Wednesday, December 29, 2004


You may be wondering why there have been so few posts recently. My employer has kindly given most of us this week off. While I have work to do from home, this welcome break from getting up early and dressing up has led to a certain slackening of nearly all my habits; I didn't shave after Christmas until today, for instance. (Those who experienced the Great Beard of 1999 will be happy to know that this one did not involve any sort of mental turmoil, just a healthy dose of laziness.)

If you're bored without my ruminations, you could do worse than the following:
Or, you could donate your money to victims of this week's disaster in Asia.

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See you in the new year.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Disc Compact

Negotiating the Dense and Boorish Clots, Or Shopping for Music: The Physical Fetish

I promised to provide an accounting of my gifts, and they'll follow in a moment. But as you peruse the list and see a huge number of CDs, you'd do well to read the article linked above, in which Brian James explains the reasons why, in this digital age, he continues to hoard so many albums complete with their artist-chosen tracklists and cover art. It may help you understand why I spend so much time, money, and thought on the little silver circles. He closes thus:
Years of thought and emotion are documented there in stacks of plastic and aluminum. As I've moved to new apartments and new cities and new states, my music collection may be the only thing that makes me feel that where I happen to be is home. It's unwieldy to be sure, but when I look at it as the metaphor that it is, its bulk and continued growth are not burdens to me, but comforts.
I can really relate to that.

Without further adieu, the promised gift-blogging:

'Twas quite a good Christmas for me, both personally (I got to see a great many friends, had two pleasant days with family, and capped Christmas with The Aviator) and in terms of gifts. Among them:

  • The first three seasons of Seinfeld on DVD
  • Return of the King, extended edition on DVD
  • Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous
  • The Honeydogs, 10,000 Years
  • Diana DeGarmo, Blue Skies
  • Beyond the Sea soundtrack
  • Elton John, Elton John SACD
  • Elton John, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy SACD
  • Beck, Sea Change SACD
  • Dogs Die in Hot Cars, Please Describe Yourself
  • Neko Case, The Tigers Have Spoken
  • Iron & Wine, The Creek Drank the Cradle
  • The Beta Band, The Three E.P.'s
  • The Decemberists, Her Majesty the Decemberists
  • Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3
  • Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
  • Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One
And also:
  • A subscription to Blender
  • A food processor
  • New black pants
  • New black socks
  • A new dress shirt
  • A new Eddie Bauer sweater
  • A new reviewer rank: As of today, 6307 and climbing!
If you'd like to hear about any of these, let me know and I'll review them. Hope your holiday was happy!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Happy Holidays!

And I mean that in the kindest, not-throwing-down-the-gauntlet-est way possible. Gift-blogging coming soon...

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Cheap and Tawdry, Take Two

Where's the Dioxin-Tainted Beef? - The Ukrainian prime ministerial debate

Students of the U.S. presidential debates of the last few decades will appreciate Benjamin Healy's satire of the recent debate in the Ukraine, but it's funny no matter what. Classic line: Yushchenko's final statement is "My opponent poisoned me. Also, Mary Cheney is a lesbian."

Indeed she is, Viktor. Indeed she is. Here's hoping you win the new election and find a dermatologist who can help you with that chloracne.

Worthy Cause

Petition Seeks to Free Fiona Apple Album

If you, like me, have been waiting since 1999's When the Pawn... for a new Fiona Apple album, you'll find the above article interesting. A petition is up on the Web trying to get Epic to release her new record, Extraordinary Machine, which has been finished since May of 2003. If you'd like to be able to hear it, or if you'd just like to add your name to the list so that I can hear it someday, visit

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Meet the New Boss

Sold! - Goodbye, Bill G. Hello, Don G. By Jacob Weisberg

It's been rumored for ages, and now it's official--Slate, workday reading material for educated office dwellers everywhere, has a buyer and is leaving the Microsoft nest to become part of the Washington Post family. The article above assures that there will be no changes to Slate's format or content, but this is a good marriage: Few newspapers have the online presence, or the quality stable of writers, which WaPo offers. Blogger Mickey Kaus may have to grovel a bit for his recent P.P.P.P.S. tantrum about a weekend WaPo article, though...

This leaves one question unanswered: what will happen to Salon? I love reading Cary Tennis and King Kaufman and a liberal ex-po-zay almost every day--and almost every day I sit through whatever commercial they've put up to "earn" the right to read the site for free. Without some infusion of cash, though, I don't know if Salon can continue on its subscription model while losing money. Paging George Soros...

Bigger and Better

Just in Time for New Year's: A Proposal for a Better Calendar

Perhaps you recall my twice-yearly notion that we should turn the changing of the clocks into a mini-holiday, giving workers an hour off with pay on the day we push time forward while continuing to turn them back in the middle of the night. Richard Conn Henry has a better idea: Let's change the whole calendar so that every year has exactly 52 7-day weeks in it, turn all the clocks in the world to the same time, and insert a "leap week" (he calls it Newton in honor of his favorite physicist) every five or six years to correct for the missing days. Henry proposes that this leap week would be vacation time for all. While that is, of course, a logistical impossibility (someone has to man the tills and stock the food at grocery stores, after all), the idea of some sort of worldwide, weeklong celebration has some appeal, no?

Add to that the fact that dates and days would forever remain fixed and I think this is a great idea. What day is Christmas? Sunday, December 25. What day is your birthday? Saturday, February 18. (Sorry to all of you whose birthdays would remain forever fixed on Monday.)

Henry wants to see this happen by January 1, 2006, which is something more than a long shot. But read through his logic, linked above, and then tell me: Why not?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Review Revue

It's been media month at our house, which means I've been watching a lot of movies lately and not telling anyone about them. (If you're looking for music reviews, look at the next post.) So here goes:

You really should see Monster, if only to find out how ugly makeup can make the otherwise lovely Charlize Theron. The film is well-acted, well-conceived--and absolutely chilling in its portrait of a woman so screwed up by life that she thinks turning into a serial-killing monster is perfectly logical.

It'll help if the next movie on Showtime happens to be The Italian Job, which will remind you what Charlize really looks like and probably entertain you to boot. A combination caper film and extended commerical on the virtues of the Mini, it has just enough of a plot and just enough humor to make it worthwhile. And who can resist Seth Green claiming that Shawn Fanning stole the idea of Napster from him?

Also good for a laugh, if little else, is Dodgeball. Predictable, and Ben Stiller is a bit over the top, but just tell me you don't want to watch Rip Torn throw wrenches at a skinny kid whose nickname in the movie is the oh-so-very-not-PC "queer bait."

What, you don't? OK, then watch Super Size Me. For 90 minutes, you'll question whether you can ever eat again, especially when our "I'll eat McDonald's for a month" narrator pukes up his very first meal on his new diet and when, later, he discovers how much weight he's gained and how much damage he's done to his liver. (The effect is compared to Nicholas Cage pickling his liver in Leaving Las Vegas, if that tells you anything.)

Had something more upbeat in mind? The Bourne Supremacy is just the ticket. Picking up the trail of Jason Bourne a few years after The Bourne Identity left off, the fast-paced film sees him begin to figure out who he was and what he may have done, while the machinations behind the program that created him are slowly revealed. Joan Allen makes a nice addition to the original cast, which is missing Chris Cooper after his death at the close of the first edition.

An older film also hit my radar--for the first time, believe it or not--in the form of Four Weddings and a Funeral. I had no idea this 1994 film--nominated for Best Picture alongside such titans as Pulp Fiction, Shawkshank Redemption, and Forrest Gump--also featured a gay couple as its paragon of true love. No wonder people think Hollywood is liberal! Anyhow, watch this and remember when Hugh Grant was a fresh new face and Andie MacDowell was the flavor of the moment.

Also finally saw Bend It Like Beckham, which is every bit as charming as you've heard. The movie confronts stereotypes about women, Indian people, and homosexuality--and is still both funny and touching. Catch it on HBO while they're still running it every few days.

Amid all this cinema, I did find time to read a book. The Plot Against America is the single most interesting and important novel of 2004. It imagines what would have happened if Charles Lindbergh had run against FDR on an antiwar platform in 1940 and won, and it's written from the perspective of a Jewish child. Fascinating in its own right, it's also extremely timely, whatever Philip Roth says about his intent in writing it. Just ask William Safire, who in this morning's New York Times contemplated a similar novel based on an alternate reality of the Bush presidency. Safire's novel sounds like a snoozer--and who really believes any Democrat would appoint Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz at the end of it?--but Roth's work is that of a master, and not to be missed.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

2004 Top Ten Albums

And now, the moment we've all been waiting for: here are my picks for the top ten albums of 2004. (Don't forget to check out Paul Allen's top picks at Pop Life as well.) As always, I reserve the right to reconsider this list in a few months after all my holiday gifts have been listened to and considered. Here we go!

1. Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters
A band that deals with overtly gay themes using whip-smart lyrics and danceable music really had no competition for this spot, did it? From the rollicking opener, “Laura,” to the coming-out-to-mom-at-a-gay-bar anthem “Take Your Mama Out,” to the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” the album kicks off with three solid radio singles and never lets go. There was no timelier song in the year of Janet than “Tits on the Radio,” no funnier song than “Music is the Victim,” no more danceable ode to a tryst mate who will never be anything more than “Better Luck,” no more glam-tastic paean to casualties of too many crystal hits at gay clubs than “Return to Oz.” I could go on rattling off superlatives about this album, but take my word: this is the wildest ride of the year.

2. Green Day, American Idiot
It was hard not to make this my number one. A rock opera about living in our times, laced with the bitterness of Bush hatred and including not one but two nine-minute, five-part epics, AI is stunning. Who among us thought, in the Dookie days, that Green Day was hiding within it all the components needed to create a modern masterpiece? That Billie Joe’s voice would one day be the perfect vehicle not for teenage loutish angst but for a searing look at what’s wrong with the world? That Tre Cool’s drumming could become a force of nature? Not me. But this album proves me wrong. It elevates its art form to a whole new level.

3. Black Keys, Rubber Factory
This year’s White Stripes, only without the self-indulgence and the goofy backstory. I don’t know how to describe this incredible album except to say that it sounds manly—deep voices, deep drums, a certain weight to the bluesy music. By the second song, lead single “10 A.M. Automatic,” I’m hooked every time, floating through the rest of the album in awe, as if I’m wrapped tight in its manly arms. (Huh. Maybe that’s why I love it so.) Rubber Factory sounds so much like a greatest hits album—every song is THAT good—that it’s hard to believe these 13 songs represent a single effort. These guys are for real.

4. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose
If you’re looking for an album that will speak to you, look no further. Loretta makes it clear from the start of the first and title track that she’s telling you her story, then reiterates the fact again on the final track of this Jack White (yes, of the White Stripes) produced gem. “Here’s the story of my life,” she warbles at the start of that final song, “listen and I’ll tell it twice.” She’s lying—the song starts from the beginning and runs through to the end, then ends itself—but you’ll want to start over again from track one the moment the music stops. Don’t miss “Portland, Oregon,” a Lynn/White duet that really gets the album rocking at track two.

5. Modest Mouse, Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Unless you’re living in a cave, you’ve probably heard Modest Mouse’s single, “Float On,” which sounds so much like summer it’s a wonder it wasn’t declared the official song of baseball and picnics. Modest Mouse’s fourth album was positioned as their breakout disc by their record company; the week it was released it could be had for $7.99 at Target and other stores, and even now you can get it for less than $10 in any number of places. At that price, it would be OK if the two songs on the promotional sticker—“Float On” and “Ocean Breathes Salty”—were the only really good songs on the album. That’s not the case, though. On first listen, this album sounds like a hodge-podge, but it’s one of 2004’s most rewarding records; listen again and again and patterns form, sonic connections between songs on opposite ends of the tracklisting become apparent, and lyrics—some of the most imaginative of the year—begin to resonate. Oh, and by the way, you enjoy it every time; it’s like a graduate-level course in writing great songs taught by an eccentric professor so riveting that you can’t wait to roll out of bed and rush to class.

6. Joseph Arthur, Our Shadows Will Remain
This ought to be the year Joseph Arthur breaks out into the mainstream. Won't you help him? Still full of brooding themes, and capped off with a song featuring the lyric, “Go away, leave us alone,” this disc also features a more accessible rock sound. Those tempted to hear more of his work after hearing his contribution to Shrek 2 would be well-advised to start here.

7. Elliott Smith, From a Basement on a Hill
Smith, who committed suicide late in 2003, probably ascended a few more critics’ lists this year because this is his final album. Because this is my first encounter with his music, however, I can attest that his death, while the impetus for purchasing the album, has nothing to do with its placement here. For that, thank the music, said by some to represent Smith’s answer to The Beatles’ White Album. You’ll hear signs of that here, along with signs of a tortured musical genius whose work in his last days ranks alongside artists in their prime. Which is what he was, really. The sadness that led to suicide is evident here—one of the standout tracks is “A Fond Farewell”—but it’s here in a way that’s embracing and lovely.

8. Iron and Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days
Continuing the lovely theme, this album from Iron and Wine is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. If you’ve heard anything, you’ve probably heard “Naked As We Came,” a track that should have been nominated for a Best Song Grammy. The whole affair is lush but spare, folky but rocking, with acoustic guitar guiding the way and Sam Beam’s voice practically whispering in your ear the feelings of domestic tranquility and turbulence common to all of us. More than any album this year, this one just invites you to love it.

9. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand
Everything is in its right place on this album, the debut from a Scottish rock foursome that is this year’s answer to The Strokes. Rock with precision, it’s also—somehow—maddeningly fun. Witness the lead single, “Take Me Out,” which was mainstream enough to be played during an early episode of Joey. It’s a good representative for the album as a whole: clever lyrics that can be interpreted in different ways, carried forward by carefully laid-out rhythms and vocals that wrap themselves up into a four-minute gem. This is an album of such gems, many of them with a sense of humor that is part of the magic of the disc. “Jacqueline” preaches the virtues of vacation: “It’s always better on holiday…that’s why we only work when we need the money.” “Michael” finds the singer hitting on Michael at a dance club, despite the fact that he’s a man, because he’s “the boy that everybody wants.” Homoerotic or campy? It hardly matters: FF may have a name from 1914 and a sound borrowed from rock and punk history, but the band’s unique blend of recycled sounds and new ideas is distinctly 2004.

10. Matt Pond PA, Emblems
At first listen, you’d swear that Matt Pond was just a pseudonym for Peter Gabriel; the similarity of their voices on several of the songs on this album is startling. This is music that builds; Pond’s voice is one of many instruments used to construct a series of richly textured songs. Another of the band’s five members is a cello player; her work adds a unique sound to the album, driving forward many songs with an intensity that only an instrument played with a bow can. The lyrics are deeply personal—surely some of the events related here actually happened to Pond—and the music suits this. Lush and layered, it cradles Pond’s words and emphasizes them. This is probably the least-known and lowest-selling record I bought in 2004—other than Radiant* and perhaps Olympic Hopefuls—but it deserves a much wider audience. It’s only $10 at Amazon!

2004's Best of the Rest

With the top ten list for the year set to pop up here on Friday, here are some other categories designed to honor music that didn't quite make the top ten (except in one case) or missed it by a mile. Paul Allen picks his winners in these same categories at his site, Pop Life--check it out!

Guilty Pleasure: I’m not prone to guilt, but there is something almost sinful about the second album from The Thrills, Let’s Bottle Bohemia. It’s self-centered bombast set to a jangly beat—and every time I put it in the player I can’t help singing along at the top of my lungs.

Soundtrack/Compilation: Garden State. Even without seeing the movie--I'll see it on DVD the day it comes out, I promise--the soundtrack is like some magical mix tape that Zach Braff plucked from musical heaven.

Disappointment: I have to pick just one? In that case, Matthew Sweet, Living Things. I shouldn’t have been stunned by how much I wasn’t captivated by this album—I didn’t enjoy The Thorns last year, either—but it really never clicked for me; the lyrics didn’t grab me, the hooks weren’t there, the music was bubbly but fell flat when it hit my ears. Also disappointing was the new Wilco album. I know, I know: It’s experimental and edgy and I just need to work harder to love it. Maybe one day it’ll click and I’ll be obsessed with the whole thing, even the twelve minutes of white noise, instead of always wanting to listen to “Kidsmoke” and “Late Greats” and maybe “Hummingbird” and call it a day. I guess I’m getting old; maybe if I heard Kid A for the first time today I wouldn’t give Radiohead the benefit of 80 spins like I did in college.

Cover Art: Most people would use this award to honor a great image, but all the bands with really great cover art this year are in my top ten. (Number one, eight, and ten are particularly good.) For me, this award is about a little band running along the back of an album, the one that said “CD Audio/SACD Stereo/SACD Surround” on the back of Elton John’s Peachtree Road. The multichannel layer of the album allows me to experience Elton’s latest work in a whole new way, as if the raindrops on the opening track are falling all around me and, later, as if I’m within the music rather than simply listening to it. It makes for an enveloping experience, enhancing a set of songs that, while not quite top-ten material, are definitely a welcome addition to my burgeoning Elton John collection. Elton has six other albums, including Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, on SACD, yet another reason to consider a super audio CD player as a last minute gift idea. Here’s hoping this is the start of a trend of releasing albums in SACD format the same day the regular release hits stores.

Greatest Hits: The new Seal compilation renders his catalog almost unnecessary, at least for a very casual fan like me; with all the hits from the early ‘90s and the new songs you’ve heard on the radio in one place, it’s a pleasant listen from start to finish, front-loaded with all the stuff you really want in case you just want a 20-minute dose. If nothing else, it fills the void in a collection that not owning “Crazy” creates; the CD also features “Waiting for You,” “Don’t Cry,” “Kiss From a Rose,” “Prayer for the Dying,” and “Human Being.”

Album Title: The Sound of Splitting Atoms, a seven-song EP by a band called Radiant*, which I bought at Waterloo Records in Austin, Texas for $1.00 the same day I found the first Shins album in a used bin. They were selling the CDs cheap to promote the band’s appearance at or around the South by Southwest festival, I think. The album itself is a sort of Coldplay/Radiohead clone that Brad and I really enjoy. It’s also almost impossible to find, at least in Illinois, making my $1.00 purchase feel like a steal!

Reissue: Technically not a “reissue,” but not really a proper 2004 release, either, Brian Wilson’s Smile is something special all its own. I can’t explain why I love it, but I do.

Surprise: I know it shouldn’t be that stunning, since I cheered her on from day one, but the fact that Fantasia’s debut album, Free Yourself, is actually good is just amazing to me.

Live: Classic show versus contemporary genius—how do I choose? Aimee Mann’s live album this year is a nice sampler of her solo career and shows off the fact that she has actual talent, even without the trappings of the studio. It’s well worth buying, and the tracklist on the DVD is even better than that on the CD. But Bob Dylan’s Live 1964, the 6th volume of the Bootleg Series, is a portrait of one of rock’s great artists at a pivotal moment in his career, making the change from folk to rock, and beyond its historic value it’s one of his most mesmerizing live shows. But why choose? Buy them both.

Cover Version: Almost by default, this goes to “Comfortably Numb,” the Scissor Sisters cover of the Pink Floyd song from The Wall. I say default because there weren’t many cover songs this year that came to my attention, but this would probably have taken the cake anyway—it reimagines the song almost completely, turning it into dance pop that’s nearly irresistible.


Kerry Campaign Head Admits Miscalculations
Don't beat yourself up, Mary Beth. All you did was fail to unseat the worst president in history despite a failed war, a sour economy, and the most motivated base your party has ever had.

You know, actually, go ahead and beat yourself bloody.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Phoning It In

Amazon Grace - If you're a holiday shopper, you must read this.

Brad and I bought a LOT of stuff from Amazon this year--like, almost four figures worth--so this info from Timothy Noah is quite appreciated. The info is this: Amazon's customer service number--which you'd never find on an invoice or sitting around on their site--is 1-800-201-7575. Don't say I never post anything useful.

Merry Xmas

Conservatives Take on Christmas Cause

The moral values spin on the election--debunked by most about a week after it gained currency--is back with a twist. Citing the results of the election as proof that Americans are fed up with political correctness (by which they mean efforts to use language that does not exclude people unnecessarily from public life), conservatives nationwide are pushing to reverse the trend of attempting to be inclusive of all Americans. They're offended by the fact that companies and municipalities are displaying signs that say "Season's Greetings" rather than "Merry Christmas," holding a "Holiday Party" or "End of the Year Celebration" rather than a "Christmas Party," and generally recognizing that this time of year means different things to different people. They'll have their nativities in the public square with a side order of you can keep your damned dreidel or your silly belief in the human spirit, thank you very much.

Isn't this a bit much? Your big days are federal holidays; your kids are automatically out of school and you're automatically home from work. Unless they're in private schools, Jews and Muslims don't get the same treatment for their major holidays. Can't you win gracefully? Yes, you're the majority in this country; there are more folks in the United States who celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday than those who acknowledge it as a time of good cheer regardless of faith or creed. But those of us on the outside have already, in the words of the Mormons who once stopped me on a busy street to perform their missionary duty, "heard the Good News about Christ." If you must continue to try to convince us to believe what you believe, that's fine--but can't we all agree that a sign on city hall isn't the most effective vehicle for doing so? An agnostic doesn't drive by a "Merry Christmas" sign and think, "You know, I should really get in on that whole Christianity thing." More likely, he thinks, "Oh, I should send out my holiday cards." And isn't that enough for you people? We all celebrate the birth of your savior; some of us do so while going out of our way to buy non-religious cards, non-religious gift wrap, and non-religious stamps, then put up a creche for camp value, but how does that hurt you?

So, for my part, I say enough is enough. You've got your federal holiday, the gifting tradition centered around your big day is such an important part of the economy that sales data requires seasonal adjustment, and everyone knows that the biggest reason we have sayings like "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" is to celebrate a holiday that originated with your religion. If you want to send cards with chapter and verse quoted within them, display signs that say "Jesus is the Reason for the Season," run about in the cold singing songs about your dear savior's birth, and whine about taking Christ out of Christmas, go right ahead. But if you want to start down the long and terrible road to a theocracy, go do it somewhere else. America was founded as a land of religious freedom, not religion imposed.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


PopMatters Music Feature | Best Music of 2004

Three days remain until the unveiling of this year's Highway 290 top ten. In the meantime, feast on this list of 100 albums from PopMatters, including their top fifteen:
15. Bjork, Medulla
14. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose
13. AC Newman, The Slow Wonder
12. Green Day, American Idiot
11. Interpol, Antics
10. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News
9. Madvillain, Madvillainy
8. Wilco, A Ghost is Born
7. The Streets, A Grand Don't Come for Free
6. TV on the Radio, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
5. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus
4. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand
3. Brian Wilson, Smile
2. The Arcade Fire, Funeral
1. Kanye West, The College Dropout

Monday, December 13, 2004

Bringing Balance

Ballots Wrongly Denied in Wash. Gov. Race
Here's a tiny bit of good news on the day Bush's return to office was made irrevocable: It looks like the Democrat will win in Washington's race for governor after all. 561 ballots in heavily-Democratic King County (Seattle, mostly) were incorrectly rejected; the margin for Christine Gregoire out of these ballots should be enough to overcome the 42-vote margin by which she trailed Republican Dino Rossi after the machine recount.

Sadly, this is just another sign of how desperate Democrats are for "good news" right now: We consider holding onto a governor's mansion in a heavily-Democratic state a pleasant surprise.

It's Really Over

The Only Votes That Really Count

Wonkette's mystery guest blogger reminds us that today is the day John Kerry's chances of becoming president in January move from extraordinarily slim to exactly none. As he says, "President Bush's second term will take one more step toward becoming reality as the Electoral College votes. The first step, of course, was that whole voting thing back in November; the last step is when the new Republican Congress makes failure to remove those KE '04 bumper stickers by Inauguration Day a crime punishable by death."

In a sign of how desperate for good news Democrats are right now, he also says this: "All this blue-state ire is cute, but really, we think Dems should just look on the bright side and be glad Bush operatives didn't take a page from Ukraine and poison Kerry during the campaign. Although actually, maybe that would have helped?"

Yep. "USA: Better at Democracy Than Ukraine!" Looks like we've got ourselves a slogan.

Friday, December 10, 2004


No snow? Minnesotans get creative

Just in case I was feeling sentimental about my former home, CNN has this today:
From snowmobiling on alfalfa to strapping on cross-country skis with wheels, Minnesotans are finding ways of coping with a frustrating lack of snow.
A "frustrating lack of snow" is not a phrase that has any place in my vocabulary. A sport that requires a motor or an extension of my foot beyond a normal shoe holds no interest for me. My feeling on trying to extend the season for winter sports by pretending to cross-country ski with rollerblades--a practice who enthusiasts frequently threatened to impale me on one of their poles during a late autumn walk in Minneapolis--or snowmobiling on alfalfa is therefore quite simple: These people are crazy. Throw a football around or shoot some baskets while the weather is still somewhat clement. If there's one good thing about global warming, it's the fact that there will be less snow to shovel, drive through, and yes, snowmobile on. With their snow gone, perhaps snowmobile enthusiasts will relocate, either further north--where they'll be Canada's problem--or to the South, where they'll be among enthusiasts of NASCAR, another pernicious motor sport.

Consider that your liberal elitist post for the week.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Not Just Raining: Pouring!

Israel provides legal recognition to same-sex couples
New Zealand adopts civil unions for all couples
Canada's high court clears way for gay marriage

All of these headlines are from today. Legal recognition of gay couples is also national policy in all of Scandanavia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. It will be the national policy of Britain and Spain very soon. As Andrew Sullivan said today, "Soon, it will become, I think, a defining characteristic of modern, democratic states that they acknowledge equal rights for gay citizens. Except, alas, in America?" We're looking less and less like the model for the rest of the world every day. And if this country doesn't stop being so backward, there are more and more options opening. Migrate to the Great North, anyone? The Holy Land? Middle Earth?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Malone says Kobe stabbed him in back

So now Karl Malone won't go back to the Lakers because Kobe said something mean about him--specifically that it's not fair to hold his return over the heads of teammates who are working hard while living under the threat that Malone will come back and take their jobs. While that notion is debatable--the new-look Lakers can use a motivating factor other than Kobe's desire to outshine Shaq--what's more interesting, to me, is the phrasing Kobe used during his vent: "They are here giving me 110 percent. It’s really not fair for us to sit around and speculate how long this is going to go on. I mean, you can’t sit up here and speculate for the remainder of the season whether or not he is going to come back. I mean, that’s not fair to the guys that are working here."

That's right--the rest of the Lakers are giving Kobe 110 percent effort. Not coach Rudy Tomjanovich; not the fans; not themselves. Kobe. And we're worried about how some 41-year-old who should have retired by now feels? How do his teammates feel about hearing that all of their effort is being made for the greater glory of Kobe?

While Kobe is directing the Lakers toward an eight seed and an early playoff exit, another Hollywood director's chances of winning Oscar gold are being panned by Michael Ventre--who usually prefers to write about the latest Kobe shenanigans. His article, "'The Passion' doesn't have a prayer," makes the case that the film will be ignored by the Academy not because Hollywood doesn't like Christians or because of ill-will toward Mel Gibson, but because it simply isn't a very good movie (some of the reviews, he points out, were savage), faced serious charges of anti-Semitism, and hasn't been properly timed or promoted to compete. Of course, when the nominees are announced a month after Christmas, there will be groups that will denounce the Academy for its failure to recognize Gibson's snuff film, but Ventre is right: the film has neither been set up as a contender nor should it have been.

If that's not enough content for you today, check out a Wonkette post from yesterday. Highly funny.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Slim Pickings

Grammy nominees list

It's been tough being a fan of alternative and rock music come Grammy time these last several years, and this year is no exception. With best album nods for Kanye West, Usher, Ray Charles, and Alicia Keys, it's a miracle there was room for Green Day in the top five. Loretta Lynn was relegated to the country album category, Brian Wilson and Norah Jones were exiled to the pop vocal album list, and Bjork, Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse, and Wilco got crammed into an alternative album list that also includes PJ Harvey. Heck, Grammy fave U2 couldn't bust into the song of the year category for "Vertigo," settling for a best rock song nod, though you can blame that on John Mayer's underwhelming but Grammy-baiting "Daughters."

Anyway, here, right now, are my picks in the top categories. Let's see someone else get their list out half an hour after the nominations:

Record of the Year: I pick Green Day's "American Idiot," would be content with "Let's Get It Started" from the Black Eyed Peas, and doubt either will win.
Album of the Year: Again, Green Day, but unless there's some sort of demographic process of elimination that gives GD the prize, this will go to Usher or Kanye.
Song of the Year: In a category with no songs I loved, I'm guessing Kanye wins with "Jesus Walks."
Best New Artist: Franz Ferdinand isn't even nominated! Doesn't matter; you don't get 10 nominations and not win this trophy, do you, Mr. West?
Best Female Pop Vocal: Good category for me. It'd be fun to see Gwen Stefani win for "What You Waiting For?" but I wouldn't be stunned if Grammy-mongers Norah Jones or Sheryl Crow took this.
Best Male Pop Vocal: Prince's "Cinnamon Girl" should win this and probably will.
Best Pop, Group: It's old now, but everyone loved No Doubt's "It's My Life" when it came out.
Best Pop Vocal Album: Ray Charles vs. Brian Wilson vs. Norah Jones. Wilson should win, but Charles is dead, so you never know.
Solo Rock Vocal: Ryan Adams' rendition of "Wonderwall" is begging for this trophy.
Rock Performance, Duo or Group: Should be "American Idiot" or Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out," but could go to U2 for "Vertigo."
Best Rock Song: "American Idiot," "Vertigo," and Modest Mouse's "Float On" compete here. I'd love to see the latter win something; if there was a catchier song this year, I didn't hear it.
Best Rock Album: Should and will go to Green Day, the only one of the bunch also nominated for the big prize.
Best Alternative Music Album: Franz and Mouse should be duking it out, but they'll give it to Wilco instead, right?
Best R&B Album: I include this only to express my hope that Prince will win.
Best Country Collaboration: Norah Jones and Dolly Parton take on Jack White and Loretta Lynn. This is a win-win situation, but I hope Loretta wins here.
Best Country Song: This should be another win for "Portland, Oregon," the White/Lynn duet that gets Van Lear Rose rocking.
Best Country Album: Loretta Lynn. No question.

More music news shortly: This year's top ten (or so) list should be up on the 17th.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Mucking About

Tree growers try to stem tide of artificial offerings

Not gonna work with me, folks. I was raised a real-tree devotee, but this weekend was probably the last straw for me--and I didn't even put the tree up or chop it down. Brad and I joined my family on Saturday morning for the annual tree-chopping event; we tried a new place in Harvard, Illinois rather than heading west to Oregon--also in Illinois--as we had in the past. Brad and I drove for an hour and a half to meet my family there, despite the fact that Brad wasn't feeling well, and arrived to find ourselves in a mud pit from which my car will not soon recover. Neither will my shoes, or my coat, which received--along with my face and neck--a nice spittle coating of mud thanks to an errant snowball that bounced in one of the plentiful mud puddles that comprised the path for the horse-drawn carriage that we didn't ride. And we did this for what? So my mother can vacuum pine needles every day for a month, shoo the dogs away from the tree, and crane her neck to water it every day? She may be willing to make these efforts, and to put up with the post-decorating rash that inevitably accompanies decorating a real tree, but I'm not. In any case, we ended up going home after the sawing was done because Brad still wasn't feeling well, so I don't know how the tree looks now. But I know this: I felt bad about missing a chance to have my mom's pasta, but not so much about missing the chance to mess with a pine tree for a few hours. My fake tree at home looks just fine to me; it's been up a week and a half and thus far not a needle has fallen.

We did watch a good movie while Brad was recuperating, and I'll pass along my recommendation now rather than writing a real review because, though we rented it from Netflix, it's on HBO tonight at 6:00. Shattered Glass is excellent. It deals with the fall of Stephen Glass, a journalist whose articles for several magazines were all the rage until someone discovered the truth about how he got such great quotes from his sources. It's marvelously acted; you can't ask for a better trio than Hank Azaria, Peter Sarsgaard, and Hayden Christiansen. OK, you can. But this movie is still worth watching. It's on HBO at 6 PM Central, or you can catch it at 9 on the Pacific version of the channel. Let me know if you end up watching!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Passive Aggressive

Rumsfeld to Stay on as Defense Secretary

Interesting timing to announce this move, which would have attracted a few days of water cooler chatter across the nation if it came on a Tuesday. But at least it's appropriate: Friday is "Take out the trash" day at the White House, according to The West Wing, and keeping Rumsfeld around despite the fact that his strategy for Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster is surely a garbage move. Doing it on a Friday just lets the Bushies tweak the noses of their opposition one more time: "Look, we can keep this guy you hate AND do it in a way that makes it hard for you to make a big deal about it." I'm telling you, Chief Justice Ashcroft or Thomas isn't far behind this kind of move. Happy weekend.


Allison Janney dives into a new 'West Wing'

After tearing into John Wells for more than a year regarding his hatchet job on my former favorite show, I have to now give him credit for making the show more interesting this season. Maybe it's the fact that all my other appointment shows are on hiatus or off the air, leaving WW on a Sopranos- and Six Feet Under-less playing field, but I think this season, and especially the most recent episodes, has been the best for the show since before Aaron Sorkin's departure, perhaps since Rob Lowe was on.

Promoting Allison Janney was an inspired move; she's been the conscience of the White House for at least three years and now she gets to see what it's like to have to make the decisions rather than try to spin them. (Of course, I have a soft spot for the idea of putting the reporter-in-chief in charge of the whole operation.) And while I cringed at every cast addition, so far this year every actor they've paraded through has worked in a way that the stunt casting of Matthew Perry never really did. Kristin Chenowith's brief appearances as Toby's adviser were pitch-perfect, and Jimmy Smits is playing his new role with aplomb. And who could complain about the return of Tim Matheson? Say this for the show: They've figured out how to amp up the drama this season, put all of the characters in new situations, and ease the audience into all sorts of transitions. Dule Hill got to talk and got a new job, and there appears to be something brewing again between his Charlie and Zoe. Leo's heart attack has finally freed him and us from his perpetual crankiness. Donna's response to her newfound fame and notoriety has been interesting; I only hope they deal with it more fully in the future. And the prospect of Josh leaving the team to help Hoynes run for president, while Will pushes Bingo Bob and even Al Bundy and Hawkeye get in on the act, should make for a delicious February sweeps arc of episodes about the primaries. I'm a bit concerned about the return of MS, a possibility raised in the last moments of this week's episode and heightened by seeing Martin Sheen on a stretcher in the preview for next week, but my reaction tells me this:

A year ago, I'd have been worried that Wells was about to destroy the show. Now, I'm willing to give this new direction a chance. I only hope my newfound confidence--or at least lack of derision--for Wells proves well-founded.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Local Play

Chicago Tribune | CBS and NBC shut door on church ad

It looks like the UCC ad story has found its way to the major media; this morning it was on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. Here's hoping we see a storm of editorials tomorrow from major newspapers condemning the networks for their cowardice in the face of conservative Christians. Otherwise, Alan Wolfe may be right:
Alan Wolfe, a professor of religion at Boston College, said he was surprised that networks would shy away from a message of inclusiveness.

"CBS and NBC seem to be afraid, not of stirring controversy, but of alienating potential viewers, the kind, moreover, that like to organize boycotts and write letters," Wolfe said. "There may be a new form of political correctness arising in America, one in which attempts are made to avoid violating the sensibilities, not of women or racial minorities, but of conservative Christians."
And some people thought another four years wouldn't be so bad.

Required Viewing?

'Finding Neverland' Wins First Award in Oscar Race

Here's the top ten this year from the National Board of Review:
Finding Neverland
The Aviator
Million Dollar Baby
Vera Drake
Hotel Rwanda

I've only seen one of the ten, Kinsey. I saw five of the ten in 2003, a list that left out Return of the King, and I've seen nine of the ten from 2002 and 2001, despite those lists also ignoring the LOTR movies. I'm betting on seven for 2004: Neverland, Aviator, Closer, Sideways, Kinsey, Vera, and Ray. Let me know if you see any of the ten and whether they're worth seeing!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I Never Knew - U.S. senator wants Annan to resign as U.N. leader

I usually mock the notion of a liberal media, but it's pretty clear how CNN feels about Norm Coleman calling for Kofi Annan's resignation, no? Here's the picture of him they ran:

I'd say they're not fans of Senator Coleman, wouldn't you?

Risque, Part Deux

CBS, NBC Refuse Commercials From Gay Friendly Church

Here's more info on the refusal by CBS, NBC, and UPN to run an ad from the United Church of Christ expressing tolerance for gay and lesbian couples:
"It's ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based on fear and deception by both parties seen on all the major networks, an ad with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too controversial," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president.

"What's going on here?"

The ads had been scheduled to run from today until Dec. 26.

The ad has been accepted and will air on a number of networks, including ABC Family, AMC, BET, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, History, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel and TV Land, among others.

"We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome of committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line," says the Rev. Robert Chase, director of the UCC's communication ministry.

CBS and NBC's refusal to air the ad "recalls the censorship of the 1950s and 1960s, when television station WLBT in Jackson, Miss., refused to show people of color on TV," says Ron Buford, coordinator for the United Church of Christ identity campaign. Buford, of African-American heritage, says, "In the 1960s, the issue was the mixing of the races. Today, the issue appears to be sexual orientation. In both cases, it's about exclusion."

The UCC has a long reputation for welcoming gays and lesbians. Although its individual churches are mostly autonomous, many offer blessing services for same-sex couples. In 1972 it became the first mainstream denomination to ordain an openly gay man.
This is really quite startling. CBS is the network that brought us Richard Hatch, the gay man who won the first season of Survivor, and its parent, Viacom, owns Showtime, home to the almost-pornographic Queer as Folk and the lesbian-centricThe L Word. NBC makes hay with Will & Grace anchoring its Thursday lineup, and its Bravo channel is home to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and delivered Boy Meets Boy last summer, the first gay-themed reality show. Yet these two nets won't run an ad expressing tolerance for gays and lesbians, while Fox--whose only cracks at gay-themed programming have been deemed too exploitive to air, and whose parent company helped get the current, not-exactly-gay-friendly administration re-elected--and ABC Family, which you'd expect to reject the ad on "What about the children" grounds--are willing to air UCC's message. As Rev. Thomas asked, "What's going on here?"

Josh Marshall weighs in again here. You can watch the ad yourself at, though the site appears to be quite busy this morning. Perhaps that's a good sign that people are paying attention to this.

Too Risque

Talking Points Memo

Follow the link above to a post from Joshua Micah Marshall about the United Church of Christ's new ad campaign. The ad in question shows a variety of people--including a gay couple--attempting to enter a church and being turned away by bouncers. The ad then makes clear "that -- like Jesus -- the United Church of Christ seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation."

So what's the trouble? CBS, NBC, and UPN--so far--won't run the ad because it's "too controversial." The ad doesn't feature the language above; all it says is "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." It's a brave ad campaign, yes, and it tells us something about UCC that we otherwise may not have known. But controversial? Why?

Well, here's the explanation from CBS: "Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an explanation from CBS, "and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."

More on how to act against this blatant censorship when I have it.