Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 - My Year in Film & Video

As with last year, I saw a lot of movies in the last twelve months. I even managed to see a decent number of (good) flicks the old fashioned way, in the popcorn stadium! So, here we go, the ones that made the greatest impression on me.

In the Theater

  • There Will Be Blood: Yeah, it was released (to lots of critical praise) late last year, but I didn't get around to it until early January. Fueled by a brilliant performance by Daniel Day Lewis and a terrific score by Johnny Greenwood (of Radiohead), I thought it was excellent. One of my fellow WV bloggers (can't remember which, sorry) said it reminded him of Kubrick, which makes sense to me.
  • The Dark Knight: You probably didn't hear anything about this understated little independent film, right? Driven by another monstrous performance (the late Heath Ledger's psychotic take on The Joker), this was the comic book movie as high art. Worthy of all the praise and popular success it received.
  • Hellboy II - The Golden Army: If The Dark Knight was the height of the comic book movie as art, this one was a pretty damn good example of the comic book movie as pure entertainment. Big, loud, and great fun to look at (what else would you expect from Guillermo del Toro?), it was a solid mid summer big picture experience.
  • Slumdog Millionaire: Scottish director Danny Boyle goes to India to make a movie infused with Bollywood flair that hangs on the outcome of the local version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Sound like a recipe for disaster or, at best, a glorious mess? It certainly could have been. Instead, Boyle uses the frame of the game show to tell the backstory ("bizarrely plausible," as one character puts it) of the main character and develop an epic love story. Does it all work? Not really. Does enough of it work, particularly the visual style, to make you overlook the shortcomings? You bet.
On Video
  • 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007): I've seen this on several "best of" lists for 2008, but I'm pretty sure it was released last year. Regardless of when it arrived, this is a brilliant film full of observations on life under the reign of Ceau┼čescu in Romania in the 1980s. Nominally about a very grounded woman helping her flightier friend obtain an (illegal, of course) abortion, it really reaches out beyond that issue. Highly recommended.
  • Network (1976): I blogged about the continuing relevance of this classic mass media satire back when I first watched. Nothing more to add to that, really.
  • The Conversation (1974) & The Lives of Others (2006): Two movies, separated by a generation, but both about those who listen and the impact on them of what they hear. In The Conversation, the listener is Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), a private and paranoid professional eavesdropper. When he allows himself to care about what he thinks he hears, his world comes unraveled. In The Lives of Others, the listener is Wiesler, a member of the East German secret police assigned to listen in to the lives of a playwright and his girlfriend who may be enemies of the state. Wiesler's attempts to protect the couple after he begins to sympathize with them lead to an unravelling of his world. Both are excellent (The Lives of Others is brilliant) and would make an interesting double bill.
  • Journey From the Fall (2006): Another film I saw for the first time this year was The Killing Fields, which left me cold and felt a bit distant. I think that was because I saw this film first, one of the girlfriend's picks. It's the story of a South Vietnamese family that is separated during the fall of Saigon. Mom, son, and mother-in-law escape to a new, strange life in Los Angeles, while the father is packed off to a"reeducation" camp. The movie's two strands, showing the family's survival, are equally moving in their own way.
  • Paprika (2006): I watched this film twice in the space of a week and I'm still not really sure what it's about. It has something to do dreams, people getting into each others dreams, and a general breakdown of the barrier between reality and the subconscious. Did I mention that it was a Japanese animated flim? It would almost have to be, wouldn't it? At times incomprehensible, at times brilliant, it's one of those movies that are best enjoyed by just laying back and letting it wash over you.
  • Zodiac (2007): I've never been particularly fond of David Fincher's work (I reamed Fight Club last year as "an overrated piece of crap!"), but this long meditation on the corrosive power of the search for truth is a great piece of work. It covers almost the whole breadth of the investigation into the Zodiac killings in Northern California, from the crimes themselves (two of them shown in their entirety), to the police investigation, and finally to the amateur sleuthing of a newspaper cartoonist (upon whose books the film is based). There's no closure, as the case has never been solved (and, we learn in text at the end, the cartoonist's prime suspect was later exonerated with DNA testing), but it hardly feels like a cop out.
Well, that's it for 2008, folks. Everybody have a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 - My Year in Tunes

Yes, folk(s), it's that time again. As the year winds down, it's time for my annual "My Year in . . ." posts. Up first - tunes. Although I personally only managed a tiny bit of musical output this year, I managed to collect quite a bit from other people (54 new albums, by my count). So much so that, for once, I had a hard time selecting only a few actually new discs to talk about. Aren't you lucky! Without further ado . . .

New for 2008

  • 3rDegree - Narrow Caster: Back when I was in law school, I got a used copy of 3rDegree's Human Interest Story from someone on the Web. A subsequent review attracted the attention one of the guys in the band, who was selling of the back stock of the album, who explained that they had broken up, unable to really get a footing in the rock world or the prog one. Nine years later, I got an email from him announcing their return effort, Narrow Caster. It was well worth the wait, a more mature evolution of the near-prog sound the band forged in the 1990s. Solid songwriting abounds, as well as some choice playing from all involved. Highly recommended.
  • D.F.A. - 4th: Another band that waited a while between albums. I picked up their 1997 release Lavori in Corso used last year and liked it a lot. When I saw this new disc at 3RP this summer (more on that later), it was a must have. The band cranks out that fusion-tinged (mostly) instrumental prog that the Italians do so well. It smokes, it soothes, it rocks.
  • Mike Keneally - Wine & Pickles: I've repeatedly admitted to being a Keneally fanboy, but even I didn't expect a collection of leftovers and miscellaneous bits of sound to be so excellent in the end. Mike assembles tracks that didn't make Dog and Dancing, some alternate versions from those albums, some collaborations, and even some cues/bumps he did back in the day for Court TV. Highlights include "Feelin' Strangely," the long promised finished studio version of "L'il," and "Inhale," a collaboration with Lyle Workman.
  • Marillion - Happiness is the Road: Last year's Somewhere Else was a disappointment. Not so much as some people would have it, but still, pretty lackluster, particularly after the brilliant Marbles. When the band first released Happiness for download prior to its release this year, I wasn't completely convinced that they righted the ship. After living with the real CDs (two volumes, one dubbed Essence, the other The Hard Shoulder) for a few months, now I'm convinced. Some judicious editing could have coalesced Happiness into an amazing 1-disc record. As it is, there's enough to love over both discs (the title track, "This Train Is My Life," "The Man from the Planet Marzipan," "Asylum Satellite 1," and "Real Tears for Sale" in particular) to make it an essential addition to the collection.
  • The Tangent - Not as Good as the Book: Life Happiness, The Tangent's fourth studio album probably could have been pared down to one disc without losing anything essential. What to cut, however, would probably spark some long and heated debates. I wouldn't want to live without Andy Tillison's continuing midlife crisis in "Lost in London 25 Years Later" or the title track. And I certainly wouldn't sacrifice the epic "Four Egos, One War," my favorite track of the year. Plus, the special edition came with a novella written by Tillison (which I still haven't read), so you can't argue you're not getting value for money, huh?
New to Me
  • Yezda Urfa - Sacred Baboon (1976): Another gem I picked up at 3RP, from one of the numerous American bands that managed to cut one album in the wake of prog's golden age before going the way of the dodo. Clearly influenced by Yes, Gentle Giant, and Zappa, the music here is on the verge of being so complex it's out of control. But the band tread that fine line with aplomb. Great fun to listen to.
  • Ritual - The Hemulic Voluntary Band (2007): Considering all the new music I heard this year, I'm amazed that I can even make this determination, but - this is, hands down, my favorite album of the year. Steeped in the Moomin stories of Finnish writer Tove Jansson, it is melodic, bombastic, pastoral, and just really fun to listen too. It's also a very organic album. No synths (shudder to think!), but loads and loads of great clavinet and piano work, backing up some really interesting folk instruments here and there. Absolutely brilliant.
  • The Mandrake Project - A Favor to the Muse (2006): 3RP is shorthand for "3 Rivers Progressive Rock Festival," which debuted this summer outside of Pittsburgh. Yes, right in the girlfriend's back yard! I managed to take in only half of Saturday's festivities, but came away with two things. One was a huge load of CDs, which continues my generous plan of putting Greg Walker's kids through college. The other was the discovery of The Mandrake Project, a local band and second on the bill Saturday morning. All instrumental, influenced by the post-rock scene I think, they just blew me (and most of the others in attendance) away. Needless to say, I had to pick up this album, which is equally brilliant. A new one is on the way for 2009.
  • Jean Michel Jarre - Oxygene (2007): I decided to explore some electronic music this year, given my increased interest in synths and making music with them. This was the cream of the crop, a rerecording by Jarre of his 1976 classic (as heard in, among other things, Gallipoli). Particularly cool was the DVD that came with the CD, which has Jarre and a few helpers recreating the album (with some excursions) live, scuttling in and out of the coolest collection of vintage synth gear this side of VSE.
  • Phideaux - Doomsday Afternoon (2007): Another brilliant album that I missed by a year. Phideaux is sort of a musical collective lead by its namesake, Phideaux Xavier. His day job, no kidding, is directing TV soap operas. Whatever pays the bills, huh? Doomsday Afternoon is the second of a three-part concept dealing with a future ecological crisis (the first part, The Great Leap, didn't do so much for me). They'll be at the 2009 version of 3RP, which I'm looking forward to a great deal.
Honorable Mention: This is how I work in something that is neither "new" nor even "new to me," the third and final Genesis box set. Covering the halcyon Gabriel days (minus From Genesis to Revelation), each album gets remixed in really excellent fashion. As All About Jazz (of all people) put it:
The remix/remaster work is absolutely top-notch, bringing clarity and depth, detail and transparency to music that still holds up nearly 40 years later.
But the real treasure trove is the DVD extras that come with each disc. Contemporary interviews with the guys in the band (including Anthony Phillips for Trespass, but, alas, no John Mayhew) are interesting, while Foxtrot and Selling England by the Pound contain about 90 minutes of classic live footage. The Selling England . . . DVD, in particular, contains the "Shepperton Studios" footage, complete with Gabriel in all of his costumed glory. Really, if you're at all a fan of Genesis before they went pop, you owe it to yourself to grab a copy next time Borders has a deal on box sets.

The War on Frosty

Christmas is over, but it's still winter, so how about a controversy over gigantic snowmen? Only in the Land of Palin. Radley Balko at Reason has the details on the city fathers of Anchorage versus Billy Powers and "Snowzilla," who lives in Powers's yard:

The first Snowzilla stood about 16 feet tall. But as Powers and friends began building this year's Snowzilla, the city sent Powers a cease and desist order, describing Snowzilla as a 'public nuisance' and a 'safety hazard.'

The next morning, Snowzilla rose anyway, this time topping a whopping 25 feet. Powers coyly insists he doesn't know where the second Snowzilla came from.
It gets better. A picket line of snowmen showed up at city hall, only to be, er, "dispersed" by the maintenance guy. According to the local paper:
A group of snowman protesters -- apparently rallying in support of the towering Anchorage outlaw -- appeared on Christmas Day in front of City Hall. They carried signs that read 'Snowzilla needs a bailout' and "Snowmen have rights too."

* * *

Today the remains of the protesters lay in frozen pieces. Their signs sat in a nearby Dumpster.
Fight the power, Snowzilla! Snow justice snow peace!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Late Entry for Dipshit of the Year

A while back, I took a group of Kentucky atheists to task for alleging, as part of a meritorious suit against that state to strip its homeland security plan of blatant God bothering, that the presence of the unconstitutional enactment caused them "mental pain and anguish." As I said:

Anybody should be made of stronger stuff, but particularly atheists. We're supposed to be the doggedly rational bunch, right? Such a frivolous claim allows those on the other side to point out the whining instead of dealing with the constitutional issue.
Now, from a letter to the editor in Colorado (via Volokh) comes a similarly thin skinned dolt:
Every time you wish us a Merry Christmas you are claiming that you have rights that we do not have. You are declaring that through your belief in a deity, you are better than us. Every time you say, 'Merry Christmas' to a non-Christian, you might as well be suicide-bombing them or nailing them to a cross, placing a crown of thorns on their heads and sticking a spear in their sides. You are trying to force your religion on them.
Putting aside the rather silly argument that someone saying "Merry Christmas" is an attempt to force religion on anyone, it's entirely over the top to compare it to something like blowing up scores of innocent people or an arcane and particularly brutal form of capital punishment. Get a backbone, man! Sticks and stones and all that, right? The fact is, this kind of whining will get much more play than, say, the first comment to that letter from a non-believer taking him to task. It makes us all look bad.

Can't He Do Anything Right?

One of the few unchecked powers everybody agrees the President has is to issue pardons and commutations. Sure, some pardons are unpopular, but when your on your way out of the Oval Office, who gives a rat's ass. Leave it to Duhbya to mess up even this simple act:

In an unusual move, President Bush on Wednesday reversed his decision, announced a day earlier, to pardon Isaac R. Toussie, a Brooklyn developer who pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining federally insured mortgages and to defrauding Suffolk County, N.Y., by selling it overpriced land.
Basically, lines got crossed in the process. The counsel to the President though the Department of Justice had signed off on the pardon for Toussie, but it hadn't. Nonetheless, Duhbya signed the necessary paperwork.

So, can the President taketh back what he hath given? Or is he bound by the ancient legal maxim of "no backsies"? Not surprisingly, the legal blogosphere has different takes on the issue. According to this analysis at Pardon Power, Toussie should walk. Whether he does or not remains to be seen.

Energy Crisis Solved

During the presidential campaign, "energy independence" was a popular buzz phrase. I was never quite sure what it meant, but I think the general idea was to become more energy efficient and try and cut our reliance on imported fuels sources. With that in mind, have I got some good news. If this report from Forbes (via Concurring Opinions) is accurate, our crisis is over:

For a time, Beverly Hills doctor Craig Alan Bittner turned the fat he removed from patients into biodiesel that fueled his Ford SUV and his girlfriend's Lincoln Navigator.
Dr. Bittner's research unfortunately came to a halt (he was sued for allowing the girlfriend to do surgeries!), but imagine the possibilities! Obesity is a huge problem in this country. Forget diet, exercise, and denying our gluttonous urges. Just suck everybody slim and then turn the fat into fuel! We could probably even keep all the SUVs then.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Happy Xmas

With the actual holiday right around the corner, I've got precious little time for blogging. So I'll sign off for a bit with a couple of tunes.

First, a little Greg Lake:

And then, for the Hanukkah celebrants in the audience:

Happy Holidays, whatever specific one(s) you celebrate. If any. Just be cool, OK?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Jump, George, Jump!

I've never been a particular fan of It's a Wonderful Life. It's the kind of feel-good sappy movie that just doesn't do it for me. I don't hate it. I just don't get weepy about it like lots of other people do. But maybe that's because I've never looked at it through this guy's eyes:

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.
It gets better:
Take the extended sequence in which George Bailey (James Stewart), having repeatedly tried and failed to escape Bedford Falls, N.Y., sees what it would be like had he never been born. The bucolic small town is replaced by a smoky, nightclub-filled, boogie-woogie-driven haven for showgirls and gamblers, who spill raucously out into the crowded sidewalks on Christmas Eve. It’s been renamed Pottersville, after the villainous Mr. Potter, Lionel Barrymore’s scheming financier.

Here’s the thing about Pottersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stultifying Bedford Falls — the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If anything, Pottersville captures just the type of excitement George had long been seeking.
After all this, the writer still claims to love the film, but not for the reasons everybody else does. Which is fine, but I suspect he may be trying to have it both ways.

For what it's worth, I think the film would have been immensely helped if Capra had used the alternate ending:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I Love This Strip

Today Pearls Before Swine introduced a new character - Pippie the Prairie Dog Preacher. I only wish my blog template was wide enough to show a strip correctly. Check it out here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

We're Doomed

The Day the Earth Stood Still, directed by Robert Wise with a distinctive Theremin-infused score by Bernard Hermann, is one of the classics of sci-fi. Released in 1951, it captured the imagination of a world just entering the Cold War and coming to grips with the idea that the human race was to the point where it could extinguish its very existence (more on that here).

So, of course, some dipshit has decided to remake . . . er, excuse me, "reimagine" the film. To make matters worse, it relies on the talents of Keanu Reeves, the only in actor in Hollywood who can honestly be confused with a cardboard cutout of himself. Judging from the early reviews, apparently "reimagine" means "turn a classic into crap." Color me surprised.

But that's not the bad news, merely expected. The bad news is that the producers of the new version are beaming it into space:

Seeking the ultimate red carpet, or perhaps a chance to get a good word in for humanity to whoever might be Out There watching, the makers of the new movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still” have arranged for it to be beamed into space on Friday, on the same day the movie opens here on planet Earth.
Oh, great, just what we need: to assault our nearest interstellar neighbors with dreck like this. At least it's not the first thing that's gone up:
As an interstellar broadcast, the movie at least beats a Doritos commercial, which was broadcast into space by a set of European radar stations in June in the most recent high-profile space transmission. Whether it lives up artistically to the Beatles song “Across the Universe,” which NASA sent off in February as part of the agency’s 50th anniversary, remains to be seen.
Of course, as anyone who's read Carl Sagan's Contact (or seen the inferior film) knows, we've been sending TV signals into space for decades. The first broadcast powerful enough to reach the stars? Adolph Hitler's welcoming address from the 1936 Munich Olympics. So it's not as if we put our best foot forward in the first instance, either.

If we're lucky, the signal will just reach the Omicronians which, evidence has shown, don't have very good taste, anyway. They might appreciate it.

'tis the Season

Government displays of religiously themed materials are sure to be controversial and lead to some serious silliness at any time of year. But during the holidays, when so many faiths have their own competing celebrations, along with the secularized versions of same, things can get particularly silly. Like they have in Washington state at the capitol in Olympia. Here's a good account of the background (paragraph breaks added by me):

According to The Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA), conflict has been brewing in the Washington State Capitol over the past few years. In 2005, state Rep. John Ahern (R-Spokane) decided to protest the state's decision to call a large evergreen tree placed inside the Capitol this time of year a 'holiday tree.'

Evidently, Rep. Ahern found this form of cultural sensitivity unacceptable. He gathered some like-minded Christians to sing carols on the Capitol steps and added a small 'Merry Christmas' sign and a cardboard menorah at the bottom of the tree.

In 2006, rabbis showed up to light a large menorah with the Governor, and Christians asked for a nativity scene. The state initially denied this request but then caved during a lawsuit, paving the way for the nativity scene the following year. Now the state says they'll allow virtually any sort of religious or political display.

Enter the atheists.
That's right. With the lawsuit establishing that if the capitol area is going to open to any party for a display it must be open to all, a creative bunch of non-believers put up a sign this year that reads:
At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail.
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.
Granted, it's a little heavy handed at the end, but I can't say I disagree with the sentiment. Whether such a sign is the best way to advance "the cause," whatever that may be, is best left for another day.

Needless to say, the presence of those words at the state capitol have sent some folks into apoplexy. Complaints from religious folks have sprung the issue to national attention, gaining the ire of such noted clear thinkers as Bill Donohue and Bill O'Reilly. As a result, more folks are flocking to Olympia to have their message endorsed by the state:
The skirmish over Christmas in Washington state just gets funnier every day.

Now someone wants to put up a Festivus pole in the capitol. That's hilarious enough, but it gets better.

The Westboro Baptist Church has demanded to be allowed to put up a sign that says, 'Santa Claus will take you to Hell'.
Personally, I find the idea of an unadorned metal pole (tinsel is too confusing) in the state capitol very amusing. I just hope the Phelps folks will be singing to the tune of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town."

The underlying lesson in all this hullabaloo is simple - the state shouldn't be in the business of displaying anybody's religious beliefs. Period. Put you tree/nativity/menorah/pole up on private property to your heart's content. But keep the state out of it. As the First Amendment intends.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some Good Racing News

It's been a rough week or so in the racing world, in the wake of the global economic slowdown. Honda has shuttered its F1 program. Audi announced it would not participate in the 2009 American LeMans Series, aside from bringing its new prototype over for the 12 Hours of Sebring. And then there's the question of what any of the Big 3 might be able to contribute next year, particularly in lieu of today's burnout flameout.

With all that said, it was nice to get some good news today, particularly involving ALMS:

The rumors of a Dyson Racing and Mazdaspeed marriage had circulated since September, and with the ink having just dried on the partnership, two of the most famous names in American sportscar racing have formed and incredibly potent challenge for their LMP2 competitors. Fielding two Lola Coupes -- the same closed top prototypes as seen in the final two ALMS rounds this year -- the team, sponsored by BP, will make use of the stout 2.0L AER-built MZR-R turbo engine.
With the continued BP presence, it should look a bit like this:

As I said last year, when the program was first announced (with BK Motorsports), I'll take one to go, please!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Plea for Profanity

The big political news of the day is the federal arrest of Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich (D - Jacknutistan) on some truly mind bending corruption charges. The lengthy criminal complaint (available here) has some detailed excerpts from wiretaps on the Gov's phones. The excerpts are rife with colorful language: "fuckers," "motherfuckers," and just good plain "fuck." The media, and US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald have gone out of their way to not actually say those words at press conferences and in TV stories.

C'mon. It's in a criminal complaint, for crying out loud. There's no point in "bleeping" yourself, and then explaining that "the word wasn't actually bleep," over and over again. What is this, The Christmas Story? The man's headed for some years in the federal pen (perhaps in a special Illinois Governor's Wing somewhere). If you're going to hang him with his words, don't sugar coat them!

Monday, December 08, 2008

On Light Brigades and Historical Fictions

In today's New York Times, columnist Bill Kristol commends his conservative colleagues for sticking with the small government argument, even when it isn't working. I'll not comment on that for now.* Instead, I want to focus on a reference he uses in the final paragraph:

I can’t help but admire some of my fellow conservatives’ loyalty to the small-government cause. It reminds me of the nobility of Tennyson’s Light Brigade, as it charges into battle: “Theirs but to do and die.” Maybe it would be better, though, first to reason why.
The "Light Brigade" to which he refers is the famous poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade." It's usually taken as championing fighting on for a lost cause in the face of terrible odds. The emphasis, at least in popular culture, is on bravery, patriotism, and the horror of war. But the most interesting part of the poem usually gets forgotten:
Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd.
Come again? What's blundering got to do with such a noble pursuit?

The real charge of the Light Brigade was part of the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. It was an attempt by the Russians to break the siege of the port city of Sevastopol, which was controlled by an alliance of Great Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire. At the end of the day, the siege stood, while several hundred men lay dead or dying.

The Light Brigade was a cavalry unit that was part of the allied defense force. During the battle, the allied Heavy Brigade drove a Russian cavalry column back to its artillery line. The Light Brigade was ordered to "prevent the enemy carrying away the guns," but didn't specify which particular guns. The captain who delivered the order pointed out the wrong set of guns and the Light Brigade set off.

The guns pointed out by the captain were at the end of a long valley that would become known as the Valley of Death. Russian artillery and infantry were deployed along both sides of the valley. In spite of the withering fire from both sides of the valley, the Light Brigade actually made it to the guns at the other end, but were quickly forced to retreat. Of the 600 men in the brigade, almost half were killed and wounded.

So, far from being a glorious hail-mary type attack that should serve as an example of gallantry and bravery, the Charge of the Light Brigade is, in fact, a complete and total fuck up (one French Marshal said "It is magnificent, but it is not war"). On second thought, maybe that's a more apt description of the modern GOP than I thought. Perhaps Kristol is onto something.

Interesting historical note: Tennyson had a bona fide hit with "The Charge of the Light Brigade." It was so popular that it was printed up and distributed to British troops in the Crimea. A few years later, he did another poem, this one about the Heavy Brigade, the one that actually achieved and objective. It was a flop. What that says about human nature, I'm not sure.

* People like it when government does things for them and does it competently. Who knew?!

An Interesting Development

In the wake of last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, there are a lot of burials going on. Or, in some cases, not going on (via Ed):

A Muslim graveyard in the heart of Mumbai has broken with Islamic tradition and refused to bury the bodies of nine terrorists who were killed during the attack on India's financial capital.

The influential Muslim Jama Masjid Trust, which runs the 7.5-acre Badakabrastan graveyard, said it would not bury the gunmen because they were not true followers of Islam.

Hanif Nalkhande, a spokesman for the trust, said: 'People who committed this heinous crime cannot be called Muslim. Islam does not permit this sort of barbaric crime.'
Often when attacks like these happens, some wags demand that the mass of peaceful Muslims stand up and speak out against them. I'm not one to get bent out of shape over burial plots, but it means something to members of that faith. In that sense, it's a positive development.

Funny Because It's True

One thing that never ceases to amuse me is how fans of a particular fan of dogma can look at somebody else's and see it for the hooey that it is, while getting deeply offended when someone does the same to their particular dogma. In other words, this (via PZ):

Thursday, December 04, 2008

We Miss Ya', Frank

Hard to believe, but it was 15 years ago today that Frank Zappa left the building. His body of work, both what he released in his lifetime and what the Zappa Family Trust has released since, is a wide ranging testament to his skewed genius. So here's a few bits of video in honor of the occasion.

First up, it's "Montana," by the famous Roxy lineup (release the damn DVD already, Gail!):

Next, my favorite of Zappa's trademark guitar tunes, "Watermelon in Easter Hay." This version is a little too quick for my tastes, but still . . .

Finally, here's is Frank in a Today Show interview in 1993, shortly before his death. The interview is fairly vapid (on Today? Who knew!). But there is interesting video of Ensemble Modern and Frank with the Synclavier that's really cool:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Weirdness Next Door

Last week, a Kentucky newspaper ran an interesting story (via PZ) about that state's anti-terrorism plans. Ironically, it rests a lot on faith:

The 2006 law organizing the state Office of Homeland Security lists its initial duty as 'stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth.'

Specifically, Homeland Security is ordered to publicize God's benevolent protection in its reports, and it must post a plaque at the entrance to the state Emergency Operations Center with an 88-word statement that begins, 'The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.'
The executive has been playing along:
Under previous Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a lay Baptist preacher, Homeland Security interpreted the law at face value, prominently crediting God in its annual reports to state leaders and posting the required plaque.
Now, I figure this story had been laying around for a while. It was in the day after Thankgiving edition, after all, and struck me as the kind of filler somebody pulled out of the "slow news day" file. But it looks like somebody was paying attention:
An atheists-rights group is suing the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security because state law requires the agency to stress 'dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth.'

American Atheists of Parsippany, N.J., and 10 non-religious Kentuckians are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, set to be filed Tuesday in Franklin Circuit Court.
I agree with AA's legal director (who happens to live in Boone County, KY) that the law is "breathtakingly unconstitutional" and hope the declaratory judgment portion of the suit succeeds.

On the other hand, the plaintiff's claim for monetary damages - because they suffered "mental pain and anguish" as a result of the law - is silly. Anybody should be made of stronger stuff, but particularly atheists. We're supposed to be the doggedly rational bunch, right? Such a frivolous claim allows those on the other side to point out the whining instead of dealing with the constitutional issue.