's day, here's an album by English proggers Camel (by this point, basically guitarist Andy Lattimer and whatever side men he hired on). Of course, given recent developments, maybe they're more Irish than we thought. Regardless, this is a concept album about Irish immigrants fleeing to a better life in America. As the back of the CD tells it:

Cobh Harbour is a beautiful deep-water port in County Cork, Ireland. It was the last sight of Ireland for hundreds upon thousands of fractured families who departed her shores for fates unknown.

They call it the Harbour of Tears.
Given my heritage, I can't help but wonder if my ancestors were in Lattimer's mind when he put this album together. It's not my favorite Camel disc, but it's got some really nice classic Lattimer guitar work and is a really good listen.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Album of the Day

Hamburger Concerto, by Focus (1974): Continuing along on the oddly-named album theme, here's one of the top releases from the kings of Dutch prog. Luckily, it's an instrumental disc (mostly - there's some yodelling), so there's no attempt to slap burgerlicious lyrics on these tracks. That doesn't stop them from cleverly subdividing the epic title track, however: a - Starter, b - Rare, c - Medium I, d - Medium II, e - Well Done, f - One for the Road. The music is solid symphonic prog, with lots of great keyboard and guitar interplay, with some extra medieval elements thrown in here and there. Oh, and in tracking down a review of the disc, I found a YouTube video with about 5 minutes of the title track!

Next They'll Call It Soccer!

When Major League Soccer kicked off, it featured a host of different rules that were seen as trying to "Americanize" the world's game - playoffs, a count-down clock, college draft, etc. One of the more loathed changes was the shootout: if the game was tied after 90 minutes, the two teams engaged in something like penalty shots in hockey until a winner was determined. The goal (so to speak) was to eliminate draws, an anathema to American sports fans, and hopeful that it would encourage attacking soccer. Purists weren't happy with the shootout, even though it was an improvement over the traditional penalty kick situation. MLS ditched the shootouts in 2000 and finally consented to draws in 2004 under pressure from FIFA.

Apparently the failure of MLS's experiment hasn't made it across the pond, as the English Football League (the divisions below the top-flight Premier League) are apparently considering using penalty kicks to decide games that are tied at the end of regulation. If these comments are any indication, the fans will revolt at such a change. What's a little unfair, however, is the excessive "the Americans are coming" screeds, which ignore the fact that MLS has done away with its experiments and plays the world's game now. However, those fans are upset with good reason - there's really no need to avoid draws in league play. Knock-out tournament games are another matter, of course, and so far there has been no good solution in those competitions for avoiding the dreaded PK shootout.

Personally, I don't have a problem with tie games, assuming they are the product of two relatively equal teams playing hard to win. What drives me nuts is the idea of one team playing for a draw because it lacks the talent/skill/strategery to win the game. There's no same in two teams battling to a draw. There's not a whole lot of honor in playing not to lose (and it produces some boring soccer, to boot). The only way to avoid those kind of situations, however, is to eliminate draws altogether and let 'em play until one side wins, ala basketball or baseball. Both teams would play harder and more offensively, I think, if one of them had to win it.

Art v. Politics

On the New York Times The Score blog yesterday, composer Michael Gordon asks the musical question, "What If I Like Your Politics but Don’t Like Your Art?" Gordon elaborates:

Or put a simpler way, would you want a fantastic painting hanging on your wall that was made by a Nazi? It may sound like a bizarre question, but anyone with Carl Orff, Richard Strauss or Herbert von Karajan CDs in their collection should give it some thought. The throngs lined up around the block to see Karajan conduct the Berlin Philharmonic, as many New Yorkers did on repeated occasions, should have asked themselves this. And if we care about this question, do we need to examine the politics of other composers, like Wagner, whose views we know, along with perhaps Beethoven and Bach, whose views we know less about?
Non-musical examples abound, as well (Voltaire was an anti-Semite - does that ruin Candide?) Gordon appears to conclude that art and politics are both better off if they remain separate, although he wonders if he's been guilty of doing just that.

I'm not convinced that it's either necessary nor wise for artists to try and wall off their political views from their art, or that it's completely possible. Art generally reflects, in some fashion, the world of the artist who created it. The world, particularly in times like these, is a highly political place. It's probably harder for an artist to block it out than it is to let it in.

Where art mixing with politics falls down is when the political becomes the motivating reason for being artistic at all. If the politics comes first and gets jammed into the art, the art suffers. If, on the other hand, the art grows naturally and absorbs some politics along the way, it's probably OK. Obviously, mileage may vary based on the skill of the artist.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

West Virginia, Bloggin' Mama . . .

As you can see from this lengthy list compiled by jedi jawa, there's quite a community of West Virginia bloggers out there. If you're one of them (or even an expat, like senor jawa) and want to mix it up with your fellow Mountain Staters, head on over to the (yet again) newly reconstituted WV Bloggers Board. We don't bite - much.

Album of the Day

H to He Who, Am the Only One, by Van der Graaf Generator (1970): This is, without a doubt the oddest name for an album I own (in English, anyway). It has something to do with the fusion of hydrogen and helium in the Sun. Since I'm a lawyer with a degree his history, that doesn't mean much to me. And it doesn't seem to have much to do with the material on the album, unless the space-bound "Pioneers Over c." were setting their controls for the heart of the Sun (so to speak). Since my initial review over on Ground and Sky I've warmed up to this disc considerably, especially "The Emperor in His War Room" and "Lost."

Peeved, Perturbed, and Pissed in Persia

Although most of the reviews I've read of 300, the adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name about the Battle of Thermopylae, it's done big box office in its first week and jedi jawa enjoyed it. However, at least one group is giving the film a big thumbs down (or, as Sneaking Into the Movies gave Dirty Larry, the finger) - Persians, i.e., Iranians.

You see, the movie is about a heroic stand of about 300 (hence the title) Spartan soldiers at a narrow mountain pass against a massive Persian army under the command of the great Persian emperor Xerxes. The Persians won the battle, but at great cost, and it allowed Sparta's allied Greeks to escape, fight another day, and win the war. So, in other words, the Persians are the bad guys. This is not going over too well in Tehran, given the current geo-political situation:

Everywhere else I went, from the dentist to the flower shop, Iranians buzzed with resentment at the film's depictions of Persians, adamant that the movie was secretly funded by the U.S. government to prepare Americans for going to war against Iran. "Otherwise why now, if not to turn their people against us?" demanded an elderly lady buying tuberoses. "Yes, truly it is a grave offense," I said, shaking my own bunch of irises.
Oy. In addition, the film's release coincided with an ancient Persian festival related to Zoroastrianism that taps deeply into national pride. Wonder when the premier in Tehran will be?

Album of Yesterday

Gotterdammerung, by Asgard (1991): Most of the time I try and use this post to pimp some artist that I think (know?) most of you have never heard of. This one is a bit different. Consider it a public service, as this disc has the coveted position of Worst Album I Own. Asgard is an Italian band plowing the same fertile neo-prog field as early Marillion and IQ. Musically, there's nothing terribly offensive going on, it's just very uninspired and "been there, heard that." Had the lyrics been Italian, I would pass the disc off as merely underwhelming. However, the English lyrics, spouted by a vocalist who is obviously straining, are some of the most cliched prog lyrics I've ever heard. To wit:

and under the same sky lived together
men, giants, demigods, fairies, elves, ghosts,
speaking animals, trolls, dragons and magicians
That's from "New Myths," but it sounds like a tired argument about the artsy pretentiousness of prog. It's the lyrics that drag this album down from merely bad to abysmal self parody. At least there's one instrumental track.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Album of the Day

Giant on the Box, by Gentle Giant (2004): This isn't technically an album, but the bonus disc to a DVD compilation containing the sound track of two pieces of concert footage. Both are from during Gentle Giant's tour for The Power and the Glory. The first is a concert filmed for German TV, lasting about 45 minutes. The second is a brief set recorded for TV in San Jose, California. Unfortunately, the material between the two is redundant. However, the concerts themselves are spectacular, a true example of a prog giant (heh!) at its best. The way these five guys switch effortlessly between instruments, deftly handle 4-part harmony, and play some of the most complex tunes of prog's golden age is incredible.

Hitler Youth for the 21st Century

Over the weekend, I saw a really disturbing film. It was not one of these nouveau slasher flicks or the latest Japanese monster movie remake. It was a documentary. A quiet, not at all flashy documentary. It was not a Michael Moore-style muckraking piece. It just involved a camera and a very compelling subject.

The name of the film is Jesus Camp and the subject is a Missouri woman named Becky Fisher. Fisher runs a sort of outreach program and summer camp for young evangelical Christian kids (hence the title). She is driven. She is charismatic. And she is frightening as hell. Fisher is not simply a church leader. She is not simply a teacher, trying to impart the story and tenets of her faith to a new generation. She is a recruiter, assembling an army for God. What is most disturbing is that Fisher is completely up front about what she is doing and why she is doing it. Just when you start thinking that she sounds like a fundamentalist imam in a Saudi madrassa, she says:

It's no wonder, with that kind of intense training and discipling, that those young people are ready to kill themselves for the cause of Islam. I wanna see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I wanna see them as radically laying down their lives for the Gospel as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine and all those different places, you know, because we have... excuse me, but we have the truth!
Granted, her faith is pure and genuine - she is not using religion as a tool to get rich or build her own empire (Ted Haggard shows up and fills that role, making many ironic comments in light of his recent troubles). It also a bit twisted up with some decidedly rose-colored ideas about the world:
He [President Bush] has really brought some real credibility, um, to the Christian faith.
Lines like that make you laugh out loud and even feel a bit sorry for her. But that doesn't keep her from being dangerous. In the end, its the kids, so ready to march off the cliff for a cause they can't possibly understand, for whom you feel sorry.

A note to the IMDB commenters - you cannot judge the quality of a documentary by the repulsiveness of its subject. Many folks given the film a 1 or 2 rating (out of 10) and then praise it in the comments, noting their objection to Fisher and her tactics. If anything, that shows the quality of the film and isn't a reason to downrate it.

A Farewell to Arms (Control)?

Federal courts have such great timing. You're not supposed to drop big news on folks on Friday afternoons - it'll get lost in the weekend news hinterlands and disappear for all time. Nonetheless, the DC Circuit dropped a bit of a bomb last Friday, handing down a 2-1 decision striking down a hunk of the District's gun control regulations. In doing so, the court may have teed up the issue of the meaning of the Second Amendment in a way that the Supreme Court can't avoid.

The Second Amendment, for those who haven't reviewed it lately, says:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
That, sentence, due to its odd construction, has led scholars and courts to split into two groups when it comes to the meaning of the Amendment. On one side are the "collective right" theorists, who argue that the key phrase is "a well regulated militia," which limits the right to possession of arms in connection with some sort of organized fighting force. On the other side are the "individual right" folks, who argue that the "right of the the People . . ." language controls and that the stuff in the beginning is more aspirational than anything else.

While this debate has raged away in academia, the Supreme Court has been largely silent. Prior cases dealing with the Second Amendment are rare and don't address the issue head-on. For years, it was widely assumed, outside of the NRA, that the collective rights interpretation was controlling. A few years ago, the Fifth Circuit handed down a case that adopted the individual right theory, but ultimately upheld the defendant's firearm possession conviction, so it didn't make much of a splash.

This new DC comes to the same conclusion and adopts the individual right theory, basically concluding that citizens have a right to possess firearms in their homes. Unlike the earlier Fifth Circuit decision, the DC case actually strikes down a piece of gun control legislation. That might not only inspire further proceedings by the losing parties, but maybe it might interest the new-look Supreme Court. If the Supremes would take the issue and resolve it with some clarity, it could have a huge impact across the country.

For more discussion about the DC case than you can shake a stick at, see this collection of posts over at Volokh Conspiracy and this post from Jack Balkin. For a surprisingly rare negative opinion, see this piece at History News Network.

Album of Last Friday

Garden Shed, by England (1977): England is a bit of an odd band, chronologically speaking. This, their debut release (only 1978's The Last of the Jubilees followed), came out several years past the peak of prog's commercial growth and just as punk was warming up to kick the ever living shit out of the genre. Garden Shed has a lot about it that the punkers despised - long songs, instrumental noodling, artsy-fartsy lyrics. From a prog standpoint, however, it is also fairly derivative of what came before (Yes and Genesis, in particular). Don't get me wrong - what they do, they do very well (the epic closer "Poisoned Youth" in particular), but there is a bit of "been there, heard that" about them. As it is, the hard-to-find disc from the late 70s has a certain cache to it that the same music wouldn't obtain had it come out 10 or 15 years later.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

New Tune

It's been a while, but I finally finished up some new music this afternoon. My latest opus, "Be Resin Go Waxen," is different from the past few things I've thrown up. Rather than using bass/drum/guitar loops as a kind of "surrogate band," this one is much more electronic and less "rawk." Enjoy.

Album of the Day

Foxtrot, by Genesis (1972): One day, I will learn how to play the intro to "Watcher of the Skies" with my trusty M-Tron. I will crank the volume way up. I will rattle the windows. I will piss off my neighbors. And it will be good. :)

Good Thing Anne Didn't Badmouth Attaturk

I haven't blogged about the most recent Anne Coulter flap, mostly because it's been done to death elsewhere (if you really want my thoughts on it, they're sort of in this thread at the WV Bloggers Board). But something else popped up in the news that is an interesting parallel case study.

Coulter, in a cycle that's well known to the right-wing bomb throwers, has now turned herself (again) into the high princess of the First Amendment. It goes something like this: Coulter (or Malkin or Savage or . . .) says something dumb/inflammatory, which prompts some folks to condemn her/call for a boycott/etc., which prompts Coulter to turn around and swipe at those folks as trying to suppress her rights under the First Amendment.

That, of course, is bollocks. The First Amendment applies to government action. Period, full stop, do not pass "Go." It gives Coulter the right to say whatever she wants, but it gives others the right to chastise her for it and doesn't require anybody to give her a forum to say whatever she says. You've got a perfect right to call me a jackass, but I don't have to let you say it on my blog (I probably will, tho'). The marketplace of ideas can be a brutal place, but it's better than the alternative.

Like what the Turks have done to YouTube. Around the same time Coulter was calling John Edwards a faggot, some folks put some video on YouTube that was seriously disrespectful of Mustafa Kemal Attaturk. Ironically, some of it made the claim that Attaturk was gay. Not content to let the attackers be rebutted by loyal Turks (as apparently happened) or simply ignore them, a Turkish court ordered Internet providers in Turkey to block access to YouTube because it fostered insults to "Turkishness."*

What's the lesson in all this? I don't know. I think it's that the robust First Amendment allows blowhards like Coulter to thrive in the marketplace of ideas, but she's a small price to pay for not having to worry about insulting the national heritage.

* One wonders if Monty Python's "Eric the Half a Bee" sketch is banned in Turkey, since is comically proposes that "Kemel Attaturk had an entire menagerie called Abdul!"

What's Your Religious IQ?

An article in today's USA Today calls you dumb. Well, all of us Americans, actually. It's about how woefully ignorant many Americans are about religious matters. Not necessarily what they believe, but the history and development of their own faith, as well as the central tenets of other faiths:

Sixty percent of Americans can't name five of the Ten Commandments, and 50% of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were married.
The author quoted liberally in the article argues that we need more religious education in schools, which I agree with. The problem, of course, is that so many times the faithful can't leave well enough alone and turn education into conversion.

The web version of the article has a nifty little quiz on the side where you can test your religious IQ. I got a 76 (out of 100) - not bad for a heathen.

I Am Watching . . .

. . . Country Music Television. I shit you not. Last week, Bruce Hornsby was on their Crossroads show with bluegrass guy Ricky Skaggs (and band). I'm just now getting around to watching it. It's pretty cool.

UPDATE: Bruce, for fuck's sake, can we leave "The End of the Innocence" of the set list for one friggin' night? What incriminating pictures of you does Henley have?

UPDATE II: OK, that's somewhat atoned for by the high-octane version of "Superfreak!"

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Album of the Day

Four, by Blues Traveller (1994): One of the recurring themes I have during the A-to-Z CD expedition every year is that I find more mainstream albums that I have that haven't been listened to in months (indeed, this one not since the last A-to-Z in 2006), think "hmm, that's pretty good," and then promptly fail to listen to it again for another year. This one probably fits that bill. It's really quite good - even the MTV hits that helped the album breakthrough are good - but for some reason there's not much of a need to hear it most of the time.

I Don't Get It

Over at PrawsBlawg, Dan Markel makes a confession about his DVD viewing habits - with some movies/TV shows, he watches on fast forward with the subtitles on. It allows him to get a quick "culture" fill.

As somebody who watches a lot of movies on DVD, this seems to very much defeat the purpose. "Culture" isn't something to be wolfed down like a fast-food breakfast. It's something to savor, at least enough to get some enjoyment out of it. For example, the last flick I watched was Kar Wai Wong's epic 2046. Being a foreign-language film, subtitles were a necessity. Sure, if I'd watched it in double time in one hour instead of two I could have gotten the basic plot down. But a movie is more than just it's plot. At double speed I would have missed out on the fabulous cinematography, the lush score, and the mood that the director wanted to create with some very deliberate pacing. You might as well just read the Wikipedia plot summary and be done with it!

Markel makes it sound like he (and others) do this in order to keep current on pop culture or something. I'd much prefer to enjoy the culture I actually experience and plead ignorance to the rest of it. Do we really need to keep up with the Joneses in this area?

Oy, the Sting of Criticism

So, did everybody watch Jim Cameron's Discovery Channel documentary on the supposed burial box of Jesus and clan and the panel discussion afterwards? Yeah, well, me neither (Jesus is cool, but he's not Battlestar Galactica, after all). Apparently the post-game breakdown was not kind:

For those of you who did not catch the 1-hour roundtable discussion of the Jesus Family Tomb that immediately followed the documentary, you missed a bloodbath. The panel included Simcha Jacobovici, the producer/writer/director of the documentary, UNC-Charlotte Professor James Tabor, and five other scholars not involved with the documentary. All five scholars were not just critical of the program, but harshly critical. Professor Jonathan Reed went so far as to call it "archeo-porn." Ouch.
Ouch, indeed. Apparently Cameron and crew have taken a page from the Rove playbook and decided to argue that anyone who doesn't think their evidence is solid is simply delusional and not able to face the truth. Sometimes that might be true. But sometimes when everybody tells you your theory is a crock of shit, it's just a crock of shit.

Waiter, There's a Lawyer in My Soup!

When I was an amateur music critic, I got one piece of hate mail (undeserved, of course). But I never figured that I might get sued for giving a bad review. It's not unheard of, however, particularly for restaurant critics. As this New York Times article points out, lawsuits by restaurants after bad reviews are almost certainly doomed to failure. Still, it's a cloud hanging over the heads of some critics, who have a hard enough job:

Adam Platt, who reviews restaurants for New York magazine, said that is how it should be. 'It’s the most subjective, in my view, of the critical disciplines,' he said. 'Book reviewers read the same books. Movie critics see the same movies. Restaurant critics work in an environment that will change not only from day to day but from hour to hour. All you can do is give your opinion. Over time, it becomes an informed opinion.'

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Album of the Day

Flower Power, by The Flower Kings (1999): For a genre that thrives on spiraling instrumental workouts, 20-minute LP side-long suites, and albums with just one song on them, you'd think there's never be a "too much of a good thing" with progressive rock. Well, for exhibit A against that proposition, I present Flower Power, nearly 2 full CDs of music, out of which one CD could be constructed. In fact, back before I changed computers at work I had an edited 1-disc version of this album on there, but it's lots to the mists of time. Basically, about half of "Garden of Dreams," the hour-long epic on disc 1 (and there are 3 other tunes on that disc!), made the cut, as did about half of the tracks on disc 2. That stuff was a really good selection of modern symphonic prog. The rest, however, ranged from simply uninspired to head scratchingly bad. When your prayer that "Magic Pie" is some sort of poorly conceived sexual reference is not answered, you know it should have ended up on the editing room floor.

Missing No More

It what might be as rare as an Elvis sighting, we've had an appearance by Ron Thompson, the missing WV House of Delegates member I wrote about last month. Thompson appeared briefly at the Capitol to finally take his oath of office. But, quickly as he came in, he left again - but not before picking up his $15,000 salary for the session he's missed.

On Making Weird Music

There's a song on one volume of Frank Zappa's You Can't Do That On Stage, Anymore series called "You Call That Music?" It's a live recording of an early Mothers freak out that obviously left some in the audience a bit miffed (hence the question in the title). That was running through my head as I read a post on a new New York Times blog (sadly, one of the ones hidden behind the subscribers firewall), The Score, called "What Kind of Music Is This, Anyway?"

The author is Michael Gordon, a modern "classical" composer who admits that his composing is driven be a desire to do something completely different. As he puts it, in discussing what he looks for in music:

Perhaps it is a blessing and perhaps it is a curse, but “normal” music doesn’t hold my interest for very long. I may like it, but it doesn’t engage me. I may admire it, I may enjoy it, but I can’t listen to it for sustenance. For sustenance I need unusual music. It doesn’t matter what style or category, but it has to jump out at me and say, You haven’t heard me before, so listen up.
I can sympathize with that, to some extent. I can enjoy a lot of different kinds of music in different venues - as background music, film scores, on the radio, etc. But very little of it sticks to my musical ribs the way (in general) progressive rock does. And while what I listen to doesn't sound nearly as out there as Gordon's stuff appears (admittedly, I've never heard it), for lots of people I know it's "weird" music.

Sometimes I forget how weird is seems and subject people to it unknowingly. Sorry, honey!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Album of the Day

The Field, by The Field (1996): The Field was the brainchild of Paul Lamb, who contacted me after he read a (not altogether flattering) review I wrote of his old band, Rocket Scientists. Paul offered me a free copy of The Field to review, so I jumped at the chance. This is a short concept album, a political one no less, that sort of seems (lyrically) like 40 minutes of Pink Floyd's "Sheep." Musically, it's fairly solid classic prog. My big complaint in the initial review (from what I remember, can't find it online, hence no linkage) was with Lamb's vocals, particularly when he's cranked up and angry. To his credit, I remember him agreeing with me on that. Regardless, this disc is unique in my collection, both for its content and how it found its way to my house.

The Evolution of God

The cover story from yesterday's New York Times Sunday Magazine is a lengthy examination of research into the possibly evolutionary bases for religious belief. The issues is not another go-round of the "does God exist" question. Rather, it's an issue of how and why, evolutionarily speaking, the human mind developed the capacity for belief in a higher power. Among the more interesting ideas that get thrown out:

A second mental module that primes us for religion is causal reasoning. The human brain has evolved the capacity to impose a narrative, complete with chronology and cause-and-effect logic, on whatever it encounters, no matter how apparently random. “We automatically, and often unconsciously, look for an explanation of why things happen to us,” Barrett wrote, “and ‘stuff just happens’ is no explanation. Gods, by virtue of their strange physical properties and their mysterious superpowers, make fine candidates for causes of many of these unusual events.” The ancient Greeks believed thunder was the sound of Zeus’s thunderbolt. Similarly, a contemporary woman whose cancer treatment works despite 10-to-1 odds might look for a story to explain her survival. It fits better with her causal-reasoning tool for her recovery to be a miracle, or a reward for prayer, than for it to be just a lucky roll of the dice.
Put more simply, to quote a Marillion tune:
Finding the answer
It's a human obsession
Our brains are hardwired to find answers. Not the choice of word - "answer," not "truth." In fact, often times we prefer a compelling lie to the truth. Consider conspiracy theories - the appeal to people's desire for an answer when the truth of whatever is at hand is too disturbing or complex to really handle.

Is God just an "answer?" I'll leave that to yourselves to figure out.

Thundering Herd v. RIAA

Hey, Marshall finally made somebody's Top 25 ranking! OK, that's a low blow, but it's true - Marshall has made the Recording Industry Association of America's list of worst 25 universities when it comes to copyright infringement via file sharing on the U's networks. In other words, lots of Marshall students are sharing music, video, etc. that they shouldn't be. The Gazette article mentions "complaints" from the RIAA, but apparently not lawsuits. Not yet, at least. Maybe they should go ahead a crank up a law school in Huntington? :-)

Apropos of nothing except some fortuitous timing, I recently discovered that professor Lawrence Lessig's book Free Culture is freely available for download online. I've not worked my way through it completely, but the basic thesis seems to be that the Net requires a paradigm shift in American copyright law, lest modern culture slowly fall into the clutches of massive multi-national corporations. He makes some valid points. Perhaps the Marshall students should take a look.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Holy Shit! Do They Have WMDs?!?

A great warrior once said:

I hate these filthy neutrals, Kif! With enemies, you know where they stand, but with neutrals—who knows. It sickens me.
Truer words were never spoken. Last night, that paragon of neutrality - Switzerland - invaded Liechtenstein. That's right - they invaded another country. Doesn't sound very neutral, does it? Oh, sure they claim it was an accident that 170 soldiers wandered across the unmarked border. And the rifles they were carrying weren't loaded. But really, doesn't that just sound like a filthy neutral? It makes you wonder:
What makes a man turn neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?
Damn fence-sitters!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Album of the Day

Ever, by IQ (1993): Neo-prog bands owe a lot to Genesis, and not just musically. A disturbing number of them had the "charismatic front man goes 'solo in the game'" scenarios. In Marillion's case, Fish gave way to Steve Hogarth and the band went on to bigger and better things (IMHO, of course). In IQ's case, the shift from Peter Nichols to Paul Mendel went rather less well. Mendel eventually took off (along with original bassist Tim Esau) and Nichols came back. Ever was Nichols's return engagement and got the band back on track. Stylistically, it borrows heavily from the early IQ albums, but freshened up the sound for the 90s (from the "jeez, I feel old" file - I remember when this was the "new" IQ album!). They've been going strong ever (ha!) since.

Two Big Scores for MLS

For all the progress Major League Soccer has made in the last decade - solid contributions to the US national team, the construction of revenue-generating soccer specific stadiums, and (finally) a TV deal that does rely on time buying - it's lagged in one area. When it comes to international competitions, the record of MLS teams has been miserable. With the exception of DC United's 1998 InterAmerican Cup win over Brazil's Vasco de Gama, MLS teams have seen early exits in meaningful competitions.* The excuses are many (these competitions generally take place during the MLS preseason while the other leagues are in full swing - for example), but none of them can hide the bad results.

Which makes last night pretty meaningful. Last night was the second leg of the quarterfinal round of the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the region's top international club competition. MLS teams have traditionally bombed out early, particularly in the road games. But this year, both MLS teams in the competition - 2006 regular season champs DC United and 2006 MLS Cup winners Houston Dynamo - advanced in fine fashion.

DC had the easier road, having defeated CD Olimpia of Honduras 4-1 in the first leg in Honduras. DC defeated Olimpia again last night in DC, 3-2, to win the series 7-3 on aggregate. DC's new Brazilian striker, Luciano Emilio, notched three goals against his former club. Looks like a good signing - Freddy Awho? :)

The Dynamo got stung by a late goal in Costa Rica in the first leg of their series with Puntarenas. Trailing 1-0 in the series, Houston picked up the equalizer in the first half last night (in College Station @ Texas A&M's soccer complex, for some reason) and grabbed the winner in the second half to down Punatrenas 2-1 on aggregate.

Up next for the MLS clubs are the semi-finals and two powerhouse Mexican clubs - DC gets the legendary Chivas of Gualajara and Houston takes on Pachuca. While the US national team has pulled ahead of Mexico on the international scene, MLS teams don't have such a good history against Mexican clubs. Hopefully either DC or Houston (oh hell, who am I kidding - DC!) will sneak through to the final. Would an all MLS final be too much to ask? Probably not - but I'll dream about it for a while.

* Yup, that excludes the versions of the CONCACAF Champions Cup that were played all in the United States - real international club ball means playing in the other guy's backyard, too.

Maybe It Is Hillary Time

Back during the Clinton years, Hillary was largely known as the architect of the administration's plan to greatly overhaul the health care industry, with the goal of ensuring health care for all Americans. The plan crashed and burned, largely under the weight of catcalls of "socialized medicine." More than a decade on, it appears that the American people may be read for something like that.

According to a new CBS/New York Times poll, a majority of Americans are willing to pay higher taxes or forgo future tax cuts in order to provide health care coverage for all. It is the top top domestic issue for most voters. Does that mean widespread support for a Canadian-style government-run single payer system? Not quite:

One question offered a choice between the current system and a national health insurance program covering everyone, administered by the government and financed by taxpayers. Thirty-eight percent said they preferred the current system, 47 percent the government-run approach.

Robert Blendon, an expert at Harvard on public opinion and health, said politicians had to find some compromise between these philosophical divisions on the role of government, which are deep-seated in American culture, or 'we’re going to have the same train wreck we did before.'
This is one issue where I part company fairly dramatically from the libertarians. Health care is as necessary to the health (no pun intended) of modern society as food and shelter. The private sector in this country has failed miserably in an area in which other civilized nations have found success. Reform in this area needs to be result oriented, not ideologically driven.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Album of the Day

eponymous, by REM (1988): Why choose a greatest hits collection as album of the day? Because this is a pretty good indication of how I interact with honestly popular music. This is the one REM album I own - likewise I own only one U2 album, the live Under a Blood Red Sky. I really enjoy listening to them both, but I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to expand my collection. I suppose maybe I've heard so much of them on the radio and TV that my appetite for their stuff is fairly limited.

Who Would Jesus Sue?

Next month the Supreme Court hears oral argument in a case that asks the musical question "can a school principal discipline a kid for flying a sign that says 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' in a juvenile attempt get on TV?" OK, it doesn't really read exactly that way, but that's the gist of it, as this USA Today article explains. Be sure and read far enough to learn that this stunt took place off school grounds.

What do You Get the Civilized Nation That Has Something None Other Has?

According to Doug Berman over at SL&P, today is Death Penalty Abolition Day. Why March 1? Because that's the date in 1847 when the state of Michigan became the first English-speaking territory to abolish capital punishment. So, Happy DPA Day to everyone!

As to Doug's question about when we will have a "international get-rid-of-200-year-sentences day," that'll happen whenever the populace at large, the ones who punish politicians for being "soft on crime" just for thinking about criminal justice reform, actually realize what hell holes prisons are and come to the conclusion that no human being deserves to have at least the hope of getting out taken away from them.