Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I'm really too old for this shite

But dammit if it doesn't make me go all fanboy and make me want to start an obsessive blog about every freakin' leaked detail until the actual flick comes out and then dog it for about a year after that until the DVD comes out, and then snark about the extras and the commentaries.

Thankfully the feeling quickly passes because I just don't have that kind of time.

If you haven't followed the link above and wonder what I'm on about, there is going to be a new Star Trek movie released in summer 2008.

I'm kinda impressed with the supposed casting thus far.

Matt Damon is Captain Kirk

Adrien Brody is Mr. Spock

Gary Sinise is Dr. McCoy

Keeping with the Kevin Smith theme of today's posts, I'd always thought the supposed debate about which sci-fi franchise was better, Trek or Star Wars, was a bit silly. (I like them both, though I do favor Star Trek.) But, more often than not, I'm surprised when someone spontaneously weighs in on the topic.

I was out to dinner with a buddy who's decidedly not a geek - he's kind of a CEO type, even - and when a discussion on The Departed shook loose the Damon casting factoid he goes, "That should be interesting. Y'know, Star Trek has always been better than Star Wars. I mean, Star Trek has great, lasting stories and Star Wars is just a western in space."

I can just hear it now. Who was the better Kirk? Damon or Shatner.
Silent Bob

The lore is either you're a Kevin Smith fan or you ain't. I is.

I think he's probably the best go-to guy for dialogue who's actually in some inner circles in Hollywood. I would love to know all the films he's been a script doctor on.

His books and lectures are as entertaining as his movies - and I would suspect they would have a wider audience than his movies because he's so damn funny.

The first An Evening with Kevin Smith had me laughing longer and harder than most comedies do. Highlights are the time he was hired by Prince to do a music video and suggests to his purple diminutiveness that perhaps he should get some tennis shows if the high heels are killing his knees so much, and the first time he had sex with his now wife.

Smith makes no bones about being a rabid fanboy himself and it's - well, it's just cute when he gets all gushy. Frinstance, he has a cameo in the upcoming Die Hard 4.0, and on his blog he waxes all spazzed out with joy about the fact.

I just finished reading Silent Bob Speaks, which is a compilation of articles he's done for various web mags, and dug it too. I just love the way he evokes a moment. When he was still the new kid in town and he was holding auditions for one of his films, one of the big stars he's a big fan of praises his work, and Smith is "a tickled Japanese schoolgirl in that moment." That still makes me chuckle.

One of the more interesting themes of the book is the apologetics for Ben Affleck. Myself, I've always enjoyed the guy and thought all the Bennifer nonsense was just a shame. What an odd society we live in if you can be mocked and harshed on for merely being in a love with a girl. Imagine if the whole world laughed at you because of your relationship. Bizarre, to say the least.

What I didn't know about Affleck was that he's as intelligent as he is humble. Yes, for honest and true. There's a lot of supporting quotage in the book, so I'm convinced.

Here's one of my fave Affleck quotes on Smith's suggestion he be a studio head

I don't know if I'd want to throw my name in the hat for a studio head job, because as they exist now, unfortunately, studio heads have been pushed down the chain of command, due to these corporate hierarchies based on acquisitions. I don't know that I would like to have the responsibilities of having to report upward, of having to explain to a company that makes something else entirely, other than movies, why this is a good project or that's a good project. The film business has gotten so vertically integrated, and the process of trying to translate creative instincts into pie charts and projected earnings is something I don't think anybody has fun with. [...] The problem with this business is that there's a lot of pseudoscience to it, but the ugly truth is that, to paraphrase William Goldman, nobody knows anything.

BAM baby!

Maybe it's too late to recuse myself in this post, but I have to admit, too, that Daredevil is one of my favorite comic book superhero flicks because it was gritty and funny all at the same time, and I thought the angst that someone might have over being a superhero was portrayed better than I've seen thus far. I also love the fact that he's Catholic. Faith is almost never dealt with intelligently or with any subtlety any more, so I found that refreshing, too.

I also think Jersey Girl is one of Smith's best films. It got torpedoed over the whole Bennifer thing, methinks. Anyone who's a regular here, give it a shot if you haven't. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sulu's in a dress, and creator of The Terminator has found Jesus' coffin.

But the end is not nigh just yet, methinks.

Well, my Oscar predictions were way off. I got only three, and one of those was for makeup. I'm not floating this as an excuse for my poor performance, but I didn't see any of the films nominated (except "Cars").

Looking through the list, I will probably eventually hunt down only four: The Queen, Children of Men, Dreamgirls, and The Departed. And to be honest, I will begin all of those with a heavy heart, because none of them are what you'd call uplifting.

Before the broadcast one of the talking heads said that only 9% of Americans polled had seen all 5 top picture nominees, and that only 30% had seen ANY of them. I can see why. They're a pretty drab bunch. I've heard even Happy Feet, the winner for animated feature, gets scary and downbeat.

As we lay in bed last night, I opined to my lovely wife that what's happened with the Oscars resembles a trend I saw in rock and roll. For years rock critics lambasted the stuff that was popular and on the radio. When the govt. allowed monopolies to form in radio, and the music industry became controlled by 4 megalithic corporations, the input loop from the public was severed, and we got nothing but Britney-esque bubble gun, gansta rap, and the latest critical faves, like Lucinda Williams. Pardon me whilst I stifle a yawn. For yeas, critics have said "how come the Oscars® only reward the commercial films and not the good ones?" Well, Mr. Howard the Duck, here's the world you wanted. Enjoy.

I guess I should've known it was gonna be grim when I spotted George Takei (Sulu) in a floor-length wool skirt (read "not a kilt"). Dear God. I really think silk would've been more appropriate.

Cintra Wilson's annual report is here. My favorite quote; "Hollywood successfully Photoshopped Al Gore's foot into George W.'s ass."

Let's leave this topic with two of my wife's best bon mots:

"How many muppets had to be sacrificed for Penélope Cruz's skirt?"

"What's the theme of having Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio as presenters? 'Ships that shouldn't have sunk'?"

I think I've finally heard the best approach to the whole gay marriage thing (and polygamy, etc.), finally, proffered by a man I've been a quiet fan of for a long time now, Dave Trowbridge. In his words:
It would be best, IMO, if the state had nothing to do with defining marriage, and confined itself to the enforcement of whatever contract the consenting parties entered into. That would leave faith communities entirely free to define marriage in accordance with their beliefs.

Me, being thick as usual asked, "But what about secular marriage?"

Dave again:
In one sense, given my proposal, all marriages would be secular, but only some would be recognized by a religious body. Quakers would recognize more than Roman Catholics, for instance.

And yes, the state would have to allow any kind of marriage between consenting adults--that's the point of treating it as a contract. A plus here for people worried about extreme weirdness is that since one cannot enter into a contract with an animal or a child, those forms of marriage would be ruled out ipso facto.

I do not agree that "as a society we can disagree with some forms of marriage..." No, as individuals. Don't confuse society and the state: they're not the same thing, and when we confuse them we cause endless trouble.

James Cameron says he's gonna reveal what he says are the coffins of Jesus, his wife, and their child.

See, the crypts found 27 years ago in Jerusalem were marked "Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua" - all common names from the time.

So of course, it has to be THAT Jesus. They even did DNA tests.

Ooo, and what do those DNA tests prove? That the folks buried as a family together were - get this - related to one another! Shock! Shock! Horror Horror! Shock! Shock! Horror!

I find it interesting that some folks are so intent on trying to "disprove" Christianity. I actually welcome challenges to it, because if it's BS, I want to know. But they need to be legitimate challenges, not smoke and mirrors.

Still, if you want to have the hell scared out of you, read this.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Girl Cooties

Cintra brings us the news that women's desks are skankier than men's, according to the company who makes Clorox (and I doubt I need to connect those dots even for those of you in the cheap seats). Well babies, don't you panic. Most guys prefer your natural thang over a cloud of Clorox, Pine Sol, or Lysol.

Also, Cintra's gonna be doing her yearly magic with the Oscar® broadcast, so look for the results on Salon the next day. She's put out a call for bon mots and such, so help the lady out if you can.

Friday, February 23, 2007

This is pretty funny

Warning: F-bombs galore. But this is what it would be like if....

Stabbing at Leia's 22nd Birthday

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Saw Altman's last film Prairie Home Companion last weekend and enjoyed it immensely.

I started watching it while the Yahmdallah clan was out and about (delivering Girl Scout cookies I believe), assuming they would not be interested. But after they filed back in, everyone was glued - even the 2 year old, during the songs.

Garrison Keillor should've gotten an Oscar nod for the script, I think. Meryl, of course, NAILS the Midwestern accent, hitting that sweet spot between the slightly-over-the-topness of Fargo and too little to tell.

But, to my surprise, I thought Keillor did one of the best jobs of acting in the whole flick. If he didn't look like a Boston Terrier on stilts (he's a tall son of a gun), he'd prolly have a career as a character actor. (Please don't consider that a slam on Garrison's looks, as I think he's amongst what I call the "Beautiful Fugly" - someone who's so interesting looking that they rise above standard beauty.)

I've mostly stopped buying DVDs of movies for myself because I already have the ones I'll watch again, but I might have to pick this one up. I think I might be visiting Lake Wobegon a few more times.

Our favorite scene was his reaction when he thinks death has come to claim him. His soliloquy on the character of the Swedish and Norwegian descendants in the Midwest, which includes the truism, "We are a dark people: people who believe it could be worse, and are waiting for it to be worse," is also a highlight. My wife shot a knowing glance at me whilst she giggled about that one.

But, we know this about ourselves and so strive to be cheerful. Keillor, again, coins this particular Midwestern trait in one of his recent articles for Salon:

February is the season of small sorrows when everyone feels middle-aged even if you are 16, but there are cures for this. One is skating and another is the convivial lunch. You meet three friends at the Chat 'N' Chew and order soup and a sandwich and you yak and yak and nobody tries to sell you aluminum siding and nobody unloads his sorrows or displays his trophies and nobody harangues you about politics. You tell stories. If things drift toward the ponderous or the maudlin, somebody tosses in a joke. If somebody launches into a lecture, you stuff a rag in him and get back to that beautiful contrapuntal conversation that is possible with friends. They are the people with whom you can be at your best, playful, extravagant, sarcastic, self-disparaging, semi-brilliant and ever buoyant.

Conviviality is no small achievement. Back when I was young, most major American writers seemed to be alcoholic or suicidal or both, and we students absorbed the notion that the true sign of brilliance is to be seriously screwed up. The true poet is haunted by livid demons, brave, doomed, terribly wounded, and if one was (as I was) relatively unscratched, you concealed this and tried to impersonate doom.

The prime minister of high culture was T.S. Eliot, who suffered from a lousy marriage and hated his job and so wrote "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," a small, dark mopefest of a poem in which old Pru worries about whether to eat a peach or roll up his trousers. This poem pretty much killed off the pleasure of poetry for millions of people who got dragged through it in high school. The first line of "Prufrock," as you may recall, was "S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse" -- he opened with six lines of a language 99 percent of his readers do not understand! How better to identify yourself as a serious poet than to be incomprehensible?

So the best minds of my generation skipped poetry and became historians or went into business or took up farming. Who would make a career out of pretending to be crippled? And they sensed that, in the poetry biz, there is not much conviviality. (They were right.)

Heh. Too true.

I, too, loathed, loathe, and will continue to loathe the poetry of T.S. Eliot, all the way down to the copious footnotes that let you in on all the tepid literary in-jokes Eliot slathered onto his pustulant verses. Every time I had to wade through one of his wastelands during my Lit. degree, it conjured up images of that time I'd mistakenly put a tupperware of leftover Campbell's soup in the cupboard rather than the fridge; when I retrieved it for use a week later, the weight clued me into the fact it was already occupied. Stupid me held the thing right in front of my face and slightly below it as I opened it (chemistry majors will be smirking at my obvious blunder). A small sphincter lazily gawped open on the golf-ball sized bubble that had formed in the mottled gray scum, releasing the very stench of hell and a bag of moldy chips itself. I damn near passed out and barely got the abomination set on the counter before my fight-or-flight response reflexively swept me from the room. I think I actually peeked around the corner of the doorway before I went back to throw it away, as if it might've grown gray furry legs and pursued me.

T.S. Eliot is also directly to blame for Cats, too. One can only hope that Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche have been given the job in hell to ceaselessly perform Cats in the nude accompanied via MIDI versions of the songs for Eliot as he's forced to footnote the oeuvre of Susan Polis Schutz.

See what I mean about being a dark people?
Blogger knows my mantra!

In Blogger you have to enter a "Word Verification" code comprised of squiggled-up letters to post any entry. The theory is this stops spammers because the letters aren't machine readable.

Well, interestingly (to me, anyway), the one I had to enter to post this post was my old Transcendental Meditation mantra.

It was weird to see it crop up there, but, ah, the memories.

I discovered TM when I was about 13/14. I'd read that people who did TM could levitate. On top of that, the Beatles had done it.

Wow, what more could a teenage boy want than to be all serene and hip while levitating with the Beatles? The chicks would dig it! (Though I doubted the levitation part.)

Well, I knew enough about religions back then to be cautious about cults and pickpockets (not that that saved me from my Mormon experience later), and so sought out my Pastor to see if he thought there'd be any problem with TM. He looked into it and told me it seemed Ok, but told me to look out for ritualistic stuff like placing things on an alter, or what have you.

We had one instructor in my little home town and so I paid her a visit at her trailer. She seemed a little surprised that a freshly teenage boy was at her door, but told me I'd have to get my mom to fill out a parental consent form, pay the fee, and then bring a white handkerchief, a flower and an orange (or other fruit) to my first lesson. I thought that was odd, but surmised maybe she was poor and this was how she padded the nest.

She was a plain hippy chick in her mid-twenties with a slight acne problem and a complexion so monochromatic that the difference in the pale pink shade of her lips compared to the pale blue of her eyes wouldn't be that far apart on the Pantone scale. She favored home-knit sweaters made from earth-toned multi-color yarn (through which you could see her bra), jeans that had rhinestones or embroidery, and bare feet. She also avoided hygiene products, apparently. To this day, the particular florid sour smell she exuded, even over the incense she used, comes back to me. Her voice was quiet, airy, and strangely singsongy, which was vaguely creepy during the lessons, a lot of which are done with your eyes closed.

So, there I sat, nervously eyeing the quasi-alter that held a picture of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi grinning from a recent bong hit, some burning incense cones, and my orange, flower, and hanky; wafting in her milk-on-the-edge-of-turning odor mixed with pungent Jasmine blueberry something smoke. I immediately just had to ask if we were offering my objects up on an alter to the Maharishi, because, uh, I wasn't supposed to make offerings to other deities and stuff. She said not to worry, that it's not an offering, that Maharishi was still alive and most defiantly not a deity, and that is was just a ritual of thanks meant to symbolize my commitment to the practice of TM - as was the nominal fee. They had the view that if you brough a gift and parted with a little cash, that would indicate you weren't a dilettante (and fund the group, of course).

Let me digress from the narrative here and point out that these lessons were accompanied by the constant electrical power line hum of sexual tension. At the time I just wrote it off to my being your average teenage horndog with a rich fantasy life that had to be kept in check and strictly to myself - and hidden behind those thankfully large science texts we carted around at school. However, I now realize for something to be sustained and pervasive as that was, (cue the Motown song) it takes two, babeh. I could tell she was a lonely soul, too (for probably the myriad reasons I've given). But, hell, I hadn't even kissed a girl yet, and had I even arrived at the idea of making a pass, I would've had no idea on how to do it. In retrospect, though, I bet had I been careless enough to get within two feet of her and met her eye, she would've taken care of the rest. If you think this is preposterous, think of all the recent cases where a female school teacher has given some teenage boy a lesson or two they'll never forget.

The first lesson was your basic "how to," but in the second lesson I was to receive - pause for effect - my MANTRA. When the moment arrived, I was given a mantra that was chosen specifically for me, she said, based on what she the instructor had intuited about me thus far.

She handed it to me ceremoniously. It was a single two-syllable word, phonetically close to the name of a type of large flightless bird native to Australia, written in pencil on the corner torn from a larger piece of paper. More than a little anticlimactic, you could say. I mean, for the money I'd paid and the ceremony around, you'd think she'd pop for a whole piece of paper.

So she had me TM a bit. You sit with your back straight, legs crossed, eyes closed, hands relaxed in your lap in a quiet room, and repeat the mantra over and over in your head. You're supposed to feel refreshed, relaxed, and sharper afterwards. I usually felt like I did after a math test, vaguely dizzy with a desire for some fresh air.

I was also slightly relieved that I hadn't gotten a boner. Teenage boys get them at so little provocation that I was always somewhat amazed the slightly altered state brought about by TM didn't disturb the little monster from one of its brief slumber, as a good night's sleep always seems to do.

Anyway, she said as I got better at it, it would feel more like it was supposed to feel. After a few more lessons where she "checked" that I doing things incorrectly, I was on my own. My first near-miss at an older woman tryst had passed.

I TM'd for a year (much to the bemusement of my mom when I'd request quiet so I could meditate), got none of the benefits they claim it gives you, and even somewhat regularly got a light headache for my efforts. So I abandoned it like the rock you kick for a couple blocks during a walk, and instead use the time regained to read.

I think I go into a better meditative state when I'm reading a book than when I sit there and think the name of a bird over and over.

For the record, film director David Lynch is a vocal and financial advocate of TM. Though given the kinds of surrealistic, nightmarish films (which I like, btw) that sprout from his meditation enhanced noggin, I'm not sure that's a ringing endorsement.
The Journey and the Destination

Nick Tosches, a Vanity Fair contributing editor, hunts down the origin of the "Autumn" wallpaper that comes with Microsoft Windows. The difficulty he had is a fun ride.

This part especially hit home:
What I see are the green hills, blue sky, and stratocumulus and cirrus clouds of the Napa County bitmap landscape called Bliss, the Microsoft Windows XP default desktop wallpaper. It looks like an invitation to suicide on a Sunday afternoon.

I couldn't agree more. But, actually, it's worse.

It looks just like the freakin' "Telebubbies" hill:

© Microsoft Corp.

I couldn't find a screenshot of the opening sequence that shows the "Teletubbies" hill that looks exactly like the one above, but this'll give you the idea:

If the only exposure you've had to the "Teletubbies" is the Falwell dustup over the supposed gay teletubby (so accused because of the triangular-shaped antenna on his/her/its head - a clothes hanger, for those of you in the cheap seats - and the propensity to carry a purse), then consider yourself fortunate.

Btw, the reason they have antennas on their heads is because they have freakin' TVs embedded in their stomachs which spring to life when a pinwheel on the hill spins and kicks out alarming sparks. When this happens the teletubbies freeze, and sometimes drop to the ground (in paralyzing pain one imagines), while a video plays on these tummy TVs.

Creepier than that, the teletubbies are told what to do by speakers that rise from the ground on telescopes and announce in a female robotic voice when to eat, sleep, and so on. This so resembles elements of that other British import that explores paranoia and terrors that spring forth to do the bidding of hidden big-brother types, "The Prisoner," that I sometimes wonder if the same creative team was behind both.

Creepiest of all, though, is the baby who lives in the sun and giggles all day over the cavorting of the Teletubbies. Even my eldest, when she was all of three, pronounced the sun baby as "creepy." We only watched a few episodes before we decided that "The Simpsons" offered a better quality of programming - at least until the show where Marge cuts off Homer's finger accidentally and we see it lying there in the brownies; my poor daughter went as white as a sheet and had a rough week of nightmares.

So, when I see new installs of Windows displaying this, I waltz over and say that their refresh rate on their monitor isn't high enough (which is usually true*), and then while I'm at it, suggest better wallpaper, which they usually take me up on.

Btw, here's a great place to get some sweet wallpaper: Digitalblasphemy. This guy was able to quit his day job and live off the proceeds from the art he makes for this site. Flickr is another great place to find wallpaper. This page lets you randomly walk through images until you find one you like.

*The way you can tell your refresh is too low, which can cause headaches and fatigue because your brain is this ----> <---- close to being able to detect the screen redraws, is if you look away from the monitor, say at something about a foot to the left or right of it, you will actually be able to see flicker. If you're refresh is high enough, it'll look solid. To turn up your refresh rate in Windows, right-click on the desktop, pick properties, pick the settings tab, pick advanced, and pick the monitor tab; use the dropdown to set it to the highest available refresh rate.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Luckily, at my library the librarian just smiles at you when you burst out laughing.

Readers and Oprah fans are all familiar with this:
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
So not much more needs to be said about it, 'cept I hope Frey doesn't go into a drug-fueled death-spiral from the humiliation.

Today, at the library, I saw this and thought it was brilliant.
Corrections to My Memoirs: Collected Stories by Michael Kun

Now, these guys beat the one above to the punch by coming out a year earlier, but I think Kun's cover above is funnier; the eraser just sends it over the top.
A Million Little Lies by James Pinocchio, Pablo F. Fenjves

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I can't leave this one alone.

Paula Abdul says every rumor about her drunken behavior has been wrong: "I've never been drunk. I have never done recreational drugs," she tells Us Weekly. "Just look at my 20-year career. Tell me someone who is into partying or doing drugs that could have done that."

Uh, Keith Richards?
Good article:
Neoconservatives hate liberty as much as they love war

Friday, February 09, 2007

Best All-purpose Image Editor I've Found

I've used Photoshop (still the Mercedes Benz of image editors if you afford it), the GIMP (another good one, but hard to learn), various thumbnail viewers, and the freebies that come with various OS's, but this is the best all-purpose, intuitive image editor I've ever found: PhotoFiltre.

(Though Windows only. Sorry.)
Cintra Wilson has a blog!

SFW? You might ask.

Well, Cookie, she just happens to be one of the greatest humorists regularly hitting a keyboard these days, that's why.

Every article she's done for Salon is a classic, but her submissions aren't regular enough.

But now she has a blog!

I'll just shut the hell up so you can go there.
Joan Spits

Whisky Prajer has a post up about delving into the history of rock and roll, which spurred some memories of my similar voyage. Consider this a companion piece.

Unlike Whisky, I had full access to the media at the time and from the purchase of my first record (a Donny Osmond hits package, and hey my heart was in the right place; I bought it because it was the-girl-I-had-a-crush-on's favorite song, "Sweet and Innocent" - all rock and roll is essentially about girls (or boys), beer, and fun), I was hooked and immediately built up a collection that was the envy of all. Well, not really, because I've always had eclectic tastes; you'd find Neil Diamond next to Sweet ("Ballroom Blitz") next to the Commodores. The mix of styles has almost always gotten me in dutch with roommates. My collection wasn't alphabetized either, until my girlfriend at the time had too much time on her hands one day and did it for me. I've always had a killer visual memory, and just remembered where everything was by the look of the backs of the albums - it was sort of a holistic filing system if you will.

A young, avid collector needs a guide, and mine was the "Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Rock," which featured the awesome "Rock Family Trees" by obsessive-compulsive-who-found-a-lucrative-outlet Pete Frame. Here's the one he did on Poco and the Eagles. (Click various sections to get a closer view.) Wild, no?

TLD: Back before blogs were a glimmer in the internet's cold, redundant eye, I put together a vanity web page live every other piker out there with a web connection (usually at work). The idea then was to have an informative page with links to anything anyone would want since at the beginning the web was kinda devoid of useful and authoritative content.

One of the other fads was having a "wow" start page, with the intent to get someone to just freakin' click on a link no matter how that was accomplished, because we were counting our page visits donchaknow. Here is the one I had. Trees floating in space. I was going more for a Yes album cover type-thingy, but my limited artistic skills were only able to produce this. The trailing cursor thing was big fad, too (you only see it in MSIE, btw).

Anyway, in the spirit of creating a guide to music, I created this list, which still holds its own, imnsho. (Gosh, I even mention having rock stations programmed on your radio, how quaint, those were the days.) So, if you want a run-down of the basic collection that rockers should (and probably already do) have, this is it. I haven't updated it in a while (like, years), and if I did, I'd add the last three albums of the Flaming Lips, and that's about it. When CDs first caught on, my granfalloon of the time would joke that the CDs in the very first listing should just come with the CD player since everyone buys them anyway.

That list just fills me with weltschmerz, so let me hurry right along to the second topic of this post: live concerts.

Save for little, unknown tiny teahouse or pub performances which basically get their magic from their intimacy, about the only live music act I want to see anymore is The Flaming Lips, because they're supposed to put on a hell of a show, and last year it was the only concert in Denver that sold out moments after tickets went on sale (yet they just don't get on the radio).

Still, I have some very fond memories of some live shows I've seen. Here they are, in order of awesomeness.

Elvis Costello - this was during his identity crisis phase where he changed his name back to his given name, Declan MacManus, and was touring to support the excellent King of America. He strutted out on stage and tore into a vicious set I've yet to seen rivaled in all my days. The musicians did something I'd never seen before (or since); they were all able to play many instruments, and about every other song they'd all change instruments, where the drummer would go pick up a tuba, the keyboard player would sit behind the drums, and so on. It was jaw-dropping. The songs all walked that perfect edge of sounding enough like the record version, but adding enough improv of interest for the live rendering. Sadly, the venue was only 1/3 full - they even let us general admission folks come down and sit in the reserved seating - and it seemed to piss Elvis off. The show was still spectacular, like the one he'd put on for a full house, but at the end of the last song he just turned on his heel and stalked of the stage, and was gone. Yes, Elvis had left the building. I saw him a couple years ago, and he's still that good. He did a couple encores that time, but then the audience earned it.

Joan Jett - best straight-ahead, no-frills rock show I've witnessed. The stage configuration was brilliant, too. When most bands play indoor arenas, they place the stage at one end of the oval, blocking only the small portion of seats on that end. Joan had them set up in the middle of one of the long sides so the whole opposite side all had killer seats. She hit the stage with the Blackhearts and rocked our asses off. At one point, some arsehole in the front pissed her off and she ran over between verses, yelled something at him, horked up a big loogie and spit on him, then got back to the mic in time. It was a magical.

Lyle Lovett - with his very large band. Bass legend Leland Sklar was on the tour with him, so that was an extra treat. The show began unexpectedly with one of his background singers (though that label hardly fits what they actually do in a Lovett show) who was standing in the audience one row down and to my immediate left (I could've handed her my beer she was that close) just pulling a mic from nowhere and breaking into song. Lovett's music is this amazing blend of country, standards, big-band and boogie. His voice thoroughly compensates for that hair (which suits him actually), and he's getting better looking with age. Two separate times he brought a song down to a whisper, and both times there was not a single freakin' peep, cough, whistle or belch from the audience. The effect was stunning. It's one of the few shows that have moved me to tears during a song.

Al Stewart - Mr. Year of the Cat himself once played a double-bill at the local county fair in Minnesota. The other guy was Steve Earl ("Guitar Town"). He had a crack band, and sounded just like he should. The only distraction is that Stewart is so effeminate that your nelliest gay guy would feel compelled to tell him to cowboy up a bit. I secretly wondered at the time if the theme of the double-bill was the extreme ends of the masculinity bell curve (more likely it was "who will do the gig for what we're paying"). The best part of the show was his signature song "Year of the Cat." The sax player had left the stage for a few songs and was nowhere in sight when "Cat" began. They played and played (it's a long song) taking it right up to the moment where that great sax solo hits - still no sax guy - but right on cue the solo started and he came roostering up the back stairs of the stage and planted his boots on the edge of the stage for the whole solo. It was glorious.

Steve Miller - another guy who sounds like he should on stage. A couple times the audience literally sang along so loud, it threw him off. He's a good sport, so the first time he just laughed, refound his place and turned it up. The next time he politely requested that we not deafen him. At the end of the show, he brought out his opener, guitar god Eric Johnson and they had a guitar war. Since Steve's songs are deceptively simple, you wouldn't normally detect the guitar chops behind them. When he and Johnson traded riffs, Miller ran such circles around Johnson that he threw his hands up ("I got nothin'"), laughing, did the "I bow to your talent" gesture, and just left the stage. Steve is a renowned nice guy, and so brought him back and they closed the show together.

April Wine - they opened for Foreigner (whose only memorable moment was when Lou Gramm the lead singer fell over in mid song and dropped the mic because he was so stoned) and stole the show. They were your quintessential 70s band that had chops out the waz and enough tasty tunes of their own to have made a small dent in musical history. The bassist was amazing, and I caught his eye and gave the thumbs up and he flicked his pick to me.

Kansas - another band that could deliver the goods live. Steve Walsh, the lead singer, has an amazing stage presence, and he spends the whole time doing this dance that would wear Mick Jagger out. As musicians I bet they were unrivaled at the time. The song "Dust in the Wind" began as an invention of the guitarist, Kerry Livgren, originally as just a finger warm-up for shows, but Walsh upon hearing it loved it and put lyrics to it. During the show, their virtuoso violinist Robby Steinhardt, who looked like a giant Capn. Ahab with a massive dome of hair, set down his instrument for a song, and apparently was the one elected to bang on the anvil for the center hook/effect for one song. It was hilarious seeing someone so talented being used to only hammer an anvil.

Jimmy Buffet - all his shows are good, but of the ones I've seen, the very first one is the one I remember the most fondly. Someone had brought a huge (say 20 feet long) inflatable shark and threw it up on the stage for the appropriate song (and if you don't know, you are not Parrothead, sir). The roadies immediately dashed out and snagged it, causing a small smattering of boos. Well, these are Jimmy's roadies, and within moments they had rigged it with a pull chord so they could pull it back and forth across the stage during the song. The audience lost it. Since this was Minnesota, the beers were being served in these special collectors mugs that were plastic (quite the bargain and safe for public events). You could interlock them like leggos by stuffing the bottom onto the top of another glass. As the show progressed, folks started holding up huge towers of these things all over the audience until, in a phenomenal instance of synchronicity, they all toppled over, ends landing close to other fallen tower's ends. Folks immediately linked those ends forming an impossibly large circular snake that started getting passed over the audience like a crowd surfer. Buffet broke up laughing at one point, during a song no less, and said, "You should see what that looks like from up here."

I've seen biggies like the Eagles, Pink Floyd, U2, and Bob Dylan, not to mention personal uber-faves like Dwight Yoakam, but the list above still did the best live shows.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I totally predicted this!

Back when high-impact aerobics and other forms of exercise were huge, I kept telling those who had the misfortune to be around me that all those folks are gonna be hurtin' when they got into their 50s.

I was right.
Bite me.

Oh, for crying out loud. There's a controversy around one of the superbowl 'leventy-one ads this year. From what I've read, two guys are chawing on a Snickers bar, Lady and the Tramp style, and when they finally lock lips, they do manly man things to recover from the moment.

This has been labeled as homophobic by some gay groups, and so the commercials (there were several versions, I guess) have been taken off the official sites. Jeez.

Let me point out the obvious: if you're not gay, kissing someone of the same sex on the mouth is gross (in most Western cultures anyway). This is not homophobia, this is preference.

Following the logic of the offended groups, we shouldn't cringe when Bill Murray bites into the candy bar found in the pool in Caddyshack, because that's discriminatory or phobic against people who ... let's not complete that thought - you get my point. (And if there are any freaks like that reading this, please do not chime in with any details in the comments. Please. Keep to yourself.)

The real rub is essentially a group that's dedicated to communicating the fact that allowing people to live according to their preferences (as they should, with the caveat of consenting adults only) is only fair, this same group wants people who don't enjoy same-sex contact to feel bad about that, and deny and suppress their preferences. Short version: It's ok to be gay, but it's not ok to be straight.

Let's imagine the commercial from another perspective. A guy and a gal are working down the candy bar, and - surprise - they lock lips. They lunge backwards in shock. She's got a shirt with a pink triangle, he's got on a "queer eye for the straight guy" tshirt (thus we've been telegraphed their preferences). They both go "eeeewwww!" Commercial ends. Cut to homes across America. Are hertero activists (let's just pretend there are some) lighting up switchboards saying it's heterophobic that they didn't like the kiss?

In the comments on digg linked to above, there's a lot of "I'm gay and I liked it." Well, duh. I'd love to post "Hey, I'm straight, and I didn't like it," but the howling that would ensue just ain't worth the pain for me. (And perhaps someone has since I've read the thread.)

Well, let's stop the pounding on that one as the people in China are asleep.

Why can we not discuss issues around the topic of being gay reasonably in this country?

I tried recently on 2blowhards to propose that the recent debates about gay marriage should really be a debate about marriage as a larger topic, but no one would bite. (Most typical response: that's silly/a red herring/etc.) I think it's because the "logic" used as the "pro" arguments for gay marriage tend to fall apart quickly when you try to apply them to other types of marriage not allowed in American. A lot of the "con" arguments are flawed, too, for the record.

I've let the debate go over there because I don't feel it's correct to hijack someone else's blog and bandwidth to debate a topic of your own. (Well, if the blog owners agreed with you, but I know suspect that all the blowhards have a different take on it than I do.)

Let me excerpt myself:

The fact of the matter is that debate about what marriage is and isn't implicitly includes any and all states thereof, even though currently people try to keep the debate focused on gay marriage.

Jon Krakauer explores polygamy in his great book "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith." Before reading that book, I had kind of a free-floating dislike of polygamy because it seemed to be seedy, mostly about power, and it seemed most societies had wisely left it behind. But he points out in white hot brilliant detail how depraved it is and why we should never allow it as a society. Now, if we allow gay marriage (something no society in written history has done before our age), how can we deny the polygamists? Could we?

Also, another hidden form of sexual expression is incest - brother/sister, parent/child, first cousin/first cousin. If we restrict it to the world of consenting adults, then why can't incest relationships also have the "benefit" of marriage? If they would get themselves sterilized so they can't have deformed children, how can we deny their "special kind of love," either?

The larger debate is and should be, what is marriage, and what is not marriage?

OK. This is my blog. C'mon, someone give me a good argument how these other types of marriage are radically different from what's being proposed regarding gay marriage.

Keep in mind that historically all these forms of marriage were allowed and gay marriage has never existed in a society in written history. I find that interesting.

Does that mean gay marriage will be accepted, but then eventually abandoned as a failed social experiment?

Also, I'm pretty sure that if gay marriage is ever allowed in America, the very next thing will be polygamists saying, "How about us?"

What are the other angles of this? Anyone?
Beerfest, Bedazzled, a list of must-see geek flicks, and Harry Potter is completed

Beerfest is the kind of broad comedy that should've had numbers like Stripes or Dumb and Dumber. Alas, $19,185,184 is the number. Hell, it even has Cloris Leachman (horses whinny in the distance).

I laughed and laughed at Beerfest. Then I fired up the extras and laughed some more.

I usually don't try to summarize plots on movies I'm recommending because to me that's like telling you the punchline to a joke I'm about to tell. Also, plot descriptions can often be deceptively simple. For instance, the plot to The Descent is: a group of spelunking women encounter a colony of folks the Republican party appears to have overlooked thus far; hilarity ensues.

In this case though, I hope to entice you.

Two brothers own a German-themed restaurant/bar "Schnitzengiggles" (har har) after grandpa has died and requested they take his ashes to the famous Oktoberfest in Munich, Bavaria. There they will be contacted by an old friend and be shown where to put the ashes. The boys end up at a super-secret fight-club-like international beer drinking contest called "Beerfest," where the mere mention of America ever having a team solicits only mocking laughter (and this is where the other urns rest, btw). Well, seems grandpa stole the recipe for the best beer ever made, much to the anger of the Germans at Beerfest, and they humiliate the boys by beating them in a beer-drinking game and pouring grandpas ashes on them. Back home they vow revenge and put together a beer drinking team. Hilarity ensues. And that's just the first 20 minutes.

I've gotta expose myself as a wee bit of a hypocrite, kinda sorta. On this blog, and over at my second blog home, the 2blowhards, I've often opined that nudity in the movies makes me uncomfortable. Well, let me be more precise. I get uncomfortable during sex scenes because it sometimes seems only a stone's throw from a porno, and that's somebody's daughter/wife/mom/sister/etc. up there. About the only movie that I didn't feel that way was Body Heat because either Kathleen Turner was having fun, or she's a better actress than most who do those kinds of scenes. (And this from Actors William Hurt and Kathleen Turner wanted the crew to feel comfortable filming their love scenes. So they lined up the crew and both actors introduced themselves to each crew member. When they did this, both stars were naked.)

Truth be told, I actually enjoy gratuitous gratuitous nudity, because a woman flashing the girls atcha somehow seems more innocuous than pretending to do the horizontal bop. It's a form of brag or boast, as it were, and if someone wants to show their pride(s), well that's fine with me.

So, all that just to say Beerfest has plenty of gratuitous nudity, and only gratuitous nudity. It's all just good fun.

The movie begins with a Jackass-like disclaimer that says the folks in the film are professionals and that if you attempt to drink beer as depicted YOU WILL DIE.

Perfect, that.

The original Bedazzled is now available!

And there was much rejoicing!

One of my top faves of all time is the original Peter Cook and Dudley Moore version of Bedazzled. Harold Ramis had a nice go at it with the immensely talented and appropriate Brendan Fraser, but he tried to remake it as a Buddhist fable rather than a Christian one. The result was something akin to Totino's Pizza Rolls: nothing like pizza, but not heinous if you don't know the context of pizza. But if you've had pizza, then ....

I suppose that someone who wasn't raised Christian wanted a quick and easy - not to mention fun - introduction to the ideas (the real ideas, not the Dawkins/Harris "big santa in the sky" stuff), they couldn't do better than this movie paired with a listen to John Cleese's reading of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (out of print and hard to get, but worth it).

The fact that the theology is precise in the context of Dudley Moore trying to date the cute waitress at the burger joint he works in is nothing short of amazing.

There is one scene I won't give away, but when I saw this movie for the first time, I laughed so hard I alarmed those around me. I just couldn't stop. The only other time I'd had such a strong outward reaction to a scene was in Evil Dead II when we zoom into the hero's face after he's mounted a chainsaw to his right (recently shortened) limb, and he says, "Groovy." I STOOD UP in the theatre and laughed like a fiend. Had we not been the only three audience members, I'm sure my buddies would've just filed out of the movie in embarrassment.

And speaking of gratuitous nudity, this flick contains the only instance I'm aware of in a pre-movie-ratings age. It's quick and it's subtle, but there it is. (In a vanity/makeup mirror.)

If you haven't seen the original Bedazzled, by all means, get thee hence. If you've seen the new one, believe me, nothing has been spoiled for you.

In other news:

- Here's a list of "Fifteen geek movies to see before you die", which is pretty good. The only two legit omissions I think are Star Wars and maybe Primer.

- The self-proclaimed inventor of the dance "the Electric Slide" has sued websites for copyright infringement for showing videos of people doing the dance, but his real complaint is that they show "bad dancing" not representative of the dance he created. Ok, now, if any of you have had the joy of seeing an electric slide break out, which means you had to endure the song, too, you'll know that everyone out there sliding is at least 3 cups in, if you know what I mean and I'm sure you do (with apologies to Joe Bob Briggs). Isn't that a lot like someone suing the Special Olympics because they haven't set any new Olympic records?

- J.K. Rowling has finished the final Harry Potter novel.

In case it becomes unavailable, here's the author's announcement:

Section: Diary


Charles Dickens put it better than I ever could:

'It would concern the reader little, perhaps, to know how sorrowfully the pen is laid down at the close of a two-years' imaginative task; or how an Author feels as if he were dismissing some portion of himself into the shadowy world, when a crowd of the creatures of his brain are going from him for ever.'

To which I can only sigh, try seventeen years, Charles...

I always knew that Harry's story would end with the seventh book, but saying goodbye has been just as hard as I always knew it would be. Even while I'm mourning, though, I feel an incredible sense of achievement. I can hardly believe that I've finally written the ending I've been planning for so many years. I've never felt such a mixture of extreme emotions in my life, never dreamed I could feel simultaneously heartbroken and euphoric.

Some of you have expressed a (much more muted!) mixture of happiness and sadness at the prospect of the last book being published, and that has meant more than I can tell you. If it comes as any consolation, I think that there will be plenty to continue arguing and speculating about, even after 'Deathly Hallows' comes out. So if you're not yet ready to quit the message boards, do not despair...

I'm almost scared to admit this, but one thing has stopped me collapsing in a puddle of misery on the floor. While each of the previous Potter books has strong claims on my affections, 'Deathly Hallows' is my favourite, and that is the most wonderful way to finish the series.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Recent Media Consumption, 2-2-07

49 Up
This is the 7th film in Michael Apted's opus on British class divisions and the veracity of the Jesuit motto, "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man," based on a quote by Francis Xavier. (Source: wikipedia)

I have found these films revelatory, immensely sad, heroic, harrowing, poetic, and upsetting in a good way. When you see the years fly by on these people, our common mortality and frailty just smack you in the face. Essentially, they're all happy stories (take that! you cynics), but with a solid chaser of the unhappiness that visits all our lives.

Ironically the two common themes in 49 Up are that everyone reports how they've finally become very content and happy in their own skin, and they also unanimously agree how much they hate it when the 7 years roll around and they have to do another series of "Up" interviews for the film.

Apted must've taken them at their word, because while he did leave it open for there to be a 56 Up, he also included enough "the end" commentary and imagery so that if there is not another one, there's closure. I personally hope they will all change their minds when the time comes.

The first 6 have been collected in a set, and most libraries carry it, so if you've not treated yourself to this amazing document, clear off your calendar and step up.

Open Season
Animated films have been very hit and miss in the last couple years. This one's a hit. The whole fam damily was laughing out loud throughout.

My only quibble is the depiction of the hunter. Of course, since Bambi, you can't have a hunter be a nice, decent guy in a kid's film. But this guy was one of the funnier ones depicted so far. I love it when he jumps out of his pickup and plays air guitar on his rifle. I honestly think this movie would have been a scootch better had they stuck closer to his goofy side and actually dealt with the reality that hunting is actually a noble and even necessary endeavor.

The Illusionist
Ed Norton saves any film by his mere presence, and sadly, in this case, that is the only saving grace. The premise is cool, but the ending is telegraphed somewhere in the middle of the first act. It completely loses its way after act 2, and act 3 is resolved by a character remembering moments of the film in flashback to connect the dots for those in the cheap seats who missed it the first time - which would only occur if you were necking, or had the affliction the guy from Memento has. Worse yet, it feels like a BBC/PBS retread of the old Bill Bixby (pre-Hulk) series, "The Magician".

I hate hate hate the now decade-old trend of saturating or color-tinting the palette of a film to one dominant shade. Blue is the usual culprit, but this one used a sepia tone (that's "yellow" in guy colors), making everyone look jaundiced. Basically it just emphasizes the fact that the director really wanted to do the film in black and white but didn't want to fight the studio. The studios maintain - and correctly, I believe - that when most people see black and white in the previews, they dismiss it as a dull and pretentious art film. Skewing the colors to one muted tone is NOT the way to get past this.

Jackass number two
Jaw-droppingly tasteless humor.

One stunt involves one guy putting on a bubble-boy helmet that's attached to a funnel in which a morbidly obese guy shits. The guy wearing the helmet projectile vomits from the resulting odor. Even with my vomit phobia, I doubled over laughing.

This film is filled with oceans of vomit, btw. It's the go-to joke for half the flick. The rhythm is someone does a jackass stunt, like slingshotting a shopping cart off a ramp with some poor soul inside, then there's a puke segment.

But damn if it ain't funny. The extras contain about an additional hour of stunts and vomiting not originally included in the main film.

Spike Jones (the famous director) tells the cast at one point that someone is going to get killed making these films. I think he's right. It just hasn't happened yet. Though they probably came close when they stood in front of an anti-personnel mine filled with rubber pellets. You can tell they had to stop filming for a while to let the guys recover enough so they could even stand up again.

Do watch this film, guiltily, while your family sleeps. But close the doors so you don't awake them with guffaws or retching. This movie is appropriate for adult children only.

The Descent
Nifty little horror film about a group of women who get together to do extreme outdoors adventures once in a while. This time they go spelunking in an unexplored cave in the deep south; hilarity ensues.

Man, if only they'd used the fabulous real underwater cave photography from this turkey, it'd've been a blockbuster. Perhaps someone, maybe the talents behind the amazing Tom Hanks James Bond trailer, will do a mash-up of the two films, and we'll have that classic after all.

It is scary though. In a reversal of our usual roles (I leapt up and called for Jesus while we watched The Grudge), this one got to my wife while I just kinda grooved. My lovely wife actually gasped and covered her mouth during one of the jolt scenes, poor dear.

Clerks II
I love all the films of Kevin Smith, even Jersey Girl. The man has a gift, a gift I say!, for dialogue. To my continual amazement, I never hear of Hollywood employing him as a script doctor.

Clerks II is perhaps the most sequelly sequel I've ever seen. You can watch it without having seen the original, but don't if you can avoid it.

The boys are still in McJob ruts, where they discuss the minutia of life, love, and movies. But, Kevin Smith is one of the rare possessors of a penis who can write realistic women, kids, and probably even animals. Every moment, regardless of how out-there, rings true.

This is the only movie I've ever seen that takes on the vagaries and labyrinths of racial slurs as it effects real people (I thought Crash was utter trash, Matt Dillon's performance notwithstanding), and how sometimes you can't possibly know everything that could be considered one. When I was growing up I learned and used a plethora of slurs that I had no idea were slurs. So when one of the guys trips over that same situation, it was nice to feel a twang of grateful recognition.

If you're a fan of Smith, you'll love this one. If you're not, you know you won't. For folks who've never seen a Smith film, I recommend Jersey Girl. I think it was the unfortunate victim of the "bennifer" bad press from that bastard branch of the media manufactured by gossip columnists and paparazzi.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
For those of you in the cheap seats, this is the sequel to a movie based on a ride at Disneyland starring one of our best character actors channeling Keith Richards as a pirate.

It's considered a kids movie, but it has monsters in it that would've kept me up for a year had I seen it before I hit my teens. The dead pirate whose head resides in a conch shell like a hermit crab gave me the fantods at this age.

Both 1 and 2 are very entertaining popcorn movies; nothing more, nothing less. The third one is due this summer. If you like big, loud, splashy movies, this one's for you.

One from the Heart
One of my charming quirks that is no end of mirth for my movie-addict buddies is that I will knowingly and purposely watch a movie that has been widely dismissed as excrement, just to see how much it sucks. Once in a very great while, I've found a movie that I thought was good, to spite the world, so that's mostly why I do it. Sometimes it's just fun to watch the train wreck.

This, of course, is in the pantheon of the biggest flops ever in moviedom. Yet, Coppola lovingly restored this film and remixed the soundtrack for 5.1 surround. And the library was able to scare up a copy through interlibrary loan, so there I was.

Dammit, the first act of this film is pretty good. Coppola employed stage play techniques, like putting one set behind another masked by a scrim curtain that becomes transparent when the set is lit. It was a clever way to show the action in two separate rooms at once. The music was written by Tom Waits and performed by him and Crystal Gale ("Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue"), and it's pretty damn good, too. (And for the George Costanza's of the world, you get a few scenes where Teri Garr is topless.)

But then....

Let me put it this way. Denver's oldest (still open) amusement park, Lakeside, has a ride called the Wild Chipmunk where you ride in a single tiny car on a roller-coaster track that contains several whiplash turns. If I recall correctly, I think there's a warning sign by the entrance that recommends people who are pregnant, have heart conditions, dentures or glass eyes should not ride the Wild Chipmunk. Kids loiter under the ride to collect the coins that jingle down after they're yanked out of people's pockets by the extreme g's.

Well, One from the Heart cruises along beautifully, and then WHAM!, it takes a Wild Chipmunk turn into utter suckitude. You can pinpoint the exact moment, too. Raul Julia and Teri Garr suddenly step into the street and a dance number materializes around them, and there you are, your glass eye is sailing through the firmament, metaphorically. I can't stress what a jarring turn this movie makes. You wonder how Coppola could've missed it. (I have a theory, read on.)

It remains terrible from that moment on. Sometimes it gets worse.

Again, maybe our mash-up talents could save this movie by doing three crucial edits: remove the Vegas strip song and dance number, somehow save the dialogue but don't show Nastassja Kinski walking on the high-wire when they visit Frederic Forrest's "thoughtful spot," and completely cut the crushed-car orchestra that Forrest conducts. Even then it would be merely good.

One interesting thing, though: in the extras it's made known that the now ubiquitous film editing method and hardware to support it, called "Non-linear editing," where the director can view any given take on-set during the principal photography, was pioneered during One from the Heart. It was one of the first films, if not the first film, to use the process during the filming.

I'm willing to bet that Coppola's energies were absorbed by learning and using that wiz-bang system, so much so that he didn't have much left over to devote to the film itself. Perhaps that's why he missed its turn into the abyss.

Film history buffs should put themselves through this experience, if their library can find a copy to borrow.

Here's some fun stuff I found lying around the web.

This is the most mystifying optical illusion I've ever come across. From the page: If your eyes follow the movement of the rotating pink dot, you will only see one color, pink. If you stare at the black + in the center, the moving dot turns to green. Now, concentrate on the black + in the center of the picture. After a short period of time, all the pink dots will slowly disappear, and you will only see a green dot rotating if you're lucky! It's amazing how our brain works. There really is no green dot, and the pink ones really don't disappear. This should be proof enough, we don't always see what we think we see.

When I was in college, the evils of backwards masking (or gniksam sdrawkcab, for literalists) where artists hid satanic messages or invitations to do drugs was all the range amongst the campus crusade for Christ folks. I went to one of the talks for sheer amusement, and it was a hoot. I got quite a few crusty looks when I would burst out laughing at some of their claims. (Ah, the arrogance of youth.) My final year in college, they installed a fully packed recording studio, and I took the year-long course to learn how to use it. What fun! For one of my assignments, I pulled all the supposed messages from the albums (I had them all, natch), reversed them, cleaned them up, and presented them in class. (Got an "A" on that one, methinks.) Anyway, you don't have to go through all that trouble, because somebody has already done it for you (on the most notorious ones, at least).

It is sometimes shocking what people will actually sell to you. Like, in theory, you're not supposed to be able to buy the infamous lock-picking gun, but clearly it's for sale, too.

It looks like Stephen Hawking has been one-upped.

Suppose Ms. Rowling is consulting George Lucas for names? I mean Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for crying out loud? Oh well. Like everyone else, I'll be incommunicado for a couple days following the July 21, 2007 release date. And then another era will end.

Here's an illuminating interview with Donald Fagen about his solo albums, and his recent achievement with Morph the Cat. His three solo albums comprise a trilogy, surprise surprise, so now I'm gonna have to sit down and listen to them in order. Yay!

Oh, and he nails exactly what's wrong with most current pop:
Well it all sounds so canned that it's basically...since they use drum machines and sequences for even the ballads now…people are used to it now, but to me, it also sounds like the kick drum comes in the wrong place, or it sounds wrong. You know like it's...there's really something wrong with the groove. Although, they're getting better at mimicking real grooves. To me there's always something, and the fact that it's unchanging makes it sound, it may be hypnotic, but it has no dynamics, and it has no shape.

And what's more, if you want to continue with the technical thing, as far as the other instruments are concerned, if you use synthesizers for all the keyboards and stuff like that, they're always out of tune, technically, and I can hear it. It's like the top end is always a little flat, and the bottom end is always a little sharp, because the keyboards aren't what they call "stretched." Like, when a piano tuner tunes a piano, aside from being tempered, they'll stretch the tops of the harmonics so they aren't flat on the top and sharp on the bottom. So they're...there's no groove and they're out of tune

Oscar Wilde’s last words were, "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go." (source) Now that's comedy!
Peasants with torches

If the on-going fray between atheist fundamentalists and Christians is of no interest to you, please skip this post and use the time on something you do enjoy.

Ok, now that it's just us, I found a few the letters in response to Barbara J. King's article entitled "God and gorillas" (which purports to explain what our distant cousins, namely Gorillas, can tell us about religion), great examples of the debate, and its typical tone.

(Point of clarification here: I do not lump all atheists into the category of "fundie atheist", and I even believe that the majority of atheists aren't of that stripe. However, fundie atheists nearly always lump all Christians together, not recognizing or purposely ignoring the fact that typically only fundie Christians hold the ideas they find so repugnant. Most of the rest of we Christians find fundie Christian tenets repugnant and silly, too.)

I'm not presenting these in order, because these various letter-writers did not respond to each other. I have them here because they typify their particular perspective.

First, we have a fundie atheist. I'll submit that this statement posed by whomever "Natural1" is responding to (in italics): "Religious people learn this behavior from the Bible" is not something I would agree with. The Bible says over and over that you shouldn't judge or get self-righteous.

That aside, the response it evoked is kinda typical of atheist fundamentalism:

RE: What makes people controlling and judgmental?

"Can any atheist here explain to me -- where do you people get YOUR judgmental fury from, since it's not religion?

Where do atheists get the idea they can tell other people how to think?

Religious people learn this behavior from the Bible. But where do atheists learn it from?

Atheists -- please explain."

Let me take a stab at this.

What you mistake for fury is actually frustration - that as progressive, forward thinking individuals we still have to live side-by-side with so-called adults who still believe in the Easter Bunny. Get it?

Most people who believe in spirits and (G)od are pliable, putty-brains who only believe because they were told to. No critical thought. No observation. Just blind belief in a set of stories told long ago by people with little understanding of the physical world.

George Bush is an extreme example of clouded, belief based thinking. But make no mistake - there are millions of others out there who are just as gullible and who will make decisions for the rest of us based on their misguided beliefs.

Action without proof is a slippery slope - it causes some to believe in false gods and others to start wars.

Now do you get it?

-- Natural1

This is almost a greatest hits package in terms of all the typical slings and arrows atheist fundies fling at believers. Pretty much Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins summed up in one little pustule of a letter.

Next, while the letter that follows resorts to some unnecessary name-calling like the letter above, this is a pretty good response from a believer, particularly the last sentence.

Oh please

I don't need an anthropologist's permission to believe in god.

I'm really sick and tired of the way people talk about evolution as if it explains everything. Yes, evolution is obviously real, but that doesn't mean that everything about life, about human behavior was caused by evolution. That is the height of unscientific, illogical thinking. Find something that science does not explain? Evolution did it of course! Whereas before there was the "god of the gaps", now there is "evolution of the gaps". Atheists found themselves a hammer and now they think everything is a nail.

Sadly, it is often the case, but spirituality does not have to be about blind faith. People experience things that science does not explain every single day. Skeptics write it off as brain farts but that is not good enough, it does not explain the eerie coincidences. People in isolated cultures experience the same things, so it's not just a "meme". If it was just a meme it would die out anyway, instead of being constant throughout all of humanity and history.

I used to be agnostic, leaning towards atheist. I thought there was no proof, so why believe? But then, one day god tapped me on the shoulder and alerted me to his presences, so to speak. I had a near-death experience that changed my life. After that I realized that there was nothing to fear, not even death, because my soul will live forever. I don't follow any organized religions, but after that, and now, I look around and see the proof was there all along, all around me.

But still, I think it's a waste of time to preach to atheists. They are people who are the impenetrable combination of ignorant and dense. They are the country of the blind that won't suffer us uppity one-eyed creatures. They are people who just have not reached the level of maturity where they can understand, perhaps god does hasn't gotten around to them yet. It's like magic-eye, some people just see a bunch of random dots, and others know how focus and see the design embedded inside. It's like a mathematical proof, the symbols on the page prove nothing to people who do not have the intelligence and background knowledge to understand it. People do often see meaning in things that do not have meaning, but that is no reason to assume religious experience is one of them.

But I guess all of this has little to do with the article here. The article is just more glib dismissal of the real issues... so typical of contemporary thought on the matter. Completely missing is the examination of the contents of religions. Instead, they write politically-correct blather built on the baseless assumption that spirituality is the result of evolution at all. Soon I'll be reading articles about how evolution explains my belief in rutabagas. Maybe people believe in god because... gee whiz, I dunno... because of what they have personally seen and experienced?

-- BocaBaconBurger

Finally, I love this take-down of the scurrilous idea that only Christians try to get the government to kowtow to their views and beliefs (a practice I abhor, btw), or that Christians are the only ones who practice bad evangelism (not to mention the parting shot that liberal rags throw out flamebait just like Rush and Faux News):

But seriously folks

So, when was the last time the Atheist Witnesses came trespassing on your property knocking on your door unannounced and uninvited to try to convert you to their way of thinking?

Never but I can't remember the last time a religious organization did it either. Maybe the Jehovah's witnesses left a leaflet in my door once 15 years ago though.

But that's all besides the point since we all know there's one heck of a lot of ways to cram one's ideology down another's throat without ringing anyone's doorbell.


If you're suggesting that atheists haven't equally tried to use laws and the political system and courts to instill their beliefs on the public that largely doesn't agree with them.... If you're suggesting that atheists don't regularly try to browbeat the Democratic Party into litmus testing out the religious (Jewish or Christian anyway)...

If you're suggesting that atheists haven't and don't continue to attack the moderate Democrats who understand alienating religious folks had damned near made the party extinct across 2500 square miles of America ... And if you want to maintain that atheists don't rush out to whatever Christian and political dialogues they can find simply to shout down and piss on people who are believers for their "stupidity", than I can only conclude that your "ilk" as another rabid one phrased it, are on different planets breathing air of different atomic composition than the rest of us.

Understand I don't like the religious right one bit. But I don't like the obnoxious atheist crowd either. And I agree with the person who per se suggested Salon is increasingly throwing red meat to it's rabids in the same way Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter do, by publishing this and similar baiting articles.

-- JoanR

Jeez, why bother locking your car?

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