Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Further Music Reviews

Two quick reviews of recently acquired concept albums.

Come On Feel the Illinoise!, by Sufjan Stevens.

Stevens' Illinoise is the second installment in a quest to make an album for each state. The first, apparently, was Michigan. Being unfamiliar with that work, I can only say that Illinoise is a delightful album for a couple of reasons.

First it provides lush orchestrations and filled-out songs. They are, basically, pop-rock tracks. But there are generous helpings of folk. The titles are amusingly long-winded and descriptive: "A Short Reprise For Mary Todd Who Went Insane, But For Very Good Reasons" and "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!! Ahhhh!" to pick two mid-length examples.

Many people called this the album of 2005, but being unversed in the numerous offerings of that year, I can only give this album my highest recommendation, with the assurance that it will appreciate with age.

69 Love Songs, by The Magnetic Fields.

A decade ago this album, with it's stark palindromic cover, seemed to be everywhere.

It is a beast of an album. You can, apparently buy the individual volumes, which as a three disc album may be worthwhile.

Oddly enough the topic of these 69 songs is often love songs, instead of love per se. Clocking three hours of listening the album's saving grace is it's deliberate variety. Pretty much every conceivable genre is covered, there are multiple male and female lead vocalists, songs from under a minute (the winking 'Punk Love') to full-fledged, multiple chorus selections ('Papa Was a Rodeo'). The main man behind the project has a gravely, Johnny Cash voice, and many of the songs have a bite or depressing edge.

Remarkably, though, while not every track is a personal winner, the sheer versatility will keep you on your toes. The tracks were arranged nearly randomly, so don't go looking for call-and-answer, or story arcs between songs. Surprisingly, if you have the time, you can throw these discs on one after the other and not get bored of what might have been a gimmicky offering.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Music Reviews

I'm in a music collection phase. Here are some curt reviews of recent acquisitions:

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, by Neko Case.

Only after I'd listened to this album and was reading other reviews was I informed that it was 'country'. Really, it's a solid display of writing, intriguing instrumentation and fantastic vocals. Upon multiple listenings I guess there are two tracks that, in subject matter, sound 'country'. But their, and the album's overall excellence puts this chorus-free work with others that transcend categorization.

Court and Spark, Joni Mitchell.

Blue is Joni's masterpiece, but it is also "monochromatic". Court and Spark has Joni's magnificent voice, along with a rhythm section and some saxophones. This departure from Blue's 'a girl and a guitar or piano' allows for fuller offerings and a broader range of emotions, subject matter, and tone.

Mama's Gun, eryKah Badu.

The opener of this album instantly drew my mind to 'Maybe Your Baby' from Stevie Wonder's 1972 classic Talking Book. It also threw me off regarding everything else the album was going to be: a quiet r&b shuffle with obscure lyrics and mellow beats. After multiple listens the tracks still all sort of sound the same: an easy-going playlist with modest qualities. The last track 'Green Eyes' is hauntingly catchy, and serves up a surprise after fifty minutes of repetitive songs wedged between the more interesting bookends of the first and last offerings.

Yet, for these faults, I have to admit that the album isn't bad. It's not breaking any amazing new ground. But the songs are...good. You could definitely do worse. It is, by no means however, essential.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

As Time Goes By...

For a collegiate exercise I had to make a timeline. Some of the juxtapositions of this rediscovered work I find unintentionally amusing, especially if read as causal 'headlines'.

1666-7: Great Fire of London, Paradise Lost

1792: Pain's Rights of Man, Reign of Terror in France

1804: Napoleon declared Emperor, Kant dies

1850: Wordsworth dies, Scarlet Letter

1861: American Civil War begins, Fathers and Sons

1862: Thoreau dies, Bismarck becomes Premier

1890: Wilde's Picture of Dorian Grey, Van Gogh dies

1924: Kafka Dies, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

1948: Israel formed, Gandhi assassinated

1953: Eisenhower President, Everest summited

1957: Sputnik, West Side Story

1962: Cuban Missile Crisis, Silent Spring

1978: Jean-Paul II made Pope, FBI formed

1980: John Lennon Dies, Small Pox eradicated

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reaction to Last Night's Daily Show; in which town hall meetings on health care were derailed by planted agitators

There are so many problems in America.

I think the biggest is poverty. We need health care reform. Who needs it most? The poor. They have the worst health. When all you can afford is McDonalds and you don't have a stove or money for produce what can you expect?

We need education reform. I have no idea what direction public education needs to go in, but no matter which way it goes the same group of students will always suffer: the poor. Due to the instability of their home lives and the responsibilities they have at home there's no time for school work. As such they barely get through, or don't understand what they got through, or don't get through school. They learn no skills and their education haunts them, rather than helps them for the rest of their lives.

Because of this people don't understand science or statistics or civics. As such people don't vote, they worry about 'bonding' and invest in Baby Einstein, and they debate the Darwin 'theory'.

And these people are fed misinformation and lies so they can get riled up, go to town hall meetings, and shout down the speakers who are trying to ensure that they have the health care they need. The same people who would benefit the most from reform are those who are frightened of Obama, racists whose fear and narrow mindedness are being manipulated against their own best interests.

Why do we call it the Religious Right? It's not an ecumenical movement. I'm willing to bet there aren't many Hindus and Muslims in the Religious Right. Sikhs thin on the ground. Shouldn't we just call it the Christian Right?

What really upsets me is the fact that if Jesus showed up today I'm fairly sure the Christian Right would hate him. I mean, 'Blessed are: Peacemakers, Meek, Merciful, Those who Hunger for Righteousness, Poor in Spirit'. In a word: The downtrodden. What happened to 'Love thine enemy'? Whatever happened to Christian charity?

That's why these Christian Right people anger me. They profess to be followers of Jesus, but honestly, I see few of them following in his footsteps. Very few helping the sick and needy. Few feeding the hungry, and communing with the outcasts of society.

Who might be considered outcasts in our society, in our modern-day parable? Illegal immigrants? Gays? Who has the fewest rights in this country? Why are they stripped of their rights, if not due to the bellowings of the conservatives.

Jesus was not exactly a conservative fellow. Frankly, he bore more in common with those people who advocated peace and love forty years ago then those who physically intimidate speakers at health care town hall meetings.

For a man who got enraged and started flipping tables because there were money-lenders in the temple, do you really think he would approve of closing the gap between church and state? Do you really think he would approve of the widening gap between the rich and poor?

That's why poverty is the biggest problem. Poverty keeps people stupid and manipulable.

Without a free-thinking citizenry the country can't survive. People need to be able to reach stage three arguing. What are these stages? Stage one response: “That's stupid.” No reasoning, not argument, just gut reaction, often based on unchallenged assumptions. Stage two response: “That's stupid, and here's why...”Explaining and understanding why one feels the way they do about a subject, having given consideration to the problem. Stage three, the ideal: “I can see how you think that for reasons X,Y, and Z, but I think that's stupid for reasons A,B, and C.” Besides understanding one's own position you can understand the position of others. You need not agree with them, but you don't tell them their stupid and walk away.

I'm okay with certain conservatives. William F. Buckley-type conservative thinkers, who are rational, engage in stage three argument, and disagree with my views on how government should be run. Fine. But these belly-busters aren't doing anything useful. They are trying to deliberately impede helping people in need.

I recognize that the Left has it's share of fanatics. I am anti-fanatic. I am pro-helping people. Thus I generally am more lenient when it comes to the Left frothers since they just really really believe that helping people is a good thing.

That's what the parties seem to be, to me. The Left has a reputation for using government to help the needy, the conservative, supposedly Christian Right is entirely focused on self-interest.

We really need to rethink the self-interest motivation in this country. When men on steroids hitting balls are making millions as poverty creeps into the towns they play, and the President of the United States earns less for his job than Barry Bonds something is wrong. Perhaps poverty isn't the biggest problem in America today. Perhaps Barry Bonds is.

Or the 24-hour News cycle. Can we be rid of this yet? Can we go back to daily or twice a day news? I think we'd all be better off, journalistic integrity and standards would appreciate, and stories on the news would be, well, newsworthy. The constant tug at heartstrings of the daily local tragedy leaves one numb after mindless repetition. I used to care about the news. Now I can hear about a typhoon that kills thousands and not bother to read past the headline. Just another tragedy.

But I digress. The real issue is poverty, not the News that either chooses not to tell the story or does an 'interest piece' before packing up and leaving a poverty-ridden town having invested $1.50 at the local diner for a cup of coffee (no Starbucks!).

Until we start to settle poverty we can't expect education to improve. If you are a student who has to come home and take care of your siblings, or your parents, or hide from your parents, or work two jobs to support your family, or don't know where your next dinner is coming from, do you really think homework and study would be your primary concerns? Kids in poverty get very squirrelly just before school breaks. While other kids are looking forward to a vacation they dread the chaos that awaits them without any structure and questionable support at home. At school there is a routine, and food. No such luck at home.

So to the conservatives who are riling up these people, those conservatives who use the impoverished for partisan politics and anti-Obama sentiment due to the fact that Obama is a black president, to the conservatives who pay unholy lip service to the ideals of Christian charity and who are interested only in their own agendas at the cost of human lives, I say this:

I think you're stupid. You know damn well why.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Five Funniest-Looking Cat Breeds

The Five Funniest-Looking Cat Breeds

In the world of purebreds there are three basic rules:

1. Looks are the most important thing in life.
2. Make sure the breed is unique.
3. Just keep inbreeding.

The following creatures, supposedly feline, should have been pruned from this already unfortunate family tree. Instead they are recognized breeds.

5. Russian Blue

From the Breed Profile:

Little is known about the origin of the Russian Blue, however, stories and legends abound. Many believe the Russian Blue is a natural breed originating from the Archangel Isles in northern Russia...

That, or Mars.

There is something distinctly extra-terrestrial about this cat. It bears striking resemblance to the typical 'little grey' alien sci-fi fans are so familiar with.

But Wait, There's More:

One of the most outstanding features of the Russian Blue is a short, dense coat of an even, bright blue color with each hair dipped in silver.

Did they just say each hair is dipped in silver?

This cat is worth a million dollars.

4. Devon Rex

From the Breed Profile:

In 1959, a Miss Cox of Devonshire England found that a stray cat in her care had given birth to a rather odd looking curly-haired kitten, the sire thought to be a curly-haired tomcat seen in the area. Delighted with the kitten's elfin features and wavy curls, she named him Kirlee -- the founding father of the unique and wonderful breed of cats known today as the Devon Rex.”

Unbeknownst to Miss Cox (worst pseudonym ever), her unwitting discovery came right in time for a horrible new fashion:

The Borg queen gets a perm.

Also one questions whether we should be encouraging anything to look 'elfin'.

What one hugely popular and extremely effeminate role can do to an otherwise uninteresting film career.

But Wait, There's More:

Devons are low maintenance, wash-and-wear companions.

Perhaps that's why their coats look like that.

Please do not wear your cat.

3. Colorpoint Shorthair

From the Breed Profile:

Colorpoint Shorthairs are the first cousins of the Siamese. This breed is distinguished by its elegance in sixteen different "point" colors beyond the four Siamese colors. Half-siblings to the Siamese by virtue of their foundation and continuing breeding with the Siamese, the Colorpoint Shorthair is a hybrid breed of the Siamese.

By all admissions, a knock-off inbreed of a much more popular inbreed. This cat's IQ can probably be measured on one hand. A recent creation, it proves that breeders have learned nothing about genetics in the past 200 years.

But Wait, There's More:

To distinguish the new breed from the Siamese, CFA breeders adopted the name Colorpoint Shorthair for registration purposes, and through a painstaking process won recognition as a breed in 1964.

The poor thing doesn't even know if it's looking up or down.

2. Cornish Rex

From the Breed Profile:

Are those cats from outer space?!

If you don't know shouldn't we just kill them?!

This cat is clearly the by-product of curly Devon Rex and the alien Russian Blue. Or a crossbreed of a fur ball and alien-Burns.

It comes in peace.

But Wait, There's More:

In spite of their sophisticated, elegant appearance, Cornish Rex cats are anything but cool, aloof or dignified.

Two problems:

1. Obviously they have never seen one of these cats.

2. What character traits would you ascribe to a cat that looks like this?

Besides 'fugly' or 'unfortunate'.

1. Sphynx

From the Breeder Profile:

This cat and a few other naturally hairless cats have been found worldwide. These have magically been produced by Mother Nature and are the foundation for this unusual breed.

We already know that breeders don't have the basic concepts of genetics down. Which leaves one question:


These cats were bred in 1966. The Mexican Hairless Dog had been around for thousands of years. We know that cats and dogs don't mix, but when the evidence is running around barking at you, we could only hope humanity had learned its lesson.

We were wrong.

But Wait, There's More:

They perform silly antics for your entertainment and are sometimes downright clumsy...on purpose it seems.

The texture of the Sphynx skin has been compared to a suede covered hot water bottle

Because of the lack of hair that would normally absorb body oils, the Sphynx needs periodic bathing and ear cleaning.

Clearly a kind, loving creature that has no intention of killing you in your sleep.

With all those traits to recommend it why wouldn't you spend as much for one as you would on three new iPhones?

All pictures/quotes courtesy the Cat Fancier's Association, Inc.

The Past 100 Years

I've decided to grade the presidents of the past 100 years to determine if there have been any good Republican presidents. Here is a quick run down, with grades, of the US presidents of the past 100 years.

WH Taft, 1909-1913. Republican. Known for: Size of person.

Presidential Legacy: 17th ammendment - Senators elected directly by the people, 16th ammendment - Federal Income Tax, Nasty bit of business in Nicaragua.

Grade: C

Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921. Democrat. Known for: League of Nations.

Presidential Legacy: Creation of the Federal Reserve, Approval of racial segregation, WWI intervention, 19th ammendment - Women's Suffrage.

Grade: B -

Warren G. Harding, 1921-1923. Republican. Known for: Dying in office.

Presidental Legacy: Established Veteran's Bureau, Teapot-Dome Scandal, Administrative corruption/fraud.

Grade: C-

Calvin Coolidge, 1923-1929. Republican. Known for: Skills of oratory.

Presidential Legacy: Immigration Act - excluding Asian immigrants, Tax relief, Indian Citizenship Act, Poor reaction to the Mississsippi Flood disaster.

Grade: C

Herbert Hoover, 1929-1933. Republican. Known for: Hoovervilles.

Presidential Legacy: Lack of intervention during the Great Depression/'Volunteerism', Most policies not enacted, Bonus Army - Firing on US troops demanding benefits, Noxious racial views.

Grade: D

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933-1945. Democrat. Known for: The New Deal

Presidential Legacy: New Deal - Lowered unemployment and raised the GDP while lowering the national debt, WWII intervention, Internment Camps, Only president elected to four terms.

Grade: A-

Harry Truman, 1945-1953. Democrat. Known for: Hiroshima bombings.

Presidential Legacy: Ending of war with Japan with use of Atomic weapons, Truman Doctrine - Communist containment/ McCarthysim, Creation of the US Air Force and CIA, Support of NATO, the UN and Israel, Korean War/Dismissal of MacArthur.

Grade: C

Dwight Eisenhower, 1953-1961. Republican. Known for: Golf.

Presidential Legacy: Sent first soldiers to Vietnam, CIA coups overseas, Nuclear stockpiling, Creation of NASA, Interstate highways, Little Rock, Alaska and Hawaii statehood.

Grade: B-

John F. Kennedy, 1961-1963. Democrat. Known for: Assassination.

Presidential Legacy: Bay of Pigs Fiasco, Cuban Missile Crisis, Partial Test Ban Treaty, Escalation in Vietnam, Peace Corps and Civil Rights, Playboy affairs.

Grade: B

Lyndon Johnson, 1963-1969. Democrat. Known for: Civil Rights

Presidential Legacy: Civil Rights Act/Voting Rights Act, National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, Medicare and Medicaid, Further involvement in Vietnam.

Grade: B

Richard Nixon, 1969-1974. Republican. Known for: Watergate.

Presidential Legacy: Escalation of Vietnam to include Laos and Cambodia/Removal of troops from Vietnam, Equal Rights/Equal Opportunity, Chinese and Soviet Diplomacy, Clean Air Act, Watergate and Resignation.

Grade: D+

Gerald Ford, 1974-1977. Republican. Known for: Nixon Pardon.

Presidential Legacy: Pardoned Nixon, Inflation and worst economy since the depression, Khmer Rouge and East Timor, Rockefeller Comission - CIA can't assassinate foreign leaders, NYC bankruptcy and Oil Crisis of 1973, Swine Flu.

Grade: C-

Jimmy Carter, 1977-1981. Democrat. Known for: Bungling the Hostage Crisis.

Presidential Legacy: Creation of the Department of Education and Department of Health, Energy Crisis, Inflation Crisis, Camp David Accords, Iran Hostage Crisis.

Grade: C-

Ronald Reagan,1981-1989. Republican. Known for: Being an actor.

Presidential Legacy: Iran-Contra Affair, Reaganomics: widening of rich and poor gap/greatest national debt in history/Wall Street deregulation, HUD controversy, 'Star Wars' Defense Project, War on Drugs, Nasty bit of business in Nicaragua.

Grade: D-

George HW Bush, 1989-1993. Republican. Known for: Read my lips, eat quiche and die.

Presidential Legacy: Economic recession/"No new taxes", Americans with Disabilities Act, NAFTA, Persian Gulf War, Fall of the Soviet Union, Nasty bit of business in Panama.

Grade: C-

Bill Clinton 1993-2001. Democrat. Known for: Monica Lewinsky.

Presidential Legacy: "Don't ask, don't tell"/Defense of Marriage Act, Budget Reconciliation - reversing the Reagan/Bush deficit and seeing a period of economic growth, Bosnia, Oslo Accords/Good Friday Agreement, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Impeachment for lying under oath.

Grade: C

George W. Bush, 2001-2009. Republican. Known for: War on Terror.

Presidential Legacy: War on Terrorism - Response to 9/11 by invading Afghanistan, War in Iraq, PATRIOT Act, Guantanamo/Homeland Security/Wiretapping, No Child Left Behind, Hurricane Katrina response, Environmental Record - Refusal to implement Kyoto Protocol/ANWR drilling debate/increased logging in parks/allowance of ozone destroying pollutants/Clean Air Act - stating carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, Stem Cell Research Veto, Secure Fence Act, Economic Crisis of 2008

Grade: F

So all in all, 10 Republicans and 7 Democrats. Average grade for each party?

Democrats: 79. Or a B-/C+

Republicans: 62. Or a D/D-

I rest my case.