Saturday, July 24, 2010

Random Thoughts (and Links)


:: Constance McMillen, the lesbian student who was made a pariah and then tricked into attending a false prom simply because she wanted to bring her girlfriend as her prom date, settled with the Itawamba County School District. They're paying her $35,000 and being forced to adopt a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Are you guys still happy about what you did? Would've been a lot cheaper to just let her go to the prom.

I'm pleased about this. If schools have to be forced into non-discrimination, I'm fine with that. I don't really want my tax money going to public institutions that discriminate against race, religion, or sexual orientation. Welcome to the 21st Century, Itawamba.

:: Since a mass protest – and just about every G-whatever protest – frequently has no specific central organizing issue, this means that every protester brings their own issues along with them. Since protesters are generally an accomodating lot, there’s genial support for all issues being protested so long as they’re reasonably somewhere on the left of the political spectrum. But this also means that the issues, as they are, are lost. All that is communicated is that the protesters are angry (or, if you prefer, passionate).

:: Nancy Pelosi is really comparing the half-assed financial reform to the New Deal? If that were true, the government would be breaking up the Too Big to Fail financial institutions, helping people keep their homes, auditing the fed (which Obama opposed), and taking bold action to restore employment and prevent this from happening again. Instead, our over-cautious President Obama has tiptoed into a hollow non-victory. Pelosi is really pushing this as a historical achievement? Please.

Is this really the best we can do now?

:: I don’t believe many voters choose their candidate based on these legislative “wins.” They vote based on whether they see improvements around them as a result of what the party in power did. . . . From this on-the-ground perspective, asking, “How is it affecting me and my neighbors?” there really is no new health care law. People vote based on results, not vague expectations about the future impact of complex laws.

I know we've all talked the health care "reform" to death, but Jon Walker has a good point here about how this is expected to impact the Democrats in the elections. I'm glad more and more people are getting frustrated by the timidity with which the US government approaches changes--no one doing it now, but claiming it'll be done in the future. I'm not sure what the answer is, but what we have now is bullshit.

Machete: Red Band Trailer

Fuck yes.

25 Albums of the Last 20 Years

Roger had this up last week, and I've been interested in this challenge. It goes like this:

Rules: Create a non-objective list of your favorite albums of the last 20 years (anything released between 1990 and now), remember, this is your FAVORITES so, if Maroon 5’s Songs about Jane was your favorite album, that should be number 1, even if you feel Nevermind was a more influential album.

I knew I was going to have to do this. It's interesting, because most of my favorite albums are from the 1966 to 1984 range. So, I've tried to do this with a couple of limitations for the sake of variety. First, no compilations--I always think it's cheating when compilations end up on lists of best albums, because singles collections or greatest hits are heavily weighted with choice material. So for me, it had to be albums. And second, only one album per artist. And, like Roger, I went with 25 because when I first saw this, there were 25 albums.

So, without further blah blah, here are my 25 favorite albums of the past two decades.

25. Has Been, William Shatner
I guess a lot of people thought this was a goof, but it's a surprisingly emotional album. I'll take Shatner's read of "Common People" over Pulp's any day, but there's more here to love: the jazzy rant "I Can't Get Behind That" (featuring an equally angry Henry Rollins), the devastating "That's Me Trying" (about a father trying to make up his absence to a now-adult daughter), and "I'm Real" (in which Shatner asserts that even though he's been on TV, he's also a human being). It's unique, and it's special, and I love it.

24. ReJoyce: The Christmas Album, Jessica Simpson
I'm a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas music (although I'm well aware that you and I have a different take on the word "traditional"), so it's rare that recent Christmas music becomes a staple of my very large Christmas music collection around the holidays. This album, however, I loved right away. As you well know by now, I'm a big fan of Jessica Simpson's voice, and this is really the only album where she was able to let go and sing how she wanted, in jazzy, brassy, bold tones instead of being forced into the pop music box that, honestly, she doesn't really fit in. It's fantastic.

23. Bone Machine, Tom Waits
I love Waits, and I picked this one because it has my favorite song of his, "I Don't Wanna Grow Up."

22. American Teenage Rock 'n' Roll Machine, The Donnas
Really, I could've picked almost any Donnas album. I think they are spectacular, and each album is thrilling to me. I went with this, their second, because it just reminds me so much of a Runaways album--hastily produced, short songs, and completely raw. For me, the Donnas are an essential part of a music collection.

21. Outside, David Bowie
Well, Bowie had to be on here somewhere. This album came out during the first year Becca and I were together, and this is our Bowie album. It was an ambitious start to a project that was never finished, alas, so it doesn't always feel complete when listened to, but some of my favorite Bowie songs are on here: "I Have Not Been to Oxford Town," "No Control," "Hallo Spaceboy," "Strangers When We Meet"... I want to pull this out and listen to it right now.

20. Straight Outta Lynwood, "Weird Al" Yankovic
After a decade or so of albums that didn't quite feel all there, the internet brought new life to "Weird Al" and he made this invigorating album. Really, this album could be on here for "Trapped in the Drive-Thru" alone, but "White 'n' Nerdy," "Do I Creep You Out?" and "Canadian Idiot" are also on it. Al has always been one of my biggest musical loves.

19. Middle Earth, Bob Catley
Catley was the lead singer of the great (and underrated) British metal group Magnum. This album of Tolkien-inspired rock is exceptional, and my favorite music project based on The Lord of the Rings. Catley's approach to the Fellowship is one of camaraderie in a world of legends and adventure, and it is something else. Fantastic. Fantastic.

18. Ringleader of the Tormentors, Morrissey
I have no idea why this album was so panned. Maybe it's just that I'm incapable of hating anything produced by Tony Visconti. But I love this album a lot, particularly "In the Future When All's Well" and "At Last I am Born."

17. Love. Angel. Music. Baby., Gwen Stefani
Yes, the singles were overplayed, but this is still a fantastic pop album, and I am an unapologetic lover of pop music. I tend to hate in modern albums the way every song is produced by someone different, leading pop albums to sound less like albums and more like collections of potential pop singles, but it really works magnificently here.

16. Autobiography, Ashlee Simpson
In my personal pop culture canon, Ashlee Simpson died shortly after recording this album. I don't care for the hypocrite she became, but this album is really something special. It is, in it's way, like a pop version of Live Through This, distilling through pop music a lifetime of anger, self-loathing, the search for identity, and suburban angst. That's what Billy Joel used to do, too, and I loves me some Billy Joel. So she sucks live, so she never recorded anything good again, so she's an idiot... she still made one perfect album.

15. The Break-Up, Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson
Oh, how pleasing it was to have Scarlett record an album that sounded good. And this is just a good album.

14. Fearless, Taylor Swift
Becca really doesn't like Taylor Swift, which is too bad for her, because I like Taylor Swift a lot.

13. Under the Covers, Vol. 1, Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs
I am still hoping for a second volume of this collection of jangly pop covers. This is exactly how the Paisley Underground should've sounded 25 years ago.

12. St. Elsewhere, Gnarls Barkley
Gnarls Barkley > Timbaland.

11. Boys for Pele, Tori Amos
If pressed, I'd have to say this is my favorite Tori Amos album. Although I wore out my original cassette copy of Little Earthquakes, it's always been this one that I've returned to the most. I think it reminds me of a certain time in my life, when I was first trying to live in my own place, and first dating Becca, and first encountering the realities of working for a living.

10. Funeral, Arcade Fire
This is just a really, really, really good album. I know a lot of people hate Arcade Fire, but between "Tunnels" and "Wake Up," and all the songs in-between, this is a great journey.

9. Kiss and Tell, Selena Gomez & the Scene
Go-Go is my favorite among the Disney pop stars. This album is a great sort of throwback to pop music the way it was in, say, 1987, when it was having its last gasp before settling in to abject junk. This is a fun album to listen to.

8. Tenacious D, Tenacious D
Dio meets Meat Loaf. If that recipe doesn't excite you, then we are different people musically. Which is fine, it's just that for me that's a recipe for awesome.

7. The Gray Album, Dangermouse
The bootleg collection of Jay-Z/Beatles mash-ups is legendary, but unlike a lot of legends, this one more than lives up to the hype. It's a shame this can't be commercially released, because it is one hell of a listenable album. I'm not really a fan of Jay-Z, but backed with looping Beatles riffs, it really soars.

6. Live Through This, Hole
I was never a fan of Nirvana. So a lot of people consider Nevermind to be one of the most important albums of the early 90s, but for me, it's Live Through This. Granted, I wasn't a grunge fan--I often steal Paul Riddell's joke that any grunge compilation should be called Waaah!--but this album of raw emotions and suburban angst sounded very familiar to me. Maybe it's because I was mostly raised around women.

5. Vol. One, She & Him
If it's possible to wear out mp3s, I'd have done it here. Every song on this album is a gem.

4. 18, Moby
It was a tough choice between this and Play, but this just edges out for me, probably because it has "In This World" and "Extreme Ways" on it.

3. American III: Solitary Man, Johnny Cash
Cash's covers of "One" and "The Mercy Seat" alone are worth the price; all of Cash's American albums are great, really. This one just has the most songs on it that I love.

2. Illinois, Sufjan Stevens

1. Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE, Brian Wilson
So, this one may be a bit of a cheat, since all of the material was written (and in some cases, recorded) nearly a half-century ago. But this is the album where Brian finally pulled it all together and recorded it the way he wanted it to sound. Actually, one of the things that's most interesting about this is to compare it to the original material, both recorded and bootlegged, and to see how Brian interprets it as an older, less angst-ridden man. Either way, this is my favorite album of the past 20 years.

Anyone else have any choices?


I am all over this. Phillip sent me the link to this trailer for the upcoming flick about Allen Ginsburg starring James Franco (and backed up by a great cast). Looks very good.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Charisma Carpenter is 40 and Absolutely Smokin'

Happy Birthday, Chrissy Lee.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Geeks Shall Inherit

I wish this picture [via] got bigger, but it still makes me happy. The Westboro Hate Group protest at SDCC ended up being all of three people with five signs. Surrounding them here are 100 counter-protesting fans with signs bearing slogans like "Superman Died for Your Sins" and "God Loves Gay Robin." Good for you guys!

Happy 18th Birthday to My Favorite Disney Girl

Enjoy your not-a-cupcake, Selenita.

This, However, Is Real. And Stupid.

Illinois Town Wants to Outlaw Eye-Rolling

It's Elmhurst, and it's not too far from here. Having grown up nearby, I'm not surprised at this. They really want eye-rolling in exasperation to be considered a disturbance and disorderly conduct. The city council members of Elmhurst are exactly the kind of people you would expect to believe it's possible to legislate decorum.

They need to get over themselves.

Update: The Spiky Park Bench Was a Satire on Libertarianism

A couple of days ago, I posted a picture of a pay-to-sit park bench. I had seen it on a number of sites, including Geekologie, who were freely letting the outrage flow over this new innovation.

Daveawayfromhome alerted me to this commentary in the Libertarian News Examiner, which itself links to this piece and video by Fabian Brunsing, designer of the bench who I named in the earlier post, at the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies.

The gist of it is that the design and video were meant to be a cautionary satire against some imagined libertarian future.

It's amazing how outrage can spread on the internet, while the misunderstood origins get left behind. I admit, I totally went for this one.

Thanks for the correction, Dave.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

LEGO Harry Potter

One of the video games my Mom gave me for my birthday was LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4. I've really, really been looking forward to playing this, and it's the first LEGO game I've gotten for the Wii. It was a little hard to get used to at first, since I'm used to PS2 versions of four other LEGO games, but now it's second nature. It's just like the other games, complete with smashing and building, and the story scenes are just as funny. I was a bit surprised by the split-screen, though. I'd forgotten they began doing that in LEGO Indiana Jones 2, a game I don't have yet, so it was off-putting at first. What a great idea, though; part of the (slight) frustration of LEGO Batman and LEGO Indiana Jones was trying to make sure to stay in the same frame all the time, which led to some frustrating deaths and a lot of getting stuck. Now, that's not a problem.

One of the great things about the LEGO games is that once you finish the story there's still a lot to go back and find in free play mode. You can play these things for hours and not even be half finished. So I'll be playing this game for a while. (And my Mom also gave me Super Mario Galaxy 2, so I've been playing that one, too.) Still, I really hope it's not too long before we're seeing LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7.

I really hope Lego is in for the long haul on video games. I'm especially xazzed about LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars coming out late this year.

Man, I love these games.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

FAME (1980)
The story of students at the Performing Arts School has its moments. It alternates between being compelling and being shallow and glossy, and I think it too often sacrifices real feeling for soap opera drama. Still, like I said, I think it has its moments, with some good music (and some very, very bad music), and a couple of decent performances (notably Paul McCrane). It probably dulls the edge somewhat that I've seen this movie parodied or heavily borrowed from so many times, which isn't really the movie's fault, but still hurts my viewing of it. And it's so freaking long. Alan Parker has a way of making 2 hours and change feel like half a season of a TV series. **1/2 stars.

A disappointment. I guess I was hoping for more from the late Adrienne Shelly's final script because I loved Waitress so much, but this was hard to sit through, even at 84 minutes. Timothy Hutton wants to leave his wife Meg Ryan for Kristen Bell, so Ryan duct tapes him to a chair and tries to force her to love him again. Then there's a robbery, complications ensue, and ultimately we're left with a weenie who lets every woman in his life make his choices for him going by who's the loudest. It's a shrill, mean-spirited movie, and Meg Ryan is certainly up to the non-challenge of being shrill and mean-spirited (with an extra dose of being unpleasant to look at--I'm sorry, but how much plastic surgery did you think you needed? the correct answer was none). Hutton is a non-entity, which is too bad because an understanding of how he feels is integral to the character--instead we get a cliched speech. Kristen Bell is very, very good in what little she has to do here. It's very easy to see why anyone would leave Meg Ryan for her. And the odious Justin Long is in there, too. Cheryl Hines as a director doesn't know what the right tone is for this; she should be going for very pointed black comedy, but instead goes for face value romance, and we're left with a comedy that isn't funny, a drama that isn't moving, and a romance that isn't believable. And the ending was unbelievably stupid. * star. For Bell and the cinematographer.

Earnest drama with William Hurt as an ex-con who travels across Louisiana with a couple of kids (Kristen Stewart and some annoying guy whose name I can't be bothered to look up). The three bond as they contemplate their individual loneliness. It's kind of a nice movie, for the most part, but there's not much to it. *** stars. Hurt is good, as always, and I liked Kristen Stewart in it.

Hilarious. I've not seen the original version of this, but this movie is fantastic. Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence play brothers, one jealous of the success of the other, who are hosting their father's funeral. Rock's wife (Regina Hall) is desperate to have a child, and harassed by his mother (Loretta Devine) about it. Their cousin (Zoe Saldana) is worried about whether her father (Ron Glass) will accept her nervous boyfriend (James Marsden), who has accidentally dropped acid, while a family friend (Tracy Morgan) has shown up with a mean uncle (Danny Glover) and her ex (Luke Wilson) in tow. And their father's secret lover (Peter Dinklage) has shown up looking to blackmail the family. I have to admit, I looked at the trailers and saw a movie starring Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, and Tracy Morgan and thought it had to be terrible. But this is an exceptional movie, one of the best I've seen so far this year, at times moving and at times introspective, but always energetic, funny, well-directed (bu Neil LaBute), and well-acted. Excellent stuff. **** stars.

Hell's Kitchen, Episodes 11 and 12

Oh, Holli, Holli, Holli... How I missed you last week.

I am so beyond sick of Benjamin at this point. I'm tired of his disgusting arrogance, his monstrous sexism, and his incredibly high opinion of himself. It's not confidence, it's self-worship. He thinks he's great at everything, when the fact is, I don't think he delivers much. Yes, he can cook a dish, but he can't lead, he's not a team player, and I've seen paraplegics who communicate better than this ass. Please, just send him home. There's no way he's going to make the final two with his condescending routine. He won't work with anyone, so why should anyone listen to him? Can you see him the week when they get to try running the pass? It's going to be brutal.

Speaking of running the pass, how about his altercation with sous chef Scott? That was just ugly. Scott's a gruff guy, totally the guy you want on your side barking your orders for you, but I don't remember seeing him get that pissed off at contestants--pissed off enough to actually scream at someone--since, I think, the first season when he yelled at a couple of guys for trying to tape the closet door open. Benjamin got his ass handed to him, and he deserved it. And he crumbled, too, because he may think he's some kind of Machiavellian mastermind, but when it comes right down to it he's physically a coward and can't stand up to confrontation. He looked like he was going to cry. It threw him off his game, too. Well, worse than he was already off.

It was only a matter of time before Jason was going to go home. But what happened to Ed? It was like a total collapse.

Jay bugs me a bit. Not as much as Benjamin, but his opinion of himself and his cooking is just as high. The challenge where you had to make a dish that photographed well is a great example of his arrogance. Dude, your food has to taste good, but it also has to look like something people want to eat. Y0ur plate looked like a Salvador Dali painting, and who wants to eat one of those?

And then there's Autumn, still plugging away despite being the object of everyone's scorn. I still, honestly, don't know how I feel about her. I'm always happy to see her pull through despite the zero confidence anyone has in her. But she's also annoying. I think she has strong abilities as a cook, but not a strong sense of direction. I don't think she's someone to count out; she's definitely a survivor as far as the eliminations go. I can't help being impressed by how often she manages to bounce back.

Still, I'm pulling for Holli. The dish she made in the second challenge is a good example of why: she was able to take several ingredients that sounded bad together and make them into something that, according to the judges, was different, exciting, and flavorful. That's impressive. And it takes guts to do that.

Also, thanks for giving us Bikini Holli, but next time, can it not be to watch her grind up against Ricky Gervais' ugly, blue-haired brother?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Half a Euro for a Potential Ass-Poking

This is the brainchild of a designer named Fabian Brunsing: a coin-operated bench. You know this only exists for two reasons. First, good old-fashioned civic greed. And second, the incredible inhumanity that the well-off treat the homeless with. Seriously, how greedy and nasty does something like this come across as? Pay up or get stabbed. It's like it was designed to mug you or to tell you to go fuck yourself, depending on how poor you are.

Just sit in the dirt instead. Or put the money toward homeless shelters instead if you're going to take away one of the few things homeless people have.

And also: what's the time limit on these things? What kind of warning do you get? Do you sit on it for an hour and then get sodomized by it if you don't put another coin in?

This is so fucking stupid.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Song of the Week: "Brother Louie"

I haven't heard this song in many a year; I used to hear it all the time as a kid, but now I just have it in my head because they use it as the theme song to Louis CK's new sitcom Louie. It's a fantastic song, Stories, from 1973. Things I didn't realize: it's about an interracial relationship (I didn't really listen to the words when I was 5), and it's a cover of Hot Chocolate. Here's Stories on The Midnight Special.

James Gammon 1940-2010

One of my favorite "That Guy" actors.

Happy 30th Birthday, KB!