Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Buffy update

We figured out recently that we've seen more than a hundred episodes of Buffy now. Like Sarah said last night, it's one of the most well-thought-out shows we've ever seen. It really has it all: continuity, self-reference, complex relationships, hilarity, even allegory. And to top it off, the lead character is a strong woman destroying the undead.

But last night went way over the top for us. We finally saw "Once More, With Feeling". There's a fan site for this one episode.

The episode is a musical.

What's even more amazing is that it actually advances the plot.

It wouldn't make much sense to watch it without seeing the first hundred episodes. The references to earlier action come too fast and furious. It's in Season 6, so get cracking.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

We've been sick

Between the rapid-fire installments of Buffy (Season 5 is going down by tomorrow at the latest), the football (don't tell me the Seahawks score! I taped it), and a total lack of fitness for quotidian tasks (e.g., shaving), all due to the three-person epidemic spreading virulently through my house, I've been away from the blog.

Tune in soon for something interesting from my personal life, TBD.

In other news, the right wing (e.g., the executive branch) and the moderates (e.g., Sens. McCain, Graham) of the Republican party reached an agreement last week to allow the CIA to torture prisoners suspected of being terrorists, who are also losing their habeas corpus right to protest their innocence before a judge. Needless to say, when you are the one suspected of being a terrorist, it changes your whole view on the issue.

If our society is to be judged by its prisons, we are living in Hell. It's not for nothing that Jesus damned those who failed to visit people in prison (much less those who torture them), saying, "Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me." Terrorist serial killers may be the least of us; you could call them close to the bottom of the scale of personal worthiness on the world stage.

But we can go lower than even them: we can become the devils.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Abbey Road follies

Here's a fun way to spend an afternoon. This is a link to the 989 Amazon reviews of Abbey Road, the Beatles' masterpiece. Read them. Many overflow with gushing praise (and why not?), but the others... well, the others are hilarious.

Exhibit A:

[5 stars]
one day these kids will be better than limp bizkit and korn, August 29, 2006
Reviewer: Varg Vikernes - See all my reviews

the beatles are a great band.. but they will never compare to the great korn and biz limpkits these days.

keep trying beatles!!

Exhibit B:

[3 stars]
Good but not their best:, August 15, 2006
Reviewer: Cowboy Curtis (Battle Creek, Michigan) - See all my reviews

There are quite a few good songs on here like maxwells silver hammer and oh darling, but a lot of the album is filler. If they just threw in a few more classics comparable to their timeless compositions "Ob li di, Ob li da" and "I am the Walrus," it would have been a more well-rounded and cohesive album. I know most people are totally nuts over the Beatles, but I think this was really only the beginning. It's on their solo albums where their talents really shine. I have most of them except the John and Yoko one where John's weiner is hanging out on the cover. I just can't bring myself to purchase that and keep it in my home. I may try to find a censored version, but full male frontal nudity has no place in my music collection. Sorry, Mr. Lennon

Exhibit C:

[1 star]
Childish minds try to "save the world.", July 30, 2006
Reviewer: Dick Wagner (Kearney, Nebraska) - See all my reviews

By the late 1960's, the Beatles were nothing but a self-indulgent gaggle of rich and drug-demented poseurs. But this didn't stop them, those wild and wacky British buffoons, from trying to lecture the rest of us about how to live our lives. The result is nothing less than a spectacular and cruel example of the idle prattle of arrogant youth. A patch-work of bubble-gum philosophy and ghoulish narcissism. If only it would go away!!!

To those of us who remember the Beatles' 1960's heyday, it's time to move on. To those of us too young to remember, here's some advice: open-up your mind and say "NO!" to the weak minded rabble who needed dope to "open their mind." The world in and of itself is a marvelous place, and the narcotics-fuelled ravings of four under-educated children should be relegated to its proper place: the rubbish bin. Thank you all. -DW.

PS: With four hair-brained clowns like this as standard bearers, it's no wonder that Great Britain lost her empire.

Exhibit D, a response to Exhibit C:

[5 stars]
platinum and silver, July 31, 2006
Reviewer: HEY JUDE - See all my reviews

well everyone should ignore the previous one star reviewer who is an alias of the dumb whirligig who is like a cockroach as she keeps coming back under different names.THE BANDS SHE LIKES ARE TERRIBLE AND THE BANDS SHE HATES LIKE THE BEATLES ARE LEGENDS.SO IGNORE THIS GIRL AND BUY THIS CLASSIC.

And that's just in the first three pages.

P.S. Yes, you seriously need to own this album. If you want another fun way to spend an afternoon, go to the Live Music Archive and search for "Abbey Road". A few different bands cover the entire B-side live, including the whole medley (searching for "Golden Slumbers" also basically works). With a couple of minor changes (like extended drum solos, or maybe a sax instead of a trumpet), the bands all try to play exactly what the Beatles played on the album, down to the last hook.

New Chris Thile album

I had a birthday last week, and I was suddenly inundated with Buffy, Firefly, and Pinky and the Brain DVDs. Thank you all.

I also have some new music. I've been trying to get together some reviews. Jars of Clay has a new album, Good Monsters, and what I've heard of it (Sarah has it mostly) sounds really great. G. Love put out one called Lemonade that is groovy in the extreme. I also picked up two Emmylou Harris albums from the library. I guess the music stars all aligned.

But the one I actually reviewed at Amazon is the new solo album by the mandolin player from Nickel Creek, Chris Thile. It's called How to Grow a Woman from the Ground.

Mandolin prodigy Chris Thile's last album, Deceiver, was a little off-kilter. He sang with himself and played every instrument on the album. What resulted was an almost private lyric in an unhappy marriage with merely average instrumentation (aside from the mandolin and a few other bright spots).

Deceiver is an illustration of Donne's axiom, "No man is an island, entire of itself," along with its lesser-known corollary, "so suck it up and get a band." How to Grow a Woman from the Ground provides the proof, QED.

Here, Thile is content to be first among equals. His emotional vision is intact, but he's brought in musicians to rival and even surpass the lyrics. With five covers and five instrumentals, Thile is not a one-man show. He often takes a back seat to the awe-inspiring play of his bluegrass bandmates, and blends into the background on some great harmony singing.

I find it very difficult to single out songs for individual praise. I'm a fan of Wayside, The Beekeeper, and Heart in a Cage, but you'll have to choose your own. It's Thile's most complete album to date, and better yet, it sounds fun where Deceiver was merely earnest.

You'll listen to it over and over again.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Manual recount time

American elections need manual votes and counts. Period.

For proof, watch this video from the Princeton Center for IT Policy. They demonstrate proof-of-concept software that is loaded onto a memory card for one of Diebold's vote-counting machines. You boot up once with the poisoned memory card, then remove it and replace the memory card with a regular one (used to keep track of votes on that machine). You need a key to access the memory card, or a lockpick. The software deletes itself tracelessly after the election is over. Time alone needed by a nefarious election stealer to reprogram the machine: approximately one minute.

Since these voting machines have been reported to be left overnight at poll workers' houses (as in, if I remember right, the Busby-Bilbray election to replace felon bribe-taker extraordinaire Duke Cunningham in California's 50th District), the prospect of unfair elections in the world's only remaining superpower is too dire to ignore. We need elections that are above suspicion.

Diebold has come up repeatedly on Bruce Schneier's blog. These people are not to be trusted to program their way out of a paper bag, much less deliver secure voting systems to America.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Satan comes to dinner

I wrote a story opening using a plot summary at the Evil Editor, a contest for the best opening on a given summary. I won!

I don't expect people to click through, even though you should. The challenge was to write the beginning of a story about this (or one of three other similar prompts):

Satan does have a charming side, and Alice fell for it. Telling her parents about her new boyfriend will not be easy.

Here's my winning entry:

"So," Alice's mother said. "You're the enemy of our Lord and Savior." Alice's father had already left the room. Three teacups sat untouched on the coffee table. Alice sat next to Satan on the couch, too nervous to drink.

Satan nodded. "I hope that's not a problem. Lovely decor, by the way." He drank from his cup. "What is this? Flowery Darjeeling? Man, it takes me back!"

Her mother was pinching and twisting her skirt.

"I'm sorry, this is just too ridiculous. I mean, if you are the Devil, why aren't you recoiling before the cross in shame?" Alice's mom pointed at a large, ornate cross on the wall.

"Me? Afraid of the cross?" Satan laughed warmly. "Who do you think put him up there, ma'am?" He took a sip of tea. "Seriously though, I'm not that bad a guy. Mostly I just roam the earth, go back and forth in it, you know."

Alice's father rushed back into the living room, and doused Satan with water. "I adjure you, ancient serpent, by the judge of the living and the dead, by your Creator--"

Satan stood up, wiping off his leather jacket. "Adjure? Is that the Roman Exorcism?" He glanced at Alice and her mom, then started walking around the couch toward Alice's father, who was still chanting. "Sir, trust me. You really don't want to do that."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Inside Man

Sarah didn't like Friends with Money. I didn't see it.

Inside Man, a Spike Lee joint with Denzel, Jodie Foster, Clive Owen, Willem Dafoe, and Christopher Plummer, was great watching. Sarah liked it, I liked it. It's the story of a cool bank robbery. Very well shot and put together, great script. Every element was in place.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Poker memoirs I have read

I finished Positively Fifth Street by James McManus last night. It's a memoir recounting the Harper's Weekly writer's journey to Las Vegas in 2000 to cover the World Series of Poker, and the murder trial of Ted Binion, whose family invented the World Series. Using his $4000 advance, McManus won his way into the main event (that year, it was a record field of 512 players, each representing a $10000 buy-in for a prize pool over 5 million) and became the story, making it deep into the money by playing against his poker heroes.

It was a good introduction to the history, light and dark, of Las Vegas and of the mother of all poker tournaments, and a very dramatic, entertaining story of one man's quest to defy the odds and beat the best poker players in the world. And even better, it's hilarious!

Reader warnings: the reconstructed murder of Ted Binion, which opens the book, is for adults only, as are the author's research trips into the strip clubs Binion frequented, where he met his murderess. The author makes it through the grueling tournament with pretty casual use of sedatives. If there is a moral center in this book, it revolves around the Binion trial rather than the poker tournament. Poker provides an element of chance that doesn't fit neatly into the equations of truth, right, and poetic justice.

Even the losers get lucky on fifth street.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A stupid brainwave

Knock knock.

Who's there?


Doctor who?

You science-fiction geeks with your jumping to conclusions. If I were Doctor Who, would I be telling you knock-knock jokes on an obscure web site, or would I be communicating information of vital importance?


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Buffy strikes again

Sarah and I are in the middle of watching Buffy Season 3.

We've seen two lately that were just hilarious: the Christmas episode and the one with Xander's wild night in the 57 Chevy. We laughed helplessly.

You're really missing out, folks. Buffy is one of the best shows I have ever seen.