Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Vacation Complication

I've begun trying to pre-plan a potential vacation this summer which heavily relies upon some very shakey business travel.

There's a good chance that I will have to make a major business trip sometime this summer and a typical flight route for this trip would be through Narita. The nice thing about travelling for work is that we can break our return flights however we like so if you happen to fly through Honolulu and wish to stay over for a week or two, no problem. The cost incurred by the company is no different if you layover for one hour or one week.

The last two "big" vacations I've taken have been backpacking trips to Europe with the last one occuring in Summer '04. Since then I've wanted to shake things up a bit and visit SE Asia but with a typical plane ticket costing around $2k for such a trip that dream has not been much of a reality. However if I just happen to be laying over in Tokyo during a return from business travel, I can much more affordably get a rountrip flight from NRT to BKK, for example, and then eventually fly home on the company dime. My vacation airfare costs could be reduced by as much as 75%. Sweet!

Unfortunatley this all depends upon several factors coming into alignment:
  1. it's not a given that I'm going on this trip (but a strong possibility)
  2. our project has to maintain schedule so that the trip occurs this summer as opposed to next fall (when school is in session)
  3. Avian Flu does not break out all over SE Asia
  4. I can feasibly work out all of the travel logisitcs

In the meantime I'm trying to remain optimistic and deciding what's the best little backpiacking trip I can put together while spending a brief 7-10 days in country. Certainly at the top of the "desired places to visit" list are Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand and the Killing Fields and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Time to start shopping for travel books.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I Like Quotes

I enjoy a good quote. There's something about summing up a point with the well-crafted words of a better intellect. Plus, it gives the impression that the quoter is well-read when in fact he may only be well-googled. And of course impressions are almost as good as reality (if not better sometimes). Here's a quote worth committing to memory:

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may
be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than
under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes
sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for
our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of
their own conscience." ~ C.S. Lewis

Church, State, yadda yadda yadda. You know where I'm going with this.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

New stuff

An economist friend of mine recently got me all riled up about my former field of study. Once again I have found myself diving back into my grad school texts and searching the net for intersting commentary from the economist's POV. I've added a set of lilnks in the sidebar to blogs maintained by two of my old grad school professors and another prof whose class I did not take.

Marginal Revolution and The Austrian Economists I find to be particularly fascinating because of how much I learned from these professors and the great amount of respect I have for their intellect. The one thing that all of these blogs have in common (other than the fact that each blogger teaches at GMU) is that they present economic, political, and social commentary from the view of academic economists but do so in very direct and accessible language. You do not need an economics degree in order to understand the crux of their arguments.

There's some good reading in there that may set off a light bulb or two.

Caveat: they are slanted toward a particular political-economic philosphy.

More Bush-whacking

A WaPo op-ed critical of the war, the administration, and our non-existent "exit strategy."

Not an original observation on my part, but I think it is worth mentioning that our (the American public) suffering of this administration is being exacerbated by the lack of a Vice President with presidential aspirations. The Bush White House has nothing to play for but their own ego and hubris. They have long operated independent of the Republican Party (merely bullying them into acquiescence when they wanted their legislation passed) and do not currently have a "senior administration official" seeking higher office in the future.

There is no accountability for them because Cheney and Bush won't be around in future elections to face public scrutiny (job approval ratings don't mean shit if you're not running a campaign), Rove operates behind the curtain free to do just about anything, and the Administration has so far appeared ambivalent to Republicans losing seats in the '06 mid-terms. It's a frightening situation when a man can play as if he has nothing to lose...except thousands of American lives not his own.

I do believe that it would be reckless and irresponsible for the US to immediately pull troops out of Iraq. We never should have been there but the reality is that we're there now and we've made a big mess. Neo-cons' concerns that an immediate pull-out would lead to a power vacuum followed by massive civil violence are valid. But for the President and the Secretary of State to basically tell us that "we'll leave when the job is done" is an insult and a dodge.

Bizarre Recollections of a Catholic Upbringing

When you grow up Catholic and your parents are irreligious enough to eschew the costs of a parochial education and instead send you to public school, well, the Church still had a way for your lost soul to be indoctrinated into the faith. It's called CCD - Confraternity of Christian Doctrine - and just about every public school Catholic kid has to go through it. It's like Sunday school except where your typical Sunday school class is basically The Bible For Kids, in CCD classes you study, memorize, and repeat all of the ritualism necessary to get you through the Catholic sacraments.

This process culminates in the 8th grade when you go through the sacrament of Confirmation. For those of you that don't know, Confirmation is akin to a shitty Wal-Mart version of a Bar Mitzvah. In both Catholicism and Judaism, the faiths have established a ritual where teenaged boys and girls become adults in the eyes of their church/synagogue and "accept" their religion as responsible adults who are now liable for their actions. (Now at 14 I was told by my parents that I was getting Confirmed, as I'm sure 98.6% of all young Catholics are, so there wasn't a lot of freedom involoved with this venture. One is supposed to choose his faith as an adult at this point but the reality is "do it or else.") However the way these sacraments are carried out is quite different between the faiths.

The Jews really knew what they were doing when they set this thing up. The one Bar Mitzvah I attended cost more than half of the weddings I've been to as an adult and the young celebrant received something like $10,000 in cash and prizes; and this is in 1989 dollars. Not bad at all. I, on the other hand, at my Confirmation received a Sony Sports Walkman and was taken to a pricey restaurant for dinner (at a time when if forced to choose a last meal it would have either been chicken fingers or something involving Steak-um). I don't want to seem ungrateful, but you can see the obvious differences in the celebration.

The Point
Anyway, after that little aside, the reason I'm posting about CCD is because I had a vivid memory of one of my classes yesterday. I was driving home listening to a mix-CD I found under the passenger seat and Highway to Hell came on...what a great tune. So I was sitting there screaming along with Bon Scott when I had a flashback to a CCD class I had when I was 13. One night the church thought it would be a good idea if they had a police officer come in to talk to us about...satanic crimes! Unbelievable. This guy was allegedly a detective with the county PD whose sole task was to investigate crimes of a satanic or cult-like nature.

I was pretty damn intrigued. All of the crap I'd had to put up with for years was finally going to pay off. We were gonna talk about demons and ritual killings and if I was lucky, sweet Lord make it so, maybe we could witness an exorcism. How could I have been so naive? Instead we were treated to some pretty horrific tales about very disturbed teenagers who had committed suicide over the years. In response to this their parents, the police, or the community had decided their deaths were a result of listening to heavy metal. I shit you not. We then proceeded to examine a number of Sabbath, Deo, and AC/DC (and many many more) album covers with satanic iconography on them. (That part was kind of cool.) One "story" in particular was about a kid who allegedly hung himself because he was engrossed in the lyrics of Highway to Hell. I guess all of that talk about having a good time and "playing in a rockin' band" was all the kid could take. The picture of Angus Young on the album cover in horns is proof enough of AC/DC's evil intentions. Jesus Christ.

The crazy thing is that I did not grow up in the Footloose town. This was in Fairfax County for Christ's sake. People should know better there. How dull do you have to be to believe a story like that or to think that an AC/DC song has demonic intent? It's sad to think that there are people who can live their entire lives with no appreciation for irony. Anyway, I did my best not to laugh in this guy's face and eventually made it out of there alive. I think I had surpressed that memory until yesterday.

The point of this long babbling tale is that AC/DC rules. For those about to rock, I salute you.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Have I mentioned that I don't like Bright Eyes?

The WaPo offers a fawning review of Oberst's DAR performance on Friday night. Now it wouldn't be fair of me to chime in on the show seeing as I wasn't there, so I'll just opine on Bright Eyes in general: They(he) suck(s).

I unfortunately bought this album some time ago and found it to be one of the more underwhelming musical experiences I have had in a great while. Conor Oberst is allegedly some sort of indie-pop "freak-folk" genius but it seems I just don't get it. To me, the album sounds like an ADD artist who spent waaaaaay too much time in the studio and not enough time beforehand crafting decent pop songs. The result is a mish-mash of quirky instrumentalism splashed over some really bad high school poetry.

There already is someone from Nebraska making introspective pop music. Fortunately he knows how to write a good song. Take a lesson Conor.

Seismic Maneuvering in the Knesset

This story could get bigger and bigger as the Israelis settle in to their post-Gaza lives.

Israel never ceases to politically fascinate me.

Free Trade

An interesting op-ed in today's WaPo. Here's a snippet worth taking note of:

If you are going to be for trade, you have to accept that there'll be winners and losers, always remembering that the gains will be bigger. According to the World Bank, complete trade liberalization would enrich developing countries to the tune of $135 billion a year, more than these countries receive annuallyin aid and much, much more than they stand to gain from debt relief.

It's an amusing coincidence that this piece ran today as I had a discussion about this with an economist friend of mine just the other night. Schumpeter's "gales of creative destruction" are both the cost and benefit of engaging the free market.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Ever wonder how you can tell if your favorite band has "sold out?" I think if you go to a show and see a band using these, it's probably safe to say that their Reign of Cool has ended. In-ear monitors are way too expensive and involved to maintain one's indie-rock aloofness.

Of course I don't buy into that bullshit but I think it's an amusing observation nonetheless.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Natural Selection in Dover, PA

I generally regard Charles Krauthammer as a neocon apologist who irks the hell out of me on Inside Washington, but his op-ed in today's WaPo is spot on.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Why does America hate "Arrested Development"

Once again, another of my favorite TV shows goes down the tubes (no pun intended). Apparently Fox has all but cancelled Arrested Development having passed on the back nine episodes which will end this season with a total of 13; a near guarantee that what is arguably the best show on television will not be back for a fourth season. To be honest, I am grateful and amazed that it made it this far.

Fortunately I am building up my tolerance for this sort of thing what with Fox cancelling both Wonderfalls and Undeclared before either of them could complete their first and only seasons. (But it was NBC that gave me my first taste of true TV land disappointment went it cancelled Freaks and Geeks after 13 episodes.) Both were thoughtful, well-written, and wickedly funny shows that were critics' darlings and suffered abysmal ratings. I'd say that Arrested Development fits into that category quite nicely. Now I could go on and on about how incredible the show is (it is, it reall really is) and should be left on for eternity, but call me cynical, I knew it wouldn't last. Instead I thought I would take a look at what I think are some of the factors that ultimately doomed the show from the start.

Reality TV

I believe that the rise of "reality TV" over the last several years has significantly lowered the bar for programming quality. These kinds of shows have become monsters in part due to their general ratings success but also because of their low price tags. Reality TV is cheap and I mean that in every way possible. There are no stars to pay (save a host here or there), no major writing talent to hire (how hard is it to script 'fat woman screams, embarrasses herself and family') and since most of these shows take place on location, no sets to build. What results is an adverse market for original programming, especially sitcoms which seem to get the least amount of time to prove themselves, where network execs are more likely to take low-cost risks on reality shows as opposed to paying the money to cultivate challenging dramas or comedies. Every now and again they'll take a chance on an idea like Wonderfalls but if it doesn't produce immediately, they can easily (and cheaply) slap together some "Who Wants To Marry a Necrophiliac?" series that can score an easy share for a couple of weeks.


I think it's hard for a satire to make it on network television because a lot of people just don't like the genre. If you're not in on the joke, or worse the butt of it, you're not going to tune in every week (even though you should). Arrested Development took a lot of shots at a lot of different people and things and they did so both brialliantly and indiscriminately. The fact that you didn't know what could happen next was part of the allure of the show. However I think many people just found it to be unfair or mean-spirited however in reality it was quite balanced. For all of the shots they took at the religious right or Republicans in general, liberals and the like were also fair game. But like I said, I guess many people just don't like satire.

Now The Simpsons is a good counter-example to that argument but I think that show (which is another of my all-time favorites) survived the early years because of a unique set of circumstances. For starters Fox was only 3/4 of a network at bestt. It had a chip on its shoulder and was making its mark, at the time, as the anti-network so a show like The Simpsons which ran counter to just about anything else on TV was given a lot of leeway to grow and find itself. Additionally, the show didn't really find its satirical groove until the third or fourth season. Rememeber that in the beginning the show focused a lot on an obnoxious Bart and his anti-authoritarian antics. A lot of the jokes back then were pretty straight-forward so the show was able to endear itself to the general public before it started firing on all cynical cylinders. Arrested Development, on the other hand, was just absurd right from the start. Viewers were immediately hit over the head with the producers' unique vision for the show.

Smart and Referential

As a host on NPR's Fresh Air put it, the show "rewards people who watch a lot of television." It is a very smart show that relies heavily on both referential and self-referential humor. If you're not up on TV knowledge and current events most of the jokes are going to fly right over your head. And in reality who, other than obsessive TV watchers such as myself, really has the time to incessantly watch the television enough to pick up on a scene where the Bluth family attorney played by Henry Winkler jumps over a dead shark (see: Happy Days, Fonzie jumps a shark on his motorcycle). Hell, I even missed it the first time. The payoff for this kind of humor is huge and puts me into hysterics with every episode but if it's not playing to the right audience, I can see how the show could generally be perceived by non-critics and fans as just dumb. That's a shame.


The point of this exercise was not to write a eulogy for the show because a) there is still a small chance it will be back and b) there are far better people to do it. But it is fascinating to note that what made the show so very very good is ultimately what doomed it. I think that measure of irony is a fitting end to Arrested Development.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Charles Bissell @ IOTA 14-Nov-2005

Well, last night ended up working out for me. Not only did I do seemingly well on my exam but I also got into last night's Charles Bissell show with no problems. IOTA was pretty dead when I got there and it wasn't until after Charles had started his set that the place started filling up with people there to see Okkervil River later that night. Charles' set was incredible but I'll hold off on the review until the end of the post.

A Few Notes
I got to the club over an before the start of show which is a good thing at IOTA. The beer is cold, the food is delicious, and there is always something very tasteful spinning on the PA. (In the rotation last night was Josh Rouse's Under Cold Blue Stars. Excellent.) While Man Man (the second act) was sound-checking on stage, Charles was chilling out by the bar so I decided to say hello. After a bit of gushing on my part (I think I came off like a teenaged girl) I did ask him when the next Wrens album would be coming out. After some chuckling and a "that's a good question," he told me that the better question would be when will they start recording the new album. "In a week." That's good news. With any luck the album should be in the can by the beginning of next year. Let me also mention that he came off like a very nice guy. He seemed like an Average Joe who happens to be in a really really good band. It was nice to see.
The Gear
OK, here's some info for anyone that may be a gear slut like me. Caveat: This is all based on what I eye-balled on stage and a lot of guesswork. This rig descripion is by no means accurate.
Charles was playing a late model Fender American Strat with stock pickups in the middle and neck position. The bridge pickup had been replaced with what appeared to be one of either of the Seymour Duncan "stacked" or "rail" line of pickups (single ceramic bar magnet as opposed to the staggered Alnico magnets). I didn't hear a lot of especially "hot" tones but he mostly played on the neck pickup so who knows.
Now for the amps. In hindsight I can't believe I didn't think to take a closer look but I saw what I immediately assumed to be 2 Tweed Fender Twins. It is possible that they could have been Peavey Classic 50's but like I said I didn't lean in and look at the grills. But I'm pretty sure they were Fenders so I'll stick with that.
The effects rig had a lot going on. I'll get to more about this in the review but he did make great use of the of the 14 second digital loop on the Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler (Santa, make note if you're reading this). He also had an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man (an older model than the Deluxe unit linked here), Fulltone OCD, some kind of A/B/Y switch, and a few others I did not recognize. In particular there was one effect being used that created a sort of volume/tone swell. It's very similar to what a pedal-steel guitar is capable of. I'd be interested to know what effect that was. Anyway, I think he had his rig set up so that he split the outputs with the A/B/Y switch such that DL4 was run to one amp while the rest of the rig ran out of the second. In effect, he was able to loop background parts through one amp and then play over top those loops on the second amp without the independent signals getting all mashed up. Pretty f'ing cool.
The Show
I can't say enough about how cool this performance was. The material was mostly unreleased or obscure (by his own admission) as there were only two songs off of The Meadowlands and nothing I recognized from Secaucus. However, the arrangements he did with the looping station really brought the performance to life. Watching him build the loops on stage and then jump into whatever song he was performing was a lot of fun. He also used the mic to great effect by moving off of it at times to create a "background" effect. Another cool trick was picking up the shakes from a Rhythm Egg on the guitar pickups and then looping them through.
The most impressive aspect of the performance was how well the material came across given that the bulk of Wrens' material has a lot of rhythmic and "moving parts" that interplay with each other. He was still able to accomplish this due in larg part, I think, to the DL4. The crowd seemed appreciative of this as well because while I think everyone was there to see Okkervil River, the room was quiet and attentive to what was a low-key and intimate performance. All in all, I am really glad I made it out to see this. One of those shows that makes me want to go straight home and pick up my guitar.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Could be a good Monday

Skipped work today to study for an exam. Now, why it is that I have wandered down to the lobby of the library to surf the net instead of reviewing homework problems, I don't know. Maybe I have the material down cold...let's hope so. Gotta get a B in this class if Work is gonna reimburse my tuition. I must say though, this is by far better motivation than anything I had as an undergrad.

Anyway, I'm psyched because Charles Bissell is playing a show tonight at IOTA. Who is Mr. Bissell? He is one of the singers/guitarists/songwriters from what is rapidly becoming my favorite band (of all time?), The Wrens. Yes, the same band that I have written about/obsessed over in these very pages. I have no idea what he'll be performing (his own material?, solo acoustic renditions of Wrens tunes?, ABBA covers?) and that makes it all the more exciting. This is gonna be great but I just hope I can get in the door. IOTA is a very small venue and the main act tonight, Okkervil River, has a new album out and a pretty good following. I hope I-66 isn't jammed.

So, to recap:

The Good - Charles Bissell playing tonight at IOTA
The Bad - Test this afternoon on the Cayley-Hamilton Theorem and State-Space Analysis
The Ugly - Potentially bomb the test and not get into the show tonight

...should be inetersting.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

John Hughes: Portrait of an Artist

Ever wonder what happened to John Hughes? Me too.

I was channel surfing last night and I came across two Hughes-penned films, Sixteen Candles (which he also directed) and The Great Outdoors. Don't remember The Great Outdoors? I don't blame you. It essentially is a John Candy/Dan Akroyd vehicle about two families vacationing together in a log cabin. Wackiness ensues.

Anyway, wondering what the hell it is that Mssr. Hughes has been doing with his time since 1989, I did a little IMDB search on the man's film credits of late and came up with some startling results. Let's ease ourselves in with the hits:

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Pretty in Pink (1986) (written by)
Weird Science (1985)
European Vacation (1985) (also story) ... aka National Lampoon's European Vacation
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Nate and Hayes (1983) ... aka Savage Islands (UK)
Vacation (1983) (screenplay) ... aka American Vacation (Europe: English title: video title) ... aka National Lampoon's Vacation (USA: complete title)
Mr. Mom (1983) ... aka Mr. Mum

So that is the obvious stuff we all know and love; the reasons why the man is a legend of sorts and a constant point of reference on "I Love The 80's" commentaries. I'll admit that Nate and Hayes and European Vacation are on the iffy side of things but this is one hell of a writing resume. No one can ever say enough about the Breakfast Club but don't sleep on Mr. Mom which is still one of the best "family" movies ever and of course the perfection that is Ferris Bueller's Day Off. If you haven't seen Ferris in a while, do yourself a favor and sit down with it one more time. I think the more you hear that dialogue and really look at the characters that Hughes created (especially Cameron in all of his f'd up glory) you might see why this film stands out not only as a "teen comedy" masterpiece, but also one wickedly smart and poignant piece of humor. I could go on and on about Ferris, but not today.

Now, on to the middling years. There's some good work in the mix but you can see where the cracks in the foundation are beginning to form:

Home Alone (1990) (written by)
Christmas Vacation (1989) (written by) ... aka National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation ... aka National Lampoon's Winter Holiday (UK)
Uncle Buck (1989) (written by)
The Great Outdoors (1988) (written by)
She's Having a Baby (1988)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) (written by)
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) (written by)

Like I said, there's some good material in there but nothing that compares with the early work. Plus there is a palpable change in the tone of these films compared with previous works. At this point, Hughes has moved beyond the teen angst that defined his work (excluding Some Kind of Wonderful and the pre-pre-teen "angst" of Home Alone) as the protagonists now tend to be middle-aged and fighting rebellious tendencies. A far cry from the rebellion-embracing Brat Pack. But at least these films all show the Hughes heart and sentiment which are at the core of his films.

However after Home Alone the train really jumps the tracks:

Beethoven's 5th (2003) (V) (characters) ... aka Beethoven's 5th: Big Paw (USA)
Maid in Manhattan (2002) (story) (as Edmond Dantès) ... aka Made in New York (USA: poster title)
Home Alone 4 (2002) (TV) (characters) ... aka Home Alone: Taking Back the House (USA: DVD title)
Beethoven's 4th (2001) (V) (characters) (as Edmond Dantès)
Just Visiting (2001) (screenplay) ... aka Visiteurs en Amérique, Les (France)
Beethoven's 3rd (2000) (V) (characters) (as Edmond Dantès)
American Adventure (2000) (TV) (characters) ... aka National Lampoon's American Adventure (USA: complete title)
Reach the Rock (1998) (written by)
Home Alone 3 (1997) (written by)
Flubber (1997) (screenplay) ... aka Disney's Flubber: The Absent Minded Professor (promotional title)
101 Dalmatians (1996) (screenplay)
Miracle on 34th Street (1994) (screenplay)
Baby's Day Out (1994) (written by)
Beethoven's 2nd (1993) (characters) (as Edmond Dantès)
Dennis the Menace (1993) (written by) ... aka Dennis (UK)
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) (characters) (written by) ... aka Home Alone II (USA: short title)
Beethoven (1992) (written by) (as Edmond Dantès)
Curly Sue (1991) (written by)
Dutch (1991) (written by) ... aka Driving Me Crazy
Career Opportunities (1991) (written by) ... aka One Wild Night

Yikes! Are there any redeeming qualities to this decade of cinematic tragedies? A young Jennifer Connely was pretty hot in Career Opportunities? Does that count?

What I'm getting at is this; John Hughes, what happened to you? Where have you gone? So much quality in the early years of your work must have been sustainable for at least a little while longer. I know age plays a vital role. The man was in his late 30's when he penned the classics. I'm sure that once you hit 40 it is even harder to nail the Youthful Condition. But this stuff? I think the real tragedy is that he skipped over an entire phase of human life. He went straight from teenage awkwardness to middle-age surrender. Where's the look at the end of young adulthood...the fertile soil that Nick Hornby mines so well.

All I'm saying is that I wish John Hughes would come back. The real John Hughes. The man who can still make me go into hysterics almost 20 years later. In his honor I give you a few nuggets that always make me laugh:
"Where the hell am I?"
"I'll, uh, tell you where you are if you tell me who you are."
"I'm Farmer Ted. "
"You're in the parking lot front of my church."
"You own a church?"

"I do have a test today, that wasn't bullshit. It's on European socialism. I
mean, really, what's the point? I'm not European. I don't plan on being
European. So who cares if they're socialists? They could be fascist
anarchists. It still doesn't change the fact that I don't own a car."

"Uh... Dick, excuse me, Rich - will milk be made available to us?"
"I have a really low tolerance for dehydration."
"I've seen her dehydrate, sir, it's pretty gross."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Well, it has recently come to my attention that a few people mentioned in certain posts have randomly stumbled on to, or have been directed to, this site. For starters, no I do not advertise the existence of this blog beyond a few friends and the anonymous Blogspot surfer who happens to stumble across this page. And b) all posts are as accurate as my television-riddled brain will allow.

But fear not, all names will be changed to protect the innocent once my screenplay gets optioned. Until then, nobody reads this thing anyway.