Monday, February 26, 2007

Who Said This?

I've been reading Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and it is every bit as good if not better than I expected. It's bursting with his infamous scalpel-sharp wit and his relentless defense of rationality against the ever-increasing onslaught of the patently absurd. It's an easy and amusing read, unless of course you believe in the supernatural and are frightened by anything that challenges those beliefs.

Early on in the book, he quotes the following:

"However, on religious issues there can be little or no compromise.
There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious
beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than
Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme
being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's
behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are
growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with
wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following
their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups
on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a
loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the
political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if
I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.'
Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to
claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even
more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every
religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my
vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today:
I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their
moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.' "

- Barry Goldwater, 1981

Hard to believe just 25 or so years later that a republican conservative actually entered those words into the congressional record.

What the hell happened?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Fundamental Rules Apply

[Cross-posted over at New Critics.]

Humphrey Bogart is my personal, all-time favorite “Best Actor.” Before I knew who he was, I heard his name, I saw him depicted in Warner Brothers cartoons, and I heard his voice impersonated on sitcoms, variety shows and TV commercials. Humphrey Bogart was (and still is) the quintessential movie star.

I can’t remember which of his films I saw first, although the one that stands out in memory is John Huston’s “The Treasure of Sierra Madre.” His flawless portrayal of Fred C. Dobbs, the drifter-turned-gold-prospector was a tour-de-force. We witness his transition from an affable down-on-his-luck gringo to a dangerous paranoid, and we believe every minute of it. I must have been around twelve or thirteen the first time I saw that one, and I remember feeling sorry for him, even after he turned against his friends. There is that moment where they band together to fight the bandits, and we are given a glimmer of hope that Dobbs may yet be redeemed, but in the end he is consumed by his greed. It is one of those memorable performances where each time I watch the film I find myself hoping that things will turn out for the best, in spite of the fact that I know they will not.

Bogart had a range that revealed itself over time. Originally typecast as a gangster from such memorable films as “The Petrified Forest,” “Dead End,” and “The Roaring Twenties” to name but a few, Humphrey Bogart transformed himself from the seminal Hollywood bad-guy into a truly versatile actor. He began playing roles with subtle complexities and contradictions that culminated in his first best-actor nomination for his brilliant portrayal of the seemingly out-for-himself club owner, Rick Blaine in 1943’s Best Picture, “Casablanca.” What can I add here that has not already been written hundreds of times? Obviously very little, but I would like to reiterate that the Academy made one of the biggest gaffes in the history of the Oscars when they handed the Best Actor award to Paul Lukas in 1943.

Humphrey Bogart did finally win the coveted award for his role as the quirky “Charlie Allnut” alongside Katherine Hepburn in 1951’s “The African Queen.” While it was long overdue, it was also well deserved, and not merely handed to him to make amends for past injustices. In that film, he did what he did best as an actor. He did what distinguishes great actors from the rest of them. He did it in “Casablanca,” and he did it in “Key Largo” as well: Humphrey Bogart had the ability to convince his audience through his characterizations that people can change. We can find the inner strength to go against our instincts for self-preservation and to break free from long-established patterns of behavior to rise to the occasion and do the right thing.

In the interest of brevity, I left out many aspects of his career upon which I could expand: His steamy, on-screen and real-life relationship with Lauren Bacall, his willingness to stand up to the big studio bosses and call the shots of his own career, and that unforgettable lisp that would have stopped any other actor dead in their tracks, but on him was somehow masculine and charismatic and actually added to his on-screen persona. And what about his stunning role as the traumatized and paranoid Captain Queeg from “The Caine Mutiny,” rambling on about strawberries on the witness stand, using “geometric logic” to prove that “there had to be a duplicate key” all the while playing with those not-so-subtle steel balls of his?

Speaking of Bacall, while all the movies he made with her were great, I think the one that is most often overlooked and underrated is “Dark Passage.” In addition to their fine performances, we get to see Agnes Moorhead conjure up some serious trouble years before she became famous to my generation as Endorra from “Bewitched.” If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth the effort.

Friday, February 23, 2007

This Weekend at New Critics

Somehow, Tom Watson had this crazy idea that my opinions about pop culture might be relevant beyond this road less traveled blog.

Who was I to argue?

I've been more or less contributing to the New Critics blog for the last couple of weeks, and I have to say it is a fun place to be. I say more or less because I've had to rely on my archives for about 50% of my contributions. I'm going to come out now and say my new job blows like Katrina, and between the long hours and the stress of being away from my lovely wife and my very cool kids, I've had trouble keeping up with my blogging. I've been working hard to remedy this situation, and hopefully that remedy will be dispensed in the next couple of weeks.

This weekend Blue Girl and Tom have cooked up a scheme where a bunch of us are going to post about the Oscars past and present, followed by live coverage of the Oscars courtesy of BG. As Tom says over at his place:

The Academy Awards are more about celebrity than film-making these days, but they do force the collective consumer consciousness to focus once a year on the "best" of the movie business. Best, of course, in a subjective, in-the-monent manner. Best in terms of - often - of popularity, and politics, and box office. Fresh off our wild night covering the Grammys, the newcritics crowd will be live-blogging the Oscars this Sunday - but we'll also be putting together a package of special commentary on Oscar moments past and present, favorite films and actors and directors. And a personal story or two. Our host, of course, is the prolific one-liner diva Blue Girl. As Lance Mannion says, we're a bunch of "hipsters, aesthetes, effetes, artistes, critics, and pompous know-it-alls.." Well, yeah - self-proclaimed culture critics. No engraved invitations. No monkey suits. Heavy on the banter. . It's gonna be a a blast.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Teachers' Unions Are More Dangerous Than Al Qaeda

Go read over at Shakespeare's Sister.

I live in Atlanta, and those two idiots rule talk radio here. Boortz is no libertarian - if he was he would be outraged at the current administration and their flagrant disregard for the US Constitution. He might mention it in passing, but most of the time he is busy bashing liberals, "government schools," minorities, unions, liberals, and Democrats.

He has had an axe to grind against public education for years, because he is a selfish and greedy individual who cares about one issue and one issue only - T A X E S.

Hannity is like Boortz, only with about half of his IQ.

When will we hold them accountable?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Al Gore in '08

C'mon, admit it. Who better than him? He looks damn good after 8 years of the Oil Maifa, doesn't he?

From a post I wrote back in '05

This is unscientific.


I can’t help but believe that if Al Gore had been the president, and had been re-elected in 2004, things would be much better today. There would have been no war in Iraq. Saddam may have collapsed under the pressure of inspections and sanctions. We may have avoided the 9/11 terrorist attacks, maybe not. Had they occurred, we would have captured or killed Bin Laden and would have crippled Al Qaeda. The economy would have been in much better shape. There would be a budget surplus. There would be a program in place to make healthcare more affordable.

Katrina hits. Maybe the levees break, maybe not. If they did, rescue operations and relief efforts would have been done in a timely, compassionate and professional manner. Less people would have died. Less people would have suffered.

And the Republicans and their idiot media shills would be telling us that the country was sliding to hell on Satan’s sled.

There has been a lot of talk about who should be the nominee in ’08. Someone over at Shakespeare’s Sister’s place said "Al Gore," and at the time I hadn’t considered him. I now think he would be great. I know he isn’t perfect, but compared to the other potential Democrats he has the experience and leadership skills that are needed to stop the idiocy dead in its tracks.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What Would Jesus E-mail?

I’m in DC this week teaching a class. Class was canceled today due to inclement weather, so I’m confined to my hotel room at least for now.

I was only vaguely aware of the war that has been waged against Amanda over at Pandagon (currently down due to attacks by Christians) and Shakespeare’s Sister. Their crimes? They had the audacity to criticize the Catholic Church. Both had accepted positions from the John Edwards campaign and had gained some media attention. Catholic League President Bill Donohue had taken exception to this and as a result the two have received a deluge of hate mail from Christians.

Death threats.
Graphic, blatant, anti-women vitriol.
From Christians.

I’d like to add my name to the list of people who support those two intelligent and brave women. I’m never surprised, but consistently saddened by the hatred in the world that is the direct result of people believing in the patently absurd.

I’ve written extensively on the subject of my redemption from Catholicism, and my unwillingness to believe in things unsupported by evidence. If you are interested, I’ve included these links:

Deliverance From Evil

Just Another Heartwarming Story

Thoughts on Religion

Time to Listen to Richard Dawkins

Religion, Again

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Every Night

Paul McCartney’s “Every Night” has got to be one of my favorite songs from his post-Beatle catalogue. Never mind the the silly lyrics. The beautiful melody, the sparse arrangement (original version found on "McCartney,") and the sentiment are all perfect.

Matthew Sweet does it some justice. This track appears on the mixed-bag tribute from a few years back, “Listen To What The Man Said.”

Listen here.

[Cross posted over at New Critics.]

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I'm (almost) With Matthews on This

In case you missed it, Chris Matthews had a slip-o-the-tongue on Imus earlier this week. I'm with him on that bit.

We have been at the point since about 2003 that unless the Democrats are running an obvious crook like Traficant against a decent sort like Gerald Ford, we simply must vote for the 'crat. The Republicans have made such an awful mess in order to solidify the Oil Mafia and establish a new Plutocracy. They must be stopped.

That said - we could do (and indeed have done!) worse than Giuliani. At least he cleaned up NY City beyond anyone’s expectations that lived there in the mid-80’s. Not that I completely agree with his methods – I don’t. But he did something. And he showed up at ground zero.

Who thinks that Bill Clinton or Al Gore would have ran and hid on 9/11 like Bush did?

[Thanks again to C&L for posting the clip.]

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

We Should Have Sold This One

Back in the 80’s I formed a band with the intentions of becoming rich and famous. I figured, “Nobody cares about artistic merit anyway, so why not forget about that and embrace the business?” I convinced my brother to forgo his penchant for writing quirky pop-tunes with odd time signatures and abrupt tempo changes and instead deliberately "sell out" and aim for the commercial market. I remember during one recording session, the engineer commented, “I don’t understand you guys. You dig the music of XTC, Peter Gabriel and Thomas Dolby but you play this?” [Another day I'll post the tune he was referencing.]

In any event, it was the end of 1983, and my brother penned a song he called “Big Brother.” We recorded it with high-hopes of cashing in on the 1984 hype. Our manager schmoozed his way into a meeting with a major publisher and played her 3 or 4 of our numbers including the freshly recorded “Big Brother.” She loved it but wanted to buy the rights and pitch it too one of those 80’s hard-schlock hair- bands. She offered to buy it outright and take my brother’s name off of the writing credit. Money wasn’t discussed – we just said “no” because we thought we were going to get signed by virtue of that song.

In retrospect, I think we should have bargained to let her shop the song but keep my bro’s name on the credits. We were inexperienced. This was perhaps the second biggest mistake we ever made, right behind the one where we actually believed that we could somehow make a career in the pop-music industry.

Click here to listen to "Big Brother."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Next Week Lunch is on Me!

Holy Shit! I can't believe my LUCK!!!

Screw the lottery.

This email just showed up at my ViscountLaCarte address.

I sent him my account numbers...



My Good Friend,

How are you doing together with your family? I guessed all is well. My massage should not be a surprise proposal to you because i got your contact information from the international directory in few weeks ago before i decided to contact you on this magnitude and lucrative transaction for our future survival in life.

Moreover, i have laid all the solemn trust in you before i decided to disclose this successful & confidential transaction to you.

Now i have the intent to contact you over this financialtransaction worth the sum of NINTEEN MILLION, THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND UNITED STATES DOLLARS ($19,300,000.00 ) for our future success.

This is and abandoned sum that belongs to one of our bank foreign customers who died along with his entire family through plane crash disaster since few years ago. Meanwhile i was very fortune to came across the deceased file when i was arranging the old and abandoned customers files in other to sign and submit to the entire bank management for an official re-documentation and audit of the year against 2008.

Be informed clearly that it was stated in our banking rules and regulations which was signed lawfully that if such fund remains unclaimed till the period of 6 years started from the date when the beneficiary died, the money will be transferred into the treasury as an unclaimed fund.

As a honour and advantage bestowed to our foreigncustomers base on the rules guilding our bank, it was stated obviously that if you are not a citizen of Burkina Faso , you have the absolute authority to claim the fund hence you are a foreigner despite your differences from the country of origin of the deceased.

So the request of you as a foreigner is necessary and legit to apply for the claim and transfer of the fund smoothly into your reliable bank account as the NEXT OF KIN OR EXTENDED RELATIVE to the deceased costomer.

On the transfer of this fund into your account, { 39% } being ( US$7,527,000.00) will be your share in respect of the account provision and your assistance rendered during the transfer of the fund into your bank account,{ 52% } being (US$10,036,000.00) will be my share being the codinator and the pillar of the transaction while the rest { 9% } being (US$1,737,000.00) will be shared to the respectable Organisations Centers such as CharityOrganisation, Motherless Babies homes, and helpless disabled people in the World.

Now, if you are really sure of your trustworthy, accountability,confidentiality on this transaction, contact me and agree that you will not change your mind to cheat or disappoint me when the fund have getting into your account. Besides you should not entertain any fear because i am sure of the success as an insider in the bank.

Please reply with the assurance, include your private telephone and fax numbers necessary for facilitate an easy communication in this transaction.

As soon as you reply , give me a call through my private telephone number on ( ## ########## ) so that i will let you know the next step to follow in order to finalize this transaction immediately.

I expect your urgent communication and my best regard to you and all members of yourfamily.

Yours sincerely,


Monday, February 05, 2007

Strawberry Fields Remake

"All This and World War II" was a film project that was released in 1976 that lasted but one week in the theaters. It featured remakes of classic Beatle songs recorded by various artists, backed by studio musicians and the London Symphony Orchestra. The soundtrack album was released to a lot of hype, and I ran out and bought it immediately. I listened to it a couple of times and then promptly gave it away, all because of Leo Sayer. He did an absolutely horrendous rendition of "I Am The Walrus," and when I went back to the original recording, which was (and still is) one of my favorites, I heard Leo's version in the back of mind. So I brought it over to my friend John's house, who had the most comprehensive collection of anything and everything connected to The Beatles that I had ever seen, and I promptly turned it over to him under the condition that he never play it in my presence.

Most artists have no business covering perfection. They should stay away from The Beatles. To this day, I shun most Beatle remakes. I have no interest in hearing The Smithereens letter for letter remake of "Meet The Beatles," nor do I even care to listen to the "new" mash-up Beatles' album "Love." I heard bits of it at my brother-in-law's house over the Christmas holiday, and I was panic-stricken. He knew how much of a fan I am of The Beatles, and he put it on specifically for my enjoyment. How could I begin to explain that I didn't want to hear it, because of Leo Sayer? Because when I listen to "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" I don't want to hear "Helter Skelter" buried in my mind-mix of the record?

It was like the time my aborted cover band wanted to perform versions of "Tell Me Why" and "You're Gonna Lose That Girl."

"We're not playing those songs."

"Why not? I thought you loved The Beatles."

"I do."

"You don't like those two songs?"

"They are two of my very favorites. That is precisely why I don't want to play them."

"I don't get it."

" I know..."


One of the exceptions to this rule is Peter Gabriel's take on "Strawberry Fields Forever," from the aforementioned soundtrack. It does the original proper, and I love his vocal performance and the lush, Hollywood orchestration.