Thursday, November 30, 2006

Supreme Court Gone Wild!

As usual, Slate's Supreme Court reporter nails the story down. My favorite bit is this one, about the EPA's argument that it shouldn't regulate CO2 emissions:

"Now, maybe it's because I have a toddler at home, but the EPA's argument, presented by Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Garre, quickly sounds very familiar. 1) I can't clean it up; 2) Even if I could, I don't want to clean it up; 3) You can't make me clean it up; and 4) China is making an even bigger mess. How come China never has to clean it up? When and if all that fails, the EPA, like my son, just puts its hands over its eyes and says there is no mess in the first place."

Sigh. The author, Dalia Lithwick, concludes by summing up the government's position as "we're all going to die, anyway." Which leads me to my position on the government's position:

We're all going to die. Thanks, guys.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Fox News Anchor, Hard at Work

Global Warmi ... Quick, Look Over There! (And Wilco)

This short tease of an article (and given its length and near-complete lack of analysis, perhaps misleading tease of an article) basically captures the essence of this terrible administration: they are willing to go to court to argue that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide levels in car exhaust, which is bad for the environment.

Give me a break.

In other news, or at least in me-news, my Morrissey review should be up at Billboard soon.

And on Friday, I took my dad to see Wilco play one of their annual Thanksgiving stands. The band was in fine form and a little boring, which in Wilco-land are not incompatible traits. In fact, for the first time I was able to pinpoint just what throws me off about the current line-up: they're like a cross between the Grateful Jam (indulgent and noodly, with hints of country and weirdness) and Steely Dan (indulgent control freaks, with hints of jazz and weirdness). So basically you end up with jams that neither swing nor, well, jam, some amazingly sensitive and sensational instrumental passages, beautiful melodies, nonsense lyrics, little crowd interaction and just a hint of the idea that the band feels they're a little bit above their audience.

Which, by the way, against all odds, and despite all the strange changes in the band's music and playing, has retained its original beer swilling frat guy audience, the kind that doesn't seem to recognize that their favorite rock band by and large no longer rocks.

In fact, if I were one of said frat guys I'd probably think the music was a little, you know, “arty,” in a wimpy sort of way. But nope, no connection there for the two middle aged dudes in front of us, who spent the entire night high-fiving, yelling to one another "dude, I can't believe we're here, seeing Wilco!!!!!" and generally talking over the hushed music, and the other half in line waiting to buy beer.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

New New Miami Vice

Michael Mann's "Miami Vice" has one of the best openings I've ever seen. Well, scratch that. Mann has gone back and changed the start for his new "Director's Cut," so that rather than beginning, blam, in the middle of a nightclub scene, now the film begins with a boat race prelude (as it was scripted). Yes, something that banal.

This being Mann, of course, it's still well done and kinda weird, but I miss that old start, and wonder what else is different on this disc. At least Mann has the honesty to rip on its "Director's Cut" title. Off the bat on his commentary he points out the theatrical version was his director's cut, and that this is just a different cut. He calls it "a director's revision, a month and a half or two months after he released the picture." Hmm. Mann is notorious for retooling his films, but this may be the first time I go out and get a copy of the theatrical version for the collection as well.

The club scene is still there, by the way, but its introduction is just not as striking. At the very least, it's neat to see how different something can be, free from the pressure of a looming release date and given a couple more weeks to work.

Speaking of different, I wish nearly everything was different with "Superman Returns." What a dud.

Friday, November 17, 2006


"Too corny," they said. "Too wholesome," they added. "People like their superheroes dark and troubled. No one wants to see a new Superman movie." And to an extent, they, as always, were right. "Superman Returns" sparked little excitement last summer, except in the spectator sport of watching a would-be blockbuster falter.

I haven't seen the new one yet, but I have seen the others, so I wonder who Warner Bros. expects to buy the upcoming fourteen-disc box collecting all 5 films. Yes, *all* 5, including the putrid "III" and even worse "IV." The only good thing that can be said about the former is that it indirectly inspired "Office Space." The only good thing that can be said about the latter is that, until last summer, it was the final Superman movie.

The geek selling point of the set, of course, is that it includes the fabled "Donner Cut" of "Superman II," a version assembled from the footage Richard Donner, the director of the first film, shot before he was taken off the project, one, it turns out, comprising his footage, a smattering of substitute Richard Lester's footage, and also a hunk of old screen test footage to connect it all.

I haven't seen Lester's version in a while, but it's hard to believe it can really be much worse, because the Donner version pretty much sucks. Yeah, he added more "breathing space" to the movie, but that means when it's not being silly, or reveling in its own now very dated but then state of the art special effects, it's boring. That's some great achievement, dude.

Christopher Reeve, however, still holds up well as the earnest Man of Steel, while Terrence Stamp makes for a marvelously campy and easy to quote villain. Hackman's goofy Lex Luther can go either way, but as Donner points out on his commentary track, the guy's got an underrated gift for comedy. Assuming any of his hamming it up as Luther is funny, of course. Still, it reminded me to dig out the mostly forgotten "Scarecrow," starring a young(er) Hackman and Al Pacino.

Joy and Violence

The full New York Times frontpage head reads "The PlayStation 3 Debut: Joy and Violence." That about sums it up, doesn't it? The story's here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sam's Club (Blood Money, Part 2)

Months ago, Alma got a free Sam’s Club membership for work. Hmm, that’s cool, I said. I’ve never been to Sam’s Club. But I remember thinking: yeah, right. I’m never going to Sam’s Club. I’ve been to Costco once, and if I hadn’t thrown it away I’d still have that 20lb container of dried cranberries. Why in the world would I go to Sam’s Club, Costco’s white trash, cutthroat cousin, which doesn't even have the high quality merchandise and good employment record going for it?

But today, since I was out there anyway, I decided to finally get my temporary membership card made into the real thing and load up on diapers and the like. Man, the place is huge! The stuff they sell is so big they actually have giant shopping carts, too, the kind that usually come with rented moving vans. You need something that big to haul around the 20 pack of paper towels, the 30 pack of toilet paper, the giant crate of organic juice boxes, the massive blocks of batteries and all those other things you pick up because you figure, hey, with all this, look at the gas money I’ll save, since I won’t have to come back to this place for months! Even the box of trash bags I bought was so big it had its own handle built in.

At the checkout I commented how this was all new to me.

“Yep, it’s a great place to shop,” said the woman. “Around Christmastime you can get some great gift ideas, too.” Yep, I thought. Like 30 packs of toilet paper or five pounds of pears. I must admit, the place had me elated. It was like consumer heaven in the truest sense. Forget the electronics and other materialist trappings – I stocked up on stuff that would be actually be consumed.

Then I walked outside, pushing my finds, and literally came across two homeless people bundled in sleeping bags right by the store’s exit, where a little alcove helped block the wind. At least, I assume they were homeless. If they were intended to lure me back to snag some sporting gear on sale, they were the most depressing Wal-Mart greeters I’ve ever seen.

Needless to say, I immediately got sick to my stomach pushing my consumable , disposable crap right by them. And as soon as I got home, I donated $100 to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Was it because I was feeling a little guilty? Of course it was. But sometimes you should feel guilty.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Blood Money

Yesterday, while I was making an excellent beef stew, I accidentally soaked 5 twenty dollar bills in blood (don't ask). So: will handling the money make me sick? Will it make anyone else sick? At this point it's dry and, er, crusty, kind of like an artifically weathered prop, like a treasure map for a movie. Gross and cool all at once. So do I wash them again or use the bills as they are?

Richard Dawkins is Everywhere

So does that make him God?

Ha ha. That’s a little joke at the prominent atheist’s expense. But really, lately everywhere I turn I bump into (figuratively) Dawkins, the smart Brit evolutionist who spends a considerable amount of time preaching that religion is the root of all evil. Is he right? Who knows? That’s essentially the agnostic retort used against Dawkins again and again by his rhetorical opponents, and indeed Dawkins himself has (quietly) conceded we’re all essentially agnostic when it comes to the prospect of a higher power.

What makes Dawkins so interesting is that he’s a big jerk, and it’s funny to see him, in his recent documentary “The Root of All Evil?” repeatedly accused of fundamentalism. He is, of course, but he would claim he’s crusading in the name of scientific truth as opposed to the religious certification of propagated myth. Still, the problem with Dawkins’ stance is essentially related to the man himself.

I remember Penn Jillette, the magician, praising this doc. Penn Jillette: smart jerk. Coincidence? I also recently came across a clip circulated of Ted Haggard (yes, that Ted Haggard) from this same film, but you know what? Even Haggard comes off OK against Dawkins. That’s because Dawkins is so abrasive and arrogant in his believes – scientifically supportable or not – that he can barely disguise his disdain if not outright disgust for those who disagree with him.

And therein lies the entertaining paradox. Debate is key to science, but what if your opposite’s beliefs are totally at odds with the rules, proofs and systems of science? No wonder Dawkins is so frustrated. He’d be better off sticking to arguing from an extreme agnostic’s vantage than as an atheist. And when pushed, again, that’s typically his default position, though he’s never come close to endorsing the Judeo-Christian conception of God. As Dawkins notes in last week’s issue of “Time,” if there is such thing as a higher power, it is so beyond our imagination that to discuss it, let alone define it, is to court folly.

I can agree with that. Is there a God? Who knows? But the idea of, say, an endless universe is a curious thing indeed, and while the stupid theories that anything other than evolution in the strictest Darwinian sense led to the human race are maddening to the extreme and, to support Dawkins’ point, probably dangerous, the idea that statistically there can and perhaps even must be hundreds if not millions of planets (working on the assumption that the universe is endless) just like ours , or – hey! – maybe even none, is truly beyond our conception and therefore itself something of a leap of faith.

Is science therefore akin to faith, albeit with supporting evidence in its favor? Who knows? Certainly it’s a belief in something greater than ourselves. That very nebulous phrase - “something greater than ourselves” - can easily fit the laws of science and the traditions of faith, which leaves things at a rhetorical draw, doesn’t it?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fed Up

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

This Picture is for Bethany

Back to Business

I must admit, I was a little sad to see Kevin Federline on my review slate, even though I had pitched him. But like national politics, the tide has turned, and I think tonight's show (if it's not cancelled) could be one for the books. After all, K-Fed has always been a loser, but he always had Britney at his back to show up the naysayers. Not now. K-Fed's been humiliating himself in public since the day the public learned his name. Now someone's done the humiliation for him, which may be all it takes to finally throw him out of commission and back into the realm of the anonymous hacks and has-beens.

There are some parallels here to President Job, not least of which that K-Fed and Job have about equal amounts street cred right now. Which is to say, nil.

Aim for the Head

Of course I'm very happy with the election results, and will be even more happy iff those two lingering senate races turns Democrat as well. I guess the always-the-bridesmaid party grew some cojones after all, and they did so with a strategy borrowed from video games and zombie movies: aim for the head. The head being President Job, the worst president since Nixon and, when all's said and done, possibly the worst president of all time. In years past, the bad presidents have simply been forgotten. Job has been too destructive on so many levels to forget, but hopefully the strides the Dems have made will at least make him easier to ignore.

A prediction: when the ink dries in the history books, the story will focus at least as much on how we got to this point in American politics as it will on the cabal of incompetents that have been inexplicably running the show for so long.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Judgement Day

The hit parade.

Yeah, it's cheesy, but it also gives a little more perspective what this chapter of the history books will look like in a few decades. Minus the George Michael song, of course, though I'm surprised there's no clip of President Job setting his clothes on fire.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I'm Ready to Lose

It's election time again, and I don't buy the numbers. Remember how, in the early hours of the last presidential election, all those polls showed Kerry trouncing Job? Yeah, and look how that turned out. I'm starting to agree with my sister more and more, that the anti-intellectual, conservative trends in American culture have taken over, and the wheels of progress are turning back. Americans are lazy and stupid, and proudly so, so they stick with the easiest choice in any election and that's the party/candidate that promises to "stay the course." Sigh.*

I do differ from my sister in one sense, however, in that I believe this trend is reversible. How, you ask? There needs to be a great leveling of the powers, with Republicans and Democrats alike acting as nasty and dishonest as everyone in American believes them to be already. Only then will we, the people, step in and break up the fight, assuming neither party has destroyed the world by then. And as usual the onus lies on the Dems to get dirty and start winning some matches rather than whining about losing them. As I posted on my cousin-in-law Mike's blog:

"If the Republicans are corrupt lying losers, and they win bigger than some are predicting, then what does that say about what the American people want from their politicians? For that matter, what does it say that so many of these races are still close, despite the state of the nation and all the Republican scandals? Mike is right. If Americans don't like or trust politicians as a whole - that is, all/any of them, Dems and Republicans alike - then it doesn't matter how a party takes power. The high road has gotten the Dems nearly nowhere in the post-Clinton era, and that assumes the Dems have been taking the high road. In truth, they've been taking the low road, too, just not quite as low as the Republicans. So as Mike suggested: Dems, grow pair and get down in the mud. Winning means more to your fellow Americans then how you got there."

I mean, really. By any standard tomorrow's election should be no contest, but no - we're talking tiddlywinks in the grand scheme of things, a few seats pikced up here and there. Baby steps. I expect the next presidential race and its outcome to be a lot more dramatic. Until then, there's always the pleasant thought that Job can't run again. Unless he does, of course. Wartime powers and all that.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What Am I Doing With Myself?

Last night I went to see Scritti Politti on the band’s first ever U.S. tour (after around 25 years of intermittent activity). The folks who still think of the band solely as a one-hit wonder explain why leader Green Gartside refused to play “Perfect Way.” Nothing, however, explained why he covered Jeru the Damaja, referenced Run DMC or replicated the guest rhymes from Mad Skillz from his last CD, besides his obvious, unironic love of hip-hop. I’ll link to the review as soon as it’s up.

The night before I saw Randy Newman at Orchestra Hall. The guy is, of course a genius, funny, clever, smart and even moving, when need be. I recently wrote a list of some favorite albums for a couple of friends of mine who own Old School Records, and Newman’s “Good Old Boys” made my ‘70s list. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to. Come to think of it, they rarely made ‘em like this album, period. And yes, he played “Short People” and “I Love L.A.,” songs whose ironies are subtle and sly. He also played the perennial classic “Political Science” (it’s been of and ahead of its time for decades) and a new song called “A Few Words in Defense of My Country,” which may as well have been called “it could be worse.” Funny stuff.

Oh, and yes, he also played “You’ve Got a Friend In Me,” which is a good song, though nowhere near as strong as “When She Loved Me” from “Toy Story 2.”

Review also to follow.

Best of all lately, I landed an assignment covering neighborhood coffee shops. I shirked the obvious spots (like Wicker Park) in favor of my old stomping ground Hyde Park and the more colorful Pilsen. We went to the former today, where I finally got to eat at the spectacular Istria, the only place in Hyde Park with coffee worth a damn. In Pilsen, I got to hit the great Jumping Bean, the yummy bakery Kristoffer’s and Café Mestizo, easily my favorite of the bunch. The coffee, their own Intelligentsia roast, was sublime, and the tamale I had was as big as a burrito.

Too bad Bombon wasn’t on my list, but maybe I’ll stop by there this week all the same.

Compared to Pilsen, the Bucktown places were pretty lame, though I liked this place best.