Friday, December 22, 2006

Gawker vs. NYT: Questions to ask before you get married

For many days of the last week, the most popular item at the New York Times website, as evidinced by the number of people emailing the item to their friends, is the following list of questions one should ask their significant other before making a public and permanent committment to each other.

Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying
NY Times, December 17, 2006

Relationship experts report that too many couples fail to ask each other critical questions before marrying. Here are a few key ones that couples should consider asking:
1) Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?
2) Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?
3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?
4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?
5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?
6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?
7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?
8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?
9) Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?
10) Do we like and respect each other’s friends?
11) Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?
12) What does my family do that annoys you?
13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?
14) If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?
15) Does each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?

Gawker rightly called bullshit, saying the questions "were so boring, that we despaired of ever getting married if we were forced to ask them of anyone," and suggested the following list of questions that might be more applicable to most couples considering cohabitation:

Before You Get Married, Make Sure He Doesn't Have Herpes or a Coke Problem
Gawker, December 21, 2006

1) If we get pregnant, is it because one of us didn't wear a rubber or because you forgot to take the pill?
2) How much does your trust fund pay out quarterly?
3) Did you get the Heineken and Pop Tarts like I said, bitch?
4) Do you have herpes or paranoid schizophrenia or something?
5) Why don't you go down on me?
6) Are you absolutely sure you're not gay?
7) Where should I put my porn in the bedroom?
8) Do you ever shut up?
9) When I'm bored of sex (with you), you're not going to make me go to therapy or AA or anything, are you?
10) Are your friends hot?
11) How much cash would your parents give us if we had kids?
12) Is your mom crazy or a drunk?
13) Are you just a cokewhore?
14) If I go to Thailand for a month, will you just not ask me any questions?
15) Is that prenup still valid?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Democratic Agenda

Courtesy of The Right Was Right:
Now that the election is behind us, and the Democrats control one or possibly both houses of Congress, there's no reason not to admit it: the Right was right about us all along. Here is our 25-point manifesto for the new Congress:

1. Mandatory homosexuality

2. Drug-filled condoms in schools

3. Introduce the new Destruction of Marriage Act

4. Border fence replaced with free shuttle buses

5. Osama Bin Laden to be Secretary of State

6. Withdraw from Iraq, apologize, reinstate Hussein

7. English language banned from all Federal buildings

8. Math classes replaced by encounter groups

9. All taxes to be tripled

10. All fortunes over $250,000 to be confiscated

11. On-demand welfare

12. Tofurkey to be named official Thanksgiving dish

13. Freeways to be removed, replaced with light rail systems

14. Pledge of Allegiance in schools replaced with morning flag-burning

15. Stem cells allowed to be harvested from any child under the age of 8

16. Comatose people to be ground up and fed to poor

17. Quarterly mandatory abortion lottery

18. God to be mocked roundly

19. Dissolve Executive Branch: reassign responsibilities to UN

20. Jane Fonda to be appointed Secretary of Appeasement

21. Outlaw all firearms: previous owners assigned to anger management therapy

22. Texas returned to Mexico

23. Ban Christmas: replace with Celebrate our Monkey Ancestors Day

24. Carter added to Mount Rushmore

25. Modify USA's motto to "Land of the French and the home of the brave"

More thoughts on Democratic victory, Ted Haggard, etc., when I get a chance to write it all down.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Art Party

The exhibit of my photos at Mediums Gallery in Little Rock's Hillcrest neighborhood opened last night with a reception at the gallery. I could not have asked for a better event. I don't know if anything sold last night, but a flood of friends and family turned out to see the exhibit, and everyone had very positive things to say. I loved seeing all the pieces up on the wall, hearing how everyone responded to the work, and noting which works were the crowd favorites. The music was spot-on and created the perfect mood. The wine flowed. All in all, it was a tremendously affirming and rewarding experience.

Thanks, Jimmy, for catching the vision of my work and encouraging me to fully express it on your walls. And thanks again to all the loved ones who came out to see the work (this means you: Eric, Brooke, and Brooke's mom and brothers; Keith and Mark; Randy, Gary, Sheryl, and Gary's art teacher; Diane and Kirk, Kevin, Michael, Rusty and Pepper; Bill, Brian, Kae, Tim, Jacob and your smart new girlfriend; Micah; and Adrian).

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I Voted

I voted early for the first time today. It was a superior voting experience. There is a paper register in the machines and the attendants even verified and updated my voter registration address. If you are eligible to vote, I recommend taking advantage of the early voting system.

I held my nose and voted for Beebe for governor. I wanted to vote for Bryan or Lendall, but I could just see A$A! winning with a margin that was less than the vote for the third party candidates. I voted Mason for mayor, for the unopposed candidates, for the bond issue for higher education, against the charitable bingo amendment, and a straight Democratic ticket otherwise.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I just spent $80 to watch frickin' Project: Runway

My neighbors up the hall are moving into a new house. They gave me their old TV stand because they didn't want to move it and my TV was sitting on the floor. Since I was only moving my TV about a foot up (and a couple of inches to the right), I didn't think I needed to unplug it or anything. But when I situated it upon the shelf, the coaxial cable went taut and the jack to connect the cable to the TV snapped right off.

Not a big problem, I thought. I'll just plug the cable up to my old disused VCR and then run it through the RCA inputs and use it as a tuner. I get everything connected and discover that less than half of the channels are showing. It turns out, the VCR thinks I'm receiving the signal from an antennae and isn't set to autoprogram. I pick up the VCR remote and it's broken.

Only momentarily deterred, I get the TV's universal remote and the remote's instruction booklet and program it for my VCR. Once set up, all the buttons don't match the features. For instance, I can't get the tape timer to not display on the screen.

Now, I'm driving to Best Buy for a new universal remote. $13 later, I'm driving back home with a more richly featured remote. Now the buttons all appear to match. However, like the previous remote, the select up and down arrow buttons work fine. But the select left and right buttons, no matter how I rigorously I program the remote or how closely I follow the instructions, will only turn up or down the volume on the television. I still can't get the get the VCR to switch to cable or autosearch the channels. At this point, I see two choices: buy a new TV or buy a new VCR.

Cut to 24 hours later, I'm at Target, perusing their "selection" of new VCRs which totals exactly one. There are several VCR/DVD combo models, but only one solely VCR model. Fortunately, it's a decent four-head, hi-fi, auto-searching, easy to set up model. Unfortunately, it's $60. The cheapest DVD player is $27. There are two additional models priced between that and the VCR. Since when does a VCR cost twice as much as a DVD player?

Oh well. Faced with the choice of either spending $60 (plus tax) or not watching television, I pull out the Visa and mortgage a small part of my future for the pleasure. Once at home, five minutes out of the box everything is up and running again perfectly just in time to see the finale of Project: Runway (congratulations, Jeffrey).

The credit card has been seeing a lot of action lately, what with getting prints and framing for the show at Mediums and the occasional monetary shortfall. Fortunately, I'll have a bit of extra cash come mid-November when I get my first paycheck from Heifer on top of the cash value of my unused vacation time at Philander, so I'll be able to make a substantially more than minimym payment to the credit card company. Cash will be tight for a few weeks, but things are looking up already.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Republican or Democrat for Arkansas Governor in 2006? Does it make much of a difference?

Is it just me or does every attack ad A$a! runs on Mike Beebe make Beebe sound like a better and better candidate? By A$a!'s reasoning, a vote for Beebe is a vote for a Democratic wonderland.

In spite of the promised liberal utopia that will surely bloom within Arkansas' borders should Beebe ascend to the State Capitol come November, I'm still supporting the independent underdog candidacy of Rod Bryan, if for no other reason than to influence the issues for the major party candidates. Of course, the major party candidates are doing everything they can to hold the issues under their own influence, notably by refusing to allow independent candidates to participate in the official debates and public forums.

The latest polls have Rod showing at 3 to 4 percent, twice the support of the more established Green Party Candidate, Jim Lendall. While his entire level support is arguably within the margin for error in these polls, 3 to 4 percent is still a substantial showing for a guy who runs a record store and works in a bakery. His supporters represent voters that the candidate for neither of the major parties are speaking to or speaking for.

In 2004, the presidential election was decided by less than 1 percent of the electorate. In a hotly contested race, why are A$a! and Beebe willing to concede nearly 5 percent of the vote? Why do they give the third party candidate a platform by excluding him from the debate? Wouldn't the more sensible idea be for one candidate to parrot his talking points, or the other to debunk his platform, thereby defusing his candidacy? Hell, even letting him sit down at the grown up's table for the debates gives the other guys a chance to expose him as an amateur Mr. Smith Frank Kapra wannabe. Strangely, by snubbing him, A$a! and Beebe are actually giving Rod credibility. His ideas have to be pushed aside, ignored, unacknowledged (with allegations that they have intimidated media outlets from covering the Bryan campaign by threatening to withhold access to outlets who do cover third parties), lest they gain some credence with the electorate and threaten to force the local candidates off the national talking points.

I don't know if Rod Bryan is the right man to be our next governor. But I do know in our representative democracy he has a right to challenge the establishment. And I believe the other candidates have a responsibility to conduct a fair and open campaign that wins voters by their stand on the issues rather than using political bullying to exclude the underdog. I hope Rod continues his political career. I hope he lectures colleges and high schools about his run for governor and the citizen's duty to hold our representatives responsible for the actions they undertake in our name. I hope he runs for the state Legislature in 2008. I hope he continues to be a stalking horse for the Governor's office. And I hope one day, by his example, our elected officials are more responsive to the people responsible for placing them into office.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Big News

I am finally free of the insane asylum. I was offered a job Wednesday at Heifer Foundation, so on Thursday I put in my two weeks notice at Philander. The new job gives me a ten percent raise in salary to start. Plus excellent benefits. Plus a work environment that isn't passively-aggressively hostile. Plus, I'll be working for an institution who's sole purpose is eliminating hunger and poverty. I don't know if you're religious, but I, for one, am thanking God for this amazing opportunity.

Mute Math, etc.

Charlie James first told me about the band Mute Math back in the spring. Since then, I've read bits and pieces, heard some snippets here and there, and finally got the chance to see them Tuesday night. They played a hella tight show, great dynamics, lots of energy, great interpretation of their music from the studio to the stage. Definitely a band to check out if you want to see how the younger generation is interpreting U2, The Police, Radiohead, etc.

Jonzetta and Shiny Toy Guns opened the show. Jonezetta knows how to rock. STG kind of sucked. But the photos came out good.


Shiny Tony Guns

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Be alert. The world needs more lerts.

Brittney says I'm not blogging enough. She's right. Chalk it up to no time and nothing interesting to say.

Anyway, I've been moderately encouraged this week by the release of the National Intelligence Estimate that emperically demonstrates how W. has increased rather than decreased the threat from terrorists during his time in office and Democrats finally growing a set of balls in the wake of Pres. Bill Clinton's on-air schooling of Fox News' Chris Wallace.

Since republicans clearly need educating on how to prosecute a global initiative to promote justice, I thought we'd send them all the way back to pre-school. So, courtesy or, here's the R's asinine "terror alert level" indicator as filtered through our friends on Sesame Street.

Terror Alert Level

UPDATE: After a little consideration: I'm a little disappointed that Kermit The Frog isn't the Green indicator (It's not easy being green, after all) or that Big Bird isn't the Yellow indicator (Bert and Ernie should rightly share a color as they share an apartment). But, given that I'm not creative/motivated enough to come up with the chart myself, I don't have a lot of room to quibble.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Go Green

Buddy Rawls, entrepreneurial environmentalist and my upstairs neighbor, told me on the elevator ride to the first floor of our apartment building this morning that he is beginning a new venture to offer environmentally friendlier biofuels to the general public, perhaps as soon as Labor Day Weekend.

He is taking over the closed Brownlow's Service Station at 8th and Chester streets downtown (with ultra convenient Interstate 630 access) and will offer E10 ethanol for use in all vehicles as well as "Willie Nelson's" bio-diesel blend made primarily from soybean oil for diesel powered vehicles.

Buddy says the price-per-gallon will be at least competitive with regular gasoline, and perhaps cheaper since gasoline is expected to surge to over four dollars a gallon with continuing conflict in the Middle East and the shut down of the Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaksa due to corrosion and leaking along its pipeline.

There is a slight trade-off in miles per gallon when using bio fules, since ethanol doesn't burn with quite the same energy intensity as gasoline. But, in my opinion, that is a small price to pay when considering the benefits of eliminating one's emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants to the atmosphere.

The opening of this station is extremely good news for the Little Rock community. I am optimistic that demand at this station will be extremely high once it is open and people become aware of its existence. Rest assured you will hear more about it from me in the future.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

30 Days

Season 2 of Morgan Spurlock's documentary television series 30 Days kicked off last week with an episode entitled "Immigration." The episode, if you missed its initial broadcast, is available as a free download for a limited time at the iTunes Music Store. The premise of the show, in case you've never seen it, or Spurlock's feature film, Super-Size Me, is that a person experiences a way of life that is different from his or her own for 30 days to see how it changes their viewpoint about his or her own way of life.

In "Immigration," a xenophobic, right-wing man (ironically, a Cuban immigrant himself) who is a member of the Minute Men Militia that patrols the U.S. border for undocumented immigrants is sent to live for 30 days with a family of undocumented immigrants from Mexico. For a good part of the episode, he clings to his viewpoint that, despite their roots in this country, the family he is living with should return to Mexico. Then, he is given the opportunity to visit his hosts' family (whom they haven't seen in about 15 years) back in Mexico to witness the extreme poverty they fled, that makes the cramped conditions in which they live in the U.S. seem like extravagant riches. The trip is an eye-opening experience for our Minuteman, but I'll leave it to you to view the program to see how deeply he is affected.

I myself was moved to tears, not just a little misty, but sobby boo-hooing, for the final segment of the program. The first season of 30 Days I thought was one of the best programs on television. The second season not only continues that tradition, but, if the first episode is any indication, improves upon it by exploring some of the deeper emotional resonances of his subjects. The disparate people Spurlock puts together in these programs, it would be easy for the program to devolve into Jerry Springer style sensationalism. But Spurlock adamantly maintains the dignity of all of his subjects. He engages the audience in a way that is genuinely educational, emotional, and entertaining. It looks like season 2 of 30 Days will also one of the best hours on television this year. Remember, you can check out "Immigration" for free for a limited time at the iTunes Music Store.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

This sucks

In the last week, I've found out that two of my favorite Little Rock establishments are closing their doors.

First I got a notice in the mail that the landmark Design Center on Kavanaugh was closing its doors after 35 years of bringing style and substance to Little Rock. I've bought lots of gifts for friends and family at that shop, as well as a few trinkets for myself, but not nearly what I looked forward to spending at that shop.

Next, I stop into From The Garden for lunch today only to find a sign posted on their wall that says after this Friday they'll be shutting down the take out business and putting all their energy into the catering enterprise. It makes sense, in a way. Less overhead, more profit. But what am I going to do for lunch. No more pot pie. No more fajita's with cucumber sauce and onion rings. No more black eyed pea patties with gravy, greens, and a corn pone. I think I'm going to die. Boulevard is all organic, but it doesn't give a rat's ass about vegetarians (Seriously, Scott teased us today with a delicious vegetable soup... cooked in a chicken stock--DAMN YOU!!!). You know what would be the ideal: a small neighborhood cafe that's vegetarian, organic, fair trade, open late, wi-fi access, etc. Kind of like Kate's Joint in NYC. If I had the money, I think I'd open it. As it is, I'm spending all my money at these two locations before they're shut up for good.

I'm a geek

The cast of Spider-Man 3 paid a visit to Comi-Con in San Diego this week. Along with the cast members returning from the previous adventures, Bryce Dallas Howard was introduced as portraying Gwen Stacey in the third part of the trilogy. It will be interesting to see what they have her to do, as Mr. Raimi cribbed substantially from her character's arc in the first film, only apply those elements to the character of Mary Jane. Will he repeat himself? Will he risk the ire of comic nerds everywhere and come up with a new story arc?

Anyway... I thought it was momentarily funny that noted blonde Ms. Kirsten Dunst plays red-headed MJ and very firey red-head Ms. Dallas-Howard portrays yellow-headed blonde Gwen Stacey. A stupid and meaningless observation, but it occupied my attention for the length of time it took me to write out this post and find a photo online.

Monday, July 24, 2006

My favorite thing

Two years ago last Sunday I placed my order for a shiny, brand new fourth generation iPod. And I bought the $60 extended warranty (figuring it would be cheaper than the $100 fee to replace the battery, when or if I needed to have that done). Finally, two days before the warranty expired, I decided to take advantage of the warranty and sent in my iPod to have the battery replaced. According the the Apple tech support guy, I can plan on not having my iPod for at least 10 days... which is probably actually two weeks. This is like telling a crack addict that it's going to be two weeks until he's going to get his next fix. I wish they gave you a loaner unit, maybe a nano, or even a shuffle, to get you bye while the other unit was being serviced. Even better... would be a possible upgrade... I'd love to get one of those new video iPods... maybe a year from now... when they roll out the seventh generation.

Before I go to work tomorrow, I'll actually have to pick out a bunch of cds to take with me. I'm not going to know how to choose anymore. I'm so used to having EVERYTHING with me in that little shiny white box. Count them down with me... Ten more days...

Friday, July 21, 2006

Rain, finally

After two weeks of increasingly unbearable heat, we finally got some clouds and rain tonight during an impressive thunderstorm. I got out on the balcony and took about 200 shots. This picture was my one in a million (or 200). It was also about the fourth photo I snapped. A lucky shot.

Andrew Sullivan ran this photo as part of the ongoing "View From Your Window" series on his blog. Would it be appropriate now to say I've been published by Time?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I believe the children are our future, part 2

Watch the little girl behind President Bush near the end of the clip.

After bombing with the baby in Germany (see the post below), you'd think Bush would not allow children at his photo-ops. You can't "stage" a child, after all. Nor should you, in my opinion. Especially when it is a short logical leap to demonstrate the fallacy of the President's reasoning by vetoing the bill to expand embryonic stem cell research but parading around the "snowflake" children for a photo-op.

Ethical support of embryonic stem cell research is a "pro-life" position. When a couple receives treatment for invitro fertilization, and other fertility treatments, dozens, if not hundreds, of zygotes (i.e., embryos) are created, screened for the best possible candidates for implantation, and the rest are frozen, in case the first does not take. Invariably, by the time a couple conceives or gives up, there are still many, many of these frozen embryos left over. President Bush's attempt to demonstrate that these frozen zygotes are "alive" by marching through the White House a group of precocious children who were "adopted" as embryos from the supply left over from families who had completed their fertility treatments is an unconvincing argument that embryonic stem cell research is unethical. No where in his speech or in his rhetoric is the admission that, if these frozen zygotes are not "adopted" or appropriated for research, they will simply be discarded as "biological waste." If the President truly believes that these zygotes are alive, then he should logically be opposed to invitro fertilization and other fertility procedures that create these dozens or hundreds or (aggregately) thousands of frozen blastocysts that will never develop beyond a few cells.

Bush offers next-to-no reasoning for his support of the science that creates these cells in the first place, and his crafting of policy that throws the vast majority of them in the trash. Half to two-thirds of all fertilized eggs are flushed out of the uterus without implanting in the uterine wall. Perhaps Bush thinks discarding these cells is in line with this natural sort of "dying with dignity." But he has not said so explicitly, and to assume so is certainly reading too much into the President's logic, especially considering his constant references to the so-called "culture of life" and his desire to "save" these embryos through fetal adoption.

Many even in the pro-life movement believe that allowing researchers to use embryonic stem cells to find new cures and treatments to improve the quality and quantity of life assigns a purpose and dignity to these cells that otherwise would be discarded like last week's chinese take-out. The President doesn't see it that way. And in that regard, as in virtually every other regard of his administration, the President is wrong.

The Passion of the Clerks

It's no secret, I'm a big fan of Kevin Smith's films, the original "Clerks" in particular. I'm very excited about "Clerks II" which hits theaters this Friday, though I'm fairly certain that it will not have the personal or cultural impact of the first. But, if the film provides 90 minutes of solid entertainment, I don't think many people will be disappointed.

Personally, however, I thought a sequel to "Clerks" was made years ago, and is a cult classic in its own right: Mike Judge's "Office Space." That film hits on many of the same themes and is a logical progression from the original premise of "Clerks." But "Office Space" never made Joel Siegel run screaming, quite literally, from the theater.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Any day you find $10 in the parking lot...

... is a good day. And it was made all the better when I discovered at the grocery store I had forgotten my wallet, but I had the $10 in my pocket. It got me a box of cereal for breakfast tomorrow and a trio of deli salads for dinner tonight.

Rest assured, I washed my hands thoroughly when I got home after handling the mystery money.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Pirates of the Multiplex

Being a dutiful Johnny Depp fan, last night I went to see Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dean Man's Chest. I was going to write about how utterly dissapointing the film was, but Josh and Josh summed it up for me perfectly:

Here's what you need to know about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: It's 150 minutes long, and during approximately 148 of those minutes you will be bored, uninterested, uninvested, and praying that it'll eventually "get good" and be more like its predecessor. Eventually you just pray for the credits to roll.

You'll be waiting a long time.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is officially going on my list of Ten Most Disappointing Movies of 2006. (It shall reside in the slot next to King Kong.)

Johnny Depp was funny, but not funny enough to save the film. They didn't make me care about the characters, the story and plot were wimpier and thinner than Mary-Kate Olsen, and the creators apparently didn't realize that having constant action isn't a solution for not being at all interesting.

But, hey, maybe the third one (coming out next summer, I kid you not) will be better.


Then again, maybe not.

The first installment I thought was Jerry Bruckheimer's first step at artistic reformation. Now I see it was a fluke.

I rate it a generous 5-to-5 1/2. It didn't help that theater showed the entire film slightly out-of-focus, despite complaints to the management.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Huckabee makes inflammatory remarks in Iowa

Governor Mike Huckabee was in Iowa this past weekend, stumping for Republican legislative candidates, and trying to convince Iowa voters (who traditionally begin the presidential campaign season) that he would not be the worst candidate for President in 2008. As is typical whenever the Governor speaks out of state, he can’t come back until he has said something to embarrass or outrage a large percentage of his constituents at home. On this visit to Iowa, however, he went beyond the pale of even his typically insensitive and embarrassing off-the-cuff remarks. Much as the segregationists before him came to regret their hateful beliefs, I hope Governor Huckabee lives long enough to realize the shame of the hurtful comments he made in Iowa regarding homosexuals, foster parents and marriage rights.

In its ruling overturning the ban on gays and lesbians serving as foster parents, the State Supreme Court said not only had the state agency overstepped its jurisdiction by imposing the ban, but also, contrary to what Governor Huckabee says, that restricting gays and lesbians from serving as foster parents is not in the best interest of the children because the need for foster homes is so great, and, more compellingly, the state failed to show that children in foster care fare any better with heterosexual guardians or any worse with homosexual guardians.

Furthermore, the governor insulted the duty and compassion of the plaintiffs in the suit to overturn the ban on homosexual foster parents, saying they were more interested in “homosexual activism” than in the interests of the foster children. He said it was “troubling” that children would be used as “political tools.” Does the Governor believe that caring for orphaned and abused children is political activism whereas bad-mouthing homosexuals to curry votes is responsible civic and/or religious service?

More inflammatory still was the Governor’s comment that marriage has never historically meant “two men, two women, a man and his pet, or a man and a whole herd of pets.” First, the statement is not accurate. For “thousands of years,” as the Governor says, the rules of marriage were more often about the transfer of property and inheritance where women were given in marriage, along with livestock, land, and other material assets, as just another possession like chattel. Polygamy was and is an accepted practice only in cultures where women are valued less than men. And to compare the committed, monogamous, loving relationship between two men or two women to bestial rape is to be like one of the mob shouting “the n word” at the Little Rock Nine as they entered Central High in 1957. Words like that undo all Christian principles. They are “fighting words” yelled in a public space. And they place our Governor on the wrong side of decency, of liberty and of history.

Everyone knows at least one gay or lesbian person. It could be someone they work with, go to school with, go to church with, or is in their near or extended family. I would hope our Governor, before making such hateful, divisive, and inflammatory statements, would please think of a gay or lesbian person he knows and consider if he would make such a statement about him or her personally.

Finally, if the legislature is to pass a law stating that only married persons may care for foster children, might I suggest that such a law not go into effect until all married couples are, indeed, caring every child in need. Until then, any qualified, compassionate person who is willing to take care of foster children is requited to meet this urgent need.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Vacation #2

To commemorate the July 4th Holiday, I've been on vacation all this week. As is usual, I didn't go anywhere. I preferred instead to stay at home and take it easy.

I saw the parents on Monday. Had dinner with Tim and Beth on Tuesday. I finished reading Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History Of The Dead. On Kevin's recommendation, I started reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. I also got around town to take some photos. My photos of graffiti are damn near a photo essay. And I made a new friend online.

Tonight I'm going back to Tim and Beth's for Beth's birthday extravaganza. By the time the weekend rolls through, I might, might, be ready to go back to work. But probably not. I kind of like being off work.

Vacation #3 is coming up the first week of August.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy 4th of July!

Hope you got a bang out of it.

Remember to exercise your freedom for the rest of the year. Use your freedom of speech. Write to your congressman. Write to your newspaper. Start a blog. Campaign door to door for your favored candidate this fall. And be sure to vote this November.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Quote of the day

Andrew Sullivan turned up this nugget of wisdom from founding father Thomas Jefferson. I thought since we are about to celebrate our nation's independence and tradition of freedom, it would be proper to share it here as well.

"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt. If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake," - Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Taylor, June 4, 1798.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

How I rate a movie

I belong to a movie club.

Currently, there are six of us in the club. Rusty and Pepper started the club. Rusty is a computer programmer and Pepper owns an art gallery. I was invited to join when the club first started meeting (and even went to the first film that was attended as a club), but didn't start attending regularly until I was re-invited a couple of years later. Diane is an audiologist. Rusty and Pepper met her at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Kevin is a writer. Michael is a political consultant.

We call ourselves the "Manny Perry Movie Club" in honor of the stunt man who was featured in the anti-movie-piracy trailers a few years ago. We flirted briefly with calling the club "Friends United through Cinema, Kind Of." But that didn't stick. It would've made a terrific t-shirt, however.

Every Sunday a different club member picks a movie (we take turns alphabetically) and we go to the last matineƩ screening and then go out to dinner (the restaurant is also picked by that week's picker) where we talk about the movie and whatever else comes up in conversation.

There are rules and by-laws of the club. The most important one being that all films have to be "fresh" (over 60% positive ratings) on Rotten Tomatoes. If a film isn't fresh, but if it's close and that week's picker really wants to see it, that movie can be picked if the other club members agree to relax the rule.

At dinner, we rate each movie on a scale from 1 to 10. Everybody in the club has a different method for scoring a particular film. For most, it's generally a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" proposal, their score being an indicator of how far up or down their thumb actually is. Mine is generally regarded as the most elaborate (i.e. weird) and complicated and I think I'm the only one who fully understands it. But it makes sense for me.

My scoring system is basically a composite scoring of three different elements of a film: the Technical Element, The Intelligence Element, and the Creative Element. Each element has a possible score of zero to three, and added together those make up my total score for any given film. A two in any given category means the film makers were generally competent in that area, and a total score of six generally means a film is well made, makes sense, and entertained me.

On the technical level, I'll give a film a one if its in focus, the boom mic isn't in every other shot, and the lighting doesn't switch suddenly between day and night within the same scene. Most Ed Wood films, for instance, would not get scored even a one on the techincal element. I'll rate a film a two in this category if the method of film making is skillfully employed and integrated into the other two elements of the film. A prime example of this is in Brokeback Mountain in which director Ang Lee cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto contrast shots of wide-open vistas with shots of cramped interiors to portray through the external scenery what the characters are experiencing internally. Threes are reserved for films that do something technically that is extraordinarily creative or innovative. This doesn't just mean special effects (though, certainly I would rate, say, Star Wars or Toy Story as a three for technique), but would also include innovative editing or shooting techniques, such as Christoper Nolan's Memento, Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, or Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.

The other two elements are a tad more subjective. For intelligence, a film would earn a zero if it insults my intelligence. The first Bad Boys movie, for example, I felt like I was stupider when I went out of the theater than when I went in. I'll award a film a one if it's scripted and acted in such a way that it doesn't take an unreasonable suspension of disbelief to enjoy what's happening on the screen. Most films get a one or better. A two goes to a film that is thematically complex, employs metaphor, symbolism, complex motivations, irony, etc. In other words, it gives you something to think about. Woody Allen's Match Point is a good example. I save a three for films that challenge what I know or perhaps even teach me something new. Like Judy Irving's The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, for example. Or Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon.

The creative element is usually the easiest to score. It's all right brain. Or left brain. I forget which is which. If a film so fails to hold my attention that I walk out, that's a zero. If a film bores me, but I make it all the way through, that's a one. Twos go to films that keep me consistently interested and entertained. A three is reserved for a film that moves me, that causes me to empathize with the characters and the situation on the screen, that, ultimately, gives me a feeling of catharsis. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon moved me in such a way. As did Pulp Fiction and Rebel Without A Cause.

Now, those of you out there with advanced math degrees are surely thinking, wait a minute, it's a ten-point scale, but you rating scheme only goes up to nine. That's true. And, for that reason, I hold in reserve a "Magic Point" for certain films. I don't always award the Magic Point so much to films that I think are "perfect," that is they score a three in all three elements. (Though I do have some ten-point movies. The Godfather I and II, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Pulp Fiction, for example). More often than not, I'll award the Magic Point to a film that I enjoyed more than my "objective" scores would indicate. Napoleon Dynamite is a perfect example. Taken separately, each element of that movie warrants about a two, give or take a little. But the alchemic chemistry between each element gives it a little extra bump when I take it in as a whole.

You might wonder how I can possibly enjoy a film with all that going on in the back of my head while I'm watching it. But, to be honest, I'm not really thinking about all that while I'm watching the movie, unless the movie can't hold my attention. And in that case, it's probably going to get a lower score. That's where reflection and discussion over dinner, and the other members' challenging or assenting viewpoints, really helps me to see a movie's merits or lack thereof. Though everyone else still says they can't quite understand how my rating system works.

A good movies usually gives us a lot to talk about. Bad movies usually give us less, but we have the most to say about movies over which we disagree. Napoleon Dynamite, for instance, split the group right down the middle. Half of us thought it was brilliant, the other half thought it was wretched. And the debate continues even today. But even though we don't always agree on how good any particular movie is, we enjoy seeing them. More than that, we enjoy seeing them together. Half of our current members we met for the first time while standing on line to see a movie. Which is why I thought our originally proposed name was so appropriate. We really are "Friends United through Cinema, Kind Of." I say kind of, not only because it gives the desired ending to the name's acronym, but because even though it was movies that brought us together, our friendships have all extended so that we've become invested in each others' lives. The story of which may or may not make for a good movie (or even an interesting blog post). But I bet it qualifies for a Magic Point.


I don't know if a U.S. release has yet been secured, but my favorite summer cd thus far is Alright, Still by Lily Allen, due out 17 July in the U.K.

Ms. Allen's debut effortlessly combines impeccable pop hooks, indie-rock overtones and reggaeton flourishes for a bright, sunny sound that is unique, hip, and innovative while still familiar enough to appeal to the Top 40 crowd.

"Smile," and ebulient revenge fantasy about getting even with a roaming lover, is the first single and is proving to be nearly as popular as "Crazy" was for Gnarls Barkley earlier this year.

But, as was the case with "Crazy," the acclaim is deserved.

The video is airing on the internet now, courtesy of EMI records and youTube. It's sinfully delicious. Enjoy.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Jerry Falwell on NPR

NPR did an extensive feature this morning on Rev. Jerry Falwell commemorating the 50th anniversary of his occupying the pulpit at Thomas Road Baptist Church. At the same time, Thomas Road Baptist Church is moving to a new 1 million square foot, 6,000 seat facility.

My pastor reminds me, and the rest of his congregation, that Jesus asks us to love our enemies. So, it is in that spirit that I did not begin the previous paragraph by writing: "NPR did an extensive feature this morning on fat, intolerant gas-bag Jerry Falwell..."

The segment irritated me initially because the reporter offered little to balance Falwell's self-congratulation, self-righteousness, and self-importantance. Then, the old student of journalism in me noticed that the story was something much more important than "balanced." It was objective. Though the reporter did quote Falwell's former ghost-writer, now openly gay minister Rev. Mel White who attends Falwell's church with his partner in order to directly protest his bigotry, he mostly focused on Falwell himself, and let Falwell speak for himself. And, in that way, he gets Falwell to hang himself. Twice in the report he admits that he makes his controversial statements purely for the media attention.

Falwell acknowledges that his controversial remarks about homosexuality and other issues are designed to get attention.

"A pastor has to be media-savvy if he's going to reach everybody," he says. "I don't mean to be ugly and harsh, but to be forthright and candid. And the result is that people that don't like you start listening."

Elsewhere in the broadcast report he admitted he was critical of Bishop Desmond Tutu in the 1980's, when Bishop Tutu was leading the human rights campaign to end Apartheid in South Africa, purely for the media attention his statements would bring to him.

I came away from this report with the impression that Rev. Falwell's mission was to expand his influence and his ego through appeals to the lowest common spiritual denominator: fear. Follow me or God is going to get you is his central message.

To be sure, he preaches that God is love and Jesus forgives sins, but he is just as quick to preach that if you do not follow as he prescribes, God is just as quick to withhold that love and Jesus will stand in judgment against you for your sins.

Here is where I must interject some of the wisdom I have learned from my Calvinist parents, though I think they would probably disagree with my interpretation: God saves who God wants to save. Though I still believe that each person has the free will to decide to be a follower, God calls the shots when it comes to how he is going dish out love, grace, mercy, etc. Now, if I don't get to decide who is saved, then I also don't get to decide who is damned. I don't get to speak for God's judgment. Which sounds achingly familiar to what Jesus said, and my pastor, when he said don't judge or you will be judged. It also shines a light of understanding Christ's teachings to love your enemies and do for other people what you want them to for you. "Love your enemy," for instance, because God loves them. Serve others because God became a servant. When Jesus was asked if he came to rule as a king, he said that his kingdom is in the heart.

Keep in mind, Jesus made that statement as a citizen of a staunchly theocratic nation. The Old Testament laws weren't just spiritual guidelines to the Jews in Israel in the first century. They were THE LAW. Much as they would be today if Rev. Falwell had his way. I don't think Rev. Falwell sees the irony of this. There is a historical clip of him preaching from 1974 when he came out strongly against the Equal Rights Amendment claiming that it would usurp the godly authority of husbands over wives. But if he had read a history book as well as his Bible, I think Rev. Falwell would have realized that Jesus, in total opposition to his culture, did treat women as equals. But I think there's a lot about Jesus that Rev. Falwell doesn't understand. Or if does understand, he purposefully misconstrues that understanding to protect and spread his own influence.

It is probably redundant at this point to point out that Rev. Falwell is more like the first century religious leaders who spent years trying to prove that Jesus was a fraud or a heretic than he is the man he calls his savior. Indeed, I'd bet that if Jesus were to return today (not in the Left Behind sense, my problems with those books, closely associated as they are with Falwell's theology, are a whole other topic), Falwell would likely denounce him as a liberal, a communist, a homosexual activist, and a moral relativist.

And Jesus would still love Jerry Falwell.

In light of that, I wonder if I am being uncharitable to Rev. Falwell. Upon reflection, I don't think I am. Jesus didn't hesitate to call religious leaders hypocrites, a gang of snakes, or well-manicured graves that are that are landscaped and have fancy monuments on the ground but are rotten and full of decay down below. Jesus didn't condemn these religious leaders outright. But, in today's cultural terms, he did say it was easier for a limousine to squeeze into the "Compact Car Only" space in the mall parking lot on Christmas Eve than for the self-righteous and self-sufficient to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. In first century terms, the "needle's eye" Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through than it was for a rich man to get into God's kingdom was a small, pedestrian gate through a city wall, large enough for a person to walk through, but not large enough for a pack animal or a religious procession or an entourage. No one noticed or trumpeted your arrival if you came in that way. His point was: to get in, you go in humbly and without a lot of baggage.

Going back to our 21st century metaphor, Rev. Falwell is driving a pimped out Hummer and he's eyeing that parking spot by the door. Let's pray he realizes soon it'd be easier to get that parking space if he was driving a Civic.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Let's hear it for Global Waming!

Mom always told me to look on the bright side of a bad situation. Sure, global warming is going to melt the polar ice caps, raise sea levels and drown the coasts, then cause atmospheric destablization that sets off a new ice age. But in the mean time all this warm, sticky, wet air is giving us the best flora and fauna I've seen in my life. Seriously. Maybe it's because I'm taking pictures and I'm seeing things I didn't notice before, but I honestly can't recal a year when I've seen more or such vivid blooming foliage. Spring was spectacular with all the Bradford pear trees and dogwood. Now the Crepe Myrtles are bursting like fireworks. Next up is the hydrangeas which I'm sure will put on an impressive show as well... or all die from the stifling, crippling heat.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Happy Birthday, Antonio!

Today is my ex's birthday. But, since we haven't spoken since February or so, I have to acknowledge the occasion here.

Happy Birthday, Antonio! I hope you are well.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

From The Onion's Archives

I think this photo perfectly sums up the actions of Southern House Republicans today.

From The Onion, November 4, 1998: "Georgia Adds Swastika, Middle Finger To State Flag"

"The House of Representatives is filled with insane jackasses."

America got treated to a double helping of "Fuck You" today by Congressional Republicans. First up, the Senate failed to pass legislation increasing the national minimum wage. Seriously, could their priorities be any more out of whack? Rich people get tax cuts, even after they're dead. Corporations, looking to protect their bottom line, make campaign contributions to corrupt politicians, then lobby Congress to keep the minimum wage low and to give the rich and big business tax cuts in a fucked up form of quid pro quo. So, the working poor not only have to shoulder a larger percentage of the tax burden, but they have to do so off stagnated wages? Keep in mind, this vote comes mere days after Congress voted itself a huge pay raise. I feel like my head is going to explode from the sheer hypocrisy. Americans need not only an increase in the minimum wage, but it needs to be indexed to inflation so the poor don't see their purchasing power decline for ten years until Congress can be goaded into handing them a few more crumbs.

Next up, Representatives from Southern states, go figure, have tabled legislation extending the Voting Rights Act, ostensibly because of provisions that affect those Southern states more than other states. In other words, it singles out the nine states who have the longest history of racially-biased voter discrimination. And here I thought Republicans approved of profiling. Maybe Camille Cosby was right.

For dessert, we get congressional hearings on video game violence featuring, in its best moments, Representatives who were merely 30 years out of touch, and, at its worst, idiotic latent racism.

But, you may ask, what IS on the Congressional fast track? A constitutional amendment to ban flag burning. Because, apparently, the root cause of global warming is the intense heat generated from all the millions of dissidents burning flags. No? Maybe because the gay-marriage ban didn't quite get the same play this time around as it did in 2004. The funny thing is, as evidenced by the AP photo at the top of post, President Bush was caught on film desecrating the flag by signing flags presented to him at a speech he made today in Vienna, Austria. Writing your name on the flag is defacement according to the US Code. Even if you're the President. Personally, I think the President should be able to autograph the flag. But, then, I think political dissidents should be able to burn it too. Free speech is arguably the most precious right enumerated in the Bill of Rights. And if there are forms of political expression that are not allowed in a free society, then we are not a free society.

Today, Congressional Republicans showed they are against the interests of poor people, they are against guaranteeing fair and free elections, and they are against protecting the First Amendment. Jon Stewart hit the nail on the head tonight when he said Congress "is filled with insane jackasses." Let's clean the House in November.

Tips: Arkansas Times "Arkansas Blog" and America Blog.

Why I like living in Little Rock, parts 1 and 2

I take a lot of guff from people who think Little Rock is an uncultured backwater for the fact that, although there are other places where I wouldn't mind living, if given the chance, there's no place I'd rather live. Little Rock has a lot going for it these days, especially if you're old enough to remember when University Avenue was a gravel road past Asher. (Well, my dad is. And he told me about it.) So, from time to time, I'll share with you all a few of the reasons for my hometown pride.

Part 1: As I mentioned a couple of posts earlier, Jay Bakker was in Little Rock from Atlanta this past weekend. And he brought with him the camera crew that is filming him for a reality series to air on the Sundance channel this winter. These out of towners brought with them some perspective on some of the positives about living in Little Rock; little things that impressed them about the city that people who live here take for granted.

For instance, you can drink the water here. All three visitor were shocked and amazed that you can actually drink the tap water here! Straight from the sink! These guys from Atlanta and Los Angeles use bottled water to make even ice cubes and coffee. They have to. The water there is either so laden with chemicals or pollutants they don't dare actually drink it. I told them Wal-Mart actually bottles Little Rock tap water and sells it nationwide. (Which is not in any way an endorsement of or encouragement to patronize Wal-Mart.)

Part 2: Secondly, by way of Arkansas Times' "Arkansas Blog," comes this report from the Christian Science Monitor about Little Rock's growing kick ball league and how it's bringing together divergent segments of Little Rock society:

Kickball has become to the '00s what bowling was to earlier generations. Adult leagues have sprung up across the country. But perhaps few cities have embraced the game with more fervor than Little Rock - nor seen more social barriers broken as a result.

More than 1,000 people now play on dozens of different teams in this city of 185,000. When people aren't playing, they come out with barbeques and ice chests to watch those who do. It has become the closest thing the city has to a community water cooler, a town hearth, drawing different social classes and racial groups together in a place where most people stick to their respective ZIP codes and political cliques.

The story was filed by Suzi Parker, with whom I used to work when I did grunt slave labor for the ArDemGaz. Now, who says the mainstream media never prints any good news?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Happy Morning!

A follow-up to my previous post: The marketing guys at Folgers have apparently been watching me. They know it takes copious amounts of their product (actually, I usually buy Jelk's House Blend, but you get the point) to get me through each morning, as I am decidedly not a morning person. And going out at night makes it harder to get up in the morning, sure. Metafilter describes it thusly: "We've just replaced Bob's Folgers with 5,000 micrograms of LSD." I'm going to say it's more like a sleep-deprivation-induced hallucination.

Nightlife, Here I Come

KUAR is reporting this morning that both Vino's and Juanita's are going smoke-free next month. They both say they need under-age patrons more than they need smokers. I'm still waiting to see what Easy Street, Sticky Fingerz, and Backstreet decide. But it looks like, thanks to the new no-smoking law passed earlier this year in the state legislature, it's going to get a lot easier for me to go out at night again in July.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Son of a Preacher Man

Jay Bakker is a cool guy.

I got to meet him and his wife Amanda last fall when he first spoke at my church, Open Door Community Church. He made a return visit this weekend and we got to hang out some more. For those of you who don't know, he's the son of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Say what you will about them, and many have, but if you want to see evidence of how God really used those two, look no farther than Jay. He's not perfect. But he uses his imperfections to show people God's perfect love. He has every reason to be bitter and crushed. But he's channeled all of those trials in to a passion and depth of conviction that is inspirational and magnetic. He is also going to accuse me of sucking up to him.

Tonight I got to watch a movie with him, my pastor Randy and his partner Gary, Michah, and Donald Bruce from the church. It was a documentary called "Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher" about the impact upon the 70's Jesus Movement by Lonnie Frisbee and how he was nearly written out of its history when he was discovered to be gay and died of AIDS. It was a sad and tragic story, not because of Frisbee's failings, but because throughout his whole life he was used and then abandoned by everyone he trusted and loved. But it was beautiful too, because Lonnie was such a free spirit, wild and untamed and completely open to the work of God. He might have come a little unglued from LSD, but he proved that God will use who he wants to use. Millions came to know Christ through a crazy, ex-druggie, gay hippie who never quite got all his shit together. Truly, "God exalts the foolish things of this world to confound the wise." And, "His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses." Frisbee is airing this October on PBS. Check your local listings.

Jay and Amanda are moving to Brooklyn, New York, in August. Jay is beginning a new chapter in his ministry, Revolution, and Amanda is beginning med school. Jay is a New Yorker at heart, I can tell. He's selling his car next week. I'm jealous as all get-out. Stop by Revolution's website and show them a little love.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Exquisite Decay

At the same gallery show where I lucked into Stephano's unique Johnny Cash, I also found a series of manipulated photos by Charlie James that he calls "Exquisite Decay." The series is on display at Lily's Dim Sum and Then Some thru July 3, 2006, and at the website for Localist Magazine. Contact info is listed on the Localist's site if you would like to acquire some of this fantastic series. Charlie is a real renaissance man, an artist, photographer, musician, and probably several other things I don't know about. His wife Lisa Klaas is also an artist. She stuns me with the detail and vision of her art.

After the show, I picked up my favorite shot from the series, which now adorns my office wall, and Charlie has kindly agreed to allow me to display the image here.

Do see the exhibit at Lily's or Localist and be sure to visit any show he and/or Lisa have hanging in the future.

Johnny Cash

Stephano is an artist here in Little Rock who's stock in trade is Warhol-esque portraits of cultural icons like Pope John Paul II, Pres. Bill Clinton, Frida Kahlo, Bob Marley, etc. His most popular paintings, like Marilyn Monroe was for Warhol, are of Johnny Cash. In case my review of Personal File didn't make it unequivocably clear: I think Johnny Cash is The Man. Stephano agrees.

I've long admired his Cash portraits and a couple of months ago, while socializing with Stephano at a gallery reception, he offered me the opportunity to purchase one at an unbelievable price. Which Johnny did I want? Young Sun Records Johnny, rail thin and speed racing behind his eyes? American Prophet Johnny, the righteous voice of God like his name sake, "The Baptist"? As I was considering, Stephano confided there was one Cash portrait he'd never painted but wanted to cap off the series with: Johnny pissed off, flipping off a photographer who kept flashing photos while Johnny was trying to sing to some prisoners. It is THE iconic photo of Johnny Cash. And Stephano agreed to paint it for me.

A reasonable time later, he rings me up to tell me it's done, I go to pick it up and it is absolutely amazing. With his permission, I'm posting an image of the painting so you can all share in my joy.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


At Starbucks, I'm now "venti-iced-house-with-half-and-half-and-six-splenda" guy.

At home, I'm "can't-sleep" guy.

At work, I'll probably be the "increase-productivity-by-taking-a-nap" guy.

My Cousin's Wedding

Oh Lordy, is there any occasion more harrowing than a family wedding? My cousin April got married last weekend to Justin, her long-standing boyfriend. I'm always surprised by the nerves of people getting married who have been together for a long time already. Standing before the minister (who spoke like a drive-time radio DJ), April had the giggles and Justin was sweating buckets. April's mom, my aunt Cindy, was cussing the chapel staff, the groom's family, her ex-husband, and anyone who wasn't handing her a stiff drink. It was a beautiful occasion.

The reception turned out to be a pretty fun party. They cut the cake, served the finger foods, took the pictures, and finally goaded family and friends into dancing. The bride's maids all line danced to the electric slide and some country tunes but the floor finally filled up when the slow jams started playing. My stepmother asked me to dance with my grandmother so she wouldn't be left out. It was a touching moment, to be sure. But I'll never be able to listen to Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" again.

Congratulations, April and Justin. Much love to you both.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Contact Congress!

Take a look over at the right side of the screen. You'll notice a couple of new items in the "Links" section: direct links to pages for you to contact your own representatives in the U.S. Congress and Senate.

My friend Pepper Pepper reminded me at dinner last night of the importance of staying in contact with your elected representatives. He visited the home office of Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) last week and was shocked to see that right-wing Christianists were bombarding his office with calls condemning not only the Senator's vote against the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment" (despite right-wingers claim that this legislation is about "protecting" their marriages, it only makes sense as an attempt to permanently set sexual minorities at the margins of society, enshrining discrimination in the Constitution), but also personally and hatefully condemning the Senator himself.

I made it a point to both call of my Senators' offices this morning and sent an email through the form provided on their websites thanking them for opposing this amendment, encouraged them to consider the rights of their GLBT constituents when voting, both on the Senate floor and in their home districts in Arkansas, and reminded them that those who support such discrimination and extreme right-wing rhetoric are not likely to vote Democrat in any election, regardless of the issue.

I followed these comments with another note to each of my Senators encouraging them to protect "Net Neutrality" when the issue is introduced in the Senate in the near future.

When writing to your representative, keep a few tips in mind:

* Keep it brief. Don't go on a long tangent, detailing the history of the issue, or a number side issues. State simply what action you would like your representative to take with a simple, well-reasoned rationale. Maybe include a brief statement on how this action would affect your personally.

* Keep your letter to a single topic. Keeping your correspondence to a single issue will better enable your representative to know how to take action. If more than issue is important to you, write more than one letter.

* Be polite. Using invectives and coarse language will cause your representative and his staff to be dismissive of your request or comment. By maintaining a courteous and professional tone, you can make a better case for your position, especially if it is at odds with your representative's position. Your representative is the representative of all of his/her constituents, even those that voted for the other candidate in the last election. Being polite preserves the proper representative/constituent relationship. Throwing verbal rocks only lets your representative know you aren't likely to vote for him or her in the next election cycle and makes him or her less sympathetic to your view point.

* Write your own letter. Many political activist websites feature forms that allow you to input your name and address, select an issue, and send a copy/paste form letter to your representative. These form letters are problematic, however. For one, when representatives receive hundreds or thousands of identical letters from a single IP address, they consider it as receiving mail from Focus On The Family or Move On and not their own constituents. Secondly, don't presume that you and any organization are in lock-step on a given issue. For example, though you may feel strongly that late-term surgical abortion is immoral and should be legally permitted only under extreme circumstances, communicate that to your representative your self, in your own words. Political action groups will often use your support for one facet of their agenda to imply your support of another facet. Don't let your support for legal limits on late-term abortion be misconstrued by the organization as opposition to contraception or marriage rights for homosexuals. These groups are often umbrella organizations advocating a wide array of policy positions, all of which you might not agree with.

*Say "Thank You." This might fall under the category of "be polite," but wite a follow-up note thanking the Senator his or her vote, or for considering your request if they do not act in the way you had hoped. Stay engaged. Stay in contact with your representatives. Be a good constituent.

Ok, with these tips in mind, click on the links to the right and tell your representatives how you feel.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Johnny Cash "Personal File"

My review of Johnny Cash's Personal File is up now at Relevant Magazine's website. It's good to see my byline again, even with a couple of typos in the article.

This publication is encouraging. Hopefully it will inspire me to write more (so long as they continue to publish me), and might even drive traffic to my blog, fueling my narcisism and desire for global recognition. Or, best of all, get me back on some music label publicity mailing lists so I can quit paying for cds.

And if you're reading this because Relevant linked to my blog, Welcome.

Johnny Cash
Personal File
Recorded by Charlie Bragg
Reviewed by Brad Caviness

In the publicity run-up to the 1994 release of his classic American Recordings album, Johnny Cash said there was no record he wanted to make more than that one, just him and a guitar with no excessive adornment. As it turns out, not only was that statement not hype, but Cash had been quietly making that record for over 20 years in his own studio back in Tennessee.

Personal File collects an astounding 49 recordings recorded by Cash and engineer Charlie Bragg in the House Of Cash studio from 1973 to 1980. Like what has come to be regarded as Cash’s many most popular works for Rick Rubin’s American label, these recordings are just Cash and a guitar, singing songs that meant the most to him, be they his own compositions, songs written by friends, or traditional numbers. They stand in pretty stark contrast to the production of Cash’s released output from this period. In 1973, Cash was at the height of his popularity. He had just wrapped up two seasons of The Johnny Cash Show on network television and was releasing finely polished records that, while they contained many of these same compositions, featured a glitzy production style reminiscent of the evolving “Rhinestone Cowboy” phase of popular country music in the 1970’s.

These sessions were a retreat for Cash. They were dedicated to the song for the song’s sake. With no commercial pressures, producers, or A&R company men standing guard over the process, Cash stripped these performances down to only the most essential and elemental level: the singer and the song. Twenty years later, audiences would discover this to be the definitive expression of Cash’s artistry. For three decades, however, these recordings would be catalogued away for Cash’s edification only, in his vault in a box marked “Personal File.”

The songs on this two-cd set are arranged thematically rather than chronologically and reflect many of the recurring themes of Cash’s oeuvre: Love, Sin, Redemption, Life, Death… Adding to the intimacy level, many of the songs feature spoken introductions by Cash, as if he were introducing the songs to an audience, in which he talks about his history with the song, how he learned it, or wrote it, and, more personally, why he feels such a deep connection with the composition. It’s hard to know exactly where the line is drawn between Cash the performer and Cash the person, but it’s easy to imagine the line being remarkably thin in these recordings that Cash presumed that a precious few other people besides himself would ever hear.

An extension of the spoken introductions, perhaps, the song-cycle even includes a spoken word performance, a reading of Robert Service’s grimly comic poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”

The second cd is devoted entirely to Gospel music and religious songs, one of Cash’s a long-time passions. Among the traditional songs such as “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” “Lilly Of The Valley,” and “In The Sweet Bye and Bye,” Cash sprinkles in compositions of his own. They range from very traditional songs like “What On Earth Will You Do (For Heaven’s Sake?)” and “No Earthly Good,” to more unorthodox, but no less inspirational songs like “If Jesus Ever Loved A Woman (It Was Mary Magdalene).” The song selection underscores the profound role faith played in Cash’s life, while also demonstrating that his faith was fleshed out with the same maverick streak that epitomized other areas of his life.

In virtually any other artist’s career, such a voluminous collection of what are essentially demo and home recordings would be a curiosity, an artifact dug up that is of interest only to hard-core fans and critics. Coming from Cash, however, knowing that he spent much of his career at odds with his record company and/or music producers, and that he began making these recordings just after the peak of the earliest portion of his career, these renditions take on the authoritative voice in his catalogue. Cash pounds the sound of a full band out of his guitar on “A Fast Song” making it hard to imagine the song could be much improved by adding additional players.

Indeed, Rick Rubin has gotten a lot of credit in years recently past for “rediscovering” Cash’s authoritative voice. What we long suspected, and now know thanks to Personal File, is that Rubin knew well-enough just to get out of the way and let Johnny Cash be Johnny Cash. These recordings, far from being a curious historical artifact, sound less dated, and, indeed, carry a timeless quality far more convincing than much of Cash’s commercial output from this period. Though lacking the grave specter that shadowed much of the work from the last decade of his life, these songs carry a gravitas that proves that this period was far from creatively fallow for the Man In Black. Indeed, Personal File invites a strong re-assessment of the middle period of Cash’s career by providing the evidence that, while there was money to be made crafting music that pandered to the lowest common denominator, Cash worked at his own expense to develop his artistry. And in that regard, Personal File is a remarkable and significant addition to the legend and legacy of Johnny Cash.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Required Reading: Was the 2004 Presidential Election stolen?

Robert F. Kennedy has a fascinating article appearing on Rolling Stone's website about Rethuglican dirty tricks in Ohio that, if his allegations are true, fraudulently gave the presidential election to George W. Bush. Again.

Money Quote:

"Almost without exception they hurt John Kerry and benefited George Bush. After carefully examining the evidence, I've become convinced that the president's party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004. Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election. A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004(12) -- more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes."

Read the piece for yourself here.

It is incredibly indepth and heavily sourced and cited. I hope it will fuel public outrage over the blatant disregard Republicans have the American citizens' right to vote and help to bring about real change. I also hope it will bring about criminal prosecutions of the election officials involved, and help sweep this corrupt cabal from power at the local, state, and federal level.

Volvos are safe cars.

This morning on the drive into work, I nearly bumped one of my traffic neighbors, an attractive young woman in a red Volvo, while I was attempting to change lanes. After the initial "Oh, shit!" moment, I flashed back to a nearly forgotten pop-culture artifact: a sit-com that ran very briefly in the 1980's about the last five or six American survivors of a nuclear holocaust. One of the survivors was directly under the blast, but lived because he was in his Volvo. That's all I remember about this show. Except that it also starred a black man. And maybe a white woman. And perhaps a cockroach. Anybody remember the title?

Volvos were the "safe" car of the 1980's. Thus was the humor of this otherwise tragic scenario. I wonder if Volvo's are still safer than other vehicles? With all the crumple zones, airbags, radar enabled braking systems, etc. in cars today, wouldn't they nearly have to be bulletproof and/or have a paramedic team on standby in the trunk to do that? And now that virtually every car gets a four- or five-star crash test safety rating, you have to wonder, what kind of rolling death traps were we voluntarily getting into back then?

UPDATE: God bless the Internet. I found the show in five minutes on Google. The show was called "Woops!" Fox aired 10 episodes in 1992. The funniest premise, following the gag involving the guy who survived the blast by being in his Volvo, was the episode in which they adopted the twist-tie as their official currency.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Banking Error?

Ok... I've had the same two transactions pending, and the same balance on my on-line banking statement since Thursday. Plus, some purchases that should have cleared by now are conspicuously absent from my register. Most alarmingly, my direct deposit from work has yet to post to my account. I'm all for holiday-related slowdowns at the bank when it keeps me from accidentally bouncing a check or something. But I'm not so fond once it starts to interfere with my ability to pay for things like rent and food and shiny little impulse buys.

I get the same balance when I check through the telephone banking and at the ATM. If it hasn't updated by tomorrow, I think I'm really gonna freak out.

UPDATE: Everything seems to have caught up this morning. All my purchases have cleared. There are no overdraughts. My paycheck is where it ought to be. I am, momentarily, fiscally sound.

Vacation #1 comes to an end.

Back at work today. My week off was very refreshing. Still, I wasn't ready to darken my office door just yet. My next break is July 3-7, 2006.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Coke + Coffe? Really?

Does anybody like this stuff?

I mean, seriously? Has there ever been a less refreshing beverage? After you drink one of these do you not have to go immediately and drink something else just to get the ass taste out of your mouth?

Kudos to CocaCola's marketing department for convincing me to spend $6 just to try this abomination. But I think we can all agree their efforts are better spent bringing a classic back to the masses...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Use it or lose it!

The place where I work has a "use it or lose it" policy regarding vacation and personal leave time. We get a generous three weeks a year of vacation time (not including two weeks off at Christmas time) each year. But if we fail to schedule all of it before our anniversary date, we lose whatever we haven't used. So, realizing my time was running short, I scheduled my three weeks about a month apart each over the course of the summer, and I'm in the midst of my first week off now. I might actually take a trip during one of the other two weeks, but this week, I'm staying around the house, getting some sun and exercise, getting some use out of the iPod, seeing a few movies, and trying to fill up my portfolio with some new photos.

I found some great photo subjects walking around the neighborhood. Principally, there were some heavily graffiti covered boxcars parked on sidetracks that run through this part of town that proved to be quite photogenic.

Graffiti, of course, still has strong criminal associations. But, as galleries have increasingly displayed works and/or hosted competitions, tagging has become a respectable representation of modern art. Which, of course, leaves me with the question, is it technically plagarism to photograph a tag? Or does employing photographic technique qualify it as an original work? Either way, I'm fond of several of the shots I've gotten.

More photos will definitely be posted as I sort through what I've taken and as I take new photos I think are worth hanging in the Rut/Groove.

Ok, So I was wrong.

Taylor Hicks is the new American Idol and I couldn't be happier. I know I predicted McPheever would sweep the nation... and it almost did. So I guess I was two for five in my predictions. After Chris was eliminated, I realized that Taylor would probably place higher than I had predicted as he had never, ever been in the bottom of any voting group. But, because I was too lazy to make a new post, I decided to let my predictions stand. I don't have much of an ego. I can be wrong.

Congratulations, Taylor. I'm already looking forward to your second record, the one where you get more control and get to express your self as an artist. May your successes be many.

Friday, April 28, 2006

SNAKES ON A PLANE! has a terrific guide to summer movies, zeroing in on films of interest to the 'mo crowd. 2006 has the potential to be an entertaining summer in the multiplex. Of particular interest to moi is:

The Da Vinci Code, May 19. I read the book a couple of weeks ago. I think a lot of people want to take this work more seriously than it deserves, but the movie should prove to be a good thriller.

X-Men III: The Last Stand, May 26. X-Men have always worked as a metaphor for minorities facing oppression, and increasingly successful as an allegory for gay rights as the story line has progressed. It's also historically been one of the consistently smart AND action-packed comics in existence.

Nacho Libre, June 16th. Two years almost to the day after the release of Napoleon Dynamite, director Jared Hess returns with a much-anticipated 2nd film.

Strangers With Candy, June 28. The Sedaris family is rich with talent. Sister Amy brings her cult-favorite and endearingly weird tv show to big screen.

Superman Returns, June 30. Hot guy in tights + Bryan Singer = winner.

Pirates of the Caribbean II, July 7. Will elements from the movies now begin to be incorporated to the theme park ride?

Little Miss Sunshine, July 28. Steve Carrell follows up his turns in 40-Year-Old Virgin and The Office in this dark comedy that was the buzz of Sundance.

Quinceanera, August 2 (limited release). Because summer movie season isn't complete without at least one well-placed indie film to cleanse the palette.

Snakes On A Plane!, August 18. SNAKES ON A PLANE! Say it with me: "SNAKES ON A PLANE!!! Has there ever been a purer concept in summer cinema? Thanks to its bulletproof title, even if the film stinks, it's STILL great. And if the film is great? Then it's an instant classic! It stars Samuel L. Jackson and Bobby Cannavale and a parade of cameo appearances. Say it with me again, SNAKES ON A M*^&#*% F@^%*#(% PLANE!!!!

Another Gay Movie, no release date. Essentially American Pie gone gay. I'm skeptical. I doubt it will be as good as Trick... but hopefully it won't be as bad as, say, Cruising.

In search of an errant knight.

Does any body know where I can get a good hardcover copy of Burton Raffel's translation of Don Quixote? It's outrageously priced on Amazon and Lorenzen doesn't seem to be able to get it. I'm going to try the CALS book sale this weekend, but I'm not anticipating any positive results. Edith Grossman's more recent translation is really great in-depth study of language. But I like Raffel's conversational colloquialisms more than Grossman's more literal phrasings.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

American Idol Predictions

Ok... It may be unfair of me to make my first post in ages about something as terminally lame as American Idol. But I've got to get the ball rolling somehow.

First, a confession: I've never been a big American Idol junkie. At least not for the competition itself. Since the first season, I've made it a point to not miss the audition round. Or, the "Parade of Humiliation" as I've come to call it. Sure, this cycle kind of peaked with William Hung. But there is still some mighty fine entertainment in this phase. And there are still lots of genuinely deluded folks out there who think they have the talent or skill to be a star. The schadenfreude went to an extra special level in this year's auditions with what seemed like an exponentially higher number of contestants who had been getting "vocal training." These people had gotten lessons. They had their teachers with them at the audition. They had the confidence of a professional ready to step on to the national stage. And they sucked. Bad. I have a feeling a lot of people were asking for their money back and then some for the emotional distress. I'd have felt bad for those people if it wasn't so dang funny.

But I digress....

Typically, I check out once the public voting sucks. By that time I've picked a favorite or two I hope will make it to the final round (I didn't really have a favorite the first year that I can recall, though I remember rooting for Fantasia and Rueben Studdard very early on, and I thought Mario Vazquez would have been a real contender if he had not dropped out of the top ten--though I totally understand why he did it) but I don't really have the interest to follow what is, essentially, a sober, adolescent karaoke contest. So I'll watch something else till they get down to the final three or so, keeping tabs just closely enough to know who I hate and who I think might have a glimmer of talent.

This year, however, I've caught either the performance show or the results show, if not both, nearly every week. I don't think that this group is particularly stronger than past groups... I'm not even sure I'm more interested this year than in the past. I guess my Tuesday and/or Wednesday nights have just been a little bit freer. But even as the "cool" part of me pretends not to care, I have some definite opinions on the process and the performers, and, as we move into the final five, I'm going to publish some predictions to see how well I'm reading things.

Just to get things out of the way, here's who I'm glad to see gone (and please pardon me if I spell names wrong):

Kellie Pickler. She made it to the top six by being blonde, thin, and having a decent set of boobs. But she absolutely could not sing. And she was so dumb she made Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears look like Mensa members.

Kevin Corvais: Kind of a cute nerd, sure... and surprisingly confident. But his level of talent topped out at being able to generally hold a tune. He had no performing instincts or emotional connection to the music.

Of course, there's a couple of people I'm surprised to see gone:

Ace: He's pretty. He can hold a tune. He can work an audience. But, then, he really doesn't know his range and he can't confidently perform outside that comfort zone. His falsetto is nice, but he's not all that compelling when not delivering a song's money note. Still I thought he'd make it to the top five.

Mandisa: Based on talent, she was my early pick (along with Paris) for the top spot. But then she was found to have a less than empowering attitude about homosexuality. And when you're a plus-sized sister with a voice strong enough to dominate on a dance floor, you have to know gays and lesbians are going to make up a sizeable contingent of your voting block. Piss them off and you, apparently, go from "favored-to-win" to out the door in one week.

Now, of the five who are left I'm only sentimentally favoring a couple, but I have some dispassionate predictions on how the rest of the season will go down:

Paris: She's out on May 3. She's easily the best singer left in the competition. Her voice is well-trained, soulfully expressive with eloquent phrasing. Given the time and material, she could mature into an artist for the ages. Of course, I'll hedge this bet by reminding myself and everyone else that I also thought Tamyra Gray was going to be the biggest star to come out of season 1. I chalk that up to bad management that is way more interested in short-term chart success than building an enduring career. I would say that's why we've not seen much from Ms. Gray. And why Kelly Clarkson so publicly disassociated herself from the show and its producers this season. Back to my main point: Paris has also been a bottom three or bottom two vote getter for the last few rounds. So, I'm guessing she'll get voted off by the majority of AI viewers who all probably think Billie Holiday was a man.

Elliot: He'll be out on May 10. He's the judges' favorite. He's a competent singer. He has also been a bottom three vote getter more than the other three remaining contestants. As an interpreter of songs, I don't buy Elliot's performances. He's a skilled imitator of soulful singers. But I don't think he brings any real soul or emotion to the performances of his own. All of which makes him inimitably maleable and marketable to teenage girls. But, by my observation, as the AI voting block seems to be skewing older this season, I don't think that will pay off in his favor.

Taylor: This was a hard call to make, but I predict Taylor will be out on May 17. As I said earlier, I've noted what appears to be an older voting block making itself known in this years' selections, and I think that accounts for Taylor's success thusfar. Has be been bottom three more than once? I like Taylor and I think he's the performer in this year's group that needs the least development, who has the biggest handle on who he is on stage. I also think he'll have the broadest appeal of this year's crop when it comes to selling records or concert tickets. But as the field narrows, I think the age factor is going to become a more critical element. I'm betting Katherine is going to pick up most of Kellie's and Elliot's voters which will eventually cut Taylor out of the competition.

Chris: despite my unrequieted desire to make ravenous love to him each week, will be out on May 24. He's a strong performer. He's learning more and more how to make the creative choices that broaden his appeal while maintaining his own artistic integrity, such as it is. That said, I have the least idea what Chris will be like after the competition than anyone else in the running this year. Chris' taste in music (and his history of playing in bands) is the least likely to mesh with the pre-fab manufactured pop produced by the winners on their first efforts. Does he have his own songs he's going to push to record and perform? Will his image be crafted into the Nickelback/Evanescence/Godsmack mold? Will he be allowed to play with his old bandmates? Or will he get watered down like Bo Bice until he gets enough of an audience to push his own agenda? Chris is also the performer that will be the toughest sell to his target audience. Sure, doing covers of covers is original on AI, but it only works when your competition is Kellie Pickler and Kevin Corvais. It won't go nearly so well when he's competing for airspace with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Live. Because his interpretations of these songs have, in fact, been mostly the work of other, more popular artists, he is going to have to work twice as hard to establish his own presence when he can't crib so blatantly from one of his favorite bands. So, in the long run, Chris comes out as one of the artists most in need of development in order to score in the big leagues even as he continues to be one of the strongest performers on the show.

Katharine: I predict Katharine will be the winner on May 24. That said, I don't really get her popularity. She's competent, sure. She's pretty, she can carry a tune and hit her marks on stage. But she doesn't bring any real soul or feeling or committment to her performance. She's perfectly maleable and terribly boring. And I think that's why the judges love her so much. They all come from the music business. And in McPhee you've got an almost perfect marketing construct: She's attractive and sensual without being slutty. She can sing well, but she doesn't try anything really complicated or artsy. She's a confident performer, but creatively in need of a strong producer's guidance. I think the phrase I'm looking for is "pop robot." She can be programmed for success. But that doesn't mean we have to like her.

Now that my predictions are out of the way, I have a question: Where have all the past American Idol performers been this year? Seriously. I mean, Kelly Clarkson made a big stink about how she wasn't going to appear on the show this year and was going to police how her songs were used in the competition. But where has Clay Aiken been? Or Rueben Studdard? Fantasia Barrino? Carrie Underwood? Bo Bice? Tamyra Gray? Justin Guarini? William Hung? or ANYONE that's ever been catapulted to fame by AI? Are they ALL so disgruntled that they're keeping their distance? Or are the producers saving them until the competing herd is thinned out enough that they'll need to bring in older performers to fill up airtime?