Sunday, January 29, 2006

Will Bloggers Save or Destroy the Democratic Party?

The recent decision of Sen. John Kerry to choose the popular Daily Kos blog as the platform from which to announce his decision to support a Senate filibuster in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Samuel Alito has the blogosphere and media world at large zooming with buzz.

Crystallizing and in some ways fueling the debate is a Saturday Washington Post piece entitled "Blogs Attack From Left as Democrats Reach for Center". While looking at a variety of ways in which blogs are affecting the political process, Staff Writer Jim VandeHei chose to portray the liberal and center-left focused blogosphere as a unified group enraged by the "gutless sellouts" that hold leadership positions in the Democratic Party.

There was an immediate pushback and response from blog land, as could be expected, led from the left by MyDD:

To be fair, there is some tension between the Democratic Party and the
progressive blogosphere. Unlike the rightist blogosphere, we tend to be a bit more independent and suspicious of power. But to pretend that we're in an all-out war is silly. If that were the case, I doubt the majority of us would still consider ourselves Democrats. Some of our favorite Democrats are people like Jack Murtha, the pro-life Harry Reid, and Russ Feingold, who voted to confirm Chief Justice Roberts. As Markos has pointed out time and again, the tension doesn't stem from ideology. It's all about entrenched power and reform.

Some blogs, MyDD included, felt it important to look at VandeHai's own purported bias as well as that of The Washington Post itself. The Left Coaster had this to say:

You can always tell when the traditional corporate conservative media and the Beltway Democrats start feeling a little heat from an energized and well-informed pushback by the center-left blogosphere. In the case of the media, and especially the GOP water-carrying Washington Post of late, their clueless ombudsperson Deborah Howell whined that the center-left bloggers were mean to her for pointing out her careless dismissal of easily-verifiable facts about the Abramoff/GOP connection.

Others, such as The News Blog, felt it important to apportion blame for Democratic failures in the appropriate place, namely with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, stating "… It is the DLC and friends who sandbag Democratic candidates and follow Republican talking points. Not the bloggers. We support Dems who fight, simple as that. Jack Murtha, Russ Feingold, doesn't matter. The only litmus test is a willingness to defend principles."

Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the man behind the influential Daily Kos, also defended his right to call it like he sees it, saying, "There's nothing 'extreme left' with demanding Democrats act like Democrats, no matter how much these out-of-touch and self-important beltway insiders think it is." This comment, of course, touches on one of then presidential candidate Howard Dean's popular refrains during the heady early days of the 2004 primary season: I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

Conservatives, who are likely as concerned with encouraging a center-left split amongst Democrats as the Dems themselves are in unifying, brought a host of their own opinions to the digital table.

Captain's Quarters looked at the strategy behind Kerry's appearance on Daily Kos and what it means for his and the Democratic Party's political future:

Democrats should take careful note of this development, which shows exactly how desperate Kerry has become in his desire to win the Presidency. He knows that the party establishment will have nothing to do with another Kerry candidacy, having failed miserably against a vulnerable George Bush. This week, in his decision to post at Daily Kos (which he disavowed during his campaign after Kos' "Screw them" statement) and his sudden passion for a filibuster, he has now separated himself from the current party leadership to make himself the chief representative of the activist base. He wants to convince the bloggers and the special-interest groups that run the Democratic Party that he speaks for them, not for some namby-pamby centrist urge promoted by the Democratic Leadership Council.

JustOneMinute took the angle of relating the changes the blogosphere has brought in how politicians and candidates have to approach base and special interest constituencies, where the energy and money to drive a successful campaign always lies:

I would guess that blogs and the internet have made the unelectable left even better organized and harder to work around; the days when a candidate could tell Barbra Streisand what she wanted to hear, pocket her check, then tell the public something that made sense are long over.

The Volokh Conspiracy shed light on the difference between how conservatives and progressives/liberals utilize media in saying, "Think of it this way – if John Kerry were a conservative, he would have probably phoned-in a filibuster to Rush Limbaugh rather than blogging on Daily Kos."

At the end of Sunday morning's installment of Meet the Press, host Tim Russert, in response to NBC Correspondent Kelly O'Donnel's speculation that President Bush would like to see Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice run for president, said, "Whoa, that's going to get the blogs a-running!"

No matter how blogs influence the political process –- and this will surely change and morph over time to the chaotic pace of the Internet itself –- there can be no doubt now that the influence is significant, and growing.

Althouse summed up the significance of Kerry's decision by saying, "Kerry could have found a forum in any number of places. And the fact is, the NYT was calling for a filibuster too."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Concert Review: Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger Burn Up Hollywood's Avalon

On the last show of the American leg of the Deep Freeze Tour, featuring co-headliners Reel Big Fish and Goldfinger, I got my ass fully and wholly kicked by what I like to think of as the ska vibe.

After lively and fun sets by opening acts Zebrahead and Goldfinger, the crowd was clearly mega-amped for the Fish. And Reel Big Fish was equally ready to get the ass kickery jacked way up. Lead singer and guitarist Aaron Barrett strutted onto the stage decked out in a red suit jacket, black shirt, white tie, and bright white pants with little black strips running through them. Like Barrett's and the band's over-the-top and exuberantly snarky personality, you have to own an outfit like that to make it work.

And own it and the night the Reel Big Fish did. Between opening ("Trendy") and closing ("Sell Out") the show on signature numbers from Turn the Radio Off, the band's first full-length release, Barrett led his band mates and the crowd with master showmanship, rock solid guitar work, and importantly, high hilarity.

"Thank you for giving us the opportunity to kick your asses tonight," Barrett deadpanned near the end of the show. It was all in the delivery, as sublime and spiked with sun splashed So Cal snark as most Reel Big Fish songs.

More commentary of note between numbers:

"This shit is bananas"
"Holy shit, we just kicked your ass with that song!"
"Holy shit, that was intense!"
"This is Matt Wong on bass, kicking your ass."
"Did that tickle your fancy? I think we just tickled your fancy."

It was the music, of course, that really owned the night and truly did kick the asses of a house full of eager fans. Rolling through an impressive number of songs in 90 minutes – many from Why Do They Rock So Hard – Reel Big Fish put on a clinic of magnetically tight horn-play, skanked up guitar, and harmonized vocals, mostly revolving around the two signature RBF themes: being in a band ("Don't Start A Band," "Sell Out," "Trendy," "Alternative Girl," "Why Do We Rock So Hard?" etc.) and having troubles of the romantic sort ("She Has A Girlfriend Now," "I Want Your Girlfriend To Be My Girlfriend Too," "She's Famous Now," etc.).

Hell, if you can own those themes and kick ass with them for more than 10 years, why change up?

Best of all, throughout the night the crowd was treated to well-honed acts that truly knew how to entertain a good natured Gen X rock crowd. "Suburban Rhythm" turned into a Whose Line Is It Anyway-improv routine, with the band switching up styles to find one that, you guessed it, "kicked ass enough." The regular version morphed into double-time speed, then blues, then disco, then country, then – because they "needed to be taken seriously" – old school hip hop (not their most comfortable modality), garage rock in the tradition of The Strokes (much better), thrash metal, and then, finally, in a cacophonous crescendo of musical glory: "emotional romantic" stylings from Barrett with screaming thrash vocals backing. In other words: that's strong.

There was also a diverse selection of cover songs: Aha's "Take on Me," (the obligatory '80s ska cover), Metallica's "Enter Sandman," and, in a lovely ironic bent, Lita Ford's '80s-centric "Kiss Me Deadly." Another nice moment: Goldfinger's John Feldmann ran out on stage to take over the female role on "She Has A Girlfriend Now."

With little pause, Barrett and crew danced and skanked with coordinated moves (wielding the guitar like a mighty sword) and agility, hopping and shaking and exhorting the crowd to join in on the ska vibe group think for all it was worth.

The Avalon, with its Aztec-themed décor and old Hollywood grandeur mixed with just enough grunge to make it street worthy, provided a great setting to catch a heavy on the ska, light on the punk rock show. For all its faults, Hollywood itself has a certain vibe that you don't find anywhere else.

It was the kind of night where people were chatting on line at the balcony bar – a balcony that gave an exceptional vantage point to watch the show and see the raucous but exceptionally behaved crowd "in the pit" (the very location in which – according to the Fish's "In the Pit," where tough guy moshers are scorned to shreds – "…I like to punch and hit, I like to fuck up shit"). It was the kind of night where the balcony barkeep was laid back and friendly enough to have a quick round of banter with:

"What do they call that one," I asked, referring to the drink the customer in front of me had just ordered. "That Red Bull and vodka combo?"

"I don't know," he said. "I think it's just Red Bull and vodka."

"Maybe you should coin the name for the drink," said I.

"How about a Red Bullet?"

"Sounds right on to me."

Los Angeles-natives Goldfinger, who preceded the Fish with about an hour-long set, started out a bit uneven, but eventually won me over with their energetic ska-punk-pop combo. Thankfully, lead singer John Feldmann's voice eventually smoothed out, allowing the band to blast out its best sounding numbers, which incorporate elements of ska and punk and don't dive too deeply into the depths of thrash-dom. "Answers," an old school number with a nice jangly ska groove, was their most effective song of the night.

Feldmann should be wholly commended for going on stage at all as he had torn his left ACL only a few days before the show. The rail thin Feldmann, decked out in a jet black suit and skinny black ska tie, owned the stage nonetheless in a way that even Aaron Barrett would have to admire.

Things got political briefly as Goldfinger rolled through a very competent version of Nena's "99 Red Balloons," an "anti-war song," sung in both English and German. Later, we were treated to "Fuck Ted Nugent" (Feldmann ascribes to the vegan lifestyle). Overall, the political tenor of the evening was decidedly anti-Bush, but what do you expect, it's Hollywood, baby!

Goldfinger is not a band that lets things get serious for very long, however. At what seemed like an accustomed juncture in the show, drummer Darrin Pfeiffer emerged from his kit and announced that it was time to jam a Snickers bar into his ass. Without going into too many lurid details, there was ass, there was candy, there was audience participation and…

Zebrahead was tasked with opening up the night, not an easy gig at six p.m. on a Friday night. However, even with a lackluster crowd that was just finding its sea and, later, ska vibe legs, they pulled off a razor-sharp 30 minutes, with just the right mix of crunching guitars and funk metal rhythm, the great singing voice of Justin Mauriello and hip hop counterpoint of Ali Tabatabaee.

iPod Powering The Office?

NBC claims that the American version of The Office, starring Steve Carell and a stellar supporting cast, is being fueled to its highest ever ratings on the strength of iPod-version video downloads of the show, according to

I understand that The Office is the most popular NBC video product on iTunes. And I viscerally feel all the requisite buzz of a hot techie buzz toy syncing up synaptic-like with an ancient school entertainment product like a television show. I get all of that.

But can't a television sitcom be given credit for achieving what is truly the rarest of feats? That is:

The Office is an often brilliant blend of slapstick humor and sublime romantic comedy, a mockumentary cocktail that is nearly compulsive watching. That it manages to consistently maintain these heights week after week (now mid-way through its second season) on a broadcast network and as a spin-off of one of the most unique and hideously awkwardly side-splittingly funny yet short-lived series of all-time is even more stunning.

So yes, it's nice that people like to first purchase and then download The Office to their video iPods. And yes, I'm jealous of all of y'all who own a video iPod, because I want one.

One would have to assume that NBC Universal executives are salivating over not just an increasingly popular and critically acclaimed sitcom, but an increasingly popular and critically acclaimed sitcom that iPod owners are willing to shell out cash to watch.

Here's a list of things that I hope the NBC Universal execs remember, when they're done salivating and dancing around the stone circle and beating the animal skin tom toms and chanting in exquisitely alien voices (huffing and grating and chortling and howling) into the darkest reaches of the television skied night and all of that:

* I hope they won't ignore the fact that they did something right in moving The Office from Tuesday nights, a good night to watch television, to Thursday nights, the best night to watch TV.

* I also hope they reflect upon the notion that keeping the one-two punch of My Name Is Earl, nearly equal to The Office in comedic strength, together with The Office in the move to Thursdays creates an hour-long reason to get in front of that box that glows once a week. That is, if you don't have one of those fiddly-diddly handheld contraptions that one can presumably enjoy whilst riding on the heated passenger seat of a top-of-the-line sport utility vehicle. Some of us will be watching TV the old fashioned way, in front of the tube with a warm can of Diet Shasta, thanks. Or taping it via DVR and watching later. But you know, either way.

* Finally, NBC Universal execs need to tattoo the following message upon their blackest stone cold hearts:

Never become Fox, who, by signaling the end to Arrested Development (after heart-knifing such golden glorious offerings from the TV Lords as Firefly, Wonderfalls, and The Inside) can only be relegated to a hell dimension conjured by a troubled firth-grader during a class session titled "Why is the Constitution meaningful to me?"

So, to sum up:

We hate people who own video iPods. The Office is glorious no matter what medium you choose to enjoy it in (and in whose sordid company). Television executives, while not really possessing stone cold death-hearts, are maddeningly forgetful. But we are mad persistent (and Noble) so we endeavor to remind with patience.

And drive less SUVs and hug trees more.

Charbucks Coffee: Great Moments In Corporate Brand Rip-Offs

In a move sure to set the hopes of corporate name-coveters the world over aflutter, a New York federal court ruled that a New Hampshire-based coffee company may keep selling "Charbucks" coffee after a decade-long legal fight with Starbucks Corp. There was no evidence, apparently, that there was an intention to "mislead consumers about a connection between the two" coffee brands.

Let's enter the dream of an unnamed Starbucks executive the night following the ruling, shall we?
"Gee, Sally, I could sure go for a good, piping hot, bold-yet-smooth coffee down at the corner Charbucks!"

"Charbucks, Tommy? Don't you mean Starbucks, the ubiquitous planetary coffee megapower?"

"Yes, of course! I mean… wait, I'm confused!"

Okay, that was scary.

Of course, this wasn't the first time the good name of Starbucks was mercilessly riffed upon. Everyone remembers the South Park episode in which coffee mega-chain Harbucks moved into town to bump aside small town institution Tweek's Coffee. Ironically, the infamous underpants gnomes – surreptitious raiders of little boys' underpants in the night – remind us that "profit" is the third key step after stealing this material.

We can only wonder if Black Bear Micro Roastery – the Dream Team behind the name Charbucks – took the underpants gnomes' lesson to heart.

[ADBLOCKHERE]Going back further, there was the setting of McDowell's fast food eatery in the film Coming to America, starring Eddie Murphy. McDowell's, of course, was an open bid to borrow the good name of another brand tattooed upon the brains of billions (and billions): McDonald's. While the character portrayed by John Amos and his family clearly didn't live the lifestyle of African royalty, they were obviously comfortable. And though, in a key filmic moment, we see Amos chasing off a photographer who undoubtedly worked for attorneys in the employ of McDonald's, the cultural tone vis-à-vis Hollywood was broadcasted loud and clear: Use Your Illusion. Or the name of a really really big company but just change it a little bit.

Across the small towns of America, a plague of brand ripoffmanship can be seen if you dare seek it out. In the college town of Binghamton, New York, for instance, there is Kennedy Fried Chicken, a popular late night stop for all things cheap and greasy. Do the kids and town folk mind that there's potentially sinister semantical wordplay involved in getting a three-piece and a biscuit?

Probably not, but somewhere in the heartland a tear runs down the Colonel's face on a KFC billboard.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Blogcritics Editors' Picks of the Week (Jan. 4 – Jan. 10): The Best Shiny Digital Big Tent Freedom Can Buy

The more I do this, the more I read through the weekly choices and selections and get a feel for the diversity of voices that are assembled within this digital Big Tent, I get reminded again and again what a remarkable place this is.

With that briefest of brief preambles out of the way I give you this week's best as brought to you by the editors of

Music Editor: Connie Phillips

CD Review: Carlos Jimenez, Arriving, by John Owen (Jan. 4)
John Owen offered up three reviews this week, but this one stood out. He takes an in-depth look at this artist, the album, and the jazz flute in general. He gives a full and complex review and offers up a bit of history to the instrument and the genre.

The Friday Morning Listen: Devendra Banhart by Mark Saleski (Jan. 6)
Mark always delivers great tidbits in his weekly column, but this weeks edition was especially enjoyable as he examines an artist who had to grow on him.

Books Editor: Warren Kelly

Mr. Kelly did not make a selection this week, so I'm going to slide in a pick here by a true class act, Editor Natalie Bennett:

Book Review: Duel: A True Story of Death and Honour by James Landale by Natalie Bennett (Jan. 4)
A tale of Scottish dueling and family history reviewed and laid out in a rich and uniquely British voice? Yes please, and I'll take milk with my tea as well, ta:

The reader can imagine a Prussian aristocrat shuddering with horror at the scene and the class of the opponents. But now it was that the two men had to meet on that muddy field the next morning.

TV/Film Co-Editors: Alisha Karabinus and Joan Hunt

The American Family Association Questions The Book Of Daniel by swingingpuss (Jan. 4)
A new year, a new controversial show on TV - that's the name of the game. Except that The Book of Daniel is likely to be less objectionable that watchdog groups would like to have us believe. However, the good news is that their outrage draws attention to the show and provides greater publicity than NBC could have ever planned. Or did NBC plan it that way? Swingingpuss looks at the show and the reasons the America Family Association is up in arms.

Do Comedians Have A Point of View? by Tony Fiqueroa (Jan. 6)
Tony jumps into the Bill O'Reilly vs. David Letterman pool with both feet. I don't think he bothered to test the waters first, but that did hurt him one iota. Included in this article are portions of the transcript of the encounter, including some of the best lines heard on TV in a long time.

Nipplegate II: WWE's "Live Sex Act" Shows Nudity by Matt Paprocki (Jan. 10)
An exposed nipple during a live sex act is news? Well, it is if it happens on TV. I'm not sure how the wrestling part figures in, but Matt has the full scoop and I'll leave you to work it out for yourself. Way to jump on a story, Matt!

Movie Review: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang by Mike Cullinan (Jan. 10)
When a movie review makes me salivate, it simply must be included in the Ed. Picks section. Mike managed to convey the excitement and humor inherent in the movie, and he did it flawlessly. Great writing, great reviewing, and best of all: convincing. This is one movie that goes on the "must see" list.

Culture Editor: Lisa Hoover

Ms. Hoover did not make a selection this week, so I went to the far Blogcritics shore to find a recently-inebriated Shark:

Shark's Post-Holiday Booze Report by Shark (Jan. 9)
It's a report from the front lines and boozed-out alleys of the United States, reported in a way only Shark can relate, as in his own words:

Anyone can get drunk, but not everybody can afford to do it from an inverted chandelier designed by a dead Bauhaus architect.

Politics Editor: Natalie Davis

Ms. Davis did not make a selection this week, so I went to the political salt mines and came away with Blogcritics gold:

Seymour Hersh, the Reporter's Reporter, Speaks on Iraq by Steven Hart (Jan. 8)
Great coverage of a great coverer and uncoverer:

Hersh's Nov. 30 speech got some cursory coverage at the time, but nobody captured every detail and nuance of this gem-studded lecture and the followup questions, which are refreshingly articulate and pertinent.

Sports Editor: Matthew T. Sussman

Hype Machine Breaks Down in Rose Bowl" by Zach Baker (Jan. 5)
After a very exciting championship game, Zach broke down exactly what broke down. No, not the USC defense. It was the media-inflicted llusion that USC was unbeatable, proved by citing that three years ago the same mistake happened when nobody could beat the Miami Hurricanes until Ohio State did just that. Not satisfied with blasting just the media's premature love for a human team, Baker also parallels USC quarterback Matt Leinart's comment of "we're still better than them" to that of another loser 10 years ago — the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. Few have compared Leinart to Carlos Baerga, and few ever will.

Gaming Editor: Ken Edwards

Cross System Comparison Review: Peter Jackson's King Kong by Matt Paprocki (Jan. 4)
A direct comparison between eight different versions of this strong movie-based video game. That is a lot of game playing! Read Matt's in-depth review of everything from the mobile phone to the Xbox 360 Kong.

PC Game Review: Shot Online by Warren Kelly (Jan. 7)
Online Gaming doesn't have to be expensive, and you don't have to sacrifice quality. Sometimes, it's even free. Editor's Warning: This game may well ruin your livelihood. Yes, it is that good. So go download it now.

Nintendo DS Review: Animal Crossing - Wild World by Aaron Auzins (Jan. 9)
Every once in a while a game is released that doesn't really fall within the boundaries of any particular genre. But that does not mean you shouldn't take notice. Wild World took everything that was great with the GameCube release and made it even better.

SciTech Editor: Lisa McKay

Digital Cookery: Take Three Foods, Google Them, et Voila! by Alpha (Jan. 7)
The next time you're wondering what to fix for dinner, take Alpha's advice and give "Google cooking" a try! This fun look at a gastronomical use for everyone's favorite search engine provides a brief history of this culinary phenomenon and comes with a couple of recipes for good measure.

The Hot Topic: FM Is Stereo. Does That Really Mean Anything? by Bennett Dawson and the rest of the Hot Topic Team: Duke de Mondo, Eric Berlin, and Mark Saleski (Jan. 9)
Do you remember the old days when you could tune up your car in your driveway? Do you know what stereo actually means? Do you understand the inner workings of any of the tech toys you play with? The gentlemen who bring us The Hot Topic discuss whether or not technology is turning us into a generation of end users who can't fix anything and don't understand how stuff works.

Best Articles Written By Editorial Team
As chosen by the very same, the self-referential and spotlight seeking thugs that we are! Executive Producer Eric Berlin chose:

Book Review: Duel: A True Story of Death and Honour by James Landale by Natalie Bennett (Jan. 4)
A tale of Scottish dueling and family history reviewed and laid out in a rich and uniquely British voice? Yes please, and I'll take milk with my tea as well, ta:

The reader can imagine a Prussian aristocrat shuddering with horror at the scene and the class of the opponents. But now it was that the two men had to meet on that muddy field the next morning.

More Best of Articles of the Week
As chosen by Blogcritics who have had their work highlighted by editors last week

El Bicho chose:

Do Comedians Have A Point of View? by Tony Fiqueroa (Jan. 6)
An interesting piece about comedians and the Letterman/O'Reilly incident. It's ripe for a whole series about different comedians. It made me want to write, which is the best kind of writing.

Aaman Lamba chose:

Paris Visa: Falling in Love by Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti (Jan. 9)

Bennett chose:

NFL Picks of a Thoughtful Fool, Season Wrap-Up by David Mazzotta (Jan. 6)
David started doing a weekly NFL column during Week Eight of the season and immediately became one of my "must read" favorites. His scientific tomfoolery and solidly logical predictions were one thing, his deadpan humor was another thing altogether.

He delivered more laughs from day one than almost anyone else on BC, in a football column no less.

I'm not kidding when I say that I looked forward to the "Thoughtful Fool" each week as much as I used to look forward to Joe Bob Briggs' Drive-In Movie Column in the Sunday paper, back when I was a younger pup.

David's clever writing should be rewarded with enough hard cash to allow him to bet big in Vegas. Every single week of the football season.

Mr. Mazzotta is a huge asset to Blogcritics.

Sal Marinello chose:

Mark Steyn Predicts the Collapse of "The West" – Sadly I Agree by Bird of Paradise (Jan. 8)
Mr. Hewitt (Bird of Paradise) has crafted a well-thought out addendum to a great piece by Mr. Steyn, which deals with a very difficult and complex subject. This kind of well-thought out and well-written article is a great example of what blogging is all about.

Nik Durga chose:

Buy the World An iPod by J. Michaels (Jan. 10)
"Buy the World An iPod" is a nice paean to that must-have consumer good; bought my first one myself last fall and it's my favorite material possession. J. did a nice job just summing up the simple pleasures of the pod, without lapsing into critical overhype or aimless wandering. A fun, short piece!

Production Notes
Blogcritics selected this week: please feel free to make a selection for next week's edition. You can leave them in the comments or send them to Eric Berlin:

All are more than free to leave general impressions and personal selections for this or any week below!

How'd we choose these things? Find out here.

Please send you input, ideas, and suggestions to Eric Berlin:

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Catchin' Up

I've been writing, just not publishing here as much as is good and necessary.

Feast away below if ye dare... okay, it's not that risky really, but you may enjoy.

Blogcritics Editors' Picks of the Week (Dec. 27 to Jan. 3): Celery Sticks and the Post-New Year Story Cornucopia

Kicking back into 2006 gear and already there is an undulating post-new year cornucopia of stories written by writers and editors to feast your eyes on.

You need something to feast on in between celery sticks and resolution-mandated runs to the gym, right?

Because we took a week off for the holidays up in these virtual parts, we relaxed the rules ('cause we like to break them too, actually, if truth be told) and let in a few bits of brilliance scribbled during the final week of '05.

We'd also like to officially welcome SciTech to the percolating picks party as well as SciTech Editor Lisa McKay.


Music Editor: Connie Phillips

CD Review: John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band Some Time in New York City by Al Barger (Dec. 24)
Al delivers a provocative review of a well-known album. Honest and articulated, he gives his detailed song-by-song take looking at all aspects of the production as well as the construction.

Does Your CD Lose Its Value By The Bedpost Overnight? by uao (Dec. 28)
This is an interesting look at how CDs hold their value by comparison of genre. A very fun, and yet still well-written piece.

Music with "Universal Appeal" Does Not Exist by Michael J. West (Dec. 29)
A well-articulated essay on the universal appeal of music or lack thereof, Michael examines many of the ways people react to music and how they associate music with events in their life.

CD Review: Nirvana - Sliver: The Best of the Box by El Bicho (Dec. 29)
Thank you, El Bicho, for this incredibly detailed look at Cobain, Nirvana, and this box set. The review is comprehensive and well balanced, giving the reader and informed look.

Books Editor: Warren Kelly

Graphic Novel Review: Epileptic by Nik Dirga (Jan. 02)
Nik doesn't treat this book as just another comic book — he treats it as a work of art. What could have been just another graphic novel review turns into an art review.

Book Review: An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture by Roger Scruton by Tony Dalmyn (Jan. 2)
Tony takes a scholarly topic and makes it accesible to everyone, providing links to more information on many of the people and ideas in the review. Wikipedia gets a workout with this review, but that's not a bad thing, given the subject matter of the book.

TV/Film Co-Editors: Alisha Karabinus and Joan Hunt

TV's Tough Timeslots by Diane Kristine (Jan. 3)
Diane probes the programming mess that prevents us from viewing all the great shows available on TV. Counter-programming is problematic, at best. Quality shows are pitted against each other, forcing viewers to choose between them. Regardless of how many televisions, VCRs, and TiVOs you have, you simply can't watch everything! Yet, we try.

Culture Editor: Lisa Hoover

The Good, the Bad, and the Truly Ugly: A Very Subjective Look at 2005 by Victor Lana (Dec. 31)
Victor takes us on a walk backwards through 2005. It's a great read and anyone who can use "pastiche" correctly in a sentence gets extra brownie points from me.

Poking Fun at Depression - Not a Sane Thing by Mark Edward Manning (Dec. 30)
Can you imagine if the commercial Mark referred to ran on US television? Instant anarchy. Mark, speaking as one who's been there, urges readers to take depression seriously.

Jerusalem Should Get What it Wants by diana hartman (Dec. 26)
Only Diana could use a brother, a light bulb and a jelly jar to make a point such an eloquent point about conflict resolution.

The Year in Pop Culture by Chip Ross (Dec. 23)
Chip takes his own look back at 2005, Hollywood-style. Confidential to Chip: South Africa last I heard and because chicks dig him.

Politics Editor: Natalie Davis

Bush's Most Frightening Policy To Date: Domestic Surveillance by Jackson Smith (Dec. 23)
In this finely written article, the author insists that the president's controversial
warrantless-eavesdropping operation - which many believe is illegal - is dangerous for the nation. Smith warns, "Using the precedent of this justification, Bush can now conceivably take any imaginable action against terrorism, no matter the inherent sacrifice of civil liberties. His power is virtually unlimited and unchecked. If the administration gets its way, the United States' presidency will go from being vaguely imperial to clearly tyrannical." (Suggested by Assistant Politics Editor Scott C. Smith)

The New York Times and US News & World Report - Aiding and Abetting? by Z.Z.
(Dec. 28)
I love Z.Z. Bachman's enthusiasm. In each of his writings, that passion for conservative ideals comes through, and even if one can't agree with the opinions presented, one must walk away impressed by the author's commitment to his point of view and amused by his targeting of the political left. In this piece, Bachman takes on two mainstream news outlets and charges them with aiding and abetting his nation's professed enemy via their reporting. Just when one might assume that the writer is all about dishing up rousing red meat for the right wing, Bachman turns the tables and offers a concluding call for real
balance. Very cool.

Energy Wars - Russian Gas Cut Off To Ukraine by Aaman Lamba (Jan. 2)
You think gas prices here are out of control? Aaman Lamba's informative report shows that those of us on these shores have nothing on those in the former Soviet Union, where Russia has cut off Ukraine's gas supply because of disputes over petrol pricing there. And things aren't much better in many eastern and western European countries either; many are suffering under high prices and low supply. Mr. Lamba earns readers' thanks by reminding us that sometimes, the grass isn't always greener.

Sports Editor: Matthew T. Sussman

UMass 66, St. Peter's 49 ... And A New Tradition Begins? by David
R. Mark
(Dec. 28)
David took a respite from his political conquest to reflect on his alma mater (University of Massachusetts) and their once dominant reign over college basketball in the '90s. Not only does he discover a good luck charm to take to games (his 4-year-old son), but he reminisces on the time he schooled UMass hoops legend Lorenzo Sutton, if only for a brief moment, in a pick-up game.

NFL Picks of a Thoughtful Fool, Week 17 by David Mazzotta (Dec. 29)
David's weekly column was claimed by Blogcritics on the waiver wire in midseason, but it's an addition that payed off huge dividends. It began as a weekly breakdown of an attempt to beat the spread and evolved into a witty and insightful look into each week in the NFL. Here's just one of his nuggets of wisdom found in his Week 17 piece:
From Rex Grossman's performance on Saturday, it's pretty clear that one can have a solid throwing arm or a full neck beard, but one cannot have both.

A job well done, David, on keeping up with the pace week-to-week!

Gaming Editor: Ken Edwards

The Worst in Video Games 2005 by Matt Paprocki (Dec. 21)
Jack Thompson, Grand Theft Auto sex, Spike TV, and Chinese MMO players. What a combo! Instead of those typical, boring, and cheaply planned out best of lists, let's hand out some awards for the "less fortunate" people, places, and things from the industry we love... some times.

Product Review: Mental Floss Trivia Game by Bill Wallo (Dec. 21)
From the creators of the magazine Mental Floss and a line of "irreverent" trivia books (such as Condensed Knowledge and Forbidden Knowledge) comes the Mental Floss trivia game. Promising to pick up "where every other party game stops," it adds a number of twists to the traditional trivial pursuits.

Not just one, but seven N-Gage Reviews by Matt Paprocki (Dec. 27 to Jan. 2)
Can you tell that Matt got an N-Gage? These are his first seven reviews, but keep a look out for even more. You know he is gonna' review every single one.

NEW! SciTech
SciTech Editor: Lisa McKay

Stay Away From Heightmax! by Sal Marinello (Dec. 30)
Professional strength and conditioning coach Sal Marinello warns parents of the dangers of untested dietary supplements in this piece. He explains why a lack of testing by the FDA and the absence of any verifiable, peer-reviewed studies on the clinical efficacy and safety of these products should serve as a red flag to parents who might be contemplating their use.

Titan's Halo and the Christmas Tree Cluster by Bennett Dawson (Jan. 2)
Bennett's space posts never fail to fascinate, and this one is no exception. Enhanced by two breath-taking (and seasonally appropriate) images from NASA, Bennett gives us a small taste of what to look forward to in the field of space exploration this year, and explains the Christmas Tree Cluster in terms that don't require a degree in rocket science to understand.

Best Articles Written By Editorial Team
As chosen by the very same, the self-referential and spotlight seeking thugs that we are! Executive Producer Eric Berlin chose:

Intel Re-brands, Leaps to New Logo by Phillip Winn (Jan. 3)
Blogcritics' all-around Secret Weapon delivers here, as always, by making it look easy. Bringing together elements of technology, the business world, and the uber-sphere of marketing and branding we now live in, Winn sails through Intel's re-branding, tells us what the significance might be, and all the while makes life easy on the reader. Strunk and White would be proud.

Sports Editor Matthew T. Sussman chose:

RJ's NFL Picks - Week 17 by RJ Elliott (Dec. 29)
Like David's "Thoughtful Fool" series, this pick more recognizes the season-long body of work. Not only did RJ provide his own insight into every NFL game played this year, but he created a forum for everyone to compete against him. He also selflessly compiled the right-wrong records of everyone who participated. Or maybe he just has nothing better to do. Regardless, free time well spent at Blogcritics should always be rewarded, even if he picked the Lions to win too many times.

TV/Film Co-editor Joan Hunt chose:

There's Just Too Much TV by Eric Berlin (Jan. 2)
Having experienced the phenomenon of "too much TV" myself, I felt Eric's pain as I read his article about all the choices available on television today. This hit home most recently as I ended up ill during the holidays. The cure for my boredom? TV. And, I discovered some great shows that I missed while watching my pre-programmed favorites. I finally understood the buzz behind certain shows (I'll refrain from naming them here) and realized that I needed to invest in TiVO. Eric has given into the temptation, too, and explored the depths of "you gotta see this!" programming.

Can't Stop Serenity by Alisha Karabinus (Jan. 2)
When a movie spawns such deep devotion, how is it possible to continue to find compelling material for new articles? Alisha does a bang up job here. Summarizing the premise of the show Firefly and segueing into the film Serenity, she takes us to a brand new world that is intriguing, but somehow familiar. She also offers us a peek at past coverage from Had it not been for this article, I might have missed some of the finer points of the Serenity charm as well as our site's influence in an interview with Joss Whedon. This is how it's done, folks!

More Best of Articles of the Week
As chosen by Blogcritics who have had their work highlighted by editors last week

No picks this time, which is likely due to the holidays and post-holiday ramping up to full-speed rather than a lack of fine selections to choose from!

Production Notes
Blogcritics selected this week: please feel free to make a selection for next week's edition. You can leave them in the comments or send them to Eric Berlin:

All are more than free to leave general impressions and personal selections for this or any week below!

How'd we choose these things? Find out here.

Please send you input, ideas, and suggestions to Eric Berlin:

Thanks for stopping by!

Patrick Cranshaw, Old School's Blue, Dies at 86

If you have to go out, it's best to go out fighting with a couple of naked and oiled up coeds in your face, right?

There was Blue, the oldest and scrappiest codger of a frat pledge you could ever meet, heading out into the KY jelly wrestling ring, an Animal House (in this case, Old School) worthy audience of cacophonous drunken fools screaming him on in earnest.

Frank the Tank, played by Will Ferrell, asked Blue if he was ready and the old Navy man said, "Just ring the f***in' bell, you pansy."

Now Patrick Cranshaw, who played Blue, as well as a kaleidoscope of roles, in an acting career that spanned six decades, is dead of natural causes at the age of 86.

A remarkable career it was, too, with roles in a myriad of films and television shows that are cultural landmarks on the pop culture scene. Indeed, a festival featuring Patrick Cranshaw offerings would be great fun and great entertainment both.

For example, the following could be easily whipped up:

Day One
Iconic Moments: Popular Culture Rears Its Counter-Culture Head
* Bonnie and Clyde
* Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band

Day Two
Cutting Edge Mid-'90s Cinema
* Ed Wood
* The Hudsucker Proxy

You could have a Really Bad Comedies Night too (Air Bud: Spikes Back anyone?) but that would tarnish the man's legacy. The final night, the Big Night, would feature Old School, a film that you have to love even if you detest lowbrow comedy (just ask my wife!).

And when Will Ferrell utters the now famous line, "You're my boy, Blue!" we will all heartily agree.

There's Just Too Much TV

There's just too much TV.

No, not in the it's a crap wastoid lost culture soulless crunch of inevitable biosphere husked out cortex shutdown kind of way. Or even the I really need to have a really real life and not spend time picking corn chips out of the nethers while couch sores ripple across long neglected and now seriously afflicted castoff flesh kind of way.

I mean there's too many good shows, too many shows I've heard I have to see that I haven't seen, and too many shows that I've caught bits and pieces of and would love to see more of but things like having to "talk to other humans" and "putting food down my throat" and the weekend work-release furlough "ending" keep getting in the way.

For you see, there's just too much TV.

Take, for example, Herc's Top 10 Scripted Hourlongs of 2005, from Ain't It Cool News. These list-things help to eat away at the soul linings, like acid dripped from vials held by squash-headed aliens with hazy-shaped auras made of fire and reeking of barbeque sauce.

If for no other reason than to let it burn, let's run down the list and have a little dance:

#10 – The O.C.
I've not seen very much of The O.C. (while in real life, ironically, I see quite a bit of it), but I can live with that. What I've seen was melodramatic and teenybopper friendly. Hoorah for them and theirs and their non-corroded soul masses. However, something deep within says: maybe you should be watching this. The terror!

#9 – Everwood
Now, this is truly perplexing. Surely such a program gets safely filed away under the same file as 7th Heaven and Hope & Faith and Leave It to Jim (my favorite example of Must Not See TV) and such guff, correct? Do I need to live with monks on a windswept hill for 14 years of vowed silence and intensive study and irrevocably shift my life-paradigm?

#8 – The Inside
Ah ha! This one I can truly get down with. Saw every episode and sulked and wept messily when it was put on hiatus. And then I cried and rejoiced and self-flogged even more gratuitously after bearing witness recently to Tim Minear's even more brilliant yet equally short-lived Wonderfalls.

#7 – Six Feet Under
I stopped watching after the Season Four episode where Michael got car jacked. That hour of television scarred me. I'm serious – I couldn't go back for more real-hurt after that one. Well, maybe one day… but you know what I'm saying.

#6 – 24
I cut out of this one early in Season Three even though everyone said Season Three ended up getting really really good. I don't know. How many nearly-apocalyptic days can one dude have?

#5 – Rome
Ah, here's another one that's very easy to sing along with. Great and epic historical drama with enough drama and intrigue and comedy and blood-splattering action to keep you off the couch, corn chips at your feet.

#4 – Lost
Again, no complaints at all. It's been a bit more uneven this year at times, but I still can't but love every bizarre and ripe moment of it.

#3 – Gilmore Girls
Yes, this is a choice that makes me want to throw myself off a bridge in angst and protest. Surely, I couldn't have let this one slip by me for so many years? Herc says:

Another series that started out great and grows richer and more accomplished with each succeeding season. Makes me laugh every week, makes me cry at least three times a year.

That's it, I'm putting off the backgammon and croquet lessons for another year so that I can catch up with all the Girls action.

#2 – Veronica Mars
Sanity returns, a more glorious and gloriously under-the-radar show you will not find. I feel as though Weevil and Logan and Keith and old Veronica herself are part of my little virtual world of friends and confidantes by this wonderful Season Two. Which is really really sad in a way. But, you know. Still.

#1 – Battlestar Galactica
I recently spent a week revamping my cable/DVR/lifestyle, and this show was partially why. I've not yet seen a drop of it, but I'm told that my life won't be worth living until I do. What's a fella to do?

And that's just the scripted dramas! Enter Breaking Bonaduce and Justice League Unlimited and Iconoclasts and on and on and it's enough to tap into one's spirit in the same manner in which that evil high priest dude in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom went for your heart.

All pulsing and gooey and the draining of the life force.

Okay, I'm back in front of the Cathode Ray now. This is all the time I have to report, clearly.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Ringing in the New Year: A Modern History

New Year's Eve and I have had some interesting showdowns over the past 11 years or so. Perhaps that's why I can now very gladly kick back with a DVD and a glass of wine (or even a good hackable keyboard and a mug of Tension Tamer tea!) while the rest of the planet rocks and rolls and rings in the new year whilst banging out the old.

That is to say: here's my modern history in brief with Old Man Time and Baby New Year.

Ringing in 1995
About a girl
The Wetlands, New York City

The music was loud and funk-inflected and hipster-crunchy, the beer was good and cheap (and all the sweeter as it was somehow illegally procured, as I was three months shy of my 21st birthday at the time), the electric pulse of New York's night beat strong. I met a girl. We danced and later we kissed amongst the neon-spared shadows of the downtown cityscape. She happened to attend my university, and we wound up dating for most of the spring semester. It was a strange and awkward relationship that ended badly, but it doesn't erase the memory of a perfect New Year's Eve.

Ringing In 1996
Crash: taxi accident
Somewhere in the vicinity of 84th St. and 2nd Avenue, New York City

It was an ill-prepared and ill-arranged evening all around, perhaps symbolic of a sloshy year spent playing rugby and parties that drifted into one another as I waited for school to end and real world horrors to begin. A few friends and I bumped into several more pals and acquaintances and hangers on in New York City's chaotic Penn Station. We had a few drinks amidst the mad bustle before making hasty arrangements to divide into two cabs with the goal of meeting up at a friend of a friend of an uncle's goat's all night fiesta.

About a quarter to midnight, I sat in the passenger seat of a taxicab next to a driver of undetermined ethnicity. He had a habit of jumping off the mark five seconds or so before red lights changed to green, but I ignored it. Bad cab drivers are a New York institution, and besides, I had the notion of getting my party on draping my thoughts along with the several beers I had already imbibed.

Around 84th Street, luck ran out as we broadsided a white boat of a Cadillac that chose the wrong time to sail east across Manhattan's mass. I had time to brace myself (no seat belt for me, of course, in those days) and ended up with nothing worse than sore knees and a New Year's tale. A girl in the back left seat – who had no way of knowing what was going to happen – was not so lucky. Her mouth was fairly well bloodied, but she refused to have an ambulance called (we learned through muffled sobs) because "her dad was going to kill her."

We decided to take a subway back to Penn and call it a night. As fireworks exploded over the night, my friend looked at me and said, with a perfection of ironic timing and tone, "Happy New Year."

Ringing In 1997
Too sick to party, let alone care
Chatham, England, about an hour east of London

My American housemate and old time compatriot and I had been amped for New Year's for weeks. The miserably damp and dreary English winter would surely be brightened by the prospect of Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve. Legend had it that young lasses of a mind would even be so kind as to kiss mysterious and anonymous young men to help ring in the new year!

But alas, I became very ill and had in the neighborhood of a 103 degree fever on what was a cold and wet winter's eve. My mate sulked as I sniveled, too sick to really get worked up about anything at that point. I do remember reading The End of the World News, by Anthony Burgess, which is really a masterwork of inventive and even experimental storytelling.

Ringing In 1998
The girl who got away
Phoenix, Arizona

Ah, New Year's Eve '98 arrived during the heart of my road days. So much so, in fact, that December 31st, 1997 culminated a three or four day blast across the American South, from New Orleans all the way to Phoenix, Arizona. Another old and dear friend from my university days and I were in the midst of a five-week trek across the nation in search of, well, kicks I suppose would be the appropriate term. Phoenix was an important destination as another old friend of mine was there and that meant party-hook-uppage for New Year's.

We made it in good time and found ourselves at a rather fun and freewheeling bar frequented by the alterno-set of the southwestern scene. I ended the night chatting up a lovely young lady who I immediately and inevitably fell very much in love with. The night ended with nothing more than a fare thee well, a long pause, and a soul piercing look that haunts me to this very day. (The royal Queen of girls who got away is a lovely young Catalonian woman from Barcelona, but that's a tale for a difference piece!)

Ringing in 1999
Straight minority status pays dividends
Oakland, California

I had just recently moved from New York to the West Coast and was already tired of the endless raves and trance-fests that seemed to plague San Francisco, California (at least in my ultra-limited view). A new roommate of mine, a lesbian lass, invited me to come down to ring in the new year at a famous East Bay gay bar and club. Grudgingly I agreed to come along as I figured it would be a good experience, if nothing else.

I wound up having a surprisingly great time. The drinks were cheap, the mood upbeat and jubilant, and them folks can dance. I somehow found myself with someone who was possibly the only other straight addition to the party, a French girl and friend of my roommate's girlfriend.

I recall thinking, "Who knew?"

Ringing in 2000
Millennium jitters, dot com dreams
Berkeley, California

I had just started dating the woman I would later marry. Like every other year since, it seems, she had to work at the hospital on New Year's Eve or Day (Day this year to ring in '06). Therefore, a fellow co-worker at the start-up dot com of the moment and I laid low and had a few drinks in front of the television. Y2K turned out to be mostly hype, so the only really interesting upshot of the evening was that my friend seemed very intent and neurotic about collecting the nearly empty bottles of liquor he had brought over to celebrate with.

Ringing in 2001
Speedy on cold medicine and Sex in the City
Richmond, California

My girlfriend and I drove from her parent's place in Southern California back up north to the East Bay on New Year's Eve day. We both were feeling a bit under the weather, so we popped some cold medicine that somehow had the effect of keeping us both wide awake and speedy throughout the night. We caught a Sex in the City marathon on television which ended around five in the morning (Mr. Big ended up being out of the picture, as I recall). As luck would have it, I had free cable in those days in my studio apartment in the Oakland Hills.

Ringing in 2002-2005
Not very much to report
Richmond, California and Pasadena, California

New Year's Eve became more of a quiet night than anything else for me. I wrote, watched television, went to the 24 Hour Fitness gym once or twice. You know, boring!

Ringing in 2006
A little older, theoretically wiser, looking forward to the year ahead
Pasadena, California

I'm writing these words on New Year's Eve, several hours before 2006 kicks in and a new adventure and swirl around the calendar begins.

It's been a wild ride, and each year seems to bring as many questions as answers to life's endlessly quixotic riddles. But I have a hell of a lot to be thankful for, and a hell of a lot to look forward to in the new year.

Happy new year to all… and let the next round of games begin.