Tuesday, December 12, 2006

iTunes Store Buyers Few & Far Between

While not necessarily surprising, it is an eye opener in many ways. Much as I like the convenience of buying on iTunes, the limitations of the files - how many devices they can go on, how many times they can be burned, the fact that there is rarely downloadable packaging included - certainly deter me from making it my primary source for buying music. That, and I have a great record store (Grimey's New & Pre-Loved Music) 5 minutes away.

Forrester: iTunes Store Buyers Few & Far Between

Apple created a paid download market, and the iTunes Store remains a bellwether for the sector. But according to a recent Forrester Research report, the number of iTunes buyers is actually quite low. The study, released this week, found that just 3 percent of households in the United States have made a purchase from the store. Those buyers spent an average of $35 a year, according to the report, and about $3 per session. The report also pointed to low per-iPod paid download levels, a sore spot for labels. "Since the introduction of the iTunes Music Store, Apple has been steadily selling just 20 iTunes tracks for each iPod sold, suggesting that even at $0.99, most consumers still aren't sold on the value of digital music," the report asserted.

The finding, culled from 2,700 iTunes credit and debit card purchases, is hardly surprising. For Apple, the iTunes Store itself is mostly a sideshow, at least financially. Meanwhile, heavy-selling iPods are the real financial breadwinners, powering billions in revenue gains for Apple. And most iPod buyers stuff their devices with thousands of tracks pulled from CDs or downloaded from P2P networks. For labels, that raises some serious issues about the long-term revenue potential of the paid download market, especially as iPod sales continue to gain. Since its debut in May of 2003, the iTunes Store has powered rapid year-over-year increases, though week-to-week gains have been mostly flat this year. Apple has sold a cumulative 1.5 billion downloads since its debut.

Monday, December 11, 2006

What kind of Christmas?

I appreciate my (generally) weekly blast from leading church historian Martin E. Marty that points out varying bits of culture & religion. Today's letter had soem things that I found particularly poignant in this holiday season and the blustering of wars on christmas, etc... (yes. as a thinking, reasoning person of faith, I trust big-box retailers to be my barometer of how seriously the holiday is in jeaopardy ... sheesh!).

Of particular interest was the quote he pulled: "Those who strive to defend religion with force make a deity appear weak."

Anyway, Marty is the scholar,a nd I wil let his words hold forth from here.

Against Coercion
-- Martin E. Marty

Two events this season led me to go back to the Sightings archive, to a column dated October 29, 2001 ("Listening to Lactantius"). Giving evidence of our passion always to be current, we cited Lactantius from the years 302 and 303, because what he wrote then spoke so directly to current affairs. Incident one here is the flap over new Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who brought the Qur'an along when he took the oath of office. Some howled that this was outrageous in this Christian country. While the use of the Bible at oath-taking time has always been voluntary, never coerced, using any other book, it was said, blasphemes against the God of America and demeans the tradition of godly Americans.

Incident two won't end until December 26, when partisans will begin to gear up for next year's "December Wars," when devotion to Christian Christmas gets upstaged by verbal war-makers. One side wants Jesus-Christmas to be privileged and officially sanctioned in the "public square." The other wants a Jesus-free public square. While tempted to wish a plague on both their houses, I choose to tilt, by reference to Lactantius, for a theological angle and one side.

The public can fight over whether there is or is not enough Jesus-Christmas in the department stores, the malls, the corridors. A half hour in such places should move one to pity the clerks who have usually sappy versions of Jesus-Christmas songs bombarding their ears all day, depriving them and their customers of any chance to experience awe and wonder. Some in the public, and many in the opinion-world, however, want Jesus-Christmas to be privileged in the official public space and in the times that belong to the whole public. If we do not "coerce" the Jesus-presence, it is asked, how can American tradition survive? Is not all this a shunning of God?

Enter Lactantius, anticipator of James Madison, 1,400 years in the offing. Both of them, wrote Robert Louis Wilken, had a "religious understanding of religious freedom." Wilken also quoted the Vatican II bishops who preached "that the response of people to God in faith should be voluntary .... In matters of religion every manner of coercion on the part of men should be excluded." And then Lactantius -- the "first Western thinker to adumbrate a theory of religious freedom rooted not in notions about toleration but in the nature of religious belief."

Those who wanted Congressman Ellison to be a hypocrite, or to deprive him of his scripture, usually profess to seek sincerity in religion and attachment to sacred books, even if his was the "wrong one." It's not mine. And coercing people to be obeisant to a god in whom they do not believe would, in Lactantius's terms, be "inimical to the nature of religion." The man of 302-303 asked, "Why should a god love a person who does not feel love in return?" Scholar Elizabeth DePalma Digeser cites Lactantius: "Those who strive to defend religion with force make a deity appear weak." And anyone who lacks the requisite inner conviction is "useless to God."

Those who have confidence in a "strong God," one who loves to be loved freely and not by coercion, no matter how light and how slight the weight of its force, will let Mr. Ellison vow as he chooses and will not impose Jesus on others.

Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, The Making of a Christian Empire: Lactantius and Rome (Cornell, 2000); Robert Louis Wilken, "In Defense of Constantine," First Things (April 2001), http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft0104/articles/wilken.html.

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Worlds collide...

The understatement of the year. I discovered this picture of Mike Watt (The Minutemen, Firehose, etc.), a punk rock legend, with none other than Kely Clarkson. (!?!) Apparently the producer on her new record is an old friend and asked him to play bass on a bunch of tracks. My head is still spinning,but I have to say that instead of damaging any vestiges of "indie cred" I used to hold sacred, the whole thing makes me like both of them more.

Now go buy The Minutemen's "Three Way Tie For Last". D. Boon - R.I.P.

Friday, December 01, 2006

This is why I love Beck

Not content to do a standard performance, he's collaborating with creative people and turning a rote tv appearance into something people (like me) want to pass along. I know that this is part of his show as well, and it's just too cool. A little imagination and practice and you go from decent to memorable.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

There's spin, and there's insulting cya condescension.

This one pertains to the latter: Saw this item this morning on Tim Grieve's War Room blog, and while I haven't posted in a long time, this got my ire up enough to cut & paste real quickly. Less angry stuff to follow,but this is outrageous. 10x worse than the Reagan admin. saying that ketchup qualified as a vegetable for school lunches. As one who regularly sees the homeless and working poor come to the Luke 14:12 program for lunch (www.luke1412.org if you want to check it out, or make a year-end, tax deductible donation:)), I can tell you that "sufferers of 'low food security' and 'very low food security', are indeed, hungry.

America's hungry? They're just suffering from "low food security"

What do you call that phenomenon you feel when you need something to eat but can't afford to put any food on the table? We might call it "hungry," but then, we're not Bush administration officials who'd rather not acknowledge that the number of "hungry" people in America has increased over the last five years of "compassionate conservatism."

As the Washington Post reports this morning, Bush's Agriculture Department has struck the word "hungry" from its annual report on what it's now calling "food security."

The report measures the number of Americans who can't afford to put food on their table during at least some period of the year. The Agriculture Department's Mark Nord says "hungry" is "not a scientifically accurate term for the specific phenomenon being measured" in the report. Thus, people formerly described as suffering "food insecurity without hunger" -- meaning that they'll probably get something to eat, somehow -- and "food insecurity with hunger" -- meaning that they'll go without food for stretches of time -- shall henceforth be known as sufferers of "low food security" and "very low food security."

Oh, and then there's this. The hunger/food insecurity report usually appears in October. This year's version -- the fifth straight to show an increase in the number of hungry Americans -- was held for release until after last week's election.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Boink! TV

Found this clip via Pitchfork Media. It's Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney (R.I.P.) with the always funny Fred Armisen of Saturday Night Live as Saddam Hussein. Great cabe access spoof as they talk about gear, t-shirts and selling out. Fred's accent for Saddam was a great choice. By the way, if he's ever doing a stand up show, by al means go see it. He played a rock club in Nashville a few years ago and was gut-bustingly funny.

When I worked at the Squint label Fred "hosted" an epk we did for the band Chevelle that is still a favorite. He has that fearless quality about his comedy that allows him to push the limits but still come off as a good guy. Enjoy

Monday, August 14, 2006

Gateway to taxidermy

This past Saturday we took our daughter Sydney to the creepiest place on earth ... the Build-A-Bear Workshop. We've been battling for months and months to get her to finally give up her pacifier, and for an unknown reason, the process of shoving a metal tube into a soft, furry cotton-poly carcass and pressure-blowing it to capacity it with fiber-fill was just the incentive for her to shed the thing. I'm half-convinced that the "Find A Bear ID Program" is some sort of stuffed animal relocation program. And so we ventured out to a newly redesigned (and carpeted?!) mall in the 'burbs to meet her friend Shatiqua (who turned 9 the same day) for a combination "passy" exorcism and birthday celebration.

As we entered the mall I spied a friend's family in the hazy glow of the food court and ventured over to say hello, delaying entry to the land of cute corpses. As we approached I noticed foreshadowing of events to come, as the entire space around my driend was filled with the white and blue "house" boxes that signal the yielding to the commercial prowess of the build-a-bear empire.

After a short exchange of pleasantries we both faced the elephant in the room: build-a-bear is a gateway to taxidermy ...or mortuary arts. Now, I have nothing against those professions - someone needs to provide the service. Heck, one of my sisters dated a mortician for quite some time (he was the one who let me have my first taste of beer at age six)... mmmmm, beeeer. But I digress.

Syd and Shatiqua picked matching pink bears and each dressed them stylishly. And without seeing the stuffing process I'd have to admitthat the bear is, indeed, cute, cuddly and soft as can be. The bins full of the skins, however, are disconcerting, and while the cuteness of the animals can distract, the rows opposite them of unclothed, anorexic dolls awaiting a fiber-filled gorging were dowright ghoulish.

From there we went to the stuffing station (at some point I'll get the video from my phone up on YouTube and re-post this). The animals are quickly and mercilessly impaled onto a metal tube that fires the stuffing inside every nook & cranny of the animal. Operating the machine was what I gathered to be a completely disinterested high schooler who rattled off what must have been the pre-approved, official build-a-bear corporate narration of the process, including the instructions on how to prepare the bear's heart for insertion with the proper qualities ("rub the heart on your head so your bear will be smart. rub the heart on your tummy so it will never go hungry..."), delivered in deadpan, emotionless pattter.

We eventually escaped the money-grabbing workshop and made our way to a great pizza place. Syd has been playing with the bear non-stop, and while we still have arguments abut her pacifier, I know now that if she slips back to passy-land I just have to mention the build-a-bear process and how it can relate to her, and she falls back in line. Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing after all.....

Talk about marketing to a specific person

I LOVE the ad campaign for the Mini-Cooper. Whether it's the cool and inventive print ad, or this time-sucking and thoroughly engaging viral toy, these people know how to brand.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Another hilariousand awesome home made clip from OK Go. This video has given the band's year-old album a whole new burst of life and has been viewed online more than 2 million times.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I knew Springfield was really in the UK

This Real Life Simpsons Intro is explanation enough for the usefulness of YouTube.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Cafe Coco, Guiness & God

As I type I'm in an always-open coffee house in Nashville reading a Salon.com interview with Dr. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian, U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is playing on the stereo. Guiness #2 is slowly being drained. It is a wonderful moment.

Monday, July 31, 2006

the conversations are similar, only the countries have changed

So I'm sitting in a Starbucks in Santa Monica between meetings out in LA and there's a fascinating discussion happening regarding the horrific events in Lebanon & Israel. It's a conspiracy-fest, with assertions being made that, 1) the U.S. ordered Israel to attack Lebanon, hence explaining U.S. refusal (until this past weekend) to endorse a cease-fire. 2) That the Iraq war will end in 2009, as it was planned, with Cheney & Rumsfeld holding a document-destruction party on the eve of the innauguration, regardless of who is elected, so that no paper trail is left.

Now, like the majority of Americans today I'm no supporter of the war(s), much less the botched "let's not stop the fighting until we can stop it all" charade in Lebanon. But I hardly believe that the U.S. is ordering Israel's military. The war ending by 2009 has cynical political merit, but I don't see that happening either.

Anyway - this whole eavesdropping scenario was an eye-opener in hearing divergent opinions discussed in a public forum among friends. By the way, the assembled group I listened in on was very diverse - not simply a liberal cohort gathered to gripe. It's interesting to think that there are similar theories bandied about relating to the responsibilities of Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, Syria, etc... in their roles.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Jaw dropping musical experts in midst of mere mortals

About 10 days ago I went out on a Saturday night to see the amazing Ashley Cleveland play at a local club. Now, Ashley is one of those absolutely world-class singers that can do about anything and sound better than 99% of people opening their mouths. I've had the privilege to work with Ashley a couple times in my career and I'm still as impressed as ever with her craft and how she continues to get better.

Ashley's husband, Kenny Greenberg , is a similarly talented freak of nature. He's one of Nashville's most sought after guitarists and has gained great acclaim as a producer as well; I happen to think that he resembles a cheerier Hunter S. Thompson, which aside from his genuine graciousness, earns him more points in my book. Watching Kenny play is a pure joy, and he always seems to surpass any expectation I have for his amazing playing. Also in Ashley's band were bass player Michael Rhodes, another top level session player whose credits are too long to list; I understand that when the Rolling Stones were auditioning bass players a few years ago he was one of 5 to even audition. On Hammond B-3 organ that night was Reese Wynans, a member of Stevie Ray Vaughn's Double Trouble. Ken Lewis - an up and coming session and live drummer, held down the kit with Ashley for the first time and did a great job.

So I'm watching this set transpire and thinking that aside from NY or LA, maybe Chicago, if I were to walk into a divey bar & grill and saw a stage of late 40 - early 50 year olds playing blues and soul influenced rock, I'd instantly go to a cartoon image of my college buddies trying to recreate "Brown Eyed" Girl" or "Jumpin' Jack Flash". In Nashville, however, we're fortunate to get absolute world-class players almost any night of the week, stretching out and having fun, trying out new ideas and not taking themselves seriously at all. No ambition-riddled, trying-to-prove-themselves posturing, just some of the greatest musicians around having a blast.

After the show Kenny, another friend and I talked about new music (Thom Yorke in particular), and for the 13 years I've known Kenny he has only expanded his musical vocabulary - not only with new stuff but by mining classic, obscure things. It shows in his playing. He'll be in the midst of a 12 bar blues solo, and I can see where he's goign with it, and all of a sudden, WHAM! He pulls out some Radiohead-inspired blast or an angular, Roxy Music type riff that comes out of nowhere to broadside you. It's that amazing whiff of the unexpected that makes this band such a joy to see.

Now, as I was watching and being broadsided, I got to thinking about an article I'd been reading earlier that day. Disclaimer: what I'm about to state is an anomaly in my reading habits. You see, I've somehow received subscriptions to a number of publications this year, one of them being, to the delight and humor of my family, Scientific American. A couple asides:
1) Anyone who's ever witnessed my participation in science classes in the past would shake with laughter at the sight of me reading this mag, much less trying to comprehend much of it.
2) The magazine's title must be a shrinking population in recent years, with the White House declaring global warming an untested theory and stacking the FDA with big pharma lackeys. But I digress.

The cover story is called, The Expert Mind, and it tracks, particularly in champion chess players (another laughter-inducing proposition for me), the way the mind works in true experts. Several theories are explored, with the most fascinating asserting that true experts are able to assimilate more information from their long-term memories into a given context. An example: in a chess match, there may be 50,000 – 100,000 different possible moves during a given match. Studies showed that there is little difference between a merely good chess player and a grand master in terms of ability to see different options. The difference is in how the grand master can so quickly assimilate those options into the present moment to make the best move possible.

Watching Ashley Cleveland, Kenny Greenberg, Michael Rhodes, Reese Wynans and Ken Lewis play made me think of that, Kenny in particular. Many talented players could figure out how to do what he does. Very few can come up with that stuff on the fly, and assemble parts so varied in their influence and heartfelt in the execution.

And so, in the midst of the profane heat/humidity combo that is another Nashville summer, I will remain thankful for the experts in the midst.

A real dialogue

Last weekend I received a letter from a friend who works at Sojourners. It was an open letter tha Christianity.com had published, written by Dr. Martin Accad, Dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beruit. Yesterday I received a follow-up that I sent to a few friends, among them my good friend Mark Oestreicher who posted the following on his fantastic blog. Thanks to Marko for clarifying many of my feelings as I read the exchange by these two men.

you may have seen dr. martin accad’s wonderfully raw and pleading essay on christianity today’s website last week, called Another Point of View: Evangelical Blindness on Lebanon. it’s absolute must-read stuff for any christian, and anyone interested in the world beyond their own front door or steeple.

but here’s the kicker: accad built much of his essay around comments made by a dr. david gushee. and, in a truly beautiful open letter, gushee responded this week to accad. an excerpt:

I hear the desperation and misery in your voice. I sense your fear for the well-being of your loved ones and your grief over those already torn to pieces by Israeli bombs. I hear your rage at the nation that is inflicting this suffering on your people, and at Hezbollah for starting this latest round of fighting, and at the feckless international community, and at global evangelicals, especially in the United States, and at the U.S. government itself.

I, personally, am struggling deeply right now to have any hope about many of the same things that you are struggling with. I think the United States government has been pursuing a disastrous foreign policy since September 11 and that now we are reaping some of the consequences of that mixture of unilateralism, militarism, Wilsonian idealism, and negligent incompetence. My sympathy for Israel—which is indeed deep, a mix of all kinds of factors, some rational, some emotional—does not extend to support for what has clearly become a massive and disproportionate military offensive. And when I read about Hezbollah, and Hamas, and Syria, and Iran, and the growing sophistication of the weapons being fired at Israel, and the emergent pro-Iran Iraq, and the tangled web of ties and dark plans that connect Israel’s enemies, I sense a coming conflagration.

then, accad responded in an open letter back to gushee. an excerpt:

David Gushee’s gracious response also, in his “Open Letter to Dr. Martin Accad” that Christianity Today published, gives me the desire to be picked up from the roadside despite my wounds. At the end of this weekend I have more hope, because I have discovered life in a part of the church’s heart that I had thought dead. Thanks, David, and thank you to the new friends I have made.

If so many in the church in the U.S. actually care enough to listen and respond to a Middle Eastern Arab Christian cry, then perhaps there is enough hope, will and faith in this church to lean over the wounded “enemy” in the Middle East so that the universal church can address injustice and somehow bring to a halt this deliberate targeting of faith communities.

these three open letters have become larger than their content. don’t get me wrong: they’re all worth reading purely for their content, to more clearly understand the current violence between israel and hezbollah and its impact on the lives of real people. but beyond that, accad and gushee provide us a model for dialogue in a public space. there’s almost none of this in the christian world, from people with widely disperate viewpoints. put jerry falwell and jim wallace on nightline together, and they’ll rip each other and both make ridiculous overstatements and repeat the same lines (created by some soundbite specialist) over and over and over until i want to take a sledgehammer to my tv and the whole notion of christian debate. hrmph.

but these two guys i’d never heard of — gah! that’s the kind of interchange i want with the people i disagree with (especially my brothers and sisters in the church with whom i disagree). makes me hopeful and frustrated at the same time.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Disappearing masons & mega-church malls

In Martin Marty's weekly email newsletter, Sightings, he discussed the waning presence of the Masons on American culture, as their membership has fallen from 4 million in 1959 to about 1.5 million today. Near the end of his piece Marty threw in the following observation:

"Now an abrupt end-note on the Zeitgeist: Recalling Dean Inge's old warning about how one soon becomes widowed if wed to the spirit of the times, it is time to ask about the future of currently prospering and often boasting leaders of religious movements that are overly tied to the new scene of pop culture, partisan political identification, and market-based choice of religious themes and strategies. Next time you pass a vacated Masonic building, think of the folly of swaggering today and ask: Who and what are next?"

I wonder what that could look like when plugging in terms such as:
- mega-churches - could these buildings eventually wind up empty and transformed into shopping malls? Are the already halfway there (the mall part)?
- emerging churches - by emphasizing community overphysical building, will some merely evaporate into the ether? There's one kind of church that's attempting the emerging thing in nashville that we've visited. the building they've met in is now shut down and despite being on their email list i've received nothing in at least 8 months.

There are plenty more to consider. I just appreciate the thought that one wed to the spirit of the times is soon widowed.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Kiss My Grass

Some good friends of mine recently received an anonymous note, presumably from a neighbor, telling them that their yard was a disgrace and a public eyesore. Now, friendship aside, I'd never call their yard that. It's a well-kept and lush garden that gardening experts have said allows the plants to thrive the way they were designed. My wife, Michele, and I assured our friends that the note- leaver was not only dead wrong, but an example of cowardliness. Not long after that, one of our friends' parents sent the picture posted here as a suggestion of a topiary design piece that they thought would enhancethe yard.

AOL For Free (and not just 1,000 hours)?

Saw this item today on music industry site www.HitsDailyDouble.com:

AOL chief Jonathan Miller is about to unveil a new business strategy to Wall Street that turns its back on selling and marketing the company’s 17-year-old dial-up (and high speed) access service in favor of bolstering its free, web-based content, which would result in price cuts for existing subscribers and thousands of layoffs. The plan would target such competitors as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen estimates that this plan could well cut AOL’s revenue from domestic subscriptions by 52%, or $2.1 billion at an annual rate. And operating profit could fall by $251 million, 14% of her estimate for this year. Time Warner's shares closed at $16.84 a share on Friday, down more than 11% from its 52-week high.

It's going to be interesting to see how AOL re-engineers itself. Talk about a bold move - intentionally cutting $2.1 bilion to re-focus and re-brand a service. AOL is also working on transforming Instant Messenger into a social networking application to compete w/ MySpace, Xanga, etc. Content is no longer king: content that allows for data collection to pitch to advertisers is the new model.

Some acquaintences of mine have a merchandiising company that handles a lot of bands, mostly punk, emo, metal and hardcore. They grossed about $1.6 million last year and project about $3M this year. The real value: the 800k customer names they have that have been roughly estimated to be worth $20+ million. T-shirts, beanies and wristbands are nice, but gimme info and watch the value soar. Come to think of it, what's the market value of blogger.com?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Lady Liberty gets a makeover

CLICK HERE to read about The Statue of Liberation Through Christ, a 72-fot tall structure unveiled in Memphis this week. In case you don't want to do the free login to the NY Times, here are some highlights:

"...a brown shroud much like a burqa was pulled away to reveal a giant statue of the Lady, but with the Ten Commandments under one arm and "Jehovah" inscribed on her crown.

And in place of a torch, she held aloft a large gold cross, as if to ward off the pawnshops, the car dealerships and the discount furniture outlets at the busy corner of Kirby Parkway and Winchester that is her home. A single tear graced her cheek."

"Most of the customers at the Dixie Queen food counter near the church viewed the statue as a cheap attention grab..."

"Mr. Williams, a very successful pastor whose church, World Overcomers, qualifies as mega: it has a school, a bowling alley, a roller rink, a bookstore and, he said, 12,000 members."

" In another book, he said Hurricane Katrina was retribution for New Orleans's embrace of sin."

"I decree the spirit of conviction on this intersection..."

The intersection was outside the church, not inside at the corner of the bowling alley and the roller rink.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Return to blogger / over the edge tv commercials

It's been a looooongtime since I've posted - primarily due to work and family stuff, but I got a couple great articles sent to me today that are worth sharing, in case anyone still visits, like my friend MARKO, who kindly mentioned my blog last week. If you're just now visiting, know that despite Marko's claim that this blog contains "lots of liberal politics", this first link was sent by my dad, a fairly conservative person both politically and theologically. We've had self-shaping discussions through the years that have covered RC Sproul, Ollie North (during the Iran-Contra affair), Mozart, punk rock and more. We always come full circle to agree on the grace of God and an undying belief in the Chicago Cubs.

If I agree with Marko saying that I'm a great thinker (and of course I do), it can only be because of the influence of my dad and mom, who is even more conservative than my dad. All that said, THIS EDITORIAL by Ruben Navarrette was a powerful July 4th statement. As my dad reminded me, it was written by a guy (Navarrette) who "mentions that 3 of his 4 grandparents were born in the USA. All 4 of mine were born in Sweden. Two of yours were born in Sweden." Who's "more American", Ruben Navarrrette or me?

The second article was sent by my persoanl sensei JIM HANCOCK, who is far more thoughtful a person than I, and who keeps me on my toes in terms of new music. THIS EDITORIAL gives an overview of the amazing story of newly elected Newark,NJ mayor Cry Booker. Booker was a Stanford football star, Rhodes scholar and all around too good to be true guy. I've heard and read a few articles on him while he was campaigning, and now that he's in office I can only hope that the promise he radiates will be fulfilled in Newark.

On a completey other note, as I wrote this my wife has the TV on in the background (The Daily SHow) and we just saw a commercial for a Nashville strip club, hosted by a woman stating that she was "miss nude, blonde universe, 2006". I don'tknow if that means she's from a blonde universe and is nude, which I imagine is a lesser honor that if there's an actual nude, blonde universe, in which case she's a miss universe. Regardless, she was touting some club with a mechanical bull and the whole thing was so absurd that Michele and I just laughed in disbelief.

So there you go, liberal politics as informed by a conservative parent, and deep thinking while watching nudie bar commercials airing during The Daily Show. Why haven't I blogged in a couple months?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dear Representative Sh..head

Now, I'd maybe expect a response like the one below if I started off like that, but I've never gone tat far. I've received plenty of letters from my senators & congressman, and none has included any expletives. Maybe I just need to try harder.

Emerson puzzled how obscenity appeared in letter to constituent
Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Nobody expects to get a letter from a member of Congress that ends with an expletive.

But that's what happened when Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., recently corresponded with a resident of her southeast Missouri district. The letter ended with a profane, seven-letter insult beginning with the letter a - "i think you're an ..."

Emerson says she can't explain how the offensive language made it into the last line of the letter, which otherwise reads like a typical response to a citizen's question about last year's testimony of oil executives before the Senate Commerce Committee.

"There is no excuse for this inappropriate letter having been sent, and every apology has been made to the individual who received it," Emerson said in a written statement to The Associated Press.

"We cannot determine whether the addition to the letter was made by someone within the office or by someone with access to the office, but it is on my letterhead and the responsibility for it lies with me. A valuable lesson has been learned and new procedures will be adopted as a result."
Connor said that Emerson personally signed the letter, dated Feb. 15. She also included a handwritten personal message at the bottom: "PS - please forgive the delay in responding."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


THIS SERIES OF MAPS shows the distribution of religious affiliations in the US. Really interesting stuff, if you're in to that sort of thing! Big props to Valparaiso University, my alma mater, for this cool resource.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Half-Handed Cloud

My friend John Ringhofer ( a member of Sufjan Stevens' touring band) records and tours under the name Half-Handed Cloud. It's an almost unexplainable mixture of toy instruments, Brian Wilson meets Flaming Lips with no budget, and as much pure joy as The Polyphonic Spree - all from one guy. HHC's new record, HALOS & LASSOS, is out now and he's on tour as I type. I can't recommend this enough - particularly the live show.

Bricks & a bris

THE BRICK TESTAMENT is a site sent to me by my friend Scott Grew. Not sure where he found this but it's an amazing amount of work with Legos and scripture. I've only made it thorugh a few of the stories so far, but I have a feeling I'll be spending a good bit of time here. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Furue trend: Morse code for the CIA?

THE FBI is in such a budget crunch that it can't afford to give email accounts to all agents and analysts. Some maintain outside accounts, "at their own expense" according to an agency spokesperson, and some have been given Blackberrys. I wonder when the flood of carpal tunnel syndrome claims willhit the agency from agents with bad thumbs? Seriously, it may not be secure as a dot-gov account, but I think you can get a GoDadddy account with 1000 email addresses for like, $20/month. What's next, abacus distribution at the Treasury Department?

This reminds me of my time at Reunion Records. The company had been bought by what is now Provident Music Group. I was in charge of developing the label's first-ever web site (1997 - we were behind the times). My position, however, did not grant me web access in the Provident hierarchy, only email capability. So at least 3-4 days a week I went across the street toa coffee shop and paid $6/hour for online access. After a couple weeks the CFO (!) of the company called me to ask why I had all of these charges at Bean Central. I explained and said that if I could just get access frommy desk the charges would stop.He replied that, "no, just keep doing what you're doing, and maybe cut back on a trip or two a week."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Just in time for Lent

THE McPASSION, a short film that imagines the ultimate movie tie-in. This one's only up during Lent, which seems appropriate. This isn't for the faint of heart, but I believe the satire does its job. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Yacht Rockin' Beats / Cheney's Got A Gun

Nothing sublime lately, but plenty of ridiculous. This first clip leads to the chronicles of Yacht Rock, a musical sub-genre I wasn't awae of by that name. So far there are 6 bizarro episodes dramatizing unknown musical endeavors of people like Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, a drunken Messina, Christopher Cross, members of Toto and more. Even sstranger, the belligerence of Hall & Oates; particularly Oates.

From tere it's a quick trip to Cheney's Got A Gun, a nicely animated parody that's still funny a week after the event, especially with Harry Whittington home from the hospital.

Enjoy the videos.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Better aim than Cheney?

this clip is a fun little game to see if you have better aim than the VP

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Fiscal responsibility & obstinance

Tim Grieve, the "War Room" blogger at Salon.com made this post yesterday. I like his writing a lot, especially the profiles he's done on people. That aside, this double punch of the $346 billion war that was supposed to be $50-$60B and the allegations that, surprise surprise, we were headed to war regardless of inspections.

As Bush seeks more cash for Iraq, a memo sheds light on how he got there

The Bush administration is asking Congress for an additional $120 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- money that comes on top of the $226 billion the administration has already budgeted for Iraq.

Would we be "aiding and abetting the terrorists" if we mentioned just now that the Bush administration's top budget official insisted in 2002 that the entire war in Iraq would probably cost between $50 billion and $60 billion? Or that the president's secretary of defense suggested that the cost would be "something under $50 billion" and that other countries would be paying some of it? Or that the deputy secretary of defense said that Iraq could "pay for its own reconstruction"? Or that the White House eased out the president's chief economic advisor after he dared to suggest that the war would actually cost $100 billion or -- gasp! -- $200 billion?

That kind of talk might not get you arrested -- OK, it might -- but it probably isn't particularly welcome among supporters of the president's war right now. Neither is this: A new report in the Guardian says that George W. Bush and Tony Blair decided to go to war in Iraq regardless of whether the United Nations authorized it and regardless of whether inspectors actually found any weapons of mass destruction.

The report is based on the work of Philippe Sands, a professor of international law at London's University College who practices law in the same firm as Blair's wife, and it seems to conflict with the two leaders' public claims that they were working through the U.N. process and wanted to give Saddam Hussein a final chance to disarm before deciding on war.

Among other things, Sands says the memo details Bush's idea about luring Iraq into war by spying on the country with U2 spy planes painted in U.N. colors. "If Saddam fired on them," Bush is said to have said, "he would be in breach" of U.N. resolutions. Bush is also said to have told Blair that he thought it was "unlikely" that there would be warfare between different groups in Iraq after the invasion.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the acting leader of Britain's opposition Liberal Democrat Party, said in a statement that the memorandum -- if accurate -- suggests that Bush and Blair were simply going through the motions when they sought U.N. approval for the war. "The prime minister has a lot of explaining to do," he said. One might say the same about the president and his administration, if only it would do any good.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Insulted by your President much?

Saw this article in my paper this morning and have been worked up about it ever since. First of all, the audacity of the administration to have W speak to the nation (and the world) about our "addiction to oil" and what seemed like an aggressive and, dare I say, nearly laudable plan to reduce our dependence on all oil. I'm with ya so far, Georgie. That is, until his Energy Secretary lackey, Sam Brodman clarified the statements, no doubt in large part to the bitch-slapping he took from the oil and energy industry starting immediately after the SOTU address.

He basically said, "the president didn't really mean reduce oil consumption by 75%, it was an example that was misleading, what he really meant was..."

Beyond that insult came the injury of an administration official issuing an outright racist justification of Bush's targeting of Middle-Eastern oil when he "really" meant all kinds of oil dependence:

Asked why the president used the words "the Middle East" when he didn't really mean them, one administration official told Knight Ridder News Service that Bush wanted to dramatize the issue in a way that "every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands."

I'm sure said administration official "never meant it that way", but come on - his statement is obviously meant to heighten the fear-based stereotypes of and prejudices against the Arab world. Does he mean to say that every American wouldn't understand that we want to cut dependence on our own oil as well? OK, maybe he just thought that people in TX OK and California would understand, but the rest of us have no idea where oil comes from.

Really, Clinton has nothing on the kind of dishonesty and slick spinning that this administration has engaged in the past six years.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Beware the Pot Pie!

At a farewel lunch for a co-worker today my friend Davy ordered the pot pie, not knowing it would be bigger than his head. I know via SUPERSIZE ME what McDonalds will do to someone, but perhaps it's time that someone talked to the folks at Cheesecake Factory about portion size? At least it can last a couple days.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Pink: the next Geena Davis?

I somehow stumbled upon the latest video from pop chameleon Pink. I admit to being flummoxed by the source of this clip, or click here and click on link for the Pink "Stupid Girls" video - this may load faster and while the argument can be made that by using the very thing her song decries in the video that the execution is sloppy, but if something like this gets millions of girls thinking about their real value, then fine. One question: how long will it take for a "Stupid Boys" video that recognizes the lengths that young guys are going to live up to what they think they're supposed to look like (ie - mae appearance. it's not just for metrosexuals anymore).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Police in one place

So apparently both Stewart Copeland and Trudie Styler have films at Sundance this year. Stewart's is a doc on the history of The Police. They all got wind that they were down the street from one another and this little reunion happened. No music, but nice to see them together.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Is my Senator part of this? Oh yeah, he's related to a healthcare company. SIlly me.

This morning's Washington Post click here for full article has a headline describing yet another closed door conference committee meeting whereby Republicans locked out Democrats (their democratically elected peers, representing millions of taxpayers) from any discussion on a major budget provision. The result: a $22 BILLION savings for the health care industry. This at a time when health care costs contiinue to rise every year. As someone that works in an industry with massive shifts in its revenue streams, I have to say that perhaps it's time for health care and government to start working up some new models oof business.

Our government can start by negotiating with drug companies and health care providers for better rates so that so many people don't have to go to Canada to get affordable medication. Then there's the idea of a national health care system that can be a leader, a catalyst, for real reform. Much is made of expensive government beurocracy, when in fact Medicare and Medicais are among the most efficient health care programs anywhere - far outpacing the private sector. It may have to do with not having CEOs making millions a year plus bonuses, even when a company loses money. Either way, for far too many of my friends, across all age groups, escalating health care costs are becomming the single biggest issue of their lives. If our GOP-led government wants to practive "family values" - how about making sure our families aren't splitting up over things like annual 15% increases in insurance costs.

Force the market to respond. I have every bit of expectation that by forcing new models to be developed we will see better coverage for fairer prices. American business are good at ingenuity, but slow to act on it. Give health care (and energy) industries a little incentive to change and we may have something to cheer about. I'm done. For now.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

40 years of hits in 37 minutes

From a Columbia University student comes the concept of "time-lapse phonography" - a kind of time-lapse audio program. He's mapped out every Billboard Hot 100 #1 single in an audio algorhythm that spans 37 minutes, listing the song and artist as it plays. I'm still getting through the entire thing, and I'm sure that there will one day be a practical use for this, but in the meantime, click here and let the hits play on!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

At the risk of alienating Zamfir fans ...

... I offer this helpful guide (thx to Andy Peterson, who needs to blog).

click here for more scribbles

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The real power behind Kaizer Soze

I love THE USUAL SUSPECTS, and never seem to tire of the film. This evening I discovered an entirely new twist in the plot. Completely unexpected? I'd say so.
click here and be amazed

Minimum Wage

ripped from the blog of one of my favorite people, Jim Hancock. To read what really smart people blog, click here

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Monkeys in the new year!

As my friend Rob said when sending this to me, "if you're like me and you like monkeys ... watch these:
click here