07/23/10

Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits Of Radiohead On Her Magical Ukulele

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 12:09:54 pm

So I just found out this exists, from Neil Gaiman's blog, of all places (apparently they are engaged to be married).

I briefly considered getting it, waffled, and decided to save my money until I saw that she's charging 84 cents to download the entire album. How could I pass that up?

Actually, it looks like you can pay more if you like, but $0.84 is the minumum amount. I thought I'd be generous and chip in two bucks.

07/14/10

Seven Horses Seen, but not heard

Filed under: Home and personal, Musicjksterup   @ 09:44:49 am

Daniel has never been much of a music fan. From the time he could talk, he would respond to Erika’s and my singing with, “No, no no.” When he got older and more articulate he elaborated with “I don’t like your song.” This went for children’s music we were actively trying to get him to learn or just music that I play in the background when we’re at home.

This was disappointing to me because I listen to music all the time. I love seeking out new artists that are original and exciting, and one of the things I’ve looked forward to with having kids is enjoying music with them. I have secretly dreamed of the day when Daniel or Eva would come to love something utterly cool like The Flaming Lips or Sufjan Stevens.

That day finally came this past spring.

I had just downloaded the latest Micah P. Hinson album and was listening to it for the first time on the way to school. From the backseat Daniel said, “I like this song.” Sometime later we were at home and I was playing the same album. Daniel again declared, “I like this song,” and added, “What song is this?” The title was “Seven Horses Seen Or Through The Hours, Still Comes Another Day” -- a particularly cumbersome title for a four-year-old, so I shortened it to just Seven Horses Seen.

From that day afterward, anytime I began playing my iPod Daniel said, "I want Seven Horses Seen." Sometimes I told him I wanted to hear something else, but sometimes I would relent. And as we listened to it repeatedly I realized that this really is a great song--perhaps the best on the album. It begins with slow, mournful strings, and features a captivating melody sung in Hinson’s gruff baritone.

At this point I need to explain that I am not a lyrics guy. When I listen to music I pay attention to the melody, instrumentation, and other sound features, and really pay little attention to the actual words being sung. On more than one occasion I have embarrassed myself by declaring, “This is such a nice song,” only to have Erika give me a weird look and say, “You know it’s about suicide, right?”

I say this because I had already listened to Seven Horses Seen a number of times with Daniel before I decided that maybe I should pay attention to the words and make sure it’s appropriate for him. As luck would have it, the very first lines of the song are, “Hey little boy, don’t you be afraid. Your father doesn’t love you and he's made your mom a maid.” After that it gets even more depressing.

By this time, though, Daniel had already established that this is his favorite song, the only song he requests by name, and, like I said, it’s a pretty great song. Besides, it might be that Daniel didn’t pay attention to the words any more than I did. He may like the sound of it, but have no idea about its depressing message.

We were driving to my mom’s house for the 4th July. Daniel was getting impatient on the home stretch, so I decided to turn on Seven Horses Seen for him. After first few bars, Daniel pointed out to us, “He says, ‘Your father doesn’t love you.’” Erika shot me a look. “So much for him not listening to the lyrics, huh?” To make things worse, when we got to my mom’s house he repeated the line for her as well, and a few more times over the weekend.

So I decided then that we’re just going to have to be done with that song. More significantly, I think this marks a big change in the way we listen to music in our house. Up to this point I’ve felt free to play pretty much whatever I want. Sure, I stay away from things that are obviously inappropriate like Outkast or Ween, but pretty much everything else I’ve been able to play around the house without any consideration of the lyrical content. Now, though, when I listen to music I’m going to have to be much more conscious of the words being sung and make decisions about whether or not that’s the kind of thing I want to hear coming out of my children’s mouths.

07/11/10

Hello there

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 11:18:09 am

I think this is the best-kept secret at Omaha's Henry-Doorly Zoo. The Garden of Senses is tucked toward the back of the zoo and doesn't get many visitors, but the last two times we've gone, Daniel has gotten a big kick out of seeing the parrots and hearing them talk. This last time was particularly fun.

07/04/10

Declare Independence

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 06:14:24 pm

07/01/10

Acropolis Now

Filed under: Music, Comicsjksterup   @ 01:32:17 pm

Like I mentioned last week, I loved the recording of INXS's Kick that Beck did with his indie rock friends. It was a little bit surprising when announced because the first three Record Club installments were classic albums very much in a proto-indie rock and folk vein, but I thought the musical collective's rendition of some top-level 80s pop worked very well. It also left me very curious about what's next.

If Kick was a slightly unexpected turn, the new album comes way out of left field. It is Yanni Live at the Acropolis. Here's what Beck.com has to say about it:

To flesh out and capture the complex arrangements, several studio musician heavyweights were brought in to read a heavily doctored score with interpolations of everything from Stravinsky to Shania Twain (look for others). Beck and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth provided auxiliary music and noise, with Thurston improvising lyrics over the previously instrumental track ‘Santorini.’ The new lyrics give the track an added urgency and pathos. Tortoise show up later on a few other tracks.

This is going to be weird.

06/26/10

What keeps me going

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 06:51:43 pm

This week I’m getting to have a little taste of what it’s like to be a single parent. Erika is away in Florida, attending her sorority’s national convention, so from Wednesday afternoon through late Sunday night I’m flying solo.

There have been a few moments of frustration, mostly when the kids are in the house running around and fighting over toys, but we’ve had enough excuses to get out for church or a friend’s birthday party that I’ve been able to maintain my sanity.

Today it was 95 degrees outside, so I decided it was time to set up our big wading pool. From the moment the kids got up from their nap and “rest time,” respectively, we were outside swimming and splashing and having a great time.

Eventually, though, we had to go back inside so I could make dinner while dealing with one child further breaking a door screen, bending venetian blinds, and closing his sister’s fingers in the lid of a storage box (seconds after I had said to leave the box closed). I’m afraid I lost my cool at this point, and later had to have a talk with said child about how daddy is sorry for yelling and he’s going to try to not do that anymore, but that he really needs the child to listen and do as he’s told.

But then, after an unusually calm bathtime I read to Eva Neil Gaiman’s Blueberry Girl, which I have decided is now officially our Special Book, kissed her goodnight, and was greeted by Daniel, dressed in his pajamas, and ready to read Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants (Yes I have a thing for Gaiman, but these are two excellent children’s books, okay?). Since Eva and daddy have a special book, I told Daniel that this can be a Special Book just for us guys.

After not napping and spending all afternoon playing in the pool, Daniel was very tired and didn’t quite make it to the end of our chapter. After watching him sleep peacefully for a minute, I turned out the light. While slowly and quietly pulling his door closed I decided that these are the moments that keep me going.

06/24/10

Sometimes you get kicked

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 06:08:26 pm

Yesterday Beck.com wrapped up the latest Record Club installment. This time Beck and friends covered Kick by INXS. I've been waiting for it to be finished so I can download the bootleg audio rips and listen to it as an album, so I've only now heard most of these recordings.

My reaction: Wow. I think this is the best Record Club session yet. I don't know if they spent more time trying out arrangements and rehearshing beforehand, but it certainly sounds that way. They really breathe some fresh life into these classic 80s tracks. Here are my two new favorites.

06/23/10

Immigration in my hometown

Filed under: Politics, Newsjksterup   @ 05:23:01 am

Yesterday I saw my home of Fremont, Nebraska on the national news, though for a not-so-auspicious reason. They recently passed a law that would prohibit local businesses from hiring, and local landlords from renting to, illegal immigrants. Like the recent Arizona law, it unconstitutionally gives local governments the power to enforce federal law and make life more difficult for illegal immigrants already living in the US. Even if you have no problem with the immigration side of it, though, such legislation is an open invitation for racial profiling. After all, how many white people do you think will be called upon to prove their citizenship?

The racial element of this immigration debate was revealed to me in a particularly ironic way recently. The town I live in now doesn’t have the Hispanic population that Fremont has, and in my four years teaching at this school I have known of only one student who was in America illegally. But she was never the subject of ridicule or persecution. Nobody is going to demand to see her proof of citizenship. Nobody is passing laws to keep her from renting an apartment. Why? Because she had immigrated illegally from Canada.

Embedded in the debate over illegal immigration there is a very basic assumption that mostly goes unspoken, but must be acknowledged: People in America do not have a problem with illegal immigrants: they have a problem with illegal Hispanics immigrants. And no matter how many times people insist that they are just wanting to enforce the laws on the books, the underlying truth is that what they are tyring to do is keep illegal Hispanic immigrants out of America. And as long as that is true, any strict enforcement of immigration law in Fremont or in Arizona is just going to lead to Hispanic-Americans being stopped on the street, Hispanic-Americans being accused of coming her illegally, and Hispanic-Americans being asked to prove their citizenship just to find a place to live.

05/13/10

No blog title could possibly do this justice

Filed under: Fun and Gamesjksterup   @ 04:42:13 pm

My favorite part? The Nina Totenberg opening, naturally.

On a side note, it's always strange to see NPR personalities' faces while they speak. I know that's Robert Siegel's voice, but I don't understand why it's coming out of that strange man's mouth.

05/11/10

A Night at the Circus

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 08:28:30 pm

The circus came to town today, and we decided it would be fun to take the kids. I haven't been to the circus since I was very little, and I believe I was sick on the one occasion, so my memory of it is fuzzy, so my concept of a circus is based mostly on what I've seen on TV: the big, elaborate Ringling Bros-style shows.

When we walked through the the doors of the indoor pavilion at the county fairground, I was surprised at how small everything was. There was one ring in the center with four-tiered wooden bleachers on three sides, some room on the ground for kids to sit, and an area for concessions and souvenirs. It occurred to me, though, that this is probably more along the lines of what circuses have traditionally been: small-scale circus families, travelling from small town to small town by caravan.

I found myself enchanted by all the classic circus cliches: the ringmaster with his BIG, DRAMATIC VOICE; the hard, creaky wooden bleachers; the little bags of peanuts (with the shells still on). All of the standard circus acts were present: the lion and tiger trainer, acrobats, elephants, jugglers, Argentinian Gauchos, camels, and a canine RE-vue.

And then there was the most sacred of all circus traditions: the commitment to making a buck in any way possible. Between every act the ringleader was loudly hocking light-up toys, souvenir whips, authentic circus peanuts, elephant rides, photos with the elephants, balloons, and coloring books. At the end of each pitch he would declare, "Just FIVE DOLLARS! If you want one, RAISE YOUR HAND!" at which 100 little hands would shoot into the air.

I loved it. I loved the genuine self-promotion of it. I loved the unironic tackiness of it all. I even loved the shameless pushing of overpriced crap. I loved it because I think this is what travelling circuses have always been: a wild way to bring some rare entertainment to a small town and part the residents from as much of their money as possible in the process.

What I've neglected to mention so far, though, is that it really was a good show. The lions and tigers (some of them white lions and tigers) were very impressive to see parading around, performing tricks, and all that. The acrobats performed cool feats made even more impressive by their ages: most of them seemed to be the children of the men and women running the circus. One girl kept 55 hula hoops in motion, which is much more amazing when you see her do it and realize that the combined size of all 55 hoops is probably larger than the 12-year-old herself.

There was such a variety of talent and exotic animals that I began to wonder how they manage to make a living playing to such small crowds. Even with most of them performing multiple jobs and even the ringleader grabbing a bunch of balloons or an armload of whips to sell during the intermission, I just don't see how they earn enough money in a show to cover expenses.

I'm glad that there are still people doing this though: raising a family of circus performers, taking their show from town to town, bringing some excitement and wonder everywhere they go.

04/28/10

Flash Game of the Day Century

Filed under: Fun and Games, Comicsjksterup   @ 11:34:54 am

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the greatest flash game in the history of the Internet: Super Mario Crossover.

In this game, you can work your way through the levels of Super Mario Bros. with the heroes from a variety of classic Nintendo games.

Each character has his own attack abilities. You can shoot bad guys with Bill. You can stun and stab with Link. Furthermore, powerups like mushrooms and flowers bestow on the characters the ability upgrades they receive in their own games.

How awesome!

04/26/10

I experienced The Flaming Lips in concert and it made me a better human being

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 03:23:57 pm

This weekend I saw The Flaming Lips in concert with my friend Danny. Although they've been one of my favorite bands for years, I haven't actually seen them in concert since 2000. Since then they've developed the kind of wild, celebratory concert performance that has earned them a very strong fan following. While I've seen and read all about their antics, I learned that experiencing it all firsthand is another thing entirely.

After the band took the stage in a bizarre sequence that involved them emerging from the birth canal of the woman projected on-screen behind them (don't ask), Wayne Coyne rolled his space bubble out over the crowd and then returned to stage for the opening number of "Worm Mountain," which just happens to be my favorite song from the new album and the reason I wanted to see them on this tour. The band exploded with the insanely drum- and bass-laden song, lights flashed, smoke and confetti poured out of cannons, giant balloons bounced overhead, and I was in ecstasy. It seemed like the band was unleashing everything in their spectacular repertoire in just the first song. I really felt like I could leave satisfied after that: I had already seen everything I had come for.

(That's not my video, by the way. My thanks and apologies to the fan who uploaded it)

The concert continued with more confetti, balloons, and now a couple of weird inflatable animals on stage. After several more songs things toned down a bit and Wayne took up his bubble-encased acoustic guitar to play a few solo songs, starting with the traditional "She Don't Use Jelly" (he stopped and restarted midway through because the crowd's rhythmic clapping was throwing him off), an "I Can Be A Frog" sing-along, and "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1." It was nice to see Wayne actually playing some instruments again: in recent years fans began speculating that Wayne doesn't even know how to play guitar because he seemed to only use it as a prop onstage. But his guitar abilities are just fine. Later, he even manned the solo on Powerless (I always assumed that would Stephen's part live).

The Lips closed out their main set with the full band, then came back for the first encore with Stardeath and White Dwarfs for the epic Brain Damage/Eclipse from Dark Side of the Moon. It was a deafening performance with two bands on stage pounding away and the whole crowd wailing along at the tops of their lungs. It would seem like a tough song to top.

The best moment for me, though, was the second encore, when the band came back for "Do You Realize??" As he is wont to do, Wayne preceded the song with some rambling stage chatter. Normally I think he overexplains the songs a bit, but here he talked about a young man that was on tour with them who lost his father recently. At the funeral, he said, they played this song. Wayne talked about how the song addresses death, but is really about embracing life and appreciating our loved ones while they're here. He encouraged the crowd to celebrate in the song on behalf of those in the audience for whom the song may conjure up more somber associations.

Then the song began, and although I've heard it at least 50 times in the last eight years, I experienced the full weight of the song like never before. And when it got the line, "Do you realize that happiness makes you cry?" for the very first time ever the words caused genuine tears of joy to well up in my eyes. It sounds cheesy, but in that moment, surrounded by singing fans and awash in lights and streams of confetti, I felt connected with everyone in the amphitheater that night. But that's just what The Flaming Lips do: through their unself-conscious cheesiness, optimism, and love for spectacle, they give people a communal concert experience that they will never forget.

04/22/10

The Rhyme Master

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 09:38:35 am

Sometime around Christmas, I think, we started talking to Daniel about rhyming words. He was interested in the idea, but he really just didn't get it for a long time. That didn't stop him from trying, though. Daniel would frequently come up to us, say, "I have a rhyme!" and then utter two words that in no way resembled each other, like train airplane, bike bathtub, or ceiling pineapple. Each time we had to tell him that no, those words don't rhyme. He showed an undaunted spirit, though, and continually came back to us with, "I have another rhyme!"

With the help of a new game, Daniel moved on to repeating stock rhyming words that we had told him, like dog frog, man fan, etc. When prompted to make his own, though, he still came back to pairs like animal dinosaur.

Then one day he told me, "I have a new rhyme! Boat moat! I was pretty sure no book or game we had contained moat in it, and I praised him for his original rhyme. Since then he's been dazzling us with his rhyming skills. The way I know he's really got the concept is that he's started producing nonsense words with rhyming sounds. Just today he's excitedly informed me that piggy wiggy, train fain, and boing foing are all rhyming pairs.

04/14/10

You can keep your Double Down

Filed under: Home and personal, Fun and Gamesjksterup   @ 03:06:24 pm

Now if only they'd include the beaks and feet.

(Picture taken outside the Kirksville KFC)

Socialized Reading

Filed under: Politics, Comicsjksterup   @ 06:51:01 am

There's no way to know what Charles Shulz was thinking when he made this strip in 1963, but it's such a perfect metaphor for the health care debate that if someone made this same joke today there would be no doubt about its intended meaning.

But then, the debate over government-paid health care plans goes back decades, so who knows? Maybe Shulz really did embed a commentary on the paranoia of anti-Socialism in Peanuts.

04/09/10

You mean that's real?

Filed under: Politics, Fun and Games, Newsjksterup   @ 08:34:43 am

In my Google Reader rss feeds I saw the Onion headline, "Virginia Governor Declares April Confederate History Month." I thought, "Ha ha, good one, Onion!" and clicked on the link, only to discover that this is not a fake article, but one of their American Voices pieces in which their fictional people-on-the-street make snarky comments about real world news items. Apparently, it's not only real, but has existed for several years.

04/02/10

New Sensation

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 03:08:58 pm

As you may know, Beck has been involved with a project called Record Club, in which he and various guest musicians cover a classic album in one day. The first three selections were more or less what I'd expect from the genre-bending folk rocker, but I was surprised to learn that the fourth album (recorded with members of Liars, St. Vincent, and Os Mutantes) is Kick by INXS. I don't have any particular complaints against the album, but it's definitely not what I generally associate with Beck.

The first two tracks are up on Beck.com, and while the first is pretty straightforward and faithful version of "Guns In The Sky," Beck and Friends' reinterpretation of "New Sensation" is really something else entirely.

03/26/10

Axe Cop!

Filed under: Literature, Comicsjksterup   @ 10:53:00 am

Why did nobody tell me about this before now? Axe Cop is the most amazingly hilarious webcomic I have ever read.

Axe Cop, written by Malachai Nicolle (age 6) and illustrated by Ethan Nicolle (age 29), follows the adventures of an axe-wielding cop, his partner Avocado Soldier (formerly Dinosaur Solder, formerly Flute Cop), and a host of characters so insane they could only come from the imagination of a 6-year-old boy (he was 5 when the series started).

Just how awesome is this comic? Eight words: Vampire Werewolf Shark Wizard Ninja From The Moon.

There's also a section called Ask Axe Cop in which Axe Cop answers reader questions like, "If dirty apes took over the world, what would you do to stop them?" This section may be even funnier than the main comic.

03/24/10

NOTY 2010

Filed under: Fun and Gamesjksterup   @ 09:10:03 am

Since I don't watch basketball (or any sporting events, really) I have to get my bracket fun from the Name of the Year competition. This year's bracket was released today, and I immediately filled it out.

Out this year for me: any name that just combines the names of famous people, like Napoleon Einstein or Aristotle Socrates. My one exception is Hitler Makofane, first of all because the two names make absolutely no sense together, and second because you would have to be insane to name your child (or change your own name to) Hitler, and somebody deserves recognition for that.

Other notables:

Typhoon Nurse: sounds like an amazing superheroine

Dick Smallberries, Jr: Normally I shy away from such obviously lowbrow humor, but it does amuse me that Dick Smallberries, Sr. wanted to pass his name on to his son.

Nohjay Nimpson: First I thought it said Nohjay Simpson, which is a little too obvious, but then I noticed it's Nimpson, which makes it much funnier.

Starzanne Stipes: Similar reaction: I initially read Stripes, and rolled my eyes. But Stipes? Better.

Foxy Foxworth: I'm a sucker for repetition.

Dr. Festus Dada: Any unusual name is made even better by putting Dr. in front of it. I love to imagine his name on the door to a fancy doctor's office.

X'zavier Bloodsaw: As soon as I saw this name I knew it was going to be the winner. Do I really need to explain why? If you don't already appreciate the greatness of this name then I'm afraid I can't help you.

You can click on the picture above to see my entire bracket, but here are my final four picks:
X'zavier Bloodsaw
Dick Smallberries, Jr.
Selathious Bobo (could he be this year's Barkevious Mingo?)
Dr. Festus Dada

And I predict the winner will be, naturally, X'zavier Bloodsaw. Every time I see that name it makes me smile.

03/22/10

Zed's dead, Baby. Zed's dead.

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 06:21:00 pm

In high school I had a very prominent widow's peak, and my friends would tease me about my receding hairline. I used to get defensive and say, "It's not receding--it hasn't moved in years." Recently, this retort has become more of a personal joke, because anyone who's been paying any attention can see that my hair is receding faster than a Himalayan glacier (sorry, that's the best analogy I could come up with).

I'm actually a little bit surprised at how much this bothers me. I've known since I was a child that male pattern baldness is in my genes and that my fate was pretty much inevitable. But faced with the immediate reality of it, I find myself becoming very self-conscious. I think what it comes down to is that this is a clear sign that I am getting Old. There have been plenty of signs before this: my ever-enlarging gut, an increase in back pains, and the fact that I can't run more than a mile without stopping to catch my breath. But I've been able to tell myself that if I wanted, I could get back in shape, lose my belly fat, and (maybe) have fewer back problems due to my increased core strength. But hair loss I can do nothing about (at least, not without enduring some embarrassing treatments).

No, I've decided that if I'm going to go bald, I'm going to do it naturally and with dignity, and to that end I'm just going to keep my remaining hair cropped short. I was doing this last night, and after I was done I was (again) examining that hair line and lamenting the extent of its retreat.

Erika, wonderful wife that she is, has been very supportive of me throughout this time, reassuring me that my hair loss in no way detracts from my otherwise handsome features. Last night she said to me, "I know you think it makes you look older, but I don't. To me you look like Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction." That, it turns out, is the most awesome thing a woman can say to her balding husband.

One year ago...

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 12:38:07 pm

If you had told me that all of my high school students would be into Michael Jackson, I would have laughed at you.

Just now they asked if they can listen to music while they work. I asked them if they have any requests, and they said by near-unanimous consent, "Michael Jackson!"

March 21, 2010

Filed under: Politics, Newsjksterup   @ 08:44:47 am

That's the day that the United States was transformed into a nightmarish dystopia in which the private health care insurance system is given slightly more stringent regulations and the federal government makes it possible for slightly more people to receive health care. Terrifying.

Seriously, I just can't believe the people who think this is oppressive. It reminds me of Lionel Hutz's horrible fantasy of a world without lawyers:

03/19/10

Honestly, I would probably read this

Filed under: Fun and Games, Literature, Comicsjksterup   @ 08:57:33 pm

I already own the book the cover layout is based on.

Photoshop job by Michael Carroll

03/15/10

The Illusion of Balance and the Dumbing of America

Filed under: Education, Politicsjksterup   @ 07:42:14 pm

"I'm glad I don't teach in Texas." That was my initial reaction to reading about their state Board of Education's latest rewriting of their curriculum to present the Civil Rights Movement, McCarthyism, and the founding of America in a way that treats conservatives of the past more favorably. It's easiest to shake my head or say, "That's Texas for you," and tell myself that it doesn't really affect me in Missouri. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that this is a symptom of a much greater problem with America.

I noticed several quotes in this article from board members justifying their action in the name of "balance." I've written about this fallacy before: our broadcast media have already allowed their fear of seeming biased compromise their journalistic integrity so that now, in the name of "balance," news stories are presented in a "he said, she said" style whether it is warranted or not. The result is that even in matters of fact, dissenting views are given disproportional weight, giving the illusion of uncertainty when the facts are very clear. When vaccinations are discussed, the expert opinions of medically trained professionals are "balanced" with Jenny McCarthy's anecdotal evidence; scientists for the Large Hadron Collider were forced to share TV air time with hacks who thought the machine would open a black hole; and most disastrously, a great number of Americans doubt the truth of climate change because every article on the subject gives equal credibility to the overwhelming consensus of scientists and the extremely small body of dissenters. Framing issues in a point-counterpoint format is fine when we're talking about subjective matters in which two or mare equally valid positions exist; but some things are just a matter of scientific and historical fact, and to constantly seek out dissenters only serves to misinform and mislead the public.

Already I'm concerned about my students who are becoming citizens at such a time as this. I wonder where they are going to get their news about the world. Certainly not from newspapers, books, or NPR. Increasingly, the only sources of information for Americans are the TV networks, which is frightening, considering how poorly they actually inform the public of what is happening in the world.

Though I value education deeply, I normally cringe when I hear cliches like, "Our young people are America's greatest treasure" or "The most worthwhile investment our government can make is in our schools," even if there is some truth to it. So you can trust that I'm not using hyperbole when I say that the most important problem in America today is people's ability to reason and think critically about information media. Most of our political movements and struggles are temporary, when you take a long view of history. Even the more deep-seated and seemingly insurmountable barriers to progress--campaign finance and corporate lobbying interests--could be resolved if the American people really knew what is happening in their government. Just look at health care reform: why is it that polls show Americans are in favor of the individual provisions, including a public option, yet the bill itself is unpopular? They have been so misled by the sensationalist news media and conservative groups out to defeat any reform that they don't even know what they dislike about the bill. They just know they don't like it.

If America has any hope of making real progress, of making the government represent the people's interests rather than a political establishment and their corporate sponsors, people must educate themselves about history and current events. They must know how to think critically about the things they see and recognize when they are being fed BS by the news media. They must learn that there aren't always two sides to every issue--that there is a universal truth, and when scientists tell us something about the world that has been verified time and again, we must believe it even if it is inconvenient.

This is the most disturbing thing about what the Texas Board of Education is doing. They may think that they are teaching students to value conservative ideals to benefit their own political party, but what they're really doing is undermining responsible academic study, and generations after those men and women and everyone they know is out of power, what will have happened to Texans' (and Americans') ability to think?

03/13/10

More Quick Movie Reviews

Filed under: Movies and TVjksterup   @ 09:46:22 am

Erika and I are still catching up on recent releases. This past week was devoted to catching some Academy Award nominees.


I had been reluctant to see The Hurt Locker despite its rave reviews, but decided I should give it a chance after Roger Ebert claimed (accurately, as it turns out) that Kathryn Bigelow was a shoe-in for best director. I enjoyed it quite a bit--definitely more than any other movies about the Iraq War--and I can see why Bigelow won the Oscar. Every aspect of the film is very well-done. I like the choice of lesser-known actors in the lead roles, and I think they bring a lot of depth to the characters. The suspense is very effective without being overblown or melodramatic (mostly), and the visuals are very appealing. I don't really have anything to complain about, except that it's a bit unrealistic that the soldiers would see this much combat action in such a short span of time. I have to admit I enjoyed it quite a bit. Still, I feel it's just lacking something. When I was thinking about it and evaluating it afterward, the question that came to my mind was, "So what?" This is a well-done movie about some soldiers in Iraq, but there's not really anything else that makes it special. It doesn't have any new insight into war or international relations. And although well-done there's nothing about the movie that is going to make me come back to it again.


I didn't have a chance to see A Serious Man, the latest film from my favorite directing duo, in the theater, and I put off renting it because I knew I would just buy it eventually to put it alongside the rest of my Coen brothers' DVDs (and I wasn't about to pay full price for something I can get used a few months from now). I decided last week that I wanted to see it before the Oscars, though, so I bucked up and bought a new copy. Honestly, I'm still not really sure what to think of it. This one is going to need a second viewing. I like the premise of a Jewish man lost in a sea of troubles and searching for answers from his religion. The characters are interesting and there's plenty of the Coens' subtly dark humor here. I gathered fairly early on that the protagonist would not find any answers because things are never that simple (and it's comedically obvious that his rabbis are not going to be any help). Still, I was baffled by the ending. When I saw No Country For Old Men in the theater I laughed at the guy who yelled, "What he hell?!" when the credits rolled (I had already been warned about the non-ending). Well, this time I was the sucker yelling exactly the same thing. It's not just that there was no resolution, but that...well, I don't want to give it away, but it's just an extremely unexpected place to end the film. That, combined with the apparently unrelated prologue, makes me wonder if the Coens are purposely screwing with the audience. At this point I don't think I would put A Serious Man among the top 50% of the Coen brothers' films. Who knows, though? I could change my mind after repeated viewings.


Extract was obviously not nominated for an Academy Award, but we decided to go with a short, light-hearted film one night this week because Erika had some work to do. This is from Mike Judge, creator of a number of funny TV and movies, including most notably the workplace comedy Office Space. Extract can be seen as kind of a counterpoint to that cult classic, this time told from the point of view of an employer and boss. Jason Bateman plays the owner of an extract factory who is beset by a host of problems in his business and his marriage. He has an injured employee who plans to sue the company on the advice of a beautiful con artist and a wife who cheats on him with a man that the husband hired to sleep with her (it's complicated). Like Judge's other movies, it's a funny premise with lots of good jokes throughout, but the resolution is lacking. The main problem with the company is wrapped up a bit too neatly and quickly, but I realize this may have been to avoid dragging it out any longer. Extract won't enjoy the cult status of Office Space, but it's not a bad way to spend an evening.


I think I enjoyed Inglourious Basterds more than any other movie Quentin Tarantino has done since Pulp Fiction. No kidding. I've been putting off watching it because, knowing Tarantino and the subject matter, I was expecting it to be just unbearably bloody and painful to watch. To my surprise, it was much less graphic than I had imagined. There's plenty of violence, but those scenes are relatively few and far-between. Inglourious Basterds is very dialogue-heavy, which shouldn't be that surprising, I suppose. What really impresses me about Tarantino is that the man can write such extremely long scenes of just people talking, but every moment is not only engaging but downright suspenseful. I think the opening sequence, which is almost entirely a dialogue between a Nazi SS officer and a French dairy farmer, runs for over 20 tense minutes, gradually building in suspense until its inevitable conclusion. Then there are the Basterds of the film's title, a group of Jewish-American soldiers dedicated to repaying the Nazis for their inhumanity with a bit of terrible brutality of their own. Typically this stuff makes me wince, but since Tarantino began with a gruesome reminder of the Nazis' atrocities it's actually thrilling to see them reap the brutality they've sown. This movie is smart, exciting, well-written and well-directed, and it's topped off with the kind of unrealistic and anachronistic ending everyone wants to see in a World War II movie.


Finally, we rounded off our week of movies with Up In The Air. For me this one was the most disappointing. I enjoyed his first two movies, but this one was just not very interesting. A man who constantly travels for his job has severed all meaningful relationships in his life and is living happily until he falls in love with a woman who appears to be a kindred spirit and is forced to travel with a young coworker. His worldview is challenged and he realizes he doesn't like being alone. The whole premise seems like a tired Hollywood cliche. Despite this, the characters are pretty good, and the actors play them well. There are some very funny scenes and smart dialogue when the three meet up. I will also say that the movie ends fairly well, avoiding the obvious sappy lessons it could go for and seeking out a more static resolution for the main character. Ultimately, though, I'm afraid it makes for a pretty forgettable movie.

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