Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Why are we still there?

Every day there are news reports about more Americans being killed.

Why are we still there?

We took the land by force, but the occupation causes us nothing but

Why are we still there?

Their government is unstable, and there is no leadership.

Why are we still there?

Many of the people are uncivilized. There are more than 1,000 religious sects and almost as many languages and dialects.

Why are we still there?

We can't secure the borders.

Why are we still there?

They are billions of dollars in debt and it will cost billions more to rebuild, which we can't afford.

Why are we still there?

It has become clear....... We MUST abandon California.

I got this in an email from my grandparents and aunt & uncle. Usually I don't like these kinds of emails... and I'm not sure what kind of commentary this provides to the Iraq war... but it did take me by surprise and made me laugh.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004


Has it really been a week since I made a post. Wacky.

Local radio is finally picking up on one of Little Rock's better bands now that they're on a big time record label. The Kicks' "Mir" is getting airplay only five years after it was recorded. 'Bout time.

Here's to The Kicks! May their hits be many.


Monday, May 17, 2004

Sign me up for the Special Olympics

I am the king of morons.

It was sprinkling when I left for work this morning. So I turned on the wipers. Which meant turning on the headlights. Halfway there, the rain stopped, so I turned off the wipers. Guess what I left on? Guess what else I forgot to turn off when I got to work. So, now, I have a very dead battery in my car. No problem. There are plenty of kind co-workers willing to give me a jump. Why, I even have my own jumper cables in the trunk.

Amiable co-worker and I hook up the car and she starts up her motor. I get out of my car to make some idle chit chat while the battery soaks up life-giving electricity. And closed the door with the lock down and the keys inside.

Clearly, I am the stupidest man alive.

I also can't remember if I turned down the roadside assistance plan available through my cell phone carrier, or if they never really told me about it... but, now that I've signed up, it won't take effect for three more days (though the first two months are free!), so I'm still out $30 to get the lock popped. And then get the car jumped again. Hopefully all will be fine once I get back into my car and get it started. But it's put a severe kink in my day and my self-esteem.

Needless to say, I'll be getting another spare key made (the one I had fell out of my wallet) and I'll probably buy one of those jumper dealies that will let you start the alternator and charge the battery through the cigarette lighter. Of course, then, I'll probably remember to turn off the lights when I get to work.

Somebody tell me a joke... I need a good lift.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Circular motion is universal

The last 24 hours has been replete with new music to listen to.

I got the new Pixie's best of: Wave Of Mutilation yesterday. I had forgotten how good and important and far reaching the Pixies were/are. I'm not superkeen on the mastering job for the cd. Not that the Pixies were ever overly concerned with sonic fidelity. But, dangit, the Pixies should be LOUD! I guess that's why they made Wave Hammer. I think I am hereby inspired to use my next couple of month's Emusic allotments to download the rest of the band's ouervre.

I also got Junior Senior's D-D-Don't Don't Stop The Beat dirt cheap off Funky, fresh fun music. Well worth the money, especially since I got it primarily to use "Move Your Feet" in Antonio's party mix next Saturday.

Finally, Pedro The Lion's Achilles Heel was also in today's post. Like most PTL releases, it's a bit underwhelming on the first listen (especially coming directly after Junior Senior!), and many of the songs bear a striking similarity to each other. But most PTL recordings release most of their joy after multiple listenings when nuances and subtle shades become more apparent.

I give a thumbs up on all three.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Make a difference today.

"I have long said that everyone is either related to a gay person, has a gay friend or collegue, but doesn't know it because gays are afraid to come out for fear of reprisal. If every gay person came out, it would make a difference."
-- Senator Ellie Kinnaird, North Carolina.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

One cd at a time? How archaic!

I am being treated like a child. Though I can not protest too much because I am the one dishing out the infantile behavior to myself.

Two weeks ago today, I had what can only be called the Exxon Valdez of coffee spills on top of my desk. I lost a lot of paperwork and, more importantly, soaked my cd/radio walkman and Odyssey 1000. For those of you who do not know what an Odyssey 1000 is, it's like an iPod, only made by a company called e-digital. It stores and plays back up to 5,000 songs in mp3 format.

The walkman was completely toasted. It won't work at all since the spill. So, I threw it in the dustbin. The Odyssey kind of works. The battery no longer draws a charge from the power cord, and I can't tell if it's drawing power to play when it's plugged in. I took the back off the unit so it could dry out, and when I replaced it, the hard-drive refuses to boot up if all four screws are completely tightened. If I loosen one particular screw one-half turn, however, it appears to work fine (except, of course, for the quickly draining, un-rechargable battery), except, of course, I know it is not working fine.

I called the tech support guy at e.Digital, but in the end I don't know how much help he'll be. He said I could send it back in, but this is the fourth time I've sent it in for repairs inside of a year, the company is no longer marketing the unit (in favor of selling the parts to other companies who manufacture and market their own mp3 devices), and the warranty is expired. So in the end I may wind up buying a replacement unit (if e.Digital even has any stocked replacement units. If not, I guess it's hello iPod...).

It's amazing how much these little boxes worm their way into your life. My Odyssey totally transformed my lifestyle. Since I was able to effectively carry most of my cd collection around in my pocket, it totally changed the way I listened to music. If I wanted to hear a particular song, I'd just push the menu button, dial it up, and press play. Instant gratification. Or, more often than not, by simply just setting the unit to play songs randomly, I would come across songs I ordinarilly wouldn't choose on my own, or selections I loaded into the machine because they were part of a "collection" I was putting together (80's music, punk rock, one-hit wonders, particular artists' singles and bsides) but that I hadn't previously paid a lot of attention to. This has led me to "discover" a lot of great music that I didn't even know that I owned. Since I sent the unit back into to be repaired, however, I'm back to my old system of making a mental note to myself (or, in some cases, a more reliable paper note) to grab a bunch of cds when I get home and put them in my man-purse. This is, of course, a far more cumbersome and thoughtful process which inevitably leaves something behind. It also occupies a lot more of my mental capacity than the Odyssey's "Shuffle Folder" option which was best compared to a mythical radio station that played nothing but 5,000 of your own personal favorite songs. And I never had to call the request line because it almost always knew what I wanted to hear next.

Perhaps that was making me a bit mentally dull, however. For instance, had I not soaked my Odyssey the day before I got the new gorgeous Loretta Lynn cd, would I have taken the time to listen to it as endlessly as I have? Would I have discovered the joyous musical nuances and the stories and characters hidden in the lyrics if I had loaded it in to the unit, given it a couple of cursory listens, and then let it fend for attention among over 4,000 other tracks?

There are blessings in disguise, I suppose.

As for the cd walkman, I have a rather irrational brand loyalty to Sony when it comes to portable audio equipment. My first portable cassette player in 1984 was a sony walkman. If I remember correctly, I owned two more before I upgraded to cds in 1988. I owned a terrible radio shack model for a couple of years before going back to Sony where I've stayed ever since (which is only three units in about ten years -- two were literally played to death and the third Antonio left behind in the Library). Anyway there's a Panasonic model on sale at Best Buy that plays cds, mp3s and radio. Or I can get a Sony model that plays cds and radio from ebay for about the same money.

Decisions, decisions...

I also am realizing that I have a brand loyalty to my Odyssey 1000. Given the prospect of switching to a brand that is a clear upgrade, I actually feel nostalgic for things I even thought of as shortcomings on the old unit. The devil you know, I suppose...

Anyway, why am I treating myself like a child? This is going to be extremely anti-climactic to anyone who has read this far, but I'm forcing myself to have a lid on any beverage I have on my desk from now on. At least while I'm at work. If I could think of some way to coerce Antonio to adopt the same practice when working at home, I'd probably try it there too. But I know how well that's likely to work. Plus, then I'd be treating someone else like a child.

Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose

I can't get over how good this record is. I've listened at least daily (three times today and counting) and it never fails to enthrall me. I don't know if it's because Loretta Lynn is such an inspiration to Jack White that he carried that spark back to her own creative process, or because Ms. Lynn had such a back log of worthy material because of her extended creative hiatus while she cared for her dying husband. Both scenarios are believable if you read the May 9, 2004, interview with Loretta and Jack in the New York Times. In any event, Van Lear Rose is a truly remarkable record that every music fan should own.

Relevant Magazine ran my review of the cd which I'll share with you all here:

Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose
Interscope Records
Produced by Jack White
By Brad Caviness

Those reading who attained consciousness before 1980, probably have a potent memory of going to the movies as a child with their parents (or in my case, grandparents) to see Coal Miner's Daughter, the film based on the life story of superstar country music performer, Loretta Lynn. If you're younger than that, chances are you've caught the film numerous times as a rental or on cable TV. If you're like me, even if you never bought another Loretta Lynn record, you still carried a soft spot in your heart for her and her music after seeing the movie.

If that's the case, her new release, Van Lear Rose, is sure to not only stir fond memories, but also give you a whole new appreciation for this legendary performer. It's a country comeback album on the order of Johnny Cash's American Recordings or Dolly Parton's Little Sparrow. Loretta Lynn not only reaches back to her roots to find what made her so compelling in the beginning, but also discovers she still has something new to say. The result is a record that finds Ms. Lynn at the peak of her creative powers.

Part of the revitalization, no doubt, is the involvement of indie rocker Jack White of the White Stripes as the project's producer. Just as renowned alternative music producer Rick Rubin was given much of the credit for orchestrating Johnny Cash's return to form, White is clearly the impetus for the excitement Loretta exhibits on this record. But unlike Rubin, who distilled Cash's sound by stripping away everything that wasn't Cash and then got out of the way, White's fingerprints are everywhere on this album. From the sound of an amplifier's hum that opens the record, to his vocal duet and the decidedly Euro rock introduction on "Portland, Oregon," and the raucous, noisy, garage-blues stomp of "Have Mercy" and "Mrs. Leroy Brown," this is clearly new territory for Loretta, but she's more than equal to the task. It's hard to say whether the excitement and confidence in her delivery is the result of or the inspiration for the young band's spirited delivery.

Which is not to say that there isn't plenty of "traditional" country music on the record, though it's a far cry from the rhinestone-studded, big-haired music of Loretta's earlier heyday. For one, she wrote every song on this record (one was co-written with White, and another with her late husband, Doo). Secondly, both she and White seem to understand that the most successful comebacks are the ones that not only energize old fans, but also win new ones. To accomplish that, the focus is squarely on Loretta's story telling — her ability to write songs that resonate with the listener on an emotional level, and characters real enough to make the song seem autobiographical, even when it's not.

Musically, though, she's got a new axe to grind. She's out to prove that over 40 years in the spotlight hasn't dulled her edge one iota. She's gone and made a record for those whose preference in country music leans towards the experimental approach of Wilco, the gut level busking of Old Crow Medicine Show, and the authoritarian stamp of the recent Johnny Cash, in which he took from disparate sources (such as folk and traditional country, heavy metal and alternative rock, and his own compositions new and old) and made each selection uniquely his own. She is at the top of her game on this record, thus Van Lear Rose seems much less like Jack White reinventing Loretta Lynn than Loretta bending White to her will.

The arrangements are kept purposefully simple: an acoustic and/or electric guitar, bass, drums and a fiddle or pedal steel. The songs are given just enough polish to sparkle, but not so much that the spotlight strays from Loretta for long. And she shines. She delivers the strongest set of material since her commercial peak in the ‘70s, perhaps since the beginning of her career. She celebrates rural living in cuts like "Van Lear Rose," "High On A Mountain Top" and "Little Red Shoes" (a stand-out cut in which White provides instrumentation to a spoken monologue delivered in a concert recording). "Family Tree" and "Women's Prison" tell two arresting tales of women scorned, while "Portland, Oregon" and "Mrs. Leroy Brown" are scorching, bluesy, honky tonk anthems. “God Makes No Mistakes” is a potent statement of old-time gospel faith in the face of life’s adversity. More touching moments come when Loretta references her late husband. "Trouble Down The Line" is a sad tale of a relationship drifting apart while "Miss Being Mrs." is Loretta at her most vulnerable, as she contemplates being a widow and reminisces about her 48-year marriage.

Van Lear Rose finds Loretta at the absolute zenith of her abilities. She sings with such passion and conviction that old school fans can surely over-look the rock 'n' roll bent, and new school fans will be astounded that a septuagenarian can rock so hard.

Weighing in on the Gay Marriage Debate

Since last summer when the issue of marriage for gays and lesbians moved into the mainstream arena courtesy of Appellate Court in Ontario, Canada and the Supreme Court of the U.S., I've avidly read and collected articles and editorials on both sides of the subject. March 18, 2004, my local paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which frequently publishes Republican talking points under the headline "Editorial" published this screed on its opinion page. After reading it, I was incensed and spent the entire day composing my response. Fortunately, when you're typing madly at a computer console, you're boss can't tell if you're working or not if he doesn't see the screen.

Here is the "editorial" in quotes followed by my reply:

More light, less heat
And leave the Constitution out of it
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 18, 2004

REMEMBER when talk of a gay marriage evoked images of old-time movie stars William Powell and Myrna Loy romping through another Nick-and-Nora Charles mystery—with their little dog Asta happily yapping along?

If so, you're way behind the weird times. In this 21 st and very confused Century , it may be necessary to change the law of the land in order to spell out what was once simply understood: Marriage is a union between man and woman; one man and one woman, it was once unnecessary to add.

Now the country is about to make a federal case out of Gay Marriage. The issue is wending its way through the courts even now. And an amendment to the United States Constitution is now in the works solemnly repeating the dictionary definition of marriage.

It's all because a state supreme court in Massachusetts, or at least four-sevenths of it, stretched the Equal Protection clause beyond credulity, common sense, and meaning in general. The result, at least in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is that marriage is no longer to be considered a holy estate to be entered into "reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God," to use the quaint language of the Book of Common Prayer. Instead, those four judges in the majority ruled that getting married is more like applying for a driver’s license—only without any test. Anyone may apply, and the state may not discriminate against homosexuals who want to marry each other.

The next question is whether all the other states are obliged to give the Bay State’s new form of marriage Full Faith and Credit, to quote the constitutional formula.

Not even the federal Defense of Marriage Act, we're warned, will be enough to save the old meaning of marriage. Hence the rush to amend the Constitution of the United States to protect the traditional meaning of marriage--even before the courts have decided whether all the states have to recognize Massachusetts' novel definition of it.

Who knows, by the time this dispute goes through the courts, the people of Massachusetts may have decided to amend their state constitution, overruling their supreme court and saving all of us a lot of trouble. That’s what the people of Hawaii did when gay marriages were briefly legal there.

Some of us regard the U.S. Constitution as a kind of sacred covenant itself, and believe any changes to it should be made only reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and, yes, in fear and awe. Which is why we’d rather wait and see whether a constitutional amendment is necessary before adopting one.

Our first rule in these matters is the same as Hippocrates’—do no harm. To federalize the question, and deny each state its own marriage laws, strikes us as doing considerable harm to the whole federalist principle that informs the Constitution. Whether this new uniformity is achieved because of a rash decision by one state’s judiciary or the national overreaction to it.

So long as Massachusetts does not force the rest of us to go along with its supreme court on this issue, surely the country can abide this exercise of states’ rights, or even of a state’s wrongs. It is only when such "marriages" in Massachusetts become the law in Arkansas, and in the rest of the Union, that tolerance becomes tyranny.

The notion that there is some "right’’ to marry—whether to marry someone of the same sex, or several persons of the opposite sex, or one’s own brother or sister or father or mother, or even a pet (poor Asta!)—strikes us as quite an advanced idea, all right. It is advanced beyond all reason, let alone custom, tradition, and what the Declaration of Independence calls the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.

But before rushing to amend our federal and state constitutions, let’s ascertain what the law really is—through the usual, deliberate judicial process. If to wed in haste is to repent at leisure, changing a constitution in haste invites the same fate.

Some states might like to follow Massachusetts’ example, while others would deny homosexual unions any recognition. Still others—the most sensible and fair, we would submit—will offer their citizens some form of domestic partnership or civil unions. Not just homosexuals need apply. A civil union might be just the thing for elderly sisters who live together, or old friends who want to share their financial obligations and benefits. The structure of these new arrangements could be as varied as the states of the Union. It’s a big country. There is no reason to make it a uniform one. That’s the genius of states’ rights.

But at the moment, a number of states are rushing to amend their constitutions in order to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. It’s become a fad, much like leisure suits and bell-bottoms back in the more than slightly ridiculous Seventies.

NOT EVEN Arkansas, once safely tucked away in flyover country, is immune to the national fashion. Our attorney general has just certified the description of a proposed amendment to the state constitution that will appear on the ballot in November if enough voters sign the petitions for it.

This proposed amendment defines marriage as "the union of one man and one woman," essentially repeating current state law. Why it’s necessary to add such an amendment to Arkansas’ already over-amended constitution escapes us. If the Arkansas statute defending the traditional meaning of marriage proves unconstitutional in some federal court, then so will this constitutional amendment. Just as the seggish constitutional amendments of the Orval Faubus-Jim Johnson era proved pointless. (Thank goodness.) This new amendment is less a change in Arkansas law than a political gesture.

More worrisome is some of the language in the text of the proposed amendment. It would not only bar homosexual marriages in this state, but deny any "legal status for unmarried persons which is identical or substantially similar to marital status. . . ." That language comes too close to barring civil unions.

Do we really want to deny homosexual couples inheritance rights, pension benefits, and all the other mutual protections a humane law would grant?

If this state had a responsible legislature (and if pigs could fly) legislators even now would be working up a law to govern civil unions. It could be modeled on, say, Vermont’s. That way, the traditional meaning of marriage would be preserved, while the benefits of a financial and legal union would not be denied to people who want to be considered an economic unit. Which would be a reasonable compromise. But in today’s emotional climate, such a solution would be considered unspeakably sensible.

March 18, 2004
To the Editor:

Never in my life have I seen such an insulting and ill-reasoned defense of the contemporary majority view of marriage as in the editorial "More Light, Less Heat" (March 18, 2004). One thing the editorial board stated correctly is the assertion that the rush to codify marriage as a specifically heterosexual institution is hasty and ill-advised. Also stated correctly is that this is a battle for the definition of marriage rather than its sanctity. But let us not be mistaken, this attempt to legislate the meaning of marriage is about political and sociological power and ensuring that a significant minority of the population (i.e., homosexuals) remain in a lower status, effectively disenfranchised, than the majority.

In its opinion overturning the ban on gay marriage, the Canadian Appellate Court in Ontario stated, "same-sex couples are capable of forming long, lasting, loving and intimate relationships." Indeed, they long to do so. It was impossible to overlook the recurring profile of same-sex couples applying for marriage licenses in San Francisco. Many, if not most, had been in a relationship for numerous years and took very seriously their commitment to each other, no doubt made "reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God," to make equal use of the quaint language of the Book of Common Prayer. To suggest that gays and lesbians, most of whom can only dream of marriage at this moment, will take lightly the right to publicly affirm their commitment by comparing it to the privilege of receiving a driver’s license (minus taking the test) is not only insulting and dehumanizing to homosexuals and the depth of the love many of them share, it completely ignores the fact that any two heterosexuals, regardless of their commitment to each other, can walk into any county clerk’s office today and receive a marriage license, provided they can sign their names and pay the fee. If one of them should get hit by a bus and die while crossing the street, the other would immediately have more legal rights and protection (to property inheritance, the right to make funeral arrangements, or even to visit the dying spouse in the hospital or accompany them in the ambulance) than a same-sex couple who have spent a lifetime together. Even if a same-sex couple has power of attorney in each other’s affairs, after death the biological family of the deceased (who may not have acknowledged the deceased in years) can swoop in and claim his or her property and/or contravene funeral arrangements, and the bereaved partner is usually powerless to prevent it under the current afforded legal protections. The driver’s license analogy, likewise, pays no regard to the open discrimination that gays and lesbians still face in much of our society, or to the bravery required to publically proclaim their love and commitment when that will likely make them a target of reproach in many areas.

The editorialist himself demonstrates why civil unions are regarded by many gays and lesbians as an unacceptable substitute for marriage. To suggest that civil unions would be ideal for cohabiting elderly spinsters or old friends as well as homosexual couples further demeans the bond of intimacy experienced between many same-sex couples. Indeed, were they a heterosexual couple, after several years of cohabitation, they would be considered married by common law and receive more legal protection and social respect than a same-sex couple married in a territory where the marriages of gay and lesbian couples are recognized.

Further, to suggest that recognizing the marriages of gays and lesbians will lead down a "slippery slope" to sanctioning polygamy, incestuous relationships, and bestiality ignores the fact that polygamy and marriage to close relatives does indeed exist in many parts of the world, frequently as a condition of a society that grants few rights to women, and that has not caused a popular uprising to recognize or sanction such relationships here. Indeed, these relationships are seen as primative, exploitative, and discriminatory rather than advanced. Similarly, Neither can a dog or a cat or a parakeet make an informed consent to enter a relationship, so to suggest that sanctioning the committed, loving, familial relationships of gays and lesbians will lead to similarly sanctioning the relationship between humans and their pets is to purposefully entertain an absurd notion in order to discredit a rational reform which is long overdue.

Bon voyage of the mind (or: Imposing my random thoughts on the world)

Here it is. I am finally giving into the prevailing culture and intellectual guilt that I do not regulary record my thoughts and actions in a routine manner.

Actually, I think this will be exciting. I hope to get to know myself better through this process and let others get to know me as well. I'll not spill all my thoughts out at once, but I'll reveal these tidbits about me slowly (but regularly) so as not to give others or myself any preconceived notions. The first several entries are likely to be a clearinghouse of some of my recent thoughts and writings... perhaps a bit more impersonal than I'd really like... think of it as like the first couple of years of Charles Schulz's Peanuts where was still trying to work out his characters as well as the tone and perspective of the strip.

I tend to be wordy too. I hope I don't bore anyone unecessarily.

I suppose this is where I should break a bottle of champagne over the bow. Hmmm... does it count if I just pour coffee over the keyboard? Seems like I ruined a perfectly good mp3 player and cd walkman two weeks ago doing that. Maybe I'll just fire a gun off in the air.