Wednesday, December 28, 2005


This past Monday I had the chance to see Steven Speilberg's new movie, Munich which I thought it was incredibly compelling and well done. In a nutshell, the film is about The Israeli government's response to the the 1972 Munich Massacre at the Summer Olympics. Known as "Operation Wrath of God," then Prime Minister Golda Meir authorized Mossad to conduct a covert mission to assassinate a group of 11 men involved in the planning of the Munich killings.

What I enjoyed most about this film was its refusal to romanticize any aspect of this true (although somewhat liberally dramatized) story. While very little ink is given to the Arab/Palestinian motivation for the killings - the plight of Palestinians in the West Bank is briefly discussed in an exchange between an Arab terrorist and an Israeli agent - the Israeli actions are in no way glorified. In fact, the assassination efforts are carried out in a very matter-of-fcat manner. In th beginning, the Israeli agents do their jobs because they are ordered to do. Some express a certain bloodlust for vengenace while others have doubts about the morality of it all, ultimately they are servants of the state doing as they are told.

Another interesting aspect of the film is that the violence is neither glorified nor professionally executed. These men are not special forces commandoes or highly trained assassins. The killings are almost clumisly carried out with close-up shootings or shoddy explosives. Each time, the Israelis have to face the reality of what they've done and confront the fact that they are responsible for the death of an actual human being, not a nameless faceless target.

Ultimately the group becomes wary of their activities doubting the significance and moral justification of what they are trying to accomplish. Throughout the film, violence is greeted with violence and the vicious circle of vengance becomes more and more pointless. In the end there is no reward, no hero's welcome, and most importantly no feeling of if the wrong committed in Munich had been righted.

I think the film serves as not only a piece of commentary but a valuable historical lesson that can be applied to today's foreign policy issues. In hindsight, it would be interesting to see what the Israeli government believes they either gained or lost in the wake of this operation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Best of '05

A friend recently sent around an email asking for our top album picks of 2005. All in all it was a good year in music, but not a great one. If pressed to pick a "great year in music" in order to establish some context I don't think I could do it, but let's just say that some of the albums that kicked my ass this year, were released prios to 2005. But of this year's crop, here are my top 3 in no particular order:

Josh Rouse - Nashville

This album just feels right. While his lyrical material hasn't changed much over the course of the last three albums, Rouse's knack for writing good pop hooks has really flourished. "Sad Eyes", "Carolina", and "Middle Class Frown" are particular standouts. It would take a lot of will power to keep from going back to this album again and again. You feel better after it's done spinning.

New Pornographers - Twin Cinema

I've already written about this album but it's worth repeating. Not their most visceral but certainly the band's best album to date. Everyone wondered where Carl Newman's indiepop Wall of Sound could go next and I think he surprised a lot of people by taking a giant step. The fun, power, and harmonies of the past are all present on this album but it is the tension he's able to develop on some of these tracks that stands out. Where on previous albums the payoff would come right away, Twin Cinema has a lot of teases that won't play out until the end.

The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday

I can't get enough of Craig Finn's storytelling. Delivered in a sneering monotone they tell tales of scenesters, The Scene, hipsters, and What is Hip. In the end none of it matters because heroes and villains alike get washed away in a tide of big Les Pauls and even bigger Marshall amps. Musically there isn't much difference between this one and the last but the stories are just as engaging. A great album to play over and over again.

Now, there are two notable albums which didn't make this list for different reasons. The first is Bob Mould's Body of Song which heralded a return to his trademark guitar power-pop. This album was welcome relief from his previous effort but for me the greater significance was that Bob returned to playing live with a full-band. He also "recaptured" his old material by pulling out Husker Du and Sugar hits that hadn't been heard live in a long time. There are some great songs on this album but I think they have the adverse effect, for me that is, of happily turning me back to his old stuff rather than creating a desire for something new. But that has more to do with the way I'm wired than what Bob is actually writing.

The second album is Come On Feel the Illinose by Sufjan Stevens. I do agree with almost every critic that it is one of the best albums of the year. The arrangements, instrumentation, subject matter and frank delivery all contribute to a unique piece of work that outshines anything similarly inclined artists (read: Bright Eyes) attempted. But it didn't beat out the albums on my list because ultimately those are the albums I listened to repeatedly.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

There's a Difference Between Justice and Revenge

Guilty or innocent, this morning's execution of Tookie Williams was unjustified. In a Constitutional Democracy the citizenry submit to laws and bestow certain powers unto the government in order to create a civil society where indivual liberty is protected. A Constitution does not guarantee the rights of the public but in fact details the rights and limits of the State; what it is that the State can and cannot do. When did we ever declare that the State could sanction murder?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Creepy? Inappropriate?

Is it just me or is the National Zoo's Chief Veterinarian, the one who is always in those pictures with the baby panda, pretty hot? Maybe it's just the "doctor" in front of her name. I'm a sucker for women with lots of student loans.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Is London really burning?

The WaPo has an article today about independant bands/labels licensing their work to advertisers and corporations in order to make some cash (because their ain't much fortune in indie rock) and get the exposure that isn't going to happen on radio or MTV. The gist of the article is that such practices were at one time taboo (sell out!!) but in recent years there has been a paradigm shift in which it has been beneficial and acceptable for artists to license their work for advertising purposes. I never really had a problem with this as music is music and if under-the-radar artists can make some money in order to avoid quitting music and getting a day job, then that's a good thing. It enables the albums to keep coming. However, I did flinch at this bit in the article:
International bands are cashing in, too. Last year, Australian garage band Jet
got worldwide exposure when Apple Computer Inc. featured one of the band's songs
on an iPod television commercial. So did Italian music artist Nicola Conte with
a Kmart commercial for Joe Boxer showing a young man dancing in his skivvies.
Likewise with under-the-radar British band Dirty Vegas and its dance song, "Days
Go By," featured in a Mitsubishi commercial. Legendary British punk band
the Clash was paid $50,000 to have its anthemic "London Calling" used in a Jaguar commercial.

"Anthemic" is an apt description and I personnaly don't think that a luxury British automaker(well, Ford now) quite fits the context of that particular tune. I guess the marketers were caught up in the sound rather than the content of this song. Of course it's not nearly as bad a choice as Carnival Cruise using Iggy Pop's ode to smack-scoring, "Lust For Life."

On an odd note, it just occurred to me that I referenced a song with the lyric "phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dest" on the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death. A strange coincidence only I assure you.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Let's put the 'X' in X-Mas

Just kidding. Although I typically refer to Christmas as Annual Gift Exchange Day, the fact that it is originally a Christian celebration is not lost on me. First and foremost, Christmas was "created" to celebrate the birth of Christ. There's no getting around that and it therefore doesn't surprise me that Christians are on the warpath towards reclaiming "their" holiday as evidenced by this WaPo article about the rising furor surrounding this year's Christmas-less White House Christmas card. (Maybe since W appears to already be settling into his lame-duckedness, he doesn't feel the need to pander to that wing of his constituency can dream.)

However I do believe that Christmas has taken on a parallel secularized significance as an American cultural holiday that still celebrates a lot of good principles but without the sectarian exclusivensss and otherworldly implications of Christian rites. To be sure there is a heaping dash of brash consumerism throughout but even still, non-religious X-Mas celebrations do promote family, charity, and goodwill towards your fellow man. All of these things sound like qualities near and dear to the heart of Christians. But I guess that isn't quite enough.

My point is that Christians are justified in wanting to maintain the original significance of the Christmas holiday but should "allow" others to celebrate the secularized version in whatever way they see fit. Overt displays of an idealized Christian Christmas in the private domain are more than appropriate; demanding that the government or retailers participate as well (under threat of political and consumer action), is not.

Watching A Charlie Brown Christmas last night, for the first time in a couple of years, I realized that I had forgotten what the main theme of that show was. I had always recalled it as another episode of Charlie Brown's incompetence and the general knee-jerk reactions of the kids witnessing his bumblings. But the show's two central themes are really about the malaise that people feel in the run-up to the holidays and the need to focus on the "Christmas spirit" without all of the stressful baggage. However, the show's ideal of the Christmas spirit is in fact that Christian one as expressed by Linus' recitation of the Biblical Christmas story. And as a non-Christian, this didn't bother me one bit.

Maybe it was because I was raised Catholic and still have some latent beliefs, but more likely because it was a simple unobtrusive message delivered by an iconic and friendly figure. I think that is what rampaging Christians should key in on this holiday season. People like James Dobson and organizations such as the Heritage Foundation are politically motivated and have their own narrow interests at heart. Perhaps Christmas Cursaders would be better off to let a true communicator, such as Linus, express their holiday vision. Linus, I can sit and listen to even if I don't want to be sold on the message.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Halls of Academia

Ever wonder what it would be like to live in the world of academics and professional intellectuals? I've always had a romatic attachment to the professorial lifestyle but I also held some of the pre-conceived notions to which a good many people probably subscribe. Namely the belief that academics (the hyper-intellectual ones in particular) live in a detached version of the Joe Schmo's reality. For example a lack of interest in, or awareness of, the median American male interests.

One of my old professors maintains a blog in which he comments on economics, politics, and social issues. Today I was reading a post of his regarding an article about an online sportsbook that had to shut down some of its prop bets on who will win both the Time and Sports Illustrated "Man of the Year" awards (due to some "insider betting" by a Time-Warner affiliated PR agency). In his post, my old prof sheepishly admits to not having "ever heard of" the athlete name Sportsman of the Year by SI, Tom Brady. Now I'm no sports geek but I would think that anyone with an even passing interest in American professional or collegiate sports would know who Tom Brady is. He's not as notorious as Terrell Owens but the guy certainly gets a lot of national TV facetime. Plus, I know the prof is into college and NBA hoops. It's hard to imagine someone watching Sportscenter looking for Wizards highlights would never have sat through a Tom Brady segment in the last couple of years. Maybe it's all about what your focus is on.

I guess what this says is that there really are people with more important ways in which to spend their time. And that I shouldn't assume anything about what people know or care to know about.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

"...something D-O-O Economics"

Last night I actually found myself trapped in Ben Stein's "Voodoo Economics" class from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. One of my grad school courses is called Random Processes In Electrical Engineering and yes, it is as awful as it sounds. I have no illusions about the 160 minutes of hell I will suffer each week but there was something extra "special" about last night's class.

The stage was perfectly set as if were rippped from the pages of a high school screenplay. Imagine a 12-foot blackboard entirely covered in esoteric Greek symbols, disgusting water-stained drop-ceiling tiles surrounding flickering fluorescent light fixtures, chalkdust choking the air in the room, a classroom full of over-aged students with glassy eyes and lolling heads, and the Hungarian-accented babbling of a tiny professor who hasn't stopped writing, talking, or even bothered to turn away from the board in over 20 minutes. This was all captured with startling accuracy by John Hughes and in some horrifying twist of reality found its way into to my classroom last night. I could think of so many other scenes I'd much rather live out (like singing Wayne Newton songs on a float surrounded by gorgeous dirndl-clad ladies) but it seems that this was to be my taste of Hollywood realism.

What really burns me is that school is not suppposed to be like this anymore. Ferris took place in high school. That's when you're supposed to suffer through this shit; in high school. Awkwardness, unchecked hormones, depression, social despair, and detached lecturers are all par for one's teenage years. Growing up is supposed to be about suffering. But every person in this class was a grown adult with jobs, responsibilities, tuition payments and the dumbass desire to become a better engineer. We're already dealing with a lot of shit.

I guess it's the irony of the situtation, the fact that we're paying good money to suffer like some degenerate fetishist in order to better ourselves, that drives me nuts. Becuase in the end, I choose to be there and I keep going back for more.