Friday, October 28, 2005

2 cents more

While Libby is the news of the day, I thought I might take a few moments to weigh in on yesterday's withdrawl from the Supreme Court nomination porcess by Harriet Meiers. I am not a lawyer, pundit, or constitutional scholar but here is my take on what went down:
  1. I believe that is has been made apparent (and fairly so) that Harriet Meiers was an unqualified candidate for Supreme Court Justice. Having no judicial experience (as far as I know), a nearly non-existent body of published work regarding judicial and Constitutional affairs, and ties to White House Administration policies that may soon be visited by the Supreme Court (rules of interrogation, torture, etc.) there is no way she could have been approved by the Senate to sit on the highest court in the American Justice System.
  2. While, practically speaking, she should never have been nominated by Bush in the first place, it is the president's privilege to nominate whomever he sees fit for a Supreme Court vacancy. Whatever Ms. Meiers's appointment says about the president's perception of Constitutional scholarship and judical credentials, is neither here nor there.
  3. According to recent political ads by right-wing conservative groups in regards to the federal court justice nominations of Priscilla Owen (and others), all judicial nominees deserve the courtesy of an up-or-down vote. Ms. Meiers was not even afforded the courtesy of a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  4. Ms Meiers's withdrawal is a direct and immediate result of a concerted campaign effort by right-wing conservative groups who were incensed over the president's failure to nominate a polarizing idealogue with a clear track record of rulings viewed as favroable to the hardline conservative agenda in this country.

The hypcorisy and shameful politicization of this affair leaves me with even greater doubt about the state of our union. I personally don't have any problem with a judge who carries "conservative" views. I also don't have a problem with a judge who possesses "liberal" views. What does upset me is that it seems as if judicial nominees are not strictly questioned as to their views on Constitutional scholarship. Any Senator who asks whether or not a Supreme Court nominee would hypothetically overturn Roe v. Wade should be kicked in the balls.

For those concerned with the issue of abortion, the question to be asked is "What is your analysis of the Roe v. Wade decision and do you think that ruling is substantiated by legal precendent and the content of the Constitution itself?" A nominee's ability to address this question (and others like it), one way or another, based on their understanding and interpretation of Constitutional Law should be the criterion by which they are judged (no pun intended). This was not the case with the Meiers nomination, the Roberts nomination, or probably any other nomination in recent history. Nominees are constantly berated as to their personal and political philosophies and whether or no they think that the hot-button social issus of the day are "right" or "wrong."

As someone who is Pro-Choice, I would still find it difficult to vote against a qualified nominee who was able to put forward a challenging and informed opinion (based on legal scholarship) that Roe v. Wade was in fact not supported by Constitutional precedent. I may think that the termination of abortion rights would wreak great social problems, but that is not a nominees's concern. (That is for the legislators and more importantly the voters to work out.) If a nominee can demonstrate that he or she is an exceptionally competent and qualified jurist, then there should be little debate as to their ascendance to the Supreme Court.

This of course will never happen and that is a shame. From here on out we will probably see very little come out of Senate Judiciary hearings. Nominees will be forced to dodge pointed social queries and offer up white bread statements about "not predicting hypothetical rulings" and so on. In the end we will never know much about these Justices until they are sitting on the bench and by then it will be too late to do anything about it. It's sad.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Before I was "cool"

My teenage years were a heady time of situational celibacy and absolute geekdom. Although I hate the term, I was a "Trekkie" (god bless Channel 20 for showing TNG reruns at 7pm and 10pm every night throughout middle and high school), my list of the top 10 films of all time consisted solely of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, and for a period of time I played a lot of RPG's (Role Playing Games, for the uninitiated).

My friends and I mainly played two games; Robotech and Dungeons & Dragons. Almost all RPG's are derived from D&D. Robotech is basically D&D but played within the world of the Japanese anime series Macross. Robotech was especially badass because your character operated a giant "mecha warrior" vehicle. The classic mecha was the VF-1 Veritech "Valkyrie." Sweet! I know, this is all terribly geeky stuff but I promise you this is going somewhere. But a bit of technical background first.

How do RPG's work? They're basically board games with no board that rely heavily upon the players' imaginations and the rolls of multi-sided die. A standard die set for any player includes 4, 6, 12, and 20-sided die. One of the persons playing is the Game Master (GM), or Dungeon Master (DM) depending on the game you're playing. He runs the game. The GM is something akin to the Supreme Court of the RPG universe. He narrates the mission/adventure, sets the operating paradigm for the game, interprets and rules upon improvised solutions to problems encountered by the other players, and awards Experience Points to individual players based on their successes and failures throughout the mission.

The other players are characters within the mission. Each person keeps an ongoing character which they build and shape over the course of the missions they play. As your character accrues more Experience Points, he becomes more and more capable of pulling off some of the more outlandish actions you attempt. (The characters will also often take on the ego and bravado the player running him wished he always had in real life. This is why he would be sitting in someone's basement at 10pm on a Friday night playing games instead of out scoring with hot chicks.)

Now, why I have I made you to suffer through more information than any normal person would want to know about RPG's? To illustrate an important point: geeks/dorks are just as capable of all the cruel, petty, and vindictive mind games that any of the Mean Girls, jocks, or other "cool" kids were capable of. You see, there is a very testy relationship between the GM and the players. The GM wields an awful lot of institutional power within the game and can therefore fuck over anyone he chooses. Outcomes are supposed to be decided by the roll of the die but the GM can twist and manipulate the situation however he pleases. Therefore, even the dork hierarchy had its paeans and if you happened to be lowest on the totem pole, you were cooked. Of course if you were such a tool that even the dorks gave you a hard time, you really had no recourse but to sit there and put up with it. I mean, who the hell else was going to hang out with you.

I started thinking about all of this again because a buddy of mine who I used to play Robotech and D&D with, recently emailed me all of sorts of interesting items he'd found on the interent about the old games. You know, reminiscing about the good times. Anyway, today he forwarded me a sort of recap (which if memory serves me is pretty on the money) of one of our old missions. When I read it I couldn't stop laughing. It was hard to believe what huge tools we were and how mean we could be.

To set this up, a kid we used to hang with named John Wells was trying his damndest to get out of some situation. Eddie, the GM, had decided that (just for kicks) there was no chance in hell that John's character was making it out of the game alive. This is a big deal because it takes a long time (and many games) to build up a good working character. If he dies, there's no coming back. You have to start all over again which means you are way behind the 8-ball the next time you play. It sucks. Anyway, here's how it went down:
GM: "You walk into a small dark room. You hear noises but can
barely see anything because it's so dark."
John Wells: "I light my torch"
GM: "You light your torch. All of a sudden a huge Orc is
about to bash you with a spiked club!!!" "Roll 20"
John: 2+ 4 defense against Orcs
GM: 18+Surprise modifier "The orc hits you so hard in your
face that you fall back and hit your head on Phil's armor 60+42 double
damage. You die."
John: Damnit.

What's happened here is that the GM has decided that no matter what gets rolled, he was going to keep piling on the hardships until the character was dead. Poor John. F'd in the A for no other reason than our own amusement. Good times.

You'll notice that I've been VERY gender-specific in my pronoun usage. Everything is "he" because well, no girl would be caught dead hanging out with us. I wonder why.

For more info on the role of RPG's in the lives of losers, check out Episode 15 of the amazing TV show Freaks and Geeks, "Discos and Dragons."

Monday, October 17, 2005

"This bickering is pointless."

A really random thought.

I was talking with a friend on Saturday and somehow the "boardroom" scene aboard the Death Star in A New Hope came up in the conversation. (Yes, these are indeed the kinds of things my friends and I talk about.) Anyway, this is one of my all-time favorite film scenes and it really showcases what Lucas used to be capable of before he completely went around the bend. But my buddy Jay made an interesting point. When discussing the scene where Vader Force-chokes one stupidly brazen Imperial officer he asked me, "how often do you think that shit happend? Like once a week?" I almost fell down laughing thinking about how many times someone's body had to be dragged out of one of these fictional weekly "board meetings." I wish my job was like that.

I'm so easily amused.

Pharaoh, all your methods have taught me...

I love the New Pornographers. I cannot express this enough. What an incredible show they put on Saturday night. It was an all around great night because we kicked things off by meeting up at Cafe St. Ex for some pre-show drinks and were lucky enough to score a table before it got insanely packed. I think this will be the routine from now on. I used to have a hard-on for getting to the club super early before a show...mostly because I couldn't contain my excitement. But then you just end up standing around for HOURS slogging through interesting to not-so-good to terrible openers and drinking way too much beer (because there's nothing else to do). From now on it's hit a nearby bar and then walk through the club doors 10 minutes before show time. Perfect.

Anyway, the important thing is that the band was firing on all cylinders that night. Lots of energy, big sound coming off the stage, and the band's voices were blending together nicely. I was very surprised by the set selection which somewhere around 80 minutes (including encore) of pop ecstasy. I was expecting to hear a lot off of Twin Cinema (the new album) with a healthy dose of Electric Version. Instead they played a good cross-section of tracks from the new album and then threw in all of the really hard-charging material from the previous two albums. And it worked fantastically. A real highlight was hearing 'Body Says No' off of Mass Romantic. One of my favorite tunes, they didn't play it the last time they were in town and I was not expecting it in the least. A very very pleasant surprise. And of course hearing Neko wail on 'Letter From An Occupant' is always an experience to be relished.

I think Saturday's show is a standout example of why I keep going back to the Black Cat and 9:30 Club time and time again. There is a serious energy and euphoric feeling that comes with seeing a really good show at those places. It can't be replicated. Good times.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The ringing in my ears

It's been a pretty loud several days for me and I think my tinnitis is only getting worse. Of course in the grand scheme of things it's all been worth it. This has been a pretty rockin' music week and the best is yet to come. To recap:

Last Tuesday was the Black Crowes at the 9:30 Club. I'm so glad this band is back in full form and out on the road again. Doing 2 full sets a night, no less! The show was great and rivaled that of the last time I saw them at the 9:30. The sets covered just about every piece of the back catalog. The Ballad in Urgency/Wiser Time jam is always good; the Non-Fiction jam was as usual not good; the older gems off of The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion were particularly great; the Halfway to Everywhere jam was probably the highlight of the night. Overall the
best thing about the show was seeing Marc ford back with the band. He's certainly not the greatest technical guitar player but god can he make that thing sing. Last night night it became really apparent, for me, what they missed without him on the last two albums.

Last Friday was Bob Mould at the 9:30 Club. He definitely delievered
everything that I was expecting and more. It was so fantastic to see him on stage and really playing the old Sugar and Husker Du material like he meant it. Prior to that I had only seen him as a solo act and that show on Friday was by far the most fun I'd ever seen him have. So much material off of Copper Blue that I didn't know what to do with myself. And the old Husker tunes really took on a new life for me after finally hearing them the way they're supposed to sound; live and LOUD.

Monday night was Weezer at the Patriot Center. Again, another great loud
rock show. While I think their albums following the Pinkerton release do less and less for me, they still know how to put on one hell of a show. And knowing which side their bread is buttered on, you can always count on 5 or 6 tunes from the "Blue" album. Seeing as they may be the only band to ever release a front-to-back perfect pop masterpiece, I will always see them when they are in town. Highlights from the show were El Scorcho and Why Bother? which were both first times for me. I'm so glad that they're digging more into the Pinkerton material. What a loud awkward album.

This run of shows ends on Saturday night when the New Pornographers come to the 9:30 Club. I could go on and on about how great this show will be but I think I'll wait until the end of the week for that.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Return of The Rock

It's like Christmas morning. No it's like Christmas Eve. Wait, it's like the hours just before the midnight release of the Star Wars Trilogy DVD set. Yes, I'm that excited.

Tonight is Bob Mould's show at the 9:30 Club, the night when he will forsake all of his comments about giving up The Rock and and retiring the big nasty guitar rig. Tonight I may reach nirvana. What's so thrilling for me is that Bob will be "reclaiming" all of his work from the past 20+ years and putting it on display. The particulatly nice aspect of this is that I will finally get to almost experience what it was like to see Sugar 13 years ago when they toured in support of Copper Blue, one of the finest power-pop/guitar-rock/whatever albums ever put to wax.

I was too young and too pop-oriented to be a Husker Du fan and not cool enough or sufficently aware to be into Sugar at their height, but I know now. And tonight finally, after several instances of seeing Bob come close to the real thing at his solo shows, I get to see the man in front of a band, plugged-in, amps dialed-up, and ready to rock. I hope my ears don't fall off.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Not quite like television

Well, I guess my old post regarding Bush's Supreme Court nominations oddly mirroring a West Wing episode has not really materialized. At first glance, Meiers doesn't appear to be the reactionary idealogue hoped/feared for (depending on your side of the aisle) after the appointment of white-bread John Roberts.

It seems that my career in punditry has stalled yet again.