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Saturday, April 23, 2005

I was reading the Powerline blog today for some reason and came across this polemic on Tom Friedman, NY Times columnist and author. Powerline, you might recall, is the conservative blog run by lawyers who count conspiracy theories among their hobbies. Powerline had a role in repudiating the Bush National Guard memos, resulting in the dressing down of Dan Rather and calling into question the integrity of CBS News, and when a memo encouraging Republicans to capitalize on the Terri Schiavo case was leaked, Powerline surmised that it was part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to discredit the GOP.

In the case of the CBS memos, the prevailing common wisdom is that there was definitely something rotten in Denmark. Powerline, and other conservative pundits, successfully demonstrated that CBS had done the President and the public a major disservice by over-eagerly hyping a sloppy story, but they never proved that the documents themselves were faked, only that they could have been. Which brings me to the bard….yes, old Will Shakespeare from Stratford-on-Avon himself.

For the last century there have been academic debates among scholars about the Authorship Question. How, they ask, could an undereducated Elizabethan stage actor have written some of the world’s most enduring literature? Several suspects for the true authorship of the Shakespeare canon have been proposed, from Christopher Marlowe to Francis Bacon, but one thing scholars have yet been able to do is prove one way or another that William Shakespeare wrote William Shakespeare’s plays. If we were to follow Powerline’s logic, we would have to assume that because there are questions of authenticity in the bard’s plays, then Shakespeare is a fraud and his plays are forgeries.

That’s not a leap I’m willing to make. Inconclusive is inconclusive. With that said, if you’re running a news operation that has any aspirations of integrity, it would be a good idea not to tout inconclusive evidence as the truth, which is why CBS was rightly dinged for the memo story. But Powerline was far from redeemed…

As to the GOP memo on the Schiavo case, which Powerline vetted as a forgery, it turned out to be written by a Republican staffer, who has since resigned in disgrace. Powerline insisted their arguments still had substance based on a litany of unimpressive technicalities revolving around (of course) media ineptness, yet John Hindracker never admitted they were just flat out wrong about the issue. The memo was not, as they postulated, a devious lefty ploy to make the GOP look bad. The GOP was doing it themselves.

One last thing about Thomas Friedman. The criticism discussed in the Powerline post is hardly unearned. Michael Kubin of the Observer has him figured out and accurately portrayed his style, albeit in a cheeky way. But I like Friedman, I like reading Friedman. His work has helped me personally to understand the wide-ranging effects of globalism, his latest topic, as well as the Israel-Palestine conflict, another Friedman favorite. I don’t always agree with him or like what he has to say, but he makes you think, which only the best pundits are able to do. Most just tell you how to think.

Friday, April 22, 2005

We had a hail storm the other day, which just happened to fall on the day after I transplanted some peas and broccoli seedlings into the raised garden bed I built last weekend. Cursing nature and my own eagerness, I went out the next morning to check on the plants. Most of them were beaten down, gray instead of green. Now most of the broccoli is gone, except for a few plants that I hope will be hardy enough to make it. The peas fared a bit better, although not much. Only time will tell if I’ll even get them to produce anything. If not, I have plenty of tomatoes, peppers, and other small plants ready and waiting to take their place.

On another note the patch of grass I planted under the clothesline is starting to come up. There are some empty spots, but it’s coming up thick and sprightly, so I’m happy. I might have to do the other half sooner than I thought. Pictures soon.

This weekend I’ll be helping my neighbor, David, do some maintenance work on the fence between our houses. Prior to either of us moving in, the previous owners rigged a set-up that left me with some of David’s yard, and no way for him to get to the south side of his house. We’ll be pulling down a section of fence and putting up a smaller part that gives him his property back.

Sometimes reality is a bitch. My younger brother is in a mental hospital right now. Details are sketchy, but he had a run-in with the police in which they thought he had the means and the intent to commit suicide, so they arrested him and sent him to the hospital. He’s an Iraq War vet and a methamphetamine addict, so he’s cooling his heels at the VA, probably already feeling the pain of withdrawal. From what I’ve heard, he wants out, but there is a sense of relief in the family that he’s in there. A year ago, he was a single father, gainfully employed, the owner of two properties, one of them an income property, a war hero returned from a tour in Iraq, a motorcycle enthusiast who had competed in trials bike competitions. He had most anything anyone would want, and he had earned it all himself. But the desire to be cool among some very uncool people trumped all of that. And now he’s a deadbeat dad, unemployed, homeless, practically bankrupt, his early possessions in storage, maybe his bikes, maybe not. And as I write this, he is incarcerated what he called the loony bin. I’m not sure what he thought would be the result when he took his first jolt of tweak, but I’m sure this wasn’t it.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

One of the most under-reported news items of the day (at least until the tabloids get a hold of it), is the exposure of Britney Spears as a cheat and plagiarist. As it turns out, she was not the first to record Oops I Did it Again. She stole it from Satchmo!

Turns out I was right about the dude from American Head Charge….an OD of prescription meds after a night of heavy drinking. Could this be the only dude in the country who never saw a single episode of Behind the Music?

This is the kind of thing I would do if I were a twin.

I hate that show American Idol. Wannabe teen idols, Ryan Seacrest, cheesy performances, it all makes me want to kick my dog. Thankfully it looks like American Idol is going to be crumbling in scandal, and not one moment sooner.

You know what else I hate? I hate reading Joe Scarborough’s blog. Sometimes after reading it, I get so pissed I shoot off an angry flame e-mail explaining what an ass he is. But then it occurs to me that perhaps Congressman Joe knows what he’s doing when he concocts his vomit-inducing hyperbole and ridiculous punditry, and not only that, but I bet he looks forward to receiving those flame messages. In fact, he probably feels like a failure if a column doesn’t induce a flood of angry invective in his inbox. Surely he’s that clever. But is he clever enough to recognize that he is little more than a Republican stooge? Notice how he doesn’t defend Delay so much as use the “Well, he did it too” defense popular on playgrounds across the world. Yeah, Democrats and Republicans are both ethically challenged. We know that. I discussed it yesterday in the whole “politics as a business” rant. Does that make it right? Of course not. Truth be told, Tom Delay is not only being picked on because of his travel controversies or his wife’s employment record. There’s a whole host of reasons why Tom Delay should be removed from power, the least of which are these minor indiscretions. You should remember these are just the latest ethical relapses to hit the streets. He has been reprimanded several times in the past, twice in October 2004 alone. I suspect Congressman Joe knows this, and that’s why he avoids a full on defense of Delay. Instead, he’s rallying the troops, like any good Republican stooge should do, laying the ground work for a “political war on Capitol Hill,” as he calls it. I bet he’s already printing the war banners that say “Remember Tom Delay!”

In closing, a link to perhaps in one of the juiciest stories of recent days, Jane Fonda has an encounter with a fan. This guy was just salivating to meet her.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Good ole Tom Delay. A possible ethics committee investigation on the horizon in some political pimping. Democrats of course are the obstructionists, crying foul over some technicalities. Republicans of course come off as sleazy, changing the rules because they don’t like how the game is being played. And Tom Delay? Besides the somewhat skewed gleam in his eye, how does he come off? Like pig shit on a Sunday dress. Here’s a guy who not only views politics as public service but as a business, as a way of enriching himself and others. The Republicans are right in saying that he’s not alone in that regard. Democrats have also used politics as a business (how much was Clinton paid for his crappy book again?), and the collusion of both parties in this regard has contributed to create our current climate of government by the money, of the money, and for the money. The hundreds of hands that control the levers of our Federal government are not good government idealists, but shrewd businessmen who sell a product, in this case their personalities and their loyalties, for top dollar. How many times have you heard your favorite politician shoot down a great idea because it wouldn’t make economic sense? Bush uses that excuse a lot for environmental regulations. Reducing arsenic in the water may save lives, but it will cost a lot of money. This is where socialist governments have an edge on us. They engage in grand humanitarian schemes that benefit the people, say national health care or a thirty-five hour work week, but wreck the economy. It’s as if they know about the negative effect and just don’t care. “It’s alright,” they seem to say. “Grandma will get her pills. Dad will get his vacation. Junior will get his free education. If we run out of money, we’ll just print more! Hahaha!” Yeah, right. In a shrinking global economy, you can’t just print more money. Nor can you neglect these humanitarian appeals in the of economic good sense. A healthy populace, an educated populace, a happy populace, these make economic sense too. There has to be some kind of balance between the two forces, between the humanitarian and the economic, and neither of our parties portrays that balance.

From the same Tom Delay link from above, here’s a funny quote from one of his March 2003 speeches. "Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes." Yeah, good idea, Tom. Way to tow the party line…over the edge of a cliff.

In metal news, Bryan Ottoson, a guitarist in the band American Head Charge, was found dead on his bus today. Not sure what caused it but my guess is either suicide or drug overdose. He talks about both here in an interview conducted a few weeks ago.

If you want to see a killer metal performance, click here. Max Cavalera plays guitar like it’s some kind of tribal instrument. It taps into some kind of primitive place in the human brain, a place of campfires and all night trances. But look at his buddy’s backpack guitar strap. I wonder, does that help him rock harder?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The world has a new Pope, and this one isn’t a cute lovable Pole like John Paul II. This guy used to be in the Hitler Youth! (I know, I know….he was a kid and he had no choice and he didn’t really want to but it is, nonetheless, an established fact.) What does this mean to those of us who aren’t confirmed Catholics? Not a damn thing. Although I will say that it will be strange seeing a new face under that pointy hat.

It’s official. This will be the last season of Monday Night Football on ABC. The Monday Night package will be moving to ESPN, but there’s no word what will happen with Al Michaels or John Madden. Disney, which owns both ABC and ESPN, could see fit to move them over to ESPN, and I hope they do. Poetic play by play and color commentary with character, that’s what you get with Michaels and Madden. It deserves to be heard!

So I was watching a porno the other day and this guy was literally talking this girl out of her clothes. She was way hot, big fake tits, flat chiseled abs, nice tan. Brunette, just like I like them. The guy was kind of a dork, but come on, this was a porno. He was jacking off on the kitchen counter as the girl unzipped her jeans. “Some people say drink to forget,” he was musing, “I say make love to forget.” The girl, now dressed only in panties, kissed him playfully on the lips, and said, “That is the gayest thing I have ever heard.” Then she proceeded to blow him.

This is the gayest thing I have ever heard.

Here’s a little fact for all you metalheads out there. The classic Anthrax line-up has regrouped for a tour, and perhaps more? It’s all in the wind at this point, but it looks like for sure Anthrax, old school Anthrax, will be playing a few dates in the Midwest and then heading down under for some dates in Australia. That’s right. Joey Belladonna, Dan Spitz, Frank Bello, Charlie Benante, and Scott Ian will regroup under the name Anthrax and rock the world. How this happened, I don’t know. Why it happened, I don’t know. From this humble observer’s perspective, Anthrax was doing very well with John Bush and Rob Caggiano in the band. They had just released a “new” album of re-recorded classic material with Bush and Caggiano that sounded great, better than all the shit you hear on the radio these days. We’ve Come For You All, the album before that, was awesome as well, and though it harkened back to the classic days, it was definitely a new school Anthrax record. They were on the way to restoring the Anthrax name, dammit! And then they do this. I’m sure there was some sense that many fans wanted this reunion to happen, and for a while I was one of them. However, I had started to grow comfortable with John Bush’s voice and the new dynamic in the band it created. This wasn’t Ninja Turtles and Vision Street Wear anymore. It was a new band, a metal band doing their own thing, a good band. A band who still had the annoying habit of putting a power ballad on every album, but a band who had respect! And Joey? What was he doing? There was an attempt to tour with him again a few years ago, but that fell apart because of money. Joey wanted some, and Anthrax, after a series of bad business decisions, didn’t have any. And Dan Spitz? He became a watchmaker, world class for sure, but a watchmaker nonetheless. Rumor has it that he even gave up playing guitar! And now he’s going to come back shredding? I hope so. He not only has to recapture what he had back in the 80s, but he has to fill Rob’s big ass shoes. With all that said, I wish their tour was more extensive. If they came to my town, I’d go see them for sure. Anthrax? The classic line-up? Perhaps for the last time on earth? Like Butthead used to say, I’m there.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The verdict is in. Corrosion of Conformity’s new record, In the Arms of God, mentioned here in a prior post, is in fact a good record. It’s not their best, nor even a classic of the genre, but it has enough songs on it to qualify it as a solid effort and a worthy addition to the COC oeuvre. They haven’t so much abandoned their swerve to classic rock on America’s Volume Dealer, their last studio album, as went back to their hardcore roots, merging both styles into an amalgam of bone-shattering metal and deep-fried Southern rock.

I will say this though. Their new drummer, Stanton Moore, does a great job, but I’m not sure if his style fits COC’s guitar attack. The rhythms have a good bounce and the drum fills are spot on, yet the pummeling quality one would expect from good metal drumming is missing. Moore’s laid back in a jazz way, almost too laid back in some cases, and I wish he would have pounded the shit out of the drums.

Take Stonebreaker for instance. The song starts out with this gothic blues guitar solo and then breaks into a steady gallop of crunch. And yet the beat staggers along at a marching band pace, the snare a bit tinny. The bass drum? You can barely hear it. Pepper Keenan makes up for the drum tracks weaknesses with an interesting vocal track that’s strangely catchy.

The drumming gets somewhat better on the punk inflected Paranoid Opiate. You can tell Moore is finally putting his back into it, which is a good thing. And though the title and lyrics imply a dark view of drugs, there are enough psychedelic elements in this track to compete with any stoner’s black light posters and incense for sensory attention.

One of my favorite tracks on the record is the emotional It Is That Way, with it’s zen-like refrain and the driving emotion. It reminds me a bit of Goodbye Windows, one of my favorite COC songs, and also a bit of The Snake Has No Head and Over Me, at least from a lyrical perspective. Almost throughout, Pepper’s vocals are accompanied by an almost violinish guitar lead. The rhythms themselves are sludgy enough to eek out the necessary heaviness, but don’t descend to swampboat levels entirely.

That song immediately segues into Dirty Hands/Empty Pockets (Already Gone), a curious medley of a crunchy jam and a punk rock hoe down. I almost didn’t like this song, but it has grown on me and now it’s one of the ones I tune into on a regular basis. An unconventional bass line kicks off the song, followed by an almost spoken word verse. The tension builds to a crescendo relieved only by a sweet blues lick…and then back to the rambling bass line. It’s an interesting juxtaposition and the contrast works. When it comes to the lyrics, despite some juvenile rhyming, there is definitely a message, one that I can’t say I disagree with. About two minutes in, the song complete breaks down into the Already Gone coda. The overall effect is a five minute trip into rock paradise.

Another song with an interesting sound is Never Turns to More. What seems like a straight forward rock jam turns into something else entirely, thanks to the capable vocals talents of Pepper Keenan. His voice soars at times, never dropping the weight of the song. I like it.

With that said, Crown of Thorns definitely qualifies as filler. Despite a lyrical shout out to Seven Days, this acoustic ditty sounds out of place on the record but wouldn’t on a Sunday morning to a congregation of holy rollers. The album has a very religious tone, though not of the inspirational church going kind. And I suppose this serves as kind of a climax to wrap up all the themes. But it sucks. Sorry, guys. I’m a huge fan, but I can’t stand this song.

In the Arms of God, though, the last song on the disc, is good. It gets into a good stride once it gets going and has some of the most explosive moments on the album. Of course, like a lot of songs on this record, it takes about a minute to get going. Rewarding patience seems to be a goal of COC these days.

I read somewhere that COC had an influence on Metallica during the Load and Re-Load years, and I can see it. With members hailing from North Carolina and New Orleans, Louisiana, I can see how some of COC’s Southern metal may have made it’s way into Metallica’s work. It’s no secret that Pepper Keenan and James Hetfield are fans. (His audition for Metallica, half serious, can be seen in the movie Some Kind of Monster.) I don’t think any blame should be placed on either band. I like them both, and over the years have enjoyed their different directions, old, new and in between. And that includes this record.

Four Stars