Thursday, December 30, 2004

Emcee Murder

We all know you can get killed over stupid things. But a buck? Your electric bill? Your crucifix? Gawker has posted Daniel Murier's hilarious analysis of what people have been killed for in the NYDN Headlines. My personal favorite is "A TV Guide."

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Oink

More evidence that the Department of Homeland Security's budget is nothing more than a pork slush fund with a special name:

"WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Homeland Security Department has allowed federal grants for improving security at America's ports to be spent on low priority problems rather than the most serious vulnerabilities, the agency's outgoing watchdog says.

In a draft report to be released next month, Homeland Security Department Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin says port security spending should be governed by the most pressing priorities rather than local politics.

Blaming inadequate staffing and poor coordination, Ervin said the department's port security grant program needs better oversight to make sure projects that get money meet security goals."

"Oh The Humanity"

Yesterday, our best friend the United Nations evidently implied that the US is being stingy, having only promised a paltry $35 million to the tsunami relief effort thus far. I think Cal Thomas summed it up best this morning on WTOP: If the UN's complaining so much about how little money the US is contributing, the UN bureaucrats could always access their slush fund...I mean Oil-for-food program money to pump up the relief effort's coffers. It may come as a surprise to some people, but no amount of money will immediately assuage the situation in South Asia. Sniping over dollar amounts contributes little, especially when relief workers, rescue teams, private donations and logistical support (unquantifiable but integral elements to the relief effort) are being dontated by the US. Say what you want about our war and defense spending, but the US is one of the most generous nations in the world.

If the US is guilty of anything so far, it's been the President's commitment to spending time with family during the holidays as opposed to addressing this crisis with a public face and presence. Maybe Bush's reaction time is commensurate with the size of the disaster. 3,000 dead domestically, two days. 70,000 dead internationally, 4 days and counting? The estimated death toll continues to climb.

Finally, "experts" (i.e. Team Slate) have debunked the fallacy of dead bodies and their propensity to spread disease.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Tsunami Update

Sri Lanka recently pumped up their death toll estimates, causing the total number of deaths to climb to 50,000.

A lengthy composite link list for charitable and aid organizations via Command Post and a new blog dedicated specifically to disaster information and assistance.



And here are some of the local DC and national organizations accepting donations to help victims of the South Asian tsunami.

Most groups recommend that people donate cash rather than supplies (FYI):

• American Red Cross

Contributions should be sent to International Response Fund, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. For more information about donating, call 800-435-7669.

For information about friends or relatives who may have been affected, call 866-438-4636.

• Asia Relief

The Maryland-based nonprofit organization is accepting donations of cash, nonperishable food, clothing and toys for victims in Sri Lanka.

Donations should be dropped off or mailed to Asia Relief, 19409 Olive Tree Way, Gaithersburg, Md. 20879.

Contact Rizwan Mowlana at 301-672-9355 for more information.

• Association for India's Development Inc.

The Maryland-based nonprofit organization is accepting cash donations to help relief work in India.

Contributions can be made on the Web at www.aidindia.org or mailed to AID Zone 3, P.O. Box 4801, Mountain View, Calif., 94040-0801, with checks made payable to AID.

Contact Priya Ranjan at 301-422-4441 for more information.

• Tsunami Relief Inc.

The Virginia-based nonprofit group has been set up to help victims in Sri Lanka.

Donors can call 703-934-6922 or mail checks payable to Tsunami Relief Inc. to 9302 Lee Hwy., Fifth Floor, Fairfax, Va. 22031.

• B'nai B'rith International

Donations can be made online at www.bnaibrith.org or mailed to B'nai B'rith Disaster Relief Fund, 2020 K St. NW, Seventh Floor, Washington, D.C. 20006.

More information about donations to humanitarian organizations can be found on the U.S. Agency for International Development's Web site, www.usaid.gov.

Donors can also call the Center for International Disaster Information at 703-276-1914.

This Ain't No Emmerich Film

The estimates of just how big a tragedy the tsunamis were mount. 44000 and climbing in the death toll, and 11 countries so far experience the aftershock of this earthquake. I remember hearing the story unfold on Sunday with the first death toll numbers around 3000. . .we've come along way since then. Not only is the personal destruction and life destruction huge, but the global economyis bound to suffer from this. Not to mention generally the planet itself. Humor aside (via Blogfather Instapundit) this is bad stuff. And I thought I had it bad being stuck in Chesapeake VA in a BLIZZARD (that's right, blizzard in southern virginia). Thailand and Indonesia will be hard pressed to recover from this one, losing hordes of human life, all their resort areas, and probably some of their main exports. This is an event that is likely going to remain forever in world history, and saliently in the history of the countries affected. Let's all hope and pray the diseases that settle in after this kind of flooding always are gentle this time, or the amount of life lost is going to escalate much further.

UPDATE: Check out Ann Althouse's various thoughts on the tsunami. She has some interesting views on what fallout from this could possibly be and some of the more indirect lessons of it.

Senseless Criticism: Shame Em On Down

So, I declare the holiday hiatus over, and the festivities to begin! If only the RIDICULOUS 9:30 Club stamp on my hand (it's the biggest one I think I've ever had from them, it practically covers the entire back of my hand) would fade away so my 50-year-old coworkers would stop thinking I'm an insane nightfreak. That said, I want to bring attention to a certain RL Burnside album that I got over the Holidays. There's been a lot of effort generally to incorporate the blues thoroughly into modern music, despite its nearly ancient beginnings before the turn of the century, and even further since it's essentially a folk music. There was the blues rock of the 60s, with Hendrix and Clapton, that showed how blues and psychedelic rock could be fused in a way that made the two nearly synonymous. Recent bands like The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and The Blues Explosion also have welded blues, punk, and grunge together like a patchwork quilt of noise and skill. (Interesting aside: none of those bands have bassists. . .and neither does RL when he's on tour. . .influence? I think so). Moby even created a way dance and blues could combine with his latest albums Play and 18, dredging up muddy blues samples along with vicious techno keyboard samples and electronic drums.

Recently there's even been a huge revival of old blues and blues fusion, with Fat Possum Records doing nicely by pushing some neo-blues acts like the aforementioned Black Keys, Entrance, Heartless and scores of blues dinosaurs like T-model Ford and Jimmy Lee Williams who have pracitcally come back from the dead. In some way or another, RL Burnside has been part of all of this, either in influencing or participating in the careers of others, or in his own. RL's style was neither Mississippi Delta (though he's certainly VERY MUCH from Mississippi), or Chicago blues. It was the punk blues, even from when he had his basically first life back in the 60s. The blues RL played was fast and raucous, not a slow shuffle or anything that followed standard 12 bar blues progressions. He had some things in common with John Lee Hooker's raw sound, but took it to futher extremes, playing his blues and chords with a rock-like speed but an unmistakable blues and country twang to it. He experienced a revival in the late 90s, beginning with Ass Pocket of Whiskey, a 1996 collaboration with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. RL dropped another bomb in 1998, with Come On In. This album sounds at times like Moby's album Play, which was roughly contemporaneous. It involves lots of fusing RL vocal samples and guitars with techno beats and DJ scratching. Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down followed, and was similar but a little more laidback. Both those albums are great, and I own both, but in the end they didn't feel quite as genuine as Whiskey because they sounded like some DJs and Producers just got a hold of old RL albums, sampled like crazy, and then tossed them out. In 2001 a real treat dropped, the live disc Burnside on Burnside, a collection of RL playing live with his touring band Kenny Brown and his grandson, Cedric Burnside.

The new album is A Bothered Mind. And it is, without a doubt, my favorite RL Burnside album. This album carries RL's blues-fusion efforts forward, and it doesn't take guest spots from hip hop producer extraordinaire Lyrics Born and Superstar/Complete Hack Kid Rock to figure that out. But this doesn't go as far into the tweaky, slick world of Come On In and Heaven, but instead surrounds RL with bigger bands, including keyboards, a scratching DJ, more guitarists, and on some cuts a second drummer. The sound unmistakably brings a lot of hip hop, rock, and funk into RL's mix. The difference between that and previous albums is that this has a real intermingled band feel to it, not simply one of production samples and artificial insertions. "Glory Be", "Stole My Check," and "Go To Jail" are amazing examples of how much is added when a steady hip hop beat thumps below R.L.'s jagged guitar chords and a wah wah guitar or two glides around for flavor. The overall sound produced is like a country funk that hits rowdy and fresh, and beats out any produced effort by a slick producer to create bluesy and countrified hip hop through samples by forging the genuine article. It's music arranged made, and sung by a blues dinosaur using modern sounds through and through.

Lyrics Born's two tracks, revamps of "Goin Down South" and "Someday Baby" show him getting just as down and dirty as RL, sounding downright like he stepped out of the Dirty South in "Someday Baby." Kid Rock even does his best to be classy, which he almost pulls off. A Bothered Mind is definitely a treat, not just to anyone who likes blues, but to anyone who likes any of the multiple genres it crosses and mingles.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Enough with the Bull

My favorite new blog, the Bull Moose, on a sensitive topic:

"The Moose reiterates his call for a cancellation of the inaugural festivities.

Let the Moose be clear - to forego the inaugural parties is certainly not to begrudge the President his victory. This is not a proposal to protest his policies. The same approach should have applied to the inauguration if Kerry had been elected. Moreover, a party-free inauguration should have the broad support of hawks and doves, liberals and conservatives and Democrats and Republicans.

Since we are a nation at war, there should not be an inaugural as usual. Lavish celebratory festivities are not in order. Official partying is entirely inappropriate while our brave troops are sacrificing life and limb for country. We were reminded of this horrible fact by the monstrous attack on our troops yesterday in Mosul."

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Anyone know who the Ricola girl is? Besides the girl of my dreams. Rrrrowl.

Red Tape Rent-Seeking (Government Muck of the Week)

The FDA is getting the holy dog turkey pounded out of it lately, and with good reason. First in this recent line of pharmaceutical assault and unraveling was the revelation about Vioxx. And in the aftermath so far there has already been more than a fair share of suing and downsizing. at Merck. To follow, an avalanche of news about Celebrex, an insanely popular drug that wasn't recalled but is likely to suffer dramatically. Merck and Pfizer have suffered in their own unique torture chambers for this, and only time will tell what the results are. The tainted images of the pharmaceutical industry are growing ever more sinister. However, fallout from these events hasn't been confined to only these drug colossuses. The inept FDA is being publicly beaten for a lackadaisical approval process, and the level of incompetence and scandal has forced the White House to enter the fray. And this morning, we have a new warning, on Aleve (geez, what is with the painkillers?).

This latest stain is only going to bring more unholy criticism on the FDA, and the regulatory "watch dog" is starting to look at worst like a drug industry poodle and at best like a cartoon dog that's been thrown a steak by the burglars and is happily chewing away distracted. They're clearly more than asleep at the wheel here. Critics are forming ranks, and the smooth whistleblower David Graham (who has balls of crystal) has galvanized them. Many talk of the FDA straying from it's mission, and Congress is starting to from its dogmatic slumber. So is this a scandal? Definitely. But can we stop it with simple legislation? Absolutely not. Not anymore than we can stop contractors from dictating what the government needs or fixing the personnel system to root out incompetence, or stop corporations from generally dominating the political process, because Rent-Seeking activity by a regulated industry is an intrinsic flaw in the system. I had a Professor when I was in grad school(I won't name him because he'll probably rightly say I'm butchering his ideas), who in spite of being a fairly liberal guy in a lot of ways thought that regulatory agencies were a bad idea per se. His reasons were manifold and centered on a single fact of democracy and capitalism, that industries eventually capture regulatory agencies (especially when certain political appointees are placed on them who were part of said industry). Rent-seeking is what results, and it comes from a careful blend of political savvy, lobbying, and classic interest-group pressure on the part of the money-mad corporate pirates. Essentially, what I'm presenting here is a conservative argument about regulatory reform coming from a liberal angle.

Quick economics lesson: rent-seeking consists of efforts by incumbent firms to create certain obstacles or advantages through a legal apparatus or otherwise to guarantee future profits and restrict competition. This is easy to do when you focus on wielding political influence instead of actually making a better product. This is not meant to be solely a criticism of the Bush Administration, but it certainly applies in this case. I would argue, as my Professor, that this a tendency that cannot be beaten. The more we empower regulatory agencies to set up legal standards and process with large scope, power, and authority, the more devastating rent-seeking is on our economy. Industries inevitably develop influence with these agencies, and will gently (or savagely) convince regulatory agencies to outlaw some products while allowing theirs, or outlaw other practices while allowing theirs, or greenlight their products faster than others for distribution. This stifles innovation and disrupts our technical paradigms of research in addition to putting existing firms that lack clout with the regulatory agency out of business. And, as we all know, you can get a group of scientists together and pay them enough to create any result you want. Rent-seeking and powerful regulatory agencies create an economic system where political clout and influence is rewarded instead of real performance and innovation.

The answer? Like all the government problems I tend to discuss there is no silver bullet and these tendencies naturally result in a capitalist democracy that wants some level of government activism and transparency. One is obvious though: we should be inherently skeptical of the activities and power of regulatory agencies. And we should always ask whether more regulations will really solve the problem or create new ones. Some things, while dangerous, can become even more dangerous when a heavily powerful government agency designed to combat them goes awry. We have to be smarter about regulations, and regulations should act more to create and distribute information for consumers to make their own intelligent choices. Warning labels are one example, and nutritional contents on food are another. Blindly illegalizing, fining, or setting arbitrary standards causes more harm than good. The answer is better empowering and informing consumers to make their own decisions about products that could be dangerous to them. That, and we should, as I always call for, create stronger whistleblower protections and incentives for individuals like David Graham.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

America's Pastime/Jackoff

Anyone who has followed the relationship of major league sports teams with their cities noticed a pattern. . .taxpayers getting bent over a barrel. Anthony Williams seemed hellbent to do the same to DC, and thus, the whole nation via the federal budget, in his attempt to create the Washington Nationals. That would've insured the city get raped on a bed of nails. The City Council surely pulled a number on him. I could explain how and why and that this has created both a screwjob for Williams' reputation and, infinitely better, the MLB, but James F over at why.i.hate.dc has roundup up the comments better than ever. Here was when it was breaking news onto an entrenched embarassment for Williams. I vote we follow James F's sterling idea and example and refer to Anthony Williams as "The Bowtie" from now on. Makes him seem like the supervillain he is sometimes. And a bad one at that. The deal was a screwjob for the city, and basically this baseball team came to DC because they won a race to the bottom by offering them the biggest bribe of anyone. If you don't read why.i.hate.dc, it's mandatory. Daily. Seriously.

Major league sports is often seen as an economic development engine, but it does little but create a bunch of low-wage service jobs and gentrify neighborhoods so those people with the low-wage service jobs then have nowhere to live. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but that it's mana from heaven designed to enrich a city is a highly dubious proposition. And that means public money should be far from financing all of it.

Friday, December 17, 2004

And You Thought Fried Twinkies Were Bad. . .

Often at state fairs and various other great american redneck gatherings, you notice bizzare things being deep fried. Stuff you would think had enough fat and sugar to stand on its own, but in fact can be even further made into a weapon of mass self-destruction by some time spent in a lard vat. The famous example, of course, is the fried twinkie. They were especially the rage in 2002. It reminds me of the line in Seinfeld: "Newman, you wouldn't eat a piece of broccoli if it was deep fried in chocolate sauce!"

Well, in Scotland another fatchugging fad (or genius idea, depending on which side you stand on) is deep-fried Mars bars. It has become something of a controversy there because of its recent ascendency as a prolific snack and item served at fish and chip joints.

And America has a problem with obesity. . .At least Scotland is paying for this sin with their heart disease rate. My favorite line: "Health experts have condemned the deep fried mars bar as an artery-cclogging catastrophe." But honestly, we can go beyond this. There's much more saturated fat and trans fat to be had. We don't need a catastrophe, we need an arteery-clogging ARMAGEDDON. What's next? Deep fried pizza!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Merciless Ursula

As somewhat of a scifi fan and an aspiring hackish writer of pulp fiction, I often wonder about the world of books and film adaptations. We've gotten glimpses of it in the great short story "Changes" by Neil Gaiman about his totally boondoggling experience trying to deal with Hollywood executives and their endless alterations to an original story. We've all seen it, especially with Michael Crichton's good book "Congo" transformed into an unwatchable disaster. Now Ursula K. Le Guin gives us an an inside perspective on what happened to Earthsea when the SciFi Channel got its grubby paws on it. Apparently, *big surprise*, they missed the entire point of her book, and she makes a lot of great comments about the lilywhite nature of scifi in general and how she personally tried to fight it during her career. We all know it from the movies where the only person of color is usually the one killed by the alien beast in the first 30 minutes, but it also happens in the books and was an industry problem not too long ago. But the SciFi Channel has of course returned to reject progress. It's a shame. They did kind of a decent job with Dune, but that's about it.

Get On The Bus (World Roundup)

The Greek hostage crisis is over, in what is all things considered a good display of know-how from the Greek security forces. They handled the incident well, probably a lot of residual from the country's huge security investment for the olympics in training and other domestic preparedness. There's a lot of talk as to whether these hostage takers were actually Russians or Albanians. Albanians would make some sense given the large number of Albanian immigrants in Greece and the rough time they have there given the two countries' troubled relations (like most of Greece's neighbors, they just don't seem to get along).

An interesting
dynamic is emerging in Iraqi politics for the upcoming January elections. The slates of candidates are interesting, but the rhetoric even more so. The main square off seems to be shaping up between Allawi's crew and Sistani's crew, with both sides flinging accusations back and forth. Allawi is making a big campaign issue of two things: 1) war crimes trials and calling Saddam's bloodocracy to trial and 2)Iran. That the Iran-Iraq relationship is tangled, troubled, and tautological should be no surprise. The two neighbors have a rich enough past and a vicious enough present. What's interesting is the political effects of Allawi's labeling of Sistani's crew as a bunch of Iranian stooges. It seems to me he's inviting the comeback of his crew being called a bunch of American stooges. But maybe at this point that's just understood in Iraq. "Chemical Ali's" trial is probably going to get milked for all the publicity it's worth, but it's questionable whether that will be enough to stop the surging power of the United Iraq Alliance's backing from Sistani and other moderate Shiite clerics plus our best friend, of course, Ahmad Chalabi.

A flap between Japan and North Korea is enlarging by the day. That North Korea based a lot of intelligence activities on kidnapping and murdering Japanese citizens is old news, but that doesn't make it any less of a sensitive and disgusting subject. A visit in November from Japan to check on the abductee situation only incensed them further. Monday Japan froze food aid. Now they're talking sanctions, and the DPRK (Demented Perverted Repugnance of Korea, errr Democratic People's Republic of North Korea) is talking
war in response. North Korea's always been one of the roguest of rogue states, what it calls "trade" amounts to sucking in aid from other countries by blackmailing them. Koizumi is thinking of calling their bluff. North Korea's strategy has always been to threaten extremes, cashing in on their reputation as a country crazy and desperate enough to actually follow through. However, the real intention in this sort of negotiation on the edge has always been to get something somewhere else, reading between the lines of their crazy neo-Stalinist and global domination ranting. Koizumi's crafty, and he's ready to do some brinksmanship to explore the DPRK's real interests.

Uzbekistan is again showing how
undemocratic it can be. As "freedom is on the march", we get increasing examples of supposed allies in the WOT doing bad on their own people. I ask, as I always do, those pro-war Eagles to say why it's okay to fight one dictator and it's our moral duty to remove him and not others? While Karimov is no Saddam Hussein, he represents another great example of us beating down one thug while we say to another one "hold my gold." The "elections" in Uzbekistan are little more than a farce that makes them look good to the UN and to a bunch of conventions they've signed when they basically have a one-party state and ban anyone who disagrees with them. It was good to fight the Ukraine results, but we have more Ukraines and fraudulent elections everyday we don't do anything about. I could respect a policy of spreading democracy and freedom if it was actually being practiced, but such selective applications and turning blind eyes doesn't do it any good. It says that we'll spread freedom and democracy as long as it's convenient for us or you're on our shitlist.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Newsflash!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm so apalled I'm speechless.

Kerik Bear Stare, Part 2 (And Why I'm Pro-Hutch)

Well, Bernie Kerik has officially faded into total irrelevance. Of anyone discussing this implosion, the The Note basically devotes itself in entirety to the issue. All the hot rumors are discussed, as well as the White House's obvious irritation about ol' Kerik not giving them a heads up on this, and postulating on how awkward the White House dinner was between Grand Moff Guiliani and C-Plus Augustus on Sunday. Fact is, despite all the talks of smokescreen, it really looks pretty damngodawful for someone who is going to be the nation's top immigration cop personally fueling up one of the driving mechanisms by paying an illegal off the books.

I of course had my doubts about Kerik, as I posted recently but wanted to believe it would turn out okay. Once again, the familiar names of Joementum and Asa Hutchinson are being kicked around. Joementum is too smart to take this and shaft his party, after all who would want to leave a lucrative senator position to be a Cabinet Secretary facing a mess of a department and likelihood of being scapegoated by your appointers should something go wrong on the job. Hutch would not be a bad choice, and is probably one of the best. I once saw the man give a ta;l, back when he was the lowly head of the DEA, at Syracuse while I was in grad school. He took a relentless assault from a bunch of pro-legalization hacks and a generally hostile audience and honestly responded to the criticisms with cogent counterarguments. Hutch marshalled probably the best pro-drug-war arguments available: 1) enormous task of regulation, 2) constant new drugs, 3) constant black marketeering of stuff not up to the regulation, and the consequent crime and terrorism, and articulated all of them very well. He even paid a lot of service to the need to pair enforcement of the supply side with demand treatment, saying that was an undeniably important component that he wanted to see more of. Sensible thoughts from a generally sensible guy. But then again, I hate heroin like cockroaches and want to see it scorched from the face of the earth, Christopher Hitchens madness be damned to hellfire of a thousand black suns.

Point being he's exactly the kind of engaging, humble, nuanced type of spokesman and manager C Plus Augustus needs at his disposal. Vast amounts of law enforcement experience at the federal level and in different sectors. He has a pretty holistic view of the whole law enforcement apparatus as a rural lawyer, prosecutor of terrorists, and how it can interface with Security in his current undersecretary position as Border and Transportation Security. He's a certifiable fed, but one with a decent track record whose got some brain cells

Another Set of Crazy Maps

It's over a month and a half and am I still obsessing over election statistics? Yes. Why? Well, although a pessimist I am also an unrelenting skeptic who has an unending desire to question my own views, not just everyone around me's. So here, (my goodness gracious thank you to Mr. Ritholtz over at Big Picture) we have some more not-so-bad news about the election. While this is not as funny as Senor C's little slave states map, it's a lot more educational.

Basically this is a giant statistical exercise in showing why the nation is a little more purple than you might think, and the overwhelming statistical makeup of the red voters. I'll give you a hint: they're a little less well-to-do, a little more obese, a little more dependent on federal aid for survival, and pay less taxes than blue voters. A nice set of data to feel better about things and a more subtle view of the overall election data. I still can't wait to see the next Change and Continuity in the election data series. I have a feeling the statisticians are going to continue to discover oddities.

But of course, in the words of Rob Corddry, "It's the facts themselves that are biased"

Spineless Whistleblowing

From time to time, since I work at sensitive levels of the government, with tons of corporate information, with incompetent people, with a huge body of regulation, and with enormous amounts of money, I see some pretty frightening, laughable, and disturbing things. Today is no exception here at the Department of Veterans Affairs. A colleague of mine just had a phone conversation with VA's DM&EEO, or for those not addicted to acronyms. . .the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Employment Opportunity. They're today's criminals.

For those of you who don't know what EEO is, it's basically the office employees file complaints and grievances of discrimination with, and who attempt to enforce agency affirmative action policies in hiring. Well, today come to find out the Agency Final Decisions, which are issued to respond to employee grievances are written by. . .the Deputy Assistant Secretary for those? WRONG!. . .agency lawyers? WRONG! . . .Inspector General Agents? WRONG!

CONTRACTORS! That's right, the function of writing Final Agency Responses, the legal decision that the agency takes to court if the employee wishes to go further, and that decides whether there is discrimination or grievances, is done not by anyone connected with Department of Veterans Affairs or who actually has investigated, but outside private sector contractors.

Hooray for the death of institutional capacity.

Friday, December 10, 2004

The South Park guys gotta love this

Team America: World Police only did so-so at the box office and South Park, while still pushing the envelope, is not at the center of any huge public controversy. Fortunately for its creators, an Alexandria entertainment watchdog comes to the rescue. The Parents Television Council has a new feature on its website: a "weekly worst" clip of what they consider the smuttiest, most putrid crap on the air the previous week. Of course, fans of the allegedly putrid crap might flock to the site to see what they missed that was so controversial the previous week. Either way, they're sure to get more website hits in the future.

Anyway, here's this week's installment:


Watch the Worst TV Clip of the Week - South Park (warning: graphic content)


Thursday, December 09, 2004

TJ Legacy

Jay Matthews' high school challenge index was released today by El Wapo. Check it out to see which public high school was left out, yet again this year.

Blade: Unholy Trinity

Upon finishing Blade Trinity late last evening, Wesley Snipes’ swan song to the franchise he so dutifully helmed for the past half decade or so, it took me a while to decipher why my immediate post-movie response was that of uneasiness. The movie ultimately sucked more than a drunken sorority girl during pledge week, but lets not get ahead of ourselves here. I think my main issue with the movie was its title. A movie’s title is a sacred cow. In a few words, the title is supposed to communicate to moviegoers what exactly it is they are about to see. The obvious analysis was that the marketeers titled this movie Blade: Trinity to give it an aura of hope for the future, as it introduces a few fresh faces to the franchise. But I think the movie studio was subconsciously asking for a leap of faith with regards to the movie’s quality. Here, I present to you, what the final installment in the Blade pantheon SHOULD have been titled:

Blade: Train Wreck.
Blade: Travesty
Blade: Troglodyte
Blade: Tragedy

Lets get some perspective here. Blade has always been a very dark franchise with a handful of interesting characters. I’m a recovering comic book geek, and the Ghost Rider/Nightstalkers comics were mighty popular during my days as geek extraordinaire. Blade was always supposed to be somewhat of a recluse, one who was misunderstood at best and downright terrifying at worst. “Less is more” always worked when portraying a half spawn of Satan in Blade’s case. But Snipes’ performance this time around was more of the same, failing to provide any added value in a film causing all types of brain hemorrhaging in yours truly. The story of Dracula’s return presented an opportunity for some badass flashbacks and mythology. Pile on top of that a “final solution” storyline that sends shivers down peoples’ spine because of its connotation, and you’d think the studios could give the public something worthy upon which to spend 9 plus dollars. Unfortunately, Dracula ends up being another euro-bitch, badass wannabe, transforming from what looks like a Skeletor-Sauron-Barney the Purple Dinosaur hybrid to a slightly more annoying villain as a clubgoing Frenchman. In his defense, I too would engage in riotous behavior if my legacy was encapsulated by a cereal from Kellogg’s.

Somehow, Blade: Travesty managed to one-up Van Helsing in the “Shittiest Movie Vampire Contest”. How stupid was I for thinking Parker Posey, of all people, could actually pull off a decent vampire villain? Even Triple H, mother-freakin’ TRIPLE H, managed to screw this movie up for me. His best scene was the pseudo-wrestling match with Ryan Reynolds on a pile of broken glass, not the make out scene with his genetically-altered lap dog (literally). The vampires in the previous two films didn’t over exploit the euro-trash theme either. For god sakes, a few of them actually had European accents when they spoke English. This time around, NONE of the worker-ant vampires were European, so what’s the deal with the Euro-trash motif???? The dialogue in this film caused my life to shorten ever so slightly. Here I’m referring to the lack of any type of coherent back-and-forth, particularly in the Vampire department. The humans had all the great lines, particularly Reynolds’ various insults and jabs to Blade and other suck-heads. But the minute Parker Posey opened her mouth at the beginning of the film, my insane asylum tendencies began to take over.

By far the biggest let down had to be with the Nightstalkers. We were told that multiple Nightstalker cells existed in the film. Why the hell didn’t we see the next back-up cell once the first one was decimated by Count Euro-bitch? I wanted troop strength, I wanted to know how the whole operation was financed (George Soros maybe?), and I wanted to know who trained the war fighters. Why didn’t Whistler inform Blade of this anti-vampire terror network before? Couldn’t they have helped with the Reaper outbreak in Blade 2? And how the hell did Reynolds become a human again after being a suck-head for so many years? Damn it, I want answers from you New Line! The success of LOTR does NOT let you off the hook this time. If the movie execs thought that these details could be the “story meat” in the next movie, think again bozos.

The only real plus in this film was Ryan Reynolds. This fact comes as no surprise to those of you who keep up with movie chat rooms and websites. Blade was similar to Angel in the over brooding department, and Ryan Reynolds was Blade’s Cordelia Chase in this movie (sans big hair and tits). I could definitely see Reynolds channeling a bit of Jason Lee-like sarcasm in his interactions with 3-H and Posey, but the performance was definitely all his own. The second interrogation scene was Reynolds at his best, and luckily he did most of the talking. I bet if I watched with a packed theater, I would have enjoyed his performance more. I was the only person in a theater of about 50 patrons laughing at some of his choice lines.

Conclusion: Very, very few movies have worked as third installments. I couldn’t have been more foolish with my expectations, as the potential letdown by Blade 3 was masked by my past joy from the first two movies. Damn you New Line Cinema.

New Years Resoluation: Sign up for Ryan Reynolds’ gym. Better yet, I could use it right now.

I Get My Root Down, I Put My Boot Down

We all know about hip hop and other forms of music's insane sampling. It's become a way of life. Few of us nowadays have even heard the original tunes of the complete geniuses who created the first beat. But someone has come along and put together a fairly comprehensive list of the most famous examples WITH the original songs and tracks, no matter how obscure. Feel like a DJ with a deep crate, and suck in this. The list has the original artist and original song paired with the later ripoff. Once again, thanks to the almighty Screenhead

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

This just confirms my boss's theory

So the other day in a meeting, my boss chalked up pretty much all technological progress in video entertainment to the insatiable thirst for porn. The oldest silent films, VHS recorders, DVD, DVR, digital cable, you name it, the "necessity" mothering invention in this instance is lust for porn.

He was half joking, half serious, but at any rate, this article just confirms his theory:

This is
LONDON

08/12/04 - News and city section

'One in four buys broadband for porn'

Almost one in four people with broadband internet admit signing up in order to download pornography, according to a survey published today.

Faster access to adult entertainment was the second biggest reasons why users installed the technology in their home.

The top reason for getting broadband was to download music from the internet, according to the poll by telephone and internet company Homecall.

More than 5,000 people were questioned face-to-face in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff and Birmingham earlier this month about their reasons for getting broadband.

A third said it was to download music, 23% to download adult services, 12% for music videos, 9% to listen to online radio, 8% to download movie trailers and 5% to share information with family and friends.

"Broadband in the home has really taken off," a Homecall spokesperson said. "We have been able to keep in touch with family and friends via email on dial-up, but having high speed internet access in the privacy of our own home allows us to use the service for entertainment as well."

Broadband allows access to the internet at up to 10 times faster than existing dial-up connections.

Somehow I think "aiding the advancement of technology" still won't be a good excuse for looking at porn at work, though.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Wedding Present

Apparently, the federal government is impervious to computer network problems. I drove into work the past few days, knowing full and well that I wouldn't be able to complete a thing without access to several Army network functions. Go figure. I guess playing Solitaire for hours on end is our secret weapon in the Global War on Terror. Sigh.

Anywho, I'm back on the web, and as a treat for all you 29 or so loyal RM readers, I present to you the very first present I received for the impending nuptuals, courtesy of my favorite aspiring Hollywood-type. Enjoy.

Another Crucial Paper. . .Ignored

It amazes me, how many reports the government creates for its own consumption, end up full of wisdom and great ideas for change that could really turn a terrible travesty into a success, and are promptly sent to the round file. Sid Blumenthal pontificates on the significance over at Salon, but by all means read the Defense Science Board Task Force Report on Strategic Communication. It's an eye-opener for that extra-dimension of the WOT given lip service to but never actually fought, the war of ideas and perceptions.

Even skimming this document, you can tell it's not just a blind criticism. What's stressed? The scope for change in each agency, and the tremendous capabilities the US possesses for strategic communication that are not being leveraged and how to change that. Key passage on page 10:

"To succeed, we must understand the United States is engaged in a generational and global struggle about ideas, not a war between the West and Islam. It is more than a war against the tactic of terrorism. We must think in terms of global networks, both government and non-government. If we continue to concentrate primarily on states ("getting it right" in Iraq, managing the next conflict better), we will fail." (emphasis added)

It paints our communication, public diplomacy, and credibility as "in crisis" and that it should receive the same emphasis as defense, intelligence, and homeland security. They emphasize actual structural changes and policies to be put in place, including building infrastructure within the National Security Council and coordinating military Psyops, public diplomacy, and military information operations. This is not vague stuff, either, but practical concrete solutions. But, since it was all delivered in August, it was completely ignored.

The Origami Assault (World Roundup)

It started innocent enough. Peace birds, 120 Million of them, to be dropped on the Muslim insurgency in Thailand to spread messages of peace. Hand folded some of them by the Cabinet ministers. What happened? The benign little airdrop of paper birds was met with a lot of nasty violence. This is largely another one of those great historical regional conflict, and like most, it's a north vs. south one. The Buddhist North has been relatively unable to deal with the Southern Muslims, who complain of discrimination and heavy handed oppression from the state. Speculation abounds as to why the origami gesture didn't accomplish much (maybe it's just because it's about the gayest idea since gay came to gaytown). Perhaps the birds contained insulting messages. Perhaps the Southern Muslims saw it as meaningless. Who knows. All I know is that a lot of paper just got wasted. To think they spent months planning this operation.

Foreign criticism of the U.S. is starting to mount, especially from our supposed "allies" that the Bush Administration has practically sold everything out to in order to get their cooperation. Putin, for one, has started slamming US foreign policy as unipolar and dictatorial. This coming from a guy who said that a defeat of Bush is a victory for the terrorists in our last election. Putin's a flip-flopper! No, he's just bitter about Ukraine. Besides our buddy Putin getting critical, we also have Musharraf. Musharraf, for a power-mad self-proclaimed "Democratically Elected President" who's really a military junta, actually has a few cogent criticisms of the WOT's basic approach. What does Musharraf think is planting the seeds of these violence? One is of course is the favorite whine of all Arab leaders, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But after that, he states, in a moment of remarkable revelation and clarity, that "what gives rise to a young man or woman to give up her or his life? It is the political disputes and we need to resolve them and also illiteracy and poverty. These combined are breeding grounds of extremism and terrorism." These sentiments have been echoed many times before from commentators, but it's refreshing to hear Pervez criticize the blunt approach of the war on terror and show he himself has some understanding of it as well. His fears that the current strategy in the WOT is misguided are well-placed.

We all heard about the raid on Jeddah, and we're still really struggling to find out what it means. Al Qaeda is responsible, irrational doubt aside. Has Qaeda regrouped in Saudi Arabia? Or is this their death throes? One thing is for sure, and that is that the monarchy doesn't come out looking stable in a situation like this. There are, of course, many views. The one I think is most plausible is that it illuminates the quick unraveling of the Saudi social fabric. Saudi Arabia is basically a state held together by a monarchy, with no real rule of law, formal constitution, or any government to even give it a national "imagined community." It's all imposed, and imposed a ragtag collection of individuals with tribal allegiances. The system is loose, and this attack is further evidence of discontent and continued breakdown. Saudi Arabia had basically been deploying a collection of traditional tools capitalizing on clerical power and social pressure to destroy the militants, but apparently recent US calls to further crack down using more overt means met with heavy resistance. The fighting back and forth cannot be good at all for such a fragile political system as Saudi Arabia, with the monarchy increasingly caught in the crossfires of a battle between the US and Qaeda.

To show yet more disrespect for all things progressive and free, China has decided to crush the internet yet again in a new round of draconian infofascism. To them, the internet represents an "evil trend" that undermines the Communist Party and is an affront to the Government. Even better, this comes from the "propaganda sector" of the government. Media freedoms had been expanding under Hu Jintao, but I guess he has a glass jaw for criticism. As China's Great Firewall starts to get more and more porous, this effort could be a death grip to squeeze information freedoms. This boils down to the old adage that if you're pissing someone off, you must be doing something right.

And now for one of my pet causes, Democracy in Africa. Ghana's election is looking good, with high turnout and a lively set of campaigns between Kufour and Mills, even though the incumbent Kufour is set to win. Ghana's elections mark a path of good political and electoral history in the nation. Also, Zimbabwe has elected (or really appointed) its first woman vice-president. Joyce Mujuru was selected to fill the quota position of one of the country's two vice presidents having to be a woman, a new requirement supported by Mugabe. The move was not without controversy and caused a lot of internal rankling amongst Mugabe's party. So time will tell whether this is a meaningful development, but right now it has continent-wide significance.

Tax the lawyers, not the patients


[syndicated to Shepherd's Pie, Web Edition]


So it looks like a deal on medical malpractice legislation between Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich (R) and Democratic legislative leaders, including State Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller (D-Calvert) is off. For one thing, Ehrlich opposes Miller's idea to have a two percent tax levied on HMO premiums in order to finance a state fund to aid doctors who can't afford astronomical malpractice insurance premiums. Basically, doctors who can't afford malpractice insurance can't, for all intents and purposes, practice medicine. Litigation over even the most unmerited malpractice cases is so costly to time, income, and reputation, that it's suicide to practice medicine without having an insurance company to help handle any and all spurious and legitimate malpractice claims which may arise.

Anyway, Ehrlich opposes the tax for good reason: it doesn't address but rather entrenches the problem.

So as I see it, this being the state of Maryland and taxes being the Democrats' preferred remedy of choice, if Ehrlich really must start imposing new taxes, why not demand a tax on the trial lawyers via their cut of settlements and court judgments in malpractice cases. These monies would be used to finance this fund that Miller and his cronies want.

What's more, the tax shouldn't be flat, but graduated, placing a greater burder in accord to the relative size of the settlement or the relative size of their compensation the attorney draws from the settlement against their client.

So let's say a lawyer helps a client settle for $60,000 and the lawyer takes 10 percent in lawyer's fees for say $6000. Let's tax that $6000 at two percent, $120 to the state fund. But let's say the settlement is $600,000 and the lawyer takes $120,000, or 20 percent. Let's tax the lawyer's $120k take at 15 percent, yielding $18,000 to the state malpractice insurance fund. The more strain the lawyer invokes on the malpractice insurance pool, the more the lawyer must contribute in higher taxes to a state fund to ameliorate the problem.

I mean, shouldn't the rich pay their fair share?

Oh, that's right, not if the rich in question are trial attorneys who finance and control the state Democratic Party. Forgive my naivete.

Shucks

The seventh seal has been broken. The angels with the seven trumpets have descended. They blow them, one by one, and the seven headed dragon roams the Earth.

Justin Timberlake is going to play Iron Man. And thus we finally have the end of the good comic book movie wave.

Monday, December 06, 2004

UNtouchable

We now have a bipartisan consensus. Kofi is a crook. And props to the DLC, my favorite crew, for jumping on the vanguard. The man who calls our wars illegal needs to realize that accepting bribes and corruption is illegal too. Britain's Jack Straw got almost everything he wanted in the UN Overhaul. Maybe we'll finally get Glenn's dream of Vaclav Havel. Now there's a hero.

There was a time Kofi had credibility. Kofi Annan for awhile was a positive force working for stability in Africa and pushing the agenda of sustainable development, both global development causes that needed prime attention. In the world of 2000, those were priorities and needs. Not to say they aren't still. Then 2001 roled around. Not only did Kofi have trouble containing his blind opposition to the Bush Administration in counterproductive ways, he failed completely in adapting to the realities of risen global terrorism. Kofi continuously cozied to dictators, singing praises of men that belonged behind bars, out of power, or executed. The man became an obstacle not just to combating terrorism, but to reform and democracy. His legacy was tarnished then, and UNscam was the killshot. Beind a blind apologizer and appeaser for relentless killers and fostering an organizational culture that practically made the UN Secretariat into a Russian Oligarch. Unseating Kofi will mean an end to such sycophantic corruption.

So where next? Glenn is barking up the right tree with Havel. Not necessarily saying I think Havel is the best choice, but as a dyed in the wool symbol of democratic triumph and opposition to oppressive regimes he's the right direction. It may be time for someone from the East, either from the Pacific Rim or maybe a reformer from the Arab world would send another such positive message. The struggles in Eastern Europe shouldn't be underplayed, but the fight against communism and Islamofascism and the repressiveness in the Arab world are not the same.

Test Runs????

They've closed down the metro between L'Enfant Plaza and Pentagon City. The reason? Anthrax scares. Why? It turns out someone released pepper spray. People may be saying, "oh, those silly Homeland Security officials." I'm not. This isn't the first time this has happened. Numerous accounts of Hazmat teams scrambled to deal with Pepper Spray incidents abound, but there's a more dangerous question lurking. There are constant incidents of people dispersing pepper spray in public and causing a near riot and provoking an immediate bioterrorism response. And that's honestly appropriate. But it seems odd given that several of these types of incidents have happened.

Are these actually test runs by terrorists? Especially the fact that it was done near the Pentagon makes me wonder. Essentially it's an easy way for potential terrorists to detect the readiness levels of first responders and hazmat teams. So far we've operated with the heavy handedness we should, I don't care how long metro should be shut down.

Plant me a shrubbery!

Not just any shrubbery, a Red Osier Dogwood!



The George Bush Bush
is a Red Osier Dogwood, a fast-growing ornamental bush
well-suited to extreme climates.
Its creamy white spring flowers and summer berries
attract many varieties of butterflies and birds.
The striking shiny red bark provides dramatic color
and contrast in the winter months.


The image “http://www.georgebushbush.com/images/packet_bevel_202.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
At least georgebushbush.com is not some sick POTUS fetish porn site.

Drop Your Weapons

Son, put your hands over your head and step away from the Gameboy. I think Nintendo should use this in marketing. "Gameboy: It's Worth Hard Time" or, since he was tasered, "Gameboy: Shockingly Good"

Kerik Bear Stare!

The announcement of Kerik to head DHS we've seen a lot of different reactions. Funny enough that one of the main justifications is that he "brings 9/11 symbolism into the Cabinet." First, the hilariously vitriolic! (Thx to Kaus) The gist: Kerik is a sycophantic unqualified errand boy who might, in fact, be a complete crook! Also, there's the skeptical, and guarded that it's a big big challenging department for anyone, especially someone with not a lot of management experience and who may or may not mostly have gotten this because Guiliani called in a favor. (DHS isn't just challenging, it's really an expensive mess, as this organization chart shows at its creation). Aside from that there are the two pieces in Slate: a glowing one by Carter and a hatchet job by Kaplan. Carter basically states that Homeland Security is all about first responders, and Kerik will know how to shake things up and organize the department to serve first responders best. Kaplan argues that Kerik owes everything to his close relationship with Guiliani, isn't too qualified, and doesn't have a lot to boast about when it comes to his three months and change stint as running the Iraqi Police.

When examining all of this, I think I would rather stick with a guarded or skeptical posture. It's true the man was a veteran beat cop, but also a high school dropout. Ahhh, the follies of youth. Seems to be a recurring theme in the Bush Administration. For one the performance of the Iraqi police has been very mixed, in some instances they've fought with extreme bravery and in other instances they've turned out to be moles and joined the insurgency. If anything, they're constantly seen as ill-trained and ill-equipped. Also, the fact that Kerik was only involved with them for around three months to me doesn't make it look like it was much of an experience at all. Who learns anything in three months? What managers really make an impact at all in three months? The man was only NYPD Commissioner for a little over a year, though late 2001 should probably count as an extra year all in its own.

But there is the powerful argument Carter puts forth. No one knows better what it's like on the ground than someone who was a beat cop and a police commissioner for any amount of time. That's valuable experience that no pure politician would've brought to the DHS job. So, in the end, Kerik turns out a mixed figure. He has qualifications that might make him a good DHS Secretary, but not a lot of qualifications and a large number of question marks in his records as a manager. If anything, I find him a hard choice to swallow just because DHS Secretary is probably one of the most mammothly important jobs in the country and this should be about hiring one of the best managers anyone could find, not the best Kerry-basher and most symbolic one. I, myself, would've preferred Guiliani, not his bodyguard.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Tommy Thompson: Terror Idea Factory

Tommy Thompson's gone, and he decided to leave Al Qaeda with a nice piece of wisdom. Thanks Tommy. Really, I mean it. It's going to be great crunching down on a steak full of arsenic one day. And I will say, "Oh, that Tommy Thompson, he sure told those terrorists how to play a good joke on me!"

Dammit, when will Mineta step down

Everyone and their mother is resigning and that old coot is staying put.

What's up with that?

Oh well, not like Transportation really matters.


Heart Skipping Beats

Looks like they've genuinely gotten serious with the new Superman movie. Bryan Singer directing, with Kaiser Soze as the villain. Goosebumps.

What I Like to Hear

Now here are some Democrats thinking straight. I've always been amazed at how different the Democratic party is at the state level than at the National Level. Aside from Grover Norquist's insane theories about how the Democrats are only held together and coalitions made up from those dependent on the existence of government (unions, government employees, trial lawyers), it is true that the coalitions are completely different. The dems at state levels have to be more moderate to win, which is why Dem Senators are typically more moderate than Housers and Dem governors more moderate than any of them. Especially Dem governors and senators of red states (Mark Warner, Evan Byah, Mary Landreau, etc.)

So the D governors have the right idea. It's time to bring in leadership from outside Washington to really shake things up. Building state coalitions and power at the state level requires a more balanced and centrist approach which the D force needs to survive.

Oh, and Frist can't pay his bills

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Strictly Dedicated. . .To Full Moon Fever

For a very long time I have marveled at the absolute insanity of self-proclaimed Messiah Reverend Sun Moon. The fact that he has control of a paper (even though it has a pathetic circulation), was even more hilarious than me. Well, now I've found something even more hilarious than that.

There's a blog, I Approve This Messiah, dedicated to laying out the mental derangement of this man in agonizingly, gutbustingly, funny detail. I mean, how else would we know Moon said things like this:

Jewish people, you have to repent. Jesus was the King of Israel. Through the principle of indemnity Hitler killed six million Jews. That is why. God could not prevent Satan from doing that because Israel killed the True Parents.

I am thoroughly and deeply impressed. Hats off to John, the genius of I Approve This Messiah

(Too much free time*CL)/math dork= really stupid mating call

From craigslist:

Divide By Zero


Reply to: anon-50910182@craigslist.org
Date: 2004-12-02, 11:48AM EST


Try dividing anything by zero. You can't. Just ask your computer...it is a very efficient calculator and not afraid to tell you when you are numerically off-base. Not a very intuitive machine, and completely detached emotionally...but much better at long division and calculating prime numbers than any carbon-based machine. Think of it this way: if you divide anything by zero, you could only have parts that equal zero...and if you add them all up you could never equal the numerator. Numerator...now thats a word. Anyway, its not allowed and I won't hear any more of it. Just don't try it.

Long division is even worse! Oh, whats the bother trying to explain. Improper fractions do more harm than good.

So long I have looked for light at the end of the tunnel, while it never occurred to me to consider the tunnel itself. Not unhappy. Not content. Just trying to understand the mathematics that drives it all.

I tried dividing myself by zero but all the parts put together never add up. I need to find a denominator which makes the fraction equal to a whole number.

i.e...

x/y = 1

Is that so hard? Let decimal points not come between us.

I'll be in the city tonight. Come meet me and lets crunch the numbers.

East German Blues

The 2002 National Front scare in France with Le Pen's scary electoral gains led to many legitimate fears about the rise of a new extreme right in Europe. Now it's Germany's turn. The German National Party (Nationale Partei Deutschlands, which is basically Nazis, make no bones about it) has been gaining ground in East Germany, turning the town of Koenigstein into practically a base of operations.

Before there is legitimate freaking out about what this means, it should be noted that they don't have any majorities, but they hold quite a lot of seats in some of these areas. The Mayor blames the bad economy for the NDP's success, and also comments on how useless they are, and their goal has been to basically do away with democracy and go "retake" some of the old lands. They are "beyond the pale" and don't really do much but bloviate, but they're attracting lots of attention and support, even from younger voters.

So now, legitimate freaking out about what it means. There was some speculation that Le Pen's success had a lot to do with opposition to EUnification. I'm guessing a lot of this NDP rhetoric speaks to that too. Despite EU architects secretly, or not so secretly, wanting to form a new superpower to counterbalance the US, this surging far-right minority is going to pose problems. Even if they don't control anything, as with elections successful fringe groups can push mainstream groups more in their direction. The more conservative they get, the more grand EU schemes to unify more and more and move to an actual federalist state become anathema. Does an Eastern European voting trend mean the EU is going to collapse? It's obviously too early to tell, but that along with the developments in France with Le Pen's Presidential run and more (I'm sure they exist) far right parties gaining ground it might cause serious fractures down the road.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Low Confidence, A Comparative Politics Lesson

Sometimes I think it's a shame we don't have no-confidence votes in the US. Since we of course have a separate President from Congress, Congress can't simply vote no on him like they can a Prime Minister. This is done in two ways, the style we saw in Ukraine today, or the style we saw in Israel today. How exciting, two examples of the strongest and craziest motion a legislature can make in one day!

First a word on no-confidence votes. They can either vote no-confidence in a way that says "we don't want this government anymore, check yes or no". . .that in a sense is something unavailable here in the US, since Congress doesn't choose the President the way a winning party in Parliamentary democracy votes on its Prime Minister. That vote can just be taken back by saying "not anymore" later. Some countries have this procedure in their constitution that way, and change governments every week (Italy or Brazil). Other countries have a different option, where to vote no-confidence a vote attached to it also has to pass for the new government in order for it to be effective. Basically you have to say "we don't want this government, we want these guys". That's called "Constructive No Confidence." This was written into Germany's Constitution post-WWII in order to fix one of the problems Weimar Germany had with excessive no-confidence votes. Basically only constructive criticism is accepted. Then there's the old-fashioned way, the way they did to Sharon today. Which means "We Won't Fund Your Government." This is more or less an implicit no-confidence vote, but accomplishes the same thing. In the US we can do that (as Congress did to Clinton), but it's not quite the same and doesn't in any way disband the President as it does in a Parliamentary democracy.

Now for what it means. Ukraine is in great shape, because now essentially the President has to pick a caretaker government. And old Kumcha has said he just plain wants new elections as an answer to that. In Israel, it is BAD. Not only might Sharon's coalition collapse, but so might his plan for the Gaza withdrawal and maybe even his PMship. Yikes. Talk about another "Dead Man's Curve" in the "Roadmap" to Peace in the Middle East.

Gentlemen, Start Your Intolerances

Via Demagogue, the cutesy little GOPers have decided not to rest for a second on their success with the gay marriage ban. Up for the slab now. . .ALL BOOKS WITH GAY CHARACTERS! Sully mentions it too. But what he misses is that the ban goes deeper. Not only does the ban work on basic public schools, but also on University libraries. Not only does it work on fiction, but also all nonfiction that suggests homosexuality is natural or acceptable. I wonder how long the local affiliates are going to be allowed to show television programming with gay characters before they take issue with that too. Moonbating at its finest.

UPDATE: Slacktivist has some more about the fine folks of Alabama and their refusal to amend their state constitution's segregationist tones. Guess who opposed the amendments and sponsored the campaign to prevent them? Right, it was the Christian Coalition! Got it in one. . .

Let's Start a War. . .Start a Nuclear War

It was easy enough to show everyone this on rathergood when it was viking kittens, but oh my god this version of your favorite Electric Six song with accompanying movie performance totally blows that one away. . .

Senseless Criticism: Fed Up. . .Frustrated. . .

To those Jon Spencer Blues Explosion fans out there (all 2 of you besides me), you might be wondering what happened to the band. Well, they do in fact still exist, but under the new, leaner and condensed name Blues Explosion. Lots easier to say, but Jon Spencer is still the all star freak attraction. My interest in them was rekindled when I saw them play the 9:30 club a couple weeks back. JSBX had been one of my favorite bands throughout college after I discovered the screaming punk-blues beauty of Now I Got Worry. Many people will contend that this isn't the blues, and to that, I point them to R.L. Burnside. If RL is the blues, then so is the Blues Explosion because their music is more than just inspired by them. Ass Pocket of Whiskey, one of Burnside's albums, was even recorded with Spencer and his crew as the backup band. Live, they sound even more bluesy, guitars flailing with psychotically juiced blues riffs, the heaviest shuffles ever, and random solos splitting out of songs. If anything, the pure energy was incredible. The closest thing the Blues Explosion took to a break was when Spencer would go freak out on his theremin. The music was not stop, songs from different albums mashed medley style as they would transition from one chorus to another, one riff to another, one verse of one song then cut straight to another one. It honestly felt like an explosion.

That aside, the JSBX has put out volumes of WEAK stuff. Now I Got Worry was a great album, but at times was full of filler. Orange was a classic, but ridiculously short and at times meandering through giant chunks of funk that didn't seem to go anywhere but to more riffing. Acme, the project with Dub Narcotic, (aside from Sideways Soul) was also texturally interesting but got incredibly monotonous after the first few stellar tracks. Then Plastic Fang, the last album, was good but had a certain vague albatross on it. I can't say, but the album just never really felt right at all despite the fact that the Blues Explosion were probably never really produced right. All of these albums I like, but had obvious weak spots.

The newest album, Damage, is good. Watch the video for "Burn it Off" and that's enough, really. But, like the others, it has a lot of the normal weaknesses of the other albums. One minor weakness to a Blues Explosion album, however, has been totally removed. All of the previous albums in some way attempted a single coherent sound for the entire album in the tradition of most alterna/punk rock albums. Because the Blues Explosion is 2 guitarists and a drummer, this naturally posed problems by the time they crossed the 20 minute mark. Despite summoning more noise from those three people than probably physically possible, the trademark sounds they were trying to create each album, whether it be gritty old blues with Now I Got Worry, more mainstream rock with Plastic Fang, or funk with Acme, the pounding Russell Simmins drums and Spencer and Judah's guitar assaults just got monotonous and old. Damage is the first Blues Explosion album in memory to avoid that by simply having different sounds for every song. This feels more like a hip hop album than a rock album because they enlisted a ton of producers (like Dan the Automator, DJ Shadow, and Steve Jordan) to diversify the sound. Even Chuck D appears! (For a Spencer interview that details the production process and the writing process for the album, here's the Sun-Times to the rescue)

Damage feels fresh with each new track. There's the slow grind of "Damage" to kick things off, then the first single with it's churning shuffle "Burn It Off." The real treats in this album though are some of the more interesting tracks the Blues Explosion has ever done. "Spoiled" is a light piece with acoustic guitar and what sounds like a little girl's voice for the chorus. "Hot Gossip" is solid poltiical blues-rock, but with Chuck D rapping the chorus. You'd only expect that from Spencer, who actually studied Semiotics at a grad level at Brown University (bet you didn't see that one coming). One of the album's most provocative pieces is the stop-and-go blues/hiphop/punk rock track DJ Shadow produced and scratched on, "Fed Up and Low Down." Classic rock sounds pop in, especially with "Rattling", and with "Mars, Arizona." In general, the Blues Explosion is a lot less afraid to stray away from their punk rock and rowdy RL Burnside fast blues roots and play the slow jams and grooves. It lends a much more soleful tone to Damage than other albums where there were only a few token slow pieces. All in all, Damage reveals not only keen musicianship, but a diversity and maturity a lot of the previous work failed at really nailing down. It may have taken this long, but Spencer and Co. finally appear to have grown into serious musicians moving beyond some "This is not the devil's music, the blues is number one, etc. etc." shtick and into a steely, tough, and versatile band.