Archive for July, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Initial Thoughts
July 31, 2007

Having finished Richard K Morgan’s Thirteen the night before, I finally got started on the last Harry Potter book last night. Here to help articulate my first impression of the book are its own lovable main characters.

“Wow!” said Harry excitedly, “I can’t believe I’m already two hundred pages through.”

“That’s one of Rowling’s biggest strengths as a writer,” Ron replied knowingly. “Everything she writes is difficult to put down.”

“But she also has a few annoying habits that get to me the more I read her work!” cried Hermione tearfully.

“What do you mean?” inquired Harry inquisitively.

“Well for example her obsession with adverbs,” Hermione retorted snifflingly.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Ron ronnishly. At his cutting remark, Hermione burst into tears again.

“Actually I noticed that too,” Harry said observantly. Watching Hermione weep, he added, “And that’s another thing – why does Hermione keep bursting into tears like every other page?”

“I can’t help it!” Hermione said thickly. “I’m just so sad all the time for no discernible reason!”

“Well cut it out,” Ron snapped snappishly. “And stop ruining my reading experience with your constant sobbing. Do you know how difficult it was to wait a week before finally reading this book without accidentally overhearing any spoilers?”

“Why do you care so much about what happens in the book anyway?” Harry asked Ron bluntly. “You could be reading something by Haruki Murakami instead.”

Harry found himself at a loss for words. Just as he was forming a response, it was cut off by Hermione’s crying again.


July 30, 2007

The depth of my animosity towards Chuck Schumer is difficult to articulate, and this is a perfect example of why.

WASHINGTON, July 29 — June was a busy month for Senator Charles E. Schumer. On the phone, at large parties and small gatherings around the nation, he raised more than $1 million from the booming private equity and hedge fund industries for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, of which he is chairman.

But there is another way Mr. Schumer has been busy with hedge fund and private equity managers, an important part of his constituency in New York. He has been reassuring them that he will resist an effort led by members of his own party to single out the industry with a plan that would more than double the taxes on the enormous profits reaped by its executives.

Mr. Schumer has considerable say on the issue. In addition to being the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate leadership, he is the only Democrat serving on both of the major committees, Banking and Finance, that have jurisdiction in the matter.

So Schumer, less than a year after unfairly scrabbling up a lot of the credit for leading the Democrats to victory by focusing on, among other things, corruption,is now throwing his weight around to protect the insanely rich at the expense of the all the people who voted for his party because they were tired of Republicans protecting the insanely rich at their expense.

July 30, 2007

Atrios doesn’t even touch on the most ridiculous part of Hoagland’s column, which has to be this:

When spectators jeered Michael Rasmussen, a world-class Danish cyclist, at the end of a long day’s climb through the Pyrenees in the Tour de France last week, they turned the sporting world upside down.

The fans were not upset because Rasmussen had performed badly. He had in fact set a blistering pace to clinch what looked like ultimate victory in the bicycle race that is France’s summer glory and concludes today in Paris. The spectators were booing precisely because Rasmussen (and others in the race’s leading rank) had performed like Superman.

His numbers were too good to be true without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs, the fans had concluded. They did not need to wait for the scientific testing of athletes that is redefining the public’s faith in sports industries on both sides of the Atlantic.

Their instinctive judgment — which was validated a few hours later on Wednesday when Rasmussen’s embarrassed team expelled him from the race — parallels the increasingly skeptical reaction voiced by many American baseball fans as Barry Bonds has closed in on Hank Aaron’s home-run record this summer. [Emphasis mine]

Ignoring the fact that this has absolutely nothing to do with either the blogosphere or politics (and oh how Washington Post columnists love irrelevant analogies), Hoagland’s making the exact opposite point that he wants to make. Rasmussen was accused of using steroids because everyone could tell he was using steroids.

Which when you think about, is a lot like those mean, vindictive bloggers calling for Bush’s impeachment because he’s committed numerous impeachable offenses. So I guess Hoagland is onto something after all.

UPDATE: I’ve been asked to clarify what I’m trying to say here and going back and reading the post it isn’t exactly clear. Basically Hoagland is trying to convince us that bloggers are viciously attacking people who don’t deserve it and in order to convince us of this he draws an analogy between bloggers and a group of people who accused someone of something that he was, indeed, guilty of.

Rock the Bells
July 30, 2007

Holy God. 20 hours of practically no food, 90 degree weather, writing sweaty bodies, drunk unconscious people and all-around awesome. I’ve got a cough right now from inhaling all that dust or maybe just from the dehydration.

I don’t normally do big concerts and festivals, and not just for financial reasons. I don’t really have the temperament for that sort of thing. A lot of my friends go to concerts specifically to fight their way towards the front of the audience and then get their asses kicked by the crush of people around them. One person I know got hit square in the chest by someone and ended up almost losing consciousness in the first aid tent. A couple other people were getting wasted as a side-effect of their dehydration. And one guy came home with a little blood on his shirt and completely unsure of where it came from.

They all think that kind of stuff is awesome. Me? I was just there for the music. So whenever things got kind of crazy I hung back. But I guess I can kind of see the appeal. Sure it was too hot, too dirty and too humid, but that all added to the excitement.

Anyway, here are some of the performances I saw, in order:

Jedi Mind Tricks
Not too familiar with these guys, but a decent show. Immortal Technique was next, and I’m not too wild about him. He’s a talented lyricist but his paranoid, violent imagery and self-righteous lecturing verges on self-parody. Still what I saw of the tail end of his show was good and his speech about hip-hop bringing people together, if self-indulgent, was still interesting.

Pharoahe Monch
This was one of my favorite shows. I had listened to a little of his stuff but it didn’t prepare me for the live show. I certainly wasn’t anticipating the live instrumentation, something that I wish rappers did more often. I’m definitely listening to more of this guy based on his performance at Rock the Bells.

Mos Def and Talib Kweli
What can I say about these guys that hasn’t been said before? Black Star is arguably the best hip-hop duo in history and it was great to see them back in action again. And the big audience chant of, “1, 2, 3, Mos Def and Talib Kweli” was probably the greatest group sing-along of the festival.

Sage Francis
I was a little disappointed at the lack of a live band, and a little bit more disappointed that he didn’t yell, “YOU CAN’T KILL ME, MOTHERFUCKER!” in the middle of the song Dance Monkey. But it was still a great show and Sage showed off some of his ridiculous dance moves. Despite the heavy content of his lyrics, he was clearly having a lot of fun and the fact that he was having so much fun made the audience have a lot more fun.

Besides, he’s an amazing lyricist, maybe the best in hip-hop today. I wouldn’t even be into hip-hop if I hadn’t been introduced to him and one of the highlights of the festival was that I got to shake his hand later that evening and tell him that to his face. A lot of his biggest detractors call him self-righteous, arrogant and narcissistic because of the political and autobiographical content of his lyrics and the heavy use of metaphor but when I talked to him he was very friendly and humble. Just because his stuff is very poetic and lyrically dense doesn’t make him a douchebag – it makes him extremely intelligent.

Public Enemy
They were playing at the same time as Sage (and very loudly; at one point Sage said, “I can hear these guys as well as I can hear myself.”), so I only caught the tail end. It was kind of sad – these guys are hip-hop legends, but the set was pretty anemic and ruined by the presence of Flavor Flav, who has become everything that Public Enemy was originally against. And to ruin it, he just wouldn’t shut the fuck up.

Flav started off by bragging about his various insufferably stupid TV shows (The Surreal Life, Flavor of Love, I Love New York, etc.) and then went on to introduce all of his children onstage, brag about how good of a parent he was, yell two painfully drawn-out “Yeah, boyyyyyyyyy!”s, do a drum solo and take a courageous stand against social injustice by leading the audience in chanting “Fuck Bush!” and “Fuck racism!” I’m afraid that the showboating, narcissistic, shallow corporate twerp has ruined the quintessential protest hip-hop group forever. Way to dick up the legacy of a music legend.

The Roots
These guys are a perfect example why live instrumentation and hip-hop are such an amazing combination. Amazing protest anthems went off into lengthy jazz improvisations live and the whole thing was just flawless and beautiful, particularly when they played “Don’t Feel Right.” Not even the annoying drunk guy nearby who was trying futilely to mosh to jazz could detract from a set like these.

Cypress Hill
“How I Could Just Kill a Man,” is a great song, but Rage clearly improved on it when they covered it so strangely enough it was kind of a step down to hear the original band perform it. Plus one of the guys from Cypress Hill just wouldn’t shut up about marijuana. Even if you’re really, really into weed, how much can you possibly talk about how awesome it is when you’re supposed to be performing a concert?

Wu-Tang Clan
I was probably the only person there who wasn’t a big Wu-Tang fan, but I will still admit that they are, clearly, nothing to fuck with. The music was annoyingly repetitive but it didn’t really matter because of the incredible energy coming off of both the group and the audience.

Rage Against the Machine
Speaking of incredibly energy, the crowd for this show was absolutely nuts, and for good reason. Not even my friends who are normally into moshing could handle it for more than three songs. I hung back for the whole thing and watched it from a distance, but even very far away from the stage the sound was overwhelming and the place was densely packed. There was a group of crazy shirtless guys under one viewing screen that just waved their arms around and charged into each other at top speed.

They played a lot of Evil Empire songs, which was kind of weird because it’s pretty much universally held that Evil Empire is their weakest album. But the songs sounded significantly better live than they did on the album and it was hard not to get swept up in the energy. It was just amazing watching them all do their thing.

It seems like it would be a serious oversight to not end with this post with a music video. Since Guerilla Radio is not only my favorite Rage song but also one of the best ones to hear live, here’s a video of another great performance:

Thomas Paine
July 27, 2007

Here’s another song. Since this one is just vocals and acoustic guitar, it ended up not taking nearly as long to record.

July 26, 2007

No posting yesterday because I spent a good chunk of the day in the recording studio (by which I mean my basement) hard at work on some songs I had written with the invaluable assistance of my good friend Ali Telmesani.

Here’s the first completed song. There are more to come. Keep in mind that this one was kind of an experiment, but I think it still came sounding pretty good. Obviously Ali’s drum machine can’t replace a real drummer. If all goes well in the next couple of months I’ll be collaborating with a real drummer (and maybe a couple other musicians for a fuller sound) and re-recording some of this stuff. In the meantime, enjoy the demo version.

July 24, 2007

One of the aggravating things about supporting Edwards is that while he seems to be the only presidential candidate who’s campaigning based on a coherent vision right now, his responsiveness to what the other candidates have been saying has been toothless at best and sluggish and toothless at worst.

So while, for example, his response to the whole hair thing is coming a bit late, at least it’s finally sending the right message: how much a candidate’s haircut costs is trivial bullshit. We all know it’s trivial bullshit. And if you believe that the cost of Edwards’ haircut has a place in a national debate about weighty issues like what to do in Iraq then your frivolous, shallow bullshit is part of the problem.

Speaking of shallow, frivolous bullshit, it’s also nice to see Edwards finally challening Obama, who has managed to position himself as the “change” candidate while doing absolutely nothing to earn it.

July 24, 2007

Via Pandagon, here’s a frank, moving story of one LA Times staff writer’s journey from devout Christian to atheist.

It’s pretty illuminating in terms of the personal struggles with faith some people have before ultimately renouncing it. I’m going to admit that I didn’t have a real crisis of faith like this – I was raised in a very reform Jewish household and figured out I was an atheist on my own with very little fuss.

But the interesting point this article makes that I think is pretty much universal is that atheists aren’t necessarily overjoyed at the idea that there isn’t a benevolent, all-powerful god watching over them who will reward the pure and punish the guilty. Needless to say, it would be cool to be able to actually believe that. An atheist is simply someone who finds that wonderful idea impossible to reconcile with the world he or she perceives. An atheist is not someone who goes around trying to disbelieve God because he or she hates God with a passion.

A Sort-of Endorsement
July 22, 2007

To Chris Bower’s list of reasons why few liberal blogs have endorsed candidates, I would add that thus far we don’t have a whole lot of great options among the candidates. Until I recently I wasn’t even really leaning towards anyone because all the candidates seemed almost equally annoying.

But although this isn’t an endorsement, I’m pleased to announce that there’s now a candidate that I’m at least leaning towards. That is, this is the guy I would recommend voting for in the primary. Edwards.

Why Edwards? I’ve liked his focus on poverty for a while, his willingness to talk about actual issues while his opponents run campaigns focused on personality. He seems to be the only major truly populist candidate running.

This isn’t news and I was still somewhat ambivalent about Edwards for a while. But then I started reading some of anti-Edwards criticism and attacks. And the thing was that none of it had any real merit. It wasn’t until I noticed how hard people had to dig to come up with a progressive argument against Edwards that I realized that he was the only real major progressive candidate.

Oh dear God
July 20, 2007

According to Wikipedia, a colonoscopy only takes about half an hour. But then there’s the administering of the sedative. And waiting for the sedative to wear off. So between those two things, you’ve got to figure that Cheney is going to be in power for a few hours.

Be afraid.

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