01/01/09

Happy Aught-Nine

Filed under: Literature, Comicsjksterup   @ 12:00:01 am

Happy New Year

Click on the image for a larger version.

12/31/08

But who's going to pay for it?

Filed under: Movies and TVjksterup   @ 11:20:03 am

Catching up on the podcasts I missed while on Christmas vacation, I recently listened to Terry Gross's discussion with TV critic David Bianculli. Toward the end of their conversation they talked about the problems facing the television industry, including the issue of how to make Internet distribution of TV shows profitable.

Basically, with people either watching shows on TiVo, watching clips online, or downloading illegally, it is getting harder and harder for the networks to generate ad revenue for their content. Bianculli rightly believes that the future of TV entertainment is in the Internet, but he says that nobody has yet found a way for it to pay off financially.

Though I am a public school teacher with no experience in the television industry or in advertising, I think I may have a solution.

First, we have to assume that TV as we know it will soon be history, and that's okay. Television is merely a means of transmitting audio and video information into people's homes. The Internet now does the same thing, only far better. But with Internet distribution comes the same problem that the music industry has been dealing with: when a product is in a digital format it's impossible to keep people from downloading it without paying for it.

Many attempts have been made to cope with this problem, but they have not been very effective.

One solution is to create technology that prevents illegal copying. This is futile. No matter what steps a company may take to encode their product someone will find a way to decode and copy it.

Another solution is to sue or prosecute the illegal copiers. This has also failed: Internet filesharing is so widespread it's impossible to catch everybody, and the risk of getting caught is obviously so low that people continue to do it without fear or reservation. The sue-the-consumer approach has been so ineffective, in fact, that the RIAA has recently announced that it will cease lawsuits against individuals.

The final attempt to curb unauthorized filesharing has been to appeal to people's consciences. You've probably seen those ads that compare copying a movie to stealing a car or some such nonsense. Most people, though, are bright enough to spot the difference between those two very different types of stealing, and I doubt those ads have done anything to stop people from downloading.

So the reality we're faced with is a population of consumers who don't think they ought to pay for entertainment and can easily obtain it through illegal means. I think that over time the percentage of consumers who do this will only grow: the generation that has come of age post-Napster will be even less willing to pay for music and television than those of us who once had to pay for every CD we owned.

Some people think this is just fine, that information wants to be free. That's all well and good, but it still leaves a very big question of who is going to pay for it. After all, television shows aren't produced for nothing, and if advertising money is dwindling and consumers refuse to pay, then the money will run out. In the context of our private advertisement-drive television industry, this may seem like an impossible problem, but I believe the solution is something that has been practiced by our cousins across the Atlantic for decades.

Throughout its history the BBC has been funded by television licensing: Any household that wishes to receive TV or radio broadcasts must pay a flat fee, which is used to pay for all programming expenses. It would be very easy to enforce because anybody who uses the Internet must have an account with an Internet Service Provider. The government could simply require a fee for every account in the nation to be distributed among the television and music industries.

I think that such a system would reap many benefits in terms of quality of programming. I wrote once about the problem of ratings-driven media. I've often heard TV critics lament the fact that the best shows are often canceled due to poor ratings, or that the most popular programs are the ones that appeal to the lowest common denominator. If TV were freed from ratings demands, opportunities would open up for lots of great shows that otherwise would not stand a chance. The scenario starts to look even better when you consider the other remaining revenue source for TV shows: DVD sales. What is likely to make more money: the complete series of Freaks and Geeks or a DVD set of Dancing With The Stars? (Okay, I realize that DVDs are probably on their way out as we inevitably approach download-only distribution, but this would at least help in the short term)

And since we're talking about all media here, what about music? Wouldn't it be unfair for musicians to not be compensated for high album sales? As you have no doubt heard, major-label musicians actually see very little of the profits from their albums (it's only the Metallicas of the world that are able to get really wealthy). Most musicians, in fact, support downloading because they know it broadens their fan base and increases attendance at their concerts, where they really make their money. Their situation would actually change little if what I propose were to happen. The record labels, instead of drawing their income from album sales, would instead be compensated with more of a guaranteed income from the ISP fee I've suggested, which may not be a bad thing for them, considering how music sales have been going the last several years. And again, if high album sales no longer mattered, consider the defunct system that would go with it: top 40 radio, payola, pop divas. Record companies would have no incentive to engage in such sales-boosters, leaving the field even more open for lesser-known artists to get a start.

This seems like a very unlikely scenario. After all, I'm talking about a total reconfiguring of our entertainment industry, but I really see this as the only way to finance television and music in the future. One day television sets will be totally obselete, as will CDs and even DVDs. When all media is downloaded (which it someday will be) and when even more people think they are no obligated to pay for their downloads (also inevitable), I don't see any other option.

12/30/08

Top Ten of 2008

Filed under: Movies and TV, Literature, Music, Comicsjksterup   @ 10:17:15 am

Each year I join in the sacred blogging tradition of creating year-end lists of favorite entertainment. I never seem to be able to expose myself to enough new movies, books, or music to devote separate lists to each one (a problem that has only grown worse since I've had kids), so I opt instead to create one master list of all my favorite things from the year. This is not supposed to be a definitive list of the best entertainment, yadda yadda yadda... It's just my own personal, emotional reaction to some of the things I took in this year.

10. Christmas on Mars

I actually didn't expect this one to make the list, but when I was ranking things I found myself moving it up past several other things I saw or heard this year. I guess that despite my disappointment with the ending, the Flaming Lips' amateur film still brought me a great deal of joy. For one thing, it was nice to finally see it after so many years. Besides, it's the Flaming Lips! How could I not love it in spite of its flaws? Plus it gave us a whole new CD of original music, which is always welcome.

9. Keanoshow

This is one of many releases I never got around to blogging about. Keanoshow is a collection of short films, music videos, and other miscellanea by Dave McKean, artist, illustrator, photographer, director, and frequent collaborator with Neil Gaiman. If that doesn't mean anything to you, go ahead and skip to the next item. This DVD is another release I have anticipated for a long time, and it did not disappoint. Keanoshow collects mostly experimental film pieces, and some of them don't work so well, but others are terrific. In addition to the films themselves, there is a new retrospective documentary, directed and narrated by McKean himself, that contains even more of his earliest work. It's about the most comprehensive collection of the man's short film works that one could ask for, and must-have for an obsessive fan like me.

8. Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!
Breakdowns

Speaking of collections of previously unavailable early works, Art Spiegelman released a collection that requires some explanation. It's actually two separate works, beginning with the most recent, "Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!", an autobiographical comic strip that was originally published in the Virgininia Quarterly Review. Here it serves as a lengthy introduction to the primary content of the book, a facsimile reproduction of Breakdowns, a long out of print collection of his earliest experiments with comics art. I've long known these existed because Scott McCloud makes reference to them in Understanding Comics, but they have been unavailable to most readers until now. Finally, the book closes with an afterword that does much to illuminate what, exactly, he was going for in his early work. It also goes a long way to explain how such an idiosyncratic underground artist went on to create Maus, one of the most influential and successful graphic novels of all time.

7. Modern Guilt
Modern Guilt

I have to remind myself to listen to Beck's new album once in a while. It just seems to get lost among the other music I bought this year, even though it's a pretty solid album.

6. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust

I'm glad this is a blog and not a podcast, so I don't have to attempt to pronounce that album title. Sigur Rós makes beautiful music that I can only vaguely describe as orchestral rock. This new release was hyped as a change in sound for the Icelandic band, I think mostly because of the upbeat opening track, but it still sounds to me very much like the band I've grown to love for their previous five albums. This new release also features the band's first song sung in English, which, it turns out, is about as easy to understand as the rest of their songs.

[update] Hmm... Photobucket says the album art violates their terms of use. I'm guessing it's the naked buttocks. I replaced it with a link to Wikipedia's file.

5. Third

In case you haven't heard, influential trip-hop group Portishead came out with a new album this year, which was a big deal, seeing how it's their first studio album in 11 years. It's just as great as everybody says.

4. WALL·E

I didn't get out to the theater much this year, and I missed seeing Pixar's latest film when it was released, but I did finally catch it on video last week. From all that I had heard about WALL·E, I was really expecting something extraordinary. As expected, the first third of the movie is delightful. The latter part, which I had heard so much about, proved to be neither as controversial, unusual, or disappointing as I had been led to believe. Actually I think it turned out to be a pretty standard Pixar movie, which is to say, excellent.

3. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

I'm a rather casual Nick Cave fan: I really like his music, but I haven't yet reached that fanatical point where I buy every release. So when I heard on various music podcasts this new album described as a huge comeback for Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, and perhaps the greatest of their career, I had to check it out. It's rough, nasty, and wonderful. The title track, which is the one I always heard promoted in interviews and reviews, is actually one of my least favorite songs on the album. We Call Upon the Author, which takes the Creator to task for the state of the world, is a lot of fun to listen to, and Hold On To Yourself is the most achingly beautiful song I've heard this year.

2. The Graveyard Book

I can't believe I haven't mentioned this once yet. That just shows how much I've let the blog go. So Neil Gaiman came out with a new book this year, and I think it may be his best new work since American Gods. Iit's that good. The Graveyard Book is a take off of The Jungle Book, and is about a living boy whose parents are murdered and who is raised by ghosts in a graveyard. It was written for children or young adults, but there's nothing to keep us fully-fledged adults from enjoying it too. It's a simple concept and the story doesn't really hold any surprises, but it's filled with such delightful characters and is so well-plotted that you just may want to read it all in a single day.

1. The Dark Knight

Could this movie possibly be anything other than number 1? I've already said pretty much all that I can about it. As soon as the movie was over I was already looking forward to when I could see it again.

12/18/08

New Christmas music from Sufjan

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 08:12:32 pm

It looks like Sufjan Stevens is back to distributing unofficial Christmas CDs to friends and family...who then share them with the rest of us. You gotta love the Internet.

After giving volumes 1-5 an official commercial release, Sufjan has apparently skipped 6 & 7 (unless they're still loose in the wild) and has come out with volume 8: Astral Inter Planet Space Captain Christmas Infinity Voyage.

Sufjan

Grab it here while you still can.

Hat Tip AllGoodNaysayers.net

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything

Filed under: Religion, Literaturejksterup   @ 01:47:54 pm

I think this book is exactly what I need right now.

The more widely I read on Christianity, Judaism, and the Bible, the more questions and doubts I seem to end up with. This has been going on for years, ever since I first realized that a fundamentalist approach to Christianity is not consistent with what we know about the origins of mankind.

I sometimes become frustrated with my own questioning and at times I've been left picking up the pieces of my faith and trying to figure out what, exactly, I do believe after all.

So I was excited today when I saw the cover of David Dark's new book:

Question

With his previous two books Dark has played a vital role in showing me the harmony that exists between Christianity, pop culture, literature, folk traditions, and populist left-wing politics.

I can't wait to read what he has to say in his new one.

12/16/08

Music to my ears

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 10:32:39 am

Last night I heard those five little words that every new parent longs to hear:

"I pee in the potty."

I have waited anxiously for six months to hear these words come from my son's mouth. Six months of reading toilet-training books. Six months of encouraging, urging, bribing, and near-pleading. Six months of sitting next to Daniel in the bathroom as he disappointedly reports "I not pee."

To be honest, I have heard those words, "I pee in the potty" many nights before now, but it has always been in the sense of "I want to pee in the potty," soon followed by the request, "Daddy help me." I've had to tell Daniel each time that I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do to help him, that this is something he can only do on his own.

Then last night (O, glorious night!) as we prepared for bathtime Daniel requested once again, "I [want to] pee in the potty." I sat him down and, prepared for another fruitless night of waiting, I went to fetch a book for myself. From the other room I heard my son yell, "I pee in the potty!"

When I arrived in the bathroom, Daniel was standing, with the toilet paper completely unrolled, and I could see that what he had really meant was, "I peed in the potty!"

I yelled his name so loud that for a moment I was afraid I may have scared him, but he turned toward me with a huge grin on his face, and we both laughed with joy. I'm not sure who was happier (When Erika and I discussed toilet training, Erika said at one point that the first time Daniel would go on the potty we would have to act very excited for him; I told her that if Daniel ever finally went on the potty, there would probably be no need for acting on my part).

I yelled the news to Erika through the house and she came running so that she, too, could marvel at the pee in the potty.

I feel I must apologize to the non-parents reading this, who may not realize that when you become a parent discussions of bathroom behaviors tend to dominate a disproportionate amount of adult conversation. You also may not understand how the simple act of urination can be such a source of joy. I'm afraid it's one those things in life that must be experienced first-hand to be fully understood.

I'm really not exaggerating when I say that last night was the most exciting night we have had in many months.

Now I am looking forward to when I hear five even more wonderful words:

"I poop in the potty."

That will be a wonderful day.

12/11/08

Theodicy and the Odyssey of the Swamp Thing

Filed under: Religion, Comicsjksterup   @ 12:42:00 pm

Danny shared on Google Reader a blog post that questions God's perceived non-intervention in the life of Hitler:

There were 42 failed attempts to kill Hitler…. If there is a God seated on his Royal Throne in Heaven, why did he not let [one of them succeed]?

This, of course, is a a smaller part of a larger question that has been tossed around for centuries. It's such a common question that it has been given its own word: theodicy. In general, it asks if God can do anything, then why does he allow people to suffer?

The author of the blog post poses three possible answers:

1. God couldn’t do anything about Hitler. But if that’s true, what kind of God is he? And if he can’t do anything about anything, why pray or worship him?
2. God could do something about Hitler, but he chose not to. In other words, he would be the most evil being imaginable. If a man could easily stop the Nazis without any innocent deaths, but chose not to, wouldn’t he be evil?
3. God doesn’t exist.

Always beware of false dilemmas (or trilemmas, or what have you). There are almost always other options to be considered.

In this case, the author makes some pretty big assumptions about God intervening in human affairs. He presumes that if God is able to stop Hitler and doesn't then he must be evil. Is that a fair assumption? There are countless writings spanning centuries about this very issue, contemplating the role of God in the universe and man's free will. I haven't read most of it, but I have read an excellent book by C.S. Lewis that provides some very enlightening answers.

However, my favorite answer to the question comes from comic book writer Alan Moore (yes, I know I am obsessed with him). In his superhero comics, Moore has occasionally used supreme, god-like characters to explore questions about the nature of God. One of them is Swamp Thing.

Before Moore began writing on the title, Swamp Thing was a scientist named Alec Holland who was accidentally transformed into a plant-like creature. All along, though, it was suspected that he was still human deep inside, and that a cure may be possible. The first thing Alan Moore did with the character was to reveal that, in fact, he was not human, that Alec Holland actually died, and that his consciousness passed on to a mass of animated plant matter.

The rest of Alan Moore's run on the comic explores the diverse implications of this revelation. Swamp Thing eventually realizes that his true being resides in his consciousness; that he can leave his body and grow a new one elsewhere; that he can enter the green, the linked plant mind that permeates the entire earth; that he can take control of all plant-life in the world; that, in fact, the entire earth's ecosystem is under his control.

By the time he realizes the full extent of his abilities, Alan Moore has reached the end of his run on the series, and brought us to Swamp Thing (v. 2) #64. It's one of my favorite single comic book issues of all time. In this story Swamp Thing has finished his greatest adventure and is preparing a private Garden of Eden where he can reside with Abby, the human woman he is in love with. He begins to ponder his role in the world, and it occurs to him that he could solve all of the earth's environmental problems. He could rid the world of pollution, turn deserts into fruitful gardens, and generate enough food to end starvation.

He begins to ask himself the same question people have asked about God for centuries: If he has the ability, why doesn't he do this?

He remembers the Parliament of Trees, the other Swamp Things that have come before him (in the course of his self-discovery he found that he is the latest in a line of plant elementals that have existed since the beginning of time), and he begins to wonder why they all chose to be inactive witnesses to the passing of each previous epoch in history.

(Click on the following thumbnails to view larger images)

Swamp
Swamp Thing

Here is some of the relevant text, without the ellipses (Swamp Thing tends to talk...very...slowly):

In the pre-cambrian, when all the world was weeds and nothing crawled or swam or flew, the earthgods ruled the last non-violent era, 'til the sun grows red and swollen and all life is fled.

They could have made their kingdom of the plants as perfect as I'll make this world of men and there would never have been need for any other form of life. They could have kept this planet for their own, and yet did not.

I wonder why?

Instead they let the fish glide in upon the wild, silurian tide and took their forms and played with them, yet never made this world a cool piscean paradise.

And so on, through the age of fishes and then of of dinosaurs: each time one species died off and gave way to new forms of life, the plant elementals did nothing to prevent these changes.

Swamp Thing then gets to his own theological dilemma:

Is this, then, what it is to be a god? To know, and never do? To watch the world wind by, and in its winding find content?

If I should feed the world, heal all the wounds man's smoldering industries have made, what would he do? Would he renounce the wealth his sawmills bring, step gently on the flowers instead, and pluck each apple with respect for this abundant world in all its providence?

No.

He would pump more poisons, build more mines, safe in the knowledge that I stood on hand to mend the biosphere, endlessly covering the scars he could no endlessly inflict.

Somewhere the parliament stand rooted, inert and omnipotent, while tiny spiders drape their ribs in silk.

After this night of reverie, at last I comprehend their stance.

Alan Moore is no theologian (nor a Christian), but I think he illustrates an excellent point. We have a very myopic view of history. To ask why the Swamp Thing does not act to create a paradise for humanity is to assume that our era is more important than all those that have come before.

I mentioned that the Hitler question that began this train of thought contains some erroneous assumptions, but I didn't mention the biggest one of all. Any question about why God did not stop Hitler contains the assumption that God should have stopped him. Why? Because that's what we would do, if any of us were God.

But like I said, we have a very myopic view of history. The reason Hitler is used as the example is because he is seen as the greatest murderer of the last century. But when you consider the whole scope of human history, he is far from alone. Even now people are committing atrocities nearly as horrifying, and the world is not even as violent as it was in ancient times. The whole of human history is a long record of war, cruelty, and injustice. Why, then, do we accept the history that has come before, yet criticize God for not intervening in just the latest incident of mass murder? Why do we presume to know what God's will should be? What is so special about us that we demand special intervention?

And more importantly, if God did intervene to stop these things from occurring, what would happen to us? What would happen to our free will?

Frank Schaeffer on Fresh Air

Filed under: Religion, Politicsjksterup   @ 09:59:58 am

From Fresh Air:

Frank Schaeffer's parents, Francis and Edith, were best-selling authors who were instrumental in linking the evangelical community with the anti-abortion movement.

But after coming of age as an evangelist and helping to organize religious fundamentalists politically, Schaeffer had a crisis of faith: Though he is pro-life, he decided that abortion should remain legal.

I've never heard of Frank Shaeffer before, but this turned out to be one of the most fascinating Fresh Air interviews I've heard in a long time.

Listen to hear Schaeffer explain the role he played in the birth of the conservative Christian movement political movement, how homosexuality became a key issue, why he never thought Bush would be a good president, and why he voted for a Democratic presidential for the first time in 2008.

12/10/08

Interactive Springfield Map

Filed under: Movies and TV, Linkagejksterup   @ 01:09:46 pm

Here is a quite impressive interactive map of Springfield, home of the Simpsons.

I'm surprised they were able to actually make it work somewhat, considering that the show's writers have never attempted to maintain any kind of consistency in geographical layout and the relative positions of different locations (wasn't he power plant once revealed to be adjacent to the Simpsons' home?). I'm sure there are plenty of things that contradict this map, but it's still fun to browse it and see what references I can remember.

12/03/08

My thoughts exactly

Filed under: Fun and Gamesjksterup   @ 11:13:26 am

The Onion: Twenty Minutes Spent Making Tuna Fish Palatable

"Gotta have some pickles in there," Ingram said after draining the flaccid, oil-soaked fish and adding mayonnaise, red onions, and various other condiments to help mask its actual flavor.

This is an ongoing conversation in my household. My wife loves tuna salad, whereas I literally gag at the mere smell of it.

I'm glad that The Onion is on my side.

12/02/08

Christmas on Mars

Filed under: Movies and TV, Musicjksterup   @ 09:10:23 am

Drozd

I finally found the time to watch Christmas on Mars, The Flaming Lips' long-awaited science fiction film. This is the homemade movie that was written, designed, and directed by Wayne Coyne, starred the band and their friends, and was filmed in Wayne Coyne's backyard. It took seven years to make, mostly because it was completed while the band was also recording two albums and touring the world.

Considering that Christmas on Mars is made by amateur filmmakers in their spare time, I really wasn't expecting top-notch cinema. I was really expecting that the movie would at least be as weird and intriguing as The Flaming Lips' music has always been. Unfortunately, even those modest expectations were disappointed.

The movie starts out promising enough, with a crew aboard a colony on Mars. They've been there for about a year, and some of the men are starting to crack up from the isolation and, later, from oxygen deprivation. There is also a woman confined to a bubble within the station who is preparing to have a baby. The main character is Major Syrtis, who is attempting to bring a little Christmas cheer to an otherwise dismal situation. Like his crewmates, Syrtis is losing his grip on reality, and is haunted by visions of dying babies and creatures with female genitalia for heads.

It's not a bad set-up and some of the more bizarre imagery hints at some interesting themes. At times it seems as if the station's machinery is alive, suggesting that the station may have a will of its own and is contributing to the crew's madness.

In the end, though, these things don't really amount to anything, and what had promised to be a dark and bizarre movie turns into a pretty tame Christmas Miracle story. A mute alien (played by Wayne Coyne) arrives at the space station and is assigned to be the Santa in whatever Christmas surprise Major Syrtis has planned. He miraculously fixes the station's oxygen generator and gravity machine, and helps the woman to deliver a healthy baby. The ending is so neat and cliched it's hard to believe it's even the same movie. The film reaches its saccharine climax when the captain asks Major Syrtis how the alien worked out as Santa, and Syrtis says that he wasn't very good. The captain responds to the contrary, and says, "I think he may have been the best Santa ever."

Blecch.

Still, I think the movie is a must-see for fans of The Flaming Lips. It's fun to watch for all of the band members, friends, and other related people. The CD/DVD package has a list of contributors with pictures and notes on their relation (band, friend, nephew, etc.) driving home the impression that this was a very personal project. And for what is essentially a home movie, it has some pretty good visuals. George Salisbury did a great job in post-production with the special effects, titles, and other little tweaks that make this look like a 21st century B-movie.

11/19/08

A Reminder

Filed under: Politics, Literature, Comicsjksterup   @ 06:49:25 am

A Reminder

11/13/08

Geek Confession #11

Filed under: Home and personal, Newsjksterup   @ 11:29:33 am

I love listening to Nina Totenberg read Supreme Court transcripts.

For one thing, I'm fascinated by the way Supreme Court justices engage in open dialogue with each other, making arguments, asking questions, and posing hypothetical situations.

But I think Nina Totenberg read the proceedings makes them even better. All of the justices' sound warm and rational when coming from her lips.

If you don't know what I'm talking about listen to this recent story about a local government's right to display privately-donated monuments.

11/06/08

Voting against their own self-interest

Filed under: Politics, Newsjksterup   @ 11:50:04 am

I promise that soon I'm going to quite participating in the endless post-election analysis, but I thought this was very interesting.

FiveThirtyEight.com compares how the Obama 2008 campaign did compared to the Kerry 2004 campaign among various demographics. In almost every area, Obama outscored Kerry, which is not surprising in itself.

What's interesting is that the largest difference was a 17-point gain among people earning over $200,000 per year. Kerry won 35% of their vote; Obama won 52%. Remember that these are the only people for whom Obama actually promised to raise taxes, and they as a group showed the greatest movement toward the Democratic candidate.

Income

I really don't know what to make of it, but kudos to them.

11/05/08

An end to fear

Filed under: Politics, Newsjksterup   @ 08:58:43 am

What can I say? All the greatest hopes and dreams of us liberals came true last night. Eight years of regressive foreign and domestic policies are about to end.

Tom Tomorrow voiced his surprise at FOX News discussing whether or not America is now a "center-left country." I would argue that it always has been.

Most Americans think health care should be guaranteed for everyone.

Most Americans approve of a timetable withdrawal from Iraq.

Most Americans agree with the Roe v. Wade decision.

Candidates and political parties aside, when you look at public opinion on the issues, people's views almost always align with the Democratic Party, and they have for several years. So why did the Republicans enjoy so much power until now? How was President Bush, one of the least popular presidents of all time, manage to be re-elected?

Fear.

Fear of terrorists. Fear of immigrants. Fear of homosexuals.

But after eight years the people have had enough of regressive Republican policies and those old fear tactics aren't working the way they used to. It's hard to scare people about the threat of terrorism when our economy is in shambles and our financial institutions are near collapse.

If you want to know how the Democrats managed to pull of such a landslide, it's that they got people to finally ignore all of the fearmongering and just vote on the issues.

11/04/08

So long sad times

Filed under: Politics, Newsjksterup   @ 07:13:35 pm

It looks like the election is all but over, and the song I've been singing in my head all night is "Happy Days Are Here Again," the official song of FDR's 1932 presidential campaign, recorded here by Danielson in 2007.

So long sad times!,
Go 'long bad times!,
We are rid of you at last
Howdy, gay times!
Cloudy gray times,
You are now a thing
Of the past, cause:

Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
Let us sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again
Altogether shout it now!
There's no one who can doubt it now
So let's tell the world about it now
Happy days are here again
Your cares and troubles are gone;
There'll be no more from now on
Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
Let us sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again

11/01/08

Cowboy Dan

Filed under: Home and personaljksterup   @ 12:52:29 pm

Continuing on a theme

Filed under: Politics, Fun and Gamesjksterup   @ 12:47:20 pm

Here's today's installment of Tom the Dancing Bug

Tom

10/29/08

The biggest tax increase in history.

Filed under: Politicsjksterup   @ 06:53:42 am

The most liberal member of the Senate.
The most liberal person to ever run for president.

Conservatives love to roll out the superlatives when discussing Democratic candidates. I have also heard the absolute claims that no president has ever raised taxes during a war or during a time of economic crisis.

When I was commenting on my conservative friend* Melanie's post the other day I decided to do a little fact-checking on myself and found a table of tax rates going back to 1913. Here are the tax rates that the wealthiest Americans were required to pay during a few key years:

1929 (the year the stock market crashed): 24%
1932-1935 (during the Great Depression): 63%
1941 (the year America entered WWII): 81%
1944-1945 (the end of WWII): 94%
1952-1953 (post-war economic prosperity): 92%
1982-1986 (Reagan administration): 50%

Some of these figures may be a little surprising. I still have a hard time believing that there was a 94% tax rate on the wealthiest Americans during wartime. Surely anybody alive today would call that the worst kind of Socialism.

I'm also surprised to see how high the top tax rate was during most of Reagan's presidency. It wasn't until 1987, the very end of his time in office, that taxes were lowered to a rate more comparable to what it is now.

So what can we take away from this? For one thing, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the man your grandma voted for in four different elections, was ten times the Socialist that Barack Obama will ever be.

Second, if somebody were to actually attempt the largest tax increase in history they would have to contend with that 38% hike from 1931 to 1932.

Third, the period of history that had the highest tax rates on the wealthy coincided with a time of such tremendous economic prosperity that it is considered a golden era of American capitalism. So much for taxes on the wealthy suppressing growth.

Barack Obama wants to raise the top tax rate back to 39.6% (what it was in 2000) and cut taxes on everyone making less than $250,000 per year. What exactly is so frightening about that?

* P.S. I call Melanie my conservative friend not because she is the only conservative I know, but because she is one of the most thoughtful and well-informed conservatives I know, and that she is very good at challenging all of my views on the issues.

10/23/08

Let's get real

Filed under: Politics, Newsjksterup   @ 01:59:23 pm

Attention John McCain and Sarah Palin:

I've been hearing a lot from you about Real AmericaTM--the people and communities that you seem to believe represent true American values (as opposed to the millions of people who live in concentrated areas like New York City or San Francisco).

I would like to tell you about where I come from.

I was born and raised in Nebraska, and spent my formative years in a town of less than 25,000 people.

My father grew up on a farm, and some of my relatives still carry on that family tradition.

As I was growing up I spent my summers working for local farmers, ridding their soy bean fields of weeds.

My midwestern parents instilled in me a value for hard work and for helping out those who need it.

I was raised in a Christian church and from about the time I was able to read, I was reading the bible.

I left Nebraska to live in Missouri, in a town of 17,000. It's the largest town for 90 miles. I teach special education in a public school. Most of my students come from rural, low-income, or uneducated families.

My meager teacher's salary supports my wife and two children. We don't have many fancy things, but we are happy.

By any standards you may choose, I think I qualify as a Real AmericanTM.

I believe in universal health care. I believe that health care is a right, and in a nation as prosperous as ours there is no excuse for any citizen to not have access to adequate health care.

I believe that people who have been blessed with plenty should be called on to help those who have been blessed with little. I don't care if you call this Socialism or class warfare--where I come from people help people who are less fortunate than themselves.

I'm opposed to war for too many reasons to explain here. I think that our soldiers have fought too long for a cause that was unjust to begin with, and it's long past time for them to come home.

I oppose abortion. I also recognize that if the practice is outlawed (which is unlikely even if we continue to elect Republican presidents), abortions will continue to happen. I believe the most effective way to stop abortion is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

I also believe there are is no Real AmericaTM. Whether we were born in the Midwest, the East Coast, the West Coast, or in the Panama Canal Zone, so long as we pledge allegiance to the United States we are all equally real Americans, who faithfully carry on the values instilled in us by our parents, regardless of point of origin.

If you claim to represent only a portion of our nation, then you will represent none of it.

He makes an excellent point

Filed under: Politics, Newsjksterup   @ 09:20:33 am

Robert Reich on the government bailing out financial institutions and (possibly) General Motors:

Pardon me for asking, but if a company is too big to fail, maybe -- just maybe -- it's too big, period.

We used to have public policies to prevent companies from getting too big. Does anyone remember antitrust laws? Somewhere along the line policymakers decided that antitrust would only be used where there was evidence a company had so much market power it could keep prices higher than otherwise.

We seem to have forgotten that the original purpose of antitrust law was also to prevent companies from becoming too powerful. Too powerful in that so many other companies depended on them, so many jobs turned on them and so many consumers or investors or depositors needed them, that the economy as a whole would be endangered if they failed. Too powerful in that they could wield inordinate political influence of a sort that might gain them extra favors from Washington.

10/19/08

Countdown to 20,000

Filed under: Musicjksterup   @ 11:50:14 am

According to my last.fm profile, I am 10 songs away from hitting my 20,000th play scrobbled on the site, so I've decided to do a spontaneous random ten to commemorate the event.

Why? Because about the only things I like better than meaningless milestones are pointless music lists.

So here we go:

Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl - U2
We're starting off with some really old U2, from way back in 1982. It's really not some of their better music, even for that time period, but it's a must-have for obsessive completionists like me. By the way, this is the studio version from their A Celebration single--not the live version on Under a Blood Red Sky.

Two-Step - Dave Matthews Band
I'm not really much of a Dave Matthews fan, but I inherited most of his music when I married Erika. If I had to pick any DMB song to listen to, though, this would be it. I like the instrumental opening that builds for a good minute and a half before the vocals come in. It really would have made a great album opener.

Fired - Ben Folds
This is kind of the opposite of the last track. I generally like Ben Folds (who my wife also turned me on to), but I'm not a big fan of this track. I don't have a particular reason--it just doesn't get me fired up (sorry) the way his other music does.

Holy Dread! - Clint Mansell
This is from the soundtrack to The Fountain by Darren Aronofsky. It's kind of a dull soundtrack, and this is track is no exception. Next, please.

Goin' Nowhere - Chris Isaak
Yet another artist I probably would never have listened to had it not been for my wife. This song is okay, but I don't love it. If iTunes doesn't start picking some of my music soon, I may have to start cheating a little bit.

Marrow - Ani DiFranco
This is better. I like Ani quite a bit, although I prefer the frenetic guitar work on her earlier albums (this track is off Revelling/Reckoning, which my wife likes way more than I do).

March for Koala - The Seatbelts
This is a song from the amazing Cowboy Bebop anime series. Every song in the show was written and performed by Yoko Kanno and her band, and there are some amazing songs of a diverse range of genres. This song, however, is just a little bit of silly incidental music. I'm beginning to fear that my 20,000th song is going to be a real let-down.

California Dreamin' - The Mamas & the Papas
This is more like it. Everyone with a pulse loves this song. Let's have more of this, iTunes randomizer.

Maria - Rage Against the Machine
*sigh* Once again, a relatively weak song by a decent band. Do you see a pattern here? Actually, I think Rage lost most of their freshness and relevance after their debut album.

And now, my 20,000th last.fm song (I'm almost afraid to look):

Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid) - Sufjan Stevens
The iTunes randomizer comes through for me in the end! This is a very beautiful song by one of my favorite songwriters of today. And it's a very appropriate song, considering our nation's current economic situation. What a gorgeous and heartbreaking song! I can't wait for Sufjan to come out with his next album.

10/17/08

So true it's scary

Filed under: Politics, Fun and Gamesjksterup   @ 01:18:19 pm

I remember reading this Onion article when it came out eight years ago. With each intervening year, I think it has only become more poignant.

Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'

Here are a few key quotes:

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."

"Finally, the horrific misrule of the Democrats has been brought to a close," House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told reporters. "Under Bush, we can all look forward to military aggression, deregulation of dangerous, greedy industries, and the defunding of vital domestic social-service programs upon which millions depend. Mercifully, we can now say goodbye to the awful nightmare that was Clinton's America."

The only thing detracting from the humor is the fact that everything in the article is so horribly true. If anything, the author underestimated what would happen to America during the Bush administration.

10/07/08

A prayer to be rightly moved

Filed under: Religion, Politicsjksterup   @ 09:27:47 am

I never know how to pray about an election. Praying that my candidate will win seems selfish at best and at worst presumes that God agrees with my choice. But just praying that God will cause the right person to win (not naming any names) is a pretty hollow and spineless way to pray.

Thank heavens for David Dark, who displays a bit of righteous wisdom about how to pray during an election cycle. I wanted to quote the best part, but all of it is the best part. I probably shouldn't quote it all, though, so here's just a piece:

My prayer is that we would all be rightly moved. Righteously moved in the direction of the already-yet-still-to-come kingdom for which many Republicans and Democrats pray, never knowing what we're doing exactly. I pray that we would feel some affection--somehow actually like--the people we can't imagine ourselves voting for and the friends, family, and neighbors we suspect--with fear and trembling--will vote for them. Amid the din of hi-tech carnival barkers, loud televised people who claim to be without spin, and gentle mortals like myself who receive their words into their heads like a shot of espresso every few minutes through e-mails, radio broadcasts, and frantic visits to websites, may our hearts remain open to the possibility of being rightly moved.

10/06/08

Experience

Filed under: Politicsjksterup   @ 09:11:02 am

My Republican friend Melanie wrote a post on her blog in which she quotes a conservative radio host as saying:

"We are at a critical time in our nation's history. And thanks to the failings of the Bush-Cheney administration, along with the incoherency of the McCain Campaign, we are about to hand the presidency to the most inexperienced, unqualified person to ever run for this office."

First of all, I think this statement is wrong on the face of it, for the simple fact that it claims Obama is the least qualified to ever run for president. Certainly he's more qualified than Ralph Nader or Ross Perot, both of whom ran multiple times in the general election. I'm sure that if you scour the history of losing presidential candidates you'll find plenty of others with little or no political experience.

But let's talk about people who actually held the office of the president. I did some quick Wikipedia research (come on, you know you do it too) and found out how many years our recent presidents held previous political offices before ascending to the presidency. For the sake of consistency I'm counting the time from when each individual was first elected to a political office to the year he was elected or appointed president. I am not counting any political party involvement, work on political campaigns, community organizing, or other non-elected office that may have preceded an elected office, even though one could argue that is also a kind of political experience.

Here are our 12 most recent presidents (plus one hopeful) in descending order of prior political experience:

Gerald Ford: 26 years
Harry S. Truman: 23 years
Franklin D. Roosevelt: 22 years
George H. W. Bush: 22 years
Richard Nixon: 20 years
Bill Clinton: 16 years
Lyndon B. Johnson: 15 years
John F. Kennedy: 14 years
Jimmy Carter: 14 years
Barack Obama: 12 years
Ronald Reagan: 10 years
George W. Bush: 6 years
Dwight D. Eisenhower: 0 years

In addition to Eisenhower, there are four men who have also held the office of president without holding any prior elected office: Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, William Taft, and Herbert Hoover.

Later in her post Melanie criticizes the nature of Obama's experience:

What has he led? Senators do not lead. They write and vote on legislation.

This must be a new idea in American politics. Most of our presidents, including our greatest ones, have come from legislative backgrounds. It is only a recent trend, starting with Jimmy Carter, that has seen more state governors become presidents. This trend began not because governors are more experienced or qualified than legislators, but because after the Nixon presidency the voters wanted someone outside Washington (i.e., someone untainted by experience) to be president. The notion now that being a U.S. Senator somehow makes one less qualified to be president is absurd.

P.S. Using the same standard I used above, I count 8 years that Sarah Palin has held elected office.

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