Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Before tonight's State of the Union...

Courtesy of Danielle's away message last night, I invite whatever limited readership I have to read Bill Clinton's 2000 State of the Union address.

Some phrases stand out from this address: "progress over partisanship" (a pipe dream these days), "back-to-back surpluses" (note also the number 42), "adoptions up by 30 percent" (amazingly, in spite of having a pro-choice president), "we must be peacemakers" (stifled guffaw)... I could go on but I won't. After all, someone who himself was rather long-winded once said that "brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes".

Naturally, one can argue there is a tremendous lack of foresight evident in parts of the speech. For example, the line about "so few external threats" proved to be false, or at least misleading, about 20 months later (let's ignore the fact that our president at that time was just returning from a month-long vacation, after what surely must have been an exhausting 6 months in office). Additionally, perfectly rational people could argue against many of the platforms set forth therein.

Indeed, I was not much of a Clinton fan myself. But back then, what I felt more than anything was a sense of hope. A hope deferred by a divisive election with no clear winner. A hope shattered by a bunch of asshole terrorists. Shattered pieces of a hope discarded with subsequent State of the Union addresses, which served primarily to catalyze our enemies and alienate our friends.

Maybe that hope only existed because I was 18, a little naive, without much sense of the real world. We were young then, and we thought we would be so forever. Now I fear that "our dreams outweigh our memories".

Oh well, let's see what difference I can make in Florida, which, as Jeff pointed out, is a battleground state.

Song lyric of the day:
"Let's get off this
Get on with it
If you wanna change the world
Shut your mouth and start to spin it"
- Cracker, Get Off This

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Google conversation

My last post about Google refusing to violate the privacy of its users spawned a rather amusing conversation in the comments. Because HaloScan, for some reason, deletes comments on my blog after a certain amount of time, I wanted to record the conversation here:

Jeff: It's not even for fighting terrorism. It's for fighting porn. Why the hell are we fighting porn? Porn didn't blow up the World Trade Center.

Mike: A valid point I failed to make.

"other white meat": well not that I agree with the government on this, but they can do more then one thing at once. So not everything has to be about fighting terrorism(I'm sure thats not what you believe either, but alot of people are like that so....)

Jeff: Yeah... I just think it's amusing that they're asking for people who Googled "hot bouncy boobs" and not for people who Googled "homemade nuclear bomb".

Ben: What if "homemade nuclear bomb" is a sex term and "hot bouncy boobs" is a code word for homemade nuclear bombs? Wouldn't that be funny?

Mike: Don't give anyone any ideas Ben.

Jeff: In that case, we'd have to stop the proliferation of hot bouncy boobs. Personally, I think we ought to be encouraging the proliferation of hot bouncy boobs.

Mike: Somehow I think the current administration would likely disagree with you on that point, Jeff. Tragic, but true.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled lives already in progress.

Song lyric of the day:
"I understand about indecision
But I don't care if I get behind
People living in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind"
- Boston, Peace of Mind

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Brief shoutout to Google

I just wanted to take a moment to offer my kudos to Google, the lone subpoenaed website to refuse to turn over their records of what users have searched for using their engine. This stance against such a blatant invasion of privacy is a model for other search sites, such as Yahoo!, MSN and AOL, who apparently relinquished their records without so much as a fight. In support of their recognition of the 4th Amendment (let's face it, even if the Constitution doesn't guarantee a right to privacy, this is illegal search and seizure), I will be using Google exclusively from now on. I encourage all those who embrace basic Constitutional rights to do the same.

Quote of the day:
"I would destroy any nation, even my own, if my president gave the order."
- Rip Torn, Canadian Bacon

(Sadly an accurate depiction of the mentality of many Americans these days.)

Friday, January 20, 2006

A few quick bullets

I was tempted to write a long, likely meandering, certainly controversial post on the Supreme Court's recent ruling on Oregon's assisted suicide law, with larger points about general right-to-die issues. Perhaps I still might, but as of right now, I just wanted to link to a few bullet points. You can also interpret this as me pointing to other people's blog posts because I'm too lazy to write anything myself. And you'd be right.

  • Aaron has posted a list of the Top 5 Biggest Musical Surprises of 2005. While this isn't quite a list of top albums, it notes a few of the best '05 efforts. Particularly, I would point my readership to iSOLA's Loud Alarms, which I personally would probably choose as my #1 album of the year. This is a local Houston group that struck me in a big way with their first full-length album. Not much to say beyond what Aaron said, except that hopefully we'll be hearing much more from these guys. (I would also voice agreement on all of his other choices, though their locations on my list would not be quite as high as iSOLA's.)

  • Meredith also recently posted a Best Things of 2005 list. In particular, it has inspired me to check out Foer's new book (I still want to read/see Everything is Illuminated too), and gotten the song Marching Bands of Manhattan stuck in my head, thus making it today's song lyric.

  • Ben posts on the monotony of Christian radio. I claim his views apply equally well to mainstream rock radio as well. There's plenty of music out there, it just needs more exposure. Which reminds me...

  • One final "top of 2005" list. David Barzelay posted his Top 15 Albums of 2005 just before his old server was beset by a denial-of-service attack. Barzelay has always been able, somehow, to discover the independent music albums long before we mere mortals, and here he points to some of the best. I cannot corroborate on all of them, but I can voice agreement on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Wolf Parade, and Sufjan Stevens (which I just picked up based largely on his recommendation).

  • Jacob, having returned from the depths of the aforementioned denial-of-service attack, posts on recent coffee-related developments. Most particularly, he links to this article, which claims that coffee just may boost sexual desire in females. Unfortunately, it doesn't specify that said desire will be directed toward the male they are drinking coffee with, or to the barista serving them the coffee (sorry Jacob). Still, had I known this, my trips to coffee shops at Vanderbilt would have been even more frequent.

  • Speaking of Vandy, how in the everloving hell did the Lady Dores manage to blow a 14-point lead to Tennessee? What makes it hurt worse is the national exposure the loss has received because it's Pat Summitt's 900th win. Oh well, we still beat them in football this year. Hell yeah baby!

  • And finally, all I can say is, anyone's better than Marge Schott.

Okay, so that wasn't really that quick at all. Oh well.

Song lyric of the day:
"Sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole
Just like a faucet that leaks and there is comfort in the sound
But while you debate half empty or half full
It slowly rises: your love is gonna drown"
- Death Cab for Cutie, Marching Bands of Manhattan

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Chinese Democracy at long last?

So, according to a Rolling Stone article, Axl Rose has finally piped up and said that Chinese Democracy, the mythical new Guns n' Roses album that has been coming out "later this year" for several years now, actually is coming out later this year. As a songwriter I'm vaguely familiar with (me) once wrote specifically regarding that album, "I'll believe it when I see it." Regardless, I thought I'd pass along the info, because I know that at least the one who has taken to referring to himself as "other white meat" would appreciate the info, if no one else.

Gay cowboys, but no pudding

Acceptable reasons to not see Brokeback Mountain:
1. "I don't like movies that make me think."
2. "I don't like love stories."
3. "I don't like any movie that isn't a big budget Hollywood flick."

Unacceptable reasons to not see Brokeback Mountain:
1. "I don't want to watch two guys getting it on."

So yesterday, I saw Brokeback Mountain. I will admit that, initially, the idea of the sex in the film was somewhat unsettling to me (though anyone who knows me would be hard-pressed to call me "homophobic"). So, much like Leonard Pitts, I initially planned on seeing it "to prove to myself that I could."

Somewhere along the line, and for unknown reasons, that feeling went away, and was replaced with an actual desire to see a film that kept receiving buzz as one of the best of the year and simply a moving portrayal of forbidden love. As I sat in the theater, I was not the slightest bit uneasy about anything I was about to see.

And what I saw was a moving exploration of the complexities of love, which happened to center around a story of two men who were forced to deal with a sudden attraction neither was completely equipped to handle.

During the only, very brief sex scene that takes place between Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, I was much more taken aback by the suddenness with which it occurred, and the violence behind it, as if both men were trying to push away their feelings and embrace them at the same time. The emotional conflict became physical.

Everything was handled very tastefully, and the film features beautiful cinematography, excellent acting (particularly by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal), and wonderful direction. Much of the power of the film stems from the fact that it simply depicts a specific story about specific people, and does not attempt to provide an overarching political message (similarly to the underrated Jarhead, also starring Gyllenhaal). I would recommend it to anybody who does not have one of the aforementioned acceptable reasons to not want to see the film.

I had to drive 30 minutes to see the film at the only theater playing it in Houston. Whether this is a product of the conservatism of the area, or simply because it is an independent film not meant for large audiences, I can't say. Fortunately, unlike the Brian who commented on Zhubin's post, I was able to see the film with a mature audience (I was by far the youngest there) that did not giggle or outwardly display any discomfort toward the subject matter. Instead, we simply got to witness a great movie, which to me currently rivals Crash for best picture of the year.

Song lyric of the day:
"Knowing many, loving none
Bearing sorrow, having fun
But back home he'll always run
To sweet Melissa"
- the Allman Brothers Band, Melissa

Monday, January 16, 2006

Happy (belated) birthday to Dr. King

I'd like to propose a blog toast to a courageous revolutionary, a man who got it.

To Dr. Martin Luther King, on this, the day we observe what would have been his 77th birthday had he not been cut down in the prime of his life. (The actual birthday was, of course, yesterday, which is when I meant to post this before I got wrapped up in the NFL playoffs.)

What can one say that has not already been said time and again? Dr. King was just the right man for his time. His eloquence and animation allowed him to communicate the hopes and aspirations of an entire people. His message, while informed by his religious beliefs, transcended them to reach out to all who saw the same wrongs in the world. His courage allowed him to stand up in the face of those who sought to deny him and others their basic inalienable rights, and say, "No more."

The inimitable Leonard Pitts, in an article published Friday, talks about how Dr. King truly understood and sympathized with the human condition. He understood that, just as white people should not judge black people by race, nor should the reverse be true. I have no doubt that, had he lived, his tireless efforts would have continued to promote racial harmony, and he would have chipped away at both sides of the equation. I wonder if he shudders now as he he views the current dissonance from above. Best not to think of what might have been, and focus on what was and is.

As Pitts points out, Martin Luther King Day is often a day for quoting the "I Have a Dream" speech, reciting lines about judging people by the "content of their character" and so on. Assuming my readership is familiar with the speech, and not wanting to become a cliché, I will not quote it.

Besides, my favorite MLK quote is not from that speech, but rather from his Letter from Birmingham Jail: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

Words to live by.

Song lyric of the day:
"Sleep tonight
And may your dreams be realized
If the thunder cloud passes rain
So let it rain down on him
So let it be"
- U2, MLK

Saturday, January 14, 2006

School was never like this...

Speaking of education, a story in the Houston Chronicle reports that an assignment given to high school freshman to study Internet pornography was cancelled after the school received parental complaints. (What a shocker!)

And to think, when I was a freshman, I spent so much time doing things like proving geometric theorems, dissecting fetal pigs and reading The Odyssey.

I wonder if such curricula are part of the promotion of "anti-sexism" apparently encouraged by many education schools. (See yesterday's rant.)

Song lyric of the day:
"Everybody, everybody, everybody living now
Everybody, everybody, everybody sucks
It's a non-stop disco
Bet you it's Nabisco
Bet you didn't know"
- System of a Down, Violent Pornography

Friday, January 13, 2006

Progressive? More like aggressive

Sometimes I honestly understand where conservatives are coming from.

George Will's article in this week's Newsweek begins with the proposition that to further our nation's educational system, we should close education schools. Barely restraining myself from flushing the magazine down the toilet, I kept reading.

It turns out, under the flag of "progressivism", many schools that certify teachers are focusing more on promoting tolerance and "developing anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-sexist community [sic] and alliances."


Wake up, those who call yourself progressives: forced tolerance is no tolerance at all. I mean, granted, there are things to be wary of when examining potential teachers. For example, how is a homophobe supposed to deal with the flamboyant gay student in his or her class? Or how might racists react to minority students? But a teacher's primary challenge is, as Will communicates, to impart knowledge.

As I reflect on my education, somehow I don't ever seem to recall being fed anti-bigotry messages. It wasn't necessary. It still isn't necessary. The simple facts of history, when presented in relation to how they affect us today, easily reinforce the messages these education schools want to emphasize. Race, religion, and sexuality have nothing to do with algebraic equations or scientific experiments.

Poor teachers these days. They're up against not only their students, but their students' parents. When I went to school, my teachers were the authority, and I was to respect them or accept the consequences. Now, when a teacher is forced to discipline a student, so often parents yell at the teacher. Then a kid goes to school the next day, the teacher tells him to sit down, and he says, "My mommy/daddy says I don't have to listen to you." How is anyone supposed to educate kids in the face of that? And let's not forget television, video games, and the Internet. As Scott Stapp sang back before his messiah complex kicked in, "Hooray for a child that makes it through."

Anyway, I won't bore anyone anymore with my ramblings. My simple point is, education should be about learning. Children learn to relate to society by getting out in it. Maybe less homework is the answer. Nah, that's probably just wishful thinking.

Song lyric of the day:
"So I took a journey,
threw my world into the sea.
With me went the teacher
who found fun instead of me"
- Jethro Tull, Teacher

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I know where I will be on September 2, 2006

Well, okay, that's something of a lie. Technically, I'm not even sure what city I'll be in, or whether I'll be in a bar or at home or what. But what I do know is, I will be watching the Vanderbilt Commodores football team square off against the Wolverines of Michigan.

According to a news item on the Dores' web site, Vandy will vie for an opening game victory against the boys from Ann Arbor in a sure-to-be-classic showdown. It will be televised nationally on ESPN, the first time the Dores will have made an appearance on that network since that horrific loss to Kentucky in 1999 that eliminated us from bowl eligibility. (I remember it well, as I had to leave during halftime to construct sets for "WASP", only to finish early and sprint over to the TV lounge in Vandy-Barnard along with Zhubin and the rest of the cast to watch them lose in heartbreaking fashion.)

Perhaps you too, loyal reader, will be tuned into the network that, in spite of its devotion to sports, inexplicably still covers horse races and Nascar, to watch Vanderbilt embark down a new path of football excellence. Hey, don't stifle that laughter. I'm serious!

Song lyric of the day:
"First there was God
Then came the monkey
Then came the robot
And on and on, amen"
- the Apparitions, God Monkey Robot

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I have a 69% chance of being a best-selling author*

A blurb in this week's Newsweek pointed me to the Lulu Titlescorer, which takes book titles and analyzes their chances of becoming bestsellers. If you're like me and have occasionally dabbled in attempting to write the Great American Novel, you should try it. It's kind of fun.

I was pleased with the fact that I have apparently gotten better at coming up with titles since I've grown older. For example, my awful 100-page "novel" Halloween Eve, a story about a battle between teenagers and werewolves, zombies, etc. that I wrote when I was 13, only had a 45.6% chance of becoming a bestseller. By comparison, my pet projects of the past two years both scored in the mid- to high-60s: Standards of Learning, my tale of high school seniors caught in the apathy and confusion of their last two months of school, got a 64.8; The Rightfielder in the Pumpernickel, a novel I've started and restarted many times with many different plots and premises, scored the highest of all my endeavors, with a 69. Which is good, considering I always imagined it would be my chef d'oeuvre if I could ever get it rolling.

Naturally, this scoring method is flawed, primarily because it essentially judges a book by its cover. Consider that one of my favorite novels, the classic Catch-22, scored only a 23. Still, it's an interesting way to test if your titles have any mettle. My hope is that eventually I'll find the time and inspiration to help one of my ideas live up to its title-based potential.

Song lyric of the day:
"Too much of the same stories in our lives
I think it's time for change, don't you?"
- Trapt, Stories

* now all I need is the writing talent to back it up

Saturday, January 07, 2006

NFL Playoffs

The NFL playoffs start today. This is probably the best sporting event period, with the possible exception of World Series that aren't forgone conclusions.

More importantly, the Redskins are playing the Bucs in their first playoff appearance in 6 years. Root for them, or we are no longer friends. I can make allowances only for those who live within 10 miles of Tampa (i.e. Barzelay). Otherwise, seriously, we are no longer friends.

Song lyric of the day:
"Hail to the Redskins!
Hail victory!
Braves on the warpath
Fight for old D.C.!"
- Redskins fight song

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Notes in the aftermath

Tonight's Rose Bowl between USC and Texas was an exciting game, but it wasn't a great game. It was a game featuring poor play calling and shoddy defense. The Longhorns did not win the game; the Trojans lost it. In the aftermath, I have a few points to make:

On Reggie Bush: What the hell were you thinking lateralling that ball? Honestly.

On LenDale White: You really showed me something tonight. I'm confused as to how you've managed to stay in Bush's shadow all this time, as you appear to be the better back.

On Pete Carroll: Previous comments about White notwithstanding, how in the everloving hell do you not make more use of the friggin' Heisman Trophy winner?

On Mack Brown: You seem like a class act. It must have taken some good coaching to hold your team together, particularly after that last USC TD.

On Vince Young: I'm sorry, but you're just not that great of a quarterback. I'm hard-pressed to recall a time you completed a pass with a defender less than 5 yards away. And really, most of your runs were a result of USC's lack of a defense.

On Matt Leinart: Oops. Should have come out last year. Oh well.

On ESPN: Shut up already. Not everything is deserving of the hype you give it. This USC team wasn't even as good as last year's, let alone the greatest of all-time like you've been saying they might be for the last month. And then, for crying out loud, five minutes after the game is over Lee Corso is touting Young as the greatest clutch QB ever. Are you for real? Oy vey. (Or is it "ay gevalt"?)

Anyway, rant over. Congratulations to UT fans everywhere, with particular shout-outs to Roman and Mrs. Woodhead. And my sympathies to USC fans, particularly Charlie and Jackie who had to witness the heartache first hand.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to the Commodores in a bowl next year.

Song lyric of the day:
"Dynamite, Dynamite
When Vandy starts to fight
Down the field with blood to yield
If need be, save the shield
If victory's won when battle's done
Then Vandy's name will rise in fame"
- Vanderbilt Fight Song

(Though I still prefer Banecker and Collazzi's alternate lyrics.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The best movie idea EVER

Just wanted to drop a quick entry from Jeff's house in VA to inform my loyal readers that we have just come up with the best idea for a Hollywood blockbuster ever. Seriously, producers are going to be foaming at the mouth when they read about this one. You can find out all about it here.