Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Opera!

I lucked into a small opera gig a few weeks ago. One of my former music teachers at Pellissippi had to drop out of a performance and asked me to replace him. I couldn't turn down such a generous offer.

It's for an opera fund raiser, not part of the actual season. We'll be performing selections from Romberg's operettas, "The Student Prince" and "The New Moon". The fund raiser is on Oct. 10. Tickets are $100 so I don't imagine I'll be seeing any of you there. I'm looking forward to it though.

But it just hit me how soon the performance is. Our first rehearsal - the first time I ever sang this music - was last Tuesday. I have to be off book next Tuesday. That's the shortest I've been on book for anything. It's in English, and it's fairly easy, but there are some tricky fast songs that I'm a little worried about. I will be in cram mode until next week.

Wish me luck!

The Cuddliest Wuddliest Economic Crisis

This wonderful illustration puts an adorable face on a frightening thing (kinda like Dakota Fanning):

[from Boing Boing]

Friday, September 26, 2008

MC Frontalot - "Bizarro Genius Baby"

I'm not sure if nerdcore hip hop has any real staying power, but with artists like MC Frontalot it's got a fighting chance.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Encounters At The End Of The World

Werner Herzog's latest documentary asks a lot of questions such as, "Why don't chimpanzees, intelligent as they are, ride around on goats as a means of transportation?" and "Do penguins go insane?"

Unfortunately, neither of those questions are answered by the end of Encounters (though he does show some compelling evidence toward the latter). What Herzog does provide are amusing, brief portraits of some of the unique people who decide to spend a portion of their lives on the most inhospitable continent on Earth. He also profiles Antarctica itself, above and below the ice.

The various places he visits and people he talks to are interesting. It's always great to see scientists who love their work, and some of the people in this film describe the objects of their study in beautifully poetic language. This is good because the images of the movie, while fine, can't really compete with the likes of Planet Earth, which is all about the picture. Herzog's movie is about the curious stories Antarctica spawns, both past, present, and future. Or rather the stories spawned by the people who are drawn to the continent, for whatever reason.

Most of the people Herzog talks to live in a research outpost, which is essentially a small town that contains such "abominations" as a bowling alley and ATM. Herzog describes the look of the place as that of a small mining town, which is pretty accurate. I was surprised that something that industrious existed on Antarctica. I had imagined that everything there was still rickety shacks and small tents desperately staked down in the middle of impossible snow storms. I hoped that's what it was, anyway.

The fragments of the movie don't always feel like a cohesive whole, such as one diversion where Herzog ponders the soft serve ice cream machine at the outpost's local diner. Herzog seems to get lost in his own whimsical musings about everything. But that's also why some of the movie is so interesting. When shown a single celled organism from under the ice that uses pseudopods to selectively gather grains of sand to form a shell around itself, Herzog wonders if this could be considered an intelligent act. The scientist admits that it has actually been up for debate, and says himself that it is "almost art". Looking at the magnified images its almost easy to believe that it is.

Overall I enjoyed the movie, with its seemingly random diversions and answerless questions. It doesn't really seem to be about much except that there is this very strange place on Earth, and there are some very strange people that go there. That's good enough for me.

JapaNoodle Fever Tour '08

Tuesday night saw the triumphant return of Peelander-Z at the Pilot Light. This time they brought three other Japanese bands with them. The result was a tremendously fun night.

1. Quaff
They performed their own music (a fusion of rock, metal, pop, hip hop, and traditional) as well as covers of "Beat It" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You".

Great rock with a strong female lead.

3. Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re
All female band with a very unique sound. It was a mix of bubblegum pop, rock, and punk. Very peculiar. They currently have a crossover promotion with the Powerpuff Girls which was just recently released in Japan.

4. Peelander-Z
This was their wildest show yet. For the finale they hauled all the equipment, including the drum set, into the rafters. Lots of crowd surfing and moshing as well. Peelander Blue was mysteriously absent with Green taking over the drums.


I ended up going to see this with a movie group, which is nice because I'm not sure it's something I would have gone to see on my own. It was kind of jarring to see a dramatic film like this after a summer of giant blockbusters and light comedies. But I guess this is the beginning of Fall when the serious Oscar movies start to come out and play.

Elegy is a wonderfully written drama starring Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz. It's about a sweet romance between a college professor and his much younger student. It takes some surprisingly funny turns before veering straight into Serious Drama.

There are great supporting performances from Peter Sarsgaard, Dennis Hopper, and Patricia Clarkson (possibly the most gorgeous woman of her generation in the biz) as well.

I don't really have much to say except that it is definitely worth your time. The script, acting, direction, soundtrack, and cinematography are all top notch. I'm glad I saw it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Wolf We Feed

The most recent episode of the excellent Bill Moyers Journal uses the recent shooting at the Tennessee Valley Universalist Unitarian Church in Knoxville as a jumping off point to discuss right wing hate speech on the radio. I listened to the audio podcast on my way to work this morning, and thought it was a very moving and important piece of journalism.

SNL - A Nonpartisan Message

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Vacation In Gatlinburg

I took a short two night vacation in Gatlinburg this weekend. It was nice and relaxing, and I got to eat some good food.

Matt came along for the whole trip. We walked around Gatlinburg on the first day, and picked up an unlimited miniature golf pass at Fort Fun. They had two outdoor courses that climbed up the side of a hill, and one indoor black light course. We played one of the outdoor courses the first day. It was incredibly humid all weekend, and even the minor exertion of walking around a miniature golf course had me feeling unpleasant. So we spent most of the time on the air conditioned black light course.

In the evening Kyle and Bone came up and met us at Best Italian. I hadn't been there in a few years and it didn't disappoint. If you haven't been there it's almost worth a trip to Gatlinburg alone. It's food so good you know it's nowhere near being good for you. Especially the garlic rolls, which come literally soaking in a shallow bowl of melted garlic butter and oil. So good.

That night we chilled at the time share, drank some cheap box wine and played a game of Zombies!!!, which has to be the most entertaining board game to come out in recent years.

The next day Matt and I got breakfast/lunch at The Pancake Pantry, another one of those must-go places in Gatlinburg. I got the Marvelous Blintz. From the menu:
Pecans and Raisins are added to a Ricotta-Cream cheese filling and placed into our Blintz Pancakes. Topped with Powdered Sugar and a warm Orange Blueberry Syrup.
The first bite nearly floored me, and the last one sent me into a sugar-shock epileptic fit that carried me out the door and down the street. I woke up hours later, on the the fourth hole of Black Light Golf, two strokes under par.

For dinner I finally had one of those mythic Fannie Farkel's smoked sausages. I didn't realize it was cash only, and when I tried to get money from the ATM I was denied. The sausage guy was nice enough to let me have it, trusting that I would return with the money later. Sucker!

Back to the time share for more Zombies!!!, then Bonnie stopped by for a drink and a chat. And that was the weekend!

This was my first time in Gatlinburg in at least three years, probably more. I realized that the whole town has maybe three stores, repeated over and over. Flap jacks, old timey photos, airbrushed shirts, and collectible ninja weapons. Any place that sells throwing stars and samurai swords also sells bongs. I'm not sure how those two commodities were linked, but it is the rule rather than the odd exception.

Old timey photos take the cake, though. There must have been twenty within a five minute walk of one another. Many of them were standalone, but others were nestled within arcades and other places.

Also, everyone sells fudge and taffy. Everyone.

Burn After Reading

I was a little nervous going into this one. Some of the reviews I saw were a little tepid, and I was afraid this might be another Intolerable Cruelty or Ladykillers. Movies that had moments of Coen Bros. genius, but didn't really feel like their other work.

Fortunately Burn After Reading fits easily into the realm of some of my favorite Coen movies. Maybe not quite up to the level of Lebowski or O Brother, I'd say it's closer to The Man Who Wasn't There or The Hudsucker Proxy (although not nearly as stylized visually).

It wasn't as laugh-out-loud funny as I expected, until the second half. The comedy is definitely back-loaded. But the first half is never boring. The Coens take their time setting up all the characters and plot threads. And when they begin to pay off, they pay off big time.

Burn After Reading is similar to The Man Who Wasn't There in that you have a hard time finding anyone in the movie to root for. The one truly sympathetic character comes to what is probably the worst fate of anyone in the movie. The Coens are harsh creators. Usually a movie filled with characters you can't identify with would be unwatchable, but under the Coens' direction it works.

The story is joyfully unpredictable, with one moment that genuinely shocked me and another that hilariously belies the audience's expectation (George Clooney's invention). I watched the movie always gleefully anxious to see what happened next, and was never disappointed, right up to the final understated denouement that sums up the film's meaning (or lack thereof).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Alex Ross Shirts

One of my favorite comic book artists, Alex Ross, has a series of political t-shirts that I absolutely love.

Uncle Sam:

Make Love Not War:

Sucking Democracy Dry:

Super Barack Obama:

You can get them here

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The RNC In A Minute

from 23/6

House Of Pancakes

The latest xkcd comic is a parody of one of my favorite books, House of Leaves.

If you haven't read xkcd before, I recommend it. It's the nerdiest comic out there. And I highly recommend House of Leaves, because it's the scariest book I've read.

Friday, September 05, 2008

For The Love Of Hattie

My good friend, Dr. Lao, has created a new site devoted to Hattie McDaniel. Do you consider Gone With The Wind to be one of Hollywood's all time classics? If so, Hattie is probably the reason why.

It's a brand new site, so it's just getting started. But chances are The Delicious Side of Hattie McDaniel will soon be the go-to site for all your tender Hattie needs.

The Strokes - "You Only Live Once"

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Outrageous Double Standards

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

Yes, I'm probably the last person to see this. I grew up with Indiana Jones, and this should have been a movie I went to see on opening day. But the closer it got to release the less and less excited I became. And the more I think about it, the less I think any Indiana Jones movies needed to be made after Last Crusade. What was wrong with it actually being the last?

Most of the people I talked to (with a few exceptions) had negative reactions to this movie. But I'm the type of person who can go into a movie with low expectations and be won over. Hell, if I went to half the movies I see with expectations this low I'd probably enjoy quite a few more. Unfortunately Indie didn't win me over this time. I didn't hate it, but I was often bored. And the movie had so many moments that just made me roll my eyes.

I'm aching to know what this movie could have been. What was in Darabont's script before Lucas got his sticky hands all over it and mucked it up? I'm ninety percent positive there weren't three separate scenes with CGI ground hogs. I've got a fairly good feeling there wasn't a scene with Shia Labeouf swinging through the jungle like Tarzan.

With Crystal Skull Lucas continues his trend of flattening his franchises to a bland pulp. Most of the movie felt like a high budget fan film. Like the Star Wars prequels it was too aware of itself. All the other movies felt to me like they existed in their own right. This one ultimately felt like a cash-in.

Just as I feared there was an over-reliance on CGI effects. They stood out like a sore thumb. Not just the damn ground hogs, or the giant ants. The scenery feels false, like the Star Wars prequels. There were too many times I felt myself thinking, "they're not actually there."

I never got that feeling from the first films, even when re-watching them as an adult. They always felt grounded in a reality, even though I know they're not real. Crystal Skull left me grasping for something to believe in.

There's a moment in Temple of Doom, when they fall out of the plane in the inflatable raft and slide down the mountain. That's the only part of the movie where I go, "yeah right". Crystal Skull is filled with moments like that. The refrigerator, the sword fight on the speeding jeeps, the Tarzan moment.

The movie is filled with lazy writing. The worst of which is the crystal skull itself as a device. It's like a convenient little deus ex machina you can take with you. Giant man-eating ants after you? Whip out the skull. Scary savages with spears after you? Whip out the skull. Giant imposing door with no noticeable entry? Say it with me - whip out the skull.

Where is the clever adventuring from Last Crusade, where every moment Indie is squeaking by on his wits. Every booby trap needs to be solved in its own way. There's nothing for him to do in this movie except go along for the ride, and occasionally punch a Russian in the face.

I'm just disappointed. There are a lot of good people involved in this movie. I just think they deserved something better to work with. It's a shame Lucas, with his stunted imagination, has such control over the property.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Crisis Of Confidence

On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter gave a televised speech that later became known as the "malaise" speech. The main focus of the speech was about a "crisis of confidence" in America, due to a number of reasons:
"We were sure that ours was a nation of the ballot, not the bullet, until the murders of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. We were taught that our armies were always invincible and our causes were always just, only to suffer the agony of Vietnam. We respected the presidency as a place of honor until the shock of Watergate."

The final third of the speech dealt with a looming energy crisis:
"Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation, and it can also be the standard around which we rally. On the battlefield of energy we can win for our nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again of our common destiny.

In little more than two decades we've gone from a position of energy independence to one in which almost half the oil we use comes from foreign countries, at prices that are going through the roof. Our excessive dependence on OPEC has already taken a tremendous toll on our economy and our people. This is the direct cause of the long lines which have made millions of you spend aggravating hours waiting for gasoline. It's a cause of the increased inflation and unemployment that we now face. This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation. The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.

What I have to say to you now about energy is simple and vitally important.

Point one: I am tonight setting a clear goal for the energy policy of the United States. Beginning this moment, this nation will never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977 -- never. From now on, every new addition to our demand for energy will be met from our own production and our own conservation. The generation-long growth in our dependence on foreign oil will be stopped dead in its tracks right now and then reversed as we move through the 1980s, for I am tonight setting the further goal of cutting our dependence on foreign oil by one-half by the end of the next decade -- a saving of over 4-1/2 million barrels of imported oil per day.

Point two: To ensure that we meet these targets, I will use my presidential authority to set import quotas. I'm announcing tonight that for 1979 and 1980, I will forbid the entry into this country of one drop of foreign oil more than these goals allow. These quotas will ensure a reduction in imports even below the ambitious levels we set at the recent Tokyo summit.

Point three: To give us energy security, I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel -- from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun.

I propose the creation of an energy security corporation to lead this effort to replace 2-1/2 million barrels of imported oil per day by 1990. The corporation I will issue up to $5 billion in energy bonds, and I especially want them to be in small denominations so that average Americans can invest directly in America's energy security.

Just as a similar synthetic rubber corporation helped us win World War II, so will we mobilize American determination and ability to win the energy war. Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation's first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20 percent of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.

These efforts will cost money, a lot of money, and that is why Congress must enact the windfall profits tax without delay. It will be money well spent. Unlike the billions of dollars that we ship to foreign countries to pay for foreign oil, these funds will be paid by Americans to Americans. These funds will go to fight, not to increase, inflation and unemployment.

Point four: I'm asking Congress to mandate, to require as a matter of law, that our nation's utility companies cut their massive use of oil by 50 percent within the next decade and switch to other fuels, especially coal, our most abundant energy source.

Point five: To make absolutely certain that nothing stands in the way of achieving these goals, I will urge Congress to create an energy mobilization board which, like the War Production Board in World War II, will have the responsibility and authority to cut through the red tape, the delays, and the endless roadblocks to completing key energy projects.

We will protect our environment. But when this nation critically needs a refinery or a pipeline, we will build it.

Point six: I'm proposing a bold conservation program to involve every state, county, and city and every average American in our energy battle. This effort will permit you to build conservation into your homes and your lives at a cost you can afford.

I ask Congress to give me authority for mandatory conservation and for standby gasoline rationing. To further conserve energy, I'm proposing tonight an extra $10 billion over the next decade to strengthen our public transportation systems. And I'm asking you for your good and for your nation's security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel. Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common sense -- I tell you it is an act of patriotism.

Our nation must be fair to the poorest among us, so we will increase aid to needy Americans to cope with rising energy prices. We often think of conservation only in terms of sacrifice. In fact, it is the most painless and immediate way of rebuilding our nation's strength. Every gallon of oil each one of us saves is a new form of production. It gives us more freedom, more confidence, that much more control over our own lives.

So, the solution of our energy crisis can also help us to conquer the crisis of the spirit in our country. It can rekindle our sense of unity, our confidence in the future, and give our nation and all of us individually a new sense of purpose.

You know we can do it. We have the natural resources. We have more oil in our shale alone than several Saudi Arabias. We have more coal than any nation on Earth. We have the world's highest level of technology. We have the most skilled work force, with innovative genius, and I firmly believe that we have the national will to win this war."

The next year Jimmy Carter lost his re-election to Ronald Reagan, a president who essentially turned excessive consumption into an American virtue.

Fast forward to President George W. Bush's 2007 State of the Union address:
"It's in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply. The way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power by even greater use of clean coal technology, solar and wind energy, and clean, safe nuclear power. We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol, using everything from wood chips to grasses to agricultural wastes.

We made a lot of progress, thanks to good policies here in Washington and the strong response of the market. And now even more dramatic advances are within reach. Tonight I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we've done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years. When we do that, we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017--and that is nearly five times the current target. At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks and conserve up to 8 1/2 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017.

Achieving these ambitious goals will dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but it's not going to eliminate it. And so as we continue to diversify our fuel supply, we must step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways. And to further protect America against severe disruptions to our oil supply, I ask Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.

Always on the ball, as usual.

Full "malaise" speech.

First And Ten

Current iTunes stats:
Tracks: 25,167
Total play time: 68 days, 11 hours
Songs of "summer": 50
Songs of "fall": 33


1. Soundgarden - "Like Suicide", Superunknown

2. Belle And Sebastian - "Simple Things", The Boy With The Arab Strap

3. Beirut - "St. Appolonia", The Flying Club Cup

4. Man Man - "Feathers", Six Demon Bag

5. Prince - "Satisfied", 3121

6. The Real Tuesday Weld - "Into the Trees", The London Book of the Dead

7. Tito Puente - "Senor Burns (Long Version)", Go Simpsonic With The Simpsons

8. John Mayer - "Only Heart", Heavier Things

9. Beastie Boys - "The Negotiation Limerick File", Hello Nasty

10. Skinny Puppy - "Spasmolytic", The Singles Collect