Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Creative Life: Boom & Bust

Creative people are rarely consistent people: it’s the nature of the beast. Whether we’re getting distracted by the Next Thing or Next Project or the Next Episode of Roseanne on the SuperStation (God forbid), it’s very easy to lose focus on the things we’re passionate about.

Time for a Few Questions:

* Why is that?

* If I love to write (as I do very much) why does the legal pad or computer screen or the backside of printed-out drafts (I do this a lot for some reason) repulse me sometimes?

* Why do I walk around full of bundled anxiety and jumbled ideas some days, planning fully to write my brains out, only to find myself finally “in the mode” at one in the a.m. too tired to lift my arms to type, let alone think?

* Why, on some vague level on many vague days, am I unhappy until I’ve written what I consider to be a “good amount,” yet unable to get it together to bang that goodly amount out?

* Stephen King, in his excellent On Writing, questions the authors who have written one or two great works and then faded into obscurity, such as Harper Lee and To Kill A Mockingbird. He asks, “If you’ve found something you like and that you’re good at, why don’t you do it all the time?” (For greatest effect, listen to the audio book version read by the author for the full-on Maine whine).

But the question resonates for all of us creative types out there. Why aren’t we happily cranking out beautiful manuscript after manuscript or painting after painting? Indeed, there are times where I am happily cranking out words, and life is a song during those times, isn’t it? It feels as though the burst and mania of creativity will never end, my mind a rushing river of ideas and phrases and clever connections.

But then it shuts down. Why, oh Lord of one’s choice, why?

It could be fear of failure or fear of success. It could be what many creative people tend to do: dream bigger than Universes and Constellations, then get terrified when trying to get past, “It was a dark and stormy night…”

* Why, why, why?

The fact is that nobody knows why. And you know what? Here’s a little secret.

It doesn’t matter why.

The only thing that matters is working on ourselves to get to a point where we can be consistently productive and maximally creative, whatever that means for each individual.

In other words: you can’t torture the muse into giving up the goods, but you can coax and woo him or her and be absolutely attentive and ready when he/she is ready to transmit Genius.

Dispense with Flowery Talk and Cut to English:

* Be consistent.

The Creativity Muscle needs to be exercised, just like the biceps and gluts and traps and any other abbreviated muscle terms. A little bit everyday does more, over the long haul, than the Weekend Warrior thing. Most people have a hectic schedule, with spouse, family, kids, work, and obligations galore. The key is to carve out a little slice of You Time on a daily basis that is both a refuge from the everyday grind and a place to explore and create. A slice of You Space can help a lot with this as well.

* Be serious about the work, but don’t take yourself so seriously.

I actually just stole that line from Clint Eastwood, who said it during a repeat of Inside the Actor’s Studio. The point is that when you signal, to yourself and others, that there is a point during each and everyday – even if it’s fifteen or twenty minutes — that you will be incommunicado in Your Time/Space, you are making a commitment to the Creative Life that will be steadily rewarded.

* Ass to Seat.

Richard Rhodes, writer and author of the also excellent How to Write, was given supremely brilliant advice by his grizzled old editor. “If you want to be a writer,” he was told, “apply your ass firmly to seat.” In other words: show up, sit down, stare at screen/typewriter, and eventually good things will happen.

Carve out a time and space for yourself to be creative. Take yourself seriously as a creative person. Apply ass to seat. Be consistent.

And good things will happen.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

DB Reviews: X-15 - Bombs and Insurance

X-15, based out of Bellingham, Washington, toiled in the local clubs of the American Northwest and eventually made their way to opening for some of the big names of the early 80s, such as X, The Clash, Black Flag, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and an early incarnation of Soundgarden. Along the way, they changed their name to Life in General and had some of their tunes spun by DJs on local radio.

Bombs and Insurance is a retrospective of the band’s career, covering the time period of 1979-1986. A variety of influences can be heard throughout the album, which leaves the listener with an impression of a good local band that struggled to find a signature sound through the myriad of musical styles that came, went, and came again throughout the late 70s and 80s. The result is an uneven listen, but one worth hearing if only to get a feel for a band that bridged the gap between late 70s punk and the new wave, art-rock, and alternative music that would later form the foundation for the so called “grunge” scene in Seattle.

The opening track, “Vaporized,” sounds like a deep cut off the The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack. A jangly piano and high, slightly screechy, David Bowie-ish vocals bowl through an early New Wave review with slightly odd harmonies. It’s a good opener for its energy and strong beat, which unfortunately seems to steadily slip as the album wears on.

“No Regard” is another fun song, heavily influenced by The Clash and early MTV-era bands like The Buggles circa “Video Killed the Radio Star.” There’s a peppy, driving bass and cheesy synth keyboards which work pretty well in tandem, leading into an oddly standard-fair guitar solo. Overall, the vibrant keyboards give it a unique sensibility.

Unfortunately, Bombs and Insurance begins its slide after the two promising opening tracks. “Mad Again” has an overly long opening sequence with vaguely Goth vocals, which eventually breaks into a pretty good imitation of the Sex Pistols, replete with feaux Brit-screech and driving guitars. A section at the end, which features guitar arpeggios and harmonies, sounds like a bizarre rock hymnal.

“Speculation” and “Better View” sound like they’re trying to ape 80s-era Bowie circa “China Doll” and not doing a great job of it. “Mr. Impervious,” an instrumental song that sounds like it features a toddler’s toy bells, could double for low impact aerobics background music.

“Recess” sounds like it might have been recorded live and has a jumble of sounds which might lean toward Oingo Boingo’s staccato mid-tempo numbers or REM circa Fables of the Reconstruction (to be honest I’m really not sure). All in all, its so-so 80s bar band music. “This Fear” has a vague Echo & the Bunnymen feel and is one of the better tracks. The energy level picks up to an extent through the end of the album on “Fog” and “Means to and End.”

Word has it that New Soul Records, which is issuing this X-15 release, will be putting out a number of re-releases, so look out for them if that’s your scene: back in the day, current, or potential.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Frat Dude, Where’s the Love?

I rushed along to my part-time job at a huge public university where I’m considered “faculty” even though I’m an hourly employee and kind of a peon in the Great Works. Nonetheless, I was running late and had to make the 15-20 minute walk across a teeming peopled highway to get there by the appointed hour.

I’m a 30-year-old guy but tend to look much younger than that. If I shaved my scruffy beard, it would be difficult to distinguish me from any upperclassman or youngish grad student milling about. Because my week had seen a series of job interviews – one involving a 30-minute presentation – I was a little bit disheveled looking and had, in fact, forgotten to put hair gel in my moppy needs-a-cut lid. I wore a rumpled looking blue sweater, jeans, and blue sneakers that I feel look mildly hipster.

I say all this to promote the fact that I more than likely looked like your average college dude rushing about campus on a Wednesday morning early in the spring semester.

I approached an intersection where two frat-looking dudes were handing out little square pieces of colored paper to people and saying things like, “You should come on down” and, to a few young ladies, “You guys are invited – bring some friends, okay?”

Now, I don’t really like to be handed pieces of paper that I don’t want and haven’t asked for. A lifetime of growing up around New York City has taught me to wear a steely eyed face in such situations, with instinctual preparations made to knock away any hand that attempts to invade my personal space (this came in very handy recently during travels in Spain where gypsies try to hand you things wherever you go – my father-in-law wasn’t so lucky and got pick-pocketed).

However, this was all quite unnecessary: the frat dudes, for whatever reason, did not seem to deem me an acceptable candidate for their exotic frat soiree. Could they have been distracted by the two young ladies who had just accepted their pieces of paper and been advised to bring their friends? Perhaps. Were young ladies the preferred recipients of said pieces of paper? Also perhaps, though I had just witnessed both genders receive their precious pieces. As I walked past – invitation free – a wave of mild anxiety descended.

Was I now old, I thought? A relic? Or worse, a dork? Do I even care if I am? I used to be invited to parties, more than I could handle. Nowadays, an evening with the wife, a good book, a manic writing session, or a few glasses of wine seem to make up the majority of nighttime activities.

Luckily I had to get to work in my rushedness, and there were new wonders to occupy my skewed thought patterns. Soon enough a young gent caught my eye: crowning his head was a perfectly groomed and spiked mohawk – and I’m talking the kind with huge hair gel-ed spikes and shaved to the scalp all besides. Now, the guy looked pretty bad ass, and he knew it, too: he walked with a swagger that said, I represent all that is good and right and kick ass about punk rock.

Then I had to laugh. I thought about the guy making his lengthy preparations in front of the bathroom mirror, all in order to showcase his efforts on the long walk to… Anthro 111? Psych 263? BioChem 401?

All of the sudden I was just me again, and that was pretty kick ass, too.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

More on the Creative Life

Not all of us will be Picasso or Einstein, but I feel that almost everyone has the capacity to find a fulfilling and creative life for themselves. I'm influenced here by books like Do What You Love and Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway and How to Find the Work You Love.

The basic point boils down to this: find what you love and are passionate about in life, then do the hard work to incorporate it into your day-to-day living. The trick is that it isn't easy; in fact it's really fucking hard. Most people are lulled into a work/life that they're minimally contented with. Finding and maintaining a creative life is a monumental task with monumental rewards.

This doesn't mean that everyone should give up working at Modell's or WalMart and become an artist. But it does mean that if you love hockey or boating or nature or sculpture, you can find a way to make what you love an intrinsic part of your life.

As Woody Allen put it: 90% of life is showing up. That can also equate to showing up in front of the canvas, PC, amp, newspaper, journal, etc. Show up for yourself, and find what you need out of life.

Then go get it.

Keeping It Real Politik: Hillary Makes Her Move for ’08

While a battle rages over the present and future of the embattled Democratic Party, Bill and Hillary Clinton are carefully putting the chess pieces in place for an HRC in ’08 presidential bid. In a carefully worded speech to abortion rights activists, delivered on the 32nd anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that in effect legalized abortions in the United States, Clinton made a concerted and conscious effort to triangulate the divisive abortion issue and “values,” the political buzz word of 2005, to her own future benefit:

Calling abortion "a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women," Clinton said, "The best way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place."

Although Clinton has said similar things before, combining them in that setting was a classic play for the middle, or at least the appearance of the middle. Coming when Democrats are sifting through the ashes of John Kerry's defeat and trying to figure out who they want to be when they grow up, Clinton showed she's already got her own answers.

Clinton's appeal on Monday for "common ground" on abortion was a perfect two-fer. On one level, it was about Roe vs. Wade. At heart, it was about her. Come together over abortion, she seemed to say, and while you're at it, look at me. I'm not so bad, I'm really a moderate. Really.

This is nothing less than an attempt at an early “Sister Soulja” moment for Hillary Clinton, an effort to take back traditionally conservative themes and present them in acceptably moderate and appealing terms. It is also Clinton’s plan to set herself up as both a Democrat who gets things done and as someone who can work across the aisle. There have already been rumblings by influential figures that the Democratic Party needs to re-invent itself as a pro-reform party, and Clinton would love nothing less than to take the spotlight in that role.

Meanwhile, New York Republicans are looking to deflate any wind that Clinton might gain in her presidential sails by attempting to draft none other than Rudy Giuliani, America’s Mayor, to run against her in her likely ’06 bid to retain New York’s Junior Senate seat. All signs are, however, that the Senate is too small a chamber to entice Giuliani… and that a loss against a formidable opponent backed by a husband with legendary political instincts would snuff any chance at a White House run in ’08 in his own formidable right.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Tragedy, Talent, Art, Craft

I don't find tragedy to be a prerequisite for art. I think it comes from everywhere and anywhere, and it's up to the artist in all of us to capture it and write it or paint it or sing it or play it when it drops out of the ether (or the void). I think sadness and pain can inflict scars, and for sensitive and talented souls those scars shape a unique worldview and prism through which art can, if cultivated, spring forth.

I subscribe to a theory espoused by Stephen King. It was made in reference to writers, but I think it applies to all "artists." Basically, there's a minute group of people who are blessed with born gifts that reduce us all to a state of humbled awe: Shakespeare, Mozart, Van Gogh, and so on. Then there's a much larger group of people with some talent, people who are good or competent at some form of art. These people, with a lifetime of work and study and sweat, can attain the status of "very good."

I think about this theory a lot when I'm toiling at the craft of writing. It deflates things from the level of sublime art to that of humble craftsman. Words pile on top of words, and with a lot of work and a little luck, it might become something someone else would enjoy... and with a lot of luck, it will stay with someone and perhaps be passed on.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Academic Extortion?

I’m a graduate student in the United States. At least I was.

Let me explain.

In my particular program, students have the option, as the final culmination of the program, to write a series of papers on topics chosen by the school or to write a thesis. The thesis is the harder road: you have to choose a topic, get it approved, perform original research, set up your own thesis committee, have said committee approve what you’ve done after a round of revisions, and then go through a series of further revisions in order to get it ready for binding and publication. It’s a pain in the ass.

I did the thesis, for whatever reason. Fine.

I finished my program in December, 2004. I should be done and on and off to bigger and better things. However, my thesis is now in the final binding process. Here’s where the extortion part comes in.

I am required to submit three copies of my thesis, printed on fancy-shmancy paper, under the stringent specifications that have been outlined. I’m required to pay $45 for the honor of having my thesis bound by the school. Since I moved during the middle of graduate school and finished up my degree at an extension program, I have to ship nearly 300 pieces of fancy-shmancy paper and other related paperwork to the main campus. Fine.

Here’s what’s not fine: after going through all of these efforts and paying these fees, my school will not officially designate on my transcript that I have a Master’s Degree until they they’re finished taking their sweet time finishing the binding and publication process.

This can take months.

In most industries, this isn’t a big deal. Saying you have a degree and sounding like you mean it is enough for many companies and organizations. For me – going into academia – this isn’t the case. In some cases, employers are required by law to have a complete transcript in hand before letting yon newbie graduate work.

In the US, it’s customary to get something that you’ve paid for (or bled and sweated over, as other examples).

So I ask: is this academic extortion?

Sunday, January 23, 2005

It’s the most depressing time of the year…

UK psychologist Dr. Cliff Arnall, via elaborate mathematical formula, has determined January 24th to be the most depressing day of the year. A specialist in seasonal disorders at the University of Cardiff, Arnall figured out that factors such as weather, debt, monthly salary, time since Christmas, low motivational levels, and the “need to take action” all factor into the late January malaise.

The ramifications of this discovery effect everything from peak holiday travel bookings to the treatment of SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Arnall found that while days technically get longer after Dec. 21, cyclonic weather systems take hold in January, bringing low, dark clouds to Britain. Meanwhile, the majority of people break their healthy resolutions six to seven days into the new year, and even the hangers-on have fallen off the wagon, torn off the nicotine patches and eaten the fridge empty by the third week. Any residual dregs of holiday cheer and family fun have kicked the bucket by Jan. 24.

"Following the initial thrill of New Year's celebrations and changing over a new leaf, reality starts to sink in," Arnall said. "The realization coincides with the dark clouds rolling in and the obligation to pay off Christmas credit card bills."

Maybe January 24th should be dubbed as a new pseudo-holiday where people take extra lamps to work, get lei-d, throw on Polynesian tunes, and get slap happy on drinks with umbrellas and fruit dangling from the sugar-encrusted rim.

Suggested name of holiday: The Most Depressing Day of the Year Day.

Media Shakedown: Jon Stewart, American Hero?

It's easy to discount Jon Stewart, “fake news” anchorman of The Daily Show, on Comedy Central, because he tells jokes for a living (though even his critics must admit they are brilliant skewering jokes that make pols shake in their booties) but the truth is that the guy is wicked smart, sharp, quick on his feet, and has the ability to make provocative insights.

Critics, mostly on the right, like to make the argument that it’s become a “disturbing phenomenon” that some people take in all of their news from The Daily Show and are therefore left with a skewed, uncontrollably altered view of the news. However, surveys have actually shown that viewers of The Daily Show, on average, have a higher education level and take in more news sources than the average viewer of network news programs.

The Daily Show is an intelligent satire of the news. It's clearly intended to play off the news of the day. However, it's probable that some uninformed people watch it and take it all in at face value, but this is probably true of Saturday Night Live’sWeekend Update, Entertainment Tonight, and many other infotainment shows.

On rumors that Stewart will jump ship from The Daily Show to become part of the newly developing news team at CBS: I think Stewart would do fine as a news anchor, as he has performed admirably sitting in for Larry King. However, I doubt he would want to make the switch as his current format allows him to be a maverick/watchdog/comedian in a new role that he is helping to define. He already makes a very good living, so it's doubtful that a dual-anchor contract would be overwhelming enough to sway him. My guess is that he stays put and continues to define his unique position in American politics and comedy.

Finally, on charges that Stewart is a blatant liberal pushing a liberal agenda: he and The Daily Show are as hard on the left as on the right. It's in his interest to do so as it lends him the credibility he holds and deserves as an equal opportunity political satirist.

DB Note: If you haven’t heard about The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book), do yourself a favor and leaf through it the next time you’re at a book store. Every page holds at least one big laugh, which is really an incredible feat to pull off.

Friday, January 21, 2005

DB Reviews: Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend by Stephen Davis

Jim Morrison is a mythic figure: a pin-up rock star, a sloppy drunk, an erudite poet, an existential seeker of the chaotic and dangerous 1960s. It’s no surprise then that different examinations of his life tend to yield remarkably different portraits. Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend is an attempt to cut away the myth and present a clear picture of a troubled, brilliant, and ultimately tragic figure. On that level, it is largely successful.

Author Stephen Davis, by conducting dozens of interviews and combing through an impressive array of original source materials, presents a balanced journalist’s view of Morrison from his earliest days as the son of an ambitious naval officer to his final bleary hours in Paris and the ongoing mysteries surrounding his death.

There is a great deal of new information, allegations, and theories in this sizeable volume that are not to be found in other bios. For instance, the seeds of Morrison’s later triumphs and blunders are closely examined in his parental care and childhood behavior. “Attachment theory,” for instance, is proposed to explain Morrison’s erratic behavior, shiftlessness, and inability to maintain relationships. Morrison’s penchant for passing out—both as bizarre practical joke as a youngster and as a common theme as junkie and alcoholic as an adult—is hung on a possible medical disorder. A possible enzyme deficiency is used to explain the habitual tendency to appear affable, social, and polite after enormous amounts of alcohol consumption followed by a light-switch flick to monstrous behavior (slapping women, pissing in public, yelling obscenities—especially racial epithets—at the top of his lungs).

The Big Revelation, if there is one, is a torrent of bisexual and experimental sexual practice by the self proclaimed Lizard King. We see Morrison’s lawyers scrambling at different points during his life to squash rumors and blackmail attempts in this regard. The Doors lawyers are kept quite busy through the end of Morrison’s life, in fact, with paternity cases, obscenity charges and, of course, the Big Trial based upon the Miami, 1969 concert and its subsequent charges of public indecency and inciting a riot that begat the circus-atmosphere trial watched carefully by the “paranoid Nixon Administration” and which effectively helped to set sail The Doors’ career into the sunset.

Davis also does a good job in displaying a Morrison that was many things to many people. He led a secretive, transient life in which various groups of friends, lovers, and confidantes knew little to nothing about one another. Therefore, it’s not surprising that figures such as Patricia Kennealy and Linda Ashcroft emerged with full-length, intimate, and detailed memoirs about their “special” lives and affairs with Jim Morrison. I would have liked to have heard more about the veracity of Ashcroft’s story in particular. Her memoir, Wild Child: Life with Jim Morrison is a well written, engaging, and detailed read that is written by either a master yarn spinner or a woman whose influential relationship with The Doors’ front man miraculously missed the notice of every other important figure in his life.

There are a few shortcomings in this otherwise excellent biography. Davis has authoritarian views on the quality of each of The Doors' albums and songs. For instance, Strange Days is called out as the “one true masterpiece” while songs off later albums, such as “Running Blue” and “Wishful Sinful,” are blithely discarded as disposable filler tracks. Not true at all, this Doors fan says.

It also appeared that Davis had some kind of axe to grind with the surviving Doors, and in particular keyboardist Ray Manzarek. It wouldn’t surprise me if Davis was miffed at the original Doors co-founder for not cooperating with this latest biography, as Manzarek is consistently called out as a “rigid ideologue” and callous capitalist. Other biographies don’t leave this impression at all. In fact, my take, after reading Manzarek’s excellent memoir, Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors, is that Manzarek was the sunny ying to Morrison’s dark yang. Together, they provided the spark to The Doors’ propulsive force as a groundbreaking blues-psychedelic-art rock entity.

Overall, Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend can be considered a landmark biography of the poet and rock star’s life, a history of a complex man as well as the history of a turbulent time in America.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

State of Dumpster Bust: January 2005

Up until now, I've run Dumpster Bust as though it were a web-based magazine, or "webzine" if you will. It contains daily articles under the following columns:

DB Reviews: Reviews of books, music, films
DB Film Squad: Self-explanatory, that
DB Up in Your Ear: Music
DB on TV: Television
Media Shakedown: Thoughts on any and all media enterprises, including Internet, television, newspapers, etc.
Keeping it Real Politik: Political news, analysis, and opinion
Notes from the Perimeter: Strange rantings of creative non-fiction excess

Over the last few days, I've slid in some shorter, more reflective/personal pieces (Poem of the Week, Awesome Advice, Blockbuster v. Netflix). There are a few reasons for this.

As I enter the job world from the lazy grad school world, my time grows shorter. Writing those columned pieces take a good amount of time to crank out, so I find myself battling the clock some days to get a fresh piece up. I'm also spending an increasing amount of time on, a great group blog that houses the thoughts of 500+ authors on many of the subject-areas I mention above (I'm now the Books Editor over there, by the way, so come check us out!). As I comment on stories and news events at Blog Critics, I'm often triggered to write something that seems to deserve a higher profile than Comment 49 of 138. Therefore, I'm starting to "promote" some of these thoughts to Dumpster Bust.

So over the coming months, you'll begin to see some kind of combination of columns and (hopefully) interesting tid-bits about life-and-times emerge. Sound good?

Dumpster Bust, above all things, is meant to be a happy stew of diverse topics and interests, a domain of rambunctious thought, as it says above. It's also about whatever I'm feeling on a particular day, which may appeal to the great groaning public on some days, and others not so much, I'm sure.

Anyway, if anyone has thoughts or feelings about the evolving face of DB, you know where to reach me (and if you don't, click on the Comment link below and Comment away, please).

Poem of the Week

I wrote poetry quite often up until the age of 19 or so (when I got the fiction bug... or the keg party bug... or some such bug). My freshman year of college, I used to find it funny/cool to post the "Poem of the Week" on the front door of my room in the dormitories of SUNY Binghamton. One, called "Fuck the World," made it from my front door to a special place on my wall. It only caused me embarrassment once, when an enthusiastic tour guide caught me on the way back from the gym and asked if the group could see what a real "lived in dorm room" looks like. I recall standing in front of the poem so mothers and young children couldn't read this nihilistic screed.

The last couplet went something like:

His cheeks were rosy, gun in hand, as he sank to one knee
"Fuck the world!" he cried and shouted with glee

Awesome Advice

If you spend your life trying to control other people's perceptions of you, you will not only not succeed, but you will go crazy in the attempt. Better to do what you've determined is right, and let people think what they will anyway.

I read this bit of advice deep down a conversation thread over on Blog Critics (a great site devoted to many of the same subjects covered here) .

I find it to be a profound and potentially life-altering statement.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Block Buster v. Netflix: No Contest

I've blathered on before about how much I love Netflix. I probably average three rentals a week (if not more) which equals out to 12 rentals a month without leaving my house once @ about $20/month = good deal for me and mine. It also allows me to indulge in my love of watching marathon television box sets (if that's the right term). No way I'd rent six discs of 24 or Sex and the City from Blockbuster, but on Netflix it's a beautiful thing.

I have to add in my own Block Buster tale:

My wife was sick and we were in between Netflix shipments, so I agreed to go down to the local Block Buster for the first time in about three years.

1) I was appalled that several selections that I was interested in, including Garden State, were not available. I had made the trip to the store, I had money in my pocket... and they're out of stock. In 2004, that business model makes no sense for an educated consumer.

2) I get to the checkout, and for some wiseass reason I query the checkout girl about the "no late fees, ever" policy. I assumed that as a low-on-totem-pole employee she would immediately agree with me when I mentioned that "it's not really a no late fee policy because your credit card will be charged after a period time."

Little did I know that I was in for a five minute dissertation on how I'm "really saving money" with this policy.

How I'm really saving money is by paying for bare bones cable television and utilizing Netflix as much as possible.

Keeping It Real Politik: 2008 Magical Presidential Futures Market I

They come from the right:

One early version of the 2008 Republican roster includes Sens. Bill Frist of Tennessee, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, John McCain of Arizona and George Allen of Virginia. The list also could include Gov. Bill Owens of Colorado and Gov. George Pataki of New York. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also has hinted at his presidential ambitions.

And the left:

Even if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York decides to run, there is no consensus whether she would win the nomination. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who lost to Bush, is building an organization if he runs again and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who was Kerry's running mate, is remaining active in politics.

Well, maybe not so much, but it makes for some fun hot-stove talk as the 2004 inauguration kicks off and as those ’08 Iowa caucuses are but a mere 36 months away or so (but who’s counting?).

There are even more names to play about with, now that it’s going to be, as the Beastie Boys sample, “that kind of party”: Mitch McConnell, Dennis Hastert, Newt Gingrich, Howard Dean, Mark Warner, John Kerrey, Barack Obama and about 50 others hoping that they can wheel and deal themselves into the pole position over the next two years.

In the near-term, the race for the next Democratic Chairman could ease one prominent name (Dean’s) off the future’s market. Howard Dean is continuing to pick up support for this influential position though, importantly, a victory would likely prevent his running for the presidency in 2008. No wonder then that John Kerry is at this very moment trying to make nice-nice with his former rival.

Dumpster Bust Magical Presidential Futures Market: January 2005 Edition

Let’s have some fun now and look at some early odds. As always, this is meant to open up some discussion and feedback, so feel free to fire away.

Presidential Horserace
Top Five Republicans – % Shot at Nomination – 2008 Prediction

John McCain (33%)
Will be very hard to defeat

Rudolph Giuliani (25%)
Strong rival to McCain early, fades early

Mitch McConnell (25%)
Bush’s chosen heir; hangs in late as GOP Southern, base fave vs. McCain

George Pataki (5%)
Early media scrutiny never generates buzz

Bill Owens (3%)
Bid doesn’t really go anywhere

Top Five Democrats – % Shot at Nomination – 2008 Prediction

John Kerry (30%)
A real wild-card at this point

John Edwards (25%)
He needs to find a new role and soon

Hillary Rodham Clinton (20%)
Lots of upside, lots of downside (like her husband)

Mark Warner (12%)
Fresh-faced Southern Gov. is a Dem remedy for ills

Barack Obama (7%)
Freshman Senator has the potential to be a Major Player… in 2012

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Notes from the Perimeter: Vampirism & Sun Spots

I’m not ordinarily in such moods, but events conspired today as all kinds of oddities descended as though from the Heavens, spinning my orbit if ever so slightly and sending my mind Reeling as if going spool spool spool would set things straight.

It began walking the dog, she of Stout Heart and Feeble Self-Control, near the Southern Fortress, congratulating myself for living in such a place of balmy sunshine and the occasional mudslide and earth rupture. I listened intently to a biography of Jim Morrison on audio book, hearing of Venice Beach lore and the combining of artistic fortunes and future synergistic Glories. Looking to my left I witnessed several people running toward me on the other side of the road. On a narrow sidewalk a dog (of unknown Stoutness and Self-Control) raced, pulling a young man with flowing blonde locks as though on land-based water skis. He was seated on some kind of office chair, whooping and screaming, throwing his arm in a big lasso maneuver as though a Rodeo King of the Old West.

I kept on, minding my own business as best as possible, though I knew strange things were afoot. Upon my return home, I settled in for a brief respite and lunch in front of my treasured DVD player. To my surprise, it was broken: Check Disc Error. Error indeed.

I entered my office, content to throw on my iPod, Genius invention and savior during many recent slides into boredom and torment. It too was broken.

Sun spots. It must be sun spots. Or misfortune entire.

But that’s not all, is it? Vampires seem to be roaming the streets now, perhaps in reaction to Joss Whedon’s rude yet recent yanking off the national airwaves.

"All I've heard is that there's a fellow who is going round attacking people like a dog and biting them," said Josephine McNally, who works at the Old Barley Mow pub in Ward End. "It does put the wind up you."

Wind, indeed.

Then the spate of the bizarre broke to the good, the winds changing as it were, as I heard from three potential employers that would, in theory, pull me away from my novel (waiting and begging to be finished) and allow me to pay off important and possibly vital debts, both of the Soul and the Material.

Monday, January 17, 2005

DB Reviews Voodoo Glow Skulls Latest... See Below for "Details"

DB Reviews: Voodoo Glow Skulls - Addiccion, Tradicion, Revolucion

There are a number of different ways to describe Voodoo Glow Skulls’ unique sound. I’ve heard it described as hardcore, ska-punk, and barrio ska-core. The Skulls themselves call it California street music, a “high octane mix of rock, punk, ska, and hardcore.” At its best, there’s a sublime chaos, a controlled anarchy to Voodoo Glow Skulls fueled by the brothers Casillas (Frank the really tall, really bald front man, Eddie on lead guitar, Jorge on bass) and one of the best horn sections in the business (Brodie Johnson and Gabriel Dunn on trumpet, James Hernandez on sax). For fans of aggressive, high-tempo music, there’s a breathless energy to the sound that makes you want to get off your ass and skank, which basically means to dance as quickly and awkwardly as possible, throwing arms and elbows at ridiculous angles. But fun, and great exercise.

There’s been a remarkable consistency to the Skulls’ first six albums. Unfortunately, Addiccion, Tradicion, Revolucion is the first (small) drop-off in Voodoo Glow Skulls’ outstanding catalog. There’s nothing ostensibly glaring about their latest effort, but the letdown comes from a lack of the catchy grooves and hooks that usually allow the potent ska, punk, and hard core cocktail to soar. Without these ingredients, the result is a monotonous hardcore rant that is grating rather than ebullient.

There are some nice touches, however. The album kicks off with a sample from the film A Clockwork Orange. We’re treated to the charming, vicious Alex announcing joyfully, “Come with Uncle and hear all proper. Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones. You are invited!” It’s a great opening and puts a smile on my face every time I hear it.

“DD Don’t Like Ska” is the one standout song on the album. Frank Casillas affects a doo-wop/Ramones vibe which works extremely well with the high-pitched ska verse—slow-down bang-out choruses. The sparse production and style of this song sound like it could have been one of the better songs off The Band Geek Mafia.” Cochino and Enter the Dragon are songs that sound like standard Voodoo Glow Skulls fare: good, but not great.

In a few places, the Skulls experiment with more traditional ska sounds to modestly successful results. “Smile Now, Pay Later” has a light, whimsical feel to it, a breezy number that feels (and sounds) effortless. This experiment continues with even greater effect on a cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Used to Love Her,” which finally sees the Skulls letting their hair down and having some fun (there’s even a playful solo that sounds mysteriously like the opening riff of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”). A few more albums under their belt and the Skulls will be ready to put out an exceptional album of ska-punk covers with the likes of “Feliz Navidad,” “Little Red Ridin’ Hood,” and “Here Comes the Sun” already in their canon.

It would have been nice if the Skulls allowed this sense of fun to invade other parts of the album as tracks like “Ghettoblaster,” “Mayhem and Murder,” and “We Represent” kind of blend together in a hook-less, groove-less hardcore maelstrom.

In a way, Addiccion, Tradicion, Revolucion proves what a great and unique band Voodoo Glow Skulls is by highlighting the high-quality of the first six albums. Everyone’s allowed a let down once in a while, I suppose. After all, even God, so goes the story, took the seventh day off.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

DB Reviews: I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe is well-regarded as the author of books that wonderfully represent particular eras. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a journalist’s report from the front lines of hippiedom and came to help define the 60s in all of its experimentation, counter-cultural angst, and excess. The Bonfire of the Vanities is an exquisitely sharp portrayal of capitalism and racial relations in 1980s New York.

Now, Wolfe, at the ripe age of 73, takes on the social patchwork of collegiate life in I Am Charlotte Simmons. So, the Big Picture question is: has Mr. Wolfe done it again in penning a tome that will help to define and symbolize our current age? The short answer is, sadly, no. However, Wolfe retains the ability to tell a powerful, rich, and involving story.

I Am Charlotte Simmons actually centers around four characters: Hoyt Thorpe, a preppy, elitist, coke-snorting frat boy; Jojo Johanssen, a white member of a mostly black big-money basketball program; Adam Gellin, a dorky, virginal intellect and member of a club called The Millennial Mutants; and the super-naive, super-smart (and super-virginal) Miss Simmons herself.

All are students at the fictional Dupont University, an elite Northeastern school with the sports program to match. Charlotte, who grew up in tiny, rural Sparta, North Carolina, is awed and frightened by the crass and vulgar world of modern collegiate life, and we view much of the doings and activities of the modern undergraduate (co-ed dorms, getting drunk, puking, hooking up, getting kicked out of bed so roommate can hook up, cutting class, fitting in, and so on) through her astonished eyes. The four main character’s lives eventually intermingle, but it is Charlotte who we are most concerned with: can she maintain her sense of self in this crazed and status-obsessed world? Or will she abandon her cherished “life of the mind” to become one with the sex-starved, beer-starved, and nihilism-starved in order to be liked, fit in, and perhaps even loved?

As pure fictional story, I Am Charlotte Simmons is an engaging read. Wolfe has a wonderful way with words and phrasing and rhythm – rhythm!that will certainly keep most readers turning the pages. But as a reflection of reality, the novel has many short-comings.

Mr. Wolfe, also well known for the lengthy research he pours into each work, said recently during an interview that because of the age gap between himself and today’s college student, he wished to come across as a reporting scientist from outer space. While at times this approach works, it falls flat just as often. Certain words and phrases (“jacked,” or having lots of muscles from lifting weights, and “you’re money, baby” from Swingers) come across as overused and slightly-off terminology picked up from interviewing youngsters. The interactions of characters also ring a little false from time-to-time, such as when Charlotte’s ultra-rural parents meet Beverly Amory (the freshman roommate) and her ultra-rich parents. The Amorys act like they’ve entered a toxic dump when convinced to eat at a Denny’s-like eatery that will jibe with the Simmons’ modest budget. Charlotte herself is a little hard to believe at times: in an age of television and media outlets galore, she’s literally clueless about modernity, pop culture, dating rites, etc.

Dupont University also feels a bit off as well: how many Ivy League schools send their basketball squad to the Final Four year-after-year? The result of these contradictions is that you get the feeling that Wolfe is trying to push too much into one story: sex, drugs, sports, date rape, social alienation, alcoholism, and on and on, into one teeming tome. Pressing, as the sports world would term it.

All of that being said, Wolfe still has the ability to do what all good writers do: he makes you want to find out what happens next. Charlotte’s journey from country girl valedictorian to seasoned collegiate vet is bumpy, problematic, but ultimately worthwhile.

For more on I Am Charlotte Simmons, check out my "exclusive interview" with Tom Wolfe.

DB Note: This was an especially interesting read as I am currently in the finishing stages of a collegiate-focused novel of my own. New (and hopefully final) title: Ball Out.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Dropping Science: ET (Cell) Phone Home?

Almost everyone I know has at least one UFO story in their repertoire. Either they’ve seen something, someone they know has seen or experienced something, or both. Inevitably, a high percentage of these stories can be put down to superstition, wild imagination, or sinister ulterior motive.

That leads to the question: even if 99.99% of UFO sightings, extraterrestrial (ET) experiences, and all other miscellaneous manner of weird shit are false, what about the other .01%?

Senior Space Writer for Leonard David notes that some scientists are beginning to look at the possibility of non-Earth based intelligent life from the perspective of modern science and advanced physics:

Now a team of American scientists note that recent astrophysical discoveries suggest that we should find ourselves in the midst of one or more extraterrestrial civilizations. Moreover, they argue it is a mistake to reject all UFO reports since some evidence for the theoretically-predicted extraterrestrial visitors might just be found there.

The researchers make their proposal in the January/February 2005 issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS).

So we’re not talking about Crackpot Village here. Some real scientists are at least taking the possibility of extraterrestrial phenomena and UFOs with a degree of seriousness. I think this measure should be applauded: wouldn’t it be foolish not to look at every possibility of intelligent life in the universe from a rational and scientific perspective?

Pick up any good science magazine and you’re sure to see the latest in head-scratching ideas about superstring theory, wormholes, or the stretching of spacetime itself. Meanwhile, extrasolar planetary detection is on the verge of becoming mundane.

"We are in the curious situation today that our best modern physics and astrophysics theories predict that we should be experiencing extraterrestrial visitation, yet any possible evidence of such lurking in the UFO phenomenon is scoffed at within our scientific community," contends astrophysicist Bernard Haisch.

Haisch along with physicists James Deardorff, Bruce Maccabee and Harold Puthoff make their case in the JBIS article: "Inflation-Theory Implications for Extraterrestrial Visitation.”
The scientists point to two key discoveries made by Australian astronomers and reported last year that there is a "galactic habitable zone" in our Milky Way Galaxy. And more importantly that Earth’s own star, the Sun, is relatively young in comparison to the average star in this zone -- by as much as a billion years.

Therefore, the researchers explain in their JBIS article that an average alien civilization would be far more advanced and have long since discovered Earth. Additionally, other research work on the supposition underlying the Big Bang -- known as the theory of inflation -- shores up the prospect, they advise, that our world is immersed in a much larger extraterrestrial civilization.

Freaky shit? Sure. But exciting, too. Is it possible it’s all a load of horseshit served up by the tractor-load? Yep.

But shouldn’t we explore every possibility first?

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m going to start getting my All Visitors Welcome door sign ready.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Keeping It Real Politik: Dean’s in the DNC Race

Howard Dean has officially entered the race to become the next Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Here are a few excerpts from his announcement:

We need a party focused on more than the next election. We need to build an infrastructure now that will remain in place not only in 2008, but in 2005, 2006, 2007 and beyond. There is only one way to do this: together, we must build from the ground up.

The states are a central piece of that strategy. The Democratic Party needs a vibrant, forward-thinking, long-term presence in every single state. We must give our state parties the tools and resources they need in order to be successful. We must be willing to contest every race at every level. We can only win when we show up.

Another integral part of our strategy must be cultivating the party's grassroots. Our success depends on all of us taking an active role in our party and in the political process, by encouraging small donations, by taking the Democratic message into every community, and by organizing at the local level. After all, new ideas and new leaders don't come from consultants; they come from communities.

As important as organization is, alone it cannot win us elections. Offering a new choice means making Democrats the party of reform -- reforming America's financial situation, reforming our electoral process, reforming health care, reforming education and putting morality back in our foreign policy. The Democratic Party will not win elections or build a lasting majority solely by changing its rhetoric, nor will we win by adopting the other side's positions. We must say what we mean -- and mean real change when we say it.

That word – 'values' – has lately become a codeword for appeasement of the right-wing fringe. But when political calculations make us soften our opposition to bigotry, or sign on to policies that add to the burden of ordinary Americans, we have abandoned our true values.

There are many – including centrist Democrats and gleeful conservatives – who think Dean will only put the Democratic Party in a deeper hole than it’s already in. Other candidates, such as former Texas Rep. Martin Frost (a victim of Texas redistricting) and Democratic activist Simon Rosenberg, will present a more moderate face for the future, Dean critics say. Some are even lobbying to keep in place the current Chair, Terry McAuliffe, whose term is set to expire.

The reality is that many of the reasons for not wanting Dean are embedded in a defeatist mindset of Play It Safe and Do No Harm. The reality is that these strategies have resulted in three straight election losses and a current minority status for the Democrats across the branches of government.

The truth is that change and new leadership are needed because the Democrats can’t do much worse. That’s not to take anything away from John Kerry, who ran a flawed but decent campaign and came up short. Howard Dean will bring excitement and an articulate vision for a party without direction. He will use his considerable energy to bring about a party that stands for reform, which is the right direction to head in. He will take back the word “values” for all Americans and he will pave the way for election successes in 2006 and beyond.

Dean as DNC will also preclude his running for President again in 2008. This is good news for Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Edwards, and the many others who will likely look at an ’08 run. In fact, even John Kerry has been getting friendlier with Dean as he eyes a possible second run at the presidency.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is vetting the leading candidates to be the next Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman, and asking them to remain neutral in the presidential selection process in 2008. It is the latest indication that Kerry is putting down markers to run again for the party’s presidential nomination in 2008.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Media Shakedown: Wonkette = Good Stuff

I’ve been keeping an eye on Wonkette of late and have been enjoying the view. Here are a few descriptions, as posted on the site:

"Swims in the libidinal current of American politics." – The Village Voice

"Gossipy, raunchy, potty-mouthed." – The New York Times

"Profanity-laced and sex-obsessed...[a] vain, young, trash-mouthed skank." – Michelle Malkin

For those of you are not familiar with Ms. Malkin, suffice it to say that she is in League with Ann Coulter, which equates to being in cahoots with a Dark Power that Shall Not Be Named.

So sounds pretty good so far, right?

Here’s a fun snippet from yesterday, in which Wonkette sizes up various appliances and machines and such that would be an equal match in a battle of the wits with White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan:

Wonkette occasionally answers questions. Send yours to: . A reader asks: "Do you think that engaging Scott McClellan a battle of wits could be considered 'asymmetrical warfare?'"

The reader poses an interesting question. (That's what they told us to say at CSPAN even when the lady called to blame us for her missing toaster pastry.) It's hard to judge symmetry without knowing who is on the other side of the air hockey table from the precarious Mr. McClellan. If you are a lobster, certainly a battle of wits would be scored in your overwhelming advantage. An automatic coin sorter, probably. (Those things are so neat!) Folger's tin of millet? No... Well, if it's really finely ground millet, maybe on domestic policy issues you could best him.

We kid because we love. We were reminded why we like Scott again today when we learned that Ari Fleischer's book on his years behind the lectern is showing up in bookstores in March. The release seems to be very closely guarded. Only Lying Liar and Ha! Ha! Watch Me Lie! magazines have been granted access to the galleys. Everyone else in the media is being left in the cold until the actual publication date, much like they were routinely left holding the warm bag of poop during Ari's tenure. At the White House this was considered a wonderful thing by Mr. Fleischer's former employer. In the media world though, it reminds us that they didn't let reviewers see Gigli or Ishtar until they were in theaters, either.

The Left is in dire need of brash, intelligent, and most importantly, fun voices. Let’s cheer Wonkette on… because if you’re a Democrat these days, there’s not much else to do (sniff). And even if you're not a Dem... well, we can all use a laugh or three nowadays.

Monday, January 10, 2005

DB Film Squad: The Outlook on 2005

Harry over at the always enjoyable Ain’t It Cool News wrote up a fairly extensive rundown of the Top 20 films to be on the lookout for in ’05. Here a quick paraphrasing of his list, along with a few notes and comments on my own.

20 – In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Danger
“A documentary about the life of an unknown man. But one that created an entire universe in his home... Enchanted lands and fictional worlds...”

Hmm… this better not make me cry… I mean have really bad allergies, like I did recently while watching Finding Neverland.

19 – The Island
Great writers (two from the Alias writing staff) and incredible cast (Ewan MacGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan and Djimon Hounsou) so you can easily overlook Michael “Pearl Harbor” Bay as director and go see it.

18 – Paris, Je T’aime
Some kind of experimental mishmash of styles, directors, and actors. It’s got Steve Buscemi, but… this won’t be on my Gotta See list.

17 – Oliver Twist
After the triumph of The Piano, Roman Polanski is back for the retelling of this classic Dickens tale, featuring Ben Kingsley as Fagin. Now we’re talking Gotta See.

Please sir, can I have some more?

16 – Every Word Is True?
A movie about Truman Capote writing In Cold Blood? I’m a sucker for a story about writers, but I don’t know about this one. Fairly excellent cast, though, which might make me check it out: Toby Jones (as Mr. Capote), Anjelica Huston, Sigourney Weaver, Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Sandra Bullock and Alan Cumming.

15 – Jarhead
Sam Mendes takes on the Gulf War I memoir by Bill Broyles, Jr. Another pretty great cast, with Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Sam Rockwell, Peter Sarsgaard, and Chris Cooper (who’s always interesting, even in bad movies, isn’t he)?

Does anyone else out there think that Three Kings (an action/comedy/thriller that takes place in Iraq around the time Bush I pulled the plug on helping the anti-Saddam resistance) was one of the best movies of the last 10 years?

14 – Zathura
I don’t know much about this movie, but it’s directed by Jon Favreau, who is proving a fairly good director (Made, Elf… which I’m very so-so on compared to most). This is an animated flick (at least in part), and the one still I saw was pretty amazing looking.

13 – Kung Fu Hustle
I’m not really a kung fu guy, but this looks to be a good one.

12 – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The sci-fi classic finally makes it to the big screen. Everyone is expecting this film to be strange and funny and wonderful, and I hope no one’s let down.

11 – Ong Bak
More martial arts, this time from Thailand.

10 – Sin City
A Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino/Frank Miller joint saturated with gratuitous sex and violence. Sounds pretty good, right?

9 – Elizabethtown
The latest from Cameron Crowe. He’s getting to the point with me where I don’t have to know anything about the movie: I just go and see it. This one features Orlando Bloom in his first romantic comedy lead. That, and Kirsten Dunst, should bring many bottoms to movie theater seats.

8 – War of the Worlds
The Big Remake by Steven Spielberg. I think this has the potential to be good… or really not. I must admit I’m wary after snoozing through the visually stunning/otherwise boring Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

7 – Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride
I’ve been off the Burton Bandwagon for about 14 years or so now. This is another animated one, and despite some good voice talent (Johnny “I Am in Every Movie Now” Depp, Helena Bonham Carter) I think I can safely skip this one.

6 – A Scanner Darkly
Cool title, adaptation of the very cool Philip K. Dick. The last big film brought to life from his work, Minority Report, turned out to be an interesting and fun ride, so I’m looking forward to this one. Strange/good cast makes it even more intriguing: Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane

5 – The Wallace & Gromit Movie
Uh… no.

4 – Land of the Dead
More zombies from George Romero.
Is it just me or are there way too many thrillers and stupid looking horror flicks out right now?

3 – The New World
A story of John Smith, Pocahantas, the British, and the Native Americans of the 17th Century New World. I haven’t seen a good flick of this variety since Daniel Day Lewis intoned I will find you! in The Last of the Mohicans.

2 – Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
I honestly can’t say much about this one, except that it’s by Chan-Wook Park, it completes a Revenge Trilogy, and no one seems to know a lot about it.

1 – King Kong
Peter Jackson, Jack Black, Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis (Gollum’s back, baby!) , WETA, and a big-ass ape tearing junk apart. This is probably the one absolute must-see of the year. A home run here will make Jackson A List among A List directors.
Somewhat inexplicably, several promising films were left off the above list. Therefore, as a Bonus Feature…

Dumpster Bust Top 3 Films to Look Out for in ‘05

3 – Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
For millions worldwide, this is the end of the journey (or is it?). The second trilogy may pale in comparison to the first (and it really does), but the final descent of Anakin Skywalker into darkness and the set-up for Luke, Han, Chewie and Co. just can’t be missed.

2 – Charlie & the Chocolate Factory
(Yet) another Tim Burton/Johnny Depp hook-up, this time a remake of the classic children’s creepy/funny film featuring perhaps the best performance of Gene Wilder’s career. The trailer for the new one is really bedazzling and fun/strange, but I’m not quite as sold on this one as some others (see my thoughts on Burton above).

1 – Serenity
Forget everything else: this is the one that I’m scratching and biting and itching to see. The tragically canceled by bastard television execs (Fox… yuck) and little seen Firefly is back for big screen action. The enormously talented Joss Whedon is getting his shot at the big time here, and I know he won’t let his legions down.

Set 500 years in the future among vagabonds and misfits and rustler-western colonists of outer space, Serenity picks up with the adventures of Captain Mal Reynolds and his band of Browncoat outcasts. Great cast, great writing, great concept, great genre-blend of humor, suspence, and action that you always get with Whedon.

Just great. Go see it, and have a fun year at the movies!

DB Up in Your Ear: The Top 10 Songs of All Time

In an exercise in self-torture, I decided to come up with a Top 10 list of my favorite songs of all time. It was much tougher than I thought it was going to be, but it seemed like an appropriate activity during about the 10th rainy day in a row, so self-torturing away I went. I'll try and give some annotations to these down the road, but for now, I humbly present:

1 - Fall on Me – REM
2 - Peace Frog – The Doors
3 - I Just Want to Celebrate – Rare Earth
4 - Good Times Bad Times – Led Zeppelin
5 - Things Have Changed – Bob Dylan
6 - Heroin is So Passe – The Dandy Warhols
7 - Devil’s Night Out – The Mighty Mighty Boss Tones
8 - Know Your Enemy – Rage Against the Machine
9 - Broken Face – Pixies
10 - Tight – Murphy’s Law

Honorable Mention:

Baby’s in Black – Beatles
Things We Said Today – Beatles
South Central Rain – REM
House – Brother Meat
Sick of It All – The Distillers
Unhappy Girl – The Doors
Wishful Sinful – The Doors
Say Anything – Bouncing Souls
About a Girl – Nirvana
Golden Road – The Grateful Dead
Pay No Mind (Snoozer) – Beck
Salvation – Rancid

Agree? Disagree? What are yours?

Friday, January 07, 2005

Keeping It Real Politik: You Can’t Be Serious!

I wanted to do a fun post heading into the rainiest SoCal weekend in the History of Time. I really did. But I can’t. Not when I see something like this floating out there:

Education Dept. paid commentator to promote law

Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same.

The campaign, part of an effort to promote No Child Left Behind (NCLB), required commentator Armstrong Williams "to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts," and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004.

Williams said Thursday he understands that critics could find the arrangement unethical, but "I wanted to do it because it's something I believe in."

The top Democrat on the House Education Committee, Rep. George Miller of California, called the contract "a very questionable use of taxpayers' money" that is "probably illegal." He said he will ask his Republican counterpart to join him in requesting an investigation.

Probably? If it’s not, it Probably should be.

DB Prediction: This will slide, just like everything else slides for this Teflon Prez of ours, from Abu Gharib to WMD in Iraq to Iraq- Al Qaeda ties and on and on.

The contract may be illegal "because Congress has prohibited propaganda," or any sort of lobbying for programs funded by the government, said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "And it's propaganda." […]

[PR Firm] Ketchum referred questions to the Education Department, whose spokesman, John Gibbons, said the contract followed standard government procedures. He said there are no plans to continue with "similar outreach."

Have a nice weekend, everybody!

Media Shakedown: There go the good-old days…

There have been rumblings about it for years, but it looks like a major source of free quality news, The New York Times online edition, may be switched to a subscription-based model:

N.Y. Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was quoted in the article as saying: "It gets to the issue of how comfortable are we training a generation of readers to get quality information for free. That is troubling."

I’m not so troubled by that. I’m troubled about losing the ability to fix my news jones in a blitz of free online scanning-and-clicking on the Internet. But I understand if a publication’s gotta make a buck, even the Gray Lady.

Upsetting though.

We may look back on the good old days of wide-open and free communication on the Internet. Or could a development such as this accelerate the Age of the Blogger?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Media Shakedown: Does Anyone Watch Late-Night Talk Shows?

Slate is running a fun week-long feature: Dana Stevens is watching the The Late Late Show and new host Craig Ferguson (the annoying Scottish boss on The Drew Carey Show, and apparently a well-renowned actor-director-something-or-other in Scotland) for one full week and blogging about her reaction each subsequent day.

This bit about Wednesday’s show:

According to experts at the College of Comedy Knowledge, Fergie's opening utterances are, indeed, jokes: "a device for expressing humor that employs a setup which contains a target assumption to misdirect the audience […] and a punch which contains a reinterpretation […] that shatters the target assumption." They have not yet achieved the added value of being funny.

Okay, so not so far so good. To be fair, she does point out that Conan O’Brien was widely panned after his debut over ten years ago, but is now riding high after the recent announcement that he’ll take over Jay Leno’s Tonight Show slot in five years and the airing of his 2,000th show on NBC.

Pretty interesting stuff, I guess. But then I started thinking: do I really care? Does anyone really care? Does anyone really watch late-night talk shows anymore. I mean, sure, I’ll flip on Conan during a bad bout of insomnia, but are there people out there who think: okay, Jude Law’s on The Tonight Show, so that’s a must-see, then later I’ll flip over to Ferguson to see how that’s going, then during commercial I’ll skip over to Kimmel, just out of pity really, and then…

To be fair, I find the entire talk show format contrived to the point of maddening. For many years now, the only part of any late night talk show I can stomach is the several minutes between opening monologue and first guest, when there’s a half-way decent shot that an avant-garde comedy writer manages to lobby some kind of interesting bit or sketch onto the air. Opening monologues are snoozers, even if told by Chris Rock or Dave Attell, and I can’t remember the last time I was interested in hearing Charlize Theron tell a funny dog story or Jason Alexander give a sardonic grin when asked for the hundred-thousandth time about the Seinfeld days. Give me Inside the Actor’s Studio or Howard Stern, an interviewer with actual balls and gumption. But not this… anything but late-night snooze-format.

Of a mediocre lot working in a dead format, Conan is the cream of the crop. His strange mannerisms and goofy asides are amusing, and he has a comedian’s sensibility for wanting to keep the audience at home interested. Leno, a very good and bright stand-up comedian, became Mr. Milquetoast after he succeeded Johnny Carson. Letterman stopped being funny right around 1992 (every time I see the high-budget computer graphics that prelude bits like the Top 10 List I’m haunted by memories of the first Wayne’s World film… did anyone watch that and learn?), and the new crop of Kimmel, Ferguson, and the recently departed Craig Kilborn (who was quite good as the original Daily Show host) are uninspiring at best.

It’s amazing that someone like Jon Stewart, who was brilliant even back in his low budget WWOR and MTV days, wasn’t given a shot at a late-night show. And now it seems that Norm Macdonald, a finalist for The Late Late Show gig, will be developing a sketch comedy show modeled after the loony and edgy Chappelle’s Show on Comedy Central. Given the recent results, that’s a good thing, I guess.

So I ask again: does anyone really watch late night talk shows these days?

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Media Shakedown: Al Gore Goes INd

Richard Leiby’s “Reliable Source” column in The Washington Post has the latest and greatest(?) on Al Gore’s maneuvering, with a little help from 70 million friends, to get INdTV (pronounced Indie TV), a youth-oriented news and culture television channel, on the air.

Here’s a sneak-peak at some of the proposed programming:

•That's F*&#ed Up: Is there something unfathomable going on around the corner or down the street? Some state of affairs that just doesn't make sense? You can rant all you want -- it just better be good TV."

• "INdTV Paparazzi: Get someone famous to opine on something substantive. ('Hey Paris -- what did you think of Rumsfeld's quote on the armored Humvee shortage in Iraq?') Or, ask a serious figure about something not-so-substantive. Note: Don't be a stalker."

• "Citizen Reporter: Pick a news story and tell it the way it should be told. No teleprompter, no static stand-ups, no local-news hair. Honesty and humor will go a long way. This is our chance to unwind the spin."

• "All-Nighter: What goes on in your town between 2 and 5 a.m.? We're looking for truly unique stuff, anywhere from the local late-night diner to the woods down by the creek."

• "State of the Union: Give us your wisest, most irreverent State of the Union address. We're talking improvised podium, pomp, politics, personality and, of course, most importantly: sound bites."

• "Addicted: What's your addiction? Food? A fetish? A relationship? Do you lead a double life? This is first-person: time to confess."

It’s nice that Mr. Gore is trying to open up a new avenue for young people to voice their opinions and become interested in public policy and cultural issues, but… I don’t get it. The Democrats desperately need to build a think tank/media outlet/political personality fortress to combat what I like to call the Conservative Media Machine. Mr. Gore’s efforts in the broadcasting realm were thought to be to try to bring a liberal alternative to Fox News to the air, thus making a major effort at counter-balancing the right on cable news (all shouts and cries about the Liberal Elite Media aside).

This doesn’t seem to be that, though, does it?

Keeping It Real Politik: Where We Headed?

The post-election hangover is over… for the media at least. Earnest and keen analysis of where we’re at in the US of A has been pouring in over the last few weeks, with observers and pundits trying to get a sense of what happened in 2004, and where the political signposts may be pointing toward the murky future.

Here’s a rundown of some of the best purely political analysis that I’ve seen of late.

Not surprisingly, the great Howard Fineman of Newsweek and MSNBC kicks things off with “Eyes on a New Prize”:

The Democrats are leaderless and reeling, seemingly bereft of inspiring ideas. They face a president who is the first since 1936 to win re-election while boosting his party's majorities in the Congress. The "mainstream" media, historically sympathetic to Democrats, are on the defensive, financially and journalistically; the GOP is even taking over the K Street lobbies, an Alamo of unrepentant Democrats.

The question now is whether the GOP can—or even wants to—try to govern from the middle… Rove and Bush have prospered by forcing voters to choose between sharply different visions, and there is no reason to think that they will stop operating in that fashion.

Adam Nagourney of The New York Times also gives a good go on the where we been/where we headed theme in “So What Happened in That Election, Anyhow?”

Presidential elections often produce a clear story line, a lesson for winners and losers alike. Not this one, at least not yet, and that is a matter of increasing concern for Democrats who would like to learn from the past as they face a series of critical decisions, including picking a new party chairman and laying out a plan to avoid even more losses in the 2006 Congressional races. And there is the immediate tactical question of how stridently to push back against Mr. Bush's efforts to change Social Security and the tax code.

It's hardly any wonder that Democrats these days seem to be marching in so many different directions. Post-loss squabbling between the party's left wing and its moderate faction is nothing new.

The Nation, long a bastion for left-leaners everywhere, is searching (and trying not to scramble) for answers as well. A run-down of various thinkers and columnists included this overview of the State of the Dems by Theda Skocpol:

Now Democrats are a minority party, with no center of national leadership. They need to get some visible spokespersons in place quickly, and begin a continuing campaign of organization and argument around carefully selected policy battles.

Ronald Brownstein, who, flat-out, might be the best political writer in the country, drops a masterpiece in his Los Angeles Times column entitled “GOP Has Lock on South, and Democrats Can't Find Key”:

The generation-long political retreat of Democrats across the South is disintegrating into a rout.

[Bush’s] overwhelming performance left Sen. John F. Kerry clinging to a few scattered islands of support in a region that until the 1960s provided the foundation of the Democratic coalition in presidential politics. Kerry won fewer Southern counties than any Democratic nominee since the Depression except Walter F. Mondale in 1984 and George S. McGovern in 1972, according to data assembled by The Times and Polidata, a firm that specializes in political statistics.

In Southern counties without a substantial number of African American or Latino voters, Bush virtually obliterated Kerry. Across the 11 states of the old Confederacy, plus Kentucky and Oklahoma, whites constitute a majority of the population in 1,154 counties. Kerry won 90 of them.

By contrast, Bill Clinton won 510 white-majority counties in the South eight years ago.

"We are out of business in the South," said J.W. Brannen, the Democratic Party chairman in Russell County, Ala., the only white-majority county in the state that Kerry carried.

The results underscore the enormity of the challenge facing Democrats as they try to rebuild their Southern support. Most ominously for them, the patterns suggest that under Bush, the GOP is solidifying its hold not just on Southern white conservatives but white moderates as well, a trend also apparent in exit polls of Southern voters on election day.

Finally, blogging dynamo and Democratic stalwart Daily Kos tries to envision an electoral breakthrough for the Dems beyond the current red-blue stalemate:

The West is the new battleground. If we win in 2008, it will be because of these states. We cannot place all our eggs on the Ohio and Florida baskets… the battleground that is forming includes the Southwest as well. It's essentially CO, NV, AZ, NM, MT, and one or two CDs in Nebraska, which splits its Electoral Votes. That's 33-34 electoral votes.

And while I wrote off the south for a generation, it is true that Virginia and, to a lesser extent, North Carolina, are trending in our direction. VA, as a matter of fact, should be a bona fide swing state in 2008.

Whither the future? These fine pieces of writing are as good a place to start as any.

DB Note: I believe I finally got that little linking problem licked by way of the masterfully simple website Bless them.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Dumpster Bust Reveals: We Are Part of the Robot Conspiracy!

Keeping It Real Politik: Pissing on the Third Rail

Looks like it’s finally happening:

Social Security Formula Weighed: Bush Plan to Cut Promised Benefits


The Bush administration has signaled that it will propose changing the formula that sets initial Social Security benefit levels, cutting promised benefits by nearly a third in the coming decades, according to several Republicans close to the White House.

Under the proposal, the first-year benefits for retirees would be calculated using inflation rates rather than the rise in wages over a worker's lifetime. Because wages tend to rise considerably faster than inflation, the new formula would stunt the growth of benefits, slowly at first but more quickly by the middle of the century. The White House hopes that some, if not all, of those benefit cuts would be made up by gains in newly created personal investment accounts that would harness returns on stocks and bonds.

This could well be the issue, the Big Issue, that rolls right through the ’06 and ’08 elections. Even for a river boat gambler of a president like this one, aiming to reform social security in any shape or form could be like trying to roll a snake eyes while being held at full-nelson by angry bears. For that, Bush deserves a degree of credit.

However, I see this maneuver as nothing short of the continuation of an eight-year project to “Starve the Beast.” For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s basically akin to shrinking federal revenues generated by taxes (see = a consistent pre-9/11, post-9/11, recession-long, war-time call for tax cuts tax cuts tax cuts) then crying that we must cut federal expenditures because… there simply isn’t enough money.

So, the tax cuts went mostly to the rich, and now the Bush Administration is looking to bilk seniors out of one-third of their promised benefits. It’s dishonest and it could be devastating to millions of seniors.

The good news, if there is any, is that it looks as though we’ll be in for a bloodbath of conflict in Washington unseen since Russell Crowe took out the Germanic tribes single-handedly in Gladiator. Republicans could be ripping their own party apart before the Dems even get a swipe in.

Post-election blues political junkies may now feel free to fire up the C-SPAN and get that popcorn poppin’.

Monday, January 03, 2005

DB Media Shakedown: Essence Magazine Takes Back the Music

Essence magazine, self-described as “the world’s foremost publication for Black women,” is mad as hell, and they’re not taking it anymore.


Going further than the rap lyrics depicting women as sexual playthings, the editors of Essence are concerned about the visual images within rap culture that have become accepted and acceptable: “bikini-clad sisters gyrating around fully clothed grinning brothers like Vegas strippers on meth,” the “bare breasts and butts” and “hypersexual braggadocio and profane one-upmanship” that go hand-in-hand with any female hip hop artist trying to make a name for herself.

I’m reminded of a ‘Lil Kim lyric that sums up this attitude:

You think I’m pussy?
I dare you to stick your dick in this

What’s interesting here is that the campaign now being kicked off isn’t aimed at the usual suspects, aka the male hip hop bad boys, but at changing the way that black women choose to depict themselves.

An entire generation of Black girls are being raised on these narrow images. And as the messages and images are broadcast globally, they have become the lens through which the world now sees us. This cannot continue.

As New York Daily News’ Stanley Crouch writes:

The magazine is the first powerful presence in the black media with the courage to examine the cultural pollution that is too often excused because of the wealth it brings to knuckleheads and amoral executives.

This anything-goes-if-sells attitude comes at a cost. The elevation of pimps and pimp attitudes creates a sadomasochistic relationship with female fans. They support a popular idiom that consistently showers them with contempt. We are in a crisis, and Essence knows it.

Mr. Crouch also points out that Essence is kicking off a year-long campaign, including a town meeting at Spelman College in February, aimed at increasing awareness and changing the image and depiction of women in hip hop culture.

I think this campaign should be applauded for encouraging self-empowerment. Instead of whining about the current state of affairs or laying blame on rap music or culture in general (an easy target), Essence is keeping it real in a market that is rampant with images of sex, machismo, and power.

The message: if you want to see change, change yourself.