Sunday, July 23, 2006

Where free speech gets tricky

Fred Phelps is pretty much a worthless human being that doesn't deserve the time of day, let alone support from the ACLU.

Yes, that's right. The American Civil Liberties Union has taken up the cause of the all-too-visible leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, the founder of the "God Hates Fags" website, the utter moron who has protested at funerals of servicemen saying that God is letting American troops die because of our nation's tolerance of homosexuals. First off, that tolerance is meager at best, particularly at the legal level. More to the point, I'm pretty sure somewhere in the Bible it says something about "love thy neighbor as thyself" and somewhere else, I seem to recall something about "love the sinner, hate the sin", and... well, I could go on, but I'm not here to argue against Phelps and his moronic beliefs.

What I am here to argue, or at least discuss, is how difficult this particular issue is for me, as a die-hard First Amendment advocate. At first, I was furious at the ACLU for taking on this case. But I started to wonder how a true free speech lover can isolate protests outside funerals. Of course they're despicable, but that alone can't allow us to restrict them. As Jeff wrote in a post awhile back condemning the proposed flag-burning amendment, "We can't differentiate between speech we like and speech we don't like - otherwise 'freedom of speech' becomes meaningless." He's absolutely right.

Then of course the question becomes when do we decide other people's rights are being infringed upon. Borrowing from my dad, I've often said that a person's freedom to swing their fist ends when they hit someone else's nose. Can we reasonably argue that a nose is being hit when Phelps protests? It certainly feels like the rights of the bereaved to mourn the loss of a loved one are being violated, doesn't it? But then, if we argue that, can we similarly argue against protests in any public setting? Consider a group of people protesting outside a McDonald's or something. The people who want to eat at that McDonald's have a right to grab their greasy fattening food without being harassed. I'm aware that it's ludicrous to compare a fast food outing with a funeral, but I hope my point isn't lost. Once we start restricting people's right to protest, where do we stop?

The law currently on the Missouri books seems reasonable enough: you have to give a funeral an hour buffer zone on either side without a protest. I feel like that's a fair compromise. That doesn't completely sit well with my fervent belief in free expression, but that's just how I feel about it. I'm willing to support the rights of mourners to grieve in peace, even if it means creating an extremely small crack in the pillar of free speech.

Oh, you wanna know the best thing about free speech? It allows college humor magazines to publish pictures like this, and articles like this. (I had never seen the comment at the bottom of the article before, but it's utterly hilarious.)

Song lyric of the day:
"But to face doom in a sock-stenched room all by myself
Is the kind of fate I never contemplate
Lots of people would cry though none spring to mind
Though I ought to be learning I feel like a veteran
Of 'Oh, I like your poetry but I hate your poems'"
- the Trash Can Sinatras, Obscurity Knocks

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Breaking news from CNN

Thank God "other white meat" just called me. I would have had no idea. He was watching CNN, and the following breaking news bulletin came up:

"Blogs may be biased and uncensored."

My God! I had no idea! This changes everything! Thank you, CNN, for bringing this to my attention. Here I thought I was getting entirely unbiased, government-approved information from the blogs I frequent, and suddenly it turns out that all along, people were actually expressed non-objective viewpoints without official permission. I wish I had found this out sooner.


Song lyric of the day:
"Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box
They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe
Jai Guru De Va Om
Nothing's gonna change my world"
- the Beatles, Across the Universe

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I always knew it: President Bush is anti-life

Well, you did it, Dubya. Just like you said you would. You vetoed the stem-cell bill. Great going. Hypocrite.

Whatever happened to that culture of life you touted during the Terri Schiavo fiasco, huh? Actually, if memory serves, even while that was going on, a 6 month old boy was allowed to die thanks to a law you signed while governor of Texas. But fortunately, he wasn't a zygote. Thank God, because that would have just been deplorable.

You say: "This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others." Not quite. You neglect the fact that those innocent human lives (though I don't consider them such, that doesn't influence my argument) are never going to be lived anyway. They're just going to be discarded along with yesterday's garbage. I suppose that's better than potentially contributing to the betterment of mankind.

You say: "It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect." So crossing moral boundaries is a bad thing, but crossing national boundaries, say, those belonging to Iraq, that's completely cool? And oh by the way, how many innocent human lives have been lost in that debacle? And lives that have, say, feelings, no less?

I have nothing more to say. This blatant disregard for human life nauseates me.

Song lyric of the day:
"How many times has your faith slipped away?
Is anybody safe? Does anybody pray?
Life is waiting for you
It's all messed up, but we're alive"
- Our Lady Peace, Life

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Halfway through 2006: A music review

Without anything compelling or meaningful to say about politics, religion, or subjects the unenlightened might deem more "important", I have decided to craft a review of the first half of 2006 in music. The following are brief snippets about albums I have purchased this year, which includes one 2005 EP I was late in purchasing but had to include. So without further ado about nothing:

  • Band of Horses, Everything All the Time - I have Pandora to thank for this one. I had heard good things, and then I heard "Weed Party". Opening with the aptly-titled "The First Song", the album draws you into its dense walls of music. "The Funeral" is a particularly strong song, building slowly to anthem status.

  • Built to Spill, You In Reverse - ever since that random guy in the hostel in Paris introduced me to these guys, I've been hooked. The new album finds Doug Martsch continuing to play the role of guitar god, with epic length songs (album opener and highlight "Goin' Against Your Mind" clocks in around 8 minutes) vaguely akin to those on "Perfect From Now On". "Conventional Wisdom" has quite possibly the most infectious main riff ever, and "Liar" and "Wherever You Go" are two of my other favorites.

  • Faktion, Faktion - in the new wave of straightforward angst-ridden alt-rock, you can do worse than this gang from Dallas (e.g. 10 Years, Chevelle). While I enjoy the album well enough, nothing outside of "Control", "Distance", and "Answers" really draws me back in for repeated listens.

  • Guster, Ganging Up on the Sun - well, it's hard to deny their sound has changed since "Lost and Gone Forever". While I do miss the relatively spare production and Brian Rosenworcel's echoing hand drums, I have to admit the shimmering guitars and more prominent bass lines are quite appealing. "C'mon" and "Dear Valentine" are perfect sing-alongs, and "One Man Wrecking Machine" manages to be nostalgic without sounding trite (I mean after all, who doesn't want to build a time machine to try to get into the homecoming queen's pants). Another solid effort from Guster, fitting comfortably right alongside "Keep It Together".

  • Live, Songs From Black Mountain - a disappointing effort from Live, but probably largely due to unrealistic expectations from yours truly: I want another "Throwing Copper" or "The Distance to Here", and they're comfortable building on the adult alternative of "Birds of Prey". They do exactly that, and perhaps some of these songs will grow on me as did some from the former album, but they haven't yet. Still, I have to admit I respect an alternative artist who has the cajones to subtitle a song "A Song for My Daughters About God".

  • The Long Winters, Ultimatum - the aforementioned 2005 EP. Only 4 songs, but a very intriguing hint at what might lie ahead. Opening track "The Commander Speaks Aloud" is so heartfelt and poignant I actually teared up. I really can't adequately describe the beauty of that song. Somehow, when John Roderick sings "This is all I wanted to bring home", it makes me think of my father. And I'd better stop going down that path before I start blubbering. Suffice to say, you need to hear it. (The rest of the album is quite solid too, particularly "Everything is Talking".)

  • Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam - bearing the heart of "Ten" without the strength of the songs, this much-talked-about album is a sort of return to Pearl Jam's roots. Eddie Vedder's yells smack of catharsis and the music is as strong as it was 15 years ago, resulting in a solid album that, while surpassing "Riot Act" and "Binaural", doesn't quite reach "Vs." and "Ten" status. Still, if nothing else, "Life Wasted" arrives with a much-anticipated Pearl Jam video.

  • People in Planes, As Far As the Eye Can See - in competition with Built to Spill for best album so far this year. Atmospheric, melodic, and seamlessly alternating between slow introspection and rocking riffs, the boys from Wales pretty much don't miss here. "Narcoleptic" and "Token Trapped Woman" are easily two of the top 5 new songs I've heard in 2006, and "If You Talk Too Much (My Head Will Explode)", "For Miles Around (Scratch to Void)" and "Falling By the Wayside" all achieve near-equal quality. (Though, note to PiP: I actually have "played scuba" with a barracuda, so there.)

  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium - as has likely been repeatedly observed by countless music critics, John Frusciante is an awesome guitarist and Flea is an amazing bassist. Their talents are on display again here. There's a little classic rock influence evident here (compare the solo at the end of "Dani California" to "Purple Haze"), but primarily the Peppers are sticking with the brand of adult alternative they perfected on "By the Way". While this album falls short of its predecessor's promise (how could it not?), there is definitely a lot of great music here: "Tell Me Baby", "Slow Cheetah", and "Desecration Smile" are some of my favorites. Also, I still think "Hard to Concentrate" is a great song to play at a wedding.

  • She Wants Revenge, She Wants Revenge - picked this one up after they received Interpol comparisons. The similarities stop at the voice, as this music is more industrial and less atmospheric. Which isn't to say bad. The lyrics are straight out of the dirty rock n' roll catalog, but they fit. Won't change your life, but it's a fun listen.

With 2006 release dates set for new albums from the Long Winters, TV on the Radio, Audioslave, the Decemberists, and Barenaked Ladies, plus theoretical '06 releases from Bloc Party, Counting Crows, Wolf Parade, the Wrens, Eisley, the Shins, and even (gasp) Guns N' Roses, the rest of the year promises to be even more aurally exciting than the first half.

As always, I'm sure I'm missing a lot. Recommendations are of course not only welcome but appreciated.

Song lyric of the day:
"Can't explain it, it was something to see
Can't contain something so ethereal"
- Audioslave, Original Fire

Friday, July 14, 2006

A few quick things

First, sorry about the lack of recent blog posts. I started what would likely be a very controversial post on religion, but then due to a combination of laziness and attention deficit disorder failed to finish it. I may still post it at some point.

Second, Jeff provides excellent analysis of the current Israel/Palestine/Lebanon fiasco. I also like his contention that maybe everyone over there should just light up a doobie

Finally, Leonard Pitts has written a very good article about the Supreme Court's Hamdan ruling as a welcome slap on the wrist to the massive overreaching of the current executive branch. (Ben also writes two great posts about the ruling from a more legalistic perspective.)

I want to say one thing about Pitts' article though, as it relates to a point I've been trying to make at the top of my e-lungs: yes, I disagree with Bush on a great many things, but I emphasize, even if I agreed with everything he did I would still be vehemently against such expansion of executive powers, as it goes against the limitations laid out in our Constitution. Granted, I would probably be less concerned, but I would at least stand up and say that maybe the ends do not justify the means. Please, for the love of the democratic process, show me a Republican who actually agrees with most of Bush's actions and yet is still strong enough to acknowledge that bounds have been repeatedly overstepped. Yes, I know they say that it's easy to say such things from the sidelines because there's not as much at stake, but honestly, what is at stake is the foundations of our nation.

Rant over.

Song lyric of the day:
"Now I got my way, I've crowed myself king for a day
And I finally got to implement my changes
I wake up in the trees with my queen next to me
'Cause a king needs to know his place"
- Caroline's Spine, King for a Day

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Nations react to North Korea

The following are how I envision various other nations reacting to North Korea's missile tests:

South Korea: Anyone want to swap neighbors?

China: Um, idiots, we're actually trying to be a functioning part of the rest of the world, and you keep dragging us down. What the hell, man?

Iraq: And the U.S. invaded us?

France: We surrender unconditionally.

U.S.: (barely stifled laughter)

Seriously, Kim Jong-Il is a bloody moron. But a damn good golfer.

Song lyric of the day:
"You said that night that we might run away
And yes, we'll end up in some better place
And once we'd gone there'd be no coming back"
- People in Planes, Token Trapped Woman