Friday, May 29, 2009

80's Movie Line of the Week

After a lot of time spent messing around with Spiderman movies, Sam Raimi is back with a new horror flick this weekend. As good a time as any to remember how funny some of his older horror flicks are. The guy knew how to use Bruce Campbell to full effect. From Evil Dead 2:

Annie: The first passage will allow the demon to manifest itself in the flesh.
Ash: Why the hell would we want to do that?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Star Wars the way it was meant to be watched

As the father of a 5 year old boy I find myself getting to relive and experience things from my childhood. Over the past 3 weeks my son and I have watched all 6 Star Wars movies. I made the decision to start with Episode IV and have him experience them the way I did. Two questions (second one is a two-parter):

1) What order have or will your children watch these movies?

2) The galaxy is pretty big. Why then did Obi Wan feel the absolute safest place to hide Luke was on Darth Vader's home planet with people that Darth Vader had met and knew where they lived? Finally, if you are trying to hide this kid from his dad, wouldn't you think they would have changed his freakin' last name???

Great Shows

Occasionally, I am reminded that I should see as many live shows as I possibly can. I got another of those reminders last night when a friend asked me to go see The Decemberists. I am familiar with the band, but wouldn't call myself a fan.

I knew there was a new album, but I hadn't heard it. I was a bit skeptical when I read yesterday that it was a concept album that told a story in what was essentially one long song broken into parts. Lots of bands have tried similar gimmicks, and the results are notoriously spotty. One of my favorite all-time bands, The Kinks, made a couple of these unfortunate forays. Not an auspicious sign heading in.

The band came on stage and started at the beginning of the album. The stopped only after they had played the entire album in order. It was absolutely fantastic. They told a fairy tale type story that was also classic tragedy. Different characters were represented by different singers and different styles of music. I thought back to seeing Peter and the Wolf in elementary school, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The performances were incredible, and the singers recruited to play the female parts were outstanding.

Then the band took a break. When they returned, they played many of the indie/folk/pop songs that made the band (somewhat anyway) famous. It was like a completely different show. The band bantered with the audience, told jokes, organized a giant sing-along (in which the balcony sang the bass part), and staged a reproduction of Lawrence of Arabia. It was all great fun, and it felt as loose and chaotic as the first set was structured. The women from the first set returned to the stage in the last song before the encore to do a cover of Heart's "Crazy On You."

You never know when you might see a show that will stick with you for awhile. That's you, me and everyone else should remember to take every opportunity we get to see live music.

You're welcome France.

Only 25 years after a short stint of popularity as a sitcom punchline, I continue to hear remarks aimed at casting a clear line between fellows who like quiche and ‘the real man.’ Breaking down the ingredients, I find it difficult to fathom that ‘the real man’ would turn down a shot at eggs, dough, milk/cream, or any variety of baked meats. The only logical conclusion is that this food suffers a problem of branding. So from this day forward, quiche shall be called 'Western Cowboy Pie' and I will feel shame no more. For my next rebranding target: croquet.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What You Need is Another Light Socket...

A story in the New Yorker by Atul Gawande talks about one of the more hidden problems with our healthcare system, incentives.

When you look across the spectrum from Grand Junction to McAllen—and the almost threefold difference in the costs of care—you come to realize that we are witnessing a battle for the soul of American medicine. Somewhere in the United States at this moment, a patient with chest pain, or a tumor, or a cough is seeing a doctor. And the damning question we have to ask is whether the doctor is set up to meet the needs of the patient, first and foremost, or to maximize revenue.

There is no insurance system that will make the two aims match perfectly. But having a system that does so much to misalign them has proved disastrous. As economists have often pointed out, we pay doctors for quantity, not quality. As they point out less often, we also pay them as individuals, rather than as members of a team working together for their patients. Both practices have made for serious problems.

Providing health care is like building a house. The task requires experts, expensive equipment and materials, and a huge amount of co√∂rdination. Imagine that, instead of paying a contractor to pull a team together and keep them on track, you paid an electrician for every outlet he recommends, a plumber for every faucet, and a carpenter for every cabinet. Would you be surprised if you got a house with a thousand outlets, faucets, and cabinets, at three times the cost you expected, and the whole thing fell apart a couple of years later? Getting the country’s best electrician on the job (he trained at Harvard, somebody tells you) isn’t going to solve this problem. Nor will changing the person who writes him the check.
Do yourself a favor and read the whole article. It is an eye opener no matter your position in the private insurance versus national healthcare debate.

Via Kevin Drum.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Fine Question

So one of the English professors who reads this blog let me know that "reoccurring" isn't a word and that I should have used "recurring" instead. Recurring sounds like the right word to me and the online dictionary has no record for "reoccurring".

The question then is why my spell check recognizes the word "reoccurring" as legitimate. Is it a word so often misused that it has become an acceptable part of our written language? Was the creator of the spell check asleep at the wheel? Or is this all just an elaborate plot to keep the English professors reading my blog from doing anything more dangerous with their time?

Maybe its all three!

(bonus points profs: there are several errors in this post. how many can you spot?)

Reoccurring Themes 3: The NBA is Awesome

Seriously, watch the playoffs. I promise you won't be disappointed. There are four teams left and each is incredibly entertaining. No matter which two end up in the finals it should be great to watch. Now watch it.

Reoccurring Themes 2: Governing Philosophy

Another thing I harp on constantly on this blog is that conservatives are inherently worse at governing because they don't believe in government. It's a pretty easy argument to make, but it seems like something I always feel the need to bring up again and again.

I also like it when others bring it up. While I was MIA, Timothy Noah did a piece on why Republicans are better than Democrats at obstructing the other party when they lose. It fits in nicely with my general philosophy, so here it is.

Democrats view elections as a means to an end, while Republicans view an election as an end in itself. This arises from their differing views about government. Democrats want to use government as a force for good in society, while Republicans want to diminish government's capacity to do harm. "In this present crisis," Ronald Reagan said in his 1981 inaugural address, "government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem." These differing views of government's value cause Democrats to favor compromise (since they tend to view minimal action as preferable to no action at all) and Republicans to favor deadlock (second-best to active dismantlement of government). For the past 30-odd years, these respective positions have flipped somewhat when it comes to foreign policy—Republicans favor aggressive, unilateral action abroad, whereas Democrats prefer caution and diplomacy—but it's domestic policy that tends to drive politics and therefore to motivate politicians. With few aspirations to achieve much of anything except cut taxes, Republicans see the apparatus of the federal government mainly as a patronage vehicle, not as something they aspire to manipulate to positive ends while they're out of power. Why dirty their fingernails?
Note that this passage even uses my favorite Ronald Reagan quote that best expresses why conservatives should never be in charge of government. Well said.

Reoccurring Themes 1: Robots

There are several things that get mentioned from time to time on this blog. One of them is the possibility of robots taking over the world. The release of the new Terminator movie brought this idea back to the spotlight, and Slate featured an article by P.W. Singer about the possibility of robotic world takeover.

Singer says it is probably unlikely in the short term that we are violently overthrown by titanium antagonists. He makes a pretty good point, however, that maybe violence isn't needed.

In my final judgment, however, The Terminator may not be the best guide for how a machine takeover might take place in the real world. Instead, another science fiction series, The Matrix, may be more useful. By this I don't mean that we can look forward to a future of humans living in jelly bubbles and Keanu Reeves' avatar running about in leather pants. Rather, the films give us a valuable metaphor for the technologic matrix in which we increasingly find ourselves enmeshed but barely notice. For all our pop-culture-stoked fears of living in a world where robots rule with an iron (or digital) fist, we already live in a world of technology that few of us even understand. It increasingly dominates how we live, work, communicate, and now even fight.

Why would machines ever need to plot a takeover when we already can't do anything important without them?
Very true.

Friday, May 22, 2009

80's Movie Line of the Week

In Africa, a notable event taking place was the inauguration of Jacob Zuma as president of South Africa. Mr. Zuma is an interesting character. He also has multiple wives, which made me think of the ultimate African 80's comedy, The Gods Must Be Crazy.

Steyn: What do you know about women?
Mpudi: I got seven wives, how many you got?
Steyn: Why aren't you home with your seven wives?
Mpudi: I know how to marry them. Nobody knows how to live with them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Back in the Saddle

If you felt slightly more optimistic and joyful when you awoke on Tuesday morning, I like to think it was because I returned to American soil Monday afternoon. I suspect for most of you the effect was subtle (so subtle, perhaps, you did not notice it).

Anyway, it's time to get back on horse and continue riding this thing into the ground. I need to give a special thanks to BSD and ESL for keeping things hopping the first two weeks I was gone, and I need to thank Nate for giving me a list of reasons why I should not do what I had already done when he chose to finally post.

I can happily report that I did not run into guerrillas or gorillas. I believe I contracted no fevers and that my extremities are all watertight. I can say that it was winter, so the heat was in no way oppressive. The wine is great, the whiskey is universally available, and the food was quite good.

In fact, I would recommend a trip to Africa to any and all. It is a fascinating and beautiful place, and the people are some of the most hospitable on the planet (guerrillas not withstanding).

I'll have to say, however, that I am thrilled to be back. Obama is widely popular, the Royals are within sight of 1st place, the NBA playoffs are really getting going, my friends and family are all well and the weather is beautiful. When you can return to all that, it's good to be home.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Just Under the Wire

When A. Adams chose to step away for a bit to pursue a lifelong dream of visiting the Sub-Sahara, he asked a few friends to guest post. I was one of those friends. So, at the last possible hour, as Jim speeds over the oceans, is the promised post (originally dated 04/14/09):

The following is a list of reasons not to visit Sub-Saharan Africa:

oppressive heat
spores, molds and fungus
large, disease-harboring/poisonous insects
many types of snakes
accurate maps do not exist
a condition known as drippy dick
terrible indigenous wines
typhoid, malarial, scarlet, puerperal, viral, Dengue, and yellow fever
paramilitary guerillas
actual gorillas
whiskey is not distilled there
native dishes will likely upset your milquetoast palate
cownut is considered a delicacy in the congo

Travel at your own peril, James. You have been warned!

an issue of inconvenience?

i am continually amazed at the lack of enthusiasm that certain supermarket cashiers show towards customers using reusable shopping bags--has anyone else experienced this? you bring in your own bags, ask nicely for them to be used instead of the provided paper or plastic, and you are met with the know the one. it's as if you have just asked them to sacrifice their firstborn son to the shopping Gods.

"how dare you ask me that?"
"what does it look like...i work here?"
"go hug a tree!"

of course, i am embellishing here a bit, but you get the point: some folks do NOT like reusable shopping bags. but sometimes i think it goes even bigger than the mere issue of inconvenience. it seems to go deeper than that. are some people just so opposed to recycling (or in this case not consuming) in general, that they are seemingly taking a stance against it? not only taking a stance, but establishing such a front that they are offended by the suggestion? hmmm, i wonder. i certainly hope not, but my last trip to the market would suggest otherwise.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

80's baseball quotes- the sandlot

i realize that i am stepping outside of the established timeline (1993), but i could not resist examining the mind games of hamilton "the babe" porter:

Ham Porter: Is that your sister out there in left field, naked? She's naked?
Phillips: [swings and misses again] SHUT UP PORTER!
Ham Porter: Hey, hey, hey, I'm just trying to start a friendly conversation, come on.
Ham Porter: [two seconds later] Think she'll go out with me?

a day without rain

it's spring time folks, which means it is going to rain. every year, people act as if they have never before encountered this falling moisture pouring out of the sky. every year, people convince themselves that this year is the worst year on record for excessive rainfall. and every year, people begin to mentally prepare themselves for another great flood of biblical proportion.

yes, folks, it is going to rain. can you imagine a world without rain? as a farmer, i can attest first hand to the virtues of rain--in nearly every scenario more is better than none. why people continue to plan outdoor activities (graduations, weddings, etc) during this time of year, and are even shocked when these plans are usually foiled, is beyond me. it appears as if there are, in fact, three certainties in life: death, taxes and rain.

yes, folks, it IS going to rain! but every once in a while, the rain stops. and when it does, life is sweet.

on a day without rain (and even more to the point, a day when it was supposed to rain), there is arguably nothing better than a trip to the ball park. for those of you who know me, i am far from being an avid baseball fan. the last time in my life that i actually followed the sport and had a favorite player or team, i was 10 years old and it was the cubs and mark grace. wait....does he still play? probably not, i would suppose.

but what i lack in knowledge of the sport, i more than make up for with enthusiasm for the arena in which it is played. today, i was fortunate enough to attend a springfield cardinals afternoon game. the weather conditions could not have been more perfect, the cards won, and i should have been working the whole time, but was instead outside at a baseball game. why are games (or anything really) even more enjoyable when you should be doing something more constructive with your time? not sure, but they just are.

folks, the days without rain are almost upon us. but we all know what comes next: the days where we need rain. i do not cherish these days, for these are the days when people curse at the heavens, "God, where is the f-ing rain?!?!?!". the days without rain, by the associative property, are also known as the days with heat (i apologize fully if i have incorrectly used the associative property at this point). no one yearns for the days with heat. well, i suppose maybe some of you do. but shouldn't you be living in phoenix anyway?

the point of all this rambling is this: go to a baseball game! it is good for what ails you, and the good days are always numbered. the old timers tell us to make hay when the sun shines, but it is perhaps equally important to make it to a game when the sun shines. or at least on a day without rain.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

ashes of american flags

i just finished up my first viewing of the new Wilco documentary Ashes of American Flags. if you are unaware, Wilco is probably the most creative and innovative band around--America's answer to Radiohead, if you will. since the demise of Uncle tupelo in 1994, Wilco has been steadily blazing it's trail across the world and into the hearts of millions.

at the center of the band is jeff tweedy, primary songwriter and vocalist, and one of the biggest musical influences in my life. but again, i am not biased. they really are a fantastic band.

with each album release, wilco gets a little bigger and a whole lot better, and their concerts are quickly becoming more of a spiritual awakening for the concert goer than a mere ticketed event. i could go on and on about the many great virtues of this band, but i digress.

AAF is the second full-length DVD release for the band, with i am trying to break your heart in 2002 being the first. while the latter is definitely more of a documentary about the recording business in general, AAF is a full on concert film collecting footage from 5 different venues from across the country. i have seen wilco half a dozen times now, and this is as close to the real deal as a fan can get.

while the band does play major stadiums often, each of the venues chosen were some of the more classic theaters that america has to offer, with cain's ballroom in tulsa and the ryman auditorium in nashville being the most iconic. performing in such a venue provides the viewer with a much more intimate feel, and was a wise choice.

the sound quality, thankfully, is incredible, and the concert footage really does put the viewer right in the middle of the party. the only thing better would have been a double disc edition, as wilco is notorious for putting on 3 hour shows consistently. the special features, however, more than make up for this containing 7 additional live performances. the sweetest deal though, perhaps, is that by purchasing the dvd, the viewer is entitled to a free audio download of all the performances contained here in. as someone who thrives on getting the most bang for the buck, this is about as good as it gets.

on a side note, there is a very touching moment near the end of the film where tweedy addresses the fact that wilco has gone through many personel changes over the years, with himself and bassist john stiratt being the only two original members. he goes on to say that "this band could probably absorb another long as it is not John." as someone who has always admired stiratt's musicality, was it nice to hear tweedy profess his loyalty to his fellow band mate and friend.

it was also nice to see tweedy wearing what appeared to be a gram parson's original "nudie suit" throughout most of the film. if you do not know what that is, please google "nudie suit" now.

so, if you are a fan of Wilco already, Ashes of American Flags is a must purchase. if you have no idea who Wilco is, then this film is the perfect introduction. upon viewing, if you are not convinced of the band's greatness, then you probably never will be. and may God have mercy on your soul...

...or at least grant you the wisdom to open you mind and ears.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Who's better? you bet!

for most of my teenage and adult life, i really did not care for The Who. theirs were the songs that were constantly being played on the radio--the absolute staples of the classic rock format--and it used to drive me insane. and i don't know why because they were (are) really great songs ("won't get fooled again", "baba o'reily", and "who are you" spring instantly to mind).

i think i had just become the type of listener that instantly rejected mainstream radio on principle, and therefore anything that was played over the airwaves was drivel. quite snobbish when i actually say it out loud i suppose.

but i make no apologies. such was life, and i did not like The Who. however, recently i decided to get some Who concerts from netflix. not even sure why, but i just did. it was an epiphany! seeing them rock was an entirely different experience. since that day, i have immersed myself into one of the most fruitful and complex catalogues in all of music. even those FM staples are finally finding a place on my playlists. it has also led me to the following conclusions:

1. keith moon was the greatest rock drummer ever. period.
2. pete townshend is a pompous a-hole--yet he is one of the most gifted songwriters, producers and over-all musicians i have ever come across.
3. roger daltrey's scream at the end of "won't get fooled" is probably the greatest scream on record--can anyone think of a better one?
4. john entwistle was a bad ass

probably the most enlightening thing i have learned, however, is this: i love the Who. i am not going to say they are the greatest band ever, for i have been a firm believer in the beatles position in this category since i was 10 years old. i will however say this: if anyone could dethrone the fab four, it just might be the Who.

so, if you have been like me in the past, and have failed to give these guys their due credit, then today is the day of Who-reckoning. if anyone wants a tip on where to start, just ask.

perhaps they are greatest 3-piece band? i suppose that raises the whole "zeppelin vs. the who" dilemma, and would require even further scrutiny. why do i feel it necessary to quantify these things?!?!? not sure, but i just do.


6 games so far in this series and 4 have gone into overtime, including last night's 3 overtime marathon that Chicago won 128-127. Game 7 is Saturday night back in Boston. I'll ask the question. Is this the best NBA playoff series ever? Which other ones come to mind?

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