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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fascist Revival 


President George Bush Junior tells us that his critics are weak on Islamic Fascism.

Say what?

Let's review. The fascist movement, as practiced in the first half of the twentieth century in Italy, Germany, and Spain, was above all fiercely nationalistic. They glorified war and conquest. Fascists were strongly capitalist and widely supported by big business interests. They stressed national identity, one party rule, and the systematic repression of other races and ethnic groups.

In the fascist world view, individual rights must be sacrificed to serve the state. Any dissent was considered an attack on the homeland and vigorously suppressed. They believed that legitimacy flowed from force and power.

The leader was granted, or more likely seized, dictatorial powers that were unchecked by other branches or levels of government. Fear and coercion were employed as tools of control over the masses. External threats were cited as justification for brutal crackdowns on domestic populations. The secret police held prisoners in undisclosed locations under cruel conditions without any legal process.

In a fascist regime, loyalty was valued above skill, conformity above thought, and dogma above truth.

Even though his analogy is flawed and counterproductive, maybe just this once, Bush knows what he's talking about...



Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Alive! 


Yes, I'm back. The past several months have been filled with challenges of many sorts, but I believe things are now looking up on several fronts.

K and I just celebrated our first anniversary. The kids are back in school. My stalwart is back on the team. My son is out of the hospital, hopefully for good. Grandma is satisfied. K's job situation is settled.

There's much left to do and worries remain, but I am beginning to feel positive about a number of topics.

Who's knows? Maybe I'll even have something to say about the Bushies' amazing slo-mo crash and burn.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Concert Review: Paul McCartney 10/22/05 



You know it's a great concert when the songs run through your head all the following day. So it was with the Paul McCartney show last night in Columbus.

K had knee surgery last week, so we invited Hedwig to attend in her place. I knew she hadn't seen Paul McCartney before, but after the show, I learned that this was Hedwig's first rock concert. I can't imagine a better beginning.

Our seats were in the first row of the upper deck, about halfway back from the stage. It was a real luxury to be able to sit and watch a concert without some drunken halfwit in front who insists upon standing the entire time. I'm enthusiastic about seeing Paul McCartney and his band. But standing on concrete for three hours straight is not my favorite experience.

The show was scheduled to start at 8:00pm, but at that hour, approximately half the crowd was absent. I imagine many people were delayed by the tight security at the door. They were wanding everyone and digging through women's handbags.

Beginning about 7:30, constantly evolving paintings were projected onto the large screens in front of the stage. This display was accompanied by a blend of symphonic music. We hypothesized that it was probably something composed by Paul, but I can't confirm that. Dual rotating disco balls created an undulating appearance on the floor below us.

At about 8:25, a DJ came out and presented a remix medley of Paul McCartney tunes. It had a very techno feel. Familiar melodies and words were repeated over and over atop thundering beats. The video display behind the remix medley consisted of dancing images from McCartney album covers. The DJ was interesting for the first five or ten minutes, but thereafter became an annoying distraction. The concept has been used more effectively before (most notably by U2 during their Pop tour). The crowd was clearly ready for the main event.

It was about 8:45 when the DJ finished. They then showed a short film featuring Paul reflecting upon his long and successful career. There were some great pictures and stories. It concluded with concert footage that led into the band's appearance on stage.

I can't tell you the exact sequence of songs (I'm sure someone will post it soon), but here's what I remember:


There were also four or five new songs I cannot name. They weren't bad, but none were especially notable either.

The concert concluded about 11:30. McCartney and his band played for over two and a half hours without an intermission.

Paul seemed to be in an excellent mood. He had a lot to say and clowned with the audience between songs. For a 63-year old, he looked great and never appeared tired.

The band was strong. The drummer, in particular, was animated and an aggressive player. The guitarists were able to transform rapidly to fit McCartney's many styles and sounds. The keyboardist played at least six real instruments and dozens of virtual ones. All of the musicians contributed to the vocal harmonies.

The sound was in a word, loud. I don't recall walking away from the 2002 concert with fuzzy ears, but I did last night. I suppose it's excusable for a bass player, but I thought the bass part was a little too heavy. A few times, such as during Band on the Run, it semeed that the mix was off. But overall, most of the songs sounded more or less as they should.

The stage was an important part of the show. The designers used an innovative LCD system that made the stage itself another view screen. I think those of us in the upper deck had a much better view of this aspect than anyone else in the arena. There were also robotically controlled lights above and behind the stage that were reconfigured for each song.

I thought during the show that the set list strongly favored Beatles material at the expense of solo and Wings songs. Now I write them down, this was clearly the case. As a longtime Beatles fan, I have no complaints with these selections. There will always be other songs one would like to hear, especially for an artist with as broad a catalog as McCartney's. That, I suppose, is what keeps fans coming back.

Before the show, I told Hedwig that Sir Paul was arguably the greatest living rock and roll artist. He did nothing last night to convince me otherwise. It was a splendid show before an adoring crowd. If and when he returns (Perhaps the "When I'm 64 Tour?"), I plan to be there.



Saturday, October 15, 2005

Cigarettes Damage Brain Functions 


A recently released study from the University of Michigan indicates that regular use of cigarettes is harmful to memory, problem solving, and intelligence. This news comes as yet another devastating revelation for smokers.


Given the many other public health issues linked to cigarettes, these findings are hardly a surprise. Even so, I have to question the report's research methodology. To me, it's just as plausible that diminished intelligence causes smoking.



Friday, October 14, 2005

Nancy and Tonya: The Opera 


I'll admit I didn't see this one coming at all. News reports this week announced that composer Abigal Al Doory and lyricist Elizabeth Searle are creating a new opera based upon the story of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

This production could be fantastic, but only if it's a farce.

Trailer Park Tonya and her band of bumbling goons make ideal comic villains. They were stupid, boorish, argumentative, and yet, appropriately malevolent. Ex-husband and ringleader Jeff Gillooley was a weasel bent upon impressing Tonya. There aren't many women who are impressed by assault, but Tonya is probably among them.

Nancy, of course, is their polar opposite. If you believed her press, she was as pure as the driven snow and as sweet as sugar. No one that innocent could really survive in the world for long, but that was Nancy's carefully cultivated image.

The story itself could be written as a tragedy since neither competitor won the coveted gold medal. But the comedic aspects are just so much more fun. Tonya, uncouth, selfish, and worldly, takes on Nancy, stuffy, refined, and maidenly. Everyone in this story was basically a caricature, even before the press spun it into a fairy tale gone wrong.

I look forward to learning how this goofy spectacle is transformed into art. Let it be silly. Just make it a farce...



More Support for Medical Marijuana 


A recent Canadian study again affirmed the benefits of drugs derived from the marijuana plant. In this study, scientists showed that a cannabinoid compound actually caused the growth of brain cells in rats. It also appeared to reduce behaviors related to anxiety and depression.

Meanwhile, our government tells us that they are certain that none of this works in humans and prohibits research that might prove otherwise. We call that the scientific method, Republican style.

I suppose if you're telling people that God created the universe seven thousand years ago, the reefer madness fable constitutes nothing more than a little white lie.

By the way. there was no word on whether the rats got the munchies.



Do You Hear Music? 


OK, now here's a device the world desperately needs. BT Futurology is combining two popular technological breakthroughs into a single integrated product. Well, on second thought, let's make that a double integrated product.

They want to create an MP3 player that resides inside breast implants. The player will be placed within one breast while the solid state storage will be implanted in the other. Bluetooth wireless technology will drive headphones and allow the device to be controlled.

This is an intriguing possibility, on so many levels. However, in the name of consumer safety, here are a few questions that I believe should be answered before this product is tested on real women:
  1. How do you recharge the battery?
  2. Can the breasts be connected to my car stereo?
  3. Will it run iTunes?
  4. What are your plans for support?
  5. Show me again, how do you change the song?
  6. Will the implants interoprate with the Bluetooth wireless underwire bra?
  7. Is anti-spyware protection included?
  8. What are the chances the RIAA will show up and want to check for illegal downloads?
  9. Is it true that all music plays in stereo?
  10. Isn't this a little early for April Fool's Day?


Monday, October 10, 2005

A Mission from God 




Last week, the BBC quoted Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Nabil Shaath as stating that US President George Bush Junior said "I'm driven with a mission from God" during a 2003 meeting.

The White House denies this exchange ever happened. I'm inclined to believe the Palestinian source because (a) this is a named, on the record official who definitely met with Bush during the time in question, (b) the Bush administration's well established inclination and ability to bend the truth, and, most convincing of all, (c) Bush's demonstrated fondness for invoking his deity whenever times are tough.

How often has Bush referenced God while president? I don't anyone who can produce an accurate figure, but we can get a hint by searching Google for the terms "Bush" and "God." If you do, you'll find 37.9 million hits! It's hardly coincidence that those two words occur together so frequently. For comparison, a similar search using the terms "Clinton" and "God" yields a mere 13.5 million hits.

Immediately after 9/11, Bush enraged and alienated the Muslim world by calling for a new "crusade" against terrorism. In interviews with Bob Woodward, he spoke of appealing to a "higher father" concerning the war in Iraq. Bush State of the Union addresses are heavily seasoned with references to the US doing God's work.

With this track record, the statements attributed to George Bush Junior are absolutely credible. Let's play them back one more to time just to get the full impact of his words.

I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan'. "And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did. "And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East'. And by God I'm gonna do it'"

Even the clumsy sentence construction and ersatz folksiness sound right. I'm convinced he said this, or something very close. This quote frankly sounds irrational at best. Worse yet, Bush was speaking to people from a different culture without any awareness of the meaning of his words in that context.

All of this God-speak no doubt plays well down in Texas. However, for many Americans, let alone the rest of the world, it comes off as intolerant, culturally arrogant, and generally offensive. It pains me to see my country so thoroughly discredited and so universally despised.

Do you suppose we can extricate ourselves from this disaster by praying that God tells Bush to resign? I thought not.



Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Internet Spat 


To my eyes, this site doesn't look quite right. Many visitors, including me, cannot see the graphics. The reason is a petty spat between two Internet service providers. Both Cogent and Level 3 are US firms. If the government can't or won't prevent them from obstructing the flow of data traffic over the public Internet, perhaps their customers will. I suggest it's time to return the favor and shut off the flow of cash to both Level 3 and Cogent.