How to Win the War on Terrorism

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My post about War and American Guilt a couple weeks ago was intentionally incomplete as it would be overly lengthy if I included my fuller thoughts on the conflicts we find ourselves in.  That post resulted from a general observance over what we've done and our attitudes about it during the past 3.1 Administrations regarding military actions in the Persian Gulf region.

I did not mean to suggest that the only moral military action our country might take is when we are ourselves first attacked, only that this requirement makes it unquestionably so.  Reasons shy of this necessitate arguments and persuasion, but may also be valid and moral.  The difficulty with Afghanistan and Iraq (and particularly the latter), is that our so-called "War on Terrorism" is not conveniently defined by geographical lines or particular despots. 

So how do we define "winning?"  What is our measure of success?  Victory is likely characterized by one's political leanings:

1) the defeat of terrorism, or

2) our quick withdrawal to preserve our image as "the nice superpower" in the Court of World Opinion.

Certainly, there are degrees in between, but the poles are defined by those that demand our government hold terrorists accountable on a systemic basis for 9/11 and those who believe that such is impractical and our best response, short of Florida recounting their votes to another result, is to do no more, whatever the results.

Yesterday, I read about the arrests of environmentalists in West Virginia who are demonstrating in various forms against the stripping of mountaintops for coal mining.  I'm sure we all prefer nature in its untouched glory, but that isn't the point.  One of the participants was 94 year old former Rep. Ken Hechler, who commented:

“The governors of West Virginia always call me an environmental extremist. You’ve got to be an extremist in order to achieve things. You’ve got to be ready to make enemies in order to accomplish something. And it’s absolutely necessary that the people here today continue to demonstrate this highly destructive practice.”

The last sentence is only to keep his context apparent, but his comments regarding being an extremist are interesting, particularly noting the source, the citizenship of the one speaking, and its timing given sensitivities to that type of language in current events.  That said, his words may yet sit well if we agree about his passion to correct or prevent a wrong, but they would be something else if we opposed, namely, threatening.  And if we have no opinion at all, we're poorer for it.

When it comes to the Taliban, I have to admit I admire one thing about them.  Like the environmentalists, they act on what they believe.  Given all the secular Christians, Jews, and Muslims, the world would truly be a different place if people who claimed to be faithful actually acted upon their sacred teachings.  I don't even want to speculate as to what that might look like, particularly if all did so at once. 

My first learning of the Taliban was upon hearing of the destruction of cultural antiquity when they blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001.  Certainly I didn't approve of this, but I respected their reasoning.  The Old Testament is replete of stories of the nation of Israel either obeying orbamiyan buddha failing to comply with their directives to be rid of altars in the high places.  The Taliban did something about it, albeit to an enormous cultural loss.

And here we get into an "all religions are just the same" treatment by those who disfavor them.  Without leaping into that particular hornet's nest, of many differences, there is one distinction which is applicable here.

The atrocities of the Christian church, of which there were many, were committed by people who either misunderstood, misread, or ignored the teachings of Christ.  If one reads the New Testament, there's nothing there about persecuting anyone.  In fact, the harshest words are reserved for the Pharisees and Scribes.

The Muslim extremists, however, have no similar excuse.  Certainly there are many sects who regard Islam as a peaceful religion, but the textural authority for extremists to act as they do exists within the Quran and their other holy writings.  There are ample examples, but two are:

Hadith 1:13 - "I have been ordered by Allah to fight with people till they bear testimony to the fact that there is no God but Allah."

Hadith 19:4294 - "Fight against those who disbelieve Allah. Make a holy war."

It's been disappointing that the Islamic powers that be are silent, if judged by our media coverage, on the issue of those who interpret Jihad as something other than an inner struggle.  More specifically, those who live in lands occupied by fundamentalists say very little about terrorist atrocities.  Why?

Fear of retribution is one answer.  Another might be an implied sympathy for the goals of Islam and preference given to those of the same general faith rather than the harm caused to others.  And, certainly, there are many cultural Muslims who go through the motions, the equivalent of, in West Virginia terms, having no opinion on strip mining.

An article last week discussed the Sufis, who are regarded as heirs of an ancient mystical tradition within the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, who rose to arms in Sudan against the Wahhabi (yes, extremist) sect of Islam.  A time of peaceful coexistence with their fundamentalist brethren finally withered as the extremists began to destroy Sufi shrines and kill their religious clerics.

When something is true, it means that anything that contradicts it must necessarily be wrong.  Given scriptural authority to correct those wrongs or punish those that are "wrong," extremists find their justification.  It doesn't require an Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay to ferment their motivation; action is mandated by the core belief.

My thinking is that, ultimately, the Sufis and other Muslims similarly motivated are our only hope for "winning."  America's definition of "success" was built around the image of Osama Bin Laden, and, should he finally be killed or just die, the vast majority of Americans would agree that we've adequately rattled our sabres and welcome the troops home.  But there will never otherwise be a formal conclusion, neither by decided military outcomes nor acquiescence to "make love, not war" foreign relations.

The only way terrorism will be defeated will be if Muslims tire of the knife held at their own throats and act to preserve themselves.  This is ever important, as Islam is inevitably a State-building religion (Sharia law), and, if European shifts in ethnicity continue, this "religion of peace" may eventually win by birthrate alone. 

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Ol' Blues Eyes is Back!

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Or is he?  Patience! We'll get to this.

There are occasions when movie casting just doesn't make sense.  Some examples:

1. Tom Cruise in The Firm.  Maybe if you hadn't read the book, this role for Mr. Cruise would be okay.  But I did read the book, and I liked the centraltom_cruise character, Mitch McDeere very much.  Instead, I got a movie star going through the motions.

2. Not to pick on him again (well, maybe...), but Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.  This was a fine ensemble TV show.  Whose bright idea was it to kill the team and make it a star vehicle for the relatively dwarfish Tom Cruise as the lead spy?  (Answer: producers who wanted to cash in).  Sorry, but if you want him to strike a pose, I guess he's fine.  Stick with Risky Business, please...Memoirs_of_an_invisible_man

3. A more obscure poor casting decision might be Chevy Chase in  Memoirs of an Invisible Man, who purchased the movie rights for himself.  This was a fairly entertaining and imaginative book that deserved better than Chevy's ho-hum klutzy lampoon.  Check out the book - great after first 100 pages.

4. Another fine examplerobin-hood-costner_l would be Kevin Costner in Robin Hood.  Say, which accent would you prefer, English or American non-descript?  Answer: Both, but try as best you're able not to use them both in the same scene.  It's not that Errol Flynn looked great in the costume either... but Costner is no Errol Flynn.

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5. Keanu Reeves (otherwise known as "the luckiest actor, ever") in anything other than Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.  Well, okay. There were few enough lines for him to deliver in Matrix that it worked out well enough.

Others? Let's see.  Take your pick of Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, or George Clooney as Batman - regrettable all.  Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October...not bad, just not right.  And I already mentioned Ben Affleck in the woeful Daredevil recently.

Most of these are clearly connected to studio/producer motivations - the cha-ching that comes with star power.  I don't argue against that; I'm sure it's a motivation that works far more often than it doesn't.  An example might be the relatively untested Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich.

The point is that an actor needs to match the role artistically, in appearance, and in voice to best define a character.  Failure to meet these criteria can ruin a movie, regardless of plot, dialogue, editing, effects, etc.

Now, back to Ol' Blue Eyes.  He's back.  Last year, he had his own post office stamp.  This past month, a live CD from the Meadowlands was released (regrettably from his more elderly years).  And next comes a movie about this celebrity who dominated American culture for decades.

If you have to ask who this is, I'll throw in yet another gratuitous picture.

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You can't quite make out the blue eyes... but they're there.  This is one Francis Albert Sinatra, who lived from 1915-1998, and sang more than a few memorable songs.  He even acted in more than a few films and won an Academy Award.

If one were to make a film of his life, where do you go to find an actor to play him who many regard as the finest singer of the 20th century?  Someone who on one hand emotes love, the essence of cool, or despondency as easily as another changes clothes, but also whose Italian-American upbringing and desires ultimately beget an often ugly demand for total loyalty and respect? 

I don't know the answer to that question or even have a suggestion.  Any actor playing a famous person has a tough task, because they're reinterpreting an original.  But it's been done, and often quite well, such as with Jim Morrison, Loretta Lynn, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, Johnny and June Cash, and Ray Charles.  Each case included an actor who looked the part, played the part capably, and who had at least a passable if not respectable singing voice.  Tough criteria.

But Sinatra? Well here's an idea.  Instead of finding someone who can act like, might look like, and sound somewhat like "The Chairman," why not just go the easier path and take someone who can act and sing and has proven they can handle the pressure of expectations?  After all, isn't someone who can win an Academy Award playing Ray Charles worthy of Sinatra?

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Reportedly, Jamie Foxx is the leading candidate to play Frank Sinatra in an upcoming film directed by Martin Scorsese.  I applaud the progress African Americans have made in the United States.  But this isn't a racial issue, while at the same time it can't help but be an issue of black and white.  I have no doubt Foxx could act the role well, but it just wouldn't be right. 

To overstate the case, imagine Sean Connery, another Sean-Connery Oscar-winning actor, playing Martin Luther King. It wouldn't be a denial of a Scot's rights to play an American icon, it just wouldn't be appropriate, and, more importantly, it wouldn't be good art. I would welcome a Sinatra movie, but I hope "Ol' Blue Eyes" isn't lost in translation.

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Star Trek 2009

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If I waited a week after its opening to see the new Star Trek movie, I guess it means that I no longer qualify as a Trekkie.  This isn't to say that I no longer like Star Trek. I do, very much.  But regardless of the generations of the related series, even the better Star Trek movies were only as good as some of the episodes, and most were awful.  Lesson learned: Trek with care.

The ads for the new movie made it very clear that the new movie had something that all the others didn't.  Energy.  Vibrancy.  Action.  What's a retired Trekkie to do? 

Well, first I approached the occasion by wearing my "To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before" T-shirt.  I mean, it's not like I'm wearing Vulcan ears...  My wife failed to wear her "10 Things I learned from Star Trek" shirt.  It's best not to ask why.

My son stepped up, however, donning his "I feel the need for warp speed" T-shirt.  Good lad, even if it was likely the last clean shirt in his drawers...or floor.  Then there's my daughter, who never asked for a Star Trek T-shirt and generally is ashamed of it.  I managed to take a picture of it in a very brief release from its confinement as long as I don't ever mention it to her friends:

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What's this new generation coming to?

Well, after letting my thoughts on Star Trek (2009) percolate for a few days, I decided that it might best be called: Star Trek: For the Next Generation.

As someone who had the blueprints, the Technical Manual, the comic books, and who had even cast and painted the ridiculous plaster figurines, I feel that I've made an adequate investment into things Trek that, if I chose, I could raise my fist to the winds of change, angrily shouting "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"  Grouse, grouse.

Star Trek (2009) is NOT the best movie ever.  It's not even a great movie.  There's too many forced plot developments and character insertions for it to stand on its own; its compromised by the weight of its own heritage.  But it's by far the best Star Trek movie.  For those that think that's not saying much, it's a very enjoyable movie, period.  It's worth watching.

What I admire about this version, without synopsizing the plot, is that the writers didn't confine themselves to re-presenting the original characters as we knew them.  That's the result of good writing and purposeful intent, as a conservative pre-telling could only lead to disappointment and failed expectations.  After all, there's only one William Shatner (and I think we'll all miss him when he's gone).  And there's only one Leonard Nimoy, one DeForrest Kelley, etc. 

There'sstar-trek-enterprise certainly plenty of the familiar - the ship is has some fancier design lines but remains immediately recognizable, the bridge borrows from the original and later spin-offs, the characters look similar enough to be readily identifiable (the colored shirts do help, I guess), trivial character facts from the original series are included to keep core fans "in the know," camera shots often find familiar poses of the lead characters, the transporter (surprise, surprise!) remains a reminder to not place too much trust into technology, etc.

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The difference with this new generation is that everything and everyone is amplified.  Chekov's accent is even more Russian, Bones can't say a line without it being (a bit too) funny, everyone's talents are elevated to "exceptional" years before we meet them in the "old" series (where, honestly, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu were never more than functional in their respective roles on the bridge), the comedic elements are refreshingly more frequent, and the action is not reserved until an anti-climactic end but rather drives the plot throughout.

Good stuff, all around.

The most immediate implications for the future are that with the sets built and cast in place, the creators can (with lesser investment) boldly go where the Enterprise hasn't gone before. Or, revisit where they have. They've adeptly removed any limitations on character relationships or developments from the 60's series, with entirely new possibilities.  That's a good thing.

The other certainty, given the overall youth and  rambunctiousness of the re-envisioned characters, is that this new generation will be even less respectful of the Prime Directive than the old one.  Watch out universe.

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine

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Looking through the titles of the movies I've "reviewed," it's fairly easy to see that I like super-hero movies.  At that point in life when I realized that my comic book collection may be valuable, I found out that had I inserted them into airtight bags immediately after purchase, they would indeed have been worth something.  Pity the comic book with a yellowed page or dog-eared cover!  The comic book shop employee who "appraised" my collection for value (~$200) made me feel like I had despoiled precious artifacts entrusted to my care.  Well, forgive me for reading them, again and again and again.

So, I sold them to a kid who barely managed to scrape together $50, with the help of his brother.  The kid loved the stories, and I have no regrets.

I read (past tense) X-Men regularly, and the few comic books that were worth something were the first number of issues when the characters making up the X-Men team changed from "old" to "new," at which point Wolverine and others were introduced.  I never really cared for them, and I sold those first few introductory issues while in college, which paid for Polk Audio speakers that I continue to enjoy today.

That aside, the X-Men movies have been okay - nice action flicks with some good moments, but from the start, they focused attention on Wolverine, at the expense of the very formidable Cyclops, who was a mainstay throughout the X-Men series.  Why?  In the years since my reading comics, Wolverine has somehow risen to the "most popular super-hero" ranks, ahead of Spiderman, Superman, Batman and lesser heroes no less deserving of wider popularity.

My problem with Wolverine is that I didn't like him.  Aside from the origins story detailed in the new movie, his comic origin was one of a number of anti-establishment characters followingx-men-origins-wolverine the Vietnam War.  Well and good, but he was shaped at the opposite end of the spectrum, self-absorbed and angry.  

So, here we are at a movie dedicated to Wolverine, and I still don't like him.  Hugh Jackman, who plays the lead, continues to give the character his best shot.   The problem is that Wolverine is not a "good" enough hero to be considered virtuous, not comic enough to get away with it (ala Iron Man), and not bad enough to, as a friend put it, put the "bad" in "bad-ass" (which is the case in the comics).  

The only moral question in the movie lies within the subplot tension between Wolverine and his evil brother, which is left unresolved as neither avoidance nor confrontation concludes a movie-long conflict.  Wolverine is portrayed as a person who fights... why?  Because he can.  Mutations for claws and invincibility allow for that.  But what makes him the angry, caustic fighter that he is?  The only motivation we're given in the movie is the same that made Spiderman 3 so unsettling - a self-absorbed focus on vengeance.  But for Wolverine, it's not a departure from who he is; it's just his way.

For me, it was the other characters who made the movie more enjoyable - bad guy William Stryker,wolverine-gambit the space hopping Wraith, the Blob, and particularly  Gambit, a powerhouse card player, amongst other talents, who probably would have a more interesting lead subject.

It's not a bad movie by any means.  I was entertained, but it doesn't rank near the Spiderman series, Iron Man, or the latest Batman.  Neither does it lie with Catwoman, Elektra, or the dreck known as Daredevil (a character worthy of a remake with a plot and a capable lead actor). 

There's some solid action sequences here.  Hugh Jackman leaping from an explosion to catch an helicopter is far more believable than Tom Cruise in MI.  I mean really...Tom Cruise as an action hero?  Sometimes, the action series is good, even if non-sensible.  For example, why would moving to the top of a cooling tower seem a better place to have a fight than on the ground?  (Answer: it's an action movie).  There's often some good special effects (and occasionally, some bad ones), and the the throttle never lets up enough to beg the question "is this going to end soon?"  It's good, mindless entertainment.  When it's released on DVD/Blu-ray, it will probably be one of those movies that finds popularity on Netflix, but only die-hard fans would want to own it.

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War and American Guilt

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I really like the game of Risk, and I really hate it.  You make all these plans and deployments, then Lady Luck laughs in your face as others who are not as well equipped or positioned find her favor.risk-board-game   It's frustrating to be a superior force and to lose.  Nevertheless, it's a game that makes sense, as larger armies have advantages over smaller ones, and the results, (theoretically) on average, should favor them.  If only real conflicts were so conventional and predictable.

Terrorism is neither.  It's usually a relatively small scale endeavor (compared with brigades and battalions) that is unexpected, particularly in the absence of declared hostilities.  Overall, we're at peace with taking our chances, but chance is the mathematical probability of known outcomes.  It's the unknown that frightens us.

When I think of terrorism, I usually think of Islamic suicide bombers on a market street...somewhat dispassionately in the context of a street in some far distant land.  Otherwise, I'd have to think of 9/11 or Oklahoma City, which are much nearer to the world I know and closer to my heart.   

There are occasionally undeniably just wars.  If it takes a politician to explain it, then a war declaration probably doesn't qualify as this, regardless of whether there are appealing benefits to it.  A Pearl Harbor, fortunately, doesn't happen often.  If a just military action requires an attack on the U.S., then it's not until the 9/11 terrorist attack (several embassies notwithstanding) that we find an unquestionable cause to act.  Somewhere.  Against somebody.

Which brings us 7 years later to Afghanistan, where this week we saw the replacement of one General for another to engender a more imaginative and flexible strategy to deal with the problematic Taliban.  This occurs just after an air raid that killed up to 100 civilians, if any accounting can be believed. 

Though the timing of this leadership change was reportedly coincidental, the use of an air strike would apparently fall within the category of "unimaginative and inflexible" as it occurred under the previous General's watch.  It makes me wonder if "new thinking and creative approaches" are equivalent to reducing the margin of error created by the blunt effect of our smart weapons.  Perhaps a General who served in Special Forces thinks in those terms.

There is a moral outrage when civilians are killed, and public reactions probably vary somewhere between "That's unfortunate" and "I'm ashamed to be American because we're terrorists too!"  There is no escaping the glare of the real-time media spotlight, and we seem to be increasingly conditioned to think the worse of ourselves. "They" kill civilians. "We" kill civilians.  It's all the same.  Right?

Wrong.

Do we really expect that any military endeavor can or should be free of civilian casualties?  It seems so, and news report imply that we not only have the technology to be completely sanitized and surgical in our strikes, but that we have the moral obligation to do so.

I disagree. 

The mission of a military force is to maximize damage to the enemy and minimize damage to itself.  If there is no military advantage in an attack, then certainly killing civilians is pointless and is in no case desirable.  I don't think the U.S. suffers from that, but a missile errantly fired into a wedding party can only feed our collective guilt. 

But at a deeper level, I think our fortitude for doing what we must has suffered from the comfort and ease of our lives, the liberty to think and express ourselves freely, and our idealistic hopes that mankind could become something better, if only a few specific and outwardly hostile men (here, there and seemingly everywhere if we look hard enough) wouldn't interfere.

My recollection of history may be failing me, but it seems the only means of concluding a war is to destroy the opponent's military and their will and ability to fight.  When a country is fully committed to winning, it does what it must to win. 

If my surface level understanding is correct that we may withdraw from remotely delivered blunt objects and insert our superbly trained soldiers into harm's way, then those with weak stomachs are just as guilty for the resulting U.S. casualties as those they would condemn for the collateral damage of our own attacks. 

War is ugly.  We shouldn't hope or expect that it would be otherwise, and we should commit ourselves to winning if we are undeniably just in our mission.

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Death Cab for Cutie - Live

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Somewhere amongst reasoning, pleading, and a guilt trip, I managed to persuade my son over time to go with me to see Death Cab for Cutie. 

The tickets, as it turned out, were perfect - third row in the balcony - great view and audio quality as good as can be expected.  I had only been to The Fox Theatre once before, and this visit only increased mythefox appreciation of the venue, highly recommended for any  visiting Atlanta regardless of type of performance.

The first opening act was Ra Ra Riot, from Syracuse, NY.  They had a promising sound, but the audio mix was dreadful, and I only learned their name after looking it up afterwards.  They were a decent band, and their distinguishing electric cello and violin I would hope sound better in a recorded mix.

Up next was Matt Costa, an ex-skateboarder for what it's worth, whose extroverted personality suits him well as regards stage presence.  His songs varied widely in style, and he's someone I'll keep an ear on to see how he progresses.

And finally, came Death Cab for Cutie.  Their placement on the stage was a bit unusual.  Convention usually dictates that a bassist remains a stoic wallflower, planted at the left of the stage.  That was not the case here, however, as the aptly named Nick Hammer was featured at center stage, with guitarists on the wings and drummer slightly left of center. 

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I apologize if this seems to be a caricature, but ultimately it leads to a compliment. Of late, it seems, Hammer has grown a beard, and I couldn't help but think of Gimli the Dwarf (from Lord of the Rings).  Or, perhaps, Hephaestus, God of the Forge.  You're thinking, eh, what?

Well, vocalist Ben Gibbard's delivery from song to song is very even.  He has a limited range, and the meter of his delivery varies little from song to song.  It's okay, because he often strikes gold as a lyricist, and he makes the most out of what he has.  He's a fairly energetic performer, and it seemed most of the audience knew the words and sang along at every opportunity. 

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That said, Gibbard's vocal delivery leaves a lot of work for the group to develop tunes to showcase the lyrics.  On stage, Hammer pounds a rock show out of the band as often as the songs allow.  Having re-listened to some of their work since the concert Wednesday, there is definitely a harder edge to their recorded work than I appreciated, but playing live definitely allows the bass to speak out.

The other revelation, given the vocal same-ness in their recordings, was an expectation of a relatively subdued, possibly boring delivery of their songs.  Granted that the band chose most of their best work, but I was surprised by the number of musical "hooks" which I recognized and liked.  I under-appreciated the band's tunefulness, well rounded by the appropriate and tasteful drumming of Jason McGerr and the sonic accompaniments of guitarist/keyboardist Chris Walla.

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Wrap up notes: By the way, iPhones stink for taking pictures of concerts... That said, it's interesting how many people take pictures or video during concerts (see the bright spots in the audience).  Why? Because they can.

This only being my son's second concert, he liked Death Cab's performance better than Radiohead's, but preferred the latter's music (good boy).  That said, the difference may have been that he wore his glasses and could actually see this show.  Kids.

Below is not from this show, and not the best audio recording, but compared to others, at least the camera was steady. But it's a great song if you can make out the lyrics, and gives a good sense of their concert approach.

 

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Bob Dylan - Together Through Life

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There are so many talented musical artists these days.  The affordability of home studios, the ease of digital editing, the abundance of indie record labels, and the alternative distribution networks found via the Internet all contribute to the most expansive and diverse musical banquet for those with a desire to search.

Like everyone, I have my favorites, many of whom will likely never find placement on a radio playlist or enjoy any commercial exposure.  It makes me wonder how many artists are out there that are deserving of a wider audience that will remain a MySpace footnote or otherwise be lost in the void.

On the other end of the spectrum, I can't help but wonder that if Bob Dylan wasn't, you know, Bob Dylan, would this 67 year old with his singular voice find his way among or above the voices of so many others?  Would there be an audience?

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Well, it is a rhetorical question.  After all, he is Bob Dylan, and he proved when it mattered that his voice could be heard amongst and above better singers and more popular musical genres.

In fact, it says something that Dylan's trademark nasal delivery has moved anatomically downwards about 6 inches, to his throat, where the frogs croak, without becoming a parody of himself.  In fact, since 1997's Grammy winning "Time Out of Mind," Dylan has been recording some of the consistently best material of his career.

Part of his success in recent years has been to surround his "experienced" voice with music that doesn't try to distract from it, but rather accentuates it.  That trend continues with "Together Through Life," his 33rd original recording.  Age and cigarettes take their toll, and it's more than fitting that a strippeddylan cover down, Chess-era electric blues sound carries his gravely voice and lyrics wherever they must go. 

On guitar he's borrowed Mike Campbell from the Heartbreakers, who adds a crisp, fairly restrained, and pointed emphasis to the songs.  As compared to previous releases, a difference here is the inclusion of David Hildago, from Los Lobos, who plays an accordion which is featured centrally in many of the songs.  For me, it took a few listens to come to terms with it, but it works well with the overall mood of love gone right/wrong and, more importantly, resists sounding like "accordion music."  Give it time.

The CD would have been helped with included lyrics, but there's few issues with deciphering what Dylan is saying.  Gone are the days when people found meaning behind every phrase, but he remains a colorful writer and sharp observer of what it means to be human.  A favorite stanza, from "I Feel a Change Comin' On,"

“Well now what’s the use in dreaming/You got better things to do/Dreams never did work for me anyway/Even when they did come true"

The lyrics remain typically Dylan: critical, amusing, cynical, honest, fair.

I prefer "Time Out of Mind" or "Love and Theft" for latter-era Dylan, but this is good stuff throughout.  Also, it's clear that he's not just going through the motions but enjoying himself.  And that's a worthy reminder regardless of how old we are, or how old we think we are.

Rating: 4 stars

Recommended songs: "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," "Forgetful Heart," "I Feel a Change Comin' On," "It's All Good."

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Hocus Pocus

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This is the first anniversary of "Amused to Life," and I happily arrive at this post in a context that is neither obligatory nor filler.  There have been many moments when I've wondered if I could maintain my (loose) self-imposed pace of posting, or, more importantly, if I could continually find things to write about that would maintain my own interest, never mind those who might stumble upon it.  Yet, here I am.

There are plenty of other options out there to entertain myself, and at times, even as I prioritize writing, I wish I was doing something else.  As these often take a fair bit of time to put together, can't I find something better to do?  Why do I bother?

What did I expect?  This has been fairly typical of non-commercial blogs I've perused, generally read by friends with minimal feedback.  But that's not why I, and I suspect most, people write.  I re-read my initial post, and I'm somewhat surprised that my initial projection of what this would become has proven to be the case. 

This isn't a diary.  It's not just about music or other forms of entertainment. It's not (always) a venting of otherwise suppressed aggravation at all the injustices in the world.  It's not overtly didactic.  But as a person thinks, so they write.

Gee.  So far, this sounds like filler and obligatory.  Now for the part I've been thinking about recognizing that one year was approaching... the answers to why I bother.

1. I forget things.  This may not be a diary of daily events, but it's certainly a record of some of what I've thought about in the past year.  It's sort of like a photo album, and I'm probably as likely to look back at it as I do with those (hardly ever). 

2. It's a reference point for my kids.  For all those conversations that could have happened but never did, it may someday help them understand who their father is...should they ever read it. 

3. I had been writing music reviews anyway, but much shorter in length and distributed within a small network of friends who share their year's favorites.  With the extra space, I have room to really say what I mean to say, supplemented with lyrics, music, and/or video.  If I help one person find an artist that they  like, I'm happy.

4. Though not an intended reason for writing, there is a sense of self-discovery.  Though this often involves recollecting things otherwise in the haze of the past, writing has helped me see how central music seems to be in how I process life in general.

5.  There are so many things I think about each day - try as we might, there's no pause button.  Most thoughts disappear as quickly as the goodies in my office candy jar.  I find that I pay more attention to my thoughts and test whether there may an application here, which means I think more deeply about them.  That's been rewarding for me.

6. Probably the most personally surprising aspect of writing is that it has made me more open to trying things that I ordinarily might resist, if only because I may find something in the experience worth reflecting upon and sharing.  That's healthy.

7.  Math was my strong suit way back in school.  In everything but differential equations, which bested me, there was a problem, a process to address it, and an answer.  When a problem was completed, everything seemed in its right place. 

I've found writing to be very much the same.  In progressing from point A to point B, the diction, phrasing, sentence structures, etc. are like puzzles that must fit to maintain a sense of flow.  Add to that the challenge of verbally presenting an issue, reasoning through it, and arriving at the outcome, and there is a similarity to math.  There is order to the universe.

8. Writing is fun.  There.  I said it.  Somehow, all those burdensome teachers with their tired expectations didn't rob me of the joy of writing.  Also, I have to say it's rewarding to have at least one creative outlet, having failed at any others I've tried. 

Most points or arguments can be made with a paucity of words.  But I never know what path a post will take, because the mind is a terrible thing to predict, and the connecting dots often surprise me even as I think of them.  Which seems a fitting way to close this post.

Follow the bouncing ball...

In medieval times, the Catholic Church jealously guarded written Scripture, which was held within the domain of the priesthood (in which it remained until the Reformation and the timely introduction of the printing press extended it to the laity.)  Until then, however, the churchgoer's sole exposure to scripture and other creeds was orally, and often in Latin.  The words of the consecration of the host (during Mass) were hoc est corpus, meaning "this is my body," from which both sound and meaning might evolve into "hocus pocus," according to one long-held theory.

Which brings us to conjuring a great song, as different today as it was in 1973.  Focus now:

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If the Shoe Fits, Wear It

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Some years ago, I read a biography of G.K. Chesterton, a very colorful and gifted writer, thinker, and debater.  Of many worthy and often quoted sayings of his, one is "Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions."  Applied to Western thought, it fits.  In America, we celebrate our rights to live freely, given that our actions fit underneath the general umbrella of "as long as it doesn't cause someone else harm."  It's American as apple pie.

Let's try the other shoe and see if it fits as well.  "Intolerance is the virtue of the man with convictions."  If a person believes resolutely in something, then necessarily it excludes belief in something's opposite.  In short, rigidity in thought, belief or actions can't help but contradict, oppose, or upset those held by others.  In a land where everyone has the right to think, believe and act as they see fit (whilst remaining under the general umbrella), persons with convictions are often seemed a threat.

The trouble with absolute statements is that they're so absolute.  Let's try a test phrase.

"Me, I just say look, it's a little minority of some [...]who think they can tell people what kind of [...], and the [...] people of [...] are never going to buy into that."

Sounds like it's referring to a little group of convicted people, doesn't it?  And of what are they convicted?  Thinking, believing, acting.  But who is being intolerant?  Is it the little minority of some group, or is it the person making the observation who doesn't tolerate them?

Here's the full quote:

"Me, I just say look, it's a little minority of some small-minded religious wackos who think they can tell people what kind of T-shirts and what kind of music they can listen to, and the smart, rational, reasonable people of Oklahoma are never going to buy into that."

And that is where the original Chesterton quote fails.  There is no person without convictions.  We all think or believe in something, and act accordingly.  It seems more reasonable that indented quote above is evidence that the flip side of Chesterton's quote is more aptly suited towards current societal attitudes:  Intolerance is the virtue of the man with convictions. 

But, being considered intolerant isn't exactly a comfortable shoe to wear when one believes in something, right? 

Relax. It's okay.  There's a little asterisk by the term if you look close enough, which reads "only applies if a person thinks, believes, or acts in accordance with a [usually] monotheistic religion."  That's swell.

The quote above is from Wayne Coyne, the leader of one of my favorite rock bands, The Flaming Lips (who released one of my favorite all-time albums, "The Soft Bulletin," and staged the best concert I've ever seen/experienced.  And, trust me, a Lips concert is an experience.

This little flap came up over some legislators who opposed one of the Lips' songs from becoming the official State song of Oklahoma.  Why?  Because Coyne said a bad word in public, and a bandmate wore a T-shirt with the Soviet logo to their assembly.  Egad.

flaming lips photo

So why the hyper-judgmental rhetoric by Coyne?  I don't know, but it won't stop me from enjoying his music, which remains ever hopeful about people, life, and love. 

As a side note, at least the Governor overrode the Congressional decision not to adapt the Lips' song, which gathered 51% of an online poll against numerous other competitors.  It's nice to see an elected official do the right thing, even for something as trivial as this.

The video and lyrics, for those interested!

"Do You Realize" - The Flaming Lips

Do You Realize - that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize - we're floating in space -
Do You Realize - that happiness makes you cry
Do You Realize - that everyone you know someday will die
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes - let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
Do You Realize - Oh - Oh - Oh
Do You Realize - that everyone you know
Someday will die -
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes - let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
Do You Realize - that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize

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